Friday, May 28, 2010

Not Living Up

Some time ago, Randy Alcorn posted a video about pornography. He likened giving a seventh grader unrestricted access to the Internet to buying a stack of pornographic magazines and storing them in his closet. In his comments he also talks about how men who have been looking at the airbrushed images they find in magazines will compare how their wives look to those images and their wives will never measure up.

It got me to thinking about the books we write. Granted, a lot of romance books are mildly pornographic, but instead of thinking about that, consider the way we portray other things in our books. After reading our books, do people compare their own lives to the lives of our characters and regret that their lives don’t measure up? Consider the woman who reads a book about a couple. The man woos the woman with flowers and chocolates and by being attentive to her. The woman in the book returns the sentiment by cooking a nice meal, setting candles on the table. They talk late into the evening by a blazing fire. So the woman closes the book and decides to try the same with her husband. She spend hours fixing a great meal. She puts candles on the table. She puts on a nice dress, the kind that she probably shouldn’t wear in public. When her husband comes home she lights the candles and turns off the lights. He walks in and flips the switch. “What are you doing in the dark? Is that ham? I had ham for dinner. And I need your help outside, so you might want to change clothes.”

How many women would translate the man’s actions into “he doesn’t love me” when in fact he spent a long day at work so that she could afford to stay at home and read? He needs help outside because he is going to work on her car. And if she had given him enough warning that she was hoping for a candle lit dinner, he would have left the lights off.

We create idealized characters and people in real life don’t measure up. I can’t help but wonder if some of the characters we create aren’t causing people problems because their lives don’t work out as nicely as our characters’ lives. We have to be careful about how we portray the success that comes from doing the right things. It is tempting to have a character go through a story rejecting God then reach a point where he falls on his knees in prayer and everything works out fine. That’s rarely the way it works in real life. Yes, God takes care of those who worship him. Yes, God answers prayer. But God’s answers don’t always come in the way we might expect. If we aren’t careful, we will convince our readers that they do and they will be disappointed when they don’t get that new care they’ve been praying for or the hot girlfriend from down the street.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Disappointment comes from anticipating things that don’t happen. Events begin to take place and we anticipate what will happen next. A friend calls up, for example, saying that he’s going to be in town for a few days and would like to get together for a few hours. We look forward to that time, thinking about what we’ll do and the fun we’ll have. Then the day comes and we’re ready to go meet him, but we receive a phone call, “Sorry, I can’t make it, but something came up.” It hurts us when things like this happen.

Things are rarely the way we imagine they will be. Sometimes they are worse, sometimes they are better, but if we aren’t careful disappointment will cloud our judgment of which is which. Because we are so disappointed that we didn’t get what we wanted, we fail to see that what we got is actually better. For the Christian who trusts in the Lord, we can have confidence that though disappointment may come all things will work out for our good.

There are things that we want so much. When we don’t get them we question whether they are things we should be wanting. Maybe we would be better off without them. Maybe they aren’t what we think they are. Maybe…the thing is that we just don’t know. We have to trust the Lord to point us in the right direction and let us know what is right. For all I know, what we want may be something that we wouldn’t want after we got it. It’s hard to know.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Villain's Story

What is a story? There are several different ways to look at a story. How we perceive a story helps us to set our goals when writing a story. One way to look at a story is as the actions of the villain as told by the lead. We often think of the story as being the lead’s story, but when we consider how much of the lead’s life we ignore we might question that. However, when we look at it as the villain’s story it begins to make sense.

Look at the story of Cinderella for example. Her father is gone. It isn’t clear why. The storyteller may throw some reason in there, but it doesn’t really matter why he is gone and yet that would have been a very important event in Cinderella’s life. The reason we don’t put much emphasis on that event is because it has very little to do with the story we’re telling.

Stories are about disturbances in the lead’s life, so that’s why it becomes the villain’s story as told by the lead. If we take all the stuff that villains do to a particular person and bind it together, we come very close to having a story. So what that tells us is that when we’re looking for the stuff that should be in the story we would do good if we would just include that stuff that involves the villain and leave out the rest. Consider how much backstory that would eliminate if we start with the villain.

Of course, we do have to have a little context, which is why we are told about Cinderella’s father. The storytellers seemed to think that we needed to understand how Cinderella ended up with a wicked step-mother. Even there we see that the story begins with her father marrying the villain, staying with the rule that a story is the actions of the villain as told by the lead.

Just by having our narrator follow the lead while trying to tell the villain’s story, we eliminate many of the problems that we face with stories. It reduces backstory. It keeps the tension tight. It helps us determine where to start. It also tells us where to end because once the villain has been defeated or the villain defeats the lead, the story is over.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What We Know vs. Research

Janet Reid writes concerning a query that had been sent her, “What would make me think I was wrong is if you mention you're a touring musician. The value of a writer's bio in a query letter is for just these moments. As I'm reading along, and I think, "oh this isn't how that stuff works" and then I see you're actually in that industry, I'd give you the benefit of the doubt.” (

Monday, May 24, 2010

Will the Change Work?

