July 27, 2009

July 26, 2009

Slice of PIE: Why Do We Need Christian Spec Fic Publishers?

I receive in my email box, the monthly announcements of Marcher Lord Press (http://www.marcherlordpress.com/MLP_Publishing_Model.htm ) and I’ve submitted stories to a POD anthology called COACH’S MIDNIGHT DINER (http://www.themidnightdiner.com/).

Both of these publish a genre they call “Christian Speculative Fiction” (speculative fiction, also known as spec fic includes science fiction, fantasy, myths, fairy tales, horror and any combination of these genres).

With hundreds of publishers already producing spec fic in the secular world, why do we need a Christian spec fic publisher? While it’s difficult to dispute their call to minister to God’s people in this way, I have serious questions to which I’d like to hear answers.

In COACH’S, out of 21 authors, only two have publications in “secularly recognized” venues. Of Marcher Lord Press’ six authors, only one is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The people who publish in this genre, as far as I can tell, are people who can’t make it in the secular speculative fiction markets. By extension then, these authors are not the best in the field yet they are being published as representative of the BEST the Christian spec fic market can produce. These authors represent Christ – at least in the speculative fiction field – to the entire world. It’s not important that Marcher Lord Press has a disclaimer saying that they aren’t TRYING to reach the world for Christ (see above link), that they are just trying to entertain a small fraction of a specialized market. Scripture is very, very clear with regards to that attitude: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17) The fact is that when people buy these books and give them to their spec fic reading unsaved friends, they’ll be compared unfavorably to what is being published in the secular press.

CS Lewis, who not only wrote spec fic for a secular publisher, and published short fiction in the secular market (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction published three of his stories) spoke eloquently to the issue: “What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects with their Christianity latent.” GOD IN THE DOCK, p. 93

Beth Moore as well points out in her scripture workbook: “We cannot seclude ourselves indefinitely in Christian hideouts. Our lives must be poured out like healing ointment on this injured land.” DANIEL: LIVES OF INTEGRITY, WORDS OF PROPHECY, p. 128

Finally, Reggie McNeal: “The truth is that the North American church culture extracts salt from the world and diminishes the amount of light available to those who need to find their way.” THE PRESENT FUTURE, p. 72

It’s clear to me that these Christian publishers have, with the greatest of good will and firm belief that they were serving Christ, created a ghetto in which they might wallow in self-satisfied glory, believing that they are reaching the world but in fact creating nothing more than a spectacle of themselves at which the secular world peeks, points their fingers, laughs and then moves on its way to the REALLY important work.

And that leaves the secular world effectively unreached. It also leaves us effectively responsible for their loss from the Kingdom of God and leaves us open to the reprimand of our Lord. Matthew 25: 34-40 are verses we often quote to ourselves, patting ourselves on the back…but that’s a subject for another essay. But here, we deserve what Jesus says in verses 41-46: "Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me. These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’”

We still have time to become the BEST in the secular world and reach the lost for Jesus Christ.

That’s where my mission is.

You?

July 22, 2009

Results from First Ever NAME HUMANITY CONTEST! Now VOTE!

On July 5, I put forth a challenge -- with what name will we introduce our collective, varied, fractious, multi-lingual people on that great day when we appear before all of Them assembled?

This is what the respondents came up with.

Now it's up to you to vote!

*******************

Doug

MOONIES!! (you got way to much time on your hands to worry about little stuff like this)

Nate

Human
Earth being
Human being
Sapien
Homo Sapien

Austin

Godlings (God-lings) (because of how many of us believe in some sort of god) it would be a name they might be apt to label us with.

Paul

Nunavut (which in the native Inukitut language means "our land”)
Bob

July 20, 2009

THROWING WOTAN'S SPEAR, Friday Challenge Entry by Guy Stewart


Bobbie Goddard sighed as music from Wagner’s Die Walküre rampaged through the salon of the Lakehurst. Far below the rigid lighter-than-air ship, England drifted past, in the throes of frantic reconstruction after the War. He shook his head and turned away, leaning against the railing and closing his eyes. Helplessness made him feel nauseous. He let the music surge over him.

