February 26, 2013

Lessons Learned

Last Thursday, we got a glaze of ice followed by two inches of sleet. By Saturday morning, the sleet had compressed into a hard, solid surface. To a country kid, that spells SLEDDING!!!! Let me assure you, there is no sledding surface in the world like hard-packed sleet.
One of my brothers had already left for the day, but I rousted my other two siblings out of bed, threw some breakfast at them, dragged the sled down from the attic, and headed out.
Our house sits on top of a hill with a wide valley in front, so the best sledding spot around is right off the front yard. My sister and I rode down the hill together the first time, and on the hard surface of the sleet pack it felt like we were flying.
When we finally drifted to a stop, my sister let out a breath of relief and said she was glad we'd stopped. She had been worried we would slide right across the valley into the creek.
"Don't worry," I said, "the boys and I have been trying for years to sled all the way from the hilltop to the creek, and we've never so much as come close a single time. The valley's just too wide, and the sled just won't go that far."
"Oh," she said. "Okay."
We dragged the sled back up the hill and each took a solo run. When my second turn came around, I situated the sled at the angle I wanted, situated myself on my belly (for aerodynamic purposes), and Karri gave me a push to get me started.
The conditions must have been just right, because I picked up an incredible amount of speed going down the hill. The sled lost almost no speed as it skimmed across the valley - farther than it had ever gone before. It dawned on me that the creek bank was getting really, really close. I put my feet down behind me to create some drag and slow myself down, but on the slick surface of the sleet they didn't do much good.
About the time that I realized "Oh - I should bail out!", the sled flipped over the edge and I tumbled head-over-heels (literally) down the bank, disappearing from sight of my siblings still on top of the hill.
The first sound to reach my ears as I clawed at the muddy bank trying to keep from crashing into the water was that of my siblings' hysterical laughter. (I also learned later that my mother had seen the whole episode from the kitchen window and had nearly drowned in the dishwater laughing as a result.) I raised a hand over the edge of the bank and yelled "I'm okay!" since, in spite of the laughter, I knew they would be concerned - at least mildly - about me.
Then I crawled back up onto dry ground and took stock of myself. No pain, just a lot of mud - a lot of mud.
My brother had started down the hill to check on me, but stopped when he saw that I was alright. Instead he was bewailing the fact that he didn't get my spectacular (so I'm told) mishap on video.
As I dragged my mud-soaked self and the mud-covered sled back up the hill, my own words came back to me. "The valley's just too wide. The sled just won't go that far. It's never happened before, there's no need to worry."

Lessons learned:
The sled will go that far. The conditions just haven't ever been right before.
Bail out a little sooner next time.
Keep my mouth shut.

February 19, 2013

Race isn't an issue - so stop making it one!

After all we've been through here in the United States, you'd think we could safely consider ourselves past the issue of 'race'. Unfortunately for all involved, however, it seems we just can't manage to let go.
A few weeks ago I saw part of a televised interview featuring a lovely young actress who, though I personally haven't seen any of her performances to know, has apparently met with a good bit of success in Hollywood. The woman hosting the interview asked this young lady to share with the audience what it was like having achieved this kind of success in spite of the challenges presented by her being "black and a woman". The actress responded with a long discourse on other women who have overcome these or similar obstacles before her, and how much their courage inspired her.
I was floored.
Don't get me wrong: I am painfully aware that there are still people who maintain strong racial hostilities. They are out there, and I'm not under any delusions about that. But honestly, can't we admit that an interview question like that is severely outdated? It isn't as if this young lady is the first female to really become successful in the movie industry, and it isn't as if she's the first dark-skinned person to become successful in the movie industry either. I'm not trying to downplay her success, but if pop culture is really so concerned with eliminating the 'race issue', then why in the world don't they let it go?

