Flippancy Kills Stories

Screwtape says flippancy is the cheapest and most soul-deadening form of humor. It’s infecting many of our stories.
| Dec 12, 2017 | 1 comment |

People often act as though stories are made terrible mainly by profit motive, laziness, and sentimentality.

I disagree.

Sure, these problems constantly plague stories. Christians know that evangelical stories are especially haunted by all three wicked spirits. When, say, Christian movies are terrible, we can’t help suspecting their producers only make them for the money. Or they take shortcuts in craft or budget. Or they see the world, or pretend to see it, through sugar-coated lenses.

However, the most powerful story-haunt of all may be flippancy.

This threat is common to all three of the other threats. Yet I’ve begun to wonder if flippancy is more powerful than them all. This enemy threatens even stories we otherwise enjoy in both the “Christian” and non-Christian story arenas. Flippancy can ruin churches, social networks, romantic relationships, novel series, and even superhero movie franchises.

For Christian fans, flippancy plagues even our attempts to raise the value and readership of our favorite fantasy, science fiction, and supernatural/horror novels by Christian writers.

What is flippancy?

We could be clichéd—or even flippant—and fetch a dictionary definition for flippancy.

I prefer C.S. Lewis’s understanding as voiced in The Screwtape Letters. In letter 11 the demonic uncle/undersecretary Screwtape expounds on human humor. Ever the philosopher about everything, Screwtape classifies humor in four categories:

  1. Joy
  2. Fun
  3. The Joke Proper
  4. Flippancy

In Screwtape’s world, every good gift comes from God, including humor. All God’s gifts can be twisted by sinful humans—aided by influence by demons. So whenever Screwtape considers a topic, he’s the ultimate pragmatist: he sees any sin and any good enjoyment alike as useful to the cause of Hell, so long as it’s leading the human away from Jesus.

Thus, Screwtape all but throws out “joy” and “fun” as useful pursuits for demons to exploit.

He sees more promise in humor mode number 3, The Joke Proper. However, Screwtape the pragmatist prefers shortcuts around pitfalls to temptation methods. So he sees limited use for seemingly easy sins like plain old dirty jokes. In his view, even these kinds of bawdy jokes are not always associated with actual lustful thoughts or actions.

Far better, Screwtape argues, to promote flippancy as the most demon-friendly humor:

Flippancy is the best [devilish use of humor] of all. In the first place it is very economical. … Among flippant people the joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it.

If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy: it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practise it …

We can break down Screwtape’s definition like so:

  1. Flippancy is cheap and easy humor.
  2. You don’t even need to make the actual joke; just allude to one being made.
  3. Nothing is truly serious.
  4. Everything is ridiculous.
  5. Flippancy does not challenge your mind; in fact, it can make you stupid.
  6. Flippancy doesn’t make you joyful; it makes you a dulled, cynical snark.

Flippancy surrounds our stories and culture

I couldn’t help but consider Screwtape’s unabashed ode to flippancy while watching my (alas) least-favorite super-film of this past year, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.1

Like many of you, I’m a fan of the original Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). It’s truly inventive and irreverent. Director James Gunn and company included trace amounts of flippancy. But most of its humor came in other forms, including joy, fun, and The Joke Proper—and most such overt jokes were based in the characters’ unique natures.

Unfortunately, Vol. 2 dispensed with this character-driven humor—such as Drax’s failure to grasp metaphors—with interchangeable and flippant “jokes” any character could tell. Nothing was even partly serious, not even death or injury.

And to my memory, in many cases, the jokes weren’t even made. Only alluded to.

Male nipples. Ha ha! Space god needs to “go take a whizz.” Ha ha!

Oh, and surprise actual cameo by David Hasselhoff. Ha! Ha!

Literally, at that moment I felt the Guardians jig was up. They didn’t even do much funny with Hasselhoff. He just shows up to serve as the “joke’s” butt (butt! ha ha!) and that’s it.

Similar moments scourge Thor: Ragnarok. But I laughed more often anyway, partly because most of the humorous moments serve as overt yet affectionate genre parody, and are based on the characters. In other words, it’s not just any character making a “funny” poop “joke.” Rather, the comic moments are based squarely on who the person is.

Often the Marvel films are criticized for this kind of flippant humor. I think the criticism is usually undeserved; Marvel films offer more varied kinds of comedy than mere flippancy.

But unfortunately, people are not careful like Screwtape to distinguish between playful “fun” and dull flippancy. They’ll call the Marvel films “fun,” and then fault the DC films for their more serious tone (at least until the less-serious entry Justice League).

This is partly why I often defend the DC films: because despite their flaws, at least they consciously avoid flippancy. Other than in Suicide Squad, the films’ characters don’t often crack a quip or suffer a pratfall that undermines the dramatic weight of the moment or dialogue seconds ago. In other words, even these fantastical figures such as Superman and Wonder Woman act like real people, caught in the midst of a fearful or tense situation.

In response, critics call these films (with the exception of Wonder Woman) “cynical” and “over-serious.” They fail to consider that real seriousness and cynicism can’t go together. In fact, the true cynical critic is one who sees an attempting-serious story and assumes that, because it does not pause to be Self-Aware or silly, the story isn’t worth much.2

Superhero movies (and their critics) provide just one example.

Flippancy can appear frequently in our fantasy stories and broader popular culture.

For example, we often expect buzz-concepts like “self-aware” and “deconstruction” to apply to fantasy stories. It’s as if we believe these stories’ only value is not by repeating old myths in new ways, but simply tearing them down and showing how our cynicism is superior. This approach can make stories worse than “mindless entertainment.” Without balance, this approach renders these stories actively mind-harming: deadening, not sharpening, the intellect, and exciting no lasting affection for the story itself, or for our real neighbors.

In turn, this cynical, flippant approach to stories and popular culture infects reality. This year alone, we’ve seen how flippancy about sex and harassment has gone unchecked for too long, leading to our often-willful ignorance of creative men in power who abuse others. Even more often, we see people being flippant about serious matters, including personal character and even simple human biology.

Seriousness, which can include joy/fun, often has a job to do, a truth to explore, or a beauty to reflect.

But flippancy can never stop asking, “Why so serious?”

Next, I’ll explore why flippancy harms stories and ourselves. Then I’ll turn to the real example of a walk-thru Christmas pageant that shows our cure for flippancy: what C. S. Lewis called “a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious [and] is too good to waste on jokes.”

