Friday, January 25, 2013

Emaline Branches Out

I've got an announcement to make. It's pretty big. So, I hope everyone is sitting down because this is pretty darn exciting. Are you ready? All right, here it goes: JODIE FOSTER IS SINGLE!!


Of course, there are a few who don't go in for tomfoolery
no matter how much booze is flowing.
Okay, so apparently someone actually beat me to that one in a bizarre Golden Globes speech. The same thing happened when I wanted to announce that Ricky Gervais is an immature scoffer who thinks he’s God’s gift to humor (well, except that he doesn’t believe in God). Get a bunch of movie and TV stars together and get them drunk, and suddenly nothing’s off limits.

Pictured: Nook edition.
Still, I did promise you a big announcement. So how’s this one? Emaline’s Gift is now officially available for Nook! I apologize to all of you who have been breaking your back converting those mobi files (that’s what Kindle uses) into epub format (that’s for the ol’ Nooksters) just so you can have your Magi Chronicles on your Nook or Nook Color or Nook HD or Nook HD+ or iNook or Nook Fire or Nook & Cranny. I never intentionally meant to exclude customers who like to go and shop for e-readers in brick and mortar stores, mind you. It’s just that I have a Kindle and Amazon gives authors a little bit of extra incentive to stick with them exclusively so I start there. Think of it as a timed exclusive, since everyone loves those so much when video game companies do them. Oh, don’t worry. Emaline’s Gift is still available via Amazon for your Kindle (and in paperback, exclusively through Amazon at the moment), but now we can welcome all of you into the exciting adventures of the magi!

We’re celebrating in a couple of different ways (and stay with me if you don’t have a Nook because we’ve got a lovely gift for you as well). First, Emaline’s Gift will be available on Nook for the special, introductory sale price of $1.99! That’s half what the Kindle version goes for—but it’s only for a short time, so if you have a Nook and you want to party, zip on over to Barnes and Noble and scoop a copy up. Now, please note that I’m posting this blog on January 25, 2013 and the sale price is good as I write these words. I make no promise of later sale price, blah, blah, blah. Sorry, Kindle folk. No sale for you, but given that the book has been free for you (which isn’t something that Barnes and Noble readily offers) and it was just on sale for $.99 last month, please stop complaining.

In this blog post, the role of my wife
will be played by Last Resort's Daisy Betts
for no particular reason whatsoever.
Anyway, like I said, there is a little treat here for everyone. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that, when I was writing this book, I tried to get my wife to read it but she wasn’t willing to. Why not? I guess you’d really have to ask her. I kept plugging away at the story, of course, but I got to the point where I stopped asking her about it.

Until I wrote Chapter 18.

Now, let me say that most of the chapters for this book are pretty short. That’s just the rhythm and structure that seemed to work best for this story. There are 69 total, so Chapter 18 puts us almost one quarter of the way through the book. Are there spoilers below? Yes, but nothing too major. Basically, if you know for a fact that you’re going to read the book, then go ahead and get it and read it instead of the rest of this post. But if you’re on the fence, then keep reading. If you know anything about the book (and hey you may not) then you’ll already know that Emaline gets kidnapped by the evil obeah at some point. What you probably don’t know is that the good guys, the Christ-following magi, end up taking some of the bad guys hostage as well. They’re trying to figure out how to get Emaline back safely, but the location of the obeah base is secret. Elena, a teenage girl and one of the magi, is sent down to talk to Brutus, one of the obeah. That brings us up to speed.

Following this logic, let us credit God with Van Gogh's
masterpiece Starry Night...
I liked this chapter. I thought it was pretty good—which is something, you understand, that I give God all the glory for (a good rule of thumb is to praise Him for anything that’s really good in my work, but blame me for anything that falls short). So I went to the missus again and begged and pleaded with her to just read this one short chapter. She relented, and this one chapter inspired her to read the rest of the story, as well as everything else I’ve written since. Yes, that even means that she’s read most of my new book, The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living, and will finish reading it before you even get a glimpse! Who says marriage doesn’t have its privileges?
...but Adam Sandler gets all
the blame for Billy Madison.

If this one chapter could even make my wife a fan of the book, I thought I’d go ahead and share it here. There will naturally be references that those of you who haven’t read the book won’t get. But I can think of a pretty solid solution for that dilemma. Without further ado, then, let me present Chapter 18 of Emaline’s Gift:

Emaline's Gift
Chapter 18

As Elena proceeded down the dimly lit hallway, she had to force herself to remember that she was not alone. Yes, the Holy Spirit accompanied her, and “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me”—but also, practically, Aaron and Micah were nearby and prepared to intercede if need be.

