Posts Tagged 'Books'

America Lite

I got a new book over the weekend. It’s by David Gelernter who is “a professor of computer science at Yale, contributing editor at the Weekly Standard, a regular contributor to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and former board member of the National Endowment for the Arts.”

The book is called America Lite — How Imperial Academia Dismantled our Culture (and Ushered in the Obamacrats).

Professor Gelernter has been writing occasional guest posts for Power Line blog on the subjects he covers in this book, and having found them all interesting I finally decided to get the book for myself.

From the inside cover:

America-Lite (where we all live) is just like America, only turned into an amusement park or a video game or a supersized Pinkberry, where the past and the future are blank and there is only a big NOW. How come we know so little about the past, care so little about the future, and expect so little (except cynicism) from our culture, our leaders — and each other?

In this refreshingly judgmental book, David Gelernter connects the historical dots to reveal a stealth revolution carried out by post-religious globalist intellectuals who, by and large, “can’t run their own universities or scholarly fields, but are very sure they can run you.” These imperial academics have deployed their students into the top echelon of professions once monopolized by staid, steady, stately WASPs. In this simple way, they have installed themselves as the new designated drivers of American culture…”

Mere facts are disdained, “old-fashioned fact-based judgments like true are false” are no longer valid, and the teaching of actual history has been replaced by the teaching of “theories about history.”

By removing objective facts and absolute truths observable by all or arrived at by “common sense,” and inserting endless theories and tropes and feelings and gauzy visions of utopia, concepts that on the surface don’t make sense (“lead from behind,” “spend money in order to save money,”) and as such are only really understood by the most intellectual and enlightened among us, we clearly must abandon the attempt to think for ourselves and let these brilliant academicians do it for us.  And, says Gelernter, so we have.

“In fact, we have handed over the keys to the star pupil and teacher’s pet of the post-religious globalist intellectuals, whose election to the presidency of the United States constituted the ultimate global group hug.

How do we finally face the truth and get back into the driver’s seat? America-Lite ends with a one-point plan.”

And of course the jacket doesn’t say what that plan is. I’ll have to read the book to find out. I’ve already read the introduction and it generated enought thought for me to write an entire post in addition to this one (which I’ll put up probably tomorrow).

Even the back cover is fascinating (Click to enlarge):

 

A Request for Ideas

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to do a guest post for the Christian SF/F blog Speculative Faith and given a range of openings throughout the summer from which to pick. Since Arena in its repackaged version is due to release the first of July, I thought a guest post on something relating to that might be a good idea and picked July 6 for my publish date.

I’ve been brainstorming and thinking about the Spec Faith post for a week or two, but so far haven’t come up with anything that keeps going past a paragraph or two. So I decided to see if you all, my readers, might have some suggestions of things you might be interested in seeing a post about. If so, please let me know, in the comments or by email.

So far I’ve thought of:

telling the story of how Arena/Light of Eidon were published;

talking about how things have changed in the publishing field since those times;

discussing the idea that sex, violence, and dark events are not appropriate subject matter for Christian reading and should not appear in books;

grappling with the still prevalent idea that fantasy is only for kids, and why that isn’t necessarily so;

examining some of the specific elements of the allegory in Arena;

pr relating some of the responses I’ve gotten to Arena, both good, bad and wacky…

If any of those ideas seem particularly appealing, or you’re curious about a particular aspect of them I didn’t mention, or one of them triggered an entirely different idea or…

Please! Feel free to fire away.

What Do You Think of the New Cover?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just thought I’d do a bit of an informal poll today — what do you all think of the new cover?

Looking at them side by side, I can see that the original cover was aimed much more at women — with the pink and light blue and purple (on the back). And the woman walking  in the middle, of course!

On the other hand, it says “adventure” to me very clearly. I especially like the multiple arches, though when I first saw it, I  was somewhat alarmed. I hadn’t written the original description of the scene with multiple arches, seeing as  passing through it was to represent the one-time decision of believing in Christ.

But then my editor (who is now my agent) told me about his discussions with the art director and how the multiple arch design worked much better artistically than the single arch and did I think I could rewrite the scene to include it?

Well that threw me a bit, but I went to the Lord, asked for guidance and He provided it through a friend who pointed out that the verb tense for believing is the one where you make the decision once but the results go on forever.

Loved that. So I rewrote the scene, and the arches stayed.

The new cover is more mysterious and science fiction-y and definitely has a more masculine feel than the first. Which I think might have been the intention. Ten years ago, the primary buyers and readers of Christian fiction were women. And although typically it’s the men who go for science fiction, it made no sense in the marketers’ opinion to try to appeal to them even if Arena was science fiction. And so they did not. It’s one of the reasons why Christian science fiction and fantasy has had such a difficult time getting going in this field.

