Seriously, Now

“Serious” is more a description than a judgment, more an attribute than a virtue or a vice.
| Aug 15, 2018 | No comments |

For some years, I avidly followed a certain political/cultural writer until finally – you know how it can be, between authors and readers – we drifted apart. I thought her commentary was simply declining. One symptom of this decline was an overabundance of the word serious. It wasn’t right or left or even right or wrong anymore: The new word – the only word – was serious. Our national diagnosis was a lack of seriousness and our national prescription was to get serious. Our leaders weren’t serious and they didn’t know how serious things were, but if everybody would just get serious we would all be serious and then things could finally stop being so serious.

I lost interest, but I had a thought: To be serious is not enough. And can’t a serious person be just as wrong as an unserious person and, in certain situations, even more disastrous?

This principle can be applied to art as well as people. You may hear much of serious art or a serious work, but the phrase tells little of the real quality or worth of the work. My favorite example of this disconnect between seriousness and worthiness is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes. The most shocking thing about Tarzan of the Apes is that it is a genuinely serious book, a story written around ideas. The second most shocking thing is the book’s level of racism. Given the period in which Tarzan of the Apes was written, a certain degree of racism would not have been surprising; when racism is dominant in society, it is inevitably reflected in (some of) that society’s art. But even with that forewarning, the racism of Tarzan is surprising in its pervasiveness, in how deeply and how elaborately it is woven into the story.

These two elements – the book’s seriousness and its racism – are not at all in contradiction. Indeed, if Tarzan of the Apes had been less serious, it would probably have been less racist. Burroughs might have still, in the appearance of a minor black character, invoked cheap, false stereotypes, but he would not have taken such pains to present thoroughbred English aristocrats as the highest human type. That was Burroughs’ elucidation of the theory of eugenics. Tarzan of the Apes revolves around nature v. nurture, the effect of environment and the effect of genetics; it is also wrong about nearly everything, from the truth of eugenics to the likely consequences of a childhood totally without human interaction. But books, like people, are not any less serious for being wrong, nor less wrong for being serious.

All of this emphasizes the essential ambivalence of what we call seriousness. Serious is more a description than a judgment, more an attribute than a virtue or a vice. To be serious is not to be good, or even to be deep, but the ambivalence is greater than that. Serious ideas, cogently presented, are as likely to be false as to be true, and some of the most serious works are also among the most malignant.

So if anyone, or anything, is commended to you as being serious, remember that this could mean seriously wrong.

Why I Believe in Jesus and Love Fantasy Fiction

Novelist Daley Downing: The Bible asks us to believe in the miraculous, and that’s why I love imagining the impossible.
| Aug 14, 2018 | 3 comments |

For pretty much my entire life, I have been fascinated by fairy tales, folklore, and mythology from cultures that have long since ceased to exist on this Earth.

Even after my childhood, I continued to dream and muse about prehistoric worlds, the civilizations that left us with little more than speculation on how they raised their great architectural structures, and their legends that have survived the ages.

As I grew older, and more involved in church activities, however, the more I received the message that holding an interest in such things as fantasy and speculative fiction was not an acceptable way for Christians to expend their energy.

This week we feature Daley Downing and her novel Masters and Beginners in Lorehaven Book Clubs. Stop by the flagship book club on Facebook to learn more about this story.

Subscribe to Lorehaven Magazine for free to download our new summer 2018 issue.

Frankly, this frame of mind puzzled me. What was so wrong, I wondered, with spending a few enjoyable hours a week reading about unicorns and mermaids and dragons? I know very well that epic fantasy worlds like Middle Earth and Narnia aren’t real. (Though, if we’re being perfectly honest, I sometimes wish they were.)

And, actually, why is this such a bad wish? Aren’t we told in the New Testament that Earth is merely our temporary habitat, and our true, forever home is in Heaven? And that this realm is something we can merely imagine while in our terrestrial bodies and minds?

So why would it be wrong for someone who’s looking forward to eternity with Jesus the Messiah to dream of worlds not yet seen?

Numerous passages in the Bible describe events and beings that many modern humans consider ridiculous and impossible.

  • The parting of the Red Sea so that the ancient Hebrews could cross to safety, escaping slavery in Egypt.
  • A land inhabited by giants fifty feet tall, with massive trees and plants growing enormous fruits.
  • Prophecies that warn of fire and brimstone raining down from the skies … and later this occurs.
  • Flaming chariots sweeping mortals off the ground to their eternal rest.
  • Healing miracles performed by the mere laying on of hands.
  • Angels descending through the clouds to rescue people from certain doom.

“Diverse elements are skillfully woven into a convincing world, leavened with magical quirkiness and textured with political maneuverings.”
— Lorehaven Magazine

The Church thinks nothing of asking us to believe that all of these incredible things actually happened. But, somehow, it’s not all right to contemplate talking animals, fairies, or long-forgotten creatures hiding on the edges of our towns and cities?

One of the biggest sticking points for modern Christians and the majority opinion of fantasy fiction (that it’s “bad”) seems to be the word “magic.” This word has gotten a reputation of being the source of some very sinful actions and trains of thought in the past few centuries. It’s true that we are commanded to stay away from witchcraft and sorcery (and we should).

But there is also another, healthier way to refer to and think of “magic.”

Ancient cultures saw magic in everything from the rising and setting of the sun, to the falling of rain and snow, the change of seasons, and the growth, decline, and rebirth of life all across the planet. They viewed the continuation of these cycles as completely divine. They didn’t dismiss the wonders of every day as “merely scientific” or “coincidence” or “superstition.”

When I read about angels swooping in to rescue people from certain doom, the apostles driving out fatal illnesses with a mere touch of their hands, the Red Sea parting against all its natural wiring, I feel that we’re witnessing some of God’s magic.

