- Joseph De Maistre
A quick post in passing, to apologize for only doing quick posts in passing -- and few of them. I wish I could promise improvement, but it doesn't look likely soon. My online graduate studies are kicking my tush, eating my lunch, drinking my milkshake... whatever metaphor you want to apply to a process that is sucking all the energy and time from my life.
I've even got a review I've been wanting to write.
But it won't happen tonight.
On a cheerier note, I've been cleared to drive again, and am mostly healed up.
Alex Medina writes:
When we only recognize art as being distinctly Christian when it is preaching the gospel, a Christian who is not looking for selfish-gain and desires to make music that is less explicit is seen as shrinking back from their faith. A Christian who desires to make an entire album about nature, beauty, and social justice is not being unfaithful to the Gospel of Christ. They need no justification to create art. They are free to create art about anything and everything that belongs to their God, which is everything.
In 2011, 77 Norwegians were killed on July 22nd. Norway's prime minister said, "A paradise island has been transformed into a hell."
Now, the country plans to develop a memorial on Utoeya island by cutting through it and sealing it with the victims' names. They are calling it "Memory Wound." "Visitors to the memorial, which is titled Memory Wound, will by guided down a pathway through the island's forest into a tunnel that leads to the wound. The tunnel ends abruptly at the cut, where visitors will be able to see to the other side," reports The Verge.
See large mock-ups of the memorial.
When I read this article about a prolific pastor-author hiring a marketing firm to put his book on the bestselling "Advice, How-to" list, I wondered how it could possibly work. I roughly understand how a company could coordinate purchasing 3,000 books, both in bulk and individual sales, but what would they do with all of those books?
Apparently, they return them. This WSJ article on authors buying their way onto bestseller lists, says some marketers believe hitting that list once is the doorway to invitations and future success. Once you're on the list for a week, you can claim to be a bestselling author.
Last August, a book titled "Leapfrogging" hit The Wall Street Journal's list of best-selling business titles upon its debut. The following week, sales of the book, written by first-time author Soren Kaplan, plunged 99% and it fell off the list.Isn't this equivalent to creating an award to give to yourself so you can claim to be an award winner?
Something similar happened when the hardcover edition of "Networking is Dead," was published in mid-December. A week after selling enough copies to make it onto the Journal's business best-seller list, more hardcover copies of the book were returned than sold, says book-sales tracker Nielsen BookScan.
The marketing idea hamster Seth Godin recommends ignoring the NY Times lists altogether. "The curious know that there are in fact two lists for non-fiction hardcover books. The first list, the regular list, is the list of ‘real’ books of the sort the Times would like people to read. The second list is a ghetto, a place for How To, Advice, and the always coveted ‘Miscellaneous’ books to reside. This list was invented by the editors at the Times because these books were crowding out the other, better, books from the list."
He says questions about serving your readers become overwhelmed by concerns about placement on the Times list. Is your goal as an author to serve your readers or your message, or is it to serve the eccentricities of this list?
Jared Wilson, who has a new book out, lists five reasons buying placement on any bestseller list is dishonest, egocentric, and poor steward, among other things. Speaking particularly to pastors who write:
"If you’re simply trying to expand the audience of the gospel — or your gospel-teaching material — wouldn’t it be more effective to simply purchase thousands of copies of your book and give them away to lost people? Or, alternatively, not to sell your book at all and just give it away for free? (Did Keith Green make any bestseller lists? Has John Piper?)"
Let me write about myself for a minute. For the past several months, I've been pursuing a new line of work and I spent part of that time wondering what that line should be. I'm still looking for work in various ways, but my main thrust this year will be freelance writing and editing.
I am bidding on projects through Elance.com and Writer.ly (some interesting stuff on these site). I haven't gotten to other freelance venues yet, and I like the testing options available through Elance. They verify your skills to a degree. If you have work that could be hired out, you can post a job with Elance and invite me to bid on it. Naturally, I would do my best writing ever, and the project would be more profitable than your wildest dreams, and we would sing each other's praises for months. The regulars at the pub would love us for at least a day. Maybe two! Feel free to look at my Writer.ly profile too. It's still in beta mode, but some people are finding work there.
