Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Epic: A Review of War and Peace

Leo Tolstoy
Well over five hundred thousand words. Almost fifteen hundred pages. Four "volumes," two epilogues, covering seven years. Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace is the seventh longest novel ever written in a Latin or Cyrillic based language. The epic follows five families, Russian aristocrats, from 1805 to 1812. Although it is about Russian life both in peacetime and during the "Patriotic War of 1812," when Napoleon invaded Russia, its main subject is love and purpose. False love, true love, a family's love, God's love. The purpose of life, of war, of religion.
Tolstoy's massive novel, like Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, is a classic that, despite being written in a foreign language over a century ago in a format that would be unpublishable today, continues to be read and enjoyed.
The differences between his characters and American readers of today are chasmic. They are aristocratic, we have been raised in a society of unbridled equality.  Many of them, especially the young ones, possess a worshipful love for their ruler and their country, while many of us consider our ruler one of the worst Americans ever born. (If he's even American, which we very much doubt.)
To top it all off, Tolstoy intersperses his story with essays about his theories and opinions on military history, strategy, and patriotism. A modern author trying to publish a book containing even one such essay would have it promptly edited out, if he even got that far. In a culture of abbreviations and shorthand, we have lost all patience for opinions that are not enshrouded in entertainment. We have Internet and status updates and all our information comes in little pieces. We don't have time for long books.
 And yet War and Peace has not disappeared. Apparently some things are timeless. The questions: "What is love?" and "What is our purpose?" are still being asked. No matter who we are or what culture we are products of, we will always understand those questions.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

My First Finished Book

After four years of sweat, tears, re-editing, leaving severely alone only to come back and re-edit again, re-writing, editing, leaving alone...
Something Broken, otherwise known as My First Finished Book, has been successfully self-published through Amazon's CreateSpace and is available to buy online! It will be printed on-demand and sent to the address you specify.
 It's also available as a Kindle e-book, if you're into that sort of thing.

Here's the link:

I'm really excited right now. I can't even express this. On one hand I feel like it's not perfect and I'm going to keep wanting to fix things and now it's too late.
But guess what? I don't have to edit it again to publish it. It's published.

On another note, there are two reasons I have not posted anything in weeks. The first is that I had a choice between continuing the blog and publishing Something Broken.
The second reason, which is also why I had to choose, is that I am serving as a seasonal rock climbing and white water rafting guide for Peak 7 Adventures, which is a Christian outdoor adventure ministry that takes under-priviliged youth on adventure trips. I was a guide for them last summer and it was an amazing, growing, awesome experience. I love combining ministering to youth and being in the outdoors.
Anyway, I don't have a lot of time right now and I'll have even less as the summer goes on, so this blog is going on hold for now. We'll see what happens in the fall as I'm planning a wedding and getting married :)
For now, please check out Something Broken!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Emmanuel: God With Us

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
Hebrews 4:15

“That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already, but that God could have His back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents forever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point -- and does not break. In this indeed I approach a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss; and I apologize in advance if any of my phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in the terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt. It is written, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." No; but the Lord thy God may tempt Himself; and it seems as if this was what happened in Gethsemane. In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God. He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. 
And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.” ~ G.K. Chesterton

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:16

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tale of A Dangerous Criminal

Once upon a time, TJ was a little kid. There was TJ, and there was me.
We were riding our bikes along the road because we were going to the park. As we were riding along, TJ got an idea.
The road we were riding on was straight and very boring. TJ thought it was too boring. TJ is very committed to safety. He thought that the road was so boring that drivers might fall asleep. So he decided to improve it.
First, we rode back home and he found a bunch of nails and we hammered them into the road to improve traction. They also worked like a rumble strip to wake people up and remind them that they were driving a car. 
Then he found a bunch of beams lying about at a nearby jobsite. He used those to make a sort of maze out of the road. The maze would keep things interesting for drivers, as they wove in and out of the beams.
Lastly, he picked a bunch of old couch upholstery out of the dump three blocks down and tied it over the road from tree to tree. It was to insulate the road from ice and also to keep snow from building up on the asphalt.
We felt very accomplished, and TJ was admiring his handiwork, when the first car came along.
It was going very fast. It was white, with writing on it that neither of us could read. After all, we were only about five or six. There were blue and white flashing lights all over it, like the driver wanted to pretend he was an ambulance.
That car completely ignored the maze. Maybe the driver was sleeping. (TJ said we should have put more things on the road.) The car smashed straight into the first beam. Then one of the tires popped on a nail, because it was going so fast.
The driver started getting out and he seemed very angry. He was wearing dark glasses, which TJ said proved he was a bad guy. TJ said he was probably driving so fast because he was running from the police. 
I wanted to stay and see the police catch him. I'd never seen a police. But TJ said the man was dangerous and we should go home.
We rode off as fast as we could.
The next time we drove by, our traction devices and maze and snow protector were all gone. TJ was a little disappointed. But he took pleasure in the thought that we had helped catch a dangerous criminal by stopping his flight from justice.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Puzzle

We’re born holding a box with a thousand pieces inside, all mixed up, and there’s only one way to make them fit together.