When the piece thundered to an end, the passengers, mostly American Union tourists applauded enthusiastically as the chamber orchestra stood to take their bow. Bobbie joined the applause. German music was so visceral! It was a wonder it had never taken the world by storm. Stewards, mostly smiling, dark Mayans in white suits accented with bright, traditional feathers, pruned to a modern length, circulated with drinks. Bobbie waved them off, turning back to the railing.

They’d crossed the Channel, the shores of Napoleon’s France misty in the distance. He was glad he didn’t have to see that land, impoverished as it was, ravaged by the Chinese for a year before a terrorist’s atomic bomb took out Czarist Moscow and the War had drawn to a messy end when a firebomb exploded beneath the Imperial Palace in Beijing. The Chinese presented the body of their murdered emperor deity to American Union peacekeeping forces and closed their borders.

He took a deep breath again, fleeing history – however recent – and focusing again on why he’d come here. He’d meet Kaintwokon Milieu in Berlin, do his friend’s humanitarian work saving the citizens from a cholera outbreak and then apply for citizenship in the African Collaboration. Maybe he could take his research there -- he’d been laughed out of Charleston, DC for the last time!

The captain’s voice came over the public address, saying, “This is captain Ixzaluoh Ucan. Thank you for flying aboard the American Union Rigid Ship flagship, Lakehurst. We’ll be landing just outside of Berlin in about fifteen minutes. Please report to your cabins and allow the staff to seal you in your rooms during landing. Thank you again for flying with AURS. Have a pleasant day and a good time in Berlin.”

Trudging to his cabin, Bobbie caught himself humming snatches of the “Ride of the Valkyries” and thought that the theme song was appropriate for the crazy adventure he’d let Kaint talk him into.


Once the rigid ship was grounded safely and the gangplank run out, Bobbie stood at the hatch, scanning the crowd below. He spotted the dark-haired man with red stripes painted on his face, a leather band around his head with a gaudy orange feather stuck in it and shook his head in disgust – but couldn’t help grinning. Making his way down with his single valise, he nearly bowled Kaint over as they both plowed through the crowds, searching for each other.

Kaint threw his arms around Bobbie who clung to his valise for a moment of dignity longer before surrendering to the greeting and wrapping his arms around his best friend.

“I’ve been waiting here all day for you!” Kaint exclaimed.

“You know the rigid lines – especially now. They’ve been looking over their shoulders ever since those crazy Carolina brothers made their flying machine,” Bobbie replied, holding Kaint at arm’s length. “And what’s with the get up? You look like one of your ancestors!”

Kaint laughed and pulled off the headband. “It’s what everyone here expects me to look like.” His good cheer dimmed for a moment. “Despite the fact that you rebels copied the Iroquois Confederation’s constitution and half our agriculture, they still see US as the savages here.” He shook his head, then grinned and put the band back on. “Let’s go! I got us a steam carriage to ride in. We have to share it, though…”

The steam carriage turned out to be a peacekeeper supply truck emblazoned with a red cross, crescent and Star of David and they shared it with a few hundred pounds of medical supplies. Once they reached Berlin proper, they came under peacekeeper protection as well. Jouncing over shattered streets, Bobbie held on desperately while Kaint laughed and whooped.

The carriage stopped abruptly and Kaint cried, “Let’s go!” He dashed across the torn greensward of the Free University of Berlin. Bobbie followed. Once inside, Kaint handed him scrubs and said, “Suit up. Don’t touch anything bare handed and when you do, wash your hands in the bleach baths."

Bobbie’s eyes stung from the reek of vomit, diarrhea and bleach. He gagged, threw up in a bucket Kaint kicked in his direction and then followed him.


The sun had gone down long, long ago. In fact, Bobbie wasn’t even sure the sun had ever been up. He wasn’t even entirely sure who the president of the American Union was today. Kaint grabbed his arm and dragged him through deserted streets. Peacekeeping Egyptian and Zulu soldiers from the African Collaboration and South American Amazonians stood at each corner, smoking and watching carefully, Winchesters dangling over their arms.

“There’s someone you have to meet! A friend of mine from the Free U, another head-in-the-clouds PhD in physics or something,” Kaint said.

“I’m too tired. I can’t even…” Bobbie began.

“No, really! I sent word to him to meet me here so you two could talk. I think you’ll have a lot in common.” He dragged Bobbie down a short flight of stairs, pounded a tattoo on the closed wooden door.

