Sunday, December 31, 2006

The End of the Old and A New Beginning

Goodbye to you, 2006.

The word God gave me for 2006 was "courage." I took some risks and some paid off. I wasn't nearly as courageous as I should have or could have been, but I made some progress. Got a bit out of my introvert's comfort zone. I have a great deal more to do. I continue with an excess of reclusiveness.

I don't know if it will continue to be my word for 2007 or if a new word is on its way to me. I am listening.

We welcomed one new baby into the family in 2006. Hello, Ashley (aka "Lucky").

I still ache terribly from the loss of my mother in 2004, and I am resigned to the fact that some pains never leave and some tears never stop flowing. I send up messages to Heaven for them weekly or so, and hope that God lets them know love really doesn't die in the human hearts of their children. So, another year without Mami and Papi present in body, but very much alive in memory and spirit.

I want to thank all the new online pals and acquaintances I have made in 2006 for being part of my e-life (and life, too). Some of you have become very special to me.

To all who come by today or tomorrow to this blog o' mine, please accept my hope, wish, and prayer that 2007 will be a beautiful and blessed year for all of you. I wish and hope and pray it be so for me and mine. May the whole world see a bit more peace and health and love in 2007. May we each add to what's good and not bad.

And may hurricanes stay way far from all of us. Let them fizzle out in the ocean. :)

New Year's Eve and Day inevitably turn my thoughts to Jesus, who is the beginning and the end, alpha and omega. Today, 2006 ends. Tomorrow, 2007 begins. But He is Lord of every day of every year through ever century and millenia. He is always there, the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. (Hebrews 13:8)

If you have a favorite Scripture that speaks to the spirit of the New Year's holiday, post it in comments. I'd love to read it.

Here's one passage of Scripture that contains my favorite verse (Rev 21:4). It's part of my daily hope for the ultimate redemption of the Earth and universe. It speaks of a new beginning, which is why it fits this day's theme:

Revelation 21:1-6
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

Christmas Cthulhu

Thanks to Josh of Through a Glass, Darkly blog for the link to the plush toy versions of Cthulhu. Bizarre stuff. But the Santa Cthulhu actually made me giggle:

The jingly bells added to the end of the tentacles is a touch of GEEEEEEnius.

(Did they base Davy Jones on Cthulhu? Look at them squiggly face things! Maybe he's "dread" Cthulhu cause he's got his own face version of "locks")

The wikipedia article on Cthulhu has this as the chant used by followers of the Dread One: "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn"

I think Lovecraft had a huge laugh writing out that chant, which, clearly, no one with only one tongue can pronounce.

A Cthulhu Kind of Coincidence

I had posted over at the Faith in Fiction forum about how I was not big on Lovecraft and had no idea how to pronounce Cthulhu, though since the age of 12 or so, I've pronounced it as I did back then: Kuh-THOOL-who.

Be it right or wrong, I dunno.

My post had been in response to a call for entries by JM Bertrand for story submissions that fit the concept of "Jesus vs. Cthulhu."

I'll read it. I won't write it.

So, today, I came across this little ditty by Nelson Bond in an article over at Helix SF that fits right in with that reply of mine (re pronunciation):

I never subscribed to the Cthulhu cult.
I certainly don't denounce it,
But the reason I never joined it is
Because I cannot pronounce it

Seems N.B. thought of Cthulhu as two syllables rather than my three, huh? (The meter is the giveaway.)

Dekker's THR3E Hits Theaters January 5

I wasn't that wowed by the trailer, and I normally don't bother going to the movie theater unless the film just grabs me by my recalcitrant neck and drags me yonder. For instance, Russell Crowe in peak alpha maleness in Gladiator. I went to that one TWICE. Went to The Matrix and Speed and some others twice, too. Saw Excalibur and Raiders of the Lost Ark each about five times way back when.

Why do I avoid theaters? I loathe the smell of theaters and the rude and noisy patrons who seem to always sit BEHIND ME with their will-not-shut-up-or-stop-fidgeting-or-kicking kinder. And the super-ear-damaging volume. And did I mention the smell? My freakishly malfunctioning immune system and respiratory system just don't do well in cold, mildewy theaters.

I think the last time I went to see a film in a theater was...was...

I can't even remember.

Hang on. I recall now. That Shark Boy and Lava Girl thing, and it was cause my grandniece wanted to see it. Yeah. That was my last theater excursion.

I plan to make the ultimate sinus sacrifice (the mildew, oh, the mildew!) to go see Pan's Labyrinth (scroll to post below). I do not plan to inflame my mucosal lining for THR3E, though I hope it's good enough to get some decent reviews that will get Christian folk (and others) out to see and support it.

Yeah, I want to keep sending the message to Hollywood that Christians are a legit audience that ought not be neglected.

Note: I'm a legit DVD-buying part of the audience to make up for the not-going-to-movies part.

I bought The Passion of the Christ and have yet to remove the plastic wrap. I know, just KNOW, that I'm gonna bawl myself into a serious asthmatic episode. I get that way just meditating on the passion--all weepy and mournful. If I had to SEE it, I'd be hysterical. It took me a couple weeks to get back to normal after seeing Schindler's List. I haven't been able to watch it again. I totally refuse to see Saving Private Ryan for the same reason. I'll become respiratorily messed up from the upset.

Historical Moment: When I was, what, eleven or so, I begged my mom to take me to see Nicholas & Alexandra. I had read the fictionalized story of the last tsar and I wanted to see the film. Oh, big mistake. I got home all wet-faced and threw myself on the carpet every day for like a week crying over their shooting the children. (I was a little less upset about the tsar and tsarina, but I was just aghast that they killed the young ones.) Burnt orange carpet. My face in it. Howling.

I'm sensitive about some things.

My husband is used to passing me tissues when I watch shows that are heartwarming or tragic. I'm easily brought to tears.

So, no. I don't do well with uber-heartbreaking films, especially if they are related in any way to truth (ie, real people got massacred or tortured or falsely accused or whatever). I get sick. So, I keep putting off seeing Mel's opus. I still bought the dvd.

I also bought--in my support "my people" dvd buying groove--the Narnia dvd and Signs. (Yawn.) I bought the The Exorcism of Emily Rose dvd to support Christian film-making. (Not bad, actually. Very scary barn scene.

So, if you like suspense, or if you're a Dekker fan, or if you just want to send that "I'm a Christian, hear me roar at the box office" message to the PTB in LaLaLand, buy your ticket opening weekend. Make Ted smile.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Doug Groothius on the New Atheism

Read the entry at The Constructive Curmudgeon, where Doug issues preliminary blasts from his trumpet. Here is his fourth blast:

4. Harris in particular conflates all religious claims: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. They are all of a piece in being irrational, false, and dangerous. He thus commits the fallacy of hasty generalization. Believing that one will receive the ministrations of exactly seventy two virgins after dying in a jihad is an order of belief far different than believing that since Jesus Christ rose from the dead in space-time history, one who believes in him will enter paradise after death as a martyr (which precludes anything resembling jihad). Christianity is well supported apologetically; Islam, which denies the central tenets of Christian, is not. For example, it denies that Jesus was crucified--a fact affirmed by virtually every biblical scholar in the world today. The fact that both are "religions" says nothing about their relative epistemic status.

Hat tip to Apologia Christi

Note: I have a few more links in response to the agressive, anti-religious fervor of the "new atheism", but I gotta organize em. Sometimes in 2007...

A Film The Mir's Dying To See:

In a dark time when hope was bleak, there lived a young girl whose only escape was in a legend ...that wanted her back.

The legend speaks of the lost soul of a princess from another world who would one day be reborn. There will be signs that mark her return. There will be secrets that reveal her destiny. There will be a journey that will make you believe.

In darkness, there can be light.
In misery, there can be beauty.
In death, there can be life.

This is one of those films I've been hearing and reading about, and soon, oh soon, I will be able to see it.

If you've been having an extended nap under a speculative film repelling rock, let me fill you in. PAN'S LABYRINTH is a much accalimed, multi-award winning fantasy film by the director of HELLBOY, BLADE II (the only decent one of the three Blade films), and one of my most favorite horror flicks, THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE. I own the DVDs of all three, cause me likes Guillermo Del Toro. And, well, speculative stuff, yeah.

But I'm just super-psyched to see the new one.

If you haven't yet seen the trailer, you can find it at the official website for PAN'S LABYRINTH --where you can also click to read a synopsis of the film's story--or just head over to this YouTube.Com version.

For the artistically inclined--you out there, Pixy?--there's a sketchbook contest with a Feb 2007 deadline. Details are at the official site. Also some cool, eerie music--with grand sweeping moments that feel like a strong wind--while you browse there.

