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Friday, January 29, 2010

Something's Gotta Give

I fear it may be this blog. This week is crammed, and I'm falling behind on daily tasks. I'm getting to bed after 10 PM (I normally go to bed at 9), and I'm staying awake thinking about things I have to do.
This must be what normal people's lives are like.

I don't care for it.

Cat fights are breaking out regularly as I spend more time out of the house and less time petting and playing with the furry critters.

People think cats don't need them like dogs do. That's not true. Just like children, if you don't give cats attention in good ways, they find bad ways to get it. Also just like children, feeding treats only gets you so far. After a while, you have a fat, unhappy cat and that's something you don't want.
I will have to be more protective of February.

Gotta go. Must - pet - cats!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

January Short

I spent my morning blog time answering Sandbox emails. I'm spending my evening blog time cutting out paintball masks.

See you all tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How To Handle Feedback, part 2

I didn't plan on a "part 2" when I wrote the first post, but Mary DeMuth's post this week about handling critical feedback got me thinking. Again.

Feedback from someone who doesn't read or write your genre should receive special consideration.

On the one hand, anyone can comment on how well you communicated. Did you accurately portray what it would be like to cut your way out of a dead dragon with a belt knife? On the other hand, some people don't want to know what it would be like to cut your way out of a dead dragon with a belt knife. Those people won't appreciate any skill level employed in relaying such information.

So, while the temptation exists to ask anyone and everyone to read and comment on your book, show some restraint. Don't give your horror novel to the reader of Amish romances (the converse is true, as well). If you do, expect some harsh comments and possibly a damaged relationship to repair. It's not a question of right/wrong or good/bad. It's just a question of taste. Don't leave a bad taste in a reader's mouth just because you want the opinion.

For the record, raw dragon - in my world, anyway - is not tasty.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Not mine. Well, not the way you think.

It's been a long time since I've read Christian books, or any books, for that matter, and I'm finding a strange thing happening.

I care more about worldview in a Christian book than I do in a secular book.

This should not surprise me, although it does. Like many people, I hold my beliefs quite dear. I get angry when they are disparaged, and nervous when they are flouted.

I've read several books now that broached subjects that made me nervous. I was surprised to find them in a Christian book, and I couldn't really relax until I knew what the author was going to do with them.

It's okay for a book to cause anxiety. Horror books wouldn't sell if they didn't. But this anxiety is the kind where I have to force myself to keep reading and hope I won't have to pray for the author's salvation when I'm done.

I think Jeff the Publisher brought this up a few times during the contest and in his writing tips. Some subjects will not appeal to the "wide, Christian market (my quotes, not his)." That's why many fiction books get rejected by Christian publishers. It's not that the subjects presented are doctrinally incorrect; it's that the average reader won't tolerate the kind of anxiety I'm describing long enough to read to the real point.

Some audiences have a tolerance, even a taste, for it. The Anomaly crowd, for example, showed no evidence of shying away from themes that struck me as doctrinally shaky.

As always, readers will decide for themselves what they can tolerate. I'm learning to suspend judgment as well as disbelief until I hear the whole argument. That's a good skill to have.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Joseph, continued

I thought I'd said all I wanted to say about him. I was wrong.

I few other reasons I like Joseph:

1) He was honest/ trustworthy. These two go together in my book. He kept getting put in charge of people and things, and his bosses never worried about anything he was in charge of (we're told that three times about three different guys: Potiphar, the warden, and Pharaoh). Dave Ramsey would call that "stupid," but it kept happening. Even Jacob practically put him in charge of his older brothers. That's not only why they sold him into slavery but how they were able to to do it - it was Joseph's honest nature that sent him into harm's way (he couldn't make up something to tell his father) and his trustworthy nature that prevented him from seeing the real danger he was in from his own brothers.

2) He was hard-working. When his dad asked for that report on his brothers, Joseph kept going so he could finish the task. A lazy boy would have stopped looking when his brothers weren't where they were supposed to be. Joseph searched for them. When, as a slave, he enters Potiphar's house, he starts working and works so well Potiphar puts a slave in charge of everything. Same thing happens at the jail. Once more for Pharaoh. Joseph does everything as to the Lord, no matter who he's working for. Genesis tells us God prospers him for it.

3) He was monogamous. Maybe this is an Egyptian cultural thing and Joseph didn't have any control over it, but he's the first guy in four generations to be happy with just the one wife. Even his grandfather Abraham took Sarah's maid as a wife and sired Ishmael. Since God planned humans to be monogamous (only Adam and Eve, remember?), it's nice to see one of our heroes living up to that standard.

4) He was tender-hearted. I cry when Joseph cries, so I cry a lot reading his story. He cries when he meets his brothers, when he meets Benjamin, when he reveals himself to his brothers, when his father shows up after all those years. As Nick Parker would say, "A real man isn't afraid to cry." Joseph was a real man.

5) He had complete faith in God. Joseph is also the first guy in four generations to trust that God will take care of him even if he tells the truth. Abraham lied about Sarah being his sister, Isaac lied about Rebekah being his sister, Jacob lied about everything, pretty much, and yet those are the guys held up as models of faith. I think Joseph should get that prize. But what do I know? I'm just a turtle.

I'm probably done for now. We've entered Exodus in our daily readings, and Moses is a whole other pan of flatbread.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Joseph may be my favorite historical person from the Old Testament. His story affects me more deeply the older I get.

Joseph is the almost youngest son (his full-brother Benjamin is the last born) of Jacob/Israel. He is the firstborn son of Jacob's favorite wife, Rachel, and it is obvious from the beginning - to everyone - that Joseph is his father's favorite son, too.

Israel's obvious favoritism leads to jealousy among Joseph's ten older brothers and ultimately to Joseph being sold into slavery by them.

I've heard his life interpreted two ways.