And we’re separated from the directions. We have to find them or figure the puzzle out for ourselves. 

I read once that to believe the wrong thing is to be closer to the truth than to believe that there is no such thing as the wrong thing. The man who adheres to his erroneous belief, insisting that it is the truth, at least believes that there is a truth.
If a man thinks the sky is red, as least he allows that the sky is a color. A man who says murder is right is still admitting the existence of right and wrong. To believe firmly that water is poisonous is to believe firmly that there is such a thing as poison. 
Some people find a set of false directions and they follow them, doggedly trying to make the pieces fit. They may try their whole lives, or give up in disgust. They may realize the futility of the attempt and go in search of the truth. Or they may manage to jury-rig the puzzle into something that makes more or less sense, although it is not the thing of perfect interlocking beauty that the puzzle maker intended. 
These men may never put the puzzle together. But they have one thing right. They know one part of the truth. 
They know that truth exists.

It is the agnostic who says the sky is not a color, that there is no right or wrong, and no such thing as poison or antidote, that is the furthest from solving the puzzle. He is denying the existence of the pieces, because he can’t figure out how to make them fit.

That’s why I think it makes more sense for someone to have a wrong belief than for someone to say that no beliefs are wrong because all beliefs are right. 
That’s like saying there is no puzzle. And if there’s nothing to put together, nothing to do and nowhere to go, what’s the point of life itself?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Matthew's Passion

“And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;”
Matthew 27:51

Once, when I was younger and more foolish, I read the book of Matthew and found it stiff. It seemed cold. 
I thought that the factual, logical progression of events was the work of someone so focused on accuracy and the fulfillment of the commands of the Law and prophecies of the Messiah that he had forgotten to put any life, any emotion, any of the God he was writing about, into his book. It was better than the book of Leviticus, but much less interesting than the book of Job, with its descriptions of dragons and dinosaurs, its tale of a man’s great agony and God’s awesome power. It was a better story than the confusing philosophies of Ecclesiastes, but less compelling than the epic beginnings related in Genesis. 

In short, I didn’t care very much for the book of Matthew.

I was wrong.

There is great power and surprising passion in the book of Matthew. 
Last night as I read the final chapters, it came alive to me like it never had before. The words were practical and the style was reserved, but through the terse and spare account I could feel the sorrow and the shame, the wonder and the glory. Every word he wrote held impact and emotion. Matthew never uses a decorative adjective, never wallows in feelings, but it is not because he was stoic and austere. The writing is understated, not because Matthew did not feel, but because he felt so much.
As I read I could feel how Matthew felt when the events he recorded happened. I could feel the sting when the chief priests mocked Jesus and the thieves crucified with him “cast the same in his teeth.” I could feel the shudder of uncanny fear when the veil hiding the Holy of Holies was torn from the top down and the graves of dead saints opened. I could feel the heartbreak and desperation of the women who would not leave the body of their dead Lord. And I could feel the clear, ringing triumph as the angel said, “He is not here: for he is risen, as he said.”
There was passion in every little vivid detail Matthew recorded. The kiss that spelled betrayal, the girl in the palace porch, the crowing rooster. The field bought with the blood money, forever stained by the coins it was purchased with. The vinegar mixed with gall that Jesus refused to drink. The soldiers sitting down and watching as Jesus suffered on the cross. The specific hours of darkness when the sun refused to shine. The exact words of the cry from the cross, as God was forsaken by God. The circumstances of Jesus’s burial in a rich man’s tomb. The precautions taken by the Pharisees. The angel who rolled the stone away from the tomb and sat on it. Jesus, alive, speaking to the faithful women, setting a meeting-place for the disciples. The cover-up story spread by the religious leaders. The mission that Jesus gave the disciples on a mountain in Galilee.

