“Sozo” release day

Cover2 The short story “Sozo” is now available at Amazon for Kindle, IPad, or whatever your flavor of eReader. Set in a fictional near-future, it is a redemptive story focused on a combat vet who faces hard choices instead of easy answers. A hair under 5K words, it’s only .99. All the proceeds for Dec/Jan will be donated to The Wounded Warrior Project.

Amazon Link

Thank you and happy new year.

– p.a.t.

ps. if you enjoy it, please tell a friend and/or fire off a quick review. Much appreciated.

‘Sozo’ Release Notes

Cover2
First off, thanks to everyone who takes a chance on my books, wanders by the blog, takes time to comment or review. Your interest is inspiring, your feedback invaluable. I can’t express my appreciation enough.

So here’s ‘Sozo’, one final title for 2014.

I’m encouraged by this short story. I had a sense of breakthrough when I finished, as if I’d I’d some how, some way, transitioned to a different place in my writing. Now this particular piece uses a rather dark palette, but I gave myself permission to write it the way it needed (wanted?) and feel I found the story’s voice. There’s a renewed sense of confidence as I look toward next year’s projects. (More on them below)

As long as I’m being honest, ‘Sozo’ might be one of those I recommend some folks not read. I’ve always maintained ‘a story is not a sermon’, but the distinction is quite severe with this one. Set in a fictional near-future America, it centers on a combat-scarred vet who returns to a nation in turmoil and finds himself caught up in a human trafficking ring. Definitely not typical evangelical family-friendly fare.

I make no claims to definitive theological, political, or psychological truths here; ‘Sozo’ is simply a story about a broken character in a ugly situation, about hard choices, and a facet of redemption. Edmund Burke’s famous quote on how evil triumphs rang in my mind every phase. The story unfolded steadily from the initial image to it’s climax.

‘Sozo’ will be available for Kindle and e-readers on Saturday, Dec. 27th. You can order it HERE.

Given the protagonist, I’ve decided to donate the proceeds from the first month’s sales to The Wounded Warrior Project. I don’t know how much that will be, but I can’t do nothing. By all means, skip the story if you want and donate directly. The men and women of our Armed Forces deserve our support.

Upcoming releases and writing projects include the next installment of The Clar1ty Wars, “Under Strange Stars”. I just received the files for the cover from Michal Oracz, and they look great, as usual. After that it’s the Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy “The Grim Fall”, as well as a novel set in mythical ancient China, working title “The Proud Cloud Racer.” On the Eshu International front, I have outlined several short story, back stories; Tam and Jace during the failed invasion of Taiwan, Poet9’s childhood in the slums of Mexico City, and the Triplets during the first African Civil War. I’m debating releasing them separately for .99, or including them in a single volume “Shift Tense”. Up in the air, that one.

Again, thank you all. May you have a peaceful and prosperous holiday and an inspired, productive new year.

Best Regards,
Patrick Todoroff

Just my .02

Preachers often rail against the lure and message of Hollywood and there’s something to be said there in certain instances. But Life and the world being what they are, is it any wonder people seek escapism?

In my experience, ministers called to declare ‘the greatest story ever told’ often fail to make it captivating, fail to engage the audience. Can you really fault them when the wonder of an Almighty God, His everlasting kingdom, the mystery and promise of redemption, get replaced by insipid platitudes or petty indignations? If those are the proposed alternatives, is it any wonder people prefer to spend time with Tolkien’s Bilbo rather than their Jesus?

Don’t blame Hollywood – they are who they are, doing their job. Nature abhors a vacuum – sometimes the empty seats are on you, reverend.

A card-carrying member…

in the Post-Evangelical Wilderness.

***

Not that I want to be defined by ‘what I’m against’ or slap on a trendy label, but after being called a ‘good post-evangelical’ recently, I prayed to St. Google and realized it was time to send away for my membership card and decoder ring.

If you require further explanation, browse these links: Wiki Page, This Blog Post, or This One, and This Excellent Article.

No, I’m not draping myself in the mantle of Indignant Victim/Misunderstood Prophet, nor am I jettisoning foundational orthodox doctrines. I’m weary of the bullshit is all. Celebrity ministries, flatulent egotism, unrepentant rationalizations for long-term character flaws, imperious immaturity, moral failures, financial shenanigans, organization politics, dysfunctional and disproportionate sermons… Sad to say if you’ve been in church longer than five years, you probably know what I’m talking about.

