The Fast Company is perfecting its humanoid, soldier robot. Here’s a short video showing the latest. Could this be the progenitor of some future Terminator?
I have a feeling this is going to end up in Sky somehow…
The Fast Company is perfecting its humanoid, soldier robot. Here’s a short video showing the latest. Could this be the progenitor of some future Terminator?
I have a feeling this is going to end up in Sky somehow…
I’ve mentioned previously that I’ve been going through some of my old files, and coming across things I wrote almost ten years ago. One such writing was the story of how The Light of Eidon sold. In light of the special e-book offer Bethany House has this month on that book, as well as the recent re-package, re-release of my first novel Arena, I thought now might be an appropriate time to revisit those golden days when I was a newly published novelist.
This was back in 2002 when Arena was published, 26 years or so after I started writing what would eventually become The Light of Eidon, a fantasy which I had been told would never sell. In fact I had just begun working on a “bridge book,” something partway between Arena and Eidon, in hopes it might sell and win readers and maybe publishers would decide to take a chance with my fantasy series. Ironically, that book was The Other Side of the Sky, which I am currently working on for Bethany House now. God’s timing is so not our timing!
Anyway, here’s the story, excerpted and edited from our Christmas letter of that year…
So here we are again, looking back over the last year to see what we have to tell about. It’s been a big one, as the seasons of our lives have changed again.
As most of you know, the big thing for me was the release of my first novel Arena in May. It has been an adventure, and not at all what I expected.
My first reaction upon receiving a fan letter was something closer to outrage than joy. “What? Why is this person I don’t even know talking about MY characters? They’re mine. Strangers can’t have them!
“And what is this book-like thing with the multiple arches on the front and the title Arena? That’s not MY book. My book is a stack of manuscript pages.”
Autographing books also felt all wrong at first, like something other people were supposed to do, not me.
Yes, I have adjusted and the Lord has blessed Arena’s release in marvelous ways: a good review and profile in Publisher’s Weekly (rare for Christian novels, rarer still for Christian first novels and unheard of for Christian first, science fiction novels), a contract with both the Crossings and Literary Guild book clubs, a contract with one of the largest Christian publishers in the Netherlands and a continuous stream of encouraging fan letters. After all these years the writing is finally being validated in a very satisfying way.
However, none of that compares to the biggest blessing of all.
Last year at this time I knew Arena was coming out, but had no idea what I was going to do next. I’d been told over and over that fantasy doesn’t sell, no one wants fantasy, fantasy is a bad word in the Christian market. I’d even taken to calling my next book “speculative historical fiction,” to avoid using the word.
I went to a writer’s conference this past spring and learned lots of good stuff about marketing which I was not at all eager to do. Still, I figured if I worked really hard at it, and Arena did well enough, maybe Bethany House will consider taking on my fantasy.
Ha! The Lord certainly showed me how important my efforts are (not very) and that when He is going to do a thing, He does it.
Arena had not even been officially released when my editor called. The reviews and feedback coming in on it were so good, he said, the marketing people wanted something else from me as soon as possible.
“So,” he added, “what do you have?”
An editor actually called me up and asked what I had lying around the house! This, they tell you in all the writing books, NEVER happens!
So I told him I had The Light of Eidon.
He said, “Go on,”
I told him it was finished. “Go on.”
I told him it was part of a four-part series, of which the second book was also finished in rough draft…
Bottom line: within two weeks Bethany House had signed me to a four-book contract for the fantasy series. We’re calling it Legends of the Guardian King, with The Light of Eidon, Book One, due to release next summer.
Talk about a miracle! Now I am not only a “published author” but I also get to have the experience of writing with a deadline as I work to complete the first submission draft of Book Two, The Shadow Within, by next summer.
That is the title of my guest post over at Speculative Faith’s Blog which should be up sometime Friday morning July 6. I want to thank you all, my readers, who replied to my request last week for ideas for this post. You can see from the title which of them was most popular.
This post turned out to be a lot harder to write than I expected. I thought I’d just knock it out, but it took me the entire week.
