Past the High Point

Why can’t a villain finish his redemption arc without finishing himself?
on Aug 26, 2020 · 9 comments

Genuinely compelling villains, although always too few, exist in fair abundance. Much more rare is a compelling villain who charts a convincing and satisfying redemption arc. Rarest of all is a compelling villain who, at the end of his satisfying redemption arc, does not promptly die. It grows predictable and, occasionally, rather bleak. Why can’t a villain finish his redemption arc without finishing himself?

Practicality is one driving reason. A redeemed villain is an ex-villain, and where do you go from there? Once a villain gives up all the interesting plans that made him so necessary to the story – gives up world domination, or mad scientific experiments, or destroying people’s lives for his personal satisfaction – what does he do next? It would be easy to say that he becomes a hero. It would not be easy to do. Not everything that makes a good villain makes a good hero. We are entertained by the badness of villains, if it is done with elan: insouciant lies, frank selfishness, grandiose pomposity, Force-choking incompetent subordinates, etc.

But in the transition to heroism, even the most stylistic wickedness has to go. Worse, the villain’s role (so excellently played!) must be abandoned. And once all that is stripped away, what do you have left? You are in danger of changing a superior villain into a merely adequate hero. Not all creators know what to do with a smashing villain who entirely leaves off villainy. The story grows, too, harder to tell. There is high drama and even clarity in the conversion of villain to hero. Life, on the other side of redemption, sinks to something quieter and more muddled. It is easier to write a redemptive death than a redeemed life. And if the redeemed villain dies with all dispatch, his career as a hero will be too short to be disappointing.

Aside from the creative challenge of an ex-villain, certain thematic and even philosophical ideas drive the villain’s redemptive death. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life, and people believe this almost by instinct. Truly wonderful villains do truly terrible things. To do the best thing is a powerful culmination of the villain’s journey to heroism. In the case – and it usually is the case – that the villain has innocent blood on his hands, a heroic death is a kind of atonement. Steal life, give life. It satisfies justice. There are crimes that cry out for punishment. A change of heart does not buy impunity from every horrible thing done to other people.

In his self-sacrificial death, the redeemed villain pays his debt. That is why the redemption arc is so often completed with a heroic death. It is emotionally powerful, and satisfies a sense of rightness that is more felt than articulated. It is also the safest creative choice. If you don’t really know how to continue the villain or his story past the high point of redemption, you might as well stop there – and leave them wanting more.

But whatever excellent reasons exist for some redemption arcs to end in death, there is no reason that they all should. Occasionally – if for no other reason than to keep us guessing – creators should take up the challenge of an ex-villain who lives as a hero instead of dying as one. We grow fond of our compelling villains, even in their murderous phase. We cheer them on their journey to the light. We would like, after it all, to be able to keep them around. It’s tiresome to be compelled to end all such stories feeling sad. Every once in a while, it would be good to believe in grace enough to say that the villain, too, lives happily ever after.

Speculative Fiction And Contemporary Culture

Should writers change and speak into the culture through our writing, through our stories?
on Aug 24, 2020 · 6 comments

Riots. Peaceful protests. Covid-19. Political division. How does speculative fiction fit into our very current life? Should it?

I recently heard an professional football player explaining that he thought the NFL should play this season so that people will have an escape from all the problems. Is speculative fiction just a different way of escape?

I know some people write speculative fiction with nothing but the goal to write an entertaining story. I know others who write to a purpose. One Christian speculative author, for example, recently published the first in a series in which he addresses some very contemporary issues, including racism. You might even say he was writing as a social justice warrior.

A writer like Frank Peretti also addressed cultural issues, tackling the matter of abortion in one of his adult novels.

Other writers use their speculative stories to tell some spiritual truth, without making any comment on the particular societal ills that mark our culture.

I know I’ve said more than once that writing is not a “one size fits all” kind of endeavor. In other words, not all writers need to have the same approach. Just as all readers don’t need to like the same kinds of books.

But in a time like we’re living in this year, things don’t feel like “business as usual.” Should writers change and speak into the culture through our writing, through our stories? If so, what should we say?

Are we to reinforce some of the better commonly held beliefs of society? Are we to speak the gospel? Are we to critique our culture? Are we to warn society about the dangers of continuing in the way we are going?

Or are we to give a way of escape because so many seem to need escape?

Is there an answer?

After the George Floyd death back in May, a large number of professional athletes said that since they had a platform, they needed to use it to speak against racial injustice. Speculative writers have platforms too. Maybe not as big as the most famous athletes, but still a platform equal to, say the one the nose tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs has.

Do we have the same obligation to speak against racial injustice?

Or maybe, as a growing number of people are saying, we should stand against, and speak against, government over-reach concerning the closing of businesses and parks and churches.

What about the explicit efforts of “cancel culture” that aims to stifle free speech? Is this such an important matter that we should be addressing the topic in our stories? Not in a preach way. Not, perhaps, overtly. But still, should we address these serious matters in our stories?

Part of me thinks, how can we stay silent. But a greater desire is for Christians to look behind the current events and address the real issues, the sin which so easily besets—entangles, ensnares, clings to—us (Heb. 12:1)

I don’t know that I’ve ever looked at the first few verses in Hebrews 12 as a writer’s guide before, but I think there might be some benefit in doing so.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2, NASB)

The passage is pretty clear: because we have so many people who have gone before us, listed in chapter 11, we are to do two things: get rid of the stuff that holds us back from winning the race, and put our eyes on the One who has made success possible for us.

