Thursday, April 27, 2017

Following Through Like Roger Federer

by Nola Passmore


(Roger Federer; Photo from Photobucket.com; AO2008pctc by Katarina_YYZ)

Roger Federer is serving for the match.  He throws the ball up high with his left hand, while swinging his racquet back with his right.  At full stretch, he brings his racquet down in a shot-making trajectory.  As soon as the strings make contact with the ball, he stops moving.  No wait ... that's not what happens.  Rewind the video!  He makes contact with the ball and keeps swinging his arm down in a fluid arc.  He follows through.  If he stopped his swing as soon as he hit the ball, the serve wouldn't have as much power and the ball wouldn't end up in the desired spot.  He'd also lose momentum and perhaps even stumble on the baseline. If it's a while since you've watched a tennis match, click here to see a short video of Federer serving and you'll see what I mean. 

The follow-through is just as important in writing.  

Honing Your Craft

Have you been to a writing conference or workshop in the last year?  Maybe you're enrolled in a writing course or you spend time reading books, magazines and articles to improve your craft.  In any case, you should have access to tons of ideas to help with your writing.  Don't just let all of those tips swill around in your brain until they're forgotten.  Follow through on the lessons you've learned. Did you hear or read about point of view in fiction?  Then try some writing exercises where you can test out different perspectives, or go back over one of your stories and fix any instances of head-hopping.  Did someone suggest a writing book or a magazine?  Then buy it, subscribe to it, borrow it, or see if your library can order it in for you.  Writing tips are more likely to sink in and become part of your writer's tool kit if you put them into practice.  Roger Federer didn't become World Number 1 by just reading books about tennis and watching videos of Wimbledon.  He got out on the court and practised what he learned until it became second nature.

Networking

Have you met someone at a writing event who's expressed an interest in your work?  It could be a publisher, agent, editor, or a more experienced author.  If they've asked to see a proposal, sample or manuscript, follow through and send them the requested material as soon as possible.  Not only are they more likely to remember you, but your diligence is a tick in your favour.  (So is a brilliant manuscript, but that's a whole other blog.)  Maybe you're not ready to send out a manuscript yet and you're on the lookout for advice.  Follow up any contacts given to you.  Check their websites for FAQs and if you don't see the answers to your questions, don't be afraid to ask.  Just as Roger and his coach have two-way interactions, you can learn by networking with others who share your passion.

What Else Are You Writing?

You've finally finished the draft of your book and you're looking for an agent or publisher.  It takes a lot of time to write and submit book proposals. Then there's the waiting game, which can take weeks, months or years.  That book may seem like an all-consuming creative pit, but don't stop there.  Start on your next manuscript as soon as you can.  Most publishers aren't interested in one-hit wonders. When they ask what else you're writing, be sure to have an answer.  J. K. Rowling's British publisher only initially printed 500 copies of the first Harry Potter book. However, Rowling kept rolling (okay, bad pun).  She was working on the second novel and had ideas for the whole series mapped out.  When Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone took off, she had another one ready to go. She had momentum.  Just as a tennis player can be caught flat-footed if they don't follow through with a serve, so you can lose momentum if you stop writing, even for a valid reason. (Note to self - I must follow my own advice!).

Your Calling

Although I've left this until last, it's the most important point.  What has God told you about your writing?  Has he given you ideas for books, articles, screenplays, songs, poems, devotions?  Has he prompted you to start a particular writing project?  Has he given you a vision for reaching others with his Word?  Has he blessed you with creative gifts that you haven't been utilising to the full?  Has he given you a dream that is beyond your capacity to complete?  If so, the good news is that he will equip you to complete the tasks He's given.  You just have to follow through.


(Additional source - Sickels, A. (2008). Mythmaker: The Story of J. K. Rowling (2nd ed.). New York: Chelsea House Publishers.)


Nola Passmore has had more than 140 short pieces published in various anthologies, journals and magazines, including short fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, devotions, academic articles, magazine articles and inspirational work.  She and her husband Tim run a freelance writing and editing business called The Write Flourish.  You can access her writing tips blog here.  She is currently trying to follow through with the structural edit of her debut novel.







Monday, April 24, 2017

Was it worth it?

Mount Hermon Conference Centre
I’ve just returned from attending the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in California and I have been asked (in a nice way) if it was worth the time and money.

I certainly learnt a lot. I chose to attend workshops to do with platform, writing book proposals and ‘one sheets’ (a one page summary—like a back cover blurb). In an Australian Christian writing context we don’t tend to write book proposals or one sheets. I thought this was a good thing as I find them so hard to write. However, I’ve discovered that without them, writers tend to be too vague about their message and their audience.

One of the most valuable exercises I did was to create a character description of my ideal reader. It made me focus on who I was writing for and why. It terms of marketing it helped me to focus on the best way of reaching my ideal reader. Not everyone is going to like what I write so it was good to consider the where—which social media sites are they likely to be on, and the how—how was I going to interact with them.

I also attend a series of workshops on the topic, You Can Write Funny, Even If You’re Not. As a writer of Christian Living material, I like to teach people, but I can get a bit heavy and serious sometimes. So I’m trying to figure out how to throw in a lighter moment to make it easier for my readers to digest the truth I want to give them. I was a bit worried before the workshop, as I’m really not good at writing humour. However, I came away with some techniques that will help my writing.

