Settling into the reins

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Happy 2019.  Hope you’re recovered from the holidays and settled into the reins of a new year.

On the fiction front, Beneath the Broken Moon is currently under the editor’s knife at Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid. My previous experience with an Editorial Service was, to put it politely, disappointing. (I don’t appreciate being viewed as an ATM, strung along with vague promises of actual helpful suggestions for my MS if only I purchased the next tier of services… )

Now I don’t know a thing about Rachelle Stewart Ramirez , but Shawn Coyne’s, Story Grid is on my very shortlist of genuinely helpful books about writing, so he’s got street cred with me. That, and the fact he’s Steven Pressfield’s editor and business partner. If you’ve never read The War of Art or Gates of Fire, you need to remedy that. Right now.

According to the website, the manuscript evaluation includes:

  1. The 6 Core Question Analysis. Your Story Grid Certified Editor will read your manuscript and apply the Story Grid 6 Core Question Analysis to your work. This is a deep dive into your manuscript, analyzing what works and what doesn’t work.
  2. A One-Hour Phone Consultation. You will talk one-on-one with your editor, discussing your own questions and the editor’s analysis of your story. You’ll leave the call with a clearer global, big-picture view of your manuscript and its genre.
  3. A Story Grid Spreadsheet of Your First Five Scenes. Your Story Grid Certified Editor will provide a full Story Grid work-up of the first five scenes of your manuscript. This will give you a black-and-white, close-up view of which scenes are working and which aren’t—and why.
  4. Next Steps Recommendation Letter. Every writer is at a different place in his or her journey. Your Story Grid Certified Editor will provide suggested next steps you can take to level-up as a writer. This will include specific Story Grid homework to help improve your skills and your manuscript.
  5. Masterworks of the Genre Recommendations and Additional Resources. Throughout the Story Grid Diagnostic process, your editor will help you identify and refine your genre choice. Once that’s done, your editor will provide a list of Masterworks to study along with the Story Grid Genre Cheat Sheet for your genre.

All delivered within 30 days.

Nothing so far. Then again, it’s only been two weeks and I remain cautiously optimistic. After all, I need a good editor. I want a good editor. Learning what works and what doesn’t is critical to learning how to write better. More on that as the story develops.

In other writing news, ZONA ALFA is complete. For those who aren’t familiar, I’m a long-time table top war gamer and ZA is a set of rules for miniature wargaming in a Russian-flavored post apocalyptic setting. (Think STALKER and METRO 2033)

Turns out the fine folks at Osprey Publishing in the UK had seen my painted toy soldiers and battle reports at my S7 blog, and were crazy enough to ask me to develop the rules for them. There’s still a lot of Polish and Tweak to do, but this has been a wargaming nerd’s dream come true. My heartfelt thanks to them for the opportunity.

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ZA interior art and possible cover. Cool, eh?

In line with that, I’m currently hammering out another short Tale from the Exclusion Zone featuring veteran Zone Guide, Yuri Bonyev. (Vodka, AK74s and mutants… what can go wrong?)

And when that’s done, I’ll start in on the next installment of The Clar1ty Wars.  Been a long time coming but I assure you the shadow war between the Orbital Corporations and the Planetary Government is about to spill into the streets. The current working title for book 3 is Gun Monkey Rumble. Autonomous drones, genetically engineered agents, cyber-enhanced soldiers, criminal gangs, religious terrorists…  Our hero, black market pharma fence, Seeb Gilani, is going to have her hands full of flaming vials of nitro glycerin.

That’s all for now. My other job (stained glass work) calls. Have an excellent day. Live well. Art hard.

– patrick t.

 

 

End of the Year Tally

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Closing out the year, I want to say ‘Thank you’ to everyone who took the time to buy/listen to one of my stories. Writing is a solitary endeavor, spent mostly in my own head with imaginary friends and enemies in made-up places, so your support and encouragement mean far more than I can ever fully express. I am grateful and humbled.

2018

I’m not ashamed to admit last year writing-wise was a slog. Felt like it was all uphill. In the rain. At night. I did manage to put out the Mil-SF novella ‘Enemy of my Enemy‘ . I certainly hope you enjoyed it.

Beyond that though, the lion’s share of the year’s writing sessions were spent battering  away at ‘Beneath the Broken Moon’, the first book of my post-apocalyptic fantasy duology. And it was ‘battering’, believe me. What I thought would be simple, dark fantasy piece turned into a major excavation of a broken universe. It was work. Every. Single. Time. And ‘Broken Moon’ is only the first half of the story!

There’s more blisters and sweat and frustration ahead, but it’s going to be worth it; I honestly believe Addas’ quest through the shattered worlds is some of my best work so far.

On another positive note, I was contracted to create a set of table top war game rules for Osprey Publishing in the U.K. I could call it ‘scale model tactical simulation’ but it’s really playing with toy soldiers, albeit in a slightly more sophisticated way than Greens and Tans in a sandbox. Military miniature war gaming has been a passion of mine for over 40 years and I’m excited to contribute something back to such a great hobby.