What are the dangers of putting too much information about yourself online? I don’t mean unprotected credit card information and stuff like that; I mean stuff like what you might put on a networking site. I saw a novel the other day that dealt with this topic. Apparently, the victim had been involved with a networking site and the killer found her through that site. Now the victim’s sister is trying to bait the killer through the same site so that she can catch him.

I think the risk here is in implying that by not participating in such a site people can protect themselves from would be killers and rapists. The fact is that the online community is just an extension of the public community in which we live. Unless we hide ourselves away like monks, we are putting ourselves at risk no matter what we do. There was a woman in our area who had taken her kids to the park and as she watched them playing a man came up behind her and stabbed her, paralyzing her. While he must have had a motive, it is not one that a sane person would understand. He didn’t need befriend her on Facebook or any other social networking site in order to find her.

Public figures, such as television personalities, have more than their share of people who take a special interest in them. Sometimes the people who take an interest in them are killers and some news reporters have died because a killer saw them on the news and then tracked them down, but they didn’t have to put their information on the Internet for the killer to find them. He could have easily waited outside the television studio and followed the person home.

You could be walking through a grocery store and a killer happens to see you, decides he wants to kill you and follows you to a place where you are vulnerable. I don’t believe the Internet puts the typical user in any more danger than that person was in already. The real issue is the killer. As long as there is sin in the world, we are at risk from people who practice sin. There are certainly ways that we can protect ourselves better from sinful people, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that it is those who would commit these crimes that need to change.

As writers, we might ask ourselves whether when we handle a topic we hope that our readers will change in order to protect themselves from predators or whether we want our readers to seek the change in the predators. If it is the first then we must ask ourselves whether will actually work. If it is the second, we must consider the solution we call for carefully and ask whether our readers can actually do something to encourage change by these people.

Friday, May 21, 2010

More on Booksignings

Consider this as a followup to my post on booksignings from the other day. I didn't do the video, but it seems realistic.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Let's Mean It

A song writer did a video to explain a song he had written. It was a product of him losing a friend to death. In the video he was talking as he looked through a notebook he used to write lyrics and he said that after seven years it was still hard to look at what he had written there. He teared up as he spoke and it was easy to see that these tears weren’t fake. It got me to thinking about art in general. He is a singer/songwriter, but there is carry over in all forms of art. The thing I thought about was that as artists, whether we be songwriters, or novelists or painters, our art should be a product of our strongest emotions.

There are times when we’re just writing to be writing, maybe to pay the bills or to communicate, but our best writing comes from strong emotion. We should feel so strongly about the subject that we take it personal when someone disagrees with us. When someone asks us about it, we should be able to talk for several minutes, if not hours about the subject.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Review of Rooms by James L. Rubart

I keep saying that I’m not going to review any more books unless I really like them. I’m compromising today by reviewing Rooms by James L. Rubart because I mentioned it in a previous post, saying that I intended to read it to see if there was any truth to the reviews showing up on as a result of people who read the free version.

In a word, this book is weird. It is about the owner of a software company who inherits a house on the beach. The house is modeled after the man’s heart. We later discover that the house is demon possessed, so perhaps that means the man is also demon possessed, but that isn’t made clear in the book. In any case, the more attached the man gets to his life at the house on the beach the more he loses of his previous life. People who were once a big part of his life become as if they had never met him. He has memories of these things, but they don’t.

I might as well tell you that it’s a case of deus ex machina all over the place. I found the book particularly disconcerting because the characters change in unexpected ways throughout the book. Even the main character turns out to be a painter instead of a software engineer when we reach the end of the book. It is as if he had never been a software engineer. I’m not quite sure how being a painter makes one closer to God than being a software engineer, but that seems to be what Jim is asserting, so from that standpoint I tend to agree with some of the one start reviewers.

Another thing the one star reviewers talked about was the use of scripture and the preachy nature of the book. The book does use a lot of scripture in places and there are scenes that do come across as preachy, but I don’t think it is quite as bad as they made it sound.

In terms of plot, this is an Out of the Bottle story with some elements that give the appearance of a Monster in the House story. Some of the burbs say things along the lines of this book is the modern day Pilgrim’s Progress. That seems to be the popular thing to say about weird Christian books. You’ll recall that’s what some people said about The Shack. There’s simply no comparison. Pilgrim’s Progress was a Golden Fleece story and I very much doubt that Rooms will come near it in terms of sales. I also doubt there’ll be very many school children writing book reports about it.

