Saturday, December 31, 2005

Confidence vs. Negativity

People who know me realize that I pursue life with confidence. That doesn't mean that I have on the figurative rose-colored glasses, thinking everything will be hunky-dory and I will encounter no difficulties. It means that I believe that God will work through me, that He will be faithful to empower me to do everything He has called me to do. Basically, I have confidence in God and His promises. Since He lives in me, confidence infuses my outlook on what I can do.

There is so much negativity in Christendom today! It really distresses me and keeps adding new items to my list of pet peeves. For example, when someone says something negative about himself, you often hear someone else say something like, "Thank you for being honest."

What? How is honesty connected with negativity? Am I not being honest if I say, "I am obedient to God and have walked faithfully in His light"? How many times have you heard a statement like that and then someone replied, "Thank you for being honest." Apparently the majority of Christians have this "I'm a worm" mentality, and it really seems to keep them from being all they can be.

Why am I harping on this now? I think it's because of a topic I read on one of my writers' forums recently. Someone asked us to list two aspects of writing we hate that keep us from being MVP (Most Valuable Player) writers. Well, first of all, the assumption seems to be that no one on the list is or believes he can be an MVP writer. The second problem is this dwelling on the negative. Why not ask, "Those of us who are not already MVP writers should strive to be one. What aspect of your writing are you working on that will propel you into that category?"

You see, I have no problem believing that I am an MVP writer right now. When I was pursuing writing as a career, I was confident that I would become one. Why not? God had called me to be a writer, so I fully expected to become a good one. I always believe in performing at my very best, so why not have confidence that I could perform at a high level? And now that I am a best selling author and my publisher perceives me as their top author, it would be dishonest of me to believe otherwise or to display a false mask. Sure, I know that I still need to strive to be even better, but I will not lower my head and self-deprecate in order to achieve some false idea of humility or "honesty."

True humility is to have a correct view of our standing, as servants to the Almighty God. Without Him we would be nothing. We would not even be able to take a breath. Everything we do or hope to do is enabled by His grace and empowering. Yet, through Him, we can do all things, and it glorifies God when we stand up and tell the world what His power has done in us. This is authentic humilty--real honesty.

I believe that many aspiring writers would be benefit from a more confident outlook. While taking care not to gloss over inadequacies in their writing abilities and ignore their marketing strategies, they need to pursue their goals with complete confidence that it is God who is at work in them to bring about the ends that He has prepared.

So, writers, keep working hard at honing your craft. Take care to pursue relationships in the industry in order to learn the business. Seek to be a servant and help others. These are all essential steps. But I encourage you to keep your head up, knowing that you are children of the King. You are marching out to fulfill His calling, under His orders, and in His power. You are not worms who crawl in the mire, engaging in self-flagellation in order to adhere to a cultural perception of proper "humility."

If you decide to heed this counsel, you will likely be called proud or arrogant. Such accusations will sting. I know. I have felt those barbs many times. But take courage that Jesus endured the same poisoned arrows. He has called us to honor God no matter what, to tell the truth about God's light in us. We are a city set on a hill. Let us not hide our lights under the bushel of dishonest "honesty."

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Stretching Young Readers

When I began writing Raising Dragons, I pondered the "depth" concept. Can I write a deep story that's geared toward young readers? Most of the Christian books I had read for young people were pretty superficial, in fact, boring. They seemed intentionally dumbed down, and I thought most readers in the target age group must be yawning or even insulted.

I decided to write a straightforward story that contained hidden depth. Any astute reader would be able to gather the hidden treasures, while the youngest readers would just have fun with the story. Still, I held back a bit. I wanted to write more complexity and more puzzles, but I thought I would start with something that would stretch my readers just a little. I didn't want to risk any readers thinking, "Huh? I don't get it."

With The Candlestone, I took a step forward in complexity. My hope was that readers of Raising Dragons might be ready to dig a little more. I added new characters, a bit of familial pathos, and a dash of science fiction. I also took the step of killing two characters. One was the object of the redemption theme, Bonnie's father, and one was a villain.

