Friday, April 26, 2013

Sex, Sex, Sex, Sex, Sex, SEX, Sex, Sex, Sex, Sex (and a Video Game called Catherine!)

Pretty much a currency in my house.

It has been pretty typical, in the past, when birthdays or Christmas come around, for us to want to get each other more presents than we really have money for. I doubt my family is unique in this regard! In fact, there have been a couple of years where my wife and I haven’t gotten each other anything for Christmas, instead buying gifts for each other whenever we get our tax refund in a couple of months later.

In line with this, there have been a number of instances over the years when I have been gifted or traded vague future promises of a subscription to video game-by-mail rental service Gamefly for this or that. If my wife wasn’t able to get  me much for my birthday, I’d get a month of Gamefly. Or sometimes she would trade me a month or two in exchange for taking her to Olive Garden or something. I can’t possibly tell you now how many months of Gamefly I am “owed.” I think that’s partially the point. But I was just able to cash in on a few months of it, and play a handful of games I was curious about or simply hadn’t received as a present (the manner in which I receive virtually all the video games I own; my Dad loved the commercials for Assassin’s Creed III so much that he was as excited when he got it for me as I was!). There was one game that I knew was going to be added to my rental queue the next time I got to cash in on some Gamefly. It’s called Catherine, it came out in 2011, and it is the inspiration for today’s theofictionology post.
Not pictured: Custer's Revenge.
Pictured: Butterflies.

If you’ve seen the cover art or any of the advertising for Catherine, you’re probably thinking it’s an odd choice for a young man of God to want to play. The marketing for the game is very clear about having sexual themes. Honestly, that’s one of the reasons I was interested in it. Now, of course, pornographic games do exist. One of the most famous is an old game called Custer’s Revenge; in it, the player controls General Custer who needs to evade arrow so he can get to a naked American Indian woman tied to a post and rape her.

You know, it sounds pretty bad when you lay it all out like that.

Yes, I will show you the Catherine cover art,
but with the understanding that you had
better not enjoy it.
And, no, I haven’t played it. But Catherine was nothing like this. Despite the cover art—and the frantic, almost cheesy anime aesthetic that the game sometimes indulges in—reviews praised it as a mostly mature attempt to explore adult themes in a video game. I even read an article in which playing the game inspired one gamer to come clean about infidelity in his past. And as a pretty hardcore gamer, there was no way I could ignore a game that was making a serious issue to take on a subject that games too often take a juvenile stance on, if at all.

I hope this goes without saying, but the movies, books, TV shows and games I discuss on this blog are never intended as an endorsement. Well, unless I recommend you go out and get them, and I do that sometimes with the books I read. But I’m not suggesting you rush out and buy Catherine and I’m sure as heck not suggesting you rush out and buy it for your teenage son. On this blog, our interest is in seeing what spiritual conversations can arise from fiction of all stripes. If you’re interested in the moral content of something like Catherine, I recommend checking out a site that specializes in that, such as (here’s their take on Catherine). There are also Christian sites out there that do the same, but I’ve found some of them that get pretty darn silly and incredibly petty. Now back to our regularly schedule blog post.

Seriously, the game was a lot of fun to play!
Catherine features Vincent, a 32-year-old man who has been in a long-term relationship with his girlfriend Katherine but is very squeamish about committing further. No sooner does she start pressuring him for a more formal commitment than he suddenly finds himself waking up next to the buxom, perky Catherine after a night together he doesn’t even remember. His newfound relationship corresponds to intense, vivid nightmares in which he has to use a variety of tricks to climb to the top of a tower. The bottom floors start
dropping on a regular basis and sometimes monsters chase him. It’s a strange game.

It’s also a game in which the player is forced to deal with infidelity. They are not given a choice whether they want to stay faithful to Katherine—at least, not initially—so they need to deal with it. You can encourage or discourage the sexy Catherine (who, initially, I liked a lot better than Katherine, personality-wise). You can be loving or cold to your girlfriend. The choices aren’t nearly as pronounced as they are in Mass Effect or Skyrim, for instance, and sometimes I was annoyed that none of my options really lined up with what I wanted to say (or text someone, more likely), but I got over that. Plus, the climbing puzzler gameplay was surprisingly compelling—and difficult! But it was very satisfying to make it to the top. I enjoyed the game, and it gave me a taste of something that I never intend to sample in real life: I walked in the shoes of a cheater.
So you don't feel cheap, I've even invited Barry White
to swing by and set the mood with a little music.

So where are we going with this? Well, where do you think? Let’s talk about sex. 

I’ve noticed something in regards to TV shows and movies. I think we all can agree that Christian characters are often established simply to make fun of them. I would point out that real life is like that sometimes too; otherwise, why is Fred Phelps around? But sometimes a writer does explore someone with faith in a manner that goes beyond easy punchlines. The Shield has one of the best examples I can think of, in which police officer Julian struggles to balance his faith with his homosexual feelings. The writers treated him with respect and his personal battle added some real depth to his character and the show. Other TV shows that have treated Christian characters with respect include The Middle and Firefly.