But should you read it? If you like weird books, go for it. I didn’t notice any heinous doctrinal errors to point out. Or let me put it this way, if you liked Demon you’ll probably like Rooms.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How to Have an Excellent Book Signing

Book signings are on of those things that authors are supposed to do. One of the notions is that by doing book signings an author will sell more books. I’m not sure where this notion came from, but the evidence doesn’t appear to support that. Stick an unknown author behind a table at a bookstore and he might sell one or two books that he wouldn’t have otherwise sold. Follow the advice of some people for the author to go around the store begging people to buy his book and he might sell more, but he probably won’t get many repeat customers.

As a reader, I’ve attended a few book signings. Dan Quayle showed up on campus one time when I was in college. I paid for his book and stood in line with hundreds of other people waiting for him to sign their books. I then went and listened to him speak. I’ve also gone to book signings to support fellow authors. What I have never done is purchase a book by an author I didn’t know because the author was having a book signing.

So let’s get one thing clear. Book signings are not about selling your current book, but about establishing reader loyalty so that they will purchase your book and recommend you as an author to their friends. If someone shows up at your table and wants you to sign their book he is your fan to lose. With that in mind, here is a laundry list of things that you can do to have better book signings:

Pick a convenient location.
If you know who your readers are, try to find a location for the signing that is convenient for them. It might be good to have a book signing in the town where the book is set. If you are writing about a particular subject, set up a booth at a convention on the subject. If you’ve polled your readers and you know that many of them are coming from a particular area of the country or a particular part of town, look for a location in that area.

Publish the location to your fans.
A bookstore may publicize your book signing to their customers. They may have a mailing list that they can send information to, but their efforts won’t do as much good as you publicizing your book signing to the readers of your blog and sending information to people who have signed up for your mailing list. If your fans don’t know about it, few people will show up.

Ask people at the signing why they are interested in the book.
You’re in friendly territory. If someone is willing to get in the car and drive over to your book signing to meet you, he thinks a lot of you or your book. At the least, this will give you an ego boost, but it is also you opportunity to learn what your readers would like to see in future books. It also encourages them to put their thoughts into words so that when they have the opportunity to tell people about your book in the future they have already developed a thought pattern that will allow them to talk about your book.

Make friends with the children.
If a parent shows up at your table with a child in tow, greet the parent, but make friends with the child. You might even have a little something extra ready to give the children that show up, like candy or some kind of toy that they can take home with them. Parents will remember you by how well you treat their children.

People don’t show up at a book signing just to get a book signed. They don’t show up hoping that the writer will impart some wisdom that he didn’t put in his book. What they really want to do is to develop a relationship with the author. Realistically, that relationship may not amount to much, but when they go away they want to know that no only do they know you but that you know them. The only way that is going to happen is if you listen. Listening requires that you shut up, rather than rambling on. Also, given the respect that readers have for writers, a person showing up at your table is likely to be more nervous about speaking to you than you are to them. Be prepared to ask some questions. Here are some examples:

  • Do you live around here?

  • Have you read any of my books before?

  • What got you interested in my book?

  • What kind of books do you like to read?

  • Did you have any trouble getting here?

There are many other things you might ask, but the point is to break the ice. Then keep them talking, if you have time. Ask enough questions to keep them going, but don’t worry about saying much unless they ask you a question, in which case you should answer the question as best you can.

Don’t argue.
If someone feels the need to express a view different from the one you have in your book, don’t get angry. Take the time to listen to what they have to say and ask questions that will help you understand their point of view better. If you have considered their point of view before, explain the pros and cons that you see in it (in that order), if you can do so without upsetting the person. If you haven’t considered the position before, don’t reject it outright, instead tell the person that you would like to look into it when you have time, ask for the person’s e-mail address so that you can ask him additional questions concerning his point of view at a later time.

Be mindful of the people in line.
If you are fortunate enough to have several people waiting in line for you to sign their book, it is your responsibility to keep the line moving. Listen to people, but don’t let one person dominate the event. If a person appears to want to stick around longer than he should, thank him for coming and express your need to continue signing books. If he doesn’t go away, go ahead and greet the next person. Trying to give your attention to two people at once is not ideal, but it is better than people growing tired of waiting for the line to move and deciding to leave.

Welcome photo opportunities.
Before anyone arrives, spot out a location near your table that has a good backdrop for pictures. If you have a sign with the cover of your book on it that would be a good thing to have in any pictures someone might want to take. If you can, have some one ready to take snap the picture for your guests. Short of that, have a spot ready for them to set their camera on so they can use the timed feature. If you see someone with a camera in hand, point to it and ask if they wanted to take a picture. They may show up with that intention but be a little shy about asking or they may have forgotten they have a camera with them. So don’t make them ask. After the picture is taken, tell them you would like a copy or to tag you on Facebook. Well know authors could end up with more photos of themselves than they know what to do with, but this goes back to building that relationship and a little free advertising.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Writers Want to Write

As I was driving to work the other day I saw a city bus. The lights were on inside so I could see all of the seats. They were all empty. But there was the driver, following the route, not knowing whether there would be someone at the next stop or not. I wondered how he feels about that. Does he feel like he is wasting his time? Sure, he gets paid, but what’s the point?

