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It has been almost a year-and-a-half since I lost my wife Ronell to breast cancer. They say time heals all things. I am not sure what is going on but this "healing" is not what I expected.

I followed the advice of experts (of which there are many on this topic) and got busy. Ronell was a dynamo of energy. She never did anything by halves and I doubt she would approve of me sitting around the house.

After four months I went back to work. A few weeks later I joined a gym. Ronell and I actually met in a gym, so there is a strong emotional link there. Whenever possible I go to the cinema or shopping. Of seven days, I get out of the house maybe four or five times.

I expected the healing to involve a lessening of the pain, but it is more of a case of me getting used to it. And learning how to handle it.

Someone described grief as being like a swimmer in stormy water. At first you feel like you are drowning. Later, as you tread water, the grief hits you in waves. Over time, the waves become less frequent and you get better at dealing with them when they do come.

I identify strongly with this. I was drowning. Now I am treading water and keeping an eye out for those monster waves that crash down on your head and take your breath away.

And boy do they take my breath away. I work from home so spend the bulk of my time in the house but coming back from the gym or the shops can be tricky. It is then that the realization hits me. This is real. She is not coming back. Some nights I put on some of her favourite old songs and weep.

Back in 2010, I was invited to join the New Authors' Fellowship by the talented Keven Newsome (the author of the "Winter" series). There I joined with other aspiring authors to blog about our  journey towards publication.

It has been close to a decade since Alpha Redemption was published. The second in the series, Alpha Revelation, came out two years later. I started the third book Alpha Retribution but stopped when Ronell fell ill. 

I don't know if I will be able to finish another novel but I intend to blog about it here. I hope you will join me as I continue the next stage of my writing journey. Your company would be greatly appreciated.

The love of my life

I like to make plans. They give me something to aim towards and stop me slipping into my natural state of lethargy.

Besides, I believe God likes it when we make plans. The "Parable of the Talents" in Matthew 25:14-30 hints at this. He wants us to do more than hide under the blanket for fear of failing. He expects us to use the skills he has given us. 

Someone once described the Christian walk as being like a ship on the ocean where God is the rudder. We travel . He steers. The thing with rudders is that they are only effective if the boat is in motion. I like that analogy.

So, I make plans and keep moving, praying that God will steer me where He wants me to go.

Sometimes He adjusts those plans. Sometimes he does a 180-degree turn. Sometimes He blows my plans right out of the water.

In March 2016, my wife Ronell and I celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary. Our kids had both moved out and we were looking forward to rekindling our relationship. We made a whole heap of plans. We were going to travel and go to the cinema and visit museums and take long walks on the beach. Ronell had been working on an idea for an online business for some time and was really making progress. Our aim was to spend as much time together as possible. I told her I was looking forward to spending the next 26 years with her. She told me she was looking forward to falling in love with me all over again.

One plan was to see Paris but money was tight so we discussed it and agreed to postpone it for a year. We would go on her birthday in June 2016. She was so excited at the prospect. Her ancestors were French Huguenots and, being a fashion designer, she had a special link with France. I remember she did her “happy dance” which involved grabbing my hands and bouncing up and down while twisting from side to side with a big grin on her face.  

Had I known that by the end of 2016, she would be gone, I would have taken her to see Paris, no matter the consequences.

It turns out that she was carrying an aggressive form of breast cancer that, by the time we discovered it, had already spread to her bones. She was always fit and very fastidious about what she ate but between May and November of 2016 her health went into freefall.

I did my best to look after her and she fought it with all her strength, refusing to even acknowledge the disease. As her condition deteriorated I gave up my job and moved into the hospital to be with her. For five weeks I lived in her hospital room. When she was moved into the hospice I went with her. I was holding her hand when, on the Sunday afternoon of November 27th she took her last breath.

All those plans. Gone in an instant.

What struck me the hardest was the realization that I had no plans that did not involve Ronell. Even the daily trips to the shop on my cycle home from work revolved around her. Back before she was ill she would sometimes meet me there and her face would always light up when she spotted me in the aisles. We held hands whenever possible. Every morning when I left for work was as if we were parting for a year. People made fun of us, but that was how we were.

It has been six months since she died but I still feel lost walking through the supermarket. The other week I needed to buy new net curtains for the front window. I stood in front of the selection and have never felt so alone in my entire life.

Even my writing was for her. I like to think that God steered me in that direction but my main motivation was to be able to spend more time at home. Now she has gone I no longer see the point. Don’t get me wrong—I do sometimes get the urge. It’s just that the drive is no longer there. I hope to start writing again someday, but not today, and probably not tomorrow.

All I know is that the love of my life has gone. I won’t see her face light up when our eyes meet at the supermarket. I won’t see her do her happy dance when I give her some good news.

God alone knows why she had to go. As a wise Jewish scholar once said when asked about the purpose behind God's actions: "What man can know such things?" God is a mystery and He moves in mysterious ways, but I trust Him completely just as I believe that I will see Ronell again one day.

Then I’ll join her in her “happy dance” and we’ll hold hands forever.

Breaking bad habits, literally

I'm trying to break some bad writing habits I've picked up over the years.

The thing with habits is they are very easy to spot in others but almost undetectable in ourselves.

For example, I have started to notice how much some people on TV use the word "literally". It has reached the point where I am almost waiting for that word to come up. I can feel my senses tingling and a faint knot of anticipation in my stomach. Will it be this sentence? Or the next? How about now? Or now? When the word is uttered, I get a bizarre feeling of satisfaction. The tension releases and I start all over again.

If it happens too often I have to leave the room. Literally.

So my next book (Hanzet) is going through another round of edits. Alpha Redemption was pretty clean and edited quickly. Hanzet, however, is taking an age.

I guess the problem is the timescales and leap-frogging involved. I started Hanzet about twelve years ago. The first chapter went down effortlessly and I put it away. I picked it up again from time to time, managing to get about five or six chapters done. Then Disney released Wall-E and I dropped it because the humans in Wall-E bear a very close resemblance to the humans (pink lumps) in Hanzet. I didn't want to be accused of "borrowing" Disney's ideas.

But the story wanted to be written (yes, stories are sentient apparently). After Alphas 1 and 2 I went back and finished Hanzet. Alpha was edited, along with Alpha 2 and a couple more projects. Now I'm back to editing Hanzet and all the old habits have reappeared, so it's back to the drawing board so to speak.

I plan to dive into the edits this weekend--time premitting. Time not permitting I will forfeit some sleep and make the time.

Hanzet gets priority, then 8 Billion needs a rewrite. Then, who knows?

These things don't write themselves and there is a log-jam of stories building up in my frazzled brain.


Equality on Dutch roads

Last year saw the pilot of a new initiative by the Dutch government to eradicate inequality on their roads by allowing crazy people to drive.

The pilot, which ran between September and January, saw thousands of certified lunatics take to the highways and by-ways in a variety of vehicles chosen to suit their temperament. Surprisingly, nobody seems to have noticed.

Mary Whana, the Minster for Cul-de-sacs and Roundabouts, thinks this has to do with the quality of insane people in the Netherlands. "As you know, Holland is the best country in the world and the Dutch are better than everyone else, and that includes our crazy people."

Indeed, a recent survey of Dutch drivers carried out in bars across the country has conclusively shown that Dutch drivers are all experts and never make mistakes. It has been suggested that insane people fit in perfectly with normal drivers because they follow the same driving habits. During the pilot, sociopaths adapted the best, having no regard for other road users or traffic signals. Their tendency to believe they were the only ones on the road meant they fit right in with the usual flow of traffic. Even psychpaths did well in their powerful SUVs and muscle cars. They ignored road signs and speed limits as comprehensively as everyone else.

Having successfully concluded this pilot, the government plans to extend their policies to include the blind and brain-dead. Next week will see the first sight-impaired and comatose drivers hit the road. No doubt they will fit right in.

A positive review from China

Alpha Redemption has been featured on a Chinese site in a list of their top 25 A.I. novels, including the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I'm thrilled and intrigued to see that my book is being read in China.

The website is here ( I copied the entire review for Alpha Redemption into Google Translate. The translation is a bit rough but you can still get the gist:

I never thought that one day I would recommend a science fiction novel tells Christian family and friendship, but that day is coming. I wrote this when alcohol is being used to murder my heart atheist, so I can say "Alpha Star Redemption" is one of the most fun I've ever read an artificial intelligence science fiction, and it has a very magical protagonist, in space research with the meaning of human existence, which is very attractive to hard science fiction readers.

"Alpha Star of Redemption," the protagonist have chosen to become astronauts go to another planet, he knows this is a very likely never return journey. He was selected, and protect him from the nutrient solution runs through the superluminal flight soon wake up. He's the only one partner is a computer on board, Jay. Although Brett outset not like Jay, but they became friends on the way to Alpha Centauri speed of light travel. Brett is a lonely 40-year-old man, has so far not out of the dark past. The artificial intelligence of the computer you want to understand human nature Brett help overcome the past, and in which to understand human emotions and reactions, such as pain and fear. At the end of the journey, Jay reached self-consciousness began to believe that the presence of a higher level of strength, such as God. In the end, he made a huge sacrifice.

The snooze train

Chronic insomnia is an interesting phenomenon. It used to drive me to despair but after years of suffering with extremely fickle sleep patterns, I have enough of a handle on it to be able to examine my situation without wanting to pull out what hair I have left.

 Imagine staying up late for an important exam, drowning yourself in caffeine as you cram as many facts into your head as you can, pushing yourself to way beyond midnight until you pass out from exhaustion, only to be jolted back to consciousness by the incessant shriek of an alarm clock that sounds mysteriously much louder than usual. Imagine having to perform to the best of your abilities the next day in spite of feeling like crud. Imagine doing that every day for months, and you have some idea how chronic insomnia feels.

After a while it becomes like living in a waking dream. Your body starts to feel like it belongs to someone else as you struggle though each day in a kind of semi-euphoric blur. Sometimes, especially while participating in something mindless like watching television, you can be overwhelmed by fatigue. The temptation is to sleep but the experts warn against this so you get up and move around. By the time evening comes you feel completely exhausted but the anxiety has started stroking your chest. Will you finally get a good night's sleep or will something disturb you again like it seems to do every night? You follow the routine and crawl into bed. Remember what the experts say. Don't force yourself to sleep. Don't try to sleep. Let sleep come. Don't worry about it. Catch the snooze train. Stand in that station and catch the snoooooze train...

An age later and you are still standing in that station and there is no sign of the blasted train. You glance at the clock. Big mistake. Now you start to count the hours before you have to get up. Astronauts can function on two hours of sleep a day, but what if you don't even get that? Can astronauts function on one hour? How about no hours?

Now you feel an itch. You don't want to move because you are comfortable. It's probably nothing but then, maybe not. What of it's a flea, or a mosquito? Can you leave a parasite while it feasts on your blood? You give in and scratch the itch. Better, but now you're not comfortable any more. You feel the pressure on the back of your heel, so you roll over. Better, but now your arm is uncomfortable. And there's another itch.

Focus on the nice soft bed, a gleeful ex-sufferer suggested on a forum you read a couple of days ago. Imagine you have to get up in a few minutes. Trick your mind into drifting off. So you do just that. You imagine that the time is actually ten minutes before you have to go 

Oh no. Now you've done it. You remember that important task you have to complete by lunchtime. You'll need three hours to complete it plus you have a meeting and that other thing and Justin sounded sick yesterday and he does like to take his days off and maybe you should call in sick but you can't because you have that important task and, besides, you need the money because you got that letter last month warning that your mortgage endowment is in arrears and you need to make alternate arrangements for the shortfall or risk losing your home.... 

Next time you check the clock it is three hours later. You listen to your spouse breathing while your head churns through every possible worst-case scenario, including losing your home. Another check and an hour has gone. Again and again, always an hour, as if your brain is keeping track so it can torment you. The two hour astronaut zone is fast approaching. It's now or never. In a few minutes you will pass the point at which astronauts can function. And, let's face it, you're no astronaut. What about normal people? Can they function on two hours? Surely they need more than a freaking astronaut.

Suddenly, the alarm goes off. You reach across and press the cancel button. You actually fell asleep. No idea when, but you got your two hours. You can function today! With your head feeling like a roasted marshmallow, you dredge yourself our from between the covers and head for the bathroom. The exhaustion is like a heavy blanket engulfing you but there is still that small part of you that is scarily awake and refuses to go to sleep.

At work, Justin has broken form and soldiered on through his sniffles. He spends the morning advertising his martyrdom to the office via an incessant series of moist and extremely loud sniffs from deep down in his throat. You put on your headphones and try not to let Justin irritate you. Maybe at lunchtime you'll do some more research on insomnia by surfing the vast number of forums dedicated to the misery of sleeplessness. At least you'll know you're not alone. And, who knows? Tonight may be the night you finally get eight hours.

On spaying a cat

I've always been a "dog person", mainly because cats never featured much in my childhood. My family have always had dogs. I understand dogs. Cats, on the other hand, are a mystery. Which is why I was very much surprised at the arrival of a young cat who has decided that my wife and I make nice owners.

She arrived in our garden about three weeks ago, making a bed under a bush on the other side of the pathway that surrounds our house. "Cheeky", as we started calling her, was a pitful sight. She looked thin and flea-ridden and was clearly hard-of-hearing. So, being the big softies that we are, my wife and I gave her a bowl of milk and some tuna. A quick check on Google told us that we should not feed a cat milk and tuna, so we picked up some cat food at the local Lidl and switched the milk for water.

This, I think sealed the deal. Over the next two weeks she ventured closer to the door until she was eating inside the mud room. When the weather turned bad we allowed her to sleep inside and bought worming tablets and flea drops, all the time expecting her to find her way back home or for her distraught owners to turn up.

I asked the landlord if he knew someone who had lost a cat. I checked the paper as well as online. Plenty of lost cats, but none of them was Cheeky.

It was then that we started to suspect that Cheeky was in heat. She exibited all the signs, including "marking" our furniture and attracting the keen attention of one of the local cats. We took her to the vet with the idea of 1) seeing if she was chipped so that we could find her owner, 2) finding out about getting her spayed, and 3) making sure she had all of her shots.

The vet's assistant asked us a few questions and confirmed that she was not chipped. The decision then became whether or not we wanted a cat. We agreed to get her chipped and spayed at the same time. We bought her a collar. Within a few days, Cheeky would be our cat and a lot less desirable to the local toms.

Over the next few days we began to suspect that she was possibly pregnant. She was putting on weight and tended to waddle when she walked. Some more Googling raised our suspicions further. We wondered whether we should get her spayed in case she was pregnant. In the end, we decided it was best to go ahead.

On the day of the appointment we strapped her carry box to the back of my bicycle and headed out to the vet. As we turned the first corner I spotted a cat jumping a fence. It looked like a curious mix between our Cheeky and the ginger cat that we had seen hanging around the house. Was it possible that Cheeky had already given birth?

We dropped her off, feeling a little bit like parents leaving their child at school for the first time. Later that afternoon, the vet's assistant called to tell us that Cheeky was ready and that we could pick "him" up. She was Dutch but spoke fluent English. We laughed at this "lost in translation" moment.

At the vets, I waited outside while my wife went in. She came out with Cheeky looking a bit sorry for herself in her box. She announced that our little girl cat was in fact a little boy. He was, according to the vet, underdeveloped in "that department" so the facts only became apparent when preparing her for the operation. So, instead of spaying, he castrated.

Once I got used to the idea of her being a him, I started to wonder about that odd-coloured cat I spotted on the way out. Perhaps Cheeky was the one doing the galavanting.

And the marking of the furniture? Worms, apparently. Which, of course, means all covers and carpets had to be washed. It's almost like being a parent again.

What's in a name?

I originally wanted to call "Apha Redemption" "Alpha". My publisher Grace Bridges suggested something less common to avoid it drowning in the billions of hits Google would return for plain old "Alpha". We settled on "Alpha Redemption" which I liked because it summed up the story nicely.

Sadly, "Alpha" is not only a common word. It is also a term used to describe a strong male animal in a position of leadership. As it happens, this term is extremely popular amongst writers who produce books of a questionable moral nature.

A search of "Alpha Redemption" on Amazon returns my little book along with lots of covers showing buff men with no shirts. Some of these men have women hanging from them like tinsel on a Christmas tree.

It's a little bit depressing, but at least mine is the only book with the actual title "Alpha Redemption".

Then, this morning, I spotted something. There is now another book on Amazon with exactly the same name as mine. And, suprise suprise, the cover contains a buff male with no shirt on. He has tattoos. He has plenty of tattoos. But, alas, no shirt.

So give some thought to the name you give your book. Think outside the box (or should that be shirt?) because you could end up finding your novel surrounded by buff, semi-naked men adorned with tinsel women.

A Happy Dilemna with Monkey Brain

After a couple of years of being stuck in a log-jam, my writing is finally starting to get moving again. "8 Billion" appeared on the shelves last month, my anthology of short stories "Odd Jobs" has been returned from a critique by Grace Bridges and will be my next Splashdown title, and "Hanzet" should be out this fall with Written World Communications.

While the log-jam was a cause of frustration, it did have an odd side-effect in that my creative side did not slow down. If anything, it got a little crazy.

The end result is that I am now in the process of writing four novels.

Gulp. Four.

A sequel in the Alpha series, a spoof paranormal adventure, a human drama, and an A.I. thriller. 

So you can understand my dilemna, happy though it may be.

I blame my youth. When I was a teenager I got into the habit of reading multiple books at the same time. I would start one, put it down, start another, put it down, go back to the first, put it down, start yet another, put it down, and so on and so forth.

Which is why it shouldn't be a surprise that my writing habits have gone the same way. I mentioned this to a colleague and he reckons I am suffering from "monkey brain".

He may be right, although I know what I should do. I should finish "Alpha Restitution" (because it's a sequel) and then move onto the others. That would make sense. That would be the logical thing to do.

Except that the other stories are all so interesting. And I have "monkey brain".

Wish me luck.

The Skeptic Squad's Annual Festival

Last week saw the annual gathering of cynics from around the world for the prestigious  "Doubt Festival".

The glorious town of Preston in the north west of England played host to thousands of doubters and scoffers from all corners of the globe as they gathered to poke fun at wishy-washy religious types and wet-brains of all denominations.

This year, the guest speaker was none other than the esteemed Richard Dawkins. As a special treat, he brought along a life-sized doll dressed as William Lane Craig and held a debate against it to prove to his critics that he is not scared of Craig. The debate was tense but Dawkins was declared winner by a narrow margin.

In what has become a tradition of the Doubt Festival, devotees kicked off events by reciting their "10 Commandments":
 1 Question everything.
 2 Doubt everything.
 3 Believe nothing.
 4 If in doubt, ask what Darwin would do.
 5 If you can't poke it with a stick, it doesn't exist.
 6 Creationism is a lie (except for panspermia, of course).
 7 Intelligent Design is not real science even though it employs the scientific method.
 8 Evolution is NOT a theory. It is a fact and should never be doubted. Ever.
 9 Atheists are much more cleverer than Christians.
10 Do not follow rules (except for these, of course, lol).

There was then a competition to find the most skeptical doubter, in which participants were expected to deny as much as possible as cynically as possible. Bonus points were awarded for the most non-commital shrug and most condescending sneer. This year's winner was Albert LeLievre of Canada who, when asked if he was excited to win such a coveted prize, shrugged and said "I doubt it" while sneering at the interviewer.

There was also a mock-the-believer session outside the local church followed by an exciting demonstration of freethought by the dynamic "Freestyle Freethinkers" of London during which they pondered all the wonders of the universe* live on stage.

Fans also got to enjoy a hilarious play showing how all religions are fundamentally dishonest and merely a con to separate gullible folks from their money. 

The day closed with a cosy one-to-one chat with Richard Dawkins for those lucky enough to have bought tickets beforehand. A bargain at $1000 for a five minute session with the great man himself.

But it didn't end there. All participants were directed to a large marquee offering a wide range of memorabilia including books, T-shirts, CDs, DVDs and Richard Dawkins action figures. Prices were on the steep side but a team of promoters was on hand to ensure everybody bought something.

Next year sees the event move to London Zoo and the inclusion of some new events, including:
- "Meet your cousin" at the ape house.
- A talk by a top physicist who will explain how the multiverse theory is much more plausible than creationism in spite of being utter nonesense with no evidence to support it.
- A special three-day "religious un-brainwashing" seminar during which people can undo years of religious indoctrination by going without sleep, food and water while listening to the soothing voice of Richard Dawkins as he reads carefully-chosen extracts from his books.

*Excluding religion, philosophy, ethics, spirituality and moral absolutism.

My first self-publishing project

If you’re a novice writer then you’ll know how frustrating it can be to find a publisher. Sometimes it feels as if the whole world has written a novel and they are all fighting for the attention of a handful of agents and publishers.

Even if you do manage to land a contract with an indie publisher, the battle doesn’t stop there. Indie publishers work in a different universe to the mainstream houses. Certainly, there is some overlap, but landing an indie contract does not guarantee anyone else will give a hoot. They breathe from a different atmosphere up there, and the airlock leading to them is extremely small and heavily guarded.

Last year I wrote my first secular novel and, optimism firmly in hand, sent out a few proposals to various literary agents. I was convinced that having the words “published author” on my introductory letter would at the very least raise an eyebrow. Sadly, four weeks later, my inbox was empty. The big boys of publishing were as inaccessible as I remember when I first tried to reach out to them many years ago.

So, what to do? I could try more agents, scouring the books and websites until no Rosetta stone is left unturned. I could revise my cover letter and synopsis (again) in case there was something there that was putting them off. Or I could face the truth that I’m not good enough to attract a mainstream contract and just give up. But none of these things appealed to me. Firstly, I like writing and don’t want to spend my life composing emails and synopses. Secondly, there are only so many times you can edit a cover letter. And, lastly, giving up just is not in my blood.

So, what to do?

Earlier this year I read “The Martian” by Andy Weir. I did the usual review check. It had tons of five stars and I loved the premise. Besides which, the cover looked very professional. About twenty pages in I realised I had made a big mistake. I put the book down and did some deeper research. Sure enough, “The Martian” was self-published. The rave reviews were from science buffs who were attracted by the sheer density of science within the plot. When I read the one-star reviews, I found people who, like me, want more than just a science textbook sprinkled with dialogue. I understood then why it was self-published. No agent in her right mind would touch it because it follows none of the rules you and I have learned during our writing journey. And yet, “The Martian” is a staggering success. In spite of its weaknesses, it has found an audience. 

This is where self-publishing has its strength. No matter what you write, or how you write it,  somebody somewhere may just like it. And if enough people like it, you can have a success on your hands. They might even make it into a film. They might even make it into a Hollywood blockbuster. 

So I decided to skip the whole process and go straight to print. Grace Bridges suggested I try Lulu. I paid them a visit and it all looked straight-forward. By the end of the day, my newest novel “8 Billion” was for sale on the Lulu website. As they say: easy-peasy.

Now, of course, the fun starts. Unlike Andy Weir, I don’t have a large fan base. In fact, by releasing “8 Billion” I face the prospect of alienating the readers I already have because it is very different from my previous work. It is secular and gritty with some scenes that may disturb some people.

Still, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained. If you do read it and it upsets you, I’m sorry. That was not my intention. I had a story to tell and I told it the best I could.

If you do like it, however, don’t be shy. Spread the word. I would appreciate it. 

“8 Billion” is available at Lulu for 99c.

When it reaches B&N and Amazon, I’ll add the links.

Born This Way

Dear friends. The time has come for me to be honest and truthful. I have been living a lie. I am not the person you think I am.

The change began a few years ago although I suspect the truth dawned on me (albeit only at a subconscious level) when I was a young boy. I remember playing hide-and-seek with a group of children. Another boy from the neighbourhood chose to hide with me in my mother's antique mahogany cupboard. There we were in the dark, surrounded by my mother's frilly clothes, waiting breathlessly to be found, when something stirred deep inside me. I don't know if it was the lingering perfume, or the thrill of the chase, or the cramped conditions inside that magnificent old cupboard, but I felt an excitement that would only surface again many years later.

It happened at our local retail park. I was with my family in IKEA when I got separated from the others and found myself alone in the bedroom department. It was still early and the shop was quiet. I was admiring a bedside table when a movement caught my eye. I turned and came face to face with the most beautiful individual I have ever seen. Suddenly I was ten years old again, standing inside my mother's cupboard, breathlessly waiting to be found.

The encounter lasted only a moment but I knew I was not imagining what I had felt. I persuaded my family to go back the following weekend for breakfast. I spent the whole week anticipating the day. Would the beautiful creature be there? Had they felt the same thing I had felt? As we moved through the store I snuck away and headed for the bedroom section. Sure enough, they were there, waiting in the same place as the week before. We stood close. The electricity was palpable. I did not know it then, but my life would never be the same again.

Over the next few weeks I used any excuse to visit IKEA. My new love was always waiting for me in the same place that we jokingly referred to as "our room". At first we just talked and laughed. It took what seemed an age for me to pluck up the courage to make physical contact. My hands were shaking as we touched.

Soon my life revolved around seeing my new love. Every waking minute was spent thinking about when we could be together. It was not long before my wife started to sense that something was wrong. She followed me to the store one afternoon and caught us together. She ran from the shop in tears. I caught up with her and pleaded with her to let me find happiness pursuing my new life.

She came around, although it was not easy. We fought long into the nights. At last she accepted my choice and promised to support my "coming out" as they say. She even agreed to a divorce and promised to be my bridesmaid. For the first time in what felt like forcer, we laughed together.

The next few weeks were a blur. I spent every spare moment with me new love. I explained things to my children, who seemed to take it in their stride. Daddy would be different but I would still be their father. I renovated the garage and moved out of the main house. My new love moved in with me. We planned our future together while I planned my own, personal, change so that we could be a "proper" couple.

Over a six month period I started the transformation process. The operations were small at first but the changes were profound. My wife tearfully accepted that I was no longer the man she had married. I have one more small operation this week when the support feet and shelves are fitted. Then it is the big one. This will be the final step, making my transformation complete. The glass doors will be attached and base drawer installed. I will finally be a Undredal wardrobe in a glossy black finish and twin gray glass doors.

So I hope you will support me in what has been a difficult life choice. I believe I was born into the wrong body because, in my heart and soul, I feel that I am actually a wardrobe and will only ever be happy if I live as one. My future years will be spent in my garage alongside my new life-partner: a beautiful pine Hurdal two-door with black iron hinges.

I hope you will join me in celebrating my new life. I was born to be this way. And, no matter what you may think of my decision to spend the rest of my days as a piece of flat-pack furniture, please know that it is my right to live as I choose. Some people come out of the closet. I have come out "as" a closet. And, no matter what you may think of my decision, my doors will always be open*.

* I have contacted IKEA about this and they say that this can happen If the hinges are not fitted correctly.

Syllabary Blogging – ka is for kaku

One of my all time favourite writers is Stephen King. He has the ability to draw me into his stories better than most authors I have read. Even his non-fiction makes fascinating reading. For example, “On Writing”, in which he shares his thoughts and experiences on his chosen profession, is as interesting as any of his novels.

In “On Writing” he performs a little experiment. I thought it would be fun to reproduce it here because it illustrates an interesting point on what we can achieve when we put pen to paper.

The experiment involves time travel. Not actual time travel, of course. You’re not going to bump into yourself and create a universe-ending paradox. Rather, it involves me taking you to a time and place you’ve never been before.

As I type this, I am sitting in a small, flourescent-lit, office. There is a door to my left and a large pair of windows to my right. My desk is rectangular and covered with light-brown wood veneer. I have two corded telephones on my desk--one on each side. There is a keyboard, mouse and mat, LCD monitor and a perspex paper support that sits snugly between keyboard and monitor and which is starting to get overloaded with papers. The beige panelled walls of the room are bare except for a single white-board opposite me and to my left. The carpet is dark brown with mottles of beige and black. The only sound is the soft hum coming from my PC and the tapping of keys. There are two desks facing each other. I can see the top of my colleague’s head above my LCD monitor.

Did you see any of that? The descriptions were a bit bland, but you were probably able to picture my office, as it was when I wrote this post. This is the power of the written word. When we sit down to write a scene, we are potentially transporting our readers to another time and place, very often built out of pure imagination.

So today's word is "kaku", which means "to write” and is spelled like this:

= ka

= ku

The Annual Dutch Go-For-a-Jog Day

Today saw the arrival of the annual Dutch "go-for-a-jog" day in which people of all shapes and sizes from all over the country go out for a jog.

In what has become a national tradition, people take the arrival of the first day of pleasant weather as an opportunity to hit the roads dressed in the very latest running gear.

In every corner of the country, people can be seen pounding the pavements in a sweaty display of breathless enthusiasm. For the majority this is the only exercise they will do all year so they tend to take it very seriously, splashing out on the very latest clothing and equipment.

As with all Dutch
pursuits, however, the aim is to be "gezellig*" so many use it as a chance to chat and catch up with old acquaintances. Groups of portly middle-aged women can be seen laughing and joking as they shuffle along, often generating as much vertical motion as horizontal.

This will continue until late into the evening, after which the participants head home for a hearty meal and some drinks before packing the lycra away, ready to be hauled out again at the first sign of nice weather next Spring.

*Gezellig is a Dutch word meaning sociably pleasant.

Syllabary Blogging – O is for Ou

When I was growing up, my favourite comedian was Tommy Cooper. He had this knack of making me laugh just by standing there. He didn’t have to do anything. He was just funny.

He told jokes, but they were pretty poor as jokes go. In fact, his jokes were so bad that anyone else attempting them was doomed to failure. As another great comic of that time, Frank Carson, was fond of saying: “It’s how I tell ‘em”. For Tommy Copper, this was definitely the case.

Tommy’s act was actually that of a bad magician. He would attempt magic tricks and fail horribly, Often he would end the trick be “accidentally” revealing how it was done. The famous “spoon jar” trick had him standing close to the curtains with a large glass jar. He would then place a spoon inside the jar while loudly saying “spoon jar, spoon jar”. He would then wiggle his fingers over the jar, making the spoon dance inside. At some point, the spoon would not respond and he would shout “pull it” to someone behind the curtain. The spoon would then fly out of the jar and disappear behind the curtain.

Another trick involved borrowing a handkerchief from a man in the audience. A consolatory hand on the man’s shoulder suggested that something bad was about to happen to the hanky. Sure enough, while setting light to the cloth he would look at the man and laugh nervously. The trick ended with Tommy presenting, not an undamaged handkerchief, but the same one with a big hole burned in it. The trick failed but the humour was in how he interacted with his audience and in his elaborate showmanship prior to the trick’s failure.

During a documentary about Tommy Copper, a fellow comedian once famously described him as the
comedian other comedians went to in order to have a laugh. He was “the comic’s comic”.

In Revelations, Jesus is referred to as the “king of kings”. Back in Biblical times, the king was the ultimate earthly ruler with absolute power over his country and subjects. For Israel, a king was God’s elected official and carried God’s seal of approval.

So when Jesus is described as “king of kings”, we are being shown the ruler before which all other kings must bow. He is the king other kings go to for their authority. We are used to thinking of Jesus as a gentle lamb, but he is so much more than that.

So today's word is "ou" (pronounced a bit like “oh ooh”), which means "king” and is spelled like this:

= o

= u

 This is the last of the Hiragana “vowels”. Next time we’ll look at the first of the syllables that start with a consonant.

Syllabary Blogging – E is for Enpitsu

I’ve been living and working in the Netherlands for some time now. This year is my fourteenth year in the land of windmills and cheese, which puts Holland on par with South Africa in terms of my time spent living in one place.

One thing you pick up after so many years is a feel for what makes a nation tick. This is something you can’t get while on a two-week vacation. For example, Dutch people love to spend money on their hobbies. If you join a club you will see expenive gear, even when the activity is at a strictly amateur level. Photographers like to have expensive equipment. Joggers wear expensive shoes and clothes. Cyclists zoom past on pricey bicycles while kitted out in the latest accoutrements and donning (gulp) shaved legs.

I like to think I’m sensible when it comes to that sort of thing, but there is a small part of me that likes shiny new tools. When I first started out writing I wondered how long it would be before I could justify an office with a nice desk and plush leather chair. I dreamed of working in a spacious room with new furniture and that shiny new computer I had been putting off buying for so long. At the time I had an old Amiga 500 with a wordprocessor that was fine for the task of writing a novel, but a proper PC was too desireable to resist. After all, I reasoned, wouldn’t my writing improve if I had such a wonderful tool?

