A Creator’s Journey #9–Reuniting With Characters

Consider yourself blessed! I’m about to give you a rare sight: a direct look into a writer’s mind as he creates.

This week, I picked up an on-again-off-again project, “Locke Hart.” At this particular point in the story, the main character, Locke, is troubled by something, and his friend Sam sees it on his face.

Now comes her dialogue. She must inquire as to why he looks so perturbed without sounding as pretentious as this sentence does. The ever-easy, “What’s wrong?” comes to mind, but no, that’s just not Sam.

Sam is a theatrical, irreverent, worldly girl (who is also, paradoxically, a Christian). She never goes simple when she can go over the top. When she didn’t like her brussels sprouts, she set them on fire. Plus, this scene is a sort of introduction to her character. I can’t start out with such a vanilla line as “What’s wrong?”.

Okay, what to say, then? What’s an over-the-top way of asking what’s wrong with somebody? “What’s your major malfunction?” Nah, too mean. “What’s up your bum?” Too gauche, even for Sam.

Let’s think about this from Sam’s point of view. All she has to go on is his face–his troubled look tells her something’s up. Okay, so maybe she speaks directly concerning his face. So, what does Locke look like to her? His jaw is set, brow knit, unease is written all over him.

Bingo.

“What’s with the constipation face?”

As a bonus, Locke then twists his features in confusion, to which Sam replies, “Ew, that makes it worse.”

When I finally had the line that sounded perfect for her particular character, I smiled at the word “Sam” on the screen and said, “I missed you.”

To a writer, characters are not just names on a page. They’re real people who inhabit a world behind the screen that goes on even when you’re not looking at it. A writer is more of a recorder than a creator in some aspects.

So, when a writer sits down to write about characters he hasn’t seen for days, weeks, or perhaps years, it’s not a continuation of a dusty tome.

It’s a reunion.

Why Christians Should Care About Art (Even Just a Little)

What comes to mind when you think of an artist? A sex-obsessed painter with skintight clothes and an attitude? A doped-up rock star shredding a guitar? A short-haired chick who loves film and other women? Stereotypes abound, but there’s a nugget of truth: many artists lie outside Christian circles, especially conventional ones.

So, Christians should be trying to reach unsaved artists, right? Preaching the gospel to Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth? However, there doesn’t seem to be much effort in this arena. Poor folk, coworkers, people in other countries, sure, but not artists. No one goes to the poetry reading, the gallery, or the local film release hoping to win someone to Christ. Unfortunately, I think I know why.

In order to win someone to Christ, you have to convince them that God loves them, which means showing them love yourself (you can’t say “Piss off, praise Jesus.”). However, to love an artist, you must love their art.

I didn’t say you have to like it, understand it, or share their sense of style. But you must love that they love it, not expect them to drop it to follow God because they won’t.

This troubles many Christians because they think art is some sort of low-ranking priority, if it’s a priority at all. Christians are more concerned about the poor, downtrodden, and unsaved.

But…wait a second. Artists are usually poor, struggling to make money on their gifts in a world that wants cheap amusement. They’re often downtrodden, prone to heavier emotional swings than the average Joe. And didn’t I just say many of them are unsaved?

So why the Christian stigma against art? I mean, God himself was an artist. He made two genders when an asexual organism might have resolved some headaches. He created genes that split off into countless ethnicities even though a monochromatic race would have stopped some hate crimes. He made animals with hilariously long noses for goodness sake! God valued creativity.

Why don’t we? Why do Christians look at artists and say, “That’s not important.”? Or perhaps, “That’s fine as long as you’re painting Jesus.”? How can we possibly expect the artistic world to come to Christ if this is our gospel?

Memorize these two rules for evangelizing artists:

  1. You can’t tell an artist to give up art to follow God because God won’t let them. He himself inscribed art on their hearts. Artists are not some social defect; they’re a person crafted by the ultimate artist. Art is their air, their milk and honey, their life. Telling them to stop is telling them not to be who God designed them to be. What’s so “Christian” about that?
  2. Artists are not some cow for Christian establishments to milk for their own gain. Art does not exist solely for the sake of mainstream evangelism. Artists have a commitment to their art, not Sunday mornings or their local Lifeway. Christians cannot call themselves loving if they only accept art that is “useful.”