I am happy to have made new connections with a couple editing services. There are two other organizations who have me on their writing roster also. Of course, there's LinkedIn for general networking. With all of these connections, I am not at all busy. I'd like to try being busy, for a change of pace.
I started this blog in 2004. Lars joined me several months later. Since we're an established lit-blog, we are asked to review various independent books. Every time I agree to receive a book for review, I hope to love it. I usually don't, and I wish I could reply with an offer to edit this already published book. It would be rude to make such an offer, but the need bleeds upon the page. Through these new services, perhaps I can field editing requests from authors who have a good story and need help making it great.
Loren Eaton wanted to like the movie Monsters (2010), but the opening scene killed it for him. "I'd have an easier time liking it if it didn't lie to me in its opening scene," he says. Spoilers.
Also in movie news, Vic Armstrong appears to be remaking Left Behind. I can't tell if this is a straight-forward remake or a comic one. Look at some of the promo images. They're silly.
A strong Christian movie reviewers, critic, take-down artist (however you want to think of it) Steven D. Greydanus has written about homosexual themes in Disney's latest fantasy, Frozen. He didn't like the movie much without this part, but he makes several points on what he thinks is subversive in this movie. He is probably right on a few points, but overall I disagree. I don't think the Oaken is a gay man with his husband and family in the sauna, and I wish Disney people would step up to settle the issue (though I doubt they will).
Steven writes, "And yet, in this case the filmmakers have walked that line really well: so well that the pro-gay themes have gone right over the heads of countless adult Christian viewers, many of whom have embraced Frozen as resonating powerfully with Christian themes."
Frozen by superstarwordgirl on deviantART
He has since published his response to suggestions Frozen is a marvelous Christian parable of sorts. "The common crux of most of these religious readings of Frozen," he says, "is the climactic, self-sacrificial act by which Anna saves Elsa before being restored to life — an act that, according to Frozen’s theologically minded enthusiasts, recalls the saving death and resurrection of Jesus."
But this is common in fairy tales, where people are often saved from death or near-death curses.
Steven asks, "Who is really saved in that climactic sacrificial act, Elsa or Anna?
Anna sacrifices herself to save Elsa from a fleeting, mundane threat: a treacherous enemy lurks behind Elsa with drawn sword to cut her down. In principle, this is a trivial threat to Elsa — one that, with her powers, she could easily ward off if she were alerted to it.For a bit about the motivations behind the popular song, "Let It Go," the writers talk about it here. "... she was exalted at her coronation as being so perfect and wonderful. But the moment that Elsa revealed that she was a little bit odd, everyone turned on her and then chased her out of the kingdom."
By contrast, Anna is in far more serious, profound and thematically important physical peril. Anna’s heart has turned to ice, and the ice is insidiously spreading through her whole body, swallowing and devouring her humanity.
It’s worth noting that the original Hans Christian Andersen story "The Snow Queen," the nominal inspiration for Frozen, climaxes in a scene strikingly similar to the one at the end of Frozen: a heroine weeping over the frozen body of a victim whose heart has turned to ice. In Anderson, however, the frozen victim’s icy heart is thawed by the hot tears of the other person’s love.
Eric Christensen lists 10 things he rather not see in new fantasy, such as The Chosen One (The Special), dark lords, limitless magic, and uniformity among races. I would add blind seers to this list. What do you think of these things? Would you add or subtract anything?
Joanne Harris has released a fantasy novel, or is it a memoir, telling the story of Loki's rise and fall in his own voice. Harris says she stayed close the source material, even though Loki has a modern voice. "Because he’s the ultimate unreliable narrator – and because I knew I’d enjoy writing his voice. I’ve made it very modern because Loki seems to me to be a very modern anti-hero – flawed, morally ambivalent, yet charismatic."
