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Not Living Up to the World’s Standards   1 comment

A new post on Christian Creative Nexus.

https://deliatalent.wordpress.com/2018/06/18/not-living-up-to-the-worlds-standards/

What makes a Christian creative a Christian?

I had to ask myself that question recently when someone with an axe to grind posted a review of one of my books that said, in essence, that I wasn’t a Christian because I don’t think the Army would walk on water and hand out flowers during the Apocalypse.

Sigh.

Image result for image of christian vs worldly standardsI grew up and now live in a very military town. About one-quarter of my friends and family are either in the military or were once in the military. I know some lovely military people. I also have had plenty of experience with jerks who were jacked up on the power of being in the military. There’s that dichotomy in human nature that doesn’t go away if you ignore it. The Transformation Project series focuses on how ordinary people, including military and civilian authorities, react in an apocalyptic situation where their command structure has been fractured. I don’t show all individuals with military authority acting in a heroic manner because I personally know people who wouldn’t act honorably in a situation where they’re given that kind of power and no oversight.  The news has covered some of these people. I believe there would be more of them if the command structure that is in place no longer existed. I have other military characters who do act honorably … and some of them die for that stand. That’s the only defense I’m going to offer.

Circling back to my original theme of “in the world, but not of it” … must Christian creatives stand for certain secular societal norms or be deemed “not Christian”?

Being a Christian is defined by one thing. You can discover it in Romans 10:9-10.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

Do you believe that Jesus Christ is God, Savior of mankind and your soul and do you confess that publicly? Your lifestyle should adhere to that and your politics are part of your lifestyle. Whether you support the military, love policemen, eat apple pie, or spend Mother’s Day with your mom isn’t really addressed in the Bible, therefore, they are personal decisions that each of us make individually.

“Art, though, is never the voice of a country; it is an even more precious thing, the voice of the individual, doing its best to speak, not comfort of any sort, but truth. And the art that speaks it most unmistakably, most directly, most variously, most fully, is fiction; in particular, the novel.” ~ Eudora Welty in On Writing.

Writing a novel is about addressing truth as the author sees it. A lot of Christians are very supportive of conservative political causes that I can’t find anywhere in the Bible. There’s nothing wrong with that – most of the time. We live in this world and the politics of the secular world affects us. When my taxes go up, I have less money to give to the church, which I feel spends social welfare funds much more wisely than the government does. I vote accordingly. We should all care if a politician believes it is okay to kill babies in the womb. We should pray for people caught up in the cycle of drug addiction or alcoholism, pornography or polyamory. The Bible is clear on many issues that Christians ought to have an opinion on and the Bible tells us what that opinion should be.

Image result for image of christian vs worldly standardsThe Bible is less clear on our involvement in those secular programs designed to address some of the world’s evils. I harbor doubts about how Jesus would feel about some secular programs American Christians are expected to support simply because we’re expected to support them. As a Christian creative who wants to reach a larger audience than just Christians who read religiously-oriented literature, I have given serious thought to which subjects for which I’m willing to fall on my authorial sword. I made a commitment to show Christian characters as human … with flaws, while showing their beliefs respectfully. I have every admiration for our Savior, not always the same feeling toward His followers. I try to show the world as I see it and not as I would like it to be, recognizing that it is fallen and so are the people in it. And, yet, I struggle with where the lines are because it’s not so simple as the Christian publishers make it seem. Because I’ve rejected those made-up constraints, I have to set new ones of my own – ones that I hope are Biblically-based, but not ignoring this world as it really is.

What about you? If you’re a Christian creative trying to reach a secular audience, do you find it difficult to push the “Christian” boundaries in a Christ-centric way without upsetting the “standards” people have applied to Christian creatives?

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Psychology with a Paranormal Twist   2 comments

What’s the strangest medical or psychological condition you’ve ever given to one of your characters?

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I worked in a community behavioral health center for 15 years, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that I am fascinated with the workings of the human mind. I also live in a community with a strong military presence, so post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is on parade in our town.

TP Cover Montage

Shane Delaney in Transformation Project was a mercenary, but turning war into a financial exchange didn’t protect him from the pain that follows killing people whose only crime is defending their homes from invaders, of which you are one. He feels guilty, he doesn’t sleep, he can’t talk about it, and he sees things that aren’t there, which are all clinical symptoms of PTSD.