It's not unheard of to kill off a "good guy" in youth literature, so that wasn't a huge step, but it is more unusual, from what I've read, to kill off someone who is a big part of the story and is redeemed at the end.

The bigger step, I think, was to use my protagonist (Billy) to kill a villain (Palin) in a way that wasn't exactly courageous. In fact, he did directly the opposite of what he had been told to do. As readers know, this killing, even in its improper manner, is absolutely essential to the story and the development of Billy. Readers have debated his actions on my message board, so I know it was a seminal moment. It made them think about inward sin, rationalization, and God's work on the inner man. Most important, it helped them to consider another face of redemption.

When I wrote Circles of Seven, I took the gloves off. I decided to make it as complex and deep as my heart desired. Were my readers ready for such a leap? I thought so. If they could handle the depth of The Candlestone, maybe they were ready for another stretching exercise.

It would take too long to comment on the story themes and their many symbols in this book, godliness, redemption, sacrifice, sanctification, contentment, longsuffering, and more. I think I could write a book on this book, and it might be longer than the original. There are quite a few hidden treasures that no reader has ever commented on, so I wonder if they have all been found. Even so, I poured my heart into it and it brought great satisfaction, so I am content to hope that each little point in the story may find a life-changing place in some reader's heart.

With Tears of a Dragon, I took sort of a sideways step. I went back to the simplicity of storytelling that I used in Raising Dragons while trying to keep a good deal of the depth that is in Circles of Seven. I used more pure action, but I worked on infusing that action with the tying up of story loose ends that would make readers think. The symbol of a dragon messiah, fully dragon and fully human, dying for hopelessly lost souls brought my series-long redemption story to its climactic moment. Still, I wanted to personalize the redemption issue, so the heart of the redemption story was realized in a single soul, Jared/Clefspeare, and his return to Billy through his repudiation of pride. This worked as the peak of my thematic mountain.

Still, I wanted to take one last step. As most of my readers are young, I knew they identified more with Billy and Bonnie than with Jared/Clefspeare. I wanted to search their souls. Billy was my messiah character, but he was an imperfect symbol, needing so much redemption himself. He needed to empty himself of everything in his past.

But what about Bonnie? She was my symbol of the faithful Christian. While still growing in wisdom, grace, and knowledge, she bowed before her savior in obedience at every turn. She had to learn to be content with her "grostesque" feature, and she learned the value of using her weaknesses for God's glory, but did she need to empty herself as well? Was she really content with what she had no matter what? As I wrote in my last post, my desire was for readers to examine their own hearts. This is the final stretching moment that I hoped to achieve, self-examination.

So, as you might have gleaned by now, I believe in stretching young readers. They can take it. In fact, they crave it. When they get to the end of the exercise, they feel its value and the rush of spiritual adrenaline. They don't want to be insulted by the finger-wagging of simplistic stories that tell them what to do or not to do. They want to feel the inner passion of heart-felt conflict and see how it works out in lives that they care about, even if they are fictional.

But that's what good stories do. They stretch us beyond what we normally think we can achieve, and we need to remember that young people are often far more flexible than we might realize. We just have to be sure to help them stretch in the right direction.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Bonnie's Choice

This blog post includes spoilers for Tears of a Dragon, so if you haven't read the book, you might want to skip this entry.

At the end of Tears of a Dragon, Billy and Bonnie are faced with a heart choice--should they keep their dragon traits or not? A light from a gem would soon pass across them, and whatever decision was in their hearts would come to pass. This light would examine each of them to see what they truly wanted, and God would bring that decision about. The reader learns that Billy loses his dragon traits, but the book doesn't reveal what happens to Bonnie.

I hear from readers every day wanting to know what happened to Bonnie. Does she still have dragon wings? Some even say that they are angry that I would leave them hanging like that. Some are just confused and wondering. Some say, however, that the ending is perfect, exactly how it should have ended.

