Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Review: In the Footsteps of Paul

I received “In the Footsteps of Paul” by Ken Duncan through Thomas Nelson’s Book Review Bloggers program. With this book I was glad that Thomas Nelson only requires a two hundred word review. The book is mostly a picture book with verses from the Bible, statements from other author and the occasional comment by the author mixed in. I am finding it difficult to know what to say. With many of the pictures, Ken Duncan reveals himself to be a talented photographer with an eye for beauty, but I also had the sense that I had seen these pictures before. As I flipped through the book, I kept noticing how similar many of the pictures were to some of the pictures I’ve seen in Bible dictionaries and Bible encyclopedias. So the pictures are a kind of mix between photos of the areas Paul visited and religious stuff. I don’t care much for religious stuff.

The Bible quotes appear to be direct quotes, though I didn’t verify each one. The authors with quotes in the book are respected individuals. As for the rest of the text, this is not a scholarly work, but rather a travel journal containing the author’s opinions. This is made most clear on page 117. Speaking of the vow mentioned in Acts 18, the writer says, “perhaps the fulfillment of the vow at Cenchrea partly explains his apparent eagerness to get to Jerusalem, so that he could offer sacrifices.” I don’t know who the editor was at Thomas Nelson, but he let one slip through. The veil was torn in two when Jesus died. Hebrews 10 tells us that Jesus, our High Priest, sat down after he completed his sacrifice. The need for sacrifice ended at Calvary. Making it an incorrect guess on the part of the author that Paul might have been headed toward Jerusalem for that purpose.

Then there’s the thing that makes me glad I didn’t purchase the book. On the back cover, on the barcode sticker are three words, “Printed in China.” Let me understand this. The Chinese are persecuting Christians, but we turn around and pay them to print Christian books? Where is the logic in that?

Choosing a Genre

Some time ago, I saw a news report about an artist who painted nothing but pictures of Alan Greenspan. I don’t know if she’s still doing it or not, but it highlights what artists are supposed to do. A painter may pick a subject and paint several variations on that theme. Even if the painter doesn’t paint the same person over and over, she will stick with the same style. She won’t follow the impressionist style one day and then do water color the next. Art lovers have the expectation that if they see a painting by an artist and fall in love with it, they may not be able to acquire that particular painting, but they may be able to purchase another similar painting that they like as well or better.

Writers are expected to settle into a style also. Now those of us who write rare books can pretty much write what we please, but when you have a fan base, they expect you to give them more of what they enjoyed the last time. We tend to think of it in terms of genre, but it is more than that. Consider two authors, Mary Higgins Clark and Brandilyn Collins. Aside from the fact that Brandilyn Collins writes Christian books and Mary Higgins Clark doesn’t, they write in the same genre, the genre of suspense, but their styles are very different. In her better novels, Mary Higgins Clark has this no holds barred way of dropping the reader into the suspense on page one. She doesn’t wait for the inciting incident. Brandilyn Collins has what she calls Seatbelt Suspense, in which she gives the reader a chance to get all buckled in and safe. But their readers expect his. If Mary Higgins Clark were to ease into the suspense, she would probably get bad reviews. On the other hand, if Brandilyn Collins were to cut the seatbelt, she would probably give some of her fans nightmares.

One of the interesting things is that both Mary Higgins Clark and Brandilyn Collins attempted to write in a different style before settling into suspense. Success has a way of helping to make decisions, but how is an author supposed to decide which style to use? Mary Higgins Clark and Bradilyn Collins chose suspense, but couldn’t they have just as easily chosen romance or military stories or fantasy? Every beginning writer asks the question, “What do I want to be known for?” Mary Higgins Clark seems content to be known for hard core suspense. Brandilyn Collins seems to want to be known for safe suspense and has a registered trade mark to that affect. But how do nobodies like us decide where we want our writing to go?

In some ways, it may be easier to decide where we don’t want our writing to go. I don’t see myself writing romance, or apocalypse books. I don’t see myself writing military thrillers or books about demons, vampires or werewolves. I would love to write satire, but people have this idea that satire must be funny and I’m not funny. Besides, publishers don’t like novels that actually say something these days. I like a good love story, but every good book has a love story. I don’t see myself writing westerns. See, I’ve already eliminated several genres.

Let’s assume for a moment that we can write in any genre, in any style and do it well. Let’s suppose that we could write a romance one week, suspense the next and a fantasy the next. All genre’s have their pros and cons, but which one is the best one? If you could imagine the absolutely best story you could ever tell, which genre would it be? What style would you use? What story would you write if you want to make people look at your work and say, “Wow?”

Here’s another question that might help. If you could rewrite the Cinderella story in any genre, which genre would you choose? Would you choose suspense and begin your story with the fear that Cinderella has of her family? Would you choose romance and focus on bringing the couple together? Would you turn the prince into a vampire? Would you have soldiers battle their way through the wilderness to get Cinderella to the ball? By the time you’ve made it your own; you will have a story that fits where you might want to focus your efforts.