But even when writers decide that Christians are people too and want to write them with sympathy, I have noticed that one of the concessions they often seem to make is that the believers in the show have no problem with premarital sex. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but the message that I’m taking away is that, if we’re going to accept Christians as a decent human being, they need to consider the biblical prohibition against sex outside of marriage as antiquated and not relevant.

I would argue that it’s very relevant.

They decided to wait to have sex.
And, no, the fact that she is now a
Maxim cover girl does nothing to negate that.
When I was growing up—and some of you youngsters are going to think I’m yanking your yank-chain—it was normal for a teenage couple on a television show to struggle with whether they were going to actually have sex or not. The times were a-changing so they didn’t all opt to abstain, but it was a question, not a given. Cory and Topanga wrestled with it on Boy Meets World; even Angela Chase and bad boy Jordan Catalano struggled with the question in the acclaimed and aptly-titled episode “Pressure” of the quickly-canceled My So-Called Life. This wasn’t that long ago. How things have changed in our fictional worlds.

We would be naive to think that Christian culture doesn’t change with the rest of the world. Barna Group research indicates that nearly 60% of born again believers do not see a moral problem with premarital sex or living together outside of marriage. For those of you who aren’t taking a stats class right now (I have to mention that because fellow author Cynthia P. Willow, whom I interviewed a couple of months ago, is taking one and hates it), that means a majority of Christians in their twenties and thirties do think biblical prohibitions on premarital sex are antiquated and not relevant. Which I guess means I owe TV writers an apology! Their portrayal of modern Christians is right on the money.

I’m not going to belabor this point. I just want to make a couple of arguments, and then you can go on your merry, sexy way. Or your married, sexy way. That’s even better!

First argument: The Bible is very clear that you do not mess around when it comes to sex. I love to draw this comparison. When it comes to the Prince of Darkness, the devil himself, have you noticed the Bible’s instructions on how to deal with that old goat?

“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” - James 4:7

Of course, if the devil comes at you with sex,
things do get a bit confusing.
I love that! It’s wonderful, isn’t it? Let’s drop all this “the devil made me do it” crap. As a follower of Jesus Christ, your Master defeats ol’ Belial handily. You resist him, he flees. It’s wonderful.

But when it comes to sex, our instructions are a bit different:

“Flee from sexual immorality!” - 1 Cor. 6:18

Hold on. The devil was just fleeing in the last verse. Now we’re the ones who have to flee? What’s up with that!?

Satan comes at you with both barrels, resist him. With the Holy Spirit, you are stronger than him. A sexy lady or hunky Christian author starts giving you the googly eyes? Get the heck out of Dodge. You can’t handle this. When it comes to sexual temptation, get out of there. It will destroy you.

Second argument: Sexual sin can never be taken back. Of course, there are other sins like this—murder comes to mind—but often it is possible to make amends. If you lie, you can turn around and tell the truth. If you steal, you can return what you stole, or the value of it. I’m not saying it’s as cut and dry as that and there are always consequences, but sexual sin is not something you can ever go back on.

Let me give you a scenario. You’re a young  man who grew up in the church. You know what’s right and wrong but you’re super horny so you go ahead and have sex with your high school girlfriend. When you get to college, you get involved with Navigators (they disciple you!) and decide to really stop screwing around—
How can you even think about
letting her down?!
both sexually and in your faith. You repent, of course, and God forgives you—there is no doubt about that!—and you start living life for Him. Of course, as a man of God, you find your eye caught by a woman of God. And she’s been doing this longer than you, so she will be pure on your wedding day, never having been intimate with another.

You cannot give that to her. It’s too late. You two can get past it, of course, and I think you will. You and God already have, you might recall. But I guarantee you that the grief and regret you feel on your wedding night will overwhelm the temporary pleasure you got from getting frisky in the back of your Dad’s Subaru. No contest.

The third argument plays off the second. I think I first got this one from the youth ministry curriculum guide The Seven Checkpoints by Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall (a book I really liked when I did youth ministry). I’m bringing it up here because the response I hear most often is, “Huh. I never thought of that.”

Not pictured: Unspecified sex act.
Pictured: cute puppies in a basket.
Most of the people I know, Christian or not, desire a healthy, committed marriage someday in their future. Unless you really make your wife mad a lot, sex is one of the benefits of a healthy marriage. But sex outside of marriage corrupts your relationship in a way that you’ve probably never considered. Your sexual relationship with your spouse can never really stand on its own, because it is pretty darn near impossible to never bring in comparisons. You can’t help but think, to some extent, “Oh, I liked it better when [random ex-girlfriend] did [unspecified sex act] than how [random current wife] does it.”

Are you feeling romantic yet?

Now think about your spouse having those same thoughts. If you follow God’s plan, your relationship with your spouse will be great and satisfying in part because you’ll have nothing to compare it to. The more sexual partners you’ve had in the past, the more room there is for comparison. Is that something you want?

