Archives for: 2008
What Did You Get?
Christmas has come and gone once more, and now the dawning of the New Year awaits. For children, it is so hard to let Christmas go as it fades in the rearview mirror. After all, there is so much anticipation and build up, they feel it is somehow wrong that the day can simply pass them by in the usual 24 hours. What's more, the younger the child, the fewer the Christmases he or she has seen, so the rarer the spectacle and experience and the harder it is to believe that it will come round again. For us adults, Christmas has been coming and going, lo these many years, and the prospect that intervening time will fly away and Christmas once more be here is not so hard to believe - we've seen it happen, year after year after year.
And now, as "normal life" begins slowly to resume, we enter the season of running into our friends and acquaintances where we'll undoubtedly engage in the usual post-Christmas small talk. We might ask about their trips or their families, if they traveled or gathered as part of their Christmas festivities. We might ask about time spent with kids, if they have collegiate children home on break. We might ask about all sorts of things, depending on the person, but one question that most will ask and be asked more than a few times, is "what did you get?"
Often the question is really a way of trying to ascertain if your Christmas was satisfactory. Was Santa good to you this year? In short, did you get what you want?
I've been thinking a bit about that question, and while I don't want to dismiss it entirely, as I'm sure there is value in it somewhere, I've been struck by how much more important is the related question that we never ask, did you get what you need? No doubt, we don't ask it because it is a trickier question. What I truly need is hard to quantify. You can't slip grace into a stocking, or wrap humility with a big bow - or a small one, as I imagine humility isn't a "big bow" kinda gift. Mercy, love, forgiveness, repentance, justice, kindness, gentleness, patience, goodness and joy are all likewise hard to package and distribute. So really, I understand why we don't ask people if they got what they needed.
Let's face it, many wouldn't even understand the question. Having so much and truly needing so little, in the strictest material sense, they'd likely only be confused. For those who grasped that we have needs beyond the material basics of food and shelter and so forth, the question would come dangerously close to being an inquiry into their spiritual estate, and goodness knows we don't want to do that. We're so practiced at keeping even our friends and families at arms length on the things that matter while we chat and chat and chat about things of little consequence. Perhaps that's another thing we should add to the list of things we need - the courage of true friendship, the ability to speak about the unspoken.
What's perhaps most remarkable, is the gulf, seemingly fixed forever between the two domains of what we want and what we need. When you ask me what I want for Christmas, my mind doesn't automatically go to the long list of needs above, but rather to gadgets and gizmos and other things that are ultimately of little worth to me or to my place in this world. And isn't that, in the end, a tragedy all of its own.
Christmas is about the birth of a savior. I tried to express some of my thoughts about it last year in this post. Thank goodness that our savior knows without needing to be asked what we need, and thank goodness He is gentle and patient and kind already and so bears with our incessant obsessions with our various wants.
As time passes ever more rapidly, year after year, I am increasingly aware of what I need, and isn't it strange that our celebration of Christmas, the time of year that should focus us more than any other on the true solution to our great problem, has evolved into one of the most successful diversions ever conceived, so that the season often comes and goes without our ever really giving it any thought. May this not be true of you, or of me, as we look past the wrapping paper of our daily life to examine what lies within and to contemplate the savior who came to save us from ourselves.
Back in the Saddle
Over the course of the Motiv8 blog tour we've been running since October, I've had thoughts along the way about things I'd like to blog about when it was finished. Of course, there wasn't any stipulation that we had to leave our posts up all week about the author of the week, so I could have blogged about other things, but I wanted to give the various authors maximum exposure, so I didn't.
But now that the blog tour is over and Christmas is right around the corner, I find myself curiously frozen, in a non-temperature sort of way, unsure about what to blog about. It isn't that I'm especially nervous about what to say to my hordes of fans who've been dying for me to blog again, as I'm well aware that there aren't so many of those. It's just that blogging is like a habit I've gotten out of and now here I am, trying to remember where I left off and what it was that I wanted to say.
So all I'll say for now, is that the Motiv8 blog tour is finished, thanks for reading about the other Motiv8 authors and check them out when you get a chance. As for me, I'm back in the blogging saddle and hope to have something new up soon.
The Miller Brothers
This week marks our final stop in the post Motiv8 blog tour, and we'll be looking briefly at the Tour's special guest for its Seattle area stops, the Miller Brothers. Not only did the Millers serve as a warehouse for gear we had to ship west - like the swords we carried from Seattle to San Diego - but they also served as hosts. In fact, the night after our Seattle events, Chris Miller hosted most of the tour members at his house. His patience and good humor as the barbarian hordes descended upon him and then left at the crack of dawn was remarkable - we're still grateful!
Allan and Chris studied animation at the Art Institute of Seattle, and while they work in web design primarily, they embarked in the world of publication with their children's books that use the Wild West as a setting for some familiar Bible stories. You can learn more about these books and their animation work through "Lumination Studios" here.
Without further ado, let's move to the lbgraham.com exclusive interview with Chris Miller...
LBG: You guys work together, not just on your books, but in your day job – what’s it like working so closely together at not one but two “jobs?” Did you two always work together well? (Ie, any good sibling rivalry stories lurking in your past?)
LBG: As you work feverishly on Book 2 in the series, what are you free to tell us about where the series is going that will whet the appetites of folks who have already read book one and are looking forward eagerly to book two? (Like my son – so come on fellas, make me a hero and tell me something good I can pass on.)
As two of the younger writers on the tour, it is exciting to think about where the Miller Brothers and all their creativity will go. I'm pretty sure that wherever it is, the journey will be fun as long as Chris and Allan are on it. If you haven't already, check them out!
This week, our blog tour turns to Jonathan Rogers, author of The Wilderking Trilogy among other things. This short summary comes from wilderking.com, where you can check both Jonathan and his series further: Jonathan Rogers grew up in Georgia, where he spent many happy hours in the swamps and riverbottoms on which the wild places of The Wilderking are based. He received his undergraduate degree from Furman University in South Carolina and holds a Ph.D. in seventeenth-century English literature from Vanderbilt University. The Bark of the Bog Owl has already found a receptive audience among Jonathan’s own six children. The Rogers clan lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where Jonathan makes a living as a freelance writer. The Bark of the Bog Owl is his first novel.
It's a real pleasure for me to blog about Jonathan, as he was one of the writers on the Tour I knew least, going in, but of all the many fine authors I spent time with on the Tour, he was the one I came away feeling that I'd gotten to know the best. In some ways we are very different, as anyone who has read our respective series will be able to attest, but in other ways I think we are kindred spirits, and we enjoyed many fine hours in each others' company. Without further ado then, here are the four questions I posed to Jonathan this week, for an lbgraham.com exclusive.
LBG: I see a lot of advice for aspiring writers that moves toward “mechanics,” steps to take, things to do, etc. I’ve heard you say some interesting things about “how fiction does its work,” that I think is also very helpful for those who want to write it, would you summarize some of your thoughts on that for us?
JR: The short version is simply this: narrative works on us at the level of desire. Narrative is uniquely suited to the task of changing what we want…or, rather, helping us see that what we want isn’t necessarily what we thought we wanted. The truth is that we want a lot of different things—conflicting things—and it takes discipline to see that the thing that’s barking at you the loudest isn’t necessarily the thing you want the most. Or, if you don’t have that kind of discipline (and I suspect most of us don’t) you might need some help from the imagination. So often we pursue the wrong things because we have trouble imagining that the right things are truly desirable. Fiction gives you the opportunity to inhabit another self and say, “Hey, I could get used to pursuing the right and the true,” or “Hey, a life of virtue actually seems like a grand adventure that I want to be a part of,” or “Ooh, selfishness doesn’t actually feel so good when taken to its logical conclusion.” And the author, if he or she trusts the narrative, never has to say, “Hey, kids, remember not to be selfish!”
[NOTE: Believe it or not, this really is the short version. JR has a lot of good stuff to say on this subject, as you can see!]
LBG: The Wilderking Trilogy might stretch some preconceived notions of what “fantasy” really is, so how would you introduce the series for those who haven’t read it?
JR: I’ve found “frontier fantasy” to be a pretty helpful tag for describing the Wilderking books. The world of the Wilderking is a frontier world, where civilization barely holds its own against the wilderness from which it was carved. That in itself isn’t especially unusual in fantasy. There are plenty of frontierish places in, say, The Lord of the Rings—or, for that matter, in your books. Or think about the frontiers in Star Wars; the cantina is nothing more than a Wild West saloon. The Wilderking books are different in that they play to a distinctly American vision of the frontier. The less civilized characters talk like American swampers and frontiersmen; the hunters in Last Camp wear buckskin; the feechiefolk have a lot in common with Native American tribesmen (though they don’t have quite the same dignity). I figured, if it’s a fantasy world, an American look and feel is no less appropriate than a British/European look and feel.
[NOTE: Yes, I have been to the Okefenokee Swamp as a boy, and it did seem a different world from the Maryland of my past or even the Missouri of my present.]
LBG: On tour, you talked a lot about how the books explore “wildness,” and why God has put this “wildness” in us. Any comments you’d like to make about the subject or even if you’re willing, any hints at some of the conclusions you’ve come to on this?
JR: We devote so much energy to getting and/or staying comfortable, but anybody who’s spent ten minutes thinking about it knows that it’s in the discomfort of the wilderness that God does most of his work on us.
LBG: Looking back at the Motiv8 Tour, what events and experiences stand out to you as memorable now that we are some distance removed from it?
JR: 1. The first time I heard Wayne Batson read. I started setting goals for my own read-alouds.
[NOTE: I don't remember the boy's name, but I bet all of the Motiv8-ers remember the boy! And yes, the pool at the Super 8 was tiny, but the company was incomparable.]
SPECIAL BONUS QUESTION!
LBG: This is a variation of my “special bonus Q” to Eric last week: if Maryland gets matched with Vandy in a bowl game this year, who will win?
JR: Since we’re on the subject of fantasy, I’ll say Vandy wins by two touchdowns.
At any rate, this has been a brief introduction to Jonathan Rogers, who I sincerely hope you will all check out. From what I've seen of his work, he's a phenomenal writer. In fact, in my humble opinion, and from the bits and pieces I've seen of the 8 authors who went on this year's tour, he's the best of us all.
This week in our blog tour, Eric Reinhold is up. Here's a short introduction to Eric from his own blog, "I'm a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and served as an officer in the Navy for 6 years before transition into a career as a Certifed Financial Planner. While I write extensively for financial magazines, this is my first work of fiction - designed as a fantasy trilogy for kids ages 8-16."
In his introduction of himself at the Motiv8 site, Eric made this comment in reply to a question about advice he'd give to those who are interested in writing. I really appreciated what he said and wanted to include it in my blog post about him. "Remember that three things shape who you are: (1) the people you know, (2) the places you go, and (3) the books that you read. Hopefully the primary book is the Bible and that makes all the difference in the world. As far as the people you know, Jesus summed up the law as “love God” and “love others.” You never know who that person sitting next to you in science class is going to become and do later in life. Be kind to everyone! A girl in my high school classes now owns a movie studio in LA and when she found out I wrote a book she asked me to send a copy, she liked it and in a few weeks they will have a screen play completed to shop around. Lastly, the places you go have a big impact on shaping your writing. It’s one thing to watch a documentary or read about the Grand Canyon on-line… but quite another to go there in person - feel the rocks, see the depths, ride the rapids, and fully experience God’s wonderful creation. It definitely rounds out how you utilize your senses in showing scenes to your readers."
Now, let's get to my lbgraham.com exclusive interview with Eric. Here we go!
LBG: You went to the Naval Academy, played Division-I college football, started your own financial planning company and now you've written a novel - what motivates you to pursue all these challenges?
Eric: The first thought that came to my mind when you asked this questions was, "I do what I love!" So many times I run across people that have gone to certain schools for the wrong reason, or chosen a career based on someone else's expectations. God blesses us all with different skills and abilities. We may feel like aren't special, but that's not biblical. The key is to find out where God has gifted you and to use those gifts to the best of ability. Don't choose a job because of how much money it makes. The world values positions different than God does. You may not be a star NFL football player or a World-Class Surgeon, but you can be the best teacher, salesman or plummer! Do what you love and then be content to live on the money that the world pays for that job. For me, I loved football growing up and tried to be the best I could be and it led to a coach recruiting me to play football for Navy. I knew nothing about the Service Academies, but graduated with an Economics degree and was the payroll officer on my ship and the financial advisor for the Midshipmen at the Naval Academy on my shore duty. That in turn led to my career as a financial advisor. I loved reading fantasy and science fiction growing up, so when my girls challenged me to write a book, I thought... "I could do that," and off I went.
LBG: Your road to publication was unusual and interrupted. What would you say you learned along the way that would be of interest for others out there who want to be published one day too?