Matthew’s writing is specific, precise, organized. It tells a story of certain power and undeniable truth. And it gives us a glimpse of the character of the publican from Israel who was called by Jesus with the simple words, “Follow me.”
This is how I see him: Accuracy was important to him. So were the traditions and laws of his ancestors. He was good with figures, responsible, trustworthy. He was not given to dramatic displays of emotion, he did not cry in public or dance in the street. He didn’t stand out. He is listed among the other disciples as just another name. He never put his foot in his mouth like Peter or earn nicknames like Thomas, James, and John. Matthew was steady and reliable. I can imagine him being one of the men sent to find the colt for Jesus to ride, one of the men who went into the city to find the man with the upper room for the Last Supper. But underneath that reserved and levelheaded exterior, Matthew was a man of deep feelings and strong convictions. He had reasons for his every belief, yet he did not hesitate to follow the command of God. He did not like to show his feelings to the world, but they are pulsing through every succinct statement and eloquent detail.

The book of Matthew is not stiff. It’s not cold. It’s full of life, emotion, and Emmanuel. God with us.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Time To Give Up

One project could easily consume my whole life.

I could re-edit, re-write and re-name one story forever. I would get tired, take breaks, come back and start all over. On and on and on. Over and over again.
I know, because I’ve done it.
And I keep telling myself that this is THE last time I’m going to edit the story currently known as MSR, but it keeps being a horrible lie because when I look at it again, there are SO many mistakes and imperfections and I just can’t leave it like that so I edit it…again.

This sounds like I’m a heroin addict or something. 
I’m not addicted to anything. Except maybe perfection.

Leonardo Da Vince is quoted as saying “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” I don’t know about other forms of art, but this definitely applies to me and my writing. 

I’ve realized over the last few months that I have to make a choice. I can keep editing and rewriting, on and on and on until it’s finally “perfect” and I’m ninety-three, and I die alone and unpublished. Maybe not alone. But having lived a dead-end life. And unpublished because I never finished anything to publish. I don’t like that plan.
Or, I can make this edit the last one and publish it whether it’s perfect or not.

And it won’t be perfect. But that’s OK. It’s my first novel. I’m going to grow up and get better and learn more, and my writing style will change. Maybe I’ll hate MSR someday. Maybe I won’t. It doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that I move on and keep working. 

There is a time to stick to one thing. There is a time to try new things.
And there is a time to give up.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Plot Dissection

I recently got a book from the library called The Seven Basic Plots: why we tell stories, by Christopher Booker. It’s about two inches thick, around 700 pages, and is a study of seven basic plot-lines that can be found in stories throughout history and across the world, and an examination of why humans tell stories. I’m really excited about it, if I ever manage to read through it before I run out of renewals.
I’m currently on Chapter 2 (but I read the Introduction And Historical Notes first) and I’ve already had the chance to apply something I’ve learned, which is extremely satisfying. The first plot the author takes apart is called the “Overcoming the Monster” story line, which has five distinct stages.

In the first stage, the hero first becomes aware of a threat, something evil, cruel and monstrous. He sets out to confront it, leading into the second stage.
In the second stage, the hero first comes in contact with the monster. Maybe there is a slight skirmish, which is successful. The hero seems invincible and danger still seems faraway.
By the third stage, the strength of the monster begins to be felt and people start getting worried. This is not going to be easy. Someone is going to get hurt. Maybe it’s impossible.
In the fourth stage, the task of overcoming the monster is clearly impossible. The hero has fallen into it’s clutches. All seems lost.
But the monster has a fatal flaw. Something, often something magical, or something seemingly small and insignificant, something unexpected, can bring it down. And it is this which saves the hero at the last moment. There is a dramatic reversal and the hero wins, often gaining fame, wealth and glory in the process.

Shortly after I read this chapter, my family and I watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It was very fun. I could see the five stages of the Overcoming The Monster storyline as the plot unfolded. 
They’re not blatantly obvious, because each story is different, but they’re there. 
I’m not going to go into it, because I don’t want to spoil the story for those who haven’t seen the movie. But maybe, if you like doing that sort of thing, you’ll enjoy finding the five stages for yourself.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Get Up Early, Stay Up Late...

I don’t go through my life comparing every marketing slogan I see to the Bible. For one thing, I don’t have a well-memorized verse for every conviction and belief I have.  I’m not saying my beliefs aren’t based on the Bible, because they are! I’m just saying that I can’t quote references for everything.

But once in a while something jumps out at me. Like this:

“Get up early. Stay up late. Change the world.”
Dutch Bros slogan.

“It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.” 
Psalms 127:2

I’m not complaining my any means. I don’t expect to find truth on the lid of my coffee cup. Whether it says “Dig Life,” “Hello Bestie,” or “Dutch Luv,” it’s just a good way to make a lid fun.
I just thought it was interesting that while the world says to burn the candle at both ends, getting up early and staying up late to change the way the world is, God says, “Get your sleep.” Whether you’re a night owl or a early bird, whether you need ten hours or are just fine with six, sleep is a good thing. It’s a gift from God.
But not without moderation, of course, because there are a lot of verses that say “love not sleep” and “arise, thou sluggard” and things like that. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Oft Misunderstood Difference Between Thinking And Not Thinking

 I tend to burn things when I cook and take wrong turns and lose things in perfectly obvious places. This tendency is often attributed to "not thinking." I maintain that this is an inaccurate description of what's actually going on.