So could that be a guide for writers when we decide to say something meaningful in our stories? It’s a question I want to think about some more. Because honestly I have a hard time standing on the sideline during the marathon and simply cheering them on. The runners need encouragement, no doubt about it, and maybe helping them to take their minds off the grind is a good thing. But I want to do something more, something that will make it possible for more runners to win the prize.

Do the ‘Little House’ Books and Other Frontier Fictions Now Count as Fantastic Tales?

Like any fantastical story, the classic Little House series has its ancient tomes, “incantations,” and sacred spaces.
on Aug 21, 2020 · 3 comments

I was recently on a call put on by the Realm Makers Consortium, where someone said, “If you think about it these days, Little House on the Prarie could be a speculative fantasy.” That hooked me a bit because I’d chosen the midwest frontier as a setting for my own fantasy story, Light of Mine (reviewed here by Lorehaven magazine). But as I thought about that statement, I realized there was a deep truth in that statement.

Imagine for the moment you are an elementary school child living in Moscow or London. You’ve grown up surrounded by the city and a secular humanist culture your entire life. Technology is all around you, and the only church you’ve ever seen is Saint Basil’s or Saint Paul’s cathedral. Is it possible life on the American frontier represents a fantastical place full of magic and mystery?

When I think about fantasy, modern paranormal or supernatural action and adventure, some thematic items are common: ancient tomes imparting supernatural wisdom, incantations repeated in hopes of powerful results, and the heroes often need a sacred sanctuary. In that context, is it possible Little House on the Prairie is a speculative masterpiece?

The ancient tome

A quick read through speculative titles will find the introduction of an ancient scroll, map, or the proverbial book of the dead. It’s such a common trope within fantasy, that science fiction has its corollary the data chip, cube, or crystal. A quick search through the Little House books shows the series has its ancient tome, the Bible. This sacred book imparts ancient wisdom that, as written, might seem quite spectacular to the modern mind.

Laura liked best to look at the pictures in the big Bible, with its paper covers. Best of all was the picture of Adam naming the animals. Adam sat on a rock, and all the animals and birds, big and little, were gathered around him anxiously waiting to be told what kind of animals they were.1

Adam spoke to the animals, telling them about themselves? On the surface, it looks like this book is telling Laura about a time where people and animals spoke to one another. While Christians know there are far more fantastical passages throughout the Bible, this one establishes the supernatural nature of the book. It also becomes clear from other passages in the books that the Bible is a powerful force in Laura’s life. To the point of using fantastical references as descriptions of everyday life.

Carrie looked like one of the little angel-birds in the Bible.2

It’s so much of a “given” that people know what angels are, that no thought is given to describing it in more detail than that. I’m reminded of a point in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe where C.S. Lewis introduces a host of evil creatures only by their mythological race, with no individual description of what they are, assuming the audience already has an idea.

Incantations of power

The next common element in speculative fiction are incantations of power. In some stories, it might be “the name that can’t be spoken” or a secret set of words that cause a magic door to open. In many stories, the incantation of power protects the characters.

Like the Bible, prayer comes up often in little House on the Prairie. To the point of even writing out entire prayers,

They [Laura and Mary] knelt down by the trundle bed and said their prayers.

“Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.”3

While Christians know this as an age-old bed-time prayer used to help ground children in the faith, they are definitely words of protection. To those outside the faith, this is just as fantastical as Gandalf speaking friend to enter the Dwarven caves.

Sacred sanctuary

As I look at speculative fiction, there are so many places where the heroes need a respite from the dark forces assaulting them. There are the glorious sanctuaries like the halls of Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings, and far less glamorous places like Dagobah in the Empire Strikes Back. Regardless of their splendor, these places provide a respite from the hero’s labor and often a wise elder to direct them on their way.

At first, I thought this was a lock. I grew up going to a church built in the 1800’s that was literally in the middle of a cornfield. The sanctuary was big and open, lots of light with stained glass in the windows. As a young child, it felt very much like entering Rivendell. But for this article, I had to step back and see if that matched the series.

I have to say, one of the early passages about church didn’t paint it as a very welcoming sanctuary.

In church, Grandpa and his brothers must sit perfectly still for two long hours and listen to the sermon. They dared not fidget on the hard bench. They dared not swing their feet. They dared not turn their heads to look at the windows or the walls or the ceiling of the church. They must sit perfectly motionless, and never for one instant take their eyes from the preacher.4

I have to wonder what impression that might leave on someone outside the faith. It feels a little more like a Temple of Doom than a sacred sanctuary. That impression initially carries over to Laura’s first visit to a church.

They all sat in a row on a long bench. Church was exactly like a schoolhouse, except that it had a strange, large, hollow feeling. Every little noise was loud against the new board walls. …

A tall, thin man stood up behind the tall desk on the platform. His clothes were black and his big cravat was black and his hair and the beard that went around his face were dark. His voice was gentle and kind. All the heads bowed down. The man’s voice talked to God for a long time …

Laura thought he never would stop talking …5

I feel like to an outsider who didn’t grow up in the church, “the man’s voice talked to God for a long time” might not recognize the much-needed respite this service provided the family. However, like my own experience in a country church, this turns around. After the service, Laura meets the Pastor and quickly warms up to him as a wise elder, like we see in other speculative works.