  1. In my review of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 for Christianity Today’s website, I touched on some of these themes. However, I would not say that I thought the movie was “rotten”; I’d only say that it dismissed even the lingering dramatic weight of the original film and decided to go full-on flippant. If that’s your thing, great. It’s just not my thing. Alas, the review-aggregating Rotten Tomatoes website interpreted my review as a simplistic “rotten.” Such interpretations, without the critic’s input, form the flawed Tomatoes critic “meter.”
  2. Many fans may not understand that professional critics don’t see superhero stories in the same way they do. This doesn’t mean we should go all “populist” and claim that critics are elitist snobs, or reject their professional opinions on movies. But this also doesn’t mean that we feel compelled to accept the critical majority view of a movie—or else the simplistic appearance as such, as the Rotten Tomatoes “fresh/rotten” aggregations claim to show us.

What Is It About Fantasy And Christmas?

The cool thing about good fantasy, however, is that no one explains it. There isn’t a narrator in C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books that says, “Now boys and girls, Aslan is actually Jesus.” Instead, readers are allowed to discover the dots on their own and connect them at their leisure. Or leave them unconnected.
| Dec 11, 2017 | No comments |

Something about Christmas stirs in my heart a desire to dive into fantasy. I know atheists would say that Christ’s birth is simply a myth, just like Santa and his elves and all the other Christmas tales, so why wouldn’t I be more inclined toward fantasy during this season?

I reject that notion. I understand the events of Christ’s birth to be real, factual, historical, verified by Dr. Luke’s accurate account. Santa Claus and his North Pole workshop, Rudolph and the other flying reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, the Grinch, talking and singing Gingerbread men—not so real.

So Christmas is both pretend and make-believe, mixed with accurate and true. Consequently, I rule out the idea that this season is all about myth, so why wouldn’t I want to read more pretend.

In fact, “more pretend” would seem like overkill, if that’s what was happening. During a season of all pretend, wouldn’t the logical response be a little more reality to balance it? As it is, Christmas is already well=balanced.

Reading fantasy, then, is clearly not “overkill.” But not just because I believe in the factual accounts of Christ’s birth recorded in the Bible. I also don’t read fantasy simply to enjoy whatever myth the writer is telling.

Of course fantasy is myth, but generally myth points to what is true. It may include an exaggerated rendition of events or a person—like Superman coming to save Metropolis—but in so doing, it points to a real desire in the hearts of people: that a hero, a Savior, will do for us what we can’t do for ourselves.

Myth may point to the past and explain how things came to be, socially or supernaturally. J. R. R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Ring purports to do just that. And by pointing to the history of Middle Earth, he opens up our thinking about the struggle, the conflict, the heroes, the small people tasked with big missions in the here and now.

Finally, a myth may present the backdrop for a set of beliefs. Hence, the Harry Potter books were much more than stories with cool creatures and fun magic. The author, J. K. Rowling explored sacrifice and death as well as friendships and loyalty within the mythos of a wizarding world.

All those aspects of “myth” point to reality, and perhaps the most important part of their job is to point to the supernatural. After all, “reality” fiction, whether it’s historical or romance or mystery or contemporary, can talk about how real people perceive the supernatural. Only speculative fiction can show the supernatural. Hence the White Witch is more than an evil ruler, and Aslan is more than a talking lion who rules Narnia.

Aslan precedes Father Christmas

The cool thing about good fantasy, however, is that no one explains it. There isn’t a narrator in C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books that says, “Now boys and girls, Aslan is actually Jesus.” Instead, readers are allowed to discover the dots on their own and connect them at their leisure. Or leave them unconnected.

Such open-ended stories need to be re-read multiple times. Why did Dumbledore have to die? Or Dobby? Or Cyrus Black? Did Harry die or did something magical actually spare him? What came of Tom Riddle’s attempts to save himself?

These are the kinds of questions that drive me into fantasy yet again. But I confess, there’s more. This is the time of year I most enjoy immersing myself in Middle Earth or Narnia or Hogwarts.

In other words, the worldbuilding is significant. I’ve read a number of books set in a world that felt like medieval earth more than Some Other Place.

Science fiction, particularly space opera, is good at transporting readers to another time, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into another place.

Fantasy, though, the kind I want to re-read at Christmas, creates a vivid place that I want to live in. Lloyd Alexander made such a place in his Chronicles of Prydain. C. S. Lewis did when he took readers to Perelandra—which he did in his books mislabeled science fiction (they are more science fantasy, I think, but that term wasn’t in use when Lewis wrote those books).

So why do I read fantasy at Christmas time? I still can’t really say. I love the reality of it and I love the pretend. I love going to a new world, and I love thinking about timeless truths. In short, fantasy has it all. But then, so does Christmas. So maybe the two just seem like the perfect match.

The God Of The Impossible

One thing I love about speculative fiction is the fact that it opens the door to the impossible. It expands our vision of reality.

One thing I love about speculative fiction is the fact that it opens the door to the impossible. It expands our vision of reality.

Years ago, people didn’t have the constraints of science as we do today. They didn’t have the skeptical, “show me” mentality of the Missourian. They believed what they couldn’t see because they’d been told it was so.

Today our response is more apt to be, Really? Those Muslim converts first heard about Jesus in a dream? Really? His behavior mirrors that of people in the Bible identified as having an evil spirit. Really?

In truth, all the events of the original Christmas would likely come under our skeptical questioning today. Think about it.

Mary was astounded. How could she not be? An angel had told her she’d get pregnant, and here she was, still a virgin, staring down into the little face of her newborn son.

As if that wasn’t enough, a group of shepherds crowded into their quarters to worship her baby. Angels, they said, had told them about this child—where he’d be born and how they could find him and how they would know him.

Then there were the two people she encountered in the temple when she and Joseph went to present Jesus according to the law. First was Simeon who said strange things: that her son would be a light to the Gentiles and a glory to Israel. Then in his blessing, Simeon added that her son was appointed as sign to be opposed. Simeon concluded with some confusing personal prophecy about a sword piercing Mary’s own soul.

Then there was the prophetess Anna who thanked God for Mary’s son and talked about him to everyone who was looking for the redemption of Israel.

All this came on the heels of her cousin Elizabeth—her barren cousin Elizabeth—getting pregnant. The angel had told Mary that would happen, too. And it was then he made the whole astounding series of events make sense: “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

The bottom line, and the only thing a person actually needs to believe in order to accept the astounding things we read about connected to that first Christmas, is that truth which Mary accepted. When the angel made his declaration about God’s greatness and power and limitless ability, Mary submitted to God—to His plans for her, His capacity to accomplish what He’d made known to her through His messenger.

She got it—that God was bigger than the laws of nature and that He was the Fulfiller of prophecy. She ought not to be a mother, but she was. The shepherds ought not to have known about her son, but they did. Simeon and Anna ought not to have declared a poor baby born to an unwed mother in a manger to be the Messiah, but they had.