It made me thing of writers. Most writers have very few readers and it make you wonder what’s the point? There’s no money in it, so the bus driver has one up on us, but we keep on writing. I suppose we do that because we hope that it will turn into something great and sell a bunch of copies, just like the bus driver hopes that someone will get on the bus at the next stop. But see, the bus driver’s job isn’t to drive people from stop to stop as much as it is to provide the opportunity for people to ride the bus. If the driver quit because no one was on the bus then people wouldn’t be able to make the choice one day to leave the car at home walk down to the bus stop and ride the bus.

What it comes down to is that writers want to write. The money, if there is any, is an added bonus, but writers will keep writing and putting their stuff out there, even if we could prove that no one would ever read their stuff.

Friday, May 14, 2010

One Road or Many?

In the Washington Post, Kathleen Parker states a strong opinion about the Christian doctrine that the only way to God is through Jesus Christ. She took aim at Franklin Graham who was jilted by the Obama administration for his belief that non-Christian religions such as Islam and Hinduism are evil because they pull people away from the truth. She sites statistics saying that 47% of Protestant pastor view Islam as “a very evil and very wicked religion.” I actually find that shocking. I expected it to be higher. Have we learned nothing from 9-11? She also sites a survey that shows that nearly two-thirds of evangelicals under 35 believe non-Christians can go to heaven, vs. 39% of those over 65. She also mentions a study in which it is revealed that our brains light up the same way when we pray, no matter to whom we pray.

I have a few things to say about this. That’s a scary thought if two-thirds of young evangelicals believe that non-Christians can go to heaven. Why is that scary? Because that means we’ve gotten our eye off the ball. Even if these Christians are truly Christians and have trusted Christ as their personal savior, if they believe that non-Christians can go to heaven then they will have no incentive to preach the gospel. If our only incentive is to have larger churches we will focus our attention on the people we are most likely to win and assume the others are okay since they at least have a religion. We need to get it through our heads that hell real, people are going there and God is the judge who will send them there. If a judge tells you what you need to do for forgiveness and you don’t do it, it doesn’t make sense that the judge would forgive you anyway.

Now, does it really matter what part of our brain lights up when we pray? Does it matter that a Hindu can pray and light up the same area as a Christian? Let’s compare that to radio transmitters. If I send a signal on one and you send a signal on another, don’t you think they are going to function in about the same way? Sure they would. The big question is whether or not there is someone on the other end to receive the signal. Prayer is nothing unless we are praying to a living God. People talk about how powerful prayer is, but that isn’t true. It is God who is powerful. Prayer to a dead god will result in nothing.

If some of what Kathleen Parker says is true, the future of Christianity is bleak. She doesn’t see it that way because she says, “transcending the notion that only some prayers are the right ones might get us closer to the enlightenment we purportedly seek,” but what she says would indicate that the younger generation is getting farther and farther from the core beliefs of Christianity. And yet, that isn’t what I’m seeing with many of the young Christians I know. Many young Christians are as dedicated or even more dedicated to the faith than their parents. Despite the statistics Kathleen Parker mentions, I keep seeing strong indications that God isn’t through yet.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

If They Continue in Faith

Right there at the end of Paul’s discussion of the role women are to have in church is an interesting comment. You remember what 1 Timothy 2:12-15 says:

But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived; but the woman, being deceived, was in the transgression. Notwithstanding, she shall be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobermindedness.

Now, most of the discussion we see about this passage deals with the first part in which Paul makes the claim that we can know that woman are not to teach or have the leadership over men in the church because God created man first and then woman. He then gives an example of what happened with the role was reversed. The woman was deceived, but Adam followed her lead anyway, resulting in sin and death being brought upon all of us. But we see this statement saying that the woman will “be saved in childbearing.” What does that mean and what does it have anything to do with a woman’s role in the church?

First, we should realize that the word saved here doesn’t mean the salvation of a person’s soul. This isn’t saying that a woman with no children will go to hell. It also isn’t guaranteeing that a woman with faithful children will have a place in heaven. But look what happens when a woman has children that “continue in faith and charity and holiness.” That woman is taken care of in her old age. Her children help to provide for her needs. More than that, a woman like that sees her children become great workers in God’s kingdom. But that still doesn’t tell us what that has to do with women not being the primary leaders of churches.

I can understand the argument Paul is making in the first part. He is essentially saying that men are to lead because God picked the men to be the leaders. That’s simple enough. These days, a lot of women are upset with Paul for saying that. All I can say to that is join the club. Men aren’t very pleased about it either. While it may be upsetting to those women who have decided they want to preach, it is upsetting men because Paul dumped the responsibility of leadership in men’s laps. “You mean I’m supposed to be teaching my wife? Why me? She understands this stuff better than I do.”

