All posts by Phil W

Watch Out for the One in the Black Hat

When I pointed to Jana Riess’ post on Christy Award nominees last Friday, I remembered some criticism of a Christian suspense novel which I didn’t mention here on BwB. I’m uncomfortable with negative reviews–well, at least of living authors.

I heard Musician Michael Card talk about criticism of his music from the press. I think he said it was almost entirely unhelpful, but he may have said only the negative reviews or pointed critiques were unhelpful, the reason being that the critic is outside the artist’s community. The artist has no relationship with the critic in the press, so negative comments have no context for interpretation. Does the critic really know his subject when he says the artist’s song is a pseudo-type of a purer form (e.g. He says a song has a wanna-be gospel melody. This could be informed feedback or snarkiness.) Card’s point was that artists should live in an active, supportive community with people who can criticize the artwork in a way that builds the artist. Card said he has received only one negative review which helped him, and he thought it showed that his community had failed him by not giving him the same critique before the album was published.

So maybe it’s the same idea that holds me back with some negative criticism I have. I probably should spill forth with vigor and contagious energy whatever positive or negative criticism I can harvest from my fertile brain. And I probably won’t.

Enough of that–what about the book? It was a mystery or suspense novel, so I expected the bad guy, who first appeared in the late middle of the story, to be one of the major characters, maybe one of the more developed minors. There were only a few developed characters, so my expectation didn’t make much sense, but I held it nonetheless. The police floated suspected names from the back-story, not actual characters, but of course if the story went in that direction, it would have felt hollow with no real enemy at all.

The bad guy turned out to be a slightly developed minor character whom my sweet wife had spotted at a distance. She said he was the only character presented in a bad light. I didn’t notice the lighting, but I remember him being an antagonist from the start. I didn’t suspect him because I thought he was too minor a character. And, yes, the story felt a bit hollow because of it.

Another problem I had with this novel was the unannounced Christian flavor. I wasn’t ready to assume the characters were born-again believers before given evidence of their faith, so when the main character prayed quietly, “God, this is a terrible situation,” I assumed he was talking to himself. He did it again later, and I suspected he was praying. At one point, a character was introduced as an unbeliever, and I think that should have been my guideline. Assume faith unless told otherwise. I don’t think that’s a habit I can make.

Hymn: Our Salvation

I put these words to a 15th Century hymn tune, which is often sung as “Sing We Now of Christmas.” You can listen to a good midi version through that link. I also found part of it sampled from this choral album. It has that beautifully ancient quality I admire in many hymns.

Our Salvation

Glory to our God who reigns over everything.

He rebuilds our hearts to give us mind to sing

Of Him, the I Am

Our hope in heaven’s Lamb,

His redemptive choice, and eternal blessing.

The Lord gives His blessing to all who receive

By the mouth confessing, by the heart believe

That Jesus is Lord

And from the grave restored,

That all who come believing may His life receive.

To Love’s gracious call we could not answer then;

For as Adam’s children, we were dead in sin.

But Jesus, our Lord,

Had chosen us before

He set the planets spinning in the solar wind.

Did the Lord Teach Us Nothing?

I like this passage from Lars’ book, The Year of the Warrior, in which the hero is talking to his blind friend, Helge:

. . . I told Helge about Eyvind Ragnvaldsson. “He says the world is an illusion, subject to shaping by those who’ve trained themselves in secret truths. It’s heresy, of course–buut that knife passed straight through his body. I saw it. It jarred me, friend. I’ll say this to you, and to no other living man: Suppose we misunderstood our Lord? Suppose He rose from the dead because He knew that the world of things is but a dream and so was able to impose His will on the dream?”

“That’s easier to believe, I think, when you live by sight. For me, who must meet the world by ever barking my shins on it, it’s hard to shrug off bodies so lightly.”

“But suppose we can’t trust any of our senses?”

“Then why believe what you saw Eyvind do? The knife that passed through him cuts both ways.”