Guillermo Del Toro and the child star of the film, Ivana Baquero, answer questions about the film in the three parts of UNSCRIPTED:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Guillermo del Toro: "I've always liked the fairy tales, and I've always wanted to do one that was dark and scary..I set it against fascist Spain in 1944, a scary time."

Those of you who know me are aware I have a big fairy tale thing. And I like spooky. (Not gory, spooky--big difference)

If THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE is an indication, which I assume it is, of how Del Toro can get believable and vulnerable performances from very young actors, letting kids be both dark and light, both terrified and curiously intrepid, as kids can be, then I expect young Ivana to be superb in this obviously worth-catching flick.

(I just hope the pro-socialist stuff is a bit contained. That can peeve.)

Friday, December 29, 2006

So, Who's Giving Away Five Gold Rings?

Well, looks like tonight marks the fifth night of the twelve-tide (12 Days of Christmas). According to Wikipedia:

These are the twelve days beginning on night of the 25th of December and ending on the morning of January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany. In the Middle Ages this period was one of continuous feasting and merrymaking, which climaxed on Twelfth Night, the traditional end of the Christmas season.

And it's not too late to do a sort of devotional based on the twelve days. Check it out HERE.

In my early childhood, I eagerly awaited the twelfth day of Christmas, ie. the morning of January 6th. It was a day for waking up to presents, a more traditional day for my family than December 25th. (In time, we just exchanged presents at midnight on the 24th, and earlier and earlier with each passing decade.)

Whatever goodie I found underneath my bed come the dawn of the Feast of the Epiphany was left there, I was told, by the Three Wise Men, Los Reyes Magos (The King-Mages). My favorite gift from the Kings (that I remember) was a Bugs Bunny guitar with a crank handle (early 60's).

Five gold rings. That's almost as nifty as a Bugs Bunny guitar. But it sure would be fun to see ten lords a-leaping, I think. That's not for another five days, though.

A Snippet From A Pauline Epistle

From the Epistle to the Romans, Chapter Three:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

If You're Gonna Challenge God For
Proof, Here's How To Do It Properly

I suppose because I've been in the semi-nostalgic thrall of the holidays, I've had people come into my thoughts, folks I haven't seen or contacted for years and years, whose addresses are long lost, who may have been acquaintances more than friends, but ones that connected enough to be remembered.

One was an atheist (no, not the same one I posted about some months ago).

I remembered him telling me that he'd issued a challenge to heaven in his yard one day. Show yourself. Prove to me that you exist.

Well, if I were God, I'd have ignored that sort of hubris, too. God, coming to heel at the bequest of an arrogant unbeliever like some drooling mutt?

Good thing *I* am not the Lord, or there would be more deaths by lightning strikes to the skull among persons shouting in their yards.

While I was remembering, it came to me that he'd not really fashioned the challenge as a true seeker. It was an exercise to prove nothing but the egotism of the person making the challenge. The expectation was to get silence. And silence was given.

(For the story of how this sort of challenge WAS answered, drop by and scour John C. Wright's blog. See my sidebar for a link.)

For anyone who has made that challenge, or has been tempted to, let me suggest a methodology that may prove more fruitful. Of course, only those SINCERELY seeking would take up this challenge, so those interested in posturings in their yards should just stop reading here.

If, however, you really are a seeker, then read on:

I believe God will answer to the call of the humble and sincere seeker, the GENUINELY AND PERSISTENLY seeking soul. That is His promise.

And I've seen it happen, so I am convinced the promise is not mere rhetoric. The promise is in Luke 11:9:

*Seek--truly, whole-heartedly, sincerely, persistently, without ceasing, with no selfish motive, without egotism--and you will find.

*Knock--and knock some more, and crawl to the next door, and never stop knocking--and it will be opened to you.

*Ask in faith and it will be given to you by grace.

Perhaps this is why folks who are at the end of ropes or the bottom of pits are given illumination. They have nothing to lose, so they are ready to give themselves up utterly to the only One who can give them hope and new life.

God never asks less than utter death of his children. Die to live. "Offer yourselves up as a living sacrifice." That's the way and always has been the way. Death to self in order to have God live within and through.

It's about the hardest thing to do. That's why Christians are hardly uniform and perfectly holy. It's a frightful process, sanctification, but needful. We sputter and get waylaid and take breaks, but true believers press on, raggedy or well-dressed, full of strength or limping. We keep going, keep dying, keep living.

But there must first be the desire for God, the God who is.

A verse in Hebrews says, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him."

Don't miss out the words "must" and "diligently." They are important. As is "reward."

Or as is spoken in Jeremiah:
You shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart.

The Lord, in his mysterious grace and for His own holy purposes, sometimes does intrude mightily with signs and wonders, does plop an unbeliever painfully smack in the middle of their own Damascus road. In general, though, the way to find truth is to begin with faith.

Faith that God is in order to have proof that God is.

But He never asks for a lot of faith. A mustard seed's, sizewise, will do nicely.

Seems circular, perhaps, but if one does not believe at all that there is a cure for one's terminal ailment in a bottle down in the cellar with the fearsome guard dog, one will not risk the dog to go down in the cellar to look for the bottle that has the cure for one's ailment. One has, at minimum, to have a grain of faith that the bottle with the pills is there behind the growling canine. One must, at the least, think to oneself, "It must be in the cellar, for I have been repeatedly told it is there, so I will search for it there even if it means the dog will bite off my arm."

Losing an arm to save one's life is not a bad trade-off. I bet many persons with horrible, deadly diseases would make that exchange. Everything worth something carries a risk.

To know God is to risk being consumed by fire.

And yet, consider: Since the vast majority of humankind has had a faith in gods or supernatural forces of immaterial nature, of a "God" from the beginning up to the modern age, then it's worth it to seek out the truth of the matter, whether this otherness to materialism is so.

No other question is nearly as important. Not what to wear or eat, not which career to study or house to buy, not who to date or marry or have children with. All those are temporal. Knowing the truth about God--ie, whether or not He is--would have ramifications beyond a mere lifetime. That makes it issue number one.

And so, yes, begin with faith. Or at least, with the kind of humility that is appropriate in the face of the possibility of a vast, omniscient, omnipotent, eternal Being.

If you are one willing to make the challenge, then do it right. Do it genuinely. Do it worthily. Do it with the sort of stakes that leave no doubt about the seriousness of the matter..

Kneel. In your yard or your room or by the sea, kneel. Then lift up your hands in supplication. Say the following and mean it: "God, I want to know You. Show yourself to me. I am willing to give away everything I own, spend the rest of my life celibate and in service to the poor. I will do whatever you ask of me. I will kneel three times a day to worship you in public every day for the rest of my life. All of this I'll commit to, if you will but show yourself to me as real and living. Help me in my unbelief."

Whatever you enjoy most or want most from life--success in your field, financial security, erotic love, good health, appreciation--be utterly prepared to sacrifice it. Then see what happens.

But really be willing to give it up. That's the clincher.

You want the ultimate knowledge of the universe? Stand ready to lose everything for it. Take everything you value and offer it up and say, "I want to know YOU more than I want all this."

Now that's the sort of petition that has been shown to move the mighty heart of God to respond. A true seeker of humble disposition who is willing to lay it all down. Everything. Everything to know Him and follow.

When you make the challenge: Do it right.

Otherwise, it's just a bunch of silly, prideful words tossed up into the night and worth nothing more than to be trampled on by a God who deserves much more.

If you really take on the challenge, let me know how His voice comes to you.

I already know how it sounds to me.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Literary Agent & Her Stats...Interesting.

Agent Kristin Nelson posted a couple weeks ago on her stats for the year.

Here's a peek. Note especially the first two stats. Yowza:

(Estimated number of queries read and responded to in 2006)

(Number of full manuscripts requested and read)

(Number of new clients taken on this year)

(Number of books sold this year—not counting subsidiary rights stuff)

For her complete stats list, see "A Year in Statistics."

Top Ten U.S. Christian & Overall Publishers

Michael Hyatt, President and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, has posted on his blog FROM WHERE I SIT on "The Top Ten Publishers in America." His own enterprise is the largest Christian and sixth largest trade publisher, with 25.7% and 4.8% in market shares, respectively.

Topping the overall list is Random House (17.2% market share), HarperCollins (13.3%), Simon & Schuster (9.2%), Penguin (8.7%), and Hachette (formerly Warner) (5.9%).

Another Christian publisher, Tyndale, holds the #8 spot with 1.9%.

"My goal is for Thomas Nelson to become a top three trade publisher by 2012," states Hyatt.

The other top Christian publishers ranked according to market share are Zondervan, which sits at the two spot with 24.7% of market share, then Tyndale (10.3%), Baker (4.5%), Broadman & Holman (4.0%), Multnomah (3.0%), Harvest House (2.4%), NavPress (2.1%), Barbour (1.8%), and Moody (1.8%).

