Lorehaven Magazine’s Spring 2019 Issue Has Arrived

Explore story layers with Tosca Lee, read book reviews, and get practical help for Christian geeks and parents.
| Mar 26, 2019 | No comments |

Today’s article will be brief, because I’ve just helped wrap the release for Lorehaven Magazine’s spring 2019 issue.

It’s free to subscribe. And subscribers can read the issue here. You can read it in web articles, or download the PDF.

In this issue:

  • We explore story layers with Tosca Lee and her latest thriller, The Line Between;
  • Our reviewers find fourteen other good and great Christian-made fantastical novels;
  • Paeter Frandsen offers practical tips for Christian geeks to glorify God in our entertainment choices;
  • Marian Jacobs asks what in the world of villainy Christian parents can do if their children only want to pretend they’re bad guys.

You can get a complete preview here at SpecFaith. Or, read a few excerpts from reviews here at my own website.

And of course, the spring 2018 issue is open for anyone (not just free subscribers) to read.

Further up and further in!

Stephen

Books Have Themes?

Using the vehicle of theme, writers say something. Whether that something is trivial and mundane or significant and profound depends on how unafraid they are.
| Mar 25, 2019 | 1 comment |

Fifteen years ago, one of the big knocks on Christian fiction was that the books were too preachy. This complaint seemed to reach writers who then proceeded to ditch any themes, at least ones purposefully crafted. After all, one sure way to not preach is to not say anything at all. In fact, stories should just entertain, never mind this moralizing, philosophizing, and sermonizing.

Themes began to disappear.

Until a number of writers noticed that general market books and movies and even TV shows had themes. Some of them even preached.

The truth is, using the vehicle of theme, writers say something. Whether that something is trivial and mundane or significant and profound depends on how unafraid they are. Yes, unafraid. Many writers are afraid they will limit the scope of their book if they place their story firmly in a particular economic or political or religious milieu. They’re afraid if they take sides in a controversial question, they’ll make enemies and lose readers. Some are afraid they will be labeled “preachy” if they include meaningful themes in their stories.

According to a number of writing instructors, novels that name specifics—details brings a place or a person alive, and that includes specific themes—engage readers in a way that generic stories don’t. Consequently, writers that steer away from presenting a particular view point, whether religious or political, are actually neutering their story. From agent and writing instructor Donald Maass:

What distinguishes our era? What are its look, buzzwords, issues, and conflicts? Fashion magazines, op-ed pages, sports reporting, rappers, corporate websites, and teen slang are all barometers of our times . . . I don’t mean to suggest dropping in brand names or news events. Those are shallow gimmicks. I do mean that an important component of any novel’s grip on readers’ imaginations is how that novel brings alive its times. (Writing 21st Century Fiction, p. 168—emphasis mine)

Certainly speculative novels should do both—bringing alive the times in which the story is set but also bringing alive the themes that will resonate with people living in the real world.

The fear of dating a novel scares off some authors from creating the kind of particular atmosphere that makes a story feel as if it’s anchored in reality. However, stories like The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck bring alive a time and culture through which the author can then say something important and universal, something that applies today as well as to the original audience.

Some writers also fear taking a stand on a controversial subject or saying something significant about an eternal question. And more so in these recent days since “author shaming” or bullying has become a thing on twitter (see L. Jagi Lamplighter’s recent article on this subject). Maass again:

The mysteries of existence are also often avoided in manuscripts. Do you believe in destiny? Do you believe in God? Are our lives random or do they have a purpose? Do you think about these things? Of course you do . . . What about your protagonist? What’s her take on the big questions? Is it pretentious to include them?

Ducking the big questions is easy. So is achieving low impact . . . Is there such a thing as justice when laws are made by fallible humans? Does do no harm have any meaning when medicine becomes guesswork? Is it worth building bridges when their ultimate collapse is guaranteed? Do we teach in schools “truths” that are untrue? Does the accumulation of capital do good or does it corrupt? What are the limits of friendship? Should loyalty last beyond the grave? We read fiction not just for entertainment but for answers to those questions. So answer them. (Writing 21st Century Fiction, p. 169-170— emphasis mine)

A good many writers are afraid of answering these kinds of questions, thinking that by doing so they’ll come across as preachy—that death knell to Christian fiction.

To_Kill_a_MockingbirdBut having something to say does not equate with preachy writing. Harper Lee had some specific things to say about prejudice, but I’ve never heard anyone claim To Kill A Mockingbird was preachy. That’s because Ms. Lee didn’t explain what she had to say: she showed it through her characters.

She didn’t have one of them sum up the meaning of all the events or spell out the ethical implications of why they did what they chose to do. Rather, she created believable people who lived in a specific time with a certain set of problems, and she showed one man and his daughter who lived in contradiction to the societal norm.

Clearly she tackled her subject unafraid, even in the racially charged era of the pre-Civil Rights movement, and the result was a classic story with timeless truths, still being read and studied fifty-plus years later.

Shouldn’t Christian authors be the most unafraid of all? Shouldn’t we be putting spiritual truth at the forefront of our themes? Shouldn’t we do so intentionally, taking care to craft our themes as carefully as we craft our characters?

After all, aren’t the best books the ones that make us think and ponder long after we’ve come to the end and returned the book to the shelf or to our Kindle collection? And shouldn’t Christians aim at writing the best books?

What Wonderful Worlds: Five Fantasy Novels to Foster Your Sense of Wonder

Fantasy author Gillian Bronte Adams (The Songkeeper series) shares five fantasy books she recently enjoyed.
| Mar 22, 2019 | 4 comments |

Opening a book is a magical experience: pages crinkle, a whiff of ink promises adventure, and those first few lines open up a portal into a wonderful new world.

My sense of wonder as a young reader was only heightened by the fact that my sister stole from her current reads to enhance our imaginary games without telling me what she was doing. I played along, blissfully unaware and increasingly amazed by my sister’s endless imagination. Until I eventually read the same books and discovered many things that seemed strangely familiar.

Fortunately, it enhanced my reading experience. There was something delightfully magical about turning a corner while wandering new story paths only to discover a character I already knew.

Magic. Awe. Imagination. Wonder.