The question I posed myself was : “Should we as Christian novelists include portrayals of sexual sins, violence or other “dark” events in our fiction, or would that be an automatic violation of Christian standards?”
Then I did a nonstop on the subject. That turned out to be more or less a rant, but it had a lot of energy, as rants often do, so every time I re-read it, it just carried me along and no alternative routes opened up before me. Finally, in desperation, I sent it to a friend for help, and afterward sat down and began to just list my thoughts on the matter as they came, without letting the emotion carry me off.
Turns out I have a lot to say on this subject. More than could be confined in a single blog post, so I had to work on paring it down and getting it focused. It was an experience kinda like trying to fill a plastic trash bag with styrofoam peanuts. Every handful you put in, stirs up the peanuts already in the bag. They go flying out, stick to your hand, the inside of the bag, the outside of the bag… Yeah. Very much like that if you substitute “thoughts” for peanuts.
A lot of prayers went up, and at times I had to vigorously trust that in the end God would make it come clear. Between His help and that of my friend, I believe it did.
Anyway, as I said, it goes up Friday morning, July 6, and I invite you to head on over to Speculative Faith to see for yourself if I succeeded. Feel free to comment there or here, if you are so moved. I’ll try to monitor both places.
Here’s how the post starts:
Ten years ago this summer Bethany House Publishers released my first novel Arena into a literary world of petticoats, bonnets and buggies. This explains its original pink and purple cover, an attempt perhaps to mitigate the fact that it was a significant departure from the usual run of Christian fiction. While Arena does include an element of romance, at heart it is an allegorical adventure with sometimes dark and violent scenes.
I’ve received a full spectrum of responses to it, from “Fabulous!”…. Read the rest here
A couple of weeks ago I was asked to do a guest post for the Christian SF/F blog Speculative Faith and given a range of openings throughout the summer from which to pick. Since Arena in its repackaged version is due to release the first of July, I thought a guest post on something relating to that might be a good idea and picked July 6 for my publish date.
I’ve been brainstorming and thinking about the Spec Faith post for a week or two, but so far haven’t come up with anything that keeps going past a paragraph or two. So I decided to see if you all, my readers, might have some suggestions of things you might be interested in seeing a post about. If so, please let me know, in the comments or by email.
So far I’ve thought of:
telling the story of how Arena/Light of Eidon were published;
talking about how things have changed in the publishing field since those times;
discussing the idea that sex, violence, and dark events are not appropriate subject matter for Christian reading and should not appear in books;
grappling with the still prevalent idea that fantasy is only for kids, and why that isn’t necessarily so;
examining some of the specific elements of the allegory in Arena;
pr relating some of the responses I’ve gotten to Arena, both good, bad and wacky…
If any of those ideas seem particularly appealing, or you’re curious about a particular aspect of them I didn’t mention, or one of them triggered an entirely different idea or…
Please! Feel free to fire away.
Just thought I’d do a bit of an informal poll today — what do you all think of the new cover?
Looking at them side by side, I can see that the original cover was aimed much more at women — with the pink and light blue and purple (on the back). And the woman walking in the middle, of course!
On the other hand, it says “adventure” to me very clearly. I especially like the multiple arches, though when I first saw it, I was somewhat alarmed. I hadn’t written the original description of the scene with multiple arches, seeing as passing through it was to represent the one-time decision of believing in Christ.
But then my editor (who is now my agent) told me about his discussions with the art director and how the multiple arch design worked much better artistically than the single arch and did I think I could rewrite the scene to include it?
Well that threw me a bit, but I went to the Lord, asked for guidance and He provided it through a friend who pointed out that the verb tense for believing is the one where you make the decision once but the results go on forever.
Loved that. So I rewrote the scene, and the arches stayed.
The new cover is more mysterious and science fiction-y and definitely has a more masculine feel than the first. Which I think might have been the intention. Ten years ago, the primary buyers and readers of Christian fiction were women. And although typically it’s the men who go for science fiction, it made no sense in the marketers’ opinion to try to appeal to them even if Arena was science fiction. And so they did not. It’s one of the reasons why Christian science fiction and fantasy has had such a difficult time getting going in this field.