There will be no funny pictures for the rest
of this blog so as not to detract from the story.
She passed the prayer room and continued down the hall to another stairwell and down another floor. The rooms down here had been converted to holding cells just in case, although Elena had never seen another time when they had been used. Violet was locked in one and Brutus in the other. They had not been mistreated, but they were not free to let themselves out and move around the Abbey.

Elena passed the first and second doors and stopped in front of the third. She reached to the top of the door with her left hand and brought it slowly down to the floor in a manner that Emaline would have recognized. A line of orange light remained briefly where she traced with her fingers, and then there was a click and the door opened automatically. Elena hurried inside and closed the door behind her.
Brutus was lying on the bed, perhaps napping but not fully asleep, and he stirred as soon as he heard the door. He sat up quickly and looked with surprise at Elena.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“I came to talk to you,” she said.

Brutus narrowed his eyes. “By yourself?”

“No,” said Elena quickly. “Aaron and Micah are nearby. They’re keeping an eye on me, just to make sure you don’t hurt me.”

Brutus considered this, then nodded. “I won’t hurt you. Where’s Violet?”

“She’s locked up, too.”

“She’s got to be mad.”

Elena shrugged. “I haven’t been to visit her.”

Brutus was quiet for a moment, but he seemed to appreciate the company. He bit his lip. “I tried to make a portal.”

“It won’t work down here. You must have similar precautions in place wherever the obeah meet.”


Elena hesitated. Then she took a few tentative steps toward the only other furnishing in the room: a small table with a Bible sitting on it. “Would you like to come sit with me? We can talk.”

“Oh, I get it,” Brutus said, even as he started to obey. “Send a pretty girl in to interrogate me and hope that I’ll give you secret information? I’m not that stupid.” Still, he sat across from Elena, and seemed amiable enough to be there.

“That’s not what I wanted to talk about,” Elena said, and it was the truth. When Aaron had explained his plan to her, he had been very clear.

“Our greatest goal regarding Brutus is that he turns from his sin and embraces Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior,” he had told her. “Nothing is as important as his salvation. Period. You must conduct yourself in accordance with that. Don’t deceive him, don’t lead him on and don’t take advantage of him, because these things will come back to bite us in the end when it pushes Brutus further from the faith. Balthasar is praying that the Holy Spirit will stir in Brutus’ heart and that he will want to make a change. Micah and I will be watching just in case you need us, but we’ll be praying too. Yes, we want to find out where Emaline is being held and yes we want to rescue her, but right now your primary aim is to share the love of Christ with that boy.”

Just before they had parted company, Aaron had added, “Of course, if Brutus puts his faith in Christ, I hardly think he’ll keep the secrets of the obeah anymore. That’s just a bonus.”

Brutus, meanwhile, squinted in disbelief. “That’s not what you want to talk about? Really? You don’t want me to tell you where Simon took the little brunette girl?”

Elena smiled. “If you care to share, I won’t say no.”

“Tough chance.”

“Well, that’s up to you. Like I said, it’s not what I wanted to talk about anyway. Tell me something, Brutus. Do you think you’ll go to heaven? If you had to guess?”

Brutus’ jaw dropped slightly. This was clearly not the topic of conversation he had anticipated. Still, he quickly recovered and responded, “There is no heaven.”

Elena’s brow furrowed. “No heaven? Can you be so sure?”

Brutus shrugged. “Julian says that this life is all there is. He says that people only invented heaven because they’re too scared to admit the truth.”

“Julian says that?”


“And you’re going to take his word for it? On such an incredibly important topic?”

“What’s so important about it?”

Elena paused for a moment, not because she wasn’t sure what to say next, but because she was genuinely surprised that her words were coming so easily. Aaron had told her this might happen, but she had never shared her faith like this before. She felt a sort of power, like she felt when fighting the obeah. The same power that produced fire and lightning from her fingertips was now moving her tongue, showing her what to say.

“Think about it, Brutus. Let’s say that Julian was wrong, just for a moment, and that heaven really does exist. How do you get there?”

“I dunno. Being a good person or whatever.”

“Okay. Now, why do you think that?”

Brutus shrugged.