Indeed, God can do the impossible.

That’s really the truth that separates people today as believers or unbelievers. If God can do the impossible, then He could take on human flesh and be born as a baby. If God can do the impossible, then He could die, once for all, the just for the unjust. If God can do the impossible, then no sin is too great for Him to forgive, no person so far from Him than He can’t reach them.

One of the worst kings in Israel’s history illustrates that point. Manasseh

erected altars for the Baals and made Asherim, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. He built altars in the house of the LORD of which the LORD had said, “My name shall be in Jerusalem forever.” For he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. He made his sons pass through the fire in the valley of Ben-hinnom; and he practiced witchcraft, used divination, practiced sorcery and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger. Then he put the carved image of the idol which he had made in the house of God (2 Chron. 33:3b-7a).

A hopeless case, right? Idol worship, child sacrifice, witchcraft. Evil. But God didn’t turn His back on Manasseh.

The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the LORD brought the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria against them, and they captured Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze chains and took him to Babylon. When he was in distress, he entreated the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God. (2 Chron. 33:10-13)

Impossible! But no. God “was entreated by him.” God forgives. God redeems. God reconciles.

The Christmas story is both the proof that God can do the impossible and the declaration that the God who is Lord of the impossible accomplishes the miraculous.

And speculative fiction expands readers’ thinking so that we can more easily come to grips with this truth.

This post first appeared here in December 2015.

Weekday Fiction Fix – Fairytale Christmas by Merrie Destefano

Three thousand years ago, a war began between the immortals and the mortals. It’s a war that continues to this day.

Fairytale Christmas
By Merrie Destefano

A Fair Folk Saga (The Fair Folk Saga Book 1)

INTRODUCTION – Fairytale Christmas

Three thousand years ago, a war began between the immortals and the mortals. It’s a war that continues to this day…

Before history began, a legendary queen battled a foreign army, braved the death of her husband, and faced betrayal at the hand of someone she trusted. This is the story of Eire, Queen of the Faeries, the Immortal One, and the leader of the Tuatha de Danann.

To this day, her homeland, Ireland, bears her name, and this is the story of the war that drove the Immortal Ones into exile. It’s also the tale of how she found help from an unexpected place, leading her to a love like she had never known before.

Fairytale Christmas is a story that spans thousands of years. It’s also the beginning of all of our fairytales and legends; it’s where mortals and immortals survive because they love one another, proving that love is the greatest gift of all.

This is the first installment in the Saga of the Fair Folk, a journey that lasts until the end of time.



1,400 years B.C.

They came in longboats and we stood on the rocky cliffs, watching as they arrived. Faery and Duine stood side by side, immortal and mortal, the way we had always been. The Duine were our beloved cinn beag, our little ones; we were their feared and favored gods.

At that time, we walked hand in hand, sharing everything. The mortals fed us and clothed us. Our magic blessed or cursed them.

It was our way of life.

I loved them dearly, for I was their queen. I was Fire and this grand island carried my name. Eire Land.


This was my home and my people.

But it all changed on that day when the Milesians arrived, storms in their wake, their Druids conjuring dark magic, their armor and their weapons fashioned in diabolic forges while a great sorcerer cast spells over each and every item.

I should have killed them all the moment they set foot on our island. I shouldn’t have trusted their lies, their broad smiles, their gifts of gold.

But the worst thing of all they brought to our shores was that cursed silver. Shaped into armor, it made the wearer invincible. Melded onto swords, it could poison my people, the Tuatha De Danann, and cause a fearsome illness.

They wore this magic silver in charms and rings and necklaces, they wove fine strands into their clothing. A few of them even drank it, so their skin would glow a soft blue in the darkness.

They camped for a day and a night, strange fires burning, the stench filling the valley. My sister, Caer, sensed danger before I did. She wrinkled her nose and shook her head, then she called for one of our kinsmen.

“Take the youngest children and flee, hide on the cliffs and watch,” she told him.

“What is it?” I asked.

“The darkest magic of all is brewing,” she whispered behind her hand. She knew more about this sort of sorcery, since her husband, Faelan, was a Leanan Sidhe. Her husband and mine stood side by side, dressed for battle, both of them carrying bronze swords and shields. Faelan lifted his head, closed his eyes, and drew a deep breath, then licked his lips.

The Druids were burning human sacrifices.

When the moon hid behind thick clouds and many of our soldiers had fallen asleep, the Milesians crept nearer. Then they attacked in blinding light, all of their silver weapons glowing bight blue. No one could flee fast enough as their swords began to swing through the crowds.

Three things can kill a faery.

One, if you steal his heart.

Two, if you cut off his head.

Three, if a banshee sings him to everlasting sleep.

All three of these things happened on that night and more. My own husband King Fethur, perished at my side, though we both fought valiantly, neither of us giving in to weariness. But one blade sliced off his head and there was no magic in the world that could bring him back to life. I didn’t have time to mourn, for the Milesians forced us back and back, trying to push us up a high cliff and then down into the rocky sea.

We fought, our casualties great. We lost more than a thousand men on that night.

My feet slipped, my sword swung in an arc of death, and my sister and I set our banshee blood free. We sang a song of death, though it was hard to find the right notes that could penetrate the thick silver helmets that covered the Milesians’ ears.

– – – – –


Merrie Destefano left a 9-to-5 desk job as a magazine editor to become a full-time novelist and freelance editor. With twenty years’ experience in publishing, her background includes editor of Victorian Homes magazine, Zombies magazine, and Haunted: Mysteries and Legends magazine. Her books, novellas, and anthologies include Afterlife, Feast, Fathom, Lost Girls, The Plague Carrier, Waiting for Midnight, A Dark And Twisted Heart, A Long And Wild Hunt, Fairytale Christmas, and Cursed. She lives in Southern California with her husband, their two German shepherds, a Siamese cat, and the occasional wandering possum.

The Sweet and Simple Beauty of ‘Small One’

You’ve all heard of a boy and his dog. This is the story of a boy and his donkey.
| Dec 6, 2017 | 2 comments

Shannon McDermott is the author of the fantasy novel The Valley of Decision, as well as the futuristic The Last Heir and the Sons of Tryas series. To learn more about her and her work, visit her website, ShannonMcDermott.com.

You’ve all heard of a boy and his dog. This is the story of a boy and his donkey. It’s an old, mangy donkey, tattered ears and scruffy fur, but in his eyes it’s good enough for a king’s stable. He loves it, you see.

