Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Dodgy Interview with Sophronia Belle Lyon, the Author of A Dodge, A Twist and a Tobacconist

I think this is Sophronia.
I must confess that I have been absolutely wretched at reading lately. I started reading Sophronia Belle Lyon’s inventive novel, A Dodge, A Twist and a Tobacconist, according to Goodreads, in late October and only just finished it on Christmas Eve. Please don’t take this to mean that I didn’t enjoy the book because I enjoyed it very much and I’m very happy to present here my interview with the author, Sophronia Belle Lyon.

Before we get to the interview, let me say a few words about the book. Ms. Lyon has gifted us with an exciting adventure that pairs beloved characters from Dickens, Alcott, Stevenson and more in a crime-fighting unit set in Victorian London with steampunk overtones. If you have no idea what in the world I’m rambling on about, let me assure you that A Dodge, A Twist and a Tobacconist may still be for you! I would hate for some potential readers to have doubts based on a word like steampunk, which may be unfamiliar, and pass up the rewarding and enjoyable experience of reading this book. It’s great fun to spend time with these familiar characters, but I believe that even readers unfamiliar with the original stories will get drawn in to the plot and the mystery contained within these pages.

The finest darn literary tribute
steampunk adventure I've ever
read in my life.
I didn’t love everything about the experience. My biggest quibble—and it really is nothing more than a quibble, one that might not even faze many readers—were fairly frequent “reports” given by some characters that the author uses as an excuse to present certain scenes with first person narration by secondary characters. These are not presented, however, as dialogue by the characters involved, but rather as narration indistinguishable from the first person narration provided by Florizel, the narrator. In dialogue, these different characters maintain distinct personalities (indeed, the diction is sometimes so heavy as to make some dialogue difficult to follow), so it’s a bit perplexing why these “reports” all sound the same. In the course of the story, these little detours are presented as reports delivered by certain characters to the rest of the crime-fighting team at the heart of the story; however, they took me out of the story since they read as traditional narration rather than the situation reports they claim to be. A character giving a report on a crime scene would probably not spend time describing extraneous details like a witness’ dress or eye color.

But that was, as I say, a pretty minor complaint. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and I recommend it whole-heartedly to readers who enjoy a variety of types of fiction. The inventions are fun, the characters memorable, the mystery engaging and the writing enjoyable. Additionally, A Dodge, A Twist and a Tobacconist is available in two forms: the standard version and a special illustrated edition full of vintage images and neat little Victorian touches. Both are perfectly affordable and both make a great read.

This interview wasn’t quite as straight-forward as others I have conducted, mostly due to the fact that the author lived and wrote in the late nineteenth century. I received an invitation to Sophronia’s “parlor for tea and mechanicals” via one of her descendants  Mary C. Findley. I should mention, by the way, that Mary is following in Sophronia’s footsteps as an author herself. She runs the Elk Jerky for the Soul blog with her husband (which also contains information about Sophronia’s books) and is the author of books including Chasing the Texas Wind, The Baron’s Ring and Benny and the Bank Robber. But I digress.

One of my best friends, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
As a good and proper American, I of course had no interest at all in tea and I had no idea what mechanicals were, but I enjoyed the book and figured it was worth the risk of having to drink tea to sit down with Sophronia and chat with her. The only problem was how to go back in time over a hundred years to take her up on her offer, a trip I usually only make on special occasions, or when entertaining royalty. I called my buddy Hermione but apparently a time turner wasn’t right for this mission, and those had all been conveniently destroyed in recent years so as not to become too big a plot hole. Then I happened to think of a solution more in line with the story at hand. A quick phone call and a trip to Surrey later and I had the most famous Time Machine in history at my disposal (well, after the Tardis).

I’m not sure precisely when I landed, but I was able to follow the quaint hand-drawn map Sophronia had provided to make my way to the meeting spot. I was admitted to her manor by a shimmering bronze automaton and shown into the parlor to wait for my hostess. “Wow,” I muttered to myself, looking around the parlor with its many inventive designs and clockwork machines. “Someone’s got a bit of a bronze fetish. . .”

Whenever I have questions about tea, this is the guy I call.
No sooner had I said these words than I heard a small cough and turned my head to see Sophronia Belle Lyon, the author of A Dodge, A Twist and a Tobacconist, coming to greet me. She offered me tea and what appeared to be scones. I may not be a tea drinker, but I definitely knew how to order it. “Tea,” I said. “Earl Grey. Hot.” This elicited nothing but a bizarre reaction from my host so I simply took what she offered. I sat down on a lavishly upholstered lounge chair that was fortunately one of the few items in the room not made of bronze. I set my scone down on its plate so I could fetch my recording device for the interview. I was about to pick it up again and take a bit when bronze legs sprouted from the sides and it scurried away from me. Well. . .she had invited me for tea and mechanicals after all. I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Brad: Hello, Sophronia, and thank you for the invitation. Before we get started, I’m a bit turned around here. Would you mind telling me the date?

Sophronia: A young man never asks a lady the date, because it would be a clue to revealing her age, which he of course must never ask or seek to know. If you are asking the time period in which my series is set, which is, of course, contemporary fiction for me, the prologue of Florizel's years in Bohemia takes place in 188-- and the main story in 189--. Seek to know no more.