Eric: As stated above, it’s important to pursue what you feel God has blessed you in to the fullest, but it is also important to remember that God brings about everything in His timing. I pursued my writing of a book with vigor, conducting the research, outlining twenty chapters, and writing the first ten chapters within a year, then… along came 2001 and a week before the tragedy of 9-11, I came down with a fever, my doctor sent me to the hospital emergency room where they hooked my up to IV’s and wheeled me to a room to do tests. Two days later I found out I had a bacterial infection in my heart, which would take a month to kill and then I would have to have Open-heart Surgery to replace a bad valve with a titanium valve. Talk about a wake up call. My book was put on the shelf as I dealt with my own mortality, I was out of work for 3 months, and all during this time the crisis of 9-11 was going on. It would be six years before I came back to my book. The irony was that while many authors get dozens, if not hundreds of rejection letters, I didn’t get any. I came back to my book last year, wrote the final ten chapters in three months, and then one morning when I met with one of my clients over breakfast (who happened to be the President of a publishing company) I mentioned I had written a book and he suggested I send it over. I had my book published and in hand within five months. What you should get out of my story is that you pursue what you can to the best of your ability and God will bring about the results in his timing. Be patient and you to will have a story to tell.
LBG: What, in your view, is the biggest strength of "Ryann Watters and the King's Sword?"
Eric: The biggest strength of my story is that there is believability. At least early on, everyone can picture themselves as Ryann. He lives in the real town of Mount Dora, Florida (20 miles Northwest of Orlando - there's a cool book trailer video up at www.ryannwatters.com with my daughter as Liddy) and is visited in the middle of the night by Gabriel and tasked with finding the King’s sword. Gabriel gives him three gifts to help him along the way. I loved super hero comics growing up (still do), so Ryann is given a staff (smooth and metal with 7 buttons) and as he matures throughout the story, the buttons light up and have different powers. Not only that, but he is given a ring that changes colors when he’s near different things. He has two good friends, Liddy and Terell, and together they have to piece together clues to find Aeliana and search for the sword. Across town, the class bully is visited by a Dark Angel and told to stop Ryann. Book 2 in the Annals of Aeliana is almost finished. I’ve gotten carried away and it’s over 400 pages now, but "Ryann Watters and the Shield of Faith" introduces a very cool cast of new characters, including; a Pegasus, White Dragon and Unicorn, a Black Unicorn, Elves, Dwarves… oh, and a new evil race – The Hugons (half human – half dragon). It’s due for release in May 2009 and you can find out more on my blog.
LBG: As you look back at our Tour in early October from this vantage point in late November/early December, what experience or events stand out to you?
Eric: The trip was such a blessing for me. Meeting the seven other authors provided a great deal of insight into each person’s unique story and how God is using them in their part of the world. Antics along the way, whether in the van or fast food stops, were a hoot. As the most inexperienced author on the tour, I gained a great deal of knowledge and wisdom from stories, experiences, and insights into the publishing world and writing in general. I’m very much looking forward to finishing book 2 before Christopher Hopper finishes his book 3, so I can move up the chain! Seriously, I’m so glad God brought us all together and look forward to what the future holds for all of us, hopefully teaming up again!
SPECIAL BONUS Q!
LBG: If Maryland plays Navy in a bowl game this year, who would win?
Eric: Ha! That’s an easy one – Navy! That goes for whether they play Maryland, Virginia or Wake Forest (oops, we already beat them this year!). Actually, since I grew up in Miami, I’m hoping for a Navy-UM Bowl game… if so, I’m there!
Gratitude in the face of sorrow
This past Sunday, good friends of ours lost their 19 month old boy, Jordan. He had a rare condition, which I won't try to explain here, but even though he faced serious challenges to his health, his older brother, Josh, who has the same condition, is almost 11. In short, Josh has beaten the odds to live this long, and his parents had of course hoped Jordan would too. But Sunday morning those hopes were dashed as Jordan slipped quietly into Glory.
Last night they came to our place, along with one set of Jordan's grandparents, who are also old friends, and we ate together and visited. It might, on the surface, have looked like any other holiday gathering. Our kids played with their kids, we talked and laughed, we ate too much, took a break, then went back to the table and ate some more. However, the normality of the evening was broken by occasional exchanges that went something like this...
He was a little charmer wasn't he?
At least we know his body isn't broken anymore. Even in the depths of sadness, saying farewell to a beautiful boy, there is room for gratitude. The sorrow that emanates like gloomy fog from this untimely death can't touch Jordan where he's gone. It is for we who live to weep - there are no tears on Jordan's face.
Donita K. Paul
This week, the blog tour featuring each of the Motiv8 authors turns to Donita K. Paul, aka, the "dragon lady." Donita and I first met in 2005, at the Christy Award dinner that year. Along with Karen Hancock's The Shadow Within, Donita's Dragonspell and my Beyond the Summerland were finalists for the 2005 Christy in the Visionary category. Neither Donita or I won, but being nominated was an honor and I'm sure she'd agree with me that it was a great way to kick off our respective series.
Here's a brief introduction to Donita, taken from her website, which you can access through the link in my sidebar if you'd like to learn more after reading this post.
Donita K. Paul retired early from teaching school, but soon got bored! The result: a determination to start a new career. Now she is an award-winning novelist writing Christian Romance and Fantasy. She says, “I feel blessed to be doing what I like best.”
Now let's move to the interview exclusive that Mrs. Paul granted lbgraham.com. Here we go!
LBG: You tell the story of turning to writing as a bit of a diversion – and so your mother wouldn’t kill you for singing around the house – but when and how did interest in or love for writing come about in your life?
Donita: I think as soon as I began reading, I wanted to be creating books. I loved being read to, I loved reading, and I often snuck off to read instead of doing chores. There was a good place to hide in the basement. I dabbled in writing all my life. In elementary school, I wrote poems. At thirteen, my friends and I created a writing club. As a young mom, I took the Institute of Children’s Literature correspondence course. When my 13 year old daughter told me she wanted to read a grown-up love story, I cringed, and wrote her a “grown-up” love story that I approved of. I guess God was reinforcing my love of writing all along the way until the day came that I could invest my life in this calling.
Donita: I think this came out of ignorance. I didn’t realize many people think of dragons as being the bad guys. I didn’t read much fantasy, and the Dennis Quaid/Sean Connery movie Dragonheart was the most recent exposure I had had with dragons. When I began writing fantasy, my well-educated son told me that my fairies, dwarves, and elves did not match up with accepted tradition. So I made up my own races. When it came to dragons, I balked and used the term to identify my unorthodox creatures. (My son studies medieval English literature, so he is very familiar with the standard concept of mythology and folklore. He’s a bit like JRR Tolkien, in that regard.)
Donita: Yes, I was very excited, and when at the very end, it looked like I might not be able to go, I was crushed. However, everything worked out, my teammates bent over backwards to make it possible for me to go, and I twisted my doctor’s arm to get him to back down on his objections. I have to admit I was a little nervous about “holding up” for the eight days. But God is good and gave me times to rest.
Many thanks to Mrs. Paul for taking time out of her busy writing schedule to answer my questions and visit with me. If you haven't checked out her books, visit her site and read all about them.
It's my real pleasure to post about Christopher Hopper, one of the Motiv8 authors I'd never met before until I hit the ground in Seattle. Wayne Batson had told me the night before I met Christopher, when we met up in Seattle before joining the rest of the Tour after their jaunt to Canada, that Christopher was the kind of guy who made everyone feel like they mattered to him, the kind of guy that it was impossible not to like and enjoy, and I found that to be very true on the Tour. Christopher and his wife Jenny were great to tour with.(By the way, the scenery photos I've copied here and mixed in along with some of Christopher's cover art, and personal photos, are pictures Jenny took on tour!)
Rather than giving a brief bio & overview for Christopher, as I have the others, I'd like to go right to the questions I asked him, as his answers are comprehensive and Christopher will do a better job introducing himself than I can. So, here we go...
LBG: I know that you have a big heart for kids, tell us a bit about the work you do with teens when you’re not writing great stories?
Christopher: I'm the Teen & College Pastor for a really dynamic church in the 1,000 Islands region of Northern NY (www.newlifenny.com / www.33live.org). I've had a deep heart for my generation since I was in high school. It's always been my desire to see them saved and discipled into such a strong relationship with Jesus that they are not only "going to heaven" but radically affecting their culture, too. I know that much of my writing comes out of that same heart. Being a preacher has also opened doors for me in the public school system as a motivational speaker where I can't talk about Jesus, but I can certainly talk about Biblical principles and make them relevant for youth.
I also preside over a two-year international discipleship school called DIBOR (www.dibor.org). If you're readers are familiar with Rise of The Dibor, then they will understand that this a real-life Isle of Kirstell where young people from all over the world come to dedicate their lives to Jesus, master the disciplines of the Christian faith, and devote their lives to advancing the Kingdom. I feel so honored to be a part of it, to know so many outstanding individuals, and to lead such an amazing staff.
LBG: It also became clear on the Tour, that you have some strong opinions about the church and the arts – care to share some of your thoughts on the matter?
Christopher: Strong opinions? Am I that obvious? ;) First off, I love the Church. Not because she is perfect, but because she is imperfect. It's full of people who are doing their best to live holy lives and seek after God; Pastors who live far below their means and sacrifice day in and day out; mom's who lose it with their kids and have to repent; dad's who fail and get back up; sinners who are saved by grace and realize that all of their righteousness is as filthy rags and are in desperate need of a Savior day in and day out. I'm pretty protective about her, recognizing that God is jealous for her and is keen on seeing her built up. Therefore I have little tolerance for people that throw stones cross-denominationally and at leaders. People come to me all the time making sweeping, broad generalizations like, "The Church does this," or, "The Church thinks that." But then I'll ask, "Well, who? Name individuals." And they inevitably can't. When you ask people to be specific, they can't. If they can name someone, it's usually one or two people, which is fine; but don't pin it on the whole Church. I've seen too much of her and know she's amazing. The Church is God's idea, not yours, so either get on board with contributing to her increasing beauty, or go somewhere else, because when you criticize her, you are ultimately criticizing God.
That does not mean I won't address issues that need changing, but I do so with a deep understanding that I am a culprit to both her error, as well as to her potential betterment. While I may have strong disagreements or assessments about where she is currently (and where she needs to go), I am fully committed to working with the churches in my county to see souls saved and the Kingdom of God advanced. It's awesome to be a part of. I count it one of my greatest privileges after knowing Christ.
LBG: For the record, I absolutely agree. We can focus on getting legislation passed which reflects our values all we like, but if we actually want to influence and change the values of our culture, art and story and music and movies are much more influential arenas. And it isn't like we have to choose between these methods, the church could easily invest in both if it regained a vision for it.
Given your busy life with marriage, work, music, etc., why did you decide to enter the writing arena as well?
Christopher: As most writers, I suppose I felt I had a story to tell. And the draw of writing a novel seemed like such a monumental task, I wanted to prove I could actually do it. As they say, why climb Everest? Because it's there. But beyond the ambition side of it, I believe that we are able to communicate to people in a powerful way through stories. Jesus' parables are a prime example of this. But I also saw that people who read books give far more of their lives as an investment into the art form than just listening to a CD. A song is a 3-minute experience (unless you're a Classical listener), and a CD, a 60-minute experience. And "listening" is a fairly passive action, at least as far as modern music is concerned. But when people read your stories, they are investing their lives into what you are saying, and journeying with you over a longer period of time (unless you're one of those speed readers I cringe at...do you have any idea how long it takes us to write these books?). ;) The point being that I feel I'm able to communicate truth to a whole other demographic on a whole other level when I write than I am when recording or speaking. It's not better than music, it's just different.
LBG: Any moments or memories from the Fantasy Fiction Tour ’08 you want to share with us?
Christopher: Well, I suppose one of my favorites was seeing you get so dog-on excited about Jack In The Box! I had never eaten at one before and can truly saw you have GREAT taste in cheeseburgers. Thank you for enlightening me. ;) And overall, I just felt so privileged to be a part of a real-life team of adventurists who dedicated themselves to one cause and lived life together. It was an honor, LB, and I hope we can do it again.
Thanks to Christopher, really, for taking time to talk with me. For more information about Christopher, visit his website, linked in my sidebar. He's a great guy and I'm glad to count him a friend.
This week, we get a chance to visit with Sharon Hinck, another of the fantastic Fantasy Fiction Tour '08 authors. I met Sharon for the first time this past July in Orlando at ICRS for a FFT '08 kickoff event. She's from Minnesota, so she and I were the 'Midwestern' contingent on the Tour.
The following excerpt is from Sharon's webpage, and it gives a brief introduction to Sharon's writing. "Sharon writes “stories for the hero in all of us,” about ordinary people experiencing God’s grace in unexpected ways. Known for their authenticity, emotional range, and spiritual depth, her novels include the humorous contemporary fiction, The Secret Life of Becky Miller (Bethany House, 2006), Renovating Becky Miller (Bethany House, 2007), and Symphony of Secrets (Bethany House, 2008), along with the standalone women’s fiction Stepping into Sunlight (Bethany House, 2008), and the ground-breaking Sword of Lyric fantasy series (NavPress, 2007-2008) which include The Restorer, The Restorer’s Son, and The Restorer’s Journey.
She was named 2007 “Writer of the Year” at Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference. Her debut novel, The Secret Life of Becky Miller was awarded second place in the 2007 ACFW Book of the Year - Lit Category. Renovating Becky Miller was named a finalist in the 2008 Audie Awards, Inspirational Fiction category. The Restorer was named a finalist in the 2008 Christy Awards, Visionary category. The Restorer’s Son received a 4.5 star recommendation from Romantic Times and a Reviewer’s Choice award from Road to Romance reviews."
Now, in keeping with my stated aim from the beginning of this FFT '08 blog tour, here in the form of questions I posed to Sharon, is a unique, lbgraham.com exclusive...