If we want artists to come to Christ (which we should), we need to get into their world, not expect them to get into ours. You show an artist you care by showing them you’re not too busy to experience their craft, nor too cowardly or ashamed to slip into the underbelly of the world artists often inhabit.

Check out their stuff. Hang in their circles. Ask them questions about their craft. Be interested in them, including their artistry.

You don’t have to like everything they put out or follow every style, and let’s be honest, some stuff really does suck (M. Night Shyamalan is an artist, too). I won’t swing to the other legalistic end that says if you aren’t into art then you’re a bad Christian. Some people are wired for sports, business, medicine, children, and more.

But some are wired for art, and we need to love them for being an artist. After all, God is most pleased when we are doing what he made us to do. That in mind, I think some nonChristian artists have a better grasp of God than the Christians who kill their hearts and call it “holiness.”

 

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75 YOF: John Wayne, North Dakota, and Casual Racism (The Searchers-1956)

Sometimes, I feel like I’m living in a western movie. White men in North Dakota are trying to spread west, but run into Indian opposition. Terrified of the “red man,” they paint him as the enemy, the great obstacle of progress.

But at least westerns had the decency to make the Indians murderous villains, not quiet protesters seeking clean water.

If you’re new to this blog, my wife and I are going through film history, one film per year from 1941 to 2016. We heard great things about The Searchers starring John Wayne, and I’m sorry to see that 1956 knew more about racism than 2016.

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John Wayne plays Ethan, a cowboy and ex-soldier. When his brother’s family is slaughtered by Indians (and a chief seeking comeuppance for the death of his sons), Ethan goes after the two daughters who were kidnapped. However, we quickly discover that Ethan doesn’t really care whether he gets his nieces back as long as he’s able to kill the Indians who did him wrong.

Not many westerns would draw that line. Usually, this plot would be “good white man vs bad red man.” After all, the Native Americans were a real threat to the white man’s way of life in those days.

But then again…we all know why. Just the tiniest glimpse into history shows Europeans marching into North America and singing “Mine, Mine, Mine” like the bad guy in Pocahontas.

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“Look at all this stuff I own now!”

However, The Searchers makes Ethan out to be more of a villain than a hero. He scowls at a young man who’s 1/8th Cherokee, shoots a dead Indian in the eyes, and even draws a gun on his surviving niece when he finds out she’s been “made one of them” to put it nicely.

Even the other settlers, in just as much danger from Indian raids as Ethan, do not share his hatred. They want to rescue captives and stop wrongdoers. Ethan just wants to kill people he doesn’t like.

Naturally, Ethan comes around, but not perfectly. In an awesome final shot, when everyone else goes into the house, Ethan hesitates, then turns and walks out into the dusty desert, knowing he has a lot of soul searching to do before he can join the party.

But that’s just a movie. This is real life.

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These aren’t Indian raiders kidnapping, raping, and killing. They’re peaceful protesters who want clean water and respect.

And these aren’t sour-faced gunslingers fearing for their scalps. They’re businessmen armed with guard dogs, mace, and government indifference.

But the hatred is still there. Sixty years since Ethan walked off into the sunset and hundreds of years since setting foot on North America, we’ve still learned nothing.

We still see these people as intruders on our land. We still see them as obstacles to overcome and not partners. We see them as funny people with backwards ways instead of a culture with wisdom to share.

We don’t care about their water. We don’t care about their customs. We don’t care that they’ve been pushed to the fringes of society; they are still in our way.

Just like those black people trying to change how we do police business around here. Just like those Mexicans who want to make a living. Just like those Syrians who want shelter from the storm.

How dare they demand that we share? Don’t they know who we are? Don’t they know how many races and cultures we’ve bullied and belittled to get this far? Don’t they know how many saints and prophets we’ve squashed in the name of God?

If you ask me, they should all just go home…oh, wait..

 

PREVIOUS: 1955–“Rebel Without a Cause” and Becoming a Man

NEXT: 1957–An Affair to Remember

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A Creator’s Journey #8–Writing by Reading

I haven’t read too many books on writing. Personally, I find more use from actual courses which allow for real writing and critique. However, I do still read to write. I just read novels.

If you want to write journalism, read newspapers and web articles. If you want to write biographies, read biographies. If you want to write novels, read novels.

My first and biggest literary inspiration was Frank Peretti, a Christian writer who showed me that Christian writing need not be cheesy or silly, and that even on-the-nose messages can be well-written and impactful. Peretti is a master of suspense and weaving intricate plots that keep you flying through the pages.