Conclusion

Little House on the Prairie is a work of historical fiction, written from a Judeo-Christian world view. As such, what might seem aspects of everyday life to Christians, the Bible, prayer, and church can become fantastical ancient tomes, incantations of power, and sacred sanctuaries to those outside the faith.

  1. Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House in the Big Woods (Little House on the Prairie Book 1) (pp. 85-86). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
  2. Wilder, Laura Ingalls. On the Banks of Plum Creek (Little House on the Prairie Book 4) (p. 179). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
  3. Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House in the Big Woods (Little House on the Prairie Book 1) (p. 115). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
  4. Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House in the Big Woods (Little House on the Prairie Book 1) (pp. 87-88). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
  5. Wilder, Laura Ingalls. On the Banks of Plum Creek (Little House on the Prairie Book 4) (pp. 182). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Let’s Talk About Race and Racism. Part 1: The Bible

Racism in all forms, including in speculative fiction, will be the topic of this series. But let’s start with what the Bible says.
on Aug 20, 2020 · 19 comments

Some people are going to see the title of this post and wonder what this topic has to do with speculative fiction. Trust me, it does relate to a discussion of Lewis and Tolkein and other speculative fiction, which I will get to eventually, God enabling. But since this site is devoted to a Christian worldview in relation to speculative fiction, perhaps it’s best to start with our primary source of guidance (and inspiration) on all things related to the Christian faith–the Bible. What does the Bible actually say about race and racism?

Not all that much, actually. There is no specific mention of “race” as we know it in the Bible. There’s no specific command not to be a racist–though the Bible does say to “love your neighbor as yourself,” commands not to oppress foreigners (Exodus 22:21 and elsewhere), and says in Christ ethnic divisions are broken down (Colossians 3:11).

There’s no specific Bible command addressing smoking cigarettes, either. Though of course certain Bible principles address how to treat your own body and also the topic of coming under addiction, which cover smoking well enough. But smoking is not specifically addressed for historic reasons–because people in Bible times and places didn’t smoke. They had no access to tobacco or experience with other things a person might light on fire and deliberately smoke. (Well, they did have incense, but it’s not the same.)

I’m going to say that the reason racism isn’t called out by name in the Bible is the same reason smoking isn’t called out–because it used to be that racism as we know it didn’t exist. Showing how and when racism got to be a “thing” will be a topic for future posts.

Racism Isn’t the Same as Ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism is the belief that a group or tribe or nation I belong to is better than those around me. It’s different from racism because it has no necessary connection to any physical trait of the various groups. Xhosa may in fact look somewhat different from Zulu on average–Chinese may look a bit different from Mongolians–French and German may differ a bit on average–Apache and Comanche don’t all have the exact same physical features–but all examples I just gave are peoples from the same race, according to racial theory. Who also have hated each other’s guts at times and have been at war with one another.

So what exactly is racism? I don’t want to fully explain yet, though I’ll get there. But to offer an overview: Racism first requires the idea that there are broad categories of human beings that apply to the whole world and certain traits mark those humans. And second, racism puts the “races” in an priority order of the most to least desirable. In the classic racism of the 19th Century, black Africans were put at the bottom of that order, with white Europeans at the top (and everyone else somewhere in between).

Ancient people did not think like that. They had two categories: 1. My group. 2. Not my group.

Is the Jew / Gentile Division Racist?

A modern person could import modern ideas about race into the Bible and see the strong cultural division between Jews and Gentiles as racist. But actually it isn’t. It’s ethnocentric at most, which isn’t the same.

I said “ethnocentric at most” because a believer in the Bible is forced to recognize that Judaism makes a different claim than most ethic groups. Um, yes, the Almighty really did talk to our ancestors, no kidding. We really are different from all other groups for that reason.

Note I’m not claiming all modern Jewish people think that way–in fact I would say most Jewish people don’t think that way. But some do. And certainly in ancient times Jewish people and the Israelites before them thought that way. And the Bible is written in such a way to support that–God did in fact choose a certain people. Even though the message He gave through them He also intended for the entire world. And it’s been Christianity’s major contribution to history to bring that message to the all the peoples of Planet Earth.

Saying the Bible teaching Judaism really is different from the rest of the beliefs of the world reminds me of Joseph innocently telling his brothers about the dream he had of them bowing down to him. Yes, he was simply telling the truth about something that happened to him. Nonetheless they reacted negatively to the idea. Likewise with people who see the Jew / Gentile division as racist.

Biblically, that division is legitimate, even though in Christ we are all equals. It definitely isn’t racism…and perhaps isn’t even entirely ethnocentric. It reflects real commands God really gave.

What Does the Bible Say About the Origin of Races?

It says all human beings are decended from the same mother and father. Actually in the Bible the male and female progenitors lived at different times. All humans have the same mother in Eve according to the Bible. But the most recent common male ancestor of us all would be Noah, who lived considerably after Eve.

The spread of nations across the planet is documented in Genesis 10. Well, actually the nations listed there go about as far west as possibly the western Mediterranean, about as far north as Central Asia, about as far south as Ethopia, and about as far east as India. Not the whole world by any means. But we can imagine the groups or tribes listed would produce yet other ethnicities over time, groups that would spread outward from the Middle East to eventually cover the whole world. Races developing via diffusion of an already rich inheritance of genes God put into people or by mutation and/or sexual selaection over all the planet are an natural extension of what the Bible already says.