Recently, I saw Mary Poppins Returns in the theater, and like both generations of the Banks children, I was reminded to embrace a sense of wonder and imagination in the everyday. I was reminded that it is good to laugh and sing, and that sometimes when the world is turning upside down, we can turn upside down along with it to get a new perspective.

Of course, the movie also got me thinking about books. Wonder is a common tone in middle-grade fiction and is often emphasized in stories for younger readers, but it tends to diminish somewhat in young adult and adult fiction. Grit, shock, and heart-thumping action takes its place. Don’t get me wrong, I heartily enjoy grit, shock, and action as thematic elements, but Mary Poppins Returns inspired me to reflect on fantasy books that appreciate and inspire that same sense of wonder for older audiences too.

I came up with a list of five fantasy reads I enjoyed recently to share with you.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

This series is a staple of the fantasy genre but I mention it now because a recent reread left it fresh on my mind. Of course, it starts off as Middle Grade and ages with Harry and its original audience to Young Adult fiction, but I was struck on my reread with how all the little details fill us “muggle readers” with the same sense of wonder Harry feels.

Rich, vibrant settings like Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, and the Weasley home make Harry’s world easy to imagine. All the class details—from the wide variety of plants discussed in Herbology to the many creatures (both delightful and deadly) in Care of Magical Creatures—forever offer something new to be discovered, and like Harry, I found my eyes constantly widening, struck with the magic of it all.

The Electrical Menagerie by Mollie E. Reeder

Recently rereleased with a new cover and an audiobook, this one is a science fantasy/steampunk story about a magician (showman not wizard) and a young producer who enter a competition as a last-ditch effort to save their traveling robotic show from bankruptcy. The character dynamics between the magician, Carthage, and the producer, Huxley, are tremendous. Honestly, you cannot help but love them and their robot butler.

Still, one of my favorite parts of the story is Carthage’s sense of wonder and imagination. His is a magic of creativity and beauty and wonder, and the way his shows are depicted without nitty gritty details to explain exactly how each trick is performed (a magician never reveals his secrets) leaves the reader with as much of a feeling of awe as his in-story audience. Magic.

The Story Peddler, Lindsay A. Franklin

The Story Peddler by Lindsay A. Franklin

In this beautiful tale, Tanwen is a story peddler who can weave tales into crystalline figurines to sell. Unfortunately, she must restrict her storytelling to tales approved by the crown or risk being arrested for treason. Later, she finds out that other gifts—like songspinning and colormastery—are also restricted to depict a singular narrative that paints the crown in the best light. So, when the story that Tanwen tells takes a treasonous turn, she becomes a target.

The way this book approaches creativity is enough to spark wonder in anyone. The way Tanwen looks at the world is a delight. As a reader and writer and lover of beautiful artistry in many forms, I was left so inspired by the read.

To Best the Boys by Mary Weber

This one is a new release that just hit stores this week, and it is this month’s choice for the Fantasy Read Along that author Jill Williamson and I co-host on Instagram. If Rhen hopes to cure the illness that is killing her mother, she must enter Mr. Holm’s Labyrinth and compete to win a scholarship in pursuit of a college education in a society where young ladies are expected to stay home.

This is a book of dreams and goals and courage. The magic is woven delightfully into the background and assumed not explained. Throughout the story it remains a delicious mystery so you never quite know how or why it works, like Willy Wonka and his Chocolate Factory. But it does. And that is part of the wonder of it all, so you are left forever anticipating the magical and never doubting it when it occurs. Beautiful.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle

Granted, I was late to the game on this one since I only read it last summer … and of course, it’s been out far far longer than that, so I will spare you the story blurb and only say here that this science fantasy with its fantastic creatures and its Charles Wallace and its fierce Meg who needs help seeing the wonderful in herself, was such a wonder-inspiring read that it quickly became one of my favorites.

Fostering a sense of wonder

This sense of wonder is something I am learning to appreciate more as a reader, experiment with more as a writer, and enjoy more in this world God has created. Our world may groan under the weight and brokenness of sin (Romans 8:19-23), but our amazingly creative God filled it with wonder and beauty first. Wacky creatures to make us laugh, majestic creatures to inspire us, beautiful sunsets to lift our spirits, and stars to lift our eyes to the heavens that declare His glory (Psalm 19:1).

So, when books fill us with a sense of wonder and we marvel at the skill of the author, I hope we will marvel too at the Author of all things who gifted us with our imaginations to sub-create (as Tolkien said in his essay On Fairy-Stories) and to enjoy the sub-creations of others.

What have you read recently?

Even as I am typing this, several other delightful books come to mind, but I limited this list to recent reads so you could share books that have inspired this sense of wonder in you too!

Why Not More Biblical Speculative Fiction?

Why isn’t there more speculative fiction set in Bible times or featuring Biblical characters? We have reasons why not–but we should work past them.
| Mar 21, 2019 | 21 comments |

I’ve just read Mark Carver’s Speculative Faith article (“Sharper than Any Double-Edged Sword”) in which he talked about the Bible being the ideal guide for Christians in what we watch or read or otherwise partake in terms of stories, with our goal to be more and more Christlike. I’m taking what he said on an admitted (but I hope good) tangent: Why isn’t there more Biblical speculative fiction?

(TANGENT TO THE TANGENT: I personally always capitalize “Bible” and “Biblical.” Under English usage, so-called proper nouns like “Canada” and adjectives derived from such nouns like “Canadian” are capitalized. [Tangent to the tangent to the tangent: I was going to use “America” as an example, but that seemed very American of me. 🙂 ] Common nouns, like “book” and adjectives derived from it, like “bookish” are not capitalized. I would say that there is only one Bible, no matter how many particular translations exist, that the Bible is unique, and that “Bible” is its proper name in English, and therefore it should always be capitalized. Yes, I know people who see “bible” as a common noun for “authoritative book” are not necessarily wrong, technically speaking. But that’s not how I use “Bible” or “Biblical”–and Mark Carver did the same as what I do.)

Granted, there has been an upsurge in recent years in movies that feature Biblical events–and Biblical epics have always been popular in films. Yet stories set in Bible times (usually) feature retelling or amplifying what the Scriptures said (hey I just realized I also capitalize “SCRIPTURES”!!!). Sure, we could say showing Satan watching Christ suffer is a speculative element in the Passion of the Christ–speculative not because Satan is fictional, but because we don’t really know what Satan’s involvement would have looked like if it could have somehow been made visible. And there is always some minimal speculation involved in portraying exactly what people looked like or said or did at particular moments. But that kind of minor, historical-fiction-related-story speculation is not what I’m talking about.