Mount Hermon Conference Centre
As far as my own publishing journey is concerned I didn’t make as much progress as I would have liked. However, I made a number of valuable contacts with agents and editors and I now have particular people I can send my work to. I also received some good suggestions on how to move forward.

I felt a strong sense of God’s presence at the conference. One of the presenters encouraged us to trust the Sovereignty of God, which was a little humbling because that’s what I tell people to do! Overall, I came away feeling encouraged to continue writing and seeking publication.

As for the question of whether it was worth it? It’s always worth doing what you believe God is asking you to do, regardless of the outcome.

*****

Susan Barnes likes to write devotional thoughts on Bible passages, book reviews and inspirational articles. She loves to challenge people's thinking and regularly blogs at abooklook.blogspot.com.au. She is also a school chaplain and pastor's wife.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Genre of Spiritual Writing.

Retreats have always been an important part of my life. They began in High School where each year our class had a day away from school, visiting a property in isolated terrain. We had an opportunity for individual quiet time, group sharing and listening to an inspiring speaker.

As a young adult I continued the tradition of setting set aside time for an annual retreat. I've had the opportunity to visit some beautiful monasteries and religious houses who specialize in hospitality just for that purpose. I could be away for up to a week, soaking in the silence and participating in the prayerful chants that are part of the Religious life style.

As my responsibilities in life increased I count it fortunate if I have one day a year, not one week, to spend with me and my Lord.

As Christian writers I believe we all have that innate desire to connect our spiritual life with our writing life. A favourite spiritual writer of mine stated that, 'If you want to improve your prayer life, try writing. If you want to improve your writing life, try praying. (Ed Cyzewski 'Pray Write Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together).

When I first began to take my writing seriously I knew that it was important, regardless of the genre I chose, to maintain that sense of contemplation in my writing. I commenced my blog, '10 Minute Daily Retreat,' to keep myself faithful to writing and prayer. At the time I thought even if no one else is blessed, I will pray and allow my reflection to flow from that prayer.

I have also tried to develop the reflections so that they don't talk about God, but introduce the reader to experience a loving, powerful God. I think I'm a long way from that place, but I know where I'm heading. Another favourite spiritual author of mine, Elizabeth Jarret Andrew, suggests asking deep, challenging questions of ourselves when we write about our Spiritual journey. In ' Writing the Sacred Journey: The Art and Practice of Spiritual Memoir', she encourages writers to ask ourselves questions like 'Through what territory has your spirit travelled? What are the landmarks? The turning points? The difficult terrain, the resting places?'

It's tough answering these questions and turning them into a blog post. They make you vulnerable. But then isn't that the joy and pain for all writers?
  
The desk of CS Lewis





Monday, April 17, 2017

The Cockerel Crowed


God is the master storyteller and the inspiration and life I receive from His Word continue to amaze me. As we’ve celebrated the resurrection of Jesus over this weekend, I’d like to share some thoughts with you about Easter.

After hearing a radio presentation on the twelve voices of Easter, I started thinking about the denial of Peter. Jesus prophesied in Luke 22:34, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me."


We’re all familiar with the sound of a cockerel heralding dawn – and he often starts before the sun seeps across the horizon! Jesus could have chosen something more dramatic – a burning bush, an earthquake, a stick that turned into a snake, but He selected a simple bird. As I mulled this over, I realised that the sound of the rooster could have become a daily reminder to Peter of his failure. That he could have awoken each morning remembering how he had denied Jesus.


 That is not God’s way though. In John 21:15-17 we read how Jesus appeared to the disciples after His resurrection and engaged Peter in conversation.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Peter denied Jesus three times – and Jesus asked him three times if he loved him. I see that as restoration and healing, a second chance. As he affirmed his love for Jesus, I believe he found forgiveness and the courage to move on. Instead of a sound of condemnation, the rooster’s crowing became a daily reminder of God’s grace and mercy towards him.


 As we write, whether it’s fact or fiction, let’s never underestimate the power of simplicity. Jesus frequently used examples from daily life. He spoke of the bread of life, the good shepherd, living waters, salt of the earth, seed for the sower, light of the world and so many more. As we choose our words and illustrations carefully, our words can impact those who read them.  Let’s follow our Father’s example and communicate grace and mercy rather than condemnation to a world that is lost in sin.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

In the Light of Easter

by Jeanette O'Hagan



On this eve to arguably the most important festival in the Christian calendar - Good Friday followed inevitably by Resurrection Sunday, I thought I might meditate on Christ figures and forgiveness in literature and Western culture.

Forgiveness, redemption and Christ-figures are common motifs in much of Western story-telling and this is not an accident. Many of the concepts and values our secular humanist culture takes for granted arise out of the Judaeo-Christian heritage - including concepts of grace, unconditional love, the inherent value of each individual regardless of their position in society, and the concept of loving even the haters and the terrorists in this world or our neighbourhood.

A Christ-figure is a character that reflects in some way the mission and nature of Jesus. Sometimes the similarities are explicit, at other times they are veiled or partial. They have the potential to mislead or to awaken the reader to the possibility of God's love and grace.

In Lewis' Narnia, Aslan clearly represents Christ. He is the son of the Emperor Beyond the Sea, 'not a tame lion' who both creates Narnia through his song and brings it to an end. He is good, beneficent and powerful, yet attracts the ire of the White Witch and ultimately gives his life for the traitor, Edmund, thus saving the son of Adam and all of Narnia from the White Witch. Death is unable to hold him due to the deeper 'magic' of his Father.

In Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, three characters are often said to represent Christ's three roles of priest, prophet and king - Frodo who takes the ring to Mount Doom, Gandalf the Grey who guides the fellowship with wise counsel, dies in the battle with the Balrog but is brought back to glorious life, and Aragorn, the scorned and humble man who becomes King.

In Paul Gallico's The Man Who Was Magic, Calvin Miller's The Singer trilogy and Peter McKinnon's The Songs of Jesse Adams, Christ's story is retold in allegorical terms, as it is also in Anne Elizabeth Stengl's Heartless.

Others might include Superman, sent to this world as a baby, who is powerful and invulnerable and uses his powers to save others. Or Neo in the Matrix who, advised by the Oracle and accompanied by Trinity, gives up his life to destroy the enslavement by The Matrix. Or Jean Valjean in Les Miserables - first as the recipient of grace given by the bishop he stole from, and then he himself sparing his relentless pursuer Javert's life and risking his life for the sake the man his daughter loves.

 Here are some parallels that may be present.

1. May have mysterious, supernatural or prophesied origins.

2. Is usually a good, pure person who doesn't lash out at others and treats all people as worthy.

3. May be tempted to use his or her power unwisely or to forsake his mission.

4. May suffer deeply, not because of his or her own flaws or weaknesses, and often because his seemingly unnatural goodness incites backlash by those who feel inadequate and challenged.

5. Ultimately, he or she is willing to sacrifice his life for the sake of others.

5. His sacrifice is not pointless but radically changes the circumstances, perhaps for one or two people or for a village or a nation or the world.

6. Despite dying, he comes back to life and triumphs over evil.

Rarely does a Christ-figure include all of these motifs, unless he (or she) is an allegory for Jesus. Aslan is always a lion, or at least a cat. Tolkien uses three figures to represent different aspects of Christ's life and work. Unlike Jesus, who takes on our humanity in full measure, Superman is invulnerable (apart from kryptonite). Jean Valjean is more like the Christian, who loves others because God loved us. Valjean extends the forgiveness he himself, a flawed and lost man, experienced from the saintly bishop.

One blogger, Erik cited by Nina Munteanu suggests 'Western culture’s “concept of Redemption has invariably separated from the Grace that created it.”

Perhaps this is seen in a variant of the flawed redemptive figure who has often done dark or radically evil deeds. However, at some point, this person is willing to lay down everything for the sake of someone or something he or she loves.

I'm sure we can all think of examples - from Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker) who turns to the dark side and does countless violent deeds for the evil Emperor, including the massacre of innocents, only to save Luke and be reunited with the good. Or Severus Snape, a cruel and sarcastic teacher who torments Harry and seems to be on the side of Voldemort until its revealed (spoilers) that out of love for Lily Potter, he was working to defeat this tyrant and courageously pays the ultimate price to do so.  Perhaps, this fascination with dark, redemptive heroes,  is taken in the extreme with a character like Dexter, a serial killer how turns his deadly compulsion to 'good' - by killing serial killers more evil than himself.

Why are such figures so popular? Maybe because all but the most narcissistic among us relate to a flawed character. We are aware that we are far from perfect and are encouraged that redemption is possible if we are just inspired enough by love. Somehow, we can find it inside ourselves to change and need not be beholden to a higher power to do so.

Another approach is to see forgiveness as a personal choice for the sake of one's own mental health. We forgive because holding on to a grudge is not worth it. This is an idea more akin to a Buddhist or Hindu concept than a Christian or Hebrew one.

The forgiveness God offers through Jesus's life, death and resurrection is not about His peace of mind, but ours. His father-heart is broken and aching because we reject and spur His love and goodness, preferring our own facsimiles, much to our own detriment. The Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reaches out in a costly love to turn our lives around, to change us to the core, to make us anew. It is this ultimate sacrifice and sublime love that we remember at Easter (or Pascha).

Does all Christian fiction have to have a Christ-figure or redemptive themes? Not necessarily. Yet, perhaps we should write explicitly or implicitly in the light of the Gospel even when we don't shout it out in bold letters.

I do hope that our lives and our writing may express the wonderful truth of Easter in many and various ways as our fitting response to Him.

***

Jeanette O’Hagan first started spinning tales in the world of Nardva at the age of nine. She enjoys writing secondary world fiction, poetry, blogging and editing. Her Nardvan stories span continents, time and cultures. They involve a mixture of courtly intrigue, adventure, romance and/or shapeshifters and magic users.
Recent publications include Heart of the Mountain: a short novella, The Herbalist's Daughter: a short story and Lakwi's Lament: a short story. Her other short stories and poems are published in a number of anthologies including Glimpses of Light, Another Time Another Place and Like a Girl. Jeanette is also writing her Akrad’s Legacy Series—a Young Adult secondary world fantasy fiction with adventure, courtly intrigue and romantic elements.
Jeanette has practised medicine, studied communication, history, theology and a Master of Arts (Writing). She loves reading, painting, travel, catching up for coffee with friends, pondering the meaning of life and communicating God’s great love. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and children.