“See, Brutus, for me, it’s not good enough to just guess as to whether there’s a heaven or how to get there. I’m not going to take Julian’s word for it, or Aaron’s word for it, or anyone else’s word for it. I’m going to find out for myself whether I believe there’s a heaven or not, and then I’m going to spend the rest of my life doing everything I possibly can to get there. We don’t get that long on earth, and heaven is forever, so if there’s anything I can do, anything at all, even if it takes my entire life, then it’s worth it,”

Elena said. “Does that make sense?”

Brutus looked at her with a peculiar expression on his face. He took several seconds before answering.

“That...does make a lot of sense. And Julian always says that logic and reasoning are really important to the obeah.”

“We’re not anti-reason.”

“But Julian still says that heaven can’t be real. People are just an evolutionary accident and all that. That’s what Sophia says, too, and Daeva and Violet and—well, everybody.”

Elena nodded. “Right, sure, that’s what some people think. But tell me this, Brutus: who’s the oldest in that bunch? Sophia? It’s got to be Sophia or Julian, right?”

“Yeah. One of them.”

“And they’re what? In their forties? Is that about right?”

Brutus screwed up his features in concentration, then shrugged again. “I guess so. I never asked.”

“And I’m sure they wouldn’t appreciate it if you did. Especially Sophia. You just don’t ask ladies questions like that. But my point is this: you respect them, and you value their opinion and there’s nothing wrong with that. But you’ve got maybe a little more than 130 years of experience between the four of them. Julian, Sophia, Daeva, Violet. Less than 150, anyway. Now, that’s a lot, but God’s much older.”

“They say that God—”

“Isn’t real. Yeah, I know they do,” said Elena. “But He’s still a lot older. He’s infinite. He’s been around forever. In fact, His Word, the Bible, has been read and believed by millions and millions of people for thousands of years. That’s been around a whole lot longer than Julian and Sophia, and I think there’s a reason it’s been around so long. Does that make sense?”

“It sounds like it does.”

“Sure it does. Now all I’m suggesting is that we at least take a look and see what God has to say about this whole heaven thing. That’s all. You decide what you think about it, but let’s see what His take is.
After all, this is far too important an issue to leave up to a couple of people who’ve barely cleared forty, no matter how much you like them. This is something that’s important enough for you to look at the different options, and the evidence, and choose for yourself. Don’t you think?”

Elena rested her hand on the Bible and Brutus looked down at it. He hesitated.

“The Bible isn’t allowed. I’ll be in big trouble if I look at it,” he said.

“Really?” said Elena. “What are they scared of?”

“I dunno.”

“Being scared of a that really logical? Is that reasonable?”

“I guess not.”

“Then let’s see what God has to say, shall we? Just to see?”

Brutus paused just a moment this time, then nodded his head. “Yeah. Let’s see.”


Elena opened the black hardcover Bible. She showed Brutus red letters and black letters. She told him stories, and showed him what God said about heaven, hell and what happens after death. After a half hour of reading together, Brutus found a new world opened up to him. After another fifteen minutes, he didn’t want to stop.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Cynthia P. Willow and the Legendary Interview

I've also interviewed the Grandmother
of the cover designer, for what
it's worth.
The fact that I have another interview up so soon should tell you how quick a read Patty Gayle and the Legend of Kingsley was. It’s a fun and easy read, a fantasy adventure set primarily in Florida in the early Sixties. When we meet her, Patty Gayle is a spunky twelve-year-old who loves to swim in the lake where her poor family is fortunate enough to live (and hates to read, incidentally, so don’t go making Patty Gayle a role model, children). One night, Patty’s beloved Grandmother reveals a special key to her granddaughter that she has hidden, promising to tell her the full story behind it before too long. That very night, a stroke shatters those plans. Patty then takes it upon herself to find the key and discover the mystery that her Grandmother had intended to share with her. What she finds is a magical world and an urgent task that she was born to complete.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but I should also point out that my 8-year-old daughter absolutely loves it. That’s fine because the story is geared more toward younger readers. I’ve seen reviewers call it cute and compare it to a bedtime story, and I won’t argue on either count. There’s more sleepy backdrop and homespun charm than exciting climax, but that’s okay with me; there was joy in the journey. There are places where I felt the writing got a bit repetitive or pedantic. I sometimes felt that the author held the reader’s hand too much, especially early on. Of course, the book is written for young readers, but I still felt like the author could have trusted her audience a bit more. And, honestly, I don’t know if much of her target audience would even notice.

