April 30, 2012

I'm not dead!

My apologies for the recent absence of posts. It's been a while since I've had access to the internet. So, here's a brief update of what's going on in my life:
Turkey season. So far my dad and sister have each bagged a turkey. It was my sister's first time hunting with us, and she did a great job! Our refrigerator is already nicely crowded with fresh meat, and I'm looking forward to my hunt coming up tomorrow morning (though not looking forward so much to getting up at 4:30 AM).
Homeschooling Convention. Most of this past week has been totally wrapped around getting ready for and working at the local homeschooling convention. It went pretty well, I think, and I was able to attend several really good seminars - I even got to meet Dr. Jason Lisle in person! (For those of you who don't know, Dr. Lisle is an astrophysicist who was with Answers in Genesis for several years and is now with the Institute for Creation Research, and I've been reading his work for years.)
I was also able to meet and talk to a fellow Christian writer who has just published his first novel, which I'll be reviewing over at The Flying Librarian's Hideout in a few days, so be sure to keep an eye out for Night of the Cossack.
More along the fantasy line of things, this weekend I became acquainted with a very cool business called SturdiGuns, owned and operated by a Christian, home schooling family. I liked what I saw so much that I even brought home a piece of their merchandise:

SturdiGuns creates realistic wooden silhouettes of various types of weapons. Most of their products are guns, but they offer a few different styles of swords and battle axes as well - all at amazingly low prices! Click Here to check out their website and see for yourself. Be keeping an eye out here, too, for the sword I bought to make another appearance. I have some very cool ideas in store for it... which brings me to next order of business in this update:
Son of the Shield. We're getting close, my friends! There are still a few little gaps that need to be filled in, some scenes that need to be streamlined, and one plot point that needs to be fleshed out a little more, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and it's getting closer. Finally! I'm very excited to be almost finished with the final draft so I can move on to the next step in my writing journey, which hopefully will include publishing and starting work on the sequel. Yes, there is a sequel to Son of the Shield, and I'm started to get very excited about the prospect of starting work on it. But in the meantime, I have some cool plans and ideas coming up for getting the word out about SOTS and ensuring that it receives a warm welcome into the literary world when (Lord willing) it arrives.
So, in closing, thanks for reading this update and, as always, be sure to stick around for whatever adventure is next!

April 17, 2012

Supernatural Christian Fiction - Is it Okay?

Let me start off by saying that ever since the beginning of the paranormal/supernatural fiction craze, I've been afraid that this would happen.
For some reason, Christian writers and publishers feel like we just can't let the secular publishers corner the market on paranormal/supernatural fiction. We just have to get in and get a cut of the action. So we've started seeing paranormal/supernatural titles start to drift into the Christian book market.
Now, though, the trend is even spilling over into children's fiction. This week I read a new release from Thomas Nelson Publishers, by new author Jerel Law, titled: Spirit Fighter. You can read my full review of the book by Clicking Here.
Suffice it to say I was not impressed. In fact, I was disturbed and even angered by what I read. And my review only covered a few of the issues I had with it. I could have gone on for much longer.
The thing that worries me most about this new trend in fiction is that Christians are starting to become casual and comfortable, even flippant, with the idea of spiritual warfare, and the topic is beginning to lose the sense of gravity that should accompany it.
I remember a time when spiritual warfare, angels, and demons were spoken of soberly, with seriousness and gravity - if they were spoken of at all. Very few people actually talked about such things, and those who did didn't do so often or casually.
Now, though, it's become a trendy, exciting topic that people talk about over a cup of coffee, along with the latest vampire novels. Every author puts their own twist on it; every reader has their own favorite fallen angel or half-angel character.
Now, in books like Spirit Fighter, even children's fiction has started featuring fallen angels, nephilim, guardian angels, and face-to-face battles with demons.
I'll be honest: I'm worried about the direction this trend will take people. Spiritual warfare is something we should not shove under the rug and pretend isn't there, but it isn't something we should be casual and flippant about, either. It is a very grave, serious thing, and we should not be allowing trendy fiction to make it into something we feel comfortable with. Feeling comfortable leads to dropping our guard. Dropping our guard leads to vulnerability and weakness.
Spiritual warfare is not an area where we can afford to be vulnerable and weak, my friends.

What are your thoughts on the supernatural trend coming to Christian fiction?

April 6, 2012

Good Friday and the Cross - Finding Beauty in Ugliness

We've all seen the beautiful, jeweled, stylized crosses hanging on the walls of people's homes, worn as jewelry, screen-printed on clothes and bags, and dangling from rear-view mirrors. Most of us probably even have one or two. We talk and we write and we sing about the beauty of the cross. But I have to wonder... do we ever stop to think about its ugliness?

