Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why Good Books Don't Sell

Hundreds of times I’ve heard authors say, “I’ve got a good book, but I can’t get an agent to read it.” Or someone will say, “I know my book is better than a lot of the books in the stores, but no one wants it.” My first thought is that the author doesn’t have as good of a book as he thinks he does. I’ve read a few of these books and I know that’s the case, but let’s suppose that it isn’t. Let’s suppose that it is your book. You’ve seen sub-quality books too, but your book isn’t one of them. Still, agents and publishers aren’t interested. Why?

As much as we would like to think that we can improve the quality of our writing to the point that people will be interested in our book, that isn’t the case. Once your writing reaches the point that it is “good enough” there isn’t much that improving your writing skill will do for you. There are thousands of authors just like you and me; their writing is good enough for publication. So what’s missing and why is it that authors with less writing skill than us have publishing contracts?

It all comes down to the emotional aspect. I don’t mean the emotions in the story, but the emotional desire of the people considering making a purchase to buy the story. People don’t buy a book because they see the superior quality of the writing. People don’t buy a book because they need it. People buy a book because they want it. I once bought a book because I wanted the picture on the front cover. Fortunately, it turned out to be a good book to read, but it could have been poorly written and I still would have bought it.

That’s the question about the books we see selling. What is it that makes people want this book? Think about it. Why is it that your mother will buy ten copies of your book? Because she has an emotional attachment to you and she desires your success. You may be able to sell books to friends and family members because of that, but not to strangers. If you want an editor to make you an offer, you’ve got to convince him that your book will make him a hero at his publishing company. If you want to the general public to buy your book, you’ve got to have a story that they’ve got to know how it turns out. And you’ve got to convince them of that through the product description. But you’ve also got to have a book that ends in such a way that your readers feel compelled to tell others about it. “You should read this book I just finished.”

All of that is far easier said than done, but that really is what it is all about.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Labeling Books

I’ve heard of people downloading free books and then leaving low star reviews because they were angry because they turned out to be Christian books. But I’ve also heard that similar things have happened to books in other genres after readers found out they were not what they were expecting. One idea is that books should be clearly labeled as Christian. I’m not sure that would help, since most Christian books are already labeled as Christian. It seems to me that readers are grabbing up free books as quickly as they can get them and they don’t bother to look at what they are until they already have them on their Kindle.

I wonder if maybe the solution isn’t in adding even more labeling but in providing a better means for people to voice their frustration. The only reason we authors find it upsetting when they leave low star reviews is because it makes our book look bad when it is really just a case where someone didn’t like the subject. I’m not sure how many people pay attention to the stars on Amazon.com. About the only thing I use them for is to jump to the reviews that will tell me what is wrong with a product. I mostly ignore 5 star reviews because they don’t tell me much. But I don’t trust the stars to tell me if the product is good or not. I’m about to convince myself that it doesn’t matter.

But people do need a place to vent. If they download a free book that they don’t like or worse, if they purchase a book and then discover they don’t like it, there’s really nothing wrong with them having a place to complain about the book. We authors want people to love our books, so we don’t like the idea that people would be giving us one star reviews for no good reason, but a lot of the bestselling books average about three stars. It turns out that when you have about the same number of people who hate you book as love your book, you end up selling more books because people won’t shut up about it. High emotions surrounding a book will cause it to sell. Well written books with very little emotional attachment don’t sell.

Friday, January 27, 2012

What are the Dragons in the Bible?

I heard an interesting claim the other day. Dinosaurs are mentioned in the Bible and in other historical texts, but rather than using the term dinosaur, these texts use the word dragon. The claim does not seem to be without basis, since the word dinosaur wasn’t even coined until after the first translations of the Bible into English were complete. And we know that when Satan spoke to Eve, he appeared in the form of a serpent with legs.

There is opposition to this idea that dinosaurs and dragons are one and the same. Largely, this could be attributed to what we think we know about them. Dinosaurs are creatures that supposedly died out millions of years ago. Dragons are mythical creatures that breathe fire, work magic, and fly. But let’s suppose we could put a dinosaur and a dragon side by side. Let’s also suppose we get rid of the fire breathing and the magic. Now, they begin to look very similar. Both are reptiles. Both can grow to great sizes, though most dinosaurs were quite small. Both have very sharp teeth.

Fiction often has a basis in fact, so it isn’t unthinkable that the stories of dragons would begin with a real creature. Fire and magic might have been added to the stories to make them more entertaining. The problem then is that people believe dinosaurs lived millions of years ago. Trust me, there are a lot of scientists who aren’t going to give up on that idea. If they did, they would have to give up on the concept of evolution, which they have turned into a god.

I don’t care what they think. They have no way to prove that the Earth is billions of years old. And I don’t have any way of proving that dinosaurs are dragons, but there is evidence that indicates it could be true. But I find the concept fascinating. Think about it. As little as a few hundred years about dinosaurs might have still been around. Maybe they still are, if we knew where to look. What do you think? Do you think there be dragons?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Is Tate Publishing a Scam?