My questions were so tough
that Cynthia kept having to make
this contemplative face.
I am very privileged to have the author, Cynthia P. Willow, joining me for an interview today. I’ve actually gotten to know Cynthia a bit through an online community for Christian Indie Authors that we’re both a part of, but don’t worry. She doesn’t get a pass on tough interview questions just because of our cyber friendship. When it came down to the Q&A, I was all business. Speaking of business, you can find Cynthia online under her digital willow tree. In addition to Patty Gayle, she is the author of the novel Hell’s Christmas, which has been shooting up the Amazon charts. Now, since this interview is pretty straightforward (meaning it didn’t require time travel, as is sometimes the case), let’s get to it!

Brad: Hello, Cynthia. Thanks for joining me. I’ve been reading and enjoying Patty Gayle and the Legend of Kingsley. I believe this story has special personal meaning to you. Tell us about the connection between your novel and your family.

Cynthia: Hi, Brad! Thanks for this interview. I’m quite excited about it. Patty Gayle and the Legend of Kingsley does indeed have great personal meaning to me. Patty Gayle, the heroine in the story, is my mother. Most of the characters in the story are my family, some of them I never got to meet before they left this world. My great grandfather, Alonzo Strickland was the first white man to settle Kingsley Lake, one of the settings in the story. Even the fairy queens are named after 3 of my great aunts, all of which I can remember from childhood. The personalities I gave them is how I remember them. Ruby was the one who seemed the most serious, Pearl seemed to be the one who was the most sensitive, and Emma (who I thought could have easily been short for Emerald) was the energetic one.

Brad: Sounds like Great-Grandma P. Willow liked herself some precious stones. Where did the idea for this story come from?

Why would anyone go to Kingsley Lake and not swim??
Cynthia: It might sound crazy, but I’ve been writing parts of this story in my mind since I was a child. When I would go visit my great aunts at the lake, I would be quite bored. For some reason, when my mom and I would take my mema to visit her older sisters, it wasn’t to swim; it was just for a visit. This happened for years, and I was quite young. I would be bored out of my mind as the sisters visited and their television was always on a channel with soap operas. It was during these times I would pretend like my great aunts had some neat story about how they got their names. And I would tell myself that when I grew up and became a writer that I would write that story. And so, I did.

This explains why Patty Gayle has to follow
a lemon chiffon-bricked road.
Brad: It’s good to know you’re an honest person. I don’t think enough of us keep the promises we make to ourselves as children. Were there any other fictional works—TV, movies, books, etc.—that influenced your book at all?

Cynthia: As much as I love movies, book, and TV, it would be hard to say that none of them influenced this story. I would have to say that the Narnia series definitely influenced this story and it has parts that probably were influenced by my all-time favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz.

Brad: Tell me about your heroine, Patty Gayle. What personality details are from the real person, and what did you invent or exaggerate for your character?

Since this is the *real* Patty Gayle,
if you pictured something else, you're doing it wrong.
Cynthia: Since Patty Gayle is my mother, it wasn’t hard to write her. Of course, I didn’t know her when she was 12 and 13, so some of it is just the way I imagined her to be. She really does have a huge fear of spiders, and the way I described her physically is pretty accurate. As far as her personality, I did exaggerate how spunky she was, but that’s because she grew up to be that way. As a child, she was very shy and probably would have never been brave enough to tell a lie or go snooping in other people’s things. She was way too scared of the consequences.

Brad: Speaking of consequences, as Patty’s life begins to get more and more adventurous, she begins to lie and make a series of moral compromises. I kept expecting there to be some negative consequences to her devious actions but there weren’t any. I was reminded of Harry Potter a bit, who also tended to break the rules, usually with no ill effects. Given that the book is geared toward younger readers, are you concerned at all about sending the message that lying and stealing is an appropriate way to get what you want? Patty would scold herself for these actions, but she never came clean and nothing bad ever happened as a result of them.