Of course, as annoying as instances like I just described are, I suppose it can be expected from the secular world. When your cushy western lifestyle takes care of all your needs and wants for you, I guess you have to find something you can still fret about.
What is completely inexcusable, though, is the racial segregation still taking place within Christianity. I'm not talking about the "Whites on one side, blacks on the other!" kind of segregation. I'm talking about Christians behaving as if so-called "white" and "black" are any different at all, period.
As many of you know, I am signed up with several different Christian publishing houses as an Advance Reader. They send me new releases, I read them, and then review them online. Recently I was scanning the Available Books list of a large and well-known Christian publishing house when I came across a book geared towards single mothers, offering advice on how to raise "a successful black man".
And last week, I was in a Christian book store and saw another title offering financial advice "for the African-American family".
The question I just have to ask is this: if we don't want race to be an issue, why are we still treating people of different colors as if they're different in any other way? Why should your skin color have any affect on the way you raise your children or manage your finances any more than your hair color does? God's laws, principles, and instructions are absolute, all-inclusive, and, last I checked, don't come with skin color-specific caveats.
Now, I don't want to be one of those platitudinous people who assume expressions reminiscent of Renaissance martyrs and proclaim that "I don't see color when I look at people!". When I look at you I do see the color of your skin, just like I see the color of your hair and your eyes, whether you're male or female, whether you're tall or short, etc. Your skin color is part of what makes you a unique individual. I just don't happen to believe that it's what makes you like or unlike me, because as a Christian I know that we're all of one race and one blood.
Acts 17:26 says "From one man He (God) created all the nations throughout the whole earth..."
Every human alive on the planet is descended from Adam and Eve - all of the DNA code for every genetic trait there is was present in their bodies when they were created. Jesus Christ didn't have to die on the cross as a black person and then again as a white person and then yet again as an Asian person, He died as a human, and that covered everybody!
The secular culture tries to put everybody in a box of one kind or another, and their packaging system defies the imagination with its boxes-within-boxes and boxes-linked-to-other-boxes. I get so tired of surveys, job applications, and other official forms demanding that I assign myself to one of their many "race" boxes. When "Other" is given as an option, I check it and write in "Human". When that isn't an option, I'm rather stuck. According to their perspective, I'm a mix of two different 'races', but I'm not going to denounce one whole side of my family just to fit into one of their pre-made boxes, so what exactly do they expect me to do? And if they're the ones making such a noise over how much race doesn't matter, why are they so insistent to know what my "race" is, anyway? It's a system that just doesn't work except to keep non-issues alive and festering needlessly.
We as Christians should be leading the fight to make race truly a non-issue. And I don't mean getting all warm-and-fuzzified over someone who 'overcomes' their race to be a success. I mean really, truly, believing and showing others that there is only one physical race. The only race-like distinction that the Bible makes is between the two spiritual races of Believers and Unbelievers - no division according to skin color.
This isn't an issue that Christians talk about very much, at least not in a Biblical context. I've talked to Christians who have never stopped and taken the time to think about what the Bible actually says on the topic. Tragically, I've talked to professing Christians who harbor strong racial prejudices. Both situations sadden me greatly. Living in a culture that's constantly spewing humanist blather on the subject, it can be difficult to step back, take a breath, and prayerfully seek out God's answers. Believe me, I know. I struggle with it too. But we have got to find our feet, step up, and take a stand on this. The Bible offers the only solid answer to the question of why racism is wrong in the first place. All anyone else can come up with is a lot of warm-fuzzy jargon that doesn't even make sense within the context of humanist ideology.
We have the answer to the race question. Let's not waste it.

February 16, 2013

Meteorite Hits Russia

If you're like me and don't watch the news, you might not have heard yet about the meteorite that struck Russia yesterday.

I only heard about it because my dad saw it on the news at work last night. So far it looks like about 1,100 people have sustained injuries due to the massive sonic boom that shattered windows and caused several explosions, so we need to be sure to keep those people in our prayers.
Just watching Youtube videos of the fireball flying through the sky and the explosions shaking the ground gave me chills, so I can't begin to imagine how scary it must have been for the people who were actually there, witnessing it first hand. (I think my first thought probably would have been "Missile!") Several years ago my brothers and I did witness a huge meteor that, we later learned, was seen over five states in the mid-west. Seeing a huge, burning chunk of rock literally tumbling end-over-end across the sky totally freaked us out, but there was no sonic boom or explosion to go with it so I'm sure the fear we felt then was nothing next to what people were feeling in Russia yesterday.
There really are some amazing videos of this on Youtube, so you should go check them out - especially you science fiction writers out there. This is the kind of stuff you normally only get to see in books and movies. It's not often you get to see the real thing!