Jesus of Nazareth walking on water, casting demons into swine, turning water into wine, and raising the dead are all miraculous, divine, and, yes, magical things. But these were no illusions, like the sorcerers in Pharaoh’s court (Exodus 7: 10–13). Moses, Christ and his disciples, and the angels carried out their amazing works through the divine power of Jehovah.

To me, that makes miracles, prophecies, and visions or dreams that cross into another plane of existence, far less fantastical or improbable, but just as worthy of awe and reverence.

Do we ruminate on dragons and unicorns and fairies because they were—like dinosaurs and the dodo—once real? Has God left an imprint on our hearts for a world that once was and perhaps will be again?

My unicorn-and-Jesus-loving soul hopes so.

“Diverse elements are skillfully woven into a convincing world, leavened with magical quirkiness and textured with political maneuverings.”
— Lorehaven Magazine

Explore Daley Downing’s novel Masters and Beginners in the Lorehaven Library.

Read our full review exclusively from the summer 2018 issue of Lorehaven Magazine!

Congratulations to Our Winner

Special thanks to all of you who participated: the entrants for sharing their stories with us, the visitors who commented and gave plus votes to select the finalists, and those who voted in the poll to choose the winner.

Congratulations to our 2018 Summer Writing Challenge winner:

Cathy H.

I’ll be contacting her privately to offer congratulations and to arrange the gift card from either Amazon or B&N.

For those interested, voting results for our summer writing challenge winner are now visible in the poll (see below).

Special thanks to all of you who participated: the entrants for sharing their stories with us, the visitors who commented and gave plus votes to select the finalists, and those who voted in the poll to choose the winner.

I particularly appreciate those who shared the challenge on social media. This kind of contest works best when you all get the word out so that we have a good number of entries, comments, and votes.

For those who may have missed the entry by our summer writing challenge winner, I’m posting it again. Feel free to give your congratulations in the comments:

By Cathy H.

If only Bran could stop the king, but he was too powerful, too sure he was right, too noble. Should the serpent be released, he would face it as his sovereign duty.

Bran’s leather armor creaked as he fought for balance when the tremors struck. His king- his brother- stood tall and strong, unswayed by the shaking ground. Squaring his shoulders, Bran forced himself to stand firm.

He squinted at the sky. Murky clouds roiled overhead, masking the sun, and as the light dimmed, the field shook again. Fissures opened like hungry mouths to eat the tall, dry grass and withered flowers, and with a thunderous crack, the rock sealing the gateway split to reveal the deeper, darker chasm which extended to the roots of the earth.

“‘And the Serpent who devours the World shall be unleashed’,” the king quoted. He set a hand on Bran’s shoulder. “I must go.”

“I understand.” It wasn’t a complete lie. Bran swallowed bile.

They ran side-by-side as they had in their youth, and jumped the expanding crevices. The fractured rock towered over the abyss from which the serpent would emerge to devour the world.

The king tilted his head to the sky, praying, but Bran watched the void, alert for any variation in the darkness. Finally, the dull gleam of the serpent’s coils caught the failing light.

“Drystran,” Bran said. “It’s time.”

His brother’s dark eyes bored into his, though the flicker of fear Bran saw might have been a reflection of his own. The king drew his silver dagger.

But… There was a way to stop the king.

Bran punched his older brother in the face. The king staggered back in surprise, and Bran wrenched the dagger from his hand.

“I love you, Drystran,” he said.

He hurled himself into the abyss to bar the serpent’s passage.

The rock snapped closed above him.

Take Away the Cheese but Keep the Integrity

Novelist Anna M. Aquino didn’t want to write “Christian literature.” Then she realized her faith will always drive her stories.
| Aug 10, 2018 | No comments |

Christian entertainment has gotten a bad rap for being unrealistic, unrelatable with a side of cheesy dialogue and happy endings.

Because of this formula ridden stereotype of yesteryear, many people do not want to attend a “Christian movie” or read a “Christian book.”

For years I didn’t want to be considered an author who wrote Christian literature. I didn’t want to be included into this cubbyhole. I wanted to be an author who happened to be a Christian.

This week we feature Anna M. Aquino and her novel A Marriage in Time in Lorehaven Book Clubs. Stop by the flagship book club on Facebook to learn more about this story.

Subscribe to Lorehaven Magazine for free to download our new summer 2018 issue.

But then I realized that who I am comes out in what I write. I wanted to write real characters who went through real issues. I wanted people to be changed through laughter and tears as they read my work.

People are hungry for real stories.

I did not set out to be a pioneer in speculative fiction. I set out to tell the stories that I felt God was giving me. I set out to blaze a trail and in doing so teaching biblical truths along the way.

It all started when I simply wanted to write my dad’s story. He was a grunt soldier in Vietnam and I wanted the world to hear the stories that he repeated to me again and again. I wanted his voice and his survival in the jungle to resonate with the people he fought so hard to protect.

Then I kept writing. I kept telling more and more stories. While the fullness of his book has yet to be in print, in telling his story my life changed.

A Marriage in Time, Anna M. Aquino

“Anna M. Aquino paints a rich historical setting for a timeless tale of the bondage of sin . . . and the power of forgiveness.”
— Lorehaven Magazine

Jesus was a storyteller. He understood the need to create stories that people would understand. He spoke in parables. He turned to storytelling to illuminate the word. These stories continue to touch the lives of believers and nonbelievers.

People who won’t go to church or hear a sermon preached will pick up books. Deep in the hearts of some countries where the Bible is banned; I know for a fact that The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings are read. To my knowledge my books, blogs, and articles have gone places I may never set my feet. From the jungles of India to people’s homes I have never meet. The written word and storytelling has a far lasting ripple effect.