Prophecy fulfillers always get all the breaks.
Cynthia: I am a huge Harry Potter fan, but I don’t think I had him in mind when I wrote this story. I think the reason Patty Gayle never had negative consequences was because she really felt like she was doing what she was called to do. At first, she didn’t realize how big the calling was, but she knew that her grandmother had intended for her to have the bracelet and the book. Whether that was right or wrong, it was realistic. I think any of us in the same situation would do the same thing. If Patty Gayle would have been the type of kid to lie just to get her way with no real purpose, I’d definitely have written in consequences. In Harry Potter, Dumbledore knows and sees all. He knows that when Harry broke the rules, it was to save someone or discover some great mystery. He knew Harry was fulfilling a prophecy and that Harry was basically chosen for that part. That is why (in my opinion) there weren’t consequences for Harry. I guess what I’m trying to say is that God sees the heart. [Editor’s note: Cynthia also pointed out that there are some consequences, such as when Patty Gayle gets grounded for skipping school.]

Brad: I wonder if Fred and George were also fulfilling prophecies by stealing food from the kitchens, but I suppose I’d need to investigate the Department of Mysteries to find out. I need to ask about a specific (and minor) bit in the book, which takes place after Patty has found her way into the magical world of Kingsley. I must admit, Cynthia, that I’m a little concerned about the seagulls. Since all wishes in Kingsley come true, Patty wishes that the seagulls would return to their homes after she no longer wants them around. Are the birds compelled to stay home forever because of her wish? Will they never be free of that horrible curse?

"Free! We're free from the Curse of Patty Gayle!"
Cynthia: There is more than one part of the story that warns about wishing. We must all be careful what we wish for, and the seagulls were just a way to show Patty how magical the place was, and how she needed to be very careful. As far as them having to stay at home forever, she didn’t say they had to stay there forever. You can be relieved to know that they come and go as they please.

Brad: Phew! I was afraid that “go home” would be the rule in their life until someone wished something else. Glad to hear those poor birds aren’t trapped. Let me just ask one more question along those lines. Did you have any hesitation, as an author, of permitting such a powerful device in Kingsley so as to allow all wishes to come true? Did you ever feel trapped by adding that rule to the fantasy world, or feel like it’s difficult to build suspense with an “out” like that available to Patty?

Cynthia: The Bible says there is power in our tongues, so what we speak is very important. And I don’t think that all wishes come true in Kingsley. If they did, Patty could have just made a wish for things to be better in Kingsley and never have to do anything on her quest.

Brad: Indeed. I was wondering why she didn’t wish that. Let’s talk about you now, Cynthia. First of all, how long have you been writing?

Would you just look at all that nostalgia?
Cynthia: I’ve been writing since I was in middle school. I wrote my first book in the 6th grade. It was an assignment, but I took it very seriously. I still have it. It was called Billy Goes to a Funeral. As far as my adult writing, I began back in 2006 when my children began bringing Scholastic flyers home from school. They told me they thought I’d be a great writer, and it reignited the flame inside me that I’d had in my own childhood.

Brad: I’ve read Billy Goes to a Funeral and it’s brilliant. Okay, I haven’t really, but it’s good to know your children have such power over you. What do you perceive to be your greatest strength as an author?

Cynthia: I think I do well when it comes to creating characters (not all my books have characters who are based on real people). I’ve been told that I make relatable characters and that I do well at describing personalities and settings.

Brad: And your greatest weakness?

Cynthia: I tend to spend a lot of time building the climax and then resolve the conflict too easily. That’s something I’ve got to work on.

Even when writing fantasy,
don't forget about Him.
Brad: Sorry about the self-analysis, but I thought it might be something to start asking authors. And here’s another pretty common question around here: You’re a Christian, Cynthia, and that comes through very clearly in Patty Gayle. Do you feel a responsibility, as a believer, to incorporate spiritual themes into your story? Do you have any purpose in writing beyond that of merely writing a great yarn?

Cynthia: I do feel a responsibility to incorporate spiritual themes. They’re not all as obvious as the ones in this story, but they’re there. All of my characters mention a belief in a higher power and prayer is a part of their lives as well. In my Karini and Lamek Chronicles, the setting is completely fantasy, but there is still a spiritual theme, and even more obvious, good conquering evil.

Brad: Speaking of The Karini and Lamek Chronicles. . .I often ask authors about what they’re currently working on, but I don’t really need to since you did a blog post about just that recently. But a little birdie (or perhaps it was a ghillie dhu) mentioned that you’ve also started working on a sequel to Patty Gayle and the Legend of Kingsley. Any details you can give us about that novel?

A modern sequel probably means much more
water skiing. (And, yes, this is actually Kingsley Lake.)
Cynthia: I have begun the sequel to Patty Gayle. I never intended to write another Kingsley story, but my fans have asked me to give them more. As of right now, I’m calling it Return to Kingsley. It takes place in the present (2013), and will involve Patty Gayle’s grandchildren. The entrance to Kingsley is different, and one of the characters that was in the original dies. Kingsley is under a curse, and a plague is destroying the land. That’s all I can give you for now.