The other day, I was driving home from a neighboring town about 20 minutes away. I was driving our Camry, which due to harsh and repeated pushing of buttons, no longer has a working radio. When you’re driving in a car without a radio, you basically have two options. 
One is to look out the window at passing scenery. This works great in a new area or someplace with an interesting or beautiful landscape. However, in my case, I’ve driven that same road far too many times to be entertained by the view.
So I fell back on my second option: making my own noise. I do this a lot when I’m in the car. It can mean praying, it can mean singing, it often means talking to myself. 

Or I tell myself stories.
I don’t remember if I was actually talking out loud or not. It seemed real at the time. I was planning the detailed history of one of my characters.
This character, Seth, doesn’t know who his real parents are. And for the longest time, I didn’t know either. I knew where he grew up and how he thought and what his deepest fears and most precious dreams were. But I had no idea who his mother was or who his father was, or anything. And on this drive, I started figuring it out. Somehow Seth’s story got mixed up with the story of the rulers of the land. 

King Charles, after years of struggling to bring the young country into some sort of order, had abdicated his throne to live the rest of his life in seclusion, leaving the kingship to his son John. But John’s older half-sister, Charles’ illegitimate daughter Anne, had her brother killed in order to seize the throne. Meanwhile, Charles met a young noblewoman, Bessie, who lived in a city near the castle of his self-imposed exile. He ignored reports of what was going on in the land and focused on courting the girl.

At some point, maybe five minutes out of my hometown, I somehow “woke up” enough to notice that I was getting low on gas. Not enough to be a problem, but maybe enough that I should stop in town and get gas. I made a mental note and went back into my inner world of court intrigue.

Bessie was young, weak, and foolish enough to covet the position of queen, even if it was queen in exile. She would have all she wanted, be rich for life, and whether anyone cared or not, she would be the wife of a king. 
Only two things stood in her way.
 She had been seeing a young man in her city for years. They would be together, then fight, break up, and get back together again. And unbeknownst to anyone, Bessie had borne Mark a son.
Bessie had to get rid of both Mark and the young Seth in order to be available for the king. She found it easy to break up with Mark, but not so easy to find a home for a year-old baby. Finally, an old aunt, who cooked for a regiment of soldiers in a small town miles away, agreed to take him.
Seth lived with her for six months before she died. After that, he was raised by the regiment of soldiers, who trained him to be a spy and a soldier. And though they were good to him, they had no idea who his parents were.
Seth grew up to be a leader in the rebellion against Anne’s tyrannical rule. In the process, he saved the life of his half-sister, the daughter of Bessie and King Charles, Princess Grace. Maybe he’ll never know that Grace is his sister, or that he has any surviving family members...

Yes, dramatic. But it was fun. :)
By the time I got to this point in Seth’s story, I had driven past the gas station, through town, and was almost home. By the time I realized where I was and what I was actually, in real life, doing, it wasn’t worth turning around to get gas. So I just drove home.

This is why I tend to burn things when I cook and take wrong turns and lose things in perfectly obvious places. It’s not because I’m not thinking.
It’s because I am thinking. 
Just about other things. :)

Monday, March 24, 2014

More Than A Snapshot

When I write a story, it’s often a tiny snapshot of a person’s life. There are many things that may never be mentioned. How she was raised, or what he did when he grew up. Where he was born. How she died. 
And when the person is a fictional character, it may seem that those things don’t matter. The backstory of the sour man who owns the general store Clara works at may seem irrelevant. 
But it’s not. Whether it matters in the story or not, a person’s history is a part of them. What happened to Clara’s boss is important, and even more important is the way he reacted to the things that happened to him. How a person reacts to the uncontrollable things of life shapes who they are.
I can say the man is sour. I can say he’s a pessimist. I can say that no matter what happens, he sees the worst in everything. But just that snapshot of him as a character does not make him a person. (It makes him “Clara’s horrible boss.”)
He becomes a person when I give him a history.