First, Joseph is an arrogant brat who needed years of slavery and imprisonment to squash the "holier-than-thou" out of him. This is supported by the "coat of many colors" given to him by his father, his regular tattling on his older brothers, and the prophetic dreams he relates to his entire family that sort of become the spark that sets fire to his current life. Without his tempering, Joseph would never have been able to forgive his brothers and save his family.

Second, Joseph is an exceptional guy, doing his best for God in extremely difficult circumstances beyond his control. This is supported by the fact that he cannot control how his father treats him, every time he moves into a new situation God prospers him, and he is continually escaping the worst possible consequences (slavery instead of murder, imprisonment instead of death, vizier over Egypt instead of, well, anything else) and instead moving up in the world with each life change. He is obviously trusted completely by his masters and they prosper as a result. This is not typical of brats, who tend to irritate strangers and bring all manner of grief on themselves as a result (I know whereof I speak).

David Jeremiah is the only one I've heard give the second option, but David Jeremiah is a compassionate guy. He's the only person I've ever heard cut King Saul some slack, too.
Most preachers assume Joseph starts as a jerk and changes to a hero.


I'm a brat, and God continues to temper me. Thankfully my brothers never tried to kill me, but I've been assured that was because of the threat of our father, not any particular merciful sentiment on their parts.

I was pretty awful.

But Joseph, whether he begins as a brat or not, shows one of the most forgiving spirits in the history of the world. His love for his brothers is genuine. When he recognizes his brothers but they don't recognize him, it hurts him. He feels their guilt over what they did to him and that hurts him, too. He understands how God used them, and doesn't hold it against them. That's forgiveness.

If you get the chance to hear David Jeremiah's sermon series on Joseph, take it. It will change your perspective of this famous man who saved the world during seven years of famine. Hopefully it will strengthen your perspective of his God, who showed the ultimate forgiveness on the cross and saved the world from ultimate death, if it will only accept the gift.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


I had the honor of judging in the Midwest Regional Homeschoolers' Forensics Qualifiers for the last two days (that's not the real name, but it is accurate). This is my third year of volunteer judging with homeschoolers, and I encourage anyone given the opportunity to take it.

Do not be afraid of these young people. We want them in power, and we should help them get there.
The Lincoln-Douglas question for this year seems to be "Competition is more useful than cooperation in creating excellence."

Not an easy subject. Last year's topic dealt with subjectivity vs. objectivity as the basis for reality. Boy, that was a show-stopping final debate! I was glad I was one of seven judges. I would never have wanted all that responsibility on my shoulders.

It is an interesting question, though. Competition vs. Cooperation: which is better?

I take the middle line that you need both, but you can't take a middle line in debate. You're either for or against.

The affirmative side argued that competition leads to vitality or striving and that improves quality and provides accountability (There was a third point, but statistically, in any list of three, the third is forgotten).

The negative side argued that competition without morality creates a "survival of the fittest" scenario that ultimately destroys society as a whole. He argued that Biblical morality and its inherent cooperative aspect must be the foundation of all competitive efforts or tyranny will be the end result.
Not a bad argument, really.

As a writer, I realize I also walk a line between competition and cooperation. Competing with other writers (such as in the MLS contest) forces me to improve the quality of my work. It holds me accountable for my skill. If I'm not good enough, readers will not buy my books because I have competitors.

However, cooperation is also useful. If I didn't trust my critique partners at The Sandbox, I would never be able to hone my stories before they were published.

Since I'm not in a Lincoln-Douglas debate, I'm sticking with my resolution that both are necessary, and I will adopt the negative side's argument that Biblical morality is the best foundation for all efforts. Competition without morality does lead to tyranny, but cooperation with no chance of failure leads to apathy.

Congrats to all the participants this year. And a special "thank you" to the cook, who kept me full of biscuits and gravy.

See you in May.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Fringe Disappoints

It had to happen. Every show has a poorly conceived episode (Buffy's near rape scene with Spike, anyone? Like I believed for one second that was possible - sheesh) I should be happy it took a season and a half for my new darling.

The episode started out well enough. A new virus shows up that infects a building full of people, including Peter and Olivia, requiring them all to be quarantined while Walter comes up with a cure. Typical Fringe.

Even better, it has some inherent tension. We know someone we care about will be infected (thanks to the commercials, we knew it was Peter). We know Walter will have issues with his son's life on the line. We know the dynamics of the Peter-Olivia relationship will change. We even expect (and are given) a deepening of the relationship between Walter and Astrid. So far, so good.

About halfway through is when it all starts to fall apart. Walter thinks the virus wants to get out of the building and is biding its time not killing the victims until that happens. I have no problem with this.
Peter is infected and lies about it. I'm fine with that, too. If the virus wants to get out of the building, I would expect this kind of behavior from a victim.

Here's the problem. Here's where logic and common sense are sacrificed to create false tension in the story.

If the CDC trusts Walter enough to believe his test results for contamination, they should trust him enough about his theories on how the virus works. Those infected should have been quarantined immediately in a locked room with restraints and possible sedation to keep them and everyone else safe. This is the simple, logical solution, which though it might break some first amendment rights doesn't lead to snipers and murder.

Instead, the victims are left to roam the building without restraint and become a greater threat. That's stupid.

One of the victims throws herself out a third or fourth story window in an effort to infect people. OK. That's what leads Walter to form his theory about how the virus behaves.

Problem: why do the remaining victims congregate around the main floor safety glass windows trying to get out instead of just jumping out the windows higher up? Or the already open window, for that matter? Do they not think of it? Peter has an IQ of 190.

I'm not buying it.

When a victim is around uninfected people, his dying breath is some kind of red gas, presumably an airborne version of the virus. Yet, the virus isn't spread by air and this is said numerous times by Walter. It requires contact with bodily fluids. So why would victims kill themselves just to not deliver the virus? If the thing needs contact, shouldn't the victims latch on to someone and bleed on them before they die?