LBG: In the realm of fantasy fiction, you have a somewhat unique protagonist in the “Sword of Lyric” series. What led to this choice?
Sharon: The lives of the women I know are heroic, adventurous, courageous, and fraught with challenges. A mom who battles for the best care for her parent with Alzheimers, or is pulled into a “new and unexpected world” by a child with a learning disability, or is forced to rise to a heroic role for her friend with cancer and learn the “rules” of this new universe she didn’t want to visit . . . All could use a story of courage when the road is more difficult than expected. While sometimes that courage is shown in riding into battle, it’s also shown in building relationships, diplomacy, forgiveness, and wise counsel.
LBG: What’s the story of your own connection to fantasy fiction – what work(s) and at what age did it draw you in?
Sharon: Like many, I was captivated as a child by Chronicles of Narnia (and all things C.S. Lewis) as well as some of his influences (E. Nesbitt and George MacDonald), and in high school and college grew to love Tolkien, Donaldson, Lawhead, McCaffrey, and others.
LBG: What was it like on the Fantasy Fiction Tour being one of two women and being surrounded by all those men?
Sharon: Like having a bunch of wonderful big brothers. Of course, there were times I sat back and observed and thought, “men are all basically ten years old.” ;-) But ten-year-olds are fun to be with, so I enjoyed seeing the exuberant, playful, creative hearts of the men on the tour. This was also a group of men who write chivalrous characters, and modeled that in real life, too.
LBG: Any favorite moments or memories from the Tour?
Sharon: For me, there were small individual encounters that meant a lot: Meeting in person, and praying with a blogger who had followed my work. Praying with a store-owner’s wife who was an instant “kindred spirit.” Chatting with a shy little girl at the literacy event. Singing “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything” with a boy at the children’s hospital. Talking “shop” with the various writers on the tour – each one a gem. Sharing my heart at the Calvary Chapel devotions the last night. And each quiet conversation with someone who’d read one of my books and been blessed by it.
Click here to access more information about Sharon and her work.
A Brief Introduction
As this week is the week that the authors on the Fantasy Fiction Tour '08 are going to be posting about me, I thought I'd put up a short introduction to me & to my works for those who might come by to see a bit more about who I am.
My name is L.B., and I grew up in Baltimore, where I was born. My father was a Presbyterian minister there, so I'm what some would call, a "PK," (Pastor's Kid). After high school, I went to Wheaton College, in Wheaton, Illinois, not far from Chicago. It was a great place to go to school, and I still think of Wheaton as a home away from home.
Between my junior and senior year at Wheaton, I went on a summer program called "Wheaton-in-England." While on that program, I had an idea for a fantasy story, which I envisioned as a single book in five parts. Of course, I was only 21 and had no real idea of what I would do with it, but it stayed with me, as you'll see.
After Wheaton, I went to Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. I thought it was going to be a short stop before going on to graduate school in literature, but while I was there, I had second thoughts about that. I ended up taking a job in St. Louis after graduation at a small Christian school, mostly because a really pretty Australian girl I had gotten to know was a student at Covenant and I wanted to hang around. Turned out to be a good thing, as I married her (and discovered that I enjoyed teaching too). I'm in my 13th year as a teacher, and Joanne and I have been married for 12 years. We have two kids, ages 7 and 11.
In the the '98-'99 school year, I was asked to teach a class on apologetics. I didn't know a book that covered the specific things that I wanted to cover, so I started writing packets to hand out to my students. At the end of the year, I looked at my stack of packets and realized that despite my assumption that I didn't have time to write while teaching, I'd written something very nearly as long as a book. I decided it was time to revisit that idea I'd had in the summer of '92.
That idea gave birth to The Binding of the Blade, which turned out to be, not a five part book, but a five book series. I started working on the idea again seriously in the summer of 2000, with the help of three former students, James Klousia, and Nathanael and Noah Quay. Their help, along with the help and feedback of my friends, Tom Wenger and Shane Lankford, helped me develop the story and world that I wrote about in the books. So, one thing I'd say to prospective writers who might be stopping by to visit, find friends you trust and bring them into the loop, as learning to take good feedback to heart is crucial to creativity and developing your ideas.
I signed my book contract with P&R Publishing in the spring of '02, and the first book came out in the spring of '04. Beyond the Summerland was nominated for a Christy Award in '05, so I was honored to be a Christy finalist that year - at the Christy Awards dinner, I met Donita K. Paul, who was a nominee that year for Dragonspell. Those who followed the FFT '08, know that Donita was on the Tour too.
I worked on The Binding of the Blade pretty steadily from 2000-2006, when I finally finished the fifth and final book, All My Holy Mountain. It was strange to be finished, having lived in my fictional world of Kirthanin for so long, but it was satisfying too. It had been a long journey, and it felt good to have made it to the finish line.
What does the future hold, now that The Binding of the Blade is finished? I don't know, but I'm working on a nonfiction book and trying to get a proposal put together for a new fantasy series also. I've written about a 100 pages of the new fantasy book, so I'm beginning to get a feel for the new world and characters. I'm excited about it, but the publishing world is tough, so I can't say what will happen to the proposal or if anyone will want it. I will, however, keep you posted.
If you have questions about me or my work, leave me a comment if you'd like, or you can go to the website for my series and email me through the "ask the author" section there. Thanks for dropping by!
Wayne Thomas Batson
I'm pretty excited today to blog about my friend, Wayne Thomas Batson. Not only is Wayne from Maryland - I'm a Baltimore kid, myself - he's a fine Fantasy Fiction writer too.
What's more, Wayne and have something else in common, we're both teachers. Here's a quote from his bio on that:
Wayne Thomas Batson has spent the last sixteen years teaching Reading and English to middle schools students. He pioneered the active instruction of Strategic Reading in Anne Arundel County and has written Reading and English Curricula for three public school systems in Maryland. Most recently, he helped develop the Challenge Reading Curriculum for advanced readers in Howard County, Maryland. Wayne tailors his stories to meet the needs of the young people he cares so deeply about.
Wayne's first Fantasy Fiction series was The Door Within trilogy, published by Thomas Nelson. Here's some cover art from that series.
That's the cover to the first book, The Door Within. While on the Fantasy Fiction Tour '08 together, I got to hear Wayne read from the book a few times, and not only is Wayne a fabulous dramatic reader, the story was very effective. Here's the cover for the last book in the series, called The Final Storm.
Now, after Wayne had written these books, Thomas Nelson approached Wayne about writing books on a Pirate theme. That led him to write two more books for them, Isle of Swords and the recently released Isle of Fire.
I haven't read Isle of Fire, but I have read Isle of Swords and I enjoyed it very much. With action and humor, Wayne spins a good yarn that will keep the pages turning. So, not only is he a talented writer, teacher and dramatic reader, but Wayne appears to have a little pirate in his blood too...
Now, if you're already a fan, most of this stuff you could know about Wayne without reading my blog. So for a special inside scoop, I asked Wayne a few questions by email in the wake of our recent tour. This insight into Wayne and our Tour is an lbgraham.com exclusive. Here goes!
LBG: It became clear on the Tour that you’re a big “Waffle House” fan – why is that?
Well, that about does it for our brief intro to Wayne Thomas Batson. He's a fine writer and a brother in Christ, and I'm glad to have had the chance to tour with him. Keep your eyes peeled at Wayne's site, which you can link to from my sidebar, as I know he has some projects in the works. In the meantime, pick up one or five of his other books, and see where his stories take you...
Motiv8 Blog Tour
From now until shortly before Christmas, the authors involved in the Fantasy Fiction Tour '08 will be collaborating on a joint blog tour. We'll be focusing each Monday - or thereabouts - on a different author each week. Our hope is to encourage readers who have experienced one or two of us and our work, to get a better idea of other Christian writers that they might be interested in. As I have thoughts and/or news during the next 8 or 9 weeks that I want to share, I'll probably post those things mid to late in the week, so that the featured author of the week gets his or her time in the spotlight. So, I encourage you to check back on Monday or Tuesday and learn a bit about Wayne Thomas Batson, the first featured writer of the blog tour.
Binding Of The Blade Bookshelf
With many thanks to Rob Treskillard who designed this for me, I wanted to show some of the fine work he's done for me on this site. This is the graphic you'll find under "My Books" at the top of the page.
and click on the book to see the book's details.
Motiv8 Fantasy Fiction Tour Video
Tomorrow evening I board the plane for Seattle, and on Saturday the Fantasy Fiction Tour 2008 officially begins for Wayne Thomas Batson and me, as we join the other six authors who have an additional stop in Canada on Friday. If you'd like to watch some of the events live, here's your chance. As the Motiv8 website explains, you can also see reruns of Tour videos around the clock during the week and participate in some of the forums by sending us questions. For more information, hit the Motiv8 website.
More Than Moralism
This is the last of my posts originally written for the Motiv8 website. It caused a bit of a stir there, so I anticipate there may be reactions here. Feel free to comment.
With the Tour gearing up to begin in less than two weeks, this might be the last post in our brief series on various elements of fantasy fiction writing. However, this post is less about fantasy writing in particular and more about Christianity in general and Christian writing as an expression of faith.
Christianity is not about moralism, and Christian fiction shouldn’t be either. Christianity revolves, not around good behavior, but around God’s mercy shown to man in the death and resurrection of Christ. However, even though we know this to be theologically true, I think we struggle to remember this as we go about our daily lives, and one of the places where we really struggle to remember it is in our engagement with the arts in general, but as fiction is our topic, we’ll limit our reflection here to that.
I’m constantly surprised at how often fictional stories are judged to be Christian or not, based more or less on how well the characters behave themselves. Of course it is true that morality matters - God has taken great care to expound in some detail the moral laws which flow from and are an extension of His own character. It is also true, though, that the Bible itself is full of flawed men and women whom God used almost despite of rather than because of their moral triumphs. However, when Christian writers incorporate flawed heroes into their stories, men and women with moral failings of any significance, they are often left open to charges of having given dubious testimony to their Lord.
Now of course, when stories are geared for children, writers should take care how graphically or explicitly they portray sin. Even in stories for adults, there are simply some things that don’t need to be spelled out or portrayed in any kind of detail. Even so, one of the really beautiful things about God’s dealings with men is that he takes really, really broken people and uses them to advance His kingdom. Are we open to reading about such things in the books we pick up and read? I suspect that for many of us the answer is no, and yet there are stories in the Bible that would make anyone blush in their unblinking portrayal of man’s capacity for sin and debauchery.
Here are a few thoughts, in no particular order, about how we could have a more biblical view of morality and fiction.
First, we should remember that we do live in a moral universe and attempts to portray immoral behavior as free from consequence cuts against the grain of reality. To be sure, in the short run, sin and evil may yield pleasure, success and more. Even so, the testimony of both scripture and history is that such gains are rarely sustainable and that ultimately, those who live by such behavior often reap what they have sown.
Second, we should remember that portrayals of characters with ‘good morals’ doesn’t mean a book is Christian. Many people have high moral standards and portray as much in their stories. We can certainly say that the moral standards of a book or story are consistent with Christianity, but that doesn’t make the book Christian. This doesn’t mean we don’t read it; it simply means that high moral standards is insufficient to demonstrate a story is “Christian.”
Third, the portrayal of sin in realistic terms, and even the attribution of sinful struggles and moral failures to key characters, even good ones, doesn’t necessarily prove the author condones such behavior. The attitude of the writer toward the behavior of his characters can be tricky to determine. Many writers stand back from their stories and refrain from obvious comment on the good or bad that is done, allowing the actions to speak for themselves and the story to reveal the consequences of choices made. This isn’t moral cowardice or neutrality, but rather, artful storytelling.
At the end of the day, I don’t see many Christian fiction writers leaving much doubt that they believe God’s standards for human behavior are both good and right. What I do see is a certain level of discomfort if characters portrayed in some way as “good” are given significant moral struggles or weaknesses. I hope this will change and that audiences and authors alike will embrace a redemptive rather than a moralistic view of stories - both their own and the one’s they read.
Convention & Innovation
Again, a post originally written for the Motiv8 website. After the Tour, I will redirect my blog-posting energies to my own website!
Fantasy writing would be classified by many as “genre writing,” which basically means it is a style that conforms to certain basic expectations as determined by the general “rules” of the category fantasy. That’s a convoluted way of saying that as soon as someone picks up a fantasy novel, they have certain expectations that are brought to the reading experience because it is labeled fantasy. This sets up a rather curious dilemma - how to “conform” to the conventions so as to meet expecations without falling into the “been there, done that” trap of mere mimicry. It can be a fine line to walk, and authors don’t always end up getting it right.
Now, to an extent, every story faces this same dilemma to a degree. Certain basic expectations about interesting characters, a clear plot or storyline, some sort of conflict that raises difficulties but ultimately comes to some sort of resolution along with many other things serve as fundamental expectations for any story, and authors ignore them to their peril. However, the dilemma is heightened in genre writing because the expectations are further defined so that certain kinds of settings and characters and plots have generally been established by the works in that genre that have gone before. So, the room to manauver can feel confining.
And yet, one of the real beauties of human imagination is how much freedom exists even within such forms to be creative. Right? Have you ever thought about how there are only so many notes on the piano, and yet the composition of beautiful melodies goes on and on and on? There are only so many words in the English language, and yet year after year, men and women find ways of combining them in striking and original patterns that capture our imagination and take hold of our minds and hearts.