J.K. Rowling and Brandon Sanderson showed me that fantasy can be accessible, and even though each have strong, fleshed-out worlds, I never felt lost like I did in the complex tomes of Tolkein. Brent Weeks was somewhere in the middle, a rich, expansive world but also one that new where to focus and how. Neil Gaiman showed me that sometimes the best fantasies aren’t explained (The Ocean at the End of the Lane).

That’s the kind of fantasy I wanted to write. I wanted to create worlds, but not eons of lore. I wanted more accessible fantasy–it’s simply my style and if you like Tolkein and Martin, that’s fine. One of the greatest compliments I ever got was from a fantasy fan who said my book was fast-paced in a world of slow-moving fantasies.

However, I don’t think a genre author should only read one genre, but take pieces from others. Books like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Help, Anne of Green Gables, A Christmas Carol, and more gave me rich character study, all of which inspired and changed my stories completely.

When I write fantasy, the fantasy often serves as a backdrop more than a true genre.

In Ferryman, the superhuman aspects are fun, but they’re also are a way for me to talk about prejudice, fear, and the joy of freedom.

In Rise, the fantasy is merely an opportunity for the hero to grow from boy to man and from coward to warrior, to cleave from his parents and become his own person.

In Locke Hart, the superhero story allows me to question and inspect Christianity from the inside and examine themes like violence, propriety, sex, hypocrisy, and struggle, most of which aren’t seen in Christian novels.

This is not a new thing. All great fantasy has honed in on the human aspect and it’s outshined the fantasy–though the world of the fantasy helps illustrate this.

Heck, back to my favorites: The Night Angel Trilogy weighed the importance of life through immortality. Mistborn showed the importance and frailty of trust in a frightening world. Harry Potter touched on every human theme imaginable–love, friendship, family, loss, forgiveness, hatred, maturity, and so on.

When I want to know the rough mechanics of castle life or fairy lore or swordsmanship or physics, or religious histories, or anything like that, I’ll do my research. Every writer must.

But for me, the greatest instruction comes through reading novels. Reading about novels is a helpful commentary at best.

If you liked the sound of any of my stories, please support their inception by contributing to the publication of Ferryman, which is the first in line, click that Subscribe button up top to get more blogs through your email, or follow me on Twitter(@fencingwithink). 

“Why Does God NEED to be Worshiped?” Because I’m a Geek, That’s Why

It’s one of those questions asked by scoffers and people who took one philosophy class. Why does an all-powerful, self-sufficient God need to be worshiped? Sometimes, they’re asking why they need to worship God at church, but I’ll answer that in another post. Right now, why does God need to be worshiped at all?

For the non-believer, this question is valid. They’re on the outside looking in, wondering why people are lifting hands, shouting, and passing out (ah, the 90’s…).

But when a Christian asks this question? Y’all need Jesus!

The Short Answer

God needs nothing from us. He existed long before we did and he didn’t make us out of necessity. God does not wither when he doesn’t get his daily dose of Vitamin Praise.

Neither is he sitting around whining, “Why doesn’t anybody like me? It’s the beard, isn’t it? I knew I should’ve gotten a goatee. Satan gets all the chicks.”

The scoffers have this much right: God does not need our praise.

So why does he ask for it? Why does the Bible say to worship God in too many verses to quote? Why do the forefathers, the prophets, the kings, and that noisy lady in the front pew always tell us to praise God?

Because They’re Geeking Out

I’m reminded of The Boondock Saints–a lovely Christian film, that–in which one of the gang, Rocco, is panicking over an impending danger. One of his friends tells him to calm down.

Rocco shouts back at him, “No! You start getting excited, mother f***er!”

This is what the heroes of the Bible were all screaming. “You start getting excited, mother f***er!”

I’m guessing many of you are suddenly distracted by a Christian dropping an f-bomb, censored or not, into his blog post. Click here for that discussion. Moving on…

Have you ever geeked out? You don’t have to be an internet-defined geek to geek out. You just need to be wowed beyond compare.

Ever seen a baseball play that you can’t get over? Ever had a car nearly hit you, but miss by a needle’s width? Ever seen someone unfairly sexy? Ever won a big prize? Ever seen a mic drop moment? Ever fallen madly in love with a TV show? Ever had any item or event in your life that you just can’t stop talking about to everyone you meet?