Today, I want to take one more look at Tate Publishing and Enterprises LLC. In case you missed Tuesday’s post, Tate Publishing is a subsidy press that focuses on unpublished authors. They charge a $3,990 publicist setup fee, but they do appear to have sufficient staff to justify their claim that they have allocated $27,000 for each book. Today, I want to look less at promises and more at results. In the interest of showing rather than telling, take a look at the video below:

One of the services that Tate Publishing provides is that they create fifteen second spots like the one above and run them on cable networks. They promise 80,000 impressions. Or to state it another way, they promise that 80,000 people will see that commercial. Someone from Tate Publishing is welcome to correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe they charge an additional fee for these commercials.

The way I would expect this to play out is that each commercial will air one time with about 80,000 people watching. They may have to run it more than once to reach the 80,000, so a few people might see it more than once. They may run these things in an infomercial, with several 15 second slots queued up between thirty second slots encouraging people to publish through Tate Publishing. I don’t know because I’ve never seen one of these Tate Publishing commercials running on any network that I’ve ever watched. To me, that is a terrible result.

On top of that, consider the content of the commercial. It has a voice over, which is a good thing, but it is poorly written. The language is far too formal and there’s nothing to convince me that I want to spend a few hours in the land of this story. While this is just one case, consider also the product descriptions for the books that Tate Publishing is trying to sell. To do that, go to a site like Amazon.com and on the Advanced Search page type in “Tate Publishing” in the publisher field. The following is the description from a book called Purchased Power:
John Moore is a successful and brilliant yacht designer living the good life outside of San Francisco. Life seems perfect, when without warning he discovers his wife is being unfaithful and plotting to take over his business. He quickly devises a plan to save his business and leave her for good. He soon finds himself in a world he did not know existed--a world of global political corruption and intrigue. Purchased Power is a story of human weakness, greed, and good people whose errors in judgment put their lives on perilous paths. Follow John Moore on an epic journey to some of the most exotic countries in the world as he tries desperately to save a good woman from the clutches of the corrupt.
This is one of the better ones and still it needs work. The author typically writes these things, but it’s still the editor’s responsibility to help clean them up. This is the first thing potential customers will see.

My point is that the results Tate Publishing are getting is more in line with what you would expect from a subsidy publisher charging a $3,990 entry fee rather that those of a high quality traditional publisher that is paying $27,000 per book. But let’s not jump to the conclusion that Tate Publishing is a scam. A more likely explanation is that they are not selective enough. The fact is, it is easier to produce a good book if the author knows what he’s doing. Combine with that fact that the editing budget is a little low and it is no surprise that their results are less than ideal. But if you happen to be an author who can’t get a contract from a traditional publisher, a subsidy press like Tate Publishing may be just what you’re looking for. As long as they aren’t telling you they will do one thing and they do another, they are not a scam.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

One Word

You don’t really think about the power of words unto you consider how the meaning of one word can influence our understanding of big important concepts. Let’s look at the word church. This word is interesting because we throw it around so loosely and most people don’t give much thought to what it means or where it comes from. We go to church. We meet in a church. We are members of a church. Three different sentences and the word has three different meanings, but there are more than three. When we consider that the Bible used the word church many times, we might start to realize that our whole concept of what a church is may be very different based on which definition we use.

If you say, “I went to church on Sunday,” you probably mean that you went to a worship service of some sort. There’s nothing particularly wrong with using church in that way, since it gets the point across. The problem is that if we use that definition when we reader where Jesus says, “Upon this rock I will build my church,” we might get the impression that he is saying, “Upon this rock I will design my worship service.” Of if we see church as a building, then it seems to make sense for Jesus to say, “Upon this rock I will build my building.” But we’ve all heard from our childhood that the church is the people, not the building. We’ve heard it, but can we prove it?

The word church comes from the Greek word kyriakon which meant “of the Lord” and was used in the form kyriakon doma, meaning “the Lord’s house”. So, in that sense, the word church more correctly refers to the building than the people who meet there. But the word is used in out English Bibles. How can that be? My best guess is that the people who met in the church buildings became so closely associated with the building that people began to use the term interchangeably. So rather than translate the word ekklesia with its original meaning, the translators used the word church. If you want to understand the Bible, everywhere you see the word church, you should remember that it is used in the place of the word ekklesia.

Back when Jesus was using the word, ekklesia already had a meaning. It isn’t a word that he coined, but rather a word he chose because it most closely resembled the organization he organized. In those days, the word ekklesia referred to an assembly. If there was a city council, ekklesia would have been a proper word to use to refer to that body. This is where start to see where our definition of the word church can influence our doctrine.