However, I know I am not alone in my journey. I have noticed in the last decade I have seen many Christian writers begin to branch out and embrace the uncharted territory of real Christian fiction. We’ve left the models and formulas and sought to write books that change the lives of people.

But my concern is that some have gone too far.

I love a good fictional story. I love to step into the realm of the imagination. Pioneers must remember who and whose they are. We must venture out in this uncharted territory of speculative fiction, and go “where no man has gone before,” but remember our values and integrity.

In my In Time fictional series, I explore a fictional character that has grown weary of his time as a small town pastor.

In An Ember in Time, God sends him a “time traveling angel” that allows him to visit any time in biblical history. The problem is when he accidentally messes up Biblical history. He has to go back and fix his mess up or the Bible would unravel.

In A Marriage In Time, the pastor’s wife is on a verge of an affair and she is sent back in time during David and Bathsheba’s lives.

In the third book, A Legacy in Time (yet to be released), these two are sent back in Biblical history to be confidants to King David during his children’s rebellion years as their own son has found himself incarcerated.

The whole series is best described as the series Quantum Leap meets Back to the Future. These books are honest, raw, and funny. While they are a work of fiction, they do hold tightly to the framework of the Bible.

I love this series. I’m a child of the ’80s and ’90s, and I found myself wanting desperately to tap into the light hearted sci-fi that existed in my generation but make it for today. As I have read and reread these books I find myself laughing hysterically and crying in the next chapter. I think we as Christians can be too serious. Through humor, God can speak to people. It’s such a blessing to me when people come to me and tell me “it’s that one scene” that will always stay with them throughout their lives. That when my character went through some of his life altering moments they found that they were captivated by what this meant in their own lives.

We journey into the unknown, explore and create our own stories. We are a unique expression of a loving Creator. May we hold tightly to imagination. May we embrace the freedom of vision. May we learn not to fear the unknown. May we learn to enjoy stories outside of the formula of yesteryear, but that still have prophetic resonance. May we all be pioneers in our own spheres of influence. May we remember that we do not need to be a copy of what the world is doing, but blaze a trail for the Kingdom of God. May we all be inspired to live our lives beyond what we can see.

“Anna M. Aquino paints a rich historical setting for a timeless tale of the bondage of sin . . . and the power of forgiveness.”
— Lorehaven Magazine

Explore Anna M. Aquino’s novel A Marriage in Time in the Lorehaven Library.

Read our full review exclusively from the summer 2018 issue of Lorehaven Magazine!

Who Does Maintenance on Your Story’s Weapons? (And Other Stuff)

In the real world weapons need to be taken care of to maintain their usefulness. Have you thought about maintenance in your speculative fiction stories?
| Aug 9, 2018 | 11 comments |

Authors, in your story worlds of fantasy and science fiction, do you think much about who has to do maintenance work on your weapons? Who cleans them and keeps them working, who does the behind-the-scenes stuff?

Putting holes in paper targets…into shapes equal to the size of a person at 500 meters (we also shot pop-ups up to 800 meters away).

My thoughts run this way at the moment because my Army Reserve unit sent me to a short course on shooting machine guns last week. I spent 4 training days with a weapon called the M240B–a piece of technology that if we could travel back in a time machine and hand it over to the brightest and best in WWI, say in Germany or the UK, the war would have turned out far differently than it actually did.

I considered posting on machine guns themselves, though I decided that’s too specialized a topic for Speculative Faith. But I think most people don’t really understand the difference between an assault rifle and a machine gun–for example, do you know a M240B can accurately hit targets around one kilometer away if on a tripod? And assault rifles are not designed to go tripods? That machine guns are fired in crews of at least two people? And that an M2 machine gun, which uses 50 caliber (12.7 mm) bullets, which was also used at our course (though not by me), can reliably hit targets around one MILE away?

I just don’t see that portrayed very much in fiction outside of military fiction…(for example, does anyone in The Walking Dead ever shoot anything from more than around 100 meters away?)

Cleaning M240B’s

But I’m getting away from my purpose here. Because my fourth day of training was in fact all about weapons maintenance. This is ordinary stuff for soldiers–I don’t mean to bore those of you who already know this–please keep reading because I’m going to apply this in just a bit. But our long day of range time translated into a next day of hours of scraping and daubing with cleansers the machined metal parts inside our weapons to remove the carbon accumulated from exploding gunpowder.

I think stories are generally aware of the issues of cleaning and maintaining weapons and other devices, though rather vaguely. We know Medieval times had blacksmiths and sometimes fantasy stories that include weapons talk about those who make weapons. But do we generally think of the fact that ordinary warriors had to keep weapons oiled to keep from rusting, had to know how to effectively sharpen them–and had specialists they turned to when something went seriously wrong with the weapons? Craftsmen (and women) who didn’t just hammer out steel, but who specialized in precious metal work, or jewels, or bone carving, or the leather of scabbards and holders?

Do you think much about the fact that bows were left unstrung in times of peace, because both the wood of the bow and the bowstring suffered damage from being under tension for too long? Or that any suit of armor required an entire team of people not only to build it, but to keep it in working order? (Etc.)

Lots of stories with magic in them mention those who create magic items–but it’s much rarer to talk about how magic items are maintained. If magic wands exist in a story, then it stands to reason from real world weapons that someone not only makes the wands but someone would specialize in repairing damaged wands. And users would probably have certain spells they use to maintain their wands in top working order on a routine basis. And not just wands, any magical device would require maintenance. And it might actually take an entire team of people to maintain or repair a single complex magical item.