I’m a speculative fiction writer. Throwing in a little fantasy with the apocalyptic feels natural to me, so I’ve added a twist … Galina Greyeyes. She was an ancestress of Shane’s grandmother and a Wyandot woman who does actually appear in the annals of the Wyandot sojourn in Kansas. I created a story of harm and familial haunting for the past century and a half. She appears in different guises to certain men of Greyeyes descent and those men have almost always ended up killing themselves.

Call it PTSD with a paranormal element.

Suffice it to say Transformation Project is not a paranormal series and it is grounded in a reality that could happen, but I like playing with that question of whether Galina is just a figment of Shane’s psychological damage or she’s a demon assigned to a particular family. I won’t say anymore because I’m halfway through the series and Shane isn’t done dealing with his past, but suffice it to say, if she’s a demon, she doesn’t have to be amenable to treatment.

Setting Makes the Gem   Leave a comment

My friend Jane Bwye asked me for a guest post recently and here it is. The topic was novel setting.

Setting Makes the Gem

Today, Lela Markham shares a valuable message about settings for a book. A very warm welcome to my long-standing friend from Authonomy days; we are privileged to have you with us, Lela – over to you.

*** 

Some years ago, I had the opportunity to interview a jeweller. As part of the interview, he showed me some of the gems he was working on. I was unimpressed. Sitting there on his work table, they were dull and uninspiring. He was apparently used to that reaction because he then showed me what makes gems sparkle. He put uninspiring jewel upon jewel on a black velvet cloth and suddenly, they sparkled.

“Setting is everything,” he explained.

I am a character-driven writer. They appear to me when I least expect them and they want to tell me their stories, which is what makes the plot. Given that beginning, I focus my writing on relationships and how characters interact and react to one another. Setting is an afterthought … and yet, it is everything.

LMarkhamIt’s the writing equivalent of the black velvet cloth or the jeweller’s setting. It is what makes characters sparkle.

None of us live in a void space. We’re all surrounded by the world we live in. I live in Alaska, where the grandeur of the setting definitely can overwhelm the character, but it also shapes the character. People here cannot help interacting with the environment and even large personalities learn you must adapt to it.

When writing, I try always to remember that my characters can’t live in a void space any more than I can. They need a backdrop to sparkle against. Far more than simply a geographic location or an era that makes a nice backdrop for the characters to work out the plot in front of, setting creates a mood and atmosphere that directs the plot and challenges the characters.

For a gem, it’s all about how the jeweller cuts the stone. Similarly, it’s the little details that provide the sparkle by teasing the senses. What would a newcomer or even a resident see, hear, taste, smell or feel if they arrived in your story’s world that moment? Ever notice what people smell like when they haven’t seen a shower for a few days? The sky is blue, except when it isn’t and then it may be all sorts of colours during sunset, sunrise, as a storm is gathering or a tornado is about to hit. What does wind sound like as it sighs through palm trees? Different from how it sounds when it sighs through pines. If there’s an ocean to the east and a desert to the west, the wind from each will feel different on your skin. Small details are pennies that pay big dividends.

While the grand backdrop grounds the characters in reality and provides the reader with something to hang their imagination on, small details evoke the senses and bring the reader into the story.  Whether you start out with a setting that fulfils these requirements or add them later as I do, they are essential to good storytelling and make all the difference in how your story engages the reader.

Author pic ditch close-upLela Markham is the pen name of an Alaskan novelist who was raised in a home built of books. Alaska is a grand adventure like none other with a culture that embraces summer adventure and winter artistic pursuits.

A multi-genre writer, Lela has published tales of fantasy, alternate history, apocalyptic and political satire, but she’s also got works in progress for literary fiction, new adult, YA, mystery and, her nemesis, romance.

Lela shares her life with her adventuresome husband, two fearless offspring and an extremely-happy yellow Lab.

 

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Now Showing … Let’s Not   Leave a comment

Don't be a snotApril 16, 2018 – A collection of bookish memes your audience can relate to.

Humor is a great way to connect with your audience, and positions itself as a highly-shareable content type. Is there a particular reading pet peeve you could create a narrative around? Or perhaps a favorite fandom your readers might enjoy, too? Pinterest is a great platform to find relevant images — just make sure to always credit back!

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Book v movieI hate movies made from books! Well, not really. I hate movies based on books where the director decided to ignore the book. I can actually enjoy a movie that doesn’t have every bit of dialogue, etc., in it, but more often than not, the difference is as  stark as the photo to your left. You know what I mean. You’ve read this beautiful lush novel filled with interesting characters and gorgeous details and you’re looking forward to the movie, but then it looks like the right half of the photo – dead, lifeless, missing most of its parts.