It's amazing to me to see things like this. It's a sobering reminder of just how small we really are. I doubt many of us have ever thought to thank God for keeping us from being hit by meteors... but maybe it's time that changed. I know I'm thankful that I haven't had to live through that kind of an ordeal (yet, anyway). I'm thankful that my missionary friends in Russia are safe and sound. I'm thankful the meteor didn't hit in the middle of a city, which it very easily could have. God is good, my friends.

Any thoughts on this event, anyone?

February 15, 2013

Movie Review - Snow White and the Huntsman

*Warning: Contains Spoilers*
Well, I finally got around to seeing this movie for myself, so the friends who've been telling me to for ages can now rest easy. : )
Fairytales can be very tricky to work with, I've learned, especially when it comes to fleshing them out so that the classic fairytale coincidences aren't so... well, coincidental (i.e. 'and then the prince just happened to come riding through the woods and decided to kiss the dead princess and voila! she wasn't dead after all and she woke up! The end.), but I thought that this one was very well done in that regard. All the plot threads concerning character relationships and connections were done very nicely, in my opinion.
The characters were a bit of a mixed bag for me, though.
The huntsman was definitely the most interesting character; I loved the relationship between his backstory and his natural personality traits. Not all of his decisions made complete sense to me, (Remind me again just exactly how leaving the princess alone makes her safer than she would be with you when she's the one the evil queen is really after?) but he was still a fairly well-developed character and a rough-around-the-edges but still really sweet guy.
Snow White was rather... oh, how shall I say this?... muddled? Maybe it's the result of some residual fairytale 'just because'-ness. We know the princess is as beautiful inside as she is outside, and she's kind and warm and loving and compassionate and sweet-spirited... but we have no idea why. She's just that way, just because. The years she's spent in solitary confinement seem to have had no lasting ill effects on her, which is quite interesting considering the young age at which her imprisonment began. Due to my own pathetic lack of ability when it comes to acting, I'm a little hesitant to criticize someone else. However, I will say that Snow White was very lacking in expressiveness. I think that was what created the muddled feeling of her character - her lack of expressiveness made it very difficult as a viewer to tell what she was feeling or thinking, which made the whole thing feel confused and rather shallow. Her unwavering confidence in herself was a little odd, too. Never once over the entire course of the movie did she wonder "What if I can't do this? What if it isn't enough? Am I really the fairest of them all? Is that really enough to undo all of this?". It was just rather strange. I like characters who have at least enough sense to question themselves from time to time.
The evil queen Ravenna, while indeed exceedingly evil, was in my opinion just downright bizarre. I understand, evil people do evil things. No problem there. However, I fail to understand what bathing in a strange, white, paint-like substance has to do with being evil. At first I thought "Oh, this will come back later and be connected to something significant"... but it didn't. I have no idea what it had to do with anything at all, actually. There were also some cliche aspects to her character - portrayals of cruelty that didn't contribute anything of real significance (We know she's evil. We don't need to watch her eat the hearts of songbirds to figure that out.).
The movie as a whole was extremely dark - the darkest movie I've seen in quite a long time - with very little relief. I understand, the queen is holding the kingdom under a spell of black magic which necessarily means there has to be some darkness, but with only a few moments of relief over the course of the entire movie it got a bit depressing.
There was also a slight problem with randomness, and things just sort of dropping into the story without being attached to anything else or given any kind of a segue. The bath-in-white-paint thing was one such instance. Another one was when the huntsman and Snow White are on the lam through the Dark Forest, and he suddenly stops, hands her a knife, and teaches her one move with it. Then they're off again. But at the very end of the movie, that one move ends up being the one that both saves her life and enables her to kill the evil witch. But between those times she's successfully used a sword to fight her way through dozens of soldiers. So... yeah.
And of course there was the love triangle that was completely unresolved. All I can say is that it had better be resolved in the sequel.
On the whole, not a movie I would necessarily get excited about seeing again, but a good one to have seen.