With their reprints, Bethany House is trying for a simpler, more … generic? … look than the first releases and I think this one’s quite intriguing.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, whatever they might be.
Well, back at the end of April I sure didn’t expect that I wouldn’t be posting for two weeks, but that’s what’s happened. In fact, I was all ready to continue on with more thoughts from Koontz’s book, and had even written a rough draft of a post, but somehow, when I went back to it again, it all fell apart. Suddenly it was no longer saying what I wanted, but wandering off on tangents that weren’t really illustrative of what I was trying to say… In fact, I’m not sure I knew what I was trying to say. All I know is I ended up cutting out three quarters of the words in the post, and found myself with pretty much nothing left.
Maybe that was appropriate and maybe not. My brain felt like mush and I knew I was tired. I’d seen the doctor that same Monday and he confirmed about the tiredness, even thought I was still trying to do more than I should and that it would be at least two more weeks and maybe four before I felt 100% again.
So for the last two weeks, in addition to letting myself do whatever (which included obsessively making cards), I’ve been paying more attention to what made me tired and when. Im also getting better at actually recognizing the tiredness, instead of misidentifying it as laziness, lack of self-discipline, feeling depressed or hopeless, feeling guilty and bad cause I wasn’t getting things done…. Some days I didn’t want to get out of bed at my usual time, so I didn’t. I never stayed there longer than an hour more than usual, but it definitely helped. I tried to get chores done, but didn’t push it. If I got tired and didn’t feel like doing any more, I didn’t.
I stopped pushing the daily walking, too, but did finally walk three miles around the park with my hubby — he handled Quigley — on May 5. It felt fine at the time, but the next day was Communion at church, which meant a longer service and food preps for the pot luck that were a bit more involved than my normal. When on Monday I had a major crash, unable to do anything but lie around, I knew why. Tuesday was also pretty bad, but Wednesday I was mostly recovered went ahead and walked again, this time with Quigley and it went fine. I haven’t really had a huge crash since the 7th.
I also haven’t written much of anything. Not email, not blog posts, not the book, not even in my journals. I did watch a lot of TV– for me. I detest daytime TV, but in the evenings in addition to our regular shows, we’ve plowed through the first season of The Mentalist and are now almost halfway through the second. Still enjoying it a great deal.
Anyway, sometime in the last week a change began to occur. The messages in Bible class had already begun to change. Both the ones I’m listening to that are current and my fill-in’s from last summer: Pastor Farley talking about Spiritual Gifts in a way that made mine more clearly a “legitimate” spiritual gift than I’ve ever heard. He taught that each person’s gift is unique and even in similar categories of gifts, the way each manifests will be different and unique to the person having it. You can’t look at anyone else and copy them. It’s between you and God the Holy Spirit. That was strangely empowering for me. (I think mine’s exhortation/encouragement, carried out mostly through my writing.) (which may seem like a “Duh” to many people — certainly my close friends — but hey, nowhere in the Bible does it say “writing novels and blog posts” is a spiritual gift! And I can use anything to psyche myself out.)
He went on to say that whatever your gift is, you should jump into it with your full effort and focus, knowing God is going to empower you to do whatever it is HE has in mind. He’s already provided everything you need, so you have nothing to fear. Just go forward.
For a few weeks now I’ve begun to think that maybe God has been giving me a vacation for the last six months or so. At first I thought it was me being bad. Then I moved into “He’s just shutting me down” which was credible because of everything that was happening. But now… with this latest episode coming to an end, I’ve more and more had the nudge that it’s really been a vacation, a time He’s let me do quite a bit of playing…
And also the nudge that it’s time for that to come to end and for me to get back to being a novelist.
I told Him it better be Him doing it, because for months I haven’t been able to muster any interest, any words, or even any order with this project. I would go in and look at the work and there would be nothing. Just a sense of being utterly overwhelmed. No guidance, no direction, nothing. I really had little idea of where it was going. I’d stare at it, as I’ve recounted here, and then suddenly find myself doing something else. Reading the news, or blogs or watching card making videos, or making cards or… sitting in a chair watching the birds.