“What?” Bobbie exclaimed.

“You’re perfect for each other! You both have your heads stuffed up your…” the door opened and a tidal wave of raucous singing, shouting, whistling and shrieks drowned out whatever Kaint was going to say.

“I don’t drink!” Bobbie shouted.

Kaint grinned a ludicrous grin, said, “You will after tonight!” and dragged him into the pub.

Kaint’s hand firmly gripping Bobbie’s belt, he plowed his way through the packed crowd, enduring wild “Indian war calls” from those who saw the ridiculous streaks of paint still on his high cheekbones. More than one woman grabbed Bobbie’s nether regions with a lusty suggestive squeeze. By the time they reached a table next to the wall, he collapsed into it and let Kaint order him a “stein” – whatever that was. Sitting impassively at the table was a dark haired young man with a heavy, black moustache. He was watching them with a slight scowl. Kaint said something to the gentleman in guttural German, sounding as if he were coughing and choking at the same time. Three massive steins, filled to overflowing with cascades of suds appeared on the table with a kiss on Kaint’s cheek from the serving wench.

Kaint shouted, “Bobbie, this is Al! You both like Wagner!” He repeated what Bobbie assumed was the same thing in German.

Al slugged him and said, “I understood you perfectly, swinehund! Now drink your beer and we’ll see if I can’t have a bit of civilized conversation.” He gave both men a fierce scowl and added, “Though ‘civilized American’ is an oxymoron if I ever heard one!” Kaint laughed and drank as Al leaned across the table and shouted, “Gesamtkunstwerk!”

Startled, Bobbie shouted back, “The Ring of Nibelung!”

Al froze, his mouth open, and an instant later, they were deep in conversation. They began with music and in short order were talking science as well. The pub around them faded into the background as the language of math and physics replaced English and German.

Kaint slammed his stein on the table and Bobbie and Al looked up, startled. He’d hit the table with his third stein and was ordering his fourth when he turned to them and said, “All right, you two. You’ve excluded me enough for one night! What’s this about? You know I’m half French and half Mohawk, so keep it simple!”

Al and Bobbie stared at him then burst out laughing. “We’ve discovered that we both favor Wagner’s Die Walküre!”

Kaint gave them a slightly drunk, blank look. “Which is?"

Bobbie shook his head, “Bloody Injun!” He paused, half-drained his stein and said, “The ancient Norse god, Wotan ruled by contracts he’d written on his massive spear. All the world was fine until Wotan himself broke one of his own contracts. He’d promised to give the goddess Freia to two giants for building the stronghold of Valhalla but changed his mind. The giants demand the treasure of the Nibelung to replace the lost goddess. Alberich the Nieblung had forged magic into a ring which had the power to gain its bearer mastery of the world if he forswore love. Wotan coveted the power of the ring and took it by force from Alberich, who then placed upon it a deadly curse. Wotan gathered about him an army of warriors to defend him against Alberich's power should he ever regain possession of the Ring. Wotan sought to influence men so that the ring would fall into the hands of a hero who had grown up free of divine help and was not bound by any of the treaties that bound Wotan himself."

“Too bad Wotan couldn’t just end the whole thing by chucking his spear at Alberich.” Kaint said, standing and swaying slightly. “How come he couldn’t ride away on his spear like a Salem witch?” Kaint’s forehead furrowed and he said, “Hey, he could fly on one of your liquid fuel rockets!” He laughed loudly and called for another stein.

Al turned to Bobbie and shouted over the noise, “You use liquid fuel to drive a rocket?

“I’m trying to – but the Union Senate keeps tabling my funding. The Haudenosaunee has enough forward-looking thinkers to fund my work,” he stopped, trembling. He must be allergic to the beer because tears threatened. He felt nauseous. His voice was husky as he said, “I’m going to the African Collaboration, take citizenship there. I’m done with Charlotte!"

Al grabbed his arm. “No! Do not go! They have limited resources, nothing that you need. Once the epidemic is over, my wife and I planned to emigrate to the American Union.” He leaned close and Bobbie leaned in as well until their foreheads touched. He said, “I have an offer to teach from Princeton College."