Though (tangent again, but a minor one), there’s something to be said for historical fiction set in Biblical times. Tosca Lee’s Sheba or Iscariot bring light to characters in the Bible who are focused on less in the way most people think of the Scriptures. And of course, Ben Hur would be the classic example of Biblical historical fiction, a sort of book for which there is clearly a market. But why are relatively few historical fiction works set in the era in which the Scriptures were composed? I can’t help but feel there is much more potential for such stories.

But I’m not talking about historical fiction set in Bible times, even though that can be cool and interesting. I’m referring to truly speculative stories. Why are there virtually no time-traveler tales featuring characters going back to Biblical days, for example? Or Biblical figures traveling to the present (or future)? Or why are there so few Biblical tales retold in the context of alien or future culture? And while there have been a relative plethora of stories about spiritual warfare, I don’t know of any set in Bible times.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

I can offer some answers to my own questions, at least to a degree. It seems Christians are a bit afraid of being accused of misrepresenting the Bible by inserting speculative elements in it. So if a writer were to create a book on the spiritual war of angels and demons during the time of Daniel’s Babylon, such an author could be accused of adding to the text of the Bible in a sacrilegious way.

Or such stories might suggest that God was not really in control of the events of Biblical history. For example, some people might see the act of a time traveler, say, trying to kill the Romans who killed Christ–but failing because of the intervention of another time traveler–would suggest that God was not really in charge of events.

Note that certain Jewish storytellers have not felt any such inhibitions. Darren Aronofsky crafted a movie based on a Biblical character, Noah, that had speculative elements.

I’m not one hundred percent pleased with Aronofsky’s vision. But for me, that points out that Christians who think more along the lines of how I think ought to be writing, directing, and producing such movies. Presumably, we could include speculative elements while still showing more respect for what the Bible has to say than Aronofsky did.

A story of angels and demons in Bible times could come with an author’s preface saying that while we know angels and demons are real and their conflict relates to the book of Daniel, “this work is fiction and not intended to exactly reproduce” etc. Or the time-traveler story I mentioned could be written in such a way that God’s providence is evident in the events of the story, including the actions of the time travelers themselves. Or one set of time travelers could be believers–or the story could even feature angels battling time-travelers! (Why not?)

If the Bible is to be our guideline, why shouldn’t it also be our inspiration? Not just in fantasy genre allegories or in Biblical worldviews of good and evil, which are fine and good, but why not also more directly? Why aren’t there more speculative fiction stories set in Bible times or Biblical figures seen in speculative fiction stories? Why can’t we work past the potential problems and objections?

Sharper than Any Double-Edged Sword

Do you get a thrill out of seeing images of darkness or sinful acts in a story? Where does this enjoyment come from?
| Mar 20, 2019 | 16 comments |

This article may come off as judgmental, and I’m fine with that. Any exhortations made are directly from the Scriptures. So with that out of the way, let’s jump into it.

The world of entertainment is incomprehensibly vast, and with mass media and the internet, nearly all of it is accessible anytime anywhere. As with most progressions in the human experience, this accessibility can be both good and bad. Good, in that our imaginations have an endless supply of creative food to ingest and digest. Bad, in that there is a whole lot of filth out there alongside the gems.

As Christians, we are called to a higher standard in our thoughts (Col. 3:1-2) and in our lives (Col. 3:5-10). We are not simply going through life feeding our urges before we die. We are meant to be Christ’s representation on Earth (1 Cor. 5:20) to shine His light to the unbelieving world. We as sinful entities are dead, and it is Christ who lives in us (Gal. 2:20). This means that we should strive to be more Christ-like in everything we do, no matter how monumental or trivial.

The reason I bring is up is because I want to look at an issue I’ve noticed in the Christian creative community, and especially in my own life. This issue is a lack of discernment in the entertainment we consume. This weakness manifests itself in many forms. Personally, I’ve always had an imagination that tended toward darker things. Dark music, dark imagery, dark books and movies. Nothing that outright glorified Satan, but my imagination would get excited by ominous imagery like skulls and weaponry or foreboding movie moments such as when the Ring-wraiths came galloping out of the gates of Mordor in slow motion in The Fellowship of the Ring. Something inside me would grin wickedly and whisper, “Awesome…!” I also channeled my grim inclinations into my early books, trying to be as melodramatic and shocking as possible (I can still vividly see the image in my mind’s eye as I wrote a passage about a disemboweled priest of the Church of Satan crucified on a pentagram in a cathedral). I devoured books, movies, and music that dripped with Gothicky goodness, and while I’ve never been a depressed, gloomy, or negative person, it would be dishonest to say that my creative inclinations were borne out of a Biblical mindset.

As I’ve grown closer in my walk with Christ, I’ve started to examine areas of my life through the lens of Scripture that I used to think didn’t matter, or I deliberately “hid” from God because I was afraid I would have to change. Sinful foolishness, I know, but our flesh is still a powerful influence in our lives, despite the fact that we are new creations in Christ. If the goal is to be like Christ (1 John 2:6), then no part of our life belongs to us. We can’t say, “Yeah God, I’ll give the big things in my life to You, but there are some things that I just really want to hold on to.” We either walk in the flesh, or we walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:17).

Before you get all huffy, I am not saying that dark imagery, fictitious violence, etc. are necessarily wrong. What is wrong is if we enjoy such things apart from our walk in Christ. Do you get a thrill out of seeing someone get killed in a really cool way in movies or TV shows? Do you get a tingle when a demonic or monstrous character displays their full power? Do you cheer for a woman who indulges in promiscuity under the guise of “owning her sexuality?” Ask yourself: where does this enjoyment come from? As believers, the Holy Spirit lives in us (Rom. 8:9) and He is our guide in truth (John 16:13). Do we enjoy the things we enjoy because they bring us closer to God, or do they tickle the sin nature that we are dead to (Rom. 6:2) yet still lingers with us (Rom. 7:20)?

