Honesty

We’re living in the middle of what could be called a geek renaissance. If you had told me twenty years ago that Starlord of all people would be getting a movie made by Disney, I probably would have laughed. If you had told me that people would grow to love graphic novels, role-playing games, video games, and other geek paraphernalia, I would have raised an eyebrow in disbelief. Geek culture has become mainstream to an extent beyond what most geeks back in the day would have imagined.

Now if you are a Christian publisher, wouldn’t you think that “Wow, geek culture is really big! Maybe we can minister to people by making our own Christian geek products, like comic books, speculative fiction novels, and even movies!”

If you are a Christian geek, wouldn’t you think that “Wow, I love geek culture! I really wish other Christians would make culture like it that embrace Christianity. I’d love to see my faith and myself as a Christian reflected in speculative fiction!”

Or a Christian creator of things geeky. “Wow, it’s a great time to write! The genre I love is popular, and I can reach a ton of Christians while not needing to compromise my faith!”

Guess what, you in the aggregate really don’t think this. This is what you really do think.

The Christian publisher thinks. “I want to make a lot of money, so my secular publishers get a nice return on investment and I get raises every year. So I’m going to ignore this whole geek thing, which I don’t really understand anyways, and focus on the most profitable sections of the Christian market; romances for women, nonfiction for men, endless theme Bibles for everyone! Here, have this.”

ucky

Because I know you like hunting and beards and stuff.”

The Christian reader actually thinks “You know, I really don’t care about having Christian elements in fiction.”

Yes, he does.

He might go on and on about the need for Christian speculative fiction, but it’s an abstract thing. Not because he really buys it in any amount, but because he’s not honest with himself. He loves secular stuff like Brandon Sanderson, Arrow, Doctor Who, and Firefly, but he doesn’t feel comfortable in just saying “I like secular works. For the most part, they are fine to consume. I don’t think they are spiritually harmful at all.”

This isn’t bad, because to a point it’s true. I’m not someone who thinks secular equals Satan. But those readers don’t want to admit it, because they feel bad about how little having a Christian slant to fiction matters. Although some people admit it straight out to the point of snarkiness, and consume Christian culture ironically. But if everyone but a small minority of readers were honest, they’d admit in the end, they don’t care if we have a specifically Christian geek culture. They’d be fine with maybe a little nod to the faith here and there, but they’ll just baptize whatever they like in Jesus’s name anyways.

The writer, well. He at first really believes all three things above. But then he discovers the real versions of what publishers and authors think when he can’t get his explicitly Christian books published unless he self-pubs, and he can’t sell any of his self-pubs to a point where breaking even even matters. Maybe he can make soda money from doing it. So this is what the writer tells himself instead.

“If I go into the secular market, I can reach unbelievers and serve God there.”

Dude, this is BULLSHIT.

I’ve been reading SF for over thirty years. I can count on two hands the number of explicit Christian authors published by a secular press whose names are not Lewis or Tolkien. I can list names none of you have even heard about. You know what most Christian artists do when they cross over?

They hide their faith.

Amy Grant did it. She went from El Shaddai to Every Heartbeat. Stephen Lawhead did it when he did his Celtic Trilogy. DC Talk did it when the radio edit of Just Between You and Me excised the teeny tiny lyrical bridge that actually mentioned Jesus. I remember listening to some atheist guy whose one of the reasons why he disliked Christianity was just that, that the moment Christian Gospel acts got big, they immediately crossed over.

So I’m going to be blunt. You are not going to win people over with your carefully encoded Jesus, and it’s a longshot you are going to get an actual explicit Christian worked published by the secular press. You’re also not being honest with yourself.

You want to say “Christians don’t want the kind of stories I can write for them. But I want to write, and I can write good secular fiction.” You don’t, because it hurts inside. It hurts that they don’t want it as much as they say. They don’t care. Oh some do, but it isn’t enough any more to be worth writing for. Even if you wrote for free, it wouldn’t be enough. Writers want to feel they are reaching an audience, not just consigning words to an empty room.

