Tuesday, April 25, 2017

April Update

Personally:

As you've likely gathered from the sporadic posts over the past few months, life's been a little crazy lately. Fortunately, it should be re-settling into a routine here soon. (Yay!) I have a real, adult job lined up and I'm ready to tackle the next part of life while also continuing to write. Thanks for your prayers over the past few weeks.

Writing: 

Ahem. I haven't written or edited anything since February, but that was just last week, right? No big deal.

Oops. It's almost May.

Obviously, that means I haven't been participating in Camp NaNo. However, once I regroup, I'll be tackling my re-edits of Crossroads and Crossfire. (Yes, I know I've been working on them forever. Yes, I'm trying to get them published eventually. Yes, I know I should work on some other project at some point so you don't have to put up with me moaning about editing on a regular basis).

The Blog:

The blog will likely be staying the same for the forseeable future, with the noted exception being the second blogiversary at the end of May!

Also, if you want to get out your binoculars and gaze at the distant horizon, there will be guest posting opportunities coming up in a few months for multiple weeks in a row. Use the contact form to tell me about your great idea(s)!

That's about it! There will be a Friday Fiction Fix this week, along with a (better) Tuesday post next week.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "The Emerald Enigma"

The Short:


The Emerald Enigma
Space Drifters #1

By: Paul Regnier

4/5 Stars

What: A crew of misfits strives to find the ultimate good-luck charm while not getting their brains blown out.

Recommended to those who like: Sci-fi, lightly Christian, humor

The Long:

I picked up this ebook on sale after having it on my to-read list for some time. When I cracked it open (can you crack open an ebook? Powered up the screen?), I couldn’t have even told you anything about it, other than that it was sci-fi something or other.

What followed turned out to be a pleasant, humorous sci-fi story with a quick pace. Captain Starcrost is a swashbuckling, underdog starship captain who quickly learns to regret his decision to wear pajama pants to the bridge. His first mate is a pacifistic, all-too logical Vythian named Blix, who offsets him quite nicely as they attempt to avoid the bounty placed on their heads. Add into the mix a moody computer and several other colorful characters and you end up with a fun, lighthearted read with a nice touch of Christianity thrown in—without being obnoxious. This is something easily recommendable to non-Christians, at least at this point in the series (based on the ending, the tone may change a bit in upcoming books).

I just can’t seem to get into humorous books as much as I can with movies, and I think that’s why I didn’t care for this book as much as some others I’ve read. If it had been on screen, I probably would’ve laughed my socks off. If you’ve watched/read several sci-fi books, you’ll likely also pick up on some hidden gems in the book.


The Bottom Line: A great, humorous sci-fi read suited for pretty much any reader.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Reality, Meet Fiction: Alphabets

The Star Wars Allphabet

Reality:


Those of us in the Western world, especially in the western hemisphere, find it easy to take for granted the fact that we (typically) use the Latin alphabet. The Oxford dictionary defines the alphabet as "a set of letters or symbols in a fixed order used to represent the basic set of speech sounds of a language..."

However, there are many other alphabets in the world, such as the Cyrillic (which Russian uses), Greek, or Arabic alphabets. Some don't include vowels, such as Hebrew and Arabic, in which case, they are referred to as "abjads".

Most alphabets we would think of are considered linear, meaning that they are designed to be written on paper. However, there are non-linear systems in existence, such as Braille.

Fiction: 


If your characters are literate, launch some confusion upon them by introducing some different alphabets. Have different writing systems used in different parts of the country, or have them travel to a foreign country where they can speak, but not write.

Consider the number of letters in an alphabet and how that might affect electronics and their practicality for your characters to use them. How has technology influenced the style of writing? Carved letters might tend to be blockier, while handwritten letters might be smoother in nature. Do the machines in your story that read writing need a certain type of script to be able to identify letters? How does the number of letters in your alphabet affect spelling, contractions, or signage for the story?

Really, the possibilities are endless. Enjoy thinking up some ways for writing and alphabets to play into your characters' lives!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday

There will be no post today in observance of Good Friday. I pray that you have a blessed and reflective weekend remembering Christ's death and celebrating His resurrection. We'll return to normal posting next week.