Looking over 28 years of following Jesus, plus what I can discern and analyze of the current state of the American church, I wonder if in this Providential place and season, my service to God must be developed and engaged outside the traditional venue of the church. That recognizing the present options are not only less than ideal, but out of my purview, if I am being forced to grow into new areas of faithfulness and fruitfulness. I also wonder if this large shift – which I find myself a part of – isn’t a falling away as critics claim, but rather a divine pruning that requires Christians exercise missional impulse (i.e. obey the Great Commission) outside the traditional pyramid scheme church. Perhaps like the Acts 8 persecution in Jerusalem after the martyrdom of Stephen, this scattering is God’s intention. Maybe He’s saying it’s time to stop congealing around brand-name ministries in mega-churches, and go into the highways and byways and deal one-on-one with people.

If so, I need to move forward rather than drag old modes of thought and practice behind me.

It’s not a little scary – this pushing out into the deep and leaving sight of the shore. But the boat is solid, tempest-worthy if you will. The instruments work. So long as I keep my destination in mind and don’t lose sight of the North Star, I’ll get through it. The shore behind me was the starting point, not the goal. And it wasn’t what was keeping me dry either.

It’s just a thought.

Sci Fi is Sin?

The first in a series titled “Spitballs from Baptisneyland.”* It deals with Christian worldview issues. So you’ve been warned.

IT’LL JUMP ON YOU!
I’m old enough and been around church long enough to remember the “Rock and Roll is Devil’s music” debate. “Words and motives don’t matter! Drums and electric guitars are Satan’s tools. It’s the beat – that pagan, idol-worshipping beat.”

Never mind God considers the heart before the appearance, that character and content matter more than cosmetics, that the root determines the fruit… scores of the faithful were burning other believers at the metaphorical heresy stake because they couldn’t/wouldn’t disassociate the medium from the message.

Offspring of shallow thinking, anec-data, bolstered with a few out-of-context Chapter and Verse, this things are evil doctrine is rooted in bad theology. Let me clarify right here, Stuff isn’t inherently sinful** – people are. We sin because we’re sinners – not the other way around. It’s not the THING- it’s how we use it. It’s us – not the item. Music is a vehicle for self-expression before it’s a vector for ideas. Same with film, theater, dance, art… To borrow a computer tech troubleshooting term, PICNIC: Problem in Chair, Not in Computer. Basic Christianity, right there.

That’s why salvation doesn’t merely forgive our crimes but transforms our criminal tendencies. It’s conversion of the soul, i.e the essence of who and what we truly are. But back on topic…

ROBOTS AREN’T REPROBATE
Now maybe you were expecting Yoda to be a little green Billy Graham, (died on tree, savior did) but is it really that shocking when non-believers express non-Biblical worldviews? When they speculate in speculative fiction? Aside from enjoying the experience, allowing yourself to be entertained, the key is shift your expectations, spit out the bones and discern (there’s that word again) the themes, virtues, principles that ARE portrayed. To stand on the common ground of our humanity. All truth is Gods and it’s the perfect place to start the conversation.

I believe artistic integrity, or faithfulness to the medium, is mandatory – I’ll talk about that in another post – but the notion that portraying the futuristic, the fantastic immediately disqualifies a story, renders it unprofitable and ineffective for Christian truths, betrays a blinkered, petty perspective based on ignorance and fear, not faith. That some use fiction to dissemble and deceive, and others follow along speaks more of a vacuum than inherent malice or conspiracy.

C.S. Lewis’ statement “The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature” hits the mark. Unless you deliberately neuter your work in the editing process, Who and What you are can’t help but come out. The essence is transmitted. The challenge then is not simply to become an genuine Christian, but master your chosen medium and so authentically express the reality of redemption working in your life.

I’ll end with a quote from Dorothy Sayers. (I have a crush on her.)

“The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore – on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.”

EXTRA CREDIT BONUS QUESTION: If a net-friend’s autocorrect on her IPad keeps changing “Jesus” to “Jedis”, is it possessed?

*So titled as my attempts to fend off wads of gloppy logic fired by the insular religious

**Gnostic duality (material = bad but spiritual = good) isn’t Biblical. Sanctification isn’t seclusion. Creation is damaged by sin, yes, but it is NOT implicitly evil. God created, inhabited and continues to animate the material world. He made it. He blessed it. The Incarnation sanctifies mortal creation.

