Friday, December 30, 2011

Why Are Men to Lead?

Why did God choose men to lead? Actually, that is probably the wrong question. As I’m sure you will recall, Paul’s basis for saying that men are the head of the family is based on the fact that God created Adam first and then Eve. Though some people may see that as rather arbitrary because it seems like the luck of the draw whether a person will be either male or female, consider that what God did is not unlike what you would do if you were picking a team of workers. The first person you would pick would the team leader. You would decide what you need in a leader, look for a person who meets those qualifications, and once you found that person, you would pick a team who complimented that person’s style of leadership. God had an advantage over us. He was able to decide what he wanted in a leader and then build the guy to exacting standards. In choosing a helper, he looked first at the creatures that were already there, but when Adam didn’t find anything he liked, God made a helper who complimented Adam perfectly.

When we look at it that way, there is no room for debate over whether men should be the head of the family or not. The leaders of the family are men, by definition. The question that we might be asking is why God gave leaders the characteristics that he did. Some are obvious. If you were trying to make a leader, wouldn’t you want it to be taller and stronger than the rest of the group? And you wouldn’t want a leader who is prone to emotional outbursts. Others aren’t as obvious. Men talk less than women. Men are less nurturing. Men approach problems as an issue to conquer, while women see problems as an opportunity to deepen relationships through discussion. Men approach problems one at a time while women tend consider all at once, but that also leads to women being prone to becoming overwhelmed.

In looking for differences between men and women, I found one particular difference very interesting. In studies done in which groups of boys and groups of girls were tasked with finding their way out of a maze, the boys tended to form a hierarchical structure with a leader and scouts. Girls, on the other hand, tended to remain together, discussed the problem, and employed a “collective intelligence.” Part of why I find this interesting is because not only do boys naturally see the need for a leader, but they naturally look for ways to delegate.

The thing that makes this unpopular is that people have the idea that it is better to lead than it is to follow. So when we start talking about God making men the leaders, people think we’re saying that men are better than women. I don’t think God intended it to be that way. He made men and women to be a matched pair. They are equals, but different. Yes, the man is the head of the family, but he is not free to do whatever he wants. He has the responsibility lead the family where it should be going. Yes, the woman is to follow, but that doesn’t mean she will end up going where she doesn’t want to go because the family is going where we would hope she also would have chosen if it had been her decision. But it frees her to think more about the here and now, which is what women prefer to think about, knowing that the man is planning for the future.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Another Look at Love

A recent discussion of Romance novels caused me to reexamine the Greek love words. These are storge, phileo, eros, and agape. There’s little question what some of these mean. storge appears to be a fondness for the people we know. You might have this for your co-workers. phileo goes farther than that. It is more like the love that David and Jonathan had for each other and apparently, it is the love Peter had for Jesus. It reminds me of old family friends that you may not see for months, but when you get together it is like you’ve never been apart. Then there is eros which is that natural sexual desire that we all have. It is good when a man has it for his wife, but he could also have it for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. We don’t have much control over it, but we do have the choice not to act on it. Lastly, there is agape, which I suspect is misunderstood by many people.

The reason I think this word is misunderstood is because people have equated agape with the unconditional love of God. We humans are not able to love like God loves, so people assume that we can never reach the level of agape love. Sounds good. The problem is that God command husbands to agapeo their wives.

Rather than looking at agape as unconditional love, as C. S. Lewis did, it seems like a better understanding is that agape is the intentional love. The other loves are built on hormones, chemistry, and chauvinism. But agape is a choice. You don’t have to like someone, or be sexual attracted to someone to be able to love someone with agape love. They may be mean and smell bad, but you can choose to love them anyway. By its nature, it is typically unconditional because a person has chosen to love someone for their own reason, rather than because of how the person looks or treats them.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Praise God, I'm Free at Last!

I paid off my mortgage the other day. I’ve got to admit that it made me a little nervous. I’d been saving up the money for some time and it made me nervous because my bank account suddenly dropped by a significant amount. But I talked myself into hitting the button. The mortgage is gone. I am officially debt free!

It will take me a while to build up my savings to what it was before, but it is very freeing to know that there isn’t a bank out there who has a right to foreclose on my house or to repossess my car. And though life always has expenses, it is nice to know that if I were to suddenly lose my job that I would have a roof over my head for as long as it took to find a new one.

Ultimately, it is God who provides and in this case, I believe it is he who has given me the ability to pay off my house. He has blessed me well, though I frequently wonder why. I certainly don’t deserve all he has given me.

As I think about this, I can only say that the wealthiest people in the world are those who know how to live within their means. I work with people who make more money than me, but to hear some of them talk, they make hardly anything. I once watched a documentary on the wealthy and one person made the comment that he just didn’t see how someone could live on $6 million a year. And yet, I’ve seen people who made low five figure salaries who never lacked for anything. It doesn’t matter how much money a person makes as much as it matters what they do with it.

I’m at that point where I will have to give thought to what I’m going to do with that money that will no longer be going toward principle and interest. Much of it will go into savings, because there will be other major expenses in my lifetime, and I would rather not go into debt again. But where and how much? I must give that some thought, but I’m glad to be free.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Humbled by Winning

A company I own stock in sent out an announcement about a new contract they had been awarded. In their statement they said, “we are humbled by this selection.” Suspect that companies say that as a way of recognizing the efforts of those who put effort into making the decision and it sounds better than singing We Are the Champions, no matter how much you might want to do that. One also doesn’t want to offend the selection committee while the paperwork is still being signed.

But it made me wonder. Is the statement correct? “We are humbled by this selection.” Is anyone ever humbled by winning? I suspect not. We can be humble when we win, but it is not winning that humbles us. Losses can humble us. If we’re expecting to win, but if someone we didn’t expect to win beats us, it will humble us. But what can humble us when we win?

To be humbled when we win requires that we look at the competition and see what they are capable of. We’re glad when we win that we came out on top, but the humble person knows that the competition put up a good fight. While we may have had the edge, we cannot afford to become complacent because the competition is worthy.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Story for We

People say that a writer should imagine he is writing to one person, much like he would if he were writing a letter. The idea is that by doing so he will avoid the problems caused by trying to say too many things to too many people. But I see something wrong with this idea. Imagine, if you will, that you have a mother-in-law that you can’t stand and you have chosen to write to her. So, in your story you begin to point out what is wrong with everything she does. When she reads the story, if the theme is obvious, she will take offense. That is probably why some people have the idea that we shouldn’t have an obvious theme.

Sometimes, we intend for people to be offended, and that’s okay, but just because we don’t want people offended doesn’t mean we must not have an obvious theme. Instead of writing your story to her, write it to we. Find a way to include yourself in your audience. Instead of venturing into areas you know nothing about, look for common ground. Don’t tell your mother-in-law what she should be doing, but find things both of you should be doing and write about those. People are much better about taking advice when they know you are talking about yourself too.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

It's Christmas, of course you should go to church today.

Merry Christmas. I hope you are attending church somewhere this Christmas, whether with your home church or at a church where you are vacationing. If you live in Fort Worth and are looking for a church with its doors open today, South Park Baptist Church will have preaching at ten o’clock this morning.

Now, on to other things. I thought the video below very fitting for a Christmas post:

Flash mobs like this interest me because they take art to the world. People who might not visit a concert hall, a church, or even the center court of a mall while a choir is singing, will stop and listen. Still more will pass these videos around on the Internet. In spite of what some church music directors believe, people still like choirs. So why aren’t people flocking to churches with talented choirs? Largely, I think it has to do with keeping up appearances or event the fear of death. Some people are afraid to say that they like choir music because they think their friends will think they are strange. Some people may see attending choir performances as something “old people” do, so they’re afraid that if they start going they are that much closer to dying.

Anyway flash mobs seem to get around that problem, for now. So have a Merry Christmas and I hope you prove wrong all the preachers who are saying people won’t go to church today.

Friday, December 23, 2011

On Marketing Books

The saying is that you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. To me, it seems like marketing is like bringing horses to water. The more horses you bring, the more horses will drink, but not all will. If you are trying to sell a book, your job isn’t to make people buy the book. Your readers will decide whether they want to buy the book or not. What you are trying to do is to put the book in front of as many people as possible. The more people who know about the book, the more that will buy the book. You need not be concerned with those people who don’t buy the book. They weren’t thirsty enough to drink. And who knows, maybe they’ll be thirsty sometime later. So you just keep putting it out there.

Some time ago, I heard that on average, a person has to see a book seven times before he makes a decision. That implies that we should look for ways to put it in front of the same people seven times. The problem with that is that we may spend a lot of time putting it out there and no one is interested. On the other hand, there are some people who will see a book one time and make a purchase. A better approach is probably that we put the book in front of the people who are most likely to want or need the book. We don’t try putting it in front of them multiple times, but the people who are the most likely to buy the book will likely see it frequently anyway, because they will be looking in many of the places where we are mentioning the book.