That’s what Christianity is supposed to be. That’s what the saints are all doing. They’re geeking out and telling us to join in.

They’re saying, “Did you see that?! Did you see that?! Did you see–No! Shut up! Stop what you’d doing and pay attention to this! Shut up! Look! Look at this! Why aren’t you soiling yourself in sheer awe?! LOOK AT IT!!”

Do You Geek? You Should

Christian life is not meant to be stoic and boring because Christians should never get bored with God. I’m not saying we need to be in a state of perpetual mania–we all get tired, familiar, and yes, bored. But this should not be our defining characteristic. We should regularly be amazed by something.

It can be a Bible verse that makes you say, “Huh.” It can be a sermon that makes you like “Aw, snap.” Or a worship song that makes you say, “Aw, yiss.” Or simply some natural wonder or life experience that makes you stand still for a second.

If you aren’t geeking out about Jesus on a regular, even just a teeny bit, you ain’t read the book right. He healed sick people! He came back to freaking life! He died for people who didn’t deserve it! He was a religious figurehead more likely to be found in a bar than a church!

Christianity isn’t kowtowing to some egotistical prick in the clouds. It’s pointing to unparalleled awesomeness and shouting to the world, “You start getting excited, mother f***er!” Filtered for language, perhaps, but you get the point.

Jesus said the kingdom of God is like a woman who lost a silver coin, upturned her whole house to find it, and when she did, she invited everybody to rejoice with her (Luke 15:8-10). This is what finding God is like.

He also said there would be rejoicing in heaven over a sinner who found repentance (Luke 15:7). Sounds like even angels do the dork dance of happiness.

Christianity is not a bunch of stuffed shirts sitting around singing hymns. It’s a religion of geeking out over someone and wanting to be just like him.

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Jesus is the dude in the middle.

 

10 More Anime Tropes that Need to DIE!

Anime is awesome. Let me start by saying that. This post is not to eviscerate the medium itself, but when anime fails, it fails hard.

Four years ago, I wrote the original 10 Anime Tropes That Need to Die, and it’s still one of most popular posts ever, so clearly it resonated with you guys. Well, it’s been long enough that I finally have a follow-up list.

Remember: this is MY list, meaning I hate these tropes, but you may enjoy them. And that’s okay! We all have our tastes and guilty pleasures. You may hate a trope that I adore. Tell me what tropes you love or hate in the comments.

1. I am smart. You are not. Muahaha.

anime-1

Pegasus from “Yu-Gi-Oh!”

Mr. Bad Guy is so superior to you that your feeble attempts to best him are mere amusements to him. His face is set in a permanent smirk and he always closes his eyes when he talks to you to shake his head at your quaintness.

And he’s about as tolerable as a squirt of tobasco sauce in the eyes.

This villain is only acceptable in two scenarios: A) They’re a genuine, well-written threat or B) They get their face pimp-smacked right off in the most glorious fashion.

2. He’s a pervert. Funny.

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I have no idea what anime this is from, but that face is perfect.

This character is usually the main guy’s best friend whose only purpose is to make the main character look better. Because he’s a pervert. He likes boobs. He will peak in on girls changing.

That’s about where his character development stops. Haha?

3. He’s mistaken for a pervert. Funny. 

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Name that anime! A guy and a girl bump into each other, likely falling over. When the guy opens his eyes, his hands are on her boobs. Scream, violence, pain.

Could you guess it? The answer is all of them. All the anime.

I may laugh at this once if it’s brief, properly set up, or if the animation/voice acting is hysterical. On its own, I just think, “Oh, we’re out of ideas already?”

4. He’s a sexual predator. Funny? 

anime-4

From “Sword Art Online”

Maybe “funny” isn’t always accurate, but there are a lot of anime shows where a girl is stalked, groped, spied on, or preyed upon by a monster with overly-feely tentacles. Remember the second arc of Sword Art Online where a good female character gets sexually assaulted just because?

It’s the casualness that makes me shiver. Sometimes it’s played for laughs at the expense of the guy (number 3), but other times there’s just a guy peeking on girls or touching them inappropriately. Other times, it’s jail-worthy.

Because acting out your perverted fantasies is fine as long as it’s on television.

5. Love and friendship trump established rules.

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From “Sailor Moon” because what else?

This one is low on the list because everyone’s already said it. Down-and-out good guys overcome the evil one by the power of believing in themselves or the the power of love and friendship.