I’ll still need to shave and tweak, probably re-format some sections for clarity, but ZONA ALFA (working title) is done. Release is still a ways off and Osprey has a great team of artists and editors working to polish it to a high shine.  I’m very fortunate to have been given this opportunity and look forward to seeing the final product.

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2019

As of right now, I plan to re-focus on my first love: cyberpunk. The Clar1ty Wars series (1 and 2)  needs its next installment, (current title “Gun Monkey Rumble“) and there’s a stand-alone novella about a disgraced Spec-Ops Combat Medic that’s been simmering on the back burner for a while. (“Exit Wounds”)

I’ve been seeking agent representation for ‘Broken Moon’, hoping to release it through more traditional channels. Might not happen, who knows, but there’s the possibility I’ll have to re-visit Addas in the Shattered Worlds sooner than I anticipate.

Regardless, the stories keep coming so I keep writing. Thank you all. I wish everyone of you a happy, healthy new year.

Take care and art hard.

Patrick Todoroff

Cape Cod, MA.

PS… End-of-the- Year request: if you’ve read one, some, or any of my work, and haven’t had the chance to leave a review, I would hugely appreciate a few quick  – and honest – lines at Amazon and/or Goodreads. Doesn’t need to be a book report, a couple sentences are great. Every one means a lot and is a tremendous help. Click on the link below if you need.

Books at Amazon

And if you already have left a review, you have my eternal gratitude.

 

Merry Christmas 2018

 

Merry Christmas….

I never imagined I’d get to a time when people consider the phrase divisive, controversial, offensive. How strange.

For all the good it’s done through the centuries, (and it has) I also realize religion has been twisted. Weaponized. As someone whose life was transformed by faith in Jesus and who has been on the receiving end of religion’s misuse, I feel the need to reaffirm that the real Christmas story is about Hope.

It’s about redemption and transcendence. It’s about justice and love. It’s not a case for ignorance, elitism or retribution. It’s the Eternal reaching into our lives at the point of greatest need and offering help, mercy, and  forgiveness.

Have a Merry Christmas. May God draw you to himself and flood your life with courage and grace, inspiration and gratitude in 2019.

Let the Stable Still Astonish!

by Leslie Leyland Fields

Let the stable still astonish:
Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain,
And then, the child, rag-wrapped laid to cry
In a trough.
Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said:
“Yes, Let the God of Heaven and Earth be born in this place.”

Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms of our hearts
And says,
“Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth be born in THIS place.”

Let’s get our head on straight about this

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This ‘Sin’ issue, I mean.

This article below prompted a long-standing theological issue to surface yet again.

https://www.dailywire.com/news/39037/listen-popular-christian-singer-lauren-daigle-not-amanda-prestigiacomo?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_content=062316-news&utm_campaign=benshapiro

Basically a nice young Christian music celebrity can’t say for certain if a practice – homosexuality in this case – is a ‘sin’ on a TV talk show.

Not real news, right? There’s been a lot of hedging, loads of waffle and mince on this one lately, so this can’t be a huge shock.

So… she can’t? She won’t? Is our poor celebrity cowed by secular pressure? Choosing the ‘fear of Man’ over the ‘fear of God’? Is she more concerned about fame, approval, and music sales than her Christian testimony and a public declaration of Biblical morality?

Maybe. But maybe she simply doesn’t know. She said as much during the interview. I mean she had to know the question was coming, but perhaps she gave an honest answer.

Call me Reverend Obvious but “SIN” is definitely in the Bible. Jesus forgives us of our sin and saves us from our sin. That’s the whole point of the Old and New Covenants, or Testaments; God helping us address our sin problem. Read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 to see what I mean.

That said, we need to return to a very subtle but critical understanding: we ‘sin’ because we’re ‘sinners’. Not the other way around. Doing a ‘bad’ thing doesn’t make you ‘bad’. The bad we do stems from a dark part of us. Each of us. It may come out different from our neighbor, but it does come out. Oh yes it does.

Basic Bible doctrine is clear that in every human being that ever lived, lives, and will live, there are two natures: the Imago Dei, or Image of God – And the Fallen, or Sin Nature. We are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of our creator  – and  yet we have a part of us that is isolated, broken, and defiant.

It’s from that second, dark part that selfish, cruel, manipulative, petulant, deceptive, rebellious character and conduct emerge.  This is a ‘Root’ versus ‘Fruit’ thing; the actions are symptomatic of a much deeper problem.

Of course many of us learn and grow. We sometimes see our errors and flaws, regret them and change. We lean into the Imago Dei to improve, to be better, to love more. But that other part, that Fallen bit, that twisted taint never leaves. Not ever.

It’s that deeper problem that concerns God. It’s the one Jesus came to address.

Now I don’t have my finger on the pulse of American Churches, but I need to emphasize real Christian Conversion isn’t Repression, it’s Regeneration. It’s not Indoctrination, it’s Transformation. We’re not talking behavior modification or the memorization of religious dogma. Genuine faith is supposed to engage the individual on a profound, personal level.