What this means is that we keep looking for places to mention our book. That may be through paid advertising. That may be on a radio show. That may be on the Internet. We don’t have to spend a lot of time talking about it, but we do want to put it in front of as many of the right people as we can. Those who want it will gladly buy it. Those who don’t may think we’re pushing it too hard. That just means they aren’t thirsty yet.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Helping Those Who Sin

People don’t care if someone is good or not, as long as they are nice. That is part of the reason why people change their attitude about sin, like adultery or homosexuality, when it involves a person who is part of the family. When we think of an adulterer as a bad person, it is easy to see it as wrong, but when someone we know and like is involved in adultery, we want to dismiss it rather than think of them as bad people. The same is true of homosexuality. As long as it only involves people who hang out at gay bars, or Catholic priests who are a little too familiar with the boys, it is easy to think of homosexuality as bad, but when it involves a family member or a friend, it looks very different.
The real problem is that we have the wrong idea about sin. Think of Jesus and the woman at the well. She was an outcast because of her sin. She had had many men and she had likely taken some of those away from their wives. She wasn’t a good person. I don’t know if she was a nice person or not, but Jesus didn’t treat her differently because of what she did or how she acted. Rather, he treated her like a person who needed help. Sure, she had caused her own problem, but she still needed help.
Sin is a bad thing, no matter who is involved or how nice a person happens to be. Our desire to help someone should not be influenced by whether we think they deserve it or not. Sure, we naturally want to help a child whose father drinks too much, but what about the father? He is as much a victim of his choices as the child is.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Marriage May Be Weak, But Not Forever

Marriage is on the decline. People who do get married are getting married later in life. And many couples forego the legal ceremony and simply live together. Of course, once people start living together, they don’t really see the need for a ceremony because they are “essentially married.” It sounds bleak, and indeed it is, but I don’t think it will always be this way.

Life goes in cycles. Part of the reason why people don’t see a reason to get married these days is because they see marriage as something of a religious nature. It is religious people who see a problem with adultery, so when people reject God they also reject marriage. But in time, people will begin to see that marriage isn’t a matter of religion, but God instituted it for a reason. Let me give you a real life example, I’ll change the names to protect the guilty.

Jason and Rachel were high school sweethearts. They were so in love. One night, maybe even many nights, things got out of hand and they found themselves in bed together. That was okay, they thought. No one would find out and if they did, who cares? But then Rachel missed a period. A baby was on the way. She told Jason and though he was sorry he’d gotten her pregnant, he wasn’t ready to be a father and they broke up. The baby came and for several months it was just Rachel and her parents taking care of the baby. But then Jason decided that he wanted to be a part of his son’s life. So they worked out a deal where Rachel would keep the baby for a while and then Jason would keep the baby for a while.

All went well, until one day, Rachel and her parents went to pick up the baby and Jason wouldn’t open the door. “He’s sleeping.” He said, and wouldn’t let her take the baby. Then the calls began. Jason would call Rachel and tell her what a bad mother she was for not taking care of the baby, but when she would go to get the baby, he wouldn’t let her see him. One day, Rachel’s mother called Jason’s mother and asked, “Why won’t you let us see the baby?” Then came the reply, “We’re afraid you’ll take him and not bring him back.”

Though we might think Jason a bad person, Rachel didn’t think so when they were together. So what I think people will begin to see is that the commitment of marriage prevents nice people from turning into monsters. People can be driving to do almost anything when they fear their children will be taken away from them. Forget the religious side of it, marriage is an agreement between two people that they are going to stay together. People will begin to see that the people who have made that commitment and work to keep it are much better off than those who have not. When that happens, people will return to the desire for marriage.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Simple or Complex?

I listened to the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts the other day. It is a beautiful hymn, but I really hadn’t paid attention to the words before. As I listened to the very talented singer singing those words, it struck me how much it worships simplicity. People worship so many things, but it is God that we ought to worship. People work at so many religious things. For the Shakers that thing appears to be simplicity. The claim of the hymn seems to be that if we can achieve simplicity then everything else will fall into place. But that isn’t what the Bible says. The Bible says that we are to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to us. As far as I know, God has never required anyone to be simple before they can approach him.

What God does require is that we be righteous, but it isn’t righteousness that we can work at and gain. It is okay to be complicated instead of simple. It is okay to have stuff as long as we don’t worship the stuff rather than the person who created the stuff. Likewise, if you really want to simplify your life and get rid of your stuff, that is okay too, as long as you are not doing that so you don’t have to rely on God to provide.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Time Is Really Here

It’s the week before Christmas. If you have a job that, that probably means you are extra busy at work. Perhaps you have taken the week off or you are planning on taking time off next week. If you have kids, they will be home from school and you’ll be anxious for them to go back. There are parties to plan and presents to wrap. Think of all the kids who are anxious for Christmas to come. They have no idea just how busy Christmas is. I’m just glad it only comes once a year.

Of course, we’re all supposed to remember the reason for the season. I don’t think many of us forget. It is all the rest of it that is stressful. But trust me, it won’t be long and it will be over. In a couple of weeks, everything will be back to normal and our biggest concern will be whether the weather is going to shut the schools down or not.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Book for Art of Illusion



Today, I am pleased to announce that my latest book is available to purchase. Extending Art of Illusion is a book for people who would like to make the most of the open source tool Art of Illusion by writing their own plugins and scripts. Art of Illusion is a user-friendly 3D modeling tool developed by Peter Eastman.

I believe Extending Art of Illusion is needed because the current documentation on plugin development for Art of Illusion is inadequate. As far as I know, this book is the only book that is currently available for Art of Illusion. There is much information available online about Art of Illusion, but most of that is on how to use Art of Illusion as is. The person who would like to automate some of their frequent tasks in Art of Illusion may have difficulty finding the information they need to accomplish their goal. When I began writing plugins, most of the guidance I found online was so out of date that it would not work with the latest version of Art of Illusion. I spend hours trying to figure out why it wasn’t working, then even more time figuring out what I really needed from an example that did. My hope is that Extending Art of Illusion will help readers get past that problem without the same difficulties.

Extending Art of Illusion is broken up into two major sections. The first section provides guidance on how to start writing plugins and scripts for Art of Illusion. It begins with a simple “Hello World” plugin that demonstrates how to set up the work environment to develop plugins. The other examples build on that concept. The example plugins in Extending Art of Illusion include a plugin that will drop the selected object to the “floor” of the scene at the press of a keystroke, a plugin that will point one object (such as a camera) at another, a plugin that will place one object on top of another, and a plugin for creating a procedural texture. There is also a script for creating a walled room and a scripted object that draws axes in the scene. My desire in creating these examples was that, even if readers don’t spend a lot of time developing their own plugins, they will find the plugins in Extending Art of Illusion add value to Art of Illusion.

The second section of the book is a quick reference. It includes the “header file” information for both Art of Illusion and Buoy. This quick reference is to provide an overview of the classes and methods available to people who are writing Art of Illusion plugins or scripts. People who already know how to write code for Art of Illusion will likely find this section to the be the most useful section of the Extending Art of Illusion.

Extending Art of Illusion is currently available at Amazon.com for $44.95. It will be available from other booksellers soon. Extending Art of Illusion is 540 pages long. I hope that anyone who wants to develop their own plugins and scripts for Art of Illusion will find this book useful.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's Not Just What You Say

A frustrated author stated the other day that it isn’t about what you write but who you know. This particular author was frustrated about someone who had gotten a book deal because he knew someone in the publishing industry, while the author was still trying to find someone to publish his book. That got me thinking. Where is it written that it should be about what we write rather than who we know?

We want quality books, but consider the situation in which a publisher has a friend who has written a book. What makes us think that he should publish the book of a stranger instead of publishing the book of his friend? Maybe it is true that the stranger has written a better book than his friend, but that’s not the point. What kind of friends would we be if we weren’t willing to give our friends special consideration?

Also, consider that the importance of what a person says may be dependent on who that person is. When the President speaks, whether we see him as highly intelligent of the butt of jokes, people listen to what he has to say. What people say is important, but who they are is also important.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Using Kindle Prices as a Measure of Quality

I’ve created a personal rule of thumb for when I buy books. If the Kindle version is priced at $2.99 or lower, I don’t buy it. I realize that is the opposite of the attitude that many Kindle owners have, since many of them bought Kindles hoping to get cheap books, but I have my reasons. If I want to keep the book, I’ll probably buy the paper version. But if the book is one that is normally printed on cheap newsprint paper anyway, I’ll purchase the Kindle version, even though it will cost me $8.

My thinking is that the people who are pricing their books at $2.99 and below are self-published authors who have the idea that lower prices will generate more sales. I’ve got nothing against self-published authors. In fact, I have several books in my library that I purchased for about $20 because that is what the subsidy press was charging for them. But here’s the thing, people who are willing to sell their work at very low prices don’t see their work as valuable. They price their work that low because they don’t think people are willing to pay more than that. That is quite possibly true, in which case, it isn’t of high enough quality for it to be worth my time.