Brad: That’s enough to whet my appetite, I assure you! I’m a little ashamed to be doing this, but I need to draw your attention now to the button sitting on the table beside me. This little device is actually a remote detonator for the 3,482 lbs. of C-4 explosives attached to the bottom of your chair. I apologize for resorting to threats, but I do need you to name for me your favorite book, and I’ve found that many authors have a difficult time choosing one if their lives are not in danger.
"You're nothing without me,
Pevensies! NOTHING!"

Cynthia: Hands down, The Magician’s Nephew by CS Lewis. Yes, I love The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but there would not have been a magical wardrobe if not for the magician’s nephew.

Brad: Having finished A Horse and His Boy recently, we just started The Magician’s Nephew in our nightly family storytime. So thanks for the spoilers (oh, okay, I have read it before). Now, who is your favorite author? I’m beginning to wonder if I didn’t go a bit overboard on the explosives. I think that the amount I used might actually injure me as well, and perhaps even a decent chunk of the United States. What I’m trying to say is that I have no desire to push this button, so your prompt answer is much appreciated.

Cynthia: In my own genre, it’s CS Lewis with JK Rowling in a close second, but I do read other genres from time to time. I’ve read more Phyllis A. Whitney than any other author, and her novels are mystery/suspense. I have to add that I’ve been reading a lot of Indies now that I am an Indie myself, and I’m now a big fan of yours. Emaline’s Gift was a fantastic story, and I’m anxiously awaiting the next book in that series.

The Manatee herself.
Brad: For the record, the views contained within this interview are the sole opinion of those making them and are not endorsed by the owner of this blog, Blogger or Pixar Animation Studios. Except for the bit about Emaline’s Gift being enjoyable. We all agree on that. Thank you, Cynthia, for the kind words. We’ve got a bit of a surprise for you now. As this is a book geared primarily toward children, I’ve brought my 8-year-old daughter, Manatee, around to join in the interview. She has a few questions of her own, so I’ll let her ask them.

Manatee: Why did you decide to write the book?

Brad: I actually already asked that question, more or less. Chip off the old block, isn’t she?

Cynthia: I’ve been wanting to write this book since I was about your age. I became fascinated with my great aunts being named after jewels. I thought it would make a great story.

Manatee: Why did you make Patty so poor?

Cynthia: I wanted to make this story as true as I could, and Patty Gayle really was poor growing up. Her mother didn’t make a lot of money, and her father was not around.

Manatee: Why did you make Patty have a special connection with Penny?

Cynthia: Patty Gayle really had a dog named Penny, and they really did have a wonderful relationship. Mom didn’t have a lot of friends, so Penny was her only companion when she was young.

Brad: Me again, and I just have one more question for you. You are an independent, self-published author. Other than purchasing copies of Patty Gayle and Hell’s Christmas in bulk, how can readers best support you and other indie authors?
To help you know how
to rate Patty Gayle.

Cynthia: If you read a book by an Indie (or any author for that matter), and you liked it, please take the time to write a review. Also, if that author has a fan page, leave a nice comment for them to see. We writers put in many hours of hard work and money to put out our books. It’s all worth it when we hear from a fan. Also, spreading the word to your friends and family helps a lot too.

And let me, Brad, just pop in here and add that, if you don’t have very many friends, you should probably consider making more if only for the expressed purpose of telling your new friends about books like Patty Gayle and the Legend of Kingsley and—oh, why not?—Emaline’s Gift. Of course, if you’re a believer, you should really be constantly reaching out and building new relationships for the purpose of sharing the Gospel and the love of Christ, so you can pretty much do the two-birds-one-projectile thing.

Jo Rowling may have sold more books,
but Cynthia Willow's done more interviews
on this blog, so it's pretty much even.
In case you missed it earlier, you can pick up your own copy of Patty Gayle and the Legend of Kingsley right here. Hopefully you’ve gotten a good idea from this interview whether it’s a book you’d enjoy. Based on all the positive reviews I’ve seen, I don’t suppose you can go too wrong on this one! I want to thank Cynthia for taking the time out of her busy schedule to swing by and answer my questions. These interviews would be exceedingly dull if not for the authors willing to participate. I actually don’t have another interview currently scheduled, so let me know if you bump into anyone who’d be willing to let me read their book and ask questions (after I finish The Casual Vacancy, of course). Thanks for stopping by, and don’t forget to support indie authors!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Spiritual Stacking to Save Suffering Souls

One of these individuals has
 fine leather jackets for sale.