Image copyright New Line Cinema

Some will say, “Dude, chill. It’s just a movie. It’s just fiction. No one’s really dying. It’s not real sex. Those skulls and bones on his armor are just props.” That is all irrelevant. What matters, and what is real, are the emotions and urges that are stirred up within us when we enjoy our entertainment. Everything in our life should be examined through the lens of Scripture and we must heed the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I found that in my own life, there were things I needed to move away from, and there are still many more that I cling to, but in my heart, I know that nothing I give up for the sake of Christ is a loss. And my imagination is still very active and well-fed.

Yes, there are many levels of discernment, maturity, and tolerance, and it is not for another believer to judge another outright, unless they are indulging in flagrant sin (Gal. 6:1). Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:18) and refuse to open some areas of your life to God’s examination. If your conscience is clear, then praise God. If not, make a change. To borrow from Jiminy Cricket’s catchy tune in Disney’s Pinocchio: “And always let the Bible be your guide!”

Coming Soon: Lorehaven Magazine’s Spring 2019 Issue

Soon Lorehaven releases its spring 2019 issue, featuring Tosca Lee and reviews of fantastic Christian novels.
| Mar 19, 2019 | 1 comment |

Lorehaven Magazine just got back from Realm Makers Bookstore at last weekend’s Great Homeschool Convention.

Next month, we’ll host our own booth at Teach Them Diligently, April 11 through 13 in Waco, Texas.

We’ve added another stop: a return to aid the Realm Makers Bookstore cause next month! We’ll return to Great Homeschool Convention, this time in Cincinnati, from April 25 through 27.

But first, Lorehaven releases its spring 2019 issue this month.

Subscriptions are free online! (Only our debut issue, spring 2018, is free for anyone to read.)

Subscribers will be first to know when the spring 2019 issue is available for download.

Here’s a quick preview of Lorehaven‘s spring 2019 issue.

Book Reviews

  • Richard Spillman’s The Awakened
  • Andrhea Goertzen’s The Aykotah Daughter
  • Shawn Smucker’s The Edge of Over There
  • Bailey Davenport’s Eilinland: Through the Wall
  • M. B. Aznoe’s Elvensty
  • R. A. Denny’s The Emperor’s Harvest
  • Steve Rzasa’s For Us Humans
  • J. S. Helms’s Gods They Had Never Known
  • J. Wesley Bush’s Heir to the Raven
  • Philipp Metzger’s The Sign of the Sibyl
  • Lindsay A. Franklin’s The Story Peddler
  • C. E. White’s The Worlds Next Door

Sponsored Reviews

  • Joshua C. Chadd’s Outbreak
  • Jim O’Shea’s The Reluctant Disciple

The Line Between, Tosca Lee

Featured Review: The Line Between

Tosca Lee’s thriller quests toward truth among apocalyptic madness.

Cover story: ‘Come With Me! I Have A Story To Tell You’

Interview with novelist Tosca Lee

Fanservants: How to Geek Out with Godly Purpose

Paeter Frandsen: Does our investment in stories build the kingdom or waste our gifts?

Fanservants: ‘When I Grow Up, I’m Going to Be the Villain’

Marian Jacobs: Should parents make their kids only play as heroes and good guys?

Subscribe to Lorehaven for free.

Subscribers: get access to every issue, including web articles and PDF downloads.

Authors: share your novels with us for possible review.

Advertisers: inquire within about placing your ad in print or online.

You can also follow the magazine on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, as well as by joining the Lorehaven Book Clubs group.

Lorehaven is a spinoff publication from many Speculative Faith creatives.

Lorehaven serves Christian fans by finding biblical truth in fantastic stories. Book clubs, free webzines, and a web-based community offer flash reviews, articles, and news about Christian fantasy, science fiction, and other fantastical genres. (Magazine print copies are available by request and at special events.)

How Much Is Too Much?

In addressing how Christians are to live—which by necessity includes how we do and enjoy art—we need to root and ground our actions in the word of God.
| Mar 18, 2019 | 9 comments |

Frequently on discussion sites, the issue of “too much” inevitably comes up. Where does a writer/reader/viewer draw the line when it comes to sex or bad language or violence? In other words, what constitutes too much?

The discussion of “too much” for Christians when we create or enjoy art, even pop art, is not something to push aside as irrelevant. In fact, here at Spec Faith the topic has come up often, from one point of view or the other. See, for example, archived articles in the topics of sex, violence, and language. And still, the question comes up about what constitutes “too much.” Almost the question seems to beg for someone to draw the line, to create the box, or to erase the line, to demolish the box.

The next question seems naturally to be, are there parameters for Christians when it comes to our reading and writing and viewing? Is “whatever you want” the right strategy? Or should Christians stand apart from our culture. After all, as many point out, we are to be in the world but not part of it.

Another consideration some may bring up for writers is, for whom do you write? After all, when you want the general market to read your books, don’t we need to “fit in” so that secular readers will pick up our books?

In my article last week I stated,

In truth, God’s word is already apropos to our lives and it doesn’t need our dressing it up or our covering it up so that “seekers” will feel more comfortable with our stories.

God’s word. In addressing how Christians are to live—which by necessity includes how we do and enjoy art—we need to root and ground our actions in the word of God.

Some decades ago, the call was to simply ask, What would Jesus do? Of course the problem with that approach was that no one actually knows if Jesus would always drive the speed limit, write Amish fiction, or watch The Game of Thrones. Our opinions about those things are actually guided by our greater understanding of God and His word.

Often in these discussions, Paul’s statements in Romans and in 1 Corinthians about eating meat offered to idols comes up. There is also a verse in Ephesians which many apply to novels and movies and TV programs:

But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. (5:3-4)

For whatever reason, we rarely talk about the effect of art on those who respond to the art. One goal writers have is to make readers feel. Yet when it comes to the issues of “too much,” we seem fixated on the do’s and don’ts, but not the why’s and the why not’s.

Recently I came upon a couple verses in Proverbs that may give some clarity— verse 3 from chapter 22 and verse 12 from chapter 27:

The prudent sees the evil and hides himself,
But the naive go on, and are punished for it.

A prudent man sees evil and hides himself,
The naive proceed and pay the penalty.

The questions from these verses are two-fold. 1) Are we prudent or naive writers/readers/viewers; and 2) What is evil?