Jesus loves the children of the world. Without irony, image copyright by Scientific American.

Note on occasion some Bible scholars have claimed Genesis 10 is only talking about people from West Asia, a.k.a. white people. This is plainly not true. This chapter multiple times mentions “Cush” which Biblical people knew as being from a land south of Egypt. That is, people from Cush, Cushites, were black Africans. Note the term does not just embrace the kingdom of Cush, which is roughly where Sudan is today. It goes all the way south and is sometimes is translated as “Ethiopian” in the Old Testament. Israelites certainly knew about Cushites having dark skin, please reference Jeremiah 13:23.

A Few Words on Cushites

Cushites or Ethiopians are mentioned a few times in the Bible. The Ethiopian Phillip evangelized in Acts chapter 8 obviously belonged to the modern racial category of “black.” Ebed-Melek, whose name literally means “servant (or slave) of the king” was said to be a Cushite and provided aid to the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah chapter 38. He probably was mentioned as a Cushite because he probably lived in Cush in his childhood. As opposed to it being a racial designation.

I Samuel 18 mentions the Israelites using a Cushite runner to deliver news of a battle. Note that by saying “Cushite” here, what it means is this person had immigrated from Cush–he was a known foreigner, and isn’t being designated as “Cushite” because of his race. Just like Uriah the Hittite came from a Hittite nation to Israel–Hittites being of the same races as Israelites according to racial theory. (Of course to the ancient Israelite, a Hittite was just as foreign as a Cushite.)

It could be that Cushites were exceptionally good athletes and were routinely used in Ancient Israel as message runners. But the Bible doesn’t actually say that. We have hardly any examples to work off of.

Moses was criticized by Aaron and Miriam for marrying a Cushite woman in Numbers 12 (what happened to Moses’s first wife, Zipporah, the Bible doesn’t say). Reading with modern eyes, that may seem racist of them. But the chapter shows them doing what appears to be a power grab that didn’t really relate all that much to Moses’s marriage. And besides, ethnocentrism accounts for the matter well enough. That is, we have every reason to believe Aaron and Miriam would object to the marriage because the woman was not an Israelite–not because she was black. (Note also though that God was on Moses’s side–not the side of Aaron and Miriam.)

A few times the Bible mentions Cushite warriors attacking Israel (after they’d conquered Egypt according to history, II Chron 12, 14). On several important occasions we know from history that Ancient Israel made an alliance with Egypt during a time when the dynasty of Egypt was a Cushite dynasty–a dynasty of Egypt after Egypt had been conquered by Cush. The Bible mentions the alliance with Egypt part a bit indirectly (2 Kings 18:21) but doesn’t mention that particular pharaoh was of Cushite descent. And why would the Bible mention it? As far as the Israelites were concerned, the fact the pharaoh identified with Egypt mattered more than his race.

What About the Curse on Ham?

People familiar with the history of racism in the United States will know in the antebellum South it was common to employ racism to justify slavery. Black people were supposedly destined to be slaves because of the three sons of Noah, one was regarded as being the ancestor of black Africans and was under a curse of God. Therefore this curse justified slavery.

But um…is there actually a Bible curse on Ham? Er, no.

The Bible records a curse on Canaan (Genesis 9:25), one of Ham’s sons. Not a curse on Ham.

The Canaanite creator deity, Megiddo, Stratum VII, Late Bronze II, 1400-1200 BC, showing what Canaanites looked like – Oriental Institute Museum.

And by the way, are all the descendants of Ham black? Er…no, the Bible portrays Ham as the ancestor of both white and black Africans –well, really more like light brown and dark brown–and also as the ancestor people not even in Africa, such as Nimrod.

Cush is the one unmistakable reference to black people in the Bible–and Cush is portrayed as one of Ham’s sons. A brother of Canaan–and the curse was on Canaan and not on Cush. There is zero Biblical support for a curse on Africans based on anything Noah or anyone else said. (What were the old-style Southern racists thinking? I will offer an explanation later–but really, their reasoning makes no sense.)

By the way, based on their artwork, if you saw a Canaanite walking around in modern times, you’d probably think he or she fell under the modern racial category of “white.” Albeit a relatively dark-skinned white person.

How Does the Bible Handle Racism?

One of the most powerful things Jesus taught is found in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. A story which illustrates that loving your neighbor crosses ethnic and religious barriers. Racial barriers as we know them today didn’t actually exist in Jesus time (as I will show in later posts). But the same principle applies–loving your neighbor should cross all pre-conceived lines. Racism should not exist for Christians. Yes, of course it does, but it shouldn’t.

A type of what we might consider ethnocentrism is supported in the Bible though. That is, we are to see the world in terms of believers and unbelievers, as is mentioned numerous times in the New Testament (e.g. I Cor 5:11-12). Yes, we are to love those outside the community of faith–but we are also to have and maintain a community of faith. But the community of faith should have no ethnic divisions within it (again, Col 3:11). Yes, ethnic groups will exist, but that is no reason to be separated from one another in Christ.

Conclusion

This is just the start of a series that I hope will be helpful in laying out a Christian way to look at issues of racism, systemic racism, racism in fiction, representation of races in fiction, and how we Christians should react to that. For those of us who see the Bible as our guideline for life, it’s important to note where it guides us. What it has to say.

So what are your thoughts on this post and this topic? Please make them known in the comments below.

 

Does the World Really Need Another Amish Vampires in Space? ¡Parece que sí!

