Tag Archives: fiction

Taking advantage of my son’s nightmares

For the last two nights, my four-year-old son, Josiah, has woke up crying or otherwise agitated because “there are snakes under my pillow!” Understand that his “room” is actually a 5 x 6 foot area that’s attached to our bedroom. It’s like a large walk-in closet really. My point is that if the snakes where really in his room, they’d have also been in ours.

And that’s a problem. Because I’m terrified of snakes. I’m talking the I’d-trample-an-elderly-person-to-get-away-from-the-slimy-devils kind of fear. When I worked for the city of Florence, Kansas a long time ago, one of my jobs was to be the cemetery caretaker. (The real term was “sexton” but I can’t say that with a straight face. But I digress). Anyway, one time I was weed-eating around some stones and hit a snake. The snake landed on my shoe. To this day I have no idea where the weed-eater landed or how I made it back to town.

Now, back to my upset toddler:  he claimed there were snakes in his room…directly under his pillow. So I asked his mother if she was going to just lay there or go do something about it. Here’s another difference between me and my wife: she’s not a writer…I am. Which means that while she’s going to comfort our snake-threatened youngin’, my writer’s brain was asking, “What if?”

I mean, we were up. I might as well be using the time wisely. I don’t know if it will ever work it’s way into a story, but time will tell. And if there ever are real snakes in our room, I’ll be writing that story from the camper.

I’m just sayin’.

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Filed under Christian Fiction, Christian Life, family, Writing

A Matter Of Interpretation

Some time ago I went to the doctor. With that experience still in my mind, let me offer the following interpretation to a few medical phrases.

  • When the nurse says, “This may sting a little” what she really means is, “This has been outlawed in three other countries.”
  • When the nurse asks, “How would you rate your pain?” what she’s really asking is “On a scale of one to ten, how big of a sissy are you?”
  • When the person weighing you says, ‘Wow!”, what they really mean is “Oh, Wow! Can you say Jenny Craig?”
  • When the nurse says, “I have to shave you in a few places,” what she really means is “The doctor has no idea I’m doing this, but I’m bored and I found a razor.”
  • When the doctor says, “Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle” what he really means is [insert evil scientist laugh here].
  • When the doctor offers to “pull that tape off for you” what she really means is “Have you ever been skinned alive?”
  • And when they say “You’re going to feel a little pressure” what they really mean is “This will hurt until you cry for your mommy.”

I offer this gift of interpretation for the betterment of humanity (plus that, I don’t often get to use the word “betterment”). But seriously…the whole “what did he/she really mean by that?” quandary often causes undue stress in many areas of our lives. We can become suspicious of another’s intent, thereby making us seek for the hidden meaning between the lines.

We can do this as writers too.

In fact, writers are one of the more susceptible groups because we seek critical feedback so often. Not to mention the editorial comments offered without invitation too. If you don’t already have thick skin, you’ll need to acquire it pronto. Otherwise your imagination can run wild, draining you of the creative energy needed to be a good steward of story. If a friend says “not bad” you can get tough enough to ask them to explain, or you can just assume that what they’re really saying is, “I barely know how to read and you didn’t have enough pictures in the book.” And when an agent says, “I don’t think I can sell this,” you can either learn more about the problems that are hindering the future of that project, or you can just decide that what the agent is saying is “I don’t have the skills or contacts necessary to get this obvious bestseller to the right people.” Or when a contest judge gets snarky and misses the brilliance of your entry, you might be tempted to think that what they’re really saying is, “You’ll never amount to anything as a writer. What were you thinking by even entering this contest?”

Friend–and fellow writer–the only way to grow as a writer is to be able to control our tendency to look for hidden messages in every comment we are given. And we have to be able to separate who we are as a person from the particular piece of writing being discussed. Most people–especially other Christians–are not trying to hurt you. They’re just assuming that when you said you wanted honest feedback, you really meant it and were prepared to handle it. They want to see you succeed. (At least I believe this to be true of the members of American Christian Fiction Writers).

As a Christian writer, I want to create the best stories I’m capable of writing. And I want to stay teachable and open, able to listen to the educated opinions of others. I’ll accept some. I’ll give a polite nod to others, but respectfully disagree with them. Because none of us knows everything.

And I’ll keep writing for the Lord. Because when Jesus said, “Be on the alert,” what He meant was, “I’ll be seeing you.”

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Filed under Christian Fiction, Christian Growth, Christian Life, editing, reading, Writing

If the Declaration of Independence were written today

The worldview of the author shapes what he or she writes. So as I look around at the humanistic mindset that fuels our society, I shudder to think of what the Declaration of Independence would look like if written or revised by our pagan leaders of this era. I submit it might begin something like this:

When in the course of human events (although there is nothing superior about the animal known as “human”), it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another (those disbanding should apologize for their intolerance and out-dated morality), and to assume amoung the Powers of the earth (i.e. United Nations), the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature (Evolution and Global Warming) and of Nature’s God entitle them (pick your “god” and your entitlements), a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare (but not in a way that would be offensive) the causes (extremism) which impel them to the separation.