Brad: Fair enough. I’ll just have to see if I can pick up a newspaper on my way out. Let me say that I’ve never read a book quite like A Dodge, A Twist and a Tobacconist. I believe you’ve called it a “steampunk literary tribute novel.” Where did the idea come from?
For your next Tawdry Movie Night.

Sophronia: There is a tawdry celluloid called The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen which was a great disappointment for me to view some years ago. It did considerable violence to the characters of some beloved classics, and so I set out to right a great wrong by creating my own Victorian era crime fighting league, with reverence and sensitivity for these people's true characters and natures. I also wanted to create mechanicals of my own to rival Verne and Welles.

Brad: Yes, you do certainly seem to enjoy mechanicals. But actually, before we go any farther, would you mind defining the whole steampunk genre or style or whatever it is for our less informed readers?

A visual representation of the word "steampunk."
Sophronia: I am learning more about this all the time myself. Steampunk is a type of Science Fiction, usually set in the Victorian era, 1800s to early 1900s, and relies on technologies based on steam and gearwork with a futuristic, speculative twist. (See how I worked that "Twist" in already?) 

Brad: Yes, I’m certain the pun was quite intentional. I’ll thank you to please dodge such obvious wordplay in the future. Your story contains characters from a number of classic works. Do you have a favorite character that you borrowed?

Sophronia: Phoebe Moore-Campbell (from Louisa May Alcott's Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom) exemplifies for me what is best in womanhood. She uses her talents for God's glory, provides for her family through her abilities, spreads the Gospel, gives wise counsel, and provides leadership by bringing out the best of the abilities of each member of her Alexander Legacy Company. With all of this she manages to remain a devoted wife and mother. She also shoots a mean parasol-crossbow and her dresses are to die for!

I really meant the Batman villain, but when I searched for
"steampunk penguin," this is what came up and there
was no way I was going to leave it out of this blog.
Brad: Parasol crossbow, hm? Reminds me a bit of the Penguin. Are there any other characters that you were interested in including, but weren’t able to work in to this novel?

Sophronia: I wanted to include George Rouncewell, a character few have probably heard of, from Charles Dicken's Bleak House. He is a strong, simple, good man who thinks he's failed his family's hopes for him. His brother's a successful businessman and George runs a broken-down shooting gallery. George is an expert with firearms and a defender of the hopeless victims of the British court system. He may still find a place in the company down the road. It is a growing enterprise, having added two new members in the first book already!

Brad: Tell us about Florizel, your narrator and central protagonist. I’d be interested in knowing which character traits and attributes were found in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Suicide Club, as well as how you may have altered or fleshed out the character.

Sophronia: Stevenson doesn't tell us a lot about Florizel. He makes him a bit more of an adventurer and devil-may-care type, and his mother and sister are barely mentioned as existing. Uncle Rudolfo and the conflict over republican values versus aristocracy are invented, as is Trevor Newsome, of course. I have given him a more solid and complimentary past because his courage, personal sacrifice, and determination deserve a tribute.

Brad: Although this is, ahem, a steampunk literary tribute novel, there are some very tender romantic moments. The small touches of love and affection between a number of the married couples felt as authentic and touching to me as anything in the book. Two new romances also bloom—although I hope any young readers take their romances much more slowly than the characters in the book! I’m interested in knowing if the female characters were introduce explicitly with the intention of hooking them up with certain single gentlemen, or if the romances developed more organically as the tale unfolded.
Pictured: Florizel and Visha's second date.

Sophronia: I really had no idea those silly people were going to go and fall in love like that. Visha Kanya (who I should mention is past the age of twenty, which is a good age for young ladies to first think of falling in love) was clearly smitten with Florizel's fearlessness and commanding presence the first time they met. His natural mention of God and His love for sinners deeply touched her. Oliver Twist had never even thought about the fair sex until he planted that theatrical kiss on Tatiana's cheek at Uncle Vanya's coffee shop. From that moment on, his nose was full of the scent of cinnamon and yeast and he was a lost man. Besides, Uncle Vanya would have done violence with his cast-iron rolling pin if Oliver hadn't done right by his daughter. A kiss is a seal, a pledge, that a true man must make good on.

Brad: And that is why I always avoid mistletoe. I kept thinking, when reading the book, that you seem particularly fond of Oliver Twist. His story and past become very important to the story, yes, but I also felt (real or imagined) a certain affection for the character through the descriptions and the like. I believe I’ve also read that Twist is also narrating the sequel. As a result—and I’ve no desire to give anything away so I’m trying to be very vague—I was shocked when something really vile befell the young inventor. Was it difficult to write about? Did you, as the author, have any emotional response to the pain you inflicted on this beloved character?

For more info on secular humanism,
Mary and her husband have literally
written the book on the subject.
Plus, it's illustrated!
Sophronia: I love Oliver. He's a social misfit like I am, and a scientist like many men in my life whom I love. But part of my purpose in writing this series, and everything I write, is to combat Secular Humanism. It is an ancient system of uprooting biblical principles and values and telling man he can be and do whatever he wishes, that nothing is right or wrong. What happens to Oliver Twist in the book teaches the lesson that man's quest for self-gratification and personal power leads to all manner of evil conduct. The enemy who attacks Oliver Twist represents the perversion of leadership, education, love and even friendship. It was very difficult to write about, and difficult to explain how even such a devastating thing can be overcome by God's power.