Links
Jeanette O'Hagan Writes http://jeanetteohagan.com/

Email sign-up:  http://eepurl.com/bbLJKT



Monday, April 10, 2017

Telling the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth

Telling the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth

I was recently doing some grading work with my headphones on and listening to a 1980s playlist and the song “We are the World” came on. When this song was first released it was a thrill for me that my pop idols were doing something to aid in the horrific struggles to end world hunger. However, as I listened to it again I realised there were some issues with this stirring song with its overt humanistic lyrics. One particularly. Remember when Willie Nelson gets his moment at the microphone and with his signature warble he says:  “As God has shown us…  by turning stone to bread…”
As God has shown us by turning Stone to Bread….. hang on NO he didn’t… what is he saying?
I couldn’t believe it.  Had Willie Nelson just said that God had at one time “turned stone to bread”?  Had I really heard that?  Who’d written this lyric — and why had Willie sung it?  It was obvious that they mistakenly thought Jesus had at some point in his ministry performed this miracle…   But even me as a non-Grammy-winning high schooler knew (when the song was originally released), Jesus didn’t turn stone to bread — he refused to turn stone to bread.  That’s an important difference.

Sometimes we can write things .......and they kind of look good, sound good, but in fact they, sincerely, are wrong.

Sometimes things sound right but when we revisit it they are 'sinisterly' wrong. Sometimes we can write things and they sort of just roll off our pen nib, pencil, quill or keyboard, and they kind of look good, sound good, but in fact they…. sincerely, are wrong, confusing, or convey a message we didn't intend. For example we might write something like  …….
“Luke said that he had gone to lay on the couch, so he lied.”
This is a tricky phrase because the meanings of those words change the understanding significantly.
To lie (intransitive: lies, lay, has lain) means to recline; to lay (transitive: lays, laid, has laid) means to set down; to lie (intransitive: lies, lied, has lied) means to fib. Correct: "He lies on the couch all day." / "He lays a book upon the table." / "He lies about what he does."

And I’m not lion  😊

There are so many words that we can misuse in English. Some of the examples are homonyms or pairs of similarly spelled words that are often confused. Do a google search and you quickly find many lists that convey how words are frequently used in ways that major English dictionaries do not condone in any definition. Some words are used in ways that are deprecated by some usage writers, but are condoned by some dictionaries. Some words are not seen as incorrect in particular contexts and may be correct in a particular area once they have gained widespread acceptance.

Using the word “Easter” to encapsulate the meaning and significance of the weekend just ahead.... has become problematic.

For our family, it is a bit like using the word “Easter” to encapsulate the meaning and significance of the weekend just ahead. As a family, we take special cognition in the reality of what Jesus death and resurrection means. This means we solemnly take time to reflect and remember His sacrificial death and also celebrate the fact that He is alive. We are thankful for the price He paid for our salvation. But, to call it Easter in my mind has become problematic. As an inquiring believer, I simply questioned where the old naming came from, and of course I discovered that the word origin and meaning of the word “Easter” and the ancient rites attached to it were far less honouring of our Saviour and what He represents for what I am comfortable with. Sure, I recognise some redeeming of the word and even actions attended to that aimed at communicating elements of the Christ story through cultural iconography, even so, it all looks very syncretic. So, what to call it? I want this name calling of a pivotal time in our devotional calendar to encapsulate the Truth and Love of Jesus, more than bunnies, and eggs, chocolate and partying.

I want my naming of things and words that I use around this theme to be God honouring, glorifying of Jesus and at the same time culturally accessible and relevant. I want my writing to remain the same. I don’t have an answer to renaming Easter (except to reframe it simply as “Resurrection Weekend” or less simply “The Weekend We Remember Jesus Death and Resurrection”). But I do have an answer to making sure I tell Truth’s and be Truth telling. I will acknowledge my own propensity to mistakes. Miss-spellings, incorrect grammar, learning that’s on a continual growth curve. I will aim to stay authentic to being on a journey, while having others help me on this journey by their caring, equipping and helping me with the needful adjustments. I will consciously and conscientiously aim at being more a reflection of Christ than the influences the world tries to colour me with.  

Anyway, I am listening to that old song again and thinking “didn’t someone actually suggest turning stone to bread?"  Whose idea was that? (Cue 80’s-era power cord with appropriate reverb): Satan’s?? That’s right, it was the devil’s idea.  Remember the scene from Scripture where Jesus is tempted in the wilderness. He is hungry, having fasted for forty days, and the devil suggests that he use his miraculous powers to turn “these stones into bread.”  And Jesus refuses, saying: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”  Lionel and Michael and Cyndi and Willie and everyone else in the USA for Africa studio seems to have missed this.  And for a while I did too. It wasn’t until I stopped, looked, listened and asked some questions of this bit of lyric that I got a bit of the real story behind this song.

Perhaps it is worth doing this again as we consider this “Easter” weekend ….. or whatever you want to call it. Let’s remember again the Truth in this time, and get beyond how our culture seems to have literally bought in on a marketable idea with all its product, images, icons and word usage. Let’s somehow get back to the very real message and cause that Jesus laid His life down for….. and that is no lie.

God loved the world so much that Jesus gave His life to save us. As 1 Peter 2:21-25 says:

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”  For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Sorry I couldn’t help finishing with this (somewhat tacky) Truth filled Parody of the song mentioned...