I don’t write this to tear people down. I write this because I really used to believe the first three things. I’m finding that instead the last three things are what is really true.  As a reader, I’m suddenly realizing that I will never see any thing that I might like because there aren’t enough Christians willing to support it. I’ll never see a decent Christian SF film, or an anime, or more than a handful of speculative works that rise above fanfiction a year. As a writer, I have to realize that even if I pour my heart out on the page and try to marry explicit Christianity to a good speculative plot NO ONE WILL CARE. Publishers will not buy it, and most readers won’t buy it either. They are too busy worrying about whether or not Jurassic World will be any good, or when the next Dresden Files book will come out, or how many Amish books the market can support, or maybe its time to give Rob Bell a new book since he’s on Oprah now.

This is part of a huge disillusionment I’ve been having over the state of Christian culture. It’s like a knife in the gut. I’m tempted to say the whole thing should just die, because then maybe we wouldn’t have the illusions we did. If we have NO Christian culture, we’d have to face the fact that the world isn’t writing for us. Maybe we’d be okay with being outsiders, or maybe we’d miss it an awful lot and decide this time we’ll really support Christian culture and make it grow into something worth having. But right now it’s like no one is satisfied and people are double-minded about the whole thing.

I’m working out in my head how to deal with this. I’m going to inflict a whole series of rants about it on this blog, so I don’t blame you if you want to stay away for a bit. I’ll do a post-mortem on why my Nanowrimo project failed in a few days, so you can come back to that. I’m also not doing this to insult others, but this has been building in me a bit and needs some working out.


Nanowrimo 2014: 10k Words And Sample Chapter

I’ve reached roughly 11k words, passing the dreaded 10k mark. The writing isn’t hard, but it’s not particularly inspiring. Usually when I do a first draft, it tends to resemble an outline more than anything. I write to discover the story, then go through extensive rewrites to make it work. This novel is no different.

Things I’ve learned:

  • I’m not sure if this is magic realism, or spiritual warfare at this point. Or even straight fantasy. Writing this draft isn’t really leading to a lot of metafiction and subtext, and I’m not sure seat-of-the-pants writing is the best way to write in the magical realist genre. I think next time if I poll, I will poll far earlier.
  • The book is leaning more to one protagonist than four. The Librarian’s voice is the easiest one to write in as a viewpoint character, and he’s coming alive quickly.
  • Keeping a unique tone for all these characters is harder to do than I thought. Some are easy; Netcat in particular is painfully so. But I am going to have to nitpick my prose and make sure after I’m not confusing characters in terms of their voice and tone.
  • It sucks when no one in your region is doing it. There’s no real networking in Connecticut-East.

Most of the chapters aren’t good enough for me to be comfortable showing them, but the last one I did I think I can at least show you. It’s an interlude chapter written mostly to have Netcat speak her own mind, and it’s done in the style of a blog post. Netcat is the main character’s friend, and she’s the hikkikomori (shut-in) character of the crew. I think the chapter speaks for itself, even as brief as it is:

Interlude-Netcat

 

I don’t want to be human. I never wanted to be it.

I saw what being human was, with my mother. I saw it meant looking fine, and doing things.

  • smiling on cue
  • scowling at home
  • saying nice things
  • saying evil things
  • cooking food
  • throwing food

The list goes on. I saw what being human meant, and I didn’t like it.

I saw that it meant being broken, and being something I dont understand. I saw it meant acting one way, then acting another, then another, changing and changing and changing until I no longer knew what happened. All I know is change, and I don’t like change.

And now it isn’t mom any more. It’s everyone.

I have my friends. I think they are animals like me. Ginny is a sleek mink, always preening her fur and looking at her reflection in a lake. I like her, and she’s a pretty animal.

Fred the Speed is a jangly bird, one of those who never stops running on his two spindly legs. He likes to try to make me run with him, and sometimes I do. But I get scared to run so fast, on that metal machine of his. He was the first to change. Now he’s not running any more, but all happy and slow and peaceful.

He shouldn’t be. Happy and peaceful animals get eaten.

But the Librarian-no, Thomas-has changed the most. He is an animal, but at first I didn’t know what type. He was little more than a pair of eyes staring out at us from the safety of a leafy bush. But his bush was books, and he always carried it with him. Now I see what he is, a soft, gentle deer whose antlers hold the leaves that make the bush that hides him, and who on occasion will poke his narrow head out when with other animals he trusts.