And last but not least - the fight between Peter and Olivia. You know for the writer of this episode, this is the climax of the whole thing.

Problem: why would Olivia draw a gun on a man she has no intention of killing and whose blood she cannot touch without infecting herself? Are we supposed to believe that she really would kill him to protect herself? I don't believe it. When she knows Walter has a cure and all she's doing is buying time, then that's all she has to do - buy time. She's not going to shoot Peter.

And I really don't believe Peter could best her in a hand-to-hand fight, even if he is virus-crazed and she's trying not to hurt him. In fact, since she's uninfected, he should have exploded all over her instead of knocking her unconscious and taking her gun.

It is not too much to ask that logical consistency guide character motivations, even characters we don't know, like the CDC guy. This writer started well, but JJ Abrams should have taken a stronger hand with the end of the episode and kept common sense at the forefront.

For example, everyone else could have been contained, and Peter, with his 190 IQ, could have escaped and become the real threat of infection. If Olivia deliberately infected herself so she could hunt him down and bring him in, tension would have been maintained and heightened, because then we would have worried about how long she had until she become a slave to the viral mind.

See? Consistent, logical and satisfying. That's how a story should be, from beginning to end.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Locked Out

It finally happened. I locked myself out of my house.

The good news - I was still wearing my coat, and the dog was outside with me instead of wreaking unsupervised havoc inside.

The bad news - it was 10 PM, my cell phone was inside the house with my purse, and apparently the nearest key is 20 minutes away.

A neighbor let me use his phone to call my brother, who does not have a key like I thought he did. He called my mom because I couldn't remember the unlisted cell number of My Dear Friend who lives in town and has a key. I went back to my house, sat on the back porch in the cold with my dog (who doesn't mind the cold and didn't want to snuggle) and waited for rescue.

Simon watched me from the kitchen window the whole time, no doubt wondering what my silly human brain was thinking, staying outside when his cat belly was empty. I could hear Caleb crying and pawing at the door. He's big enough to reach the lock, which left me pondering whether I could train him to unlock the door and whether that would be a good or bad thing.

A real person would turn this into some kind of spiritual lesson. God was teaching me to rely on Him. Or, with God, the door is always open. Or, I should be grateful I have a house to be locked out of (I did pray for the people of Haiti while I was waiting).

Sorry. I'm not that kind of gal. I did review some Scripture verses I'm memorizing thanks to the Bible study I'm in: 2 Chronicles 7:14, James 4:8, Isaiah 29:11-13.

You may notice a theme. They're all about seeking God through prayer and confession of sin. It's that kind of study.

You know what I spent most of my time considering? That telekinesis is the most useful superpower.

When I sat down on the porch, I thought, Man, if I were telepathic I could contact My Dear Friend without a phone. Then I thought, Snot, if I'm wishing for powers, telekinesis would let me unlock the door. And change the TV channel without a remote. And pull leaves out of my gutters without having to climb a ladder.

Yes, that's where my brain goes in a crisis. That's why I write fantasy fiction and not devotionals. It isn't that I don't love God and can't appreciate how He takes care of me.

My brain just goes to weird places.

So today, I'll be making two spare keys, one for my brother and one for my garage. I suppose after nine years, it's time to have a safety net. I will also devote a portion of my time to trying to change the lock with the power of my mind.

Hey, a girl can dream, right?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Scattering

I miss the contest.

I'll admit it. For all the freaking out about my entry, I miss the excitement. I miss a myriad of authors focusing their energies on discussing the craft. I miss hearing the good and bad points of using the word "said" in your story. Well, I don't miss that, but you get my point.

If the contest was The Gathering and "There Can Be Only One," now that The One is chosen, the rest of us (who were not decapitated in this scenario) are slinking back to the real world.

Some have vanished from the boards. Some are moving forward in their own marketing attempts. Wordcrafter has set up a New Authors Blog at wordpress which looks interesting. Some have connected on Facebook. Some are playing in The Sandbox.

I wait for the email from Jeff the Publisher either thanking-but-no-thanking-me or requesting a full manuscript. My shaky math skills tell me to wait until mid-February before I ask if he's forgotten me. I'm sure he's busier than I am.

I suppose I should be grateful my schedule is so full. It leaves less time for wallowing in despair that all my new friends have rediscovered their old lives.

Still, I find myself somewhat lonely in my field of buttercups.

The last time I was engulfed with despair, I wrote the Star of Justice chapters where Caissa turns suicidal. I figured why waste a good funk? Writing is about emotion, after all. Reading about other people's emotions is almost as good as feeling your own.

This time I'm starting with a suicidal character, so I have plenty of emotional material to work with. So, thank you for that, Lord. (I'm not suicidal, by the way, just a little sad. Probably has as much to do with Day Seven of The Fog as anything else)

And, Jeff is discussing possible rules for the MLS 2.0, if it should happen. If you have thoughts on the subject, mosey over to The Anomaly and put in your words of wisdom. Be warned: dizzyjam wrote a small book on the subject in his most recent post. I couldn't get through the whole thing, but maybe you have more time ;)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Running In Place

Time is slipping away, slip, slip, slipping away.

Our Sunday School is reading the whole Bible in a year, which involves daily Bible reading. I am almost caught up from when I was sick. I will achieve this goal, no matter that our class is still on Genesis 1:1 nineteen days into the year.

I am part of a Bible study for the next two months that is preparing me to facilitate the study when it goes church-wide in March, which will last another two months. This involves daily homework, which, if last night was any gauge, will involve one to two hours at a stretch.

I am a leadership member of two political groups ramping up efforts to safeguard elections here in Kansas this November. These groups have meetings and emails and rallys and all kinds of time-consuming stuff involved with them.