Amish Vampires in Space in Spanish? Sounds crazy and maybe it is–but just as Kerry had reasons for writing this novel, I’ve got reasons for getting it translated into Spanish…
on Aug 13, 2020 · 28 comments

So now you know what the title of this post refers to from the clip above, if you didn’t already. That is, Fallon’s flip reference to whether we need another Amish Vampires in Space book (“parece que sí” means “it seems ‘yes'”).

Apparently Kerry Nietz and I really did think the world needed another one, because as we speak I’m completing the bits and bobs necessary to publishing Vampiros Amish en el Espacio–Amish Vampires in Space translated into Spanish.

Why en español? 

One of Kerry’s admiring fans suggested to him he should have a version of AViS in Spanish and Kerry in turn asked me about it, since he knows this is an interest of mine, if I might be interested in leveraging the resources I have to make a translation (those resources being my lovely wife, Tabatha Teresa Catalan de Perry and her sister, Tamara Tennille Catalan)(Tamara does a YouTube reaction video series to science fiction, in English, at the Sci Fi Dog Lady).

Why not? I thought. I’d be happy to make this into a Bear Publications book!

I’ve been thinking for a while there might be an intersection of realities that might make fiction with Christian themes in the speculative genre more popular in Spanish than in English: 1. Science fiction movies and books related to those movies are popular and have been for a while, perhaps creating an opening for other kinds of speculative fiction. 2. Translation of works in this genre from English are common–so a translation will have instant credibility, or at least I think so. 3. The Evangelical minority in Spanish-speaking (and Portuguese-speaking) countries have a different profile than those in the USA–less conservative overall, perhaps more open to reading something unexpected. 4. Most importantly, while Christian fiction and science fiction (and other speculative fiction) have separate well-established audiences, so crossing from the one to the other is hard, in Spanish-language books, this isn’t true. Neither Christian fiction nor science fiction have well-defined audiences in Spanish.

Is this really an advantage?

Wait a minute! Did I just say that not having an already-defined audience is an advantage?

Yeah, honestly I don’t actually know that. I’m speculating–guessing that one of the reason speculative fiction with Christian themes, in this case, science fiction, struggles to gain traction is because there are distinct sections and categories in bookstores in which Christian fiction is in one place and sci fi is in another. More importantly that what’s in bookstores, these separate categories exist in the minds of readers.

La portada–er, the cover–of AViS in Spanish

But in Spanish, neither sci fi nor Christian fiction as we know it in the USA are common. In Spanish, literary fiction rules the fiction market–though other genres obviously also exist (and romance is of course popular). Amish fiction isn’t a thing at all in Spanish–so the joke that propelled AViS (as Kerry explained in a past Speculative Faith article) doesn’t even work en español. Perhaps that will be bad–perhaps this book won’t even catch anyone’s attention in Spanish. But the juxtaposition of genres won’t cause cognitive dissonance, either, which perhaps will be good. We shall see.

As a marketing plan I want to make full use of the Fallon clip. American television is well-known among Spanish-speakers, of course often subtitled or dubbed, but Jimmy Fallon is a household name in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. The big book release with Spanish-language ads I’m planning for 1 October of this year. Will it work? I don’t know. It could. And I pray that it does.

But in the meantime, there’s going to be a more subdued English-language release of this Spanish-language book. So you can let your friends who speak Spanish know that this thing actually exists. Or if you read Spanish, you might want a copy for yourself.

Not ready for pre-order right now. Yeah, I’m getting down to the wire here, but it should be ready the 15th, God enabling. When the link is good I’ll post it here as a comment.

What do you think?

So what are your thoughts on Amish Vampires in Space / Vampiros Amish en el Espacio ? Would you buy copy? Do you know someone who would? Am I even crazier in translating than Kerry was for writing this in the first place 🙂 ?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

A Critic’s Phrase

A word kept recurring in the discussion: nostalgic.
on Aug 12, 2020 · 4 comments

I didn’t pay much attention when Rise of Skywalker was released. I had already decided, skipping the trouble and expense of actually seeing it, that the movie was better than The Last Jedi but not exactly good. There was, of course, too much talk about the movie to entirely miss it. A word kept recurring in the discussion: nostalgic. It rang critically, and even people who had liked the movie sometimes used the word with an air of apology: It was nostalgic, but … Implicitly and explicitly, the nostalgia of Rise of Skywalker was put in contrast with the subversion of The Last Jedi. The movie wasn’t new, wasn’t different, didn’t try to be revolutionary. It tried to be like the original Star Wars movies – you know, the ones people actually liked.

It was at this time that I realized that I took nostalgic in the opposite sense that the critics meant it. I understood that I was meant to take it as a bad thing. I thought instead that it was, or in any case might be, a good thing. I’ve reflected since that there are other popular critics’ phrases to which I gave a different connotation, and sometimes a different meaning, than they do.

One of these is gritty realism. Somehow this phrase evokes a mental image of dirty concrete, which is not attractive but neither really relevant. As far as I can tell, gritty realism means something along the lines of “entertainment that you probably could not comfortably watch with your grandparents”. It is, perhaps, gritty in a moral sense. But as always in entertainment, the realism is optional and, even when existing, qualified. Much of the violence so lucidly presented by Hollywood is not, thank God, realistic. Gritty realism is generally used positively. But I don’t believe the assertion of realism, and the grit is not in itself impressive.