Not only is this lazy, trite, and overdone, but it undermines all established worldbuilding. Whatever rules the anime made for fighting, magic, etc., they go out the window because the writer found himself in a corner with no way out.

The only exception I’ve found, personally, is My Bride is a Mermaid because that was a comedy which only made rules so it could laugh at them.

6. Glasses pt. 2 

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From “Log Horizon”

I mentioned in my last post how I was sick of guys doing the touch-your-glasses-in-the-middle thing, but let’s expound upon this character. And that character is…glasses.

Sad? Take glasses off. Determined? Touch glasses. Talking? Touch outside of glasses. Got a devious plan? Reflection on glasses to block the eyes. This character begins and ends with their glasses. Take them away and the writer wouldn’t know what to do. Oh, and they’re always a brilliant know-it-all because that never ever ever gets old.

7. We’re a couple now. The end. 

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Maybe I’m biased as a Westerner. In American romances, the story is about how they get together, grow, break up, then get back together and possibly end with a wedding.

In anime, they gasp, blush, stare, and finally end the show by confessing their attraction and possibly going out.

Rare is the anime that actually follows the couple as a couple. That’s why I like Clannad After Story; the harem is over, yet the romance continues. I like seeing romances that go beyond “Gasp! He’s looking at me!” That’s a fine start, but if that’s all it is…

8. Overly Shy Girl.

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From “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumia”

She’s shy. The end.

Put her around more aggressive characters who can cram her in revealing clothing or make her do sports or public speaking, anything out of her character because it’s moe.

Rinse, repeat, cash check.

This is one of those tropes that doesn’t even try to NOT be a trope.

9. Pop Idols 

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I give zero craps about this character. She’s a pop superstar with millions of adoring fans, likely with a secret life that’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There’s just nowhere to go with this trope except grinding on Robin Thicke.

Worse, if there’s a pop idol, she will sing, because when you run out of material for an episode, try padding!

10. The Fuko

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I don’t know what this trope is actually called, but I’m referencing Fuko from Clannad, the most insufferable part of one of my favorite shows.

This character is usually small and cute, obstinate beyond reason, and refers to herself in the third person. Essentially, she’s a braindead child. Now if they’re literally a child, fine(ish). But when they hit high school, that crap needs to stop.

Seriously, is this a Japanese thing I don’t know about? To announce your every whim as if you’re standing outside yourself and demanding that everybody else play along because it’s moe or something?

This person mugs the camera in the most literal sense. They beat down the other characters in the shot and demand attention without ever being compelling enough to earn it. Go. A. Way.

So that’s all I have for now. Do you like some of these tropes? Do you hate any others I missed? Sound off in the comments and check out the original list!

 

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Musings on Mankind while Driving through Wyoming

If you thought that title was boring, you just got the point.

My family just moved from Denver, Colorado to Twin Falls, Idaho, and when we told our friends, they all gave us the same advice: Don’t go through Wyoming. It’s desolate and dull. Also, my parents, who helped us move and drove ahead of us, warned me not to take the GPS route, but to take the highways they gave us instead.

We ignored all advice. We drove through Wyoming and took the GPS scenic route. And do you know what we saw?

Wheat-colored hills peppered with sage brush. Brick-red buttes huddled in formation. Pockmarked cliffs of staggering height. Rippled mounds that looked like some giant-child had run his fingers through sand. Creeks rushing and tumbling down the slopes. Free-roaming cattle and lush, golden farmlands.

And we could have missed it. I wondered why our friends and family told us to skip all this, but then I remembered the recurring declarations: “It’s boring. It’s desolate. There’s nothing out there.”

So as my wife took a turn at the wheel, I stared out the window at all the natural, untouched glory and wondered what is wrong with mankind, specifically “civilized” mankind, when it cannot enjoy a piece of land if there isn’t a Starbucks in five miles.

Inconvenience is Not a Sin

Wyoming is the kind of place where you need to drive a long way to get anywhere. Groceries, haircuts, hospitals, movie theaters, anything at all, you have to invest some time. All the urban and suburban comforts and pleasures have lost some of their comfort and pleasure.

But what’s wrong with that? Why do we scoff and frown at those “backwards” people who don’t have a mall or shopping center? I think the answer is because Americans at least cannot go backwards in convenience.