The Coach's Midnight Diner Anthology: Christian "Slanted" Genre Fiction

Got the link for the following info from the estimable J. Mark Bertrand over at the Faith in Fiction discussion board. If you write CSF, you might want to drop by and read the full guidelines.

What I am looking for:
Unpublished Short Fiction 10,000 words or less in the following categories, written with a Christian slant:

*Hardboiled Detective/Mystery (Examples:Raymond Chandler, Janet Evanovich)
*Horror/Weird Fiction (Examples:H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King)
*Conspiracy/Aliens/Paranormal (Examples:X-Files, Millennium)
*Suspense/Adventure (Examples:Dan Brown, James Patterson, Dean Koontz)
*The Fantastic/Archetypal Exploration (Examples:Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Neil Gaiman)
*Futurist (Examples: Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits)
*Crime/Police Procedural (CSI, Law and Order)

Combinations of the above genres are also welcome.

In addition to the above categories, I am also offering three cash awards for writing for the following prompts:

Jesus Vs. Cthulhu: This one's wide open. There are so many ways to approach this prompt. Open up the creativity box and let's see what you've got.

That One That Happens In A Diner: The story has to happen in a diner. Blinding flash of the obvious, right? All before-mentioned categories are eligible.
...and one category that will be decided based upon the work received.(Think Editor's Choice with a fun name.)

Best in Christian Fiction for 2006
According to The Library Journal

Rekindled - Tamera Alexander - Bethany House
Set in the 19th-century American West, Alexander's impressive debut follows Kathryn and Larson Jennings as disappointment and separation lead them on a journey of spiritual discovery.

Grace in Thine Eyes - Liz Curtis Higgs, Liz Curtis - WaterBrook
Following up on her heart-wrenching “Lowlands of Scotland” trilogy, Higgs proves once again that she can write tortured romance like nobody else. This moving tale draws its inspiration from the biblical story of Dinah.

Waking Lazarus - T. L. Hines - Bethany House
Hines' intricate thriller about a man declared dead several times offers plenty of twists and turns without sacrificing character development. Supernatural suspense that pushes the envelope.

The Brethren - Beverly Lewis - Bethany House
Lewis concludes her absorbing “Annie's People” trilogy (The Preacher's Daughter, The Englisher) about an Amish girl's struggles between her traditional life and her forbidden artistic talents and budding romance with an outsider.

Things We Once Held Dear - Ann Tatlock - Bethany House
Tatlock hones her sparkling prose into a memorable story about artist Neil Sadler, who tries to reconnect the pieces of his past and understand the path he has chosen. An unforgettable homecoming tale of tragedy, choices, and forgiveness. )

hat tip to Dave Long
See complete listings of genres at Library Journal.

Best SF & Fantasy Fiction of 2006
According to the Library Journal

SF & Fantasy

Butcher, Jim. Proven Guilty: A Novel of the Dresden Files. ROC: NAL. ISBN 0-451-46085-5 [ISBN 978-0-451-46085-1]. $23.95.

Newly appointed to the White Council of Wizards, private investigator Harry Dresden battles dark magic, warring Faerie courts, and a Fallen angel to keep the teenage daughter of an old friend from losing her soul—and her head. The latest installment of an outstanding dark urban fantasy with hard-boiled charm. (LJ 4/15/06)

Carey, Jacqueline. Kushiel's Scion. Warner. ISBN 0-446-50002-X [ISBN 978-0-446-50002-9]. $26.95.

The author of the “Kushiel's Legacy” trilogy launches a new series set in the same lavish quasi-Renaissance world as a younger generation of noble scions struggle to make their mark. A stellar example of sensually exotic dynastic fantasy. (LJ 6/15/06)

de Lint, Charles. Widdershins. Tor. ISBN 0-7653-1285-9 [ISBN 978-0-7653-1285-3]. $27.95.

The latest in de Lint's urban fantasy series set in fictitious Newford, Canada, revolves around Jillie Coppercorn, brilliant painter and friend to the faerie folk who dwell unseen at the edges of the visible world. Themes of love, loss, and the importance of myth inform this exceptional story. (LJ 5/15/06)

Heinlein, Robert A. & Spider Robinson. Variable Star. Tor. ISBN 0-7653-1312-X [ISBN 978-0-7653-1312-6]. $24.95.

In a tale begun by the late Grand Master in 1955, musician Joel Johnston encounters love and loss on a journey to the stars. The Heinlein estate authorized award-winning sf veteran Robinson's completion of the novel. A fortuitous melding of authors. (LJ 8/06)

McDevitt, Jack. Odyssey. Ace. ISBN 0-441-01433-X [ISBN 978-0-441-01433-0]. $24.95.

A journalist opposed to the prestigious Space Academy's deep space program discovers a catastrophic secret when he joins a mission to explore the strange lights known as moonriders, glimpsed in nearby planetary systems. A hard sf gem set in the far future of space exploration. (LJ 10/15/06)

Visit LIBRARY JOURNAL for their full listings.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

"Esta Noche Es Noche Buena!"

The title of this blog entry is the first line of my fave Spanish Christmas carol, and translated LITERALLY it means: "This Night is Good Night. "Translated more pointedly, it means, "Tonight is Christmas Eve."

My family is Cuban-American, so we celebrate Christmas tonight. We sleep in tomorrow. :)

I wish you and yours a very, very, very Good Night. Happy Christmas Eve and Merry Christmas Day to you all.

May God's blessings shower all over you and leave you glowing with His love!

Preliminary Sketch for My Fantasy Painting

I honestly don't remember if I posted this. In case I forgot (likely), I'd like to share the preliminary sketch on which I based the approval of continuing with an art commission (a watercolor, fantasy painting). Here it is in miniature, which means "fuzzy":

The larger sized image is HERE. I can't wait to see the finished work, colorful and with that Sara Butcher magic.

If you've never browsed Sara's online galleries, you should. She does amazing work. Visit DREAMFLIER STUDIOS and feast.

Go & Give Your Christian SF Picks To...

...this young fella named Benjamin.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

SPIN by Robert Charles Wilson

I finished SPIN a few days ago, and I forgot to mention what I thought (as I had brought it up in a previous post).

Well, it blew me away. I hated having to break off reading to do necessary errands or grooming or sleep. And I hated that I'd eventually get to the end and it'd be over. I was torn.

A remarkable novel told skillfully in prose that is clean and well-crafted and that frequently rises to a place of stunning vividness and beauty. I give Wilson credit for using utterly perfect metaphors. Sometimes--you know how it is--you're reading and a metaphor is so odd or jarring that it stops you cold, sometimes with a grimace. Not Wilson. He is in complete charge of his sentences. When they rise, they do so effortlessly and when they descend, you're left a little breathless for a second. Gorgeous.

He also does not sacrifice characterization in the pursuit of scientific dazzle or cute ideas. He handles both the science plot and his engaging, sympathetic (and even less sympathetic) characters with depth and nimbleness. They are not perfect people, but they are good and needy and terrified. And they are believable.

I am avocado with envy.

The plot and allusions are smartly handled HERE, so I'll let you get the synopsis fix there. I'll say briefly that it's a story about three young protagonists who watch the stars go out one night, and the long journey to discover the why and what and who even as they deal in their own ways with growing up and accepting or fighting against a looming apocalypse. The scientist, the religious zealot (sorta), and the doctor-friend who loves them both and is in love with one.

I will add that there is a character who becomes involved with Christian cults/sects as a response to the astonishing inciting incident of the novel. While Christians are hardly pictured as heroic or admirable in the novel--the scientist is the hero here--there is also not the utter cheap shooting that one comes across now and then in secular SF/horror/etc, where ministers are all abusing or raping someone and religious folks are nutters who want to whip their kids into a blood sausage between picketing gays and grubbing for money. (serenity now...serenity now...) There is a certain sympathy that is shown to people so frightened and seeking for meaning and "an answer" that they fall into weird religious sects (or even not-so-weird ones). I wasn't terribly put off by the depiction of Christians as mostly deluded but well-meaning (it's what I expect from secularists) or just plain useless and naive, if cheerful. At least we're not all out to lynch the scientists and burn the Martians. (One takes one's consolation where one can.)

A really beautifully done novel where the threads of the various plots are woven seamlessly and the flashing back and forth in time is handled with such aplomb that you are not lost in transits. Not once.

A great premise. Three strongly drawn protagonists (and some well-done secondary characters). Believable conflicts. Believable extrapolations (meaning even if you--or I--aren't up on our science we can believe that these actions are feasible and yield results). Complicated human relationships. Action and suspense. Some romance. Good dialogue. A sense of wonder at the cosmos. This story merited its HUGO AWARD.

