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.

 

 

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.

More Audio Book news

Narrator Madison Niederhauser has agreed to read ‘The Stones Remember’. His work on ‘Hard Kill’ was pitch perfect and I’m fortunate to have him do another of my short stories. Should be done end of September and I’m looking forward to it.

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In case you were wondering, here’s HARD KILL at Audible. The eBook at Amazon.

Thanks. Have a great day.

 

Four Audio Books Released

New Titles Now Available at Amazon/Audible and iTunes

If you’re new to audio books, click on the titles below for more information and to sign up for a free trial at Audible.  Or simply log in to your Amazon or iTunes account and give them a look. Four quick listens. Well written, -if I do say so myself  – excellently narrated, and all at a good price.

The near-future short ‘Sozo’, included in The Crossover Alliance 2015 annual anthology. Narrator Steven Floyd’s weary cynicism is pitch perfect.

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The Celtic-flavored ghost story ‘The Barrow Lover’ about two small time treasure hunters who dig up more than they bargained for.  Narrator Daniel Purcell went above and beyond telling Declan and Paddy’s story.

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‘Hard Kill’, the ’15-minutes in the future’ action piece about a spec-ops team racing to stop an attack in the American Heartland. Solid narration by Madison Neiderhauser.

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And ‘A Prayer to Saint Strelok’ – inspired by the Russian Sci Fi film ‘STALKER’ by Tarkovsky and the Ukrainian horror-survival video games of the same name.  Charles Cromer captures the mystery and terror of the Exclusion Zone.

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As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the stories and the narration. Or if you’re busy, leave a star rating. Every one helps.

Thank you again for your support and encouragement.

Take care and have an excellent day.

 

Zombie Six Release and Notes

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In the 22nd century, the ethnic Uyghur in Western China still dream of independence. Decades of discrimination, surveillance, and repressive policies by the Chinese government have only strengthened their resolve. Frustrated with the separatists , the Beijing enacts a final solution: the forcible deportation of all dissidents to Mèng Tiān, a desolate mining colony in the Kepler system, five hundred light years from Earth.

When the relocation program backfires and a full-scale insurgency erupts, the elite operators of Zombie Six arrive as part of the U.N.E. Peacekeeper force. Ordered to kill or capture the Uyghur leadership, the team finds itself in a deadly crossfire of corruption, deceit, and drone-borne IEDs. To survive, Zombie Six must first remember Truth is still the first casualty of war.

“Enemy of my Enemy” is a stand-alone novella from the author of the Eshu International novels, the ongoing Clar1ty Wars cyberpunk series, and other spec-fiction works.

***

Enemy of my Enemy –  A Zombie Six Mission is now available at Amazon, both in print and for Kindle.  I wanted to take a moment to let folks know and thank everyone for their support, both online and in the real world. That anyone takes the time to read my stuff still amazes me. So… a few words about how ‘Enemy of my Enemy’ came about:

There’s always that initial something that pushes a story into motion. A spark that gets the creative gears turning or a seed that takes root and grows. Enemy of my Enemy was born out of a hard kernel of news concerning the Chinese Government’s treatment of the ethnic Uyghur in their western provinces. It didn’t show up on my radar all at once, mind you. It was more jigsaw puzzle pieces, assembling over  a year or so to form a genuinely disturbing image of relentless, hi-tech coercion, forcible assimilation, and repressive policies.

My eldest son was the first to bring the situation to my attention, and to be honest, I filed it under a Communist administration’s usual rigid treatment of dissidents.  Remember, these are the same folks who brought us the crackdown of the Tiananmen Square protests back in 1989.

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It wasn’t until I read This article. This one. And this one. that I began to grasp just how pervasive, insidious, and invasive the PRC efforts were.  The more I thought about it, the less I was able to sleep.

Yes, I added elite spec-ops, gun drones, firefights, and a high body count on top of it all to make a typical Mil SF action story, but the foundation is a picture of real-world authoritarianism made frighteningly more wicked and effective by advanced technology. This part, tragically, is not made up.

‘Enemy of my Enemy’ is a spec-fiction action piece set in the next century, but perhaps, in some small way, the mention of this real life, present situation can do a little to raise awareness – not only of the Uyghur’s treatment, but of the rise of ubiquitous, invasive monitoring and surveillance, and the corresponding erosion of human rights and dignity.

Because if history is anything to go by, this trend and this technology will only grow and spread. We need to be vigilant and proactive against it in every form.

If you want to do more, take a look at Human Rights Watch. They deal with these kinds of issues and have an excellent rating at Charity Navigator. In fact, I plan on donating a portion of the first 6 months of ‘EomE’ sales to them.

So buy the book. Tell a friend. Or donate direct.

Art hard and have a great day.

Making it easy on Beta Readers

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I’ve always understood ‘Beta Readers’ to be those long suffering friends and family of writers who are willing – after putting up with the author while they were writing the novel – to then read it, in its entirety, for internal consistency.  They’re not copy editors or grammar nazis scrutinizing for typos and errant semicolons. No, they’re weighing the substance of the story. Plot flow, character motivations and story logic. They might trip over the occasional repeated phrase, but did it work? Allowing for conventions of genre and personal taste, is this a story worth reading?