Once we have something convenient, we demand it at all times. That’s why no one shuts off their phones in the movie theaters anymore, or why smart phones have left others in the dust. That’s why new towns explode all at once–we dare not do without McDonald’s for too long!

There’s nothing automatically wrong with convenience, growth, or change. However, I fear it’s made us weak. We can’t do without simple pleasures anymore. People go to war over video game consoles the day after Thanksgiving for pity’s sake!

 

Today, take a longer route home or to the store or wherever you need to go. Look around and find something you like. Enjoy what’s around you, don’t just barrel through it because you’re in some kind of self-imposed hurry.

If you said “No” to that request, ask yourself why. Don’t chuckle and act like it’s cute to be lazy. Really look at yourself and ask “why?”

Boredom is Not a Sin

There’s nothing worse in the modern world than being bored. It is an insufferable, toxic plague that will end humanity in the course of mere hours.

Or so our culture would have you think.

It’s not just that we have so many things to do, it’s that we HAVE to do those things. As soon as you’re done with one activity, move to the next. Let not a moment of your life go by that isn’t busy doing something. If it takes too long, scrap it for something faster. Let not your brains fill the empty space of time.

The funny thing is the people who fear boredom are more miserable than anybody. Their brains have been rewired for constant stimuli, whether work or TV or eating. They’ve lost the ability to sit still and rest.

They can no longer look at a mountain and see its majesty because it’s not changing every six seconds, not dancing around or cracking jokes to cater to their ever-changing marketing needs.

Yet, this is only a disease you find in “advanced” cultures. In other words, boredom is a plague mankind invented for himself.

Extremism, now THAT’S a Sin

I’m not saying we should all shatter our TVs and go live in the cliffs of Wyoming wearing only loincloths and eating nothing but wild figs. I know I’m part of the problem, too. I get bored with 15-minute Youtube videos, I keep a dozen tabs open at once because God forbid I type in the URL again, and I can’t even hold a conversation with my own wife sometimes because of my amusement-seeking brain.

But even I have to wonder: can we really call this other extreme progress? Can we really say we’re the “better” humans because we bullied the Earth into bowing to our whims? Better than those losers in Wyoming who only have rocks? Better than those kids in Africa who never even saw an iPhone?

Do we have any right to pity them?

Let me ask you one last question: who benefits from this extreme modernism? Who benefits from constant pleasure and comfort? Who is growing, advancing, and prospering from endless entertainments?

The providers, not the consumers.

McDonalds, Apple, Warner Bros., they’re the kind of people who are making money and doing well in this day and age. But the human beings who live their life according to the rules that keep the modern age afloat?

Well…have you seen the suicide statistics lately?

A Creator’s Journey #7

Nothing major this week, just a few updates and teasers.

Ferryman Updates:

Vickie S. donated $25 this week and I was able to scrounge up $50 to put aside, so Editing is up to 30% funded and total funding for the book is at 33%, about one third! It’s getting there!

Cover art is…progressing, I think. Had to re-contact the guy because he didn’t follow up. Hoping to see a draft soon and once the final product is done, I’ll share it with you all.

If you want to know more about Ferryman and/or get involved with the book, click here. Thanks to those of you who have already helped out.

Weekly #WIPjoy:

This is a daily hashtag I’m doing for September where authors talk about their works in progress. I’ll make this one about Ferryman since that’s the most pertinent.

WEEK 1: INTRO
Day 1: Tell us about your WIP!
A man with the power to kill with a touch tries to find the most moral way to do so.

Day 2: What stage are you at with this project?
Done writing. Just need to fund cover art, editing, etc.

Day 3: Describe your WIP with three verbs.
Kill. Justify. Confront. Withhold. Free.

WEEK 2: BACKGROUNDS
Day 4: What emotions do you evoke with your setting?
Which setting? A bar evokes loneliness, nostalgia, and despair. A superhero headquarters evokes militant sterility. The general world evokes oppression and superstition for the main character.

Day 5: Share a line with a detail about your protagonist’s past.
“When the corpses began to pile, when hundreds of Vietnamese youths gaped eternally at the sky, when the cacophony of bullets and mortars stopped and I stood alone, I saw what I could do. I’d always known it, but now I saw it, smelled it. The man I could be.”

Day 6: What does your antagonist love deeply?
Film. He’s turned his guest bedroom into a miniature Blockbuster (remember those?).