I very much enjoy playing games that are full of puzzles. I grew up as a point-and-click adventure gamer on the computer and used to spend hours playing King’s Quest V and the Monkey Island and Gabriel Knight games. I’ve moved almost exclusively from computer to console over the years, which means there are very few old school adventure options, although I have been getting back into some PC gaming for Telltale’s excellent take on Monkey Island and I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy Her Interactive’s Nancy Drew series. Yes, I realize I’m the wrong gender to play the latter, but I enjoy them nonetheless, plus I love the game designer’s old slogan: “For girls who aren’t afraid of a mouse.”

I guess this girl couldn't find her XBox controller.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. There are indeed puzzle games on consoles, although not usually of the point-and-click adventure style (which really works better with a keyboard-and-mouse setup anyway). This is true, but the bulk of my gaming these days takes place while I am exercising. I do step exercises and play the 360 while I step. It gives me time to play and—since I rarely get other time to game—helps motivate me to exercise. The problem is that I’m not smart or coordinated enough to play puzzle games while I work out. My stepping slows down and sometimes comes to a halt altogether while I’m trying to figure out how to complete a challenge or finish a level. I absolutely love both Portal games, but it’s difficult to play them while exercising so I had to squeeze them in at other times (like in the middle of the night, when my time is actually supposed to be set aside to write).

I have been *all* those characters. It just struck me
that this game might be a complex metaphor
for schizophrenia.
One very enjoyable console puzzle game that’s come out in recent years that I have found time to squeeze in is the Russian doll adventure puzzler Stacking. Although I could have done without the occasional bout of bathroom humor, I found the game to be pretty delightful. It has a completely unique gameplay dynamic. You play as a tiny little Russian stacking doll named Charlie. He’s so small that everyone underestimates him, but his tiny size gives him a unique ability: he can “stack” into other dolls, controlling them and solving puzzles through their different traits and attributes. There are five or six doll sizes, and Charlie can always stack into the next larger doll. So if he’s a size one, he can stack into any size two; as a size two, he can stack into any size three doll, and so on. Maybe he stacks into a doll who is goes around punching other dolls, or maybe he can clear a room by stacking into a doll with really bad gas. He can fly to certain places by stacking into a bird doll. No bird dolls around? Stack into a fish and flop about until you get one’s attention.

It’s charming, it’s funny and it’s full of interesting puzzles. One of the things I really like about the game is that each puzzle has multiple solutions. You’re encouraged to find them all. So maybe you clear that room by being Mr. Farty Pants on your first try, but then on the next try you can let such a draft into the room that everyone gets cold and leaves. Solving a puzzle one way is an achievement but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. You can only solve all the challenges by experimenting with different dolls and special activities, by deciding what each situation requires and fulfilling those requirements.

It might not be surprising that I thought several times while playing of Paul’s testimony that he became “all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). It’s probably not an unfamiliar passage, but is it one that is represented in our lives?

Just look at those little beady eyes. You just
know he's planning on reaching out to
people you don't care for. The nerve!
I know it’s controversial in some circles (particularly in certain circles in which people have nothing better to do than sit around and criticize other believers), but I agree with Rick Warren’s contention in The Purpose-Driven Life that we must deliberately and intentionally live our lives according to God’s purposes if we do not want to waste our time on this earth. Most video games thrive on purpose (with the notable exception of certain open world games that can be played a variety of ways) and Stacking is no different. Controlling Charlie Blackmore, we are compelled to figure out how to figure out each puzzle at least once to complete the story and finish the game. How much more do we need to have purpose in our lives?

Because that’s the first thing I see in Paul’s game plan. He has decided that one of his primary life purposes is going to be to reach the lost with the gospel message. Although those less ambitious might focus on a much smaller sample, Paul firmly has absolutely everyone in his sights. And he’s going to do whatever it takes to reach them. He is going to live his life in such a way so as to be the precise person that those lost souls need in their life. He is going to become like them—whether under the law, whether outside of the law, whether weak or poor, whatever—to build a relationship and encourage them to follow Jesus Christ.