I’m sure there are exceptions, but when you’re looking for a needle in a haystack, you have to have some way to eliminate the least likely places you’ll find a needle. You start by finding the genre you like. If you don’t typically like romances, you don’t go looking there. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some romances you would enjoy, but you’re more likely to find a book you like somewhere else. Since the traditional publishers generally charge more than $2.99, and the highest percentage of poorly written books is among the self-published stuff, if we eliminate anything under that then we’ve eliminated the bulk of the poorly written books.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why It's Okay to Say Happy Holidays or Send an X-mas Card

Why do we get upset about these things? The other day, I walked into church and someone had set out a bunch of buttons that said, “It’s okay to say Merry Christmas.” I suppose you’re suppose to wear them to the store and the clerk will know that you won’t be offended by the use of the word Christmas. For the past few years, people have been upset over the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays.” Before that, people were upset about the word, “X-mas.” The belief is that people are trying to take Christ out of Christmas. But I found the irony interesting when I watched a video on Merriam-Webster’s website. One of their editors was talking about where the word “X-mas” came from. It turns out that it is a printer’s abbreviation from back when every letter took a lot of time to produce. The X, in this case, is actually the first letter of a word that we would translate as Christ. Today, we might have written it as C-mas instead. So, people aren’t taking Christ out of Christmas, they’re just abbreviating it.

And what of “Happy Holidays”? Here too, people generally mean Christmas when they use it, but the phrase itself comes from “Happy Holy Days.” That has meaning if you see Christmas as a holy day. I’m Baptist and we don’t really have true Holy days. We also don’t observe mass. So why get upset about all of this? Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Merry X-mas are all saying the same thing, so that shouldn’t be reason enough to be upset. I almost want a button that says, “It’s okay to say ‘Happy X-mas’” just because I know it will upset a few people, but think about it. None of these terms are accurate. It isn’t a Holy day and it isn’t a mass. We might call it Christ’s Birthday, but we know it comes at the wrong time of year for that. It certainly isn’t worth fighting over.

So here’s what I propose. Instead of worrying about people taking Christ out of Christmas or making sure people say Merry Christmas, let’s just enjoy the season. Let’s go about our business, buying gifts for our family and friends, eating too much, and watching kids play sheep in the Christmas play. Let’s remember that there was a day about 2,000 years ago when a baby was born to a virgin and shepherds saw angels. Let’s remember that wise men traveled from the east to see him. And most importantly, let’s remember that he came to be the final sacrifice for our sins. Isn’t that much better than worrying about what to call the day?

Monday, December 12, 2011

How Much Should a Kindle Book Cost

How much should a Kindle book cost? Some people have gotten the idea that Kindle books should cost less than print books because the publisher has lower costs. Personally, I think that books should be priced to match demand. This is because publishers work on an 80/20 rule in which 80% of the money comes from 20% of the books. It may even be a 90/10 in which 90% of the money comes from 10% of the books. The 10% are actually making up for losses in the 90%. But one person recently indicated that she didn’t like paying “high” prices for Kindle books because she thought the publishers were charging far above their expenses. She indicated she might be swayed by hard numbers. Publishers don’t reveal much, but I’ve put together as close to what she wanted as I could.
Here are the publishing prices Rachelle Gardner listed some time ago for a Trade Paperback:
Editorial: $5,000
Packaging (cover design & production): $3,500
Typeset & Interior layouts: $500
Printing & binding: $12,000
Marketing: $6,000
Warehousing: $3,000
Sales: $5,000
Total: $40,000 not including the advance

Assuming the publisher puts the same level of effort into an eBook, we can make the claim that the prices for a Kindle book are the same, with the exception that the publisher isn’t paying for Printing & binding or for Warehousing. To simplify the math, let’s assume that the publisher will either print the book or will make it available for Kindle, but not both. In many cases, the publisher will make both available, but the publisher must be concerned with the overall profitability of the book, not with which customer is paying for each of the listed items.

Total for Kindle book: $25,000

If the cover price is $13.99, the publisher receives approximately $6.30 for each trade paperback sold. To break even, the publisher must sell 6,349 books to break even. Some books sell more than this and some sell less, but on average, a successful publisher will sell more than this for the books in his catalogue.

Now, consider the Kindle book which is also set at a price of $13.99. For illustrative purposes, let’s say the author is receiving 8% of that price. So, after the royalties are paid, the publisher will get about $3.78. To break even, the publisher must sell 6,614 copies of the Kindle book, which you will notice is 265 more than what they needed to sell of the trade paperback.

Okay, so if we assume that the same number of customers will buy the Kindle book as would have bought the paperback, no matter what price we set, the breakeven point is 4% higher, so we need the price to be 4% higher. For the publisher to make the same amount of money, the Kindle book should be priced at $14.57. Sadly, very few Kindle owners want to see that.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Is Beauty and the Beast in the Bible?

Is the story of Beauty and the Beast in the Bible? It has been said that every story that has ever been told is in the Bible. At a very high level, that may be true, but what about a lower level? In trying to find Beauty and the Beast in the Bible, I came across a website that made the claim that the story or Jephthah’s daughter is the story from which Beauty and the Beast came. I can see that in the parallel between Jephthah returning home after making a promise to sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house and his daughter coming out first, and the old man returning home after promising to give the beast the first thing that came out of his house.

But Beauty and the Beast is a very different story, other than how the girl was chosen. When one reads Beauty and the Beast, the thing that stands out is that this is a story about two very different people learning to love each other. It is a classic Buddy Love story and the story of Jephthah’s daughter is not. If anything, the story of Jephthah’s daughter shows us how messed up Israel was back in the time of the Judges.

Beauty and the Beast is also what we might call a Premature Marriage story. While Beauty hasn’t actually married the Beast, they are staying in the same house and she has made a commitment to stay, which is essentially what marriage is anyway. The question is, do we find a story in the Bible about two characters who are forced together in some way, even though they don’t want to be together, but they learn to like each other? We can look at it from a higher level, so it doesn’t have to be a man and a woman on their way to marriage.

The Bible has several arranged marriages, so that could be why there doesn’t seem to be a strong connection. People were used to the idea that a man and woman would get married before they knew each other very well. For us, it seems very strange. I suppose we might consider the story of Naaman, the Leper. The servant girl was not there by her choice, but she was had learned to appreciate Naaman enough that she wanted him to go see the prophet. Still, it is a very weak link.

A stronger link might actually be the story of Daniel and his friends. They were carried off to live in a foreign land, much like Beauty goes to the Beast’s castle. They do not want to be there, but they don’t offer strong resistance. They pick their fights and face difficulty, but eventually become trusted advisers to the king.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hard Stuff

One of the hardest things for a novelist is to put characters into a situation they can’t escape from. Think of all of the romance novels in which a woman marries a man because he needs someone to take care of his kids after he is widowed, but he we find out that he didn’t really love his first wife. I was reading one of the reviews of one of Colleen Coble’s books and the reviewer commented on how the character was about to become engaged, but her husband showed up, only it wasn’t a problem because the man she was to be engaged to was “just a friend.” Now, compare that to Cast Away. A man is stuck on an island for a long time. His wife moves on and marries another guy, so when he gets off the island, the love of his life is no longer available. We hate doing that to our characters, but it makes it so much more powerful. But much like in a romance novel, the writers of Cast Away made it okay by having the Tom Hanks character deliver a package to an attractive woman, implying that he’ll be alright anyway.

Personally, I hate situations like that. Here a man has remained faithful for all this time, but his wife didn’t. She thought he was dead, so you can’t really blame her and it isn’t the fault of the second guy either. You don’t want her to divorce him to go back to the first guy, but you want the first guy to have the love of his life. It is so tempting to make it okay by making someone evil or killing someone off. But I think we’re selling ourselves short when we do that. It is how a character handles the really hard stuff that let’s us see who he really is.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wimps

Several weeks ago, I was watching some of the episodes of the Dick Van Dyke Show on Netflix. In one particular episode, the theme was the decline of the American male. The discussion at work has to do with all of the examples of how the American male is declining, such as doing the dishes and helping with the kids’ bath, etc. Rob makes the claim that no that isn’t the case, but when he goes home, what does he do but do the dishes and help his son get ready for bed. Of course, that show was filmed in the 60’s. Now, some fifty years later, I look at where the American male stands and the things they indicated were signs of the decline back then look chauvinistic today. Back then, there was no question that Rob Petrie was the head of his home. Oh sure, there were gags where Laura appeared to have the say, but they were clearly meant to be gags. Today, the idea of a man being the head of his home is frowned upon, and yet there are still people out there pushing the idea that girls can do the same jobs as men.

To tell you the truth, I’m confused. Don’t get me wrong, if a girl wants to become an astronaut or a truck driver, that’s fine with me, but it seems like everywhere you look there is a big push for girls to take on jobs that have traditionally been considered men’s work. It is so much so that it seems like the writers of television shows want to discourage girls from taking on traditional female roles. And I don’t know what they want boys to do, but they clearly aren’t promoting the idea that boys should become leaders in their homes and communities. For the men on television shows see a woman as one of two types. Either she is someone who wants to do a man’s job or she is a trophy he wants in his bed. The women on these shows are no better. They either want to do a man’s job, or they want to be in the man’s bed. You don’t often see shows in which the male characters respect a woman for being a woman and female characters who have enough self-respect to slap the man when he encourages her to go to bed with him.