But now…

He is scared. I know it. I watch him, even when he doesn’t know it. I am a cat, and cats sneak. They hide. They see in the dark, and they know. Thomas is a deer, and he is hunted. He knows something is wrong.

I trust him. I will act like something is wrong too.

I have already begun. I have made my knapsack, and I keep things inside. I keep two sandwiches, rotated every day. I keep a small foil blanket that crinkles when I wrap it around me. I have fishing tackle and bandaids and aspirin and a compass and matches and a shiny canteen full of milk, because milk is for cats. I am ready to flee with him.

But I don’t know from what. I don’t know humans, Thomas. I don’t know when I should hide. That’s why I hide all the time.

So I will watch you, and I will be ready.

9/14/2014 posted at 12:32 a.m by #netcat. Tags: animals, friends, cats, danger, DANGER!, DANGER!!!

***

It’s rough, and I haven’t edited it at all. I was surprised at how easy her voice came out on the page. She’s the youngest of the four friends, and I tried to capture the oddness of her view of things and yet the way it makes sense to her. The chapter is brief, but most of them are. I usually expand them later as more details come to my mind. When I write, I think on the page more than think in my mind. I’ll definitely add more of her thoughts on Ginny later, as Ginny is the most hazy of the four main characters in my mind. I was surprised to find that Netcat is fond of the Librarian, as the idea of a love interest for him never crossed my mind at the conceptual stage. Ideas tend to come like that.

If any of you are doing it this year, I hope you’re reaching your goals. Again, feel free to friend me or look me up by posting in the comments here. I still have 39k words to go. Still no title, aaargh.


Nanowrimo 2014: Characters

Two days in, and I’m at 4300 words. There’s some issue with Nanowrimo’s suite being slow to respond and throwing up 404 errors, but I managed finally to create my book and put in my first word count. Unfortunately my local region seems to have no rep and no real events happening, so networking is not going to happen. I’m about two very rough chapters in, and I’ve got a basic handle on my four main characters. Here’s some sketching of them, as spoiler-free as possible.

All of my characters tend to refer to each other by nicknames. The setting is a small, poor New England town tentatively called Cynosure. The four of them have formed an unofficial clique, by means I haven’t fully explored yet. The wonders of writing to discover, yay.

The Librarian: Imagine a very bookish, very dry college student. I haven’t fleshed out his physical characteristics beyond a pair of glasses, but he’s descriptive, ironic, a bit pedantic, and a cataloger of things. He’s called the Librarian because in his own words “I read books, and I own books.” Actually working as a librarian or liking them is far from his mind; after all, libraries don’t have a great selection of titles nor are they open late.

He’s the first viewpoint character and the protagonist of the book. He’s age 20, and he lives in Cynosure mostly because it’s dirt cheap, and he can commute to a nearby college. No job, lives off of a parental endowment and financial aid.

Fred the Speed: Rail-thin, sharp-cheekboned, everything angular. Spends most of his free time tooling around Cynosure on his motorcycle, trying to escape the dullness of his life. About 21, but seems older. He’s not really in college nor in full-time work; he lives with his extended family and works part time as an assistant manager at a fast food place. Smokes a lot.

His main themes are escape, and anger. If you’re a young man in a small town that can’t really do college yet can’t find a job to break free of your parents, you soon risk developing a desire to escape that can boil into self-destructive anger. Fred suffers from this, although it’s all internal. He’s called Fred the Speed because someone once rode with him, and the first words out of their mouth was “Fred, the speed! Too fast! Too fast!”  One of the many stories that tend to develop around people in Cynosure, because most people can only afford stories.

Ginny: Short for Guinevere, real name Cathy. Sometimes small towns can generate strikingly beautiful women, and Ginny is one of them. She’s 17, but has legitimate model looks. It’s not just a “Miss Hayfield, 2013″ thing; she knows fashion and manages to project timeless style. Out of all of them, she probably has the least mental issues, counter to the usual depiction of model types as bulimic, abused, what have you. She can leave Cynosure, and is planning on it.

Ginny was nicknamed because despite what you think, she has a love for Arthurian myth. Not in a YA “omg HAWT” form, but an actual love for it as a subject. She’s a normal, slightly bookish girl who also is very, very attractive and stylish.