But his father tells him they must sell it, because it’s too old to earn its keep and they can’t afford an animal that doesn’t. So the boy takes his donkey to the city, trying to find a good man who will buy it.

A good man is hard to find. “Small One, Small One, Small One for sale,” the boy sings. “One piece of silver – Small One for sale.”

Comes the answer: “No, no, little boy, I will not buy!” And those are the nice people.

Small One, one of the movies of my childhood, is a simple and sweet film. That it never got on the networks’ annual run of Christmas specials, but Frosty the Snowman did, is part of what’s wrong with the world. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Frosty! I liked it when I was six.) Small One’s run-time is 26 minutes, and the only character who has a name is the donkey. This does not feel like a lack (though it can make review-writing a bit awkward). The story does not need names. It’s too directly human, engaging the heart in broad plainness.

The animation is old-fashioned and charming. There are lovely touches – moonlight falling into the stable, golden clouds in a pale blue sky, the illustrations that formed the background of the credits. There are clever touches – the forbidding atmosphere of the tanner’s shop, silhouettes seen through colored tent curtains, the soldier who seems, as the boy looks up at him, to be seven feet tall.

So with the music. From the tender song in the credits, to the plaintive chorus, “Small One for sale,” there is a great deal of loveliness here. There is also a good dose of cleverness in the bankers’ song. “Clink clink, clank clank, give your money to the bank, telling little stories you can trust” – as they shift their eyes so slyly.

Small One is a children’s story artfully told. That’s why its maturity surprised me. The father tells his boy that Small One must be sold. There’s no rebellion, no escape. The happy ending that the film seeks is that the boy will be able to sell his donkey to a kind man. We never doubt how much he loves Small One; that love drives him to the end of the story – in trying to find a good home for Small One, not in trying to keep him.

The end is beautiful. Softly, lightly, it steps into the radiance of Christmas. We see the stranger who buys Small One … a glimpse of travelers on the road … the stable and the Star of Bethlehem, its long rays a shining Cross between heaven and earth.

And you begin to feel that everything is more than all right in the end; it is right. As they sing in the credits, and again as the Cross stands in the sky: “There’s a place for each small one – God planned it that way.”

Things Fantasy Authors Like to Write About—But Really Shouldn’t

Some fantasy stories should have stayed locked up in the castle room high in the turret.
| Dec 5, 2017 | 5 comments |

Fantasy authors can be a strange breed.

Seeking to write stories that revel in imagination and whisk readers into other worlds…but at times fall painfully, woefully short.

To paraphrase Eomer, “We should not doubt their motivations, merely their execution.”

Because let’s face it—some fantasy stories should have stayed locked up in the castle room high in the turret.

When Fantasy Authors Write Boring Stories


Aragorn’s he-did-what? face … image via lotr.wikia.com

Because #elves and Tolkien lookalikes are the only way to make a fantabulous fantasy tale.

Not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with copying Tolkien. After all some Christopher guy wrote about Aragorn’s name alter-ego Eragon. It did pretty well. But still, as they say in science: don’t try this at home, kids.

Fantasy authors love to write all the fantasy things. Problem is, most of the time they really shouldn’t.

Things like…

Oohhh, other races. Yes, let’s use them and ignore the fact that they’re nearly identical to elves and dwarves and orcs. Or pretend like they’re different (you know, call them something else) even when they’re really not.

The Chosen One story arc. The world won’t be satisfied until every poor farmer boy becomes a hero.

A dark, brooding enemy that lurks in the background and never shows his face beyond the shadows.

Trilogies! Yay trilogies!

The stunningly beautiful love interest who’s probably related to a king or has immortal blood flowing through her veins.

Here we go a questing, across the world so green. Here we go a traveling so far to be seen (pro hint: has a much better ring if read to the tune of the Here We Come A Wassailing song).

Let’s form a company of important people who do a lot of walking and talking, interrupted by occasional fighting (see above).

Gandalf Fool of an Author Meme

Hark, the gray-haired mentor comes forth with tidings of destiny and fate and the ruin of the world. Also, a pipe and staff and scowly eyes.

The world is ending! The world is ending!

Loooonnng descriptions of scenery and character appearances and more scenery. We’re talking paragraphs that look like the outline of a Manhattan skyscraper.

The fair beauty and grace of the one whom the hero has the privilege of being loved by, even if he couldn’t even hold a sword in Chapter 1 and has a 50% chance of smelling like barnyard.

Characters: we have a plan but it’s not that great and the evil overlord is terribly powerful and impossible to defeat. But hurray, we have magic.

Evil overlord: I shall tell my enemies my plans and conveniently wait to kill them for the sake of the story.

Characters: woe upon us, the evil overlord has greater magic than do we.

Evil overlord: woe to me, for I still fail to triumph.

The princess who loves the commoner but is forced or coerced or tricked or guilted into marrying the cruel lord. Is there no compassion in the world?

Unpronounceable names that don’t believe in vowels and are disturbingly fond of apostrophes.

Chapters that rival Gandalf’s beard in length.

A big, black, doom-bringing army.

An incompetent character who masters skills faster than Harry, Ron, and Hermione getting in trouble. Because he’s the hero and all.

Disclaimer 1: I say this because I, too, am a fantasy author, and that list pretty much describes my life story. Guilty as charged. Plus I LOVE reading fantasy, and there’s nothing better than a story that reflects all the best the genre has to offer instead of rehashing the same plot with the same characters in the same setting.

Disclaimer 2: Don’t fret if I’ve just described your story. Using tropes is fine. Some elements are like a story’s building blocks—you need them to make everything work. Just as long as you don’t overuse them. Think salt. A little bit goes a long way. Use it wisely, and at the end of the day, readers will thank you.

What things do fantasy authors write that you don’t like?

Language And The Influence Of Speculative Fiction

While language influences, the ideas language conveys, influence more.

“H*ll no,” the little girl shouted to her friend during recess. “H*ll no!”

Such language from a six- or seven-year-old startled me, but also made me think. First thought? The more our culture does not believe in hell, the more the word seems to punctuate our language.

Second thought? Where does someone so young learn such language?

Of course just yesterday I heard about a mother whose children attend a Christian school who sprinkled various curse words in her language as she talked with another mom and her two primary school children.

So cursing is just part of the culture here in America, then?

My thoughts then jumped to the five Star Trek TV shows that have been airing on an oldies station. In only two, Enterprise and Next Generation, do the characters curse. I suspect the limits on foul language are more a reflection of the FCC regulations than any conviction of the authors.

Still, there is some literary rhyme to the change of language in the different shows. Next Generation rarely had the characters use expletives. Enterprise, which was a prequel and therefore set closer to our time, had the characters include curse words with some frequency.