Any thoughts from others who've seen it?

February 12, 2013

Book Review - The Floating Island

Author: Elizabeth Haydon
Series: The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Starscape
Pages: 351

I stumbled across this book in the library last week and, in spite of the fact that I had never heard of it or its author before, I was intrigued so I picked it up.
The Floating Island is the story of Ven Polypheme, a young Nain (similar to a dwarf) boy who finds himself thrown into a 'series of unfortunate events', as it were. Being attacked by pirates, nearly drowned, threatened by unintentionally-made enemies, and forced to seek shelter in a haunted inn, are just a few of the mishaps that befall him along the way as he seeks to find his way home and, at the same time, satisfy his own insatiable curiosity and desire for adventure.
I really enjoyed reading this book. I must admit, I have absolutely no idea what the dragon on the cover has to do with anything in the story - a talking cat, or a mermaid, or even a ghost wolf would have been much more appropriate and applicable - but it was still a very fun story.
My one complaint was the part of the story that hinged on the cursed spirit of someone who was buried at a crossroads, and the characters' quest to bring the spirit rest in order to restore the magic of the land surrounding the crossroads. The magic itself didn't bother me that much in and of itself, because of the author's explanation that magic was a force or energy built into creation when the Creator (and yes, she capitalized Creator) made it. I was more bothered by the ghost character who came into the story, and by some of the ghost-related circumstances that arose, however. I won't say I would never let my kids read this book, but I would definitely wait to let them read it until they were mature enough to understand the true nature of ghosts and spirits and not be confused. I would let my 18-year-old brother read it without a second thought, but I wouldn't give it to my much more impressionable 13-year-old sister.
So on the whole, a very fun, lighthearted fantasy read, but one I wouldn't necessarily recommend for the young audience it was intended for.

February 8, 2013

Character Costume Challenge - Orienne Seritan

For this 'edition' of the Character Costume Challenge (started by Gillian Adams on her blog), I decided to dress as Orienne Seritan, the leading lady from my first novel, Son of the Shield.
Orienne is a twenty-four-year-old Adelfian woman whose older brother, Allegar, is one of the six highest-ranking leaders in the nation. Allegar has been her only family since an epidemic claimed both of their parents years before, and Orienne travels with him everywhere he goes. Since this prevents her holding down a normal job, she volunteers at healers' wards (hospitals) wherever they're staying, and serves the Adelfian government and military in a diplomatic capacity when needed.
Orienne is a tough girl who can get down and dirty if she has to, but she much prefers peace and quiet. Her greatest dream is for the war between Adelfia and Moritar to end, and to settle down and start a family of her own.
She has dark brown hair, by the way, so just pretend my blond hair is brown. ; )
Orienne's shield pendant - a gift from her brother, that she wears everywhere, every day.
Normal Adelfian attire for a woman usually consists of a plain shirt with any of several variations of vest or overshirt on over it, and a garment the Adelfians call 'larrons' - basically a pair of pants with some kind of overskirt over it. There are plenty of styles and variations of these too; with the practicality of pants and the femininity of skirts rolled together, they help make any outfit both serviceable and tasteful.
"A lone mountain rose sharply from the center of the Basin, towering above everything for miles... And covering [its] slopes was Farindel. The tarekstone walls of the city's structures reflected the sunset's light, making Farindel look like a shining mounting or ivory." (from Son of the Shield)
I know, I know, but I just couldn't resist the temptation to replace the cows and bale rings I was actually looking at with at least a rough representation of Farindel (the capital city of Adelfia). The artwork I used for the background is not mine. I have no idea who the original artist is, but no copyright infringement is intended.
A mud-covered, purple-eyed Orienne after a very long and strenuous several days of being dragged through the mountains, fighting and running for her life, and experiencing crushing heartbreak. (Yeah... I'm not really nice to my characters.)
Orienne in much better circumstances, clean, rested, and happy. You might also notice that her eyes are now green. That's because the color of her eyes changes according to the emotion she's experiencing. There are seven basic colors that they turn, with variations and fluctuations depending on the circumstances. After all, whose emotions are ever completely clear-cut and unmixed? : P
For formal or special occasions, larrons get traded in for actual skirts or dresses. ; )
This is my representation of the outfit Orienne wears in one of the last scenes of the book - a huge, once-in-a-lifetime ceremony that she and the other main characters all get to take part in. By this time she's been through a lot physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It's been a rough journey, and she knows she will never again be the person she was before the journey began, but she's okay with that. She knows that the Shield is using every one of the events that have taken place for His glory, and she's coming to a place of accepting whatever she has to face as part of His plan... including the one last, daunting task still awaiting her completion in the very last scene of the book.