Netcat: Netcat is sixteen, and is basically a shut-in. Mostly communicates on the net, via her incomprehensible collage-like blog full of code-words and insider references only she and a few others understands. A very damaged young woman due to an on-and-off abusive relationship with a mentally ill mother. The mother is functional at times, but lapses into episodes in which Netcat often had to bar herself in her room to survive. The barring of the door became internal, and Netcat locks her room and sleeps during the day, only to emerge at night or when accompanied by one of the other three. There is no talk of treament or calling in; the mother is deathly afraid of being institutionalized, but Netcat couldn’t bear to lose her.

Netcat named herself because she doesn’t think she’s human. She has a point; if you define humanity as the sum total of experiences people have, she has so few of them that she resembles a cat more than anything. She is fed, watered, sleeps all day, and goes out at night. She’s not mentally ill despite this; essentially you have a sane, albeit eccentric person who has been formed by experiences few have ever considered. She’s somewhat of a group mascot.

Prester John, aka John Tims: He’s the character whose death sets off the book. He’s about sixty years old, is African-American, is morbidly obese, and uses a mobility scooter to get around. Like his namesake, he’s sort of the emperor of Cynosure, a man on disability who nevertheless is the center of the town. He’s the first character to show magical realist elements, as miracles seem to follow him everywhere he goes.

I’m trying not to make him a “magical Negro” character, as opposed to a man who is sort of touched by God. He’s very intelligent, and he’s full of secrets, one of them being he was sent to Cynosure for a purpose. The Prester John nickname came from Ginny, who as a tween saw him in his apartment and had sort of a vision of him surrounded by gold and on a throne. All of the four other characters above have met him, as in small towns you tend to know everyone else. One of the first images I had of him, and which became the Librarian’s memory, was of a Saint Francis-style character who was surrounded by dogs everywhere he went. He also has John the Baptist elements, and he’s “guarding” Cynosure in a spiritual sense. So he’s a complex character despite never being alive in the book.

These are the base five characters. Since I’m writing the first draft to discover, I’m inventing on the fly. Future edits may change them radically in terms of detail, but I don’t think the general conception of them will be altered much. I haven’t gone into the main antagonist and other characters, but this is more due to the fact that they don’t become real presences in the book till later on. With Nanowrimo, my goal is a working first draft that I heavily edit later on, not an ironclad novel ready for submission or sale.

Still no title though. Had to name it something, so “Darkness Four” for now.


Nanowrimo 2014: Deadlines Are The Best Creative Tool

So, in one more day National Novel Writing Month starts. Surprisingly I have a premise and managed a rough outline despite writing in a genre I know little about.

Part of the reason is that a deadline can be a very effective tool to get you going. Of course, this is the point of Nanowrimo period. Knowing you only have a week or less though to get an idea, set down a premise, and have a rough plan to start writing is also helpful. There’s no time for self-doubt; you need words on paper and you need them now. For a writer, usually writing is the exact opposite. No one forces you to write, and it’s easy just to let time pass by. Having to blitz out an idea in a week or less can be a decent motivator.

The origins of the story are remarkably hazy for something thought up days ago. With other stories, I can trace images and inspirations very easily, but this project seemed based on little more than intuition and serendipity. Fitting for magical realism I guess, but unusual. Two elements came together to guide this.

The first element was thinking on magical realism, and the first chapter coming to mind. The four main characters of my book are remembering someone who has just died. That was it, and then the ideas just came from there. It’s interesting how ideas can flow from just a single chapter. I need to explain their memories, and then the object of remembrance, how he died, why he died, what killed him, and more. A small starting point, but enough to build the book on.

The second element was Scheherazade, from the Arabian Nights. I was thinking, and I remembered her sister, Dinarzade from the book The Vizier’s Second Daughter by Robert F. Young.  Young is an unusual science fiction writer; unlike many, he is focused on how men relate to women. I had the thought of Dinarzade, and then Scheherazade came to mind. She fits into the framework of the story, and I had the second part of the plot. One boring management class later, and I had sketched out a very rough outline of chapters.

I still have a lot of work to do. Mostly I need to read for information and texture. I need to read the following books:

  • Ray Bradbury, his short works and general novels.
  • Morte D’Arthur
  • The Arabian Nights (of course, duh)
  • Several Magic Realism works, such as Notleia mentioned in the last post.
  • Aesop’s Fables.
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

And quite a few more. I need to get texture as well as ideas.