The Star Trek franchise is predicated on the idea that humankind will improve and improve as time passes. Consequently, a refinement in the use of language fits that premise.

In addition, as far as I can recall, no Vulcan ever used bad language, even the one who co-stared in Enterprise. Vulcans are, after all, people that have mastered their emotions, a race that prides itself on its dependence on logic. So why would they lace their language with words meant only to convey an emotional reaction?

As a writer, I can’t help but ask the age-old, unanswerable question, one that essentially came up again on a Facebook site recently: starting with language, should stories reflect culture or shape it? Without a doubt Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, and apparently those who took over the production of the following iterations, believed in using their platform to influence culture, to present a picture of the future that they hoped for.

Hence various stories showed the value of sentient life, no matter what form; the importance of logic; the need for self-control; the evil of greed and the unwarranted use of force; the significance of love regardless of gender or race; the progress of society toward the good; and more. The original series went so far as to propound the idea that no opponent was actually evil. Rather, they acted on the basis of self preservation, and much conflict was a result of misunderstanding.

How influential has Star Trek proved to be? How much have the values we see in society today been shaped by the thoughts and beliefs embedded within those stories?

Of course that’s another unanswerable question. The stories don’t exist in a vacuum. What other influences were at work on the culture at the same time? What other stories? What historic events? What famous people who spoke into the culture?

Besides serving as a catalyst for various parodies and movies and even an unrelated TV series this year, perhaps the greatest affect Star Trek and its variations have had on the culture is one that legitimizes change, including the advance of technology.

For instance, the characters basically had smart phones before the cell phone was even invented. They read from electronic tablets before the iPad came into being. And they depicted space travel before a man had stepped foot on the moon.

In addition, they showed racially integrated star ship crews. They positioned women in places of prominence as part of the bridge staff and senior officers.

And they didn’t curse. Clearly, the language the characters used did not spill over to influence the language of our culture today. Does that mean stories have little or no impact on the direction of society? Not at all. Rather, I think the power of Star Trek resides in its ideas, not its particular words or even its gadgets.

In the same way, I think that what matters the most for a Christian writer who aims to influence culture—which is a good thing, in my opinion—are the ideas he puts into his stories. Should he use the language of our culture? In other words, should his characters curse? If the characters in the Star Trek franchise managed to have an influence on the culture without copying the lowest form of our present day language, I don’t see why Christian writers can’t do the same.

On the other hand, by avoiding questionable language, Christians may be modeling a form of speech that is consistent with that of those who believe as they do. They may not necessarily be setting a higher standard for the unconvinced and unconverted.

What then are Christians to do?

I’ll admit, I hate to hear a six-year-old with a foul mouth. I hate to hear a fifteen-year-old with a foul mouth. In fact, I’m pretty sure I can’t think of an acceptable age when cursing seems just fine. But is anyone saved by eliminating curse words from their vocabulary instead of by believing in the atoning work of Jesus Christ?

My point is simple. While language influences, the ideas language conveys, influence more. Perhaps we Christians should think more about what we want to say in our stories than how we say it.

Justice League v The Legion of Doom, part 2

Kerry Nietz, Austin Gunderson, and E. Stephen Burnett explore our favorite and not-so-favorite moments of “Justice League.”

Join superfans E. Stephen Burnett, Austin Gunderson, and Kerry Nietz as they react to DC’s Justice League. In real time since the film’s Nov. 17 release, we praise, complain, and above all hope for a better Ultimate Edition of the superhero trilogy begun by director Zack Snyder.

Full disclosure: we’re all big fans of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. These are required viewing for anyone trying to make sense of Justice League and its fans.

Read the complete series. In this part, we explore our favorite and not-so-favorite moments.

Kerry Nietz: Yep, I have been purposely avoiding this conversation until this moment. All the world seemed to want to play spoiler on this movie. (Including Focus on the Family. My wife was so upset at them , she sent an email.)

From what I see from skimming though … um, wow, fellows, good thing there isn’t a cliff near by.

I actually really liked it. Thought the Superman parts were great, all the individual parts were interesting, really. Some parts I just loved, loved. The main issue you have with any of these large ensemble movies is that there is scant little time for any individual character. Yes, it could have used more time. But compared to some character heavy movies (looking at you Star Wars prequels) I think they did really well.

Austin Gunderson: Heh. I wouldn’t say I disliked the film; just that it wasn’t nearly as good as its predecessors. It failed to clear the super-high bar for me, but it definitely cleared the “this is entertaining” bar. There were a lot of great moments.

Justice League vs. lackluster stakes

Kerry: If I had to name a fault, it would be in the stakes. They needed to create more of a sense of global peril. That could have been easily done with more small scenes in different locations. Possibly those are the types of things that were left on the cutting room floor.

I assume you guys stayed through the credits?

Btw, there were applause at the end of my showing. (Not started by me.)

The movie most felt like a 4th hour of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to me. A closing up of the loose ends and MacGuffins from it.

E. Stephen Burnett: My wife and I got back from a second viewing this afternoon. I enjoyed it more this time. Really, it’s all about adjusting expectations. But I still want a director’s cut by Zack Snyder, if they ever finish and release one. So much potential wasted otherwise. And so many more opportunities to tie the individual heroes’ own stories into the film’s meta-theme of uniting to prove that great darkness only makes greater heroes.

Kerry: I like that. Yes, that would be good.

It is 7.5 out of 10 on IMDB. I always say (with books) if you can please 75 percent of readers, you did your job.

Austin: That number will drop. It always does. The people seeing this movie on opening weekend are the ones who wanted to like it.

Stephen: There you go. I weary of the negativity. Really, really weary of it. People were clapping and applauding today, and that’s in a semi-full theater on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Methinks next weekend it will do better thanks to decent word of mouth.

Austin:  I agree with you, Kerry, about the lack of stakes. As I mentioned earlier in this thread, the villain, Steppenwolf, obviously wasn’t at Superman’s level. So as soon as Supes showed up at the fight, what tension there was kinda evaporated for me.

Kerry: Yes, they should’ve brought Darkseid. He’s  nearly impervious to Superman. But he’s a bigger bad. The Thanos of the DC universe. Steppenwolf gave them a way to introduce the “Fourth World,” though and set up a possible bigger bad later. The struggle for a new team, though, should be in seeing if they can work together, not necessarily in the villain they face. Think of the first Avengers movie? Aside from location, how different was the threat level?

Austin: Right. The scenes where the plot most engaged me were those leading up to the Supes resurrection. There seemed to be some real fissures forming in the team’s cohesion. There was a lot of potential for mutiny or defection. And honestly, I couldn’t tell whether that’d be good or bad.