Of course, if you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance that you consider yourself a follower of Jesus Christ. Sin in our life always separates us from God. We all struggle with different sins, too, and it’s quite possible that I struggle with sexual sin more than you do. Well, whatever your poison is, letting that in your life hinders your relationship with God and prohibits you from doing what you were put her to do: to be salt and light, to reach others for the Kingdom of God. That’s a big deal.

In the spirit of full disclosure, our soap
doesn't even come in a box.
I know I need to get off my little soapbox. We’re supposed to be talking about a video game after all, a video game in which the blanket assumption is sex outside of marriage because that’s the world in which we live (I can’t even say “culture” since this Catherine is a Japanese game). When we are so completely inundated with the same message—for example, that sex is not designed to be enjoyed only in a marriage relationship—we tend to start to believe it, just from the sheer repetition. Even if it’s a lie.

So thanks for listening to me chat about sex. My advice to you? Chat about it yourself. Christians need to get past their discomfort with this issue and bring it out in the open, because the enemy is not squeamish about it which means theirs is the loudest voice being heard (and sorry for being so melodramatic, but that’s the way it is). If we let the media do all the talking, then Christian young adults are going to internalize its message, not the truth of Scripture. This is true in all areas, but I don’t think I know another topic where so many believers are too embarrassed to speak up.

Heck, play Catherine side-by-side with your  kid if it helps. Pause the game and talk about how the sexual situations in it differ from what the Bible has to say. Give them solid reasons to follow God instead of the world. Be open about your own failures in this arena and they heartache that it has caused. But whatever you do, address it.

"I am so turned off right now!"
"Not as turned off as I am!"
Who knows? Maybe having all these old people talking about sex a lot will make the young ones so
embarrassed that they can never get in the mood again! Sure, the human race would die out without anyone procreating, but it’d still be a win for morality! Huzzah!

Oh! I just got a thought. I wonder, if I let my wife pick where we go to lunch tomorrow, if I might get another month of Gamefly out of’s worth a try...

Addendum: I realized after writing this that there were times when I implied that I thought this was a teen or young adult issue. It’s not. It’s a spiritual issue. God designed sex for marriage whether you’re seventeen or seventy. Violating His principles will always hinder your relationship with Him, no matter your age; more than that, I would argue that going against your Creator will almost always have negative consequences as well. He made you. He knows how you work. He made sex. He knows where it belongs. Are you going to tell Him that you know better? Huzzah!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Michael Findley Interview, LLC

So, this is the book cover now. When I first
got my mitts on a copy, it featured the same
girl but a DIFFERENT guy! Pretty fishy if you
ask me. Do you think the guy is the Doctor?

I read Nehemiah, LLC based on a recommendation from author Mary C. Findley. She happens to be married to the author, Michael Findley. This is actually the second interview I’ve conducted with someone close to Mary, as Sophronia Belle Lyon, the author of the very enjoyable steampunk literary tribute A Dodge, A Twist and a Tobacconist, whom I once traveled years into the past to interview, is Mary’s grandmother. What I’m trying to say is that there is some serious nepotism at play here, and we should all be very suspicious. At the end of the day, I didn’t pick a Michael Findley novel because he’s the author of books such as Empire Saga, Sojourner or Antidisestablishmentarianism: Disestablishing America’s Established Religion (a title I need to send off to my old theatre professor so he can use it as a tongue twister with his students). I didn’t pick it up because I enjoy the Elk Jerky for the Soul blog, which he runs with his honey bear. These would have been perfectly legitimate reasons, but, no, I read Nehemiah, LLC because Michael’s beaming bride suggested it to me. It’s like I said. It’s suspicious.

So I started reading this book and, let me tell you the truth, at first I wondered if I had made a mistake. The foreword scared me, as the author explained that this was the third book in a series of six (currently), and that “there is no attempt to explain things in Nehemiah, LLC which are explained in detail in other works.” It works even better if you imagine it in a grumpy voice and follow it up with, “And get off my lawn!” So I was nervous. I retorted that I was recommended this book by your wife, Michael Findley, and she knew I hadn’t read the first two! Don’t yell at me!

This was the author's reaction when I offered to interview him.
Or maybe this was the time I bumped into Clint Eastwood and told him
I didn't care for Million Dollar Baby.

So I was pleasantly surprised when the only disorientation I felt was the normal amount for entering into a new world, especially in a science fiction book. Sure I didn’t understand everything right away, but that’s okay; I knew enough to get by and I learned as I read. That’s pretty normal. But I wanted to preface this interview by saying this because I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the opening note scared other readers away when glimpsed in an Amazon sample, for instance. You don’t need to be scared. We can get through this. Together. And we can ask the author any questions we have when we interview him on our blog!

In this scene that has nothing to do with Nehemiah, LLC,
Troi uses her special powers to sense that Data is angry.
As I mentioned, Nehemiah, LCC is sci-fi. It’s talky Star Trek: The Next Generation sci-fi more than action-packed space cowboy Firefly sci-fi (or Star Trek reboot sci-fi...or, y’know, Star Wars sci-fi). I don’t know about you, but I’ve got no problem with that. We’re thrown into a world that’s both reminiscent of but also beyond our own, and it was very clear that the author put a lot of thought into the world, the technology and the characters. It’s very easy to get the sense that we are seeing just a slice of daily life for these characters, that the world continues and their lives continue even when they’re not on the page. The environment lives and breathes and that’s great for immersion.