Working on The Binding of the Blade pressed me to be mindful of both the need to acknowledge convention and be innovative. I’m sure not all readers were happy by my choices. Here and there readers complained that certain actions or events or characters were too much like others they’d encountered, and in some places certain choices I made appeared to disgruntle them because such things ran counter to their expectations (like a certain event at the end of Beyond the Summerland that will go unmentioned…:)
In my own defense, I would say I didn’t seek to copy another author’s characters or actions, though things like the name for Wylla’s city, Amaan Sul, were intended as an homage to some of the greats who’ve gone before - in this case Tolkien. In other cases, the similarities were due in part to the fact that some of the same sources for these writers - myths and epics of the past - and the conventions I’ve here described pressed my story and characters into some similar shapes.
For you who are working on your own stories and writing skills, come at this dilemma deliberately. It is true that some things in your subconscious ‘will out,’ no matter what you do, and some things in your story will be like things you encountered long ago but have long since forgotten. Even so, you can still think through “how am I playing by the rules of this genre or style while still developing my own voice and story?”
One quick example. Dragons have generally been symbols of destruction and greed in the stories of the past. We see Beowulf seeking to free his kingdom at the end of his life from the great dragon who oppresses his people and Smaug the horder of dwarven riches in The Hobbit as two examples. Aware of this tradition but eager to have “good dragons” in my story, I decided to acknowledge the larger history of dragons by making my dragons golden. Thus their color was a reflection of their historic link to greed while their choices and actions in my story made them a force for good. In this way, I sought to nod my head to the convention even as I tried to establish an innovation.
As always, comments and illustrations from any of you about wrestling with this dilemma is welcome!
Villains & Conflict
In the spirit of recycling posts I wrote for the Fantasy Fiction Tour '08 website, here's another from a few weeks ago.
I believe it was Edith Hamilton in her classic work on mythology that suggested the purpose of the monsters in Greek myths was to give the heroes opportunities to demonstrate their greatness. Ie, the more powerful, terrifying and evil the creature, the more courageous, resourceful and wonderful the hero who delivered the world from that monster by slaying it. So, Perseus faces the gorgon and Theseus the minotaur and Hercules, the greatest of them all, faces twelve labors of “herculean” proportions.
For the gamers out there who don’t read Greek myths, perhaps you could think of this as the “bigger boss” theory of villains. When you finish a level in the video game you’re playing, you expect to have to defeat a ‘boss’ to move on to the next level. Generally, as the levels get more challenging and the game goes on, you expect the bosses to get more challenging, until you finally get to the end and have to fight the “biggest boss” of all.
Applying “big boss” theory to LOTR, we could say the Balrog, Saruman (while still in Orthanc), the Witch King of Angmar (lord of the Nazgul) and Shelob are all big bosses on the road to Mount Doom where the biggest boss of them all, Sauron is defeated. In my own series, The Binding of the Blade, the giant Ulutyr is the “boss” in book one, while in the rest of the story, the Grendolai Cheimontyr (the bringer of storms), the Kumatin and Farimaal all serve as bosses and Malek is of course, the “big boss.”
OK, now quickly to the point. This is a lighthearted way of saying all books need conflict & tension and fantasy is no exception. Creating cool villains for your heroes to overcome is one of the great challenges and pleasures of writing a fantasy story. It really is fun to design and then write about a good villain (if you will forgive the paradox of ‘good villain’). However, and this is the big however, for all of you working on fantasy stories of your own, don’t let the important and essential work of creating great villains for your story so occupy you that you forget or omit to give your protagonist internal conflict as well as external. Whether it is a moral dilemma or struggle like a temptation of some kind or a psychological struggle with something like self-doubt or whatever, internal conflict when written well adds extra layers of depth to your story. I think, personally, the best fantasy stories do both really well, where the characters face not only large obstacles without but challenges and turmoil within. This is a big part of why fantasy stories can be about other worlds yet connect with us so powerfully anyway.
I would be curious to hear from some of you who are working on your own stories, about either or both of these tasks - creating internal and external conflict for your characters. How do you do it? Do you try to keep outdoing yourself by making bigger, meaner villains as you go along? What suggestions or tips would you offer?
The Naming of Names
OK, so my apologies for the relative lack of new blogging here in the last month or so. With the preparations for the Fantasy Fiction Tour '08, I've given most of my free time to the Motivat8 website. So, for those who don't pop over there with regularity to see what is going on, I'm copying here one of my posts there on fantasy writing, and I'll post more in days/weeks to come.
Those who read more broadly in Fantasy and Sci-Fi might recognize this title. I took it from Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. “The Naming of Names” is the story/chapter that describes how settlers from earth brought “earth names” with them and imposed them on the Martian landscapes & bestowed them on the newly created towns as they quickly spread over the face of the Red Planet. It’s a critical section, in a way, because it subtly suggests that the “earth names” didn’t fit the Martian world, and so it plays into Bradbury’s larger theme, which was a critique of earth society in the atomic era (the book is from about 1950 and like a lot of books from that time, it wrestles with the destructive forces unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.) We’ve failed to learn to live at peace with one another and our world, Bradbury implies, and so the narrative questions the wisdom of duplicating that same society on Mars.
So what’s my point? Names matter, is my point. When Herman Melville set out to write a story about a monomaniacal sea captain in search of the great white whale, he didn’t just “coincidentally” name him “Ahab” - a reference to one of the most notoriously wicked Israelite kings. The name had meaning, as do many of the other names in Moby Dick with clear biblical allusions behind them.
Well, what about fantasy? Aren’t all those names just made up? Do they have meaning? Are they arbitrary or intentional? These are the kinds of questions that hopefully some or most of the other authors will address in their own way when they have time this week, so you can get a variety of perspectives. For now, I will give you a glimpse at my own view of selecting names.
In order to be brief, I’ll simplify my “process” for selecting names by dividing them into three basic tiers.
First, there are the names you create & use simply because you think they “sound right.” Think about the orcs and goblins and the like in Tolkien, with their guttural, unpleasant names. Think about how the Elven names flow and are almost musical. Mordor simply sounds like an unhappy place. These can also be the more obviously descriptive terms like “Mount Doom.” Face it, LOTR would read a lot differently if Frodo had spent three books trying to get to Mount Sunshine in The Happy Valley. That just wouldn’t work. (Of course, Tolkien invented his own languages, so you could argue there was more than “sound” at work in his names, but there’s a reason the language of Mordor sounds so nasty & the language of the Elves doesn’t…)
In my stories, this happens with both good and bad characters. Some names sound appealing to me, so I use them for good guys, and others not so much, so I use them for unpleasant ones. For example, I like “J” sounds, so I have names like Joraiem, Aljeron and Benjiah used for heroes.
Second, some names have a specific story or reference behind them, but pushing it for a deeper meaning probably doesn’t take you very far. I like the name “Jean Valjean” from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, and so my wisdom figure in The Binding of the Blade has a name that sounds similar, Valzaan. (If “Valjean” and “Valzaan” don’t sound similar when you say them, you’re not saying one of them right.:) I like Tolkien, so in some places I included allusions to his work, as a tribute so to speak. Further, I called one particularly nasty breed of monsters “Grendolai” as a tribute to the first of the three monsters of Beowulf, Grendel. These are just a few samples of names with specific stories but no really deep meaning.
Third, some names are meant to have symbolic or deeper meaning. When John White wrote The Tower of Geburah, a Christian fantasy work from a generation ago, he named his land “Anthropos” and the king of that land “Kardia.” Anthropos is the Greek word for “man” and Kardia means “heart.” He was making the spiritual layer of his story clear with his transparent name choices.
For me, in BOTB, there are many examples of this as well. I created my own version of the story of “the Fall” and I named my evil Titans who mirror fallen angels after pagan deities referenced in the Old Testament. So I have names like Malek and Charnosh, which are references to Molech and Chemosh. I named the God of Kirthanin “Allfather” as a reference to Norse Mythology. Some Norse tales refer to Odin as Allfather, but others (some say from the time when northern Europe was being Christianized) use Allfather to refer to a God who is the creator and above all the lesser gods of Asgard. I used that term because I saw it as a word others had used long ago in this world to come to grips with a God who rules all things, a sovereign God, not a petty deity.
There are many other names I could use as examples, but this post is long enough. Hopefully you see that names matter, and that in some ways, names in Fantasy they can be especially challenging. They need to sound right (convey pleasant or unpleasant things), be unusual (we can’t have Fred and Darlene as our hero & heroine) but still “work” for the reader. Further, names also provide opportunities to add layers of meaning and depth.
I think readers intuitively grasp the importance of names, in part because I get a lot of questions about them. At this point though, I’ll finish by encouraging the young writers out there not to dismiss too quickly the importance of names. They do matter!
Raise Your Hopeful Voice
It is interesting how things work, sometimes. The previous post was from Friday, and as the tone of it suggests, I was feeling pretty unsure of where I am as a professional writer and where I am going.
That evening when I got home, my wife had picked some movies up from the library. (I'm a big fan of movies in general, and I've dragged my wife into my passion for cinema. For her part, she's added to it by introducing me to foreign films I wouldn't have watched when I was younger, and together we've plunged deeper and deeper into the magic of movies.) One of the movies she'd brought home was "Once," which I recognized purely for the fact that the song which won the Academy Award for "Best Song" this year was from that movie. I didn't really remember it, but I was curious to see if the music from the movie was as good as people had raved that it was.
Well, different people like different things, so don't take this as a recommendation to see the movie necessarily, but I really liked it. It was low budget, an Indie film, but really well done, and I thought the music was fabulous. The plot, basically, is about the collision of two musical people and the songs they record together, as their lives so briefly intersect. It captures in a lot of ways the passion anyone of artistic inclination feels toward their craft, and the struggle to produce something worthy that many go through who aren't paid for their labor but are talented and gifted nonetheless.
The oscar song, Falling Slowly, really struck me, especially the repeated line "raise your hopeful voice," which was especially apt that night, given what I'd been wrestling with. After the movie, I dropped by YouTube and found the clip of the Oscar moment for Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who sing the song, and in Hansard's almost giddy, emotional acceptance speech, he implores the audience to "make art, make art."
I suppose many writers out there, laboring in obscurity, might think my genre fiction efforts in The Binding of the Blade hardly qualify as art, but if I may take a little license with the word, I was encouraged by the song and by Hansard to embrace the love for story which was first and foremost driving me when I set out on this writing journey to begin with, never knowing if I'd be published at all.
I still don't know where I am, exactly, or where I'm going, professionally, but that's all right. People rarely know as much as they think they know about such things. It is enough to know I have a love for words, and to a degree, a gift for story, and I will use it as I may.
Self-Doubt & the Artist
When did Tommy Tutone know they were a one hit wonder? (My apologies to those who know multiple Tommy Tutone songs and feel this label has been misapplied.) Much of the audience for my books will be too young to remember Tommy Tutone or "Jenny," but for those who do, you know as I do that a quarter of a century ago, the number 8675309 was the most famous phone number in the world, and woe to anyone unfortunate enough to have it.
Did they sit in their recording studio, champagne in hand, imagining great vistas of success opening up for them in the future. Did they envision a string of hits riding up the charts until they were established as legends of rock and roll? And if they did, at one point did it dawn on them that the pinnacle of their greatness lay not ahead, but behind, receding somewhere in the rearview mirror?
If I'm honest about the last few months, I will admit that for the first time in a while, seeds of self-doubt about my own writing future have begun to creep in and take root in my mind. As these things go, The Binding of the Blade was not nearly as successful in book terms as "Jenny" was in music terms, so the comparison is perhaps, not very apt, but if getting into print is somewhat analogous to a song getting onto the radio, then maybe there's a shred of sense in the reference. At any rate, the question is similar, do bigger, greater things lie ahead, or have I already reached the peak of my particular mountain, or hill in my case, and am I descending the other side even though I don't know it?
Now some will say this is silly, after all, All My Holy Mountain just released two months ago. It must be far to early to be wondering if my writing career is over. And yet, I would remind those people that I finished writing All My Holy Mountain two years ago. Since then, I have written a crime novel, started two other novels and one non-fiction project, and none of the four are under contract. So, I find myself more than two years removed from my last submission of a manuscript for publication with part or all of 4 books on hand and at present, nothing to show for it and no imminent prospects either.
At this point, part of me begins to protest that all is not quite this dark. It is true, after all, that when my three year term with my former agent concluded last month, I was able to find a new agent in the industry who is well respected, and surely that suggests it is too early to be contemplating my writing obituary. At the same time, though my new agent was very positive when we first met about some of my ideas and past work, I await the far more important pronouncement of approval for the proposals and writing samples I've sent of the actual books. It could well be that upon closer examination, my execution of those ideas isn't something he finds as encouraging as the concepts themselves. And what then? What if when push comes to shove the works themselves don't have that certain something that would grab an editor and inspire them to invest in that book and ultimately in me? Will I find myself, like Tommy Tutone, going on with life, answering the occasional email from people who ten, twenty years after the fact have just discovered a dusty copy of Beyond the Summerland and are asking "where is he now?"