I realize it isn’t quite as bad in the real world. Yeah, there are people who can’t keep their pants on, but I also see homes in which men are men and women are women. I see homes where men love their wives and women respect their husbands. I see homes where the man is clearly the natural leader, even when his wife as a bossy spirit. But I worry about what young men are being taught these days. So many don’t know how men ought to act because they have no men in their lives. The only role models they have are the wimps on television. And yes, I do mean wimps because putting a character in a uniform doesn’t magically make him a man of courage. We see real strength in how a character handles his family. If what young men are learning is what they see on television, things will be bad for some time to come.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Churchy Rules

Let’s talk about church etiquette. Growing up, there were certain rules that you were expected to follow when you were in the church building. Some of those rules seem to have changed since then and I’ve picked up a few more that I wasn’t taught, but let’s look at a few.

Don’t Run in the Church Building
This was a big one. I’m pretty sure it had something to do with the risk of mowing some old person down. I don’t see quite as many people yelling this one down the halls these days, but it is still a good one to follow.
Don’t Chew Gum
This one probably got started after someone reached down and got her hand stuck gum. I just remember that Mom had trouble teaching us this one because the woman who sat behind us in church was usually chewing gum.
Don’t Crawl Under the Pews
I can understand it when the church service is going on, but my mother wouldn’t let me crawl under the pews even when we were the only people in the building.
Sit Still
The idea is that you’re supposes to listen to the sermon. At the very least, you shouldn’t disturb others.
Don’t Walk Around During Prayer
Unless you are preparing for a performance that begins right after the prayer, you have no reason to be moving around while prayer is going on. If you were on stage, you can leave the stage if you’re quiet about it, but don’t go very far while prayer is going on. This is to show respect to God.
Don’t Walk Around During a Special
It’s okay during the offertory, that’s part of the reason it exists. Especially when we’re talking about other musicians, it is a show of respect for the performer to wait until after they finish before moving around the building. If you are outside of the sanctuary, stay out until it is over. If you need to use the restroom, hold it.
Men, Stand Up When You Shake Hands
This is one I never learned as well as I should have, but it is a good rule, all the same. Women can remain seated, especially but men should show respect by standing up when they shake hands with someone.
Turn off Your Cell Phone
This one’s new from when I was a kid. Cell phones have a way of disrupting the services. You can go without a phone call or playing games for a while, so turn it off.
I’m sure there are probably more than that, but those are the ones I can think of right now.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Why People Don't Do It Theirself

Why would anyone want to pay hundreds of dollars for someone to publish their book? (One vanity press has said that the average their customers pay is $1250.) For that matter, why would someone choose traditional publishing over self-publishing, when they get higher royalties from self-publishing and traditional publishers don’t do much to market a book anyway. Let me tell you what happened to me recently and see if you can’t answer that question.

I was nearly finished with typesetting the book when I decided that I wanted tabs on the edge so the reader could find key sections more easily. That requires the book be set up with bleed. So the ink goes to the edge of the page, the book has to be set up with the tabs extending past the trim line. When they trim the book, the knife will cut through the printed area, but since I’d set up the book without that, I had to resize the pages. The books contains both textboxes and images, so I had to go through the book page by page, repositioning the elements. The book is 540 pages long.

After getting it all set up, I sent it off to the printer, along with the cover art. The cover artwork requires two hours to render in Art of Illusion because it is so large. But then the printer kicked back the interior file. Somehow, I managed to set up the margins wrong. I won’t try to guess why; mistakes happen. In any case, I had to change the position of every element in the file again. This time, it wasn’t as simple as moving the elements to the right or left and adding a tab. This time, the text box got smaller, so not only did I have to move it, I had to resize it and then reposition the images to the right place with the text. The text was already small enough, but I was able to change the amount of indent. The other option would’ve been to add pages to the book, but with a two hour render time, I did not want to change the cover. I was able to keep most things in about the same location, but the reduced width made the lines in the examples shorter and I had to reformat them.

For the most part, it was tedious work. It was work that I would’ve been happy to let someone else do. While a novel doesn’t require the same level of effort, it does require work to setup any book. There are plenty of people who would rather just submit a manuscript and let someone else handle the details.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Interview With Amber

Editor’s Note:It’s been a couple of years since I last did this, but Michael Hyatt recently posted about some of the things novelists can blog about and it rekindled my desire to interview a character from one of my books. I decided to sit down with Amber from Mother Not Wanted

Timothy Fish:
Amber, some of my readers may not have read your story. What would you tell someone who may be trying to decide whether to buy the book or not. What is it about your story that you think makes it special?
Amber:
You really know how to make a girl nervous, don’t you?
Timothy Fish:
I wasn’t trying to. Just tell us how it all started. The novel starts with you an Lizi on the train from St. Louis. Maybe you can tell us what was going on before that. What was it that convinced you to get on that train?
Amber:
I had to do something. I was at a point in my life where I couldn’t take care of Lizi properly. We’d recently gotten into church and our pastor was doing this series on the importance of men in a family. I kept thinking about how Lizi had a father out there somewhere and he she needed him.
Timothy Fish:
But you weren’t sure who he was.
Amber:
No, and I didn’t know if he could be trusted. You see, Lizi isn’t mine. I’ve raised her like she is, but I got her by default. Her mother died when Lizi was young. We were roommates, and I’d been taking care of Lizi a lot of the time anyway, so I went on doing it. If anyone knew that she wasn’t mine, I guess they didn’t care. Anyway, Lizi’s mother didn’t tell me very much about her family before she died and what she did, it wasn’t very clear. She was that way.
Timothy Fish:
And yet, it was enough for you to buy a couple of tickets to Fort Worth.
Amber:
Yeah, I was able to piece together enough information to find someone who knew Lizi’s mother. I knew that Fox was either Lizi’s grandfather, or he would know who was.
Timothy Fish:
But why the train? Why not call him up? Why not send him an e-mail or a letter?
Amber:
Is that what you would’ve done?
Timothy Fish:
Probably.
Amber:
That’s not the way I do things. I had to know she’d be okay. You don’t raise a kid from the time she was a baby and then just dump her off on strangers. And I had to know I could control the situation. If I’d called, they might have sent the authorities to take Lizi. I might have gone to jail and never met her father.
Timothy Fish:
But you didn’t have complete control. Any thoughts on why not?
Amber:
I got too close. When you’re trying to con someone, its never good when you have more to lose than they do.
Timothy Fish:
You were afraid you would lose Lizi.
Amber:
I think that goes without saying.
Timothy Fish:
What was your life like before you left St. Louis?
Amber:
Pretty normal. I worked in restaurants most of the time. But there’s not always work available.
Timothy Fish:
Do you have any regrets?
Amber:
You mean about leaving that life behind?
Timothy Fish:
That or about anything. Is there anything you would do different, if you could?
Amber:
Yeah, I wish I hadn’t messed with those silly birth certificates.
Timothy Fish:
Do you think things would’ve turned out different?
Amber:
Maybe.
Timothy Fish:
Thanks for stopping by.
Amber:
My pleasure.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Revile Not the Gods

I came across a verse that I don’t remember taking much notice of before. I know I’ve read it, but I don’t recall doing more than that. “Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.” (Exodus 22:28)

The last part of that verse is clear enough. For us in America, that means we should be careful about what we say about the President, the members of Congress, the judges throughout the land, the Governor, the Mayor or anyone else in such a position. We can certainly say that we disagree with them, but they are to be treated with respect and we aren’t to wish they were dead.

It is the first part that got me. “Thou shalt not revile the gods…” How does that fit with the statement, “thou shalt have no other gods before me?” When you look back at the Hebrew, it doesn’t help much. The word that is translated as “gods” is often translated as “God”. The verse would mean something very different if it were stated as “Thou shalt not revile God.” And does it mean “thou shalt not revile the gods” or does it mean “thou shalt not revile the gods of thy people?”

If we take it just as it is translated in the King James Version, what it seems to be saying is that we shouldn’t use abusive language concerning other people’s gods. But Elijah didn’t seem to see anything wrong with that when he challenged the prophets of Baal. But another way this word is translated is as “judges”. Given the context, that actually makes more sense.

We are not to be disrespectful to those who have the authority over us. As we approach an election year, we will encounter many people who speak with contempt for some of those who currently hold office. We should not participate in this talk, rather we should be an example to others. Though we may disagree with our leaders, we should show them respect, even as we make our case against their decisions.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Theme of the Book of Ruth

What is the theme of the Book of Ruth? I’ve heard that it is several different things. Some say that the theme of the Book of Ruth is that of the kinsman-redeemer. They base this on the doctrine of Jesus being our kinsman-redeemer. The concept of the kinsman-redeemer is one that comes from the old traditions and the basis on which Jesus could be our propitiation. Had Jesus not be a man, his sacrifice could not have been applied to our debt. Certainly, that is a very powerful and important doctrine that is discussed in the Book of Ruth, but is that the theme?