We hold (loosely) these truths (tested in focus groups and subject to change without notice) to be self-evident (unless they are not politically expedient), that all men (animals, plants, glaciers, and ozone layers) are created (empowered by indoctrination) equal (unless they are Christians), that they are endowed by their Creator (Federal Government) with certain unalienable (no offense to illegal aliens) Rights (as shall be determined by the Supreme Court and/or the United Nations General Assembly), that amoung these are Life (once you escape the womb), Liberty (freedom from responsibility or accountability) and the pursuit of Happiness (as defined by your inner desires and not shackled by organized religion).

Yes, what we write is most certainly colored by the lens through which we view the world. As a Christian, I write stories that are informed by my belief in God. I recognize–even if imperfectly–the power of words and their ability reach people emotionally and intellectually. And I believe that God will hold me accountable for what I do with those words.

Writing is not a game or a therapeutic hobby. It is a powerful stewardship.

People who might not spend much–or any–time in a Bible, might read one of my books. I must shape more stories so that light shines out and helps them see a path to truth…to redemption…to God.

What stories to you think our society needs hear today?

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Skeptics

One time an evangelist was preaching to a crowd of people. A man in the crowd kept heckling him, but the preacher kept preaching, trying not to pay attention to the man. But when the man yelled, “if you’re so smart…tell me, where did Cain get his wife?”

The preacher looked directly at the man. “I can’t tell you where Cain got his wife, but when I get to heaven I’ll ask him.”

The man smirked. “What if he’s not in heaven?”

“Then you ask him,” the preacher said.

When it comes to the writing journey, you will find that skeptics line the road. They question your reason for writing, sometimes firing questions at you that are hard to answer. Or they try hard to plant seeds of doubt which will undermine your self-confidence or sense of calling. These voices from without are draining.

But they’re not the worst. The worst skeptic lives inside each writer.

I’m convinced that times of self-doubt are part of the journey. And since not everything we write drips with brilliance, we focus on those less-than-readable pages as proof positive that we don’t have what it takes to be a writer. Or we allow room for the monster called “Maybe” to live in our minds. This monster growls out questions like, “Maybe you heard God wrong…Maybe He didn’t call you to be a writer…Maybe that contest judge who hated your story was the only one telling the truth…Maybe you should consider giving up.”

What do you do when the skeptic within taunts you? How do you silence it?

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Real, not Raw

There are discussions among Christian writers as to whether or not certain types of language belong in Christian fiction. The debate seems to circle around the question, “how far is too far?”

I happen to believe that there’s nothing wrong with vigorous debate, until that debate becomes disrespectful. The problem is we’ve raised a few generations of people who don’t know how to discuss issues without taking things personally. Such a beginning point makes “agreeing to disagree” a noble yet nearly impossible goal.

Another part of this equation–for me–is that I don’t know if there is a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of using strong language in our Christian fiction. The reason is I can’t find the definitive list on what is and isn’t considered improper. Oh sure, I know there are the “really bad” words like **** and ****** and even **********. But what about *****? In some parts of the country people consider that a compliment. But what about the terms that are only kind of offensive, like ******, *******, and ****.

In all seriousness, there are Christian people on both sides of the language debate. Each is just as committed to good fiction as the other. Each seeks to produce powerful stories that will honor the light of the truth without ignoring the reality of the darkness into which that light shines. Some want to write characters–especially non-christian characters–who represent accurately the fallen humanity that lives around us. Others believe that capturing the ungodliness of the carnal world can be done without resorting to their vocabulary.

Personally, I am not comfortable in using “curse words” or four-letter words in my fiction. My reason is simple: I just don’t need to use those words. I believe that I can be creative enough to find other words that will show the same emotion without planting unhealthy seeds in a readers spirit. Do they encounter–perhaps even use–such “bad/unchristian” terms in their daily lives? Perhaps. That’s something I can’t control. But I can control whether they’ll encounter them in my books.

Which is more likely to happen: readers will stop reading my books if I DO use “bad” words or readers will stop reading them if I DON’T? Does slipping these words into my fiction repel of draw a reader?

Friends, in the spirit of Christian unity, let us be very careful about how we treat one another while carrying on this uncomfortable discussion. And when it comes to how we talk about one another, and our choice of vocabulary words to place in our books, perhaps Ephesians 4:29 can guide us:

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

 

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What is “Success”?

As I sit here in a hotel room and type this post, there’s a realization tugging at me: I need to be clear on how I define “success”. To apply this to the writer’s conference that I’m currently attending (the American Christian Fiction Writers conference), I’m praying that I stay focused on how blessed I am to be here.

I do have several concrete goals I’d love to achieve while here, but sometimes writers can be “all or nothing” people. We come to conference with a list of goals/dreams, and the temptation is to walk away feeling discouraged because we weren’t able to check them all of our list. The tragedy in that mentality is that we’ve set ourselves up for failure since achieving all of our goals with crisp perfection is impossible. So when (not “if”) the first disappointment comes, the rest of the conference is endured and not enjoyed.