Before it became the symbol of salvation and Christianity, before it was a jewelry item or wall decor, the cross was a torture device - the most brutal means of death a pagan empire could come up with. Like the song says, it was 'the emblem of suffering and shame', a synonym for cruel, agonizing death.
'Ugly' is an understatement.
If you think about it, the concept of sacrifice is the same way. The idea of someone completely undeserving being punished instead of someone who is deserving (and who then gets off scot-free) is, on its surface, ugly. Where is the justice in that? How can that be right?

I know what you're all probably thinking: Why am I asking you to look at the ugly side of things instead of the beautiful side? Well, I'll explain.

Beauty is only meaningful if we have something to contrast it with. What would the beauty of a summer rain mean if we hadn't seen the ugliness of parched, withering grass and dry, cracked earth? Would a beautiful, healthy baby mean as much if we had never seen a weak, diseased, deformed one?
Would summer rain and healthy babies still be beautiful? Absolutely. And we would still enjoy them. But we wouldn't appreciate their beauty half as much without something ugly to contrast it with.

Sacrifice and the cross are the same way. If Christ had snapped His fingers and poof! sin was paid for and death was vanquished, what would that mean to us? Even if He had died for us, but peacefully - in His sleep, free of any pain - what would that death mean to us?
He didn't, though. He loved us enough to embrace the ugliness of dying on a hideous, barbarian torture device, sacrificing His life for a stubborn, undeserving lot of ungrateful wretches. He knew the terrible, all-consuming power of the Father's wrath, and yet He was still willing to take it - all of it - on Himself, to save the creation He loved.
Yes, the idea that the Creator of the world had to die in order for His rebellious creation to be saved from their own selfish pride and stupidity is ugly. Sin is ugly. Death is ugly. The image of a completely innocent man dying the torturous death of a criminal is beyond ugly.
But the incredible, awesome love it took for Him to willingly do that... well, 'beautiful' doesn't even begin to describe it. And it becomes even more amazingly beautiful when we take a moment to look at the ugly side of it.

That's where the beauty of the cross comes from. That's the kind of God we serve: a God who can take a compilation of the ugliest concepts in existence and from them make the most beautiful outworking of love ever to take place.

And that's why we writers fill our stories with war, danger, disaster, trouble, and heartache rather than care-free stories of ease and pleasure. It's why happy endings are important: because as Christian writers, our stories are reflections on our King - a God who can take the biggest, ugliest disaster imaginable, and make it into something beautiful.

So this weekend, consider taking a few moments to look at the ugly side of Easter. It makes the beautiful side mean so much more.

Have a wonderful Easter, everyone. And here's a great Easter worship song to enjoy while you're at it.

April 3, 2012

The Joy of Writing God's Story

Those of you who know me personally will probably agree with me when I confess that I take myself way too seriously. It hurts to admit it, but it's a fact.
Another flaw I struggle with is getting way too focused on and wound up about minute details. Kind of like tunnel vision. Sometimes this can be a good thing, true. But when a situation calls for a look at the bigger picture, it can be a problem.

No, this isn't 'The Confessions of Mary', it's just a bit of intro into the thoughts I've been mulling over for the last day or two.
As I'm sure you can imagine, my tendency to take myself too seriously often attaches itself to my over-active attention to detail, and the results on my writing can be... oh, how shall I say it?... frustrating.
It's really nothing that extraordinary for me to find myself agonizing over the same section of a WIP for hours - occasionally days - because of some minor detail that really doesn't matter to the story, but that my sense of self-importance won't let slide.
Recent case in point: Should I, or should I not, give names to the different sectors of the capital city in Son of the Shield?
No, this decision will have no effect whatsoever on story or characters, it's just a detail that I had considered putting in to help flesh out my fantasy world. But I worried and stressed about it until it finally dawned on me: it doesn't matter! It has no effect whatsoever on the story, so why am I wasting valuable writing time stressing over it?
Naturally, my detail-obsessed, self-important side was quick to chime in. Isn't depth of detail important to creating a vivid, life-like fantasy world? After all, look at the kind of detail J.R.R. Tolkien built into Middle Earth - and The Lord of the Rings has been a best-seller for how long, now?
It was quite a heated little internal battle, let me tell you, but I eventually found the bottom line. It's this:
I am not J.R.R. Tolkien. I have not been tasked with building the next Middle Earth or writing the next international, multi-generational best seller.
I'm Mary Pursselley, and God has given me my own unique story to tell. My job is to do the very best I can in telling it... not to equal or even rival anyone else.
Somehow I don't really think God is all that interested in whether the sectors of the capital city have their own names. I get more of the impression that He just wants me to tell a great story about His grace and sovereignty.

So, I'm working on easing up a bit with the obsessive attention to detail and the exaggerated sense of my own importance. Sure, detail is important in building a fantasy world, and as a writer and a Christian I'm committed to always doing my best 'heartily, as unto the Lord'. But for now I'm putting away the microscope and working on just telling God's story, not building the next great fantasy world.
Interestingly enough, I'm having a lot more fun.