Bobbie stared at Al then slowly nodded. “I’d be willing to meet you there. Perhaps together, we might conceive of a way to create Wotan’s spear. Perhaps throw it somewhere really important – like the Moon.” He straightened, "I can always go the Africa later."

Al and Bobbie locked gazes, shook hands and stood up. Kaint abruptly plopped down in his chair. The other men looked at him, at each other, and with fond grins and one man under each arm, carried the doctor back to his room.

July 19, 2009

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: The Death of the Dream Goldfish

I have come to loathe the death of dreams.

Martin Luther King, Jr. died without seeing his dream realized and even with the election of President Obama, some argue that King’s dream is dead.

H. Beam Piper died taking his dreams with him, leaving us the poorer.

Science fiction writers whose careers began brightly with awards and powerful dreams turned into novels lost their dreams for reasons ranging from “they just don’t understand my artistic genius” to agreeing to write a novelization for a movie that flopped.

A week ago my son’s dream of becoming a paramedic died by the decision of another man.

My own dream of publishing a SF novel is dead. I haven’t had a story accepted in a major magazine since ANALOG published “Warning! Warning!” five years ago and the market isn’t getting any better.

I have come to loathe the death of dreams in my life as well as the lives of others. As is usual, those whose dreams die are usually the best, the brightest, the youngest and the kindest. The ones who see their dreams realized are the ones who hold closely to clichés, and who pander to the masses. The novels and stories that get the awards are the ones we think will impress outsiders most – like when the Andre Norton Award went to HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE DEATHLY HALLOWS (J. K Rowling wasn’t interested in accepting the award herself…) – rather than the ones that stretch the imagination and explore new ground. The books that get published in multiple series are lauded because “at least people are reading” – at least this was the excuse I heard when kids were reading the GOOSEBUMPS books. Meanwhile, books that are different and exciting, like THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY by Adam Rex are ignored. The market is flooded with fantasy and vampires and zombies while science fiction is published blockbuster writers typing endless series in worlds they didn’t even invent. The ones with the grandest dreams of peace on Earth die horrible deaths and the ones who prefer business as usual continue on and on.

I have come to loathe the death of dreams.

But once killed, are dreams dead forever? Will we be subject to endless iterations of STAR WARS as the representative of science fiction and authors who steal their titles from old hymns without giving credit for the work? Will I ever see a book published with my name on it? Will we ever have true racial equality? Will my son ever be a paramedic?

It is in the nature of dreams to persist; of nightmares to be burned into memory; and of dreams to be recurring.

“Keep your dreams alive. Understand that to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe.” Gail Devers

Lastly: “It will come about after this, that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” Joel 2:8

I have come to loathe the death of dreams; but is seems my loathsomeness (:-)) is misplaced because dreams do not die – they just need to be cared for. If they are poured out again and again and again, then that means we’ll always have a fresh supply to take care of.

My concluding thought is a question: Dreams are like goldfish then, right?


July 12, 2009

WRITING ADVICE: The Last of LIN OLIVER: Keep a Success Chart

(This is the last bit of advice I gleaned from the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Fall 2008 Conference – well, not the LAST bit of advice, but it was the last point Lin Oliver brought up in her talk. Next time, with permission, I'll start another author’s advice list – and how it applies to me…and maybe you.)

I confess this is one that I stopped doing some time ago.

It simply got too depressing.

I do run a sort of “chart” alongside this column. You can see many of my major publications. It looks nice – until you know the details which follow:

Stories For Children Magazine (http://storiesforchildrenmagazine.org/default.aspx ) is a non-paying market. Don’t get me wrong – the people that run SFCM are wonderful people. The magazine is professional looking and full of great writing and art. But it doesn’t pay anything. The Anthology DID pay and the activities book I just finished for them also paid. But…but…but…

I have not heard from the editors of TURTLE MAGAZINE for several months and the fact is that the editor said they were holding it for POSSIBLE publication. No contract signed there – and no word yet, either.

FUN FOR KIDS buys their manuscripts way, way ahead of time. Look and see when I might expect payment and publication. Also reflect on the economy.

AOIFE’S KISS and DRAGONS, KNIGHTS AND ANGELS (DKA has since been rolled into a different online magazine) both paid at the “token” level…$5 apiece. They are publication credits but hardly anything to write home about and just enough to make me want more.