I have joined a critique group called The Sandbox with members who are submitting excerpts for critique faster than I can sign on to my email. I am also critiquing a book on the side for a new friend from MLS. I take critiquing very seriously, but as a turtle, it takes me a while to consider stuff.

I also want to write my own book. I know that takes time.

The good part is I have only a furry family to juggle with all this. They are remarkably forgiving when a can of cat food or doggie treat is offered. We will increase our "laser tag" time to make up it, I'm sure.

Some of you are thinking, "So? You should see my schedule."

I can only say, I am not accustomed to this kind of demand. I have spent most of my life ordering my world to avoid it. Type B, remember? I am struggling to find the balance. There must be a balance, because I cannot maintain this pace. Turtles (other than Gamora) don't have a "turbo" setting.

Add to this The Fog that has covered my state for six days and blocked me from my much needed sunshine fix, and I'm about ready to turn the computer off and vanish from the electronic world for a while.

Thanks to all the Bible study, I expect Satan to attack any time now. That's okay. God has my back, and He's enough.

So, I'll be praying for you all (that's part of my homework). Please pray for me when you have a spare minute.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Grandmother's Praise

Grandma T is 96. She remembers being pulled to school on a sled drawn by horses when the snow was too deep to walk through. She is the youngest of 8 children of a Scottish immigrant, and the wife of a dairy farmer for 71 years. Turns out she was also a brat, something I didn't know until this last year.

Grandma T lives in a nursing home now. She has crippling arthritis that confines her to a chair or a bed. She is in constant pain, but I have rarely heard her mention it. I hope, should I live to be 111, I do it with the grace I have seen in her. She remains sharp as a tack, and I would trust her recollection of events more than my own in most cases.

Grandma T reads voraciously, mostly romances borrowed from the library. I very much wanted her to read Star of Justice, but I couldn't think of a way to make it happen. Her arthritis means she cannot support much weight, certainly not the 4" 3-ring binder that holds my manuscripts.

My solution? Stapling each chapter together, turning up the corners to make it easy to turn the pages, and two boxes - one for unread pages and one for finished pages. I was quite pleased with myself.
I delivered the book during one of my weekly visits and left it with her. Then I waited.

Naturally, plans never work quite as expected. Grandma read the book piecemeal, waiting for my uncle to give her new chapters during his visits instead of asking the interns. Oh, well. When she assured me she had read the book, I asked her what she thought.

"I thought you said it was a religious book?"

"It is, Grandma."

"Well, it's not like any religious book I ever read."

I do not doubt her. Figuring she would never be able to recall names, I asked if she had a favorite part.

"Well, I liked it when the man went back to help that girl. People just don't go out of their way to do that anymore, and they should."

She could have been referring to any number of places in the book (this "helping" happens a lot), but I was now assured she had read it.

Yesterday, during my visit, the subject of books came up again.

"Have you ever heard of a borgor?" she asked me.

"I don't think so," I said.

"I was reading about one. It sounds like it's some kind of skunk, but I've never heard of such a thing. I asked your uncle to look it up for me."

"Well, there are all kinds of Australian animals I don't know. Maybe it's one of those."

"Yeah, I was reading this book, and this man got sprayed and all the other men wanted him to walk at the back because he smelled."

HOLY COW! THAT'S A SCENE FROM MY BOOK! (She mispronounced the animal's name, but since I'd made it up recently, I wouldn't have remembered it anyway. That's why I keep creature files on all my stories. I can't remember what I call the things.)

"Grandma, that was from my book!"

"No, it was one of these." She tapped her stack of paperbacks.

"Grandma, it was my book. The guy gets sprayed by this creature and everybody wants him to stay downwind because he stinks."

"Well, maybe it was. I should tell Bob not to bother looking it up, then."

So, even though it's not her kind of book, and it's not religious like she expected, apparently, it's memorable. Or somewhat memorable.

High praise indeed from Grandma T.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Jacob's Birthright

We're reading Genesis mid-20's to early 30's this week (I'm trying to catch up, thanks to the cold).

I wonder, did God want to use Esau to fulfill His promise to Abraham? Esau was the firstborn son. By tradition, he should have inherited everything. If he had kept his head and controlled his appetites when presented with that bowl of lentil stew, would Jesus have come from the line of Abraham, Isaac and Esau?

I wonder.

What about Jacob, the deceiver? He offered that bargain to his brother, the little sneak. He tricked his dad into giving him the blessing that should have gone to Esau. Yes, I mean tricked. He wrapped himself in goatskins so he would feel hairy like Esau if his father touched him. That's malice aforethought in my book, and I understand completely why Esau was hacked about it.

I don't believe God wanted Jacob to do what he did. God is truth. He doesn't lie or deceive or trick people. It is contrary to His nature. God didn't condone Jacob's actions; He allowed them. Part of that free will thing.

The amazing part to me is how God was able to use Jacob at all. The guy's a mess from the get-go. He's a pathological liar. How great is the God who can redeem such a man and use him to bring Jesus into the world?

The Bible shows in every chapter how holy God is and how corrupt man is. It's not an easy book to read, but I'm glad we have it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I Love Fringe

My Facebook friends know I've had a cold the last few days. That means my posts have been typed in the 20 minute respite when the medicine actually works and I can stare at the screen through one squinted eye with Kleenex stuffed up both nostrils.

My colds happen in my eyes. Any light sends me into sneezing fits, so I draw the curtains, keep a cold compress on my eyes and wish for death.

This cold I've been able to listen to the first season of Fringe. You know a show is well-written when you can listen to it instead of watch it.

I should say up front, I don't agree with the Fringe worldview. It's humanistic and cynical and, well, often gross (the pilot episode had melting people in it -eew!). But, I must admit, this is my kind of gross.