But then everybody just sort of settled down and the uncertainty was lost.

So what were your favorite parts, Kerry?

Kerry: I wonder if there weren’t more dissension moments left on the cutting room floor too. And I wonder if they ever thought about going the route where Steppenwolf brings Superman back…as a weapon.

Or if that would be just too dark.

In the comics, Superman was resurrected by the Fortress of Solitude robots. Sort of behind the scenes. That would be hard to pull off in the movie … because how do you keep the audience from knowing?

Favorite moment was events immediately after the resurrection. Especially Flash running at him only to have him notice. Too cool.

Also the scene where Flash and Superman are “rescuing” civilians.

Did you have a favorite moment?

Austin: Yeah, I loved that eye-move moment. Flash’s face was priceless. Also loved him tipping Diana’s sword into her hand, then totally biffing it into the wall.

Other favorite moments include Aquaman sitting on the Lasso of Hestia.

Of course, it’s my strong suspicion that most of my faves were Whedon moments, which just annoys me.

Kerry: Oh yeah, those were great. The Aquaman confession. Beautiful.

Austin: I was like, what is even happening right now?! And then it all made sense.

Kerry: Flash’s talk about understanding people and brunch was good too. And then the callback to it later. “That feels like betrayal.”

Austin: Heh, yeah. Flash basically stole the whole movie. He was the fanboy everyman, the relatable Hobbit character.

Kerry: Absolutely. That was a good way to play it. A solo Flash movie could be really good.

Even the Lois “you smell good” line was solid too. And it was nice to see Superman smile a little. Because again, if you can fly, you’re going to smile. (Though maybe not at the same time. Bugs!)

Austin: “Did I not before?” 😜

Back to potential improvements: Something else that might’ve gotten cut out was a subplot wherein Cyborg’s allegiance is in question. At one point, we hear somebody refer to him as “a guy who might be working for the enemy,” and it seems completely unmotivated. But when you think about it, it makes sense to be suspicious: he was given life by the alien power source now possessed by Steppenwolf. That could have been another major source of tension that just seemed to evaporate.

Kerry: Right. Aquaman said that.

That did seem a little out of place.

The one big advantage Marvel had in Avengers was having individual films for the characters first. We really could’ve used an Aquaman and a Flash first. And probably also a Batman to more cement who this version of the character is.

Austin: Yeah. There’s also that moment during the climax when Cyborg grabs the boxes and then goes all googly-eyed, and Steppenwolf leans over and says, “Now you understand,” or something like that, and I was all like, “Okay, now Cyborg’s gonna get reprogrammed and things are gonna get interesting,” but then nothing happened. I’m pretty sure there was a whole scene that got cut, there.

Kerry: Oh yeah! I’d forgotten about that. I was like “what did he see? what did he learn? what!”

Justice League vs. character humor

Stephen: Austin, I suspect you liked those Whedon bits because even Whedon doesn’t just do “jokes” for their own sake. He uses humorous dialogue to develop characters the same way Snyder uses action to do the same.

Kerry: Yes, the dialog is part of what made Firefly great.

Another good line (paraphrased): “Okay, what do you need me to do? I know you didn’t bring me back because you like me.”

And then Bruce’s sort of blubbering response.

Wow, there are lots of interesting character threads that could’ve used a bit more…

Austin: Oh, I didn’t mean that the jokes’ deliverers were interchangeable: Whedon excels at character-based humor, and each gag was tailor-made for the characters involved.

What I meant was that the jokes were almost entirely extra-plot.

For instance: Aquaman could have sat on the lasso under any circumstances and it would have been just as funny. Ditto Flash’s brunch-babble. Ditto Superman’s rivalry with Flash (as demonstrated by their mid-credits scene). Strip away the plot, and the jokes still stand by themselves. They could have been pulled from HISHE’s Superhero Cafe. They are, literally, “throwaway gags.”

A significant exception to this rule is Flash’s comic astonishment when Superman can match his speed, and their subsequent fight. Which is why I’m pretty sure that that scene, at least, was present in the original script. It’s not only character-specific, it’s situation-specific.

“Is she with you?”

Stephen: Similarly, anything Alfred says, or the “Is she with you?” exchange in Batman v Superman.

Austin: “Is she with you?” could’ve only happened in that initial meeting. Granted, the meeting itself could’ve happened under slightly different circumstances, but the joke was about how the two guys who each think they’re the singular hero are suddenly out of sync with the plot. (It also reveals and gently mocks their instinctively masculine possessiveness; Diana isn’t “with” either of them.)

Kerry: Everyone answering the bat signal was fun too. It almost would’ve been more fun if we didn’t know three of them were together prior. Like, what ho, why are you all here? This is my shtick.

Stephen: Also, Bruce’s line (paraphrased): “Complete this mission and you can go back to the shadows. Dress up like a bat. I won’t even sue.”

Aquaman: (smirks) “Dressed like a bat. I dig it.”


Barry Allen: “What are your superpowers again?”

Bruce Wayne: “I’m rich.”

Kerry: “They all left, huh? That’s sort of rude.”

Stephen: Also y’all … Commissioner J.K. Gordon. For the win.

Kerry: Was Clark Kent’s middle name always Joseph?

I never had heard it before. Joseph would be another biblical connection, of course.

So, I looked it up, and his middle name is sort of a writer discretion thing. Either Jerome or Joseph. Not names of his creators. The more you know!

“Both” names of his creators. Yeesh, autocorrect.

Next: how come Justice League felt so rushed, and why couldn’t it have lasted longer?

Justice League v The Legion of Doom, part 1

Join superfans E. Stephen Burnett, Austin Gunderson, and Kerry Nietz as they react to “Justice League,” flaws and all.

Join superfans E. Stephen Burnett, Austin Gunderson, and Kerry Nietz as they react to DC’s Justice League. In real time since the film’s Nov. 17 release, we praise, complain, and above all hope for a better Ultimate Edition of the superhero trilogy begun by director Zack Snyder.

Full disclosure: we’re all big fans of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. These are required viewing for anyone trying to make sense of Justice League and its fans.

Read the complete series. In this part, we begin sharing our early reactions to the film.

E. Stephen Burnett: Folks …

Justice League is a two-hour trailer for the real movie. 🙂 Adjust expectations accordingly.