“We are in the world, we are His children
He is the one who makes a brighter day
By the life He’s giving
There's a choice He’s making
He’s saving all our lives
It's true He’ll make a better day
for you and me

Showing God’s heart so they'll know that someone cares
And our lives will be stronger and free
As Christ has shown us by rising from the dead

So, may we all must accept His helping hand"


May the TRUTH and LOVE of Jesus' life, sacrificial death,  and resurrection be a power in your reality for you every day. God bless.   



Shane Brigg. Jerusalem 2013. 


Thursday, April 6, 2017

To be right? Or right with God?



Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles

By Melinda Jensen
Writers are a pedantic lot. We have to be. We spend endless hours not just crossing t's and dotting i's but also meditating on metaphors, being punctilious about punctuation, honing in on history and all manner of tedious activities in the hope of catching the elusive eye of that most pedantic of all creatures – the publisher.



The competition we face is tremendous. It's huge, totally awesome; no competition is bigger than ours - :) If we neglect our perfectionist tendencies, we simply won't be published. Our manuscript will be tossed aside faster than Donald Trump's hair in a wind gust.



And we'd better get our facts straight because somewhere, sometime, our readers will know we got it wrong, and our credibility will slink out the door with our 'tale' between its legs.



I suspect many who nurse a deep-rooted longing to write are born with this predisposition towards perfectionism. After nature has stamped us, nurture follows up with admirable efficiency. We're both blessed and doomed.



When we're wearing our writers' robes, attention to detail is very much a blessing. It's when we swap those robes for our everyday garb that our pedantry can get us into trouble. Because it's such a life-long habit, one we generally view as a virtue, we often miss the damage it can do to relationships.



Does it really matter if our non-writer friends misspell a word or get the punctuation wrong in their posts? When they've expressed an impassioned opinion, does it uplift them to be on the receiving end of criticism? Or would they feel as though we've completely missed their point, and therefore misunderstood them, by focusing on what they perceive as irrelevant detail? What does it say about us as Christians if we're perceived as 'dis'-couragers instead of 'en'-couragers? Will non-Christians assume our dogmatism in one area also translates to dogmatism in our religious beliefs? I suspect they would.



I know how I feel (embarrassed and indignant) when I share a post that has six out of seven facts correct but one is a bit dubious ... and someone simply will not let it go! I'll quite likely be aware of its imperfection before I post it, but expect my friends, especially my Christian friends, to use some discernment in looking for the message; the underlying sentiment.



Courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net/StuartMiles
In fact it's my own recent experience with being 'pulled up' abruptly and publicly by someone I respect that led to looking at my own culpability in this area. No matter how long and hard I tried to explain the deeper message, and implore my friend to understand that I don't have time to completely reconstruct a facebook meme copied from someone else's page, her focus remained resolutely on an unimportant detail. It gave the wrong impression, she said. I clearly didn't check my facts, she said. It was fake news, she said. You're wrong, she said! And I, of course, desperately wanted to be right.



I struggled with how to respond in the face of such unnecessary conflict and like to think I stopped short of responding like a petulant child. But my inner child was, indeed, very much wounded.



Yet, at some point in this painful process, I came to understand that my friendship was far more important than continuing to argue over who was right and who was wrong. I stepped back and perceived that my friend was suffering too. She had a deep-seated need to point out the 2% of my post that was inaccurate and no doubt believed she was doing the right thing in revealing my 'error'.

So I conceded her point, telling her I understood now exactly what she meant and appreciated the time and effort she'd put into our conversation. In truth, I understood what she meant from the beginning but was too busy defending myself to notice.



My friend might just as easily have conceded the point first but she was too wrapped up in her own quest for perfection, and the need to be 'right'. One of us had to budge, otherwise our friendship was doomed.



Shortly after, my conscience began to reveal the times I'd been the one to unnecessarily correct another person over trivial issues, and I'm ashamed to say I recalled far too many instances. With that revelation I was confronted with all the pain I'd caused. It wasn't one of my finer moments.

Courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net/StuartMiles


The pedantic nature of writers is utterly integral to the writing process and is therefore a gift and a blessing. But like all aspects of human nature, it has a dark side; the negative side that

damages relationships in its egocentric push to be right.



We need to discern whether it's worth risking any ensuing emotional damage; and whether or not our 'correction' really clarifies an issue in any important way.



When we wound each other with our pedantry we use our words in a way God did not intend for His children, especially those children to whom he has given the gift of expressing those very words. We can uplift each other as writers by proofreading and editing one another's work; and feed that pedantic little inner monster inside us to our hearts' content. But outside that context we need to exercise wisdom.



God's own Word is very clear about His expectations regarding the way his people use words.



If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13)

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.' (Ephesians 4:29)





'Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. (Proverbs 17:27)



As writers, we have a choice to make. Do we want to be merely 'right'? Or right with God?

Melinda writes both fiction and non-fiction, along with the odd poem. She has been published on a modest number of occasions, largely short stories and poetry. She does however, harbour a keen desire to write fantasy with an environmental theme for young readers, and is currently creating two such novels. This year's major project however, is a 'how-to' for adults, written from her own experience.
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/StuartMiles
 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tuesday Spotlight - Anne Hamilton



Each Monday and Thursday, Christian Writers Downunder's faithful and talented blog team contribute blogposts to inspire and inform aspiring and established writers. In 2017 we will be adding Tuesday Spotlights - posts that spotlight both writers and organisations that contribute to the writing scene Downunder. 

The first four posts in 2017 has highlighted members of the CWD Administration team: Anusha Atukorala, Paula Vince, Jeanette O’Hagan, and our former co-ordinator and team member Nola Passmore.