I knew I loved this show the moment I met Walter Bishop, the happy mad scientist. He's so excited about dead bodies, and fruit cocktail, and illegal drug use. He eats Twizzlers while performing autopsies. He blows up papayas with micro waves. He talks to dead people, as long as they haven't been dead more than 6 hours. And I love him for it.

I wish I had created Walter. I've invented some wonderful people, but I wish I had created Walter. I suspect I love him so much because he loves food so much. It's the one thing we have in common.

I love Peter and Olivia, too, don't get me wrong. Even darling, dainty Astrid with her unkempt fro has found a place in my heart. She's so quiet and capable. Walter's lab would be hip-deep in exploded fruit if not for her.

Once again, J.J. Abrams has done something wonderful for geeks everywhere. For those of us who've missed The X Files (you know, when it was good, before it turned all alien conspiracy and Scully-loves-Mulder), Fringe is a new take on the old world of weird. And I love it.

Twizzler, anyone?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Occupational Hazard

Before I get started, I must recommend going over to "Speculative Musings" and reading Paul Baines' zombie love story based on Twilight. Keep going, Paul. You have a winner there.

In season four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy and Zander are watching a martial arts' film on a double-date. Buffy scoffs her way through the show, finally ending with an exasperated, "What's powering that kick? Sheer enthusiasm?" You see, Buffy kicks demon tail and horns and claws eight days a week. She's going to be a harsh judge of martial arts' skills because her life depends on them.

In the movie Fireproof, Caleb buys his wife a cheap bouquet as proof that he loves her. When Catherine walks in and sees the mason jar with its ugly ribbon, one rose, one stem of stock, and some sad foliage, it's meant to be funny and pathetic and so we laugh. I work at a florist magazine. I'm around florists and floral designers 40 hours a week. I can tell you no florist worth her preservative would have allowed such a bouquet out of her shop, let alone her delivery van. Even Walmart's unmanned kiosk bouquets look better than that sad, little arrangement. It bothers me, and I know it bothers real florists who actually care.

Writing is like that. When you consider yourself a writer, you care about it more than other people (or you should). You notice things the average reader wouldn't. You train yourself to excel at your craft - the craft of communication. And, when you see sub-par writing, you cringe. You begin to throw books away instead of finishing them (for me, that started right after college).

I need to be careful, though. I suspect I could miss a great story because I'm looking for the out-of-place comma. I've said before writing is a skill that cannot be perfected. We aim for clarity, but because we work with words and meaning and the unknown perceptions of the reader, we cannot ever write the perfect story that reaches every person.

So, while yesterday's post was about holding ourselves to a higher standard, today's is about cutting ourselves a little slack.

Keep those standards high, but have fun, too. It's too much work to take so seriously.

Good job, Paul. Thanks for the laughs.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


A book is a contract between the author and the reader.

The reader agrees to pay X amount of money for a story. The author agrees to provide X amount of entertainment/education/information.

The value of X determines how much the reader trusts the author.

This may be one reason publishing houses are so important. A publishing house has an established, trusted name. The reader can be reasonably assured that any author the publishing house approves can tell at least a passable story.

Trust is difficult to develop. I've noticed as I've given my story out for feedback, and as I've received others for the same thing, trust is lacking. When you ask for comments, the automatic assumption must be that there are comments to be made. That, as a newbie, you don't know what you're doing, and are therefore prone to mistakes of understanding or execution.

In short, a lack of trust.

I am not offended by this. I have recently been reminded to "trust but verify." The one has nothing to do with the other.

I think this is what happened during the contest. The "reader" judges trusted the authors to deliver on their promises. Most readers aren't writers. It would be natural to assume if someone can think up such a story idea, that someone should be able to write about it.

The "writer" judges know better. We know how hard it is to communicate well. We looked for all the little things we try to purge from our own writing because we know how such things can slow the reader down or interfere with understanding or turn a great idea into a mediocre book. How such things can ultimately betray trust.

Trust is difficult to develop, but painfully easy to lose. Betray your readers with a substandard book, and they may forgive you once, but they won't be duped for long.

Writers are encouraged to polish their skills, continually. Our goal is to be the best possible story-tellers we can be, no matter what standard the readers will accept. If we push ourselves, they will come to expect excellence from all authors. That can only be a good thing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Characters, Cameras and POV

Point of View came up a lot in the MLS contest. Some people like first person, some like third person, some like omniscient, some don't seem to know what they like. They just want to read and would you please stop talking about writing?

Point of View can be described as the camera through which the book is filmed. The camera angle determines what gets shown and how. The Blair Witch Project, anyone? Or Sixth Sense, for that matter. The entire movie is filmed from Bruce Willis' perspective. We only know what he knows, and eventually we are just as surprised as he is (I was, anyway).

In Star of Justice, the camera falls out of the sky to land on Caissa's shoulder as she signs her name to the letter she is writing. I say shoulder because the book is written in third person. If it were written in first person, the camera would be inside her body. Maybe more on that in another post.

From the moment Caissa is identified as the viewpoint character, anything you read should (I hope) be firmly within Caissa's viewpoint. You will experience and know nothing that she doesn't experience and know.

This understanding of viewpoint is important for one reason with two sides.

It focuses your writing on one person's understanding of events. The reader can agree or disagree with that one person, but she has a frame of reference for viewing the whole story.

And, it limits the information the reader will get.

This is important.

Choose your viewpoint character based on the information you want your audience to have. Some characters know too much. Take Sherlock Holmes. Can you imagine a story written from his perspective? He's got the whole thing figured out the moment the inspector walks through the door. How much fun would that book be to read?

Some characters tell a better story, even though they aren't right in the middle of the action. This would be Watson. He's a nice, normal guy who doesn't know the origins of talcum powder.
Consider which of your characters will tell the better story and use that character to do it.