THE WRITER, while it was indeed The Writer that published the article, they did so online. It paid, absolutely. It was fun. But there’s no paper trail and it vanished into the flowing electrons of cyberspace and never had a chance to be pinned on someone’s bulletin board.

So, the last time I had something published that provided both a substantial paycheck and created a lasting impression was ANALOG in ________ (fill in the blank).

And there you go – my “success” chart leaves me feeling depressed.

Oh, I know some of you will come raging back at me to say, “At least you GOT published!” and I have to nod and say, “That’s true.”

But…but...but…

This is the one bit of advice given by Lin Oliver that I am sorely tempted to disregard. The only problem is that I can’t help looking back at my stuff and reflecting on it, worrying at it like a puppy at an old slipper; like a dog returning to its…well, you know. So another question pops up: How can I NOT keep going back to my “success chart” and wondering exactly what the 5 years since my last substantial paycheck means? How can I NOT keep poking at the thin scab that has formed over the gaping wound of my ego?

I CANNOT not keep a “success chart”. I am not, I think, using it the way Lin intended us to use it. I am not using it to inspire myself to greater and greater success.

I am using it to remind myself how long it’s been since I wrote something saleable.

And that, I think is a misuse of Lin Oliver’s advice.

Gotta work on that…

July 5, 2009

Slice of PIE: First Ever NAME HUMANITY Contest!

In manuscripts I’ve sent out to magazines, both paper and online, I have been upbraided for capitalizing the word Human.

I’d like to take a moment to explain myself and to ask a few questions. I capitalize Human because you’d capitalize Martian, Kzinti, Jophur or any other alien species or race (Q: Why are “race” and “species” used interchangeably in SF stories? Both have specific meanings – which some writers seem to ignore).

A possible explanation might be that SF people think that our generic species name is so ubiquitous (that means so all over) that there is no reason to capitalize it to set it apart. In other words, everyone knows that we call ourselves “human”, so we don’t need to say anything more.

Another argument is that we keep “human” lower case because aliens are always named after their homeworld and we do NOT live on Huma. Though, if you wanted to get picky about it, we should call ourselves Di qiu-ans – which is the Mandarin Chinese word for the planet Earth and more people on Earth speak Chinese than any other language. (A side issue here is the implicit assumption that alien races or species will speak a unified language. Are the over 6000 languages spoken on Earth some indication that we are primitive or not “up-to-snuff” in an interstellar sort of way? Or is it simply easier for a writer to assume that every alien species or race speaks one language? Lastly, why do Humans in SF all speak colloquial American? Very, very few writers even acknowledge that their Humans speak anything but American even when their characters are of Hispanic, Asian or African descent.)

A darker explanation presents itself. Is the lower-case-ization of Human really a conspiracy of far-left-wing-liberal-parking-lot-bulldozing-back-to-the-stone-age de-humanizers to place Humans in their rightful evolutionary place as “just part of the family tree”: tree shrew, lemur-like prosimians, monkeys, dryopithecines, chimpanzees, hominids, human? The lower-case-ization of Human neatly severs Humanity from God (oops, god) and places him (or her) in the realm of the animals. (A secondary and possibly more insidious explanation here is the one that suggests that all aliens will be superior to us, so we must capitalize THEIR names and not our own.)

Last of all, some SF writers have tried valiantly to call us all Terrans, a name derived from the Latin word for Earth, terra. Somehow, I cannot imagine everyone picking up that name, either. Especially if you were Finnish – which is part of the Uralian family of languages (like Estonian, Hungarian and several other ethnic Russian languages) rather than the Indo-European family, like Latin and English.

So, your thoughts on this thorny subject are welcome and if you’d like, you can offer up a name by which we will call ourselves once we get into interstellar space and meet the neighbors. Maybe I’ll have a contest! That’s it! Give me the name by which we should call ourselves when we are introduced to interstellar society, I’ll collect them and then we’ll vote on it! (The vote will be non-binding, of course. You can go ahead and call yourself whatever you want the next time you meet an alien.)

Hurry up with those names! In the style of Bruce Bethke, I’ll give you two weeks to enter your choice of name by which the Human race will introduce itself to the Universe at our eventual, deep Southern traditional Coming Out party.

Your due date is July 19, 2009 – I look forward to seeing your entries!