Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fictional Locations

No matter how hard a writer tries to make a fictional story seem real, some things just have to be fabricated. I’ve been watching Murder She Wrote on DVD. It seems like a very real place with its population of 3,560, but Cabot Cove, Maine does not exist. If it did, it would sit near Portland, Maine, which the show mentions often. Portland, Maine is a very real place.

I have a similar situation in some of my books. If you were to take travel times and the names of places I mention, it wouldn’t take you very long to figure out that the heretofore unnamed city is located in the same spot as the real City of Cape Girardeau, Missouri. A bit of irony is that I once read a novel set in Cape Girardeau that had fewer elements of Cape in it than what my books do and yet I chose to leave the name of the city out of the book.

One of the problems we face with using real places is that they don’t always fit the story. The setting for my stories is more like the shopkeepers in downtown Cape Girardeau would like it to be rather than the way it really is. They also have some buildings and streets that don’t exist there. There really is a First Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau, but their building looks nothing like the one in my books. I also very much doubt their members look very much like my characters. If you are from the Cape Girardeau area, you may see some similarities between Ben’s family and the Limbaugh family, but I wanted to be able to define the family in the book rather than basing it on real people.

Using a fictional location, even if it is very much like a real location, gives the writer freedom. In my current project, I have Sara drive through Jackson (yeah, she’s driving now) and stop at a stoplight that is near the top of a hill. Because Jackson is a real place, I had to be careful about street names. I have driven through Jackson many times and didn’t pay attention to street names, but it I use the wrong name, someone is sure to notice. But, in my fictional city, I can call the names whatever I want and never be wrong. We don’t want readers to lose sight of the story because the stoplight is in the wrong location.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Review: Desire and Deceit

Some books you read to learn something. Some books you read for enjoyment. Some books you read because you think you should. For me, Desire and Deceit fell into that last category and after reading it, I think it should for everyone. It is not a fun book to read and I knew it wouldn't be when I bought it, but Albert Mohler does an excellent job of covering a very sobering subject, the subject of how the change in how people view sex is causing problems that will not be easy to solve.

In Chapter 14, he brought out something that I had never really considered. I had never considered that lesbians might hold such contempt for men that a lesbian couple would be ostrisized for raising a son or that the mother of the child might fear her female sexual partner would move out because the house was no longer female only. Ironically, it is statistically more likely that a lesbian will have a son.

As I said, it is not an easy topic, but Albert Mohler address the topic well. He brings out how we should view the issue of homosexuality as well as other forms of sexual sin and talks about how we are to desire to win these people to the Lord. The book is short enough that it is easily readable in three or four hours, but it is full of information that everyone should read.

Dreaming Characters

I love putting dream sequences in novels. A dream removes all the barriers. Even though a novel is fiction, it can’t completely disregard the rules that control our world. A dream sequence allows us to put a character in an unusual or even surreal situation. We can send him flying through the clouds. We can let him hear what his friends are saying about him behind his back. Then he wakes and nothing in what he considers the real world has changed.

A dream sequence lets us show the reader some of the character’s fears in a more interesting way than having him talk to himself. If he fears his wife is about to leave, we can have him dream about her leaving. Maybe he is concerned about money, so we have him dream that someone gave him a suitcase full of money but he can’t find it. A dream sequence gives us a way to show the reader what the character is thinking rather than telling them so much.

Fiction allows us to make a dream prophetic, but that isn’t always a good thing. Telling the character what is going to happen before it happens will drastically change the tone of the story. If the character knows what will happen, then he will prepare for it. This is different from fearing that something will happen and preparing for that possibility while also preparing for other possibilities. What works in one story will not work in all stories.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

It's My Fault

If you tried to read my synopsis yesterday, you weren't about to because the link didn't work. I made a typing error, but I have now corrected it. You can also get the synopsis from http://www.timothyfish.net/ShortStories/FLD_Synopsis.pdf.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Sample Synopsis

Note: The synopsis this post refers to is at the bottom. The book it refers to is available at http://www.amazon.com/Love-Devil-Timothy-Fish/dp/1439214255/.

The other day Richard Mabry wrote about some knowledge he gained about writing a synopsis in ACFW Report: Writing the Dreaded Synopsis. For me to say anything about writing a synopsis at all is for me to write from a position of ignorance. To tell you the truth, I don’t even know enough about writing a synopsis to understand why it is “dreaded” by authors.