Some people refer to the faithfulness of Ruth to Naomi and say that faithfulness is the theme of the Book of Ruth. Some say that the theme of the Book of Ruth is the Lord’s provident protection of the faithful. Here, with Boaz a stand-in for the Lord, we do see the Lord providing protection, but is that the central theme of the Book of Ruth?

I would like to suggest that the primary theme of the Book of Ruth is something else. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with saying those others are the theme of the Book of Ruth, but I think that if we look at the Book of Ruth without preconceived notions of making it conform to the story of Jesus that the theme of the Book of Ruth looks very different.

First, even though it bears Ruth’s name, this is Naomi’s story. The Book of Ruth begins with Naomi and the Book of Ruth ends with Naomi. It is Naomi who suffers the greatest loss in the Book of Ruth and it is Naomi who has the greatest influence over the action in the Book of Ruth. It is Naomi’s husband and sons that die. It is Naomi who decides to go back home. It is Naomi who tells her daughter -in-laws to go back to their families and when Ruth refuses, it is Naomi who sends her out to glean from the field of Boaz.

Since Naomi is the primary character in the story, it is important for us to consider the change that she goes through and what she had to learn in order for that change to take place. At the beginning of the story, she is has nothing, her family is dead, and her line has ended. But at the end of the Book of Ruth, we see Naomi holding the child who will give rise to the line of kings.

Often, we have what we call the B-story. The B-story is usually the love story and it is in the B-story that the theme is discussed. Usually, it isn’t only discussed, but someone will come right out and tell us what the theme is. There’s actually two love stories in the Book of Ruth. The first is between Naomi and Ruth, but since that one is the one we start and end with, I’m going to say that the B-story of the Book of Ruth is that of Ruth and Boaz. The question then is what that story discusses and what the story tells us the theme is.

I see Ruth 2:8, 9 as being the theme statement of the Book of Ruth. To paraphrase Boaz’s statement, “Go not to glean in another field and I’ll provide for you.” It is very similar to the statement made in Proverbs 3:5, 6. Or that of Matthew 6:33. It all goes back to doctrine that there is only one way to God. So I would like to say that the theme of the Book of Ruth is “seek not another to provide.”

If I’m correct, then we should be able to see all of the events of the Book of Ruth either reinforcing or arguing against that statement. With Naomi off in Moab, she loses her family. It isn’t much of a stretch to say that this is symbolic of her being away from God and the things she is trusting in for her provision failed. She makes a step back toward God, by choosing to return home. When Ruth refuses leave her side, we see an example of what the theme is saying Naomi should be doing. Ruth will stick firm. They reach their homeland and Naomi sends Ruth to glean in the fields. The law of Moses provided for those in need by reserving the corners of the fields.

This is where the B-story kicks up and we see the benefits someone doing what the theme claims should be done. When Boaz learns that Ruth is someone he is supposed to be providing for, he instructs his workers to leave even more for Ruth. From this, Naomi seems to have learned her lesson. She instructs Ruth to continue to glean from his fields and then sends Ruth to request that Boaz marry her (through a tradition that seems strange to us in the western world). It is at this point that we see an argument against the theme. Boaz is willing to provide for Ruth and Naomi in this way, but there is a problem, another kinsman is nearer to her than Boaz. So Boaz goes to the kinsman and tells him that there is land that he can redeem. The man is willing to redeem the land, but when he learns he’ll have to marry Ruth to get it, he backs away. He is unable to provide, but . This demonstrates the concept that only the Lord is able to provide.

And the Lord provided for Naomi, giving her a son by way of her daughter-in-law. The person telling this story, who was probably writing during the time of King David, gave us the generations from Pharez to this child, Obed, to King David. Pharez, you may remember is one of the children born to Tamar after she disguised herself as a prostitute and had a child by her father-in-law, Judah, after he failed in his promise arrange for one of his sons to provide her with an heir after the death of her husband.

To me, this connection with Tamar just adds to the idea that he theme of the Book of Ruth is “seek not another to provide” because the story of Tamar is such a sad story in which Tamar is trying to do what is right but the men around her are doing the wrong thing. She ends up taking matters into her own hands to get it done, but she is an example of not gleaning from another’s field. In the Book of Ruth, we see not only the provision of God for Naomi when she had no children, but we see God’s provision for Tamar and it was because they continued to seek provision from one source.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christianese: Not as Bad as All That

Recently, KTVT ran a segment on Christianese. What they seemed to be saying was that Christianese is a bad thing because people outside of Christianity. Christianese is a type of jargon that Christians speak. Part of it comes from the Bible, while other parts of it come from the way Christians do things or from music they sing.

KTVT is the first to say something against its use. Those who have criticized it range from Atheists who are making fun of Christians to pastors who are speaking from the pulpit. There are even some videos on YouTube that make fun of it. It is easy enough to criticize it because non-Christians don’t understand it, but as I started putting together a list of Christianese terms, it occurred to me that it is pointless to try to eliminate it completely. I suppose that is always the case with jargon. Consider the statement, “My WIP is up to 80,000, but it’ll go up because it has a lot of telling.” If you’re a writer, you know exactly what I’m saying, but if you aren’t then you’re probably clueless. I could rewrite it as “The novel I’m currently working is up to 80,000 word, but I expect that number to go up because I have a lot of paragraphs that just make statements about the way things are instead of being a sequence of actions the characters are doing.” But by the time you expand jargon into its definitions, the meaning gets lost in the abundance of words.

The following is a list of a few Christianese terms:
On my heart - the feeling that something is of great importance
Witness - to tell others about what Jesus did
tithing - to give 10% of one’s income to God
Amen - from a term meaning “God’s will be done”, but usually spoken to indicate agreement with a someone, or to indicate the end of a prayer
Sin - anything that violates the law of God
Prayer - the means by which one speaks to God
Blessed - the Lord has brought good things into a person’s life

Does it really hurt to use these terms around someone who doesn’t know what they mean? If you were to say in a meeting of co-workers, “It’s on my heart that we should finish Project X before we go too far with Project Y,” they’ll understand what you mean. Or if a co-worker gets walked out the door for some impropriety and you say, “be sure your sin will find you out,” people may not know you’re quoting from the Bible, but they’ll understand what you mean. So while Christianese may cause a few people to scratch their heads, I doubt it will confuse people so much that they can’t figure it out after looking up one or two words.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Envy

Jesus said that the whole law rests on the first two commandments, namely, to love God and to love each other. If people would obey those two commandments, they wouldn’t do the things they do to each other. Think about envy or if you prefer, covetousness. Why do we become green with envy? It doesn’t take much to show that envy is a result of us not loving our neighbor.

Consider this: Your brother goes out and buys a new car. He brings it over and shows it off. You tell him how nice it is, but all the while you’re thinking, “I wish I could buy a new car.” But what if we really loved our neighbor as ourselves? Suppose you’ve saved up some money and you have enough to buy a car. The one you’re driving still runs, but you would like a new one. But you know your brother needs a car and he can’t afford one. Perhaps you buy a new car and give him your old one. That seems like a nice thing to do. But maybe you keep the old one and give him the new one. Most of us would do the first over the second. However, if we truly loved our neighbor as ourselves, we would see little difference between the two. Our question would be which person needed the new vehicle more.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Carrot

When a friend found out just how little I make from writing books he asked why I would put so much time into writing a book when I make so little from it. I sometimes wonder the same thing and yet I find myself at the computer typing away on that next book.

I’m sure the answer is different for everyone. I frequently hear of people who have lost a job and have decided that they’re going to write for a living. Anyone who knows much about the publishing industry knows this is an unrealistic goal for most people, but I think I understand it. Writing is one of those jobs that people feel they can do and they don’t have a boss to report to. So it gives them the feeling of control over their situation. But that’s not the reason I write.

Writing is a form of communication. When I write, I hope to communicate, but I see many indications that that is not my primary goal. If it were, I would do more to give my books away. You can’t communicate if you don’t get the book into people’s hands, so it would make sense to get them into people’s hands, even if it required spending a lot of money to do it.

I believe the thing that drives me to write is the challenge. Just the effort required to fill 300+ pages with text isn’t easy. It takes approximate ½ million key presses to write a novel. Even more if you have to edit a lot. Imagine sitting at a computer and hitting a key ½ million times. That is hard enough, but we want to give meaning to those ½ million key presses, forming them into words and sentences. But the real challenge is to shape all of those into a work that is far more than just the sum of its parts. It isn’t an easy task. It is one thing to see the story in your head, but you have to find a way to convey that story to the reader.

The challenge is to show the reader the images you carry in your head, without bogging the reader down with too much description. You want to tell the reader what is going on, but in such a way that the reader discovers it for himself. That challenge, though hanging just out of reach like a carrot before a plow horse, is enough to drive you on, even when few people take interest in your work.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Comments From Would You Read On

A week ago, some of my work was on another site and today is the day that people should find out that it was my work and they may be clicking through to this site, so I thought I’d use this space to respond to some of their comments.

