Category Archives: Creative Writing

Book pitch: ‘Writing Speculative Fiction: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, Teacher’s Ed.’ by Lelia Rose Foreman

Writing Speculative Fiction

My friend Lelia Rose Foreman has written a text book, Writing Speculative Fiction: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, Teacher’s Ed. It is aimed especially at home schoolers teaching high schoolers. An excerpt from my novel Death’s Doors is incorporated, with my permission.

‘The War of Art,’ by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art

Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.

Someone suggested to me that I might enjoy Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art (and yes, I caught the reversal on Sun Tsu’s The Art of War… eventually). I’ve been struggling with my work in progress (it’s coming, but I’m fighting for every inch of ground), and I thought, what could it hurt?

It’s a remarkable book. I’m still not entirely sure what to think about it, though.

It might save you the cost of purchase if I give you the basic message right here – the only way to succeed as a writer is to become a professional. Sit yourself down at your desk at the same time every day, and work at your craft. Don’t listen to the negative voices in your head. Especially don’t listen to the ones that say, “I’ll just skip it today.”

But the value of the book is (of course) in the reader’s journey. In polished, powerful prose Pressfield (author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, Gates of Fire, and other bestselling books) analyses the writer’s problem (we have an enemy, which he calls “Resistance,” and we must learn to tread it under our feet). And he tells the story of his own evolution from a blocked, self-pitying wannabee to a fulfilled professional (anyone can do it, he says, which I think is an exaggeration. Not for me, of course, but for you other folks).

What troubles me about the book is its religious nature. When Pressfield talks about his Muse, he’s not being metaphorical. He lays out a whole theory of reality and consciousness (based on Jung), and says he believes that his muse actually exists. He prays to her each time he sits down to write.

On the negative side, he condemns all forms of Fundamentalism. “Fundamentalism and art,” he says, “are mutually exclusive.”

I take that kind of personally. I think you could call the medieval Roman Catholic Church fundamentalist, by his definition, and they did pretty well on the art front. The Puritans themselves gave us Milton and Bunyan.

So I’m uncomfortable with Pressfield’s religious statements. Speaking as a fundamentalist, I worry that he may have sold his soul to a devil, or be possessed in some way.

So I can’t wholeheartedly recommend The War of Art. As a motivational book, it’s excellent (I had a pretty good writing day the day I finished reading it). But spiritually I found it hazardous.

Also, cautions for language.

“Summary Execution”

(Just a bit of short, short fiction. I think the idea’s clever, but I’m expecting to learn that someone has done it before.)

“Into the alley, swine,” said Sergeant Adler. He kicked the manacled prisoner, who stumbled and fell forward onto his knees. Adler followed into the shadows with a nod to the patrolmen, who returned his nod and strolled away together.

“You think you will be taken into custody,” he said to the prisoner. “Consultation with a lawyer, arraignment, trial before a judge.”

“You don’t understand,” the prisoner stuttered. He was a foreigner. His German was bad.

“No, it is you who do not understand,” said Adler. “You do not understand that there are crimes that do not warrant the protections of the law. For such crimes – such crimes as you just attempted – we policemen deal with the criminal ourselves, saving the state the costs of your pointless defense.”

“No, listen –”

Adler aimed another kick at the prisoner, who fell on his side, whimpering.

“All that will be spent on such an animal as you is the price of one bullet,” said Adler, raising his service pistol.

“No! You’ve got to listen to me,” the prisoner whimpered. “That boy – he’s not just a boy! He’s – he’s a monster! If he’s allowed to live, millions will die. He’ll start a movement, become a dictator! The whole world will suffer! I’m not a German. I’m not even from this time in history. I’m a traveler from the future! I’ve come back to stop him! The boy’s name is A-”

Adler’s pistol barked. The prisoner jerked and went slack.

“If there’s one thing that cannot be endured in a civilized country,” said Adler, “it’s a child killer.”

What’s Under the Tree?

Pre-wrapped gifts are essential, or her little darling will pitch a fit.

She shoulders the door open, her arms stretched around sparkling presents, hoping this will be the last gift run of the year.

She hears a tiny voice singing by the fir tree, plucking each word, “You better watch out.”