This doesn't mean you have to limit yourself to only one viewpoint per book. You may use as many as you wish, as long as you understand that every viewpoint change will take a toll on the reader.
For an author, how to tell the story should be considered as carefully as what story you're going to tell.

And I've never seen The Blair Witch Project. My motion sickness couldn't handle the shaking vid-cam.

Monday, January 11, 2010

How to Handle Feedback

"Consider the comment, then consider the source."

Mom told me that. It's good advice. First consider what is said. Is it true? Is it helpful? It is something you can change? If those answers seem to be "no," consider who said it. Is that person a friend, an enemy, or an objective observer? If it's someone who might actually know what he's talking about, go back and reconsider the comment. If he's not trustworthy, don't sweat it.

I tend to reverse those phrases.

If I don't trust the source, why would I trust the comment? I wouldn't expect to get advice about brain surgery from a hot dog vendor. Although, in today's economy...

If I ask for the comments, that's one thing. I never ask questions I don't want answered. It's one of my personal rules. I must consider such comments, not the source.

But if the comments are just offered, then, you betcha I'm going to consider the source first. Who is this person? Are they qualified to make such remarks? Does the comment have merit in its own right? Those sorts of questions. Otherwise I would spend my entire life shaping myself to anybody's opinions. That's not a good use of my time.

As far as feedback and my writing are concerned, right now my book is given with the understanding that my readers will comment. That means I expect people to say whatever they want about my story, even if I don't want to hear it. That's tough for some nice people, but I mean what I say. I want to know about the problems while I can fix them.

Here's how I do it.

When I get that email (most comments are by email at this point), I read it for all the good stuff first. That makes me happy. It's good to start happy.

Then I read all the "bad" stuff - the questions, the confusion, the grammar corrections or sentence restructuring. I consider these one by one. Do they improve the writing? Do they highlight a weak spot? If someone took the time to comment, (usually) it means it was a problem for them. How many other readers will be bothered by that same issue?

This is hard, but the trick is to focus on the writing, not your sense of self-worth. As long as the comments are about the writing, you can do this. It's about skill improvement.

Now, the moment comments stray into "I can't believe you were dumb enough to write it this way," I would be done. I've never gotten comments like that, by the way, but I would never consider them if I did. That's a "source" issue and that source would be off my list (I've got hundreds of people dying to abuse me!).

If I don't have a specific reason for the writing being that way, 9 times out of 10, I'll change it. Why wouldn't I? Pride? I asked for this comment. How arrogant do I have to be to ignore it just because it doesn't make me happy?

Now, I won't change everything, not even for the guy giving me a paycheck. At some point, it's time to be done with changes and just write another book. But most comments don't want another book. They just want this one to be a little better. We all want that.

Then I go back and read the happy stuff again. In fact, those are the parts I'll read and reread
whenever I get discouraged. Those are the parts that keep me going through the hard parts.

So that's my process for analyzing feedback. A big thank-you to all my readers. I do consider all of you excellent sources.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The God Must Be Crazy

It's no wonder people think Bible-believers are insane.

Pick up the book of Genesis and start reading. (This is what most normal people do with a book - begin at the beginning)

You will see a God who creates everything, calls it good and then destroys almost everything because now it's all bad (Noah and the ark). Then he picks a liar and a coward to be the "father of nations" (that would be Abram, later Abraham) and waits until the guy is 100 to fulfill His promise of a son and heir. This guy's relatives (Lot and his family) live in the worst city in the world (Sodom) yet have to be forced out of it to save their lives. Later, these same people (Lot and his surviving daughters) commit incest and God makes nations out of the resulting children.

What is going on in this book?

Well, there's a few things to understand about the Bible.

First, it's an accurate historical record. As we all know, people do some really stupid, horrible things (getting kicked out of Eden springs to mind). The Bible doesn't sugar-coat those things. It shows people in all their stupid horribleness. That's one of the reasons we can know it's true. It shows reality.

Second, the Bible shows God dealing with these stupid, horrible decisions. In every instance, He shows justice tempered with mercy.

The world becomes completely evil; God redeems one family to keep humans alive (instead of killing them all and starting over with bees). He even saves animals because He knows we need them.

Humans forget God, yet He chooses one guy for no particular reason at all to demonstrate His faithfulness to the rest of us. The story of Abraham is the story of God fulfilling His promise because He said He would.

The Bible must be read as a whole. Even though it is many different books, it was written by one Author - the Author who was and is and is to come. He is outside time and sees the whole picture. No part of the Bible is obsolete. No part should be ignored.

If you decide to start at the beginning, keep reading. And remember, God isn't insane.

We are.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Tweaking Leads to Doubt

Most of the time I am proud of my books. Most of the time I am objective and pleased with what I've created.

I have moments, though, when doubt sets in. Doubt is a very calm word. I can't think of a better one, unless it is fear.

Did I answer all the right questions? What did I miss that someone else will notice? Are the characters consistent in their thoughts and actions?

I feel like I'm standing naked on a podium every time I get an email from a reader. Praise God most emails are positive (and the ones that aren't have been helpful).

Still, I wait for that moment of "I missed what?" that will cause my entire house of cards to fall down and the whole 166,000 word book to become ridiculous in scope. That would be a lot of ridiculous words. A lot of wasted time.

Conceit drives this. The fear that I am not as wonderful a writer as I think I am. The idea that one day I'll be at a book signing, and some young pup dressed as Merritt or Raven will approach with a question about how dryads and naiads can talk to each other. Or something I can't answer.

I suspect every artist feels this way about his creation. We are often our own worst critics, after all.
The fact is my story is made up. I don't have answers for every possible question or concern a reader might have, nor can I. I did the best I could to create a plausible world with plausible people. I hope I succeeded. That's all I can tell myself when the doubt sets in.

But keep the questions coming. Maybe thinking of the answers will inspire another book.

