Archives for: December 2008

What Did You Get?

Permalink Posted by L.B. Graham Email @10:12:48 am (5889 views)
Category: Announcements

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

Permalink Posted by L.B. Graham Email @10:36:57 am (4306 views)
Category: Announcements

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

Permalink Posted by L.B. Graham Email @10:59:27 am (4657 views)
Category: Announcements, Writing, Life in General

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?)

CHRIS: Allan and I have been blessed to have each other as brothers. I realize not many siblings enjoy each other as much as we do, and it is truly a gift from God that we have been best friends since we were very little. We've pretty much been a team since day one and even went to college together to pursue our passion for computer animation (back in the days before Toy Story...ehem). I find that even though we have similar skillsets (art and writing) there is a key difference between us that really makes the dynamic "work". I'm more of a big dreamer kind of guy, I see the big picture and provide direction and ideas on a broad scale. Allan is more of the details guy, he usually reigns me in so I don't go too far out in left field, and he helps fill in all of the glorious details that make the final product the best it can be.

LBG: I gathered from conversations on Tour that you two trained in computer animation. Did you ever, or do you still, have any aspirations to make pursue use of those skills in video production or film, to be the next “Big Idea?”

CHRIS: Our passion is for storytelling in all of its forms. Film is a very powerful and engaging medium to use, but the key is having good stories to tell. In terms of being the next "Big Idea" the answer is "yes" and "no". Yes - in that we love animation, and would think it is the coolest job in the world to animate one of our stories. No, because our passion is for the teen/pre-teen ages of kids. So we would focus on a different demographic than Big Idea.

LBG: For the uninitiated who might be reading this on my site, how would you introduce your Codebearers Series and the first Hunter Brown book to them?

CHRIS: Fans of Narnia and Pilgrim's Progress will love this book. It is cut from the same vein...an allegorical journey of Spiritual awakening and understanding. Hunter Brown shows us a different kind of hero. Where most stories will say that the hero "has good in them" and they must struggle to find that good to overcome evil...we take a differen approach. In many ways,Hunter is somewhat of an anti-hero. His entrance into the realm of Solandria causes more trouble than it solves.

In the beginning, Hunter thinks he's a pretty average kid, but what he doesn't realize is that he and his friends are secretly infected by an invisible horde of creatures known as the Shadow. An ancient book magically transports him to another realm, where he must search for the only one who can save him from the Shadow's infection. After arrving, Hunter is befriended by the Codebearers and trained in the ways of the Author before finally being tasked with recovering a sacred artifact known as the Bloodstone. Through it all, he must come to grips with the reality that he is not as good as he thinks he is.

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.)

CHRIS: Hmm...what can I say without giving away too much.

Well for starters, the title is tentatively set to be Hunter Brown and the Consuming Fire. Hunter is re-written into the Veil lands, his old home in Destiny, but unfortunately, his best friend Stretch has no memory of their previous adventure, which leaves Hunter alone in his beliefs. Strange things begin to happen, and Hunter quickly realizes that even though his connection to the Shadow has been broken they are still very much alive and well. Oh yeah, and a new threat emerges as a deadly assasin is sent on a mission to destroy the Codebearers Resistance - or what's left of it.

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!

Jonathan Rogers

Permalink Posted by L.B. Graham Email @07:22:46 am (10525 views)
Category: Writing, Life in General

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!”

If I may quote from my (now out of print) book The World According to Narnia, “Instead of giving a lecture on the importance of staying warm, C.S. Lewis builds a fire and says, ‘Here, feel this.’” That’s how good fiction does its work on you. Narrative lets you enter into another experience, to try it on. That’s very different from, say, an expository essay, which has its own charms and uses. I like essays too, but the do their work in a very different way.

The power of narrative, by the way, can be used for ill as well as good. Advertisers use narrative to convince you that you want what they’re selling, whether you need it or not.

[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.

Then there’s the question of fantastic elements such as magic or fantasy animals, none of which appear in the Wilderking. In the earliest, roughest outlines of the story, I left open the possibility that there would be dragons, giants, goblins, maybe a little magic. But as I entered more fully into a world that looked like Georgia or Florida before the Europeans arrived, “fantasy” elements seemed almost redundant. I think you told me, LB, that you’ve been to the Okefenokee Swamp. Could that place really be more fantastical? As I began to tease out the marvels of pioneer (and pre-pioneer) Georgia and Florida—its landscapes, its peoples, its history—I got less interested in populating that world with the traditional trappings of fantasy. Alligators seemed a good substitute for dragons (can you imagine what Hernando de Soto and friends thought of the first alligators they saw? Probably similar to what they would have thought of dragons). Before long I decided I wasn’t open after all to “fantasy elements.” Aidan faces a giant in Book 1, but actually the giant is only the size of Shaquille O’Neal. Neither the narrator nor Aidan uses the word ‘giant,’ though other characters do. The feechiefolk seem to have the power to appear and disappear, but pretty early in Book 1 the reader realizes that they’re just good at hiding. And the miners, who would be dwarves in many fantasy books, are just miners.

[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.
2. Sitting with Sharon Hinck in the coffeeshop of a bookstore in Portland. A young father comes in with his three-year-old son. More to the point, a young father is dragging his three-year-old son by the arm, and the boy is screaming, “NOOOO! I don’t want to go to the bookstore.” I turn to Sharon and say, “This is what we’re up against.”
3. The van rides. It didn’t matter which row you ended up in, or who was sitting with you. There was going to be lively conversation.
4. At a Super 8 in Sacramento, sitting with you and talking by the smallest swimming pool I’ve ever seen. I knew we were laying the foundation for a long, long friendship.
5. The little boy at the children’s hospital in Fresno—do you remember his name?—who, in spite of grave illness, lit the place up with his enthusiasm and joy.
6. Also in Fresno, the housing project where we read and signed books. There was a teenager there who got hold of one of your books and, no matter how much activity swirled around him, didn’t look up from it the rest of the time.
7. A lot of the other Motiv8 tourers have mentioned the night at Calvary Chapel in Huntington Beach, and I have to echo that. What an amazing night!

[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.

Fantasy indeed!

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.

Eric Reinhold

Permalink Posted by L.B. Graham Email @05:29:15 am (19160 views)
Category: Announcements

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!

   

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