December 21, 2010

Book Review: Epic

The Story God is Telling
By John Eldredge
The book begins with Sam Gamgee's quote, "I wonder what sort of a tale we've fallen into?" From there Eldredge proceeds to remind us just exactly what kind of a tale it is that we humans have been born into. We have been born into a world at war, into the midst of an epic story of beauty and devastation, trust and betrayal, good and evil, love and sacrifice. People love sweeping, epic stories conveyed through movies and books, and it is because those stories echo the nature of the story we live in... the story we were created for.
Eldredge discusses the basic plot structure that every great tale more or less follows, and you may be surprised to realize that it is the exact structure of the story of our world.
While this book was intended as a resource for Christian living, I am also going to recommend it as a resource for Christian writing. "Every story we tell is out attempt to put into words and images what God has written there, on our hearts," Eldredge says in the book.
That kind of helps it all make sense, doesn't it? The reason that books like Lewis' The Last Battle or Tolkien's Return of the King can reduce us to tears, the reason heroes like Aragorn and sacrifices like Boromir's have so much power to move us... the reason we writers have this overpowering, unexplainable longing to write a tale of that caliber: a truly epic story that will move people the way these tales move us.
I suspect I'm not the only one who sometimes thinks "Is writing (fantasy, sci-fi, etc.) really what I should be doing with my life? Isn't there some way that I can serve God even more?"
But after reading this book, I don't think you'll wonder that any more. Yes, God may tell you at some point that your time as a writer is over and it is time to move on to something else that He has for you. But until then, just remember: it may be a fictional story you're telling, but dragons, sorcerers, warp drives and all, every epic tale is an echo of the true epic tale we're living in.

December 16, 2010

Let's be the change we want to see!

Writers, especially those of you just beginning your journeys, and especially those who have chosen to take your journey into the speculative realms of Christian fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, etc.), I'm sure you're painfully aware that the Christian publishing market doesn't seem to have much room for us these days.
I can't count the number of times I and one or more of my writing friends have lamented to each other that "No one seems to be publishing the kind of things we write!". It's true that the speculative genres, while growing slowly and by very small increments, are not exactly big in the Christian publishing industry right now. It's not the publishers' faults. What logical reason is there for them to spend money publishing something that only a tiny minority of people are reading?
Unfortunately, that problem is just the tip of the iceberg. In the midst of a national economic crisis, the publishing industry as a whole--Christian and secular--is facing tough times. Financial risks have gotten riskier, and no one wants to take them. Sadly, rookie writers and speculative genres are financial risks.
So what are we to do, up-and-coming writers of speculative fiction? Shall we hunker down and wait for the current crisis to blow over, hoping to emerge on the other side to find the industry more willing to gamble on us? Shall we commit that great literary sacrilege and change what we write to follow the market trends? I say: "Not on your life!"
Literary agent Rachelle Gardner has a great post up on her blog today, from guest blogger Marcus Brotherton. As well as being entertaining and humorous, his post is extremely encouraging and inspiring. Read it! He proposes that writers help the publishing industry they depend on by buying one hardback book a month in 2011. The figures he has come up with illustrating the impact this would have on the market are astounding.
But I would like to take his theory a little further than that. Writers of Christian Speculative fiction, let's take the initiative and be the change we want to see in the Christian publishing market. Let's be the ones waiting at the bookstore for the release of that new fantasy book; let's be the ones standing in line at that Christian sci-fi author's book signing; let's be the ones making speculative fiction and its authors not quite such a big risk for publishers.
It won't happen overnight, and our efforts alone won't turn the massive USS Christian Fiction around. But we can be the start, the leaders, the pebbles bouncing down the mountainside gathering speed and followers until--hopefully--they become a landslide.
What are your thoughts on the market for Christian speculative fiction and what we can do to influence it?

December 14, 2010

Seeing Christ

I did not write this story. My pastor used it as an illustration in his sermon last Sunday; I do not know who the author is.

A great artist painted a picture of the Last Supper. When he was finished he called in a friend to look at it, and asked for his opinion. After gazing at the painting for a few minutes, the friend said "Those cups on the table are the most magnificent cups I have ever seen."
Much to the friend's surprise the artist picked up a brush and some paint and methodically painted over each cup, shaking his head and saying "I failed."
Dismayed, the friend asked the artist what he was doing. The artist replied "I wanted you to see Christ, but you saw the cups."

Writers, does your work show Christ to people? Do they read your writing and see God's grace, love, and sovereignty reflected in your poems, essays, even your fictional stories?
I would like to challenge you all to think about that when you pick up that pen or put your fingers on that keyboard--today, tomorrow... every day.
It's not about us. It's not about the stories. It's about Who the stories point to.

December 6, 2010

One of those days, and a 'Writer' moment

This weekend was a long one for me--I am a teacher and staff member of a student orchestra, and this weekend was our Christmas concert, so Friday was spent plowing through dress rehearsals, and Saturday was the big day! It went off really well, all things considered (practicing and performing in a strange church building we're not used to, and trying to explain the extremely complex dress code "Black and white" to three hundred kids). I also got to be in the alumni orchestra for the first time this year, so that was a big blessing and ton of fun for me! I didn't realize how much I've missed being in orchestra.
The 'Writer' moment came shortly after I dragged myself into the house at 8:30 Saturday night, cold, weary, and convinced that high-heeled dress shoes were originally invented as slow-onset torture devices. There was a letter in the mail for me... oddly, addressed in my own handwriting with no return address. (?) I quickly thought through everything I had submitted, sent away for, or requested during the last couple of months, but came up with nothing that matched this. I opened the envelope to find three of my poems that I had sent away to a magazine four years ago and had long since forgotten about, along with a polite little note thanking me for my submission, but regretting to inform me that they couldn't use it.
And no wonder! The poems that, four years ago, I considered fabulous were downright embarrassing to see printed up so professionally, a painful reminder that I had actually had the gall to submit them. The whole situation was too ridiculous for me to feel very badly about the rejection--after rereading those poems, I knew I deserved it! It was a good learning moment, though, a good reminder of the progress I've made during the last four years as a writer.
How about you? What is a recent Writer Moment you've had, and what have you learned from it?

December 2, 2010

A breath of fresh air...

Whew! NaNo is over until next year, The Pirate Shrine is finished (topping out at roughly 55.5k), The Christmas season has begun, and I'm once again free to work on whatever I want, writing-wise. Life is good!
Honestly, in spite of the tension and stress NaNo created, I'm glad I did it. It was a great chance to push myself, practice meeting a deadline (something every writer should work on, no?), and as a bonus it really made me appreciate the freedom I have the other 11 months out of the year. It was so refreshing to open up my computer file this morning and ask myself: "Hmm... what do I want to work on today?"
Of course, my main priority is getting back to editing Son of The Shield and start writing the sequel. I'm hoping that, with the help of a few good buddies, I'll have SOTS in good enough shape to start sending out queries this next year. Another world to explore: the world of publishing and marketing!
But along that line, literary agent Rachelle Gardner has an excellent post up on her blog today, from guest blogger Mary DeMuth, discussing marketing strategy. Would you believe that, in spite of what the experts tell us, it's still okay to be you, even when it comes to getting your book and your name out there? Click Here to read the complete post--I found it incredibly encouraging!