Feel-good is another well-worn shorthand. Often the term itself is criticism. Even when not exactly derogatory, it is usually condescending. A feel-good movie is well enough in its place, the attitude goes, but it’s not a very high place. Feel-good entertainment is not serious, not deep, not art. I am wholly in favor of that stern, clear-sighted moral point that many things that feel good are, in fact, bad. Yet I can’t agree with the negativity associated with the feel-good label. I don’t see why art that makes people feel good should be any lower than art that makes people feel bad. And do you know, I sometimes watch movies with the deliberate object of being made to feel better, and I do not dismiss entertainment because it is “feel-good”.

Here’s another one whose promise never moves me: action-packed. This has been used as a recommendation something like a million times. And I believe it. I also believe that being action-packed is the leading flaw of many action movies. I am not going to fault action movies for having action, but I think they could leave more time for the characters to do other things, like think. In some movies there is barely enough plot to string the chase sequences and fight scenes together. Action-packed? Yes. Always, these days. But is there anything more?

Love Transforms the Beloved in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Stories

This fairy tale famously shows true beauty conquering a beastly form, but the original story worked a little differently.
on Aug 11, 2020 · 8 comments

“Beauty and the Beast” is my favorite fairy tale. I’ve loved it since I was young and watched the Disney animated film (one of my earliest memories). The concept of transforming love—love that sees deeper than surface ugliness, that changes its once-unlovable object into something worth loving—was powerful. My appreciation for that kind of love has only grown. It is a type or mirror of God’s love for us. We who were once the most wretched of sinners, beyond any reason of love, have been transformed by the blood of Christ into God’s beloved children.

Our notion of the fairy tale has been diluted over the years, thanks in large part to the Disney film and other abridgments. (In fact, when we studied the tale in my college folklore course, we read Beaumont’s abridgment instead of Villeneuve’s original.) It has become a story about the beastly prince who is made princely by Beauty’s love.

But the original worked a little differently.

In Villeneuve’s story, the Beast’s crime was not refusing an old woman at the door but refusing his wicked fairy godmother’s amorous advances. Yes, he told her (truthfully) that she wasn’t beautiful, but he also rejected her proposal of marriage. For that, she cursed him to be monstrously ugly, a curse that would only lift when he could win the love of a woman without relying on his title or riches.

Enter another fairy godmother, who gives the Beast a plan to save the day. This particular fairy actually pulls quite a few strings in the background of the story. (All of this is revealed after the curse is lifted. Villeneuve goes on for another tale’s length after the transformation, detailing all the background of the Beast and Beauty, who it turns out is the daughter of yet another fairy godmother.)

But the Beast is not the one who changes (aside from his appearance and perhaps a lesson in tactfulness). It is Beauty who is forced to confront her own shallow perceptions, recognizing the prince beneath the beastly exterior.

Some modern versions of the tale (Shrek, Robin McKinley’s Rose Daughter, Mercedes Lackey’s The Fire Rose, the two urban fantasy Beauty and the Beast TV series) have eschewed the final physical transformation of the Beast, focusing on the interior aspects of the tale (and at least one version by Angela Carter actually flips this moment to make Beauty physically like her Beast, much like Shrek). This is due in large part to the modern emphasis on physical beauty being fleeting and deceptive 1, but it also presents some interesting questions: would we love the story as much if the prince didn’t return to his handsome appearance at the end? What do we lose (and gain) by changing the symbolism of transformative love?

The first time I was confronted by the idea of love going deeper than appearances, even in the face of a transformation being denied, was in the Disney Aladdin TV series. In an episode titled “Eye of the Beholder,” one of Aladdin’s enemies tricks Princess Jasmine into using a cursed lotion that transforms her into a hideous snake creature. 2 The only cure is fruit from a tree hidden far away in a protected valley. Aladdin, Jasmine, and their friends embark to find the tree. Along the way, Jasmine’s snake form shows its uses; she frightens off attackers, and at one point she even saves Aladdin from a deadly fall, although her tail’s venomous spikes end up wounding Aladdin in the process.

When they finally arrive at the valley, they find that their enemy has already killed the tree that would have cured Jasmine. Faced with a lifetime without Jasmine, Aladdin chooses the one thing his enemy failed to foresee: he uses the same cursed lotion to transform himself into a snake creature. Even if they have to live away from the rest of the world, they can be together. The enemy’s plans are frustrated, and another enchanter takes pity on the lovers and heals the tree. Aladdin and Jasmine eat its fruit and are restored.

Even though this story seems on the surface to work against the symbolism of transforming, redeeming love, it actually paints a compelling picture of another aspect of Christlike love: self-sacrifice. Aladdin chooses to become as his beloved is, willing to give up everything else in his world to be with her. It is not unlike Christ’s parable of the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine sheep to find the one that was lost.

No matter the form it takes or the new twists a retelling spins, “Beauty and the Beast” remains at its core a tale of love that redeems its object and brings two people together who might otherwise have been separated by their own sins and the sins of others.

Elijah David’s own “Beauty and the Beast” story, Paper and Thorns, is available now at Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, and at other book retailers.

  1. Or at least, that physical beauty should be shown in its variety rather than the unachievable perfection Hollywood tends to idolize.
  2. See one fan site’s episode transcript here.