Now I implore you, post no comments assuring me of either present or future greatness. If you're reading this post, you're probably already a fan of my work - which I appreciate - but continued opportunity to write is not really up to you or to me. We don't own a publishing house. I've written this, not to solicit encouraging comments, as I have received plenty of those already, but as an honest accounting of where I find myself these days. And perhaps also, to suggest to all the would-be-authors out there, you have to hold onto your own dream and believe in your own story. This doesn't mean that when people who know what they're talking about, like editors and agents, tell you that you're not ready or the project isn't ready, that you ignore them, it means that you're going to need perseverance as well as talent if you're going to make it in this world.
You and I have more in common than you might think. While I currently have books in print, you and I have exactly the same number of unpublished books under contract - zero. In fact, for all either of us knows, you may go on to publish far more works and more successful works than me. I may be descending from my zenith while you rise from your nadir. Who can say?
So if you ask me, "Are you resting on a bench during your ascent up the mountain toward publishing success & grandeur, or are you sitting on the chairlift taking a ride back down the other side, waving good-bye to the vistas you have only just come to see and enjoy?" then I'd have to say my answer depends on the day you ask, because honestly, I just don't know.
Back to School
I wrote at the end of May about the beauty of summer when you're a teacher (which I am) and about the 79 day weekend which I was looking forward to enjoying.
Well, weekend's over.
That's right, even 79 day weekends come to an end at some point. Yesterday, August 14th, school started. If that sounds early, that's because my school likes to get a full semester in before Christmas, which I absolutely think is the right thing to do. Where I grew up, in Baltimore, most schools started around Labor Day but ran until mid-June. So, they'd have half of June and then July/August for summer. However, they couldn't finish a semester by Christmas, so exams were in January, which makes no sense whatsoever. Taking a break for Christmas & coming back to school to be tested over all the things you forgot during break is really odd. Starting in mid-August means we avoid that, and since we get out in late May, we still have a summer break of about the same length, only it is June/July and half of August.
Anyway, I digress. My point is that I'm back. Students are also back. We're in full swing. Like it or not, my day job has once again exerted its claim upon my time, my talents - whatever they are, and my energy, limited as it is. On the one hand, this is always a bit frustrating. Even if you like your job, most people, given the choice, would rather be doing something else. Summer gives time, freedom, relaxation and so forth. School means work. Even if its enjoyable work, it is work.
However, there is always something energizing about the start of the year, at least for me. I may drag my heels the last few weeks before school starts and mope about going back to work, but once I get going and back into it, I feel the excitement of a new start. I always liked school as a kid, even if I didn't always admit it, and I still do. This brings me, in a meandering, round about way, to the point I wanted to make.
Do something you love.
If you can't find something you love, at least do something you like.
In all seriousness, I know that enjoying your work is not the only consideration. Bills must be paid, and teaching, as an example, is not the most lucrative profession. Still, I suspect that I'm a lot happier than many people I know with my job, even many who make a good deal more than I do. More to the point, I suspect that I look forward to my days a lot more than they do.
As far as it lies with you, find a job you like, and do it well. I don't think you'll regret it.
It's just over two months until the Fantasy Fiction Tour '08 hits the West Coast, so as part of the "warm up" for the Tour, all eight fantasy writers have agreed to try their hands at a collaborative, fantasy fiction story. I wrote the first "page" if you will, and posted it yesterday, and last night, Wayne Thomas Batson added another.
Now we're all pretty busy, so it is hard to say at this early date how frequently we'll be able to contribute or how fast the story will develop and grow, but it is a pretty interesting experiment - 8 writers with close to 40 published books among them working together to create a free, online story for their readers to enjoy. If that sounds interesting to you, then click here to go and read some for yourself.
Or, if you haven't yet, bookmark the Fantasy Fiction Tour main site and while you're dropping by to check out what's the latest there, click on the heading for "Group Fiction" and it will take you to the page where the story is developing.
At any rate, I hope you'll enjoy the varied styles and approaches of the 8 writers, all brought together in this unique way to tell a single story - whatever it may turn out to be!
This post is to inform fans of my series and of the fantasy genre in general, that my friend Eric Reinhold, one of the other authors on the Fantasy Fiction Tour '08, is running a contest at his blogging site that you can access here. Basically, the contest is designed to have you spend some time at all the websites for each of the Tour authors, and if you can answer a question correctly for all the sites, you can win a free book from any of the 8 authors. This could be a terrific opportunity to dive in and try a book from one of the other authors if you've ever thought "that looks interesting, I should try that book."
So go to Eric's site, read the rules of the contest, and happy hunting! If you'd like to read more about Eric, he's the featured author this week at the Tour website which you can access here, so go read his interview if you'd like to know more about him.
A Time For War
I have to admit it, I like war stories. I like war books and war movies. I like non-fiction books on war like Band of Brothers and Flags of Our Fathers, and I like historical fiction war accounts like Killer Angels. I like the film version of these books too - the HBO miniseries based on Band of Brothers, Clint Eastwood's film based on Flags of Our Fathers, and the 4 hour movie Gettysburg based on Killer Angels. These just scratch the surface, though, as I've read many other books, less well known than these three (including the masterful collection of short stories on Vietnam The Things They Carried - the title story alone is brilliant - though be warned, while milder than most war stories, there are some violent moments & uses of profanity), and I've seen other war movies, including some of my very favorites, like Glory, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, We Were Soldiers and one of my all time favorites, Black Hawk Down. So, it naturally surprised me when some readers of my series began referring to the books, especially the recently released final book, All My Holy Mountain, and to me as being "pacifistic."
Now, I'm not really one to avoid expressing myself even if my view is unpopular, so I would acknowledge the label and embrace it if it applied, but it doesn't, so I thought I'd take a moment to address this subject here. First of all, where does the idea come from that my series might be pacifistic in nature? The answer to that, I suppose, is that the making of weapons is what I use as a clear symbol of "the fall" of my fantasy world, and conversely, the unmaking of weapons is a clear symbol of restoration and redemption. Consequently, one of the clear conflicts in All My Holy Mountain is between Valzaan, a prophet of Allfather, and Aljeron, the main captain of the army of Kirthanin as it wages war against Malek. Valzaan suggests that even those who serve Allfather and wield the sword in service to Him can love the blade too much, and he goes even further in suggesting that Rulalin, an enemy of sorts in Aljeron's eyes and Caan, a mentor for Aljeron, shared this trait - a love of the blade that was perhaps a bit strong. This suggestion doesn't go over well with Aljeron, and in the end, Aljeron finds surrendering his sword when it is no longer necessary surprisingly difficult.
So, I understand why this notion of the sword as a symbol of what's wrong with our world might be misunderstood as pacifism, but it is a misunderstanding. Pacifism is the idea that one should never fight/kill/go to war, and so forth. Never. Clearly, no one in the books held up as a laudable character makes that argument. You do see some of the older and generally wiser characters, like Monias for instance, be more measured in their enthusiasm and less gung ho for war in general, but none of these characters say "War is always wrong."
C.S. Lewis has a very clear essay on this called "Why I Am Not a Pacifist" which is in his collection, The Weight of Glory, which I'd recommend for any who are interested in the topic. Lewis' simple point is that to be pacifist, you have to believe war is the worst of all things. In short, since there is nothing so bad you'd go to war to avoid it, that means war must be worse than all states or situations which warfare might prevent. As Lewis doesn't believe that, he is not a pacifist. As I do not believe that, neither am I, nor are the characters in my book.
However, and it is a big however, the older I get, the more I realize that war is indeed a symbol of the brokenness of our world. While there are things worse than war, things worth fighting for and dying for, even so, if the world was the way God had intended it to be, war would not be necessary. Do we not grow weary of the fighting in this world and long for a day when it will be finished? A day when the swords and spears will be laid down and the world will be at peace? I hope you do, as it is the great vision of God's eternal kingdom that this will one day be.
So, even though I'm not a pacifist, I have come to see that war is more of a necessary thing than a good thing. Why then, do I still read and watch war movies, you ask? It is a fair question, and while there are a number of things I would say to it, I will limit myself to one as this post has grown long. One thing I find fascinating about war stories is that they show the best and the worst of human nature. The crucible of combat lays bare the character of the soldiers who enter it, and one moment you read or watch some horrific atrocity that exposes the deep depravity of man, and the next you read or watch some tale of unbelievable goodness, courage, friendship or self-sacrifice that is so poignant it makes battle-hardened, grown men weep. For a writer, for an observer of human nature, for a Christian always fascinated by the mysterious interplay of man's sinful nature and yet the glory of God's image, the imago dei inside us, these stories are in a way invaluable. They teach me much about who we are, about what we have become, but also about who we were meant to be, and one day, Lord willing, who we shall be.
A couple weeks ago I was the featured author on the Motiv8 website that has information about the Fantasy Fiction Tour '08. So click the link, scroll down and check it out.
Today I caught my first whiff of someone not especially pleased with All My Holy Mountain. To date, all the feedback by email, website comment, personal conversation, etc., had been glowing, but the first neutral/negative reaction was bound to come at some point, and today was the day.
Of course, I went right to Amazon to see if they'd posted their displeasure there. Why? Because as of my last glance at Amazon over the weekend, there were no reviews. Since I tend slightly (perhaps an understatement) toward the pessimistic side, I was sure that despite the many complimentary reactions I'd received, this negative one would be the first (and no doubt the only) review at Amazon.
Happily, I was wrong. Someone had indeed reviewed the book since I last checked, but it was a glowing, 5 star review. For that I am grateful, as indeed I am always grateful when I see feedback from a fan. I'm grateful for negative feedback when it is helpful, but of course, that is always harder to hear, isn't it?
At least now the book has a "rating," but how long the pure 5-star gold shines beside the book, who can say?
The Waters Rise
I first came to St. Louis in August of '93, which is a year no one around here will ever forget.
I came cross country from Baltimore in my little, two door Toyota Tercel through a blistering summer heatwave, all that I owned of any significance in the hatchback. I had been vaguely aware, as had the whole country, that the floodwaters on the Mississippi had been high that year, especially in St. Louis. I wasn't even remotely prepared for what I would see when I reached and crossed the river. The waters had spilled over the banks and created vast expanses of standing water. Everywhere I looked, trees, houses, billboards, telephone poles and more rose up like post-apocalyptic specters from the murky brown water. It was my first and best glimpse of the water itself, though even long after the waters receded, St. Louis reeled from the effects of the flooding. It took years to rebuild and recover, and long before the process was complete, the memorials started appearing. Signs and plaques saying things like - "the water from the '93 flood rose this far under the Arch..."
Now it is happening again, but this time not in St. Louis, or at least not yet. The picture here is from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Fifteen years later, one glance at this conjures up the memories of '93, and the summer flooding season isn't over. The excess water in the upper reaches of the Mississippi that doesn't flood and dissipate will move downstream, and high waters are expected here in the near future. How high? I don't know, but we'll see if some of the re-engineered levees and things have improved St. Louis' flood preparedness. For now, pray for the Iowans who are coping with the devastation of mass flooding, and pray that the flooding doesn't keep spreading.
Fantasy Fiction Tour '08
Some of you are already aware of this, but this October 4-12, I will be traveling up the west coast with seven other Fantasy authors as part of the Fantasy Fiction Tour '08.
This is a fantastic opportunity for me on a lot of levels. First and foremost, it is a great chance to promote my now complete, The Binding of the Blade series. Beyond that, though, it will be a great chance to spend time with, get to know, and otherwise fellowship with some fellow writers. Allow me to make the introductions in case you don't know some of them. Starting at the top left of the picture above, they are: Donita K. Paul, Wayne Thomas Batson, Jonathan Rogers, Bryan Davis, (now bottom row, left to right) Eric Reinhold, some handsome fellow in a leather jacket standing on a ferry & gazing pensively out over the river, Sharon Hinck and Christopher Hopper. Links to Bryan & Wayne's sites have been available for a while in my sidebar, but I'll be adding links to the others soon.
So, in a few weeks I'll be in Baltimore, legendary birthplace of .... me.
As always, when I visit I like to have a small signing at the church I attended when I lived in Baltimore as a kid. Since I went to Australia with my family during June last year, I didn't go east in the summer and haven't been "home" in two years. I'm greatly looking forward to it.
Anyway, the signing will be from 6:30 to 8:00 on July 2nd, at ...
Aisquith Presbyterian Church
Maybe I'll see you there.
All Roads Lead to the Mountain
As the saga of "The Binding of the Blade" wraps up, all roads lead to the Mountain. I have always loved the imagery associated with the holy mountain in Isaiah, and so creating a world where the central geographic feature was "the Holy Mountain" was a lot of fun. For four books the action has raged around the Mountain, with the occasional scene inside it and more than the occasional reference to it, but now the Mountain itself will become the focus of the story.
Perhaps, then, the words of Isaiah 11:9 about the future of this world will also be true of Kirthanin, "And they will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."
Yes, the little taskbar tracking progress in the publication of All My Holy Mountain has been moved to 100%. That's because I have my copies. They were shipped directly to me from the printer, and it is only a matter of time before P&R has theirs and they begin to fill orders.
Soon you will have yours (if you've ordered it), and then it will be for you as it is for Benjiah and Aljeron, for Valzaan and Wylla, and for all the rest of our friends in Kirthanin, where all roads lead to the Mountain.
The Other Project
I alluded to this in my post about enjoying summer break, but this summer I am working on two projects at the same time - or trying to. As it turns out, it isn't easy.
I've blogged about the fiction project, so I'll briefly mention the other one here. Again, it isn't under contract (yet), so I will need to be vague, but it is a non-fiction work designed to be a "companion" for people who want to read the Bible cover to cover but are intimidated by the prospect of doing so. I'll leave it at that for now.