Just like carbon accumulates on any weapon that uses gunpowder, why wouldn’t magic use leave some kind of residue that would have to be cleaned? Power, after all, is never really free–it always comes from somewhere and always has consequences, from large things to small.

I can understand, of course, if you don’t want to spend much time talking about magical residue. There are more important aspects of storytelling to be sure. But I recommend you keep these details in the back of your mind. Even brief references, here and there, to magical repair and maintenance could add a great deal of depth to a fantasy story.

And for my science fiction-writing friends, yes, it’s true that sci fi has given a fair amount of attention to maintenance. Star Trek alone has provided us Scotty, Geordi LaForge, Miles O’Brien and more major characters whose primary job was to keep the tech running. However, you don’t see much in the way of user-level maintenance and I’m pretty sure there would be some.

The reason to mention this aspect of speculative fiction stories is not to be picky or to zing stories for their shortcomings but because working on equipment, keeping it running, checking it before use, is such a big part of the life of a soldier in modern times. And it was also important to warriors in the past and no doubt will be important to the high-tech fighters of the future.

So don’t forget about it, writers. Every time any piece of equipment is used, especially weapons but everything else, too, it has to be maintained in one way or another. You may not want to focus on that–but it’s a major part of your characters’ lives, so you might want to mention it from time to time.

So having made that point, who are some of your favorite characters who had the job of keeping stuff running? I named three of my own favorites from Star Trek, but many, many more could be mentioned. I’d be especially interested in any fantasy characters who have maintained equipment. 🙂

Imago Hominis

How sick would our society be when people actually prefer the company of soulless, factory-made machines to living, breathing people knit in the womb by God’s hands?
| Aug 8, 2018 | 40 comments |

I recently posted a discussion on Facebook that received a bit of attention so I thought I would expand it into an article. The topic was about androids/synthetic humans. Several weeks ago, I watched two films dealing with the subject: Zoe on Amazon Prime and Extinction on Netflix. I can’t talk about how artificial people factor into these films without spoiling the stories so you’ll just have to go check them out for yourself. But in both films, the line between man and machines is blurred almost to nonexistence and it is crossed in numerous ways.

For many people, the notion of self-aware artificial intelligence and synthetic human bodies is tantalizing and exciting. Of course, talking like a human and looking like a human are two separate technological pursuits. You can have a humorous, empathetic chatbot that is confined to CPUs and hard drives and has no physical presence, a brain without a body. Then there are engineers and scientists trying to create a realistic human body that can jump and spin and run and pick up things like humans do, but it would just be executing pre-programmed commands with no intelligence other than what is needed to maintain balance and identify obstacles. The Holy Grail would be to combine the two, a human-replicated personality inside a human-replicated body. Despite what Hollywood would have us believe, this electric dream is still a long way off, but as technological advances accelerate, so does the pace at which this goal can be achieved.

Tech CEO/celebrities like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos make frequent public proclamations about the future and also devote a lot of resources to making their visions come to life. It almost feels inevitable that, barring a cataclysmic global disaster or societal collapse, that we will one day have robots walking among us, fulfilling a number of duties.

So what should we as Christians make of this? The Bible doesn’t speak directly about AI or androids, but it speaks volumes on the hearts and hands of the people who would make it a reality. It is clear from Scripture that God created us to do work. He didn’t put Adam and Eve in the garden and tell them to just enjoy the view; He told them  to work the land (Gen. 2:15). Several Bible passages warn against laziness and extol the virtues of work (Prov. 21:25, 1 Thess. 4:11, 2 Tim. 2:6, and many more). This doesn’t mean that we must all be manual laborers and any automation is bad, but I don’t think that living like the porcine blubbards in the movie Wall-E is what God had in mind for the human race. There is satisfaction in a job well done and that is how God intended for it to be.

What about morally dubious interactions with robots? Is it really cheating to have intercourse with an android? What about a lonely soul who falls in love with an artificial person? What about platonic friendship? Who wouldn’t like to have a bond like Captain Picard and Data?

God created us as sentient beings with physical and emotional capabilities and needs. We have no assurance that these needs will be fulfilled, but Psalms 37:4 tells us to delight in the Lord, and He will give us the desires of our heart. The key is “delighting in the Lord,” finding serenity and satisfaction in Him. Perhaps He will then reward you by fulfilling your desires, or perhaps you will find that the things you desire are not worth pursuing after all. Craving sexual satisfaction to the point of sleeping with an android is not a godly desire. Finding emotional and relational connection with artificial intelligence is a bit stickier, especially since some people have impairments or are too isolated to allow for normal human contact. But heaven forbid this should ever become commonplace. How sick would our society be when people actually prefer the company of soulless, factory-made machines to living, breathing people knit in the womb by God’s hands?

I know I probably sound like a stodgy old man grumbling about the technology steamroller, but as we have already seen in countless instances, technology can easily lead to greater isolation and emotional distance, despite physical proximity. Most of all, it can be an idol, and there is nothing we humans love more than worshiping ourselves.

A Shadowy Argument for Christian Fiction

Shadows cast by stories can sometimes obscure the truth, but can Christian fiction paradoxically illuminate through shadow?
| Aug 7, 2018 | No comments |

Every once in a while, I’ll encounter people questioning the validity of fiction as a mode of communicating genuine truths.

Generally it’s the kind of doubt-casting that falls along the lines of whether writing is better as art or entertainment.

If it’s the latter, communicating something of substance is secondary.

If it’s the former, then it is absolutely essential. Good art always leaves those who engage it with something more than when he or she came upon it.

For most people reading this article, its fundamental question is probably a non-issue. Of course we can enjoy fictional stories and convey truth.

This week we feature Brett Armstrong and his novel Day Moon in Lorehaven Book Clubs. Stop by the flagship book club on Facebook to learn more about this story.