The ending is uplifting and magical, even, though this is real science fiction and not a fantasy novel. I think any of you who picks up SPIN will find quite a lot to enjoy, even if science fiction is not your usual cup of tea. The human drama is so compelling that lovers of good, dramatic general fiction will have a grand time.

If you want to study a novel to see how to handle shifts in time and a complex plot that works out through various decades, to learn how to weave in science in interesting ways that relate to character, to make a looming apocalypse seem more than an occasion for over-the-top heroes and hysteria--or flat prose and ho-hum protagonists--then read this with an analytical eye.


Purely for the Fun of it Music Video:
A guy, a piano, drums, and killer editing

Amateur Lasse Gjertsen

Quirky, clever, fun...

At the end, credits reveal the guy can't play piano OR drums, and nothing has been changed other than timeline. What you hear is what is on the video (as cut and edited). Very cool.

Lasse does the same with beat box.(And he's having a very, very bad hair day, which may just be a normal hair day for the fella.) Not as impressive as the drums and piano bit, but just as odd and nearly as fun.

hat tip to Benjamin

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Contest-Winning Christmas to ME!

I'm having deja vu. :)

Last year, on Dec 20 or so, I was very happy and honored to win The Sword Review's first annual fiction contest with "Voices from the Void"--a horribly titled but rather good tale. (I was happy with it.)

Well, this year, a couple days after the anniversary mark of that win, I have gotten lovely news. I won this year's TSR fiction contest, too.

Funny thing is, I had totally intended to skip the contest this year. But I woke up with a fully-formed story idea in my head, complete with visuals of the colony planet and the sound of the narrator's voice and the ending. I even saw the river, its color and path. I heard the sound of the creatures under the soil, destroying the colonists's dreams and peace of mind and eroding their ethics. When you wake up with a clear fictional idea in your head, you have no choice: You go into a writing frenzy to get it down. And so I wrote "Waiting for Appa" in a five-hour blitz.

I looked at it and realized, "Huh. It's about hope. How about that?"

"Hope" was the theme for this year's contest, as "self-realizaton" was last year's theme. So... I entered the contest with about a half-hour to spare on the deadline.

When TSR publishes "Waiting for Appa" come January, I will provide a link.

I'd like to congratulate my online pal and fellow Christian SF lover, Jane Lebak for placing second with the evocatively titled "Winter Branches." Donald Jacob Uitvlugt and mike simon earned honorable mentions. Good work, gentlemen. I look forward to reading all these stories.

I will say up front, as I discussed with His Snarkiness, Chris M. (aka Anonymous), that I can see flaws in the story. (I am a very tough critic, not just on others, but on myself. And I tend to smack myself silly when I realize I did a stupid thing here, got a grammatical usage wrong there, and totally missed a plot twist opportunity yonder.) I had already compiled revision notes in case I didn't place. I loved the story that came to me, and intended to make it work, one way or another, and see it in print.

Having won, I will only hope that the flaws will not impede your enjoyment of the tale once it's published at TSR. I hope you will catch a bit of the vision and emotion and empathy that I had when I woke up with these people and this place and this situation in my mind.

What a nice Christmas present. It's just as whoopalicious winning the second-time around. More, actually, because I was up against people whom I admire, respect, and for whom I have much affection: Becky Miller, Jane Lebak, Rachel Marks, to name a few.

Excuse me. I'm gonna do the happy dance.


I doubt this sort of thing EVER "gets old".

To the contest judges and Bill Snodgrass, our fearless and apparently tireless leader at DEP Publishing: THANKS A HEAP. You made my end-of-year.

Mir Reviews THE GOOSE GIRL by S. Hale

Note: I wrote this a couple months ago and forgot to post it. I left it in draft form in my blogger list.

I was a rabid devourer of fairy tales and myths in my youth. As soon as I learned to read (early), I was gobbling up Rumpelstitskin, Bearksin, Beauty and the Beast, Mother Holle, Allerleirauh, Cinder-Maid, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, Edith Hamiltons GREEK MYTHOLOGY and Bullfinch's MYTHOLOGY were my sickbed companions (and I was abed with illness often.) My mother and two sisters would take turns telling me bedtime stories, cause one was never, ever enough. I didn't care if they told me Sleeping Beauty three times in a row, I just wanted to hear the stories.

One of my very fave fairy tales was "The Goose Girl". I loved reading the rhymes ( ’Alas! alas! if thy mother knew it/Sadly, sadly, would she rue it.’) and I was horrified that they decapitated Falada, the beloved horse of the princess protagonist. I imagined Curdken's (in my version, others have Conrad) hat rolling over the land, and Curdken chasing after. And I delighted in the horrible, terrible justice that befell the villainess. Just thinking about it makes me feel 6 all over again, feeling the magic of the story--all the stories--and how to a child, all this was so plausible: that a horse should talk, that the lock of hair should speak (some versions have drops of blook on a hanky), that a princess should command the wind, that justice would prevail.

Shannon Hale has taken that brief, bloody, magical tale and fleshed it out in a story written for a YA audience, but sufficiently skilled and enjoyable told that an adult like me was engrossed and loath to put it down even to have supper.

In this retelling, the Princess Anidora-Kiladra (Anifor short) is a misfit, even as a newborn she evidenced a strangeness: She didn't open her eyes for three days, not until her aunt (gifted with a special "speech") spoke her into wide-eyedness. This hint of a special power of speaking is hinted at from the opening, but develops beautifully. We see the not-well-loved child, Princess Ani, grow close to her aunt, who can speak to animals. She learns the language of swans, she learns some of the bird dialects, and she senses something latent in herself, something she cannot fully enunciate.

It turns out that out of political considerations (fear of war), the Queen--who has the gift of people speech, ie persuasive to humans) betroths Ani to the prince of the neighboring acquisitive, hawkish kingdom. En route (as in the fairy tale) Ani's lady in waiting, Selah, who is deceitful and potent in people speech, gains many of the guards to her side, and they mutiny. Ani must hide in the forest of this foreign land, where she is befriended by a forest widow and her son.

Ani ends up, as the Princess in the original tale, working as a goose girl for the king whose son she had been fated to marry. Without a persuasive gift of speech of her own, she is at the mercy of the powers around her.

BUT...she begins to learn goose speech (not like swan speech, as one would have thought). And through the treacheries and friendships and tests and hardships, she begins to understand what her special power is: She can speak to the wind. She can control the wind. First to just get that cap off Conrad (the jealous goose boy), but also, eventually, to fight goose thieves, and beautifully in the climactic battle.

We know, from the fairy story, that she will get her prince (and their romance develops believably and sweetly), but she will be a fine queen, caring about the poor and third class citizenry among whom she has lived and labored.

A marvelous, magical story. RECOMMENDED.

Shannon Hale has also written two books related to THE GOOSE GIRL, and I've bought both. In ENNA BURNING. we follow a friend of Ani's, Enna, who has control over the element of fire. Wind/Ani, Enna/Fire. The third books has "river" in the title, but the blurb doesn't indicate that the element of water is controlled by the protagonist. Pity. I guess earth may be last? (Or not)

Catching up with the Rickshaw Runners

My adventuresome and oh-so-good-hearted online pal, Dave, and his intrepid and lovely daughter, Susan, are making good progress through India.

Dave is enjoying the warmth and kindness of the Indian people. Susan reports they've surpassed their minimum amount of donations (meaning an Indian family WILL get a rickshaw to provide a means of work/livelihood), and they've raised their target in order to do more for the people of that nation.

Here's part of their travel reporting:

The Taj Majal was breathtaking. It is such an beautiful and unparalleled expression of the grief of a widower. The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore perfectly describes the Taj as "a teardrop on the face of eternity."

Out of breath from hauling our luggage we met a woman and her nephew at the train station leaving Agra. They were both warm and generous and made sure we got a ticket on the fully booked train. A strong, independent business woman, she is the first person we've met in India who has had full faith that we will not only live through the trip, but make it in time.

Check their progress at TO BE SORTED.

Support their cause HERE.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Scary Christmas Nu-Jazz by Mir & Hubby:
Guaraldi-Gaiman Mash-Up, "Nicholas & Lucy"

Charles and I took up Neil Gaiman's challenge at his journal to create a mash-up of "Nicholas Was..."

We used a familiar jazzy tune from my fave Christmas album, a tune you'll have heard and maybe love: "Linus and Lucy"

Only we made it a "Scary Christmas Nu-Jazz" version with the words from Gaiman's super-short short.

Listen to it and let me know what you thought: "Nicholas & Lucy"

Thanks for inspiring it, Neil. (We loves ya.)

Ho. Ho. Ho.

Note: I tried to embed the podcast "player", but Blogger wouldn't let me. ARGH.