Well, that about wraps it up for this round of the Character Costume Challenge!
Very special thanks to my brother Caleb for hiking all over the place with me and taking all the pictures. You did an awesome job, bro!
Thanks once again to Gillian Adams, who is the reason we have the CCC in the first place.
And of course, thanks to all you loyal blog followers. I hope you've enjoyed this little look at a character I've spent so much time with over the last six years. (Yep, I said six! This month marks the sixth anniversary of the very first idea I had for Son of the Shield. Man, that's hard to believe!)
I had a ton of fun doing this, and I'm already looking forward to the next edition of the Character Costume Challenge!

Until next time,

February 6, 2013

Being Scripturient Isn't Easy

I don't know that I would have thought to describe my desire to write as 'violent', but seeing this made me realize just how accurate a word choice that is.
Really, it's more than a desire. It's a need. For some reason, God has given us writers some kind of internal mechanism that makes us unable to function properly if we're not writing regularly. Like a magic spell or curse in a fairytale, where a character can only stay healthy by washing frequently in a certain spring, or can't leave a certain area without being changed into some other kind of creature, we writers can't go for very long without some time at the keyboard or notebook without incurring dire consequences.
I've talked to enough writers to know it's a problem we all share. Some of my writer friends get angry or depressed when they go too long without writing. Some get so scatterbrained they can't get through a normal day's chores.
In my case, if I go too long without writing I find myself getting edgy and testy without meaning to be. I find myself getting tunnel vision, trying to race through whatever task I'm involved in so I can carve out time to write.
Of course, the simplest solution is just to write regularly and frequently to keep our scripturient quirks at bay. But, as we all know, life happens, and sometimes it seems like the whole universe is conspiring to keep us away from that computer or notebook. It's then that our writerly weirdness becomes problematic. I'll be the first to admit that it's a struggle. Too often I don't realize how testy I've become until I've already snapped at one of my family members or neglected a responsibility unintentionally. Sometimes it seems like it's a losing battle.
But, I know God made me this way, and He knew the struggles it would create when He did it. The good news is, He gives us grace to handle whatever He chooses to send our way... be it a death in the family, a natural disaster, a physical ailment, or a case of writing withdrawal.
As hard as it can be to admit it sometimes, there are things more important than writing. So when those come along and we have to lay our pens aside for a while, just remember that God knew when He sent the interruption that you were in the middle of that story or chapter or idea. He knew, and He cares. Maybe He also knew that you needed a break - some time to rethink what you're working on, or a chance to find some new inspiration. Or maybe He just knew you needed to be reminded that writing isn't everything.
Because, as much as it means to us writers, it really isn't.

Are you scripturient? Is it hard for you? How do you deal with its effects in your daily life?

February 5, 2013

February Character Costume Challenge!

Most of you probably remember the Character Costume Challenge that Gillian Adams put on and that I participated in back in October. If not, you missed out on a lot of fun! (And if you'd like, you can Click Here to see my character costumes.)
Well, Gillian has now decided to make the Character Costume Challenge a monthly event, and the next one is February 8th!

I had so much fun with the October challenge, so I'm definitely going to be taking part in this one too.
And those of you who've been listening to me talk about my first novel, Son of the Shield, ought to be happy about this one: I'm dressing as Orienne Seritan, the leading lady from SotS! The pictures will go up Friday morning, so be sure to check in! ; )

If you'd like to participate too - even if you're not a writer - then Click Here for the full details.
Hope to see your costumes on Friday!

Until next time.

February 1, 2013

Have you written today?

: )
Just had to share this. Happy writing and happy weekend, everyone!

Until next time.