I'll bet he never made on SatNiLiv either.
Just a quick update on my condition. I remain at my remote location in Iowa, healing up and seeing a physical therapist a couple times a week. Every day, in certain ways, I am getting better and better. Off pain meds, walking on my own a little (in carefully selected locations), feeling like a person again.
My time is dominated by trying to catch up on my graduate school work, an effort that is driving me nearly mad -- mad, I tell you! But I carry on.
I was trying to think of my memories of surgery. I remember being in the pre-op waiting room, and the nurse beginning to move me out... then nothing. I have a vague recollection of being somewhere and being told it was all over and they'd be taking me to my room, but I don't recall what that place was like at all. After that, a few days in the hospital, during which I was incredibly blessed by numerous visits by friends. My brothers sort of tag-teamed it to keep me company almost all the time.
My major fear going in was that, because they were doing a spinal block for anesthesia, I'd be conscious and aware during surgery. But if I was, I've forgotten. Amnesia is good. I could use more of it.
Aaron Armstrong talks about the word heresy and how a popular author is probably misusing it. Heresy is a serious matter. To use the word to mean rebel, outsider, or maverick doesn't help when we have to talk about actual heresy.
Several days ago, Nick Harrison listed five points of writing advice he labeled heresy. Ok, he didn't, but he did not like them. Now he offers five things he likes. For example, he says, "If you write fiction, please remember that you’re not just telling a story or passing along information. Your goal is to emotionally move your reader."
For more writing fun, Chip Macgregor describes several things editors love (by which I mean hate) when they read a manuscript. Multiple fonts? Excess commas? Great stuff. Also this: 'For some reason, Number-Impaired People will make an outline that reads, “First,” followed by “Two,” then “C,” and then “4.” (Or, occasionally, “13.”)'
Because you, gentle reader, are the salt of the earth, the voice of reason, the splash of confidence upon the shaven face, I offer you this video for your comment:
I didn't see this video until after some commentators complained about it, and I'm disappointed in them. This is beautiful. How does this undermine the country? I think some people have political worldviews that taint everything they see in negative colors.
Had they watched this ad instead, perhaps they would be less outraged. I take that back. I think these people live on the Isle of Outrage.
UPDATE: Bell's Whisky South Africa Ad is beautiful. Read the rest of this entry . . .
Just an update on my condition. Theoretically I have lots of time to post right now, but in fact everything takes so long, and I have to rest so often, and the pressures of my grad school studies are so large, that it'll be hit and miss.
Anyway, I had my right hip replaced at a Minneapolis-area hospital on Thursday. In general my recovery has been on schedule, my condition good under the circumstances. Right now I'm spending a couple weeks at my brothers' and his wife's place in Iowa, where the environment is a little safer than in my house.
Thanks for your prayers.
Last month, we talked about the place or lack thereof for language, violence, and sex in Christian fiction. Mike Duran was our source for that post, and now Mike says he has "learned of another fictional archetype that is, apparently, off-limits for mainstream Christian fiction — zombies."
The reason is that a Christian worldview doesn't allow for the undead. Since zombies can't exist, then fictional zombies shouldn't be in our stories.
Mike says, "Forcing fiction to neatly fit your theology is a losing proposition… at least, if creative storytelling is your aim."
I agree with Mike. I wonder what imaginative cliches Christian fiction readers/publishers accept as normal but are just as unChristian (in worldview terms) as zombies and other creatures of the dead?
- God's plan of prosperity for us?
- No one ever goes to Hell?
- Homosexuals as demon possessed?
- Hateful people repenting on the turn of a dime?
What do you think?
Other reading: Loren Eaton's post on this question, "Is it legitimate to discover joy in works primarily intended to arouse fear?"