I have a Dutch colleague who is a keen photographer. He has all the latest equipment. And nothing shabby, mind you. A couple of years back he traded everything in for a different brand, spending many thousands of Euros to get the best equipment. I have seen his photographs and, to be honest, they need more than good equipment to fix. Not that he doesn’t capture his subject. It’s just that his throwing money at better equipment is like me buying a faster computer in the hope that it will improve my writing.

My daughter, by contrast, is also a keen photographer, but she has the knack for taking amazing pictures using a low-end instant camera. She does not need expensive equipment to make art.

I read recently about Robert Ludlum, author of the incredibly successful Bourne novels. According to the documentary, he wrote the first draft of The Bourne Identity by hand, using a pencil.

Not that I’m suggesting anyone should revert to writing their novels using a pencil, but it does prove the point that we should spend less effort on our tools and more on our art. If we get the art right then we can produce something amazing with the most basic equipment.

So today's word is "enpitsu”, which means "pencil” and is spelled like this: えんぴつ

= e

= n

= pi

= tsu

Fun Friday

Friction is a drag and escalators get me down. Sandpaper rubs me up the wrong way and black holes really, really suck.

Lifts do have their ups and down and magnets have a certain attraction. Crossroads could go either way but I never know what to make of modelling clay or papier mache.

Bazookas and dynamite, however, are a blast and broken mirrors crack me up. Three totems have an odd charm and I do find a warped gravity field strangely compelling.

On the plus side, hungry bakers take the buscuit and earthquakes really move me while an empty vending machine always leaves me wanting more. Writing on the other hand makes the inside of your glove impossible to clean.

Syllabary Blogging – U is for Umi

Did you know that water is pretty special as natural substances go? It has a very high boiling point, which means condensation is limited. It is very polar which makes it an ideal natural solvent, thereby allowing for many chemical reactions to occur in nature. Also, it expands when it drops below four degrees Celcius, which causes ice to rise to the surface and float. If water did not do this, the seas would freeze from the bottom up, effectively making lakes and oceans uninhabitable.

In Genesis, water is mentioned from the second verse:

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

This is a powerful image. It describes God’s spirit interacting with the water. More than that, the word “moved” here actually derives from the Hebrew m'rahaphet which means to flutter or shake. The same word is used in Deuuteronomy 32:11 

            As the eagle stirs up her nest, flutters over her young...

Here flutters is also from the word m'rahaphet. So when God moved upon the face of the waters, he was like an eagle fluttering over a nest of young eagles. When birds do this, they are keeping their nest at the right temeperature so that their chicks will stand the best chance of survival. How amazing is that? God didn’t just “move” over the water. He was preparing the environment of the new Earth to make ideal conditions for you and me.

Personally, I have always been drawn to the sea. I guess it comes from spending so much time on or around it during my early years. I went on my first sea voyage at age six. We spent three weeks travelling from Portsmouth to Cape Town aboard the Windsor Castle, which was part of the Castle line of mail ships.

During my forty-seven years, I have lived close to the sea for no less than thirty three years. For the past fourteen years I have been within ten miles, but that is too far for me. I am happiest when I can hear the waves breaking on the shore. I find it comforting for some reason.

So today's word is "umi", which means "sea” and is spelled like this: うみ

= u

= mi

My first one-star review

Well it took long enough. After more than four years of being in print, Alpha Redemption finally received its first one-star review.

I have seen it happen to just about every other Christian author so I knew it was only a matter of time. I've come close with a two-star review but this is my first actual one-star. I can now breathe a sigh of relief and tick it off my author's bucket list.

It does make you wonder though. how someone can complain about a Christian book being full of Christian content? Perhaps it is time to introduce the flashing warning signs and sirens I suggested in an earlier post .

I don't doubt that the review was written by an angry atheist so I won't be losing any sleep over it. (My neighbour's new dog and its all-night howling is taking care of things in that department). These days I take bad reviews of Christian books by atheists about as seriously as I take the Kardashians. Or the Multiverse. Or tweets written by Richard Dawkins.

Perendination - more than mere procrastination

Over the Christmas period I was forced to take a longer-than-expected vacation, mainly because I ran out of billable hours. Thanks to a change in my work situation and a new software house acting as a supplier on behalf of my existing software house, there was some confusion about how many hours I was allowed to work.

My new manager said I needed to take some leave. How much? I asked. The rest of the year, he replied.
So I took the last three-and-a-half weeks of December as vacation, plus the first two days of January for a grand and glorious total of four weeks.

I needed the first few days just to unclench my jaw and fists. 2014 was pretty brutal in terms of stress and I had to coax myself into relaxation mode. During this time I imagined all the things I would do. Four weeks is an eternity from the cosy vantage point of the first few days of an extended holiday.

I could fix my old bike, and clean out the garage, and organize the storage room, and paint the bathroom ceiling, and....

The problem with having an eternity in which to do something is that you lose any sense of urgency. At work you have deadlines to meet and a boss to please. Sitting on the sofa with a remote control in one hand and a cold drink in the other, it is easy to lose track of time.

I considered weeding the patio. Nah, I thought. I've got plenty of time. I'll do it tomorrow. Better still. I'll do it the day after tomorrow.

At this point I went beyond procrastination and entered the realm of "perendination".

In case you don't know the word (I didn't) it means "to put off doing something until the day after tomorrow".

When you perendinate, you aren't just procrastinating. You are procrastinating about procrastinating. This is procrastination to a power. It's lethargy squared. It's the exponential growth of laziness. Perendination makes procrastinators seem like super keen powerhouses of enthusiasm.

When I started my vacation I had three simple goals of eating less, exercising more, and completing a list of chores.

What actually happened was that I ate more, exercised less and, thanks to my new-found powers of perendination, completed not a single chore on my list.

Maybe I'll do better next year. Now, I wonder if there's a word for putting things off until the day after the day after tomorrow.

Syllabary Blogging – I is for Ima

Life is short, even if there are times when it does not feel that way. A boring lecture can seem to go on forever, as can a stressful interview, or a dull movie. When you look back, however, it all seems to have gone by so quickly—even the boring bits.

And it can all be taken from you in a heart beat. The Bible talks about Jesus returning like a thief in the night. People use this in reference to his Second Coming, but I think it also refers to each person’s life. We do not know when our time on Earth will come to an end. When Jesus calls you home, there is every possibility that you will be going about your business without a thought to when you will die.

Sometimes I wonder if it would not be better to know. I mean, wouldn’t it be advantagous to be able to plan our lives around a specific end-date? We could slice x number of years into the desired activities to make sure everything gets done in time. It would certainly make a bucket list easier to manage.

Then again, would that really be so great? Like most people who work 9-to-5, I love weekends. In fact, I live for weekends. I have this image in my mind in which the week is a mountain. Monday I am in the foothills. Tuesday I slog my way up the steepest part of the slope. Wednesday is when I reach the summit. Thursday I descend on the other side, the valley below clearly visible. Friday I aim for the base camp. And then....weekend!

The problem is that I dread Monday. While I relish Friday afternoon and Saturday, I find myself getting edgy on Sunday. Come Sunday afternoon, I get a feeling of dread, knowing my weekend is coming to a close because I know exactly how long I’ve got before I have to get up and go to work.

Wouldn’t it be the same if we knew exactly when we were going to die? Sure, we could plan our lives, but how much of that time would we spend anticipating the end? We might waste huge swathes of our lives worrying about those final moments. In my case, I might lose a quarter of my life to the fear of death.

The more I think about it the happier I am to not know. At least then I can focus on what I have to

So today's word is "ima", which means "now” and is spelled like this:

= i

= ma

Enjoy “ima”, because it’s a gift and it’s all we can be certain of having.

Syllabary Blogging - A is for Ashita

Today I wanted to do something a little different from the usual "alphabet blogging" and thought "syllabary blogging" would be fun. Before you tell me my last marble has rolled under the fridge, perhaps I should explain what I'm on about.

The Japanese language does not have an alphabet but rather syllabaries: hiragana and katakana. Hiragana is the basis for modern Japanese and usually learned first. Katakana is used for imported Western words and for things like country names. There is also Kanji, derived from the Chinese symbols, but these are really hard and we won't go there.

For this series of blog posts I'm going to use the Hiragana syllabary. The first of these is A. While this may look and sound like a letter, it is actually a vowel syllable and is normally found at the start of a word.

The Hiragana symbol for “a” is .

So today's word is "ashita", which means "tomorrow" and is spelled like this: あした

= a

= shi

= ta

See you “ashita” (maybe).

It's writing Jim, but not as we know it

This week I started listening to the second half of Andy Weir's debut novel "The Martian". To be honest, I did not think I would make it this far. In fact, I did what I always do when I suspect I may not finish a novel and wrote a pre-emptive review.

Being a writer myself, I am wary of appearing petty or even envious, especially when the novel I want to criticize has done well. There was a recent case on Amazon where an author went about sabotaging the reviews of a rival's books while setting up fake accounts to boost ratings of his own work. So I took my review down while I continued listening to "The Martian" in the hope that a) the book would improve or b) my opinion would change. Curiously, there has been a bit of both, assisted in part by a visit to the Amazon site where I browsed some of the reviews (both positive and negative) to get a handle on the mindset of other readers.

The problem I have with "The Martian" is that it is not written according to the standards of what would normally be described as "good writing". There is almost no narrative (I estimate that 98% of the book is dialogue). The main character is an intelligent adult male who speaks like a teenager (Problem solved! Yay!). The dialogue tags are stilted and clumsy with a touch of Mayeresque thesuarus abuse (He suggested. He ordered. She radioed). There is no pacing at all (a problem occurs, is fixed, yay!). There is no suspense other than wondering if the hero will survive to fix more problems (even he doesn't seem to care if he lives or dies). Actually, I have often wondered how a book written by an A.I. would read, and I think this comes pretty close.

So why are the overwhelming majority of reviews glowingly positive with some reviewers being almost as rabidly defensive as a Twi-mom (I saw a comment on one negative review where the reviewer was accused of being "jealous")?

It basically comes down to taste.

Do you remeber in 1981, when Laurie Anderson released a single called "O Superman"? It was, in my mind, an incredibly boring piece of music, similar to "Da-da-da" by Kraftwerk. The "music" was little more than a recording of the word "Ha" repeated in metronome fashion between two keys. The vocals were Ms Anderson alternating between talking and singing nonesensical lyrics. Whenever it came on the radio, I changed channels because it was (at least to my ears) incredibly monotonous. There was music in there somewhere, but it was too spartan for my tastes. And yet it reached #2 in the UK charts and gave Laurie Anderson international fame.

I am sure that there were musicians out there who, upon listening to "O Superman" and witnessing its commercial success, could only shake their heads in disbelief. How, they must have wondered, could something that barely passes for music enjoy so much radio time?

Andy Weir wrote "The Martian" and offered if for free on his website. Some of his readers asked him to make it available on Kindle, which he did for 99c. Since then it has reached the NY Times Bestseller list and will soon be made into a film. No doubt there are authors out there shaking their heads in disbelief. I know I am, but this is the exciting thing about self publishing on the Internet.

No matter what you write or how "good" or "bad" your writing is according to traditional standards, if people like what you create, they will buy it and you will be successful. You can never really account for everyone's tastes, so don't even try.

And as I passed the middle-point of the book this morning, something strange happened. I put my pre-conceptions to one side and tried to enjoy the format for what it was by giving the author dramatic license. I actually started to enjoy the book because I forgot that I was listening to a novel and imagined I was listening to a radio play instead. Suddenly, the lack of narrative did not matter anymore. The dialogue tags were still worrisome but I tried to ignore them as background noise. The dialogue remained clumsy and there was still nothing to make me root for the main character, but that's okay because I decided to stop wanting to like him and just took him for who he was.

Oh, and there's a lot of humour in the book as well. The main character is pretty funny.

So through a simple act of will I was able to start enjoying a book that, for the first 50%, made my inner author groan. I suppose it is like one of those magic-eye puzzles. If you look at it long enough in just the right way, a 3D relief image suddenly springs into view. You can't look at it normally, using your old mindset. You have to change your perceptions before the magic appears. I did this with "The Martian" and I think I can now see why so many people love it. I now get their point of view.

The best part about the success of "The Martian" is that it gives authors like me hope. It does not matter that some people  will dislike your book because it is not to their taste. There will always be people who love what you do and rave about it on Amazon. Hopefully, there will be lots of those people.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to try to see if I can create a bestseller. I wonder if "O Superman" is available on Youtube....

Henry Hellfire Hubbard

Today saw the retirement of the man considered by many to be the worst prophet in the world. For over fifty years, Henry "Hellfire" Hubbard has made no less than two hundred and fifty end-of-the-world predictions. That is an astonishing average of one prediction per week.

The fact that not a single prophecy has ever come true does not seem to bother Henry. He puts the failure of Armaggedon to materialize down to God moving in mysterious ways. Indeed, Henry is so convinced that he hears the Lord's voice that he has spent most of the past fifty years in a bunker in his back yard, along with fourteen members of his immediate family and enough food and water to last three months.

From these cramped accomodations, Henry broadcasts his daily family radio show "The End is Nigh. We're All Going to Die" across the entire nation. Even today, Henry believes that the end of the world is, indeed, nigh.

But Henry does not just predict Armaggedon. He also offers regular prophetic words on many other subjects, none of which have actually ever come to pass. In fact, his record of unfulfilled prophecy is so comprehensive that mathematicians at the local university are using him as a subject for a paper. Even if someone were to make a blind guess, the laws of probabilty predict at least an occasional hit. Henry's failure to foresee a single event has made him a statistical anomaly. Researchers at the university are proposing to use Henry as an anti-predictor. Ironically, his 100% failure rate means that his prophetic words do actually have some predicitve value.

During the course of our interview in the sub-basement of his nuclear-proof bunker, Henry "Hellfire" Hubbard told me that the world would be destroyed by a comet before the end of the day. He also told me that I would be using "some form of vehicular transportation" that afternoon and that I would "dine on food and drink" that very evening. As it turns out, my car would not start and the local bus drivers were on strike so I had to walk home. By the time I arrived at my house, I was too tired to eat and went straight to bed. I woke the next morning to find that the world had not been destroyed by a comet.

Henry "Hellfire" Hubbard, I salute you.

The Internet has no manners!

Where would we be without the Internet? It has come to saturate our lives and has reached the point of being almost essential in the western world. I consider myself a light user but I cannot remember a single day over the past few years when I did not go online. Sure, there are days when I was travelling but, apart from separation through necessity, I have dropped in on the Web every single day.

Mostly I read the news, check emails, and do research. I also maintain my author website (you're on it now) and do the occasional bit of shoppng. Once in a while I do the social networking thing. By this I mean Twitter and Google+. I don't do Facebook anymore because the whole thing irks me for reasons I struggle to explain.

Being a part of this social networking scene brings with it a certain amount of intrusion. Almost every site now has the big Facebook "F" symbol, or the little white bird representing Twitter, or the "G+" for Google. This I don't mind. What does irritate me are the emails reminding me to complete my profile, or to tell me that someone has started a new job (thanks Linkedin), or that they have uploaded a new profile picture (farewell Facebook). These I can live with. What irritates me is the manner in which they tell me these things.

If you watch TV, you'll have seen infomercials, or perhaps you watch the shopping channels. Have you noticed how bossy they are? They don't present the telephone number as a courtesy in case you might want to make a purchase. They don't behave like a cashier in a shop waiting patiently for you to bring the selected items to their counter. They don't approach you in the subtle manner of a restaurant waiter who surreptitiously slips you the bill out of sight of prying eyes. No, they demand you call. And not when you are ready. You have to call them now! You have to find your credit card and call them immediately! No dilly-dallying. No stopping at the kitchen on the way. You have to do it now! Right now!

Social network emails, while not quite so bad, still have a similar tone. I received an email from Twitter a few minutes ago telling me to "complete your Twitter profile today!" Similarly, another from Linkedin insisted that I congratulate a contact on their new job. No please or thank you. Just do it.

There's a reason for this, of course. With infomercials, they know that they have a limited window of opportunity to get a sale. If you get up and stop to use the bathroom on the way to fetching your credit card, they could lose the sale. That's why they need you to call them right away. They are not in a shop or car showroom where they can sit you down and chat over coffee.  They can't intercept you at the door and politely ask if you need assistance. With the television, they know that if you take your eyes from the screen for too long, you have escaped. Similarly, an email only has a limited amount of time to influence you. I get dozens every day and I quickly forget about updating my Twitter profile or congratulating someone on Linkedin on starting a new job.

If the Internet has no manners it is for a reason. There is only so much attention to go around and everyone wants as much of it as they can get.

Still, it would be nice if it said please or thank you every now and then. Maybe I'm going about asking it the wrong way. Perhaps I should be more insistent. Maybe I shouldn't ask it but tell it.

Internet, you need to show more manners! Now!

How was that?

Kicking and Screaming

After years of thinking about it I have finally taken the plunge and joined modern society. Today I take delivery of my first ever smart phone.

Not that I'm a Luddite. I love technology. Finances permitting, I would be surrounded by electronic toys and gadgets. I've built at least six PCs down the years, and I have dismantled and fixed two laptops. If I were Bill Gates, you wouldn't be able to move in my house for electronic toys. Actually, if I were Bill Gates I'd probably build a house especially for my gadgets. A big house, because I'd have lots of gadgets.

Sadly I am not wealthy. Thanks to the current economic climate and a hefty twenty percent blanket pay cut imposed by my employer four years ago, I barely earn enough to get by. Everything I earn is going towards rent and paying off my mortgage taken out when I was twenty-two and which, on the "advice" of a dodgy financial advisor, is linked to an endowment which will fall thirty percent short on maturity. I am, as they say, running to stand still.

Hopefully, though, that will change next year. The house should be paid for and I hope to have some spare cash at the end of each month. Which is why it took me so long to splash out on a cell phone. It is also why I bought a Huawei.

A what?

A Huawei. It's one of those upstart Asian companies going head-to-head with the big boys. My colleague swears by them and it was his endorsement that convinced me. That and the price. For a fraction of the cost of one of the expensive brands I can get a phone that, according to my colleague and reviews on Amazon, is as good as (if not better than) its competitors.

I can now join the rest of society in walking around with my head bowed as I gaze intently at the little glowing cube clutched in my feverish hands. Actually, I really want it because I can also listen to music and audio books. My trusty little MP3 player is now refusing to hold charge and needs replacing, and smart phones can do everything short of making a cup of tea, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone.

Add this to the Kindle Paperwhite I was given at Christmas and I'm virtually technologically hip.

The Least Relevant Advent Calendar Ever

Christmas has come and gone, but the ongoing drive towards secularising our society never pauses for breath. I was reminded of this while watching an episode of "Community" last night. If you haven't seen it, it is basically a sitcom set in a community college in the US and follows the lives of a small group of students who have formed a Spanish study group.

In last night's episode the college was preparing to celebrate Christmas. The group, consisting of people from all religious backgrounds, was coerced into attending a Christmas party by the only Christian in the group. The episode was funny, especially in the way the Christian lady was determined that everyone should celebrate Christmas the "proper" way. What was particularly humorous, however, was the dean's attempts to keep everything politically correct, including his wishing everyone: "Merry happy!"..

While funny, it was also sad to see how watered down Christmas has become. Atheists are determined to see every last trace of Christianity removed from the public arena. While a show like Community can make fun of this, it is tragic that Christmas is becoming little more than a winter holiday where people perform a series of rituals for no other reason that that it's what they've always done.

Here is something I spotted during December. If you want proof of the secularisation of Christmas, look no further than this offering from Lego. I really think this deserves a prize for the least relevant advent calendar ever.

The French Foreign Legion, for psychopaths

In case you don't know, I suffer with insomnia. It used to be really bad with me getting an average of 4 hours a night, dipping to no sleep at all at least twice a week.

These days it's a little better. Last night (Sunday nights are always my worst) I got 4 hours. For me, that's an improvement. Mostly, however, I get around seven hours. Eight would be ideal, but that is a goal for the future.

As part of the recovery process I've been trying to figure out what it is that causes the insomnia. It used to be a feeling of general unease bought about by a lack of faith. I didn't trust God enough. These days my faith is stronger, and yet I still struggle to get enough sleep.

The main culprit, I think, is the news. Last night I woke at 2am and could not drift off again because my mind insisted on replaying some of the events of the day with most of those events being things I had seen on the news. More specifically, it was thinking about ISIS.

For the past few months I have been following events in Syria and Iraq with horrified interest. Even when I tried not to pay attention it was almost impossible not to stumble across a picture of a hapless victim kneeling in an orange jump-suit while, behind him, a knife-wielding lunatic prepared to cut off his head.

I don't know about you, but things like that give me bad dreams. This weekend I bumped into a story of how they executed a man accused of being homosexual. The method of execution? They pushed him, bound and blinfolded, off the tallest building they could find.

My mind struggles to cope with these things because what sane person would do such a thing? I understand the principles of crime and punishment but I would never, not in my wildest imaginings, entertain such a punishment for another human being.

So why do they do these things? I have a theory about this. Like most theories, it's simplistic and makes broad-stroke assumptions, but I think it might go some way towards explaining the barbaric behaviour of these people.

A few weeks ago I read an article describing how ISIS soldiers could go to a market to buy a bride. They showed a photograph of a group of fighters waiting for the chance to make a purchase. Looking at their excited expressions, I had an epiphany. Here were men who, under normal circumstances, would probably struggle to attact a mate. And yet, thanks to their status as ISIS fighters, they were given the choice of any woman they desired.

I also read how so many foreigners were traveling from the West to join the ISIS "cause", and how these foreigners were known for being the most brutal. Indeed, the man seen most often on the beheading images was nicknamed "Jihadi John" because he spoke with strong British accent. Why would so many foreigners travel to the other side of the world in order to fight for the ISIS and do such terrible things?

The clue, for me, was in the brutality displayed by these individuals. In the old days, men would join the French Foreign Legion in order to forget their past. The Legion did not care where you were from or what you did. It was a chance to start over and put your past behind you.

To me, the ISIS is like the French Foreign Legion, except for psychopaths. Men who dream of inflicting attrocities on their fellow human beings can now fulful those fantasies by joining ISIS. Things that would see them spend their lives in prison in the West are perfectly acceptable--even encouraged--in Syria.

So ISIS is the new French Foreign Legion, only for psychopaths. Simplistic, perhaps, but it does explain a few things.


Yes, but is it art?

Every morning I get up at 04:50, shower, shave, and make breakfast for myself and my wife. While the eggs boil, I take 5 minutes to enjoy a coffee and catch up on world events on the BBC news. This morning I saw a report that evoked a wide range of emotions. I could not decide whether to weep or laugh hard enough to spurt coffee out my nose.

The report was on a piece of "performance art" in a museum somewhere (Italy, I think) that basically involved an "artist" searching for a needle in a haystack. Literally. No joking. There was actually this guy squatting next to a large haytack. He was taking a handful of hay, examining it for a needle, and then dumping it on the floor behind him. No, I'm not making this up.

What made me want to weep/laugh the hardest though, was the fact that, judging by the size of his "done" pile, he had only just started his performance piece and already he was looking for ways to speed up the process. The first few attempts involved grabbing some straw, spreading it out on the floor, and sifting through it. By the third handful he was clearly bored out of his mind and had taken to scrunching the handful into a ball and squeazing from various angles, presumably hoping to feel the needle as it jabbed his hand. Such was his boredom that he was happy to be skewered for the sake of saving time. And, boy, was this going to take some time. This was a proper haystack, standing a good twelve feet high and ten feet across. Being a youngster replete with hipster beard and the glazed expression bought about by hours playing World of Warcraft, he would no doubt soon tire of scrunching and resort to some sort of automated method, probably ending up with purchacing a large magnet or industrial-strength metal detector.

When asked how he came up with the idea, our intrepid hero described how he had always wondered, since he was very young, what it would be like to look for a needle in a haystack. Well, if he needs any more ideas based on such idioms, I have a few. "Carrying coals to Newcastle" would be fun, as would "looking for a drop in the ocean". Or how about "walking to the ends of the earth"? Better still, he could try "putting his art where the sun doesn't shine". I would pay to see that one.

So Long, Facebook

It has been a long time coming but I have finally taken the plunge and deleted my Facebook account.

Since signing up over four years ago, my relationship with Facebook has been a shaky one. It was necessary, I was told, in order to sell my book. Every author needs a Facebook account in order to market their work.

So I signed up and sent out a ton of suggested friend requests. Everyone was great and all graciously accepted my invitations (except the famous people who "didn't have room" on their friend list). I then started receiving requests of my own. Most were strangers to me. Almost all were struggling authors. I also discovered a few old chums from school, which was nice. It was fun to see what everyone was up to. Some looked exactly the same. Others looked very different. We all spoke as if we had just returned from a summer break.

My first book generated some buzz, thanks mostly to the efforts of Grace Bridges, my publisher. many of my Facebook friends, being fellow struggling authors, were happy that one of their own had "made it" to publication. This excitement, however, soon wore off and I quickly ran out of interesting things to say. I'm a very private person and don't like talking about myself (although I did reveal an awful lot during my time at the New Authors Fellowship, simply because the blogging site advised that this was the best way to keep readers interested). I soon realised that I did not have much to talk about. After all, I signed up in order to tell people about my books. And so, I pushed ahead with the next installment of the Alpha series.

Two years later, Alpha Revelation was ready. Two years is a long time but I figured people would remember the buzz surrounding the release of Alpha Redemption. For various reasons, the release of Revelation was delayed. Two years became four years. This time around there was no buzz. Grace mentioned it. I mentioned it. One person said "congratulations". A few copies were sold.

During the lead up to the release date I spent some time on Facebook, hoping to rekindle some of the old acquaintances, but the world had moved on. I posted a few statuses and a new profile picture. Some school chums dropped by and commented. My fellow struggling authors, however, had moved on as well.

The problem, I think, is my personality. Jonah Louis sang "You'll Always Find Me in the Kitchen at Parties". That, in a song title, sums me up. I don't like holding centre stage. I don't like drawing attention to myself. People regularly talk over me in conversations, and that's okay. I once had a colleague comment about this after it happened three times in a row during a group discussion. Why, he wanted to know, do I let people talk over me? I shrugged and said that what they had to say was obviously far more interesting than what I wanted to talk about. I was being vaguely sarcastic, but he took it seriously and rolled his eyes at me. Besides, what am I supposed to do? Should I stand up and shout to get my point across?

Facebook, to me, is a bit like that. It's a little like having a large number of people standing in a meeting room and shouting out random things in the hope of catching enough attention to start a conversation. I'm not good at that. I'm the kind of person who, in those situations, gets talked over, or simply ignored. What I prefer is to wait for someone to come to me so that we can have a nice, quiet chat. Like Jonah Louis, I prefer to find a quiet place (like the kitchen, perhaps) in the hope of having a one-to-one conversation with someone who is genuinely interested in what I have to say.

After I cancelled my Facebook account, they sent me an email saying that my account was frozen and would be deleted in the next two weeks. Yesetrday I read the news about how Facebook management were rethinking their policy on allowing gruesome images to be posted on their site. Next to it was a picture of Mark Zuckerberg looking incredibly pleased with himself. I don't like looking at gruesome pictures, so I think I'll be glad when my account is finally closed for good.

If anybody wants me I'll be in the kitchen, ready for a nice, quiet chat.

Is Christian Fiction Really That Bad?

Christian fiction writers (particularly in the speculative sub-genres) tend to be judged against the secular market, and usually come out wanting. From time to time, the opinion will be voiced that Christian fiction just cannot match the high standards of the secular market. I'll admit to having a similar bias. When looking through a Christian catalog I tend to be pessimistic, particularly when it comes to films and books.

But is this bias fair? Is Christian writing really that far behind the secular market? Well, yes and no.

I say yes, because Christian fiction is at something of an impasse. It wants to grow but there are factors that are stifling its development. I would like to address these one at a time, before moving on to why I feel Christian writing gets a bad press when compared to its secular cousin.

- Risk.
The powers that be simply do not like taking risks. This is understandable really. The big publishing houses got to be market-leaders because they discovered what sells. In the Christian fiction market, this is mostly romance. In the world of Christian publishing, romance is where the money is. Of all the genres,   romantic fiction offers the biggest reward for the least risk and, to be honest, they would be foolish to stray from that formula.

- Money.
When all is said and done, publishing is a business and they exist because they are able to turn a healthy profit. They may talk about doing God's will and being blessed because of this but, in the end, it all boils down to sales. And they can only make sales if people perceive what they sell as being trustworthy.

- Perspective.
For some reason, speculative fiction is seen by many people as being "unsafe". They see big questions about science and the moral implications of technology as somehow threatening to their world-view. On the other hand, romance is seen as perfectly harmless and as long as these stories are perceived as safe, they will continue to sell. Christians, by and large, do not trust anything that might threaten their sense of spiritual security, which is a shame, because the world is not perfect and closing our minds to difficult questions will not make them go away. So, by and large, speculative fiction does not sell well in the Christian market. God made the universe, yet Christians seem scared to venture there, which is a pity.

- Trust.
Trust takes time, especially with fiction. A song lasts two minutes; a film ninety. To win the trust of a reader, however, can take days. For this reason, people often rely on the publisher to help make these decision for them. People will trust their publishers to stock books that they feel are safe. Readers who like one book under a label will be more likely to read another book under the same label. The problem with this is that we have publishers who only stock books within one or two tiny sub-genres, and this can seriously stifle a reader's choices.

- Opportunity.
With publishers operating in such a small margin of error, they cannot afford to make mistakes. The big houses print big numbers of books and invest a lot of effort into each release, so a flop will cause a lot of financial pain. For this reason, they cannot afford to open the doors for new authors, especially those writing in genres that are traditionally considered unsafe. There simply is not enough opportunity for Christian authors in genres such as speculative fiction.

Reading through this list, things look petty grim for the aspiring Christian fiction author writing anything other than romance, but I would like to offer some points that suggest things may not be as bad as they appear.

- Self and Indie publishing.
Until recently, self-publishing was an expensive option. Going it alone meant paying for every aspect of the publishing process from editing, layout and cover design, to marketing and the expense of a big print run. Vanity publishing houses could perform much of this on your behalf, but this was an expensive option. The recent appearance of indie publishers has opened the middle ground between self publishing and the traditional route. Here are small, lean companies willing to take a chance on genres normally shunned by the big houses. With less risk, they can afford to take a chance while maintaining a desirable level of quality. Today, financial cost is not a reason to give up on writing.

- Opportunity.
Thanks to indie companies like Splashdown, Christian authors now have the chance to get experience in the real world. Similarly, readers wanting to try new genres now have the opportunity to sample stories and decide for themselves whether or not they are as dangerous as they have been led to believe.

- Secular quality.
While Christian fiction is usually compared against "quality" secular fiction, recent runaway successes in the secular market suggest that these standards are slipping. Either readers are not worried so much about this anymore, or the standard against which books are judged has less to do with the quality of the writing and more to do with the content. Over the past two years I have read more than thirty secular novels, and I was surprised by the generally low quality of the writing. Only a handful were written to a high standard. Most were poorly-written and would have, had they contained blatantly Christian content, been labelled as your typical, poorly-written Christian tosh. What people see as quality often has more to do with pre-conceived ideas based on world-view than the actual standard of the writing. A book with a Christian conversion scene is automatically slated as clichéd and weak, whereas the same story containing a gratuitous sex scene and written from a Darwin-friendly anti-Christian perspective is considered a work of art.

- Trust.
Now, more than ever, we have the chance to get our work out there and win the trust of our readers. Whether we win a contract with a small indie press, or go it alone and self-publish, we are now able to make our work available at an affordable price. Never before have we had such an opportunity.

So while Christian fiction overall does fall short in the quality stakes, the blame cannot be laid solely at the feet of the authors. The entire industry has formed around the idea that certain genres are taboo, thereby quashing the hopes of aspiring authors. Whether driven by the industry, or by the readers themselves, this state of affairs has made it almost impossible for an author of Christian speculative fiction to build a career. And without this hope, what is the motivation? Compare this to the secular market, where a writer with enough drive can realistically expect a shot at being at least reasonably successful.