With their reprints, Bethany House is trying for a simpler, more … generic? … look than the first releases and I think this one’s quite intriguing.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, whatever they might be.

The Darkest Evening of the Year

In keeping with my theme for the week of dog related posts, I thought I’d put up my thoughts of that Dean Koontz novel I mentioned having read last week.

Published in paperback in 2007 Koontz’s The Darkest Evening of the Year is first off a paean to the Golden Retriever in particular (They sound like fabulous dogs — except for the hair) and dogs in general.

He also touched a bit on his “dogs are the way to redeem a wounded/wretched/evil soul” theology which I first encountered it in One Door Away from Heaven. That was more in passing. This is much more developed.

Not to say I didn’t enjoy the book. I did. (Quigley is SO not a Golden Retriever!)

Since Koontz is now on his second Golden, and works with the organizations that provide service dogs to people with disabilities, I am sure he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the temperament and behavior of the breed. I mentioned in my previous post about the Wonder Dog Chancer, that 70% of Goldens, Labradors and German Shepherds pass the service dog training course, whereas only 2% of other breeds do. I doubt any hounds would ever even be considered. I cannot imagine Quigley sitting patiently on the patio deck, unleashed, waiting for “permission” to join his friends frolicking in the water as the Goldens are said to do in this book.

The only time Quigley sits patiently is at dinner time when he sits between my hubby and me watching us eat, waiting for the moment we are done and the plates will go into the dishwasher whereupon he will attempt to get in a few licks…

But I digress. I read the book mostly in one day and finished it up the second night. I was never bored, I didn’t think it took too long to get into… in fact, I loved his wordcraft. Here’s the start:

Behind the wheel of the Ford Expedition,  Amy Redwing drove as if she were immortal and therefore safe at any speed.

In the fitful breeze, a funnel of golden sycamore leaves spun along the post-midnight street. She blasted through them, crisp autumn scratching across the windshield.

I especially like the way he turned “autumn” into a thing that scratches the windshield

I wept unrestrainedly during his depiction of the euthanasia of the above-mentioned Amy Redwing’s first retriever. The whole thing was so much like what I went through with Bear, it was like living it again… Very poignant. Very well done.

And despite Koontz’s weirdness regarding the spiritual efficacy of having a relationship with a dog, there was a place where, though at first his character ridiculed the idea of the Rapture, he nevertheless got the point of God’s perfect righteousness dead on:

…if God existed, a God of pure love, then for sure there had to be a purgatory, because you would need a place of purification before you dared go upstairs for the Ultimate Hug. Even a sweet woman like Mrs. Bonnaventura, rapturing directly from this life to God’s presence, would detonate as violently as anti-matter meeting matter, like in that old episode of Star Trek.”  (pg 173-4)

Cool! Exactly why Jesus had to become a man and go to the cross and why God had to create in us a new creature at the point of salvation,  give us His righteousness, and will make for each believer a new resurrection body for eternity. Because we ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God and there is none righteous, no not one. (Ro 3: 1o;23)  I’ve thought before that sin and God are sort of like matter and anti-matter… Except that only the anti-matter (ie sinful creature) would detonate when it came into contact with God because God is immutable.

Of course that wasn’t the direction that Koontz took the matter, but it’s exciting to come across a statement of truth like that when you’re not expecting it.

The story centers around the special Golden Retriever Amy Redwing rescues from an imminent beating at the very beginning, who was…

… …

SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

… …

…I guess, possessed or indwelt by the spirits? souls? of her long-dead first dog and baby daughter. At the end this special Golden with subtle supernatural powers resuscitates the heroes who have both been killed in their attempts to stop the villains.

Readers on Amazon didn’t like this and many complained bitterly, calling it a hideous Deus ex Machina. Except technically, I don’t think it was.

As I understand it, the term comes from the Greek dramas where everything would be going wrong by the end of the play, and then the god would be lowered in on a platform to clean up the mess and restore order. But in this case, by the time of the resuscitation, the story was over, the problems solved, the villains dealt with. Yes the resuscitation definitely made for a happy ending, but I think it also played along one of the main threads he’d been weaving through the story. That is, that there are forces beyond our ken, that there is divine grace and a purpose to this life.  There are second chances.

The villains were all about living in the moment because, they thought, there was nothing else. No God, no mysteries, no meaning, only self and satisfying self.