One common usage of the word church today is to refer to all of the Christians in all of the world. Obviously, it is not possible for all Christians in all of the world to assemble in one place, so it would not be proper to call that church an ekklesia, but we sometimes find that people try to take what the Bible says about the ekklesia and apply it all of the Christian in all of the world. This is sad. I’m no different from anyone else. I would love for the whole family of God to get along. What makes it sad is that when people see church as being all Christians it dilutes the power of what God has said to the individual churches. Look at I Corinthians 12:28, “and God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets,…” Taken out of context and with a large scale view of church, it would be easy to think this verse is talking about how that in the large body of all Christians there are different kinds of workers. While that is true, what it is actually saying is that God placed these people in the church at Corinth. We extrapolate from that that he pays just as much attention to our own local church. If that were not the case, it would be possible for there to be a church full of teachers and no one to do anything else.

How different our doctrines may be based on how we define one little word.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tate Publishing

On more than one occasion, I’ve been asked to give an opinion of Tate Publishing (legally, Tate Publishing and Enterprises, LLC). When I was originally asked, I had very little basis to form an opinion, other than from what I could find online and that left a bad taste in my mouth. According to their website, Tate Publishing claims to be a traditional publisher. This is interesting because authors who have used them mention a $4,000 fee. By definition, that fee makes them a subsidy press rather than a traditional publisher. I don’t like it when companies hide stuff.

I began to understand them a little better when I had the opportunity to look at the contract they ask their authors to sign. The $4,000 fee is actually a $3,990 fee that they classify as a publicist setup fee. Essentially, they require their authors to have a professional publicist. If they don’t, Tate Publishing will charge them $3,990 to use one of theirs. They claim that the publicist is valued at $20,000 per year, but they will absorb that cost. They also claim that they budget $27,000 for editing, production, marketing, etc.

Consider, if their claims are true, $3,990 is a very good deal. It is a little higher than most people are paying for a subsidy press to publish their book, but Tate Publishing functions more like a traditional publisher. Besides, once you sell 1,000 copies of your book, Tate Publishing will refund the $3,990. I may be coining a phrase, but I want to call that a reverse advance, since the author is paying the publisher with the option of getting it back once the publisher earns enough money from the book.

But the problem I see with Tate Publishing’s claims is we have no way to verify that they are accurate. First, the contract states that Tate Publishing is under no obligation to tell the author how the $27,000 allocated for the book is being spent. For all we know, the bulk of it could be allocated toward printing books as the orders come in. That would allow them to allocate the funds on paper, but it would be a very low risk because they wouldn’t spend it until the orders come in. That is just one possibility. It is also quite possible that they are actually spending that money.

Consider also the $20,000 annual publicist fee. This appears to be going to another company called Key Marketing Group. According to the Tate Publishing website, Key Marketing Group is providing six people. Three and a half of these people have the title of “Publicist”. For good or ill, that appears to be the smallest department Tate Publishing has. Their editing department does appear to be quite large, which speaks well for at least part of the $27,000 going toward editing. But Tate Publishing says they absorb the $20,000. My question would be, where do they get the $20,000 from. Are they getting the $20,000 from the $27,000, in which case only $7,000 would go toward everything else? Are they actually allocating $47,000 per book (which would put them more in line with traditional publishers)? Is the $20,000 the result of creative accounting? It isn’t clear.

But consider this: a search for books published by Tate Publishing yields 8,131 results on Amazon.com. Let’s assume that Key Marketing Group is charging Tate Publishing $100,000 per man-year. With six employees allocated to Tate Publishing, that works out to $600,000. Divide that by 8,131 and you are looking at about $75 per book per year for publicists. Those are rough figures, but they are enough to tell us that they don’t have the staffing level required to do what they claim they are doing. It isn’t proof of anything, but it smells a little off.

So let’s look at editing. Traditional publishers budget around $5,000 for editing. Tate Publishing has 32 editors (not including acquisitions editors). These are in-house people, so let’s assume a rate of $50 per hour (salary, benefits, LOE, etc.). Amazon.com indicates that Tate Publishing published 1,496 paperbacks last year. There are approximately 2,000 working hours in a year so 64,000 hours for the editorial staff. So on average, each book published was allocated 40 hours of editorial time. Or approximately $2,000. It would appear then, that Tate Publishing is providing editing, but it is still along the lines of what you would expect from a subsidy press rather than a traditional publisher.

Let’s look at it another way. Tate Publishing as about 165 employees. At $50 per hour, that means their staff costs them about $16.5 million per year. That works out to be about $11,030 per book they publish each year. By the time you throw in equipment cost and other overhead, I could see them making the claim that they are allocating $27,000 per book. I think the $20,000 publicist fee is bogus and I don’t really care whether the $3,990 goes directly to Key Marketing Group or if it helps pay down the $27,000.

