Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Right to Be Mass Effective

Woohoo! I'm a PARTICIPANT!
Before we get to the post, let me first make the announcement that I wouldn’t expect to hear from me during the month of November. This is because I am one of the countless writers participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short). Actually, it’s not countless. According to their website, there are currently 150,627 writers signed up to participate.

NaNo may not know it, but this little
beaut was one of its 2012 nemeses.
The goal for NaNo, as it’s called for extra short, is to write 50,000 words on a new novel. I haven’t participated in the past because I never wanted to put aside my current work to do it. Last year, I was in the middle of The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living and I couldn’t possibly have put that off! This year, I’m working on the nonfiction book on discipleship that I announced in the afterword of Savvy Demon’s Guide. I’m not thrilled to put that on the back burner either, and if I was going to take a break from it I’d probably want to work on book two in The Magi Chronicles, but that’s not eligible since it has to be a new book and I’ve been steadily working on that for a while.

Despite these minor reservations, I’ve decided to go ahead and give it a shot. If I can knock out fifty thousand words, that’ll be a great start to a new novel. So I’m going to use the challenge as an opportunity to try my hand at a new genre I’ve always wanted to attempt. If it doesn’t work, that’s fine, I’ll just go back to the discipleship book. But I intend to give it my best and see what happens. Now back to our regularly scheduled blog post.


This isn't precisely what she looks like...but it's kinda close!
Her name is Commander Haley Shepard, and she is a hero.

There can be no doubt about it. After all, if it weren’t for Shepard, the Battle of the Citadel in 2183 would have surely ended with Sovereign’s victory, which would have paved the way for a Reaper invasion that the galaxy wasn’t ready for. Not that there’s really any such thing as being ready for the Reapers, but Shepard bought the galaxy a great deal of time, in addition to bringing squabbling races together to face the threat with a united front.

Basically, without Shepard they don’t have a chance.

"So then one ethnically ambiguous human tells the other
ethnically ambiguous human with a slightly different
skin tone, 'Nope! Chuck Testa!'" "HAAA!"
Commander Shepard is the protagonist for the Mass Effect trilogy, one of my favorite game series of all time. In fact, I am still in the middle of a gaming marathon, playing all three games in a row, and I can’t think of any other series I’ve ever attempted this with. But I love Mass Effect. I love the writing, I love all the choices, I love the characters. I love that I can spend just as much time hanging out with my crew and getting to know them and even finding love as I do fighting bad guys. I love that, in Mass Effect 3, it’s possible to walk in on two of your crew members, a human and a turian (a reptilian type species) trading racist jokes. It just feels so genuine. Plus, humans and turians are different races. So it’s real racism!

I should probably point out that my Shepard isn’t the same Shepard that you might have played as. Mine is female, but according to game developer Bioware, 82% of all players choose to play as a male Commander Shepard. For all my playthroughs, I’ve never tried that. There are also a number of choices that have a sizeable impact on game events. Even this time round, I’m discovering new dialogue and even a new mission here and there that I missed before. You can be gracious and nice or ruthless and cold. Major supporting characters can live or die based on your choices. Seemingly inconsequential decisions in the first game can have major consequences in the third. I love this stuff!

War is tough, but we keep fighting for the asari we love.
And I love the story. Oh, sure, the whole “save the world” or “save the galaxy” thing isn’t the most original in the world. But the writers know what they’re doing. There are real stakes for the player because you get to care about your crew, and the odds are against you. If you make smart decisions and play well, you can save most of them...but, no matter what, you cannot save all. The reality presented in the game’s universe is that people die in war and that doing the right things sometimes requires sacrifice.

Sacrifice. Does the word conjure up positive feelings? It may not be the case for you, but when I think of the word sacrifice, what comes to mind first is the sacrifice of others. First and foremost, of course, is the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Nothing comes close to His, and although this may be an unpopular thought, I don’t really appreciate bumper stickers or memes that do draw a comparison. He’s God. He’s in a class of His own. There are other sacrifices that keep us safe and even keep us comfortable sometime that certainly also deserve our gratitude.