Brad: I do hope he continues to heal before the next installment. One of the major changes that you made to the majority of the characters is that virtually all the good guys are devout Christians. I have some hypothetical readers here—their names are hypothetically Larry and Carrie—who are pretty darn truculent at your (and I quote) “gall.” Although I never feel like us authors, creators of worlds that we are, are ever obligated to defend our work, I would like to give you the opportunity to make a response.

Mowgli sought Baloo after his conversion to share
the bare necessities of Christianity with him.
Sophronia: Larry and Carrie should remember that the undercurrent of true belief in God and high moral character runs through all the books by the authors who created my characters. Victorians, and even those earlier in the 1800s, like Austen, valued moral virtue, true examples of piety, generosity and care for the poor even f they weren't explicitly “Christian.” Your faith was your own business, held in a secret place and not spoken of, by Dickens and Austen and others. I chose to make it open, and to sweep a few "unbelievers" like Mowgli and probably Fun See, into the net of Christianity because it is my story, and I want people to know my Christ and His love for them.

Brad: Larry and Carrie have now hypothetically remembered that, as you suggested. Along the same lines, let’s talk for a moment about being a Christian author. Do you feel a responsibility to incorporate your faith into your writing? Do you just try to write the best stories you can, or do you have spiritual goals as well?

Sophronia: I always have spiritual goals. I want to see souls saved and growth in Christ occur. I want a foundation in the Word of God. These will always be in my stories, along with condemnation of wrong thinking and exaltation of truth. I might cloak them more deeply when I get around to writing the allegories I have in my head, but they will be there. 

Brad: Let me take this opportunity to apologize, Ma’am, for my subsequent actions. Your faith and sincerity make it even more difficult. You see, this shiny bronze umbrella that I have sitting in my lap is not merely an umbrella after all. It is actually a Barrett REC7 assault rifle disguised as an umbrella. It is, in fact, utter crap at keeping the rain off, but that’s beside the point. The point is that I am not a violent man, but I have found that the threat of deadly force is the most effective way of getting an author to name their favorite book. Oh, and let’s leave the Bible out of this, shall we? We are saved by grace, not works, Ms. Lyon, and the brownie points are not needed. Under the threat of untimely death, what is your answer?

It was the best of books,
it was the worst of books.
Sophronia: It is a good thing my collection of swords and knives is ready on the wall just behind me here, sir, and that I have a surprise or two hidden under my bustle as well, but I will answer out of courtesy and not fear. Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities is my favorite book, because Sidney Carton is the most amazing redemption story in all of literature: a brilliant but purposeless man prepared by love and personal sacrifice to abandon a life of drunken hopelessness and become a hero of epic proportions.

Brad: And your favorite author? Again, I apologize and I assure you that I feel dreadful, but I do owe certain answers to my inquisitive readers, and this is really the best way to procure this sort of information.

Sophronia: Charles Dickens. No one blends character, social concern, and suspense better.  

Brad: I’m a big fan of Dickens myself. Now, I would be remiss if I did not give you the opportunity to tell us what you’re working on currently. Please share!

If you judge books by their cover,
this one should already be
one of your favorites!
Sophronia: The ‘Pprentices, the Puppets, and the Pirate takes up the story of the Alexander Legacy Company from the point of view of Oliver Twist, as you have so cleverly discerned. We visit Nancy House, Oliver's training center for a new generation of mechanical geniuses. A sea monster will attack, Pinocchio will learn to obey a very different sort of Blue Fairy, and Long John Silver will risk his stealth air galleon, the Petite Papillion, in a quest for the energy source known as the Black Spot. Along the way there will be lessons about the nature of true rebirth and immortality.

Brad: Sounds very interesting, and I can honestly say that I’m looking very much forward to reading it.  I’ve got one last question. You are a self-published, independent author, Ms. Lyon. Aside from purchasing your books, how can  readers who enjoy your work best support you and other indie authors?

Sophronia: Keep an open mind and dig for your reading choices by the subjects you love, not just someone who made bestseller lists or has a famous name or a major publishing house. Be willing to take some time to search for books in your favorite genre and even outside your “comfort zone.” I have been so privileged, since I am a reader as well as a writer, to get to know many indie authors online and to hear about their books. I've read and enjoyed fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, historical, and even (shudder) contemporary romance. :-)

Our interview thus concluded, I thanked Sophronia for her time. She started asking questions about Mary and things in the future, but I politely declined to answer her, since we all know how this would have affected the space-time continuum. I did assure her that A Dodge, A Twist and a Tobacconist was a runaway bestseller, however, and that it had already been picked up for a film adaptation starring Nicolas Cage. She accepted this without surprise, even though I was more or less exaggerating. I didn’t quite have the heart to tell her that her book, enjoyable as it is, was unlikely to achieve the popularity of sparkly vampire fanfic featuring excessive amounts of S&M sex and wooden writing. I didn’t think she would much appreciate this preview of the world to come.

I’m afraid that I cannot quite reveal the extent of my adventures before returning the machine to the Time Traveller. I may have taken her around the block once or twice. Suffice it to say that Marty McFly says hi. And so does Martha Jones. And George Carlin. And Jadzia Dax. One who traverses the bounds of time and space is in good company, you know.