Anyway, my plan was to go out each morning to write, spend the first 45 minutes to an hour working on this project, then shift gears for the remainder of the morning to work on my fiction project. Things started out fine, but increasingly, it's been harder and harder to tear myself away from the non-fiction project in order to dive back into my new novel.
In a way, it's the same problem I've always had, just a different manifestation. Ideas come more quickly than I can execute them, so there's always a tension between persevering with the idea at hand and the next one coming down the line. The difference this time is that my 'current project' - the new series - isn't under contract either, so the bonds holding me to persevere are weaker. I've rationalized working on both projects this summer because neither have been sold, and while I believe both are marketable, I have no idea which might might be bought first. It will be interesting to see which one does get picked up first, and what then happens to my time-sharing. If neither of them is picked up before the new school year starts and my writing time is reduced, I'll have some interesting choices to make.
According to an email I received within the last hour, All My Holy Mountain is supposed to arrive at P&R from the printer by 6/10, which means on or about that date, P&R will start filling orders. If you've ordered directly from them, then the book shoud be sent directly to you. If you ordered through Amazon or CBD or someplace like that, then I'd imagine that the books will go first to the retailer and then to you.
I know many of you have been waiting a while and that this is another, unwelcome delay, but real, actual books will be on their way soon. Enjoy!
It's Memorial Day weekend, so all over the country people are stocking up on food for the grill - though here in St. Louis its been hopelessly rainy all spring and any plans for a barbecue are an act of sheer optimism. In any case, a three day weekend is always cause to celebrate, especially when that three day weekend is actually more like a seventy-nine day weekend.
79 day weekend? Yes, this might be perplexing, but what I refer to is a rough approximation of my summer break. I report back to work at the school where I teach on something like August 11th (I was a bit too lazy to actually look it up before writing this post - it is summer break after all), so that means my holiday weekend which began Friday at about 12:30, really lasts for about 79 days. I know, I know - it's a hard life.
I wouldn't go so far as to suggest the long summer break is why one should become a teacher, but I will say that the rhythm of the school year was always one that I enjoyed as a student, and as I've been either a student or a teacher my whole life, at least for as much of it as I can remember, it is hard for me to envision living any other way.
I was one of those weird kids who really enjoyed school. Now, to be sure, when I got old enough to catch the social cues that it wasn't cool to admit to this, I probably grumbled as much as the next kid about it. And, there were certainly subjects and teachers that I didn't enjoy as much. Even so, reading and learning have always been things that really excited me, so the start of the new year was always welcome, especially when you added the social factor of catching up with friends you hadn't seen all summer.
Liking school, though, didn't stop me from embracing summer with open arms. The warm weather, the time to sleep more and read more freely things I'd choose to read, not to mention to play outside or conquer a new video game - I enjoyed all those things. Plus, as I got older, church youth group activities always kicked into high gear, and trips to camp, to the beach, to amusement parks and the like were always a big draw. So summer, even for a kid who liked school, was a welcome change of pace.
Even so, the American summer break is pretty long, so when fall rolled around, gearing up for school wasn't all bad, despite all protests to the contrary. And as I've already expressed my enjoyment of the school year, I won't repeat myself here. The point is that the cycle was an enjoyable one, and I quite liked the way the year progressed and just as I was growing weary of school, summer came, and just as I was growing weary of summer, school would come.
Now every year hasn't worked so well. Sometimes I'm ready for summer earlier than other years, and sometimes I'm not quite ready for school and it is upon me whether I like it or not. But, all in all, I have to say the thought of trading in the school-oriented-life for a standard American work year with only 2 weeks vacation & holidays feels pretty bleak. I'm not sure how others do it. Of course, there is financial incentive to do so, as many business jobs pay better than teaching, but I like not only the schedule of what I do but the actual work that I do, so I don't envy the higher paid business folks at all. I'll keep my teaching gig, thanks.
Add to that the writing, and I feel pretty lucky. To tell the truth, I haven't done much writing in the summers before. All 5 books of BOTB were written more or less during the school year, and the unpublished mystery novel I wrote was during the '06-'07 school year. However, due to a number of factors, I didn't write a book this past school year, but I plan to work seriously on one (or two, actually), this summer. I plan to dive back into both projects tomorrow morning, and I'm really excited to do so.
So, even though I have a 79 day weekend, don't think I'll be slacking off. While the rest of you are sleeping in on Memorial Day tomorrow, I plan to be up and at 'em about six, so I can get a good four hours in by 10:00 am.
Enjoy your holiday.
Gone to Press
Just found out this morning that All My Holy Mountain went to press yesterday. That means that it should be on track to be released as scheduled on June 1st. So, hang in there, it's coming...
Why I'm Excited About My New Series
OK, so this title is a little misleading. Until my new series is under contract, I don't really want to be too specific, but I thought I'd follow up on my earlier post, "A New Start," with a brief update on where things are and with some further thoughts about the new series and why I'm eager to forge ahead.
First of all, the update. Proposals are starting to go out from my agent to various publishers, so those of you who are hopeful that more books will be coming from me, this would be a good time to pray that my new series finds a home. While being published and having an agent both help when looking for a publisher, there are no guarantees and I don't want to presume that getting a contract will be "automatic."
Now, as for my excitement, there are a few things I want to say. One I mentioned already in the post referenced above, namely, the sheer scale of the world I'm developing. Since I'm going global rather than continental, I'm even a little overwelmed at the magnitude of it all. The southern hemisphere of my world is beginning to take better shape, because the story starts on a continent there, but above the equator - which has a special name & function in this world - lie many lands that remain somewhat shadowy in my imagination. Still, I am excited to discover and fully explore them as the later books take more definite shape.
Also, perhaps the most exciting thing about this new series, is the promising blend of fantasy and science fiction. In my mind, fantasy revolves mostly around stories displaced in time that use "magic" or powers like magic to do things not ordinarily possible in reality. Science fiction, however, refers more to stories displaced in space, using technology to do things not ordinarily possible in reality. Often, both types of story are really commentaries on the real world, just in imaginative ways.
As I was developing my story, I kept thinking about blending these conceptions. Why couldn't a world displaced in time with "magical" or "fantastic" elements also have its own technology continuum? Do all fantasy stories need to have medieval castles, oil lamps, scrolls & parchment and so on? (Obviously not, as many fantasy stories don't, but hopefully you get my point even if its a bit exaggerated.) So, I set out to build a world with an alternative technological basis that could approximate some aspects of a more modern world, even if fantastical powers were being also wielded and fantastical creatures were roaming the land and sea.
I think what I came up with - with the much appreciated help of some of my friends and confidants - will prove interesting to fans of both genres. It probably isn't cool of me to say I think the idea is really cool, but I can't help it - I think its really cool. That's a big reason why I'm excited to write this new series, and as I hope to knock out most of the rest of the first book this summer, if not the rest of it, I can't wait for my summer break to get going.
Another reason why I'm excited, is that the thematic center of this series is different than that of BOTB. That series was about restoration - a world approaching the time when some things that were broken will be remade, and some things that never should have been made will be destroyed. This series revolves around a different central concept, though I'll be vague about it here. It is perhaps a less pleasant central theme, but I think it nonetheless a true and relevant one, and I'm excited to explore it. I hope that this series, like the previous one, will be both a fully actualized alternative reality that is an exciting place in which to tarry while you read the books, but I also hope it offers insight into who we are as a people & a culture as well as who we should be.
Teaching Seniors - The Joy & The Sorrow
The coming of May brings sheer delight to the hearts of students everywhere. Teachers too, for that matter. The rhythm of the school year proclaims, loudly, that enough is enough. It is time for everyone to take a break. We'll start again in August and have another go.
If you've ever taught high school seniors, or if you know someone who has, you know that seniors in springtime can be a bit challenging. They feel, and rightly so, that it is time to be moving on. I say rightly so, because if they want to linger around and stay behind, we as their teachers and parents and community that loves them, haven't done our job. We are here to prepare them for the beyond, so it is both good and right that they be eager for that beyond.
So there is both joy & sorrow in their departure. By neither of these terms do I mean frustration or difficulty. There is plenty of that in dealing with second semester seniors, to be sure, but it is part of the territory and frankly, not worth complaining about. I actually mean the joy and sorrow of seeing students you have grown to care about leave, for I find each spring, as I eagerly greet May, that I feel plenty of both.
There is joy in seeing them both ready and excited to go. There is sorrow at the thought that our time together has come to an end. It is heavy, sometimes, to think about starting all over again with a new crop of students, back at square one, just when you were beginning to feel that so much progress had been made, that together, we had come so far.
In a sense, I suppose, that is true of all teachers, not just teachers of seniors. However, most do not face the additional sorrow of bidding a more permanent farewell. Teachers of underclassmen at least know they will see their former pupils around the building. For teachers of seniors, there is only graduation and goodbye. Yes, from time to time, an email comes from one or another, and then someone else drops by at Thanksgiving or Christmas to say hello. But, these points of contact and visits diminish over time, as they are meant to, and time flows on.
The good news, of course, is that the cycle repeats itself, and by the middle of the Fall semester, the new classes feel right and natural, and the years roll on, only pausing each spring so we can bid a momentary farewell to another class. It is the joy & sorrow of teaching, and even though it is hard sometimes, I wouldn't change it, even if I could. It is the way things are meant to be.
More Details on May 20th Signing
The Tuesday, May 20th signing at Trinity Christian College will be at the Bootsma Bookstore Cafe at 10:00 AM. There will be a brief talk, maybe 20 minutes, followed by the signing itself. I should be there until about 11:15. There will also be a raffle, so come by and enter the raffle for the chance to win a free, autographed book.
There's also a good chance there will be at least one book event in the Baltimore area this summer, in July. More details on that to come.
Trinity Christian College Book-Signing
This is just a brief post to inform any interested fans in the Chicago-land area that I will probably be doing a book-signing at the bookstore/cafe of Trinity College on Tuesday, May 20th. Details are still being worked out, but it looks likely at this point.
I should add that this is Trinity Christian College, not Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, so if you google it for directions, make sure you don't enter the wrong location. I'll post more information when I have it.
Authors & Covers
I remember one of my seminary professors lamenting to us, his class, about the cover of his new book. I don't want to get into specifics, but the point he made was that the publisher had chosen a photograph for the cover that didn't fit very well with the very heart of his book. In fact, as I recall, it reinforced a certain shallow stereo-type that he'd been adamant throughout the book to reject. That was one of my first lessons in the limited power authors have over the publication of their own works. Another example I came across was a book where the title, though catchy and memorable, explicitly subverted the central argument of the book itself. In both of these cases, I can only assume that the marketing folks who worked on the packaging - like title and cover - hadn't spent a lot of time in the text of the books themselves.
The cover for All My Holy Mountain has recently been unveiled on the series' website, which you can link to here. As visitors to that site have seen it, some have reacted strongly, others not so much. Some like it, others not so much. All of them, though, seem to be engaging in the same speculative game of trying to figure out what it represents and what exactly "L.B. is trying to say" by choosing it for his cover.
Well, now you see where I'm going. I didn't choose it for my cover, since ultimately, the cover wasn't my choice to make. Throughout the process of writing and publishing The Binding of the Blade, P&R (my publisher) has frequently consulted me and asked for my opinion. I have appreciated that invitation to be involved, very much. However, my ideas have not always held the day, which is fair enough, since there are editors and marketers and the artist himself involved in the discussion. My main point here, then, is to say that it is a mistake to read too much into any cover, as they are often disconnected from the author, and sometimes from the book itself.
For those who are interested about my connection to the various covers in the BOTB series, I can say there are about 3 different levels of connection between my vision for the covers and what ended up being produced. For the third book, Shadow in the Deep, the cover is very faithful to the idea I suggested. Of course the details of the clothing Aljeron is wearing and the look of the Snow Serpent and things like that were up to the artist, but the essential elements of that cover represent the scene that I recommended for it. So, if you don't like that one, I'm afraid I deserve some or most of the blame, because I championed that image. If you like it, I'm glad, because I also enjoy it very much.
The second level of connection would be represented in the covers for Bringer of Storms and Father of Dragons, where the covers are in a general way connected to my concept and vision for those books. Obviously, given the book titles, it made sense to have Cheimontyr and Sulmandir dominate those covers. And, to a certain degree, the portrayal of those characters - lightning playing off Cheimontyr's hammer and the golden sheen of Sulmandir's scales with the jagged scar on his underbelly - fits very well with how I've depicted them. In other ways, not important to mention here, those covers weren't exactly how I pictured things or would have done it - but then again I can't really draw or paint, so who am I to talk? In short, I think both of those covers are decent and passable, even if they aren't all I'd hoped for.
The third level of connection to my vision for the book covers is one that is more of a disconnect, really. The covers for Beyond the Summerland and All My Holy Mountain don't really correspond to my vision for those books, much at all. (Faithful readers of the blog already have seen the cover my friend Connell drew and know I liked it, but here I refer to more than the choice not to use Connell's work.) Now, to be fair, the disconnect isn't total. For both books, it was important that the covers have a summery feel, a more peaceful feel, and I believe both of them achieve those things very well. But, as for the specifics of what is represented, my own ideas were rejected in favor of what you see on those covers. Now, that isn't to say the covers aren't good or that you shouldn't like them, but it is to say that even as an author, you win some and you lose some.