And, to be honest, secular quality is not all it is touted to be. My own recent experiences have been a real eye-opener. Christian spec-fic authors can and do write as well as many secular authors. Were they to concentrate on the secular market, I am sure many would achieve success. Certainly, there are brilliant secular authors producing outstanding work, but the secular culture is so wide and so deep and the opportunities so rewarding that such talent is bound to emerge. Christian authors of genres such as crime, horror, and sci-fi have nothing like the opportunities as their secular counterparts. If a proper support structure were in place, I have no doubt that we would be able to boast of Christian authors writing to the very highest standards.

As it is, we are amateurs competing against professionals. Every day, I have to perform a labour of love when I write, knowing that I am unlikely ever to  earn enough to do this full time. Hopefully, the culture will change but, until it does, we have our work cut out for us. We cannot wait on the big houses, but must drive the change ourselves. Perhaps one day we will make enough of an impact that spec-fic finds itself as the dominant Christian genre. Now that is something worth working towards.

Go, and sin no more

I'm a sinner. I'll be the first to admit it. I have a major problem with anger and unforgiveness, especially when it comes to people shaking their head at me. To use the metaphor coined by Jesus, the plank in my own eye is quite large. So large, in fact, that it makes looking for splinters in someone else's eye extremely difficult.

I wasn't always like this. I think it comes with age, that ability to recognize your own flaws before picking apart the shortcomings of others. Or maybe I've had my own problems long enough that they've become a nuisance and I want to be rid of them.

Thankfully, Jesus is very forgiving. In fact he's the ultimate Forgiver. The Bible says that if we go to him with a repentant heart, he will forgive our anger or our pride, or whatever. Sadly, it is too easy to mistake this ability to forgive as meaning that he doesn't judge us. We are told not to judge, but that is only because we are all sinners. Jesus, who is without sin and is therefore fit to judge, instructed us to remove the planks in our own eyes first, because he knows that this is the quickest route to changing how we live and interact. We should examine ourselves first, repent, and always forgive those who hurt us. At no point does the Bible say that Jesus does not judge. On the contrary.

Take for example the unfolding of events in John chapter 8. Most people can tell you what happened. The Pharisees caught a woman in the act of adultery and brought her before Jesus, insisting that she be stoned according to the law. Jesus said that "he who is without sin" should cast the first stone. The Pharisees crept away without hurting the woman and Jesus told her that all her accusers had gone. Likewise, he told her that neither would he condemn her.

This is powerful stuff and people quote it all the time. To many, it epitomizes Jesus' loving and forgiving nature. Don't judge me, man. Don't cast the first stone. Jesus didn't condemn me, so neither should you.

This is all very good, but it is easy to forget that there is a whole lot more stated and implied by this scripture if you read just a little bit further. To give the full context, see verses 10 and 11:

    10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

    11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
Did you see that last bit? Immediately after telling her that she will not be punished, he says "go, and sin no more."  He didn't say "go, and carry on" or "go, and do what you like". He instructed her to stop her adulterous activities. In  fact, he went even further. He told her to stop sinning, period.

With this in mind, we need to re-examine the entire verse 11 again. Jesus did not say that he dd not judge her. He used the word "condemn", which is the stage between judgment and punishment. He did judge her, and he did find her guilty, which is why he told her to stop sinning. If he had found her innocent he would have just told her to go. No, Jesus agreed with the Pharisees with regard to her guilt. She was an adulterer and Jesus judged her for this. By not condemning her, he was telling her that she would not be punished, not that she was innocent. He was forgiving her, but not so that she could carry on in her sin. He was forgiving her with strict instructions. Go, and sin no more.

So the next time we present our case for public debate, insisting that our life of sin is justified because Jesus did not cast the first stone, remember what he said at the end of verse 11.

Jolly Hockey Sticks

I was reading the news this morning when a story caught my eye. You may have heard about how someone jumped into the Thames during last year’s annual boat race between Oxford and Cambridge, effectively disrupting the event. Cambridge eventually won the race after a restart. The protestor, an Australian national called Trenton Oldfield, was sentenced to six months in prison and will be deported. He is appealing against the decision because his British spouse is expecting their child.

When asked why he jumped into the water, Trenton said that he was demonstrating against elitism. He moved to London in 2001 and worked in jobs aimed to help impoverished people. Angered by government cuts and the increase in university fees, he decided to disrupt the boat race as he saw it as a “symbol of elitism”.

Having grown up in a miniature version of an elitist society, I empathise with Mr Oldfield. I was born into the poor side of the family so know what it is like to see how the other half lives without being allowed the opportunity to join their ranks. I have worked hard to provide for my own family and they may respect that, but they never let you feel as if you belong amongst them. They may not want to be that way but they cannot help themselves. They carry with them an ingrained belief that they are somehow better than the rest. I see it at work all the time and can usually tell someone who went to a British public school within a few seconds of talking to them. partly because I spent six months at such a school when I was eleven years old.

Reading about Mr Oldfield, I can’t help wondering if he experienced some of the elitism that pervades British society. Increasing university fees has effectively excluded all but the wealthiest from access to higher education, and a share of that wealth. Tomorrow I will be watching my daughter accept her degree at her graduation ceremony. We could not afford to send her to Oxford or Cambridge, or any other normal university. Instead, she attained her degree through a small arts college, where prices were still affordable, but only just (and they went up this year). It is at the bottom end of the scale as far as degrees go, but it is better than nothing.

So they are forcing Mr Oldfield to leave because he caused “chaos” at a race between two universities where only a privileged few can afford to study. Meanwhile, there are high-profile people who are allowed to remain in the country while openly spreading hatred against the UK, refusing to denounce acts of terror against her populace while receiving housing and benefits from the very people they profess to hate.

Apparently, it does not matter if you upset people, just as long as you do not upset the wrong people. Elitism is alive and well in Britain and, ironically, by ejecting Mr Oldfield from the country for disrupting  an elite boat race, they are actually proving his point.

Stranger Than Fiction

While writing Alpha Redemption, I was a little bit hesitant when it came to a major plot point. The action takes place on a space ship bound for the Alpha Centauri star system. On board is a lone traveller who has volunteered for a potentially very dangerous mission. The reason I hesitated is because I was not convinced that someone would agree to take part in such a hazardous journey. I mean, who in their right mind would want to do such a thing?

In the book, seven thousand people sign up for the mission. This seemed a reasonable figure, even though I had my doubts. Would so many people volunteer if such a venture were acually undertaken?

Well, such a mission is being planned. While it is not quite as far as Alpha Centauri, and while it does not involve travelling on a prototype space ship, it is just as dangerous and possibly even more so in that it is a one-way ticket. A company called Mars One is seeking volunteers to colonize the red planet. That means there is no coming back. These people will never return to Earth. Ever.

So how many people volunteered? Was my seven thousand estimate realistic? Not even close. As of May 7th 2013, seventy-eight thousand people have signed up for the chance to take a one-way trip to Mars. Seventy-eight thousand.

For details, visit their website

Tortuous Tuesday.

So I did a workout last night and today I'm hurting in places I never knew I had places. After a two week bout of sickness I decided to take the bull by the horns, as it were, and get back into training. Those in the know about such matters warn against exercising too hard after a break. Surprisingly, I happen to be one of those people and will spout this wisdom to anyone who asks.

"Take it easy after a break," I warn them. "Give your body time to adjust."

Good advice, except I seem incapable of applying it to myself. Put me in a room with gym equipment and I lose all self-control. It's almost as bad as my lack of willpower around cheesecake.

So what did I do to cause myself so much pain? Two words: CrossFit.

All right, it's only one word, but who's counting? The point is, I wanted to try something new. My usual regime consists of Step for cardio and borin' old weights for strength. I've been doing Step for ages and have reached the point where the highest level feels almost effortless. On Saturday I did Gin Miller's "Intense Moves" DVD, which basically involves trying to kill yourself by hurling your body around the room with as much gusto as you can muster during ten 3-minute intervals. I did the whole thing on the top step. Even the tough-looking expert guy standing next to the instructor only does it on the middle step. I hope to meet him one day so I can say "neener-neener".

The thing is, I'm starting to get a little bored.

And then there's the weights. I've always loved the challenge of getting stronger, but my little home gym is limited so I can't safely go beyond a certain weight. With the realisation that I can't go any heavier, my motivation has started slinking off to wherever it is such things go when they hit an obstacle (South, usually).

So I’m losing the drive there as well.

Fast forward to last week. I was sitting there feeling guilty, watching a TV show about CrossFit. I’d heard about it but never seen it before. It looked amazing. These guys were throwing their bodyweight around like it was the easiest thing in the world. I decided I wanted to give it a try, conveniently forgetting that one other pearl of wisdom which states that people who are good at something often have a knack of making that thing look easy.

Nevertheless, I forged ahead and threw caution to the wind. In a flurry of cliches, I dragged my motivation in a northerly direction and set about trying some of the exercises. The first was "hand-stand presses". Sounds innocuous enough (and they did make it look easy) but the effort required to get into a handstand position and then perform what are essentially very steep push-ups is nothing short of gargantuan. Of course, it doesn't help that I'm built like a Sumo wrestler while the guys in the documentary had the physiques of world-class gymnasts. With massive bodybuilder upper-bodies lumbering around over sleek athletic legs, had no problem shifting legs better suited to running than squatting. I don't have that build. My legs are heavy. I thought I was going to burst a blood-vessel.

The next two exercises weren't so bad but I had to do rather a lot of them, which made them painful in a different, special, kind of way. I recorded my results and had a drink of juice. I was a little bit sore but not too bad. Even my shoulders had survived.

Two days later, I decided to try my hand at chin-ups. I've always avoided these, mainly because I'm not built for them. Some people have an aversion to squats or dead-lifts. I don’t like doing chin-ups. Even at my strongest I preferred using a pull-down machine. Still, I determined to turn over a new leaf and conquer the dreaded chin-up bar.

All right, so "conquer" is a difficult word. Maybe "tame" is more appropriate. Or "appease". How about "asked nicely"? All right, I did none of these things. I grovelled. I cowered before the simple yet oh-so-terrible piece of equipment, knowing that I had met my nemesis.

In an attempt to be sensible, I followed the advice of an expert and did a series of reverse pull-ups as opposed to the real deal. These involved standing on a chair and lowering myself to the floor while resisting with my arms. The idea is to teach the muscles to control the descent. Then, after a time, you should be strong enough to attempt a proper chin-up.

I managed five sets of eight. By the third set, I wanted to go back to hand-stand presses for a nice break. By the fourth set, my arms were on fire. At the end of the final set, the flames had moved to my shoulders and back.

That was yesterday. This morning I woke up to pain everywhere. Just the act of moving the mouse hurts. I tried to scratch my shoulder a little earlier but I was too stiff to reach. I’ve learned my lesson. I've finally learned the perils of training too hard.

Tonight it's Step and then tomorrow it's back to hand-stand presses.

Will I take it easy this time? Probably not.

Well-Earned-Rest Wednesday

I'm enjoying a hiatus at the moment. If this brings to mind afternoons lazing on a beach or by the pool, don't believe it. What a hiatus actually means for me these days is just doing my normal job. I get to go home and actually relax as opposed to writing/editing/worrying about my last/current/next novel.

It's a bit like going from a sprint to a jog, or when you stop hitting your head against a wall (I actually don't do this. . .often). When I was working in the fitness industry many many years ago I used to cycle from class to class, which got kind of tiring. I owned a car but this vehicle was "interesting" to drive. And by "interesting" I mean "dangerous". It was an emergency backup for when the bike was out of service. Let me tell you, that car may have been a junk, but sitting behind that wheel felt like heaven after so much cycling.

So, that's how I feel right now. Hanzet is back with the editor. Alpha Revelation is with Grace. My short story anthology is taking a break before I start redrafting. All I have to do at the moment is my "day job". It's almost like being back in my car after months of cycling :-).

God is Not an Elected Official

If you listen in on a discussion about the existence of God, sooner or later someone will pipe up with the statement that they refuse to believe in a God who can allow A, or do B, or create C. This has always struck me as a bit peculiar. It's a bit like saying that you refuse to believe in gravity because it hurts when you fall down.

This attitude, however, is typical of our modern culture. We live in a world where the individual has "rights", and where blame has to be apportioned for everything that happens that we don't like. And in a litigious society such as the US (and, increasingly, Europe) we expect compensation. In a democracy, our leaders are there because we chose them, or at least the majority did. As elected officials, our government representatives are answerable to the people who put them in their position of power. If we don't like how they behave, we can always vote them out of office.

Sadly, people seem to view God in the same way. They don't get that God is not in a position of power because we put him there. On the contrary, we exist because he put us here. We can't vote him out or demand he do what we want. God is sovereign and cannot be ousted by a majority.

I think the reason people in the modern world fail to understand this is because we live in a democracy. The age of kings, for us, is something from ancient history. We really don't understand just how much power the kings and queens of old had at their disposal. Every one of their subject's was at their utter mercy. It made no difference what you believed or how much you felt your "rights" were being abused. The simple fact was that you had no rights and your king held absolute authority over your life.

Compare this to our modern society and you start to see why people treat God with such disrespect. They expect God to uphold their rights and to be answerable to their every whim. In days of old, the only thing you could do was to throw yourself at the feet of your king and ask for mercy. You could not demand anything because your king held absolute power over your life. He could shower you with wealth or cast you into prison. He could bless you or curse you. He could forgive you for your transgressions, or demand your life.

Is it any wonder then that there are evangelists who refuse to work in Europe or in the US? They will only work in places like Africa, where people live under the rule of tribal chiefs and understand the sovereignty of God because they live in a society where the chief has the final say over their destiny. They understand God and know that their salvation is an act of mercy from the King who is above all Earthly kings. How different from the arrogance of Europe and America, where people "allow" God to be part of their lives on condition that he acts in accordance with their moral standards. We are so used to being the centre of our own universes that we cannot grasp a sovereign God who exists no matter what we think, or how many "rights" we believe we have.

When the day of judgement comes and we have to stand before God and give account of our lives, our perceived "rights" won't make a shred of difference. And it won't matter one jot whether we believe in Him or not. The only recourse we will have is to throw ourselves at his feet and ask for mercy.

God is the king, not an elected official.

Christian Freethinkers

I've been seeing the word "freethought" a lot recently. It refers to a philosophy in which practitioners strive to think purely in terms of observable, testable, empirical evidence, free from the restraints of dogma and precenceived opinions. Proponents, such as Richard Dawkins, are strongly anti-religious because they see religious dogma as the antithesis of "freethinking". In general, "freethinkers" tend to be naturalists or, at the very least, of an atheist world view. They reject religion, preferring to embrace science as holding the key to all knowledge. Religion, according to freethinkers, is a no-go area. Which, when you think about it, is kind of ironic.

From my experience, I can tell you that not all atheists practice freethought. I work in an enviroment that is almost exclusively atheistic, and I can attest to this. As a rule, IT workers tend to be logical people. They build programs based on logical statements. The words "IF", "THEN", and "ELSE" are at the very core of computer programming. There is no PERHAPS or MAYBE. A Boolean is TRUE or FALSE; there is no gray area here. A binary digit is ON or OFF; it cannot be both. So to be able to code, you need at least a rudimentary grasp of the rules of logic.

As a theist working in an environment that is almost completely atheistic, you would think that I would stand out as being the only dogmatic, non-freethinking person in the place. You would imagine that I sit there with my arms folded, refusing to budge from my stubborn beliefs while my colleagues explore the wonders of the universe with their "free" minds. Actually, the opposite is true. By and large, the vast majority of atheists I encounter from day to day are actually pretty closed-minded.

What I tend to find is that many atheists, lacking any real moral support structure, wrap themselves in social convention more tightly that any dogma-laden Christian. They engage in the minutae of the rules that govern "normal" social interaction. They occupy themselves with incessant small talk (usually to do with the weather). They gossip about whoever is not in the room and complain endlessly about their work. They discuss and can talk endlessly about sport, but they seem scared of appearing strange or weird. In fact, from my experience, atheists think with blinkers on and refuse to stray from the well-trodden paths of "normal" thought.

I've been called weird on many occasions, mainly because I find these rules of social interaction restrictive. I can endure small-talk, but I find it achingly dull. I take part because I understand that most people cannot function outside of these social conventions. What I find frustrating, however, is to have to continue discussing the weather with people I've known for years for fear of making them uncomfortable. I will often try to steer conversation into less-travelled territory, but I can see them squirming inside. They don't like getting their feet dirty. They would rather talk about the chances of having a barbeque over the weekend because the forecast is for good weather, than delve into the mysteries of the universe.

One of the reasons I enjoy writing sci-fi is because I get to be weird and not feel odd. I get to explore scenarios that social convention would never allow me to discuss in normal conversation. The other day, a colleague spotted my book on the shelf and asked what it was about. When I said it was sci-fi from a religious world-view, he asked how I could reconcile my logical work in IT with a belief in God. I told him that I reached my faith through logic, not emotion, which took him by surprise. I think that atheists have this idea that a Christian can only believe if he shuts off his brain or, at the very least, the logical side of his brain.

Freethinkers see themselves as being somehow "above" religion. They see belief in God as a hindrance to their soaring intellectual pursuits. And yet these same people will close their eyes and stick their fingers in their ears if you suggest that science does not have all the answers. How is this "free" thought? If anything, it is the opposite, because any philosophy that discounts a major part of human experience is far from free. Certainly, there are dogmatic Christians who refuse to think beyond the end of their pew. They crawl inside their religious dogma the way atheists hide behind their cynicism. Being dogmatic is easy, as is being cynical. But not all theists think this way. 

It takes courage to step outside the box and explore the universe beyond, but it isn't difficult. God gave us minds with which to think, and they carry a built-in desire to learn and explore. We are told to be like little children, and who is more inquisitive about the world than a small child? God won't strike us down for asking "why?" or "what if?". I believe He takes delight in our desire to know more about Him and his creation, and to share it with others.

There are many gifted Christian speculative fiction writers out there, just waiting to take you on a journey into uncharted territory. Forget what the atheists say.  Christians do not discount a vast portion of human experience just because we can't put it in a test-tube and watch it under a micriscope. Perhaps what Richard Dawkins and his friends are practicing would be better termed "freeishthought" or "freethought limited to what can be touched and seen". Christians are not limited by such constraints. Christians are the true freethinkers.

MAMILs (Middle Aged Men In Lycra)

Wednesday this week saw the first decent weather since Winter began about ten years ago (just kidding, but it feels that way). As usual, this first signal that Spring was on the way was accompanied by patches of daffodil leaves, spectacular formations of geese heading back home, clusters of early leaf buds on trees, and middle-aged men in lycra.

As a boring year-round all-weather cyclist for over eight years now, I have a pretty good idea of who the regulars are. Most are recognizable by their attire and their posture on the bike. They tend to lean forward, but not too far, indicating a lengthy period in the saddle. They dress comfortably but not fashionably. They use pannier bags and carry light waterproofing. They ride bikes that are solid but well-worn. In short, the regular die-hards go for utilitarian because people who cycle all year round have to be prepared for any weather, and fashion doesn't come into it. All we care about is getting to work dry and clean. Doesn't really matter what we look like. Besides which, it's usually dark so who cares?

Tuesday was a normal Winter commute for me. Chilly weather, cold wind, gray sky. And cycle paths almost devoid of traffic. I counted maybe ten other cyclists over the twelve kilometre route. That's pretty good, and exactly how I like it. Of course you get the occasional nutter, like the woman on Tuesday who wanted to turn into a house on my right and so proceeded to cross to my side of the road and cycle directly at me, forcing me to swerve out of the way (but not before she could give me a dirty look), but this is rare. While Tuesday felt like every other Winter day, Wednesday was like being transported to a different world. Suddenly there were middle-aged men in lycra everywhere, all cycling on their spiffing new racing bikes.

The thing with Holland is that, like most countries, they have rules of the road. These are designed to keep everyone safe. Green lights mean "go", red lights mean "stop", and round board with big black number on them indicate speed limits. Racing bikes, however, seem to be exempt from these rules. I have yet to see a racing bike stop at the red traffic light. They appear out of nowhere, dashing in between other cyclist and cars as if every second counted. Dutch law dictates that bicycles must have lights and bells. This is to warn people of your presence. Again, racing bikes are exempt. They speed silently up behind you and then release an angry tirade if you don't get out of their way in time.

And heaven help you if you actually slow them down. Riding a racing bike is a very serious business. This is especially true if the rider is wearing a helmet, glasses, and gloves. And if they are wearing lycra then you must know how important they are, particularly if they have shaved their legs to reduce wind resistance. I once cut a racer up, totally by accident. I had just glanced back to make sure the cycle path was clear, then cycled for maybe another five seconds before turning. During that time, a lycra-clad hero had appeared out of nowhere (the nearest intersection was a good fifty metres away) and was bearing down on me at great speed as I turned. He had to stop, which angered him quite a lot. I can only assume he was involved in some huge race where every second was of vital importance. I apologized. He glared at me. I said something that I later had to repent of.

In a few weeks the daffodils in our garden will have blossomed and died. They make mowing the lawn difficult, but they add some interest to the garden. Likewise, the middle-aged men in lycra will have mostly disappeared by then. Their spiffing machines will spend the rest of the summer in the garage where they will gather dust. The helmets will go back on top of cupboards. The lycra will be washed (I hope) and put away. Leg hair will be allowed to grow.

As for me, I'll be out there every day until Autumn comes and Winter starts once again. I'll be there with my fellow commuters, dodging cars and rain clouds and fighting the wind. We may not be interesting to look at, and we don't move as fast, but we'll be marking the time until the next Spring rolls around and brings with it the daffodils and budding leaves. And the men in lycra.

A Fistful of Fridays

More and more these days I find myself examining my motivation for writing. It started out nobly enough, with me doing what I believed God wanted me to do. I prayed for something I could do for Him beyond providing for my family and attending church. Almost immediately, I had the urge to write a novel, with a story complete in my head. Simple enough. Right?

Well, perhaps not. There are certain mitigating factors that I probably should own up to.

Mitigating factor #1. Career.
- When I first started writing I was at serious loggerheads with my career. I wasn't enjoying my job and, having worked in the fitness industry for five years, was having major issues fitting in to an office environment. I love working with computers but a job seldom involves doing fun things. It also broke my heart to have to leave my wife and kids at home every day. It was my dream to be able to work from home and be with my family.

Mitigating factor #2. Money.
- As a poorly-paid civil servant, I was really struggling to make ends meet. We had just emigrated, started a family, and bought a run-down house, all within two years. The house needed serious work, with lead plumbing, rotting windows, woodworm, ancient wiring, and rising damp, but it was all we could afford at the time. An extra income would have really, really helped.

Mitigating factor #3. Ego.
- A work colleague was trying to get published. He made a bit of noise about this and I read some of his stuff. I remember wondering if it was really as hard as he made out, especially since his writing wasn't brilliant and he was very confident about his abilities.

So, in the clean halogen glow of hindsight, I can see that perhaps my motivation wasn't as pure as I originally thought. My halo has slipped and is threatening to cut off my air supply. Time to re-assess. Time to figure out my real motivation for writing. Now that my writing career has finally begun, can I still claim to be writing for God? Let's examine each mitigating factor in turn.

- Career.
To be frank, my work with computers hasn't exactly been stellar. I started out writing COBOL programs, and that's pretty much what I still do today. The Java youngsters down the corridor refer to the room I share with two other old-timers as "The COBOL Cave". Of course, we give as good as we get, calling their room "The Crèche", but it is becoming clear that I am one of a dying breed. COBOL is still the foundation of many major businesses, but kids aren't interested in learning it anymore, and businesses are increasingly looking at new platforms .

Having said that, I have made some detours on my apparently arrow-straight and pancake-flat career path. A few years back I built a small suite of educational programs for my kids using VBA (Visual Basic for Applications). In 2007 I gained SAS Base certification. And just this week I wrote my first Perl script.

So, I have had some fun, and I enjoy learning new things, and I quite like where I work at the moment. But would I give it up for a writing career? Yes, but only once I was sure it could pay the bills. And only if I felt that writing was something I would continue to enjoy doing as a job.

- Money.
Or, as I have recently taken to calling it, filthy lucre. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate having enough money to pay the bills, and I could always do with more. It's just that my relationship with the stuff has always been a bit strained. I was born into the poor side of the family. My Mum worked really hard but always had difficulty making ends meet, whereas her sister seemed to have an endless supply. Later, my step-father took advantage of my Mum to make a tidy bundle of cash for himself while making her so miserable that she was happy to leave with almost nothing. When my Mum passed away, I had to help pay funeral costs at a time when I had to put in extra hours just to pay the bills.

It feels as if I have always been within touching distance of money, without being able to reach it. As a civil servant, I sat alongside contractors who earned four times my salary for doing the same work. After taking into account the few miserly perks we received, they were taking home about three times as much. After nine years of this, the government announced an outsourcing exercise, which meant no severance pay. Being fired would've been better. At least then I would have received a lump sum to pay off my debts and tide me over. With horror stories circulating about our future employer, I decided to be pre-emptive and go contracting.

What followed was a series of bad experiences with greedy agencies taking advantage of my green status. With mounting debts, I looked for work in Europe where my first agency refused to pay me for three months. At this time, I could not afford to repay a small loan from my wealthy aunt which prompted her to disown me and write me out of her will. I wrote to my many debtors to ask for a short repayment holiday. Most agreed. American Express, however, promptly hired a debt collector who threatened me with bankruptcy.

Ten years down the line, I have managed to get my finances in order and put my kids through college. I was hoping to put some money aside, but the global crisis put an end to that dream. I now find myself working for an organization where, after factoring in some very generous perks and the capping of contract rates, the permanents take home between twice and four times as much as we contractors, for doing the same work. So, once again, I find myself sitting on the wrong side of the fence. I can see the money, but can't quite get to it.

So has my fledgling writing career brought me any closer to the cash? Can I afford to ease back on the throttle and stop fretting about the future? In a word: no. Over the past two years I have just about broken even. With my current sales, I can afford to buy takeaway once a month. That may change, of course, but, as things stand, I don't expect my writing to make me rich any day soon.

- Ego.
Back in my civil-service days a tiny part of me wanted to see if I could succeed where my colleague had failed. He was a bit full of himself and made a habit of putting others (especially me) down, so I guess some worldly aspect to my character wanted to do a neener-neener.

Do I still feel that way? Hardly. In my experience, one-upmanship is a fleeting, fickle beasty. I haven't seen the guy in thirteen years and I haven't thought about him at all until I started this post. Frankly, he could be a world-renowned author and I wouldn't be able to care less if I tried.

I've been writing on and off now for fifteen years, received enough rejection slips to wallpaper Buckingham Palace, and have honestly tried to quit more times than I can remember. While my debut novel has received excellent reviews, it has also received a few pretty scathing ones. One-upmasnship is hardly enough to keep me going for all this time. Maybe a week or two, but not this long.

In conclusion, I have to conclude (ed: lol) that I can't be writing for career because I'm still stuck behind my desk writing COBOL programs and expect to be doing so for a long time. I can't be writing for money because if I'd invested the time I've spent writing into a minimum-wage job, I'd probably be able to retire by now. And it can't be down to some ego trip because I have enough doubts about my abilities to keep my feet very firmly planted where they belong.

No, I write because I enjoy it, because I believe it's what I'm supposed to be doing. I write because there's a joy in expressing emotion through words. I write because it's what I do. I write because I am a writer.

Having said that, there's always the possibility that I'll make enough money from it one day to call it a career, and if I practise enough I can only get better. But, for now, my motives appear to be pure..


There's Nothing Meaner Than a Mean Christian

My wife spent most of last weekend preoccupied and upset. Like me, she is part of an online community and, like me, she tries to be a positive influence on the Internet. We may not always succeed, but we do our best. Sometimes we cause offense, but it is never on purpose. Her "thing" is to post pictures with an uplifting scripture. I've seen what she does and it always makes me smile. She puts a lot of effort into matching the picture with the scripture so that they complement each other.

So why was she preoccupied? Apparently, some people took offence to her posting these little electronic messages. Every time she posted something, somebody attacked her. Last weekend she came to me with her hands in the air, completely flummoxed by how somebody could take offence to a scripture as innocuous as Deuteronomy 7:9 : "Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments."

I suggested that a non-believer might be angry because many people hate Christianity and don't want to keep God's commandments. She said it was on a Christian forum. I said that perhaps atheists were trolling under a Christian bridge and she should just ignore them. Her reply? No, these are Christians. In fact, one is a pastor.

At this point, I think I lifted my hands in the air as well because, in my mind, any Christian who takes offence at Scripture seriously needs to re-evealuate his world-view. Seriously. And any pastor who belittles someone for posting scriptures online should probably think about another career.

What bothered her more than anything, however, was how mean-spirited these Christians were. They didn't just criticise her for her choice of Scriptures and the "implications" of what she was "trying to say". They were nasty with it, making her feel foolish and ignorant. She wasn't trying to "say" anything beyond the fact that God loves us.

We haven't been to church in a long time precisely because of Christians like this. The Bible warns us about wolves in sheep's clothing, and I tell you, they are everywhere, even in the pulpit. They carry their Bibles and sit in the front pew and sing louder than anyone else. They smile in your face and talk about the love of Jesus. But they are mean-spirited. They tear you down and crush your faith. And, as almost happened with me, make you wonder what you are doing in a place where people can make you feel so bad about yourself. Add the Internet, and you have a breeding ground for this sort of attack. People are very brave sitting behind their computer screens. They spout thngs that they would never dare to say to your face. Being mean from behind an IP address is easy. But that doesn't make it any less hurtful.

What makes it doubly painful is that Chrisitians are not supposed to be mean-spirited. We are instructed to be gentle and kind and loving. I expect to encounter nastiness out in the world. I put up with it every day at work. But not amongst my fellow believers. When I'm with Christians I want to be abe to drop my guard and feel loved and accepted. You may disagree with what I say, but that's no excuse to be mean.

Last night I had all my social accounts open, ready to close the lot of them. I really was that disheartened. My wife said she wanted to close her account on that forum where she posts her messages. Instead, we prayed about the attacks on her posts, and about our bad experiences on the Internet in general. That's all we could do. We held Church at home because Jesus promises to be amongst us if two or more are gathered in His name.

We determined to push on and keep trying in spite of how we feel. I was reminded that there are enough kind and gentle people out there to tip the balance. And my wife opted to continue with posting scriptures because, every now and then, somebody thanks her for helping them draw closer to God. After all, isn't that what it's all about?

Las Vegas Goes Green

In a recent announcement, the head of the Las Vegas tourism department, Ava Rice, outlined the city's plans for reducing energy consumption.

In an initiative entitled "More Green in 2013", Ms Rice described some of the measures to be introduced by hotels and casinos along the main strip. These include turning off the lights after the last guest has gone to bed, and limiting the total length of neon lighting on any new developments to two miles while capping the total number of bulbs to three million.

"I believe," said Ms Rice from her penthouse at the top of the city's newest hotel, an exact replica of Ireland built entirely out of green neon tubing, "that this will prove how seriously we take environmental issues."

Las Vegas, before and after implementing the new measures.

My 10 Year Writing Plan

- Write at least one new novel every year.
- Try to make each novel better than the last.
- Try to do something different each time.
- Learn from past mistakes.
- Don't worry too much about negative reviews.
- Figure out what marketing strategies work best.
- Remember that overnight success seldom happens overnight.

So, in a nutshell, my aim is to write consistently while striving to improve the quality of each new project.

I have put marketing close to the bottom of the list because, while important, I think that focussing too much on trying to sell a book distracts you from what you should really be doing: writing. I honestly believe that if you turn out good quality novels on a regular basis, your work will do most of its own marketing.

Thinky Thursday

How to succeed at writing.

1) Become famous at something, and get a celebrity book deal.
2) Ask your spouse (who just happens to be a publisher) to help you.
3) Accidentally write something that, in spite of poor quality and questionable ethics, inexplicably taps into a global desire to read mindless trash.
4) Show it to someone you bump into, who just happens to be a publisher.
5) Work hard to build a readership through diligence and a determination to produce quality prose.

Let's examine each of these in more detail.