Some degree of sacrifice is a part of life for many of us. Parenting requires a great deal of sacrifice. In my house, our decision to have one parent stay home fulltime to homeschool our girls means we have to sacrifice a more upscale lifestyle that would be possible if we both worked outside the home. Those who sacrifice tasty foods are a whole lot skinnier than I am. There are plenty of examples. When it comes to our faith, many of us sacrifice our time to participate in church activities. We sacrifice our money to give a portion to God, who blessed us with it in the first place.

"Well, the sermon sucked, Reverend,
but I'm still here to help God out."
And yet...there are those who have sacrificed much more.

I used to feel good about attending church every time the doors opened. I felt superior to those who only showed up on Sunday mornings. After all, I was sacrificing more of my time for God than they were. It wasn’t that I was necessarily experiencing a lot of growth due to these decisions, and certainly I wasn’t doing anyone else a lick of good through going to more church stuff. It’s almost like there was some sort of rationale in my brain that God somehow benefited from me attending stuff dedicated to Him. Like He should be grateful I was willing to give up so much time on His behalf. And that’s what I was doing: giving up time. I wasn’t telling people about Jesus, I wasn’t serving, I wasn’t making disciples. I was attending. Sacrificing my time.

If I seem a bit dismissive, it’s because...well, I am. I no longer believe in church activity just for activity’s sake. Oh, I certainly believe that there is value in corporate worship and in studying the Bible with each other, and most of the “each other” and “one another” commands in the Scripture can be fulfilled wonderfully in the context of a small group.

But, even going to Sunday school, Sunday worship service, small group, Wednesday night and whatever else, it’s still simply compartmentalization of one’s faith. It doesn’t matter how many hours you devote to church stuff, so long as there’s that line between God stuff and me stuff, we’re never going to be living our lives entirely to glorify God. It’s a problem that the notion of attending cannot rise above. It’s being a churchgoer instead of a follower of Jesus Christ.

The problem with compartmentalization, when it comes to our faith, is that it offers a significantly lesser commitment in exchange for what we were called to. It’s giving a little when we’re supposed to give all. Even as we grow in Christ and become more concerned with taking our faith seriously, we increase what we give but we still don’t give all. And it’s hard to give all, and I doubt any of us can do it perfectly all the time (we certainly can’t at all without the Holy Spirit empowering us!), but can we consistently and honestly say that it is our active goal?

In Savvy Demon’s Guide, one character challenges most of the others to memorize 1 Corinthians 9. It’s something I’ve been working on with my 9-year-old daughter as well. The chapter heading put in by the
Paul is also more than willing to set aside RiteAid if need be.
editors of the ESV call this chapter, “Paul Surrenders His Rights,” and that’s a pretty good title for what he says in it. It’s also a convicting concept for me. I find myself far too often clinging to my rights—as a human being, as an American citizen, and so on. And yet why does Paul willingly set his rights aside? “We endure anything,” he says, “rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:12).

We endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.

Christ comes first. The Gospel comes first. Everything else—everything—comes after. My rights, my comfort, my happiness, my family, my health, my job, my life—none of these have the priority that following Christ and building His kingdom has.

There comes a point in the first Mass Effect game where the player character, Commander Shepard, has to make the most difficult of choices. For their crucial mission to be a success, she needs to order one of her team to sacrifice him or herself so that they can complete their objectives and escape safely. There are two options. The character you send to their death will never be forgotten. The character you choose to save will continue to have a strong presence in the rest of the series. When things get tough, sometimes Shepard
remembers the teammate who gave their life for the cause. She needs to stay focused and do what it takes to win the war so that the character who died will not have made their sacrifice in vain.