Source

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

More than Sans-Serif

This post was inspired partly by this article on Speculative Faith. 

Have you noticed something about church signs lately? Not the funny ones that have really corny jokes on them using the old-style slidey letters.

How about the new ones, that look more like this:



The signs are inevitably in sans-serif font and everything is either upper or lowercase. Likely, one of the words is bolded and the designer left out one or more spaces. 

Why the weird capitalization (or lack thereof)? And for crying out loud, why sans-serif fonts? 

Wait, wait, wait, you say. My church sign doesn't look like that. I help to pick out the corny joke every week. My church is named after a saint. My church doesn't have a sign. My church sign is in cursive, or a serif font, or actually follows grammar rules. 

Folks, I propose that we have a similar problem in Christian fiction. 

Have you ever noticed that most Christians in Christian fiction feel like the same characters? This is especially a problem in "contemporary" settings. The Christians probably come from a non-denominational church (or church of unnamed denomination). If there are multiple congregations mentioned, no one seems to act like they're different. They're willing to commune together, to pray together, to attend service together. 

"Grandma's" church, if mentioned, likely sings hymns on piano. Young or youth characters probably attend a church that has a praise band. It's unlikely you'll find a pipe organ or a church that forbids instrumentation. There's probably no liturgy or order of service followed.

The pastor is probably a kind young-to-middle-aged male. His wife is likely his adoring partner in ministry. 

If there's a youth pastor in the story, he's likely to be young. I'd be willing to bet that he has tattoos, or colored hair, or some other "shocking" item. 90% of the time, he tries to be cool, but fails. 

People who are unchurched just need some good apologetics thrown at them or else to have someone "relate to them"--unlike so-and-so at Grandma's church who wasn't understanding. 

Churchgoers are most interested in finding a church that relates to them or where they feel connected. They aren't concerned about theology or anything else. 

Sound familiar? It's almost like all our Christian characters and fictional churches are written in the same font. 

Why don't we go for some more variety in our Christian characters? After all, I sing with an orchestra and a pipe organ following a liturgical pattern at my church. We have two pastors, both older gentlemen. One's wife is rather sassy and quite forward with her opinions. One serves a dual role as the youth pastor and doesn't have anything crazy going on. I can't imagine either of them wearing skinny jeans. During service, they wear their clerical collars and robes. Outside that, they typically wear dress slacks and button-down shirts. On retreat, I might see them wearing jeans and t-shirts, and it's odd to see them out of clerical attire. Neither tries to be very cool. They're just genuinely nice people. Have you read about a church like that in a book lately? And it's not even that different from the "typical" church you read about.

There's such variety in our faith; why don't we explore it more?

I've attended churches where they don't sing with instruments, because they think it detracts from the focus of worship. I've visited others where dance is encouraged. Some services include almost everyone raising their hands, while other congregations I've visited are quite stoic. Some congregations I've visited have prohibitions on clergy marrying while others promote a family life for their pastors. A church my friend attended for a while insisted on worshiping on Saturdays rather than Sundays.  

Christianity has quite a bit of variety in it--and the above is just a sampling of style, not theology. Some congregations prohibit communing with others who don't have the same confession; others won't even pray with others outside their congregation. Some groups baptize infants while others will only baptize adults. We won't get into the theology behind those distinctions, but consider the variety we have in real life compared to our fictional stories. 

Don't be afraid to vary your Christian characters in your stories. You don't have to prove them right or wrong. But if you're thinking about how to make your story more life-like, you should include some differences of opinion that really affect how your characters worship, interact, and live their lives. 

And by all means, please don't make the church sign in calibri font. Liven things up a bit.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "Fire Prophet"

Although this is the second book in a series, it could be easily picked up without reading book 1, Spirit Fighter. As always, I've tried to keep my review spoiler-free. 

The Short:

Fire Prophet
Son of Angels, Book 2

By: Jerel Law

4/5 Stars

What: The children of the Nephilim are under attack—and it’s time they learn to defend themselves.

Recommended to those who like: Spiritual warfare, middle grade, Christian

The Long:

For starters, let me offer the disclaimer that I am not this book’s intended target audience. Even though I read middle grade books quite frequently, I still have an adult’s perspective on things (unless we’re talking about puns, in which case all bets are off).