But daily life isn’t always terribly exciting. The main plot—the Life Support Division of Nehemiah, LLC needs to prepare balloon ships for a mission to collect gas from the moon Titan—felt anticlimactic and less engaging than I would have liked. Sometimes there would be the hint of something else—for example, whether or not there was a saboteur—and I would think, Okay! That’s going to be the main plot thread for the book, but then it would be easily dealt with and I finally realized that, no, this is the book: the team troubleshooting a dozen little problems and preparing for the launch. At first, I thought a blossoming romance might provide more  of a hook, but it didn’t get enough attention to be a strong focus.

So I just want to make this point so that you can judge whether this is a book for you. It’s very well written and I enjoyed my time spent in that world. If you’re on the fence, we can spend some time with the author, Michael Findley himself, and that should really make you want to read it!       

Brad: Thanks for swinging by, Michael. I read you and your wife’s blog from time to time, so it’s only appropriate that you visit over here, I think. Now, I realize that this may go against your personal philosophy, but Nehemiah, LLC puts us in the middle of a world that you’ve already been building for a couple books. If this is the book that your wife recommends we read, what should we know going in to it?

To summarize, Nehemiah is to this series
what Revenge of the Sith is to Star Wars.
Michael: This is the last of the first three books. City on a Hill sets up the reason why the people are in space. Next comes Sojourner, a short story of less than 50 pages, deals with events that come immediately before Nehemiah, LLC begins. It establishes most of the technology. Nehemiah, LLC was designed to make people want to read the other books. Therefore I assume people would not know about the other books, so the technology is, hopefully, still understandable to those who have not read the other books. The Space Empire Trilogy follows Nehemiah, LLC and that time frame is decades, maybe centuries, after Nehemiah, LLC, since the balloon ships were new "back then", and in the Empire trilogy they are very common.

Brad: Thanks for clearing that up! If you want to want to read the other books, tap into Nehemiah and prepare to want! Even having read the book, I’m not sure about this. If you had to choose a central protagonist, who would it be? Or is this truly an ensemble?

Michael: Joan is really the protagonist. Things are almost entirely from her point of view, or omniscient, and Tony remains somewhat of a mystery until very near as the end, whereas there are few surprises about Joan that aren't cleared up pretty quickly.

Cher, incidentally, is never referenced
with her last name.
Brad: Okay, well, sure yeah, now that you’ve gone and said it’s Joan, that makes sense. It just seemed to me that Joab or Zacharias might get almost as much attention, sometimes. Okay, so this next question is oddly specific. There was some dialogue at one point in the book about surnames. It seems like there are a number of characters who are very frequently referred to by both their first and last names. For example, looking at the first hundred mentions of Anthony in the book (thanks,  Kindle PC app!), he is called Anthony Lewis by characters and the narrator about 70% of the time (instead of simply Anthony). I wasn’t quite clear on the rationale for that, and one of the benefits of chatting with the author is the ability to ask about things I don’t understand. Can you explain it to me?

Michael: The issue with surnames is an attempt to show cultural differences, but ones that don't really matter in a "right and wrong" sense. Joan's people don't use surnames but many others in the story do, and it's a preference, not a hard and fast dogma of Joan's culture. 

Brad: If it takes longer to ask a question than to answer it, does that make me a bad interviewer? Don’t answer that. It’s my blog. I always like to ask about love in books that aren’t flat-out romance. From the first time a certain two characters meet, it seems like you’re going to pair them together, and that’s precisely what you do! Did you have this romance planned out from the beginning, or did it develop as you wrote and learned about the characters?

Not pictured: A scene from this book.
Michael: I don't think through everything ahead of time. Often my characters are based on real people I know, or the way I perceive them. Then I establish the setting, then the circumstances surrounding the characters. It's more like real life, not planning every circumstance and the response to it ahead of time. Shakespeare had very realistic people, though sometimes in odd situations, but still reacting in expected ways. Near the end of the book I was wondering myself if the romance would happen, or if they would get angry and never speak again. 

Brad: Well, no spoilers here! But I am glad they didn’t get angry and never speak again. That would have made my heart make a frowny face. I made a reference to Star Trek: The Next Generation in my introduction. So I’ve got to ask: what’s your favorite Trek? And you can’t possibly write in this genre and not be able to weigh on this subject, Sir.
According to some fanfic, Beverly Crusher left her
husband after he became an indie author.

Michael: #1, STNG, with Data as a favorite character. #2, McCoy from STOS, though they are very much opposites. Also Riker and Dr. Crusher (don't tell my wife, but I did have a "Crush" on her). Dr. Crusher's single mom success with Wesley was admirable.