While Tate Publishing is a subsidy press and is less selective than most traditional publishers, it appears that their structure forces them to function somewhat like what we would expect from a traditional publisher. The amount authors are subsidizing them will not cover their expenses, so they must rely on the income from book sales to stay in business. Whatever problems Tate Publishing might have, the need to sell books in order to make a profit is a good thing for the authors who choose to use them. I still feel that they are less honest than a self-proclaimed Christian publisher should be and I fear that some of the books they are selling are not what a Christian publisher should be publishing, but I imagine that authors who are willing to spend $4,000 to get their book published could do a lot worse.

Monday, January 23, 2012


I’ve read that 53% of the world lives on less than $2 a day. In the USA, poverty is defined as a family of four with an annual income of less than $22,350 or $10,890 for an individual. That works out to be $30 a day for an individual. That is about 15 times what most people in the world are living on. Only 15% of Americans fall below that line. It is no wonder that so much of the world sees us a rich. It also explains why so many people come to America in order to work and send money back home to their families. Imagine if there were a place where you could go and even the lowest paying jobs would earn you $150,000 a year. If you were struggling here, would it not be attractive to leave your family for a while to earn some money to pay off your debts? That is how much of the world looks at us.

But what does it really mean? The thing is, though we are rich, $2 in the USA doesn’t go as far as it does in some parts of the world. In areas where they are living on $2 a day, you can hire a workman to do some work for you for $2, but here no one would come out for $2. A day’s wages is closer to $200.

Just because a man has to live on $2 a day doesn’t mean that he needs our help. Besides which, there is no way for us to bring all people out of poverty by giving them money. I don’t think God ever intended for us to blindly give people money just because they have less than we do. I thought it was funny when I heard about one religion and its requirement for people to give to the poor. A worshipper can go in to pray and do whatever is required of him, then he can walk out of the place of worship and into this place that is selling things he can give to the poor. After making his purchase, he can walk out and there in rows are several beggars. But rather than giving his gift to them, the shop owner tells some number of them (however many he bought for) of the purchase. They move to the back of the line and the next set are ready for someone to give to them. The worshipper goes on his way, feeling good that he has fulfilled the requirements of his religion.

The Bible makes it very clear that if we don’t work we have to right to eat. It also seems that God wants a more personal touch. There is no reason to think that we must help someone we don’t know. If our intention is to help people on the other side of the world, then it would be better to funnel our money through people we do know on that side of the world, so that they can use it to help people over there. And here, it is better to help a Christian friend in need when we know their need isn’t from laziness than it is to just hand people money and hope they put it to good use. It is better to pay someone to help us with something than it is to just hand them money with no expectation that they will do anything in return.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Decline of the Male Role Model

I’m concerned. I look around and I see a decline in good male role models. I don’t just mean in the world. I don’t expect the world to provide much in the way of role models. The world is so confused that they don’t know which way is up; you can’t expect them to know how men ought to act. No, my concern is male role models among the saints. We still have a few good male role models, but I’m concerned about some of the things I’m seeing.

One thing I’m concerned about is men going to church because their wives want them to go to church. There’s nothing wrong with these men going to church, but their role is messed up. In everything the Bible has to say about the relationship between men and women, it makes it very clear that the men are to lead. Ideally, it should be the case that a family gets up on Sunday morning and they know they are going to go to church because that’s what they always do on Sunday. But let’s suppose that isn’t the case. It should be the man who turns to his wife at the breakfast table and says, “Honey, I’m going to church today.” Actually, if things are the way they ought to be, the man would say, “Honey, we’re going to church today,” and his wife and the kids would do as he said.

Children expect their fathers to teach them the difference between right and wrong. Mothers are free to be a little more relaxed about things without it messing the kids up too bad, but what Daddy says is the law. Unfortunately, fathers are often portrayed as just wanting to have fun with their kids, but what Momma says goes.

One of the things I’ve noticed in Christian fiction is a tendency to measure the value of a many by how attractive he is and his willingness to get involved in the things women are doing around the house. I’m sure women don’t mind having extra hands to help them mop the floor and wash the dishes. There’s nothing wrong with a man doing those things, but his true value should be measured in how he leads and make the tough decisions. His value should be measured in his willingness to do the hard things and to set the example for his family.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Extending Art of Illusion Examples Demonstrated

I thought I'd given up on book videos, but then I came up with this one. The main reason I put this video together is because some of the examples in Extending Art of Illusion can't be fully appreciated without seeing them in action. I had a lot of fun developing the Tracker plugin. I spent more time than I care to admit just setting up trackers and moving a sphere around the scene with my mouse so that I could watch the pointers follow it through the scene. You can see some of that in this video.

SOPA/PIPA and Why Wikipedia Doesn't Agree With CNN

By now, you’ve probably heard of SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act). On January 18, 2012, several of the popular websites including Wikipedia and Google protested the act, bringing it into the public awareness. But you may have also noticed that the news organizations who were reported about the event, such as CBS and CNN, included statements in their reports saying that their parent companies were in support of SOPA. So what’s going on here? We know that the news organizations are liberal, so is this just a liberal versus conservative thing? No, I don’t think so.