In that it fit right in with messages I’d been receiving from my pastor shortly before and while I was reading the book. About the old man, the one that’s been crucified with Christ, and how it’s only and always about self. What’s in it for me? How do I feel? What am I going to do? What did I do wrong? How can I do better? What do I want? What did I not get? Etc.

To be sure, the villains in this piece were not that introspective, but even that was more in keeping with their in-the-moment approach. They were more like, “I want to [have sex/ eat a sandwich/ torment a child/ go to the desert/ burn down a house] right now.” So they got up and did it. Now. They also thought way more highly of themselves then they ought, but that’s typical of villains.

Anyway, I think this last quote encapsulates one of the book’s main themes and one of the things I liked most about it:

“Born in a tornado, Brian had considerable respect for the chaos that nature could spawn and for the sudden order — call it fate — that was often revealed when the apparent chaos clarified.”

Which has kind of been playing out in my life lately — especially in my writing life!

I Do Outline Eventually

The comments on Monday’s post (The First Draft is a Slog) got me thinking more about my process, especially as relates to outlines. Becky Miller’s link to  a post on Harvest House editor Nick Harrison’s blog about getting stalled because you’ve let go of the tension, also sparked some thoughts.

Letting go of the tension means you’ve resolved your main line of conflict long before you reached the story’s end… which is not a good thing. And the outline method I use does address this potential pitfall.

(I was amused by one of the author’s suggestions for figuring out what to do — i.e., consider that perhaps you don’t have enough plot for a novel.  I have never had the problem of too little plot material for a novel.  LOL!)

But back to the subject at hand, which is that eventually I do outline. In fact, before I ever start to write, I spend time gathering notes on 3×5 index cards I’ve cut in half. (being smaller, more cards can be laid out than if I used the 3×5 cards whole)  Notes about characters, the world, possible motivations, possible events, incidents… So it’s not like I’m diving blind into the book. If anything, it can feel like I have too much material. Some of it I’ll use; some of it I won’t. It’s hard to know, sometimes, which is which.

In her book Novel-in-the-Making, Mary O’Hara (also the author of My Friend Flicka) talks about various ideas for what might happen needing time to sort themselves out. At first you may not be able to tell which one you like, which one fits, but over time they will sort themselves out as some rise to the surface while others sink into oblivion.

All this work with the cards is a way of allowing some ideas to rise to the top and other to sink out of my awareness.

Once I’ve gotten started though, tested the waters a bit, as I said I do have a form of outlining that I use, which is based on information Jack Bickham provided in his Writer’s Digest Elements of Fiction Series book Scene and Structure.

The structure is based on cause and effect and the notion of alternating “scenes” and “sequels”, all oriented to an overall story goal.  Bickham uses an example of Fred needing to be first to climb a mountain .

“I must be the first to climb that mountain,” Fred said.

Thus the reader wonders, “Will Fred succeed in being the first to climb the mountain?”

So Fred begins his quest. First up, he must convince the bank to give him a loan of sufficient money to  finance and equip his expedition. Thus, in the next scene, taking place at the bank, his goal is to get a loan.

If he gets the loan, everyone’s happy, and his plan moves forward but the reader will be asleep, or worse, annoyed, wondering why he was made to read through such banal material.

No, we have to have conflict. Therefore, the banker is opposed to Fred’s absurd notion right at the start and they have a fight.

This little scenario illustrates the components of a scene

First, it is active, something that could be staged in a play. It has a viewpoint character (Fred) with a goal (get a loan), and an obstacle to his achieving that goal (the banker). He and the banker conflict over the goal, and the scene ends in disaster for Fred’s goal. (the banker says no, and never come back to this bank again; the banker says yes, but you’ll owe me for the rest of your life; or yes, but you must take my bratty, 14-year-old son with you.)

A sequel, on the other hand, is static, it’s reflective. After the above scene, Fred will have to go away and think things through. Review what happened, deal with his emotions, decide what he really wants, consider his options and come up with a plan of action, which should involve a new goal related to the overall story goal of climbing the mountain.  A sequel then, recounts the character’s feelings about what’s just happened, these move into thoughts about what to do next, and culminate in a decision.

I try to organize my stories based on this framework, and I’ve found it helps at least not to end up with everything wrapped up before you want it to be, seeing as the scenes always have to end in some sort of disaster, or they’re not a scene.