THE PROMISE: A Flawed Film
and Heroine, A Deeper Message

Carmen of In the Open has posted a review to a film that I've added to my Netflix queue, THE PROMISE.

Her review includes some gorgeous shots from the film, the sort of shots that make me a fan of heroic and mythic Asian cinema, those films with sumptuous scenery and clothing and over-the-top physical prowess.

So, while she's honest about where the film is "broken," I was particularly taken by this:

Ultimately, the story asks if our fate is sealed by past decisions and events. Are we doomed to live out a path we chose long ago (perhaps without realizing the consequences) or can things like being loved and learning to love change our destinies? This story seems to conclude that there are second chances, a “do-over”—and so does Scripture.

Jesus is all about love and second chances. Our salvation is not only from something but also to something—from “a godless, indulgent life” that leads to death to “a God-filled, God-honoring life” that is filled with goodness and love beyond our wildest dreams (Titus 2, Message). Jesus ushered in the ultimate “do-over.” Our fate—like the beautiful young princess—was sealed, but with Jesus that fate was swallowed up in resurrected life, a life that we can now share and in which we can live.

I love beautiful, magical stories that allow for hope and "second chances" for those who have chosen poorly. (Think of the redemption of Zhang Ziyi's character by the fierce goodness, noble persistence, and tragic death of Chow Yun Fat's hero in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON.)

So, I'll leave this at the top of my Netflix queue with MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO and PRINCESS MONONOKE. Can't have too much magic, even if the good message comes through a flawed creation. (Sounds like me.)

Aishwarya Rai to Marry A...TREE?

Stunningly beautiful Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai (who has been the subject of photo adoration and commentary over at John C. Wright's blog) is an item with the fetching actor Abishek Bachchan (son of the tall, elegant, deep-voiced, revered Indian actor, Amitabh Bachchan).

However, there are some impediments to the marriage, it seems, requiring Aishwarya to undergo marriage first to a, yes, tree:

Poor Ash, after staying awake an entire night for a series of poojas, which generated lots of good vibes, smoke and ash, it is rumoured that she may have to marry a peepal tree in Varanasi, to overcome her Manglik status (Chevvai dosham in South India) before she can marry Abhishek.

To ward off the evil, to cancel the bad effects of Mars (aka Mangal aka Chevvai) which is forecast to the non-maglik when a manglik marries him / her, the manglik is made to marry a tree. In Kerala, the unfortunate tree is a banana tree, which is chopped off after the marriage. This marriage to the tree is complete in all ceremonies.

The other rumour about this “made for each other” couple are that their marriage is planned in 2007. The Bachchan family astrologer says both families have consulted him and he has set a February 2007 date. He says number 9 is lucky for the couple and 2007 also adds up to 9

Seventh HP Novel Title: And We're Off...Speculating!

Peter Chattaway over at Film Chat has a post on the seventh--and final--installment of the Harry Potter saga.

The title will be, it seems, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

If you like discussing possible content from titles, then I guess you can start now. Peter's already speculating on the significance of "hallows."

Me, I just want them to hustle the book into print. Waiting, waiting...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Why Miss Snark Loves Satan OR
What Makes A Villain Interesting

The post by Miss Snark is from last month. Why do I offer it now? I happened upon a couple of different online remarks about villains in fiction, and then I read Miss Snark's latest entry with a link to it. Serendipity. So, I offer this link to one brief blog entry that might help you out in creating your villain. From an agent's mouth to your (and my) ear:

Why Miss Snark Loves Satan

Oh, and the Crapometer "Hook" contest is closed for entries.

If you entered, do comment and let me know when Miss Snark gets to yours and what entry number it is and what day she posts it. I'd love to read it. You brave souls.

I did notice there were like three or four hooks with someone being Satan's son or daughter. Just goes to show...nothing new under the sun.

Wanna Be Part Of A Christmas Song?

He sees you when you're Mirtika,
He knows when you're awake.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town
from the Christmas Song Generator.

Get your own song :

Then he knows more than my family, who never know when I'm awake, given my erratic sleep/wake schedules. Never the same three days running.

This next one sounds like I'm gonna be the Christmas Sacrifice! Maybe Patriarch Abraham should do this one at the Christmas pageant.

Bring me flesh, and bring me Mirtika,
Bring me pine logs hither.

Good King Wenceslas
from the Christmas Song Generator.

Get your own song :

And as my husband is a most excellent drummer, the following is one HE should sing:

Then he smiled at me,
Pa-rum-pum-pum pum,
Me and my Mirtika.

Little Drummer Boy
from the Christmas Song Generator.

Get your own song :

When I switch to "Mir", I get much better results. Loads of them. The weirdest one was this:

Mir, Mir,
Mir, Mir.

The First Noel
from the Christmas Song Generator.

Get your own song :

Why do I have the Monty Python SPAM SONG running through my head, ending thusly: Mirrity Mir, wonderful Mir. (No, no, I am not a raging me-holic)

Of course, sometimes I overindulge in Christmas goodies, which gives rise to the following ditty:

How oft at Christmas-tide the sight
Of green Mir gives us delight.

O Christmas Tree
from the Christmas Song Generator.

Get your own song :

The one that is the truest was this, even if I'm not a very obedient and humble subject:

Come and behold him,
Born the king of Mir.

O Come All Ye Faithful
from the Christmas Song Generator.

Get your own song :

But the one I liked most came via a holiday song I really don't enjoy:

So this is Xmas,
And what have you done,
Another Mir over
And a new one just begun.

Merry Xmas (War Is Over)
from the Christmas Song Generator.

Get your own song :

Here's to a NEW MIR come 2007. And yeah, war over, too. :)

John C. Wright's Clearly Hitting the Egg Nog

Or we wouldn't have his latest Xmas historical notes, thusly:

HISTORICAL NOTE: Xmas is a secular holiday beloved of Shopkeepers everywhere, during which grumpy people buy each other unwanted gifts in a hideous mockery of good cheer. It is presided over by Santy Clause, an advertising gimmick of the Coca Cola Bottling Company of Atlanta, who are the illuminati secretly controlling history--why else did the US troops drink Coke overseas? The Shopkeeper holiday falls on the same day as Christmas, presided over by St. Nicholas, during which all merry Christian gentlemen rest without dismay and eat goose to celebrate the savior's birth--they are resting and merry because the good Christian ladies are the ones in the kitchen baking the cookies (something poor Mr. Clinton, for all his fame, cannot get his missus to do) while they watch the ball game on the telly. No doubt they are wearing Peter Power Armor sweaters and sipping from Peter Power Armor mugs!

For those of you who have to travel on this day, remember the holiday also celebrates overcrowded Inns that double-booked or lost your reservation: and the spirit of Christian cheer reminds us all how much we hate paying taxes, or why astrology is actually good for you. For those of you who cannot afford gifts to give to baby Jesus, just come by like the Little Drummer Boy and pound your drums in his ear! Wait till he is sleeping; surely babies love loud noises!

HISTORICAL NOTE UPDATE --THIS JUST IN: I've just been handed a report which shows the two holidays may be related to each other! Modern science has proven that Xmas actually has pagan roots in Germany of 1850, during which simple Teutons, who had been Christian since the time of the Saxon apostle Ewald the White (about A.D. 695), decorated pine trees! The pine tree was invented by pagans (Piney the Elder, in fact, after whom it was named) so that proves it!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

How To Evangelize in a Postmodern World

An audio offering: Tim Keller, minister in the PCA, speaking at the Desiring God National Conference on "The Supremacy of Christ and the Gospel in a Postmodern World"

Aaron of Promice & Pleasure blog has helpfully posted notes for this lecture. I have incomprehensible notes, so I'll skip mine and send you to his:

When dealing with the postmodern mind we are faced with three problems:

~The truth problem: truth is relative
~The guilt problem: most Gospel presentation assume a consciousness of guilt. This consciousness rarely exists in the postmodern mind.
~The meaning problem: meanings are unstable in the postmodern world.

The answer to "how to evangelize in a postmodern world" is a six-parter:

* gospel theologizing
* gospel realizing
* gospel urbanization
* gospel communication
* gospel formation
* gospel incarnation

Cerulean Sanctum (still one of my fave blogs, VISUALLY, and none too shabby in content) calls this a "staggeringly good message" and gets the hat tip.

"Black Hole Relationships" by R.L. Copple

Another of the honorable mention poems from the DKA Poetry Contest is up at Dragons, Knights & Angels.

This poem was nevertheless memorable to me because of one particular word which I couldn't immediately decide whether it was perfect for the subject and possibly brilliant, or ridiculous and out of place.

I ultimately landed in the position that it was fun and offered a precise image... and was assuredly different.

