Sunday, March 24, 2013

Dave King and the Interview of Betrovia

I really like the cover art.
You can judge a good book
by its cover, I always say.

Good heavens. If I had known that Dave King would be the sassiest interviewee since Sophronia Belle Lyon, I’d have brought out the heavy arsenal much sooner in the interview. Dave is the author of the Land of Betrovia trilogy, which begins with Betrovia and continues with Lycentia: Harrak’s Scrolls, which are both currently available. The third and final novel in the trilogy is in its final stages right now and should be out this spring. He has also written a number of short stories, including a series with overlapping characters set in the Seventies: Pizza Surprise, A Game of HORSE and That Hoosiers Cap.

In preparation for this interview, I’ve been reading Betrovia, the first book in the series. If you love authors who build vivid, rich fantasy worlds, these books may be right up your proverbial alley. I felt like Dave really loves the world he created and the characters in it. That affection shows through on the page (or the e-reader, as the case may be) and, as a reader, I want to get in there and discover what the author loves so much about these characters and the land of Betrovia.

But there can be a downside to this affection as well. Without a firm and sometimes merciless editing hand, it can be easy to get a bit lost in the world you love and spend too much time fleshing out minutiae that’s not relevant to the plot and may bore readers who aren’t yet in love with the characters. Trust me, this is something that I, and probably most authors, know about, and it’s a problem that I feel plagues Betrovia too often, especially in the first half of the book. I was waiting for something a bit more compelling than the everyday lives of an innkeeper and his family, and long discussions about trade agreements reminded me a bit of The Phantom Menace. The good news, however, is that things do pick up and the plot—especially involving a young soldier who rises through the ranks quickly—grows more interesting and more urgent. At the halfway point, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to visit Betrovia again; by the end, however, I fully intended to read the sequel, and still intend to. So Dave won me over.
We rent and we're not allowed to have pets
so Peeves has to stay outside.

Except for one little pet peeve I didn’t even realize I had. Initially, it seemed like everyone was glib. I felt like the word glib was constantly thrown around, except that it seemed to be used as a synonym for “talkative.” Research indicates that the word is actually only used four times in the first 29% of the book. That’s probably not as excessive as I felt. I was vigilantly looking for more glibness but it disappeared at that point. Why am I rambling on? Let’s get to the interview!

Brad: Thank you for joining us, Dave. It’s always nice to feature a fellow indie author—and a fantasy author at that. Betrovia has been on my to-read list for a while so it was nice to be able to sit down and get into it. First of all, why don’t you tell us a bit about the land of Betrovia, and about the series.

Dave: I hope you don't mind if I preface my response by saying "Thanks!" for offering me the privilege of being a part of your stupendous blog! I have been looking forward to this interview since the day you bribed. . .oops. . .you asked me to be a part of it.

It's sort of like hanging out at a renaissance fair.
If you like renaissance fairs as much as I do,
that's no problem at all!
Technologically, Betrovia is a place much like pre-medieval Europe, a land struggling to exit the iron age and to move, full-steam-ahead, into the steel age. Politically, it is like pre-Civil War America, thoroughly blessed with the potential for across-the-board unification but at the same time plagued with infantile prejudice and bias. And (to save the most-interesting for last), morally/religiously, it is like the Middle East before the birth of Jesus, enlightened to the true nature of the Creator but at the same time misunderstanding his omniscience, his holiness, his love. And stuck in the middle of all this is a lonely innkeeper struggling to be the best possible father for his two nearly-grown daughters.     

Brad: See what I mean, readers, about him getting sassy? If you think indie authors have to be bribed to cash in on some free publicity, I daresay you don’t know too many. Now, Dave, were there any specific influences on this series? Maybe from other books, movie, TV, whatever?

Dave: Influences? What might you been insinuating? Betrovia is a completely-unique world! Seriously, growing up I enjoyed JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, even though I didn't spend much time developing an appreciation for the "deeper meanings" of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Narnia series. Now, and this may shock some of your readers, but when I was in high school, I "discovered" HP Lovecraft. As I gorged myself with his nightmarish tales of the Cthulhu mythos, I became intrigued with the concept of Ancient Evil. 
Upon seeing this sign, I
might recommend running
for dear life.