Paul gives us a picture here of the man being the head of his home and men being the leaders in the church. And the role of women seems to be subjection and silence. Paul might have just left it at that and many people assume he did, but he continues on with that sentence about childbearing. I believe that the reason he added that sentence is because he is saying that women have a responsibility to teach their children to “continue in faith and charity and holiness.” Children don’t do that unless they are taught. When Paul spoke of what Timothy had learned he spoke of Timothy’s mother and grandmother. Women often find it so much easier to teach children than what men do. That isn’t to say that men can’t teach children, but it seems like God wired men and women differently.

I don’t pretend to know why God chose to do things the way he did, but I think the message is clear. Men, you need to step up and take responsibility for the spiritual wellbeing of your families and your churches. Women, you need to step up and teach your children to be faithful.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Write What You Know, But Know Something Worth Writing

Rose Fox asked an important question the other day. “Have you ever noticed how many protagonists are writers? ‘Write what you know’ can be taken too far.” Rachelle Gardner also asked a question about what writers give up for writing. I don’t think the two are unrelated.

Many people give up a great many things so that they can “become a writer.” Writing becomes a lifestyle. I think this is the wrong approach. If what you want to do is write about writers or librarians or bookstore owners, by all means give up what you are doing and become a “professional” writer. But there are plenty of books about writers out there. A better approach is to keep doing what you’re doing and write about what you are doing. You may not think you have time to do that, but think about it. You don’t have to do research on something you are already doing. That’s why people write so much about being writers. They know how to do that. But when a writer wants to writer about stuff that’s happening away from the writing world he either has to ask other people or make a guess. It isn’t the same as if he has personal experience to draw upon.

One of the big mistakes I believe Christian writers make is that they write about things they believe are good things for their characters to do but they have no experience doing it. Don’t writer a scene about sharing the gospel unless you personally have shared the gospel with someone. Don’t write a about a Bible study teacher if you haven’t personally taught a Bible study. And don’t portray the situation as if it is easy; look for the conflict. Consider the following scenes:

Scene 1:

The boy had a cookie in one hand and a glass of milk when I saw him again. I knew this was my chance, so I walked up to him with Bible in hand. “Do you know where you’ll go when you die?”

The boy shook his head.

“Did you know that the Bible says that anyone who doesn’t accept Jesus Christ will go to hell?” I shared some scripture with him, Romans 6:23 and Acts 16:31. “Would you like to ask Jesus to be your Savior?”

“Yes,” he said and then he prayed, “Lord Jesus, I know I’m a sinner and without you I’ll go to hell. Please come into my heart and save my soul.”

Scene 2:

The service was drawing to the close and our pastor was standing up at the front. We were singing the second verse of Just As I Am and I was gathering my stuff when I saw them. There were three of them, a young boy, a woman and a man. They came from different pews, but they approached the pastor together. At first, I thought they might be a family. Our pastor leaned down and spoke to the boy. He straightened up, scanned the crowd and made eye contact with me. He beckoned for me to come. Why me? I wondered. I’m not good at this.

“This boy needs someone to lead him to the Lord,” my pastor said. I wouldn’t refuse, but I still wished he had picked someone else.

I took the boy over to the other end of the pew, while our pastor spoke to the other two. They probably wanted to join the church or something. I sat down and figured the pages of my Bible. I knew there were some great verses in Romans, but what did the boy really need to hear? Lord help me, I prayed before I spoke to the boy. “Do you know that you’re a sinner and on your way to hell?”


I thumbed through my Bible, looking for a verse. I spotted Romans 6:23, but I decided not to read it.

“Do you want to be saved?” I asked.

“Yes,” the boy said.

“The Bible says ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’” I thumbed through Acts, but I couldn’t seem to remember that it was Acts 16:31. I closed my Bible. “Would you like to pray and ask Jesus to come into your heart?”

“Right now?” the boy asked.


The boy got down on his knees and prayed, “Jesus I want to be saved.” All the while I was thinking, “Lord, I hope you’ll make him understand better than I explained.”

“Amen,” the boy said and looked up.

“Did he save you?” I asked.

“Let’s go tell the preacher,” I said, knowing that if this kid had gotten saved it wasn’t anything I had done.

A lot of books I have seen include scenes like the first one, but I think most Christians are more familiar with the second. The second also has a lot more conflict in it. Instead of showing the character as a great experienced soul winner who shares the gospel with everyone, we see the character as a person who knows he ought to witness but is uncomfortable doing so. He wants the kid to be saved, but he would rather someone else did it.