Brad: Well, this will be awkward. Your wife is always kind enough to share and tweet my blog posts for me. So I have to choose between more readers and destroying your marriage. Well, you guys are getting up there. You’ve had a good run. And, anyway, by failing to mention anyone from Deep Space 9, I do fear you’ve failed the interview. But, come on—who doesn’t love Data? So you might get a C- after all. Sci-fi or not, were there any specific influences—book, film, television, whatever—that may have helped inspire or guide Nehemiah (or the whole series) at all?

Michael: The entire series is inspired by the Pilgrims and others coming to America but in a technological setting. Many characters in the series are even named after those people. Jonathan Edwards is one example. The blend of the technology is mine and I take credit, responsibility, or blame, for it being correct or incorrect, but each piece is based on something that already exists. The tubes to transfer around Mars are based on the Chunnel, for example. Many of the life-support problems were discovered through the
This is Arizona, but it could totally be somewhere on Mars too.
Biosphere Project in Arizona.

Brad: Wow! I’ve never have an interviewee use so many words I didn’t understand in one answer before! You get the Much Smarter Than Brad award! Yay! Here’s one of my standard questions that I wasn’t asking yet when I interviewed your wife’s if you bump into her, ask her for me and let me know what she says, okay? For now, I’ll just ask you. What do you perceive is your greatest strength as an author? And your greatest weakness?

Michael: My greatest weakness is the lack of time and ability to edit well and thoroughly. My greatest strength is family members who do a lot of editing for me and help me fix things. Daughter and wife are my two best editors.

Sophronia says to tell you that her greatest weaknesses are a fondness for tea and crumpets. Seriously, she laments that readers sometimes say her story beginnings are a bit disorganized, and take time to come
together. Her greatest strength she believes is that she has read with love and attention to detail the stories of great authors from whom her characters are taken, She and strives to be faithful to the spirit of classic Victorian literature and help revive interest in these great stories.  

Brad: Check that out. Two answers for the price of one. You are some lucky blog visitors today, aren’t you, dear readers? Okay, it gets confusing if I’m talking to my readers and then to Michael so, back to the author: Many of the works that you and your wife write are attacks or defenses against secular humanism. First of all, does that battle come into Nehemiah, LLC at all?

The flip side of this humanist holiday ad is that
if there is a God, these people actually have
a bit of a problem.
Michael: Less than anything else I have written. This story is more of a personal story, Joan trying to figure out what she's supposed to be doing within her society, just as we as believers try to figure our our place within the church. This is also a promotional book for the rest of the Empire series. Clashes over Secular Humanism tend to antagonize people and the characters and story here are, hopefully, likeable, to draw people in and create a favorable atmosphere for them to accept the heavier messages of other books in the series.

Brad: Secondly, and on a related note, your blog and this book make it pretty clear that you’re a follower of Jesus Christ. As a believer, do you feel any sort of Christian duty or obligation to incorporate spiritual themes into your work? I suppose I’m mostly interested in fiction here, since that’s what we do on this blog, and I think your nonfiction is pretty overt on the topic.

Michael: I am very disturbed by other authors who claim to be Christian and who write material that is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As believers we are commanded in the Word of God to limit ourselves to forms of writing that exalt the Lord Jesus Christ [Super Blogger Extraordinaire Note: I asked Michael to clarify what passage he was referring to here, telling him that all I was familiar with that might work was 1 Cor. 10:31. He told me to go ahead and use that one, so I'm not sure of the exact reference he intended here]. I am not claiming to be perfect but am trying to uphold a standard of Christ and the Old Testament, where they used parables, fiction, to get across important points. We also need to keep in mind that these are works of fiction, not lose ourselves in a fantasy world. We do need to present sin as sin, and it must have serious consequences. Sin seems to be something to play with in too many works that call themselves fiction.

Brad: Hey, you won’t see anything that doesn’t aim to glorify God and point to Him come from this guy! Are you working on anything you’d like to share with us right now?

As the saying goes, the family that
writes together, fights together.
No, that can't be it...but it rhymes...
Michael: We are trying to create a multi-part homeschool curriculum. Our book Antidisestablishmentarianism was the introductory work, explaining our foundational beliefs and historical The Conflict of the Ages project has two published modules now [Blog-Writer-Master’s note: here’s one and two] and is an attempt to create an accurate picture of history, science, and literature, combining elements of all of them at times and splitting into separate studies at other times. The focus is to prepare Christians to "give an answer" to the secular world about the truth and authority of the Scriptures, to explain the origin of the universe, to tell how sin entered the world and its continuing effects, and to give an accurate historical timeline.
and scientific perspectives. It's about as long as a few doctoral dissertations.

Brad: Pretty ambitious, huh? Check it out, homeschooling parents! It’s no secret by now that these little interviews tend to get a bit violent. I suppose it’s a testament to how hungry us starving authors are for a bit of publicity that they still risk their lives coming to talk to me. I know I’ve never turned an interview down! But, reckless and illegal or not, my methods have gotten results, so I’m going to keep using them. I invited some ninjas to the party. They’re in the next room. In the spirit of your book, they’re actually space ninjas. Pretty cool, huh? Well, those space ninjas are going to turn you into a Michael Findley shish kebob if you don’t answer my questions, buddy. The first under-duress question is what your favorite book is. And don’t say the Bible—that’s cheating. And don’t say Biblical Studies: Student Edition—that’s narcissistic.