Pop quiz time. I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to answer it immediately, without thinking. Okay. Ready? Here it goes: right now, who are you trying to reach for Christ?

I hope you didn’t think about it too much. That would have been cheating. There are countless different answers that might work there. Maybe it’s a small group like “my neighbors” or “my coworkers.” Maybe you’re passionate about reaching an ethnic or religious group (for instance, Muslims). Or maybe a name or two came immediately to mind, and you’re currently trying to reach Sydney or Lewis or Puddleglum. The only real wrong answer to the question, then—I mean, except for gibberish responses like “hexagon” or “the Oprah Winfrey Network”—is to stammer, to look away, to consider the question because you really don’t have an answer to it.

I may never be used to bring anyone into faith in Christ,
but I can sit in this pew like a boss, y'all.
If that describes you, then permit me to throw out this gentle little query: What in the world is the  matter with you? Huh, what is it? Christ’s blood not sufficient to save the people you know? Maybe you’re ashamed of the gospel of Christ? Or perhaps you’re a horrible old misanthrope simply puttering ever closer to the grave, hating everything and everyone. Regardless of the excuse, can you be so confident that the love of God is in you if you are so casually disobedient?

Those of you who answered my question promptly aren’t off the hook either. My next question goes back to Paul’s passion: how are you trying to reach the people you named? Are you, like Paul, doing everything possible to become all things to all people and save any that God permits you to save?

I could see the possible argument that Paul’s game plan here doesn’t sound very genuine. Authenticity is very important to me, and I think that the same goes for a lot of people. The idea of behaving a certain way only to achieve a goal—even a very noble goal like reaching someone with the gospel—seems phony. But loving people isn’t phony. Loving people who you don’t naturally love is difficult. It’s challenging. Ultimately, however, we love because of the very real love of Jesus Christ living inside of us, and there is nothing fake or phony in Him.

You called?
And maybe the Stacking analogy doesn’t fit all the way here because I don’t think we ought to change who we are for the explicit purpose of appealing to a certain group or person like some flip-flopping politician. I wouldn’t, for example, pretend to be a hunter just to share the gospel with hunters. For one thing, they would see right through me. But just because we don’t have that particular, bloody pastime in common doesn’t mean we have nothing in common. Maybe they, like me, enjoy musical theatre! I would like to go see Les Mis again while it’s still at the cinema. . . My point, of course, is that it’s worth the effort to find the common ground for the purpose of investing in one’s spiritual wellbeing.

But I think, for Paul, that it even went beyond that. I see in him the picture of a man who was so surrendered to God and His purposes that his greatest passion was for reaching the lost. If I were to define him with a phrase, it wouldn’t be as a tentmaker or even a preacher. It would be as a follower of Jesus Christ. What were Paul’s interests? Winning souls for Christ, no matter what it took. If that meant respectfully adhering to aspects of a Jewish law that Christ had freed him from, Paul was more than happy to do so because it gave him the chance to share the love of Jesus with someone who needed Him. That’s not who Paul was born, but through the power of the Holy Spirit, that’s who he became.

Someone's getting transformed!
Is it something we even desire? Would you pray to be so transformed? It sounds exhausting, honestly, to genuinely value making disciples over my hobbies and the things I do for relaxation (or even while I exercise). I know, intellectually, that the reason I am here is to point toward Christ, follow Him and make disciples. I know that I will get reward in heaven and should be about that mission with a singular focus. But the distractions are so darn distracting. We cannot afford to believe the lie that our task is anything other than urgent.

I see now that I have really misunderstood this passage. Paul’s not talking about changing who he is or how he acts to find more common ground with those who need Christ. He’s talking about the incredible work of transformation that the Holy Spirit has done in his heart so that reaching the lost is genuinely the most important task and the greatest joy of Paul’s life.

Paul strove to be everything to everyone because that’s who he had become. It wasn’t the least bit fake or phony because his greatest goals in life aligned with a lifestyle that was more than willing to adapt to put him closer to the lost. I said earlier that I can’t imagine what excuse a Christian could ever give if there is no one in their life that they are not actively trying to reach right now, and I stand by that. There’s no good excuse to not do what you were made for. But it’s not enough, is it? We need to be completely transformed. I need to be completely transformed. He has begun this work in me, I can tell, because I’ve come along way at trying to put the spiritual needs of others above whatever I think is important in the moment, but there’s still a long way to go. But I can’t fight it. We can’t fight it.

After all, this is what we’re here for.