This review is correct:

The film is very clearly a Frankenstein’s monster of a motion picture. Two very different films are present here stitched together with the barest of connective narrative tissue. The one film is very clearly Snyder’s: all grim bombast, cool poses, and CGI-enhanced action. The other is fully Whedon: quippy, light-hearted interactions that are enjoyable but hold no real narrative weight. If these two films seem like they might be at odds with each other, you are not wrong. The film at times has tonal whiplash. Warner executives have said that Whedon only influenced 25% of the final film. I find that number hard to believe. Almost every interaction between the heroes feels like it’s been pulled from the Whedon playbook. Every time action occurs it feels like a more serious film where posing and “cool” shot placement takes on more importance than coherent visual filmmaking.1

Austin Gunderson: I agree, Stephen. The whole way through, it felt glaringly obvious that it was an intermediary installment. I’m gonna have to mull over exactly why this was, but it definitely felt less apocalyptic than Man of Steel.

The team dynamic was really fun, though.

Stephen: Oh, the characters are great. I love each and every one of them. But this rushed story and world around them felt shallow and empty. Sometimes literally. … Cities around them had no life.

It needed another full hour. It needed Snyder’s deft hand in the editing and post-production.

Justice League vs. Warner Bros. editing

Stephen: I signed this petition earlier for an Ultimate Edition of the film, perhaps three hours long, actually directed by Snyder. I don’t agree with everything the petition starter says, or with the gratuitous run-on sentences.  But he gets it. Even down to the lame music substitutions.2

Austin: Heh. I remember the fervency of fandom that took hold after John Carter was a flop. I remember “Take Me Back to Barsoom!” This petition feels like that.

Stephen: Except all that original footage and production already exist.

Austin: And I agree with everything you said, Stephen, but I feel the main weakness lies deeper — in …

… you know what? Kerry may not have seen it yet.


… in the fact that Steppenwolf was no match for Superman. That’s been the key strength of the previous films to me: that Superman wasn’t boring. I thought this movie managed to Make Superman Boring Again. Not because he was unlikable, but because he won so much I got tired of winning.

Stephen: I don’t mind Superman coming back a bit happier. Or easily vanquishing his enemy. But … the film offered no continuity to his peace in sacrificial death before. No meaning to his return. And unlike I’m the original Death of Superman story, when he resurrects more naturally because his cells undergo rebirth, this is just fssshhtt, science. Boring. Interest fading. Bruce Wayne pulls a Tony Stark and creates a Vision.

“Emptied of meaning” describes a lot of the story.

And honestly, gentlemen, I’m tired. Getting over a cold. Can’t sleep. Feeling very alone and stupid for liking stories other people hate and bemoaning stories other people are mixed to fine about. It does get a little personal for me sometimes. Like: What is wrong with me?

Austin: Eh, the world’s screwed up and there’s no wisdom in crowds. Art isn’t democratic. The higher denominators aren’t common.

Stephen: That’s a problem if your life’s goal is to encourage and create great works of story-art.

Huge, depressing, potentially debilitating problem.

Austin: Yup. But you don’t need to proselytize everyone; just enough. A handful. An intrepid company. A band of brothers.

Justice League vs. story flaws

For myself, I was okay with the forced-resurrection subplot. It at least gave meaning to the otherwise-dumb-and-derivative Marve— er, Mother Boxes, and it paid off the Knightmare scene from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. (“Lois is the key!”). Also, I like that Supes didn’t just pop outta the ground like a daisy. I’m so sick and tired of resurrections “just happening,” and this one at least felt weighty, like there was a real risk involved.

Regarding the DCEU, I’m not surprised at the direction it’s taking (assuming Snyder doesn’t return for future films — I’m not aware of his plans). It was always only a matter of time before the narrative threat-level and the highbrow artistry could no longer be believably sustained and the franchise slumped into a Marvel-esque malaise. I don’t think it’s quite there yet, but for any franchise that trades in end-of-the-world scenarios yet is unwilling to permanently part with any of its main protagonists, such a fate is inevitable. The only options at this point are to dramatically lower and internalize the stakes (as Batman v Superman did to some extent, and as a solo Batman film might — or a film where Luthor’s the main villain), or to cut straight to Darkseid. Anything in between those will just feel like a superfluous step, and unfortunately that’s Steppenwolf’s category (pun very much intended).

However, no matter what the future holds, we’ll always have Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. The real wonder is that those films got made at all.

Stephen: I’ll be content if we just get an Ultimate Edition, Whedon parts and all. I didn’t mind those so much, but in this drastically shortened cut they felt so superfluous.

Austin: What frustrates me is that the Whedon parts were the most memorable. The underlying drama simply wasn’t given enough room to breathe, and suffered a uniform diminishing as a result. High drama must be earned, lest it become melodrama. It’s earned chiefly through adequate time investment. It has to sneak up on you over time. It has to become a “lived experience.” Whereas gags are funny by themselves — even without context. And so the fact that my favorite moments were all gags disturbs me.

Stephen: They worked in isolation. But as with some of the Marvel movies, the gags often stepped on the weightier moments. When the weighty moments stood alone, they also worked very well.

But the movie wasn’t even full-on Whedon. He’s now wrongly maligned because of Marvel mandates for the two Avengers movies, especially the last one. But this is the guy who gave us Firefly, which is more than just the stereotypically witty-quippy stuff. There’s plenty of ideas in there too.

Austin: Oh I think Whedon’s great the way Lucas is great: he does one thing really really well, but he doesn’t know when to stop.

Justice League vs. cynical critics


‘Justice League’ Posts DC Universe’s Worst Box Office Opening With $96 Million

Welp, there goes the dream …

Stephen: And this too.

Justice League Is the Epic We Deserve[3. Armond White writes for National Review and is not at all a respected critic. He will literally positively review a film that comes under criticism, and vice-versa, as if solely to act as a contrarian.)

Seeing it again today so my wife can join me this time.

When you’ve won Armond White, it’s all lost.

Real director’s cut or get out.

Austin: LOL. Why do you even read that stuff?

Stephen: I didn’t. Just saw your headline and knew who it was (Armond White).

Hope Warner Brothers (the film producers) learns the right lessons from this. All this is the fault of messing with the movie. Because now they irritated even the Snyder fans.

Austin: Yeah, no kidding. If you lose your base, what’s left? The Marvel partisans will never love you.

But “learning the right lessons” is not a feat at which studio execs are adept. They’ll probably ask Whedon to direct the next one.

Stephen: Which means it might be better because the theatrical cut isn’t even pure Whedon either.

Austin: I don’t want pure Whedon. Everything’s pure Whedon. I’m up to my eyeballs in pure Whedon. What is Thor: Ragnarok if not pure Whedon? What is Guardians of the Galaxy if not pure Whedon? I’ve had it with superpowered jokefests. I want drama commensurate to the genre’s milieu, otherwise I’m out.