There are obvious reasons why an author or a publisher would choose not to put a synopsis on the Internet. A synopsis summarizes the story from beginning to end. It’s that “to end” part that gets them. It may not be wise to give away the end of the story because the reader won’t have to read the book to find out how it ends. Now me, I am the type of person who sees the “based on the novel by” statement on a movie and orders the book from Amazon. I love a story that I want to experience over and over, so I may not fear the dangers of revealing the end too soon as much as others. I am therefore providing a link to the synopsis of my current work in progress, below.

Please not that I ignored the formatting issue on my synopsis. Some publishers consider that to be a big issue. Personally, I think all the major publishers should adopt a common XML schema and require various documents to be submitted in that format. Then the publisher can format it how they want. I was more concerned about the words the synopsis contains. If every author is using the same format, that is the only place we have to make our synopsis stand out above the rest.

One of the things that surprised me when I finished was how much of the story isn’t in the synopsis. This synopsis is only 1% of the length of the manuscript, so a lot had to be left out. I looked at my outline and I left out everything that wasn’t part of the A Plot and I only included the barest essentials of it. There are several characters in the book that aren’t mentioned in the synopsis. Even Sara, who is the primary character of the B Plot and a required character in every book of the series, almost didn’t make. The only reason she did is because the A Plot and the B Plot come together when she makes the decision to give up on the dream of buying a car so that Geoff will have the money to buy his wife.

My basic approach was that I worked from my outline (if you don’t have an outline, I think you need one for this) and then wrote about the opening image, the inciting incident, the beginning of the second act, the midpoint, the event that shows us it is all over, the beginning of the third act and the final image. The reason the outline is so important is because my outline tells me what each one of those is. I also included small pieces of other sections of the outline. This is to smooth the transition from one to the other.

You will notice an abrupt point of view change in the last paragraph. This is intentional and is exactly as it is in the book. The book has other point of view changes, but this is the first time we see anything purely from Heather’s point of view. Throughout the book, we don’t know what Heather is thinking. Geoff makes a few guesses, other people make guesses, some people flat out lie about what is going on. At this point I was pretty sure the reader would understand where Geoff stood, but the reader has to see the world through Heather’s eyes to understand that she’s glad to be home and this time she really does mean it.

Now, without further ado, here is my synopsis of For the Love of a Devil.

Be sure to check out

Mother Not Wanted Book Cover

Mother Not Wanted

Friday, September 26, 2008

We Need the Darkness

Yesterday I talked about the royal family as a plot device. We like the royal family because it represents the wealth and power that we would like to have, but simply making the protagonist a member of the royal family doesn’t make things very interesting. It is quite the opposite. The wealth and power that the royal family represents is what we want our protagonist to have at the end of the story. During the story, we want the protagonist to be fighting to gain, regain or keep that position. For that, we need a villain.

A villain can come in many different forms, but he should be equal in power to the hero of our story and he must have an edge. The edge that the villain has is usually that he has no qualms about doing some things that the hero will not do. In a western, the hero and villain may be equally skilled with a gun, but the hero won’t shoot a man in the back while the villain will. In fantasy, a sorcerer may do battle with a king. They are equals because the king has an army of people fighting to protect their homes, while the sorcerer has and army of evil trolls or something, but he sorcerer has an edge because he will call for the corpses of his fallen enemies to fight for him, while the king will respect the dead and bury them before moving on.

Villains don’t require a lot of depth. In some books, we don’t even see the villain until the last chapter when he tries to kill the king and promptly dies. Up to that point, all we know about the villain is hearsay, so we don’t know much more than he is evil and his goal is to kill things and break things. We don’t want our villain to have a lot of inner conflict. We want him to be sure of what he wants and how he is going to get it.