The general response seems to be that it piqued their interest, but they thought it drug on too much without going anywhere. I thought it was interesting that one person said it was realistic and another person thought I should do more research to find out how a security guard would actually respond in this situation. I have worked for more than one large company that has had guards posted at the front gate. I even did a small amount of work for the security department of the company I worked for in college. I cannot with any certainty say that this is the response you would get if you tried this at any one of the companies I’ve worked for, but I see this response as plausible at some company.

The problem may be that the scene is too realistic. Most security guards are nice people. They have a job to do, but they’d rather not ruin someone’s day. As one person noted, the guy approaching the guard is not a mastermind. It is more likely that he is a few bricks short of a load. He must be denied entry, obviously, but he might not be a threat, just someone so focused on getting inside that he isn’t thinking about how the guard might see it. But one person suggested that a bomb should go off inside. Sometimes, I think people watch way too much television. That is plausible, but it really doesn’t happen all that often.

While it may have fallen apart a little at the end, I think the comments show that I accomplished what I set out to accomplish. What I hoped to show was that a person could drop the reader into a simple everyday scene and with a slight increase in conflict turn it into something that interests the reader. What I expect the reader to be asking at this point is “what’s wrong with this guy?”

There are so many books these days that begin with something catastrophic. I’ve seen books begin with a tornado. Several books I’ve read begin with an automobile accident. But when I think of my favorite books, so many of them begin without gimmicks. Cynthia Voigt’s Homecoming begins with a woman asking her kids to stay in the car while she goes into the mall. Nothing is more ordinary than that. Parents do it all the time, once their kids are old enough. The only thing that adds conflict to this scene is that the kids don’t know why they stopped. It takes us several pages to realize that this is the last time these kids will see their mother. A car wreck simply cannot match the power of a scene like that.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

More Rainbows, Please

On my way home from work the other day, I saw a rainbow. I was traveling East along I-20 and there it was, a double bow. One half was on one side of the road and the other half on the other. Science tells us how they are formed, but you’ve got to read the Bible to know why they exist. The Bible tells us that God put a rainbow in the cloud as a sign of his promise that he would never destroy the earth by flood again.

Science tells us that rainbows are formed by light. There are two reflections and refraction. But when I was a kid, it was easy to think of a rainbow as an object you could find. Back then, there was a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. I miss those rainbows.

But I like that the Bible says that God put a rainbow in the cloud. God put it in the language that we can all understand. If he were to tell us what it takes to put a rainbow in a cloud when there wasn’t one before, even our greatest scientists would seem like idiots. Sure, they know how to shine light on a water vapor and produce a rainbow, but they don’ t know how to change the nature of the Universe so that is possible.

I think we need to see more rainbows and fewer water droplets. So often, we get so focused on details that we can’t see the beauty of the things that are happening. Something bad happens today. Something good happens tomorrow. We make our plans and then we’re disappointed when they don’t happen. But to God, those are all like water droplets. If we could see through his eyes, we would see that all of those things are coming together and forming something beautiful, like a rainbow in the cloud.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Humility

It’s so hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way or so the saying goes. Humility is a strange thing. It is prized by God. The Bible says we are to humble ourselves. But I question whether we understand what humility is. By “we”, I really mean me.

Someone once said that humility isn’t about us. In other words, humility doesn’t mean you have to go around telling people what a worm you are, but it is seeing the greatness of others. If you’ve accomplished something in life or if you have some special ability, you don’ t have to go through life playing it down like it is unimportant. That would be dishonest. The humble person simply doesn’t spend a great deal of time talking about that stuff. If he has won an award, he may talk about it if it comes up, but what really distinguishes the humble person is that he is quick to talk about the accomplishments of others. When someone is better than he is at something, he says something about it.

In our relationship with God, what that means is that we talk about the greatness of God. Of course, compared to God, we really do look like worms. We don’t have to play down our abilities, we simply need to highlight the greatness of God and we’ll see ourselves as plenty low. Even in talking to others, we may talk about the things we’ve tried and by themselves, they may seem great things to try, but once we talk about what God did, even the greatest of our attempts seem like nothing.

So I think a person can talk about his accomplishments and still be humble, but not if that’s all he talks about. If he view his accomplishments without the proper context of what others are doing, he is a braggart, and not humble.

Friday, November 18, 2011

How Much Should a Book Cost?


How much should a book cost? Some people get upset if a Kindle book costs more than $2.99. Some hardbacks cost $25.99. I’ve paid $100 for a text book that was smaller than most novels. I remember some romance novels Mom had with a price of 69¢. Today, those same books would bring about $6. I saw somewhere that the production cost of a hardback is only 50¢. The same source said the production of an e-book is $4.05. But e-books typically go for less than a hardback. Are publishers overcharging us for hardbacks? Are we paying too little for e-books? How can we figure this out.

First, production and delivery costs shouldn’t matter to the consumer. There are a lot of people out there who think Kindle books should be priced very low because the publisher doesn’t have to pay to print them. In truth, printing is not the major drive on book pricing and there are plenty of costs for e-books that publishers must consider, but as a consumer, I have no reason to be concerned with that. The real question is, am I willing to pay that price? I’ve seen a lot of assisted self-publishing books priced at $20. I’ve bought a few of those, but it makes me hesitant. And yet, if there is a computer book I really want, I’ll pay the $45.95 asking price. It is about how much I want the book, not how much someone else had to pay to produce it.

Second, publishers should be looking to maximize their profit. Publishers are in the business of making money, so their investors are happy and so they can publish more books. Consumers may prefer to get books free, but publishers are looking for ways to make as much money as they can. Aren’t we all that way? If our boss offers to give us more money, not many people would turn it down. But maximizing profit isn’t as easy as increasing the price of a book. The lowest sellers can go is one penny over the cost, if they want a profit. The highest they can go and make a profit isn’t as easy to figure out. There is a price at which the number of books sold will not be high enough to cover the cost of producing the books. So publishers’ profits are also dependent on how much the consumer is willing to pay.

In the drawing, A represents the point at which a publisher can first sell a book and make money. That could be as low as $1 and it could be as high as $100,000+. We’ll assume it is something like $5. The consumer line shows the willingness of the consumer to buy the book. There are some people who will “buy” a free book just because it is free, so we expect that the lower the price the more people are willing to buy it. As the price goes up, the number of books sold goes down. At point B, the number of books the consumers are willing to purchase crosses the line showing how many books the publisher is able to print for that price. That is the price at which the publisher will make the highest profit. If the Consumer line were to cross the publisher line before point A, then the publisher will never make a profit, no matter what price he sets it at. On the other hand, through promotion activities, the publisher may be able to push the Consumer line to the right, resulting in an increase in profits.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What Makes Writing Difficult

After years of writing books and never understanding why people say writing is hard, I’ve decided that if writing isn’t hard, you aren’t doing it right. Now, that’s not to say that we should make writing difficult, just so we have to suffer for our art. And it’s not to say that everyone who finds writing difficult is a good writer. But no one achieves greatness by doing what is easy.

This is true in any field. Imagine the great concert pianist. He is performing in Carnegie Hall. He walks out on stage. All eyes are on him as he sits down at the piano. He rests his hands on the keys. They raise ever so slightly as he prepares to hit the first note. Then with one finger he plays Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

You don’t get to Carnegie Hall by being the best at playing easy stuff that any five-year-old can play. The same is true of writing. When you consider that there are millions of would be authors out there who are willing to write the easy stuff, no matter how well you write easy stuff, you won’t stand out. If you want to stand out as a writer, you’ve got to write stuff that other people aren’t writing.

In music, there are a couple of reasons why performers won’t play a piece. One is that it doesn’t sound very good. The other is that it is difficult to play. The performer who stands out is the one who is able to perform a beautiful piece of music that no one else is playing because it is too difficult. For writers, the writers who stand out are those who write things that people want to read, but other writers find too difficult to write. So let’s look at some of the things that make writing difficult.

Lack of Knowledge

One reason people turn to books is to gain knowledge about a subject. What makes that difficult for writers is that they have to gain the knowledge before they can write about it. If the subject is already covered well in books and online, it is easy to gain the knowledge, but people are less likely to buy the book. The author must turn to other sources for that knowledge. It may be life experience from the school of hard knocks, which difficult enough as it is. It may be that the author has to work through the problem people want to know how to solve. Through trial and error, he finds a solution and writes it down so that other people will have an easier time coming to the solution.

Tedious Writing

In a book that I’m working on right now, there are hundreds of classes in a software package that I need to document for the appendix of the book. From my use of other similar books, I know that this part of the book could become one of the most useful to my readers, but it is tedious work. But when it is done, it will make the book worth owning.