Subscribe to Lorehaven Magazine for free to download our new summer 2018 issue.

There is, however, a counter-argument worth addressing. All stories are abstractions of reality. The problem with abstractions is that they can actually come to supersede that which they represent. A strong example is The Hunger Games. If you read those books it is absolutely apparent Suzanne Collins does not think the world as it is functions in an acceptable manner.

Most of western civilization is more or less guilty of the villainy charged to The Capitol. Yet one would not know that from all of the fanfare, marketing, and bedazzling array of superficiality surrounding the movie adaptations of those books. There were cosmetics lines released as movie tie-ins. Red carpet premieres featured the standard, “Ooh, what is she wearing?” and “Who did he bring to the premiere?” type media noise. Spectacle, ignorance of want, and surfeiter are all put on trial through the course of the series. For all their clear themes and underlying messages, life imitated the art critiquing it.

A novel about genuine problems in the world shouted them in print, but it got lost in the adoration for the abstraction itself. Western culture seems to be battling the tendency to engage in endless distraction and self-interest at a moment’s notice.

In this light, abstractions seem like a bad thing and it presents a particular problem for Christian fiction, in that we tend to expect to emerge on the other side of it with something gained. As well we should. If reading fiction can shape our perception of reality and values—see the explosion of people interested in survival skills and archery after The Hunger Games—then it needs to be more than mental candy. If every Christian novelist just moved on to writing non-fiction, the problem would be solved, right?

A strategic withdrawal is unwise, because abstraction is not inherently a bad thing. In fact, if you agree with Plato, C. S. Lewis, or the Book of Hebrews, abstractions—shadows—are an integral part of understanding reality. Not just fiction pointing to the present world, but the present world to Heaven. That is a strong argument in favor of Christian fiction. Consider a well-known verse:

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”

(Hebrews 11:1, KJV)

An elegant summary of every Christian’s lifeline: faith.

If you’re like me, there have been more than a few times when it was a challenge relying on the spiritual substance born of hope and evidence for unseen realities. Our senses are our pitons in the real world. Anytime we have to trust something that isn’t anchored through those senses we’re uncomfortable. After all, letting go of what’s holding you to a cliff face is a good way to fall.

Except, that’s exactly what God asks of us: trust a different set of anchor points, ones not forged from our senses.

Which also makes sense (pun intended). For the greater realities unseen we need links formed from the same. The Lord asks that we trust Him to keep us on the rock face.

Day Moon, Brett Armstrong

“An intriguing masterpiece of character relationships, marked by deception and betrayal, displays authentic human interactions and motivations on the story’s canvas.” — Lorehaven Magazine

My novel Day Moon is woven through with this notion of trusting the unseen. And not only doing so, but doing it when it seems foolish and others are happy to point it out.

The protagonist, Elliott, is living in the near future. As a prodigy working on a global software initiative, Project Alexandria, he’s more than familiar with the arguments against faith in God. He might have no faith himself, but for the influence of his grandfather. Which is fitting. Before being in an accident, Elliott’s grandfather left a series of clues and through them Elliott realizes there’s something sinister about Project Alexandria. Those clues are the only thing keeping him one step ahead of the authorities, even as they lead him further and further into the wilderness and deeper and deeper into questions of whether the reality he’s known his whole life is truthfully real or not.

Elliott can’t communicate face-to-face with his grandfather. He does know his grandfather’s character and he has the clues left for him. In effect Elliott is walking by faith.

It’s not a perfect analogue, but in writing the story, I found it so similar. There is so much to distract in Elliott’s world, so many voices he could listen to, telling him to give up. I like to think of it in terms of a signal, an electromagnetic wave bearing vital information being sent out. The messages of truth, and the Truth in particular, issue forth with a coherent signal. It’s not for lack of clarity that the latter is misunderstood or misinterpreted. Many elements of this world act like background interference. Introduce enough of it into a system and the signal you want can get lost. Faith helps us filter through the noise to find that signal again.

Stories are by their nature shadows, abstractions of the real world. Traditional dystopia tells us that if these shadows remain unaltered, then comes tragedy. Day Moon is a tragedy where reality and truth and faith are almost lost, but Elliott and his group are hanging on to the signal, to the substance of that which they hope for and the evidence of the unseen. As Christian fiction, it can use an abstraction to point to the greatest reality.

My prayer is traversing the abstracted world of Day Moon will help someone to hang on to the Faith and not lose sight of that which we see in shadow now.

“An intriguing masterpiece of character relationships, marked by deception and betrayal, displays authentic human interactions and motivations on the story’s canvas.”
— Lorehaven Magazine

Explore Brett Armstrong’s novel Day Moon in the Lorehaven Library.

Read our full review exclusively from the summer 2018 issue of Lorehaven Magazine!

2018 Spec Faith Summer Writing Challenge Finalists

Be sure to share this post and poll with your friends and family, your Google+ circles and your Pinterest people, your Facebook friends and Twitter followers. The more voters, the better.

Special thanks to all who entered the 2018 Spec Faith Summer Writing Challenge and to all who gave their feedback in the preliminary rounds.

As in other writing challenges, we had a lot of 2018 entries that received a high number of pluses. Clearly these were strong submissions, many from writers who haven’t entered this contest before. I hope the writing challenge has encouraged and inspired each to continue developing their storytelling skills.

I was especially intrigued by the wide variety of 2018 entries—some science fiction, one involving a dragon, one with merfolk, even a contemporary. In many stories Bran was the king’s son, but in another he appeared as his brother. Some developed him as the king’s ally, but a number had the two as enemies. One even developed Bran as a female character. (I actually thought we might have more entries that went that direction, so that was interesting, too). All in all, I find the creativity of the authors who entered our 2018 Summer Challenge to be wonderful. That they could all take the same opening line and do such different things is impressive.