Shadow is the realm of our villain. Do you remember Bill Sikes from Oliver Twist? He did his work at night. Fagan also hid himself away. The Artful Dodger came out during the day, but he wasn’t as evil as the other two. A novelist may not think about light and dark in quite the same way a movie maker does, but it is still a very important thing to use. In a way, the villain is trapped in the darkness. Everywhere he goes it is dark. The hero crosses between light and dark, but the hero is much more vulnerable in the darkness. The kill the villain, the hero much cross into the darkness, overcome his weakness and remove the villain, all while withstanding the temptation to remain in the darkness.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

It's Good to be the King

A favorite character in literature is the king or the royal family. In the United States, we have a democracy and we can explain why it is the best form of government when the leaders make mistakes. Great Britain has a monarchy, but they learned from their mistakes and the queen has very little real power. Even so, what girl is there who has not dreamed of growing up to be a princess or marrying a prince? In the fantasy genre, authors write stories with kings and queens. You don’t see many books where the protagonist is fighting for democracy. A book like that won’t sell. Sure, we get out on Independence Day and celebrate our freedom and I don’t know of anyone who wants one family to rule our country from now owe. We have a hard enough time putting up with a President for eight years, but there is something about the royal family that triggers the imagination.

The royal family is the symbol for ultimate power, ultimate wealth and ultimate luxury. Reaching the White House is a more realistic dream, but in a novel we don’t have to worry about that. Unlike the President, who must answer to We the People of the United States of America, the royal family answers only to itself. If as in Lord of the Rings we have a king who is living among the people rather than ruling from his throne, we still have the sense that this guy is more powerful than everyone else. We might dream of being him or we want to hang close to this guy because he has the power to help us when he regains his throne.

Real life royal families arm probably nothing like the royal family in Fantasia. In Fantasia, the royal family doesn’t have to do much, other than look pretty. The royal step-mother is evil, but that is true of most step-mothers in Fantasia. Royal brothers tend to fight over who will become king. This is especially hard for the firstborn, since all he can do is try to stay alive, while his brothers can always kill the brothers in front of them. The good kings in Fantasia are prone to long lingering illnesses while the evil kings are healthy warmongers who are invincible until the last chapter of the book. But none of that matters because those are not the things that grab our imagination. We are looking for that happily ever after, in which we are the prince or the princess, the king or the queen and we do not have the problems that the royal family had leading up to this point.

Someday, I expect to write a story with a royal family. It may be classified as a type of modern fantasy because there isn’t a good way to put the land I imagine within our world, but I will carve out a piece of Fantasia and set it there. That is one of the nice things about fiction, a good story does not have to be hindered by the political situation in our world, but at the same time, the royal family doesn’t have to be a true royal family.

In spite of what I said about democracy above, the President’s family or a Senator’s family, even a diplomat can sometimes serve as the royal family in a novel. The CEO of a company may hold the position of a king. Sometimes a gang leader holds the position of an evil king. For this to work, the head of the family must answer to no one who is mentioned in the novel. The one possible exception is that he may answer to God. Characters who equal the head of the family should typically be the enemy. Everyone else should be obedient to the head, either because of their job, their family tie or something else. No one else in the story should have more wealth or power than the “king.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pushing the Colors of Writing

All art forms have similarities and artists in one art form can learn from artists in another. In the visual art forms, there is a phrase that is used, “push the colors.” It can mean different things, but if often implies boosting the saturation of the colors in an image to make it more vibrant. The colors in an image that might have been dull and gray will pop, making the image look clean and fresh. Pushing the colors can help the artist highlight his vision, but if we push up the saturation too much, the image will appear surreal.

In writing fiction, there are ways to “push the colors” as well. Because it is fiction, we don’t have to worry as much about overdoing it as we might if we are writing non-fiction. One thing we can do is to deepen the contrast between good and evil. In real life, people are neither totally good or totally bad. We tend to sit in this mush of mediocrity. We might have a story in which a CEO is laying off employees. Rather can making it because sales are down, we can bump up the contrast and have him do it because his father owned this business and he hates his father. It can become almost surreal, but it also becomes interesting to consider how an employee might save his job when the CEO wants nothing more than the total destruction of his father’s dream.

Along that same line, we can push the conflict between social status. It really isn’t that interesting to see two kings fighting over land or two beggars fighting over bread. What if we have a king fighting with a beggar for bread? That becomes interesting because a king should never have to beg for food.

Just putting a king in a story is one way to push the colors of our writing. Even though we know that democracy is more consistently a better form of government than a monarchy, having a royal family triggers the imagination. I think it is the symbolism that does it. The royal family is the symbol of the greatest wealth and the greatest power that is obtainable. We love to consider what life would be like if we didn’t have to answer to anyone.