1) Becoming famous at anything is almost as difficult as becoming a published author. You might as well focus on what you enjoy doing.
2) What are the odds that the person you fell in love with and married is also a publisher? You could always be proactive and look for a life partner who fits the bill, but that opens a whole new can of worms. Not only is that a little bit mercenary, but also kind of creepy.

3) You could write trash in the hope that you have hit the right vein, but this means ignoring all the advice given by publishers and agents in every "how-to-be-published" book ever printed. Every publisher and every agent will tell aspiring writers to produce the highest quality work before submitting it to their offices. They will also tell you that they are looking for a fresh "voice". To purposefully produce low-grade imitative trash is like a racing driver going around the track in the wrong direction. You might get away with it one time in a million, and a lot of people may pay money to see what all the fuss is about, but do you really want to take the chance?

4) The odds of bumping onto a publisher who will have the time and  inclination to read your manuscript on a whim are so small as to be impossible. You might as well wait for a piece of space junk to land on your house.

5) Forget Twilight and Fifty Shades of Gray. Ignore those celebrity book deals. Stop lurking around outside that trendy coffee shop frequented by staff from the nearby publishing company. Instead, focus your time and energy on the craft of writing. Work hard to improve your skills. Persevere until you find your "voice". If you do this, then perhaps someone will recognize your talent and put your book into print. And perhaps enough people will buy your books that the company will see you as a good investment so that you can write more books. And maybe, over time, the people who matter most, the readers, will begin to trust you.

They say that every journey starts with a single step. The road to literary success may be difficult and strewn with obstacles. It  may be littered with potholes and skirted by crevices. But if you stick with it and never give up, perhaps one day you will be able to look at yourself in the mirror and call yourself a successful author. I reckon that would make the whole journey worthwhile.

Tingly Tuesday

My next book release is still a few weeks away, but weeks are pretty much meaningless in the world of book publishing. The whole industry seems to operate in a parallel space-time continuum in which everything moves according to a completely different set of rules. Hanzet is due to hit the stores at the end of March. That's a mere two-and-a-half months away. It might as well be next week.

Right now I'm experiencing the first symptoms of pre-release nerves. It is the faintest tingling in my stomach that comes from the realization that, in just a few short weeks, another book with my name on it will be available for purchase.

I don't know how well it is going to do. All I know is that I've been around long enough to know that we can't really know anything. I always assumed that the second release would be easier by dint of the fact that I had been through it all before. The truth is: I honestly don't have a clue what's going to happen.

But then, that's part of the pleasure. Can you imagine how boring it would be if you knew that everything you wrote was going to be published by the truckload and would almost certainly sell by the millions? We look at bestsellers and take it as given that they were always going to be such, but that is an illusion. I'm sure Stephanie Meyer is still pinching herself to make sure she isn't dreaming. And Suzanne Collins, while already a seasoned author, would have had no idea that she was sitting on a global phenomenon when she sent out the manuscript of The Hunger Games.

The point is, every novel starts off as a humble, hopeful submission to some agency or publishing house. More often than not, even the bestsellers are rejected simply because nobody can see the future. And, if recent mega-successes are anything to go by, the quality of the writing is no longer a predicter of sales. It is only in hindsight that the mind-numbing sales figures make sense. Suddenly, everyone knows the title of the book and who wrote it. Suddenly, the previously obscure author becomes a household name. Suddenly, everyone knows that the book was "bound" to be a bestseller.

Personally, as much as I want success, I'm not sure I could handle something like that. My dream is to have a cosy group of loyal readers who buy my books and look for the next title to appear. I want to earn enough to keep my publishers happy and possibly even pay the bills. My aim is to double my readership with every new novel. That way, if I write a book a year, I might be able to supplement my retirement.

Shortly after Hanzet hits the shelves, Alpha Revelation is due for release. I'm curious to see what the effect of having two books come out almost back to back will be. Both are quite different from Redemption, so it should be an interesting ride.

Maudlin Monday

The second half of last week was an odd one for me. I spent most of it in or around my bed thanks to the nastiest virus I have ever encountered. Normally I'm pretty resilient to the seasonal bugs and seldom take more than a day off work every other year. This winter, however, the bugs seem to have grown fangs, and they brought their bigger, meaner cousin along (you know, the one they don't talk much about, who spends a lot of time "away").

Having already been ill this season, I figured I'd had my dose. Hoo boy was I wrong. I called in sick Wednesday morning, fully intending to be back in the office by Thursday. Fast forward to Friday evening. I was still in bed, coughing and spluttering all sorts of mulch while in a state of semi-delusion fever. After three days my throat still felt like it was about to burst into flames at any moment. The only thing that eased the pain was gallons and gallons of iced-tea which, thanks to the diuretic effect, gave my bladder the constitution of a leaky sprinkler system. Still, better to visit the loo every hour than have lava bubbling around inside my throat.

This morning I felt well enough to attempt the commute to work. My chest is still phlegmy and the cough is reluctant to leave, but at least I'm not convinced that my inability to sleep is down to some abstract mathematical formula that, once solved, will allow me to drift off into la-la land (I told you I was delusional).

At some point during the weekend, I had logged on and followed the story of a group of eight youths from Belgium who, a couple of days earlier, beat up a hapless Dutch man for no apparent reason. All was caught on camera and made available on Youtube. The sight of a gang of young men kicking the victim repeatedly in the head stirred passions to such an extent that Belgian police were posted at the houses of the "alleged" thugs to avoid retaliation.

This morning, as I cycled along the road, wondering what would happen to those hoodlums, I passed two young men. One was on the pavement. The other was walking in the road next to the parked cars, directly in my path. This is fairly common in Holland so I did what I always do and pulled out to give him room. As I drew closer, his walk became a swagger. He stuck his elbows out and did his best to take up as much space as possible. It was still dark at this point, but I caught the reflection of a steel-capped tooth as his lips pulled into a sneer.

From his posture and the sneer, I probably should have avoided eye-contact, but I couldn't help myself. I stared at him as I rode past. Our eyes locked and his sneer increased. He pretended to spit in that "I'm tough, what are you going to do about it?" way. I couldn't help myself. I laughed. Not in an antagonistic way, you understand. The way I'm feeling right now, the last thing I want or need is the attentions of a troubled young man. It's just that it was such a corny, testosterone-fuelled, display of aggression, I had to chuckle.

I don't know if he heard me, because my scarf was covering my mouth. I have since repented for being such a bung-head in a potentially dangerous situation. And I have prayed that he not get into trouble today, or tomorrow, or ever. I probably should have stopped and talked to him about Jesus, but I didn't feel compelled to do so. Maybe God would have wanted that if I hadn't been ill enough to laugh in his face. I'm sure that's not in the handbook for dealing with potential thugs.

Maybe next time. I'm just praying I don't see that sneer in the newspaper today.

World's Highest Skydive Attempt

Earlier this week, an attempt to break the record for the world's highest skydive went terribly wrong. In what authorities describe as an "unfortunate accident", amateur Dutch stuntman Bart "Ball of Fire" Burgess failed in his attempt to beat the previous record of 24 miles set in October 2012 by Austrian extreme skydiver Felix Baumgartner.

Using a home-made suit constructed entirely of duct-tape and wearing a knapsack containing a parachute fashioned from a table-cloth and lengths of twine,  Bart tied himself to four weather balloons and launched himself into the winter sky over Rotterdam.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing a silver-gray man-shaped object rising at terrific speed above the city. Authorities received numerous calls from people claiming to have seen a UFO, prompting a jet to be scrambled from the nearby Air Force base. The pilot was able to confirm that the UFO was in fact a man wrapped in duct tape, wearing a rudimentary helmet and khaki knapsack, and clutching a pair of garden shears, apparently to cut the wires joining him to the balloons.

It was not long before an army of telescopes and high-powered cameras were trained on the fast-shrinking figure of Bart Burgess. Nobody knows the exact altitude reached by Bart before he cut himself loose. At some point, he was caught by the Jet Stream and propelled at incredible lateral speeds across the Atlantic towards North America and Canada. By the time he managed to free himself, he was too high to fall back to Earth.

This time next Monday, he will have completed his first orbit, becoming the first man to attempt a skydive and miss the planet completely. Amateur astronomers will be out en-masse to watch Bart as he crosses the night sky. Hopefully, the weather will allow a clear view as he passes overhead.

We salute you Bart "Ball of Fire" Burgess, not so much for your skill as for your single-minded stupidity.

Bart performing tests in his home-made suit.

"The Next Big Thing" Blog Hop

1) What is the title of your next book/work?
I've got two books due for release early 2013, plus another in the pipeline. I'll mention all three, but I'll focus on just one.  
* Alpha Revelation (due out early 2013) 
* Hanzet (due out March 2013)
* Odd Jobs (work-in-progress)

2) Where did the idea come from for the book/work?
It's the sequel to Alpha Redemption, which was originally written as a stand-alone. My publisher suggested a different ending which made space for a sequel. Plus there was a complaint from some readers that not enough time was spent on the planet at Alpha Centauri. This addresses that. Well, sort of.

3) What genre does your book/work fall under?
Literary Christian Science Fiction.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Shor/Brett - Joel Courtney from "Super 8".
Mel - Jennifer Lawrence from "The Hunger Games".

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
[deep breath] When Shor discovers a derelict space ship buried under a layer of dust in a forgotten hangar on Mars, his life changes forever as he learns the truth about who he is, where he comes from, and the evil that he must soon confront.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Alpha Revelation will be published by Splashdown Books.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Forever. That's how it felt, but was actually about one year. I was planning to write a story of "normal" length (about 80k words), but the ending seemed to be always just out of reach. By the time I'd finished, it was almost double that length. They say you should stop writing your story when it's finished--so I did :-).

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
The Man from Earth by Jerome Bixby

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The Alpha series (Redemption, Revelation, and at least one more to follow) was inspired by an online discussion between a group of theists and atheists, in which an atheist declared belief in God to be "irrational". I wondered what a purely logical creature would make of the Bible. I had this image of a man and a machine discussing faith but, instead of the man trying to convince the machine that God is real, the machine is the one arguing for God's existence. All I needed then was a scenario in which a man and a machine might be isolated for a long period of time. I opted for a trip to Alpha Centauri. In the first story, I decided against a hard sci-fi story, instead focusing on the human drama. The sequel is still literary, and still focuses on Brett's struggles, but it has a lot more action this time. And robots.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
The struggle between good and evil on a Martian colony. And robots.

Someday Science

They called him the God of the Gaps.
These men with their all-seeing lenses.
He's not worth the effort, they said. He's losing the fight.
Come join us in our enlightment.
We've seen the future, and it is so bright.
Someday science will have all the answers.
No stone unturned, no shadow unexplored.
In the pursuit of Truth.

They called him the God of the Gaps.
These women with their lab coats and petri dishes.
Where is he now? they asked. Amidst all this pain and suffering?
Come join us in our brilliance.
We've cast our eyes to the very edge of time.
Someday science will know all there is.
No question unanswered. No mystery unsolved.
In the thirst for Knowledge.

They called him the God of the Gaps.
These children with their keen and skeptical minds.
He's dying, they said. Why believe?
Come join us in our righteousness.
We've decided what is right and wrong. We know the way.
Someday science will transform the world.
No moral dilemnas. No rights abused.
In the journey to Wisdom.

They called him the God of the Gaps.
These infants with their power tools.
He's dead and buried, they said. We don't need him.
Come join us in our strength and glory.
We'll decide our own fates. The future is ours.
Someday science will tell us why we are here.
No doubts or illusions or fears.
In our hope of Immortality.

They called him the God of the Gaps.
The babes with their loaded guns.
We loathe him, they said. And we hate his judgements.
He abandoned us. And now we have lost the way.
We took a wrong turn somewhere. The path has fallen.
Someday science will help us. But not today.
There are questions we cannot answer.
In our struggle for Survival.

They called him the God of the Gaps.
Those fools in their blinded pride.
He was there all along, they said. We just couldn't see.
Please forgive us. Show us the way.
We'll follow where you lead. We don't know what to do.
Science plugged the last gap. And, it seems, you were always there.
You were the big picture we couldn't imagine.
As you wept for our Redemption.

Facepalm Friday

To the driving instructor whose student I accidentally cut off at a busy intersection the other day:

- You had the hazard lights flashing on a moving vehicle. This is very confusing for other drivers, who don't expect this. It is especially confusing at a busy intersection.
- From my position to your right, I saw the indicators on my side and so thought you were turning right, which is why I proceeded to pull out in front of you.
- Hazard lights are for emergencies only. A slow-moving student driver is hardly an emergency.
- Hazard lights are not meant to indicate a student driver. Your car was festooned with signs indicating that the driver was a learner.
- Even though it was not my fault, I lifted my hand to apologize. You could at least show a little class and acknowledge my apology. Shaking your head at me in a condescending way was not nice.
- May I suggest a refresher course? Clearly you are not fit to be a driving instructor.

Wonderful Wednesday

Wednesday is one of my favorite days. It's not as nice as Friday, where the promise of a glorious weekend lies just a few short hours away, but it comes close.

I like my job but I don't love it. It gets really stressy sometimes, giving me occasional sleepless nights and making Sunday evenings one of my least favorite times of the week.

To help me get from Monday to Friday, I have always visualised the week as a steep hill or a mountain. Monday is base camp. Tuesday is the actual climb. Wednesday is reaching the summit. Thursday is the trip down the other side. Friday is...well, it's Friday!

The nice thing about this tactic is that it makes the week seem less daunting. Five days can seem like an eternity when you're under stress. Breaking it down into manageable milestones makes it more of an adventure. Today is Wednesday, which means I'm standing on the summit of my mountain, gazing down at my destination in the valley below. Tomorrow is Thursday (or Friday-eve), which means I get to rappel all the way down. Then it's Friday, which means the week is basically over.

I thought I was the only person who did this, but I know at least one person who adopts exactly the same strategy. How do you cope with a stressy week? Do you climb mountains in your mind?

Happy Wednesday! See you at the bottom.

Motivational Monday

Does anyone like Mondays? I'm sure there are people who think Mondays are wonderful. Like people who are retired, for example, because they get to enjoy some peace and quiet while everyone else is at work. Or maybe those working funny shifts where they work weekends but have Mondays off. No doubt these people think Mondays are spiffing, but I'm not talking about these people. I'm talking about normal, nine-to-five, rank-and-file, Monday-to-Friday, working stiffs. These people generally don't like Mondays at all.

I read a news report which quoted a study as saying that most people dread Sunday evenings because it means the end of the weekend. Many sleep badly on Sunday nights as well. I empathize with that because I have spent countless Sunday nights tossing and turning as my mind started wrestling with the week ahead. Many have been the nights that I've woken at 2am in a cold sweat. Then, no matter how hard I've tried, my brain would not shut down. It's like it is determined to torture me with problems that haven't, and most likely never will, happen.

Mark Twain probably summed this up best when he said: "I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened."

So how do you get over this mental torture? How do you stop worrying and wasting your precious free time fretting over problems that may never happen? Well, one thing that works for me is the realisation that Mondays are just like every other working day. What makes them different is that they follow a weekend. I think I can count on one finger the number of times that the horrors my mind has conjured in the wee hours have actually happened. Nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine times out a thousand I've arrived at work to find that there was nothing to worry about. And those times when there has been a problem, I've managed to sort it out.

Also, I try to see Monday as the first step towards the next weekend. You can't get to Friday without surviving Monday. And if it were not for the dreaded Monday, would Friday be quite so sweet?

So Happy Monday everyone! Friday is just around the corner.

The Perils of Pencil-Pushing

I used to be really fit. In fact, my first full-time job was in the fitness industry working as an aerobics and gym instructor. My working day consisted of exercise--and lots of it. In a typical weekday, I started at 10:00 and did not stop moving until around 18:00. On top of this I also did training for fitness competitions, doing middle-distance runs, sprints, swimming, rope jumps, push ups and sit-ups. On weekends I would go to the beach to relax, but usually spent most of my time bodysurfing. I lived like this for four years. Later, after moving to the UK, I did a lot less, but I was still teaching 2 classes a day.

Needless to say, I was fitter than a butcher's dog. At my peak I registered a resting pulse of 24bpm, was doing 108 push-ups a minute and 70 full sit-ups a minute, could bench-press 300lbs, and leg-press 800lbs. And I could also do full front and side splits.

The reason I mention all this is not to blow my own trumpet. In fact, in the words of Edmund Blackadder: I don't even own a trumpet. What I want to drive home is the fact that my life used to be one long workout. For the first couple of years I did my university studies from home while I worked. My plan was to get a degree in Psychology. Unfortunately, I did not continue beyond the second year. I lost interest, although I suspect I was just too tired. So for four long years, I did little else beyond exercise.

Jump forward twenty five years and that has all changed. I now work behind a desk. I like that I don't have to exercise if I don't want to, but I miss that feeling of physical well-being that I carried around with me. Don't get me wrong. I still train. I cycle 10 miles a day and do an hour every day alternating between cardio (usually Step) and weights (I have about 300lbs of weights and a squat cage in the upstairs room). Until recently, my resting pulse was 32bpm, which isn't bad for a 44 year-old weighing 270lbs. l'm not as strong or fit as I used to be, but I still enjoy the buzz you get after a tough workout. The problem is, my job gets very stressy.

Take these past 2 weeks, for example. I'm normally busy. My team was 10-strong when I first started here 12 years ago. Gradually, due to budget cuts and/or reorganisations, it has shrunk to 3. The team now consists of a team leader, myself, and another guy. The other guy is getting close to retirement and only works 60% of the year. So, many times, that leaves my team leader and me. Occasionally, the work comes in at the same rate as when I first joined the team, which means I have to work very hard just to stand still. Sometimes I don't leave my desk for more than a few minutes all day. On a couple of occasions I've been sat at my desk for 6 hours straight.

I'm currently in the middle of one of those stressy overload periods. My team mate is off for the whole of October and we have 2 super-urgent projects on the go along with the usual day-to-day work. My fitness training has all but stopped, simply because I'm ready to drop by the time I get home. I still cycle to and from work, but I only managed one workout last week. Apart from being too tired, I have also pulled a muscle in my neck, which makes training painful and awkward.
Right now, I can't tilt my head to the right and it hurts like crazy when I try to turn it. I'm not sure what happened but I woke up like this on Tuesday. I guess I must've slept in a funny position. My wife, however, thinks it is due to stress. Let's face it, if you hold a weight in your bent arm for 8 hours flat, you're muscle will start to hurt. I think that's what happened to me. I've been hunched over my keyboard all day, every day, for two weeks. No doubt my shoulders and neck have been tensed the whole time, and now I'm suffering for it.

Thankfully, the stress has subsided quite a bit at work. I'm now trying to relax in the hope that the pain will ease. As it stands, I can hardly move my head. Proof that pencil-pushing can be as physically demanding as a tough workout.

If I Had a Time Machine

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed a sparsity of reading matter of late. I would blame the cave trolls, but they've been minding their own business since I took out a subscription to "Cheesecake of the Week" on their behalf. I could point a finger at the gremlins, but they've realized I'm a dab hand at fixing computer glitches and they appear to have given up (or moved to the neighbour's where the computer equipment never works). I could blame the garden gnomes with their cheerful clothes and rosy-cheeked grins, but they're a sneaky bunch and I only have circumstantial evidence.

The problem, basically, is time. There simply isn't enough of it. Back when I was young (ed: snicker) it used to be everywhere, piled in heaps, filling ditches, falling out of trees, gathering in great boredom-inducing pools of nothing-to-do. I used to walk around, scooping it up and carrying it around in wobbly armfuls (ed: you have wobbly arms?). These days I can't find the stuff anywhere. I have to dig down the back of the sofa and scrape it off the undersides of the furniture. I have to scratch around in the floorboards with my fingernails. I'm like the old lady from Luke 21 with her last two copper coins. I wish I had more time to give, but I don't.

So what do I do when I find spare time? Usually, I daydream. Sometimes I wonder what it must be like to be wealthy, like if I won the lottery or something. I've never been lucky with money. Some people attract it. I seem to have the opposite effect. It's like my money poles are oriented the wrong way. Maybe I should try standing on my head, but that would only mean the few coins I have left falling out of my pockets where they would roll away, gravitating towards the people who are polarized correctly. Plus, I don't play the lottery, which my statistically-inclined colleagues inform me reduces my odds of winning a pile of cash quite a bit.

No, what I mostly dream about is weird stuff like time travel. Regular readers (ed: shouldn't that be "reader"?) of my blog will notice that I have a tendency towards silliness. During my rather solitary childhood I found company with my radio and would gain much solace from the comedy classics. I was raised with silly, and I guess the stuff you grow up with never really goes away. I notice it a lot in my writing. I'll start a scene with seriousness in mind, but the comedy is always there, sitting on my shoulder like a gremlin with nothing to break, or (shudder) a gnome.

It's the same with time travel. I was watching the latest Star Trek movie and there is this scene where old Spock and young Spock meet in the hangar. It was a serious moment. Spock had just lost his planet and his mother, and had been humiliated in front of the crew by the annoyingly likeable Kirk. They discussed the future of their race, and of young Spock. It was a deep moment. So what was I thinking about during this dramatic scene? I was imagining a ship-full of Spocks--the result if travelling through too many black holes. Every time Kirk speaks to someone, they turn out to be Spock. Uhura is Spock in drag. Scotty is Spock with a Scottish accent. Every single member of the crew is Spock.

Time travel, of course, opens up all sorts of worm-in-a-can problems. I think a viewing portal would be much better--and safer--because as soon as you step foot in the past, you're changing stuff. That footprint might cause someone to trip, or a vehicle to swerve, and who knows what sort of knock-on effect those seemingly innocent events might have? A footprint can change the course of history, so I think it would be wise not to risk it. Even if we can go back, we should stay inside the vehicle. Better still, don't go back at all. We might manage to enrage a passing butterfly and cause it to flap its wings in a huff, and we all know how destructive butterflies can be when it comes to changing the past.   

Personally, I hope we invent a way of just viewing history. I hope one day we can have something like a computer screen where we can watch events from the past unfold. Can you imagine the effect on crime if the police could punch in a date, time, and place, and go and see exactly what happened? There'd be no place to hide. And can you imagine how many arguments would be resolved? I know the first place I'd want to go. I would set my portal to Jesus' tomb and wait for him to come out. Then I'd go back to the moment of creation and see exactly how it unfolded. I'd visit all the great events described in the Bible. The parting of the Red Sea. David beating Goliath. Samson doing battle. Jesus walking on the water.

Actually, I would probably spend all of my time watching Jesus. I suspect that, once you've seen him, you wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I can picture myself sitting at my portal, staring out at him as he healed the sick and saved the lost. I'd watch in amazement as he turned the water into wine and fed the hungry crowds. I would spend every spare moment at my screen, hanging on his every word. I'd go back and watch the resurrection over and over again. I would probably get so that I wouldn't want to leave the screen for a second. I would order food delivered to my desk. I would stop changing. I would stop bathing. I would sleep as little as possible for fear of missing an opportunity to see Jesus do something amazing.

All right, so maybe the portal isn't a great idea. I spend enough time living in the past as it is. And I'm pretty sure Jesus doesn't want us dwelling on things we can't change. Wasn't it he who said "let the dead bury their own dead"? And do we really want our every action visible to everyone else with a computer screen? We are told to forgive those who hurt us, but I imagine this would be hard to do when you can revisit that hurt over and over again with just a few taps of a keyboard.

No, the more I think about it, the more I am happy to let the past stay where it is. Sure it would be fun to solve every mystery and finally put to rest all issues of faith. But do we really want to do that? Part of the wonder of Christianity is that there is always room for doubt. To me, faith is dependant on the very possibility that we might be wrong. If all doubt is removed then where does that leave faith? So as much as I would like to go back and see certain things with my own eyes, I think that perhaps I am happier not knowing--but believing.

Excerpt of Devil's Hit List by Frank Creed

Devil's Hit List by Frank Creed

The One State has contracted the Ash Corporation to produce virtual-e, a brainwave technology chip so highly addictive that it’s eventually fatal.

The chip is used in the hottest new entertainment product that will hook any who experience it.

Calamity Kid and his crew fight the production of virtual-e and get backing from the Body of Christ to run an operation to keep the chip from being marketed in North America.

But how far can the underground heroes get when the global government and a megacorporation work together?


I clipped myself onto my hang glider’s frame. “Okay, self, ya gotta do what ya gotta do.” Running with closed eyes and a Grrrr through clenched teeth, I followed e-girl and Lethe over the rooftop’s edge.

With a rush of wind, the stomach-flipping rollercoaster drop smoothed out into a kind of breezy floaty feel. I opened my eyes. The night’s dark allowed me to enjoy the experience a little. Points of light coasted along below in a dreamy manner. I could not see the ground for the blur below me, and fortunately I could not see my feet not touching it. I kept my legs back behind me.

You never did tell me, said Lethe using thought speech, how Lightfast got two hang-gliders up to that rooftop on such short notice.

I set my vision and hearing to record a sensory feed. With Chicago’s Body of Christ still reeling from Cabal and Nero offensives, it’s not like anyone else was using them. Besides, our ops have priority over most in the ’Plex until we get Virtual-e shut down. As far as how he got them up there, I’m guessing they used the same guys who etched out our mission.

Without daytime’s winds upon which to soar we lost altitude fast, but we didn’t have far to go. We were already over the Ward Three perimeter fence. In fifteen blocks we had to glide from fifty seven stories to our six story landing target. The security station ahead was situated on the west side of a parking garage. The top parking level is where we would set down.

We floated along nicely, peacefully, until halfway to our target a pillar of flame spouted out of the ground, a good ten meters into the air.

I screeched in thought speech, Barren, Legacy, what in Heaven’s name was that? Their diversion in the underground utility tunnels was not supposed to begin until we had quietly landed on the parking garage and grappled down to the security station’s tricky rooftop.

Change of plans. They had a shift change going on, and we were able to get our hands on a couple of their tiny tanks in the utility tunnels. Such a plan meant they would be bulletproof in the arena underground. The little capsule-shaped tanks were the battleships of utility runs.

Well, I hope you enjoy yourselves! Surprise, our greatest weapon had just been shot off like a flare-gun, and we were not even close to where we had to be. Lethe, land! Spiral straight down and get on the ground! Now!

Copy that, she replied flatly, and it sounded as though she said it through clenched teeth.

Three Iroquois helicopters rose into the air around the security station. I didn’t want to think about where the drones zoomed around invisibly. I focused my brain-waves into a scorch attack and winked at the nearest chopper.

It wiggled on impact, spun a slow circle in midair, and then dropped gently back down toward its pad.

A salvo of Vex’s high-explosive rounds fireballed against another chopper’s armor, rocking the craft. He had over-watch for our op, from one of his rooftop hidey-holes.

I leaned my own hang-glider almost sideways into a tight spiral and dropped as fast as a parachutist, panting partly from the effort of my scorch, and partly because I’d never before used my mindware’s hang-gliding skill set. My heart tried to jack-hammer its way out of my rib-cage and my mindware stifled the urge to vomit.

Another gout of flame popped a manhole cover two stories into the air just down the block as I fought my giant kite lower in a street next to Lethe and e-girl.

The good news: we were only three blocks away from the security station.

The bad news was that two Iroquois gunships drifted toward us.

I unclipped and dropped the final three meters into the street. My knees bent and I rolled to absorb gravity’s shock.

Hang out with Frank:





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Fred Warren

World Shocked by Politician's Direct Response

In a moment that has shocked the world and sent tremors through the political establishment, a leading British government minister was reported to have given a direct answer to a question posed during a televised interview last night.

What followed was a full ten seconds of dead air during which the visibly flustered interviewer, a veteran with twenty years experience, seemed unable to continue.

"I was stunned," she told reporters afterwards. "I have never encountered anything like this in all my years in this business. I never expected it. It completely threw me. I asked him a question. He replied "no". This could set a whole new precedent."

Commentators agree. Word on the Web has it that the face of government could be changed forever. The days of long-winded, roundabout answers that don't really address the question could be numbered.

Here is a sample of messages from around the Internet:
    "Your right. I think politicians should be forced to give one-word answers" Ken224 (from Facebook)

    "you're*" grammarQueen (from Facebook)

    "I r hppy they fnlly lrning to cmmncte prprly lke u n me" lolzAtoZ (from Twitter)

    "The interviewer was hot" babeMagnet999 (from Youtube)

We caught up with the maverick politician later to find out what he thought and if we could expect others to follow in his footsteps. He replied: "I think we should look at the broader perspective and examine the benefits of this sort of response in the societal context of the transformational policies introduced by this party since coming into power, and the possible consequences of..." (shortened for space reasons).

The Toch Island Chronicles by Kat Heckenbach

What is the story behind your cover art?

I wanted something that shows elements from the story, rather than a scene or a character. It’s the same way I approached the cover for Finding Angel. One of the major elements in Seeking Unseen is a leather notebook. I thought it’d be really cool to make the book cover itself look like that notebook. During a conversation with Grace (the owner of Splashdown Books—my publisher), she commented that she had always wanted to do a book cover like an old leather book. This was BEFORE I had told her my idea! So of course, when I described what I was thinking of doing she was totally game.

The other element I wanted to have featured was the glowing butterflies. I knew it would be a challenge, but I also knew it would really make the cover pop. Grace was on board for that, too, and told me to get started on a concept sketch.

What was your experience like working with Splashdown on your cover art?

It was awesome. Grace and I had done the cover of Finding Angel completely on our own, but Grace was busy planning a huge trip right around the time we needed to be working on the cover for Seeking Unseen. But the creative husband and wife team of Keven and DeAnna Newsome had done two amazing covers for Splashdown, so I told Grace I’d like them to handle Seeking Unseen.

Fortunately, they both loved my cover concept and immediately started getting ideas about how to do what I wanted. We stared with the drawings I’d done—the hinges and the lock. DeAnna came up with the clever idea for the leather straps to connect the hinges. Keven did all texture work on the leather. And DeAnna and I worked out the glow of the butterfly. Grace oversaw the process and gave her words of experience. It all just clicked together, as though we were meant to do this cover as a team. I had a wonderful time watching the cover grow from concept to finished product!

About the author

Kat Heckenbach grew up in the small town of Riverview, Florida, where she spent most of her time either drawing or sitting in her "reading tree" with her nose buried in a fantasy novel...except for the hours pretending her back yard was an enchanted forest that could only be reached through the secret passage in her closet...

She never could give up on the idea that maybe she really was magic, mistakenly placed in a world not her own...but as the years passed, and no elves or fairies carted her away...she realized she was just going to have to create the life of her fantasies.

Now she shares that life with her husband and two kids. Ok, maybe "share" isn't the right word--more like lives that life in her writing and tries her best to be normal the rest of the time...

 Kat is a graduate of the University of Tampa, Magna Cum Laude, B.S. in Biology. She spent several years teaching, but never in a traditional classroom—everything from Art to Algebra II—and now homeschools her children.

To find out more about Kat, visit the following stops:
Author website:
Grace Bridges
R. L. Copple
Ryan Grabow
Diane M. Graham
Travis Perry
Caprice Hokstad
Keven Newsome
Greg Mitchell
Robynn Tolbert
Frank Creed
Fred Warren

Isn't Editing Supposed to Reduce the Wordcount?

When I see the word "edit" my brain summons all sorts of associations. I equate the word "edit" with words such as "prune", "shear", and "trim". Apart from my obvious leanings towards horticulture, there is clearly a part of me that expects an edit to reduce the word count, not increase it.

Try telling that to the beast of a manuscript I lovingly refer to as the "infernal thing with no end", also known as Alpha Revelation.

I caught a glimpse of this tendency towards expansionism during the first draft. 80k was my target. 80k is a reasonable size. I could, I told myself, tell the story in 80k words, no problem. Only the beast turned out to be just like me in a cheesecake shop. It wanted just a little bit more. And a litle bit more. And just one tiny bit more.

Before I knew it, the 80k was 90k, then 100k. At 110k, I was starting to get worried. Think of the forests, I told myself. Think of the trees.

Then, at last, the "infernal thing with no end". . .ended. It found its satiation point and just sat there, gloating at me. At 119k, the beast was finally full. I hit Ctrl+S before sending it off to my editor, Cat. She would suggest cuts, I thought. Cat would sort out the bloat.

