There are a lot of reasons to love Christmas. I could list them, but if you celebrate Christmas, you already know which ones for it for you. For me, the best part of Christmas is the Story. In fact, that is a gross understatement. the Story of Christmas is not just the best part of the holiday, it is the most incredible, mind-blowing, breath-taking, reality-jarring, life-changing plot of all time.
As a genre, well, you can pick your genre. The Christmas Story is for everyone. All the Angels, a supernatural child conceived by the "Holy Ghost," the Star that led the Wise Men: SciFi/Fantasy. The betrothal of Mary and Joseph, their near divorce, and then Joseph's commitment to Mary even as she bears a child that is not biologically his: Romance. The Roman census that causes Joseph and Mary to travel a great distance while she is pregnant, being turned away from formal lodging, having to stay in a stable with the animals, shepherds coming to see Jesus (surly social outcasts of the day), then Wise Men from far away lands giving them wildly expensive gifts: Drama.
But that doesn't even scratch the surface. In my mind, the Story of Christmas is hands-down the greatest literary twist in history, and will be forever.
It is what makes the religion of Christianity so radically different from any other religion in the history of the world. A planet inhabited by rebels, slowly destroying themselves, on track for utter destruction because of their own folly, and the One, most powerful, only perfect being in the universe whom they are offending with their every arrogant defiance does the unthinkable: He becomes one of them. Why!? To pull off the most improbable, unthinkable plot twist of all time, to save the rebel planet from itself, from the power of Darkness, and ultimately from Himself! And, all for love. He could have accomplished this rescue in a million other ways, but He didn't. He went under cover, and yet it was out in the open. He crushed the powers of Darkness, yet he never threw one punch. Just when it was looking like the worst possible outcome was assured . . . a baby was born. Come again? Exactly.
For some of you, at least half of this post may have read like gibberish, but if you acquaint yourself with the story of God's plan of Salvation for Mankind through Jesus Christ, you might start to get me. But I'm telling you - M. Night has nothing on the Story of Christmas, and Christmas is only part of a larger Story. Like I said before, mind-blowing.
So when I say Merry Christmas, you now know that there's a bit more going through my head than dancing sugar plums.
"Unto us, a Child is born, unto us a Son is Given." (Isaiah 9:6)
Wondering through my upstairs study the other day, I jammed my toe on a large box of books. I often walk in there before turning on the light, and it's not the tidiest place on earth. Though the pain was reminding me of my need to organize, that box more importantly reminded me that I have done a poor job of giving away some excess paperback copies of "The Sword and the Promise" that I have on hand from past promotions, events, etc, etc, etc. So, I have an offer for anyone who hasn't yet tried Book 1 of The Reaper's Seed series, or, anyone who would like to get a signed copy for a friend or family member for the holidays.
1. Buy a Kindle copy of "The Sword and the Promise" for $2.99
2. Email me confirmation that you did at email@example.com
3. Tell me in that email where to mail your signed paperback, and I'll do it straight away
Don't have a Kindle? You can download the Kindle App for free on your phone, and there are thousands of free books to be had for reading wherever your phone goes. And you'll have this one at your finger tips too.
Others of you may ask, "What if I already have the Kindle Version of The Sword and the Promise?" I can still keep my promise. Let me know what you thought of Book 1 with a review at Amazon or Goodreads, then carry out steps #2 and #3. Already wrote a review? Point me to it - I'll mail you a paperback.
By buying a Kindle copy for just $2.99, I'll make enough to cover most of the postage, and the book will be yours, free. And I'll sign it. You can even tell me who the book is for, and I'll write the reader a personal note in the title pages.
While I'm working on the "The Takers," Part 4 of The Shadow Tribe, I'd love nothing more than to personally share my first fantasy series with you or a friend. And as usual, tell anyone you think might be interested.
Chapter 2 (A Red Dagger)
A dry, desert breeze ruffled Joby’s tattered clothes, and gave him fresh appreciation for the ability to get water whenever he wanted. As a street rat, it was easier for him at night than it was for most of the city during the day. There was very little competition at night.
Joby and Scratch took a winding path toward the city square of Terron, checking on all of their most fruitful digs. Joby found a small loaf of bread that had fallen from a window earlier that night and shared it with his friend. They shared almost everything.