Paula first published her contemporary, new-adult novel in 2000. Over the next several posts, I hope to put the spotlight on other veteran Christian authors as well as publishers and other entities that help authors.

Today’s spotlight is on Anne Hamilton.

Anne Hamilton is a former Maths teacher, multi-award winning author of picture books, fantasy fiction and meditative theology; former President of the Omega Writers; publisher; editor. She gives incisive feedback and thoughtful, up-to-the-moment analyses of the market. Annie has made an invaluable contribution to Australian and New Zealand Christian writers through her tireless efforts, prayers and vision.



Jeanette: Annie, you have to date 17 published books. What or who inspired you to start writing, and to keep going? What projects are you currently working on?

Anne: I can’t remember when I first wanted to become a writer. The desire was always there. I wrote and illustrated my first ‘book’ in a lined exercise pad. It was an episode from my favourite anime cartoon at the time, Marine Boy. In my very late teens, I discovered The Chronicles of Narnia and I fell so deeply in love with the genre that it rekindled the desire to write something similar.

Keeping going is not hard. I think Meg Murry of A Wrinkle in Time who says her mother isn’t quite herself when she’s not writing. That’s the sentiment anyway. And that’s me. I’m not myself when I’m not writing. Right at the moment I’m working on several talks for a seminar in New Zealand based on the books in my devotional theology series. Apart from that, I’m working on a re-issue of Merlin’s Wood and its sequel, Taliesin’s Mantle. I’m also researching for a book on the design of John’s Gospel. I’m editing a book for a first-time author who has a contract to take a book about fatherhood into China—that’s an interesting project because the cultural nuances are so different.

Jeanette: You’ve written some fantasy novels, including Merlin’s Wood, Many-Coloured Land and Daystar. What do you like about writing fantasy? What challenges have you found in writing and reading in this genre?

Anne: There are deep theological truths that can’t be expressed outside of fantasy. That’s what I love about the genre. Name covenant is a forgotten spiritual issue in Christian circles but it’s an idea as common as mud in fantasy. The whole notion of armour that is activated by a kiss is inexpressible in contemporary fiction but easy to do in fantasy. That’s why the fantasy genre was the natural choice for Daystar—I couldn’t imagine working into any other format the Hebrew notion that kissing is putting on armour, an idea that happens to be integral to Paul’s writing on the Armour of God.

The challenges of this genre? Amongst Christians, it’s generally (though by no means universally) despised. Even more than romance is. Amongst non-Christians, there’s a tendency to be seriously critical of anything that follows in the steps of CS Lewis. For that reason I was beyond astonished when Daystar reached the CBCA Notable list this year. The Christianity is subtle, but not that subtle.



Jeanette: Your mediative theological books, beginning with God’s Poetry, are deep and thought- provoking and appreciated by many. What themes do you touch on in these books and what relevance do you think they have for Christian writers?

Anne: Basically the books are about crossing ‘thresholds’ and what that means spiritually. More and more as I talk to people, I discover that even a tremendous number of the Christians I consider a ‘success’ don’t believe they have ever come into their calling. So many people resonate with the words ‘constriction and wasting’ as the operational dynamic in their lives as they’ve tried to fulfil what they believe God has called them to.

I consider my books as opening a dialogue—certainly not the last word on the subject of name covenants and threshold covenants. They are a challenging read. Mainly because the concepts are so unfamiliar and so complex people struggle to grasp them. But there’s rarely a day goes past that someone doesn’t send me a message to say the books have contained the keys they needed to avoid being smashed again as they pursue their calling.

As for their relevance to writers: well, a first book, in particular, is a threshold. Transitioning from one kind of publishing to another is a threshold. A new book in a different genre is a threshold. So these issues of threshold covenant apply to writers. The reason so many writers fall into honey-baited traps set by vanity publishers is, I believe, because they haven’t dealt with the spiritual issues surrounding their personal threshold.

Jeanette: Your first novel was published in 2003. What changes have you seen since those early days of publishing Christian fiction downunder. Have your early aspirations been fulfilled? What changes would you like to see?

Anne: It’s been a hard struggle. A couple of lovely peaks, but most long deep troughs. Several wonderful awards, but that hasn’t really translated into significant sales. Early on, Ben Gray of CHI books said to me: ‘If some Australian publisher has the time and money to invest in an unknown fiction author and support them through five books, they’ll eventually do well.’

I realise that, unless you’re a celebrity, ‘five books’ is about where it’s at, fiction or non-fiction. By that time, your name is starting to be known; you’re starting to be a credible author with a track record. There are two issues here: the publisher has not to lose too much money on the way to the fifth book; and the author has to have five books in them. Most don’t. I’m immensely grateful to Wombat Books for the risk they’ve continued to take on my fiction. They’re still carrying me through to that fifth fiction book.


Jeanette: As a writer, editor and publisher, what simple advice would you give to new writers?