He was the only son of Russian immigrants. He was born into poverty and famine. All of his early memories were of working alongside his parents, trying to make a living off that overworked farm from dawn ’til dusk. When he was ten, his family took a ship to America, the land of golden streets. The passage was long, cold and dark and on the ship, his mother died. When they got to America, the boy and his father waited at Ellis Island for two months, stuck within sight of the Statue of Liberty with her upraised torch and her promising inscription: “Give me your tired, your poor…”
America, when they finally reached it, was not a land of golden streets and endless fertile land. In the bustling, dirty city, they still struggled to survive. And through school and through getting a job at a store, through moving west and even through starting his own business, he carried the habit he had taught himself in those first hard years of his life. The world is a hard place, and bad things happen. Expecting the worst, first adopted as a defense against disappointment, became his defining characteristic. And although his store in the great West of America was successful and his family was comfortable, he never chose to change the way he had always thought. His wife was discontent, his children hated him. And the joy he had forgotten he ever wanted never came. 

It’s not the early loss of his mother and the destitute childhood that make this man’s story a sad one. It’s the fact that although an honest and hardworking man, he will never be happy. Because no matter how good life is, he has trained himself to not see the happiness in life. 
Character’s histories are important. It makes them people, men and women who were born somewhere and grew up somehow. But it is not the circumstances of their history that defines who they are. It is the way they choose to respond to those circumstances. 
Each man or woman, adult and child, makes that choice hundreds of times. Those choices build a person. 
A person with a story.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Showing, Telling, and Sex

They always tell you to “show, don’t tell.” Showing an event instead of merely telling about it makes your story real. It means that your readers see and hear and feel what you are writing about. If you just tell what happened: “Claire was disappointed,” your readers get the information, but there’s no emotional connection. When this sort of thing happens: “Lillian dropped her eyes and bit her lip. Henry hesitated a moment, watching her, then shook his head and walked out the door,” we can feel Lillian’s disappointment and Henry’s frustration. And we care much more than we did about Claire’s discomfort. 

 But there are limits. Graphic and explicit descriptions of violence or sex will put your book on the trash list. Bringing your readers too close to evil will leave them feeling so dirty that they’ll put down your book and never pick it up again. I know, I’ve done it. As a reader, I’ve walked away from some very well-written books because they described wickedness so vividly. Villains are important and fascinating, but I don’t want “a tour of their revolting world.” 

Evil is not the only thing that can be offensive. Sex, even though it’s something God-ordained, is a tricky subject, especially if your audience is young or conservative. 

A year or so ago I read a book that was very well written and I enjoyed a lot. One thing about it made me uncomfortable, however, and has kept me from recommending it to any of my friends. In one chapter, the main character and the young man she eventually marries are alone together, at night, in an isolated house. 
And it happens. 
I don’t know exactly how graphic the description of their “moment” was. I started getting uncomfortable with the descriptions of her feelings about one sentence into the paragraph, and skipped ahead to the next chapter. (The couple suffers the consequences of their unwise decision, but eventually gets married.)

Writing love scenes is hard. How do you not shy away from the subject but at the same time be considerate? How do you “show” enough but not too much? One extreme is to be sickeningly sensual, the other is to be disgustingly prim and prudish. 

In the conservative culture I grew up in, “too sensual” is extremely easy to be. Too easy. The funny thing is, Song of Solomon in the Bible is probably the most sensual thing I’ve ever read. Clearly, God does not fear human passion. 

This is what I think: Insinuation will take you miles. Sexual implications are everywhere. This can be annoying when you aren’t trying to imply something and people read it in anyway. However, when you are trying to imply something, it’s nice. You don’t have to describe in very much detail. You don’t have to go very far. Describe the kiss and let the screen go black. Make it clear what happens, but don’t give us the details.
Those of us who know where babies come from will know exactly what happened after that kiss. And those who don’t shouldn’t find out from you.

Don’t hide from sensuality, but don’t wallow in it either. Accept it without blushing and then close the bedroom door. Let your characters love. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Of the Sea and the Ocean

Imagine a small fishing village by the ocean.

Lighthouses and tides, sand in the streets, spray in the air. Boats that go out on the sea, fishermen and whale watchers and the Coast Guard. Storms and wind and rain that stings faces. Salty lips and hair that's wet with spray.

Piers and harbors, bays and coves. Little creeks running out of the forest and across the sand into the ocean. Sea shells. Beachcombers. Mussels and oysters, clams and crabs.

Breakers that crash like thunder, wind that cries like a foghorn. Stones rattling against each other, pushed and pulled by the riptide. Waves murmuring as they rush back from the beach.

Tourists and summer jobs, bandanas over salt and sun-bleached hair, short dresses, tans, and sand sticking to toes. Winter storms, gore-tex pants and coats with hoods.

Legends and buried treasure. Driftwood and shipwrecks.

Whales and seals and sea lions that bark instead of roar. Fish and sea anemones, starfish and hermit crabs.