The other mistake is to have a prioritized list of goals, where the goals lower down the list are dependent on the ones at the top of the list. When this happens, we are unable or unwilling to fully embrace the lower goals with a mindset of gratitude. We don’t thank God for them because they’re not “the real” big goals–the ones that really count.

I think Christian writers have the ability–because of the Spirit that’s within us–to be able to see the whole picture. It’s simply a matter of whether or not we use that ability. Such an attitude of gratitude won’t happen accidentally. It must be intentionally nurtured every day.

The fact is:  just being here at the conference is an achievement for which to be thankful. Here are some other signs that the conference is a success:

  • You’re able to reconnect with old friends
  • New friends become a part of your life
  • You realize that we have great food and plenty of it (much of the world would love to trade places with us).
  • You were used by God to encourage another person
  • You listened when God said “no”, even though it wasn’t on your list
  • You learned something that will make you a better person, and a better writer
  • You met writers you admire

These are just a few. Notice that “getting a contract” or “getting an agent” isn’t in the above list. Do I want those things? ABSOLUTELY! But even if they don’t happen while I’m here, this conference has already been a success.

How do you define success as a writer? As a person?

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What goes in matters

My wife just looked at me, laughter escaping around the hand she’d pressed over her mouth. Seconds before, she’d confessed to me that the brownie I’d just nibbled on had a secret ingredient in it:  black beans! I’m not kidding.

Black beans all smushed up and put into brownie mix. That’s just wrong. Some unstable person had put a recipe in a cookbook and claimed that it was a healthier way to make brownies. Why do I think that person tries to convince her family that the tofu she’s shaped into a ham for Christmas is “really good for you.” She needs help. Who thinks of stuff like that? And why?

The ingredients in a recipe may allow for some fudging (pun intended), but the heart of Christian Fiction doesn’t.

Content matters. You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can by what’s between the covers. And there’s no substitute for a writer’s heart and soul, especially if that heart and soul are in close fellowship with God. Christian writers are Christians first, writers second. And we must zealously guard that order of priorities so it doesn’t get flip-flopped.

As writers, we are responsible for what we are “feeding” to our readers. True, they may not be able to tell if my heart is right with God when I’m writing a story, but I know. And so does God. And that matters.

Before we claim to write words for God, we need to be sure we are reading the Word of God. The Way, the Truth, and the Life are things we ought to be intimately connected to, so we can share it with others.

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To Suffer With Them

Soon I’ll be finishing my second novel–tentatively entitled INFIDEL–and it is impossible to tell you how emotional of a journey this has been. It started with an idea, based on a passion that God has placed in my heart.

It all began with the true newspaper story that I read about a woman named Asia Bibi in Pakistan. You can learn more about her by going to The Voice Of The Martyrs website. (That ministry has recently gone through a difficult time, but hopefully will find peace and healing under new leadership). She was arrested, then sentenced to death under Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law 295 a/b/c. As far as I know this mother and wife is still in prison.

What did she do? She spoke out about her Christian faith. What you and I–as Christian writers–so easily take for granted, comes at a high price for fellow Christians around the globe. They are threatened, persecuted, and often killed for following Jesus Christ.

They count the cost of discipleship that few of us in America would be willing to pay.

It’s time for us to wake up to the suffering of persecuted believers around the world.

Hebrews 13:3 says, “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.”

Will you join me in praying for our brothers and sisters around the world who suffer unthinkable types of persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ?

I’m working hard to tell their story. I hope you will be able to read it someday.

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Sometimes It’s Good To Ask “Why?”

     “Dear God, help me remember WHY I am, for I”M FORGIVEN.”

     Read the above request again.

     You see, I’m not just a  writer who happens to write fiction. Most importantly–and this is a crucial distinction–I’m a Christian writer who happens to write fiction. And I happen to write stories that highlight truths about the God Who has redeemed me.

     Colossians 1:13-14 says, “For He delivered us from darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

     As Christian writers, we bask in the unfading glow of forgiveness. Hope trickles down through our stories to our readers. Some writers will deliver this message in very explicit ways; others will do it with subtle scenes and plots and themes. Jesus, Himself, used both methods in His story-telling. But behind either style of delivery is the desire to connect hearers to the source of hope and forgiveness.

     I write Christian fiction because I want to shine a spotlight of attention on the One who saved me from the eternal consequences of my sins. I don’t ever want to take that for granted. Do you?

     Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

     that saved a wretch like me!

     I once was lost but now am found,

     was blind but now I see.

     Our writing is the result of forgiveness, not the source. Our writing expresses our salvation, it doesn’t secure it. WE ARE WRITERS BECAUSE WE ARE FORGIVEN AND HAVE BEEN ENTRUSTED WITH A LIFE-CHANGING MESSAGE OF SALVATION. Isn’t that worth remembering?

     What does it mean to you to know that you are forgiven by God? Your answer to that question may just get at one of the motivations for why you write what you write.

     I hope this “Writer’s Prayer” has encouraged you. May it always help you keep or rekindle anew a fresh focus on WHO, WHAT, WHERE, and WHY.

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