As always, we’ve selected the three 2018 finalists whose submissions received the most positive responses over these past two weeks. So here, in alphabetical order by last name, are your 2018 Summer Writing Challenge finalists: L. C. Crouch, Cathy H., and Zachary Totah.

All that’s left is to select the winner. Choose from these three entries and vote in the poll at the end of this post for one entry you think is best.

The entry receiving the most votes will be the winner, and the author will receive a $25 e-gift card from either Amazon or B&N. (In case of a tie, I’ll draw for the winner).

Voting will last until midnight (Pacific time), Sunday, August 12.

And now the finalist entries:

By L. C. Crouch

If only Bran could stop the king, but he was too powerful, too sure he was right, Pallas thought as he reassured his stallion. The horse was uncharacteristically frightened by the cacophony of the battle in the valley below them.

“Father, this battle was not appointed to us,” Prince Bran pleaded, his voice heavy with concern.

The sun glinted beneath them, dimmed only by blood staining sword and armor alike.

“As Commander of the Guard I must agree with Prince Bran. This battle has not been granted to us to fight. We will be risking many lives and forego the protection of The Sovereign,” Pallas said.

King Caelan’s enormous, black steed pawed the ground, nostrils flaring, his coat glistening with the king’s heraldry.

King Caelan raised a battle-scarred hand. “I grow weary of arguments. Our neighbors fight for their freedom, and we will bear the burden of battle with them. Surely the nobility of our cause will please the Sovereign!”

Who was more eager for battle, the King or his steed?

“I beseech you, King Caelan, heed the Word of The Sovereign. He has not ordained this battle and that which He has not ordained, He will not bless!” Pallas tensed, awaiting the king’s wrath.

“Sound the charge!” The king drew his sword and pointed it towards the heavens, shouting, “For The Sovereign!”

The trumpets sounded, and his horse reared, intoxicated by the thrill of impending battle. The twang of bowstrings sounded a sharp staccato to the arpeggios of the king’s trumpets as arrows left their nocks. The king and his steed fell, still and silent.

King Bran commanded his troops to retreat. Raven eyes dampened with mourning, he dismounted to close his father’s eyes, and repeated, “That which The Sovereign has not ordained…”

###$&$&###

By Cathy H.

If only Bran could stop the king, but he was too powerful, too sure he was right, too noble. Should the serpent be released, he would face it as his sovereign duty.

Bran’s leather armor creaked as he fought for balance when the tremors struck. His king- his brother- stood tall and strong, unswayed by the shaking ground. Squaring his shoulders, Bran forced himself to stand firm.

He squinted at the sky. Murky clouds roiled overhead, masking the sun, and as the light dimmed, the field shook again. Fissures opened like hungry mouths to eat the tall, dry grass and withered flowers, and with a thunderous crack, the rock sealing the gateway split to reveal the deeper, darker chasm which extended to the roots of the earth.

“‘And the Serpent who devours the World shall be unleashed’,” the king quoted. He set a hand on Bran’s shoulder. “I must go.”

“I understand.” It wasn’t a complete lie. Bran swallowed bile.

They ran side-by-side as they had in their youth, and jumped the expanding crevices. The fractured rock towered over the abyss from which the serpent would emerge to devour the world.

The king tilted his head to the sky, praying, but Bran watched the void, alert for any variation in the darkness. Finally, the dull gleam of the serpent’s coils caught the failing light.

“Drystran,” Bran said. “It’s time.”

His brother’s dark eyes bored into his, though the flicker of fear Bran saw might have been a reflection of his own. The king drew his silver dagger.

But… There was a way to stop the king.

Bran punched his older brother in the face. The king staggered back in surprise, and Bran wrenched the dagger from his hand.

“I love you, Drystran,” he said.

He hurled himself into the abyss to bar the serpent’s passage.

The rock snapped closed above him.

###$&$&###

By Zachary Totah

If only Bran could stop the king, but he was too powerful, too sure he was right.

Trev stared at the words hovering in the pale blue projection above his floating desk, mind blank. He needed more. This ending wasn’t worthy of the Artisan Scholarship.

Hot frustration surged up his throat.

“Blast!” He banged a fist against his desk, setting it rocking above his ergonomic seat. Twelve hours until the deadline and the cursed last chapters wouldn’t cooperate.

“Something wrong?”

Trev turned at the familiar voice. “Go away.”

Kyra sauntered into Trev’s dimly-lit room, hands buried in the pockets of her skintight leather pants. “My story’s done. Yours?”

Trev stiffened. “Yep, just about. Pretty good, too. Best I’ve written.”

He blocked the projection as Kyra moved closer. Her jasmine perfume stung his nostrils. Despite the smile plastered on her face, her deep blue eyes smoldered.

“I’m going to win the Scholarship, Trev. My family needs it.”

“Whose doesn’t?” Trev snapped. Each Artisan apprentice had one chance to change their fortune when they turned eighteen. Everyone needed it.

“Do you ever wonder why they make us do this?”

“Look around, Kyra. The world needs stories to stay sane.”

Kyra glared. “I’m not stupid. When I become a Craftswoman, I won’t let the Overlords keep playing games with our lives. This needs to change.”

Deep down, Trev agreed—despite the excellent pay and veneration artisans received. The world was bleak enough without taking advantage of them, without enslaving their skills to satisfy people’s escapist demands.

He pointed at the sliding door. “I need to finish.” He’d come too far to let his dream—and his family’s hope of a better life—crumble now.

“See you tomorrow, Trev.” Kyra strode out. Too quickly?

Trev turned back to the projection. It was blank. Entire chapter erased.