I used to go for Dr. Seuss myself.
Michael: My favorite book is War and Peace. Tolstoy has a very lengthy section at the end that explains what history should be and how it should be told. I don't agree with every part but it's the best description out there. The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn is my second favorite work because that is where we are headed. In response to the threat ... What threat? If they attack, I will tickle them to death.

Brad: Those ninjas were really hoping you would refuse to answer, possibly on noble authorial grounds. They love to skewer. So who’s your favorite author? And, no, you cannot choose Mary C. Findley just because the two of you share a bed. Although that probably would net you some nice brownie points.

Michael: Shakespeare. Not one particular work, but in totality he definitely is the best. I've patterned my
character development after him, and I love the movie adaptations of Kenneth Branagh.

Brad: Ah, the Bard himself. If you’re trying to butter up the guy with the theatre degree, it’s working. You now have a straight B on this interview! Now, let’s get down to business. You’re an indie author with a pretty decent catalog of books, especially if we include the ones penned by your other half (and given the “one flesh” rule [Gen. 2:24], we probably should). Other than buying Michael Findley books for all their family members and their postal delivery person, how can our readers best support you if they scoop up Nehemiah, LLC (or start with the first in the series, City on a Hill) and become huge fans?

Michael: As general advice for readers, I say, don't watch television. Brain cells die every time you turn it on.
A Google Image search for "TV kills brain cells" brought
up this screenshot, so I decided to go with it.
Know what you are looking for and how to find it. Learn how to really use search engines. Some of the best scientific articles/books I've found in the last five years are indie published. I have been given book titles or authors to look up, not ones available on Amazon, and Google did not find them. I searched on Bing and they came up. 

But that doesn’t—Michael, how does that support you? Ah, he’s gone home already, or possibly off to take the Bing it On Challenge. Anyway, this seems like a good time to plug my theofictionology blog posts about television shows The Following (which has gotten so much sillier since I wrote about it) and Last Resort (which, okay, had a few silly moments itself over its truncated run as well)! I don’t think you’ll lose brain cells just by reading about them, and I would make the case that I have gained many wrinkly cells by watching The Wire but, um, remember when Michael was smarter than me? Ah, nevermind.

Thank you very much to Michael Findley, our special guest! The book we’ve been focusing, if you’ve forgotten, is called Nehemiah, LLC and I think it’s worth a read. You certainly should have enough information after this interview to decide whether you’d like to try it or not. But, if it sounds good, be forewarned: it may make you want to read the rest of the series. But, um, since Michael wouldn’t tell us how he wants to be best supported, maybe you should go ahead and do just that.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Casual Legacy

The Casual Occupancy is about
a man who really needs to pee but
the airplane lavatory is in use
every time he gets up to go.

Be advised: This blog post takes as its inspiration the book The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling. As with many of our theofictionology posts, however, the book is simply used as a sort of launch pad for the meat of our discussion. As such, if you’re planning on reading it, fear not: there are no spoilers here. I’m sure there are countless other sites out there that would love to tell you all about how Voldemort shows up in the sleepy town of Pagford and turns all the residents into Death Eaters, but you won’t hear a peep out of me. Incidentally, I didn’t eat a single Peep this Easter. But that’s really neither here nor there.

As a huge Harry Potter fan, including the way Jo Rowling spins his yarns as much as anything, you couldn’t keep me away from The Casual Vacancy, the author’s first novel for adults. I am, after all, an adult, chronologically speaking. It’s about time Jo wrote something for me!

What did I think? Well, my first impression was that Jo was intent on making the point that she was writing for grownups by gratuitously inserting mature content that didn’t necessarily enhance the story. I hate it when authors (or directors or producers or musicians, etc.) do this sort of thing because I often find that sort of “mature content” to be hopelessly juvenile. Understand that I am a writer; as such, I work with words for a living. The only sort of language that I personally will never use or condone will be to take the Lord’s name in vain. He deserves my reverence and mocking or misusing anything to do with Him is the most offensive verbal offense that I can imagine. But other words are—well, they’re just words, aren’t they? In my new book (which is currently in the editing/rewriting stage), The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living, language is one of the tools in my disposal to demonstrate the changing hearts (which is very appropriate, I think, based on Luke 6:45). All the naughty words are censored, mind you—which I feel fits in beautifully with the tone of the book and the narration—but my point is that I believe that all language can potentially be appropriate in the context of a fictional work, like the four-letter words spoken by drug dealers in The Wire. You may disagree and that’s fine, but to get back to what I was saying, my first instinct was that Jo was using vulgarity to artificially make her work seem more mature than was warranted, and that is something I really hate. It’s one of the many reasons I loathe Gregory Maguire’s insipid Wicked series (but am a big fan of the musical, ironically): I’m convinced that the author simply throws vulgarity and gratuitous sex at the page to prove that his books are grownup and it comes across as hopelessly immature, in my opinion.