Old men and old women, young men and young women, and the sea.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

National Joe Day

Americans love holidays. Americans have made up holidays for every single day of the year. They’re obsessed. Want proof? Today, March 13, is Popcorn Lover’s Day, Ear Muff Day, and Jewel Day. Also it is National Bubble Week. 

Popcorn Lovers Day was created in 2012. You’re supposed to eat popcorn on this day. I don’t want to eat popcorn on a specific day just because it’s Popcorn Lovers Day. I eat popcorn when I feel like eating popcorn and it’s usually not March 13. Who decided we were going to have a day where everyone was forced to eat popcorn? I think March 14 should be Popcorn Haters Day. To appreciate the suffering anyone who hates popcorn might have had to go through on March 13.

Ear Muff Day. Why are we celebrating the ear muff in March? I mean, here in Central Oregon this is the first week of spring weather we’ve had. It’s over fifty degrees and we’re out seizing the chance to wear shorts and t-shirts. Everyone’s trying not to even think about ear muffs, and other things like warm gloves and snow coats. If we must have Ear Muff Day, why not have it in December when people are still happy about winter and snowflakes? My biggest question, however, is why we must have an Ear Muff Day.

Jewel Day. They say they don’t know the origins of this holiday. I think it’s simple. Jewel Day was created by jewelers to boost sales in March, because of the dramatic difference in sales between February, the Month Of Valentine’s Day, and March, The Month Of Daylight Savings Time. Maybe buying jewelry is supposed to cheer everyone up after they had to wake up an hour early.

How are we supposed to know about these holidays? Is there a “Lame Holiday Publicity Association”? What kind of people come up with these things? “Oh my gosh, there is no assigned holiday for March 19th! Let’s make it…um…Poultry Day! Yeah!”

One weird holiday I can understand is National Joe Day, March 27th. Every “Joe” I’ve ever known would leap at the chance to have a holiday like this. They would probably say that you have to do something crazy and awesome on National Joe Day. 

Here are my instructions for National Joe Day:
1: Pick someone you know named Joe. It would probably be wise to choose a Joe that you know fairly well.
2: Acquire a coconut cream pie that you do not intend to eat.
3: Take the pie and hide behind a corner that Joe is going to walk by.
4: As he walks by, step out and mash the pie into Joe's face. A gentle push and twist is advised to spread the pie everywhere. Drag the pie down his front as it drops and while he is still motionless from shock.
5: Escape. Make sure your escape plan gets you out of the area.
6: Avoid Joe entirely for several days.
7: Be cautious around Joe for the rest of your life.

Eat popcorn, wear ear muffs and jewelry, and prepare for National Joe Day!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Speak. Act.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil; God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A few years ago, on an online forum, I participated in a number of discussions between pro-life and pro-choice writers. I only joined the discussion for a couple of months. The time and effort wasn’t worth it to continue giving the same arguments over and over again. I don’t think anyone was convinced of anything. Most of the people in the group held firmly to the view that they had entered the debate with. It was a battle of world-views which, as usual, no one seemed to win. 

Despite the lack of agreement or consensus, it wasn’t a waste of time. At least, not for me.
Despite the disintegration of many of the threads into personal attacks, despite the fact that no one changed their mind, despite the seeming futility of our position, those of us on that forum who argued for the lives of people who are too young to fight for their own lives did something.
"Whose work is it but your own
to open your eyes?"
George Macdonald

We spoke up. 
We said, “This is wrong.”

And even if no one listens, no one agrees, no one cares, to speak up and say that something is wrong is making a difference. If nothing else, it makes a difference to you. Whether your fight was effective does not matter as much as the fact that you fought for what was right.

If you believe something is wrong, and yet you do not speak, you do not act, you do not make a stand against evil, you are at best useless. 

Don’t be silent. Make your stand. Fight evil, even if it’s a losing battle. Even if, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you die for your beliefs and never get the chance to see victory.

If you're an Oregon resident, get involved with the petition currently being circulated to stop taxpayer funded abortion in our state. (You can contact me to sign the petition or to get supplies to circulate it yourself, I have extra signature sheets and volunteer handbooks)
Get informed. Read the information on, an abortion information website intended to educate and inform people about what abortion is. 
Wear an Abort73 t-shirt. They're designed to make people curious and direct them to the website.
And be ready to give an answer when people ask you about it. 

If you believe there is an evil occurring every day in America and across the world, don't be silent.



Thursday, March 6, 2014

Characters That Cuss

Oh, snap.

Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles.


Characters that swear present rather a dilemma for Christian writers. Do we allow them First Amendment rights and let them say whatever they want? Or do we censor their profanity in order to remain family friendly and Christian? And if we compromise, where do we draw the line?