"Hello, Sailor!"
And if that makes you want to have adventures of your own, one of the best suggestions I can make is to pick up your own copy of Sophronia’s book and dig in yourself.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Drunk Demon and His Revival

If you stopped by a week ago, welcome back! If you’ve never been here before, welcome for the first time! If you swing by regularly because that’s how you roll, then hey it’s great to see you again and we greatly appreciate your patronage.

This is what Mary's working on.
I love the cover so much and am
enjoying the first book in the series
so much that I'm plugging it here!
I’ve been excited about today ever since I learned about The Next Big Thing blog theme promotion thing from fellow indie author Mary C. Findley over at her ElkJerky For the Soul blog. I’ve been working on my current novel for a while now and I can see where it is all beginning to wrap up in the next several chapters, so that meant that it was going to be time to officially announce the book soon and this blog theme promotion thing seemed like the perfect opportunity! Stick around at the end of the post for a link to some other bloggers who will also be taking this opportunity to discuss their latest works as part of the same blog theme promotion thing! Oh, for what it’s worth, I sort of reordered some of the questions in the prompt so that they made more sense to me.

The Next Big Thing

Title: The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living

Genre: Adult Christian fiction. I know that’s vague. You could add “Contemporary” to it, if you’d like.

Agency Representation: Indie, baby! I’m self-published.

Doing a Google Images search for "drunk
demon" returns interesting results.
Short Synopsis: Our story begins with a demon named Melchior. He’s fed up with his job because the church he’s assigned to distract and tempt and torment never do anything for the Kingdom of God anyway, so he’s bored out of his mind. To alleviate this boredom, he gets drunk off his bum. While venting to a fellow barfly, he gets the idea that the best way to really stick it to the boss—and maybe even end the boredom—is to go pay the church’s pastor a visit and tell him precisely how badly their screwing up. The early morning chat with the inebriated demon absolutely changes the pastor’s life. He becomes convicted and determines to truly follow Christ and be faithful in making disciples. A small group of believers joins him in his goal and New Jersey is never going to be the same again.

Where did the idea come from? Direct from the Holy Spirit. The idea came so suddenly and dramatically that I credit God one hundred percent as my inspiration. Please understand that I’m not trying to be arrogant or say that my book is above criticism. Inspiration is very personal and I credit God with all my ideas, but this one felt specially delivered (as did my short story, TheBook of the Harvest, incidentally).

If you ever wonder why I
don't write romance, it's
because this is what my
characters look like.
I'm sorry you died before
the movie deal, Denise.
What actors would play your character in a movie version? The book features an ensemble of at least half a dozen main characters. but I’ll focus on just a couple. I would like to cast Paul Giamatti as the pastor, Doug Pinkerton. His wife, Joan. . .well, I’m having a bit of a difficult time finding an actress of the appropriate girth for the role. I was going to suggest Denise Borino-Quinn, whose only credit is as Ginny Sacrimoni, a mob boss’ wife in The Sopranos, but, alas, she died in 2010. Well, it’s certainly not going to be Rosie O’Donnell. I can tell you that right now.

How long did it take to write the first draft? Not quite done yet, although I begin to see the end in sight. I don’t know precisely when I started, but it looks like it was in May 2012. There have been some bumps along the road, but the words have usually flowed forth pretty steadily.

If this book starts any massive Christian merchandising
crazes, you have my permission to buy copies and burn them.
What other books in the genre compare? I have never read a book like this. Thematically, about a group of believers who decide to stop playing around with mainstream Christianity and actually start following Christ, Charles Sheldon’s classic novel In His Steps comes to mind. When it comes to tone and the actual story, however, Savvy Demon’s Guide is dramatically different.

Any other in this genre? Boy, this question is difficult to figure out. I saw that Mary, on her blog, took this to ask whether she had written any other in the genre, so I’ll go with that too. My short story, The Book of the Harvest, is also best classified as Adult Christian Fiction, I suppose. My published catalogue is pretty limited at this point, though, so my only other available novel falls under Christian Fantasy.

Who or what inspired this WIP? The only direct influence that I can identify is Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, and the influence here is in the narration and tone of the book. The Narrator for Oliver Twist is extremely sarcastic and very funny (but I appreciate a lot of Dickens’ humor). I tried to follow his example in the Narrator for Savvy Demon’s Guide. Otherwise, I would say that, as a believer trying to follow Christ, my own journey certainly had a big influence on the book, but I’m sure that would be the case for anything I’ve written.

Drug addiction is not funny, but anything
that brings a sinner to their knees, crying
out for the mercy of their Savior, can be
used for God's glory.
Anything to add? I’m extremely excited about this book, as well as a bit apprehensive. This is a dramatic departure from my previous novel, Emaline’s Gift, and I’m not sure how the fans of that book will appreciate this one. For one thing, this is definitely intended for a more mature audience. I think it’s a more mature work, but also contains some vulgar language and situations. There is actually a fair amount of profanity in the book, but it’s censored in a way that I feel fits with the seriocomic tone. Some of the characters make very bad decisions and the book does not shy away from it. This is a story about sinners who are forgiven much and love much. There’s a great deal of moral darkness—but I believe the redeeming light of Jesus Christ shines much brighter, and the way He works is all the more exciting because of the darkness.