It is four weeks since Cat returned my manuscript. I worked through her comments with diligence and a determination to prune, shear, and trim without mercy. Perhaps it would get back to a slim 100k, I thought. Boy, was I wrong.

The beast is now tipping the scales at a shade over 130k. After four weeks of editing, the "infernal thing with no end" managed to find another end a bit further away. Like yours truly in a cheesecake emporium, it created a distraction and scarfed the unattended slice from his date's plate.

I have finished the first round of editing. I've put the beast away, not like a fine wine so that it can mature, but more like a naughty dog who needs to be punished because he ate all the ravioli. My hope is that, if I leave it by itself for a while, it will learn its lesson and behave. Then, with the beast duely subdued, I will read through again and make any final changes. I suspect, however, that the period of solitude will just make it even more hungry.

140k? Hah! Surely you jest? No, really, don't kid about these things.

Christian Spec-fic Writing 101: Know Your Market

Atheists Angry at Being Duped

Thinly-veiled proselytizing. Christian propaganda. Religious nonsense.

These are just a few of the accusations being directed at a new wave of books that have hit the shelves in recent years. The publishing companies are openly Christian, as are the authors who write for them. The covers look like normal books, but hidden within the pages is something much more insidious.

"There's no smut at all," said one shopper who bought one of these books by mistake, assuming it was real fantasy. "The characters don't swear, or steal, or sleep around. Worst of all, they go to church. I don't want to read this garbage."

A quick browse through the Amazon catalog shows a recent, dramatic, increase in the availability of such novels. They do indeed look harmless. Almost all are heavily tagged as "Christian" but, for some, this is not enough.

"I bought it because of the ratings," one reader commented. "And the cover looked nice. It didn't look like a Christian book at all. I feel duped. I would demand my money back but I downloaded it for free."

"It was a good story and well-written," another said. "But I lost interest as soon as they mentioned God. For me, a book loses all credibility if God is mentioned as if he actually exists. Elves are okay. Aliens are okay. I don't mind deities in general and you can use God and Jesus as swears, but if the author talks about God, and especially Jesus, in a positive way I figure he must be stupid."

Industry leaders are now looking at ways to avoid the situation where readers encounter content that many find deeply offensive. Clearly, tagging a book as "Christian" is not enough. Suggestions put forward include:
- a large label "Warning: Christian Content" on the front, down the spine, and along the top of each page
- a blank white cover with just the title and author name in a plain black Courier font
- an audible alarm that sounds when the book is selected online, or lifted from a bookstore shelf (this might possibly include a flashing red light)

What is clear is that something needs to be done. People are getting sick and tired of reading novels that look like real stories but which are written from a Christian world-view. A look at the bestseller lists shows that people want stories without any moral values. They want filth, and lots of it. They don't care how poorly-written it is or that it has never seen the business end of an editor's pen. They just want to be able to buy a book without worrying that it will contain dubious and, some would say, dangerous religious content that might potentially challenge how they see the world and possibly change their lives for the better.

Rift Jump by Greg Mitchell

 Rift Jump by Greg Mitchell


The day Michael Morrison died was the day his life began.

A sinister threat is growing in the void between realities, and Michael has been recruited to stop it. Ripped from his own violent life, he is sent rift jumping to other worlds seeking out the agents of the Dark and putting them to an end by any means necessary. The love of his life, Sara, joins him as he battles Civil War space ships, sea serpents, superpowered humans, and even his own duplicate from a parallel timeline.

But the darkness he fights is growing within him too, calling him to the same destiny as every other Michael from every other world. If he is to change his fate, he must learn to love, to forgive, to trust, and to let the man in the Stetson guide him to become the warrior of the Light he was always meant to be.



Sergeant Kleg Holstead peeked through the gaps between boards and barbed wire that surrounded their flanks. Nervous soldiers—perhaps the last left alive on this world—shifted their weight behind him, armor and guns clattering in the quiet morning. Beyond them, deeper inside their fort, Kleg heard the soft weeping of the civilians under their care. He and his men had sworn to protect them from the beasts that roamed the planet of Chelkan. But though he lied to them, he could not lie to himself. They were going to die. All of them. It was inevitable. Even if they held out in their stronghold for a year or ten, the grey devils that bayed at the moons at night and feasted on the flesh of human stragglers by day would never go away.

The monsters had consumed the world like wildfire. And humankind is facing extinction.

It had happened almost overnight, when the strange visitor arrived from beyond the stars. The “alien” was human like them, and a young man, but with pale marbleized skin and white-blond hair. Contrasting with his albino appearance, the boy wore all black—leather, with straps and buckles on his jacket. Kleg had been part of the envoy sent to meet this visitor.

Before the stranger’s arrival, wars on Chelkan had finally been all-but quenched. They were entering a time of unprecedented peace. Kleg had nearly forgotten the primal, maddening fear of combat, except in his nightmares, but seeing that boy in the leather jacket with the blackest eyes had changed all of that.

The boy came with a message that day. A “gift” from the darkness between worlds.

Then he lifted his hands and a rip in the very fabric of reality had split behind him, crackling with black energy. Out of it clambered them. The monsters. Kleg retreated with a few others, but the hordes massacred the rest of Chelkan’s welcoming committee.

The Grey Death had come, and now all of Chelkan was going to fall.

Kleg’s weathered eyes narrowed at the innumerable creatures beyond the fenced perimeter. They prowled about, their naked bodies ashen. Their rows of dulled, cracked teeth opened and closed in anticipation of their next meal against a face devoid of eyes and noses. The beasts walked on all fours, their toes curled under and their arms tapering into deadly blood-drenched insect-like spears.

“Sarge?” Private Telgan whispered from his left.

Kleg had witnessed his teenaged daughter impaled by one of those spears a week ago.

“What is it, Private?”

“Sir…request permission to speak freely.”

“Get on with it, Telgan.”

Telgan shuffled out of the corner of Kleg’s eye. “Sir, people are starting to talk. They think…they think you’ve led us here into a death trap.”

I have. “What do you think, Private?”


Kleg faced the young man. “Give me your assessment.”

Telgan paused, his face paling. He looked to his scuffed boots. Gripped his rifle tighter. “I think we can hold our position, but not forever. We’ll starve long before the monsters get inside. I…I think we should keep moving.”

“Where would we go? Would we just forage for food from town to town, losing more from our camp every night?”

Telgan kept quiet, the ground holding his interest.

Kleg leaned in, letting his rifle hang off his shoulder as he balled his gloved fists on his waist. “We’re talking about a new world order, here, Private. This planet belongs to them, now. Stay here or leave…we’re only delaying the eventual.”

The young man’s eyes cut sharply to Kleg, as if slapped. “You’re saying we should quit?”

Kleg grew sullen. He didn’t know what he was saying anymore. Just knew that his family was dead thanks to those creatures out there and the punk kid who brought them to his planet. If he didn’t have these civvies under his care, he had half a mind to take a couple rifles, as many clips as he could carry, and walk through the grey hordes, blasting until they took him down.

He was ready for payback. One last guns-ablazin’ stand.

Private Telgan trembled beside him, whether with fear that his commanding officer had lost the hope of survival or angry for the same reason, Kleg didn’t know. Didn’t care.

“How about this?” Kleg spat on the ground, hoisting up his rifle, the only thing he had left in this life. “Why don’t you lead them, Private? Go on. Run out the back and I’ll cover you.”


Kleg’s earpiece squawked, “Sergeant Holstead? You’d better come take a look at this.”

Kleg stepped away from the private, knowing the kid wouldn’t do anything. People talked, people complained. They wouldn’t be people if they didn’t. Kleg didn’t care about them or their worries or fears. If the civilians were merely worried about where they’d find their next meal, they didn’t understand the reality that was staring them in the face.

They were up against total annihilation. And if they didn’t get that, he had no time for them.

Taking hold of the steel rails, Kleg ascended the steps to the watchtower. Eagle-eyed guards leaned at their posts, casually keeping eye on the milling extra-dimensional invaders beyond the gates. Kleg stopped before Private Rickmond, a dirty-faced youth who didn’t bother saluting. Kleg wasn’t offended. “What?”

The young man pointed across the horizon. Kleg placed both hands on the edge of the wall and peered closer. Hundreds of charcoal bodies danced around each other, huddling closer and closer in some sort of celebration. They had their claws squirming under the cloudy sky, their teeth chattering in a way that set Kleg’s gut on edge.

“They’re moving into one group,” Rickmond said.

“For how long?”

“Just started a couple minutes ago. It looks like they’re gearing up for something.”

Kleg stiffened. Thought he saw…“Give me your binocs.”

Rickmond had barely offered them before Kleg yanked them from the boy’s hand. Pressed them to his eyes. “Skiv-steen,” he cursed. “It’s him.”

Rickmond motioned for the others on the wall and everyone fell into position. Eager, the private hovered nearer. “Are you sure?”

Kleg felt the sting in his heart. Saw the boy standing there, like some sort of deity, amidst the growling, worshipping, no-faced monsters. The boy, dressed all in black leather like some common rebellious teen. His eyes void of life and compassion, his skin and hair pale to the point of being white. He’d never forget the sight of that kid nor the fear he felt when he first saw him.

A fear which only magnified when the boy looked up, directly into the binocs, and saw Kleg Holstead.

Kleg lowered the binocs, his heart hammering, now. “Then we’re the last,” he whispered. “The last ones on Chelkan.”


Tears built in Kleg’s eyes, and he lost all the bluster he felt only moments ago. All thoughts of fighting some heroic, though foolhardy, last stand were gone. He didn’t want to die in a blaze of glory. He wanted to live. He wanted his wife back. His daughter. Wanted to hold them and kiss them and laugh and cling to all that had been stripped from him.

I don’t want to die. Not like this.

A tumultuous roar came from the devastated streets below. Kleg’s hands reached for the gun slung over his shoulder, felt its familiar grip, but his fingers were numb and heavy.

“Sir?” Rickmond hesitated, as the other snipers shuffled about, anxious and uncertain. “What do we…?”

A stampede of galloping grey figures surged ahead, trampling broken-down vehicles and upended sections of street alike. Running in their midst, sporting a wicked grin, was the kid—their master.

We’re going to die. This is it.

Wide-eyed Rickmond brought his rifle to bear. “Sir! What do we do?”

Kleg remembered the last time he held his daughter. She’d just graduated from school. Ready to be a woman, forge her own path.


Kleg looked to his rifle. Heard the thumping bass of the charging monsters at their gates, the screams of frightened women and children in the stronghold. He knew, then, that he couldn’t save them. Not all. Maybe none of them.

But that didn’t change anything. He was a man of war.

“FIRE!” he commanded, and the walls lit up with gunfire.

Rickmond moved his friends where they needed to be to best thin out the herds. Kleg left him to it and jogged down the stairs. He found Private Telgan among the terrified masses. “Get the families back! We’ll bottleneck the creatures through the front gate. Distract them and maybe buy you some time.”

Telgan nodded and rushed off.

Kleg raised a closed fist to the remaining soldiers. “On me! You got one order: Kill ’em all! Let’s show them what happens when you try to take over our planet!”

The soldiers cheered, “Oveka!” and formed up, locked-and-loaded.

He grinned at his men. His army. “Oveka,” he whispered and took the lead.

He was going to see his daughter again today.

Bring it on, you blargin’ ghiffas.

Rickmond shrieked from the watchtower and Kleg looked up just in time to see a beast ripping the private’s rifle arm off before plunging a long, crimson lance through his chest. Rickmond twisted, then fell off the wall, inches from Kleg’s feet.

“Hold the line!” Kleg roared as a flood of ashen monstrosities spilled over the edge of their barriers.

He and his men opened fire, their bullets chewing through the first wave of creatures. The monsters were strong. A gunshot or two couldn’t pierce their rubbery flesh.

But a hundred could.

The perversions fell like insects and Kleg shouted in vindication. It felt good to cut them down. To repay them for their horrors.

He looked to the walls where the men either retreated to the ground floor or were consumed by the flood of evil. Kleg kept firing, pushing back the droves, praying that Telgan and the others were able to get out. He knew there was nowhere else to go, but now he didn’t care. The will to live—to survive—shoved all logic aside, replacing it with irrational and powerful instinct.

Thunderous pounding shook the front gates. They wouldn’t be able to hold off a two-fold attack from above and ahead. There were simply too many of those things, not to mention their master, that damnable boy.

“Door!” He pointed at a battle group and gestured for their gates, assigning them to the area. Just as the men changed targets, the doors burst open.

Legions of extra-dimensional devils strode in, their barbed arms twirling, lashing, killing. Kleg lost several good men in the second and a half it took for the things to get inside. And, surrounded by their madness, the boy. Kleg ground his teeth in seething hatred.

“Kill him! Fire on the kid!”

His troops did, diverting attention from the alien armies, and focusing only on the pale youth in the black leather jacket. But the kid—

Bullets zipped all around him, perforating his animal minions, but the kid simply dodged out of the way with unnatural speed, and brought out two pistols of his own. He twirled, as if dancing around the soldiers’ shots, and opened fire. Bullets tore into soldiers until the kid’s guns ran dry. Deftly, he tossed them aside while simultaneously leaping through the air, kicking out. His boot caught the chin of a nearby soldier and Kleg heard the man’s neck snap.

“Don’t you quit!” Kleg said as soldiers hurried after the boy.

They fired, they punched, they leaped, but the kid seemed invincible, bobbing and weaving—that cocky grin still on his face. Without breaking a sweat he caught fists, popped wrists, broke arms, shattered shins, and dispatched every soldier who came at him. Kleg lost sight of the monsters tearing apart his men around him. He focused only on the insufferable teenager. The teenager who should not be here, in this world.

“Where did you come from?” he hollered in desperation, his voice growing hoarse.

The kid did not answer. Just kept killing, using the guns of his fallen foes on their brothers.

An army of the dead at his feet, the kid gave the sergeant his full attention and charged. Kleg fired his rifle, blinding light exploding from the barrel. The youth sprang into the air, pirouetting overhead, and came down with a fist that separated Kleg’s jaw. The military man could not close his mouth. Pain blossomed and he felt like passing out, but he wouldn’t give the kid the satisfaction. Dropping his gun, he brought out his blade. He thrust the tip forward, tears of agony streaming down his face. The kid whirled out of the way and deflected the Sarge’s arm, coming up with a kick to the gut.

Kleg’s breath left him and he doubled over, but kept a grip on his knife. He slashed up, cutting the boy in the stomach.

Time seemed to slow as the kid looked down, seeing a tiny trickle of blackish blood expanding on his shirt. Dripping onto the ground.

“So,” Kleg grunted through pained breaths, his words garbled because of his useless jaw. “You can be hurt.”

Enraged, the boy punched again, shattering Kleg’s nose. But the old war horse pushed past the pain, the humiliation, the misery of seeing his wife and daughter taken from him. None of that mattered now, for he had wounded the boy. He had cut a god.

Kleg slashed again, again, again.

The boy flailed wildly, dodging the attacks, but the smile was gone now. Off-guard. Kleg understood. This kid was used to inciting fear and always having the advantage against a foe clinging to life.

But I want to die. I’ve got nothing to lose.

His smile held back an outburst of laughter as Kleg charged, hacking with the blade. The boy backed away, dancing away from the knife’s edge, but not every time. Sometimes the metal drew yet more blood.

“Come on!” Kleg jeered. “Don’t stop now!”

The boy dodged another attack, but lost balance in his retreat. Stumbled to the ground. Carried by his own momentum, Kleg landed on top of the kid, blade out.

The youth gasped and sputtered, those dark soulless eyes widening in shock and pain.

Kleg buried the knife deeper, barking laughter in the kid’s face.

The sergeant rose off the bleeding boy, heaving giant-sized breaths, his insides on fire. The boy looked at the wound as though he’d never felt hurt before. As though he were above that kind of thing.

Welcome to the human race, ghiffa.

The punk laid his head back on the cracked concrete and a sublime euphoria washed over Kleg’s soul. With the boy dead, Kleg turned to the grey monsters once more. He spotted a handful of his men still alive—still fighting. The horde was thinner now, and weaker with their master lifeless. Kleg wanted to believe that Telgan and the others were far away from this place. That they found some hidden sanctuary, safe from this death and free to start a new world.

Yeah. Yeah, that’d be nice.

He felt white hot pain enter his back. Wheezing, he groped behind him. Felt the familiar hilt of his own knife.

Kleg slumped to his knees and faced the boy, still lying on the ground, the knife removed from his bleeding gut. And not dead. The kid did not grin. Instead, his face was set and somber. Resigned to his fate, perhaps, and Kleg felt the same. With war still raging around him, he crawled to the boy and sat beside him, sensing his own life ebbing away.

After a long moment of silence, the dying sergeant asked through excruciating huffs from his punctured lung, “What’s your name?”

The boy took a moment to answer. “Michael,” he said in a lazy drawl that made the word sound like Machel. “Michael Morrison.”

Kleg nodded in return. “Kleg Holstead. I used to be a sergeant.”

The kid—Michael—regarded Kleg with a furrowed brow. “You lost,” he said.

Kleg grinned, hearing laughter from somewhere. Sounded like his daughter. “Guess we both did.”

“No,” the other shook his head. Looked to the swarming monsters. “There’ll be more. I’m just one.”

“Where did you come from?”

“Everywhere…nowhere. There are more worlds than these.”

Kleg no longer felt angry. He saw the sadness in this kid’s eyes. The boy was lost without his war, his victory. Kleg pitied him. “Why? Why did you do this?”

Michael looked to the sunlit sky as he lay down, his hand resting over his open wound where a thick black substance oozed. “It’s what I was told to do…And I’ll do it again. Another me will do it all again…Other worlds…other me…I don’t matter,” he rasped, his eyes turning glassy. “I’m just one of them…”

Then the kid died with that mystery still on his lips.

Kleg reached over with bloodstained hands and closed the boy’s eyes. His daughter’s laughter filled his hearing and he smiled. There are more worlds than these.

He looked forward to seeing them.

Kleg Holstead closed his eyes too, and saw his daughter waiting to embrace him.

Copyright 2012 Greg Mitchell


 Greg Mitchell can be found at:




To order Rift Jump:


Visit the following blogs on this Splashdown Blog Tour for Rift Jump by Greg Mitchell.

Grace Bridges   

Fred Warren      

Caprice Hokstad

Travis Perry       

R. L. Copple     

Keven Newsome

Kat Heckenbach

Ryan Grabow    

Diane M. Graham

Robynn Tolbert 

Frank Creed      

The ECFL Summer Blog Tour

The Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers Summer Blog Tour starts today!

Here are all the stops. If you're looking for a great summer read, these authors write Christian Fiction with bite!

Sat, Jul 14: Anita K . May (Red Rover, Red Rover and Amnesia Alibii)
Mon, Jul 16: Jennifer H. Westall  (LOVE'S PROVIDENCE)

Wed, Aug 8: Heather Randall (WHEN CHICKS HATCH)
Sat, Aug 11: Christopher C. Starr (THE ROAD TO HELL)
Mon, Aug 13: Shawna Williams ( NO OTHER, IN ALL THINGS, THE GOOD FIGHT)
Sat, Aug 18: Tori Chase (THE SNAKE MURDERS)
Wed, Aug 22: Christine Lindsay (SHADOWED IN SILK)
Sat, Aug 25: Michael Scott (THE LOST SCROLLS)

Hanzet has a Publication Date

The publication date for Hanzet, the Universe, and Everything has been set at March 2013. You can find out more about Hanzet at Written World Communication.

Hanzet, the Universe, and Everything

It's official! Hanzet, the Universe, and Everything has found a home. The contract has been signed, which means Hanzet will be published by Written World Communication sometime over the coming months. I'll post more details as I get them....

Global Warming

In a startling announcement, leading scientists this week have admitted that they got it wrong with the whole Global Warming theory.

"We got it wrong," a spokesperson told reporters after the emergency meeting of two hundred of the world's top scientists. "We made a mistake. It made sense at the time, but we now know we were wrong. There are people who do not believe what we are saying, in spite of the facts, because they are not seeing the effects of Global Warming with their own eyes. We intend to put that right."

The official document outlining the exact changes to the Gobal Warming theory was leaked to the press and we are able to give you a summary of the amendments. The theory itself has remained largely unaltered. What has changed is the name.

From now on, the term Global Warming will only be used by scientists who actually understand the overriding concepts. For the man-on-the-street, a number of names have been suggested to help them make sense of what they see every morning when they open their curtains.

- Global Raining
- Global Gusting
- Global Overcast
- Global Freezing
- Global Strange Weather for This Time of Year
- Global Turn Up The Heating, It's Freezing
- Global No Barbeque This Weekend
- Global I Just Saw a Snowflake in April, No Really, I'm Not Kidding
- Global Was That a Cow Just Flew Past The Window?
- Global I Wish Some of That "Warming" Would Come Here
- Global If This is Global Warming Then I'm George Dubbya Bush
- Global Those Scientists Don't Know What They're Talking About

This is the Way the World Ends - Special Report

As December 21st rapidly approaches and we all prepare for the end of the world, internationally unknown scientist and deep brain-worker, Professor Stan Dovethere of the University of David Hasselhoff in Liverpool, has spent the past few weeks scouring the Internet for clues as to how the "end of the world" will actually occur.

To this end, Professor Dovethere recently assembled the finest collection of minds ever seen down at his local pub with the aim of deciding exactly what will happen on December 21st, 2012. They poured over the plans. They poured over the floor. No expense was spared and no peanut bowl left unemptied until they had reached an agreement and persuaded the DJ to stop playng Karma Chameleon.

Many theories were put forward, ranging from a collapse of the entire space-time continuum (proposed early in the evening), to the abduction of planet Earth by a giant wandering intergalactic vaccuum-cleaning transvestite unicorn (proposed just before closing time).

Pauly Filla, a retired nuclear test dummy and part-time corpse, even suggested that the world would not end as such, but slip into a parallel dimension where we would each experience our lives in reverse and possibly upside down and almost certainly inside-out.

Walter Hazard, resident professional at the town's magnificent new one-hole golf course and known locally as "oi fartface" suggested Do You Really Want to Hurt Me, at which point the others voted to evict him from the pub and never speak to him again.

It was a long night but another bag of peanuts was found under the bar and the intrepid band pushed on in their quest for enlightenment and another round. In the end, it was Professor Dovethere's own theory that emerged as the most likely outcome of the end of the world as predicted by the Mayans. Those still conscious agreed that the world would not explode or collapse or even vanish. It would, as Dovethere demonstrated while standing on the table with a pint of lager on his head, fly around the universe in a random series of swirls and loops while emitting a loud raspberry sound.

Next week: Professor Dovethere demonstrates the Special Theory of Relativity using an anvil, three pounds of mushy peas, and the back of Walter's head.

Dutch Insanity on Ice

Having lived in Holland for quite some time now, I can confirm that they have finally gone insane.

I can handle the competiveness, the cheese, the cycling three abreast, the insistence on speaking loudly all the time. I can deal with the driving as fast as possible (even, no especially, in bad weather), the windmills, the condescending tone reserved for people who don't speak perfect Dutch. I can handle the fact that every Dutch person feels obliged to share his or her opinion on every matter, even when that opinion is clearly ill-informed. I can even handle the fact that one of their political parties has started a "shop-a-foreigner" site in which people can share their bad experiences of Eastern European (especially Polish) visitors to Holland, even though Poland is a major trade partner.

This, however, has gone too far.

The Dutch are possessed of a particular insanity that involves ice. They love to skate, whenever the temperature drops low enough for ice to form, they all head for the nearest canal. Every now and then, the weather stays cold enough for long enough to allow for something called the Elfstedentocht ("eleven city trip") which is a 200km race around the canals of Friesland ( They even have a special committee to handle the event. Their job is to check the route and have everything organized on what is very short notice.

The Elfstedentocht does not happen very often. The last time was fifteen years ago. And so, whenever the ice starts to thicken, a mania fills the air. People book days off work and pack their families off to Friesland, just in case the go-ahead is given. All over the country, elderly men strap blades to their feet and skate around with their jaws set and their eyes fixed on some faraway spot.

The thing is, I cycle to work every day. So when it gets icy, I get nervous. Sometimes the roads become much like an ice-rink, which makes moving on two wheels a trecherous undertaking. Many people I know feel the same way. Forget the stupid Elfstedentocht, we need to get to work in one piece.

The other day my son returned from his youth group and told me that the leaders had led a prayer asking for more ice. Can you believe that? Are they out of their tiny, frozen minds? What did they pray? Please Lord, drop the temperature and make the roads even more dangerous so that we can spend two days ice skating?

I love my brothers in Christ, but I have never wanted to throttle anyone more in my life.


SOPA Authors Demonstrate Their Internet Skills

This week, one of the authors of the SOPA bill demonstrated his in-depth knowledge of the Internet by playing solitaire and reading his emails, one of which just happened to be a lengthy letter of criticism of the SOPA bill from some of the key people responsible for the development of the Internet.

When asked by a reporter if he planned to respond to the email, the senator replied that he would, just as soon as he could get some stamps from the post office.

He then logged onto Lolcatz and spent ten minutes laughing and pointing at the pictures while repeating the text in an exaggerated voice. He went on to explain that he was pretty sure cats did not really talk like that, because his sister had a cat and it never spoke, at least not when he was in the room.

When asked if he had the IP address bookmarked, the senator panicked and closed his laptop, claiming it was cold and that he was scared it would catch a virus.

Next week, a group of senators will bring in their brand new Macbook Airs and demonstrate their wordprocessing skills using permanent markers and a bottle of correction fluid.

Dutch Roads Grind to a Standstill

This week saw a dramatic turn of events on Holland's roads as the entire nation ground to a halt in a massive gridlock that left vehicles unable to move.

The tipping point came at 12:45pm on Saturday when Els van Flink of Delft drove her brand new Ford Fiesta out of her local dealership and took the last available space on Holland's crowded road network.

Holland has now effectively become the world's largest carpark as people sit in their vehicles, shouting at everyone and hooting their horns. The event also saw the crash of Twitter and Facebook as fourteen million drivers rushed to be the first to tell everyone that they were in a traffic jam.

Jan van Janssen, the Dutch Minister of Hats and Sunglasses, announced on his blog that he had known this would happen "for ages" but that nobody would listen. Meanwhile, the Minister of Traffic Congestion responded on his own blog that, short of covering the entire country in tarmac, there was little that could be done. "Holland is a very small country and, although we almost won the World Cup in 1974, there are limits to what we can achieve. There simply is not enough room."

Speaking from his super-wide stretch Humvee, currently serving as a hotel for stranded motorists in the heart of the Randstad, the Minister of Obscure Legislation suggested that companies should equip their workers with laptops to allow them to work from their vehicles. "We are an adaptable people," he said, pausing to serve bread and cheese to a small group of visiting Belgians. "And although this is a terrible thing, we will find a way to live with it."

Some, however, see this as a good thing for Holland. Jan "Peloton" Pantoffel, captain of the Dutch cycling team and current World Cheese Champion, suggested people should get on their bikes and pedal everywhere. "It is very healthy," he said, "and makes you strong in the legs" at which point he proceeded to flex his quadruceps for the benefit of nearby motorists.

The problem of how to deal with the gridlock will be discussed next week in the back of the Prime Minister's Volkswagen Polo which will also be hosting a series of concerts by the touring Swiss National Philharmonic Orchestra.

Show Me How to Show

My short essay 'Show Me How to Show' is featured in the Winter 2011 edition of Starsongs Magazine, available here.

Aimed at young authors, the piece explains the difference between telling your reader that there is a dinosaur in your vegetable patch, and showing it.

Author Q&A with Nick Giannaras

For the past few weeks I have been featuring a series of interviews with authors of Christian speculative fiction.

My guest today is Nick Giannaras, author of The Relics of Nanthara trilogy from MuseItUp Publishing. You can purchase Book 1 of the trilogy, The Relics of Nanthara at Amazon or the MuseItUp store.

- Nick, how long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing actively for five years.

- When did you feel called to write?
When a lady spoke into my life, saying that there were untapped talents that needed to be revealed, I haven’t stopped since.

- Where do you get your ideas for your stories?
My first novel actually came from an old Dungeons & Dragons game I ran years ago. The rest come in various ways: a title, a song, a movie, a verbal idea from my kids, and pure imagination.

- Was it hard to develop a writing style?
Nope. When I type, it flows as it is given to me.

- Have you dealt with writer's block? If so, how did you overcome it?
Hmmm, the main way I deal with it is I sit down with my wife and verbally discuss the story up to the sticking point. On many occasions she has come up with an idea or a tidbit that sparks new ideas for the story to continue. Gotta love her!

- Do you find a part of your personality sneaking into any of your characters?
Yes. In my trilogy, Relics of Nanthara, I’ve found several of my traits in more than one character. Odd that it played out like that, but I try to spread the love.

- Do you use outlines or let the story develop on its own?
I’ve done both. Most of the time, it flows on its own.

- What do you want your readers to take from your book(s)?
I want their hearts touched by what the characters experience to the point of wanting to change their own lives for the better. Although it is YA, I try not to sugar coat the stories, and I am not afraid to portray real world strife and horror in my stories. It’s not hidden from the kids today, so why hide the truth in words?

- Can you share any upcoming projects with us?
Currently, I am finishing up Relics of Nanthara: Dawn of the Apocalypse, Book 3 in the trilogy, and I have several other projects in the works at various stages of completion. One is a Sci-Fi superhero, The Nuclear Fist Chronicles; three take place in Nanthara, The Onyx Tomes (taking place 30 years after the trilogy); Sons of the Trident (most likely a trilogy); and We Came To Die (a mercenary seeking revenge after being left for dead). I also have a historical fiction, Enemy Within The Ranks.

- Can you share one or two nuggets of wisdom to those wanting to travel down the writing road?
Don’t write for money. If God is part of your life, write for Him. That is, write with a purpose, a message. Bless God in your work, and watch what He’ll do for you. I’ve seen it in my practice and in all things I do, and I’ve never been sorry.

- Where can readers find your books and contact information?
For The Relics of Nanthara trilogy, my website is Once the others show, I will either create a separate site or link them.

- Do you spend time in prayer before you write or begin a project?
Most of the time, I actually wear a prayer shawl when I write. And I do pray at times, asking God what he has for me or perhaps a direction to take.

- Thank you for visiting with us today, Nick.

Author Q&A with Adam Graham

This month I have been featuring a series of interviews with authors of Christian speculative fiction.

My guest today is Adam Graham, co-author of Tales of a Dim Knight, published by Splashdown Books.

- So Adam, how long have you been writing?   
Since I was eight, almost nine years old. Before the San Francisco Earthquake, I was writing Batman-Superman Fanfiction.

- Where do you get your ideas for your stories?
Everywhere: Sermons at church, out of the blue. Sometimes, I’ll get ideas from TV shows, particularly one where I don’t enjoy the episode and I imagine how it really should be told.

- Do you find a part of your personality sneaking into any of your characters?
Here and there, probably the clown and sarcastic tendencies are the ones most likely to appear.

- Were there any scenes you found difficult to write? Made you angry or made you cry?
I’m working on a Short Story that’s trying to become a novelette and the final confrontation scene was very tough. The story deals with child abuse and I kept wanting to handle the whole thing more clinically. What we finally ended up writing after much coaxing from my wife, was something that packs more of a punch, and did make me cry writing it.

- Can you share any upcoming projects with us?
Upcoming. I’ve three big ideas that I have to struggle to get to:

1) The Return of the Dim Knight. This is going to be a challenging book to write. My challenge is going to be to grow my characters personally, emotionally, and spiritually from the last book without going too far. We’re still going to have some comedy, but it will be a slightly different tone.  It’s the Superhero sequel that I hope readers will be waiting for.

2) Case Files of the Selfish Detective: Not really a speculative story, but will feature a character from Tales of the Dim Knight, Neil Worthington. Worthington is a genius detective who tries to model his life off of the combined efforts of Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, and Hercule Poirot. He lives alone mostly, irritating household staff, and driving them away. Then one day, Worthington is on the sidewalk and a car almost runs him over but a young woman saves him, but is hit herself and gets amnesia. Worthington pays her medical bills and brings her onboard. Her mission is to remember who she is and to get Worthington to use his powers for good.

3) The Graham works: Podcast - Yes, I want to start recording podcast of my works, both published and unpublished, so that people can enjoy them and I can grow my audience. But not something I’ve been able to find time to do yet.