I suppose there’s a third we could ask: Are we willing to pay the penalty? That’s pretty sad, though, because it means the answers to the other questions are, we are naive and we have determined that what we are writing/reading/viewing is, in fact, evil.

The New Testament talks a lot about abiding in Christ, which doesn’t seem like a place for the naive. After all, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” I conclude that Christians will opt for the “prudent” option—that we should see evil and hide from it.

If you think about it, we have no problem hiding from things that pose a danger to our physical lives. We run from burning buildings (unless our job is to put the fire out), we wear seat belts and bicycle helmets to “flee” injury in case of an accident. We throw tainted food out to avoid food poisoning. We kill or capture dangerous snakes or bears or coyotes. We put up “Stay Out Of The Water” signs when a shark is sighted off the coast. We caution kids about talking with strangers, in real life or on the internet.

These are wise things to do. We see the potential for harm, so we avoid the dangerous situation if possible.

How is it that we do not use the same wisdom when it comes to evil?

Perhaps the problem comes with that unanswered question I posed earlier: What is evil?

Some things are clearly evil for all of us: murder, hatred, immorality, lust. Lust? Yes, according to Jesus. Lust is no different than adultery. That flies against our culture that puts lust-inducing images in front of us at every turn, that has turned porn into an “everyone does it” form of entertainment. But there it is in Scripture.

Other things such as “foul language” aren’t so cut-and-dried. Is bad language “evil”? And which foul words are really foul? Can we write/read/hear some words that mean excrement but not others? Does context make the difference? Intent? Impact, both on the characters in the story and on the viewer/reader? What about the impact on the writer? Is the writer responsible for the thoughts and emotions that his writing might generate within his audience?

Things could get complicated.

From the complexity, I think one thing should be clear: making a list of what’s acceptable and what’s not allowed, really isn’t possible. (And we haven’t even talked about how language changes over time, how words like gay were once upon a time not charged with sexual meaning.)

But there’s something else that should be clear: avoiding danger is wise.

Can language alert us to spiritual danger? I think it can.

Speculative Fiction Writer’s Guide to War Special: How do War Injuries Feel?

How do war injuries feel? What’s realistic and what’s not? What hurts most and least?

This post is inspired by a specific question from one of the readers of this series (Autumn Grayson). The nature of the question is worthy of a specific answer, yet this particular topic was not something Travis Chapman and I had planned to cover. I spent some time trying to plan where to incorporate it in what we already planned to say, but in fact the best place to discuss how war injuries feel has already passed (it would have gone well with the discussion of psychological effects of warfare). So I’m going to address this issue now, out of numerical order from the rest of our series.

First, let’s make a few things clear up front: 1. What is most life threatening and what is most painful are often not the same thing at all. 2. What is the most gruesome to see is not necessarily the most painful, either. 3. Different people experience pain differently, so coming up with any absolute scale of painfulness is impossible. However, there are certain tendencies that have been noted in how people react to pain, allowing us to make some general observations. Let’s take the topic of how different people experience pain first.

Note this discussion will become a bit gruesome, though I’m not going to show any graphic pictures. But if you’re of a very sensitive nature, you may not wish to continue reading.

Pain Tolerance

“Pain threshold” refers to whether a person feels pain at all–and in fact not all human beings are the same on this topic. Though most of us are similar, barring neurological disorders that interfere with feeling pain. What varies a great deal more than pain threshold is “pain tolerance”–that is, the degree to which a person can put up with pain after agreeing that it’s there.

Some observations include the somewhat controversial notion that men tolerate pain better than women. That is, for the same injury, when rating how painful it is on a scale of 1 to 10, men in the United States in particular and in various international studies will rate the pain with lower numbers than women will use. Cold bath tests, in which someone immerses an arm in ice water (which is painful but does no serious harm) consistently shows men on average keeping their arms immersed in the cold for longer periods of time than women will tolerate.

How much of this is cultural, male machismo merely refusing to admit to pain that they feel as much as women do? That’s both debatable and debated. My own personal observations from the 12 years or so I was a medic in the Army Reserve and periodically would treat people, in particular with vaccinations, or would draw blood for testing, is that among soldiers (not the general populace) women were more likely to complain about the pain of a needle. Though some individual women didn’t complain or even flinch at all, while some individual men kicked up quite a fuss.

It’s not uncommon for women to point out that if men had to give birth, there’d be a lot less children in the world. 🙂 But direct comparisons between similar conditions, such as a woman having kidney stones verses a man having kidney stones, does not actually support the idea that men would be inherently less capable of managing the type of pain associated with childbirth.

In some cases the difference in pain tolerance is clearly physical. People with a definite hand dominance (a group which includes most people) show a higher resistance to pain in their dominant hand than their non-dominant hand. I’d also put in the category of physical differences that indicates redheads seem to experience pain differently than non-redheads, with them being less sensitive to stinging skin pain and spicy food on average, but more sensitive to cold and bone pain like toothaches.

Scientific studies seem to show at least some of the differences in how people react to pain is physical, but it’s hard to rule out cultural factors. Cultural factors may explain why one study found that African Americans consistently tolerate higher levels of pain than white people.

My own observations agree with the idea that pain tolerance is at least somewhat cultural, because I’ve observed some nationalities, say Afghans–regardless of their skin color–tolerate pain much better than other nationalities (i.e. most Americans). I think the expectation of how much pain a person can and will tolerate is affected by life experience–people raised with pain in their environment usually learn to tolerate it better.

Note that scientific studies also show athletes tolerate pain better than people out of shape. This reinforces my idea that conditioning to pain as experienced in cultures with significantly lower levels of luxury than modern life actually has something to do with training the body. Perhaps the exposure to the pain involved with working out prepares people to face much greater pain. Or perhaps a healthy body (as in very fit) is inherently better at coping with pain than an body that’s out of shape.

Related perhaps to our observation about athletes and/or cultural exposure to pain, psychologists have also observed that a state of anxiety can make pain worse. People with chronic fear or anxiety will experience pain more deeply than someone who feels confident and who deliberately relaxes during pain (such as by focusing on breathing, as is taught as a method to assist with childbirth).