Day 7: Which two characters have the most interesting history?
Charlie and Venus. He can choose not to die, she can shape-shift her way out of sickness and injury. Thus, they’re both immortal, making each the only lasting friend the other has.

Like I said, not much this week. Busy getting ready to move to Idaho. But thank you to everyone who reads my stuff anyway and I’ll have something a lot more fun on Saturday!

5 Admonitions for Modern Christian Music Writers

Why does modern Christian music suck? Notice how I did not ask whether it does suck or not because that would be like asking if Hilary and Trump are corrupt. The answer is yes, but why?

The answers are numerous and interwoven, but as one who spent literally his entire life listening to Christian music in the car, the church, and even at family gatherings, and as one who spent over a decade studying music in one capacity or another, I’ve identified five major problems, or rather their solutions.

1. Find More Adjectives

“You’re a good, good father.”
“You are good, you are good, when there’s nothing good in me.”
“You are good, you are good, oh.”
“I sing because you are good, I dance because you are good…”
“Because you are good to me, good to me.”
“For you are good, for you are good, for you are good to me.”

We get it. God is good. He’s also awesome, phenomenal, spectacular, amazing, resplendent, singular, extraordinary, magnificent, great, incredible, stupendous, opulent, grand, exceptional, and super. Pick one!

Why do so many modern songs sound a simplistic as the Newspeak from 1984?

2. I Will Give $20 to the Next Person who Writes a Non-Repeating Chorus 

That is not a joke. Anybody seen this comic?

i-write-modern-worship-choruses

Go back to #1 and you’ll see the trend already. Now I know this is not exclusive to modern choruses (Holy, Holy, Holy; Amen; etc.) and the Psalmists were fond of repetition for emphasis, but we’re so oversaturated that it’s starting to look like laziness rather than ingenuity.

Seriously, write a well-thought-out worship chorus that doesn’t repeat itself and email it to me. I will LITERALLY send $20 to the first person who does that.

3. Finish the Thought

This one is a little hard to describe, but music has a certain “feel” to it, a rise and fall of finality. When a song rises up and then…stops, it feels incomplete, like the writer was so caught up in how amazing his lyrics are that he just stopped singing and clocked out.

An example? The song “Give me Faith” by Elevation Worship. Click here to hear it on Youtube. Here are the lyrics to the chorus (starting at 0:58 on the video):

Give me faith to trust what you say
That you’re good, and your love is great
I’m broken inside, I give you my life…
[awkward silence]

Look, I kind of like this song, but every time the chorus comes on, I keep thinking there’s a fourth line that got lost in the sound booth. The music and even the lyrical progression just seem stunted.

Go listen to some hymns. They can finalize a song like nobody’s business.

4. Get Outside the Bedroom

Boy, God sure is intimate, loving, and touchy-feely, isn’t he? Lately, you hear lyrics like “sloppy wet kiss” but you know what I haven’t heard in ages? “There’s thunder in his footsteps and lightning in his fists.”

Modern songs are really focused on how close, comforting, and snuggly God is. Like repetition, this is fine to an extent (and when it’s written well), but it’s only half of the picture. God is also the person who pimp-smacked Egypt with plagues. Jesus may be intimate, but he’s also coming back with blood on his robe (see Revelation 19:13).

Jesus loves intimacy, but he’s not our equal. He’s God. You can’t take what boils down to a parental relationship and make it quasi-romantic. It didn’t work in The Killing Joke, it won’t work in church.

5. Think Outside the Guitar

For centuries, the piano was the weapon of choice for musicians. Around the 50s and 60s, that changed to the guitar. Nowadays, the church has followed suit with more worship pastors strumming strings rather than tickling ivories.

I have no problem with the acoustic guitar or those who play it, but there’s one fundamental difference: pianos play notes, guitars play chords.

 

For a guitar to play every note, you have to pick the strings, which is complicated and requires skill. Chords are “general” sounds and require a more static hand position on the frets while you strum the strings, not pick them. Chords are easier, but they only produce a vague sound.

Do you know why the piano was such a masterful instrument? Because it could play the foreground and the background at once (right and left hands). This allowed the musician to think about their song on a bigger scale than one instrument because the notes translate easily to other instruments, partially because of sheet music.

But when you play a guitar, everything you do only really works for guitars. Unfortunately, the guitar is not the only instrument on the stage.

The result? Melodically-limited songs because the writer only thought of chords and slapped other instruments in there (usually just more guitars and a drum set which does not use notes). Oh, and a keyboard which is really just a synthesizer, which also makes sounds instead of music.