The words we use also serve to push the colors of our writing. We could say, “He slammed his fist on the table.” Or “He hit the table.” They could both describe the same scene, but the first version has more impact. Now, what if we said, “He slammed his fist softly on the table.” One little word takes the punch right out of the statement. Consider, “He slammed his fist hard, but not very hard on the table.” Once more, the impact is gone. Adjectives and adverbs serve to fine-tune the meaning of statements. We need them, but removing them adds impact to the statements.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I Learned I'm Not a Christian

I learned yesterday that I’m not a Christian. I know someone who reads this is probably thinking, “I can tell you how to take care of that.” You may be thinking instead, “I wish I knew how to tell him to take care of that.” In that case, I suggest you read my novel How to Become a Bible Character. It will tell you how you can win me to the Lord.

Okay, enough silliness aside. Yesterday, I read Chapter 7: Our Standards of Thomas Nelson’s company manual. I pretty much agree with what it says. It mentions the type of people they want writing for them.

  1. Communicators who profess a personal faith in Jesus Christ.

  2. Communicators who embrace the central truths of historic Christianity.

  3. Communicators who seek to live according to the standards of biblical morality.

To each of these, I could raise my hand and say, “Yes Sir, that’s me!” Then I took a closer look at number two. “Such ancient documents as the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds are simply convenient summaries of these truths and nearly all Christians can agree on them. Beyond these basic truths, we want to allow latitude—and even disagreement!—on non-essential doctrines.” Now, someone reading this is probably thinking, “What’s wrong with the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds? We say them in church all the time.” If that is you, you are going to disagree with me, so get your typing fingers ready and leave an angry comment below, but please read the rest of this first. Now it may be that you are like most of my church friends and thinking, “I don’t really have a clue what those things are, but I didn’t see anything to disagree with.” If that is you, you may think I’m splitting hairs. Now if you happen to be named Michael Hyatt, I’m about to trigger that heated argument that I didn’t want to start on you blog.

Before I go too far, let me point out that the Thomas Nelson statement doesn’t actually say that I’m not a Christian. It actually says that I’m disagreeing with most Christians if disagree with those two creeds. But that doesn’t make as good of a blog title.

Until someone smarter than me shows me where I am wrong, I will say that I agree with the first three paragraphs of the Nicene Creed and I believe I can find Bible verses to back it up. As a Baptist, that is very important to me. If you can’t back it up with the Word of God then you might as well forget about trying to convince me to believe it. The problem comes with the last paragraph. “And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”

Let’s look at some key phrases here. one holy catholic [church] Is the church holy or set apart? Absolutely. “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called [to be] saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:” (I Corinthians 1:2) The church at Corinth was called saints (holy), so we can apply that to all churches.

Is the church catholic? Here is where I can already hear some of you saying, that doesn’t mean Catholic, it just means universal. The church is to go throughout the world, someone might say, so it is universal. Okay, here is the problem with that. The Greek word that is used in the Bible is actually the word that was used for assembly. It referred to the local gathering of Christians in various places. Some were in houses, some were in cities, etc. There is no dispute that the vast majority of the uses of the word refer to a local group of Christians. There are a few references that could be referring to the church as all church members as a whole, but these instances could also be referring a local church or local churches in an institutional sense. The best rule of thumb with the Bible is that when in doubt about the meaning of a word, assume it means the same as it does everywhere else it is used. That pretty much precludes the assembly being universal and the frequent use of the plural makes it clear that there isn’t just one church. Yeah, I know some of you are going to disagree, but let’s move on.

Apostolic church Just what does that mean? The way I understand it, it goes back to the belief of apostolic succession. I believe there has always been at least one church that has taught the truth since the time of Christ. I base that on Matthew 16:18, but I don’t subscribe to the idea of the mantle of leadership being passed from one apostle to the next. Protestants should have a harder time with that than Baptists since no one can pinpoint when the first church holding Baptist beliefs came into existence if it wasn’t during Jesus’ ministry, but Protestants all have a date when their churches began. It is a little hard to claim apostolic succession if the “apostles” were all in the church you split from.