I have worked my way literally paragraph by paragraph (as in one or two a day) through Chapter 5 and every day I’d go in and it would be hard to remember what I’d done the day before, or I’d be so sick of reading the same words and dealing with the same scene that I’d want to leave. But it wasn’t coherent yet so I tried to stay, but more often wandered off.
Suddenly, that’s stopped. I don’t know if what happened today is going to continue, but for now… I worked on Sky almost all day. I have not done that in a long, long time. I didn’t feel the weird aversion… in fact, if anything I feel aversion for the card stuff. Suddenly the power the card projects had to pull me away was not in operation — at least for today.
So. Is it the sea change I’m thinking it is? Time to go back to being a writer? A change being worked in me more than me working in myself? I don’t know.
Did I work more than I should have today, so that tomorrow I’ll be tired again, and not wanting to get out of bed, or flitting around from thing to thing? I don’t know.
But today. My goodness. The book has come alive again. I feel like I made more progress today than I have in months. Which may or may not be true, but it feels good in any case.
So… we’ll see what tomorrow brings.
Last week I related how I was gently returning to the saddle of working on my current novel, The Other Side of the Sky or my “Work In Progress,” by means of with five tasks that I pursued in 15 minute increments:
Task 1: write in my log or do morning pages
Task 2: Declutter organize the office (this project is coming along nicely. Soon I may not have to devote any time to decluttering the office)
Task 3: Read something about writing (I’m reading my old log from 2000)
Task 4: Answer fan letters
and now Task Five: do something that specifically relates to Sky.
Last week that was writing a nonstop — fast, stream-of-consciousness writing capturing my thoughts about the book at the moment. It was also looking through one stack of 3×5 cards, each with a question and jotted answers on it relating to basics of the book. I got these from a Writer’s Digest article (Feb 1992) by Jack Bickham called Short Story Blueprint, and have used them to start off every book I’ve written. Questions like,
1. What kind of story is it? — in this case, Sky is an action/adventure, science fiction/allegory with romantic subplot…
2. What is the setting? — alternate world, underground civilization without connection or direct referents to earth. Thanatos is the name of the empire, and yes, it might be clichéd, most people might know that Thanatos is Greek for death, but right now, I don’t care. I love the sound of it. Like the sound of its inhabitants, as well: Thanosians…
3. In what time period is it set? — irrelevant since it’s a created world, but the culture will be Roman flavored.
4. Who is the main character? — Lucius Tyrus Meranius aged 24 at the start; ten years later called Talmas. A former aristocrat and decorated soldier in line to be made heir, betrayed unto death, but survives to become an Ouranian. He returns to his family and home city only to be betrayed again and for the bulk of the book is a slave to the Delphenian Ambassador.
A secondary main character is Nolenius Iylantia or Iyla, daughter of the Delphenian Ambassador.
The remaining questions are:
5. What is the main character like?
6. What does he want or lack?
7. Why is it vital to have this?
8. Who is the antagonist?
9. What is the antagonist like?
10. What is his/her plan? How will he fight the protagonist and try to thwart him?
11. Why is it essential to the antagonist’s happiness to fight the hero, persuade him to make the wrong decision or keep him from discovering what might bring him peace?
12. What secondary characters are there who help or hinder the hero?
13. What is the story’s time frame? Hours? Days? Weeks? Years?
14. How does the story start?
15. How does the story end?
16. What dramatic scenes do you envision?
17. Who will your viewpoint characters be?
All of the questions do have answers on the cards, but some of them are not answered very well. Seeing as they were intended to help with the generation of a short story (and for people who had never written one, at that,) and that not only am I writing a novel, but a complex one, I have to tweak them a bit — I have multiple antagonists, for example. I have a hero and a heroine. So I answer the same questions for each of them. I’m not exactly sure what the hero wants. I have an answer, but I’m not sure I like it. I’m also not sure why it’s vital to the hero that he gains what he wants.