Writers of music must know music. Playing just one instrument worked for pianists, but not so much for the guitar. If you play guitar, fine, but you have to get out of your six strings and understand music itself. Notes, dynamics, progressions, tempos, rests, time signatures, note relationships, articulations.

Those used to be called “fundamentals.” Today’s fundamentals? Strum, strum, strum, repeat.

Any hipster can play some chords. But you take whatever instrument you love go beyond the twenty-something in her dorm room. Don’t just play songs; play music.

 

 

ghost box

Book Review: “Ghost Box” or “This is Why I Don’t Go to Los Angeles”

I saw this number as part of a cover artist’s display at Realm Makers 2015 and I’d been meaning to read it since then (proving the power of good cover art). I finally snagged a copy and sat down to enjoy it. And yes, enjoy is the operative word. Not love, not revel in, but certainly enjoy.

TITLE: The Ghost Box
AUTHOR: Mike Duran
GENRE: Paranormal

STORY:
Reagan Moon is a paranormal reporter and human cynic. He doesn’t believe in the things he writes about–witches, ghosts, seances, etc.–who would? But that changes when Reagan is contracted to find his dead girlfriend and save her soul. This sends Reagan tumbling down the rabbit hole of the occult and supernatural, right in the heart of L.A., and the only thing worse than the demons all around him are the demons in his heart.

This is the first story about Reagan Moon. One more also exists called Saint Death.

WHAT WORKED:
I admire the boldness in this story. Mike Duran is a Christian fiction writer, but you might not know it from this work. I don’t say that as an insult, but a compliment–that his work reads like any other story.

Few Christian writers would tackle the occult in such depth, but Duran goes to some dark, strange places. This may make some fret, but fret not my friend, this is Mike Duran, not Zack Snyder. He doesn’t go too dark or dark for the sake of darkness; it’s there to tell the story properly. There’s also some pretty adult language because, well, that’s how people talk.

It’s hard to point out specific things that worked well because the story is simply “good.” The word choices, characters, dialogue, settings, descriptions, etc. were all good. Nothing stood out in great measure, but it’s a simple goodness that makes the story clean and enjoyable, and it opens up a whole world for further exploration in other novels.

WHAT NEEDED WORK:
Just one thing stands out in a bad way and sadly, it’s a doozy: the main villain’s dialogue. The villain himself is compelling enough. He’s dangerous and there’s a clever moment near the end when you discover that “defeating” him is not as easy as it looks.

But when he opens his mouth, it all falls apart. The villain’s dialogue is cliched and trite to the max–I’m talking bad anime or James Bond villain. Endlessly amused by the hero’s petty struggles, babbling on and on without actually saying anything, smirking as if he’s above everything, all that. Again, the villain is fine, but his dialogue is just plain bad.

Thankfully, he’s the only offender. Everyone else’s dialogue is perfectly fine. The only other “issue” I have is that while this book was good, nothing is spectacularly so, which makes it harder for the book to stick.

OVERALL: 3.5/5 stars–I’m glad I read it and can easily recommend it.

Despite one big flaw and no standout greatness, it’s still a well-written book and an enjoyable read. Not too dark, not pandering at all. If you’re a Christian looking for better fiction, or you love paranormal/occult adventures, you’ll be glad you read The Ghost Box.

MATURE CONTENT:
Sexuality: 1/10–Nothing problematic that I remember.
Violence: 5/10–Very seldom, but one particularly “ick” scene. Nothing gratuitous.
Language: 6/10–Several uses of shit, but not constant.
Substances: 4/10–Some drug references, but there’s a particular paranormal device that, when used, acts like a drug. It’s trippy and even addictive, but it’s a good story tool.
Mature Content: 4/10–Lots of afterlife weirdness like mediums and playing with souls. Dark, but not harrowing.

NOW GO READ!
Amazon Link
Barnes and Noble Link
Mike Duran’s Author Page (Subscribe to get The Ghost Box for free!)

(NOTE FOR MY FOLLOWERS: Saturday is usually the day I post my weekly 75 Years of Film analytical series, but we’re packing up to move from Denver to Idaho–funny story–so analyzing movies has been put on hold for a couple weeks. I hope to have the series up again by Saturday, September 24 if not a week earlier. Thanks for your patience and for supporting my writing.)