- Tell us a little about yourself. What do you like to do when you are not writing? What is your temperament, etc.?
I love old time radio and radio drama in general. Spend a lot of time listening to that and producing podcasts on old time radio.

- With a full schedule, how do you find time to write?
I’ve invented something called a caffeine I.V. Sadly, don’t find enough.

- Can you share one or two nuggets of wisdom to those wanting to travel down the writing road?
In modern writing, there are two types of rules: 1) rules that are absolute and hard and fast and 2) things that are a matter of opinion and style but get stated as rules. A good writer has to be able to tell the difference.

- Where can readers find your books and contact information?

- Do you spend time in prayer before you write or begin a project?
Not as much as I should.

- What is your writing routine? Do you need peace and quiet, soft music, or does it matter?
If I get into one of those “inspired modes,” I can have a spell and turn out a few thousand word short story in a day. What Ideally I need is good classical or instrumental music playing in the background with Facebook and email closed.

Author Q&A with Cindy Koepp

This month I have been featuring a series of interviews with authors of Christian speculative fiction.

My guest today is Cindy Koepp, author of Remnant in the Stars, due to be released by Under The Moon in spring 2012.

- How long have you been writing, Cindy?
Oh, most of 33 years. My mother has an old short story I wrote when I was six or seven. The hobby continued on since then.

- When did you feel called to write?
I don’t know. I don’t know if I was ever "called". About five years ago, when I was more irritated with teaching than usual, I asked God if he’d object to me being a full-time writer. That hasn’t happened yet, but I’ve made lots of connections with other writers and critique groups and the like. I even have a contract now for one of my books.

- Where do you get your ideas for your stories?
Sometimes they get left in my mental voice mail with no mention of the source on the caller ID. Other times they’re based on some misadventure in my own life with the decimal point moved over several orders of magnitude.

- What are your thoughts on critique groups?
I’ve been in a few. One was ultra-competitive. That was pretty useless. The deal was that you’d upload a chunk of text then review others’ works on the site to earn credits so yours would be reviewed. Writers reviewed each other and ranked the work on a 5-star system. That sounds interesting, but many people ran afoul of glowing feedback to go along with low ratings. Some people were the recipients of a copied-and-pasted review. There was some handy feedback, but it was a lot of work for a little return.

Another group critiques on a volunteer system. That works okay.

The third group has been really useful. We take turns critiquing half-novels. I get the most useful feedback from this group. It takes ~8 months to get feedback for a whole novel, but what I get has been immensely helpful.

- Who is your favorite author?
One is definitely Gordon Dickson. I enjoyed the Childe Cycle. Each story stands alone but all of them work together for an ultimate purpose. Bruce Hale’s Chet Gecko series is hilarious. Jude Watson’s Jedi Apprentice series had excellent characterization.

- Do you use outlines or let the story develop on its own?
I use not just outlines, but very detailed descriptions of the characters, places, societies, maps, and anything I can come up with that might even be vaguely important to the plot. I often have 20 or more pages of notes before I start writing the actual story.

- What do you want your readers to take from your book(s)?
First of all, I want the stories to be entertaining. I don’t mean gut-busting hilarious, but interesting to read. Since so many of the stories have at least some beginning in my own misadventures, I hope that readers will either identify with someone in the story or maybe understand something a little better.

- Can you share any upcoming projects with us?
I have a book called Remnant in the Stars under contract with Under the Moon. It’s about a navigator searching for his missing child and a pilot dealing with an undiagnosable illness. If all goes according to Hoyle, we’ll finish the editing process by the end of December, and it should see print in the spring of 2012.

I’m also working with a group of writers on an anthology.

- How do you respond when someone comments that certain elements (magic, vampires, zombies, etc.) in your story does not fit in what they consider to be Christian?
About seven or eight years ago, a friend questioned the magic use in one of my books. He gave me a detailed explanation for why that was not Christian. I did some praying and some thinking and decided he was more right than I was. The way I had handled the magic was very occultic. I rewrote the story, keeping the basic plot, and scrapped the magic use. I actually like the rewrite better than the original.

- Tell us a little about yourself. What do you like to do when you are not writing? What is your temperament, etc.?
When I’m not writing or doing prep and paperwork for school, I sew, crochet, do needlework, play computer games, and try to find recipes for things I can actually eat.

I tend to be the quiet, keep-to-myself type, but I can get pretty goofy when I’m with people I know well.

At work, though, I’m more out-spoken. Diplomacy is not a skill I was gifted with.

- When creating a character, where do you begin? Do you give them a background even if it may never be mentioned in the storyline?
The characters often have a very detailed background. The key players and other frequent flyers get all kinds of information. Often I have intentions of including it somewhere, but when I get there, that doesn’t make sense, so it just stays in the background information. Lesser folks sometimes don’t have more than name, appearance, and the details needed for story.

- Can you share one or two nuggets of wisdom to those wanting to travel down the writing road?
Find a group of other writers you can share with who’ll be honest with you whether something doesn’t work or something went fabulously. Ego-boosters are nice, but they don’t help you progress. Likewise, brow-beaters don’t ever give you the encouragement you need to keep on plugging away.

Don’t give up. This isn’t an easy gig, but then nothing worthwhile ever is.

Take advice from other, more experienced folks. When the advice contradicts other expert advice, you have some leeway to consider what fits your idiom.

Above all, be careful that you don’t do something that will cause someone else to blaspheme God.

- Where can readers find your books and contact information?
I have a Facebook author page.

I also have a webpage at and two blogs that I update when I have something interesting to say: and

- Do you spend time in prayer before you write or begin a project?
Not for each writing session or project necessarily, but I often talk to God, and the subject of my writing comes up now and again.

- What is your writing routine? Do you need peace and quiet, soft music, or does it matter?
I like to sit on my couch with a notebook and pen in hand and a glass of water nearby. I don’t focus well with noise, so I prefer quiet. Once I have the stuff written, I enter it into the computer using either the keyboard or some voice recognition software. Then I can edit and revise. Sometimes I do that on the screen. Other times, I make the font stupidly small … like 8 or 9 point … and print it out. That depends on whether it’s an early draft or a later one. Earlier drafts will need much more shuffling and fixing, so I print those. Later ones are usually more stable, and I can do those on the computer.

- Thank you for visiting with us today, Cindy.
Great fun had by all!

Author Q&A with Caprice Hokstad

This month I have been featuring a series of interviews with authors of Christian speculative fiction.

My guest today is Caprice Hokstad, author of the Ascendancy Trilogy fantasy novels, The Duke’s Handmaid, and Nor Iron Bars a Cage. Caprice is also a contributing author in Aquasynthesis, an anthology of short stories.

- How long have you been writing, Caprice?
Fiction? About fifteen years.

- When did you feel called to write?
I don’t feel like I have been "called" to write as some sort of mandate from God. If God tells you to write, of course you should obey, but God hasn’t really told me I have to write. Does a Christian have to be "called" to knit? Or can it just be a hobby? I don’t believe crosses or fish symbols must be woven deep into every design of every scarf in order for knitting to be a legitimate use of a Christian’s time. I enjoy writing and my beliefs will affect everything I write, but I don’t think I am "called" to write.

- Where do you get your ideas for your stories?
I really don’t know. I have a very weird brain and thoughts pop into it without any return address.

- What are your thoughts on critique groups?
I think they are important for beginners. I also think it’s incredibly hard to find one that is helpful. You need people to understand the genre and you need at least one or two people in the group to know more than you do about the craft. I prefer one-on-one critique "partners" over groups.

- Have you dealt with writer's block? If so, how did you overcome it?
My biggest block came from limiting myself to working on only "worthy" (i.e. publishable) projects. I am having trouble finding an audience for my published books. So, instead of writing the third book in that trilogy, I spent a lot of "blocked" time looking for a new project that would help me find or build an audience. I came up with a great setting and a good plot for an undersea science fiction, but it’s dead in the water for lack of good characters to pull it off. So then I started writing fanfiction for fun. Once I allowed myself to write for fun and for readers instead of for publishing, I had a lot less trouble with writer’s block. I regularly pump out about 5000 (final draft) words a week now.

- Do you find a part of your personality sneaking into any of your characters?
Yes. More with villains than heroes. But isn’t that what makes it fun? It’s socially acceptable to plot the perfect crime for a character to pull off. Characters can say and do what I can’t.

- Were there any scenes you found difficult to write? Made you angry or made you cry?
I find scenes difficult to perfect, but not really to bang out. I want a precise progression of thoughts and emotions and I’m never happy until the words produce the exact effect I want. I play with word choices and sentence structure a lot. Do I cry? Yes. But that really isn’t saying much since I cry over movies and TV shows and reading blogs and all kinds of other things too.

- What do you want your readers to take from your book(s)?
I want them love the story. I want them to feel elated for the climax, but sad because it’s over. I want to leave them hungry for more. I want them to pass it on to a friend or two or five. I want them to feel strongly enough that they go post a review on Amazon or sit and write me an email just because they feel like they need to talk about it.

- Can you share any upcoming projects with us?
My short story/mini-novella "Fettered Soul", which is a prequel to my novels appears in the bestselling anthology "Aquasynthesis" from Splashdown Books. My seaQuest fanfiction is presently available for free at I am finally writing the third book of my Ascendancy Trilogy, as yet unnamed, but should be released in 2012.
- How do you respond when someone comments that certain elements (magic, vampires, zombies, etc.) in your story does not fit in what they consider to be Christian?
I tell them that any Christian label has been applied by others, not by me. I usually ask that person if they consider Narnia "Christian" and if they say yes, then I point out all the magic, witches, lack of mention of Jesus, bloody battles (or whatever they object to) in that. If they say no, then I say, "Fine, I’m with C.S. Lewis in the mainstream then."

- Tell us a little about yourself. What do you like to do when you are not writing? What is your temperament, etc.?
I like swimming and I am obsessed with the ocean. I love the beach, but I don’t go there very much because of driving and the crowds. I hate crowds. I love going to Sea World or the Birch Aquarium when they’re in off-season. I really want to learn to scuba dive someday, but it’s too expensive to consider right now. I also would love to live in an undersea colony.

- Where can readers find your books and contact information?

- What is your writing routine? Do you need peace and quiet, soft music, or does it matter?
I prefer peace and quiet, but that isn’t always available to me. I never purposely add noise like music or TV, but I live in a mobile home with four other people and our house is situated in a mobile home park where I’m too close to neighbors, so I can’t always escape other people’s noise. I can usually edit with more noise than I can handle during a first draft. Sometimes, if the distraction level is too great, I just have to change modes and do something else that doesn’t require as much concentration (like read email, do facebook). I have been known to sacrifice sleep in order to get good writing time.

Author Q&A with Yvonne Anderson

All this month I will be featuring a series of interviews with authors of Christian speculative fiction.

Today's guest is Yvonne Anderson , author of The Story in the Stars , the first book in the Gateway to Gannah series.

- So, Yvonne, how long have you been writing?
I started writing since I was old enough to hold a crayon. But as far as writing seriously, with hopes of publication? That began in 2002. I was offered my first publishing contract in 2011.

- When did you feel called to write?
See above. It was in February. Two of my four kids were grown and on their own, the younger two were in school, and my hours at work had recently been cut to twelve hours a week. And, we’d just gotten a new computer. While cleaning up the kitchen after breakfast, it occurred to me that everything had fallen into place for me; it was time to write that book that had been in the back of my mind for the past couple of decades. I tried to brush away the idea, but eventually I realized it wasn’t just an idea, it was the Holy Spirit nudging me. I prayed about it, and the urge persisted. I’ve prayed about it every day since. I don’t want to waste my time doing this if the Lord wants me to do something else instead, but every day, He gives me the green light to go ahead. And so I plod on.

- Who is your favorite author?
I have no favorite author. Nor favorite color, food, movie, book, etc. I don’t think I’m wishy-washy, I just enjoy too many things to narrow it down.

- Do you find a part of your personality sneaking into any of your characters?
Yes, I think this is inevitable, though I try to counteract it by making my characters do things I never would.

- Do you use outlines or let the story develop on its own?
I’m a seat-of-the-pants plotter. However, before I start writing, I know the beginning, the end, and two pivotal events that will take place along the way, as well as the major characters. But other than that, I’m as surprised about what happens as the reader is. It’s fun.

- What do you want your readers to take from your book(s)?
I want people to enjoy my books and find things in them to think about after they’re through. Mostly, though, I hope they’ll see God’s truth reflected in my stories.

- How do you respond when someone comments that certain elements (magic, vampires, zombies, etc.) in your story do not fit in what they consider to be Christian?
If someone told me that, I’d agree with him. I don’t incorporate those elements in my stories.

- Can you share one or two nuggets of wisdom to those wanting to travel down the writing road?
I have five nuggets to share, but I’m not sure what they’re nuggets of:
1. If you’re a Christ-follower, pray about this. You’re looking at a huge investment of time and energy, not to mention money if you go to conferences and such. So you should be sure you’re doing what the Lord wants you to do. (If you’re not a Christ-follower, I have no advice for you other than that you consider changing that situation.)
2. Be patient; be diligent; be humble; learn as much as you can, make as many contacts as you can, and be aware that you’re just starting out. You have much to learn.
3. Pray about it.
4. Be patient; be diligent; be humble; learn as much as you can, make as many contacts as you can, and know that the Lord is God.
5. Pray about it. Maybe now that you’re getting the hang of it, He wants you to write a different sort of story or to change genres, as He did with me. I never even read science fiction when He put me to work writing it. You never know what He’s going to lead you to do.
- Do you spend time in prayer before you write or begin a project?

- Can you share any upcoming projects with us?
In January 2011 I signed a three-book contract with Risen Books for a space fantasy series, Gateway to Gannah. The first book, The Story in the Stars, was released in June; Book #2 will probably come out in December, and I expect the third to be released in the middle of 2012. I’m currently revising #3 in preparation for submitting it to the publisher, and I also have a good idea in my mind of what’s going to happen in Book #4. I have no contract for anything beyond the third book, but I expect I’ll keep writing more in the series for the next few years, because I have several story ideas still to work out.

- Where can readers find your books and contact information?
Readers can connect with me through my blog at . The Story in the Stars (and later, subsequent titles in the series) can be purchased in paperback or e-book formats at Amazon  or through the publisher’s website .

Author Q&A with Kimberli Reneé Campbell

This week I will be featuring a series of interviews with authors of Christian speculative fiction. These are people who are passionate about sharing their faith through stories that glorify God.

Please welcome today's guest, Kimberli Reneé Campbell, author of The Sword of Light series of books. Kimberli graciously agreed to visit with me and share some of her thoughts.

- How long have you been writing, Kimberli?
I have been writing for over 10 years. However, I still have a lot to learn.

- When did you feel called to write?
I can't say I remember a specific time when the Lord put the desire in my heart. All I know now is I have a deep need to write the stories he gives me.

- Do you spend time in prayer before you write or begin a project?
My relationship with the Lord is most important. I don't feel that I can really write to my fullest potential unless the Lord and I communicate. We are a team.

- How do you respond when someone comments that certain elements (magic, vampires, zombies, etc.) in your story does not fit in what they consider to be Christian?
 Hm...I do have sorcery in my books, but it's clearly stated that it's wrong. As for what they consider magic, I don't see it as magic. Shayia's sword glows and the Word appears on it. I believe those to be the manifestation of God's awesome power. He used the staff of Moses, caused a donkey to speak, and so much more. I think this is a topic that people will always see differently, which is all right. I must write what I feel the Lord has asked me to write. I do so to bring him glory and to draw his children closer to him.

- Where do you get your ideas for your stories?
Boy, the ideas come from everywhere. The series I'm writing now came from a dream. I have a romance/suspense story from watching an old blue pickup truck stopped in front of me at a stoplight. It's fun watching people in hopes the images will produce a story.

- What makes Redemption: Shayia's Adventures - Book Two a must read for young readers?
 Aside from the back to back action and suspense, this book touches on issues like bullying, feeling alone, and sharing the Good News. It would be great to see the book used in a classroom setting to help children dealing with any of these issues.

- Who is your favorite author?
I enjoy reading books by Donita K. Paul, Terri Blackstock, and Ted Dekker...just to name a few.

- Were there any scenes you found difficult to write? Made you angry or made you cry?
One of the issues the main character and his friends deal with is bullying. Bullying makes me angry. As for crying, in the third book of the series, there is a part where I teared up. I didn't have to breakout the tissues, but it was close.

- What do you want your readers to take from your book(s)?
 I would love for the readers to come away with a spirit of victory and that they've been on an awesome adventure. Learning the importance of a relationship with the Lord, family, and friends is also something I'd like them to walk away with. And, let's not forget the desire to read the next book.

- Can you share any upcoming projects with us?
 I would love to share. My book, Redemption: Shayia's Adventures - Book Two, will prayerfully be out this year.  I am currently working on book three of the series. I have no title at this time. I am not sure if the Lord has a book four, so I'll have to see what he has next.

- Tell us a little about yourself. What do you like to do when you are not writing? What is your temperament, etc.?
 I'm a quiet person. However, if you were to see me acting on stage, you would disagree. I would be content sitting quietly in a room (not padded) with a book and/or my iPad. I drive the speed limit and obey the rules of the road to the point that it gets on people's nerves. I HATE emotional mind games. In other words, if you have something to say, please say love. :) Going for walks in nice weather is something I enjoy when not writing. There is more, but that's a good start.

- Can you share one or two nuggets of wisdom to those wanting to travel down the writing road?
I encourage writers to get connected with other writers - critique groups, forums, etc. They are a great place to get encouragement and be challenged. Also, continue to write and sharpen your craft. No excuses. :)

- Where can readers find your books and contact information?
The best place is The book is also available on Amazon. You can visit my blog at I would love to connect with other writers and readers.

- Thank you for visiting with us today Kimberli.
Thanks for allowing me to visit with you.



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Mister Metro. Saving the world and looking good doing it!

We're All In This Together

As the world continues to struggle to recover from the recent economic crisis with the man-in-the-street still feeling the aftershocks, I was fortunate to secure an interview with the head of the International Bankers Society, Ivan Tallyo Monet, on his 400-foot yacht "The Venturist" currently moored off the coast of the beautiful city of Monte Carlo.

Ivan welcomes me on board his yacht.

PB: Thank you for welcoming me onto your magnificent yacht Mr. Monet. Is that chair real gold?

Ivan: You are very welcome. Yes, it is real gold. In fact, most of the fittings and furniture on this yacht are real gold. I prefer gold to other metals. It has a quality that most other metals lack, don't you think?

PB: And it is more expensive.

Ivan: Ah yes, but you cannot put a price on quality.

PB: Indeed. Mr Monet, I am here to get some insight into the workings of the IBC. People out there are suffering due to the mistakes made by the major banks. What do you say to those people who have lost everything while the bankers have got off scot-free?

Ivan: I understand the concerns of the working man. My father was a working man. He was an investment banker and we too struggled to survive. Many times we never knew where the next million would come from, or how we would put caviar on the table. I too understand the heartbreak of having to cancel a skiing holiday in the Swiss Alps because my father did not receive his full bonus that year. I know what it's like to have to settle for a Mercedes for my eighteenth birthday when what I really wanted was a Porsche. I understand that people feel angry at having to tighten their belts during this difficult time, but we all have to do our bit. For example, last week my entire staff was given a twenty-percent pay cut, and I had to let two people go. Now one of my gardeners has to collect the mail from the front gate. It is a difficult time, but we're all in this together.

PB: What do you say to people who see the banking system as being driven by greed?

Ivan: It's a dog-eat-dog world out there and you have to be tough to succeed. The desire for better things is the foundation of our financial system. Without what you call "greed", we would all be driving Toyotas and living in four-bedroom houses. Can you imagine that?

PB: What about the wild excesses   we've heard so much about?

Ivan: Bankers work hard and they play hard. It isn't easy thinking of new ways to get people to give you their money. Many bankers suffer from exhaustion. Can you blame them for wanting to let off a little steam every now and then.

PB: But drugs, and alcohol? And what about the wild parties?

Ivan: We like our employees to reward themselves. The important thing is team-work. Everyone in the banking industry is working towards the same goal: of making as much money as possible. We cannot afford to have loose cannons running around upsetting the applecart. Why, just last week we discovered a "born-again" Christian working on the trade floor. Can you imagine that? No smoking or drinking or taking drugs. He was a man who never acted on impulse, but always thought carefully before acting.

PB: He works in one of your banks?

Ivan: Not any more. We fired him. People like that are a bad influence. All it takes is one person with "morals" and the next thing you know we're not making as much money as last week. Then bonuses suffer. It's not good for morale. It's not good for the industry.

PB: But don't you think the banks should be held accountable for their mistakes? After all, it is because of them that many people have lost their homes and their jobs.

Ivan: We have paid for our mistakes. I think people should be more understanding.

PB: No, the taxpayers paid for your mistakes.

Ivan: I am a taxpayer. We are all taxpayers. And we do feel accountable. Why, during the period following the crash, one of our senior managers showed that bankers have a charitable side. He got his secretary to visit every room in the building to collect towards a fund to help one of the janitors who had lost his entire life-savings. You should have seen the look on his face when the manager presented him with more than twenty-five dollars in loose change. I heard he was so moved he couldn't speak. You can't tell me bankers don't feel some responsibility for what has happened.

PB: And what about the future? Can you guarantee that this won't happen again?

Ivan: Ah, if only I had a crystal ball. Then I would tell you about the future. I would also have a bigger yacht. I can tell you one thing though. We won't make the same mistakes as last time.

"The Venturist" moored off Monte Carlo

PB: That will please many people.

Ivan: Yes, next time we will ask for bailout money from the government straight away, and we will ask for a lot more. Now, if you'll excuse me, this caviar cheesecake I had earlier has upset my stomach.

PB: Thanks you for the interview... I think.

Ivan: You're welcome. Listen, you're not busy are you? Could you lend me a hand? Only I fired the guy who normally wipes my arse.

PB: I'm afraid an emergency just came up. Good bye.

Join me next week when I interview Jeb Hall, a former janitor at the Mega Bucks Bank in New York, currently serving two years in jail for referring to a senior manager a the bank as a "tight-fisted douche-bag" and throwing a bag of loose change at his Mercedes-Benz.

You Have Been Warned

I've worked in places like this...

Breaking News: Summer Cancelled

In a surprise announcement on Monday, the Dutch government told reporters that summer has been officially cancelled this year. Standing outside the Ministry of Tulips, Windmills, Clogs and Cheese, the Dutch finance minister Jan van der Vander stated that he had included a reduction in nice weather as part of the country's austerity plans for 2011.

'It costs a lot of guilders to keep the sun shining,' van der Vander said. 'We cannot justify that kind of expense in this difficult economic climate.'

When a reporter raised the issue of tourism, the minister pointed out that nobody comes to Holland for the weather. And the locals vacate the county en-masse between June and August to clog up the motorways of neighbouring countries with their
caravans, so they wouldn't care.

The new measures began this week, with a drop in temperatures, blustery wind, and torrential rain. Minister van der Vander officially launched the event with a ribbon-cutting ceremony before heading for the south of France with his Super Deluxe Caravanette, enough soft drugs to sink an aircraft-carrier, and an umbrella.


The Dutch minister of finance (second from right) announces the new austerity measures before leaving for France.

It's Support-a-Struggling-Christian-Spec-Fic-Author-Without-Breaking-the-Bank Weekend!!

Fancy trying some new authors without breaking the bank? For this weekend only (ending Monday July 4th) you can get any Kindle book from the Splashdown catalog on Amazon for just 99¢. Click here or search for "Splashdown Books Kindle".

The Writers' Book of World Records

Rejection Letters

The greatest number of rejection letters received by one writer is 1,076, a record held by Albert Norris (GB). During his thirty-year career, Albert sent his sci-fi novel "Robot Rebel" to every agent and publisher listed in the "Writers' and Artists' Yearbook" at least three times. Albert also holds the record for the shortest rejection letter, containing just three words: "please go away", as well as the record for the longest letter at just over twelve double-sided pages (not including the eight page letter from the publisher's lawyers explaining exactly why he should refrain from referring to their clients in his correspondence with them as "gormless pustules").

 Albert Norris

Albert Norris - holder of a number
of world records.

Drowning Sorrows

The record for the most number of calories consumed by a writer in one meal is 24,889 by Albert Norris (GB). After receiving yet another rejection letter for his sci-fi novel "Robot Rebel", Albert visited his local McDonald's restaurant and did not leave for twenty-four hours. The effect of so many calories hitting his blood stream in such a short time was catastrophic and he was taken to the local hospital where surgeons were forced to replace his entire digestive system with metal tubing. Albert has since given up writing and is now employed by the RAF as a mobile radar scrambling device.


The longest single continuous period of depression experienced by a writer after receiving a rejection letter is 29 years and 2 months, held by Albert Norris (GB) between August 1980 and October 2010. Albert became "disheartened" shortly after receiving his first rejection letter for his sci-fi novel "Robot Rebel". After receiving his third letter he became "fed up". By the time the seventh rejection letter arrived, he had descended into full-blown depression and refused to cheer up, even when his long-suffering wife Enid offered to make him his favourite pudding for supper. Albert is well-know at his local pub where he sits in the corner, muttering into his beer, feeding pages of his manuscript to the fire, and rambling on about "gormless pustules" to anyone who will listen.

Most number of drafts

The record for the most number of drafts of a single manuscript is held by Albert Norris (GB) for his sci-fi novel "Robot Rebel". During the thirty years that Albert has been working on "Rebel", he has created 856 versions, including 211 complete rewrites (many as a result of the previous version being lost to fire during fits of depression), 252 partial rewrites, and almost 300 "tweaks". It is estimated that Albert has written more words than are contained in the entire works of William Shakespeare even though he has never seen a word published.


The single greatest feat of procrastination ever performed by a writer is that of Ellie Carbuncle (US) who, on January 2nd 2009, sat down at her desk to start work on her debut romantic novel "Fools in Love" at 07:46 and did not type anything until 22:06 that evening. During the intervening period, she checked her email 97 times, checked her Facebook account 104 times, checked her Twitter account 317 times, tweeted 45 times, completed two 500-word blogs, looked up the word "chagrin" twice, visited Failblog 12 times, visited Lolcatz 9 times, organized her desk, ordered a book from Amazon , reorganized her desk, cancelled the order from Amazon, changed her desktop wallpaper 5 times, ordered a DVD from Amazon, found the same DVD cheaper at Barnes& Noble so ordered from there instead, realized she could get it cheaper from Amazon if she combined it with the book she originally ordered to save postage, telephoned her critique partner Wendy (spending a total of 3 hours and 2 minutes on the phone, of which 3 hours and 1 minute was spent discussing Wendy's new boyfriend), visited the bathroom 6 times, visited the kitchen 14 times, counted her paperclips twice, and counted the leaves on the pot plant in her window. When Ellie eventually did start typing at 22:06, she wrote the sentence: "Samantha sighed as she gazed into his eyes." Ellie also holds the record for the least number of words typed during a single 24 hour period.

 Ellie Carbuncle procrastinating

Ellie Carbuncle setting her 2009 procrastination

Word Repetition

The record for the most occurrences of a single word in any one novel is 4, 298 held by Ellie Carbuncle (US). In her debut romantic novel "Fools in Love" the word "love" appears more times than in any other published novel in history. Ellie later went on to break this record with the sequel to "Fools in Love" titled "My Lovely Love" where she uses the word a staggering 6,089 times. Ellie also hold the same records for the second and third placed words "sigh" and "gaze" which appear 2,324 and 836 times each.

Thesaurus Abuse

In 2010, an independent panel of experts examined hundreds of bestselling books to determine the most liberal use of inappropriate words in a single novel. This honour went to Ellie Carbuncle (US) for her debut romantic novel "Fools in Love". According to the judges, Ms Carbuncle's use of her thesaurus is breathtakingly misguided, and they recorded a staggering total of 2,753 cases where the word used was not only inappropriate, but also misleading. According to the head judge: "Ms Carbuncle appears to have adopted the practice of opening her thesaurus at every opportunity and using it find the most obscure word possible. The result is a book that is not only wordy, but also virtually unintelligible to the average reader." In spite of this dubious honour, "Fools in Love" has gone on to become one of the best selling books of all time.


### Disclaimer: This article is intended as humour and should not be taken seriously. The people and books mentioned in this article are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual people or published titles is entirely coincidental. No doughnuts were harmed during the typing of this article.

Are You a Superhero?

When I was a kid I really wanted to be a superhero. Perhaps that's why I prefer to wear my underpants outside my trousers. People may point and laugh but I think they secretly know how cool it looks. In fact, when I was young I had a huge poster of Superman stuck to the wall next to my bed. I suppose it was comforting to think that someone so strong was watching over me as I slept. Also it was useful for hiding the escape tunnel I was digging at the time.

Superman was the first superhero I really admired. Later came Spiderman with his nifty web-flinging and his witty one-liners. Then I discovered Batman with his amazing utility belt and cool Batmobile. At some point I came across a comic featuring Captain America and he became my favourite superhero. I don't know why I liked him. I think it was because of his gritty determination. And he had that awesome shield.

I was thinking about superheroes recently and it occurred to me that there are degrees of "superhero-ness". We have Superman at the top, with his fairly comprehensive array of superpowers and virtual indestructibility. Moving down the list, we see various strengths and weaknesses until we come to Batman, who isn't really a superhero at all, just a rich guy with some expensive toys and a thirst for revenge. It then struck me that we all fit onto the scale of superhero-ness, even if some of us may be pushing the envelope at the bottom end of the scale. We may not be "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound" but we can still do things at varying levels of ability. I then wondered where I would fit on such a scale.




Faster than a speeding bullet.

Almost as fast as a speeding bullet, depending on the top speed of his current Batmobile.

Faster than a speeding slow person.

More powerful than a locomotive.

Possibly as powerful as Stephenson's Rocket, depending on what gadgets he is carrying on his belt at the time.

More powerful than a toy locomotive (the plastic kind, not those tough metal models--they really hurt if you tread on them in your socks).

Able to leap tall buildings in a single  bound.

Able to propel himself to the top of a tall building using the grappling hook attachment he is (hopefully) carrying on his belt at the time.

Able to avoid walking into tall buildings in a single bound.

So, as you can see, we can all be superheroes. We may not be as super as Superman and we may not be as heroic, but we all have our own special abilities. We are all unique and have our own strengths and weaknesses, and every one of us can proudly wear our underpants outside our trousers knowing how cool we really look.

Here is a list of my own superpowers. What superpowers do you have?



Spatial Displacement

The ability to move from this place to another place using nothing more than my legs or, for distances greater than the end of the garden, my trusty Rover 200 5-door Hatchback.

Limited Precognition

The ability to see into the Present.

Intra-Cranial Time Travel

The ability to return to any time in the past inside my head, just by closing my eyes and using my Super Memory.

Super Memory

The ability to recall past events and long* numbers.

Spousal Emotion Transmutation

The ability to annoy my wife just by saying certain words and doing certain things**.

Trans-Living-Room Channel Adjustment

 The ability to change the channel on my Technomechanical-Visualisator (TV) using nothing more than a little box with numbers*** (and a "menu" button that should never be engaged as it renders the TV unusable) without having to leave the comfort of my bed.

Super Ingestion

The ability to consume enormous amounts of cheesecake using only my Adjust-A-Button and the holes on my Super Adjustable Belt.

Super Speed

The ability to travel at speeds of up to 4mph using my legs or, with the aid of my trusty Rover 200 5-door Hatchback, close to 60mph****.

Super Snore

Renders anyone within my immediate vicinity almost completely deaf. Also activates the Spousal Emotion Transmutation power. Unfortunately, this power can only be used when I am asleep so is therefore actually useless.

Super Thick Skull

This power enables me to push on with any plan of action, no matter how irrational or stupid, and no matter how many people have advised me that it is a bad idea. This power can also be used to avoid doing things I should be doing. I am actually applying this power right now by writing this blog when I should really be finishing my novel. 

Super Anvil Drop

The ability to drop heavy things on the toes of my enemies (and often my own as well). I like to use an anvil for this but they are quite heavy and the trunk of my trusty Rover 200 5-door Hatchback is a bit small, so I normally use whatever comes to hand, such as a hammer or a vase. May activate my Spousal Emotion Transmutation power, depending on the price of the vase.