I need a title, too. I have all four of the main characters named, but not a single idea of what to call the book. Go figure. Seat of the pants writing is rather messy.

I can’t really share much about the book beyond this now. Once Nov 1 hits, I will get underway writing and discovering the work. I’ll post character info, sample chapters and more. I can’t guarantee it will be the best work, but that’s what future revisions are for. Again, if anyone else is doing Nanowrimo and wants a friend to encourage their writing, comment here with your name and I’ll add you. Thanks to everyone who voted on the poll, and I hope you’ll like the result.

 


Nanowrimo 2014: So it looks like…

…magical realism for the win. Not entirely what I was expecting.

Magical/Magic realism is an odd genre. It’s best described as a form of literary fantasy based on folklore and myth, with several quirks of its own.

  • A reticent narrator. This means the narrator isn’t really amazed or shocked about what’s happening, or tries to make sense of it. This guy just grew a pig’s tail? Well okay then.
  • Making the mundane magical. This is tough to explain. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, a traveling tribe of Gypsies display their wonders to a small village. the most wonderful thing? A block of ice. The magic works with the mundane to elevate it, not supplant it.
  • Not escapist nor pulp, but literary. Still trying to pin this one down.
  • Metafictional.
  • Often exotic or concerned with cultures outside of the west.

It’s not a genre I have much experience with, but in a way this is good. Nanowrimo is designed to stretch your muscles and lift you out of any ruts you are in, and writing in an unfamiliar genre is sure to help as well. I already have ideas coming to me, and it’s going to be an interesting experiment to say the least.

Like usual, I’ll be detailing the process on the blog. It will be different than past years because I’m going into this much more “seat of the pants” than previous years. All of two days planning and plotting, and then the blitz begins.


Nanowrimo 2014: You Decide

It seems like I blinked, and suddenly it’s almost November. November means National Novel Writing Month, which is an informal challenge to writers to sit down and crank out the first draft of a novel in thirty days. It’s a fun, exhausting experience designed to break you out of your comfort zone some and get you to do what you dream of. You can also network with other participants for socializing, encouragment, and feedback.

I’ve done it for two years prior, I think. First one I succeeded, with a draft of a horror novel called Welcome to Dead City. The second one I failed, trying to write a mecha novel called Atlantisjack. Ended it with about 30k words or so. I might have also skipped it one year.  You can see my Nanowrimo page here. This year I’m going to do it a bit differently. I’m going to let the readers of this blog decide what genre of novel I should attempt this year.

I didn’t include hard science fiction because I don’t think I can accomplish it in 30 days. Hard SF requires a lot of research to do well in a subject I’m not the best at, and Nanowrimo is more about seat of the pants writing.  If you vote Young Adult, Middle Grade, or Other, please comment and mention what specifically you’d like me to write. This is just to determine genre, and I’m not looking for suggestions beyond that, or even full ideas for a book. I just thought it would be interesting to see what the readers of this blog would like.

Oh, one final note; generally all of these books will have Christian themes to some level. So the only specifically Christian genres I listed are end-times and supernatural, because those are genres in themselves. I toyed with including “light novel” as a genre, for the anime fans here, but they tend to be all genres. If it’s appealing in spite of that, you can use “other” to request it. Dieselpunk is like Fallout 3 or Bioshock, if you don’t know what it is. Any other questions or comments, please ask. As I participate, I’ll post information about the book, and if I complete it, I’ll offer a revised draft to anyone interested to read and give feedback on.

I have about a week till it starts, so voting will effectively end the 30th. If anyone else is doing Nanowrimo, feel free to add me as a friend. Other than that, have fun voting and writing!


Time And Sorrow: Amakusa 1637

amakusa Time travel is a common subject in manga. Especially during the Edo period, which I suppose you could compare it to the desire to relive the Victorian years in fiction. Amakusa 1637 is a time-traveling shoujo manga which both adheres to and breaks this mold in ways that are profoundly Christ-affirming.