The homes grew larger and more ornate in their designs the deeper in Joby and Scratch walked. While on Joby’s street, most homes were fortunate enough to have a completed thatch roof, those toward the middle of the city were whitewashed, just for looks. Large, slate tiles replaced thatch and canvas eaves and awnings gave way to colored fabrics. The closer they drew to the main source of Terron’s water, the closer they came to Terron’s wealth.
“Look at that, Scratch,” Joby said, pointing out a house with a few candles still lit. “They got blue stretched above their windows. King-man can’t like that, can he? Blue’s a Livus color.” Joby shook his head as if he knew exactly what trouble this subtle difference would bring. “Livus, you know, ain’t like Aruna. Those sticks in the mud don’t even work for their bread. They just take it from us, like they own it all.”
Scratch trotted beside his master, keeping a watchful eye on the shadows and his nose in the air. Occasionally he looked up at Joby, as if to suggest he really was listening.
“If you don’t work for it, don’t take it,” Joby said proudly. Realizing a fundamental weakness in his assessment, Joby wiggled his head as he worked out a justification. “Even we gotta be smart and do our diggin’ if we wanna eat. Livus just takes it.” While they passed the house with the blue awnings over all of its windows, Joby talked on. “I wonder why the ole’ king-man takes it, Scratch.” Looking down at his dog, he thought maybe he knew the answer. “I guess there’s always a bigger dog, right?”
Scratch perked his ears, looked back at Joby and gave a slight whimper.
“No, not really, boy,” Joby said, “just a fig of speech.” Reaching down he brushed his dog’s back with his hand to give reassurance. “I got a Switch for that. You ain’t never gonna be ganged up on again.”
Scratch seemed content with the explanation and went back to sniffing the air thoughtfully.
Together they cut between two of the largest homes in Terron, carefully navigating the olive grove that separated them. Joby and Scratch ignored the low-hanging fruit. The nets for harvest had already been stretched under all the branches, looking like massive spider webs in the moonlight.
When they made it through the grove, the city square of Terron opened up before them. Paved with smoothly cut, light gray stone, it caught the light of the sky above and glowed like a copy of the moon pulled down to the ground. At the center was a well large enough for a horse to fall into. A heavy wood frame with a pulley system dangled over top of it like a menacing hand waiting to snatch anything that came too close.
Scattered around the edge of the square were several more wells, all of which were a far more approachable size. Joby headed for one of these.
“Be right back,” he said over his shoulder.
Scratch stayed just inside the olive grove as a matter of routine.
Stepping out onto the smooth gray stone, Joby walked boldly to his well of choice. As he had hoped, a pitcher was still sitting at the base and the draw bucket next to it.
“It’s like someone knows we’re comin’,” Joby whispered to himself with a smile. “But they ain’t never gonna catch me.”
Joby patiently scanned the houses around the square. Only a few lanterns were still lit in distant windows, but none were casting their rays far enough to reach where he stood.
When he was satisfied that no one would easily see him work, Joby eased the draw bucket into the well a foot at a time until he felt the rope go limp. Like a fisherman checking his traps, he jerked the rope a few times until he was satisfied with the resistance from the other end.
With his waist pressed against the lip of the well, Joby leaned over a bit and started hauling. With practiced precision, he pulled the rope so as to avoid the possible noise of the bucket knocking against the stone walls. As the top of the bucket emerged from the dark abyss, he reached down further, grabbed the handle and lifted it over the edge without spilling a drop.
Joby unhooked the bucket from its rope, grabbed the pitcher, and glided back into the olive grove where Scratch was eagerly waiting. Without a word, Joby filled the pitcher for Scratch first, and listened as his dog lapped greedily. Sitting down next to him, Joby drank with his hands.
From Part 1 of the The Shadow Tribe, "The Boy with the Scar." Only $.99 in Kindle.
In today's world of fiction, there are a bazillion options of story flavor to choose from. One, rather large range of genre's makes use of the sometimes polarizing element, . . . wave your wand, utter your incantation, or think real hard: Magic.
But honestly, what is the deal with magic? Why is it so popular? Rather than villainize it as witchcraft, which is a very real, dark and dangerous practice, I like to think more about "Why?" To do so, I think in terms of "What is it that attracts a lot of people to the supernatural?" Because just as many people dislike the supernatural, perhaps most often because it can't always be explained, nor can we control it.
Your fascination, or disdain of magic - i.e. the supernatural - is really pointing to something beyond fictional preference. That's my opinion. I believe (I know) that we are spiritual beings, with spiritual capabilities, senses, longing, and thus, a spiritual reality. That is why we are fascinated or freaked out by what lay beyond the physical, temporal world we see every morning we wake up. Because it is real, and we know it!