Jonah and his siblings are under attack, along with the rest of the quarterlings—children with special abilities who are one-quarter angel. To learn to defend themselves and their families, they’ll have to train diligently and overcome their differences.

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed the first book in the series. I can’t tell you exactly why that is, but I think it had a lot to do with the fact that the children’s objectives in this book were less clear. I normally like stories where the heroes are training and learning to work together, but this book didn’t do a whole lot for me.

It also felt like the author was trying a little too hard to tie circumstances with Bible stories. There were at least three instances where the circumstances in the book paralleled Bible stories without really needing to. The circumstances were then pointed out rather blatantly. However, it’s a middle grade book, and, like I said, I’m not exactly the intended audience. And most people wouldn’t recognize the story of Jael and Sisera, so I probably shouldn’t complain about that reference.

Overall, the book is a good read for middle-grade readers. In my opinion, it can be a little heavy-handed on the Christian message, but it’s not overly unreasonable for the age group. I’m hopeful that the series will pick back up a bit and continue to improve. It’s a really good premise for a series.

Readers could likely pick up the series starting with this book without a problem. As with many books geared for younger readers, there are frequent reviews of what has happened previously.


The Bottom Line: Although a little heavy on the Christian message at times, this book would still be a good choice for fans of spiritual warfare and middle-grade novels.                                                                   

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Salute to Non-English Majors

It still amazes me that I'll be graduating college (university to my non-US folks out there) in less than a month. I'll now have a slew of letters behind my name that mean I spent a lot of money, effort, and time learning something.

That "something" wasn't English. Or literature. Or the social sciences. Or pretty much any other area of study that would have involved reading fiction or writing mounds of papers.

In fact, I didn't even take an English class in college. All the papers I wrote were for classes outside of my program or to fulfill Honor's requirements.

I spent my time learning how to place IV catheters, wrapping my head around how electrical conduction differs in the canine and equine heart, memorizing methods of action for various drugs, and trying to understand how to comfort someone who has lost their pet to disease.

I'm almost a licensed veterinary technician, if you're wondering.

Getting here didn't involve writing papers. It didn't involve studying literature or story structure or marketing.

But I think it made me a better writer.

When I was getting ready to graduate high school, I told a friend about my plans. He had read several of my WIP's and knew that I rarely went anywhere without a book. He was shocked that I wasn't doing something writing related--not even minoring in it. He asked me if I planned to continue writing and how I was going to improve if I didn't take classes in writing.

The answer? I carry my daily experiences with me. They shape my writing, how I look at life. Now that I'm in the hands-on portion of my learning, I deal with distraught people on a nearly daily basis. I see how people react to stress, how they react to death, how they react to not being able to save someone they desperately wanted to save. I know what it feels like to have someone depend on you, to blame you for something that's not your fault, and to feel in way over your head. I've seen the look of despair on surgeon's face who has been on duty all night and is now being asked to scrub back in one more time. I've experienced the panic of watching a patient slip away and trying to find something to bring them out of the downward spiral.

 These are not so very different than the things we write about in fiction.

Am I saying that every writer should become a veterinary technician? Certainly not. What I am saying is to find a career you enjoy, even if it's not full-time writing. Let that shape your understanding of people and characters. Live life to the fullest and let your writing flow out of that.

Working part time at an espresso bar? Take advantage of being able to people-watch.

Majoring in engineering? Understand what goes into the science behind everything we see, build, and use.

Working with a roofing crew over the summer? You'll know first-hand what it means to work hard all day.

Whatever you do, you can shape it toward your writing. There are craft books to help you learn some of the finer points of writing and to develop your skills. For me, not writing for classes helped me to enjoy writing as a reprieve from my daily routine. (That's changed a bit this year, as I've had to write reflections on my experiences in the clinic; I've noticed that my urge to write has dwindled a bit during this time.)

The bottom line? Don't feel like you have to be a writing major to be a writer. You can still write, even if you spend all day painting, or using a staple gun to nail down shingles, or looking at chemical structures. Take what life has taught you and run with it. Learn from it. And write about it.

Did you study literature or English? How has your major or day job shaped your writing?