To that end, I was trying to come up with a one-page hand out to Betas. I want an easy code for them to mark if/when/why the spell was broken. Jot a number or letter in the margin near the offending passages and move on. Here’s where I’m at so far:

  1. So what? (or Do you care?) Are the characters engaging? Is the drama worthy of conflict? Did you stop caring?
  2. Oh Yeah? (or Is this credible?) Is the tech/magic/psi power ‘logical’ in the story world? Are the characters actions and words believable?
  3. Hunh? (or What the hell just happened?) I’m confused.. ‘Two pages ago we were traveling east and now the Sun is setting right in front of them.’ or ‘I thought she had a gun. Why isn’t she shooting at them?’ stuff like that.
  4. Can we go now? (or I just read a bunch of words and nothing happened) Sure there’s ambiance and milieu, but I define ‘fiction traction’ as ‘plot over word count’. No Value Change, no forward motion, and the prose gets boggy.

Add in a big red “R” for REDUNDANCY – ( “*Sheesh* You said his name 37 times in two pages.”) and a big red “C” for CLICHE – (‘She was as dead as a door nail’ Really?)

One of Neil Gaiman’s Rules for Writing is that when a reader says something doesn’t work, they’re almost always right but when they tell you how to fix it, they’re almost always wrong.  I think those 6 notations will let a writer – me, in this case – know where the story falters without putting too much of a burden on already gracious and patient people.

Any thoughts on this? Weigh in.

Have a good day.

 

 

Thoughts on ‘art’ as ‘ministry’

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When churched people learn I’m a stained glass artisan who also writes fiction, after they recover from the initial surprise, they often spin my vocation as some form of ministry. (After all, it’s artistic, not practical. Not ‘real’ work, eh) So my windows must be for churches and my stories about Jesus or theology. Or maybe the End Times – that’s OK too.

If I have the time and enough of a relationship with the individual, I try to explain my “Christian” testimony in these contexts actually consists of me treating my client well, doing the work honestly, on time, on budget, and meeting or exceeding expectations in terms of design, execution, and craft. It does not mean I incorporate the shape of a Cross in the window or hide the face of Jesus somewhere in the pattern. And when it comes to writing, well my speculative fiction pieces are most definitely NOT dramatized sermons with Chapter and Verse cross references. In fact, I caution some people against reading my stuff because I sense they’re looking for moralistic parables or family-friendly entertainment. My stuff will only confuse them.

Over the years I’ve encountered various reactions that range from relief through perplexity to downright distrust. Some people understand. Others simply aren’t wired for it. Some are in different  places in their faith, and a few are so locked in to a particular mindset about religion, that any derivation is deviation and immediately suspect. Even though I’ve run this gauntlet many times, I’m on edge whenever it comes up; I’m not looking to argue or persuade someone against their convictions. I’m simply doing what God has set before me – however clumsily.

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After this morning’s devotions, my eye caught the spine of a book on one of my overflowing shelves: Dorothy Sayer’s ‘Letters to a Diminished Church’. Opening it, it fell to a dog-eared page.

“The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.

   Church by all means and decent forms of amusement certainly – but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. Not, if they did, could anyone believe they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.

   Yet in Her own buildings, in Her own ecclesiastical art and music, in Her hymns and prayers, in Her sermons and in Her little books of devotion, the Church will tolerate or permit a pious intention to excuse work so ugly, so pretentious, so tawdry and twaddling, so insincere and insipid, so bad as to shock and horrify any decent draftsman.

   And why? Simply because She has lost all sense of the fact that the living and eternal truth is expressed in work only so far as that work is true in itself, to itself, to the standards of its own technique. She has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred. Forgotten that a building must be good architecture before it can be a good church; that a painting must be well painted before it can be called a good sacred picture; that work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work.”

This absolutely rings true for me. This is what makes me strive to be a better, more creative stained glass artisan and to write more honestly and skillfully. I hold myself against this standard whenever I step up to my worktable or sit down at my desk.

And this principle right here is why I urge any believing artist never to shy away from honing their craft and employing any and all the conventions of their medium and genre to make good work. Excellence should always be the mark of Christian endeavor. Our worldview provides us with a foundation, not a straitjacket. Faith is inherently supernatural. It is wings, not chains. It is a benchmark gauge, not a Procrustean Bed.

Don’t accuse me of advocating gratuitousness here, I’m not. By all means be gracious and aware. But Christian artists must access all the tools available to them so their work – whatever that is – stays true to itself and thus to God.

No, I won’t always thread the tension between my flawed understanding and the reality of God without a hitch. But I have to do the work set before me, tackle each project honestly to the best of my ability, and trust it is God who works in me both to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Phil. 2:13)

Trust God. Go forth and Art hard.

Have a good day.

 

 

  • PS: This is also the reason I’m simultaneously stunned and irritated with ‘Christian’ services like VidAngel that censor naughty language and ‘offensive’ scenes from television/movies like Netflix’ recent “Black Mirror” and “Bright”. As if cuss words were the defining factor in secular content and not hearing them somehow makes me more Christian, or renders the show magically ‘God-fearing’ and acceptable. Those folks are cashing in on a cloistered religious mindset and utter lack of discernment.
  • BTW, ‘Black Mirror’ is a disturbing as it is brilliantly incisive. I wish I had the chops to write those kinds of stories.