* Only works for numbers up to 3 digits in length. After that, the power tends to weaken rapidly. Is practically useless in the case of Internet passwords.

** Or not doing certain things.

*** "Borrowed" from Bruce Wayne while he was busy trying to figure out how to get into his latest Batmobile.

**** Recorded downhill in a tailwind and with go-faster stripes engaged.

Here There Be Giants

I was doing a virtual tour of Holland using Google Maps recently when I stumbled upon an intriguing set of images in The Hague. Thanks to a fortunate coincidence, it would appear that giants are alive and well and living on the beach in the Netherlands.

The Grace Awards

Alpha Redemption has reached the finals of The Grace Awards, a reader's choice award of faith-based fiction.

Results will be announced on May 12th. You can see all
finalists here.

Is it a bird. . .?

There was panic across Europe today when a strange blue object appeared in the clouds over the continent. This object has since been identified by scientists as "the sky". 

In a press release, the government asked citizens to remain calm while they attended an emergency fact-finding meeting in a luxurious nuclear bunker two miles beneath Brussels. 

Mass hysteria ensued at the subsequent appearance of a bright yellow object that scientists claim is actually a mythical celestial object the Ancients once referred to as "the Sun". 

The head scientist at the University of Stuff We Don't Understand in Amsterdam was quoted as saying "Wow" as he emerged from a coffee shop in the city centre to join the throngs of people gazing up at the astonishing sight amid the screams of "I'm blind! I'm blind!" and the hiss of disintegrating vampires.

Work, work work.

They say all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. I must be the dullest person alive today. I just checked the date on my last blog entry. November 8th, 2010!! That's like, a year ago. Okay, so it's only four months, but still. That's like, almost half a year ago! And the reason for so much effort and so little leisure? I would tell you but that would make me even more dull. Suffice it to say: I'm busy. 

All right, if you must know. The biggest culprit is my next story. Last night I passed the 58k mark, which puts me about 10k from the finish, which means I'm approaching the climactic plot climax (ed: redundant).

As is the way with me, my mind now won't shut down. I listen to audio books on my daily commute but it's hopeless because I keep thinking about my own story when I should be concentrating on the book I'm listening to. I then have to rewind and pick up where I left off. I also tend to slip into edit mode, which means I listen out for errors. This morning I heard the same word repeated five times in about thirty seconds. I wanted to telephone the author and complain. 

So I estimate "Hanzet, the Universe, and Everything" will be ready for editing by the end of February. Maybe then I will find time to relax, but I don't think so.

Facial expressions androids will never be able to master #3

The combination of anger, frustration and resignation on the face of a mother standing at the checkout counter after dragging her children and a full trolley all over the supermarket, only to discover that her youngest and brightest has been using her credit card as a teething device.

Some Things Don't Make Sense, Until You Try Them For Yourself

I tell anyone who will listen that I first learned about cheesecake at age nineteen, and kick myself for not trying the stuff sooner. I think it was because some things just don't make sense. For example, you wouldn't put a teaspoon of jam in your morning coffee, or eggs in your ice-cream sundae, or bubble-gum in your pancakes. 

So who first came up with the notion that putting cheese in a cake was a good idea? In my mind, cheese + cake = does-not-compute. I suspect it was an accident, because I can't imagine someone holding a tub of fromage frais in one hand and a cake base in the other and thinking...well, you know what they must have been thinking. And yet, it works. For some unknown reason, cheesecake actually tastes very nice. In fact it tastes very, very nice (or at least to me it does). 

I waited nineteen years before taking the plunge, which is about the same time I waited before deciding to open my heart to God. For years, Christianity didn't make any sense to me. I always thought strength came from being big and tough and never letting anyone beat me down. I never realised that true power lies in walking away, or turning the other cheek, or simply loving those who hate you. 

I now realize that Jesus was the strongest man who ever lived, not because he could knock another man to the ground (which I reckon he could - he was a carpenter after all), but because he let them knock him to the ground - and he still loved them.

Facial expressions androids will never be able to master #2

The sheer joy on the face of a baby experiencing a belly laugh for the first time.

I Invented Something Amazing, but Forgot What it Was.

A few years ago I was thinking about those cat's eyes you see in the road to light the way. They're simple but very effective, and they have made their inventor very, very wealthy. I started thinking about things that would be useful but simple to make. One night I woke up and had a brilliant idea. Was it useful? Check! Was it simple to make? Check! Would it make me very, very wealthy? Perhaps. So I went back to sleep, dreaming of my invention and the end of my financial woes. The next morning I tried to think about my marvellous brain-child, but it was gone. I dug deep into my memory, but came out with nothing.

They say the human brain never forgets anything, and that it is the retrieval of information that people struggle with. They say the best method of remembering something is to try your hardest for a minute, and then forget about it. Have you ever tried to remember a name then given up, only to have it pop into your mind later on while you where thinking about something completely different? Well I tried that. I gave it my best shot and then forgot about it. It's been four years and it still hasn't popped into my mind.

Maybe one day it will, but I suspect it probably wasn't as brilliant an idea as I originally thought. Perhaps it already has made an appearance, but I didn't recognize it because it was rubbish. Whatever, but I now keep a pen and a pad of paper next to my bed, just in case. And that has turned out to be really useful for remembering story ideas that come to me while I'm asleep.

So now I'm thinking that maybe that was my brilliant idea...

Facial expressions androids will never be able to master #1

That goofy, droopy-eyed look that comes with the complete loss of control of all facial muscles during the half-second immediately prior to an epic sneeze.

How Not to Catch a Pigeon

Not so long ago a pigeon appeared in our back yard. It had plastic rings around its legs so we knew it belonged to someone. I checked the Interwebs and found oodles of advice. It seems that homing pigeons get lost all the time.  

Anyway, the advice for dealing with a lost pigeon boiled down to simply leaving it alone for a few days. It is probably just tired and needs a rest. If it hasn't left after a day or two, try to catch it and read the tags on its legs, which should have a unique code that can be checked online. So we waited. My family nicknamed it Geoffrey and we gave it bird food and water. At some point we left the garage door open and it moved in, where it set about painting everything in Bird-Poop White.  

After a week, Geoffrey looked set to stay, so we decided to investigate the tags. We did research on how to catch a pigeon. One method suggested sitting and waiting at the end of a trail of bird seed. The other proposed sneaking up on it and just grabbing it--gently. We tried both and failed miserably.  

The final method involved herding the poor creature into a corner and a throwing a sheet over it. This one came with a warning. If you fail the first time, don't bother trying again because the bird will be on to you. So we got Geoffrey into a corner and threw the sheet. Needless to say, we missed and, as predicted, Geoffrey became wary and would not come anywhere near us. He moved out of the garage and spent more and more time away. One day, he never returned.  

Geoffrey, wherever you are, good luck. We hope you are well. And thanks for redecorating the garage.

One month and counting. . .

When you are writing, do you ever take the easy route? By that I mean do you come to a scene and, instead of sweating over how to make it as good as it can be, you rush through it? Or maybe you sneak a little bit of “telling” in when you should really be “showing”? Maybe you whitewash over it when you ought to be getting the easel out and experimenting with the full palette at your disposal. Perhaps you use flat language when you really need to reach for that perfect metaphor. Or you ignore pacing and tension just because you want to get to the intense action scene in the next chapter where you get to describe the battle between the robots and the mole-people.

I’m guilty of doing all these things because there are times when I simply don’t feel like doing more than the basics. Sometimes I’m tired or bored and just want to move on to a more interesting bit of the plot. I do it hoping that noboody will notice. I stand there whistling a nonchalant tune, with my hands in my pockets and my freshly-waxed halo tilted at a jaunty angle, and I push a dull, half-baked, uninspired piece of prose under the carpet. After all, who is going to care if the rest of the writing is to a reasonable standard? Who is going to care if I skip a little polishing and sweep a little dust under the rug? Everyone, that’s who is going to notice.

Some years ago, a colleague asked me to read his completed novel. It was an epic science fiction fantasy in the vein of Star Wars. He had spent many years working on it, and he was rightly quite proud of his achievement. He had previously shown me a few extracts and I was impressed. The writing was rich and flowing. The scenes were captivating. I couldn’t wait to see the finished product. Then one day he announced that it was finished and I volunteered to have a read. I was so disappointed. It contained scene after scene written in the style I had encountered in my earlier glimpses, and yet the novel did not work. The problem was not with the exciting scenes, but with the bits in between. It was as if he couldn’t be bothered to worry about the “boring” parts because he wanted to get to the interesting stuff. The end result was disastrous. It was like looking at a diamond mounted on a soda can pull. The diamond was still beautiful, but all you could see was the piece of scrap-metal it was mounted on. He sent it off to be edited. I don’t know what they told him, but he was not happy. He moved on and I’m not sure if he ever revised the manuscript. I hope he did. I hope he listened to what the editor had to say and applied it because I’m sure he would have found a publisher one day if he would just go back and do some more work.

The reason I mention this is because my story is currently at the end of the editing process. The person responible for this daunting task is Cathi-Lyn Dyck (or Cat for short). Cat works as a freelance editor and also for Splashdown Books. And, boy, she is thorough! When I received my first set of comments from Cat, I realized that not only had she lifted the carpets to check for dust, she had also pulled out a magnifying glass and done a full forensic CSI thing on it. Looking through her comments, I soon realized that all of of my moments of laziness had been spotted and dragged, dazed and blinking, out into the open. Luckily, there weren’t that many, but she spotted them all. I remember thinking while I was writing those parts: “that’ll do.” Let me tell you, they won’t do. I’m currently listening to a best-selling science fiction author. This morning I heard something that dragged me right out of a particularly interesting part of the story simply because he told me something rather than showing me, and in such a blatant way as well. By the time I got back into the plot I had lost a few seconds of dialogue and had to rewind and try again.

I’m still learning the craft and I’m aware how much I don’t know, and I think that’s important. Problems start when you think you know enough. Cat has taught me an awful lot through this process. There were things I didn’t really understand and she was happy to explain them to me until I did understand. Best of all, she “got” my story. She understood what I wanted to achieve and then helped me to get there. And she spotted things that I would never have seen in a million years.

So with a month left to go, Alpha Redemption is almost ready with just a few more bits and pieces to sort out. I’ve learned from experience not to count my chickens until they’re running around the yard in a squawking flurry of feathers, but everything is currently on track for September 1st.

And if you are looking for an editor, I can’t recommend Cat enough. She is professional, thorough, patient, and supportive in equal measure. Details of her services can be found on In Cat’s words: “My inbox is always open for general questions or hellos, and people are welcome to contact me through, Facebook, or email (on the sidebar at the blog’s mainpage).”

Cars, brick walls, and learning to drive.

I was fifteen years old when I first sat behind the wheel of a car with the intention of driving it. My mum suggested I park her prized VW Golf in the garage. I’m not sure how the subject came up. I don’t remember asking her or even discussing driving. Maybe she figured I was just getting to that age. All I know is that I ended up sitting in the driver’s seat with the keys in my hand and with my mum in the passenger seat. A few seconds later, we would be sitting in exactly the same positions, but with the nose of the car pressed firmly against the back wall of the garage and a thin pall of dust drifting slowly to the ground.

As with all of the traumatic events in my life, the whole thing is indelibly etched into the region of my brain that holds onto things that it deems so important for my survival that, if it were capable of clutching a permanent marker, it would scribble them on my forehead. I remember my mum explaining the functions of the different pedals. I remember nodding and possibly smiling with that “don’t worry, I know what I’m doing” grin that usually precedes a disaster. I recall pushing down the clutch pedal and placing the car in gear. I then recall that I pushed down on the accelerator and slowly released the clutch. With testosterone rushing through my pimple-strewn body, I clearly remember propelling us towards the open garage door and the wall beyond.

Now I’m not someone who learns by watching or listening. I prefer to try things for myself. More often than not I will fail but eventually the neurons start firing in the right sequence and things begin to make sense. Was it Edison who said that, in the process of inventing the light-bulb, he discovered a thousand ways how not to make a light-bulb? That has always inspired me because it proves the old adage that discovery is ninety percent perspiration and ten percent inspiration. So what on Earth possessed me to think that I was going to be able to park the car on my first attempt?

So, back at the soon-to-be disaster: I had the car in first gear and we were drifting at a slow but steady pace towards the waiting garage. I felt cool and confident. I felt in control and in charge. I was the master of a finely tuned piece of machinery. I was also hopelessly deluded. At some point between the entrance to the garage and the wall, I forgot where the brake pedal was. I know that sounds dumb because, let’s face it, there are only three possible choices in a manual-shift vehicle and they were all right at my feet. But the neurons were not firing in sequence yet and I suspect the brain-cell that was holding the key to speed-reduction success was sending its message to my elbow or my ear, instead of where it should have been sending it: my right foot.

There was a moment of panic as my elbow, or maybe my eyebrow, tried to figure out how to stop a ton of metal from slamming into a brick wall. I turned to look at my mum and she turned to look at me with a wide-eyed expression of surprise and mild alarm that I can only assume I was also wearing. Time slowed to a crawl. If either of us had spoken I am sure it would have come out in a deep drawl that you hear when the film reel has jammed and is about to snap. And then we hit the wall.

The damage was minimal with just a small dent on the front bumper, but my confidence was splattered all over the brickwork so finely that I was going to need DNA sampling to confirm the identity. My mum said something about horses and getting back into the saddle but I was too shaken to get behind the wheel so soon. A few days later I did try again but this time I practiced braking outside the garage where there wasn’t a brick wall to punish my mistakes. Later I successfully parked the car inside the garage. Soon my mum would be leaving the car out every evening so that I could practice the simple act of starting a car, driving it a few feet, and stopping it without the aid of a wall.

So what did I learn from all of this that can be applied to writing? Well I already knew that I’m the kind of person who learns from making mistakes. And I already had a pretty good idea of the importance of having someone supportive by my side to get me back on track when things go wrong. And I knew that sometimes you can sit and stare at what should be obvious but still have no idea how to continue because your brain cells are trying to figure out that your right foot is not attached to your elbow.

No, if I learned anything from that experience, it is that sometimes God can put brick walls in your way for a reason. It could be that you need to smash through and learn perseverance, because sticking with things is not easy and you will almost certainly end up with dents and scratches. Or perhaps you need to stop and take a different route because the one you are on is a dead-end. Or maybe He is trying to tell you that you’ve reached where He wants you to be and it’s time to turn off the engine and just rest in Him until He says it’s time to get moving again.

These days, if I see a brick wall, I still get nervous and I have times when I panic, but I try to remember to figure out if and why God might have put it there and, more importantly, what He wants me to do about it.

Yet more excuses not to write

I’ve been trying my best to think of something interesting to tell you in the lead up to Alpha (sorry, Alpha Redemption) being let loose on an unsuspecting world. I was hoping to have some fascinating snippets of esoteric information to share with you regarding the arcane inner workings of the publication business. The only interesting thing I’ve done (no, really) is to sign up with the Chicago Manual of Style Online in the hope that I could, hopefully, pick up some tips on how to improve, where possible, my use of and application of, commas, because, apparently, too many commas, can make, your, text, virtually, unreadable. Or so they say.

I suppose I could tell you about the re-reading, and re-checking, and re-re-reading. Or I could tell you about the gnawing feeling that you’ve missed something somewhere in the manuscript that you’ll only spot when the thing hits the shelves. Or maybe I could mention the glaring error I spotted this weekend in a rather important plot point that required a quick rethink and some hasty alterations but which, ultimately, actually turned out for the best. Or I could tell you about the anxiety that comes with suspecting that this is really all just a weird but wonderful dream and that any moment now you are going to wake up. I could tell you about all these things but, to be honest, all that has happened is that I have found yet more excuses not to write.

Does editing count as writing? I’m not sure. Certainly I’m thinking about writing but that’s not the same as tapping away at those keys as if your life depended on it. I’m making corrections but that’s nothing close to hammering out a brand new, fresh-out-of-the-box story complete with that wonderful new-plot smell. Does fretting about character and development and pace count as writing? In my dream-world it does, but this is not that world (I know this because donuts do not grow on trees), and so I have to log those hours in the “Time Wasted” or “Not Really Doing Anything Constructive” columns of my swanky new time-management system that basically consists of my desk disguised as a post-it note.

Sometime over the next few days I have to stop tweaking the manuscript and hand it over so that Splashdown Books’ editor, Cat, can have a good laugh. This, too, makes me nervous but then I bet that doesn’t surprise you. I enjoy writing but I also take it a little too seriously and so always want to improve on it. And I always think it could be much better. I’m told this is a common trait among the artistically inclined. Normal people look at what we’ve done and see a story that they like or don’t like. We look at it and see dodgy dialogue, problematic punctuation, clumsy characterisation, and annoying alliteration. To be honest, at this point I can’t see anything anymore, never mind a story. So maybe this is a good time to hand it on to someone who knows what they’re doing and trust their judgement. Between Grace and me, we should have found most of the errors, so hopefully Cat won’t laugh too hard.

Celebrity book deals, donuts, and answered prayer

I have moments of weakness.

I’m a lot better than I used to be but I still have a problem handling lucrative celebrity book deals. I have been at peace with the whole me-not-yet-published thing for some time now, but there’s something about celebrities being fawned over by publishing companies that irks me to the very soles of my waterproof Wellingtons.

If you are anything like me, the news that someone rich and famous has been published usually results in a carb-fueled slump because, hey, I’ve got a perfectly good story gathering dust on my hard drive, but no agent or publisher has shown the slightest bit of interest, even though I’ve thrown my heart and soul into it and everyone who’s seen it has loved it and I’ve polished it so hard they could use it in the Hubble telescope.

As a general rule, the depth of my slump is directly proportional to the prior fame of the lucky “author”, multiplied by their wealth, plus the square of the distance of the source of that person’s fame from the actual art of writing. So, for example, a wealthy heiress socialite receiving a book deal will generate more negative emotion than, say, a well-off celebrity librarian.

If you are anything like me, you will later come to your senses because a) the world isn’t fair, b) you’re a Christian and should not covet someone else’s lucrative book deal and, c) you’ve run out of donuts. You will then dust off the manuscript and get busy doing what you love to do, happy in the knowledge that a book contract handed to a famous sportsperson or singer has absolutely nothing to do with literature and everything to do with making money. You will then remember that it is impossible to serve God and Mammon, that God is in control, and that He may have something special waiting for you if you will just persevere and be patient and trust in Him.

So, knowing all this, why do I still get depressed when I see someone with more money than they will ever need being handed even more of the stuff by the same cash-strapped industry that only recently regretted to inform me that, although my story was very interesting, it did not fit well on their list? I guess it comes down to this: I’m only human and being a Christian does not make me a better person than anyone else, plus there’s the fact that I’ve poured years of my life into my stories only to see someone who probably hardly ever even reads (never mind actually writing something down) being presented with something I have dreamt about every day of my life for the past decade. In such circumstances I feel entitled to wallow in a little self-pity. I think I’ve earned that right.

Of course it’s different with struggling writers. When I see someone who, like me, has worked hard and forged on in spite of seemingly impossible odds, I feel happy for them. Sure I still get a pang of envy and wonder what it must be like to finally get that answered prayer, but this is tiny compared to the kinship I feel. They have “made it” so maybe I will too one day. After all, they have not found a publisher based on the saleabilty of their face or marketabilty of their name. They have found a publisher through hard work, on the strength of their writing, and because they stuck to what they believe God has called them to do. That gives me hope and pushes me to carry on.

It has been many years since I first felt the call to write and almost as long since I received my first rejection letter. In the meantime I have seen more celebrities being handed book deals than I care to remember and consumed more donuts than I would admit to other than under a polygraph test. I have written enough words to fill six novels and received enough stock rejection letters to build a papier-mâché tank. I have waited a long, long time for the day when someone would like one of my stories enough to take a chance on it and put it into print with their company’s name (and reputation) on the cover. In fact I’ve been waiting so long I have almost forgotten how not to wait (if that makes sense). You can imagine my surprise then when the letter I have been waiting for for so long finally arrived late last week. It hit my in-tray with an audible “thunk”. It was not the expected stock rejection letter. Rather, it was a contract with my name on it, and a space for my signature, and everything.

Yes, Alpha has found a home and I am very excited about this. What is even more amazing, however, is that I did not even submit anything to this publisher. They spotted my story in the MLS contest and liked the premise.

I hope you will get encouragement from what has been a very long wait by a fellow struggling author. I hope it will motivate you to push on in spite of the odds and those depression-inducing celebrity book deals.

All going well, Alpha will be available through online stores from September 1st. I’ll prepare a proper announcement with full details closer to the time.

In the meantime, I plan to spend the intervening period grinning like an idiot and will more than likely treat myself to a donut or two.

We get to write stories!

I was thinking the other day about a film I saw a few months back. It was “The Rookie” starring Dennis Quaid. If you haven’t seen it, it is the true story of a middle-aged man who gets a second chance to try out for major league baseball. He leaves his family and job behind and hits the road. At some point, when things get tough, he loses sight of his goals. Disillusioned, he considers quitting. While out walking on day, contemplating his future, he passes a group of school kids playing a game of baseball. He realizes that these children are playing for the sheer joy of it. In a “eureka” moment he turns to a colleague and says: “Do you know what we get to do today Brooks? We get to play baseball!”

Sometimes when I’m writing I forget why I started in the first place. I get so caught up in the desire to succeed that it becomes a chore and I lose sight of the sheer joy of writing. I mean, how many people can say that they get to create worlds in their spare time? We start with a blank sheet or paper or a flashing cursor on an empty screen and before long we have created a living, breathing universe full of living, breathing characters with their own distinct personalities and lives. Without us, these worlds would not exist. Without our imaginations these characters would never have a chance to share their fears, triumphs, loves and disappointments with anyone other than ourselves.

These worlds may not be real in the physical sense but that does not diminish their value. I don’t know about you but when I read a book, the world becomes a part of my experience. I may not be able to reach out and touch it but the memories of that world are as real to me as my memories of anything else. Lord of the Rings is sheer fantasy but, in my mind, the Shire is as real as any other place I have ever visited. When I walk through a field or reach the top of a hill, I am reminded of any number of hills and fields from my past but also, somewhere deep inside, I also remember the Shire and the Hobbits. The Shire only ever existed inside Tolkien’s head — until he wrote it down and others had the chance to experience what the author had dreamed up.

Writing is the ultimate creative pursuit and we can use it to enrich the experiences and memories of whoever desires to follow us down the road we have walked in our imaginations. What a privilege that is, to build a universe and then make it part of the history of another person. What a joy that is. To paraphrase Dennis Quaid’s character: “You know what we get to do today? We get to write stories!”

Sci is for Science

You don’t want to watch a sci-fi film while I’m in the same room–you can trust me on this. I annoy people. I annoy myself. I don’t know why but I just can’t seem to make it through an entire movie without flattening the pause button and saying something like: “Come one, that’s not right!”

I’m like that with most films but sci-fi is the worst. Appeals to “dramatic license” fall on deaf ears with me. Maybe two hundred years ago, during a play, when all the actors were men and the props were made of string and cardboard, but not with today’s technology and the general understanding of how things work. Today there should be no need for dramatic license. Okay, there are exceptions where license is evoked on purpose (see Gattaca for example) but I’m more concerned with those stories that try to come across as scientifically sound but then go and fail on the basics.

I’m better than I used to be but I’m still not completely healed. I still can’t watch Star Wars without getting irritated, and irritating my family. I enjoy the films immensely (I’m one of the four people in the world who actually like Jar Jar Binks) but some things just bother me. “The principles of aerodynamics don’t work in space because there’s no air,” I say. “Yes we know Dad,” my kids moan. “Now please can you unpause the film?” I’ve tried to reason that perhaps the ships contain multiple jets positioned all around the body that give the impression of flying in an atmosphere for the comfort of the pilot, but you never see the jets, so I get irritated. And don’t get me started on explosions in space; engines that constantly burn in space; engines that make a rumbling sound in space… I know Star Wars was created a few years ago now but please remember that Alien was made around the same time, and that film is still my benchmark for modern science-fiction.

Last year I entered my story “Alpha” into the Marcher Lord Select contest. I don’t make any claims to being anything more than a mediocre writer but I do go to great pains to make sure my science stands up to scrutiny. I may struggle with the finer points of pace, dialogue, and grammar, but I try to get the science right. If I’m a stickler for details while watching films, you must know how bad I am while writing my own stories. Take artificial gravity for example. In my previous story “Hour” I went to great trouble to make life on the space ship believable. The main body was a large drum that rotated to generate artificial gravity based on centrifugal force. I investigated the effects of this kind of system and discovered some wonderful quirks associated with living in a centrifuge. For example, if the cylinder is too small then the astronaut will experience substantially more gravity in their feet than in their head, which means the whole thing needs to be of a certain size to make it effective. While thinking about this I also realized that if you start the thing spinning while in space without the astronaut being in contact with the inner surface, he or she will just float (possibly only inches above the floor) while the cylinder spins around–at least until the air catches up and gently starts nudging them along.

While writing “Alpha” I spent many hours studying up on the Alpha Centauri star system, including its distance from Earth; the time it would take to get there at light speed; the time it would take to get there at normal speeds; the three stars that make up the system including their orbits relative to one another as well as their sizes, hues and intensity in comparison to the Sun. I also tried to ensure that the trip there and back was depicted realistically. Time behaves differently as you approach the speed of light and so I wanted to make sure that this was shown correctly and consistently. In the story I used the concept of “genetic reversal” to make things more interesting. This bit is pure fantasy but not outside the realms of possibility. To aid my quest for accuracy I created a spreadsheet containing all the data for the trip including the astronaut’s age, the elapsed journey time, the elapsed time on Earth, the distance from Earth, the distance to Alpha Centauri, the effects of hyper-sleep, etc…

So you can imagine my dismay when, during the Marcher Lord Select contest, it was suggested by more than one person (not you, Keven) that perhaps the science in “Alpha” was questionable or not believable. I could actually feel my blood-pressure going up as I read these comments. I had to repent for the bad thoughts that entered my head because I had put so much effort into making sure my science was good and yet here were people suggesting that it wasn’t. The ironic thing is that the science isn’t even that important to the story, so I felt doubly offended. As it happens, the science is merely a backdrop to the important stuff but, being the way I am, I wanted to make sure it was right. No wobbly string and cardboard props in my story. No way. Not if I can help it anyway.

So what’s my point? In the words of Lieutenant Columbo: “No point. I just wanted to get some things straight”. Plus I needed a way to sneak in a mention that I’m due to have a second short story published in May. And it was a chance for me to get some free advertising time for “Alpha”.

“My Girlfriend” is scheduled to appear in the May edition of Digital Dragon (or so I’m told). I’ll link to it when it appears if you’re interested in taking a look.

What Motivates You to Write?

I’m in the Doldrums at the moment, at least as far as my writing is concerned. I’ve got the sails up and the hatches battened down and I’m ready to hit the high seas of literary endeavor but there’s not a breath of wind out there. I am adrift on a sea of words but the gusts of inspiration aren’t blowing and, wouldn’t you know it, I forgot to bring the outboard motor, and the dodgy metaphors are gathering like seagulls around an overloaded fishing trawler.

Which is why I’m writing this now. Here on the New Author Fellowship we’re supposed to average about, approximately, roughly, one blog entry a week and I already did mine on Friday. But I’d rather be doing this than getting on with what I should be doing, ie. writing my novel. I’ve pondered this tendency I have of getting stuck and think the problem is that I can’t do more than one thing at the same time. I can’t multi-task. It’s probably a lame excuse, but I can’t think of any other reason. Here’s an example:  I once walked, day-dreaming, into the bathroom with an arm-load of dirty laundry, lifted the toilet seat, and was about to drop the clothes into the toilet when my brain switched over from what it was doing just in time to avert a water-closet disaster. Sometimes I’m surprised I can breathe and walk at the same time.

So what does multi-tasking have to do with writing? Well, for years I just dabbled with writing but didn’t bother with the whole looking-for-publication thing. It was liberating to be able to scribble with my crayons without worrying whether or not someone loved it or hated it or, worst of all, couldn’t be bothered to read past the first paragraph. Of late I’ve been submitting all over the place. Currently I’ve got two short stories waiting to go to print, a novel with a publisher, and another entered for a competition. My brain can’t cope with so much activity at the same time. My brain can’t multi-task. If it tries, clothes may get wet and toilets could end up getting blocked.

I have a theory about this. I think it may be a male thing. Many years ago I wanted to be a psychologist. I figured I could help people. But while studying Freud and Skinner and the likes I slowly came to the conclusion that I didn’t really believe in my heart that psychology can help people. Later on, when I became a Christian, I discovered Someone who actually can and does help people, so perhaps God was showing me something. Perhaps He was leading me away from my chosen path towards His chosen path. It was also about this time that I read a statistic somewhere that more psychologists commit suicide each year than patients, which was enough to help me decide. And so after two years of study I dropped psychology and pursued my plan-B career. Was it a waste? Maybe, but I don’t think any kind of learning is a waste. For example, something  I did learn in those two years was that male and female brains are slightly different in a fascinating way. It seems that the corpus callosum (the bit of the brain that joins the hemispheres together) is larger in a women’s brain than in a man’s. I found this intriguing because it meant (at least to me) that this would make men tend to be either logical or emotional but not both, while women on the other hand could be both logical and emotional at the same time (which is why women always win arguments). This theory may also go some way towards explaining why women are better at multi-tasking than men. Which might be the reason why I can’t write and wait for the dreaded rejection slip at the same time. My corpus callosum is too small.

Yes, I know this is pretty tenuous as theories go, although I did put this idea on a web site many years ago and recently saw it on another site as a serious theory. So perhaps we’ll see it in the psychology text books one day (remember: you saw it here first :-) ).

So what to do to get out of this sorry state of inertia? Normally reading another novel gets me going because sometimes I look at what I’ve written and wring my hands at the dullness of it all but then it just takes a quick look at a few paragraphs of one of my favorite authors to make me realize that writing can’t always be exciting. Sometimes you need to develop your characters and slow the pace down a little bit so that the exciting bits can actually feel exciting. Sometimes you just have to tell your story. If every scene is a thrill-ride, the how will your reader recognize the thrilling bits when they come along? Reading someone else’s work lets me see this and usually helps, but not always.  Sometimes I look at the page and my characters look back at me with insolent sneers and say: “So what’s next then Mrs Smarty Pants?” All I can do is look back at them and shrug and reach for the donuts.

Which leads me to the option of carb-loading. There’s nothing like a gazillion calories of jam donuts hitting your blood stream all at once to get your system revved up. I used to use this method but the side-effects outweigh (literally) the benefits by about a hundred-to-one. When I first started writing I found the effort so immense that I needed a constant stream of snacks to keep me going. I couldn’t finish a page without finishing a donut or a cracker, or handful of nuts. I’m still trying to lose some of the pounds I gained during my first novel, and that was twelve years ago.

So carb-loading is bad. Donuts are not an option. What else? I once read that writing is like sailing a ship at night. All you can see is the stretch of ocean illuminated by your ship’s lights plus the occasional lighthouse. You have to treat your story like an adventure that you discover as you go. You have to let the story carry you.  I like that illustration but, unfortunately, the fog around my boat is so thick at the moment I can’t see a thing. And did I mention that there’s no wind?

Another piece of advice says that if you’re stuck, just write. The idea is that the act of writing will be enough to get the ideas flowing or, put simply: you can’t write if you’re not writing. Good advice but what do you do if the mere act of loading the manuscript into the word-processor makes your arms feel weak?

Of course, there’s always prayer. I include this last because, until recently, prayer has been my last resort when it comes to writing (and many other things as well). That probably sounds dumb coming from a Christian but, sadly, I’m no brain surgeon. I usually figure that God has got more important things to do than worry about my silly story. But then I remember why I’m doing what I’m doing. If God wants me to write–and I believe He does–then praying should be the first thing I do, not the last.

Okay, so here’s my plan: I think that once I’m finished with this blog I’m going to try all of the above (except the donuts). I’ll start with prayer, then I’ll read something by my favorite author, then I’ll just start writing until the fog clears enough for me to see where I’m going. Maybe then the winds will fill out my sails and get me moving again.

So what do you do when you get stuck in the Doldrums? What helps you get writing when it’s the last thing you want to do?