The Gospel according to Sci Fi


Consider the implications of the TED talk below. Or rather the ethical implications of this mind-blowing technology: techno-slaved insects/animals, designer hybrid pets, cloning, genetic engineering… If we do it with animals, it’s only a matter of time before the techniques and technology are used on people. Think it’ll never happen? We treat regular human beings with astonishing cruelty and callousness – how much more a being that is designed and grown? 50 Shades of Josef Mengele

One of my favorite books in recent years, Drew Magary’s ‘Post Mortal’, extrapolates a decidedly non-idyllic look at the near-future where age-freezing gene-therapy is developed, debated, then disseminated. Blunt, realistic, well-written, I highly recommend it to anyone, especially those wrestling with the inevitable struggle to integrate the Person and Principles of our faith with advancing technology in a global society. (Side note: I believe in the Rapture, but think it’s too often a cop-out of serious work and thought. After all, why dig deep or plan when you’re out of here at any minute, right?)

Far from being pagan or hostile, science fiction is an incredible opportunity for Christian writers. It challenges us to get a hold of Who and What we believe, then develop credible, consistent, working expressions of God’s redemption, compassion, and holiness. A cloistered, ‘Hold the Fort/Siege’ mentality won’t work. Does anyone actually remember the Alamo? Retreat and separation isn’t holiness – it’s heresy. All you’re really saying is ‘My God is small and stupid and no God at all.’

It’s a shame the TED talk cuts off. I’d love to hear the rest of the discussion.

But maybe that’s the point.

Rest and much geekery


Having finished both Shift Tense and The Barrow Lover (see below) recently, I’m feeling simultaneously relieved and drained. Now I’ve got ideas on the radar screen, the outlines/initial chapters of two novels, the start of the next Clar1ty Wars collection, but they’re all just kinda… sitting there.

The only shiver of excitement is seeing what Chila at Port Yonder Press does with The Barrow Lover. Someone asked if I was worried an editor would ruin the story, change its voice. I’m sure some do but I’m not sensing that here. I need and want a solid editor. A good book isn’t so much written as re-written, and having an objective yet sympathetic set of eyes to hone a story, tease out the best and grind down the rough edges is critical. Like Twain said, the difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightening and a lightening bug. A good editor helps you in that struggle.

So I’ve moved into a Reading Phase to step back and recharge. Right now, I’ve got Jane Gardam’s Old Filth, Iain Banks’ Surface Detail, Gorky Park, Story by Robert McKee, and The Moth at my bedside. (Plus a bunch of stuff on my Kindle) I’m especially looking forward to The Moth, as immersing yourself in good stories teaches you about good writing as much if not more than a book about writing.

To keep my otaku juices flowing, I’ve been gaming a new set of table top wargame rules titled Pulp Alley, adapting them to science fiction and post-apocalypse settings. My friend and I are having a blast. It’s refreshing to sit back and just enjoy a game.

Here are some pictures from three recent games:

There’s plenty more at my hobby blog if you’re interested.

I’ll also say turning 50 the other day turned out to be more a major blessing, and less one of those ‘acute sense of mortality/passage of time’ things. (I think those are good – in proper doses) My wife rented a house on a lake for a potluck with family and close friends, and we held a story slam that broke up around 11 pm. “All good” is an understatement; it was an opportunity to appreciate God’s grace on my life.

A reason to hope

It’s becoming less and less popular these days to identify with Christian faith. Truth be told, I’m less and less interested myself in being an ‘evangelical’ or ‘pentecostal’ or whatever label, but I can’t and won’t deny that 28 years ago Jesus Christ forgave me and changed me. At the end of the day, anything good in my life is from him – my wife, my children, my grandchildren, my friends, my work, my writing… all of it is ultimately from his hands. I’m grateful for the grace, mercy and help he has shown and continues to show me. Life can be random, scary, tragic, but I bear witness you can trust Jesus through it all.

I am…

*The following post deals with issues of Christian faith and the person of Jesus. In fact, it’s veering into ’emotional rant’ territory, so if such things offend you or you came for sci-fi action and didn’t expect ‘religious stuff’, you’ll wanna skip this one. On the Eshu front, SHIFT TENSE: RED FLAGS is currently at the editors and Michal Oracz is working up the cover. I’m excited and will post relevant updates as I get solid info.

I AM SECOND
Spent the better part of this morning watching I am Second videos and ended up bawling like a little kid. (try here and here to see what I mean) I need to say it doesn’t get any better than this; redemption is what Jesus is all about. It doesn’t get more simple or more profound. It’s eternal.

Furthermore I believe deep in my bones if a ministry isn’t centered around salvation not just as a theory or catch-phrase but the practical day-to-day application of a real God reaching into real lives, then it’s worthless. Regardless of organizational tonnage or theological buttress, it’s only so much chaff come Judgment Day.