It ate Hello Kitty.
Brad: I am so glad that you brought up Cthulhu because it gives me a wonderful excuse to post some very amusing pictures. Try to focus on both the pictures and the interview, dear readers. At first, it seemed like the story was going to focus solely on the innkeeper Patrik, his daughter and their inn. With the exception of one chapter, the first 35% of the book all focus on the residents of The Lonely Fox Inn. By the time we reach the last quarter, however, we check in with Patrik and the initial characters only rarely. My question is to what extent was this by design, versus the story taking on a life of its own?

Dave: Beginning the story with Patrik and his daughters then branching out to discover the folk (common and otherwise) who would impact their lives later in the trilogy was all part of the original plan. The outline for the trilogy was drafted late 2005. Once Betrovia, book one of the trilogy, was finally shoved out the door in August 2011, I began to tinker with and tweak the last 2/3rd of the outline.

Brad: Along those same lines, if I asked you to pick one central protagonist of the Betrovia series (without divulging too much from subsequent volumes), who would it be? Why?

Dave: In Betrovia (Book One), and then in Lycentia: Harrak's Scrolls (Book Two), Patrik should be seen as the main character. Why? Because the Creator directs him to deliver Harrak's scrolls to Oliver III, the Netherene high priest. The gist of the scrolls is much like the Jewish prophecies that predicted the coming of the Messiah. The Netherenes, similar to the society of the Jewish priesthood before Jesus' birth, have developed their own ways to relate to the Creator, even though those ways have been something less than successful.

Brad: Having studied a bit of Intertestamental Judaism in seminary, that’s interesting. And it might be more interesting if it were cloudy with a 76% chance of rain, don’t you think? The Narrator pays quite a bit of attention to the weather. It is not unusual for crucial moments to be punctuated by a bolt of lightning, or at least torrential downpour. Would it be appropriate to look for symbolism in all sun and the clouds, or do you simply provide the information to give a fuller picture?

This was Dave's best friend until she questioned
all the weather references. Now look at her.
Dave: Oh, so you noticed the meteorological detail I've included in the novel? Sweet! Believe it or not, more than a few "friends" have commented that I may have gone overboard with it. Without going into a "boring" dissertation, I wanted to add weather details to show how, for a few of the major characters, the weather affected their mood and even behavior. Does that make sense? To use rain, cloudy skies, snow/ice, etc. to aid in characterization? By the way, I continued to do that with Lycentia and with Ahnak.

Brad: Sure, makes sense to me. Lots of people in the land of Betrovia suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Now it’s time to talk about you. What do you perceive to be your greatest strength as an author? Your greatest weakness?

Dave: My greatest strength as an author? Strange, but I seem to have drawn a blank on this question. Oh, now I know! It must be my ability to successfully manipulate the irritating idiosyncrasies of the English language! No, I'm not a great lover of English grammar, but I feel that I can throw together long (tedious) sentences with the best of them!

Just to be clear, rushing off to buy
this romantic comedy is not the appropriate
move right now. Finish the interview first.
As to my greatest weakness as an author, I suppose that would be my unwillingness to write what friends and family want me to write. One person very close and dear wonders why I won't try my hand at writing romantic comedies since romantic comedies seem to sell rather well. It's funny how those who love us want us to do whatever we can to make more money!

Brad: Of course, you could set a romantic comedy in the land of Betrovia and make everybody happy! I first met Dave through a Facebook group for indie Christian authors. Now, I wouldn’t call Betrovia a Christian book. The characters are generally religious—in fact, there is a strong religious subplot that I would suspect gains more attention in subsequent books—but theirs is a religion unique to the land of Betrovia. So, Dave, as a follower of Jesus Christ, do you feel any responsibility to point to Christ at all through your writing? Why or why not?

Dave: Another excellent question! Book one of the trilogy presents this problem: the religious leaders of the day have fallen into the trap of [believing that] true fellowship with and ultimately pleasing the Creator can only be achieved by following a rigid set of rules. But their system has failed miserably. I hope that readers would then see how books two and three spring-board off that problem into the solution: man cannot reach God by following a bunch of laws. The Creator wants/demands people to crave a personal relationship with him and his plan to please him is based on purity and love and not trying to obey rules.