Some argue that anonymity promotes transparency, but it does not. Humility and love promote transparency. In a place where no one knows who you are, you can say anything for the attention you want. All the alcoholics in A.A. actually anonymous to each other? No. They are well-known to each other and anonymous to most people outside the group. The outsiders have proven themselves to be unsafe, prideful, and even hateful. The insiders prove themselves to be honest, humble, and loving.
In a post on Internet anonymity, Peter Leithart notes the problems with social networking:
Pressure to perform is one of the few constants of online conversation. We talk all the time, says sociologist Sherry Turkle in a recent interview, but “all of this talk can come at the expense of conversation.” Web communication “favor[s] showmanship over exchange, flows over ebbs. The Internet is always on. And it’s always judging you, watching you, goading you.”It's provoking you to market something, mostly yourself, and to talk at others instead of talking with them.
I have been thinking much of skeletons lately, specifically my own skeleton (I remember C. S. Lewis mentioning, somewhere, that he found it hard to believe he even had a skeleton. I used to feel the same way). If you missed my previous announcement, I’ve been diagnosed with avascular osteonecrosis (bone death), and I will be going in to have my right hip replaced tomorrow morning.
An unpleasant experience generally, but salutary, I think. I am now the old codger with crutches who blocks supermarket aisles, a character who’s always irritated me. Though no macho guy, I’ve always had strong legs, and it’s a shock to be unable to get around easily on my own power. Thus does God humble us.
If the worst should happen, which is always a possibility, what would I want my readers to remember as my final message?
I think it would be, “Don’t try too hard to be loved.” Love is important; love is central to everything (God is love). But real love comes as a byproduct of virtue. Seeking love for its own sake, out of a fear of being left alone, is not only wrong but generally counterproductive. Do what’s right, and you’ll attract the love of people whose love will enrich you.
This is what is wrong with the church today, I believe. It values being loved (by people) over being faithful. Remember, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” First things first.
But assuming this isn’t my swan song, I’ll probably be posting again sometime next week.
Q. Why are tennis balls fuzzy? Aerodynamics, baby.
The fuzzy felt that covers a tennis ball helps you control it when you bat it over the net. The bounce and spin you get with these balls is lessened by the fuzz. You'll notice a difference if you hit around a bald ball after practicing with a new, fuzzy ball. The bald ball will be a little wilder on the court.
Q. If blood is red, why do veins look blue?
This gets at the reason why anything has color. The light that reflects off an object gives it the color we see. Good light has all colors in it, even colors we don't see (e.g infrared and ultraviolet). For the blood in your veins, light must soak into your skin before coming back to your eye. Apparently, Read the rest of this entry . . .
N.D. Wilson writes about "dark-tinted, truth-filled reading" for children: "I would understand if hard-bitten secularists were the ones feeding narrative meringue to their children with false enthusiasm. They believe their kids will eventually grow up and realize how terrible, grinding, and meaningless reality really is. Oh, well—might as well swaddle children in Santa Clausian delusions while they're still dumb enough to believe them. But a Christian parent should always be looking to serve up truth. The question is one of dosage."
He says Christians should be protecting their children, but not over-sheltering them from the real painful world. Christian kids need "stories in which murderers are blinded on donkeys and become heroes. Stories with dens of lions and fiery furnaces and lone prophets laughing at kings and priests and demons. Stories with heads on platters. Stories with courage and crosses and redemption. Stories with resurrections. And resurrections require deaths."
Julie Silander has begun a list of such reading on StoryWarren.
I’ve been watching the new series of BBC’s Sherlock, of course, and of course it’s very good. If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably seen, as I have, a number of positive reviews.
And I don’t mean to pan it here. I enjoy watching it. I think it’s extremely clever and well done.
But I have to say I think the series has lost its way.
The first season was remarkable, in my view, for being an update and a reboot that managed to keep the spirit of Conan Doyle’s characters and stories to an amazing degree.
Last season, I think, was a little less so. And this season even less.