The phrase with the controversial word: inevitability of spaghettification

Read all of "Black Hole Relationships."

A Sci-Fi Christmas Story from UKSteve

UKSteve has been noticeably absent from his Old Testament Space Opera blog, which saddened The Mir muchly, because, well, I like Steve. I even like his funky car, Yoda, which has personality and retro-appeal, if not the most alluring color on earth.

But Steve has come up for blog air--YAY--and as a holiday gift to his blog readers, he's posted a Christmas story of the science fictional sort.

Head on over to read STRAND.

Neil Gaiman's "Nicholas Was..."

A very cool MP3 of Neil "I Just LOVE Him" Gaiman reading his super-short, Christmas horror-fantasy story, "Nicholas Was..."

Listen to it HERE.

Here is the text.

Nicholas Was…

Older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to die.

The dwarfish natives of the Arctic caverns did not speak his language, but conversed in their own, twittering tongue, conducted incomprehensible rituals, when they were not actually working in the factories.

Once very year they forced him, sobbing & protesting, into Endless Night. During the journey he would stand near every child in the world, leave one of the dwarves’ invisible gifts by its bedside. The children slept, frozen into time.

He envied Prometheus and Loki, Sisyphus and Judas. His punishment was harsher.




Gaiman has invited the musically and digitally creative to, well, here's his invitation:

I was thinking about that the other day, and it occurred to me that if anyone feels like doing a seasonal remix or mashup of "Nicholas Was...", and sending me a link to it through the FAQ line, I'd happily and seasonally link to it here. In theory, at least, you would need to get it done by the 21st of December, as I have plans to be far from computers between the 23rd and the 30th of December.

hat tip to Dave Long of Faith in Fiction blog.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Another Movie The Mir Uges You to See:

Yeah, yeah, I'm late to the party. It's not my fault. I've sat through so much crappy anime, that anything that smacks of "Japanese" and is "animated" makes me run out of the room.

But, I got so many recommendations to see HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, that I caved. The film is based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones (familiar to fans of fantasy, most likely.)

Glad I broke my "no anime" rule, too. Absolutely delightful film that I heartily recommend.

In brief: Set in some Europeanish land that feels like the 19th century, where contraptions of odd sorts and magic coexist happily, this is the story of Sophie, a plain young woman who works making hats, and who, after a brief rescue from sludgy thugs by a very attractive blond fella (the wizard Howl), finds herself cursed by the Witch of the Waste (who still resents not being able to capture Howl's heart). The curse turns her into a very old woman. So, off Sophie goes to the wizard in hope of breaking the curse. In typical fairy tale fashion, she has spunk and is quite industrious and noble of heart--helping a scarecrow stuck in a thicket (who then follows her slavishly, bounce-bounce-bouncing along), entering Howl's castle and bargaining with the fire demon, beginning to tidy up, taking charge of the place. Sophie and Howl and Markl (the boy who assists Howl) and Calcifer (the fire demon who is dependent on Howl, and Howl on he, in some symbiotic curse) end up getting along and working to end a war incited by the disappearance of a prince. (It won't take much guessing to figure out who's the prince). In the end, solutons are found and a new "family" is created from the cursed and lonely folks of the castle.

A truly happy and romantic, even, ending.

The castle itself if hilarious and whimsical and a joy to behold in action. The sort of thing I'd have given a few toes and fingers to ride in as a kid. The story has a generous and good heart, if you pardon the pun. (You'll get the pun if you see the film.) One young woman's selflessness and courage makes life better for a whole lot of people, breaking curses left and right. People don't always get what they deserve, interestingly. They do get compassion and grace and mercy. The idea of the longing for family is at play as well, and family may not be flesh-folk, but folk who band together and live together and make a life where they help and get help from one another, and where they put up with each other's moods, flaws, and eccentricities.

Good theme, that.

And if you like to laugh, Billy Crystal will make as Calcifer, the fire demon. I laughed my wee head askew.

Christian Bale adds something extra to the character of Howl, the tormented wizard. A weariness, a masculinity, a strength, a bit of humor. I really like Bale (he was the best Batman on film!), and while I didn't recognize the voice during the flim and had to check the credits, I kept thinking, " I know that voice. I know that voice!" He was perfect for the part.

For those who love a Beauty and the Beast type tale, this has that, too.

And I recognized at once the voices of Jean Simmons and Emily Mortimer (who got to kiss Gerry "HubbaHubba" Butler in the gentle and lovely film DEAR FRANKIE) but it took me a while to place Lauren Bacall, who does the Witch of the Waste perfectly, even after the character undergoes a rather startling transformation. (Oh, you're gonna love it.)

From what I've read about Academy Award winning animator, Hiyao Mayazaki, he's a gifted man with the knack of adding a special magic to his creations. His work has brought him great honor and success in his homeland (and globally) for films such as MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, NAUSICAA: The Valley of the Wind, PRINCESS MONONOKE, SPIRITED AWAY and others.

Kathrym Mackel Inteview at WhereTheMapEnds.Com

I meant to refer you to this interview during the blog tour last week. Well, I forgot.

Go here to read it.

Jeff's also got the never-used prologue from OUTRIDERS up at his site. Read it here.

Senior Editor at Speculative Faith Today: GO!

Nick Harrison, senior editor at Harvest House, is interviewed today by Becky Miller at Speculative Faith. He'll be talking about their upcoming fantasy trilogy that will release in 2007.

Becky says this:

I'd love to have you leave comments for him and let him know what good news it is that another Christian publishing house is venturing into speculative fiction.

Also, on my blog, A Christian Worldview of Fiction, I'll have an Open Letter to Christian Fantasy Readers about why it is important to participate in marketing, along with some starter ideas about what we can do.

Movie To See: Powell & Pressburger's

Because the team of Powell and Pressburger are responsible for one of my very most favorite movies of all time (THE RED SHOES), and because they are the team behind some high quality oldies (BLACK NARCISSUS, THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD, I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING), I put A CANTERBURY TALE in my Netflix queue. summarizes it this way:
Originally conceived as good-natured propaganda to support the British-American alliance of World War II, the film became something truly special in the hands of the Archers (a.k.a. writer/director/producers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger). Taking its literary cues from Chaucer's titular classic, it begins with a prologue that harkens back to Chaucer's time before match-cutting to present-day August of 1943, with the night-time arrival of U.S. Army Sgt. Bob Johnson (played with folksy charm by John Sweet, an actual American GI) on the shadowy platform of Canterbury station in the magically rural county of Kent (where Powell was born and raised). He is soon joined by two fellow train passengers: Alison Smith (Sheila Sim), a brashly independent recruit in the British Woman's Land Army; and Peter Gibbs (Dennis Price), a sergeant in the royal Army, and before long they're tracking clues to find "the glue man," a mysterious figure who's been pouring "the sticky stuff" on unsuspecting women as the midnight hour approaches. Their investigation leads to Thomas Colpeper (Eric Portman), a village squire whose local slide-shows celebrate life in an idyllic rural England threatened by wartime change. As Graham Fuller writes in an observant mini-essay that accompanies this DVD, is this a whodunit? Historical documentary? War film? Rustic comedy? It's all these and so much more: As photographed in glorious black and white by Erwin Hiller (faithfully preserved by one of Criterion's finest high-definition digital transfers), A Canterbury Tale has an elusive, magical quality that encompasses its trio of Canterbury "pilgrims" and translates into a an elusive, spiritually uplifting sense of elation that has made it an all-time favorite among film lovers around the world

Astonishingly good. Gorgeously done. Intimate, yet with large themes. Mystical, yet down-to-earth.

I'd hate to give away too much, since I do recommend you catch this oldie. I will that the way they've tied in Chaucer's tale with a modern settings and concerns (for then, this was during WWII), and the way they offer a slice of British life from a bygone era, and the depiction of the inexorable pull of fate toward the ancient holy place--well, it's just what one expects from P & P. Highest quality film-making with excellent characterization and beautiful shots of another time and place.

The actors aren't stars, which is good. One of the leads was just what he seemed to be: a U.S. army sergeant. The young woman who plays Allison has a healthy, sturdy attractiveness that isn't over-the-top Hollywood glamour. You believe her as someone who would love to live on a farm. The Brit off-to-war guy is energetic and mischievous and out to do the right thing as he sees it. The mysterious Mr. Colpepper seems very threatening and controlling in some scenes, and as if he were having visions in others, so that he ends up being fascinating and creepy and, ultimately, surprising. The film seems to imbue his character with an enigmatic depth that is hard to explain. It's just gotta be seen. You'll either loathe him or sympathize with him. But you won't remain neutral.

The ending is moving and satisfying, and the cinematography and direction is top-notch. I felt spiritually touched at the finale, and rewound it to see the scenes inside the cathedral again.