I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. Here’s a big one. How do we take that? If we take it like the Bishops at Nicaea meant it, we are pretty much saying that we believe in baptismal regeneration. The Bible does not support that concept. Anyone who believes salvation is “by grace through faith alone” should have a problem with that concept. Anyone can go get dunked and it won’t do a thing. A similar phrase is used five times in the Bible. In Matthew 26:28, it is Jesus’ blood that was shed for the remission of sins. John preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins in Mark 1:4. Notice that it is the “baptism of repentance” and not “baptism” that he preached. We see the same in Luke 3:3. When answering the question, “what shall we do” in Acts 2:38, Peter told the people to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. Notice here again that repentance is required and recall that when the jailor asked, “what must I do to be saved?” the answer was “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Baptism is not required. Then in Romans 3:25 we see that it is through faith in Jesus “for the remission of sin.”

Now I could say that in a nutshell that is why you will never see my name on a Thomas Nelson book, but I don’t think that is the case. That isn’t to say that you will see my name on one of their books, but they have many authors to choose from and while I think I fit within what they really intended by their guidelines, I may never write something they want to publish.

Monday, September 22, 2008

My Current Project

I suppose it is natural, but when I start on a writing project, I am hesitant to tell anyone about it. When you have a great concept, you don’t want someone to copy it and beat you to the punch. That is somewhat silly on my part because good writers are perfectly capable of coming up with their own ideas. Even if one did take the idea, it is unlikely that their vision for it would be anything like mine. Nevertheless, with me nearing the end of my work in progress, it is easier for me to talk about it.

Imagine this, an English teacher lives out the life of Hosea. As you should recall, Hosea married Gomer. She may have been a prostitute. At the very least, she appears to have been the child of a prostitute. She had two children by Hosea and one we aren’t real sure whether it was his or not since the child was named “Not My People,” but Hosea claimed the child as his own by naming him. For whatever reason, Gomer leaves Hosea for other men. Even then, Hosea provides for her and tries to bring her back. The time comes that Gomer is sold into slavery and Hosea buys her back for her to be his wife once more.

You may be aware that other authors have written books based around Hosea before. Perhaps the most popular is Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. There are some significant differences between her book and mine. First, I felt that it was important to focus almost exclusively on the male character’s story rather than the female has she has done. While it can be interesting to consider why a woman would leave a husband who loves her and go to men who don’t, Hosea is really telling us the story of a God who refuses to give up on Israel when they want nothing to do with him.

Second, my version is not a romance. My version focuses on the inner struggle of the main character in fighting for his wife when she has turned her back on him. I know God didn’t have that inner struggle, but I would imagine that Hosea questioned God many times about what God wanted him to do.

I chose to set my version in modern times rather than in the nineteenth century. In part, this is because it had to fit in the series, but it also adds some realness to the story. Nineteenth century prostitution has a picturesque quality to it because it brings to mind Westerns. Today, people see prostitutes as dirty women who wear more makeup than clothes. It also makes people sit up and ask “you mean there is still slavery in America?” to which we must answer in the affirmative.

Redeeming Love is significantly longer than my own version. It also begins with significantly more back-story. Back-story is generally considered a bad thing to put at the beginning of a book. Francine Rivers has more fans than I have, so she can afford to do that while I am forced to try to grab my readers by the lapel on page one and not let go until the last word of the final chapter.

While both versions had to take some creative license with the biblical account, I feel that my version is more true to the biblical account. In Redeeming Love, it is believed that the female character is unable to have children. I suppose this is to make it more amazing that her husband would want her. It also gives her a reason to run away, since she wants him to marry someone who can give him children. In the Bible, Gomer had three children before she ran off, so the English teacher hero in my version has three children who are just as confused as he is about why their mother would leave. One of the things that fascinate me about Hosea is that he supported Gomer through her lovers. I do not recall seeing that in Redeeming Love. In my version, it is there.

As I said, I took some creative license too. In my version, the woman’s grandmother runs an escort service. That isn’t in the Bible. I also kill off her father who is in jail for sexually assaulting one of her friends. That isn’t in the Bible either.