The case for censorship is intimidatingly godly and conservative. Profanity is of the world. The Bible prohibits swearing. We should think of hopeful and joyous things, be encouraging, be a light. And vile words, especially in print, are neither uplifting nor godly. 

That’s a hard to position to argue. I’m still going to argue it, and not just for the purpose of being devil’s advocate. (Yes, I just said “devil”)

Profanity is of the world, yes. So are tears, pain, and death. So are front porch swings and old wheelbarrows filled with summer rain. So is marriage. The world is what we live in. Life is beautiful and happy and delightful. And ugly and sad and painful. People speak from what is in their hearts. They tell the truth, encourage, and inspire. They lie, discourage, and use ugly words with meanings that are like a slap in the face. To exclude something from your life because it is “of the world” is to exclude a part of life. We are not of this world, it’s true. But we are in it. Breathing its air, drinking its water, eating its food. In close and unescapable contact with life on Earth.
The Bible prohibits taking the name of God in vain. The Bible also prohibits murder. It prohibits witchcraft. It prohibits unthankfulness and hating and fornication. My characters have committed all those sins. As Christians, we don’t avoid mentioning sin. We show the consequences, we make it clear that it’s wrong, but we do not exorcise it from our character’s lives.

This does not mean that I want to delve into the deepest darknesses of men and women. I don’t want to run from sin, afraid to write about it, but I don’t want to embrace it either. I don’t want to give a detailed account of fornication, or describe an ugly being in hideous detail, or use nasty swearing every three words. I don’t want to be in close contact with evil. And I don’t want people to feel violated when they read my writing.

So where’s the line? All I know is that for me, it’s somewhere between a PluggedIn review and a horror film. Somewhere between a sparkly Christmas miracle story and a Stephen King novel.

I want to write stories that show sin, but demonstrate redemption. I want characters that fall on their faces only to be picked up, showing grace. Some of them will refuse love and receive the consequences of their actions, showing justice. 

And where does this leave me with profanity? 
It depends. 
It depends on my intended audience. It depends on the particular words we’re talking about. It depends on the context and setting and character and why they’re using the word and what the scene says about them. 

I don’t have a final answer, even for myself. I used to avoid profanity in any circumstances. But then I wrote a scene where a character’s use of “hell” demonstrates everything he’s feeling at that moment. I left it there. Because that’s him. That’s what he said. He knew better, but in his rebellion, sorrow, and pain, he used the word anyway, and taking it out would sterilize the scene. In that particular place, it fits. But I can’t really explain why. 
Since then, I’ve used similar words in places where characters swear. I still avoid if I can, but if I can’t dodge it, I use the word. Because saying “heck” just doesn’t work.

And for a random fun fact, did you know that our English word “Hell” comes from the Norse word for their underworld and land of the dead: “Hel”? The fun part is that while hell is characterized by heat, thirst, and fire, the Hel of Norse legend was a land of freezing cold and ice. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Moral of the Story...

As Christians and writers, we want what we do to make a difference. We want what we do to mean something. We want to influence people. In that pursuit, there is a very common mistake that we tend to make. It’s easy. It’s understandable. It’s also one of the best ways to keep people from being affected by your story.

It’s the sacrifice of story to message.
The message behind a story is important. Each book, each movie, even each song, communicates a worldview. Your story will have a message whether you want it there or not.
Whether you make an effort to put it there or not.

Because of this, because of the unconscious slant that each story, no matter how trivial, casts upon the world, when someone writes a story that is specifically designed to transmit a message, it feels forced. And we can all tell.
From Aasop’s Fables to modern Christian movies, these stories have a moral, and it’s often summarized at the end in a mini-sermon. To make sure everyone gets it. Sometimes there is no sermon, but the entire story has a preachy feel to it, and people will walk away feeling like they’ve been condescended to. There can be a place for stories like this. Aasop’s Fables, for example, have been around for centuries, and people appreciate them for what they are: short stories that are supposed to illustrate a moral. 
But in most stories, the effort the storyteller is making to communicate a point backfires. Because when someone is focusing on the message their story has, they’re not focusing on the story itself. And that’s bad. Because then people don’t read your book for the story. They read it for the message. Which means that the only people who read your book will be those who already agree with the point you are making. You will not change anyone.

The best messages are those that are so real, so much a part of the story, so much an unconscious pouring out of the author’s worldview, that the story they are contained in is read by everyone, even those who disagree with the message that comes through. Like the Chronicles of Narnia, read across the world by people from all kinds of religions, even though it communicates a definite Christian worldview. Narnia is not popular because of its message. It’s popular because of its story. And that story becomes a vehicle for the Christianity of the writer to touch people who would never pick up a book because of it’s “Christian message.”