A lot of Christian books portray Christians in what we might call the pastor’s view of Christians. The pastor stands up front and tells people how they ought to live. The Christian author then creates a character that lives like the pastor says, with a few “flaws” thrown in to make it interesting. Real Christians are like that. You may find an elderly prayer warrior who has great faith, but I can assure you that she didn’t come by that easily. And though she may have great faith most of the time, she may still worry about her grandchildren. If it isn’t worry, it may be something else she struggles with, but all Christians struggle with something and it isn’t an easy struggle. And if the old faithful saints struggle, then us young saints struggle even more. That is where Christian writers need to turn our attention.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Giving It Away

A co-worker was telling me his theory as to why God has blessed the United States. I should mention that my co-worker doesn’t have a Christian world view and is an Indian immigrant. Referring to the invention of the world, he said that the difference between the United States and other countries is that when other countries invent something they keep it, but he United States shares their inventions with the world. He mentioned, electricity, saying that its use was developed in the United States, but the whole world has benefited. He mentioned the computer and how one man discovered that one and zero are sufficient values for all the computing power we have, but the whole world has benefited from that discovery. He spoke of food, how the United States shares food with those in need in the rest of the world. My co-worker believes in Karma and came to that conclusion from that perspective.

I think there is some truth in what my co-worker says, but coming from a Baptist background, I have a slightly different view. I believe that the reason God has blessed the United States is because the United States has sent missionaries throughout the world. The other stuff is a byproduct of that mentality. With the adoption of the Bill of Rights, the United States has had freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Baptists have historically supported freedom of speech and the separation of church and state because these freedoms have allowed us to preach the gospel as God has commanded us to, but these liberties have also opened the door to allow the discoveries we have made to make their way out to the rest of the world. Look at all of the work NASA does and then makes it available to anyone with Internet access. We realize that is a result of the First Amendment, but without Christians continually pushing for the preservation of the right to speak and practice our religion there would be stronger restrictions placed on the information that is made available to the world. If that happened, the United States and the whole world would suffer.

As writers, that freedom is very important to us. It scares me when I look at a post-Christian nation like the United Kingdom and see how homosexual police officers can arrest a preacher who has committed the heinous crime of telling someone what the Bible says about homosexuality. But that is one of the reasons Baptists have historically supported the separation of church and state. When the police (the government) become involved in telling churches what they can and cannot teach, we end up with people going to jail when what they are doing is harming no one.

This is a much bigger issue than the issue of homosexuality. Practically anything could be considered speech that will cause distress. When that becomes the criteria by which the government determines whether speech is permissible or not it is the people who have the most power who become the thought police. Even if people aren’t arrested for what they say, they may begin to give undue consideration to what they say and to whom they say it so they won’t be arrested. When this happens we all suffer.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Attack of Satan? Or Just Normal Kindle Owners?

On an author blog the other day, the issue of low starred reviews for free Kindle books was mentioned. The idea behind free Kindle books is that readers will download the book, push the Amazon rank up and thus increase sales of the book by making it appear more popular. But the blog post mentions a problem with these people who have been reading these books writing flaming reviews when they discover that the book they are reading is a Christian book. Of particular interest its Jim Rubart’s Rooms which has received nearly as many one star reviews as it has five star reviews and significant discussion from readers who didn’t realize it was a Christian book until about 40% of the way through the book.

There’s more than one way to look at this. One is that these people have no right to complain about something they received for free. In other words, Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. The problem I see with that is that we may be talking about a White Elephant rather than a gift horse. A person downloads a book and begins to read. Three hours into the book, the reader discovers that the book is of a nature that she didn’t intend to read. That’s three hours of wasted time that she can’t get back.

Another way to look at this is that these people are non-Christians and like the Bible tells us, the world hates Christians. They will be offended by what we have to say and when they come across a Christian book they will write a bad review. There’s some truth to that. Check out the Christian forums on and you’ll find many people who are there to do nothing but talk about how terrible Christians are, so we should expect to see something similar from them when Christian books are offered for free.

Then there’s the possibility that these reviews are correct. I haven’t yet read Jim Rubart’s book. I intend to, so I can understand this issue more fully, but one of the things these low starred reviews mention is that Christian novels use inane plot development and too much scripture. I suspect that I’m more forgiving of such things than these reviewers, but I’ve seen books that I would describe the same way. I know authors like throwing their favorite Bible verses in there, but I tend to skip over them unless I can see how the verse has significance to the story. And yeah, I’ve seen inane plot development. I’ve seen books that I’ve enjoyed and have read again, but the second time I skipped over some chapters because of this problem.

The bottom line is that we want people to be criticizing us for the right reasons. If they don’t like the Christian message, that is one thing, but if a book is poorly written that is something else. I think it’s easy for us to get martyr syndrome. We write something about our faith, a non-Christian says something against it and we assume that this is some for of persecution. Because we are criticized we must be doing something right. It must be spiritual warfare or something. But not every Christian author is serving God. To assume that his writing is God honoring simply because Satan’s people oppose it would be wrong. Satan would just have to “oppose” a few of his people to give them creditability. No, I think that what we need to do is to listen to what these critics have to say. Some are going to oppose Christian stuff no matter what, but others are raising legitimate issues that should be addressed within Christian publishing.