Do the differences make my version better or worse than Redeeming Love? I will leave that for you to decide, but I’m not sure if it is a fair comparison. Even though they are both loosely based on the same historical event, they are two different stories. Redeeming Love, like all romances, is about the two characters learning to love each other. My version, which I expect to call For the Love of a Devil is about a man fighting to protect the woman he loves. Be sure to check back here for availability or subscribe to the Atom Feed so you will know when my version is available.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Finding Common Problems

If you are like me, you commonly switch words like were and where, there and they’re, envelop and envelope. It would be nice if the grammar checker would find all of these mistakes, but it sometimes leaves much to be desired. I won’t tell you about all of my mistakes, since I don’t want you going through my work looking for them, but I will say that I have made quite a few. With some of these mistakes, such as using the word puck instead of puke in my current work in progress, it is nearly impossible to find the mistake unless you just happen to notice it. I don’t know how many times I looked at the word puck and read it as puke. For some reason, I looked at the word this last time through and realized I had used the wrong word.

One of the most effective methods I have found for eliminating word usage errors is to use the find and replace feature. I will search for every instance of a word in the document and verify that the correct word is used. If it is not, I will replace the word with the proper word. The problem with that is how frequently some words are used. In the paragraph above, the word the is used six times. In a novel, we wouldn’t think it unusual to find the word the used over 3,000 times. It would be very difficult for us to look at 3,000 instances of the word the and verify that we meant the and not they or there or some other word.

Simply reading the text can identify many problems, but we are certain to miss many problems. When we read, we read what we expect to see rather than what is on the page. We expect the text to flow and words come to mind that make it flow, even before we see them on the page. One thing that can be helpful is to have the computer read the text rather than reading it ourselves. The computer will read a document word for word, so we may notice if the computer says, “in time for her to puck in the toilet” instead of “in time for her to puke in the toilet.” But it might not help with words that sound similar, such as we’re and were or they’re and there. The more I edit, the more I wonder if perfection is an impossible dream.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Are You Listening?

Yesterday I commented that Thomas Nelson wasn’t listening. The problem, as I saw it, was that though they had plenty of contact information listed on their website, they didn’t have anything that indicated that I could inform them of a problem I found on their site. Let’s not focus on Thomas Nelson. Let’s bring it back to the topic of Church Website Design. When users look at your website, do they receive enough feedback to tell them how to contact the appropriate person?

Churches are often compartmentalized by various ministries. The different ministries may not be aware of what other ministries are doing. Even the pastor may be unaware of what some ministries are doing on a daily basis. Website visitors are often aware of this, so if they send a inquiry they want it to go to the right person the first time rather than having it passed from person to person or deleted. A good place to start is to include contact information for each of the individual ministry leaders. We could also provide a general contact form and then redirect this to the appropriate leader.

How we design the general contact form is important. We should not tell the users it is there for them to ask a question unless we also provide some means for the users to provide us with information. Our design should indicate that we expect communication to flow in both directions. It is easy to assume that we are the ones providing information and all we really need to know from the user is what information they need. A website that allows information to flow in only one direction is like talking to a man with a gag in his mouth. It isn’t very comfortable for the user and it makes it difficult for us to understand the needs of the user.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Thomas Nelson Isn't Listening

Inside burning buildings, Captain Caleb Holt lives by the firefighter's adage: Never leave yoru partner. Yet at home, in the cooling embers of his marriage, he lives by his own rules. Growing up, his wife Catherine always dreamed of marrying ... [emphesis added]

What’s wrong with the statement above? I copied this statement from Thomas Nelson’s website. Now my thought was that a publisher employees enough editors that they ought to be able to spell the word your correctly on their website, but people make mistakes. That isn’t the problem. I figured that since Thomas Nelson is trying to make a good impression about their products they would want to correct the obvious mistakes in the description. They wouldn’t want people thinking the book has the same mistakes in it. Since I noticed the mistake I thought I would contact the webmaster and tell this person about it. It would then be up to Thomas Nelson to decide if they really care enough to correct the description. I looked down at the bottom of the page, but I didn’t find a link to the webmaster. I looked several places for contact information and didn’t find anything that directed me to someone I thought would be responsible for correcting the problem.