This is about money. What else would it be about? The divide between those who support SOPA and those who oppose it is generally the same line that exists between those who make money by creating content and those who make money by using content. The goal of SOPA is to shut down websites that are using pirated information. In concept, if a copyright owner finds a website that is using his intellectual property without permission, he would first contact the website and ask them to take it down or pay for the content within a reasonable amount of time. If they failed to do so, he could then turn the matter over to authorities and their revenue stream from ads and Paypal would be cut off.

I think you can see why Wikipedia would be opposed to the act. Because anyone can edit their pages, I doubt they know how much of their content is illegally copied. Google is one of the major online ad services, so it is also understandable that they would be opposed to SOPA and PIPA (Protect IP Act. More or less the Senate version of SOPA). If there is a law in place that requires them to quit paying for clicks from a website that is using pirated information, it won’t be long before the illegal websites will drop Google. They will still try to make money from ads, but it will not be through companies that are trying to obey the law. That could mean a big loss in revenue for Google.

The parent companies of CBS and CNN, however, are content creators. They actually pay people to carry cameras around and film stuff. They pay writers to sit in front of a computer and write. While they also make money from ads, their ads don’t appear on websites that contain pirated intellectual property. But more than that, because they are paying people to create content, they are the victims when people use pirated information to attract people to their websites.

I don’t know if the bills as they are currently written are ideal, but I do know that I’m opposed to piracy. It seems to me that people should not be allowed to profit from intellectual property they have obtained illegally. Moreover, hosting a website in a foreign country should not shield these people from justice. Though Wikipedia and others claim that their protest is about free speech, I don’t see how they can support that claim. The purpose of free speech is to allow anyone to state his opinion without fear of prosecution. We should not take it to mean that we can use other people’s intellectual property without their permission. No, this is all about money. Those who are profiting from using other people’s intellectual property have no desire to protect those who are profiting by creating intellectual property.

What is Love?

What is love? Let’s not confuse the issue too much. Let’s focus on agape. The others are fairly clear. The KJV translates it as charity. It gets interesting when we look at 1 Corinthians 13:3. “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor…and have not charity, it profited me nothing.” It is interesting because we are commanded to have charity. In reference to the love a man has for a woman, it is intentional love. But here, it appears that we can give our goods to the poor and still not have it.

Fortunately, Paul defines it for us. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” It is still intentional. You have the choice of being long-suffering or not. You have the choice to be kind or not. You have the choice to do all of these things or not. And if you choose charity, it will be natural for you to also give to the poor, but giving to the poor is one way that people can fake it, much like a husband and fake love for his wife by showering her with gifts.

True charity is a choice to put one’s self lower than another person. It is not a feeling, but it may require us to put aside our feelings. None of us are perfect at it, but we willingly put aside our desire for superiority for the good of the other person.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What if God Kills Babies?

Some people make the claim that if God has ever willed the death of an innocent child then he is not worthy of a Christian’s worship. What? Where do they get that?

You may not like to hear this, but God kills people. And yes, he has killed babies who, as far as we can tell, never did anything wrong. David’s son with Bathsheba, is just one example. That’s the facts, plain and simple. He willingly let Satan kill Job’s whole family and Job was a just man who offered sacrifice for his children. Innocent in all points of the law. That’s the facts. God kills people and makes no apology for it.

If, as they claim, a god like that isn’t worthy of our worship then God is not worthy of our worship. But that’s not what God says. God says that he is worthy of our worship. Are Christians worshiping the wrong God? Or are the people who have made that claim idiots?

The thing is, we don’t get to pick and choose. There is one living God, he is what he is, and he demands our worship. We may not like what he is, but that isn’t up to us. Sure we could carve out an idol and define it however we want, but God is God.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Can God Do the "Impossible"?

Yesterday, I mentioned the omnipotence of God and how it is not open for debate. But though all things are possible with God, that doesn’t mean that he will do all things or that he does not allow us to have freewill. Since all things are possible, one of the “all things” that he can allow is for us to make our own choices about many things, including whether to accept or reject his Son. We know that it isn’t his will that any perish. We know that he could force us to accept his Son. But he doesn’t. Why doesn’t he? I don’t know, but he doesn’t.

One of the questions people ask is whether God could create a rock that he could not push. Yes, I’m sure he could, but I don’t think he is going to. What we see instead is an even bigger problem. God created man. God wanted a relationship with us, but he gave us the ability to sin. God cannot have a relationship with sinful beings. That makes it seem like there truly is a rock that God can’t push. So God got creative. Instead of writing us off or going back on what he said (the wages of sin is death), he got around the problem by becoming a man and dying on the cross for our sins.

So let me put it this way. God is omnipotent, so he could create a rock that he could not push. Let’s suppose then that God decides to do that. God is more than capable of creating something that meets all of the constraints we might put on it and still come up with a means that our minds can’t think of to do whatever he needs to do with it. How silly and arrogant people are to imagine that they can create a challenge that the God who created the Universe can’t master.