Write stories. Write stories from your heart, your life, pouring from the way you think. And those stories will have a message. If you want to make that message stronger, do it in the edits and rewrites. But when you write your story, focus on the story. Focus on the plot, on the characters. They are what will take your message to the world.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sitting in the Hall Of Shame

In my mind, I have a story Hall Of Shame. And one of the contestants for “Worst Movie Ever” is a Christian drama made in 2011. 
It’s supposed to be about forgiveness and healing and God’s grace, and it has a very noble message. But unfortunately, the filmmakers broke several story “thou shalt nots”. 
Camera, typewriter, cell phone...
I hate it when Christian movies and books, because they are Christian and therefore clean and family-friendly and all things good, get away with cliche plots, bad story telling, poor quality, and sloppy researching. 
I will forgive many things in beginning filmmakers, especially poor quality. Although, in the age of the iPhone, quality is becoming more and more accessible. I will even, if it’s not too bad, keep my mouth shut and try to ignore cliche plots and blatant story-telling mistakes. 
 Oh look, they’re all in church listening to a sermon on forgiveness. How nice. And look who just walked in! The guy who needs forgiveness. Well now, isn’t that convenient. What do you bet the guy is going to forgive him?
After all, my family doesn't like it when I criticize a movie we’re watching during family movie night. They don’t really care how predictable the plot is. They just want to enjoy a nice movie with a good message.
But the particular thing that I find hard to forgive about this movie isn’t its predictable plot, unrealistic coincidences, or preachy dialogue. 
It’s the gross lack of research.
You see, one of the main plot points is a boy suffering the loss of his only good kidney due to trauma. Due to this unfortunate event, the boy must receive an emergency kidney transplant, or die of renal failure. And the unlikely match is one of the people the boy’s father has struggled to forgive.
Very sweet. 
There’s just one little problem. 
There is no such thing as an emergency kidney transplant. (I’m using emergency to mean “will die within a week without it.”) 
There’s this machine they invented back in 1943 called a dialyzer. It filters the blood, just like a kidney. They’re everywhere. Almost everyone knows or knows of someone who has been or is on dialysis, either because of total or partial kidney failure. While it wouldn’t keep someone alive forever, the dialysis machine would be perfectly capable of keeping someone alive while a donor was found.
These filmmakers had a boy dying of kidney failure when there was a machine just down the hall that would keep him alive for years. This is not something only a doctor would know. This is something a simple Google search on “kidney failure” would have given them the information on. It's hard to believe that in the entire cast and crew of people working on that movie, no one noticed this glaring error. 
Someone didn’t do the research. 
Don’t make someone’s Hall of Shame. Do your research. Be accurate. Know your subject. Otherwise, you discredit your entire work.

Monday, February 24, 2014


      Like journalists can take a perfectly good cause and make it sound like a terrorist takeover, the way you describe an event can make it sound ominous or encouraging:

      "It was a dark and foggy night, and a group of young gun enthusiasts were meeting in a old, musty-smelling shed in the middle of a desert filled with gun casings and empty shotgun shells. 
     "They gathered around a table in the dim light and discussed a pack laid out on the table. A few people sat on the falling apart benches and chairs, offering grim advice when needed. The chairs were dusty and a back-to-the-80’s orange and brown.
      "Once in a while truck lights would light up the dry, mud encrusted road and the door would creak open and a group member would slip inside, or a harried parent arrived to pick up their child.
       "The rusty, steel wood stove in the middle of the room warmed the room to a stuffy temperature and filled it with the smell of woodsmoke and dust.
      "Some call it the Youth Hunter Education Challenge. 
      "Many call it simply YHEC. Yes. YHEC. This unusual name represents a group of unique people who live and breathe guns and compasses."
       (Written by Beth Leavitt.)

       "The room was warm and bright. Light shone from the windows of the cabin out into the rugged country surrounding the gun club. Although the night was cold and foggy, the woodstove in the center of the room kept everyone comfortably warm. 
        "Inside, a group of young hunters gathered eagerly around the table, watching as thier coach dissected a hiking pack, showing them each item and how it would help them in the woods. Parents sat around on various chairs and benches, offering helpful comments and chuckling softly as they watched thier children’s expressions.
       "Although the furnishings were old, they were servicible, and the greens and oranges gave a retro feel to the browns and tans. However, the rows of eager young faces, excited to learn more about the responsibility and sport of hunting, were the real decoration in the room.
      "YHEC. Youth Hunter Education Challenge. A chance for the next generation to learn about the technicalities and delights of hunting."

      One makes YHEC sound disgusting and disturbing. The second makes it sound like a warm, educational family event. (As it is.) However, some of the furnishings at the gun club are 80's orange. :)