One general observation we can apply to this discussion, especially since many readers of Speculative Faith are fantasy authors: We can expect people from cultures like our own Middle Ages or Ancient period to have higher pain tolerance than most people today have. Of course, this wouldn’t apply to absolutely everyone. While medieval peasants, the vast majority of people, might live with pain in a way most modern people can’t imagine very well, not everyone was a peasant–or a highly trained warrior either. The Middle Ages had monks and scribes and tailors, etc., whose reaction to pain probably would be more like a modern person’s than the majority of people from their own time.

Most Painful Wounds

To kick off this section, I’m linking a website that get’s what’s painful largely wrong. (I’m doing so as a means to discuss why the site has it wrong.) The linked set of pages, which are dedicated to the kinds of injuries found in horror movies, appears to be listing injuries based on what is horrible to watch on film, rather than what really hurts. In a counting-down-from-ten format, this is what the site lists as the ten most painful injuries:

TEN (10.) Burning, 9. Slit throat, 8. Eye gouge, 7. Removal of entrails, 6. Fingers sliced off, 5. Broken bones, 4. Amputation, 3. Meat hooked, 2. Genital mutilation, 1. Achilles slash

I’m not saying there isn’t some painful stuff on this list, but what’s wrong is it misses the general principle of what makes something painful–an injury is most painful if it stimulates nerves. The more nerves it continuously stimulates, the more painful it is. So injuries in places with a high number of sensory nerves are more painful than those without as many nerves. Yet the way they’re stimulated also matters.

So where do you have a lot of nerves? Your skin (in particular in your hands and feet), your face (in particular your mouth, nose, and eyes), your entrails, your kidneys, and even within your joints and bones. You have very few receptor nerves, ironically, within your brain cavity and not nearly as many in your chest cavity as elsewhere–though your lungs have a fair number of pain receptors. Nor do you have as many pain receptors within your muscles. So injuries to your brain or chest-located-circulatory system, which are the most life-threatening injuries, are not usually the most painful.

Most painful tattoo sites due to nerve clusters in the skin. Credit: www.beforeyourtattoo.com

And what stimulates those nerves the most? Clean slices, believe it or not, stimulate nerves the least of any major injury. What hurts more is smashing, a.k.a blunt force trauma, mangling (as in an explosion or t-rex bite), and yes, burning!

So looking back at the list I cited, burning deserves to be near the top. Note though that a complete, charring burn, as from dragon’s breath (also called third degree burns), while very painful over the short time of injury and during the road to recovery (should the victim survive), these burns don’t hurt as much as those that produce blisters (a.k.a. second degree burns). So, if writing about a fortress being attacked and boiling oil is dumped on a band of attackers, have them scream in pain–even hardened medieval types will almost certainly do so. It hurts that bad.

What doesn’t deserve to be on the list at all? Slit throat, fingers sliced off, and amputation…assuming a person receives these injuries cleanly. Smashing or crushing fingers hurts tremendously (as the time I got my thumb caught in a car door) because you have plenty of nerves in your fingertips. Smashing or stimulating with blunt trauma hurts your throat quite a lot too (as in the time I literally ran full speed into a clothesline and caught it in the neck–playing hide and go seek in the dark as a teen). But a clean slice to the throat probably wouldn’t hurt that much. Note I lost a finger to an accidental amputation as a child. While I was freaked out by the blood, I felt hardly any pain. No kidding.

Likewise a broadsword swiping through a limb and slicing it clean off will not produce all that much pain–especially for hardy medieval types. They probably would not scream at all at such an injury. Note that even a messy and manged amputation may not produce any screaming (I know of people losing limbs in explosions–for most of them as far as I know, they did not scream).

Ok, back to the list above. Will an eye gouge really hurt? That depends. The interior of the eye is actually not full of pain-receptor nerves–but the outer part, the cornea, is. It may sound strange to say it, but certain chemicals or foreign bodies in your eye probably hurts at least as bad, if not worse, as your whole eye being destroyed. If someone gouged your eyeball out of your skull (sorry for the gruesomeness) without scratching the cornea, it might actually not hurt that bad–even if it would be horrible to see. Yet corneal scratches are very painful–because that’s where the nerves are. (So a skilled archer shooting an enemy through the eye probably will not get him screaming–he’ll probably just die–but if he doesn’t die, he probably won’t scream about it.)

How about removal of entrails? The entrails themselves are loaded with pain nerves (as needed to let you know how your digestion is going), so injuries to entrails are well-known to be very painful. Yet being disemboweled without injury to the entrails isn’t as much painful as it’s horrifying and debilitating. Someone with a gut sliced open with a slashing sword will more likely try to hold the guts in or pick them up if they’ve hit the ground than scream helplessly.

Do broken bones hurt? Yes, they do, especially a broken femur (the long bone in your thigh) in part because strong muscles pull on the femur constantly without you being aware of it and if the bone breaks, those muscles are going to continually stimulate pain in the wound by pulling on the bone. But joint injuries infamously hurt as much or sometimes more. Especially a bad dislocation of knees, elbows, or ankles can cause as much or more pain than a bone break.

Injured tendons will also pull up into the body because of muscle tension, like a broken femur. So a ruptured Achilles tendon (which a site providing a “most painful injury” list by a professional football player puts at #2) is extremely painful. But a cleanly sliced one would be less so.

To round out the horror site list, of course “meat hooking” and genital mutilation have the potential to be very painful. The spine has loads of pain receptors and a metal rod shoved up there would hurt all those sensitive spinal disks–unless it severed the spinal cord itself, in which case, it might not hurt much at all. And while the genitals are sensitive to pleasure and also sensitive to pain, a baddie forcing your mouth open and breaking your teeth with a hammer and chisel would almost certainly hurt much, much more than genital mutilation…but when you affect a person’s genitals, there’s a psychological affect as well as a physical one.

Note that when in severe pain, one of the most common immediate reactions for a person is to shut down, either by losing consciousness or by feeling a rush of endorphins. But not everyone shuts down. There are many historical examples of injured people continuing to fight.

Combat Happenings

An illustration showing a variety of wounds from the Feldbuch der Wundarznei (Field manual for the treatment of wounds) by Hans von Gersdorff, (1517); illustration by Hans Wechtlin.

When I see combat scenes from a YouTube compilation from say, Game of Thrones (a series I don’t watch because of issues I have with some of its content), one thing I note is rather realistically, fights tend to end with big injuries, like a person stabbed through the chest. But from what I see, anyway, the severely injured person almost always cries out. Actually that doesn’t always happen with real injuries.