The failure (it seems to me) is an overdose of something I ordinarily like – excellent characterization. Cumberbatch’s Holmes and Freeman’s Watson are wonderfully alive and interesting. But they've moved too much to center stage.
Remember, these are supposed to be mysteries. This season’s stories have been mostly about Holmes’ and Watson’s friendship. In Episode One, the great question was, Will Watson forgive Holmes for going off and letting him think he was dead? In Episode Two, it was, How will Holmes manage to function as best man at Watson’s wedding, considering his personality problems? In each case, the mysteries were shoved off onto the periphery.
I don’t mean to complain – much. But it’s important not to lose focus on your primary task, whatever you’re doing. A Holmes story that's more about relationships than mystery is not really a Holmes story.
Are Pynchon and Dickens essentially the same writer? Alan Jacobs notes, "The Pynchonian and the Dickensian projects have a great deal in common [big rambling eventful tragicomic books featuring outlandish characters with comical names], and as time goes on I think it will become more and more clear that there is something truly old-fashioned about Pynchon's career."
Jacobs says Pynchon's style appears to be to write long, complex books about people who don't read long books at all. His characters are caught up in the Interwebs, the TeleVision, and commercial products of all types. He says Pynchon may be driving at a warning: let the non-reader beware.
A friend asked me to read an illustration of God's faithfulness yesterday morning. Perhaps, you've read or heard it. Here's the start of one version.
A mother took her small child to a concert by Paderewski to expose him to the talent of the great pianist. She hoped as she did to encourage her son in his piano lessons, which he had just begun.Her boy had wandered up to the stage and began to play "Chopsticks" (or "Twinkle, Twinkle" in other versions). Members of the audience called out to get the boy off the stage and asked who was responsible for him, but then Polish pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski hurried out to the piano. He leaned over the boy and whispered, "Keep playing, son. Don't stop." The master reached around him and improvised a piece worthy of the concert audience.
They arrived early at the concert and were seated near the front. Standing alone on the stage was a marvelous Steinway grand piano. As they waited for the concert to begin, the mother entered into a conversation with the people beside her.
The story illustrates God's faithful encouragement to his people. The version I read was in a Charles Swindoll book, which elaborated on God's words to us. Keep going. Don't give up. That's the part where I teared up.
The story isn't true, unfortunately. It's a good illustration and has a bit of the variations you see in common among urban legends. Truth or Fiction says it may have been inspired by a poster for a Polish Relief event, showing Paderewski encouraging a young Polish boy at the piano.
But since we're talking about urban legend types, you may have seen the one about Read the rest of this entry . . .
Thomas Kidd of Baylor University talks about Christians wanting to sanitize the past and the restrictions on religious worship in the American colonies:
If religious liberty is one of our greatest national legacies, we can thank many early Baptists for being on the front lines of the fight for that liberty. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and later Rhode Island, Roger Williams was one of the first dissenting voices speaking out against a state establishment of religion, and against the state policing people's religious beliefs. (For Williams, religion was too important for the government to meddle in it.) In the era of the Revolution, Baptists emerging from the Great Awakening wanted full freedom to create their own churches and to preach to whomever they wished. In most of the colonies, such freedom was not readily granted.
We forget that at the same time as the fight for independence from Britain, Americans were also fighting for freedom from oppressive religious laws. There were Baptist pastors being fined and even jailed for illegal preaching in Virginia in the early 1770s.
The American Policy Roundtable has a podcast this week on Dr. Martin Luther King with a pastor who knew him personally, Dr. Sterling Glover. It's remarkable what some of us do not know about certain important figures in our country or the truth of the biggest civil problem of 20th century America.
Steve Laube gives this list of reasons some writers may never see their work in print:
- You Won't Do the Work
- You Are Hard of Hearing
- You Aren't Ready
- Your Idea has Already Been Done
- Agents and Editors are Blind to Your Genius
Statue of Alfred the Great at Wantage. Photo credit: DJ Clayworth.