Anne: As a writer: commit to spend at least half an hour every day writing.
As an editor: everyone needs editing by a professional. (And your English teacher doesn’t qualify when it comes to novels.) And I’d like to mention my own personal Law of Proofreading: There is no such thing as too many proofreaders.
As a publisher: the average number of copies sold of any particular book title in Australia is 200 (and falling). This is not profitable for any publisher to invest in—a publisher has to edit, to proofread, to design, to print—and to get it to a distributor or bookstore at 65% off the retail price. Factor in 10% royalties for the author and that totals 75%. Simply to break even, a publisher has to be able to produce for $5 a book selling for $20. No way is this possible, if the likely sales are 200. This is why publishers look for writers who already have an existing ‘platform’.
Content marketing is the best way to develop a platform, if you don’t have one already. If you’d like to see how I do content marketing for my own books, check out https://www.facebook.com/anne.hamilton.7355
  
Jeanette:  An early member of Omega Writers, you were president from 2008 to 2014 and initiated the CALEB prize. How do you think Christian writers, editors, publishers and illustrators can better help each other?

Anne: It’s quite simple. Words of Jesus: do unto others as you would like them to do unto you. The Golden Rule.

As a publisher, I know that a book needs 25 reviews before any effective marketing can begin. It’s really not worth putting money into marketing unless those reviews exist. For many years, I’ve reviewed children’s books for Buzz Words and, when I became a publisher in my own right, I suggested that perhaps I should stop because of the conflict of interest. But no other publisher was willing to let me go. That’s how rare reviewers are and how difficult it is to get one.

When it comes to Christian publishing, I am still shocked by the large numbers of strangers who cold-contact me to ask me, as a reader, for a review but are unwilling to give one back. The excuses are many: don’t have time; don’t read the genre you write in; don’t do reviews; don’t like your theology; need to focus on my own writing and marketing. Or my personal favourite: I write, I don’t read. (Like, what!!!!!? Excuse my ungrammatical exclamation marks.)

I used to think it was simply a matter of courtesy to be willing to give back in a similar way to what you’ve received. After all, Jesus said even the pagans did this.

At the end of the day, every author needs to support their publisher because the publisher is taking risks and making sacrifices on their behalf. One of the most practical ways to do this is through reviews. But those writers who do review Aussie and Kiwi authors are few and far between.

My personal belief is that God honours those who consistently lift other authors up. And when that starts to happen, then the publishing industry in Australia and NZ will change dramatically. Aussie and Kiwi authors will be a voice that resounds across the world.


Jeanette: Thank you, Annie, for taking time to share your journey and your wisdom with us and for all the many contributions you have made to the Australasian writing scene over the years. Wishing you all the best for your latest projects and in what God has for your writing.

Anne Hamilton is the author of 17 books. Several have won awards. She writes picture books, middle grade, YA fantasy to a meditative theology series.
She’s also a professional editor and has worked on over 100 books and magazines, along with so many independent articles she’s long ago lost count. She’s edited both fiction and non-fiction for CHI-Books, Wombat Books, Boom Tree Publishing, Even Before Publishing (now Rhiza Press) as well as many indie books. She is the Australasian editor for The Word for Today and Vision180 magazine.
Anne is also the director of Armour Books, a traditional small publisher looking for books with a kiss from God at their heart.
Anne is also one of Omega Children’s Writers available for Author Visits. She is comfortable presenting to: primary and lower high school students. She lives in QLD and is willing to travel. Further information: http://www.wombatbooks.com.au/authors/our-authors/anne-hamilton. Contact via: phone Wombat Books: (07) 3245 1938
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4110089.Anne_Hamilton


Monday, April 3, 2017

Exploring Genres: Portal and Secondary World Fantasy

by Jeanette O'Hagan

This year, the cross posts between Christian Writers Downunder and Australasian Christian Writers are focussing on the subject of genre. In February, Iola Goulton gave a great overview of the importance of meeting genre expectations. Last month Adam Collings explored the subgenres of space opera and superhero within the science fiction genre. This month, I will be exploring portal fantasy and secondary world fantasy.




What is Fantasy


The fantasy genre covers a wide scope of different subgenres - from stories that include supernatural elements (like the Christmas ghosts in Charles Dickens' The Christmas Carol), talking animals (The Wind in the Willows or Beatrix's Potters' Peter Rabbit), magic and/or mythological creatures such as unicorns, centaurs, mermaids or dragons. It may occur in the past (the 'once upon of time' of most fairy tales), in our present (urban fantasy and many paranormal stories) or occur in an alternate reality (Alice in Wonderland) or an entirely different world separate from our own (like Lewis' Narnia or Tolkien's Middle Earth).

Much of children's literature includes fantastical elements. And while fantasy can be escapist, it often uses analogy and metaphor to explore genuine issues in the real world in subtle and illuminating ways. Maybe because we know this is not the world we live in, we are more willing to explore those issues without the prejudices of our own world.

With the rise of modernism, fairy tales and the fantastical was falling out of favour for a more materialistic approach to literature, especially by the mid-20th century. Arguably, it was the influence of two Christian authors that rebooted the interest in fantasy - C S Lewis with his heart-warming Narnia series and J R R Tolkien with his iconic The Hobbit and its sequel The Lord of the Rings. It just so happens that Lewis wrote a portal fantasy, Tolkien a straight secondary world fantasy.

Portal Fantasy

Sky Bridge, water colour by Jeanette O'Hagan 2016
(inspired by Rachel Sutherland)


In portal fantasy, someone from our normal world stumbles upon a 'portal' or door to an alternate reality where fantastical beings, powers and objects exist.  A classic example of a portal fantasy is Alice in Wonderland - when Alice chases the white rabbit down the rabbit hole and finds herself in Wonderland (a place that defines the laws of logic) or The Wizard of Oz (in this case the tornado becomes the portal). Similarly, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lucy Pevensie hides in a old wardrobe and finds herself in the land of Narnia.