Our inspiration, our motivation, our redemption.
Our everything.
This world is a spiritual battleground. Everyone is born on the road to hell, enemies of God, and at odds with the One who made them. Christ sacrificed His life to save those people. When He redeemed us, we were drafted into the fight. We can help ensure that His sacrifice was as worthwhile as possible by doing everything in our power—and letting the Holy Spirit work through us—to save as many as possible. That’s why Paul sacrificed all his rights for the sake of the Gospel. It’s why we’re called to do the same.

For my part, I owe Jesus Christ the sacrifice of my entire life. It is quite literally no less than He did for me.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Author Alana Terry's Beloved Interview

That's Chung-Cha. She's Korean.

Wow wow wow.

That’s the most accurate summation I can give you of how I felt upon finishing The Beloved Daughter, a masterful but heartbreaking novel by Alana Terry (who just happens to be my guest on today’s blog). Alana the new audiobook release of the novel, and that’s very cool, but it’s most cool because it means you have plenty of options for how you might want to experience this exceptional story: in audio, on Kindle, or in paperback. How you choose to read is completely up to you, but my wholehearted recommendation is that you do in fact read it, in whichever format you prefer.
is here promoting

The Beloved Daughter tells the story of Chung-Cha, a twelve-year-old girl from North Korea, whose parents’ arguments about faith keep her up every night. It is illegal to be a Christian in their country, of course, but, while they are all convinced of the truth of Scripture, Chung-Cha’s mother would like to silently follow Christ while her father takes huge risks in sharing his faith with others and boldly living a Christian life. Chung-Cha’s mother is convinced that government agents would discover their “betrayal” and drag the family off to a labor camp, and that’s precisely what happens.

As a child in relative safety, it was easy for Chung-Cha to fall into a childlike reflection of her father’s faith. Once safety turns to danger, to pain, to torture, to hard work and loss and betrayal and fear and agony, that simple faith shatters in a million pieces. Chung-Cha lives an extremely difficult life. Her faith wavers like crazy. But the real story isn’t a faith that, like Caedmon’s Call might sing, is like shifting sand, but of the God who is always faithful, who is always steadfast, who always loves His beloved daughter no matter how far she runs away from Him.
He tends to get all the best starring roles, but, then, it's His right.

If it doesn’t sound like an incredible story, I’m not describing it very well. Alana paints a harshly realistic world and puts her characters through hell. With every page, we cannot help but think of the reality that our brothers and sisters in North Korea suffer every day. Alana is a master storyteller, and I can’t imagine anyone failing to be captivated by this harrowing tale. What we have here is a compelling story, but it’s also one of great importance. It’s the complete package and one of the best novels I have ever read.

I could complain that the book didn't hug me enough,
but I'm really reaching for negatives at this point.
I tend to share a bit that I like and a bit I didn’t care for in each book before conducting an interview. That is, after all, the way that reviews work and I suppose this is a bit of a mini-review. But I’m having difficulty coming up with anything very negative to say about The Beloved Daughter. It’s simply really good. It’s a shame that the formatting isn’t more professional. It would be a simple fix, and the writing and editing are certainly top notch. My only other comment is that the book can be exhausting. There are precious few victories in Chung-Cha’s life. I was drawn in whenever I read it, but would not necessarily rush to get back to that world when away, simply because it takes an emotional toll. But that’s the story here and that’s what the story needs to be. I wouldn’t change a word. Well,  I might—maybe I would add a clown or a talking antelope—but Alana is much more successful than me so no one should listen to what I say.

I think Alana and I both sort of discovered each other when we realized that we were both writing books with North Korean characters and setting. It just made sense that we should team up a bit, and Alana in fact interviewed me (via webcam!) on her blog to mark the release of my novel, The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living. It’s probably fair to say that our two books couldn’t possibly be more different, despite the North Korea connection, which of course means that you can easily read both of them without the slightest hint of overlap. I, for one, would be honored to have my work sitting on a bookshelf next to The Beloved Daughter.
North Korea: Good at both bringing authors together
AND building harems for people named Kim.