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A couple problems seem to stem from forgetting this vital dynamic: First is the idea of ‘grading’ sinful acts and the people who commit them. (I’m bad but not as bad as *points finger*)

No, I’m not suggesting moral equivalence – that a starving beggar stealing food is the same as ethnic cleansing. That’s ridiculous. I am saying however that individuals pointing fingers starts to sound like people in the Emphysema Ward belittling Cancer Patients. Do remember Lucifer fell from Pride.

And second, that God’s unconditional love somehow doesn’t distinguish between the two parts of our nature. It does. Fact: God loves you. Next Fact: That doesn’t automatically ‘save’ you.  Read this carefully: “God so loved the world, He gave His only Begotten Son that whosoever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” 

I take it you’ve heard that before. Somewhere.

God loves us but we’re gonna perish because the Fallen Nature/character we’ve expressed in various willful denial, disobedience and defiance acts separate us from Him. I’m not talking mistakes, or accidents or ignorance. These are the willful deeds. The ones we know deep inside are bad, yet do anyway. Those are the ones that will indict us at Judgment.

At the end of the day, we disqualify ourselves.

Salvation is about admitting that. Confessing to that dark part, those dark acts, accepting forgiveness and allowing God to work in there on the Root. The bad fruit of that poison tree? If the root is dealt with, whatever it may be eventually withers away. Sure, for some, it might take longer and it’s not all going to get pruned on time. But the deeper issue has been resolved.

Simply put, faith is trust. Christian faith is trusting Jesus, not your own nice, possibly substantial  but ultimately insufficient good intentions/philosophy/religious affiliations/charitable deeds to compensate for the times you blew it.

So why this and what does it have to do with writing fiction?

As a Christian, I felt the need to put it in the public arena once more.

As a Christian who writes, I am once again reminded to invest my characters with genuine conflict and complexity. If they’re going to do any real heavy lifting, they have to be real enough to bear the weight.

Have a great day. Art Hard.

Happy Thanksgiving 2018

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Wanted to wish everyone a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

And I thought this proclamation from earlier American President during a very tumultuous time in our country might be worth taking to heart.

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

***

Have a wonderful day.

Whence Cometh Evil?

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Plenty is happening on the writing front but I want to post something on a serious note.

In the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting, my wife and I attended an interfaith service at the Cape Cod Synagogue last night. Not the sort of thing I would have done earlier in my faith and religious walk. Not at all. But sometimes, things changed for the better.

No, I haven’t embraced warm and fuzzy, Kumbaya ecumenicalism; we were invited and I believe it’s critical to be numbered among those who stand against savage acts of violence and hatred.

Hundreds in attendance, the facility packed beyond capacity, I admit I was astonished by the level of the response, encouraged by it in many ways. Our society grants us the privilege and liberty to find common ground and see our common humanity.  I also admit I was discouraged in that as far as I could tell, there was zero Evangelical representation. I have distanced myself from that particular religious label with all its baggage in these past few years but still…  Not everything has to be a Revival Meeting – a little empathy, respect, and solidarity speaks volumes.

The service went on for 90 minutes or so as speaker after speaker came to the pulpit to offer comfort, express support, and grapple with the enormity of the tragedy. And to try to offer some facet of explanation and guidance. But in all the talk, songs, and even poetry, the topic of Evil, particularly human evil or depravity, wasn’t really mentioned. Sure, there was the menu of generic ills: hatred, bigotry, senseless violence, intolerance… And the common recommended cures: love, tolerance, faith, compassion, seeing the sacredness and divinity in human beings…. Nothing wrong with that, not at all.

But for all the feel good, hopeful optimism, spiritual ideals, and the huge show of solidarity, I left the synagogue worried, worried that for all the activity, there was no real advance. No actual traction. I woke up thinking about it still uneasy because I didn’t hear a clear call to personal action, change, or responsibility, precisely because for whatever reason, that one vital issue – human evil, AKA ‘sin’ – was skirted or ignored.

It was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who pointed out ‘The battle line between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.’ That’s really the matter at stake here. It’s always struck me that at the conclusion of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus commands that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations…”

The idea there is that individuals must turn from not only the world’s wickedness, or that of their family, tribe, generation, whatever… but their own brokenness, isolation, and defiance to God. Like it or not, that is the defiled wellspring of contempt, cruelty, envy, resentment, violence, hatred. Not out there, but in us, all of us, each of us. In me.

It’s only after that acknowledgment and change of mind, that primal shift from Self to God, that ‘remission of sins’ takes place. To me, that word ‘remission’ says the internal corrupting influence can be, will be, checked. Not completely removed, mind you, not in this life. But its spread and power, its decay and deception, is beaten back. Then I can heed the better angels of my nature, see that Imago Dei in others and treat them with a measure of the grace God has shown me.

Exercise can change a body, Education can change a mind, Discipline can change a habit, but only God can truly change a heart. (even then cooperation is required) In my understanding, He is the cure we so desperately grope for in times like these. God – not religion – is the answer. God who is Love, who is able, who is willing, who is present and yet for all that it seems somehow we never quite grasp on long enough or deep enough to let Him actually do the work only He can do.

Why do I say that? Because we’ve been here too many times before.

How long, Oh Lord? How long?  

***

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

– 2 Cor: 13:11

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Sunrise photo from Anton Gorlin Photography