So, that's what's up with magic. That's why I am writing a series with magic in it. Not just because there are a lot of people who are very much into it, but because I too am fascinated by what lives beyond my physical sight. And what is this magic I am writing about? Well - it is yet another element that answers to the moral standards that all actions do: right and wrong, light and dark. To borrow part of a quote from a great man, "all reality hinges on moral foundations and all reality has spiritual control." (MLK Jr) Its true in every area of life, including fiction, even fiction with magic in it.
To find out more, read the story. Parts 1 - 3 of The Shadow Tribe series are all available, including a Volume 1 set. But, to just get a taste, you can start with Part 1, "The Boy with the Scar" for just $.99 at Amazon. Or, with even less risk, you can get it free from me at my Bookfunnel page.
An artist's expression and the reception it receives from the consumer is a fascinating interplay. As a writer, I spend untold hours thinking about the stories that are growing in my mind, before, during, and after they make their way into words. But in knowing that a large part of my goal will be to present the final product to the world, I spend a large part of my effort on thinking through what might help me reach readers.
It's been said a thousand times, especially in the self-publishing world, that the best way to market your book is to write another one. True. But, easier said that done, and perhaps, impetus for a lot of poorly planned, sub-par writing and story telling in the market place today. I mean that in no way to be a slight to another author, but I think many of us would agree, that there are some writers pumping out book after book to increase their market reach and traffic at the cost of quality.
So, how do I apply the truth that more titles being bought is one of the most important ways to become known as an indie author? With The Shadow Tribe, I've decided to walk the line, as it were. I have a story. I will write it start to finish. That's kind of my style. How it breaks out into parts is always a huge challenge for me. For this series, the characters, plot phases, plots arcs and inspiring influences have fit nicely into a longer series of slightly shorter books. (EDIT: As of 10/12/17 I am now calling them Parts, to fend off confusion). And, as it should happen, each book so far has gotten longer. Currently, as I write Book 4 it will be the longest of the first four.
Why? Why not just wait until I have 250+ pages worth of book and then publish? Because if I don't publish a book but every 6 months as a relatively unknown author, the world has nearly forgotten who I am in that amount of time. So, on a limited budget to drum up attention, a busy life to cut down on the time I have to socialize on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads, and a fairly strong introverted nature - multiple, shorter release has been my strategy.
And like most of my writing projects to date, the attempt at getting people to check it out and read it, this one is an experiment. But, as more of the story is completed, more options will exist. For those who want to read 250+ pages at once, The Shadow Tribe: Book 1 (Parts 1-3) is now available.
Chapter 1 (Twilight)
In the City of Terron, twilight was the changing of the guard. It was the exchange of one way of life for another.
Slaves and servants laid out the tables of their masters while their stomachs remained empty. Shop keepers tied up their stores and cast a prayer of protection against thieves. Merchants wandered home from their money tables, thanking the stars for heavy purses or throwing curses at dark spirits for having poisoned the water. The dust that clung to one clung to the other, except for the nobles. They alone were untouched by the dry earth. Theirs was a life of wine, figs, fresh bread and mutton. They lived above their fellow creatures in every way.
Most of this was lost on the night owls of Terron, and while desert owls did come out of their haunts to hunt mice with the feral cats, another sort of night owl stirred. Twilight belonged to the homeless, the abandoned, the unwanted, and the hidden.
When the light of an expired day was nearly gone, the streets at first seemed still. There was a peaceful calm after the bustling ceased. The smell of coal fires from the evening meal slowly cleared from the air. Lanterns burned brightly inside of most homes, but little of their light escaped into the streets. By the glow of the moon and stars, the rust-colored dwellings and their sun-washed canvas eaves slowly blended with the green brush and spotty trees to make a land awash in shadow. And this was when the shadows came to life.
Slipping down the trunk of a thirty foot boba tree, a sly figure controlled its descent with practiced ease. Calloused, bare feet and dirty hands gripped the ribbed bark like a lizard. Wide eyes peered into the street below through strands of greasy, brown hair. Falling the last six feet, a boy in tattered clothes alighted in the dust.
With the boldness of one who owned that tree, he leaned against it and looked up and down the street quietly. After a few seconds, he gave a low-toned whistle, and continued to watch.