Oh, there is one other strong similarity between our books: they are both written to glorify our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But enough with my rambling. Let’s bring Alana in for the interview. And, so I don’t forget, you can discover more about her and her writing at her blog, Lightly Salted, at Also, there’s a launch party happening over on Facebook. Swing by and check it out and you might even win a prize!

Brad: Hi, Alana, and thank you for taking the time to join us today. I can’t wait to chat about this remarkable book. So let’s start at the beginning. Talk to us about the decision to write a novel about secret believers in a nation so hostile to the Gospel.

Pictured: Some of the foremost authorities on
persecuted Christians worldwide.
Alana: I read the book Jesus Freaks, published by Voice of the Martyrs, when I was about 16 years old and was tremendously encouraged by the stories of faithful witnesses who endured horrific suffering for the gospel. Their testimonies birthed in me a great prayer burden for Christians who are persecuted. Since North Korea was listed every year by Open Doors, International as the worst oppressor of Christians, I had a specific prayer burden for believers there.

Brad: We’ve been fortunate to see Open Doors up close, and I even got to meet and have a few conversations with the then-president of Open Doors USA a couple of years ago. The list Alana mentioned is the World Watch List (which I linked to), which every year lists the fifty worst nations for persecution of Christians. Including the 2013 list released this year, North Korea has ranked #1 as the worst oppressor of believers for eleven years in a row.

One of the things that struck me about your book was how authentic it all felt. Did you do a great deal of research? Was it difficult finding out information about North Korea and, especially, its labor camps?

Alana: The research wasn’t hard in terms of finding information, but it was very difficult sifting my way through it. A lot of my research came from stories and interviews published by North Korean defectors. The stories are gruesome. So many times I wanted to close my eyes, but I couldn’t. Yes, the research was very challenging for that reason alone.

Brad: You’ve poured so much of that into the story, too. We may want to look away at times, but it’s important that we don’t. I think it’s interesting to note the different approaches taken by you and me. When I wrote Hwan Jung, the primary North Korean character in my novel, I saw a man of God with unimpeachable faith, one whose faith could challenge and inspire flawed characters. Although there are indeed examples in your book of this sort of selfless, radical faith, you chose, in Chung-Cha, to give us a
So there was this elderly couple in a truck. The wife suddenly turns to
her husband and says, "Y'know, back when we were first dating, we'd
both be snuggled up when driving down the road. But look at us!
Now I'm all the way over here and you're over there." The husband
looked at his wife, snorted, and said, "Dear, I haven't moved an inch."
(It's a metaphor about how distance with God is never on Him!)
protagonist who was extremely flawed. God never abandoned her, but she abandoned Him on numerous occasions. Sometimes she drove me crazy! At what point did you decide to give us such a flawed, human main character?

Alana: First of all, I read Savvy Demon and loved Hwan Jung. I just knew that that type of character wasn’t going to work in my story. Yes, Chung-Cha is very flawed. In my church are Christians with an amazing depth and maturity of faith as well as Christians who waver from day to day in living out their beliefs. I guess I made Chung-Cha so imperfect because I want to show Western Christians that believers who undergo persecution are a lot like us. They’re not all super-saints. Some of them waver and even buckle under the pressure, which means our prayers for them are even more important than we might think.

Brad: That’s a good point, and I absolutely agree that we need to all pray for our brothers and sisters around the world on a regular basis. I feel compelled to ask about all the pain and torment that you put Chung-Cha through. I know how difficult it can be to put characters through difficult trials. Did you ever consider easing up on her, or did you know from the outset that Chung-Cha would lead an extremely difficult life?

One of these is Alana and the other one is getting tortured
by Alana and is Chung-Cha, but I won't say which is which.
Alana: Nobody has asked me that particular question, but now that I start to think about it, I guess I was never “attached” to Chung-Cha in the same way many authors latch on to their protagonists. It could be because of the cultural differences between her and me. It could also be because, like you said, I knew her life would be difficult.