"Alas, kind Sir, I shall have to disagree vehemently with your
assertion about the expenditure of my illicit pharmaceuticals."
As I continued reading, however, and as the story and the characters drew me in, I began to reconsider. Now I think that I may have been holding Jo to a certain standard based on the Harry Potter series. It took some time for me to accept her characters using swear words and having (and thinking about having) sex, even though I accept this sort of thing from Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut and Nick Hornby without a second thought. But be warned: this is decidedly not Potter.

In the end, however, although the stakes and the plot aren’t remotely as grave and serious as they were for Potter and the good guys in Order of the Phoenix, I was still thoroughly drawn in by the characters and their small town drama. This shouldn’t be surprisingly since I was usually very entertained and just as wrapped up in the day-to-day lives of Harry, Hermione and Ron as I was by their operatic, life-and-death struggles (aside from one point in the back half of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, at which point I recall shaking my head and wondering if she was just throwing in every single idea that crossed her
All I'm saying is that the scene where Harry and Ron spend thirteen pages
debating what type of cereal they should have for breakfast went a bit long.
mind). I simply like Jo as a storyteller, and I’ll no doubt be scooping everything she writes up in the future.

Everything in the small British parish of Pagford changes when a beloved parish councilor named Barry Fairbrother suddenly dies with an aneurysm bursts in his brain. When we meet Barry, we haven’t the slightest inkling of how much his death could affect the town and the people living in it. Many people probably had no idea the way that he had, for example, reached out to an angry, poor teenager as her coach on the school rowing team, and yet his kindness and encouragement made a huge difference in that young lady’s life and his death creates a void that she has no idea how to fill. This is just one, and perhaps the most poignant, example of how the death of a rather unimpressive, fairly average man left something missing in many lives, which of course means that his life added something to those same countless lives.

This is my Uncle Jeff.
I’ve been thinking about legacy. As I was nearing the end of the book, my uncle, Chattanooga Police Captain Jeff Francis, died suddenly. He probably wouldn’t have used the word “suddenly,” I’ll admit. He had heart problems and, the last time I really got to spend time with him, when we spent a few nights with them in Christmas 2011, he told us that the doctor had indicated that there was nothing more they could do, that his heart would simply quit sooner or later. Uncle Jeff took care of himself well—he was in much better shape than I am!—but his heart did indeed give out.

But not before leaving quite a legacy.

I don’t feel that I’m naive about my uncle. He wasn’t a perfect man, and I don’t remember him as one. I genuinely liked him, but on our last visit, sitting and chatting with him, it was sometimes difficult for me to not view him through the lens of some of his failings—and, since I grew up in Michigan, over six hundred  miles away from their home in southern Tennessee, Uncle Jeff’s sins and struggles didn’t affect me in the least. Of course, none of us are perfect, and I don’t think any relationship can get very far without forgiveness because of that.

Here’s the thing, though. I looked around the large auditorium where his funeral was held. What I saw in that church were lives that had been impacted by uncle, many for the Kingdom of God. Given that Uncle Jeff’s sins are wiped away clean by the blood of Jesus Christ, guess what remains? Not his mistakes. Those are gone. But the people he shared his faith with, who decided to follow Jesus Christ as a result of my uncle’s obedience to the Great Commission? That’s a legacy that will last forever.

Woody Allen also wasn't looking for his creepy love
life to be his legacy, but oh well.
When talking about the legacy he was leaving behind in all the films he directed, Woody Allen famously said, “I want to achieve immortality through not dying.” He understood that his four Academy Awards aren’t going to mean a great deal in the long run. Is legacy something that’s important to you? Do you want people to remember your name after you’re gone? Barry Fairbrother of The Casual Vacancy left behind a legacy, but it’s perhaps part of Jo Rowling’s darkly comic vision to see how much of it is lessened or negated even by the end of her novel, a matter of weeks later. 

What’s that little rhyme? Apparently it’s from a poem by CT Studd. It reads:

Only one life, ‘twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

At the end of the day, that’s the truth of it, isn’t it? Legacy is an interesting idea; I would hope to leave a void behind when I scoot on out of here because that would mean that I had done more than just living for me. It seems all fine and dandy to live for myself in the day-to-day because I’m a selfish creature, but it’s easy to project myself into the future and know that, looking back at my life, I’ll want to have invested in others, or in
I have it on good authority that Weston R. Higgins
desperately wishes he had gotten a higher Gamerscore.
things greater than myself.

But if you want to invest in something that will last, you have no other choice but to invest in the eternal destiny of people. That is the only thing that won’t end up being meaningless, at the end of the day. I think my uncle understood that.

He would tell us stories. He loved to tell us stories. He’d be confronting a bad guy or consoling a recently bereaved widow or something, but his stories would invariably end with him sharing the Gospel and trying to tell them about Jesus. “But you’re a police officer for the City of Chattanooga!” we’d say. “Aren’t you afraid of getting in trouble?” He’d just sort of shrug. “What’re they going to fire me for? Caring about people? They can fire me if they want to.”