I think sometimes this sort of exercise is helpful in jogging some thoughts free, but at the same time, for me the characters kind of have to show me. I can’t just say, he wants freedom. Or he wants a wife and family which he knows that as a slave he can never have… But there is value in setting down wrong answers, just as there is value in setting down right ones. If you set down a wrong answer, at least you know what you don’t want. Or if you can’t think of anything better, at least you can proceed with the not so good answer and see where it leads. Always it’s led me to where I want to be, though sometimes not until the third or fourth drafts.
Right now I know how the story starts. I have an idea how it ends. I know who some of my viewpoint characters will be… I have five chapters written, and some ideas for dramatic scenes…
Now I’m going back through it all, reacquainting myself with my characters and the world I’m developing.
Last week, in detailing my experiences with coming back to a habit of working on a novel, I mentioned I’d come up with five tasks for myself to be completed in fifteen minute increments. I told about tasks one through three, but left out four and five.
Task Four was to spend fifteen minutes answering fan mail, a practice I have been seriously remiss in pursuing for probably close to a year now. Every once in a while I would come in and do a spate of answering, but as the numbers of unanswered emails mounted so would my guilt and self-recrimination. The whole thing got too hard, especially given all the other stuff going on.
Now, I would tackle that mountain, once more in baby steps. Reading through the emails has the added benefit of reminding me that God really can use the gift He’s given me (duh) and I shouldn’t be letting it idle in the closet. Reader responses are tremendously encouraging. In fact, the very day I embarked on this new system I received an email from “Sandi,” which was one of the most encouraging I’ve ever received. She graciously consented to letting me post an edited version of it here:
I cannot thank you enough for writing the Legends of the Guardian-King series. It has profoundly impacted my life.
I discovered your books during one of the most painful times of my life. The stories were so captivating and the spiritual insights so rich that the books actually helped me work through the intense emotional pain and spiritual struggle I was going through.
I loved the way you depicted life as the constantly challenging spiritual journey that it is — fighting the shadow within and the shadow without, trying to be steadfastly faithful to God down to the most subtle of levels of the heart, etc. You described it all so powerfully in LGK!
I have read the series through twice now and will probably read it again. I “soaked” in it and did not want the story to end. Oh how I would like to see the series made into films! Meanwhile I have tried to tell as many people as possible about the books to keep the word of mouth about them going. I hope this amazing series stays in print forever.
Cool, huh? Thanks, Sandi! Your timing was exquisite.
Well! As my title for this post indicates, I have good news.
Awhile back, when I was buried in the details of handling my mother’s estate, I signed a contract with Bethany House returning to them the rights that had reverted to me when they declared my first novel Arena out of print. My agent had renogiated the contract so that they could re-release the novel as an e-book and as a paperback. A few weeks ago, I was contacted by my editor regarding cover ideas for the reissue of the paperback version, which I suspect won’t be available until next summer, but the e-book was set to come out any time.
I’ve been checking Amazon pretty much weekly with no change until yesterday when I found it available for Kindle for $9.39. Click HERE to see it. It’s also available for Barnes and Noble’s Nook, HERE, and at Christian Book.com as an E-book (but not until August 1), HERE for $8.99. Many readers have asked for Arena to be available as an e-book and now, finally I can say that it is. How cool is that?
Also, they are continuing to offer The Light of Eidon free as an e-book, and selling the rest of the series at a lower price per book than they do single titles. The sales have been pretty consistent, and the reviews, as I think I’ve mentioned before, have been racking up, divided between those who mostly love the series and those who were HIGHLY offended at being tricked into reading a book about Jesus. LOL.
Voting for the Clive Staples Award begins today. You may recall that last month I posted a notice that The Enclave is one of nineteen reader-nominated entries for this year’s Clive Staples Award (Clive Staples, you may or may not know, is what the “C” and the “S” stand for in “C.S. Lewis” who was something of a pioneer in Christian science fiction and fantasy)
The contest administrators have asked that I post the following regarding how to go about voting should you wish to do so:
Please read these instructions carefully, then proceed to the ballot by clicking on the link below.
CSA is not a popularity contest. The award has been established to recognize the work of fiction which readers designate as the previous year’s best. Consequently, voters must adhere to these basic rules.
To vote, click here and answer all the questions.