In the end, I’m proud to put my name on the cover. I believe this will challenge and encourage believers, even as I’m sure it may offend some as well. It’s not my intention to be offensive, but I’ve come to peace with that. I believe this is a story God wanted me to tell, and ultimately I answer to Him. Oh, but I’ve also started the second book in The Magi Chronicles and intend to go back to work on that as soon as I’m done with the first draft on this one!

Thanks, everyone, for coming by and seeing what’s been rolling about in my brain. I hope you’ll give Savvy Demon’s Guide a chance when it releases in 2013, and I think you’ll be rewarded if you do so. Now, I was supposed to find five other authors who blog and rope them into this blog theme promotion thing as well. I failed. But I found two!

So I encourage you to swing by and visit:

Cynthia P. Willow, who also writes Christian fantasy, including Patty Gayle and the Legend of Kingsley. She’s also the author of Hell’s Christmas. (Oh, and by the way, I’ll be hosting an interview with Cynthia right here on this blog at some point!)

Amy Magaw, the author of Wheels of Love and Home, which are both part of the Breaking Dawn series.

Go ahead and visit these ladies now if you’d like and learn more about them. Their Next Big Thing blog posts—where we get to hear about their new writing projects—should go live in a week, on December 26. I know it’s weird that I’m linking to them now and saying they’ll be doing this in a week, but consider it pre-anticipation. Yeah, that’s it.

Are you pre-excited yet?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

You Make Me Want to Watch a Better Movie

Needs a box for "Um, I sent me Son to DIE for you, didn't I?"

I was lying in bed, just sort of talking to God. Actually, I initiated one of those “state of the relationship” sort of chats. It really comes down to love, right?

Do You love me? I asked, but I wasn’t really asking. I knew the answer, because it’s been proven to me countless times. Yes, of course You love me, I answered myself. You love me a great deal. I actually lay there in the dark, looking up at the ceiling and grinning like a schoolgirl, I am not ashamed to admit. Thinking about my Savior’s love for me has that effect. It’s so wonderful, so strong, so steadfast and so completely undeniable. You could never make me doubt His love. Taylor Swift would sooner get back together with that one guy than I would doubt the love of my Savior and my God.

Well, since His devotion was not remotely in doubt, I turned my thoughts to me. I know I love You, I thought, and I meant it. Human love is so different, at least in my experience, to the love shared between a disciple and One he cannot see or feel or touch, at least in tangible ways. There was a time when I don’t suppose I knew much what it meant to really love God. I don’t think I could give you a great dictionary definition now, but a thought did come to mind.

Inhibiting Helen Hunt's
career since 1992.
“You make me want to be a better man.”

If you love movies about natural
disasters, you'll LOVE this film
about an misanthrope who's very mean.
That was the thought, and it’s a stolen one. You might recognize it from a movie that came out many moons ago (the Nineties, I believe) called As Good As It Gets. It was made at a magical time when someone thought that Helen Hunt might be a bona fide movie star if you could just get her away from Paul Reiser. Everyone really liked this movie, as I recall, although I didn’t think much of it when I finally saw it. Since I only saw the film once and thought it thoroughly meh, I’m trying to figure out why I’m so familiar with that quote. I believe that there may have been a trailer for the movie on a VHS movie that we owned, maybe Twister or something, and that may explain why that bit is so ingrained in my consciousness.

Quick! Name a Jack Nicholson movie from the past
twenty years where he does NOT play a grumpy old man.
Go ahead. We'll wait.
But back to the quote: “You make me want to be a better man.” Now, let me go and ahead offer the disclaimer that I may not have that quote down word-for-word. I don’t need any Jack Nicholson aficionados complaining in the comments section. But I think I got the essence right, anyway. I’m sure there were plenty of female viewers fluttering their eyelids and swooning at the thought of a grumpy old misanthrope striving to be a less grumpy old misanthrope for the sake of some blonde lady who might be a waitress, I think (I don’t recall). Without doubt, changing oneself to get other people to like you better is a popular concept, and is pretty much the entire message behind Grease. But it takes on a whole different element when it comes to our relationship with God.

I know that God loves me the way I am. I also know that He loves me too much to let me stay that way (is that a cliché? ah, well. . .). In MereChristianity, CS Lewis describes the changes that the God makes in the life of the redeemed:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

I think that sometimes were tempted to think that these necessary changes are arbitrary, that they serve only the purpose of molding us into some sort of godly ideal, perhaps to make us fit for an eternity in heaven. I don’t believe that’s the case at all. Rather, I think that the process of transformation that makes us more Christlike is extremely practical. For one thing, take a look at the pain and sorrow in your life and try to figure out how much of it is the result of sinful behavior. Certainly, some pain—disease, accident, natural disaster—comes simply from living in this fallen world, but a great deal of suffering is also self-inflicted (the result of our own sin) and inflicted by others (the result of their sin). This devastating tragedy in Connecticut that has so rocked our nation was without doubt the result of sin. Sin has consequences. God gives us a plan not just for godly living but also for wise living. To follow His path is to escape many of the painful consequences of sin, although of course following in the steps of the Man of Sorrows Himself will not grant us a life free from all pain.