It's a movie that makes room for an invisible, but active, God.

Sunday, December 17, 2006



So, Rachelle, please email me at Mirathon atsy aol dotsy com.

And thanks to all who played along.

I'm kinda busy this week (what with Christmas coming up), have a couple of critiques due, and some DKA reading/editing to do, so I'll be scarce. Also, I'm totally in the middle and captivated by SPIN by Robert Charles Wilson, a Canuck sci-fi author. Amazing novel so far. I'm not even half-way in and can see why this got a HUGO. Wow.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Series Conclusion at Speculative Faith

Over at Speculative Faith on Friday, I posted the last in my series examining myths and fairy tales and C.S. Lewis' TILL WE HAVE FACES.

Do drop by.

I certainly will revisit myths and fairy tales--one of my fave areas of spec fic being the retelling of them--but for now, we are done. Come January, I'll begin posting on, well, whatever strikes me.

Winner of Copy of TRACKERS Named Sunday

These folks told me what type of hero they were: Rebecca, Rachel, Matt.

Jackie, if you still want to be entered, you gotta tell me what type hero you are, girl. :)

This is the last chance for someone to post and enter the giveaway. See the first blog tour entry(Dec 11) for info and the link to take the test. Post a comment HERE, and I'll add your name to the drawing.

I'll post sometime tomorrow with the winner's name.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Karen Hancock on "Two Economies"

Every Christian author of speculative fiction (or any fiction) should read this right now. It's like having a devotion. No kidding.

Thanks, Karen.

Crapometer Opens 12/15 for the Tough-skinned

In just a few hours, you will be able to submit your novel hook via email to Miss Snark. If she likes it, you'll have a chance to submit pages to her, a legit agent.

Go here for info: The Happy Hooker Crapometer Blog.

In the Snarky Mistress' own words:

You'll send an email with your hook of 250 words.

You must also include "Ok to post this on the blog" AT THE TOP of the email. It doesn't count in the 250 words.

I'm not spell checking so you might want to double czech ur spelz be4 u cast them into the wind.

ALL hooks get posted unless you've screwed up in some completely idiotic way. If there's a chance to fix it I MIGHT email you with that option. This is NOT a given. Get it right the first time.

I'll comment very very briefly on each hook. Be fully prepared for "this sux"; "wtf" and "try to write in English" and other very very snarky comments. If you have thin skin, a tender heart, and/or are easily persuaded to put your manuscript in a gas oven, think twice before sending.

Some hooks will succeed. From those I will ask for pages. You'll have a VERY brief window to send pages. Think 48 hours or less (not fewer!).

This crapometer is for first pages. The hook part is just to winnow down the entries in as fair a a way as possible. There is no set number of people I will ask for pages.

Gyapong on the Phil 4:8 "Nelson Standard"

Deborah Gyagong has concerns--some quite similar to my own--about the Thomas Nelson standard that I've posted about here and here and here, notably the Philippians 4:8 thing. Read her entry "Writing About What Is Pure" at Master's Artist.

Michael Hyatt, President & CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, responds in the comment section. (And he has been responding all along, and graciously, to his credit.)

I gotta say, though, that I do take some offense at the "dogs in the hunt" comment in response to Michele Pendergrass's comment regarding the closure of his blog entry on this topic to comments. (Although I have no problem with his closing that comment thread. Total blog-owner prerogative.)

After all, some of us who posted on his blog who are not authors (ie hunting dog endowed) are writers hoping to be authors. And, hey, some of us (trans: me) might have shortlisted Westbow (soon to be non-existent) as a publisher to which we wanted to submit. (Westbow has put out some stuff I've enjoyed and they seemed to give more latitude than other CBA publishers.) The fact that some of us commenting (more than once) are not yet published doesn't mean that this is not a subject of legitimate concern to us, the currently dogless ones. Or maybe our dogs are just at obedience school until we get our hunt passes.

I just got lost in my own metaphor. Sorry.

Somebody, get me a pooch for Christmas!

So, go read Deborah's blog post. And comment. Even if you haven't got a hunting dog.

Harvest House Editor On Fantasy Foray

Speaking of publishers, as some might know, Harvest House is bringing out a fantasy trilogy next year. Senior Editor Nick Harrison agreed to an interview about their dip into fantasy, and I’ll be posting that on Monday over at Speculative Faith. Pass the word and be sure to drop by yourself.

SPOILERS: The Lost Room Finale?

When is a finale to a mini-series not really a finale?

When some stuff is left unanswered as if there might be a series in the works.

So, while the most important plotline for the hero is resolved, other stuff is left hanging. And, since I was rivetted by the show, I think I'd really love to see what they can do with the concept as a series.

It could end up a stinky pile of repetitive poo.

It could be innovative and fun and suspenseful and brilliant.

SPOILERS AHEAD: Don't blame me if you recorded the show and haven't seen it and I mess up your finale joy. You've been warned.

So, we still don't know why the room exists or why the objects have power or why that poor guy got stuck in there. "The Occupant" said he wasn't the prime object. But do we know? No. And when he said Joe would become "The Occupant," can we be sure of that? When we see if Joe is indestructible and the objects "call to him," then we'll know. Until then, Martin is a contender, because Joe hasn't been forgotten by at least two people, right? He's not "erased." Although, the loophole might be that Annie was in there and so was Jennifer, and they are immune to the alterations.

Still, easily possible that "The Occupant" just didn't really know what would happen.

On the "Yes, Joe is the New Occupant" side: The room heard his request and granted it. Hmmmm.

And why hasn't anyone taken the bedsheets and pillows and tv and everything outside to see what it does? :) I would.

Could the room itself, the actual walls and floors and ceilings and windows, together comprise the prime object? And how does it activate? Must everything be back in it's original place, as shown in the Polaroid?

Clearly, the room seems to very much want to be entered, and the key wants to be possessed. which makes sense. Things want to serve their purpose. So, what is the purpose?

And lookee there. We got to see in the vault. (Figuring out how to get in the vault? Not such a big surprise.) What was fun was seeing the steps unfold and then looking in at all those things arrayed on pedestals while wondering, "Oooh, what does the shirt do?" and "Hey, that shoe, does it kill?" What was a surprise was...well...the kid's real status. I got duped. Yeah, I didn't know about "the quarter." Anyone else guess about the kid?

Rich dude with resurrection fixation: Why didn't he get a surgeon to do his eye BEFOREHAND, with anesthesia and comfort and all that? I mean, he knew he wanted that glass eye and he'd do whatever to get it. Seems to me that was a bit of oversight. Hah. I made a punny.

The pace was brisk, there were a few surprises, and some moving moments. And while I'm glad Annie was not lost forver, now we are left to wonder: Is Joe now really, really "The Occupant", or was the guy wrong about that. After all, we saw Rube the Loon have some sort of vision where he was "The Occupant". Of course, he was dehydrated and more than half-mad, and that could have been a misdirection.

The scene in the hospital with Margaret and Martin was terrific. His wild-eyed clutching of the photo and dreams of apotheosis. Her calculating, obsessed face--a zealot to a new NEW religion. The encounter with the cop lady. Very nicely done.

Oy. What will SciFi Channel do? If anyone knows, do tell me.

So, what are your theories after seeing the finale? Why is that room there? Is it realy calling for Martin to be the Occupant or is he just nuts? Will Joe be indestructible? Who's gonna find the key? Margaret and Martin? The Weasel? Legion (though they got Bendict Arnold but good!)? The Order?

Hanging threads may seem sloppy now, but we may be thankful for them later.

:::she says, hopeful, ever hopeful::::

The echoes of LOTR are obvious (the objects make people obsessive, like Gollum, and bring misfortune, and call to other objects). However, I like the idea of the warning against becoming OWNED by your possessions. Notice how Stritzky always had the comb in his hand, and the Weasel always had that pen in or at hand, and Wally kept a tight duct-tape safe grip on the bus ticket, and the scissors chick never let them out of her grip until defeated by the flask. And they'll beg to keep them. "It's all I have left." They don't own the objects. The objects own them. The possessions possess them. There's a lesson there for a consumerist culture. Oh, yeah.

(No, no, I will not give up my book collection!)

If you want to peruse a list of the objects with their corresponding powers and owners (may not be updated for finale), go here.

Oh, and I didn't win the 5 million. I only had 3 of the objects out of 7, and in the wrong order. Lame.

For Writers & Readers: Whoa, Depressing!

If you're a writer, this is not a happy post. But, hey, I believe in knowing, even if it hurts.

Edited to Add: And THIS guy, having the problem outlined in the above, has his own non-profit response. I doubt his publisher will be pleased.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

TRACKERS by Kathryn Mackel, a Review:
Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour

"But why?" Anastasia said. "Why do this to another human being?"

