Friday, February 23, 2007

Facing the Giants movie

I rented "Facing the Giants" and watched it with my wife and three of my daughters last night. I had heard that it was inspiring but was plagued by bad acting, so I tried to watch it without prejudice.

The acting isn't stellar. In fact, a couple of the actors were quite bad, and several of the story elements were predictable. But those flaws didn't harm my enjoyment of the movie. I found it inspiring and uplifting. I lost a few tears in a couple of scenes and felt a rush of joy at a several others. Overall, it was very satisfying. I would definitely watch it again.

I think the best aspect of the story was the positive message that you can succeed in obeying God and giving Him the glory. He has given us the ability to do all things through His strength, and that truth was powerfully presented. In these days when the church beats down Christians, telling them that they are sinners until they die, it is refreshing to see a movie dispute that lie and give us an uplifting message.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Enoch's Ghost Finished

I sent Enoch's Ghost to my publisher today. It's always a feeling of relief to finish a book, but there's also an emotional letdown to go with it.

Now, I will work on straightening my office, preparing for the Florida Christian Writers Conference, and doing my taxes, not necessarily in that order. After the conference, I will be back to "heads-down" writing for my next project, Time Echoes. That book is due on June 1, so I have three months to get it done. The fun begins again!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Killing Straw Men from the Authorial Pulpit

Have you ever written a straw man in a story? He's the opponent you set up for the purpose of easily defeating, usually in order to destroy a belief or opinion he holds that you as an author despise.

Let's say that you hate onions (as I do), so the bad guy in your story is an onion farmer who decides that a law must be passed that all people must eat onions at every meal. You write him as being ridiculously vile, even maniacal. Then, your hero comes along and destroys him and his onion farm.

As an onion-hating author, that would be a lot of fun, but it's not a great idea for a story. I would be preaching against onions by setting up a ridiculous person who gets thrashed by my hero. This would be a very preachy kind of writing. It's an onion-hating sermon, and most readers (except maybe other onion haters who applaud the farmer's demise) will see it as a thinly-veiled, sermonizing attack.

In author circles, much has been written about "preachy" stories, especially in Christian-themed novels. I'll save the details for another post, but I have seen just as much preachy writing in secular stories as I have seen in Christian stories, maybe more, so Christians aren't the only ones trying to get our morals, or lack thereof, into our books.

Is it wrong to "preach" in our stories? I think not. We just have to learn to allow our stories and our characters to live out the "sermons" rather than delivering our points in obvious pulpit-pounding scenarios. When our readers close our books, we want them to feel and desire to live out the value of the story. If there is no real value, then the book isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

I mention the straw man, because I have one in my new book Enoch's Ghost. It was fun and satisfying to put him in and then do away with him, but this week I'll be altering him into a more realistic character who isn't there just to be destroyed. Then, the book will be done and ready to send to the publisher.

Any thoughts on preachy writing or straw men?

Friday, February 09, 2007

A Vision of Hell

Perhaps the most frightening concept of the Christian faith is that God will condemn unbelievers to an eternity of horrible torture--a Lake of Fire that burns with brimstone. As a child I remember getting a minor burn and how badly it hurt, and I thought about how much worse the burning would be in Hell and that it would never, never end for those condemned.

It scared me. It made me wonder whether or not God was cruel for doing it. To this day, the thought troubles me, and I rely on faith in the God who has shown both justice and mercy throughout my life. He knows what He's doing.

In books for youth, is it important for readers to get a vision of the truth about eternal punishment? Should it be portrayed in fiction? Should an author give a glimpse in order to cause readers to think about the whys of such a judgment?

If we do this, we risk inciting fear. But is fear bad as long as it is qualified with understanding? I don't think fear is the best motivator for goading us toward loving God, but it is a great motivator to get us to evangelize. "Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men." (2 Corinthians 5:11)

I wonder if a proper understanding of Hell might help young people to gain a greater desire to tell others about what can save them from such terrible wrath. Probably. The question is at what age does such a lesson become appropriate. When does the image of Hell go beyond just giving nightmares to the point of instilling a heart for souls?

Just some points to ponder.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Real Kids - Real Holiness

And whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea. (Mark 9:42)

This verse has been on my mind a lot recently. As an author of books for young people, I am constantly aware of my charge to create stories that uplift and encourage my readers. That's why, when I see forces pulling the opposite direction, that is, toward acceptance of sin, I lament and try to pull even harder toward righteousness.

These thoughts are likely in sharper focus for me now since I have lately participated in a couple of online exchanges with people who say that all kids sin or that it's normal for young people to sin. This was in context with debates about the characters in the Harry Potter books. Some say that the books depict "normal" kids and that all kids are like them--lying, cheating, stealing, etc--even kids who are raised in Christian homes and have professed faith.

Such thinking is a stumbling block for young people. When they are told over and over that sin is normal, that "real" kids are rebellious and mean, that they can never escape committing sin, those who tell them these lies are causing them to stumble. The lie-bearers will answer to God, and according to the verse I quoted, their judgment will be terrible to behold.

The truth is that real kids can be obedient to God in all things and at all times. If they surrender their lives to Jesus Christ, they will have to power to obey and follow God with all their hearts.

Here is the truth:

Little children, let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:7-10)

I hope that those who are preaching the opposite will repent before it's too late, and I hope that young people will be able to recognize the deceivers and reject their lies. I will continue to do my part to shine the light of truth, that God cleanses all true believers from all unrighteousness and gives them power to live holy lives. I will continue to write about young people who care about doing what's right and make heroes out of them, giving good kids role models and making them feel "normal" instead of out of touch with what many of J. K. Rowling's supporters falsely call "reality."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Enoch's Ghost Update

In case anyone is wondering, Enoch's Ghost is coming along well. The story is pretty much finished. I just have to add a few sequences to a couple of scenes.

Right now the manuscript stands at about 104,000 words, and I expect that it will top out at around 110,000, which is about the length of The Candlestone--longer than Raising Dragons and Tears of a Dragon, but shorter than Circles of Seven and much shorter than Eye of the Oracle.

I think I'll be completely finished with the story by the end of the week, then I'll have a couple of weeks to polish everything before sending it to the publisher.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Praise and Thanksgiving - Part Five

Shortly after my daughter's anointing for healing, the eye doctor called to suggest that she go to Shands Hospital in Gainesville for further testing and treatment, not knowing that she had experienced healing. We told the doctor about the experience, and he said he wanted to test her again, “just to be sure.”

The test was this morning. The doctor reports that her vision is now "within normal limits." In other words, she is healed! Unfortunately, this doctor played the skeptic, saying that the first tests had to be erroneous. He even discounted Amanda’s personal witness that she couldn’t see through most of that eye, the very reason we came to him in the first place. In not so many words, he called her a liar. Such unbelief is amazing!

Tell me, who is the blind one?

May God be praised!