I made a conscious and difficult decision to leave what happens to Bonnie out of the book, because I wanted readers to think carefully about what their own decisions would be if they were in Bonnie's shoes. Would they be content to have the blessing and the curse associated with having dragon wings? Would they want to be normal and serve God with normal human attributes?

The answer the book gave comes through Billy's thoughts. Bonnie asks him if he wants to know, and he says in his mind, "It didn't matter. It just didn't matter." That's the message I want readers to ponder. Regarding your love for others and your service to God, would it really matter to you either way? Could you obey Him no matter what?

So, even now when readers ask me, I don't tell them the answer. First of all, I really don't know. If the answer isn't written, if the fiction isn't manisfested in the creation of the story, the answer seems unknowable. Second, if I could somehow give the answer, then my desire for readers to ponder the issue would end, and I assume the news of the answer would spread and the intent would be spoiled forever.

Therefore, as of this writing, I don't intend to ever let this answer be known. I won't write it, so there will be no answer to give. Of course, I could go into my crazy mind and ask Bonnie what happened. Would she tell me? Maybe. But I won't ask. Why? Because it doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Poem - 2005

I hope I haven't bored too many people with my Christmas poems (assuming anyone's reading this blog at all). Here's the last one, this year's poem.

Carrying the Torch

My child, my heart, my soul’s delight
A precious gem extolled
He cannot grasp the aching love
My passion for his soul

Remembering not the day I took
His tiny hand in mine
And held him close to whisper prayers
So thankful for this time

He proves the rule that fledglings fly
And short is bliss enjoyed
He drops my hand and with a smile
He marches to the void

With heavy heart and empty hand
I scan horizons still
Awaiting news of pilgrim’s voyage
His progress good or ill

The future gives us only words
A promise strung along
And darkness lingers close when dreams
Are dashed by sirens’ songs

My soul reminds of other hearts
Who gave begotten lights
To shine their lamps in darker halls
Than those I fear at night

A Father cast His only Light
On this terrestrial ball
Though stripped and killed and tossed aside
Became the Light for all

My heart rejoices with the news
That darkness has no wraith
To overcome the power of light
In those who walk by faith

I gave this light into his hand
The morning of his birth
And stoked its fires daily as
He gazed into its worth

And now somewhere in caverns deep
Perhaps His torch he’ll raise
I trust its glow will keep my child
In step where angels blaze

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Favorite Christmas Poem

Of all my Christmas poems, here is my favorite. Jeremiah Laughs - Christmas 2004

Alas! The candle’s wick is cold
Where love once burned so warm and deep,
Where passion flared and now has died,
Where Jeremiah comes to weep.

Familiar face, familiar knees,
To altar calls he weekly deigns
And mumbles sinners’ prayers anew,
Yet always leaves with ball and chains.

Oh, where did all the power fly
To break the bonds of sin and pride?
Did Jesus say the free indeed
Are those in whom the Son abides?

Yet light is spurned behind the veil,
While men shun gold and value dust.
They turn to Band-Aid cures for death
While surgeon scalpels spoil in rust.

The man in fetters sleeps with slaves
Believing rags are robes of white,
That fools are given crowns of gold
And sinners please the Lord of Light.

Alas! The Lord will slay these men,
No matter what their words embrace,
For Christ spews out the lukewarm hearts
The so-called sinners saved by grace.

Yet hope remains for candle flames,
The lights in darkest times revealed
In works of love and sacrifice,
Their gifts to God and man unsealed.

They tell the tale of Christ’s pure love
Emmanuel and His new birth,
“He comes with light and sword in hand
To heal the sons of men on earth.

“Embrace the sword of Christmas morn,
Our gift from God that cuts and mends
A heart of sin to purge the flesh,
Salvation’s light that never ends.”

And now the flame is burning new
In hearts who love the Shepherd’s staff,
Where passion burns and lives again
And Jeremiah comes to laugh.

Good News

The new CBA bestseller lists just came out, and the Young Adult list includes two of my books. "Raising Dragons" came in at number three, and "Tears of a Dragon" is at number seven.

Here's the link:

I am so thankful!