Obviously there is a LOT more to all of this, or Bickham wouldn’t have been able to write an entire book on the subject. And it’s not quite as simplistic or as formulaic as I’ve made it seem here. Sometimes the viewpoint character is not the one with the goal for example, but the one being acted upon. That is my situation right now with Chapter 1. My POV is reacting to events that have suddenly come into her life, which is part of what’s making this chapter so difficult. Plus elements of the hidden story are emerging, but of course, neither she nor the reader will realize that at the moment.

Anyway, I had written about two-thirds of Arena, got bogged down, got hold of Bickham’s book and spent three weeks reworking the book in accordance with the scene/sequel structure. I think it helped a great deal. I’ve used Bickham’s approach on all my subsequent books, though maybe not as religiously as I did in Arena. After awhile you start to get a sense for doing it automatically. But when you hit a wall, it’s these principles that have most often helped me get around/over/through it.

And just writing about all this has been helpful as well. Because I have rediscovered all those note cards I had, which I knew I had but didn’t feel ready to look at yet… Maybe tomorrow I will.

Quote of the Day – Book-writing

“The profession of book-writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”   ~   John Steinbeck, 1902-1968

And Finally, Task Five

Last week I related how I was gently returning to the saddle of working on my current novel, The Other Side of the Sky or my “Work In Progress,” by means of with five tasks that I pursued in 15 minute increments:

Task 1:  write in my log or do morning pages

Task 2: Declutter organize the office (this project is coming along nicely. Soon I may not have to devote any time to decluttering the office)

Task 3: Read something about writing (I’m reading my old log from 2000)

Task 4:  Answer fan letters

and now Task Five:  do something that specifically relates to Sky.

Last week that was writing a nonstop — fast, stream-of-consciousness writing capturing my thoughts about the book at the moment.  It was also looking through one stack of 3×5 cards, each with a question and jotted answers on it relating to basics of the book. I got these from a Writer’s Digest article (Feb 1992) by Jack Bickham called Short Story Blueprint, and have used them to start off every book I’ve written. Questions like,

1. What kind of story is it?  — in this case, Sky is an action/adventure, science fiction/allegory with romantic subplot…

2. What is the setting? — alternate world, underground civilization without connection or direct referents to earth. Thanatos is the name of the empire, and yes, it might be clichéd, most people might know that Thanatos is Greek for death, but right now, I don’t care. I love the sound of it. Like the sound of its inhabitants, as well: Thanosians…

3. In what time period is it set?  — irrelevant since it’s a created world, but the culture will be Roman flavored.

4. Who is the main character? – Lucius Tyrus Meranius aged 24 at the start; ten years later called Talmas. A former aristocrat and decorated soldier in line to be made heir, betrayed unto death, but survives to become an Ouranian. He returns to his family and home city only to be betrayed again and for the bulk of the book is a slave to the Delphenian Ambassador.

A secondary main character is Nolenius Iylantia or Iyla, daughter of the Delphenian Ambassador.

The remaining questions are:

5. What is the main character like?

6. What does he want or lack?

7. Why is it vital to have this?

8. Who is the antagonist?

9. What is the antagonist like?

10. What is his/her plan? How will he fight the protagonist and try to thwart him?

11. Why is it essential to the antagonist’s happiness to fight the hero, persuade him to make the wrong decision or keep him from discovering what might bring him peace?

12. What secondary characters are there who help or hinder the hero?

13. What is the story’s time frame? Hours? Days? Weeks? Years?

14. How does the story start?

15. How does the story end?

16. What dramatic scenes do you envision?

17. Who will your viewpoint characters be?

All of the questions do have answers on the cards, but some of them are not answered very well. Seeing as they were intended to help with the generation of a short story (and for people who had never written one, at that,) and that not only am I writing a novel, but a complex one, I have to tweak them a bit — I have multiple antagonists, for example. I have a hero and a heroine. So I answer the same questions for each of them. I’m not exactly sure what the hero wants. I have an answer, but I’m not sure I like it. I’m also not sure why it’s vital to the hero that he gains what he wants.

I think sometimes this sort of exercise is helpful in jogging some thoughts free, but at the same time, for me the characters kind of have to show me. I can’t just say, he wants freedom. Or he wants a wife and family which he knows that as a slave he can never have… But there is value in setting down wrong answers, just as there is value in setting down right ones. If you set down a wrong answer, at least you know what you don’t want. Or if you can’t think of anything better, at least you can proceed with the not so good answer and see where it leads. Always it’s led me to where I want to be, though sometimes not until the third or fourth drafts.

Right now I know how the story starts. I have an idea how it ends. I know who some of my viewpoint characters will be… I have five chapters written, and some ideas for dramatic scenes…

Now I’m going back through it all, reacquainting myself with my characters and the world I’m developing.


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