Own a Kindle? Read my books for a dollar:

Searching For Mom

How to Become a Bible Character

For the Love of a Devil

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Old Detectives' Club

I once heard of four old men living in a retirement community. They were all former police detectives and they spent their days reminiscing about how things used to be and discussing how the detectives of today didn’t know what they were doing. One day, they were discussing such things and they began to discuss how that it would be nice if they could pit themselves against the younger generation of detectives and prove that they were better. They discussed this for a while and decided that they would be quite the sight if they were to show up at a crime scene, one of them needing a walker. They were sure the police wouldn’t let them in and it would be hard to investigate from outside.

They let it rest for a while, but then one of them suggested that the thing to do would be to bring the crime scene to them. They discussed how they could do this and decided that they only way it would work would be if one of them committed the crime. It took them a good deal of time to discuss the risks involved, but after deciding that they were too close to death for it to matter. They selected a victim—a young pretty member of the staff—that they believed would ensure the police would put their best people on the case. They chose their killer by drawing from a deck of cards. The man who drew the joker was to do the deed.

The grounds crew found the body the next day, stuffed behind the hedges. The police came out and the four old detectives told them that one of the four had done it. The police listened and had questions, but after they had done the work they arrested the woman’s boyfriend instead of one of the four.

So they four went to work looking for the clues that would tell them which of their number was guilty. There wasn’t much to go on but the clues began to surface. At first, it seemed that any of them could have done it, but in time it became clear that the clues pointed to only one man. The other three then called the police and laid out their evidence before them. The police arrested the man and let the boyfriend go.

The other three congratulated themselves, but they were soon back to playing cards. As they played, one of them picked up the box. “Guys,” he said, “This says this deck doesn’t have a joker in it.”

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Same Ol' Stuff

I saw a Facebook post the other day that struck me funny and I don’t mean laugh out loud funny (though most people who claim to laugh out loud really don’t) but funny in an odd sort of way. It wasn’t particularly interesting, but an author mentioned something she was doing to prepare for a class she was teaching on blogging. The thing that struck me funny was that here we are and pretty much all of us are blogging. If we aren’t it is because we don’t want to. There have been many people who have taught classes on blogging and there is a ton of information on the Internet about blogging. Do we really need another class on blogging?

As I thought about it, I thought about all of the stuff that is out there, not just classes about blogging. Look at the classes they teach at writer’s conferences and I get the same feeling that I’ve seen this all before. Visit agents’ blogs and so much of what they say is the same stuff over and over. One agent may say it slightly different than another, but it’s the same stuff. And I’ve looked at the stuff people are saying about developing websites and website design and it is pretty much all the same stuff.

I’m beginning to realize that the reason so many communicators are forgettable is because they say nothing worth remembering. If you go to a conference and hear someone talk about blogging and I go to another conference to hear someone talk about blogging, it isn’t likely that we will remember what each other said about our particular experience. If we do remember, we aren’t likely to seek out that speaker because we already know what was said.

So much emphasis is put on the skill of the writer. That is important, but skill is of little help if the writer has nothing to say. So many people are just rehashing the same old stuff. There may be thousands of unpublished authors out there, but I believe there is room for those authors who can tell us something that other people aren’t. So tell me something I haven’t heard.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Important Stuff

Pop quiz:

Who was named best actor last year?

Which coach won the Super Bowl two years ago?

Who wrote the best selling novel five years ago?

What is the name of your favorite teacher from high school?

What is the name of your favorite author?

What is the name of the person who led you to the Lord?

Don’t bother giving me your answers. I asked the questions to make a point. So many of the things that we think are so important are so easily forgotten, but there are other things that we never forget. Recently, Rachelle Gardner wrote about making writing a lifestyle. The argument seems to be that if we expect to be successful at writing then we’re going to have to take this thing seriously. We might have to make some sacrifices that take us away from our families and out other obligations. What no one has been able to show me is that doing that is worth it.

The saying goes that the wish of a dying man is never I wish I had spent more time at the office. I think you will find that dying authors never say I wish I had taken writing more seriously. It may be that I will appear on a best seller list some day, but even at the peak of my career, most people won’t remember me as well as they remember their favorite high school teacher. There are much more important thing than our appearance on a best seller list.

The important things are all about relationships. Your high school teacher may not have been a great writer, but she took the time to develop a relationship with you. Your favorite author may not know you personally, but there’s a connection there that you don’t have with most authors. And though the person who led you to the Lord may not remember having done so, you won’t forget him. As desirable as being a best selling author may seem, if you want to be remembered, get personal with people.

There’s nothing wrong with pursuing writing with dedication, but don’t do so by forgetting the important stuff. Build those relationships. Do the work that the Lord asks us to do. Get involved with life. Then use your spare time to pen a few words. Do that an you’ll accomplish so much more than those who pursue writing and forget the rest.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Unholy Asumptions

Here’s one of the things that bothers me about Christianity today. Many people are preaching a doctrine of tolerance. Maybe we don’t agree with what others believe, but we’re told that the Christian thing to do is to tolerate their beliefs in the interest of fellowship. The saying is hate the sin but love the sinner and I agree with that, but so often it seems like people expect us to love the sinner by ignoring the sin.