Monday, January 16, 2012

What Is Debatable?

What is debatable? Some people seem to think that pretty much anything is debatable. Recently, a literary agent invited me and all of her other acquaintances to get involved in a debate on a client’s blog about whether God is omnipotent. How is that debatable? Jesus declared in Matthew 19:26, “with God all things are possible.” That sounds pretty omnipotent to me. So people who would debate this subject have rejected the Bible and the words of Jesus as the foundation of truth. That is a problem because it is the Bible that tells us what God is like. If all we have to go on is what we see around us, then we would conclude that he is very powerful, but we would have no way of knowing if he is all powerful because we can’t see far enough to know. Our telescopes can’t even see the end of what he has created, so how could we possibly know whether there is something out there that he doesn’t have power over. Simply put, it is not debatable.

Paul seemed to think that even less was debatable. Romans 8:28 states that we know that all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose. But the basis of his argument is that those he foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. Paul doesn’t see it as debatable, but a known fact that God predestined those he knew would accept Christ.

The thing is, some arguments are not worth getting into. When people start arguing about things that the Bible states as fact, it is very much like arguing with a sign post. If they aren’t willing to accept that a stop sign says, “stop” then no amount of arguing will convince them. If they are unwilling to accept that the Bible says what it says is fact, then no amount of arguing will change that. There are better uses of my time.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Killing Jack

A critic once wrote, “the hero must triumph over his enemies, as surely as Jack must kill the giant in the nursery tale. If the giant kills Jack, we have missed the whole point of the story.” (The Times, 13 September 1968) Why is this? Why must the hero triumph?

Stories are about encouraging people to understand and to do what is right. When we look at a story like Jack and the Beanstalk, we see a good for nothing character who turns his life around by accomplishing something amazing. That is what we want to encourage men and boys to do. We want them to strive to be the hero. We want them to strive to overcome their imperfections. If the giant had killed Jack, then we wouldn’t be encouraging boys to try but we would be causing them to fear to make the effort.

I believe the exception to that is in a call to arms story. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the bad guys won. In other words, the giant killed Jack, but what makes it different is that it was clear that the mostly white readership of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the giant rather than being Jack. The call was for people to realize that unless people took action, the giant would continue to kill Jack. But in most stories we want the character the readers identify with to accomplish what we want to encourage our readers to accomplish.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I Like Happy Endings

Though I will never promise to end all of my stories without tragedy, I’m a big fan of happy endings. People like to reach the end of the story and feel glad that things turned out the way they did. We need sad endings too. Books like The Spy Who Came in From the Cold have their place. Part of the reason I know sad endings have their place is because some of the stories in the Bible have sad endings. What could be more sad than a man achieving a great victory in war and then coming home and sacrificing his daughter? We need those to remind us that not everything works out the way we would like.

But happy endings give us hope. I am so much a fan of happy endings that I’m convinced that unless an author has something that can only be said through a sad ending, he should plan on a happy ending. Take Uncle Tom’s Cabin for example. It is about a black slave who is trying to make the best of a bad situation. But in the end he dies a terrible death. The ending is somewhat happy because he does go back to the good master, but it is sad because he dies a senseless death. But it needed to be sad for people to see the impact slavery was having on people.

I see no point in making a story sad just to make people cry. People have enough things in life to make them cry and to make them angry. There’s no reason why stories have to do the same. Of course, I’m only talking about endings. In the middle, of course people should experience sadness and anger, but the end should bring them joy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Deborah is an interesting character in the Bible. We don’t actually know much about her, other than she had a lot of spunk. But I’ve got a couple of theories. Actually, they are more like suppositions than theories. One is that the reason she was a judge was because the men weren’t doing their jobs. That’s not to say that she was wrong to do what she did, but Judges is written about a time when the Jews had turned away from God. They weren’t doing what they were supposed to do. They weren’t worshiping God like they should have been. They weren’t following the leaders they were supposed to follow. I suspect there was a man who God had called to be a judge but was not doing his job.

That leads me into the next supposition. Deborah was a prophetess because her husband was a prophet, not because she was called to be a prophet. Consider the wife of Isaiah. She was called a prophetess because she was his wife, not because she was getting messages from God. So it could be that Deborah’s husband was supposed to be doing what she was doing, but he wasn’t for some reason. Any message she got from God might have come to him first.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Not Starting

A new year, a new story. Last year, I wrote two books, and published three, but none were novels. This year, I intend to write at least one novel. I found a story in the Bible that I would like to retell in a modern setting. It’s a great story, but I’ve been having trouble figuring out where to begin. The basic outline is there, but I’ve been having trouble figuring out where the main character is coming from. I know what has to happen, but why? The Bible account is a little vague on that point. It states the facts of the situation, but it doesn’t tell us anything about what is going through people’s heads at the time.