Solving the Unsolvable

For this one, I’m thinking more in terms of fiction, but it can apply to non-fiction as well. It is easy when you write a story and everything falls into place, but if we’re pushing the bar with our writing, we’ll encounter situations where our characters have no way out. It is difficult for us because we don’t know how to solve the problem when we get there. It is interesting to our readers because they don’t know how to solve it either. Maybe we never find a solution, but if we can, the writing that results is so much better.

What are some other things that make writing hard?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Which is Better?

Now here’s another one. Suppose someone offered to give you all of those pennies ($10,737,418.23) or they will give you only those things you need in any given day. After having been burned by the pennies, I’m sure you will assume the second is the better choice, but you may not know why. Without having been burned, you would likely choose the money. With money, you are in control. You get to choose what you buy. You don’t have to rely on the other person knowing what you need.

The thing is, as we go through a day, there are relatively few things that we use at any given time. Look around your house and think about how many things you have that you haven’t touched today. Other than the joy of knowing you have it. You could have gone through the day without it. Tomorrow, you might need it, but not today. Look at the food in your pantry. How much of that will you eat today? What about your car? You drive it for maybe an hour or two and the rest of the time it is parked. If we looked at a person with a small amount of food and who rides on public transportation. We would assume he is poor and yet, he has all the same things you actually used today.

The person who always has what he needs just in time for him to use it is no worse off than the person who has stockpiled so much that he never runs out. $10,737,418.23 is a large amount of money, but it isn’t enough to guarantee that you will never run out of the things you need. No amount of money can. God didn’t tell us that he would give us a lot of money. Instead, he told us that he would supply our need. That, my friend, makes us the wealthiest people in the world.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I Just Love It When a Theme Comes Together!

I just love it when a plan comes together!” Hannibal Smith used to say as the A-team brought victory from the jaws of defeat. Well, I’m at the point where I want to say, “I just love it when a story comes together.”

I’ve been fighting this thing for several months. It started out as a simple logline. It sort of flashed into my mind, but once I thought of it, I knew I had to try to do something with it. I’m not ready to reveal what it is in a wide public forum, but I will say that what fascinated me about it is that it takes one of the worst situations you can imagine and then implies that the solution makes it even worse. Not this, but something along the lines of “She thought their divorce was the worst thing that could ever happen, but then they reconciled.”

After thinking about it for a while, I went ahead and started the story. I had an idea of what might be worse than the worst thing, so I headed in that direction. But then it didn’t work. The story involved a couple of parents and an adult child. The man is the lead character. I tried thinking it through with the wife as the villain, with the child as the villain, with the child male, with the child female. No matter how I thought about it, I just could not come up with something that was worse than what they had already faced together.

Weeks went by and nothing, but then, it started to fall into place. You might say that the lead character made lemonade out of lemons, but when the lemons went away, so did the ability to make lemonade. To overcome the loss of lemonade, the character must overcome a problem like what his daughter was trying to overcome when she caused life to hand him lemons.

As I looked at the solution, it just worked. Eventually, I’ll provide you with more detail, but I didn’t have to make any of the three villains, though the story is such that as we near the end, the lead character realizes that he has not only caused the problem for others, but it has caused him to have the same problem in his life.

Looking at the elegance of the solution, it all goes back to theme. The theme is what we have to say to the reader. It is our one and only message. In the story in question, the theme is along the lines of “don’t try to turn force someone into being something they are not.” Doing that with his daughter caused the problem and put him in a situation where others are doing that to him. It is killing him, but he doesn’t know it yet. Like his daughter, he must be true to himself in order to resolve the situation.

I’m excited about the story again. I’ve got a theme that will run throughout the story and I know the major events that will drive the story forward. I don’t see a gap that I don’t know how to fill.

Monday, November 14, 2011

What All Writing Is About

What one word sums up everything that every successful writer has ever written? What one word tells us what every reader it is looking for? Think you can’t do it? Think you can’t come up with just one work? I think you can, because that one word is hope. Hope is what it is all about.

Take the bestselling book Heaven is for Real as an example. It has turned into a chase cow for Thomas Nelson. But why? What is it that people expect to find in its pages? Hope. Many people are fearful that maybe heaven isn’t real. They’re fearful that the Bible isn’t true. So they are turning to a little boy named Colton Burpo to give them hope. If he went to heaven and saw it, then it must be there. My fear is that he’ll let them down. I fear he’ll revise his statement later and say, “I made up most of that because I thought my parents wanted to hear it.” Read the book and tell me you don’t see that coming.

What about a novel, like Harry Potter. Don’t we look to characters like Harry with hope, wishing we too could wave a wand and change the world? Of course we would change it for the better and we would avoid the problems he faces, but wouldn’t it be nice?

Or what of a romance novel. Aren’t women looking to those characters for hope? They wish they’re husbands would treat them the same way the man in the story treats the woman.

What then of computer books? Surely, we can’t say they offer hope. And yet, they do. A reader picks up the book having reached the point that he knows he has a problem he isn’t sure how to solve. He hopes that the author of the book will solve the problem for him, so he doesn’t have to do all of the work required to solve the problem.

It really is all about hope.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Successful Book Video


Here is a book trailer that works. Let’s look at why.

1. It entertains - Even if you never intend to prepare a sermon, this video is fun to watch. Who can’t imagine what must be going through the poor assistant pastor’s head when he receives an e-mail saying he’d better be ready to preach on Sunday. And then to look at all the things he tried, before typing in the phrase “How Sermons Work.” It’s kind of funny to think that a man would do that, and yet we’re all guilty of doing something similar.

2. It shows why you need the book - It first shows us a problem and then it shows us that the book is the solution. But if you look closer, you’ll see that it follows the outline of a story. There is a problem, which the character tries to solve. The solution isn’t what he hope. He tries again (with the book) and all is well.

3. It is simple - A video like this shouldn’t burden us with all of the reasons we should buy the book, but it should give us one very specific reason. If the viewer is looking for a book to solve that particular problem, he’ll buy the book, not matter what other problems it might also solve.

I’m still not sure how to apply the same principle to fiction, but this video makes me think I might should try my hand at making another book video.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Color of Redeeming Love: Environment in a Nutshell


Yesterday, I mentioned a discussion I had with someone about the color or Francine Rivers’ novel Redeeming Love. I also described For the Love of a Devil as being green and moving into the territory of forest green or even black at points. There is another book that I’ve been working on some and I think of it as a brown. Not a dark brown, but it had definite earth tones to it, with a tinge of yellow that brightens it.

Why are we able to think of stories in terms of color? Some are a fiery red. Some are as black as night. Some are a cold blue. Some are a soothing green. Some a relaxing teal. Some are a cheery yellow. Some are soft and tender pastels. What is it that allows us to say that?

Color moves us emotionally. So does music, but music is active. Color is more static. Color tells us the state of the environment. The gray of a cloudy sky gives us the impression that it is a dreary day. The black of night hints at dangers lurking in the darkness. Blue is a color of authority. Yellow reminds us of a sunny day. Teal reminds us of the ocean. It isn’t the action that takes place, but the setting in which it happens.

But setting doesn’t have to be constant. It could even be used to outline a story. Let’s go back and look at Redeeming Love. The book begins with the innocence of youth. Even with what her mother is doing, this is actually a bright spot for the point of view character, so I’m going to paint that period with a light yellow. The story of Redeeming Love continues and Momma dies. This is actually the darkest part of Redeeming Love, so I’ll go ahead and paint it black. Then we kind of get off into a dark red period, as she struggles to make her way. But then it gets brighter. Even though she’s in what should be an undesirable situation, she is a successful prostitute, in demand by all the men of the area. Then Redeeming Love turns pink. A man shows up who wants to marry her and he is willing to pay the price to take her home with him. Redeeming Love has occasional dark spots after that, but mostly it is what I would call pink because the only real struggle is with her trying to convince herself not to fall for the guy she married. Off in the background, he is still there, looking for romance. There are others who want her to return to her old ways, but it is pretty much clear that she has left that life behind and won’t be going back. Blend it all together and here’s the color outline of Redeeming Love.



I don’t know how many people will find it to be helpful, but my thought is that when people are looking for an environment in which to escape, color provides a way to convey what the environment of a book is without the need to explain everything in the book.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What Color is Redeeming Love?


I love when people disagree with me, especially when they stick around long enough to have a good discussion. The other day, I got into a discussion with a woman about the color of a novel. It started with a literary agent asking me what kinds of books I thought were missing in Christian literature. I answered that it seems like most of what is out there is either pastel, as is the case with romance and other forms of women’s fiction, or it is the dark browns and black of stories about demonic forces taking over the world. There isn’t much in between. In another part of the discussion, another commenter said something about Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love. I said that I had read the book and I saw it as being primarily aimed at women and it is more pastel. The woman disagreed, so I thought she was disagreeing about Redeeming Love being aimed at women. I went into some detail about how Francine Rivers’ had fashioned Redeeming Love in such a way that the woman had the primary lead and the man, aside from rescuing her from prostitution in the beginning, does little to influence the outcome of the story. It is only after she silences her demons that she returns to him. I said that when I read the story of Hosea, what intrigues me is the man’s role in the story. Here is a man who loves his wife, but she leaves him and the kids anyway because she thinks her lovers have more money. Here is a man who is willing to let her lovers take the credit for the things he’s doing for her, because he loves her. Here is a man who, even after all she’s done to hurt him, even after she’s reached the point where other men don’t want her, is willing to walk into the slave market and pay the price to get her back, when she was rightfully already his. He’s the kind of man that guys should want to be like, and that’s the image that we see in the book For the Love of a Devil.