But living a Christlike life can also have a profound impact in the lives of others. Jesus listed the two most important commandments as loving God with all that you are and loving others as yourself (Matt. 22:37-40). Ultimately, to become more like Jesus is to be more filled with love for our Lord and for other people. In his book UnChristian, Barna Group president  David Kinnaman says that Christians “have become famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for.” It’s true. In the New Testament, Christians were known for their association with Jesus Christ. In fact, when Paul was put on trial, he declared that the reason for the charges were because he believed in the resurrection of the dead (Acts 24:21), specifically because he taught the resurrection of one individual: Jesus. In fact, the very title Christians was all about Jesus. The believers were believers because they followed Christ and everyone knew it.

Now, I would argue that the term Christian has lost much of its original meaning. Most people associate the term with, just like Kinnaman says, with what Christians are opposed to. They’re anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion, anti-Democrat, anti-immorality and so on. Contrast this with Jesus words to His disciples: “By this will all people know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Notice that He didn’t say that love was how people would recognize Christians. He said that this is how the world would be able to recognize His disciples. Through love.

Godly living and a tasty fruit salad.
See, if I permit the Holy Spirit to transform me into a better man, what this means practically is that I will love more. You will be able to tell that I follow Christ not through how I vote or where I picket or how loudly I complain, but through a life that is categorized by sacrificial love. I will not be known by who I hate. I will not be known for what I am against. I will be known by the fact that I love the lost and strive to share the love of Jesus Christ with them. Look at the fruit of the Spirit, for example: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithful and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). These aren’t vague, ooey-gooey feelings or something. This is a description of how we are to treat other people. And just maybe they’ll see His light in us and glorify our Father in heaven (Mat. 5:16).

Dear Father, I am a selfish person by nature. I’m not saying that I’m always only looking out for myself, but that is surely what I default to. But You make me want to be a better man. You make me want to live a godly life that shines before others that You can use to draw them to Your arms. I know that is it Your influence in my heart that makes me even want these things. Help me, Father. Help me to live the sort of life that will impact others and draw them in. Help me to love the unlovable because of Your great love for me. Help me, Lord, to be a better man—because I surely can’t do it without you. And neither can Jack Nicholson. Amen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Preview of a Preview of Things to Come

This is, I assure you, extremely relevant.

Hello all!

If you’re visiting from Mary and Michael Findley’s Elk Jerky for the Soul blog, then I greet you warmly. Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome! So glad you’re here. Please, try the fish.

If you’re a regular visitor, then hi. I appreciate you, too. No, really.

So, Mary and I are both participating in this little thematic blog swap thing wherein we both (and many more author/bloggers, I’m sure) share information about our new story or book that we’re currently working on. I’ve actually been pretty tight-lipped about my current project but I can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel on this first draft, so maybe it’s about time to start talking about it.

But not quite yet.

See, if I have the rules of this blog thing down correctly (and I clearly don’t because today caught me unprepared!), even though I am being linked to today by the Elk Jerky blog, I’m not supposed to do my post for a full week, at which time I direct you to five other participating bloggers who will be sharing about their current projects yet another week later.

So, you come and visit today and hi!

But I’ve got nothing to show you until next week.

Thanks so much for coming, but, um, nothing to see here.
I do hope you’ll come back, however. I’m just over 150,000 words into my current project and it is without doubt the most ambitious and risky novel I’ve ever worked on. It’s extremely different than my currently published works, although it’s still a very Christian book, written to glorify God. But it’s worlds away from Emaline’s Gift (although I intend to work on book two in The Magi Chronicles after this so that’s still coming!). I’m very excited about it, and I’m excited for the opportunity to talk about it. Next week. (I think.)

But permit me to allow a little nibble. The title of my next book is The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living. You’ve got to admit that’s a pretty interesting title, yeah? Well, I think so, anyway. And I hope you’ll come back on December 19 to hear all about it.

And do help you out with that, here’s a link to Google Calendar so you can get a little reminder! See you next week!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Deals to Warm Your Aching Bones

Okay, so I'm going full-on advertiser at the moment, but I'm trying to get the word out. I belong to a group of Christian indie authors on Facebook and one of our members, Dave King, the author of The Land of Betrovia series, had the brilliant idea that many of us might get together and discount our books for a promo period of a few days. Eleven authors responded and the result is December Treats: Twenty whoppin' books available for free or darn close to it ONLY Dec. 4-8, 2012! Emaline's Gift and The Book of the Harvest are both included! (Edit: I just realized that not all 20 books are available at their discounted price for the entire 5 days of the promotion. 18 out of 20 ARE, however, so make sure you look at all the info available on the page.)
One of the books included on the
promo, randomly selected because
I feel bad that the author joined
after I made that nifty graphic up
top and she wasn't included in it.

According to my precise calculations (and we all know how good us creative author types are at math!), you can scoop up ALL 20 titles for only $13.86! Wow! For less than the cost of a very large meal at a McDonald's in New York City that includes multiple Big Macs and a chicken sandwich and a twenty piece of Chicken McNuggets as well as America's favorite fries (based on sales), you can have reading material at your digital fingertips to last you all winter long!* Oh, and yes, I said digital. This AMAZING deal is for e-books, most of them available on Kindle, but some on Nook and other places. So, if you don't have an e-book reader, just go ahead and assume you're getting one for Christmas and scoop these babies up now! Anyway, there are Kindle apps available to read these books on your computer, tablet or smartphone sooo you pretty much have no excuse to not lap these up. Unless you're Amish, in which case, welcome to the Internet! This can be a scary place, but I think you've made a wise decision in hitting up my blog first. I recommend not surfing over to YouTube next because I don't think you're ready for that yet.
Another book in the promo. This one
was randomly selected since this
was all Dave's idea and I thought
I owed it to him.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, Gee! This Dave King seems like a smart fellow! You should interview him on your blog! Good idea. We'll have to see if he's amenable to the idea.