Besides that, the Bible account takes up only two chapters, with the second chapter saying much of the same thing the first chapter did. Essentially, I have to take three pages of information and expand them into 300 pages. But after struggling with how to begin, I decided not to begin. Instead, I wrote the final chapter first. I began with the final event and detailed what happened. That worked so well, that I think I will step backwards a bit and write about the event that caused the situation that triggered that final event. If that works, I’ll step back even farther and detail the events leading up to those events. Eventually, I may reach the point at which the story begins. It will be a point at which the good guys are dying a slow death. By that point, I’ll have a better understanding of what it is that is killing these guys.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


In life, it doesn’t matter how you start as much as it does how you finish. You may begin in poverty or in wealth, but the real question is what you do with your life. Endings are so much more important than beginnings. Think about what you see in the Bible. As great as the beginning is, God always had his eye on the end. In the end, he wanted a relationship with us. In the beginning, he gave us the freedom to choose, but without seeing the relationship he wanted to have with us, none of that mattered.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Lots of Love

Have you noticed that nearly every movie that Hollywood produces has a love story? Stratch that. Have you noticed that nearly every movie Hollywood produces has a romance? There are exceptions, but even a real guy's movie, like Die Hard, has a romance. There's a reason for that. I'm sure I'll take some heat from the romance authors out there, but the fact is that romances are easy to write and easy to sell. At least, they're easier to sell than stories without a romantic element. I believe the reason is that we all have this natural desire to hook up with someone and live happily ever after. But desire and reality are often very different. First there is the struggle to find someone. Then there is problem that marriage turns out to be a lot more work than most people imagined. So we like stories that let us imagine that we can storm a tower, kill a bunch of bad guys, rescue the girl, and walk off into the sunset with her.

But just because they're easier to sell doesn't mean we shouldn't consider writing different kinds of stories. Ultimately, a story has to be about communication. There's only so much that we can communicate through a romantic story. Yeah, I realize that romance authors have in their heads that any story can be rewritten as a romance and perhaps they're right, but that doesn't mean it is the best way to tell every story. Stories used to be about valor. Who cares if the guy got the girl, if the guy was able to do something that others had tried and failed, then it was worth telling a story about. Now it seems that people think accomplishments are worth talking about, only if it impresses some woman. Real men don't measure their self worth in terms of the approval of women.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Story Struggles

I've been struggling with a story lately. I have a rough outline done but some of the finer points are difficult. The story involves a woman killing someone, but the story isn't about her, it is about another man. The strange thing about this story is that the man she kills needs to be killed, but I need it to be the case that the reader feels that the man the story is about should have been the one to kill this man. I'm also struggling because the story takes place in a modern setting, so it is hard to see this as justice if it doesn't first go through a court of law.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What's Wrong with Christian Romance Novels

Romance novels make up the bulk of the Christian fiction market. Harlequin’s Love Inspired is pumping out six a month. Then there are suspense novels, many of which are also romances. Harlequin’s Love Inspired Suspense is pumping out four of those a month. And that’s just a portion of what one publisher is putting out. It seems that the theory of Christian publishers is that there is not story that cannot be rewritten as a romance.

I’ve been giving this subject some thought ever since Tamela Hancock Murray brought it up on Steve Laube’s blog ([1], [2]). Tamela is a literary agent and a romance novelist, so that should give you some idea of her view on the subject. But the thing I’m really struggling with is the concept of love that we find in Christian romance novels. I’m not going to tell you that they aren’t clean. I’m not going to tell you that they are poorly written. I could give examples, but most are clean enough that pastors’ wives read them and the readers aren’t complaining about the writing. But the one thing I’ve found to be consistent throughout Christian romance novels that I’ve read is the concept of love. (Yes, I have read Christian romance novels, so don’t bother leaving a comment saying I don’t know what I’m talking about because I don’t read them.)

Inevitably in a romance novel you will find this concept of being “in love”. Often, the struggle in the book is this question of whether two people love each other. By this, the author mean, are they “in love” with each other. In other words, does this person make the character feel all fuzzy inside? Is this person the one she daydreams about? Does she imagine what her kids would look like if they had this man’s eyes and nose? Of course, it is never as simple as that because there is usually something that keeps the characters from wanting to be “in love” with the other, such as some past argument. But once they get past that and admit to each other that they are in love with each other, they eagerly put aside their differences and live happily ever after.

That kind of love is great. I’m all for it and I truly believe it is a blessing from God as long as we don’t abuse it. The problem I see with so many romance novels is that the basis for determining whether two people should be together is whether they are “in love” or not. My apologies to my friend Colleen Coble, but consider her recent novel Lonestar Angel. In this book, the two lead characters are separated and one of them thought they were divorced, but the her husband shows up as she is considering marriage to another man to tell her that he knows where their daughter is and needs her help to get her back. Throughout the book, we see that he still loves his wife, but is reluctant to tell her this and that he wants them to be together. We also see that she still has feeling for him and she also is reluctant to tell him. As for the other guy, he was just a friend anyway, so there never was a question of whether she was “in love” with him. All the right people get together in the end and they live happily ever after.