“You’re right, of course. I never thought of it so.”

“But it goes further. You must decide what you believe. Do you believe that our Lord spent three years with His disciples, and they learned nothing from Him at all? Absorbed not an inkling of His real teaching? If so, He was the worst teacher ever born. Can you really believe that?”

A Psalm for Violent Times

A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

O LORD, how many are my foes!

Many are rising against me;

many are saying of my soul,

there is no salvation for him in God. Selah

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,

my glory, and the lifter of my head.

I cried aloud to the LORD,

and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah

I lay down and slept;

I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.

I will not be afraid of many thousands of people

who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O LORD!

Save me, O my God!

For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;

you break the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the LORD;

your blessing be on your people! Selah

(Psalm 3, English Standard Version)

Author Yoram Kaniuk from Tel Aviv

Nextbook.org is running a series of diary posts from Author Yoram Kaniuk, who has been called “the great Israeli voice of his generation.” Read his latest entry here. He writes, “Our war started when the British issued the Balfour Declaration, which gave the Jews the right to be recognized as a national entity. Since then, the war has been called by various names, but it’s the same war that began in 1920.”

I agree. Why do the leaders of the world disagree? Why does the American press disagree?

I wonder if many members of the press core don’t take the attitude of these girls Kaniuk quotes: “Five girls with their navels hanging out—two look like hooks for rings—are laughing and talking loudly. One says, ‘What? Are you sure? You’re kidding me! What? His father was killed by a rocket in Haifa? I just saw him a week ago. What a crazy country, that he could die that way, like, how weird is that?’”

Not just a crazy enough country, lass, but a crazy enough world in which would-be leaders and elected officials argue against your country’s right to defend itself. If Cuba had a militia in Mexico and kidnapped two of our soldiers after years of verbal abuse and forked-tongue diplomacy punctuated with errant missiles and suicide bombers in El Paso and Las Vegas, would the liberals of America argue for restraint and police procedure over military engagement? Israel was attacked, has been attacked, and will continue to be attacked by terrorists who do not believe they should exist. The U.N. appears to agree with the terrorists even though they have proclaimed Israel’s existence and mapped out their territory. And the old officials from the last administration as well as like-minded Democrats call for a ceasefire. What will that accomplish? Terrorists may stop shooting, but only to regroup.

SOLD: Multnomah and Thomas Nelson

Bloomberg reports on the sale of two Christian publishers to large publishing corporations. The more recent deal, the sale of Multnomah, is still anonymous. Publishers Weekly believes the buyer is Random House, though they already own WaterBrook Press so why would they buy another Christian publisher.

On June 8, Thomas Nelson was sold to InterMedia Partners, a private equity firm.

The article concludes with this interesting note:

Thomas Nelson has even invested in its own form of the mega- church. In 2000, the company bought the Women of Faith franchise. Based in Plano, Texas, this self-described “spiritual spa” offers music and a roster of speakers — often Thomas Nelson authors — over two days in an arena setting. Last year, an average of 15,000 people attended each event, and 422,000 people in all bought tickets.

These events have plenty of well-stocked book tables. Thomas Nelson President Michael Hyatt said exposure like this is better than anything he can get in a bookstore.

Using the Bookstore as a Library

Lynne Scanlon also complains about the shoppers in some stores, which I felt was interesting enough to put in a unique post:

If Borders were to become the preferred destination for book buyers, people would walk or drive the extra distance and pass right by a Barnes & Noble.

Jones already gets the message that too much time is spent by walk-ins and loungers who spend too little money at the cash registers. He’d like to remedy that, so would I. I loath tripping over those parked baby buggies (install meters!) and having to deal with kids whose moms use Barnes & Noble as a place to kill a few hours on the cheap. PT Barnum faced the same problem until he hung a sign that said: “This Way to the Egress!” I like the idea of a sign that reads: “First you pay, then you read.”