I know what you're also thinking. You're thinking, This all sounds great, but this list has fantasy, children's books, romance, nonfiction and more! I don't read ALL those genres! Well, why not? Come on. Broaden your horizons. Expand your mind. Philistines.

Another randomly selected book from the
promo to spotlight. It's very random. 
Oh, and I also know what you are also, also thinking in your thinking brains. Hey! Isn't The Book of the Harvest regularly $.99?! How is THAT a deal?! Shhhh! Just because it's ALWAYS a good deal doesn't mean it should be excluded from the list here, does it? I would have made it free, but you can only make Kindle books free by being enrolled in a special program, and then there are only limited days to make it free, and I unenrolled The Book of the Harvest so I could also publish it for Nook and other avenues. So, I would have made it free, but couldn't. So, sorry about that. Everything else on the list is a genuine sale, though!

Is that all you're thinking, then? Good. I thought your brain would never stop. I was about to mention one of the Kardashians, which usually does the trick. Anyway, here's the link again: December Treats. Because you deserve it—and it's still a good deal even if you're a wretched individual and really don't.

*This is not meant to be an exact, or "true," claim. I've got no idea how quickly you read. How would I know that? I'm not a wizard.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Goodbye, Status Quo

When Shawn Ryan looks in the mirror,
he sees Vic Mackey
The way I see it, Last Resort is easily the best new show of the current TV season. It’s certainly not surprising, given that the man at the helm is Shawn Ryan, the man responsible for The Shield and a key creative force behind Terriers, both of which are absolutely incredible shows. This is certainly not television that you can multitask while watching: it demands your attention and your intelligence. There are complex themes at the heart of this show, and the writers and producers don’t shy away from exploring issues and ideas that don’t have easy answers and aren’t resolved in 43 minutes. I realize that some people like to sit down and watch TV with their brains checked at the couch, and I understand if that’s your philosophy, but Last Resort has a lot of action and suspense as well. In my opinion, giving a show depth and intelligence does nothing to reduce the fun or the entertainment of it all. I guess that’s because I’m more entertained and engaged when something is compelling than when it is simply big, loud and dumb.

Even though I’m a big fan of quality television, we don’t have cable or anything like that. We actually use Netflix and Hulu Plus for all of the entertainment needs in our house. The combined cost is less than $20 and we have Netflix for movies and non-current shows, and Hulu Plus for current shows that we’d like to keep up with. CBS doesn’t play ball with Hulu for whatever reason so that means no Amazing Race or Big Bang Theory. Oh well. But I watch everything, usually in HD, on my nice big TV through my PS3. I started looking eagerly for Last Resort to premiere because there was no way I was going to miss it, but, for some reason, Last Resort was only licensed to be watched on a computer and not on a TV. I have no idea why. ABC must just want to make it more difficult for people to watch this show. So I’ve been hooking up my laptop via HDMI to get around that and still watch it in the living room. Why am I telling you this? Because I wouldn’t go to the hassle of hooking up my computer to the TV for just any show. In fact, I don’t go to the hassle for any other show. But Last Resort is just that good.

"Nobody forget where we parked."
Since ratings indicate that not nearly as many are watching as should be, I’ll recap the basic premise. A nuclear sub, the USS Colorado, in the waters near Pakistan receives a suspicious order through non-standard channels to attack Pakistan with nuclear missiles. When the captain and the XO seek confirmation of the orders from someone they know—this is, after all, a pretty big deal and the lives of millions of Pakistanis depend on whether they are nuked or not—the Colorado is subsequently attacked by United States forces, Pakistan is blamed and then gets attacked. Captain Marcus Chaplin (played by Andre Braugher) sets up shop with his crew on the island of Sainte Marina, threatening to use his sub’s nuclear launch capabilities if anyone gets too close. His goal is to expose those in the government who set up the Colorado and to arrange for his crew to come home to their families.

Like I said, it’s exciting stuff. And the show deals with issues and concepts of loyalty and morality, which of course makes it perfect for our study of theofictionology, expounding on spiritual themes found in fiction. The most obvious place to go here may be Peter’s famous statement when he was commanded to stop preaching in the name of Jesus Christ: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The officers of the Colorado believe that they have found themselves in a situation where their commitment to obey orders has been overridden by a higher loyalty to the ideals of the United States and the value of human life. That’s an interesting place to go, I think, and we could have a nice little chat along those lines, but I’ve decided to go in another (albeit related) direction.

This man does not consider nuking Pakistani civilians a fun pastime.
The title of the show—Last Resort—indicates another theme that the series explores. I’ve heard people say that this is unrealistic or even audacious (not fans of 24 or Lost I suppose), but that’s actually kind of the point. Captain Chaplin has reached his breaking point and his actions are extreme, they are audacious, they are absolutely radical. What brought him to this point? There may have been a variety of factors contributing to this (and, in fact, there is reason to wonder whether Chaplin is still playing with the whole fleet, as it were), but the shady order to nuke Pakistan was the last straw. The man has been pushed to a place where he was no longer willing or able to maintain the status quo. His actions have made him unable to continue on as before, and frankly, things will never go back to normal no matter what the outcome. And that’s where I want to go.