Several homes further down, a stray dog left his own haunt and drifted up the street. A sheep dog mutt that clearly no longer kept sheep, it wagged its tail lazily, holding its head high to sniff the air.
“Where you been, Scratch?” the boy asked, unafraid of whether he might be overheard.
When the stray got closer it sauntered up to the boy with its ears held down a bit.
“No, don’t you worry about me,” the boy said. “I’m your very best friend, remember?” Lowering to a crouch, the boy held Scratch’s face with both hands and rubbed it all over, carefully avoiding his left ear, which was half-missing and always a sore subject.
“You still hurtin?” the boy asked, talking as if the conversation might become two-way at any moment. He reached out and gently felt one of the dog’s back paws. The pads were even drier than the boy’s hands. Rubbing his fingers together just to make sure, the boy nodded in approval. “You ain’t bleedin’ no more, so where were you?”
Scratch sat down at this question and cocked his head sideways, as if to reverse the accusation.
The boy stood up and put his hands on his waist. “I was where I always was, you know that.” Scanning the street, he smirked. “Don’t worry, boy. You just stick with Joby and he’ll keep you covered. C’mon, I’m starvin’.”
From Part 1 of the The Shadow Tribe, "The Boy with the Scar." Only $.99 in Kindle.
Sometimes I like to philosophize when I write a blog post. Other times, like this time, all I want to do is give stuff away. Well, I need takers for that. Here's my thoughts.
As a writer, I can record and craft all of the stories that my pretty little head can conjure, but I can't make myself an author. Readers do that - you do that. So I have a hard copy offer for you. I am going to mail you a free, signed copy of Book 1: "The Sword and the Promise" if you are a paperback reader who has considered trying the story, but just needs a deal to push you over the edge.
You buy Book 2 and I'll give you Book 1
It's a two step process, and I will be taking your word for it.
Step 1: Buy a paperback copy of Book 2: "Into the West" HERE and then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell me you did. Include your name and address, and . . .
Step 2: I will mail you a signed copy of Book 1: "The Sword and the Promise" with a custom printed bookmark.
I'm serious. I've got paperback copies of Book 1 left over from an event I attended last year, and they are burning a hole in my pocket, ... well, maybe more like my office floor. I've paid for them, but they are just sitting. So, if you think you or a friend might like to try "The Reaper's Seed" enough to spend $12.99 for 2 new books, one of them signed, I await your email. You purchase of Book 2 earns me just enough money to foot the postage - Book 1 is on me.
And don't wait! While I have 120+ copies of "The Sword and the Promise" to giveaway, I'm also telling several thousand people. Grab "Into the West" at Amazon now, and email me that you did. I trust you. And most of all, I want you or a friend of yours to give the story a try.
Have a great one!
Why You Like Fantasy: Part 2
To ask questions about the nature, importance, and quality of art is one of the deepest pools I have ever looked into. For a time I had the privilege of joining a local group of artists, of which many were fine artist, to discuss the question of “What is good art?” Just remembering those days is like stepping up to the edge of that deep pool with the intent to dive.
But I don’t mention this because I wish to dive into it with this blog post. Rather, I mean to discuss the vital role of one of the arts, namely, Literary Fantasy. It is a genre that I grew up reading, grew fond of, and have put my “pen” to for the last 12 years. As part of this journey I have wondered why I like it, why other people like it, and sometimes, why people don’t. It’s the first question of liking it for which I’d like to propose another answer. My first answer was in Part #1 of this post. Here is my second answer: "We like fantasy because it frees ours minds to see our world more clearly.”
In 1939, when he was still in the early stages of creating Middle Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien gave a lecture called “Fairy Stories.” It was later adapted into essay form, entitled “On Fairy-stories,” and can now be found in one of his compilations, “Tales from the Perilous Realm.”
In his lecture-turned-essay, Tolkien tackled this very idea of the importance that Fantasy plays in freeing our minds to see life more clearly. In so many words, Tolkien spoke of how life becomes trite over time by nature of how we approach it, categorize it, and then write it off. Fantasy helps us to “clean our windows,” and “see things as we are meant to see them.”