Unloading her packages on the floor, she glances at her blotchy-faced, wild-eyed child, whose ruddy fingers like tentacles clutch the nearest branch, corrupting the evergreen with an insatiable, yellowing appetite, as the little darling jabs at gifts with a candy cane, shaking the tree with each word—mine, mine.

(Written for the Advent Ghost Story Fest)

Taking liberties with realism

Our friend Loren Eaton at I Saw Lightning Fall exegetes the ways the Daredevil series improves its storytelling by getting the real world wrong:

Here’s the interesting thing, though: While all these examples might falter on the ground of plausibility, they do yeoman’s work in developing both characters and plots, in advancing scenarios and revealing personal peculiarities. When Kingpin calls Vanessa on the carpet for concealed carry, viewers learn that she’s not some ingénue, but rather an empowered woman with her own ambitions: “We’ve been sitting here talking for hours, and you’re going to insult me like I have no idea what you really do? … I know you’re a dangerous man. That’s why I brought a gun to a dinner date.”

Read it all here.

‘Mary Sue the Barbarian’

Patheos Public Square has published an article by me. You can read it here.

It is Christians, after all, who (almost alone in our present age) recognize that “there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Our confessions declare that we are not good people but evil people, saved not by our golden deeds and noble aspirations, but by the work of Someone Else. To look into our own hearts, recognize the evil there, and mine that material for dramatic ore ought to be no problem for us. We’ve seen our sin (presumably) and repented it. We are under no further illusions about our essential goodness. When a story calls for a monster, we ought to have plenty of models at hand. We ought to have Legions.

He Sees You When You’re Sleeping

The bundle bounces against Hayk’s back as he dashes behind houses. Barely a mark on the shadows, he slips in through crack and out by door with another name scratched off his list. But what did he care for a list? He’d take anyone.

Whimpering cries tumble from his sack as he hurtles a fence.

“Back to Hayk’s mine!”

Crash!

He breaks against a snarling mastiff with dawn in his eyes, who grabs his leg and flings him into the trees, scattering children across the yard.

With guttural barks, the dog drives them, bruised and wailing, back to their homes.

(This is one of many 100-word stories offered for I Saw Lightening Fall’s Advent Ghosts 2015. Many more stories through the link, including Lars’ story earlier this month, and my past contributions can be found under the content tag “flash fiction.”)

Sir John Coleville’s Daring Fight Against the Fairies

Loren Eaton and I have collaborated on a fun story using the Legendary Author Battles format given to us by Simon Canton. You can listen to the tale above and get a written version on Simon’s site.

I hope you enjoy it. I had fun writing it in response to the terrific tone Loren set in his parts. Do tell us what you think about it.

You can listen to the other shared storytelling I did in this vein here.

Shared Storytelling: Author Battle

A few weeks ago, a couple guys invited me to participate in a Google+ group they called Legendary Author Battles (LAB). It’s a shared storytelling like we have discussed here in the past. One writer begins, the other continues, and back and forth until a conclusion. Then Simon Cantan makes a video of the authors reading their parts.

This is my first one, and even though I wish I could have taken my reading dramatics up several notches, I think the story itself is pretty good. Feel free to tell me I’m wrong.

The story is an urban fantasy which pits a telepathic librarian against an urban developer. The businessman wants to buy up the neighborhood, but the librarian and his neighbors won’t go along with him. That standard beginning doesn’t come anywhere near describing the whole story, so give it a listen and tell me what you think.

I shared this story with Dave Higgins, who has a new book out.

Holiday Shopping with a Smile

Libby’s famous smile flickers when she sees another woman smile from the opposite escalator with a wide, toothy grimace.

“A face only a mother would love,” she mutters, striding over to the next mall store with extended sales. She smiles at the cashier. He grins back, his ears vanishing behind a wall of gleaming teeth.

Forgetting everything now, she hurries back into a suddenly manic throng, passing from leer to leer as other shoppers direct her to the fire-lit house built with toys. Waifs grab her hands and pull her to an enormous, red man with a wide, open mouth.