An icy knife of dread stabbed through his chest. He leapt up. “KYRA!”

###$&$&###

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Fiction Friday — Recruits by Thomas Locke

Thomas Locke is a pseudonym for Davis Bunn, an award-winning novelist with worldwide sales of seven million copies in twenty languages.

Recruits

Recruits, Book 1

by Thomas Locke

INTRODUCTION—RECRUITS

Young Adult Science Fiction
Winner of the Realm Award for Science Fiction

“For more than a decade, twins Sean and Dillon Kirrel have felt pulled toward another world—a place they have sketched out in detail and posted on the walls of their bedroom. They are certain it is out there. Soon after their seventeenth birthday, they are approached by a clandestine scout. To him, Earth is just a distant and unmonitored outpost of human civilization. But he explains that Sean and Dillon share a unique gift—the ability to transfer instantly from place to place. Transitors who are also twins are especially rare, and so they are offered an opportunity to prove themselves as recruits to the human assembly. If they don’t succeed within thirty days, their minds will be wiped. Either they make the grade as inter-planetary travelers—or this never happened.

“From the infinite imagination of Thomas Locke comes this otherworldly new series that will challenge young readers’ understanding of time, space, and human limitations.”

RECRUITS — EXCERPT

1

Ten years ago this month, they started drawing the train station, one positioned on another world.

They had the same image burning in their brains, in their hearts. The station was a tube pinched at both ends, like a twisted candy wrapper. They argued over how big it was. A couple of miles long at least. And the trains, they were all glass. Not like trains with windows. Glass trains. And the tubes they traveled in, glass as well. But that wasn’t the best part.

The trains came and went all over the tube. Top, sides, bottom. Gravity modulations, that was definitely Dillon’s term. Sean assumed his brother got the concept from some sci-fi novel, but Dillon insisted it came to him in a dream. Whatever. They drew the station on sheets from sketch pads and pasted them all over their two rooms. Walls and ceilings. Forget posters of rock groups and models. Even as they entered their teens, there was nothing they wanted more than to build on the dream. Leave the same-old behind. And fly to a world they were somehow sure was more than just a figment of two imaginations. So they kept drawing, adding cities of lyrical majesty that rose beyond the station. They were connected to this place like the ticket was in the mail. Teh years had changed nothing.

The idea came to them when they were seven. Nowadays Dillon claimed it was his concept. But Sean knew his twin was just blowing smoke. Dillon had a highly convenient memory. He remembered things the way he wished they were. Sean decided it wasn’t worth arguing over. Dillon tended to go ballistic whenever his remake of history was challenged. But Sean knew the idea was his. Totally.

Still, he let Dillon claim he was the one who came up with the concept. The one that powered them through the worst times. Kept them moving forward. That was the most important thing. They had it in their bones.

Only that spring, the concept and all the bitter yearnings attached to it actually did change into something more.

* * *

They were coming from the school bus, walking the line of cookie-cutter homes in suburban Raleigh. They lived in a development called Plantation Heights, six miles northeast of the old town, the cool town. All the good stuff was farther west. The Research Triangle Park. Duke University. UNC Chapel Hill. NC State. Five different party centrals. That particular Friday afternoon was great, weather-wise. Not too hot, nice breeze, Carolina blue sky. Two weekends before the end of the school year was also good for a high, even if they were both still looking for a job. Just two more of the local horde, searching for grunt work that paid minimum wage at best. But their eighteenth birthdays were only four months and six days off. That summer they would take their SATs and begin the process of trying to find a university that would accept them both. Because they definitely wanted to stay together. No matter how weird the world might find it, the topic had been cemented in a conversation that lasted, like, eleven secconds.

The biggest focus for their summer was to find something that paid enough to buy a car. Their rarely used drivers’ licenses burned holes in their back pockets. Their desire to acquire wheels and escape beautiful suburbia fueled an almost daily hunt through the want ads.

Dillon looked up from his phone and announced, “Dodge is coming out with a new Charger SRX. Five hundred and seventy-one ponies.”

Sean tossed his brother his backpack. “I’m not hauling your weight for you to go trolling for redneck clunkers.”

Dillon stowed his phone and slung his pack. “You and your foreign junk.”

“Seven-series BMW, V12, blow your Charger into last week.:

“For the cost of a seven-series we could get two Chargers and take our ladies to New York for a month.”

“The kind of ladies who would set foot in a Charger would rather go to Arkansas, buy some new teeth.”

They turned the corner and saw a U-Haul partly blocking their drive. Two hefty guys were shifting furniture from the truck into the house next door. Moving trucks were a fairly common sight in Plantation Heights. The development held over three hundred houses. Or rather, one home cloned three hundred times. Which was how Sean came up with the name for the residences and the people who lived here. Clomes.

AUTHOR BIO—THOMAS LOCKE

Thomas Locke is a pseudonym for Davis Bunn, an award-winning novelist with worldwide sales of seven million copies in twenty languages. Davis divides his time between Oxford and Florida and holds a lifelong passion for speculative stories. He is the author of Emissary and Merchant of Alyss in the Legends of the Realm series, as well as Trial Run and Flash Point in the Fault Lines series. Learn more at www.tlocke.com.

Why is Harry Potter More Christian than His Creator?

Happy birthday, Harry Potter—the famous boy wizard whose story celebrates tradition, family, and legitimate authority.
| Aug 3, 2018 | 8 comments |

On Wednesday, Harry Potter turned 38. I’m not talking about the books, but about the boy wizard, who in-canon, was born in 1980.

In honor of this occasion (sort of, but also because we were bored) my wife and I decided to re-watch the Warner Bros “Harry Potter” films.