This triteness is really the penalty of “appropriation”: the things that are trite, or (in a bad sense) familiar, are the things that we have appropriated, legally or mentally. We say we know them. They have become like the things which once attracted us by their glitter, or their colour, or their shape, and we laid hands on them, and then locked them in our hoard, acquired them, and acquiring ceased to look at them … Creative fantasy, because it is mainly trying to do something else (make something new), may open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like cage-birds. (J.R.R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-stories")
There is something very similar in these two answers for why you and I like fantasy literature. That we need consistent recovery, a freeing of our minds to be able to see our world clearly, only serves to confirm that this world dulls us. What gets dulled is by nature meant to shine. This speaks of a higher nature, it points to a greater reality – that we were made for another world.
Perhaps this is all just musing, a complication of something silly to make it sound important. Or, perhaps it is a tiny glimpse into what is really true, and most important about us as human beings. I feel very confident that the grappling of the human heart and mind with “other things” is not merely a distraction from the all-important present. There is an immaterial spirit about us that links to another world, a larger reality. And a link is a connection, not a one-way pass to leave one thing for another. Both sides matter.
Well, that is enough philosophizing for now, I think. Back to letting “locked things fly away.”
Why You Like Fantasy: Part 1
Did you know that not everyone likes fantasy? It’s shocking, I know. Well, for those of us who do like fantasy, this post is especially for us. To everyone who dislikes fantasy, perhaps I will make the case someday as to why they need it. But, let me stay on topic for the time being.
My premise in this post is a simple one, namely, that an enjoyment of fantasy fiction (and I would wrap sci-fi into fantasy) is really just a sign of a deeper truth about the human soul. That truth is about who you are as a human being. Someone much smarter than me said it very well:
"Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." (C.S. Lewis)
I know lots of folks who would say that reality itself provides more than enough excitement for a man or woman as is, and that another “realm of adventure” is really not necessary. Consequently, many of them don’t care much for fantasy. I agree with them in the sense that life can be crazy, if not well able to consume me at times, like, literally eat me alive, or chew me up and spit me out. When I read a fantasy, it’s not because I wish I could add to my life the stress of being chased by orcs, or having a dragon try to roast me like a duck, but because I have a certain desire to be somewhere I am not. That is the key.
Have you ever felt as if there is nothing in this world that can truly satisfy one of your specific longings or desires? I’m not talking about simple discontent. I’m talking about that longing that has caused men and women throughout the ages to pursue a life of isolated meditation, god-like feats of endurance, or pleasure to the point of destruction – all in a seeming effort to “find themselves,” or reach a new height.
I have most certainly felt it. I’m willing to bet you have too, in some capacity. I think it is because you and I are human beings - mind, body, and spirit, bound together to make a whole. We live in a temporal, physical world, as eternal, spiritual beings. In this state, it’s as if something is missing, or hidden.
I think Fantasy is a craft that helps us find a piece of that other world, feel it, and even connect the dots that we are very much eternal, spiritual beings. We are here on earth, and we belong here in one sense, but in another, we belong somewhere else. This is not to say of course that all fantasy is healthy or good for consumption, as there are dimensions of spirituality that are not healthy, and maybe even perilous. But even this is something we can learn in part by reading a story that transports us to other places through the cracked door of our imagination.
You and I, my friends, are made for another world, and that other world exists. In going to the world of a fantasy story, we are able to touch some part of it. This is not a desire that should be crushed for its impracticality or danger, but rather a desire that needs to be informed, and directed. If we are made for another world, we will go there someday. Perhaps the bigger questions are, "Which world?" or "Will we be ready?"
A few blog posts ago, I spoke about the reality of finding time to write as someone who does not write novels for a vocation. I mentioned a popular quote and idea of "Writing on the edges of the day." Well, I'm building on that and I think it's become a more free-flowing, grab-any-moment-you-can sort of scenario for me: "Write between diapers."
I am the incredibly blessed father of two beautiful children, ages 3 and 10 months. It feels like life is squeezed in between diapers, and crying, and messy meals, and sweet story times, and . . . you get the idea. The "edges of the day" are getting thinner by the moment!
I think what I'm realizing more and more as I try to forge my way to the end of Book 3 of "The Reaper's Seed," is that life is at odds with my writing. The tension is not surprising, but wow . . . it is so hard to keep producing these days. It's a good thing I like endurance sports. The sustained commitment to a long-term goal with the hope of gain translates far better than I would have ever thought. And at least writing can actually fit in between diapers. I can't say the same for endurance sports. (Sigh. You can't do it all).
Keep dreaming, my friends. Dreams don't die in the face of (wonderful) responsibilities, they just . . . take longer to realize. : )