Sometimes people continue to fight after being seriously or fatally injured–we can say this is especially true for gunshot wounds, which sometimes soldiers report not even knowing they had until the firefight is over. But I can easily imagine someone taking an arrow to the chest and even if seriously injured, not crying out, still fighting. At least for a while.

Note also that while most medieval-style fights ended with one party being severely injured, injuries other than fatal still did happen, where people got hands or fingers smashed, noses cut off, feet spiked though, hard but non life-threatening blows to the head at times. And most of the hardened warriors of the past continued fighting through such wounds. No kidding.

Sometimes a more minor injury would lead to a major one, as a warrior lost the ability to compensate. Yes, sometimes a warrior would realistically scream when mortally injured, depending on if the wound was very painful–but it really was true that non-combatants like women and children screamed more than hardened soldiers or even tough peasants.

Sometimes people would stop fighting without crying out. For example, when people fall from being disemboweled, again, as far as I know, they wouldn’t scream so much as compulsively obsess over keeping in their guts as much as possible. People with a throat cut would put hands to their neck to try to keep the blood in, even if it couldn’t be done. People by instinct usually try to survive their injuries if they can, for example, cradling and squeezing the wrist of an amputated hand.

Usually, when busily engaged in fighting others, the wounded who fell were ignored until the active fighting was over. Historical accounts abound with anecdotes of battlefield injuries in which people lingered for hours or days before dying. I don’t think this is something fantasy stories capture very well. A certain percentage of people would bleed to death, which tends to make people feel cold and causes hyperventilation and loss of consciousness–but it’s not especially painful in and of itself.

But How Does it Feel?

I can imagine someone reading this, thankful perhaps for the info I’ve given, but still feeling dissatisfied.  “But how does it feel, Travis?” I can imagine someone asking.

To go back to my own personal experience, I’ve had a number of semi-serious injuries, some of them during military training. But I’ve never been wounded in combat–even though I have been present to help people who were wounded a few times, there are only so many things I can talk about as an insider, based on what I know personally.

Though all non-combat stuff, I’ve had severe ankle sprain, a knee injury, a finger amputation, a hip injury due to a hard fall (at Army Airborne school), a corneal scratch, accidentally impaled a broken branch into my calf, chemical and non-chemical burns, and have smashed my head various times, most notably in a car accident, among other injuries. I know what those things were like for me.

How does any of that feel?

It hurts. I know that’s not helpful, but describing pain is difficult. There are many kinds. To cover any possible injury in detail the obvious thing would be seek out accounts people who have experienced the same wound you want to write about. Or something similar. But bear in mind that the same injury in two different people may not be reported in the same way. Not only does the type of wound affect how it’s felt, the type of injured individual matters, too. Not everyone feels the same thing or reacts in the same way.

If you would like to talk to me further about any injuries I’ve suffered or seen happen, please let me know in the comments below and I will do my best of accommodate. Or you might have further questions. Or perhaps a reader will have something to add to this discussion, something I forgot to mention. Please free to add your thoughts below.

Leaving Michael Jackson

We have begun – too late, but better than never – our cultural reckoning of the fact that the King of Pop was a monster.
| Mar 13, 2019 | 4 comments |

The HBO documentary Leaving Neverland recently made its splash in the culture, telling the stories of two men who were sexually abused by Michael Jackson as young children. It was not really a revelation; reasonable people have suspected that Jackson was a pedophile for decades. But the documentary stands as a vivid confirmation of those old suspicions. There are still MJ groupies out there who, demonstrating why predators sometimes succeed in victimizing children despite flagrant warning signs, huff that you can’t just assume Michael Jackson was abusing those little boys he lured into his bed. Everyone else is facing the truth. So we have begun – too late, but better than never – our cultural reckoning of the fact that the King of Pop was a monster.

Many fruitful, if unhappy, avenues of discussion might be opened, not least how parents can so thoroughly fail to protect their children. Our normal focus on culture, however, leads us down another road. Michael Jackson is gone, but his music is still here. As we see with increasing clarity who Michael Jackson was and what he did, should we continue to listen to his songs?

This relates back to a larger question, and a larger debate: How much can – or should – we separate an artist from his art? There are no definitive answers; at least, I don’t have them. But there are several considerations that will clear our thinking and aid our decisions.

First, does enjoying the art fuel the wealth, celebrity, or power of the artist? A more targeted version of the question: Does it fuel the wealth, celebrity, or power of the artist in a way that enables his abuses? For example, Bill Cosby might get a little richer if networks played reruns of The Cosby Show, but he would be no more likely to assault another woman. But it might have been argued, twenty years ago, that because Jackson used his fame and money to manipulate his victims, contributing to either would be wrong.

Second, what is the nature and severity of the offense? Very few people would discard a book or song or movie because the creator was an alcoholic. But alcoholism, as terrible as it is, is in another category than the predations of abusers.

Third, how closely did the artist associate himself with his art? Some artists – generally those whose art is essentially performative, but writers have done it, too – craft a persona, wed it to their art, and sell the whole package to the public. If your celebrity is anchored to yourself as much as to your work, there is cognitive dissonance and probably some shamelessness in instructing people to take your art by itself. Michael Jackson’s self-presentation was always bizarre; now it seems sinister. There is, too, self-reference in much art, including Jackson’s “Scream”. Such reference can, with greater knowledge, be intolerable.

Good art is often made by bad people. This is a revelation to no one. We have all enjoyed art while knowing, or at least suspecting, that the creator was a bad person. Maybe, then, the real debate is not at all abstract; we all agree that sometimes you should separate art and artist, because we all sometimes have. Maybe the real debate is all about particulars: Should we separate this artist from this art?

It can be hard, especially when the artist abused children.

Mission Report, March 7–9, Lorehaven at Realm Makers Bookstore

I just got back from Realm Makers Bookstore, helping new fans find great Christian fantastical novels!
| Mar 12, 2019 | 3 comments |

Now more than ever, I’m sure that 2019 marks a turnaround year for fans of excellent, fantastical Christian-made stories.

I say this because I just got back from Realm Makers Bookstore. This traveling wood-between-the-worlds exhibited March 7–9 at Great Homeschool Convention in Fort Worth, Texas. I helped on behalf of Lorehaven Magazine (which I publish), and all Christian fans of fantastical stories.