Those of us who have made the decision to follow Christ and get plugged in to a local church, we might think that we’ve already reached our breaking point, and in some ways we have. It takes a lot for us proud creatures to admit that we’re sinful, that we’re enemies of God (Rom. 5:10), that we need help—and for us to cry out to a Savior. But oftentimes we go from maintaining one status quo (that of our secular lives and community) for another, which looks very similar in many ways, but with church on Sunday morning. It is easy for the natural enthusiasm and momentum that consumes us at the point of conversion to soon be lost in the status quo of mainstream Christianity. What is the result of mainstream Christianity? Take a look around at the United States and bear witness.

You may have heard the statistics before. The Barna Group is a good source for such things, if you are so inclined, and a lot of very useful numbers and suggestions can be found in George Barna’s book, Growing True Disciples, which I very much recommend. The short version is that Christians, statistically speaking, do not live any differently from the world. “Well,” we might say, “even if we’re still living like we’re slaves to sin, at least we’re effectively communicating Christian belief, right?” (Note: I don’t know why we’d say that. I wouldn’t say that. I don’t think James [the half-brother of Christ/epistle author] would either. If you want to say it, however, go ahead.) But, no, it’s not true. Barna reports a massive gap between what the Bible teaches and what believers who attend evangelical churches believe (e.g. 40% of believers say that Jesus committed sins and over 25% deny a physical, bodily resurrection). Add to these numbers the fact that some estimates say that as many of 88% of children raised in evangelical churches will abandon their faith by the age of 18, and I think it’s fair to say that mainstream American Christianity has a crisis on its hands.
"Eenie, meenie, minie, moe..."

But have we reached the breaking point yet? Do these numbers do it? Have we reached the point—and frankly I don’t know if we ever will as a unified church whole in this country—where we come to the conclusion that the attitudes and behaviors that have gotten us to this point are not going to fulfill the task we’ve been given? If we reach the breaking point, our goal will not be to merely maintain the status quo and look like all the other smiling faces in church but to pick up our cross daily and follow Christ (Luke 9:23), to be the servant of all (1 Cor. 9:19) and to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20). Yes, I said make disciples, not get them to attend church. Jesus made disciples. Paul made disciples. The world was turned upside down as Christianity spread like wildfire. We live in a place where everyone (well most, anyway) believe in God but very few live like it.

White afro or not, Keith Green saw with clarity.
Thirty-four years ago, in 1978, Keith Green asked of a lukewarm church, “Do you see, do you see all the people sinking down? Don’t you care, don’t you care? Are you gonna let them drown? How can you be so numb, not to care if they come? You close your eyes and pretend the job’s done. . .How can you be so dead when you’ve been so well-fed” (Asleep in the Light)? Do we stand here in 2012 and believe anything’s different? And even if our church culture remains the same (or just as lukewarm and just as ineffectual), must you and I remain the same, too?

On Last Resort, Captain Chaplin reached his breaking point. At that moment, everything changed. Only a fool would think that he would ever be able to return to the status quo after the actions he’s taken. And you know what? He just might make a difference?

Now, what about us? What about believers in 2012? If you have not yet reached your breaking point, then I pray that God brings you to that point. If you have, then I’m going to give you some very clear directives from Scripture regarding what to do next. First, begin investing spiritually in lives. Invest in the lives of those who don’t know Christ, show them His love, pray that the Holy Spirit will give you an opportunity to share the gospel with them and be ready when that opportunity comes. This is why you’re here. Second, continue to invest spiritually in people by making disciples. If you’re unsure how to make disciples, there are four Gospels that share Jesus’ methods. Find a believer who needs guidance and guide them. Live life together. Show them how to follow Christ. Based on the statistics above, corralling people like cattle into large group meetings and preaching at them isn’t quite so effective as we would like to think. So go back to the methods of the Master. He made disciples. He commanded you to do so. Now do it.

Once you start 1) investing in unbelievers and 2) investing in believers, I encourage you to take a look at your life and learn to slow down to really see others. There are needs everywhere. Meet them in the name of Jesus Christ. What if you made a commitment to stop the car every time you see someone pulled over by the side of the road? Maybe they need some gas, maybe they need a jump. When they thank you for your help, make sure they know that you’re doing this to show them the love of Jesus. If that opens a door to share more, take it. If not, know that the Holy Spirit will use your obedience and your servant’s heart regardless. Do you think such a commitment would be in line with Scripture’s commands to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27)? Do you think Jesus might make that commitment? Do you think Paul would turn a blind eye, or stop and help? If so, then shouldn’t you?

We need to live the lives we were saved to live. We need to use our time on this earth to make an impact for the life to come, the only life that actually matters. We will regret it if we don’t. I certainly don’t want to go to heaven empty-handed. And I hope that thought brings you to the breaking point.

Unfortunately, ABC pretty much hates you.
And ice cream.
And puppies.
And. . .oh. So, I just saw the news that ABC had canceled Last Resort. Well, that’s very disappointing.
But, alas, television is a business and quality counts for very little if not enough eyeballs (ahem, according to antiquated Nielsen voodoo) are watching. I suppose it’s not the worst news in the world. After all, you and I generally have more important work to do than watching TV, don’t we?