Friday, January 8, 2010


It occurred to me I don't know if or when Jeff the Publisher may request a full manuscript. So, I spent last night reformatting Star of Justice. I just learned how to do the "indent" thing instead of the "tab" thing.

It is amazing the things you see when you're not looking for them.

I already knew I needed to change the measurement system (apparently, "hands" means something entirely different in equestrian terms than I intended for this world and has caused some confusion).
I'm finding and changing all hands (about 9 inches) and paces (about 12 inches) to hafmets, or about 18 inches. My tiny solar calculator has been busy.

I want to remove italics on weird words, like olum, erguk and mavle. In this world, those are real words, not weird words. For example, we don't italicize oak in normal writing.

Based on some comments from a reader, I am looking for confusing paragraphs, where action by one character interrupts speaking by another character. I've found and corrected a few, usually just by adding a paragraph break.

And I must decide if the Ah'rahkeen races are one race with different characteristics (like humans) or six separate races (like dogs and cats). That's kind of important.

So that was my night.

My morning will be spent trying to start my car in -1 degrees.

Happy global warming, everyone. Bundle up.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Bit of A Ramble About...Role Play

When I say "role play," most Christians see drunk teenagers wearing cloaks and swords roaming the woods at midnight chopping up virgins and summoning demons with a ouija board.

That may happen. I wouldn't know. I wouldn't take part in such an event. Too much like theater.

When I say "role play," I mean no more than seven people sitting around a large table with a map, dice and a rulebook playing a game far more interesting than Monopoly.

Here's a run-down:
The GM (Game Master) creates a story, usually a quest involving a search for treasure, the overthrow of some evil power and often the rescue of innocents along the way (sounds a lot like a video game, doesn't it?).

The players (no more than six or it just gets dull waiting for your turn during battles) create characters who join this quest. My group was very serious about character creation. Our characters had backgrounds, life histories, spouses/siblings - all sorts of things that might be used by the GM as part of the plot.

The actual effect of the game is to create a story. The GM provides the plot, the players provide the action and dialogue and plot twists, and together you create something you want to talk about for years (and no one else wants to hear).

For example, Kirk was the first character I role-played. He had a great respect for bears. Our GM forgot about this and used bears as guards for a cave we had to enter. The bears were killed. Kirk was so devastated he left the party and went on a quest of absolution to cleanse himself of the evil. Result: Kirk was no longer in the game.

(The GM was quite annoyed, but, hey, that's what Kirk the character would have done. Galena was created as a result, and I love her, so it's all good.)

The story took a different turn because of the background of the character, and we ran with it, and got a great new story.

I used to take notes, write them up in "cool" form and bring them back for everyone to read at the next game. That was fun, too.

I miss my group, but in the years since we dissolved, I started writing my own stories about those characters I created. That led to Star of Justice, and I can't be upset about that.

Now you know what I mean when I say "role play."

And I only wear my cloak at RenFest.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


"Unreasonable people make life so difficult." Nick Parker, Blind Fury.

Today began as any normal day. By mid-afternoon, all ---- broke loose.

That could be the opening sentence of any good book. Good books are, after all, about conflict. Main Character wants what she cannot have, for whatever reason. We want her to have it, and we root for her while she's getting it and boo the bad guys who try to stop her or take it away. That's a story.

It's different when it's your life.

I don't particularly like conflict. I'm a turtle. We don't do rocky. We do flat.

But God doesn't always give us flat. Flat makes us boring and soft.

Flat makes for soft, boring stories, too. Give your characters some big hurdle to overcome. Some impossible task to accomplish. Some completely unreasonable person to deal with. In stories, that's what we want.

In real life, that's what we get.

Frankly, I'd rather read it than live it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Right of Way

Two cars meet at a four way stop. Right of way (in Kansas) states the car on the right goes first if they stop at the same time.

It's a simple law. I remember it. I have no problem with it. The privilege of driving includes following the rules of driving.

However, when the driver on the right is a man, and the driver on the left is a woman, the man seems to think the law no longer applies.

I'm not a femi-Nazi. I'm not even a women's libber. I expect a man to hold a door for me, and I say "thank you" when he does.

But this waving me through - you know what I mean - infuriates me. Usually because it's an impatient wave, like "hurry up and go, lady, I'm being polite and it's wasting my valuable time."

You know what? If your time is that important to you, try following the law and take the right of way!

Monday, January 4, 2010


Now that the contest is over, the MLS board is quiet. It seems those authors inclined to do so have started some groups. Those authors not so inclined are doing...well, whatever they want, I suppose.

I have joined a Yahoo writing group called the Anomaly Sandbox, inspired by The Anomaly forum. I've never been in a Yahoo group, so I have no idea how it works or what I'm doing. I'm grateful everyone else seems to be in the same boat. I have also contacted a few authors whose entries appealed to me either in genre, idea or writing style with the purpose of trading pieces of writing for feedback.

Interesting word, feedback. It's the PC word for critique because critique leads to connotations of critical and we can't have that.

The problem is in order for feedback to be truly useful, it should contain some critical elements. I've said before writers cannot afford to take criticism personally. When done correctly, criticism isn't about the writer; it's about the writing. If the writing isn't clear, the author needs to know. How else can it be corrected? That's what feedback is all about.

I sound very stoic about this. Fact is, I've rarely been critiqued on my writing. Oh, yes, in high school and college, but who cared back then? I've only belonged to one critique group as an adult. Since I was the only Christian fantasy author in a group of liberal poets, sex educators and one eleven year old, it's safe to say I didn't find much help with content issues. Actually, the eleven year old was the most helpful. We understood each other. They were nice people, but they argued with me over the PC aspects of calling certain characters barbarians. That's a fairly judgmental word, after all.