News from England is that archaeologists think they’ve found a piece of Alfred the Great… or his son.
Preliminary tests suggest that a pelvic bone found in a museum box is either Alfred, or his son, King Edward the Elder. The bone was among remains excavated some 15 years ago at an abbey in Winchester, England, but they were never tested. Instead they were stored in a box at Winchester Museum until archeologists recently came across them.
"The bone is likely to be one of them, I wouldn't like to say which one," Kate Tucker, a researcher in human osteology from the University of Winchester told Reuters. Researchers say that, given the historical record, bones that old could only have come from Alfred or his family.
I hope they find more, especially the skull. Can’t get enough of those forensic reconstructions.
In the absence of a skull, the only way to find out what Alfred looked like would be to clone him. And I don’t think anybody over there really wants that. The first thing he’d want to do would be to drive all the foreigners out. Beginning with the Normans.
Come to think of it, I’m going to have an extraneous piece of hip bone available myself in a couple weeks. I wonder if there’s any market for it as a relic. Invest now, before I’m canonized.
The Steve Laube Agency has purchased Marcher Lord Press (MLP), "the premier publisher of Science Fiction and Fantasy for the Christian market." Follow the link for answers to a handful of questions about the acquisition, especially if you didn't know there was a publisher of SF/F for the Christian market.
Steve Laube has not purchased the MLP imprint Hinterlands, which is defined this way: "to publish science-fiction and fantasy stories with mature content and themes (i.e. PG-13 or R-rated language, sexuality, and violence)." This is the imprint that published A Throne of Bones, which Lars reviewed last year. Apparently, that title raised the ire of a writer's group that issues a prominent award, which was the motivation for starting the imprint--like zoning a red light district, I guess.
With the purchase of the press but not the imprint, another publisher could buy Hinterlands or the rights could revert to their authors. Mike Duran asks, does this "signal the end of Christian publishing’s 'mature-content experiment'?" He suggests that it may be, but two things point away of it:
1. Vox Day's A Throne of Bones was the first and most well-received title. The imprint's chief says he received “astonishingly few” submissions for publication. Does that mean there isn't much of an audience for this type of work or that too few authors are willing to go that direction?
2. Duran says Day is something of a lightening rod and some authors have refused to be associated with him. He doesn't say they are right to shun him, but he does point to evidence that they may be doing it. To that end, he wonders whether "the non-acquisition of Hinterlands is more of a renunciation of Vox Day than a rejection of mature content."
What do you think? You may already read books with this kind of content anyway. Have you read any of these titles (I'm having trouble identifying them).
Here's a very weird little video, featuring a couple of fellows, one of whom is apparently speaking Old Norse authentically. The other may be doing the same, but I'm not sure. There's obviously some humor going on here, probably crude in view of the "grabbing" gag.
But it's fun to hear Old Norse done in an impressive voice.
“If men read fewer books on manhood and more really good stories they’d be much better for it,” Barnabas Piper tweeted sometime last year. He fleshes out his reasoning in this post, saying stories make you want to be better, show you role models and anti-heroes, and get under the surface. If it's true, he says, that we learn more by what we catch than what we are taught, then good stories are the places where we will catch what we want to learn.
In a post, reviewing a 1991 book called The Cipher, our friend Loren Eaton says he wishes more writers were pursuing the horror genre. "Oh, the genre lives on in cinemas, but it has largely vanished from book racks. I've wondered why for the longest time and actively looked for any authors that specialize in it..."
Loren had high hopes for The Cipher, but found it a bit thick and dismal. "I guess the crux of the matter is this: Horror should seem horrifying, but you need to feel that something worthwhile could be lost during the story for it to become so. Such a sense is completely absent in The Cipher. Things start out badly. They grow marginally worse by the end. In between is 350 pages of mostly senseless, self-inflicted suffering."
In the comments, a few names and titles are kicked around.
For context on his perspective, Loren discusses all he learned about H.P. Lovecraft in 2013.