Obviously, assuming that I'm making a grand statement in any particular cover could be risky, as it might not even be a cover that I wanted in the first place. Consequently, my advice is to follow the old adage and to refuse to judge a book by its cover. What matters is the book inside, and if you've liked the series so far and want to see how it ends, then get the book and read it. If you haven't liked the series, then even if you love the cover, I doubt that fact will redeem the experience for you.
Personally, I think that All My Holy Mountain is the best of the five books. That conclusion has nothing to do with the cover. Covers matter to the marketing of a book, and when the cover is sharp and appealing, it can be memorable for the reader, but really, it is the book itself that matters. In other words, feel free to like it or not like it, but I hope that all of you will go beyond the cover and read it, and then I will be eager to hear your thoughts, since my passion isn't for the cover, but for the book inside.
Revised Release Date
For those of you who occasionally drop by the BOTB website, you already know this, but my publisher, P&R, has announced that the revised release date for All My Holy Mountain is June 1st. Hopefully, those who have been waiting so patiently (or not, I suppose) all this time, will find that it was worth the wait.
In the Name of Love
"Early morning, April 4, a shot rang out in the Memphis sky. 'Free at last,' they took your life, they could not take your pride."
U2 fans will recognize the above, a quote from "Pride," a big hit in 1984 on the fantastic album, Unforgettable Fire. The reference is of course to Martin Luther King Jr, who was shot to death forty years ago today and whom the song memorializes.
While King, like any vocal, passionate, famous person, has both supporters and detractors, it is hard to argue with his multi-racial vision of a future where men would be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. This was not a vision embraced by all, and sadly, it still isn't, but as the song indicates, those who wanted to kill King - and I'm sure James Earl Ray wasn't the only one - could kill the man but not the dream.
While I reflect on the heart of this dream, the truth that God is about the business of redeeming for Himself a people from every tribe and tongue, and that the harmonious diversity of heaven should be our goal on earth, I cannot help but think of the candidacy of Barrack Obama for president. Now, I know that politics, like religion, stirs strong reactions, so it's risky even to type the name. However, whether one likes or dislikes Obama is not my point. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Obama is not my point. My point is that it is a good thing that a man of color can be a serious contender for the presidency of the United States. This, I think, is unarguable.
How much has changed in 40 years? I don't know, but may we all continue to hope, to pray, to strive and to dream, of a world more like the world that God intended.
When Seven is Really Eleven
OK, in light of some of the comments, questions, debates at the BOTB website and more, concerning this whole "Seven Will Fall" post from yesterday, allow me to give a little bit more information.
"Major Character" is a term that can be defined in various ways, so to avoid giving away more than I'd like about All My Holy Mountain but to clarfiy at least a little bit, if you define character so as to include "any plant, animal, creature or person who plays a significant enough role in my story to merit a mention or perhaps a name," then my unofficial tally of characters who will fall is more like 11 than 7. When I winnow that list down given my unstated criteria for what makes something/someone "major," then I get 7.
Hopefully that helps. Happy speculating!
Seven Will Fall
All right, for those of you who don't like "spoilers," you might want to think twice about reading further.
So my publisher has pushed back the release of All My Holy Mountain, essentially because the cover is behind schedule. This means that those who have been faithfully waiting for it (as well as those who are only casually or marginally interested, I suppose), will have to wait until June now, instead of April (though I do understand there is a chance it could be out sooner if the cover gets finished quicker than expected). In light of this delay, I've been thinking about things to post about for those who want "something" to tide them over. Here it is.
I've not really been in the business of giving things away about books still on their way, as most fans can attest who've asked or emailed me questions about what will happen in later books. It's been hard, sometimes, to keep silent while people theorized, vented or interrogated, but I've tried to preserve the integrity of the story by keeping silent. However, I have with some friends hinted that the end of my series would have a relatively high body count, and so I felt I could share this with the broader reading public as well.
While I love LOTR greatly, it always struck me as a little bit unrealistic (as far as realism applies to fantasy stories) that of the nine who set out on the perilous journey to Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring, only the treacherous one fell by the way. While I certainly didn't want any of the others to die, given what they endured and where their journey took them and how many lives were lost in the war against Sauron, it feels a little too convenient that the rest of the fellowship comes through with only some emotional scars and a missing digit. (Of course, Theoden & others who become major characters do fall, but you get my point.)
So, when I was conceiving my story, I knew that I had to be willing to let some major characters go. I've already posted about Joraiem and the reactions to his death, so I won't get into that here. I'll simply say that in the last book of the series, seven of the characters that I would call "major" will die. That sounds like a big number, I know, but I should clarify it.
Using Father of Dragons as a reference point, I would say 3 major characters died in that book: Sarneth, Pedraal and Soran. So, from that number we learn a few things...
Sarneth - Major characters don't have to be human.
When you read the book and check my math, you may end up with a different count, as we may not agree on what makes a character major in the end. That's fine. The point here is not so much to give you a specific number, though I have, as to prepare you that things might get a little rough.
Beginning of the End
For those who have been waiting for the release of All My Holy Mountain, the first chapter is how available for viewing and downloading at the BOTB website. You can link to it here.
Though the first chapter has been available early for the other books in the series, it feels strange to be unveiling this one. In part, no doubt, this is because the events contained within it feel climactic rather than introductory, like the others. After leaving Benjiah "hanging," readers finally get to see what happens next. But even beyond that, it seems strange because it is the beginning of the end. I've enjoyed The Binding of the Blade very much, and even though my creative energies have been directed elsewhere for some time now, it is hard to say a formal good-bye to BOTB.
Even so, if you are a fan of the series, go check out the chapter and let me know what you think.
All right, I'm just going to put this right out there. Anyone who has a blog or personal website or whatever and just ignores the 29th of February is crazy. How can you do that? You won't get another chance to post on the 29th of February until 2012!
So, whatever mundane duties your life and maintaining it might require of you today, you have to take a minute to celebrate leap year. What a cool notion, that every 4 years, we get a bonus day. Hey everybody, the month that got seriously short-changed when days were being handed out just got its once-every-four-years reprieve. Sure, it's still the shortest month of the year like it is every year, but com'on, at least it's able this year to put in a respectable showing.
Sadly, like most things in life, it can't last. Night will fall. February will pass quietly away. We'll wake up and it will be March. And then? Then the long wait for 2/29/12 will begin.
For the Love of It
Do you love it? Do you love writing? When you can't, when time or life or whatever prevents you from accessing your pen & paper, your keyboard, your microsoft word file, do you hunger for the moment you'll have the chance again? Is telling a story, crafting a sentence, communicating a thought, an idea, an image, a powerful emotion, a truth, is it in your blood? Is it part of the fabric of your being?
Then maybe you should try to be writer.
If not, then maybe you shouldn't.
I don't want to discourage people with a passion, which is why I started where I did, but I want to be candid and realistic. Writing well involves time, discipline and hard work. Yes, writers are often glamorized on TV or in movies as living lives of veritable leisure, but few support themselves on writing alone. So, if you're not in it for the love of it, think about something else.
Even breaking through and getting something you've written into print isn't a guarantee of writing happiness & bliss. Your chance to get into print again might well depend on how well your first book sells. I've heard it said that the only thing less appealing to a publisher than an unpublished writer is a published writer whose first book(s) didn't sell. I don't know how true that is, but we need to remember that the bookmaking business is a business. Sorry to be blunt. Sorry to burst romantic bubbles. Sorry to rain on your art for art's sake parade. But, if this is a world you want to be a part of, then a simple truth needs to be faced. If a publisher is going to invest time, money, intellectual capital and reputation on a book, they need to believe there will be a return on those investments. Period.
Though I published some smaller articles in a reference work in the 90s, I officially date my becoming a professional writer to the signing of my first book contract in early '02. Looking back at six years working in the industry, even if all with one press and one main editor and one agent, I recognize that it is a tricky and imperfect world. Sometimes dreams are realized. Sometimes they're dashed. Enduring the emotional highs and lows is made much easier by the realization that whether the royalty check is big or small, whether your publisher supports you well or not, whether your books make waves or ripples, that writing, that telling a story, is a function of who you are.
If you love it, do it. If you don't? Then find something that you do.
The Joraiem Factor
As evidenced even by comments in the last few months on this blog, it looks like some people were upset that Joraiem died at the end of Beyond the Summerland.
All right, so that's a little tongue-in-cheek. The outrage over Joraiem's death (or "Jory" as a friend of mine likes to refer to him when seeking to irritate me) was strong and pretty much immediate when the book came out in 2004. So, I thought I might take a minute, now that the series is so close to being completed, to reflect once again on this event that is still, in some ways, the defining moment of The Binding of the Blade to date.
As I've said elsewhere, the vehement reactions to Joraiem's death suprised me a bit. At least at first, they did. After a while, I got used to them. As I reflected in those early months on just how strong the reactions were, and as I've reflected since, I've had several reactions.
One reaction, though not necessarily the first one, was that I was pleased. Not because I like irritating people, but because for people to react that strongly to a fictional character, they had to like him. So, even as some readers were expressing their anger at me, which at times was expressed pretty strongly, it was a kind of odd compliment. They cared enough about this person I'd created to take the time to chew me out when he died. For those who actually read on, beyond Beyond, I'm sure it became apparent that Joraiem's death was pretty important to the story. So, caring about his death, was also pretty important for the reader to buy into the story that followed. So, all the feelings that were expressed so vividly and continue to be expressed about that event are in their own way, encouraging. They suggest that I succeeded in getting readers attached to the characters and to the world.
Another reaction, was a desire to figure out just why the reader reaction was so strong. I've gotten into stories I've read, but sending "hate" mail to the author hasn't been a normative practice when the story took a turn I didn't like. (To be fair, true "hate mail" has been relatively rare, but many have made it very clear they were none to pleased...) So why such a strong response? As I reflected on it, I saw two main reasons why readers responded so strongly and why I had not foreseen it, though perhaps I should have.
The first reason was that readers at the conclusion of Beyond the Summerland had no feel for how the story and world could go forward without Joraiem. I knew the whole story. I knew the trajectory of the next 4 books. I knew Joraiem was never intended to be a continuing character. I could reconcile myself to the fact that he was not the hero of the whole series. I knew all this, but my readers didn't. For them, Beyond the Summerland was all they knew of Kirthanin. Thus putting the loss of Joraiem in perspective was not easy for them.
The second reason readers attached so strongly to Joraiem & that attachment suprised me, was that the decision to tell almost the whole story of Beyond the Summerland from Joraiem's perspective came relatively late in the planning stages. For those who've read the other books, you know that the perspective frequently shifts among the main characters. Rulalin, Aljeron, Benjiah, Wylla, etc., all take turns being the focal point of the narrative. Originally, that was the plan for Beyond as well. Relatively late in the game, though, I thought to myself, 'Self, in a way, this is really Joraiem's story, so maybe I should use him as the exclusive narrator for all scenes in which he is a part.' So I did, and instead of having Joraiem be one of many central characters, he became the central character. Obviously, this heightened the attachment of the reader to Joraiem, and I should have foreseen that this would have an impact on reader responses to the end of the book.
So, at that point, I felt like I understood a bit about why the strong reactions had surprised me. I could see what others couldn't about how the story went forward, and I had underestimated the affect of telling the story almost exclusively from Joraiem's perspective. However, I still didn't really understand why people were that upset. After all, Joraiem wasn't real. BOTB is just a story.
Well, this leads me to a third reaction I've had over the years, as I continue to hear from readers, some of whom have just come to the story and experienced Joraiem's death for the first time, some of whom read the book years ago but are still clinging four books later to the thin hope that Joraiem will show up again. This reaction isn't that I've been reminded how powerful stories can be in the lives of readers, though that is certainly true. This reaction is that I've found the strong, visceral response of readers to Joraiem's death to reaffirm the validity of my central theme. The Binding of the Blade is about the longing we have for the world to be made right, to be made new, for war to be abolished and peace to be established. It's about the deep hunger, which I believe our creator built into us, to long for the brokenness of the world to be healed. Thus, even in stories, when we encounter evil, we respond with outrage. Even in stories, when we encounter grief and loss, we desire comfort and reunion.
All My Holy Mountain is my attempt to offer a fictional vision of what that restoration might be like. I hope my readers find in it, at least some of the resolution and restoration for which they long.
Writers & Storytellers
There are all kinds of reasons to write a book, and all kinds of people at some point, contemplate writing a book, actually sit down and write a book, or even vigorously pursue publishing a book. No doubt, then, there's some artificiality in all attempts to say what "writers" are or are not, since those who see themselves as writers are assuredly, a diverse population of people. However, at the risk of oversimplification, there is a basic distinction that I began to make some years ago in the process of fielding various questions about my books and writing that I'd like to briefly explain here.
This distinction is what I would call the difference between a writer and a storyteller. A writer, as I think the name implies, is a person whose passion is largely directed toward the writing itself. I've had students who were true "writers" in this regard. Every sentence was painstakingly agonized over, if not every word, and the result was a finished product that was sheer delight to read. I'm sure you've met this kind of writer in your reading travels, where you suspect that it wouldn't much matter what they wrote about, because it would be enjoyable to read no matter what.
I think that a lot of these true "writers," as I've described them here, end up writing for newspapers or periodicals, or perhaps as essay or short story writers. For writers with this kind of make-up, novels are probably very laborious, because to agonize over every word of a novel is a lot of agony.