I have been critiqued on other things, though. My master's is in marriage and family therapy. Believe me, you haven't been critiqued until you present a tape of a therapy session to five other students and a teacher and have them tell you what you should have done to help that family. That is personal, and makes critiques of my writing seem like a hug.

So we'll see how this next experiment in the writing journey progresses. I will continue to take one turtle step at a time. Persistence is the key, and turtles can be very persistent.

I will also begin to explore other areas of The Anomaly. It has numerous other boards, after all, some of them devoted to fantasy and sci-fi issues.

See? Even a turtle can learn to be adventurous. I hope I don't get my head chopped off.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Bible

God willing, for 2010, Sunday posts will be about scripture. I have no idea what that means, so I'll just start writing.

I believe the Bible is both an accurate historical record and a divine revelation of God's relationship with humans from the beginning of time, written by men inspired by God, eyewitnesses to the fulfillment of prophecy given by the One who knows all things (2 Peter 1:16-21). This belief puts me in the minority of Christians today, who prefer to water down scripture by believing certain things are metaphors or fictional lessons or plain made-up stories.

I once heard a pastor completely remove the divine miracle of the feeding of the 5000 by saying Jesus' example of sharing led everyone there to pull their "hidden" lunches out of their pockets. To dilute the meaning of scripture because you don't believe in the supernatural power of God is blasphemy in my book. I doubt that pastor believes in Judgment Day, either, which won't stop it from happening.

Here's where things get dicey. While I believe the Bible is accurate and divinely inspired, and useful for lots of things, it is not sufficient for salvation. An example.

Let's say I wrote an auto-biography. You read it. You like it. You think I'm the best person in the world (this is a made-up example, remember) and you want to be my best friend. You carry my book with you everywhere. You memorize whole chapters and quote them at people. I come up in your daily conversations. One day, we meet at Sonic and you start telling me how great I am and how close we are and how you've sold all your stuff so you can come live with me. You know what I'm going to say?

"Get away from me, crazy person. I don't know you."

Sound familiar?

God is a person. A really big, powerful person, but a person. Jesus is a person, too. So is the Holy Spirit. To meet one is to meet them all. The Bible can tell you about God, but only He can be your friend. If you don't know Jesus, it's easy to remedy. Ask Him now to become real to you. Ask Him to teach you how to know Him. Then read your Bible. You will see things you've never seen before because your new friend The Holy Spirit will teach you how to see.

Yes, it all sounds mystical and weird. Well, get over it. God is mystical and weird. That's the kind of guy He is. But He's also loving, and constant, and personal and, quite frankly, the most interesting person you will ever know.

Way more interesting than me. :)

Well, that's one post about scripture.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


I put a "funny" about myself on my website, and, as with most humor, discovered a grain of truth.
I regularly over-stuff my soups.

Soups aren't the only thing I over-stuff. I have six cats. I buy sketchbooks and pens even though I haven't seriously drawn anything in the last decade. I have more furniture (hand-me-down) than house.

And I put everything I can think of into my stories. Remember, all my worlds connect. Every book has pieces of other books in it. I don't explain those pieces, I just show them, because I hope someday you'll read another of my books and say "Hey, I remember that guy!"


I'm wondering if I'm writing my own fan fiction. Chuckle. Or the never ending soap opera.

The funny thing is I don't like to read books like that. I prefer to follow one character and really get to know him.

In college, I studied Minuchin. He theorized "you are who you're with." Different people bring out different aspects of your personality. You're perfect when you're the same person with everyone.

Well, I'm not perfect. Neither are my characters. So expect my stories to be stuffed with people, because that's how you learn who they really are.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Maligayang Bagong Taon!

I have it on good authority that means "Happy New Year!" I don't celebrate New Year's myself. I'm an early bird, not a night owl. I am grateful the extremely cold weather kept the firecracker crowd inside last night. I slept uninterrupted until cat breakfast.

(I never mention the dog waking me up because she's better behaved than the cats. Bless her.)

Many people use the the New Year to make resolutions they later break. I do not. If I'm going to resolve something, I do it when the idea occurs to me. No sense waiting.

This year our Bible study group will read the entire Bible in chronological order. I've never done that before and I am looking forward to it. I will, naturally, start today. This can only help me in my writing journey as a Christian author. I continually seek inspiration for my characters in the Scriptures (guiding verses, issues to overcome, that sort of thing). I suspect God will use this discipline to reward me in ways I cannot now see.

I will continue to seek publication, both for Star of Justice and Elementals. For the moment, Star of Justice will stay with Jeff the Publisher until I receive a "send me more" or a "not yet, thank you." But I can work on Elementals. This means more research, more marketing-skill polishing, perhaps more contests. I will keep self-publishing as an option, but MLS has shown me the value of having at least one other author review something (my growing thanks to the Lioness!).

Those are two goals, and that's enough for this turtle. That was the "looking forward" part of the blog evaluation.

Now, a brief look back to get that out of the way.

I think I've added two new followers to the blog, both of whom were in the premise contest.

Welcome to The Wordcrafter/ Keven Newsome who wrote Winter, and to Diane Graham, who wrote I Am Ocilla, one of the winning premises! Congratulations, Diane! And Wordcrafter, I am shocked yours didn't advance. It is safe to say, any future publication I enjoy will be God's doing, because I can't read a crowd's preferences to save my life.

I have added more scriptures to my blog, finished labeling posts (the hard part is remembering to label in the first place), and added several more "blogs I follow" as I find writers at MLS I like. Diane, that's an invitation to send me your blog info.

As for my website, I've been having all kinds of fun! I added a full page for Star of Justice, and even have my first "reader comment." I will add another page of links for "authors to watch" from MLS. Several authors have websites but no blogs. I hope to change something on the website once a month to keep it interesting.

Good-bye, 2009. I will hopefully remember only the good things. Hello, 2010. May God have mercy on us all.