Okay, so after I said all of that, it turns out that the woman wasn’t disagreeing with that, she was disagreeing with the statement that Redeeming Love is pastel. It intrigued me to think that we could disagree over something like what color the story of Redeeming Love is. After giving it some thought, I think she might be right. Redeeming Love isn’t pastel. Redeeming Love is more of a pink covered with burgundy lace. But isn’t it strange that we can talk about the color of a story like Redeeming Love and we know what each other is talking about?

The color for the cover of For the Love of a Devil was decided long before the book was written, but I think green is a fitting color. As for shading, I think it turns dark in places. As we move toward the end of the book, that bright green becomes more and more of a forest green and eventually you find yourself in a forest so dark that you wonder if you will get out. It is not unlike how the shading on the cover is. On the front, it is a bright green, but as you turn the book over, it grows darker and darker. But then morning comes. I imagine that last chapter as being an antique white, with white curtains blowing in the breeze.

I’ve got so much more to say about this. We’ll have to pick it up again some other time.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to Describe the Beauty of a Woman

How do you describe a woman’s beauty? In part, a woman’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A man in Africa is likely to see beauty where a man in Japan does not. If you were to ask the man in Japan to describe the beauty of a woman, he would probably describe something very different than a man in India. And look at what they say is beauty on television. Apparently, a woman isn’t beautiful unless she has nothing covering her long thin legs and her breast are the size of melons. If that is what you’re thinking of when you’re asking how to describe a woman’s beauty, that isn’t hard. Just talk about legs and breasts and cleavage and people will know what you’re talking about. But is that true beauty? A woman like that has made herself a slave to the men she is trying to impress.

If you find that when you are trying to describe the beauty of a woman, your mind’s eye focuses on those things that are below the neckline, you aren’t focusing on the true beauty of a woman. There’s nothing that says that a woman of true beauty can’t be attractive below the neck, but our description changes. Her dress was long and flowing. Her shoes highlighted her elegant feet. Instead of our focus being on the skin she is showing down there, our focus turns to her attire. But it doesn’t stay there long because talking about her clothes doesn’t completely describe the beauty of a woman.

Our gaze turns upward. Her eyes sparkled behind the oval shaped glasses. They were the color of a clear blue sky. I wondered how long I could stare into them without her thinking me strange. Her nose was upturned, ever so slightly. Her smile was gentle and sweet. Her hair was like corn silk and I wanted to reach out and touch it, to see how it felt in my hand.

Notice how very differently we describe the beauty of this woman than what we did for the first. Our gaze is almost completely on her face and head. If we were to continue to describe the beauty of this woman, we would turn our attention to what she did and said. We would describe how she treats other people. We would describe her kindness and her love.

How we describe the beauty of a woman has as much to do with our attitude toward the woman as it does her appearance. If we see the woman as having a head only to keep her legs and chest from looking funny then that’s the way we will describe her. But if we see her as someone to be respected as a person, our attention will turn upward and our focus will be above the neckline.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Key to a Successful Marriage

As you may know, I'm not married nor have I ever been, so I'm not the ideal person to offer marriage advice. But Christian novelist Colleen Coble recently celebrated forty years of marriage and one piece of advice she offered recently is "Appreciate all the things your spouse does for you. Verbalize it in front of others too." And then she said, "Focus on your spouse's good qualities." Good advice.

When was the last time you said something in public about something you like that your spouse does? Some people are so quick to tear criticize their spouses in public. I'll probably get in trouble for this, but it seems to me that women are the worst offenders. If nothing else, you can hear it in the tone of their voice when their husband does something they think is childish or silly. You don't see many men who will say something like, "You'll never guess what my wife did this week. She went out and bought a purse to match her shoes. Then she decided she didn't like the shoes." Some will, but good Christian men don't do that. The wife is to be protected. No matter how silly she may act, you don't go around laughing about it.

I always loved open house when I was in school. Both of my parents always went. What I liked best was when the teacher would talk to them and tell them how good I was doing at one thing or another. It made me stand a little straighter. There's just something about hearing someone praise us in front of other people. And though I've never been married, I'm sure the principle works the same for couples. Men, if you want your wife to feel loved, the next time you and your wife are out with other people, talk about how much you enjoyed that casserole your wife fixed the other night. Or talk about how well she does with the kids. Or tell them how you enjoy coming home to a clean house. Women, if you want your husband to feel respected, tell people how you like seeing him take the leadership role in your home. Tell them how much you appreciate the time he spends at work. Tell them about the work he’s been doing to fix up the house or keep the cars in running order. That’s what we’re all looking for. We long for someone to love us and appreciate us. That love and appreciation should primarily come from one’s spouse.

And another thing, make a commitment that you won’t criticize your spouse in public. There is never a reason for you to criticize your spouse in public. Never. Maybe they did something you don’t think they should have done. Save it until you’re in the car or until you get home, but don’t do it in public. Resentment comes quickly when a person is publically ridiculed. Don’t do it.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? I think I should add one more thing. Offer praise at every opportunity and never publically criticize your spouse, even if your spouse does. I think one of the problems couples have is that one half of the couple is willing to do the right thing, but only as long as the other person is doing it too. When the other person hurts them, they take that as permission to hurt the other person back. That will only result in disaster. Instead, praise your spouse in public anyway and it is very likely that your spouse will soon be returning the favor.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Fixing Authors Who Can't Write

One of the popular things for literary agents to do on their blogs is to post first pages (with the author’s permission) and then provide comments and/or allow their readers to provide comments about what works and doesn’t work with the piece. The concept is that since agents typically see nothing more than the first page before rejecting a novel, the first page is very important. I’ve participated in these and have enjoyed doing so, but there’s a point where it isn’t fun.

The other day, an author submitted a first page and it was brutal. You can usually find something good to say, but this was a case that I felt like I was lying to the author by mentioning the good parts. There wasn’t much hope in saving it. All of the people who responded were nice about it, but I couldn’t help but thing that if I were the author reading those comments I would cry.

But then I looked at the author’s website. This particular author has a few books out, is a public speaker, and she gives writing classes. What a classic case of getting the cart before the horse, but I fear many authors are doing the same thing. So many authors are doing all the right things to sell books, but they can’t write.

Sadly, I think we’re doing the wrong thing by patting them on the back and saying, “Don’t worry, you’ll get there.” It is impossible to improve if you don’t know you need to. Encouragement is fine, but we shouldn’t encourage the wrong behavior. But at the same time, there is a point at which it is painful to give an honest critique.

Have you ever submitted a first page for critique? Did you find it helpful? Why or why not?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reveal The Story

Writers are often admonished to Show, Don’t Tell. My roots are in the Show Me State, so I’m all for showing, but I think there’s enough confusion about the topic that some writers just don’t get it. I don’t know if it will help anyone else, but when I think about this topic I think in terms of revealing, rather than showing. That may be confusing also, since you can reveal something by simply telling someone, but I imagine that there is something hidden behind a curtain. While the curtain is closed, I can’t help but wonder what is back there. Someone pulls back the curtain a little ways and I can see something. There is a table back there and something is on it, but I’m still not sure what it is. Then they open the current all the way and I can see, that a magician’s top hat is on the table and he is about to pull a rabbit from the hat.

In a story, it isn’t just about action versus narrative. Narrative has a way of slowing down the story because it stops the clock, but the real question is whether the reader has a sense of discovery. We tend to get that sense of discovery with action because the things the character interacts with and how he does it reveals something about the story and the character that the reader discovers by reading between the lines. With narrative, the tendency is for us to give the reader the stuff we think they need to know.

Let’s look at an example:
While the video played, Robert adjusted the microphone hanging from his ear one more time. He pulled the transmitter from his belt and looked for the little red light then reattached it to his belt. The video reached the half-way point as he checked his appearance in the mirror. His polo shirt was buttoned. The sleeve weren’t turned up funny. His hair was combed and his teeth were white. He heard the words, “We were on the verge of losing our house” from the backstage monitor. Without looking at the screen, he knew it showed a man and his wife sitting on a sun lit porch. Ten seconds to go. He began his walk to the stage. The lights came up. He walked across the stage. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I know you’ve all seen plans for you to make money at home before…”
Now, compare that to:
Robert is trying to sell his latest money making scheme.
Clearly, the first example provides a better sense of discovery because the reader is allowed to figure out who this guy is, rather than us telling him. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t provide a sense of discovery with narrative.
Robert is in the business of promoting money making schemes. He is bankrupt.
This is narrative and some may call it telling, but it has revealed something about Robert that the reader might not have expected.