Brad: What can you tell us about what you’re working on now? I believe it’s related to Betrovia, isn’t it?

Coming soon to an
near you!
Dave: Ahnak: Edelin's Revelation, book three of the trilogy, is nearly drafted and should be ready for public consumption in a month or so. Right now, it is longer than Lycentia: Harrak's Scrolls and may be even longer than Betrovia when it's finished. And what do I have up my sleeve once the trilogy is done? There are more than a few short stories based on the Betrovia universe as well as a "prequel" which might only be a novella (30K words or less). I also would like to kick out a few more stories that are a part of the contemporary series that I have already published [Blogger-in-Chief’s Note: the books set during the Seventies that I mentioned in the introduction are the “contemporary” series Dave is referring to; when you get to be an author of a certain age, even a decade over 30 years past can feel contemporary to you]. And who knows! There might even be some sci-fi. . .someday.

Brad: Now that I’ve conducted a few of these interviews, I figure if the author doesn’t know that their life will be threatened at some point, it’s their fault for not having done their homework. You probably didn’t know, Dave, that my wife was a Patriot Missile launcher in Army back in the day. Why is this relevant? Because we’ve acquired one of those bad boys and have it pointed at you right now. The threat of imminent violence is to help persuade you to tell me your favorite book. Quickly, please. The wife has an itchy trigger finger.

I don't know if it's about makeup
or construction and forgot to ask.
Dave: Oh no! Now you've got me shaking in my boots! (You do realize, of course, the collateral damage one of those babies can cause, don't you?) The only book that I continue to read over and over again is the Bible. (Now how's that for a predictable answer!) If you're actually looking for what I have read and enjoyed for entertainment purposes, I'd have to say Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy. Yes, you can pick yourself off the floor now. I read way too much sci-fi (pulp and otherwise) in my formative years but did not discover those three books until I was a junior in college. How I missed latching onto those books before then I may never know!

Brad: To answer your question, I have no idea how much collateral damage the Patriot Missile can cause. It’s classified information and my wife won’t tell me because I don’t have “clearance.” In any case, as a backup, I’ve asked President Obama to target you with one of those drones that that loquacious senator is such a fan of. The drone has orders to strike—unless you tell me your favorite author! I’m serious! I’m quite insane! I post death threats publicly on my blog!

"Okay, Drone. Make it look like an accident."
Dave: It's funny how you've brought up that topic. I find it humorously ironic that President Obama, a man who has worked hard to present himself as a "down-to-earth," easy-to-connect with kind of guy, can be such a fan of those highly-impersonal, "above-the-earth" unmanned aerial vehicles. Now, to answer your question. . .maybe I already answered that question with my previous answer? Or did I? Or maybe I should just expect the drone to come crashing down on me at any moment?

Brad: Hey now. No politics. And no you didn’t answer it! Is God your favorite author? Is Isaac Asimov? See why I have to resort to death threats, dear readers? Authors are horrible at giving straight answers! Anyway, I like to host other indie authors here, being an indie myself. As a self-published author, how can readers who enjoy your work best support you?

Dave: How can readers best support me? Can I be so bold as to say: neatly wrapped, non-sequential $100 bills mailed to PO Box (oh, sorry, that just slipped out). Buy my books! Buy a bunch of my books! Keep me from having to hear that if I would only write romantic comedies that I would be a much-better provider for my family!

From the cover for Betrovia 4:
Netherene in Love.
You heard it here first folks (unless, of course, you go to the same hair salon as Dave’s wife, in which case you may have heard it already): if you don’t buy a copy of Betrovia, he’s going to have to write rom-coms. And they’ll have to star Matthew McConaughey and Katherine Heigl—and nothing good has ever come of that, has it?

Thank you very much to Dave King for swinging by the old blog. If you think the book sounds good, go ahead and pick up a copy to help us thank him. If you think the book sounds like it’s not your thing, you can still pick up a copy. Really. He won’t mind. You can visit Dave on the web and learn more about him and his work over at his blog, where he’s recently started stealing my past interviewees. So the man has good taste! Thanks again, Dave!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Following the Leader, the Leader, the Leader...

Next fall on Fox they'll greenlight the spinoff: The Leadinging.