Brad: Yeah? I wish I didn’t get attached to my characters who end up suffering! It makes it harder to write, even when you know it’s necessary. Since we’re here promoting the audiobook release of the novel, would you like to talk about the process of taking the story into the audio realm?

Alana: I could go on forever about my narrator. If you ever watched Family Affair, my narrator is Kathy Garver, the actress who played Cissee on the show. She’s won four Audie awards and just received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Motion Picture Council. The audiobook she produced is beyond top quality. I was truly blessed through partnering with her. At the very least, you’ve got to go hear her sample she sent me with her audition.

Yes, I could have put a picture of the actress
here, but I decided to go with Firestar.
Brad: Oh that’s neat! And she played Firestar in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (a show my kids love watching on Netflix)! So that’s even more impressive! Having so enjoyed The Beloved Daughter, I thought I’d look at what else you had out...and didn’t find much. How long have you been writing?

Alana: I’m just working my way into the world of novels, but before that I spent my time writing freelance for Christian magazines and devotionals and keeping up a blog about our family’s journey with a special-needs son (Editor-in-Law’s Note: Check out the book A Boy Named Silas: The First Five Years for an example of this).

Brad: Well, if The Beloved Daughter is any indication, you are more than willing to join us here in fiction land! What would you say is your greatest strength as an author? And your greatest weakness?

Alana: People who read The Beloved Daughter or my special-needs memoir will likely agree that I am a passionate writer. I don’t hold back when it comes to depicting life in all its gore and all its glory. I consider that a strength, although people who are looking just for a good read to escape might not.
This is the best photo I could find of an author
who is not passionate about their work.

Personally, my weakness as an author has to do with my insecurities. I fell into a kind of post-publication depression after releasing The Beloved Daughter. Even now, six months later, I struggle with stalking my stats page, hounding my reviews, etc.

Brad: I think that many indie authors check up on their work frequently, checking out new reviews and the like.

This is not simply a compelling story, but rather a compelling story of faith, and of a God who relentlessly pursues Chung-Cha, despite her unfaithfulness. As a follower of Christ, do you feel some sort of obligation or responsibility to explore religious themes in your work? Do you write for Him exclusively?

Alana: Obligation – definitely not. In fact, as soon as I published The Beloved Daughter I wondered if I should branch out of the world of Christian publishing. Themes of redemption belong in every genre of literature, not just religious fiction. Honestly, I’m sticking with Christian fiction not just because I feel called to it, but because I don’t know if I have what it takes to keep on writing for God’s glory alone if I were to venture into the realm of secular writing.

Brad: It’s possible that obligation wasn’t the best term to use. Perhaps duty, with perhaps an allusion to Luke 17:7-10 would be better. In any case, you said you didn't know if you could handle "writing for God's glory alone" in the realm of secular writing. Honestly, this is a subject that I wonder about. Yes, redemption stories are not exclusive to Christian creative work, but not all redemption stories overtly point to Christ either. I'd be interested to know how, in your opinion, a Christian writer would glorify God through secular writing. I'm not scoffing at the idea, mind you, or saying it can't be done. I'd just like your take on what that might look like.
Incidentally, although he came from a Catholic
background, Les Mis author Victor Hugo
dabbled in spiritism and the occult, finally
settling as an anti-church "rationalist deist."

Alana: I don't think a book has to be overtly Christian to bring God glory. Les Misérables and many works by Dickens stand out in my mind as books that highlight injustice and inspire a deeper love for others, so even if these books aren't sold on CBD, I'd say they can bring God glory.

Brad: We agree that God can be glorified through Les Mis, don’t we, readers? In fact, the redemptive themes are so clear that it’s almost cheating to write about them. Although I think I would argue that there is a difference between a believer striving to glorify God through his or her work, and what God deigns to use for His glory. I believe He is so awesome that He can use almost anything for His purposes and even to glorify Him, even if unintentional.