Don’t Forget The Reviews

Good books generally have a LOT of reviews, and the best books have a lot of positive reviews and a high rating.
on Aug 10, 2020 · 9 comments

I know some people don’t care for Amazon for various reasons. There are valid points to be made about the effect on brick-and-mortar stores when a reader buys books online from any outlet. Amazon gets the attention because they are so big! But putting those aspects of buying books through the internet, the thing I like the most is the opportunity to look at reviews.

Good books generally have a LOT of reviews, and the best books have a lot of positive reviews and a high rating.

But the truth is, self-published books, books from a small, independent press, or even most books from a traditional Christian publisher aren’t probably getting rated by a thousand plus number of people. They aren’t getting more than a handful of reviews.

I’ll admit—I’m a little suspicious when a book only has a couple reviews and/or 5-star ratings. Who is making the glowing statements about the book—relatives? writing partners?

I’d like more. In fact, I often prefer to read a 4-star or a 3-star review because I think I learn more about the book when someone explains what they think was missing or could have been better.

But the main thing is, at least there are reviews I can read! Without reviews, what’s a buyer to think? If the author/publisher has done a good job, there is an adequate bit of “back cover copy” that introduces the book, that serves as a story hook. In addition, just like brick-and-mortar stores, buyers can look inside and read a few pages, which is usually the way I buy books: first the back, then the beginning.

If I want to know if the story is the kind that will hold my interest. Then I want to know if the writing will hold my interest. I am not a cover kind of buyer. Great covers can catch my attention, but I’d say the majority of covers are average, at best. And honestly, they don’t always make sense until after I’ve read the book. I’m much more apt to appreciate a cover of a book I’ve enjoyed, than I am to be lured into buying a book because of its cover.

All that aside, the biggest factor for me in buying a book is “buzz.” I’ve heard about this book, a friend has read it and now recommends I read it, or the author sends out info about his or her newest release. With the latter, reviews matter.

For instance, an author I had read before and loved, released a new book that sounded intriguing. Until I checked out the reviews. They were positive and all, but I could tell, this book was a real departure from the one I had loved earlier. I chose not to buy it.

I’ve been burned before—an author who deviates from the types of books I love, has disappointed. Not always. I can think of others who have veered from the type of book I originally loved, and I also loved the new venture.

But that’s where reviews can help.

Just one important thing to remember: readers actually have to take the time to write the review and give a rating.

I’m a writer and I know how important reviews are to the success of books, and I still forget to write them at times. But wow! How great it is when a reader has enough respect for the author and all the people who worked on a book, to give a little feedback.

And “little” is the operative word. I mean, there are bigger, longer reviews. Usually those are at a book review site, however. The ones at a book selling site are usually much shorter. Those are great, I think, because they give a potential buyer either a thumbs up or a thumbs down idea about the book.

Sometimes the reasons a reviewer give for lowering a book’s ratings, actually make me want to buy the book. Other times I think, that issue they mentioned would probably bother me too.

In short, reviews are such an important part of book buying these days, particularly for the books that don’t make the best-seller lists. How else will readers find them unless people start talking about them? And reviews are nothing more than backyard, over the fence talk with a neighbor, saying, “I finished this book the other day and . . .”

One other thing to remember: there are sites like Lorehaven that specialize in reviews, not from the public in general, but ones that have been put out by a staff member or carefully vetted, and consequently reliable.

So there are both types of reviews to consider: ones by everyday, ordinary readers which you can find book-buying sites or at Goodreads, and ones by “professionals” who are reviewing books for a particular reason. In the case of Lorehaven, the “reason” is to let readers know which of the many speculative books written by Christians that are available these days, are ones that the Lorehaven staff can recommend.

I think the sum of both helps someone know if a book they’ve heard about is for them. Hopefully we readers can remember to do our part and help the author and our fellow readers by adding our voice to those already rating and reviewing.

Fiction Friday: Daniel And The Serpent’s Abyss

Daniel and the Sun Sword, Daniel and the Triune Quest, and Daniel and the Serpent’s Abyss are young adult, Christian fantasy novels exploring forgiveness, faith, spiritual warfare, and the reality of divine sonship.
on Aug 7, 2020 · 2 comments
· Series:

Daniel And The Serpent’s Abyss by Nathan Lumbatis

INTRODUCTION—Sons and Daughters Series Synopsis

Fifteen-year-old Daniel never believed he’d have a normal family, much less become a part of God’s. Now, after two quests to find the Weapons of Power, he’s met God face-to-face and fought the Enemy in various guises. There’s little Daniel wouldn’t believe at this point. His next quest will take him to the British Isles, where he and his companions hope to save their friend, Raylin, and find the Abyssal Staff. There’s just one problem: saving her will require a descent into the Abyss itself—the Enemy’s lair. How can they hope for Raylin’s salvation when the Enemy has control of her mind and they are in his home territory? Daniel has no idea, but he trusts his faith in God will not prove vain. Surely, after all the divine intervention during the last two quests, God wouldn’t abandon the companions without help. Right?

Daniel and the Sun Sword, Daniel and the Triune Quest, and Daniel and the Serpent’s Abyss are young adult, Christian fantasy novels exploring forgiveness, faith, spiritual warfare, and the reality of divine sonship. The recent release is the recipient of the Spirit-Filled Fiction Award.

– – – – –

EXCERPT FROM DANIEL AND THE SERPENT’S ABYSS BY NATHAN LUMBATIS

Seren raised her fiberglass bow and pulled the string back to the corner of her mouth. She waited a moment until the wind, hissing through the trees near Granny’s house, died down. “Watch, my young students, and learn from the master.”