Please note: this post takes inspiration from the Fox television show The Following, but it spoils absolutely nothing. Except for your milk. I’m sorry to tell you, but you’ll need to pick up another gallon on your way home from work. Or you could just have Emaline get it.

Please also note: The previous paragraph contained a reference to the book Emaline’s Gift. If you have not read Emaline’s Gift, the reference will make no sense to you. The only possible solution I can think of is to go buy it, read it immediately, come back, reread that first paragraph, understand the reference and then go on with your regularly scheduled life. If you can think of another solution, I’m sure it’s not nearly as good.

You might even say he's "following" her lead!
Oh and note this too: Actually, I’ve got nothing else to say. I was just wondering how many of these addendums I could get away with.

So Kevin Bacon decided to take a page from his wife’s book and do a TV show (Kyra Sedgwick, of course, played Brenda Leigh Johnson for seven seasons of The Closer on TNT). I’m glad he did, because his performance, in my opinion, is one of the best things about The Following, and I enjoy the show a great deal. I’ll admit that the series is pretty divisive. It can be pretty grisly, for one thing, and it certainly requires a certain suspension of belief (as many shows do) so it’s really up to the viewer whether they can still go with it and have a good time or not. The wife and I enjoy it, but it’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.

The cartoon that changed Joe Carroll's life.
That’s fine, of course, because we have a greater purpose to discuss anyway. The central premise of the show centers around a serial killer who was captured years ago (by Bacon’s character, Ryan Hardy). The killer, Joe Carroll, is arrogant, pretentious and obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe. I know what you’re thinking. If he’s so full of himself, why did he choose to be obsessed with such a writer whose creepiness has become such a cliché? Wouldn’t someone a bit more obscure fit the character a bit better? I mean, The Raven was covered by Tiny Toons! If that doesn’t make it lose a bit of street cred, what does? I think I’ve gotten a bit off track.

The idea is that Carroll is such a charismatic individual that he has amassed a group of loyal followers. While he is locked up in prison, grinning his smug little grin, his followers are out killing and causing all sorts of bloody mischief. Carroll is pulling the strings, of course, but his deluded disciples are so passionate about their leader that they are risking imprisonment or even death by carrying out his wishes. The idea must have been somewhat inspired by the Manson Family and others like them. Their association certainly reaches to some religious fervor, to the point where Carroll’s followers are dubbed “a cult.”
Whereas I’m not a huge fan of all the murder and kidnapping and the like, I’ve got to admire the loyalty and the dedication of these followers. They have essentially been willing to give up or change everything in their lives to do what Carroll tells them to do. Can you even imagine that sort of devotion? What would it take? I’m reminded of a quote by researcher extraordinaire George Barna who said in his book Growing True Disciples, “The twenty-first-century church has many ‘followers’ of Christ in the sense that I follow the Yankees: We dabble in Christianity.”

Now think about it. Think about the devotion that we see in obsessive cultists like those on The Following or the type that drank the Kool-aid that Jim Jones served or even the suicide bombers who give it all for the sake of jihad. If our devotion to Christ is anything less, is it because He expects less from us—or because we’re not giving all we should? Are we less committed to the Truth of Christ than some people are to the lies that they follow? Do we follow Jesus Christ, giving all up in His pursuit, or do we “follow” Him the way we follow a sports team, tuning in to give them half our attention once a week, getting caught up in victories and defeats on some shallow, emotional level, but without any of it really affecting our lives?

And, yes, I do realize that there are people who follow sports teams obsessively. Trust me, you don’t want to mention baseball to my sisters any time within the few days following the Yankees’ annual ousting from the playoffs. Would that they would follow Christ even to that degree.

What does Jesus really expect from us? Based on various passages of Scripture, we can come to the conclusion that followers of Jesus Christ: must deny themselves, pick up their cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23); love Christ so much that it looks like they hate their family and their own life by comparison (Luke 14:26); renounce all that they own (Luke 14:33)—and I could go on, but I think we’ve already got a clear picture, haven’t we? Christ doesn’t call for dabblers. He calls for full-on fanatics, zealots who will put Him and His mission above everything and everyone. To follow Christ is to no longer live for yourself. It’s to live for Him.