Stephen: I mean, it might at least be a better put-together movie even for a jokes-stepping-on-serious-themes story.

But I’m with you.

I’ll get over this, but I’ve seriously considered stepping back from superhero movies as a whole over this. I’ve already dropped several TV shows and will not pick up any others simply because of limited time.

Well. Better to have loved and lost than not loved at all.

Or to expand on C. S. Lewis’s quote: to love a story at all is to be vulnerable.

Remember to sign the petition.

Justice League Fans Petition for Zack Snyder’s Original Cut

Fans are further motivated by the leaked deleted scenes.

Thinking about it again, on the other hand …

Audiences are ranking it higher than critics.

Also, all the other films have released in spring/summer.

More of the people I know are talking about it. So it may be that people are waiting until the holiday weekend to see it.

Also I don’t get people talking about Superman’s mustache erasure being terrible. I looked and looked and never saw anything weird. Purely psychological.

Austin: Yeah, I didn’t know that was a thing until after the movie, and I never thought to myself, ‘What’s with his upper lip?!?’ People have no ability to compensate for their expectation biases.

Next: Kerry Nietz joins and we explore our favorite moments of Justice League.

  1. Wheels grapples with the good and bad of JUSTICE LEAGUE!, AintItCool.com, Nov. 17, 2017.
  2. Note: Since the petition’s original wording, the petition writer has revised his text twice (as of this date) and made a stronger, more conciliatory case each time.

Weekday Fiction Fix – Lawless by Janeen Ippolito

Lawless by Janeen IppolitoThe salvation of humans and dragons lies within a convicted murderer.
| Nov 29, 2017 | No comments |

By Janeen Ippolito

Ironfire Legacy Book 1


The salvation of humans and dragons lies within a convicted murderer.

Dragonshifter Kesia Ironfire has one goal—to redeem her past by serving the cruel dragon Pinnacle as a soldier in the dragon-human war.

Then a rogue mission to spy on a new airship explodes into sickening green smoke. The same mysterious green smoke that was present the night of Kesia’s crime. When her dragon overlords deny any involvement, she and her tactical partner Zephryn Nightstalker try to investigate–and are sentenced to death.

Still searching for answers, Kesia and Zephryn flee to the human military capital, where Captain Shance Windkeeper has been furloughed after the destruction of his airship. Eager to discover what–and who–blew up his vessel, he agrees to help Kesia and Zephryn infiltrate High Command. In exchange, Kesia must pretend to be his betrothed so Shance can escape an arranged marriage. If only she knew what ‘betrothed’ and ‘arranged marriage’ meant.

But human social customs are the least of her worries. Dark secrets surface as Kesia delves deeper–secrets that challenge the facts of her crime and undermine the war itself.

A steampunk fantasy adventure with a side of snark and quirky romance.


Chapter 1

One benefit of illegal missions: there were no high and mighty leaders questioning everything you did.

//Remember: in and out quickly, don’t disturb anyone, and don’t destroy anything.//

But beware fleetwings who tried to fill the gap.

Kesia huffed a steam of smoke at her tactical partner and thought back. //Ruin all of my fun, hm?//

//Is any of this supposed to be fun?// Zephryn fixed her with a fierce glare, his cobalt eyes flaring with red fire. He was a vision of lethality. His long, serpentine body and midnight wings imposed themselves in her view, obscuring the starlight. Which was what they needed this night. Kesia adjusted her flight pattern to fly closer to him, further within the protection of his Cloak—part of Zephryn’s Talent that allowed him to end light around himself and others.

His Talent was the only reason she was alive. An ordinary soldier caught on an illegal mission would face severe punishment. A criminal like her would face immediate execution. Unless she brought home reconnaissance, something to earn her enough respect for her past to be erased.

Something like spying on the Congruency’s newest airship and prized captain.

A thread of panic stirred her. No more thinking, or else she would never do it. She flapped her wings, coming close enough to Zephryn to flick her long tail across his back. //I won’t take unnecessary chances, I promise. Thank you for helping me.//

//For you? Always.// His stern look softened for a moment. He nudged the top of her deep red head with his snout. A flush of warmth immediately erased much of Kesia’s fear. //Now, go quickly! I will stand guard against other sentinels. Satisfy your curiosity, and see what you can learn.//

//With all speed.//

She glided in slow circles beneath the ship, smelling the acrid scent of oil-fuel and smoke. Airships had once been vessels of beauty and artistry, used for pleasure excursions and merchant expeditions. After the war began, the Scepter of Industry had made new advancements, ones that stung the eyes of dragons and corrupted the air.

Kesia brought her attention back to the mission. What should she be? Stifling a bubble of laughter, she closed her eyes.


She shifted. Her dragon form shrank and was consumed by paper-thin skin and feathers. Kesia fought dizziness at the sudden loss of mass and angled her body to adjust for the night winds that buffeted her far more than before. Zephryn’s Talent could get them eriously close to the airship, but hers would allow her to hop aboard.

Kesia shook off the thoughts and flapped her wings harder. She enjoyed this form. It was fast and fleet.

//Really? You chose a form that is a symbol of death for the humans, Rose-Wing?//

She croaked irritably. //Or perhaps a symbol of flattery, hm? After all, you’re raven-hued.//

Kesia could picture Zephryn’s peevish look, one that made her enjoy teasing him more //I would not have you needlessly jeopardize yourself. And what was our bargain about disturbances?//

//What disturbance? Croaking is a perfectly appropriate action for a raven. You always seek to ruin my fun. But if it will appease you . . .//

She closed her eyes and shifted again, this time to another, smaller bird. By the time she reached the top-most mast of the ship, she had gained control of her new sun-dove form. Kesia landed gracefully on a crosspiece and settled her wings about herself, fanning the brilliant yellow plumage underlaid with pale blue feathers. Zephryn couldn’t possibly object to this choice. Sun-doves were migratory birds that followed winter across the land of Sekastra. Al human travelers saw them as good omens.

Dragons like her saw them as snacks.

– – – – –

AUTHOR BIO — Janeen Ippolito

Janeen Ippolito is two authors for the price of one! She writes nonfiction writing resources and speculative fiction with monsters, misfits, and mushy stuff. She’s also an experienced teacher, editor, author coach, and the Fearless Leader (president) of Uncommon Universes Press. In her spare time, she enjoys sword-fighting, reading, food, and making brownie batter. A lifelong misfit, she believes different is beautiful and that everyone has the ability to tell their story. Two of her goals are eating fried tarantulas and traveling to Antarctica. This extroverted writer loves getting connected, so find her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and at her two websites: janeenippolito.com and writeinsideout.com