The fact is that I could send an e-mail to Michael Hyatt and let him delegate this problem to one of his subordinates, but it is just a typing error and I’m sure he is busy doing other things more important than correcting book descriptions. That brings me to my point. Visitors to a website need to be able to contact the people responsible for the information it contains. Nothing will irritate a user more than the inability to provide feedback. Most people can ignore a few mistakes. Most people don’t mind if you disagree with them. The thing people hate more than anything else is if you don’t listen. By making it difficult for the user to contact the person responsible for the website, Thomas Nelson isn’t listening and that makes the difference between yoru and your a major problem.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Should Christians Support Prayer in Public Schools?

Should Christians support prayer in public schools? That may seem like a silly question for a Christian to ask. When talking about the state of our society, many Christians point to the public schools and court rulings concerning prayer. Many go on to imply that any Christian that does not see the removal of prayer from schools as an evil thing must be submitting to the world’s influence, rather than that of the Holy Spirit.

Why There Was Prayer in the Past

When we consider the history of the public school system in America, it is easy to see why public schools had prayer. Prior to the 1840, the schools were primarily church run entities. As is the case with such organizations today, these church run schools were designed to teach doctrine rather than just reading and writing. When public schools were started, it made sense for the teachers to continue teaching the way they had in the past. If they opened with prayer in the morning, it made sense to continue that. If they used the Bible to teach reading, it made sense to continue that. No one really stopped to consider whether it was legal to use tax money in that way.

Our Constitutional Right

We cannot consider the legality of prayer in public schools without considering the First Amendment. The same amendment that gives us the right to worship as we please, to say what we wish and to pray in a public forum is the same amendment that defines the legality of public schools endorsing prayer. What this means is that if prayer is legal for one it is legal for all and if prayer is prohibited for one it is prohibited for all.

What If We Had Legal Prayer in Schools

Let us consider three prayers:

A Christian Prayer:

Lord Jesus, thank you for this day and bless us during our time at school. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.

A Generic Prayer:

O God or Goddess or no god at all, we are grateful for this day and desire to be blessed during our time at school.

Another Prayer

O Mother Earth and Father Sky, we praise you for your wisdom to give us another day. We ask you to protect us from the evil gods during our time at school. Praise be Mother Earth and Father Sky.

As you look at these prayers, which would you want your children to hear every morning before they began their day? Guess what. If we have prayer in public schools, you don’t get to choose. The Constitution guarantees the right of the person praying to decide how she prays. This is as it should be. A government that must represent the rights of people with many different beliefs has no business singling out one set of doctrines as being the correct set. As a Baptist, I don’t want the government telling me that the Catholics are right and the Catholics don’t want the government telling them that the Baptists are right. I don’t want the government telling me that there is no God and the atheists don’t want the government telling them that there is a God.

Where Christians Should Stand

First and foremost, we should stand for prayer. We should encourage men and women everywhere to pray to the one and only true God.

On the issue of prayer in public schools, we should stand for freedom. At times, this may mean that we stand in support of the removal of prayer from the public schools. At others, it may mean that we stand in support of more prayer in the public schools. In order to promote freedom of speech an freedom of religion, we should be opposed to any mandatory prayer that takes place prior to the beginning of the school day, even if that prayer is to the God we worship. If we impose our beliefs on others, we open the door for them to impose their beliefs on us. We should oppose a mandatory time of prayer at graduation for that same reason.

Now consider this. What is the valedictorian of a class gets up to give his speech at graduation and begins with the words, “Please stand for a word of prayer?” That we should strongly support and fight anyone who attempts to take that right away. What’s the difference?

The valedictorian is not chosen based on what he or she believes. Usually, the valedictorian is chosen based on his or her grades. Any student with any religious beliefs whatsoever could stand in that role. One student might choose to pray before his speech while another might choose to preach the theory of evolution. For the government to prevent the student from using a position he has earned through non-religious merits to promote his religion would be a loss of freedom for all of us.

It is easy for us to think that having prayer in school means that we will have our prayer in school, but this is not true. Look around. There are far more people who disagree with your religious beliefs than those who do. If we allow the government to limit religious freedom by promoting one religious over the other or prohibiting religious expression, all those people who disagree with you are probably not going to suggest that the government select your beliefs to promote. For us to have freedom, all people must have freedom.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

It should cost as much to send an e-mail as it does to send a letter.