(Written for Loren Eaton’s 2013 Advent Ghost Storytelling Fest)

Browsing

Scanning new sci-fi titles, I feel someone’s eyes on me, but I am alone in the aisle. The books near me begin beeping and flashing. Are these interactive novels? A metal hand grabs at my finger. Eyes on tentacles spring from the novels at my feet, a gurgling cry at my back! I dash out through waving space gloves.

Between the aisles, I catch my breath.

Maybe I can find something to read among the thrillers.

Sticky questions on Christian art

Andrew Klavan posted a thoughtful article today called “Eyes Wide Shut: Christians Against Art” which ought to spark some discussion. Klavan is rare among Christian fiction writers in that he learned his craft first, and then embraced the Faith. That places him in what must be at times an awkward position – he knows what makes for a good story, and sometimes that’s something that his fellow believers don’t like.

An artist’s job — even if he’s a Christian artist — is not to sell Jesus, it’s to depict life truly. A Christian’s faith is that Christ lives in real life, not only in pastel greeting cards with Easter bunnies on them. Thus any honest and good work of art should be capable of strengthening a believer in his belief — even if it strengthens him by challenging him, by making him doubt and then address those doubts.

Art only goes wrong when it lies. Pornography is so deadening (and so addictive to some!) because it depicts human intercourse without humanity — something that never occurs in real life, not ever. Most bad art does something similar — and some good art includes dishonest moments that need to be confronted and rebuked.

But good art can be about absolutely anything and still lift us heavenward….

I can’t, frankly, share his approval of the Game of Thrones series, but I do so with fear and trembling, fully aware that Klavan understands stories at a much deeper level than I do. Still, after reading the first four GOT books, I grew wholly disillusioned with George R. R. Martin’s (to me) cynical and nihilistic approach. If I were to watch the Game of Thrones series (I haven’t), my only motivation would have to be seeing the female nudity, because I can’t work up any other.

Klavan might be comforted somewhat – though the example is an old one – to read the Science Fiction Fantasy Writers of America’s current Bulletin, which includes what may be the last “Resnick & Malzberg Dialogue.” (See my Wednesday post.) Barry Malzberg reminisces, in view of recent attempts to muzzle the two of them: Continue reading Sticky questions on Christian art

View the Review

A reader told me today that a bookseller had told her that the TV series Vikings was based on my novel West Oversea.

I hadn’t heard about this, but if I’ve got money coming, I hereby retract all my hard words and declare that Vikings is the greatest depiction of the Viking Age ever depicted. (I think the episode where the de-Pict Scotland is yet to be aired.)

Today my essay on Christian Fantasy, entitled The Christian Fantasy, appears at The Intercollegiate Review‘s web page. Thanks to Anthony Sacramone for the invitation.

I think that gives you enough to read this evening.

Family Reunion: Advent Ghosts 2012

“Not this again!” William growls.

The traditional roasted chicken and dressing, gravy, green beans, and corn sit steaming on the table while his wife glides about the room, bringing honeyed ham, broccoli casserole, rolls and muffins, tomato and squash soups—everything as overabundantly perfect as it had been every Christmas. Beautiful, but ethereal.

His sons and daughter, their bodies scorched from the fire three years ago, quietly urge him to eat “to forget this weary world.”

Eyes burning, he throws a coat over his pajamas and stumbles into the icy street. His wife follows with a cup of flaming cider.

(Index of all stories submitted to the Advent Ghosts Storytelling Fest)

100 Word Short: New Year’s Eve

Katelynn set down her bowl of noodles with a sigh that next year would be different, more productive, a little creative, and maybe romantic somehow. She’d lose weight and eat healthier meals. Her tree with tiny picture frames and thinning garland lingered by her apartment’s balcony door. A stack of unaddressed “Best Wishes” cards sat on the couch beneath an empty bag of chips. She stretched out her feet to rest on a laundry basket and began searching for cookbooks and cooking videos online.

And her coke fizzed like it always did. And her clock ticked like it always did.

—-

I hope you have a good year, and in case you need a warm-up on tonight’s song, this is “Auld Lang Syne” as performed by Scottish folk group The Cast. And should you need a warm-up on your Christian theology, here’s an article by Tullian Tchividjian which has greatly blessed me this year.