I feel so sorry for the other people in the movie theater … including my husband … because they’ll never know what they’re missing. They think the movie represents the book. They just didn’t have to “waste” a week after work reading it. Instead, they encapsulated it into a 1 hour and 46 minute dose of special effects and great costumes. They believe they got the better end of the deal when in fact they are consuming a picked-over meal. It’s like listening to a symphony on digital media and never realizing all the tones that are left out.

GoT North Remembers

Some directors do a better job than others. Peter Jackson left a few things from the Lord of the Rings book out of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but the overall quality wasn’t reduced. Walden Entertainment tries to stick with the book fairly faithfully. The Hunger Games books were written cinematically, so a lot of what was in the books made it into the movies. And, trust me, even with eight seasons and counting, the television series couldn’t get all of the Game of Thrones books onto the screen. Although I haven’t yet had opportunity to view beyond the first season, I think the series is well done and doesn’t “ruin” the books. It’s just that it’s definitely not the same thing as reading the novels.

Iceberg comparisonReally folks, watching the movie is honestly not the same as reading the book. It’s more like reading the Cliff notes. And, when I hear people say “Oh, yeah, I saw the movie and it was awful, why would I read the book?” I think, “because the movie is not the book and if you only knew that, you would enjoy it so much more.” There’s just so much we lose out on when we “sample” literary works by way of film rather than consume the real deal. I love well-done film, but far too often, film eviscerates a well-written book. In my perfect world, every book would have a companion movie done as well as the book and based on the book … which surprisingly does happen with movies that end up being novelized. I’m not sure why it works that way … maybe because novel writers can see what’s on screen and just describe it, but screenwriters feel that they can reimagine what they’ve read.

 

Maybe?

Now, there are exceptions to this “the book is almost always better” rule. I’ve read many a great book in my life in many wonderful genres, but one reason I’m writing Transformation Project is because the available apocalyptic books weren’t all that good while television was and is creating fantastic content. You know what I mean — The Walking Dead, Falling Skies, The Last Ship, The Colony, even Z Nation. Books deserve to be that good and so, since I couldn’t find many that lived up to that standard, I’m writing them. By the way, this is the last day of a 99-cent sale on each of the books in that series. You could pick up all three for less than one costs you at full price.

 

Posted April 16, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Feast for the Intellect   2 comments

April 9, 2018 – Recommend books to your readers in your genre(s).

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Of course, if you’re looking for books to read in my genres, you should check out my books or some of the fine authors over at Breakwater Harbor Books.

I am published in fantasy, apocalyptic and political satire, but I’ve also published short stories in alternative historical fiction.

In fantasy, I am a huge fan of Katharine Kerr’s Deverry series. Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle, King Raven Trilogy, and Celtic Crusades, Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series and Crossroads series, and pretty much all of Brandon Sanderson’s catalogue, but especially the Stormlight Archive, but I also really like my friend Dyane Forde’s Rise of the Papilion series and her most recent book Beserker. There are so many good books to choose from in this genre that it is really hard to narrow them down.

A Threatening Fragility Front CoverIn apocalyptic writing, I find there is less high-quality content. Too many books in this genre tend to fall into the trap of teaching people how to prep for disaster rather than focusing on the humanity of that disaster. That makes for really boring fiction. I admit, I watch this genre more on video because of that. But I really enjoy Willian Forstchen’s John Matherson series, which focuses on a community’s survival following an EMP. Since seeing the movie World War Z, I have started to read the book by Max Brooks and I recommend it more highly than I do the movie, which was well-done. Earth Abides by George R. Stewart in 1949 is a great post-apocalyptic, worthy of the detour, but the seminal novel of the apocalyptic genre is On the Beach by Nevil Shute, which is why I quoted from it in the first book of my Transformation Project series.

As for political satire, I think humor is a very subjective thing, so I’m merely going to recommend my own Hullabaloo on Main Street. As for alternative historical fiction, I’ve got a nice anthology that might interest you. Yes, my story is in Echoes of Liberty, but the book is also a great taste-treat of alternative historical fiction in bite-sized pieces.

 

Soup to Nuts   2 comments

March 26, 2018 – Being the CEO. How do you handle all the tasks you must juggle in this writing/publishing world? Do you hire out certain tasks? Why or why not?

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Badly? Sometimes well? See all the balls in the air? Ignore the ones on the ground!

I am a hands-on author/publisher, involved in pretty much all aspects of publishing my books.