Because I have a website, I am able to block many SPAM messages at the server rather than letting them get in my inbox, but even this is a frustration for me because the spammers keep changing e-mail addresses and lately it seems like more than usual are getting through. Many suggest that I need drugs to give me a "hard rod." First off, I'm single and I don't need such a thing. Second, even if I did, I wouldn't be buying something like that from someone who sends out such vulgar e-mail messages. There is no doubt about it, these people are evil and I feel safe in saying that most of the people who send out spam are going to hell. So, we can't convince them to stop sending these messages out of the goodness of there hearts. What we can do is convince them to reduce what they send throught their pocket books.

The problem with e-mail is that it is free. Suppose we created a system in which it cost 42 cents to send an e-mail message. Don't you think spammers would think twice about sending out so much junk that they know most people will not read? The fact is that most people do not send so much e-mail that they couldn't afford to pay this much, but you were to send out a million e-mail messages it might become a burden for you to pay $420,000.

Unlike regular mail, I think the person receiving the e-mail should be the person who receives the money. If we charged for each e-mail message and a person received 300 junk e-mail messages, that would be $126 in his pocket. That would be more than enough to pay for him to delete them from his inbox or make the sender as someone who sends junk e-mail.

I know there are some companies that send out e-mail and are doing so with good intentions. They might find it hard to do this if we charged them, so we might want to set up a system of safe senders. After receiving the first e-mail from an address, a person might mark the sender as safe or unsafe. Safe senders would be instantly notified that they can send e-mail to this person without paying the fee. Unsafe senders would either be completely blocked or they would have to continue paying the fee to send e-mail messages.

This system wouldn't be very hard to impliment and it has the potential to greatly reduce the strain that SPAM places on networks.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Someone at Thomas Nelson is Going to Read This

Someone at Thomas Nelson Publishers is going to read this blog post and I’m not even going to tell them about it. Granted, that is something of a bold statement when you consider how obscure this blog is, but it is true. The Internet has evolved to the point that we can target specific groups of people with accuracy and we can do it without inundating people’s inboxes with SPAM. Obviously, this could have huge marketing potential if we could use it to get our ideas and our products before potential customers while allowing them to think they chose to view the information.

How it Works

A few days ago, Michael Hyatt posted the article Defending Your Brand Online. In that article, he mentioned things that are necessary to head off damaging comments that appear on the Web. One of the things he suggests is to monitor the conversation. Conventional wisdom tells us to load our websites with keywords related to our products and hope that people are looking for what we are selling. That doesn’t allow us to offer products the customer hasn’t considered, but when potential customers are monitoring what people are saying about them we can target them by talking about the customer rather than about our product.

You will notice that I have mentioned Thomas Nelson Publishers more than once in this post. I will mention Thomas Nelson again before I am done. This is to increase the likelihood that someone at Thomas Nelson will find this post. If I really wanted to get noticed, I would rant about what a terrible publisher Thomas Nelson is, but as an author, they really are one of my potential customers and it is never a good idea talk bad about the customer. It would be better to find one of their better products and offer high praise for the work Thomas Nelson does.

No Silver Bullet

Even though I am reasonably certain this post will attract someone from Thomas Nelson Publishers and their CEO, Michael Hyatt, might be one of the people who wander through, I am just as certain that whoever sees this post is not going to take an extensive look at my work and decide to offer me contract. The fact is that anyone from Thomas Nelson who has read this far is more interested in what I might be saying about Thomas Nelson or in how Thomas Nelson can reach their own customers.

We must look for common ground where the customer’s goals and our goals intersect. Thomas Nelson is looking for great authors, but they have plenty to choose from and they aren’t likely to start perusing author blogs in the hope that they will find a diamond in the rough. They have a process for evaluating authors and it is in their best interest to stick to that process.

Suppose we turn it around and look at what Thomas Nelson can do to reach their customers. Let’s suppose they have a book about managing church finances. There may be some church treasurers that will go looking for a book like that, but many won’t. Church pastors, who are another potential audience, may not even realize they need to book until they see it. What Thomas Nelson or the book’s author can do is to start blogging about church pastors. This is a case where they could talk directly about church finances, but they might also blog about what pastors are doing to achieve church growth. If they provide a link to the church finance book, a pastor focused on church growth may discover that he also wants to learn about church finances.