As much as I enjoyed The Beloved Daughter, I’m a little apprehensive about further books in the series. I suppose part of me wonders if follow-up novels set in North Korea will have the same impact as this one. Was it always your intention to write a series of books? Are you at all concerned that increased familiarity with that world will lessen the impact for your readers?

Alana: I do have a new work in progress called Not Alone, which is a follow-up to The Beloved Daughter. I consider Not Alone more of a branch-off than a sequel, per se. The tone is quite different. Although many of the characters are from North Korea, this story also features an American couple, and a large portion of the action takes place in China. Not Alone deals with Christian persecution to some degree, but it’s kind of a side issue. I’d guess Not Alone will read more like typical suspense novel and won’t be nearly as heavy. You can visit the book trailer for Not Alone on YouTube to get a feel for the story (

Brad: All right! I’m sold. I’m looking forward to Not Alone now too. Oh goodie! It’s time for everybody’s favorite part: where I threaten authors with their life in exchange for getting them to answer questions that are terribly difficult for them! I suppose it doesn’t make much sense to threaten you with zombies, even though I’ve got a horde waiting in the next room that just love author brains. It should be more poetic than that. Oh I know! Ladies and gentlemen, and Alana, please welcome our special guest, Kim Jong-un! Although he’s not yet in power in your book, he’s not thrilled with it (everyone’s a critique). And he’s not thrilled with you, since you’re a “corrupt, Christian, Western pig” (sorry about that). He wants to end your “miserable life,” but I won’t let him...unless you don’t answer my question. So. Your favorite book. What is it?

Alana will have read Les Mis the most;
Russell Crowe, meanwhile, while have
sabotaged the musical the most.
Alana: “Favorite” is quite a loaded word, but by the time I die, I’ll probably have read Les Mis more than any other novel.

Brad: Not as loaded as the gun that Jong-un is pointing at you right now! And your favorite author? (You might want to hurry. Someone [probably the zombies] gave him the impression that you called him Baby Kim. He hates that!)

Alana: That one’s easier for me, so you can tell Baby Kim to stand down. In the Christian fiction world, I really admire Randy Alcorn. As far as classics go, it’s gotta be Tolstoy.

Brad: Huh. You know, I read and really enjoyed Alcorn’s early novel Deadline, but felt like the follow-up, Dominion, wasn’t nearly as compelling. I don’t think I’ve read anything else of his. We’re about out of time for today, but I do have one final question. The Beloved Daughter is an award-winning novel, but you are an independent author. If our readers want to read your book (oh and they really should!) and love it, how can they best support you, and other indie authors?

Alana: For most indie authors, every single sale counts, but it’s sometimes hard for us to get noticed by readers. Recommending our books to your friends goes a long way. You might not think of it, but leaving reviews on places like Amazon and Goodreads is also really beneficial for us. The better reviews a book has, the more likely these platforms are to recommend it to other readers. These are all practical ways to show your support. I’ve also been extremely encouraged by receiving emails from readers. It can really
Let's not forget this either!
make my day!

It’s me. Brad. The interview’s over now. I think it’s pretty clear that I’m a big fan of this book. I also believe strongly in praying for and providing assistance for the persecuted church around the world whenever we can. I don’t think Alana would mind much if we leave off today with a link to the online gift catalog for Open Doors, one of the ministries that specializes in caring for the persecuted church (this is for their store in the United States, but they have websites for regions around the world). For $5, you can give a child a copy of the Bible in their language; $48 gets a church leader a month of Bible and leadership training; $172 can provide a full secret printing press, as well as help with paper and rent to covertly print Bibles around the world. So, yeah, there are a range of gifts for all sorts of budgets and I love going there to do some “shopping” for our brothers and sisters around the world. And if that doesn’t interest you? Read (or listen to) The Beloved Daughter and you just might change your mind.