She let the string snap forward, sending an arrow in a smooth arc straight toward the bullseye. Five wobbly concentric circles were painted in white on the side of a makeshift target made of old bales of pine straw and boxes piled six feet high.

“That’s how it’s done.” She flipped silky, blond hair over her shoulder and sauntered past Daniel, tossing him the bow as she passed.

“That’s how it’s done,” Daniel muttered, imitating Seren’s voice. “‘Master’ my foot.”

Seren whipped her head around and drew herself up to her full height. At eighteen, she wasn’t quite as tall as Daniel, despite being three years older. Her lithe frame and piercing blue eyes nevertheless spoke of authority and fierce intelligence. “What was that, Daniel?”

“Nothing. Here goes!” Daniel nocked an arrow and pulled the string back. As soon as he felt his hand touch his cheek, he let it snap forward. The arrow sailed through the air and hit just outside the outermost ring. He looked down at the bow. “I think there’s something wrong with this stupid thing.”

“There’s something wrong with the archer,” Seren replied flatly. “You just need to practice more.”

Daniel handed the bow back to her. “Oh sure, I’ll squeeze it in between sword practice, homework, chores, and saving the world. How’s six Tuesdays from never sound?”

Seren ignored him and turned to Ben, who was sitting at the base of a tree reading through something on his phone. “Your turn.”

Ben pushed a curl of black hair out of his eyes and stood. He slid the phone into his back pocket before taking the bow from Seren. “Daniel. Arrow, please.”

Daniel trotted to the target and yanked the arrow out of a pine bale. He hurled it like a spear toward the ground in front of Ben.

Ben jumped back in surprise and immediately transformed into the Triune Shield.
Daniel doubled over in laughter. “Skittish much?” he roared between guffaws.

Ben’s defensive and angry voice shouted from inside the shield where his body was outlined between the three intersecting rings. “You get shot and killed by the Bolt of Pestilence and see how skittish you are. I need my feet, in case you haven’t noticed! Geez. Next time hand it to me like a normal human, you dweeb.”

“Duh. Practice arrows aren’t sharp,” Daniel replied, wiping tears from his eyes.

Ben returned to normal in the next moment and stooped down to grab the arrow. “Oh, okay. I’ll just use you for target practice then. Stand still.”

“Just shoot. I want to see how terrible you are.”

“Bet I can at least hit inside the rings.”

Daniel snorted. “It’s harder than you think. But sure, give it your best shot.”

“Thanks for your confidence.”

“You guys are such children,” Seren said, both hands on her hips. “Can you go five minutes without trying to one-up each other? Just shoot!”

“So pushy.” Ben raised the bow and drew back the string in one smooth motion. Since coming back from his quest to retrieve the Triune Shield, he’d been practicing martial arts with Daniel. The activity had added muscle to his wiry, thirteen-year-old frame, but he was still lanky. He waited a moment while adjusting his aim and let the string snap forward. The arrow sank into a box just outside the bullseye. “Hey, look at that, Daniel!” Ben dropped the bow to the ground and pointed both index fingers at the target. “Look how terrible I was. Oh, wait. That was you. I actually hit the target. Boom.”

“Hey, I hit the target, too,” Daniel retorted.

Seren reached down to pick up the bow and dusted it off with an irritated glance at Ben. “Outside the rings doesn’t count, Daniel. Ben, can I see your phone for a minute?”

“Hear that, Daniel?” Ben cupped a hand around his ear. “Outside the rings–”

“I heard. Shut your trap.”

Ben flashed Daniel a smug grin as he moonwalked toward Seren and handed her his phone. “Here. What do you need it for?”

She promptly dropped it in the dirt and kicked it around a little.

“What–what are you doing?” He dove toward the phone and grabbed it before Seren could kick it again. “What’s your problem?”

“Oh, I thought we were playing the Drop-Other-People’s-Belongings-In-The-Dirt Game. No? My mistake.” She raised the bow and brushed off the dust toward Ben.

Ben growled something under his breath and shuffled back to the base of the tree while Seren resumed target practice with a satisfied grin.

Daniel sauntered toward Ben and heaved a contented sigh. “Ah. What goes around comes around. Right, Ben?”

Ben grunted and focused on his phone.

Daniel lay down and ran hands through bushy, brown hair before resting them behind his head. The air felt cool and crisp, and the woods were beginning to change color. The forest floor behind Granny’s house was carpeted with recently fallen leaves, making a mottled bed for Daniel as he stretched out his long legs and gazed at the sky. Glimpses of vibrant blue peeked through a net of dark gray and brown branches, dotted with the autumn oranges, reds, and yellows of leaves yet to fall. A brisk wind blew through the trees and into the open windows of Granny’s tiny, ivy-covered house. Memories came to life within the shadows of the curtains, and Daniel found himself replaying his, Ben, and Seren’s time in India. The quest had been six months ago, and that meant six months since they had seen Raylin.

– – – – –

AUTHOR BIO—NATHAN LUMBATIS
Nathan grew up in the woods of Alabama, where he spent his time exploring, hiking, and dreaming up stories. Now, as a child/adolescent therapist and author, he’s teaching kids and teens how to redeem their stories using Biblical principles. He still lives in Alabama, where you will find him with his wife and three kids every chance he gets.

You can learn more about Nathan and his books at the following online locations: Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and of course at his website.