This is the Jesus that saved me. This is the one I want to be around, the one I want to introduce people to. No bait and switch. Not someone else.

I AM A STEWARD
I confess I’m in a crisis of faith at the moment regarding church. I am marvelously blessed in so many areas of my life: my marriage, children, grandchildren, work, writing… But this church thing is a real brawl.

A while back, I had an online discussion about ministry, involvement and membership with fellow Christian and writer Jessica Thomas and said I was ‘sick and tired of being sick and tired and pretending I’m not.’ That’s where I find myself once again and it’s the literal crux of the matter.

It occurred to me if I had a quarter for every sermon I’ve heard in the last 27 years lambasting immature, shallow, goosebump-seeking church-hoppers, I’d take my wife to dinner at this great little Thai joint we love. Now I know ‘free-range’ believers exist. I realize our society is infected with a selfish, consumer mentality. I also acknowledge my own incompleteness and vital need to function in community and under authority. I have no desire to end up a self-centered consumer.

I am however called to be a Christ-centered steward and I want to know where the Scripture requires believers to enable mediocrity? Where does it say we have to knowingly submit to flaccid, dysfunctional theology? When did the Berean call become ‘rebellion’?

Don’t mishear me: I’m not saying all ministry is vapid or shoddy. There is a lot of valid, powerful, gracious ministry, most of it unrecognized. Catastrophes always get better press. I’ve been (spiritually) living off Mars Hill, Times Square, and The Village. Let’s thank God for the internet, shall we?

But for all those services scorching ‘fickle, whiny consumers’, I can’t recall any apology for all those petty (left or right) political rants masqueraded as sermons, for superficial morality passed off as righteousness, for denominational rules touted as sanctification. I know the Gospel is a hard-edged hope. Grace is balanced by Truth. But if Grace is offered with one hand while the other snatches it back with a thousand little rules and dogmatic stipulations, all you have left is a brittle parody. A painted, plaster lawn-ornament.

Or how about an admission that your seeker-sensitive, tech-savvy, hip and hype approach isn’t cute, or cool, or fruitful? It’s vital to be informed and attuned to our society, but do I really have to point out that spiking your hair like an anime character and squeezing into your wife’s jeans doesn’t equate to relevance? Neither will a soul-patch or getting inked. I don’t care one way or another about a tie, but tuck in your shirt, eh?* You can stop with the pop-psychology, stop the ego-stroking, stop apologizing for every hard saying in the Bible. The Word of God is called the ‘Sword of the Spirit’ for a reason. Swords have a point and an edge, and so should you. Only the Eternal is truly relevant. Only the Truth sets people free. Trending the latest celebrity-craze (Christian or Secular) boils down to tail-chasing. It’s time to re-read “Not a Fan“. Hipster-dom isn’t discipleship: it’s sowing empty seed on shallow ground.

I AM STARVING?
Am I wrong or does the pulpit set the tone and temperature for the congregation? Doesn’t leadership bear a measure of responsibility? Being ‘leaders’ and all. To quote Dr. Horrible: “The fish rots from the head…” Perhaps one reason people are leaving church, having difficulty committing is it’s hard to find someone saying anything worth listening to. Don’t give me the “There’s no such thing as a perfect church, and if you find it, don’t go there ’cause you’ll ruin it” line. Most folks aren’t looking for perfection. They know it doesn’t exist. What they’re searching for – what they deserve – is something worth sticking around for. Was Jesus lying when He said the fields were ‘white unto harvest‘?

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land– not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. – AMOS 8:11 NIV

God identified Himself as “I AM”. He knows every hair on my head. He knows who I am, where I am, and why I am. I get that. My days are in His hands and He’ll see me through, despite my problems. If like Elijah I have to live off what birds bring and a little stream provides for a season, then I’ll cope. (No, I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m talking about provision) Christians are called to declare the unadulterated Gospel and model the action of definite grace. People are dying for it. Their eternal souls depend on it. My fear is I am stuck in that prophecy, and while I’ve been seeking God in prayer and Scripture even more lately, and have confidence God will provide direction, I tremble not only for my own soul, but for my children and grandchildren.

I AM PRAYING
Christians are called to represent the one who saved them, to reflect in some fashion the character of their Lord and Savior. I think the best we flawed sinners can do – even redeemed – is provide a sketch, a caricature if you will, of God. It won’t be perfect, but God keep me from rendering some hideous misrepresentation or superimposing some mortal icon. When I stand before Him, I’d like to have got the important features and proportions correct so it was recognizable.

*My personal conviction is if you’re making dress code of either extreme a major plank in your ministry, you’ve already missed the point.