I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that the final, eternal destination of that widow or criminal or whatever (possibly a widowed criminal) is more important than where my uncle gets his paychecks from. It’s not even a question. And I’m not saying that we need to constantly be proselytizing when we’re paid to be working. But I’m also going to tell you that I do not believe my uncle regrets a single person that he shared the Gospel with on the job. In fact, he may regret not doing it more.

In any case, my uncle was not fired. In fact, I saw the Chattanooga police commissioner tearing up as he handed a folded American flag to my Aunt Gail. That’s legacy.

There won’t be any police commissioners at my funeral. Well, at least not unless my life takes a drastic and unexpected turn. That being said, my cousin Dan followed in his Dad’s footsteps, so maybe he’ll end up as a commissioner himself. If so, I will call him Commissioner Gordon in my head. And I hope he swings by my funeral. So maybe there will be!

I won't say that we're pretty much twins, but I'm
sure no one would argue if you wanted to say it.
Oh, I’ve gotten off track again. Sorry. I was trying to think of what I wanted people to remember me as after I was gone. But you know what? I don’t really care. They can think I’m a stuck-up, half-witted scruffy looking Nerf herder, if they want (actually, that’d be kinda cool - someone put that in my obit). But I want to bring people with me. I don’t mean, like, I’m going to be a suicide bomber or something. Gosh, I’m saying this poorly.

I want my legacy to be that of disciple maker. I want the Holy Spirit to use me in this life however He chooses, but I want to be faithful to the call of God. I don’t care if I’m used to plant seeds or whatever or whatever, so long as I’m used. I got my first really critical review of Emaline’s Gift recently. One of the blogger’s beefs was that it was “too preachy.” Get used to it. Oh, maybe I’ll grow as a writer and sometime learn to be a bit more subtle, but I’m going to pray that every word of every chapter of every one of my books is used to glorify God. The legacy of leaving behind great stories isn’t enough for me. I want the legacy of pointing toward Christ.

Otherwise—what’s the point?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Guest Post: Christianity and Superheroes DO Mix

Blogmaster’s Note: We’ve got a special guest post today by author Rikki Strong. I think you’ll enjoy her discussion of combining her love of superhero stories with her faith. I do need to point out, however, that the text is hers, but the photos and captions are all mine, because I am incorrigible. That is all. Enjoy the guest post!

The fact that today's post is about superheroes justifies my use of this picture.
I didn’t set out to specifically write a Christian superhero series when I first began writing what would become my My Life as a Superhero series. When I started writing the story when I was a sophomore in high school, I just wanted to write a story I could get lost in that involved my favorite subject—superheroes. Even now, an undisclosed-amount-of-years later, I still get lost in the story and—fortunately for my career as a writer—I am not the only one.

My books follow Tamara Weatherby as she navigates life. For her first 15 years, Tamara grew up in a Christian home, went to church every Sunday since she was very young, was active in her church’s high school youth group, and spent most of her free time hanging out with Christian friends. The story begins in Karis, when 15-year-old Tamara’s life collapsed when her parents and brother were killed in the worst massacre in the history of the city of Kingston. For a while, Tamara turned away from God—as most of us would. What kind of loving God would steal someone’s parents in such a gruesome way? She was thrust into a non-religious household and her new housemates seemed to have done fine without God, so my scared 15-year-old main character believed she could as well.
When does Flash come out?
TODAY! Glad you asked.

She returns—as most of us would—and brings the rest of her household with her in the process. However, there are even more interesting issues to deal with. She must learn how to juggle multiple lives—her normal life and her superhero life—without lying about her secret identity. All of a sudden, she is the most desired girl in the whole world and her desire for physical purity becomes an issue. She has to decide whether or not to forgive the man who killed her parents. In the second book, Flash, Tamara has to not only deal with her normal juggling of lives, but now she has to be able to keep her secret while living in the dorm at a Christian university.

I certainly didn’t set out to write a Christian superhero—just one I wanted to read—but as a Christian, how else could my story go? Christianity is not just something one should be able to compartmentalize. Authors who are also Christians should at least have a small bit of their spirituality permeating the background of their books. Christian don’t, of course, have to only write books specifically for a Christian market—my book are not able to make it into the Christian bookstores because I allow my non-Christian characters to say choice words and phrases—but that doesn’t mean that the story can’t be one of
And Reuben responded, "Oh well! Anyone want to try this
sandwich I invented?"
redemption and of faith.

As Joseph told his brothers at the end of his life, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good, and for the saving of many lives.” That verse applies to Joseph thousands of years ago as well as it does any superhero story, not just a Christian one.

The author herself, in all
her authorshipness.

About Our Guest Blogger: Rikki Strong has always been enamored with superheroes, and started writing the My Life as a Superhero series (currently Karis and Flash) when she was a sophomore in high school. She began writing for fun and profit in 2006 and has since written or ghostwritten more than 10 books and over 50 web articles. When not writing—which is most of the time—she is a stay-at-home wife and mom to a very active 6-year-old boy who is already about 500 words and 25 chapters into his own book. You can find Karis here and her brand spanking new novel, Flash, right here.

Twitter: @RM_Strong