Storytellers, by contrast, put the emphasis not so much on the words in the sentence but on the story the sentences come together to tell. That is, the agony is over plot and character, conflict and resolution. Which scene to insert next? How to best structure the timeline? How much foreshadowing is sufficient & how much is too much? And so on, and so forth.
Storytellers can't afford to agonize over every word, because the process of writing the story isn't the payoff. The payoff is finishing the story so the story can be viewed as a whole, complete, ready to be submitted to the reading public. Furthermore, storytellers need to finish the stories they're writing because there are more stories springing up inside them that need to be let out.
Now, thankfully, this is, as I acknowledged at the outset, an artificial distinction. Really good writers often have a fine sense of story, and good storytellers pay enough attention to the craft of writing that the words don't frequently get in the way of the enjoyment of the story. Sometimes, even, a fine sentence or two might be turned out along the way despite the storyteller's larger concerns.
In this framework, I must concede that I am a storyteller. I do love words. Really, I do. I have that much of the true writer within me. Poetry taught me to love the right word in the right place, and any aptness I might have for writing well owes a great deal to the study of poetry. But, at the end of the day, I'm a storyteller. My love of story is even older and deeper within me than my love of words. Summer days from my childhood, curled up with book in hand, float back to me over the years, reminding me of the joy of finding myself lost in whatever book I had available, even the not so great books. To have contributed some stories to the world's store of them, that others might get lost and tarry a while within, is a real privilege.
So, while most call me a writer - which is fine, I know what they mean - inside, I know that really, I'm a storyteller.
Sneak Peaks & Creative Diversity
A definite perquisite of being a published writer, is that on occasion, you get a crack at reading a book that is on its way toward being published but is, as yet, not in print. I don't know why it is quite so much fun to curl up with a book that isn't yet available to the general public, but it is. Maybe it is simply the feeling that one has a key to a room or building that is locked to most others, but into which you may freely roam. Or, maybe it is like the stock image from ads and T.V. shows and movies of people waiting in line to get into the club or restaurant or attraction of their choice, and the limo pulls up and out steps someone who is simply waved on in. We all want to be that guy, right?
Perhaps that's a bit dramatic, but it is enjoyable to read the work of others and be given a chance to comment on it before it even goes to press. Last year, I was privileged to read Wayne Thomas Batson's Isle of Swords before it was released, and I thought it was a fast-paced, entertaining, action/adventure story. Right now, I'm reading a book by Bryan Davis called Beyond the Reflection's Edge which is planned for release in May. I haven't finished it yet, but I've read about two thirds of it and I'm far enough in to say, that it is also a fast-paced, entertaining, action/adventure story. Though the two books are very different, the one being set in an age of pirates, and the other being a little more sci fi in nature than fantasy, I'd say, they do share the common element of leaping into action and roaring right along from one predicament to the next. (You can check out both these writers through their links in my sidebar.)
At any rate, beyond simply saying that I've enjoyed this special glimpse into the stories of my fellow writers, I wanted to say one more thing. Neither book contains a story that I would ever be likely to write. This isn't a knock on them. Quite the contrary, it is an admission that of all the story ideas I've conceived over the years, none have ever been anything like these. My point here, is that human creativity is so remarkable that sometimes it moves me to wonder. Have you ever thought about how it is that with only so many sounds & notes in the world, new songs keep getting written? The capacity to keep inventing despite the finite resources afforded us is, to me at least, nothing short of astonishing. Likewise with stories. In one sense, there are only so many themes and plots and characters to choose from. Only so many archetypes out there. And yet, stories that are sufficiently varied and new and interesting keep emerging to entertain and delight. To me, this is additional testament to the grandeur of God's creativity. He made a world that is rich with possibility, and He has made us creative, which is a very, very good thing. I would never have written these books, but I'm glad that someone else did.
I think that when we're young, we presumptively believe that our own artistic interests and tastes are superior to everyone else's. I teach teenagers, and one generality that is frequently true of them, is that they scorn music that isn't their own. It isn't always true, just usually. I was that way, for sure. But as I've grown, I've come to see that there is a broader creative world to be appreciated. I don't necessarily "appreciate" all of it yet, and I may not, but I'm glad it is varied.
Of that, I am certain.
A New Start
So, I wrote the first page of a new series today. I thought I'd post that little tidbit, since it was a big deal for me. I'm nowhere close to ready to actually write the series, but I've been planning and conceiving and envisioning so much lately, I just needed to write.
I have no idea if the first book of this series will actually start with this page or this scene, but it felt good to be writing again. I'll probably keep working on this chapter while I keep world-building and story-building, and we'll see where it goes from here.
As for discussing the new series here, I've pretty much decided that until it is under contract and I have definite news to share, I'll be pretty vague. Right now I'll just say that it has a much larger scope than BOTB. I've realized that most fantasy stories, even really big ones, have essentially "single continent" scope. People may come from over the sea in this story or that, but mostly the action takes place on a single landmass, even if there are multiple cultures, countries, climates and more. Perhaps this is so fantasy book readers can have a single map that easily fits onto a two page spread at the start of the book. LOTR, Wheel of Time, the Prydain Chronicles, most of Narnia (save "Voyage" of course), etc, all basically fit this model. BOTB too. This new series is global, and it is a big globe! It's almost overwhelming at times, but it is also really exciting to think of the possibilities for varied backdrops and contexts and storylines. We'll see how it goes.
The Cover That Wasn't
On my sidebar you'll see a link under "Other Sites" to the artwork of my friend, Connell Byrne. I wanted to explain more about why it is there.
Back in 2002, when I first signed my contract with P&R to write The Binding of the Blade, discussions about cover art and artists began. As those who have read in the series know, Larry Elmore, a very well established fantasy artist was eventually chosen and he has done the covers for the series. In '02 though, this hadn't been arranged, so I suggested to P&R that they check out my friend Connell.
In addition to the work he'd already done, he and I decided to make a mock cover based on a painting he did to illustrate what art in Kirthanin might look like. In other words, rather than a typical stylized fantasy cover, we were thinking of five covers that would have more of a symbolic connection to the world, like the kind of art that might have emerged from people in that world in those times.
So, to give Beyond the Summerland the "summery" feel that I was going for, he did the painting that you see below.
If you know the books, you will recognize the "King Falcon" with the sun behind him. If you recall, the King Falcon was pretty important to Beyond the Summerland and Joraiem's growing prophetic consciousness. Connell made a digital image of the painting and added a the title above and author name below, and we submitted that to P&R as a cover proposal.
In the end, P&R was nervous about departing so far from traditional fantasy cover art. They wanted the book to be "recognizable" as fantasy just by a quick glance at the cover. Admittedly, Connell's cover probably doesn't fit that description. All the same, I think it is a very strong, attractive cover and it might well have drawn attention to the book because it is so unique. At this point, the issue is moot.
I really loved the painting, and I'm excited to be able to finally display it for BOTB fans around the world. If you'd like to see more of Connell's work, just click the link in the sidebar. Connell lives in Maryland & if you're in that region, you might see his work at various shows about the place.
"Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch..."
So, I mentioned at the end of my last post that many times when people find out I've been finished with All My Holy Mountain since '06, they ask me what I've been doing since then. This post is an update on my writing-life from mid-'06 to the end of '07 for those who are interested.
Let me start with finishing "The Binding of the Blade" in '06. It was really weird. I'd first had the idea for the story that became BOTB in the summer of 1992. I resurrected the idea and began serious work on world-building and story-building in the summer of 2000. From that point on, I worked pretty steadily on developing and then writing the 5 novels that constitute the series. So, for 6 years straight, I'd lived with the characters, the story and the process of writing it. I sat down in the spring of '06, when I'd finished the Epilogue of All My Holy Mountain and sent it off to my publisher, a little bit stunned by the thought of being finished.
Of course, at that point I wasn't really finished. I still had the major editing work left to do for both Father of Dragons and All My Holy Mountain. Since Shadow in the Deep had only just been released, we'd decided to edit both of the last two books back to back, so we could ensure the highest degree of continuity in the story. So, I still had that process left to undertake. Even so, the "initial composition" portion of the writing process for BOTB was finished in the spring of '06, and it was time to think about what was next.
I had thought about what would be next, of course. I generate story ideas that excite me faster than I can complete the book I'm working on, so during the 6 years I'd been working on BOTB, the list of book ideas to one day get to had been steadily growing. Of course, my wife, ever concerned for my well-being, wanted me to "take a break" now that BOTB was finished. I agreed to take a break, and off we went on vacation when school was out for the summer.
For a variety of reasons, we were away longer than usual, and by the time we got home, I was climbing up the proverbial wall with the desire to get started working on something. I had to face the (sad?) reality that writing had become, for me, a compulsion.
Of all the ideas I had for stories, the one I decided to work on next was one of the "newest" that I'd had. It was a contemporary fiction idea, more or less in the "murder mystery" genre. I love watching Mystery! on PBS and have for a long time, so I was excited to write a mystery. I started work on a novel I called Avalon Falls in August of '06 and finished in the spring of '07.
Now, fans of BOTB might be saddened or disappointed that I went on to something that wasn't fantasy, but after 6 years of intensive work on BOTB, I wasn't really ready to jump back into it. I'd had a new idea for another series some time ago, but when push came to shove, I wanted to work on something else. Avalon Falls was that something else, and I really enjoyed writing it. I loved it, in fact, and sitting here some 6 months after finishing it, I still really like the story.
In the summer of '07 I started something else, but a series of events led me to lay it aside in the fall of '07. During those fall months, a series of conversations with various people, alluded to in my post on "Dot.comification," led me to the conclusion that trying to break into the "murder mystery" genre with Avalon Falls right now probably wasn't the right business move for me. Instead, my agent and I agreed that I'd try to sell my fantasy series idea to someone, and in December of '07, I began intensive work on developing that idea and building that world.
So what about Avalon Falls? The answer is that I don't know. It may never see the light of day, and the half dozen people who have read it may be the only ones who ever know that story. It's a sad thought, but it is a possibility. Was writing it a waste? Absolutely not. I loved writing it, and I wouldn't go back and do things any differently. Besides, I really do believe that I couldn't have gone right from BOTB directly into another massive fantasy project. I scratched my writing itch with Avalon Falls while still taking a break of sorts from the work I'd been doing previously and am already doing again now. After an 18 month break, I've returned to the work of world-building and story-building for my new series with a vengeance, and I am very, very excited about how it is going and what I'm working on. This new project, though, is a subject for another post on another day.
All My Holy Mountain
2008 is here. Finally.
I say that, because the release of my first novel Beyond the Summerland in 2004, the knowledge that my publisher wanted to release the 4 additional books in that series at a pace of one a year, and a little basic math told me that 2008 would be the year that the last book in the series, All My Holy Mountain would be published. So, it feels like I've been waiting a long time for this.
Really, the waiting goes back to the 2000-2001 school year, when the "world-building" and "story-building" for The Binding of the Blade began in earnest. As soon as the story in full had been conceived, I couldn't wait to get to the ending. At first, that took the form of waiting to write the ending, and that was hard enough. I didn't get to write the last book until the 2005-2006 school year, and that was a truly rewarding experience. After so many years, so many words and hours, so many adventures on so many pages, to finally conclude what I had years before begun was very fulfilling. It felt every bit as good to get there as I'd hoped it would, and I discovered that despite the fact that the story was no longer new to me, I still really liked it and the way it ended.
Even so, I still had 2 years to wait until the book would be published. That's right, I was finished writing All My Holy Mountain in the spring of 2006, about the time Shadow in the Deep was released, and I knew it would be two years until I held All My Holy Mountain in my hands.
Well, I'm still waiting for that. I haven't even seen the cover art yet. But it is 2008, and barring some kind of unforeseen disaster, I will hold All My Holy Mountain in my hands soon. To me, that is very exciting, and here are a few reasons why.
First, for an unpublished author, a five volume series is a pretty significant undertaking. Actually completing it and then seeing it come to pass and having the books on your shelf is a milestone worth celebrating.
Second, when the first book was published in 2004, I had already conceived the whole story and written 3 of the 5 books, which means, I got all kinds of questions, criticisms and other feedback about a small fraction of the story, and I constantly had to bite my tongue so as to not give things away that needed to wait for later. For almost 4 years now, I've been waiting for the day that readers could see the whole story. Even with the whole story in view, though, not all will like it, and I understand that. Still, at least people will have a chance to reach their conclusions on the question of whether not the series is a good one based on the whole and not just a part, and that's exciting to me.
Third, and last, I'm convinced that All My Holy Mountain is a great ending to the story. (I guess all writer's think they have great endings to their stories, so I'm probably predictable here...) I really do believe it is the best book of the series, and more, that it will elevate the experience of the other books to a higher plane. Maybe for some it will only make a disappointing series less so, but perhaps for others it will make an average series good or even a good series great. Whatever the case, I am fairly confident that for most it will be a seen as a strong conclusion. So, I 'm excited.
2008 is finally here, and soon, All My Holy Mountain will finally be here too. If you've been reading the series, I hope you like it. If you haven't, you still have a few months to get caught up.
In my next post, I'll address a fairly common question that comes up when people find out that I finished writing All My Holy Mountain in 2006, namely, the "what have you been up to since?" question. But that's a topic for another time.
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