Willow Branch Blue White Recreation CoverOf course I write them. I guess there are really popular authors out there who have a team who does their writing for them. I’m not that popular.

I edit my writing. It’s not that I don’t use an editor or don’t think they have value, but the cleaner your manuscript is before you send it the beta readers and then an editor, the better. It saves money, headache and heartache.

I read the beta comments and incorporate the changes they suggest … if I agree with them. It’s the same with an editor. Ultimately, it is my book and I don’t always take suggestions because sometimes what is suggested is not what the story needs or it clashes with who the character is.

I design my own covers. That was a financial choice with my first book The Willow Branch. My daughter, an artist, designed the original cover and then ran off to “join the circus” (she’s a traveling musician). She wasn’t available for my second book Life As We Knew It and I “hired” an artist friend of hers who would work for blueberries and moose stew. Then I had a catastrophic computer failure and I lost all of my cover images. My daughter’s friend was busy with school, so he showed me how to use the software he used and I taught myself cover design. I already knew typography from my journalism experience. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at cover design. I do as good a job as the cover mills that risk cover clones and I fulfill my own personal standard of designing a cover that suggests what’s inside the book.

lifeasweknewitI’ve gotten so good at formatting that I’ve now been paid by a few people to do it for them.

How do I do it all? I set deadlines for myself and I try to hold myself to them. I post them to the Sticky Notes feature of my laptop so I am harassed by my own work ethics whenever I log on to play a video game. I’m not always successful — sometimes the video game wins — but I keep trying. I promise myself a break right after I upload the book to Amazon and Createspace and the last couple of books, I’ve kept my promise to myself.

When I have extra money … like, when the books have a good week … I spend the money on advertising. I lack the resources to reach hundreds of thousands of people and some advertisers do a much better job of creating advertisements than I do.

 

Low Maintenance Writer   1 comment

March 5, 2018 – Writing spaces and processes.  What’s one or two things you must have in order to sit down and write productively?

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Typing on LaptopI’m a pretty flexible writer. I can and do write pretty much anywhere I am and I’m not put off by noise or activity. I don’t require my laptop … I often take a notebook along when we hike, fish or camp so I can jot things down during breaks — although I do prefer using the laptop because it’s more efficient. I don’t mind layovers on trips (I do bring my laptop for this) because I will sit and write while I wait … and then probably write while I’m on the plane … or stuck in the airport. I just don’t have a lot of requirements when I write because writing just seems to be something I must do and my background as a reporter taught me to screen out everyone around me.

But there are a couple of things I prefer when I’m seeking to get into the zone where I can push out 5,000 words in a day.

Warmth. You probably are furrowing your brow at this, but remember where I live. It’s cold outside and the only reason it’s not just as cold inside is that we have heating devices and insulation. But sometimes the heat doesn’t work. Brad likes to use weekends and holidays to work on our heating system. Does it need working on? Maybe, maybe not, but he experiments with our system so that he can do a better job on other people’s systems. Consequently, sometimes, I find it’s dropped to 60 degrees in the bedroom – my most common writing spot – and at that point, I can no longer type, which means I am no longer productive at writing.

Hot beverage – okay, even when it’s “warm” in our house, it’s not really all that warm in our house — we’re fuel misers — so a thermos of hot coffee (decaf) or tea at my elbow is appreciated. Combine this with occasional servings of homemade bread toasted and slathered with butter and I might hit 6,000 words that day. I actually did 18,000 words on a three-day weekend in January.

Genre-appropriate music. I don’t always need this and it’s better if it doesn’t have lyrics, but I do sometimes use music to get into the writing zone. Celtic-flavored music works well for Daermad Cycle. Transportation Project doesn’t have a genre. It really depends on the character. More and more when I write from 95-year-old Jacob Delaney’s POV, I want fiddle music. Why? He likes fiddle music. I discovered the other day that he plays. Who knew? I love that about my characters.

Quiet Company. I enjoy having the dog in the room. She’s a yellow Lab with the most beautiful brown eyes that just say “You can do it, human!” Sometimes I ask her what she thinks of what I’m writing and she wags her tail to let me know I’m on the right track.

But as I said, I don’t get upset if there’s noise or any other distraction. My husband can wonder in and talk to me or watch television in the living room. Sometimes I’ll take the laptop downstairs and write while I’m watching television. The above are mostly nice-to-haves, not must-haves. Sometimes they are very useful and sometimes I don’t even notice if they’re not there.

Low-maintenance, I think they call that.

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