Portal fantasy has been quite popular as it allows the reader to see the strange new world through the eyes of an ordinary person. Imagine Wonderland without Alice. Alice helps the reader discover this strange, contradictory world through her eyes, through her questions, through her confusion. In a way, J K Rowling uses this technique with Harry Potter, who has been brought up in the mundane world with no knowledge of the magical. Portal fantasy keeps a tenuous link between the fantasy world and our own. It is possible to travel between the worlds, and each world may effect and shape the other. The journey to the other world often becomes a journey of self-discovery and heroism.

Some limitations of portal fantasy can its focus on the traveller to the new world than the world itself, and its often linear plot (the hero's quest to return home, for instance, as with the movie version of The Wizard of Oz), but this certainly isn't always the case. For instance, in Anne Hamilton's Daystar, the plot is more complex.

More recent portal fantasy by Australasian Christian authors include Paula Vince's Quenarden series, Anne Hamilton's Merlin's Wood and her award-winning Daystar and also A Swirl of Purple of Jessica Scoullar. One could argue that US author Ted Dekker's The Circle series is portal fantasy (the portal being Thomas' transition between waking and sleeping).

Secondary World Fantasy

Strange Visions, water colour by Jeanette O'Hagan
(inspired by Rachel Sutherland)


In secondary world fantasy, the world is that is separate or other than our own. (In a way, portal fantasy is a subset of secondary world fantasy - but there is still that connection between the two realities.) Classic examples include Tolkien's Middle Earth (The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings), Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea, Emily Rodda's Deltora Quest or Terry Pratchett's Discworld. The secondary world may be very different to our own (for instance, Discworld) or it may have stronger parallels with our known reality (Tolkien's Middle Earth). Sometimes, it's easy to trace the correspondence between the real and imagined worlds. George R R Martin's Westeros has clear echoes of Eurasia, specifically Great Britain - a popular choice also seen in Patrick Carr's Cast of Stones and John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice.  The TV series, Avatar: The Last Airbender and the follow-on, The Legend of Kora echoes Asian cultures (Japanese, Chinese, Tibetan and Inuit).

Good alternative world fantasy makes a strong investment in world building, with many aspects covered (geographical, cultural, political, technological, metaphysical, historical, magical). Plots and themes are often complex and/or epic in scale. They usually blend the strange and astonishing with the familiar, so that the reader has something to relate to.  Perhaps more than any other genre, secondary world fantasy can whisk us away from the ordinary world into a world of wonders. The degree of magic and the tone (uplifting, heroic or cynical, dark or satirical) varies. Westeros is a very different place than Middle Earth.

Some readers can find secondary world fantasy confusing or overwhelming. Sometimes the investment in world building and plot leave characterisation wanting  - though this is obviously not always the case when one remembers Frodo and Sam on Mount Doom, or  the narrative arcs of Ang and Zuko in Avatar: the Last Airbender.

Recent secondary world fantasy by Australasian Christian writers include The Firelight of Heaven by Lisbeth Klein, Brockwell the Brave by Jenny Woolsey, 'The Last Blood Moon' by Charis Joy Jackson,* 'Stone Bearer' by Kirsten Hart,* and my own fiction set in the world of Nardva such as Heart of the Mountain or Lakwi's Lament or 'Ruhanna's Flight'*.

* Found in Glimpses of Light anthology.

Not all fantasy contains epic battles, strange names or sword & sorcery. In fact, most people have read or watched fantasy, maybe without realising it (Peter Rabbit, A Christmas Carol, Alice in Wonderland, The Neverending Story etc). Fantasy (like historical fiction) is a genre in which the place of religion, faith, and the supranational is not usually questioned (though religion is not always presented positively). It also has a great capacity for symbolism, of inspiring the imagination. While I can understand that some people prefer realism (of sorts), I can't help but think they are missing out on something wonderful.

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I take a more thorough look at fantasy here and here. This post has also been published on ACW.

Images: 1) Gate; 2) Sky Bridge & 3) Strange Visions © Jeanette O'Hagan 2017


Jeanette O’Hagan first started spinning tales in the world of Nardva at the age of eight or nine. She enjoys writing secondary world fiction, poetry, blogging and editing.

Her Nardvan stories span continents, time and cultures. They involve a mixture of courtly intrigue, adventure, romance and/or shapeshifters and magic users.
Recent publications include Heart of the Mountain: a short novella, The Herbalist's Daughter: a short story and Lakwi's Lament: a short story. Her other short stories and poems are published in a number of anthologies including Glimpses of Light, Another Time Another Place and Like a Girl. Jeanette is also writing her Akrad’s Legacy Series—a Young Adult secondary world fantasy fiction with adventure, courtly intrigue and romantic elements.

Jeanette has practised medicine, studied communication, history, theology and a Master of Arts (Writing). She loves reading, painting, travel, catching up for coffee with friends, pondering the meaning of life and communicating God’s great love. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and children.

Find her at her Facebook Page or at Goodreads or on Amazon or on her websites  JennysThread.com or Jeanette O'Hagan Writes . if you want to stay up-to-date with latest publications and developments, sign up to Jeanette O'Hagan Writes e-mail newsletter.