While that sounds great, what does that say about real life? While being “in love” with one’s spouse doesn’t hurt anything and we might find it difficult to decide to marry someone with whom we are not “in love”, it is dangerous to portray that as the basis for a successful relationship. The problem is that a man may wake up one morning and realize the old romance has gotten stale. He looks at his wife and she isn’t as attractive as she once was. She doesn’t take the time to get dressed up for him, like she once did. Their conversations are about things like what’s for supper and who will pick up the kids from school. And they can’t agree because she wants to buy a new pair of shoes when he knows they need to save money. Is it now okay for a man to leave his wife or a wife her husband because the feeling is gone? If the unthinkable should happen, and they get divorced, should the return of the “in love” feeling be the basis for them to get back together?

As great as that feeling is, no, that is not what the Bible says. Husbands, love your wives. Do it intentionally. Even if you don’t feel like it, love your wives. Even if you wonder if it was a mistake to marry her, love your wives. And wives, respect your husbands. Even if you don’t feel attracted to him, respect him. Listen to what he has to say. Even if you know he’s making a bad decision, respect him. Let him make mistakes and stick by him and support him as he learns from his mistake. That’s what the Bible says, but I have yet to see it in a romance novel.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Linking to Sites Randomly

T he other day, I was involved in a discussion about providing links to more than just Amazon.com. The claim was that Barnes & Noble checks to see if authors are linking to them or not and they will stop selling the author’s books if they don’t find links to their site. I don’t know if that is true or if it is just an urban legend. It seems to me that Barnes & Noble has better things to do than to pay someone to see how many links there are from the author’s website. Besides which, Barnes & Noble makes money from selling books, not from links. But it’s one of those things that sounds almost believable because Barnes & Noble has a history of refusing to sell some books. But this post isn’t about that.

In the discussion, one of the things mentioned was that with so many booksellers out there, having more than one link results in a big long list. I suggested that rather than having a list of links, people could just have their website or blog randomly choose which link to provide. One person might visit the site and see a link to Amazon.com while someone else would see a link to Barnes & Noble or one of the other booksellers. The person I said that to said that it was it was beyond his capability. It is actually very simple and I have provided the code below. Instead of the normal links you would put in, this code would go in its place:

<script type="text/javascript">
var numberOfLinks = 2;
var randNum = Math.floor(Math.random()*numberOfLinks);

var linkStr0 = "http://www.amazon.com/Extending-Art-Illusion-Reference-Creating/dp/1612950027";
var linkStr1 = "http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/extending-art-of-illusion-timothy-fish/1037325198?ean=9781612950020&itm=1&usri=extending+art+of+illusion";

switch (randNum){
case 0:
document.write("<a href=\""+linkStr0+"\">Buy on Amazon.com</a>");
case 1:
document.write("<a href=\""+linkStr1+"\">Buy on BN.com</a>");
document.write("<a href=\""+linkStr0+"\">Buy My Book</a>");

I have put in bold the things that you would need to change for your own website. You may also need to add cases, if you want to link to more than two sites. The link below is the result of this script:

Any questions?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy "Last" Year of the World

Happy New Year. This is the year the world ends, or so say the people who are putting faith in the Mayan calendar. But you may recall, the world was supposed to end last year—twice. But some people think that the world is going to end December 21, 2012, all because of a Mayan calendar. Most people are acting like they believe it will end then, but I do think there are people who are afraid that “it just might be true.”

The sad thing is that people are more willing to put their faith in Mayans who are dead than they are in people who are living. They are more willing to put their faith in a piece of ceramic with no evidence to support it than they are in the Bible, which has a preponderance of evidence to show that it is true. Why would you believe a calendar that has no proven claims over a book that has hundreds of proven claims and no disproven claims? That doesn’t make sense to me.

One thing I know is that the world is not going to come to an end on December 21, 2012. I cannot say whether the rapture will take place in 2012 or not, no one but God knows that, but I do know that the world will not end this year. I know that because the Bible tells us that there are seven years of tribulation that must take place. If we assume that those seven years take place immediately after the rapture, then we know that the world has at least seven years. But there is more. The end of the world doesn’t happen at the end of seven years because that is when Jesus will stand upon the Mount of Olives and establish his kingdom here on earth. There will be an addition 1,000 years in which Satan will be bound. And then Satan will be loosed for a while. How long that lasts, I don’t know. With the way God looks at time, it could be several years, and then the end will come. The world as we know it will be burned up and there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

There is no way to put an exact date on the end of the world, but it will be here for more than 1007 years more. When December 21, 3019 rolls around, I’m confident that there will still be people here. We will have died by then, but I’m hoping that by that time I will have returned. Where will you be?