In modern day Japan, the tomboyish Natsuki and her friend Miyamoto are sparring in a Kendo match. As they fight, a massive earthquake rips through Japan, causing untold devastation and wounding Miyamoto as he shields Natsuki from falling rubble with his body. Flash forwards five years, and the two of them along with four other friends are on a cruise, enjoying themselves and preparing for graduation. Once again, tragedy strikes; the ship is sunk, and Natsuki awakens by herself on a lonely beach. However, there is something terribly wrong.

Natsuki has landed in the Edo of the past, more specifically in the year 1636. The year before the Shimabara rebellion, where oppressed Japanese Christians rose up in revolution against their lords led by Shiro Amakusa.

However, history has changed; Amakusa is thought dead, lost at sea. And Natuski looks exactly like him. Then her friends also begin to show up, but it’s apparent that not all of them landed exactly at the same time as each other. And not all are friends of the Christians…

The Shimabara revolution is a dark time in Japan’s history. About forty thousand Christians were killed, and it led to the complete extirpation of Christianity from Japan. Christianity was suppressed so successfully that the only surviving sects went deep underground into hiding, only to reemerge hundreds of years later when the ban was lifted. The events of it were novelized by Japanese Catholic writer Shusaku Endo in his book Silence, and it’s a horrifying read.

Amakusa 1637 is surprising in that it deals with this very, very respectfully.

Natsuki knows of the rebellion and its horrific toll on life, and she resists her destined role as the one to step into Amakusa’s shoes. But circumstances compel her to save the lives of others, and soon the legend of her as an angel from paradise possessing Shiro’s body and touched by God grow. It’s surprisingly well done, because while the miracles have naturalistic explanations (mostly from technology that made the trip from the future with them) a case can be made that still they only were possible due to the miracle of time travel at all. And unusually, the Christians of the time period are not shrine maidens in disguise, but real believers, who mention when they are baptized and who see the hand of God in action. I don’t think I’ve seen many manga get Christians like this one does.

There’s plenty of historical intrigue, and some intriguing twists due both to the nature of time travel and the six friends each having their own destinies awaiting them in the Edo of the past. There’s also no skimping on the realities of the brutality of the period and the persecution of Christians during that time, either. There’s a lot of sorrow here, and much of it is also a part of the lives of the time travelers as they must adapt to this new, barbaric past. One panel deserves to be put here in full, as Natsuki describes our future to a bunch of children:

paraiso

That to them, our future is Paraiso, paradise. We live in a miracle, where Christians are not killed for their beliefs, and can celebrate Christ openly. This is not something to be scorned or forgotten in favor of mild slights. Natsuki’s fervent desire is to change history and to prevent the massive slaughter that had happened in Shimabara. And throughout it, even if what are miracles to the people of the past and commonplaces to things like us, the legend of Natsuki as a messenger of God grows.

And there are many parallels to the faith, including a very well-done redemption scene similar to Paul. Walking on water. Daniel in the lion’s den. Paul’s Jailer. Mary Magdalene. Not exact, but you can see the themes even as the situations are different. Not many manga interact with Christianity as well as this one does, and Christians will find a lot to like in it.

I’m only half-way through the story, so I can’t say how it will turn out.

Ratings-it’s going to be R due to some yuri and yaoi hints. Both of them are handled pretty well; the yaoi is due to a specific, tormented individual and is actually used in part to lead him back to God. By this I mean his coerced lover was a Christian who modeled compassion even in those situations, and managed to plant the seeds to his eventual redemption. The yuri attraction is there too, but unusually it is not fulfilled; the person loves Natsuki and is captivated by her, but will not take it beyond that. It’s a very unusual use of those tropes.

It’s also R due to the violence, adult situations, and a scene of nudity. It’s not too graphic, but the persecution of Christians was not something nice or able to be rendered in PG standards. There’s a lot of death, but Natsuki always strives to save life even with her own prodigious kendo skills.

So despite the rating, I’d recommend Christians to read it. Very few manga treat Christianity with this level of respect. For comparison’s sake, two of the most known portrayals of Amakusa or the Shimabara rebellion were the absolutely sick depiction of it in Ninja Ressurection, and Amakusa as a sorcerer and last boss in SNK’s Samurai Showdown series. This is like a breath of fresh air. You can find scans on the net, as I don’t think it was ever brought over to the west.


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