Scott and Becky Minor, founders of Realm Makers, started Realm Makers Bookstore in 2017. They’ve since taken this show on the road to many cities, fan conventions, and homeschool conferences.

Yet until last weekend, I only saw this enterprise in action at the Realm Makers conference. There, the bookstore is run and attended by (mostly) fantasy authors. Fans made only cameos. By “fans,” I mean Christian readers who aren’t also published authors.

But in Fort Worth, as in many locations that hosted the bookstore last year, things are very different.

Bookstore host (and Realm Makers founder) Rebecca P. Minor helps a guest find and purchase several great Christian-made fantastical novels.

Realm Makers Bookstore: Beyond authors, blogs, and ‘writing industry’

At Realm Makers Bookstore, we’re helping fans find these amazing novels by Christians authors.

We’re connecting with people, asking what they need, and matching them with the best books.

We got to meet so many amazing people:

  • Homeschool moms and dads
  • Curious grandparents
  • Teenagers who love finding new fantasy
  • Pre-teens exploring way over their “reading level”
  • Adorable young children

A typical Realm Makers Bookstore guest meeting:

(Person walks past, carrying shopping bags or babies, likely accompanied by children.)

REALM MAKERS BOOKSTORE HOST
(Scott Minor, Becky Minor, Gillian Bronte Adams, or myself):

Hello! We have more than sixty Christian authors. Fantasy, science fiction, and beyond. These are folks we know and can recommend.

(optional add-on)

A couple of our authors are here today. Here’s Gillian Bronte Adams, and Rebecca P. Minor.

PARENT GUEST:

(curious, comes closer, sees the books)

Oh, my son/daughter won’t stop reading. I can barely keep up with him/her.

BOOKSTORE HOST:

We have books for all ages, such as (educated guess of ages of parent’s nearby children). What does your child like to read?

PARENT GUEST:

Oh, books about . . .

And off we went, many times, until the parent ended up finding the perfect selections.

Or, if our guest was a teenager, he or she found a fantastic read in fantasy, science fiction, or fantastical genres.

Author (and Realm Makers founder) Rebecca P. Minor shares more about the bookstore’s mission with a guest at Realm Makers Bookstore.

We heard a lot of people say things like . . .

“I had no idea these books were out there!”

“Oh, (name of fantasy-fan child or friend) needs to see this.”

“My child reads these kinds of books all the time. I need to know more.”

“I’m heading to a session now, but I’ll come back!”

(Narrator: “She did come back.”)

(From pre-teen or teenager) “I’m writing a novel too. . . .”

(Proceeds to describe it at length.)

“Do you have a catalog?”

(We did. Plus a free PDF download listing select book info of value to homeschool parents.)

Realm Makers founder Scott Minor helps two Realm Makers Bookstore guests check out several Christian-made fantastical novels.

Lorehaven Magazine: a much-needed resource

We also sold print copies of Lorehaven Magazine. (These are exclusive to events, because Lorehaven isn’t mailed to subscribers.)

As Lorehaven‘s publisher, I always made it clear that this magazine is available free online. You only need to subscribe. For free.

But, especially on the last day, several people bought print copies anyway. Sometimes there’s just nothing like print.

If people saw or picked up a magazine, I would say:

“That’s Lorehaven Magazine. I’m the publisher, Stephen. This is a free resource for parents to help them explore Christian-made fantastical novels for the glory of Jesus Christ. We have reviews, articles, and blogs. You can pick up a print copy now, or subscribe for free online. Here’s a free mission card that shares more.”

I heard people tell me things like:

“Oh, we so need a resource like this.”

“Sure, I’d like to subscribe.”

“That sounds amazing.”

Several parents asked about the content of specific magazines.

If people were browsing certain books, I could share any Lorehaven review of that book.1 Occasionally I’d open a magazine to show what we said about a particular title.

I had fantastic conversations with people about the concept and purpose of fantastical fiction, by Christians or otherwise.

Sometimes I’d say, “We love fantastical stories wherever we find them. But we have a special love for stories created by our brothers and sisters in the Church, if they’re based in biblical truth and made with excellence.”

During one conversation, I learned about one mother’s concerns about her teenagers’ love for fantasy. It turns out two Lorehaven issues, with Roundtable discussions about violence and fictional magic, perfectly addressed this topic. Her sense of grace, dedication to her children’s good, and faithfulness to the Bible were a total inspiration to me.

Oh, the children!

Have you ever looked back and realized someone changed your life by introducing you to an amazing story?

Well, I wonder how many times we may have done this at Realm Makers Bookstore.

One little red-headed girl, Melissa, proved a big fan of Adventures in Odyssey. She loved the AiO books (and a few audio drama sets) that we featured in the young-readers section. As a pro AiO fan from the early ’90s, I struck up a conversation. We both recited Focus on the Family’s Colorado Springs mailing address (as repeated by announcer Chris at each episode’s end). We recalled stories. And we geeked out.

Melissa left to rejoin her parents, then later returned and they picked up a few books.

One teenage reader, Jeremy, also geeked out. He bought books, subscribed to Lorehaven, and shared how he and his friends were writing collaborative fantasy in many genres. This chap was passionate, outgoing, biblically grounded, and a total unabashed fan.

Christian fantasy fan, your mission . . .

Melissa, Jeremy, and thousands of young fans like them are the future of Christian fantasy.

If you want to see this future come true, become a fantastical fan of Realm Makers Bookstore. Shop for the best books at the website.

If you’re an author, sign up for the annual conference.

A fan of these stories? Visit the bookstore when it comes to your area. Later this month, Realm Makers Bookstore heads to Greenville, South Carolina, from March 21 to 23. The bookstore then visits Nashville from March 28 to 30. Next month, the bookstore will feature at Great Homeschool Convention’s event in Cincinnati.

Meanwhile, Lorehaven Magazine will host its own booth at Waco’s Teach Them Diligently convention, April 11–13. We’d love to meet you there and share excellent, Christian-made fantastical fandom together.

  1. At Lorehaven, our review chief carefully selects books, which authors and publishers can submit here. Then we match the book with the best reviewer so we can near-guarantee a positive review.