"Because they want to be God, that's why."

It's time for the Mir Review of TRACKERS. I pretty much avoid spoilers for Trackers, but if you haven't read OUTRIDERS and plan to, you may want to skip this until you've gotten through novel #1 of the THE BIRTHRIGHT PROJECT . And I strongly urge you to read the books in order. TRACKERS will be confusing for you without having read OUTRIDERS.

Humans playing God is a dominant theme in the Birthright Project. The mogs--transmogrified creatures--are the prime metaphors for expressing the urge to be Creator and Lord over all. Conversely, submission to true and proper authority is also a theme. When people try to do things their way, rather than the wise and obedient way, trouble follows.

So, we've come from the first novel, OUTRIDERS, in a future world damaged by the Endless Wars. Birthrighters--those who survived the wars by building an Ark that is under the arctic ice, people full of spiritual maturity and scientific know-how--send outriders topside. We met the Horesh community birthrighters--the outriders, trackers, weaver, etc. It's just one enclave assigned to collect "natural" specimens of flora and fauna, those not tainted by genetic meddling. They also protect life and uphold goodness however they can without endangering their mission in their post-apocalyptic world that's fallen back into some sort of semi-medieval status.

Brady is leader. Niki is our strong warrior-woman who came face to face with darkness and acquired a wolfen companion. Book one was principallay concerned with those two outriders.

We followed the birthrighters through trials in the fortified cities and out about the damaged, but not utterly destroyed, land. Dangers and a major battle left them battered and down one outrider. Worse, one entire outrider community has been engulfed in a terrible, dark void.

Disobedience by the weaver/teacher, Ajoba--who was seduced by a demon in guise of an angel--has left the group without a maker of shroud, the miracle substance only the chosen can create. Shroud is crucial to their defense, as it offers camouflage and armor, and to their word, as all specimens must be wrapped in shroud before being sent down to the underground second Ark. (Shroud is fabric that on one side is, well, fabric, and on the other is "out-of-time.") The weaving of it is a spiritual gift, as are the abilities to have visions and communicate with creatures and discern the transmogrified via a green glow. And the growing needs of the heart threaten the peace of more than one birthrighter who has vowed celibacy.

TRACKERS begins with Timothy, one of the birthrighters, heading into the great city of Traxx--using his gift of song to charm the "slungs" that guide him through the Sleeping Beautyish thorny hedge blossoming with bewitching flowers. Traxx is the city of Alrod, a baron of great evil and ruthless ambition and a powerful reach, whose right arm is the dark sorcerer Ghedo.

Timothy is out to rescue the girl he loves, a good-hearted non-birthrighter who has been selected by the baron and baroness as the "lolly" to bear a royal heir. The vanity of the baroness has resulted in barrenness. Alrod wants an heir and to rule all the lands. Ghedo wants to rule Alrod, and more, but he's lost some favor with his old pal the baron given the lousy outcome of the battle in book one.

But a new sorcerer with the ability to bring fresh and magically powerful troops into Alrod's service begins the spread of a new darkness across the world, one that threatens everyone, including the birthrighters, who are licking their wounds from the first novel's battles.

The fall-out from book one has lots of birthrighters on edge. The issues of honesty, loyalty, obedience, and forgiveness come to the fore. And the loss of a birthrighter enclave brings extra work to the folks of Horesh. Tensions are mounting there.

Of course, temptations and trials come and complications ensue. And everybody has longings and secrets, especially secrets. Alrod is willing to torture and kill to learn one particular secret, and his obession is bolstered mystically by Simon, the new and vicious and revolting chief sorcerer, whose power is fearful and whose appearance is chilling.

The birthrighters will, it seems, have to face a more powerfully allied & equipped Alrod.

The subplot I most enjoyed included a female rook (a new outrider) and a deformed teen boy who serves the dreadful Ghedo in his underground laboratory, a place full of mogs and potions and prisoners and horrors. The grace of God shines in this subplot--in all the plotines, really--and it's a joy to see how it plays out. Plus, hey, exciting stuff!

The stakes are higher. The opposition deadlier. And the birthrighters must make sacrifices of all sorts. And some had me teary-eyed, others sad, but all quite proud of the indomitable spirit of those full of His Spirit.

Some criticisms I've seen are correct: Like Stuart I thought the conversation at the gates of Traxx seemed totally out of character. A simple explanation that they were speaking in a silent code would have cleared that up. Did I miss that? Then Stuart and Tina and I all missed it.

I also find that the emotional turnabouts of the baroness seemed to come out of the blue, but that might well be explained by what was done to her by Ghedo.

And characters explain the whole birthrighter thing maybe one or two too many times. This may make it easier, however, for people who read only TRACKERS. I found it mildly intrusive, but it did not dilute my reading pleasure by more than by a few drops. You might think it a plus!

Overall, I think this was a rollicking good tale. Unlike some other reviewers, I take no issue with the multiple and changing points of view. I enjoyed that. Made the pace hum for me. And this is a fast-paced, action-packed, drama-filled, spiritual story. I highly recommend it. I enjoyed it more than OUTRIDERS, but then, the emotional content was stronger and the suspense was palpable. Book one had to do its introductory duty--characters, places, conflicts--which this novel can just run with.

Over at Val's blog, Kathryn Mackel had this to say about the book that would have concluded the storyline:

Unfortunately, there are no plans right now for a third book in the Birthright Series. Fantasy continues to be a tough sell in the Christian marketplace and the sales for Outriders weren't robust enough to continue through a third book. That said, a dear friend reminded me that if the Lord gave me a vision for Scouts - and He has - then it would be so. Not in my timing or in that of my dear readers, but in His. I wait expectantly but patiently for that opportunity to present itself.

I hope the third novel--SCOUTS--will end up coming up out of its current shroud to the light of day. I want badly to read it. Although the story ends in a good place for some characters, it leaves us wondering about others. Perhaps, if we are diligent with word of mouth and support, the book will not be relegated to a hard drive.

Tina Kulesa expresses a similar sentiment to mine at her blog:

The book I read was pretty much the second book in the series. It left me with so many….but what about so and so feelings. Frustrating but not because Mackel did not do her job. It’s because we as readers and consumers didn’t do our jobs. We didn’t buy. We didn’t recommend. We didn’t market for Kathryn Mackel or The Birthright Project. This dear friends was a failure on our part and look how it affected someone else.

I lay the blame for not marketing it more effectively at the publisher's feet. And I wag my finger at the CBA reading audience for not trying something different. Here is a God-honoring novel that speaks to important issues facing our globe, with admirable characters and with sometimes breathtakingly imaginative depictions of a tomorrow world and an old evil--the scene where Simon takes Alrod on the "tour" of history is just magnificent--and this vivid fictional offering is...pretty much just ignored.

Shame. Shame. Shame.

People. Set aside that Americana Historical or Smalltown Romance or that Woman-in-Jeopardy novel for just a week and try these books. Don't be scared. Don't be wussy. Here there be champions...and a cracking good read.

Yes, this is one of the best series I've seen published in the CBA. Good writing. Creative world-building. Dramatic situations and confrontations. Really Good versus Serious Evil. Self-sacrifice and self-absorption. Vanity versus modesty. Abuse of Power. Loyalty. Friendship. And it even has beautiful moments of romance.

And we let it sink into the cold, cold ice.

That sucks.

So, here's to hope and patience and the will to pass the good word on THE BIRTHRIGHT PROJECT .

I recommend you visit The Bedford Review's addition to the tour's last day, where Jim talks about the Dying Earth subgenre of SF, and how Mackel's book fits in with that. Wikipedia's article on Dying Earth says:
The Dying Earth subgenre is a sub-category of science fantasy which takes place at the end of Time, when the Sun slowly fades and the laws of the Universe themselves fail, with the science becoming indistinguishable from magic. More generally, the Dying Earth sub-genre encompasses science fiction works set in the far distant future in a milieu of stasis or decline. Themes of world-weariness, innocence (wounded or otherwise), idealism, entropy and the hope of renewal tend to pre-dominate.

Tell him which are your fave Dying Earth novels. (If any.) I've read Aldiss' HOTHOUSE, which was astonishingly creative, and stories of the Instrumentality (which are are classed in this subcategory). Was The Foundation Trilogy (which went on to be more than a trilogy, but, eh..) on the list. Seems to me it should be. I read that one early in my sci-fi explorations and loved it. I should re-read it. And would A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ fit in there? "A Boy and His Dog" might fit, too. They had that underground culture trying to preserve some old notions of what order and society ought to be, while "upstairs" it was a post-apocalyptic, free-for-all, scrabble to survive. And the whole "communication with animals thing" as in Mackel's tale. Yeah, some correlations.

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