I recently read that Christian artist Jennifer Knapp has revealed that she is a lesbian in a relationship. What do we call that? A practicing lesbian? I’m not sure that’s the word we’re looking for. A few years ago Ray Bolz announced that he is gay, though he said he was not sexually active, in which case I wouldn’t consider him gay. But these announcements change Christianity. We look at some of the great songs that Ray Boltz is known for and we don’t want to think badly of Ray Boltz, no matter what he might do. How can a person who sang I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb be a bad person? So, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad allow gays in out church, people start saying. Didn’t God make them that way?

What if he did? Is that the criteria we are to go by? What of the drug addict? Some people try drugs once and become addicted. God made them that way, so is it okay for them to use drugs? Some men have trouble keeping their eyes off women. It’s natural. God made them that way. Is it okay for such a man to go to bed with a woman other than his wife? Some people struggle with anger management issues. Is it okay for them to be abusive to their family because it is natural?

I think you get the point. Where do we draw the line on this thing? As Christians, we do have a responsibility to love those who struggle with sin, but let’s not forget that it is sin that they are struggling with. How do we know it is sin? The Bible tells us it is sin. But so many people want to either say that the Bible is an outdated book or to find a way to say that the Bible doesn’t say what it says. As an example, look at I Timothy 2:12, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” No commentary is needed to explain what that means to women preachers. If you look at the next verse, “For Adam was first formed, then Eve,” you see that it is by the design that God instituted all the way back at creation, but so many people would like to try to explain that verse away or simply ignore it.

Here’s another verse for you. Isaiah 6:3, “And one cried unto another and said, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.’” God has many wonderful attributes, but this is the only one that is repeated three times. The Lord is holy, holy, holy. We know that God is love and we like to focus on that, but even more important than that is that God is holy. God is without sin. God cannot look upon sin. As sinners, we are unable to stand before God. We can never be more wrong than to say that we show the love of God by overlooking the sin. God is HOLY.

The only standard we have to live by is the standard that God has set. If we are not as holy as God, we fall short. We are not to participate in sin and we are not to find it acceptable for others to participate in sin. Even if that sin is something like jay walking, we fall short.

But we know that God accepts sinners or we would never be able to escape hell and reach heaven. But what kind of sinner has fellowship with God? Can a sinner who participates in sin even when he knows it is a clear violation of the word of God have fellowship? Jesus said that if we love him we will do what he commands. In fact, in Luke 6:46 he compares the person who calls him Lord but doesn’t do what he commands to a person who builds his house on the sand rather than digging down and building it on a rock. A lot of people are just surface Christians. They do a lot of stuff that looks good. They look like good strong Christians, but when the storms come their house crumbles. Jesus says that the difference between these two groups is that one does what he commands and the other doesn’t.

Many people think they are doing what the Lord commands, but they really don’t know. They don’t know because they haven’t actually read the Word of God. They make assumptions about things based on what people around them think is good. God is good, so they assume that he will want those things. They assume that God would want people to separate rather than live through life in an unhappy marriage. They assume that God wants homosexuals to marry. They assume that God would want women to preach. They assume a great many things that God has said he doesn’t want.

Update: I didn't see this until several days after I wrote the above article, but in Britain a preacher was arrested for doing nothing more than mentioning that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin. Don't say it can't happen in America. The enemies of free speech and the enemies of God are everywhere. It is time for us to return to the old time religion and take a stand or we will lose our freedom.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Bad Language

Ever so often in writing circles, the question of foul language comes up. The argument for its use is usually something along the lines of truth in dialog. A former military man who has planted a bomb in a building and finds out it didn’t go off is going to have a few choice words to say. I understand that point of view, but I would like to argue that foul language is not only unnecessary in fiction but the removal of that crud language creates better stories.

I’ve been watching the old Alfred Hitchcock Presents show from the 1950s. One of the things I’ve noticed is the excellent quality of many of the villains. Many of these villains are not unrefined people who would throw cuss words our carelessly, but they are people who give much thought to their choice of words as well as how they commit their crime. Like the politicians who sometimes get caught with an open mike, we know that these characters may not always speak so well, but they must keep the tongue in check. As the Bible tells us, the tongue is very difficult to control, so when a character in a story is able to control his tongue we see his strength in other things as well.

It is easy to reveal a character’s frustration by dropping some word bomb or another, but by doing so we are also tempted to allow the story to rest on that one word. If we instead remove that word and write the story to reveal that frustration in other ways we strengthen the story by bringing the reader along for the ride. But if we let the story rest on that single word we risk the reader either being offended and being blinded to the rest of the story or the reader may skip the word and miss the frustration completely.