As I filled her in on subplots and characters from the books which the movie adaptations cut, and which fans everywhere consider absolutely vital (Peeves, anyone? S.P.E.W.?), I was taken aback once more by what a traditional and even Christian story “Harry Potter” is, and what a startling contrast this strikes with the series’ author-turned-social-justice-Twitter-queen, J. K. Rowling.

I remember a time when my fellow Christian “Potter” fans and I were beleaguered and hiding beneath our invisibility cloaks from the rest of the Christian right (who thought we had all sold our souls to the devil). We held out hope that Rowling would turn out to be one of us. She certainly has identified herself as a Christian in the past, even confessing that she preferred not to make the fact public because she feared it would give away the ending of her story.

Well, the ending of her story has been available in bookstores for over a decade now—sacrificial death-and-resurrection-of-the-title-character and all—and it’s little wonder she was so secretive.

But a lot has happened in these eleven years, and thanks to the cancer-on-human-civilization we know as Twitter, Rowling has distinguished (diminished?) herself, not as the brilliant seamstress of spiritual subtleties we hoped she was, but as a tiresome, garden-variety moralizer for every fashionable leftist cause du jour.

That’s not the worst part: She has dragged Harry and his friends into it, again and again and again, selling her wondrous world and its characters for a mess of political pottage and pats on the back from other high-profile liberals in the U.K.

Rowling has come out for abortion “rights” and cheered LGBTQ causes and the redefinition of marriage, family, and gender at every turn. She has opposed conservative and traditional political causes and not only strip-mined her story for cheap talking points, but encouraged her left-wing followers to see themselves as a real-life Dumbledore’s Army resisting the dark and prejudicial forces of Brexit, Donald Trump, and pro-lifers.

Rowling has reduced her own work—a series that shepherds children and adults alike through the very deepest questions about love, death, the afterlife, friendship, and self-sacrifice—into a dime-store political allegory. This makes me suspect deep down inside that she Avada-Kedavra’d the original author of “Harry Potter” and passed that genius’s work off as her own. Or like Gilderoy Lockhart, perhaps she is particularly gifted with memory charms, and the actual mind behind the-boy-who-lived and Hogwarts was obliviated a long time ago.

As evidence, consider:

  • J. K. Rowling is exhaustingly pro big-government.
  • “Harry Potter” lampoons big government and bureaucracy as incompetent and stifling, even assigning it the acronym “M. O. M.” (Ministry of Magic).
  • J. K. Rowling vocally supports abortion and government-funded birth control as crucial to the liberation and even survival of women.
  • “Harry Potter” glorifies a big, beautiful, dirt-poor, obviously-Irish-Catholic family that has never even heard of birth control (the Weasleys).
  • J. K. Rowling parrots the hyperbolic tantrums of mainstream news outlets, even scolding the BBC for comparing Donald Trump with Voldemort, because her story’s arch-villain was “nowhere near” that bad.
  • In “Harry Potter,” mainstream media bias and the dishonesty of reporters are mercilessly mocked, Voldemort easily gains control of a supine press, and an anti-establishment, alt-news source is the lone voice still telling the truth.
  • J. K. Rowling supports gun control and believes the government will defend us.
  • In “Harry Potter,” the government fails spectacularly to defend its citizens, leaving students at Hogwarts to learn how to use deadly force to defend themselves.
  • J. K. Rowling has applauded same-sex marriage referenda, endorsed pro-LGBT readings of her books, and famously outed one of her most beloved characters (Headmaster Albus Dumbledore) as gay, because no one should have to live in the closet.
  • The actual “Harry Potter” books never breathe a word about Dumbledore’s sexual orientation or homosexuality at all, and idealize traditional, one-man-one-woman families.

More pervasively, the general sense in “Harry Potter” that tradition and authority are good things, that the oldest, most venerable wizards and witches are wisest, that Harry is inheriting something bigger, more ancient, and more significant than himself (as opposed to overthrowing the benighted old order to introduce something unprecedented and forward-thinking) is overwhelming and unmistakably conservative.

“Harry Potter” is a story of a nuclear family’s love, aided by the strength of tradition and even religion (Harry has a godfather, which means he was baptized as an infant), triumphing over ideology, bureaucracy, and the bad guys who literally worship and name their organization after death.

On a still deeper level, the echoes of Christian theology in “Harry Potter” that made me hope all those years ago that Rowling might be among the brethren are, if anything, more obvious to me now:

  • The serpent-obsessed bad guys whose name (“Death-Eaters”) all but shouts “You will not surely die”
  • Lily Potter’s sacrifice which imparts saving grace to her son
  • Dumbledore begging for the cup of despair to pass from him before he is betrayed by a friend
  • The Bible verses on tombstones
  • The horcruxes that serve as material allegories for one of those verses (Matthew 6:21: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”)
  • Harry’s agony in the forest (garden?) on his way to give himself up as a ransom for many
  • His unceasing longing for a family; not two gay dads, not a generous social safety net, not a career-driven marriage with a spouse-who-has-the-right-to-choose, but a family…a mom and a dad and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and all the wonderful, dizzying connections blood and tradition create and which progressives are so busily dismantling

All of this makes me ask: where on earth is the woman who wrote this?

Certainly not behind J. K. Rowling’s keyboard. Not in the truest sense.

If I may venture a theory, “Harry Potter” transcends its author precisely because the things she wrote about transcend individuals and their political and religious views. They are timeless truths, archetypes and contours of reality that are simply necessary fibers of any captivating yarn.

As Christoph Niemand points out, Rowling didn’t write these truths, but she, like all writers, is subject to them.

It makes sense that a great story like “Harry Potter,” with its celebration of tradition, of family, of legitimate authority, and even of religion is more Christian than its author. That’s what makes it a great story.