Is that too harsh? Does it conflict with her idea about inviting writers to write on in-store computers? Does it conflict a bit with coffeeshops in stores?

Suggestions for Remaking a Major Bookseller

Lynne Scanlon notes that Borders Group has a new CEO, and she wonders what he could do to make Borders and WaldenBooks more attractive than Barnes & Noble. She has many great suggestions:

  • Make exclusive arrangements with publishers to sell specific books at Borders and Borders only.
  • Create a “new format” book that is sold exclusively at Borders.
  • Co-publish books with Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and medium- and small-sized publishers. Give preferential shelf placement in lieu of a cash investment.
  • Have a prestigious VIP cash register and pass out discount coupons to the big spenders, say, at the $150 purchase level.
  • Rope off a special VIP room for people who buy books in quantity and make these readers feel important because they are!
  • Have “For Authors Only Socials” where local authors meet local authors in Borders to socialize over a glass of wine or something significantly stronger.
  • Offer to rent computer space in Borders to struggling writers.

There are more and commenters join in. What do you think?

CNN Reporting Hezbollah’s Prepared Message

CNN’s man in Beirut, Nic Robertson, told CNN’s Reliable Sources host Howard Kurtz that Hezbollah controlled his story entirely. Rich Noyes blogs on it:

Robertson suggested Hezbollah has “very, very sophisticated and slick media operations,” that the terrorist group “had control of the situation. They designated the places that we went to, and we certainly didn’t have time to go into the houses or lift up the rubble to see what was underneath,” and he even contradicted Hezbollah’s self-serving spin: “There’s no doubt that the [Israeli] bombs there are hitting Hezbollah facilities.”

Comic Con: Smarter Pop Culture

This report by Borys Kit states that Hollywood knows where to woo and make-up with “pop culture’s smart set”–at the largest comic book convention in the country. A quick run-down:

  • Bryan Singer announced that he was discussing the sequel to his Superman movie. The crowd loved the idea, despite the many problems they had with it.
  • How about this answer Singer gave to the fan who thought that having an illegitiate child would compromise Superman’s character: “Love in the modern world takes many forms,” he said. “There are many kinds of families that exist now, and sometimes pregnancies occur unintentionally, and it’s a choice to have a child.” Profound.
  • Principles from Spiderman 3 appeared.
  • Samuel L. Jackson, who hails from Chattanooga, TN, bowled over the crowds.
  • Studios showed excerpts from “Children of Men,” “Stardust,” and “Eragon.”
  • Bryan Singer said comic books will prove to be the mythology of our age.

Open Mic

I hope to blog later today, but don’t let that stop you from commenting while I wait. I know you’ve been wanting to say something, so go ahead.

Technical Errors in Some Recent Christian Fiction

Five-time Christy Award Judge Jana Riess talks about this year’s batch of first novels. After praising some specific books, she writes:

As a judge, every year I’ve been able to say quite honestly that despite generally uneven quality and a few total dogs in each batch, the overall picture for Christian fiction continues to improve. This year, however, gave me pause. What was interesting was that my main criticism in the past — that the novels tended to be overly didactic and preachy — was not a common problem among the 25 novels I read. There were only a few that hammered readers over the head with A Message. Instead, this year’s problems were technical: characters who were important in the first half of the book who entirely disappear in the second. Plot threads that go absolutely nowhere. Stock characters and plots that are almost entirely predictable. Overuse of sentence fragments. And excessive conjunctions at the beginning of sentences.

Read on. [seen in on JMarkBertrand.com]

Congratulations to Nicole Mazzarella for her debut novel, This Heavy Silence.

Words vs. Reality

Thomas Sowell writes: “One of the many failings of our educational system is that it sends out into the world people who cannot tell rhetoric from reality. They have learned no systematic way to analyze ideas, derive their implications and test those implications against hard facts.”

I guess we forgot in some circumstances that talk is actually cheap. We understand that in relationships, but not in world policies.