But it’s very easy to get distracted, isn’t it? In The Following, we are introduced early on in the series to a core group of three of his followers who literally let their entire lives be dictated by the needs of their leader. Two straight men posed as lovers because gay neighbors would be the least threatening to a woman who had been assaulted in the past. A young woman becomes a qualified nanny and works for years in that environment until it is time to act. Talk about devotion. Their lives are not their own, by choice.
Anyway, the guy with the gun probably has
more verses memorized than you do.
And the Second Amendment.

So, yes, I know that you and I are willing to die for our faith, if the situation were to ever arise. Perhaps we might doubt that a bit, but the truth is that we may never find out for sure. Most Christians in the United States, at least in modern times, never have to make that decision. Quite frankly, it’s easy to make the commitment to be true to Christ even if it meant your life when it’s something that has a pretty slim chance of ever happening.

And you don't even NEED kidneys to
tell people about Jesus! That's the crazy part!
Let’s talk, then, not about slim possibilities but about reality. You may or may not be presented with the opportunity to give your life for your faith someday, but you very much have the opportunity to live for it—for Him—right now. Part of that is just in putting Him first in our day-to-day lives. The reality is that we pass people with needs—physical, emotional, whatever—on a daily basis and I firmly believe that every need is an opportunity to help someone in the name of Jesus. Why would you ever drive by someone broken down by the side of the road, when by stopping and giving them a ride to the gas station or putting some money in their tank could present an opportunity to share the Gospel with them? Sometimes the Holy Spirit opens that door and sometimes He doesn’t, but there is always the opportunity to help someone out and, when they thank you, simply telling them that you’re a follower of Jesus Christ and you’re helping out because it’s one way that you can show His love to others. Even that plants a seed, and sometimes it can lead to a lot more. And what if the person by the side of the road is some nefarious criminal, looking to steal your car and sell your kidneys? Well, we just talked about the fact that we put Christ before our own lives, didn’t we? He will protect us or He won’t; blessed be the name of the Lord.

That’s just one example, of course; the truth is that there are countless little ways to serve others in the name of Christ. There tends to be a cost. Sometimes the cost is financial and serving others will almost always cost time. Now, if the money is all God’s and if every moment you are alive is a gift from Him, is being selfish with our time and money ever the right move?

Pictured: actual fictional inner city
Baltimore classroom.
I feel like we need to really evaluate and find out if we are following Jesus to the best of our ability where we’re at, wherever we’re at. But here’s another question that the serial killer’s followers on the TV show asked that we may not: Are you in a place where you can have the maximum impact for the Kingdom of God? Geographically? Vocationally?

Could you have greater impact as a follower of Jesus Christ as a youth pastor in rural Indiana or as a high school teacher in inner city Baltimore? Could you reach more lost souls with the Gospel working as a receptionist at a Pennsylvania paper company or as a bartender at a hotel by the airport? Do you suppose that you do more good at your well-paying job in your comfortable home sending $30 to WorldVision each month, or could God use you better halfway across the world, living and working in the communities ravaged by AIDS and desperate for clean water? 

It’s just a thought, and I don’t believe there is one blanket answer for everybody, but I simply want to know whether or not you’ve asked the question. Have you ever honestly prayed, Father, my life is yours. I will move my family anywhere you say. I will get a job wherever you open doors. I want my life to have maximum impact for You so please put me wherever I can best serve you.

We are here to reach others for Jesus Christ. We are here to be salt and light. Everything else is just sound and fury, signifying nothing.

So back to those kooky serial killerettes who were willing to alter their entire lives for their leader. What could ever drive someone to those extremes? Love, devotion and belief. I don’t have to ask how much they love their leader. I don’t have to ask if they’re devoted. It would be silly to ask whether they truly believe in what he’s selling, because they have proven where they stand.

It's possible I got the wrong "judgment day."
This isn’t about proving something, not to me, not to God, not to anyone. This is about impact. This is about using everything we have to glorify the One we follow. When you’re standing in front of God someday, giving an account for how you used your gifts, talents and resources for His purposes, are you going to regret how you spent today? Tomorrow? This year? In that instant, when everything is so clear and billions have been sentenced to hell and it’s too late to make a difference, are you going to wish you had done things differently?

My advice: don’t wait. Take stock. Pray. If you need to make a change, make it. When this life is over, you won’t regret it.