Time is a Funny Shape

Time is odd isn’t it? It appears to trundle along in the background, minding its own business, without pomp or ceremony, head down and jaw set, never deviating from its path as it marks out our days, months, seasons, and lives. But is it really doing that?

When I was young I wasted so much time. It’s criminal really. I spent hours just sitting there waiting for something to happen. I remember one time sitting on the beach while my mum and step-dad had a blazing row. I don’t remember how long I sat there but it was a long time. Or at least it felt like a long time. It felt like an eternity as I dug my toes in the sand wondering if this would be their last fight or just another in an ongoing series of fights. It turned out to be the latter, which meant more spells on the beach, or in my room, or in the back seat of the car–waiting. But waiting for what? Waiting for something to happen I guess. Waiting for something to change.

Sometimes I look back at the time I wasted and my heart aches. When I was about ten I saw a toy car on the shelf of my local shop. As toy cars go it was magnificent. It was a remote control Aston Martin from the James Bond films. It was gun-metal gray with tinted windows and chrome bumpers and it even had a sliding shield behind the back windscreen that you could roll up to foil the baddies and their bullets. It was also way too expensive. I worked out that it would have taken me ten weeks of pocket-money to buy that car. That meant ten weeks without spending a cent on anything else. I tried so save but it was too difficult. A year later we left that place and the car was still there gathering dust. I remember being upset that I had not saved harder. I remember being upset that I had wasted my pocket-money instead of putting it aside for that amazing toy.

We think time is travelling at the same pace but it isn’t, or at least it doesn’t seem that way. In fact, time appears to have gears. I once sat in a double Geography lesson and could have sworn that the second-hand went backwards at some point. They say a watched kettle never boils. Well a watched clock in double Geography can defy the laws of physics. It didn’t help that the teacher’s nickname was “Sleeping Pill”. We once came into the class after lunch to find a kid fast asleep at his desk. He woke, stared around at us with one blood-shot eye, grunted, and staggered out into the corridor. The teacher seemed to find it amusing. Maybe she was used to it.

Time also has rocket boosters. Last weekend, for example, broke some sort of universal law or set some new intergalactic speed record or something. I blinked and last weekend vanished. It was Friday afternoon, I blinked, and it was Monday morning. I was outraged. I felt robbed. I wanted my weekend back. When I was a kid, days lasted forever. These days I can just stand there and marvel as it flies by with its boosters spitting flames. When I was four years old a day was like a lifetime; a week was an age; a month was an eternity. At four, I couldn’t even wrap my little head around the concept of a month. At four, a month felt as far away as the ends of the universe. Back then, time didn’t have rocket boosters–it had a Zimmer frame and slippers and bad feet.

To me, time has a shape, but it isn’t a solid shape. To me, time doesn’t so much march as ooze. It squeezes itself through gaps and around corners. It slides down hills and wobbles in ditches. It lurks around corners and plays tricks on people. In a few months I will be celebrating my forty-third birthday. I remember my mum’s forty-third birthday. It was actually her fortieth birthday mark-IV because my mum decided that forty was her limit. She died seventeen years later, aged forty. At the time she announced that she was staying forty I laughed but I think I understand how she felt. I don’t feel forty-three. I feel more like thirty. Or nineteen. I feel ten years old, standing in the shop, gazing at that splendid remote control Aston Martin complete with sliding bullet shield. I feel four.

Apart from these apparent localized shifts in speed and form, I have also noticed that time appears to travelling faster and getting sleeker in a more general way, as if it is rolling down a hill and gaining speed and momentum as it goes. Months no longer feel like eternities but like weeks. Weeks feel like days. Days feel like hours. Perhaps it’s because I’m busier now than I was when I was four. Perhaps time moves more slowly when you are a child because you spend more time being bored when you are a child, waiting for something to happen–or change. When I look at my life, past and future, I see it as undergoing a sort of reverse-Doppler effect. Instead of the sound waves being compressed as they draw closer and then expanding as they move away, time-already-experienced feels squashed together while time-yet-to-be-experienced feels drawn out and distant. Perhaps time only seems to be speeding up because so much of our experience of it is in the past and we experience memories much faster than we experience actual life. After all, the speed of thought is infinitely faster than the speed of life. Take my current writing project, for example. I wrote the first chapter five years ago. This week I hope to pass the half-way mark. I remember starting the book as if it were yesterday. The end, however, feels like a million miles away.

In the Bible it says that, to God, a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. So God is outside time, or at least He experiences time differently to us. Unlike you and I, God is not limited by time and space. He can go wherever He wants, whenever He wants. For us, space and time are not concepts but rather a framework within which we conceptualize. Try to imagine no time. It’s not possible. Try to imagine no space. Same again. I don’t know about you, but I take comfort from knowing that God is not limited by the same constraints as we are. He created time and space, and I find that very exciting because, no matter how much I feel I have wasted time or not done what I could have done with that time, I serve a God who sees things differently and has it all under control. He can turn wasted time into a useful commodity. He can turn my weaknesses into strengths.

Maybe one day I’ll find that remote control Aston Martin with its tinted windows and sliding bullet shield. I hope I do because I want to show it to Jesus and I’m sure he’ll be as impressed as I was. I hope I’ll be able to show you too. It really was an awesome car.

And Here Are Today’s Headlines…

I think of myself as a writer but I once forgot how to spell “house” during a high school final exam. No lies. I don’t know why, but it just seemed to look wrong somehow. Normally my spelling is pretty good and I can rattle off long words like “floccinaucinihilipilification” and “antidisestablishmentarianism” without much problem. That day, however, I could not remember how to spell “house”.

I get that with other words sometimes as well–usually short ones. I’ll look at a word I’ve seen a gazillion times before and go “huh?”. If you don’t mind getting all Zen-like, try it for yourself. Take any word and look at it from a different angle. Take the word “flood” for example. Say it slowly and listen to the sounds. F-L-U-D. Now look at the letters. F-L-O-O-D. Doesn’t it look and sound a little weird? Okay, so maybe it doesn’t always work but it was an important exam and I was really stressed out and maybe my brain was full and the word “house” was next in line to be evicted to make room for some other, more important, rent-paying word like “tectonic” or even “pi” (now there’s an odd word).

My point is that, although I’m normally fairly alert and quite logical, I do have times when I’m not the sharpest tool in the box. Sometimes simple things just don’t make any sense to me. Perhaps I’m having a “house” moment but there is something that has been bothering me of late. Let me explain. I was watching the news the other morning like I do almost every morning before work. I did the three Ss (Smallest-room, Shower, and Shave), got dressed, made breakfast, and then sat down in the lounge to watch the news and weather. Sometimes I watch the local Dutch news to get an idea of how hard the wind will be blowing at me on my bike on the way to work, or to have a laugh at the “files” (traffic jams) which are not measured in miles in Holland but in days. This particular morning, however, I watched the international news. There was something on about the global economic crisis and how consumer confidence was picking up which meant people were spending more on stuff, which was a “good thing”. Next came some annoying adverts (why are they always louder than the regular programs?) followed by a piece on the global environmental crisis. The solution to rampant carbon emissions, the expert told me, was to use less resources and make do with what I had. So in the space of ten minutes I was told that I needed to spend more to save the economy and to spend less to save the environment. Huh?

It occurred to me then that we are in a bit of a pickle. We live in a world with a growing population that needs food and work to survive, and where market forces dictate that for a healthy economy we need to produce and sell more stuff. We also live in a world that has limited resources and which is already choking on its own fumes. We are doing something about it but is it enough? I consider myself a green person. I turn off lights when I don’t need them and I’m careful about how much water I use. I recycle whenever possible and support green industry. My car is eleven years old and has done less than 50,000 miles because I cycle whenever possible, and if I did think about buying a new car I would probably go electric or hybrid. (Electric cars are great but the energy still needs to be generated somewhere so it’s not like they don’t have a carbon footprint, so I’m still not sure about that). So what do we do? Is it “grow” or “green”? Personally, I don’t think the experts have a clue how to fix the world’s problems and are just running around like chickens fresh off the chopping block.

According to the Bible, the Earth was created perfect but got messed up by our sins. The Bible also tells us that the world as we know it will meet a rather violent end but that ultimately there will be a new Earth. So God has everything under control. That’s great news, but only if you’re playing by His rules, following (or at least trying to follow) His directions. We are all being guided towards God’s intended goal but, like toddlers in a supermarket, we need constant supervision or we’ll end up in the car park. I don’t think the experts can fix the world because, without God, it is unfixable. We continue to push Him out of our lives and then complain that He doesn’t do anything. We ignore His instructions, run into the car park, and then we complain when we get run down. Maybe if we all turned to Him and held His offered hand, He would show us how to put things right, but I think He knew that the world would get messed up but took a chance on us nonetheless. He gave us a free will to choose His fathership or to reject it, knowing that so many would choose to turn away. But isn’t that the nature of love? You can’t force someone to love you. All you can do is offer it.

So tomorrow morning, or the morning after that, when I listen to people giving completely contradictory advice for solving the world’s problems, I am going to enjoy my breakfast in the reassuring knowledge that God has got everything under control and is still offering His love to anyone who will take it.

So it finally happened…

There’s an expression in Britain (and Australia too, I believe): “backward in coming forward”. It is used to describe someone who lacks confidence or who is shy. I think that if there is any idiom in the English language to describe my personality, it is that one — although I would add the word “painfully” in front of “shy”. When it comes to coming forward, I’m as backward as they come. As a small child, I would hide under the stairs if a stranger (particularly my future step-father) came to visit. As an older child I always sat by myself on the playground and only joined in with the others if someone asked me. As a teenager I found girls fascinating but lacked the courage to even attempt a conversation with one. I had my first date when I was nineteen and notched up a grand total of two (that’s 2) girlfriends (the second one being my wife of twenty years). I was, and to some extent still am, very shy. Add to this a tendency towards being overly self-critical and you have someone who should really have “hermit” somewhere in their job title.

I worked at overcoming my shyness but they say that a leopard never changes its spots. I function pretty normally in spite of what can be an extremely debilitating affliction. I once sang “Climb Every Mountain” (yes, the one from “The Sound of Music”) by myself in front of the entire school even though I cannot sing (see Later, my first full-time job was as a fitness instructor and I once led a class of over five-hundred individuals during a charity event. During another event I was interviewed for television. So how could I do these things and still call myself shy? Quite simply: they were a performance. You see, I have learned to overcome my “backwardness at going forward” by presenting a façade when the need arises. It didn’t feel like me standing in front of a school full of boys while singing so badly it brought tears of laughter to many an eye. And it didn’t feel like me standing on the stage at the front of that hall, leading five-hundred people through an exercise routine. I was presenting what people expected to see. The real me was hiding under the stairs, watching the show with wide eyes.

Over the years my shyness has lost its edge to the point where it seldom causes problems. I still get a knot in my stomach when meeting someone for the first time and I am uncomfortable in a crowd, but I can function normally most of the time and I’m told I am pretty good company. The one thing that does cause problems, however, is my belief that I’m not very good at anything — especially things of a creative nature. It isn’t so much a case of believing that I can’t do something rather than being more aware of my weaknesses than my strengths. This lack of self-confidence makes me look at what I’ve created and think that it will never stand up to scrutiny. Many years ago, when I sent out my first story, I took a chance sending it out and was astounded that someone actually liked it. I enjoyed writing and felt called to do it but I never felt that it was good enough for God’s high standards. When publishers wrote personal comments about my work I was so convinced of my weakness that it never occurred to me that their taking time to write something instead of sending a stock rejection letter was a good sign (indeed, a very good sign). Over the years I continued to send out the odd piece, fully expecting it to be rejected. The rejections fueled my lack of self-belief. Still I sent stuff out and the rejections came back — as expected.

When I started a writing course and my tutor urged me to seek publication, I was excited but a part of me still felt that my work was too weak. I believed she must be mistaken, or lacked the experience to realize how bad my writing was (even though she was a prize-wining published author). Some more rejections reinforced this belief that I would never be good enough to write for God. To this day I still consider myself a weak writer. I look at a finished work and see nothing but problems. I love writing but feel like a small child with a fistful of brightly-colored paints. I revel in what I’m doing but would never presume to call it art. Recently I read a novel by a famous writer and almost felt ashamed to put myself in the same category as someone so brilliant at doing what they do. How dare I call myself a writer when there are people out there who can use words so powerfully? Then I remembered Moses.

The Bible describes Moses like this: “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.” It goes on to describe how he was so insecure in his abilities that he could not even do what God had told him to do. He had to ask Aaron to speak on his behalf. Do you remember the film “The Ten Commandments” with Charlton Heston? Do you remember how Moses was depicted as a powerful figure with a booming voice? According to the Bible, he was nothing like that. He doubted himself so much that he dared to refuse a direct order from God (and I thought I had problems). And yet, even in spite of his lack of self-confidence, God used Moses in a powerful way. If God can use a man such as this, then perhaps there is hope for someone like me. The way I see it, God can use anyone who is willing to be used, even if we lack self-confidence and would rather hide under the stairs. He may not ask us to part seas or to lead a nation out of captivity, but I believe that if He can use someone like Moses then He can use anyone.

All of which leads me to what I wanted to say before I got side-tracked. After thirteen years of writing, rejection-slips, and near-misses, someone has said that they would like to publish one of my short stories. No money will change hands and it will not be printed on paper (it’s an e-zine) but there will be a contract for me to sign and, more importantly, I will finally get one of my pieces out in the world for all to see. I’m so used to being told “no thanks” that I’m still a little bit in shock but, if all goes well during the editing process, my little story should appear in the October issue. I hope some of you will take the time to read it (it’s free and an easily-digestible 4,000 words) and tell me what you think. I’ll post a link when the time comes.

On the Radio

I do a lot of cycling, mostly to work and back every day. I’ve been doing it religiously ;-) for five years now. It’s five miles each way, so that’s ten miles a day, fifty miles a week, over two-hundred miles a month, averaging about two-thousand three-hundred miles a year. So over the past five years I’ve covered eleven-thousand five-hundred miles! Now this surprized me (I’ve just worked it out) because it didn’t feel so far. I mean, that’s like traveling half way around the equator, or going from Iraq to Hawaii! If each mile were a knitting stitch, I’d probably have a pair of socks by now, or maybe even a scarf and gloves (see Kristen’s post I’ve worn out five sets of tires and three bicycles. I’ve broken dozens of spokes and lost count of the punctures. I’ve cycled in sun, rain, hail and snow. One time I cycled in a side wind strong enough to bring trees down and blow trucks off the road (remind me to tell you about that one some time).

Each trip of five miles takes me about forty minutes. I cycle at a reasonable pace but not so fast that I get too sweaty (for the sake of my colleagues). For the first three years I was happy to relax, and pray, and think about my stories. In fact, I virtually wrote all four of the short stories for my writing course during those commutes.  I would come up with premises and plots and even bits of narrative or dialogue, then jot them down as soon as I got to a computer, to be expanded later. It became a very productive time for me. Then I discovered audio books.

After five years of cycling almost exactly the same route I can now recognize every tree, stone, puddle, and crack in the road. If I looked closely enough I’d probably be able to identify the rut I’ve worn into the tarmac. After finishing my writing course I realized that I was becoming bored. I was looking for a language course and found a site offering books in MP3 format. Intrigued, I ordered the advanced Dutch course from Michel Thomas and bought a cheap MP3 player. For the next few weeks I followed the instructions of my course tutor, drawing curious looks from passers-by as I repeated each word and sentence out loud (no doubt they were wondering why a complete stranger on a bicycle was asking them for “another glass of white wine please”). In the morning I would study a language, and in the afternoon I would listen to a novel. Recently I found the unabridged dramatized KJV and, after three months of listening each morning, have reached the halfway point.

All of which leads me to the point of this post. Last week my MP3 player started causing problems. It would not restart where I had left off but take me back to a previous (apparently random) chapter point. I decided to invest in a new player which also has the capability of playing a new, improved audio format. I set about loading my audio books and some music but there was something wrong and the player would not accept the files. Experience has taught me that most problems with technology can be solved if you just have the patience, but it was late so I left it for the next day. The next morning I had no KJV to listen to and no Christian music. The player, however, did have a radio.

Now I haven’t listened to the radio in ages, except for the occasional on-line Christian station. I have a collection of Christian CDs and (yikes) cassettes that keep me happy. I love a wide range of music from the Gaither Vocal Band to Skillet, from DC Talk to D.O.C., from Glad to Alvin Slaughter. I jumped through the half-a-dozen preset channels on my new MP3 player (isn’t technology wonderful?) and settled for the station with the clearest reception and the most pleasant-sounding song. I set off cycling with the music playing in my head. By the time I reached work I had listened to about five songs and a ton of adverts, and my mood was vaguely depressed. The reason I was feeling depressed, I realized, was because of the music. Of the five songs, two were about the end of a relationship, one was about the potential start of a relationship, and two were about trying to find meaning in life. The more I thought about it the more it occurred to me that that is really all the secular world has to sing about. People are trying to find a reason to live and so they look to other people to give them that reason. Their hope is in the next boyfriend, or wife, or one-night-stand. Maybe the cute girl over at the bar will give their lives purpose. Perhaps the next fling will be more than just a fling. One of the song’s lyrics included this line: “I don’t know who you are but I’m with you.” The next evening I stayed up until I had my Bible and my Christian music loaded.

Sometimes you don’t realize how far you’ve traveled until you turn and look back down the path. I traced Iraq to Hawaii on a map and it’s a long way. Sometimes when I’m writing a story I wonder if it will ever be finished. It feels as if the bottom of the page is a million miles away (or at least to Hawaii). Then, when it’s done, I look at the hefty manuscript and think: wow, I made it. Sometimes our walk with Jesus is tough and we feel as if we aren’t moving. We encounter trials and tests. Sometimes our faith gets wobbly and we have to remind ourselves why we believe. Sometimes we are in the world and perhaps a little too much of it as well. That morning when I listened to the radio and heard what the world has to offer I realized just how far I’ve come. I’m still a sinner but Jesus has washed me clean. I still make mistakes but God is merciful. I may be in the world but my heart belongs to Jesus. One day I hope to complete my journey with God and look back down the path and see how far I have traveled and say: wow I made it.

Lessons Learned (so far)

I’ve been doing this for quite a long time now and, in spite of my best efforts and being told by many people that I “should be published”, I have yet to have a single word make its way to print. Here’s what I have learned over the years as an aspiring writer:

- you can follow all the rules of good writing and produce a story of publishable standard, and not be published
- you can break all the rules of good writing and produce a story that should never have made it past the editor, and be published
- you can do writing courses and attend conferences and network for years, and not find a publisher
- you can show your manuscript to one person, who knows someone who happens to know an agent, and be published
- you can study the market and write a novel that fits perfectly with current and emerging trends, and not be published
- you can write something completely off-the-wall that flies in the face of current and emerging trends, and be published

After finding an agent and “coming close” so many years ago, and then riding the emotional roller coaster that comes with trying to get a story published, I simply gave up. Every now and then I would send a piece out. Every time it would come back with a stock letter or even (shudder) a stock slip. After each rejection I promised myself that I would never write another word. A week later I was back at my keyboard.

At some point my writing goals changed. Until recently my aim was to see my story on a bookshelf. I figured that that was where it would do the most good, right? My prayer was always: “please God, let my book be published”. When my goals changed my prayer changed as well. It became: “please God, let me become a good writer.” These days, whenever I send a story out, I pray that it ONLY be published IF it is God’s will. I would rather wait and have a book that God can be proud of than be published and regret it because it wasn’t as good as it could have been.

I think that as Christian writers we should make being published a secondary goal. Our main aim should be to glorify God by being the best writers we can be. If we focus on that and pray for God’s will, I believe that one day our books will make it to print–but only if it is meant to be. When I look back at how close my first attempt came I cringe because I have read my original manuscript and it was pretty weak. My writing is now substantially stronger than it used to be but it may still not be good enough. Perhaps I still have further to go and more to learn, but I hope not. Perhaps I have missed my calling and should never have started writing in the first place, but I don’t think so.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our goals that we miss what’s happening on the way (see Mauricio’s post : It’s fine to have a goal but sometimes we need to leave that in God’s hands. I remember as a single man being desperately lonely. I was always on the lookout for Mrs Right but, no matter how hard I searched, she was never anywhere to be found. Then one day I decided to stop looking. Within a matter of months the woman I was destined to share my future with walked into my life. I was not yet a Christian (at least not officially) but, looking back, I can see God’s guidance all the way. I now believe that my wife was out there; I just had to wait for our paths to cross. I believe the same will happen with my writing. I’ve stopped worrying about finding a publisher. I still send my stuff out but I’ve stopped fretting about it. If I’m meant to be published, I believe God will cross my paths with the right person at the right time.

Help! I’ve got Writer’s Inertia*!

There’s no excuse for it really. I’m fit (relatively) and healthy (relatively). I own a computer that almost never crashes with an English keyboard that has no sticky or missing keys. I have at least two word-processors that will format my words into a staggering array of fonts and styles including “emboss”, “engrave”, and even “hidden” (why would anyone ever need that?). Last night I had six hours of sleep, which is a lot for me, so I feel rested and alert. I am not overly thirsty nor am I hungry. I have no persistent aches or pains. There really is no excuse.

I think the problem is that I am in that strange twilight (not the book) zone where I desperately want to continue with a novel, but can’t focus because I am waiting for a finished manuscript to be read by my beta victims readers. My mind can’t seem to shake that heady mix of hope and dread that takes me back to my childhood days when I would proudly present my latest work of art to a parent or teacher in the hope of eliciting  a gasp of joy and amazement (look at the mastery of the crayon strokes, and those colors!) while secretly knowing that the legs were too short and that I had not stayed inside the rather wobbly lines.

I am happy with the completed story in that it came out the way I hoped it would. The plot moves the way I wanted it to; the characters interact in a fashion that seems realistic; the tension I wanted to inject seems to be there. And yet I am also dreadfully unhappy with it because, being of an artistic bent, I tend to be over-critical of my own stuff. For the past two weeks (since I copy/pasted it over for scrutiny) I have been unable to think about anything else. I keep loading my new novel and reading the last piece so that I can continue, but the words will not come. It is as if there is a force field over the keyboard. I have the key in the ignition but the engine will not spark. I have shoulder to the wheel but the cart will not budge. My nose is well and truly pressed against the grind-stone but the ox whose job it is to make it turn is on holiday or sick or possibly just asleep. Metaphors are multiplying in my head like seagulls behind a fishing trawler…

I call it writer’s inertia because it’s not like I can’t write at all; I’m writing this right now. The problem is that I’m in a state of motion but don’t have the willpower to alter the direction of that motion. I can write, but not what I should be writing. Last night I was sitting at a window looking out at some horses walking along in the twilight (not the book) and wondered what the future will bring. It’s all in God’s hands, I know, but I can’t help wonder: Will my story ever see a bookshelf? Will people like what they read? Will it glorify God the way I want it to? I hope so, but there’s no use fretting over such things. Faith in God also means letting Him take the lead along a precarious and sometimes scary road.

Well thanks for listening. They say a problem shared is a problem halved, or something like that. I think I just heard the engine tick over, the cart shifted a little, and the ox has woken up. I’m going to load my story and smash through that force field if it’s that last thing I do today, and I’m not going to worry at all about what my beta readers are thinking. Well, maybe just a little bit ;-) .

You know you’re a writer when…

I thought it would be fun to come up with a tongue-in-cheek list of things that describe what it means to be a writer or, more specifically, a Christian writer. I’ve started with some of mine. Please feel free to add your own.

1 – The second thing you think about in the morning is your latest story. As a Christian, your first thought should be about God.

2 – The second-to-last thing you think about at night is your latest story. See point 1.

3 – You spend all day trying to find time to write but when you finally do find the time you think of a million other things to do first, such as reading Leviticus.

4 – Other people look around and see life. You look around and see potential plot points.

5 – You try to simply enjoy reading other people’s stories but can’t help critiquing them.

6 – Spotting a typo in a published author’s novel is a source of satisfaction. You later repent of this.

7 – Spotting a major plot error in a published author’s novel is a source of joy. You later repent of this.

8 – Your bookshelf contains almost as many “how to write” books as actual novels.

9 – Whenever you read a book you look for a way of rewriting it from a Christian perspective.

10 – The Matrix is loaded with Christian allegory. So are Star Trek, Star Wars, and Dune

11 – You know what an em dash is.

Singing, discus-throwing, and writing.

Last time: Finding My Voice

I can’t sing. I don’t know why but I just can’t get the right noises to come from my vocal chords. It always sounds fine inside my head but something happens between my brain and my lips, and it’s not pretty. I stopped trying to sing in the company of other people a long time ago. I now mime the words and listen to those around me who are blessed with the ability to make music with their mouths. I used to sing but that was not good. Whenever I tried, heads would turn, brows would furrow, and the space around my person would mysteriously expand. One time I tried to help some friends remember a praise and worship tune by singing the opening bars. I thought I did a pretty good rendition but someone snickered. So not only does my singing upset people; it makes them less Christian as well.

The late, great Al Oerter at 6'4".

 It’s a genetic thing I think because my brother can’t sing to save his life. I remember standing in a tiny church at a wedding ceremony. I was in the aisle; my brother was next to me, and his wife next to him. Mum was next in line. I’ll never forget the minister because he reminded me of a humorless head teacher peering out over his glasses at a room full of naughty children. Part of the ceremony was a hymn. The organ sounded. We stood. The church was so small and the minister so grim that I decided to do the right thing and add my voice to the proceedings. I think my brother must have had the same idea. About five seconds in, at exactly the same moment, we heard each other. Perhaps it was the dour minister; I don’t know, but we both got the giggles. We probably should have stopped singing at that point but, don’t ask me why, we both determined to continue. His wife nudged him with her elbow. Then she heard us and started giggling. Mum looked across and heard us as well. Soon an expanding circle of mirth had filled a large section of the church. The minister was not happy but people left the building with tears of laughter in their eyes. Don’t get me wrong. I am sure that God gets pleasure from my singing. He sees what’s in our hearts; not what’s erupting from our lungs. When I praise Him he must surely take pleasure in this. It’s just that mankind does not share His enthusiasm.

 Some people are really good at singing. They can hit every note, and with gusto. Some are so good that they can even have some fun with it as well, trying harmonies and such. Some people can evoke an emotional response, and I don’t mean crying with laughter. It’s as if God has smiled on them and deployed angels as their personal backing singers. I love to hear others who can sing like that even though I can’t hold a note myself. Could I ever learn to sing with the angels? I doubt it. I suspect I could probably master every technical aspect of voice-control, breathing, and pacing, and still only be so good. I believe that to get the angels to back you up you need to have God’s anointing.

 You see, I believe that God has a plan for our lives and equips us to carry out that plan before we are even born. At school I took up the discus. I was quite heavily-built so the coaches handed me a flat plate-shaped thing and told me to practice. My first few throws were pathetic but, being someone who hates to give up, I persevered. A friend who was fanatical about the field events gave me some tips. I would spend hours after school going through the basic drills. First warm up; next do some arm throws from the front of the circle; then start with my right foot in the center and push through and throw; then stand at the back of the circle, spin on my left foot, jump-turn to the center, and push through and throw. I did this over and over again until it felt as natural as breathing. I joined a gym and did heavy weights. I did sprint sessions on the beach. While my friends were relaxing I was training to throw that little disc as far as I possibly could. At the end of the year we had the final contest of my school career. I arrived early and warmed up. The teachers found a 50 meter tape and two of them stood about 30 meters out, which was about the expected limit for my age group. My turn came. The discus slipped out of my hand and flew out of bounds, but it went quite far. I felt strong but nervous. I was trying to throw out of the stadium, which you should never do. In my mind I ran through the routine. The next throw I stood at the back. I could feel the weight of the discus against the last joint of my fingers. I turned to the right; crouched a little; turned onto my left foot; twisted to face the front; jumped to the center; powered through my back leg, hip, torso and shoulders; and punched my arm around, flicking the disc with my fingers as it left my hand. Everything happened smoothly and effortlessly. The discus flew straight down the field and over the teachers’ heads. They had to turn and run to mark where it landed. When the event was over they tried to measure my throw but the tape was too short. They disappeared and came back with a javelin tape. My throw that day broke the school record by almost twenty meters.

 After that, some friends asked (quite seriously) if I planned to try for the Olympics one day. The thought had never entered my head. I mulled over the idea but there was a problem: I was too short. To throw the discus at that kind of level you need to be strong, fast…and tall. My fanatical friend joked that your arms need to be long enough for your knuckles to scrape the safety cage if you want to compete in the olympics. So no matter how hard I trained I would never be able to make up for my lack of height. God did not make me tall so I believe it was not His plan for me to be a discus thrower.

 I used the examples of singing and throwing the discus because I know I cannot sing and I know I cannot throw a discus beyond a certain distance, no matter how hard I try. Knowing whether or not God wants me to be a writer, however, is not so simple to decide. Most people can write words, and sentences, and paragraphs. If you have been to school you will know how to write an essay of a few hundred words in a way that makes sense. People write every day to communicate and express ideas. Everyone writes; it really isn’t that hard. Writing in a way that entertains and delights, however, takes a little more effort. Writing in a way that lifts the spirit and leads the reader closer to God takes anointing, which is why we, as Christian writers, need to pray over every word and seek God in everything we do. We need to ask Him to keep us in His will and direct our every action. I believe that if God has called us to write He will equip us with the skill and the motivation to practice the drills over and over again until they become as natural as breathing. Not only that; He will also give us the vocal chords to sing with the angels and the height we need so that we can launch that discus clear out of the stadium.

Finding My Voice

Last time: A Growing Pile of Rejection Letters

Not so long ago I was browsing through an online music catalog to see if I could find anything of interest. Normally Christian music is listed as a separate genre. In this particular catalog, however, the Christian artists were lumped in with the all the rest under genres like “rock” and “pop” and “easy listening”. This meant that I had to trawl through thousands of artists to try to find something to my taste. What struck me was just how many bands there are out there. Every now and then a familiar name would appear, but the vast majority were names I had never heard before. That got me thinking about what it is that separates the bands that nobody knows from the BANDS that are household names. I think a lot of it has to do with the sound. Every now and then a band comes along that can make music that is not just pleasing to the ear but also distinctive. It is this unique sound that lifts them above the rest and makes them instantly recognizable. It is the same with writing. There are authors out there who are recognizable just from the way they write. Bands have a sound. Writers have a voice.

At school I learned how to string words and sentences together in a logical way to make an essay. The idea was to say what I wanted to say in an efficient, cohesive, easy-to-understand fashion without offending anyone or breaking (too many) grammatical rules. The result was effective but also very bland. I learned to get my message across but the person reading (usually my teacher) was probably happy when that message was over. Later, when I wrote my first novel, I did what I had learned at school and produced writing that got my story across–but nothing else. As a publisher said: it was solid, but not exciting. Many years later I discovered what was missing.

I wanted to liven up my resume so enrolled with a college to study towards a degree in Creative Writing. The first year was straightforward, with an introduction to the fundamentals. I picked up some good habits, but nothing that could really help me add excitement to my story-telling. In the second year, however, the concept of “voice” was introduced. It suddenly struck me. I knew what was wrong with my writing. It had no voice. My school teachers had, while training me to write in an efficient, cohesive, law-abiding way, also removed any trace of my own personality. Whenever I sat down to write a story I would immediately start thinking about the rules. I had to FORGET THE RULES! If I wanted to write as me, I had to learn to tell the story my way and not the way I’d been taught at school. I had to throw off the shackles of conformity and write from my heart. It was liberating! I determined to write until any trace of that dull old voice was gone. I wrote until I felt as if it was me telling the story. I wrote until my own personality started coming through.

I’m still looking for my voice. Sometimes it comes through loud and clear and I can write page after page without seeming to expend any effort of all. Other times I fall back into my old, safe, ways and I have to consciously force those old habits to go back where they belong. Usually this happens when I write with my head and not with my heart. I start thinking of the rules first before I put pen to paper or finger to keyboard. When I think of the rules first, the writing is safe but the joy goes, along with my voice. And isn’t that just like the Christian walk? We need to put Jesus first, and then the rules will follow through love. If we put the rules first, we may feel safe, but where is the joy and where is the love? Now, whenever I write, I do so prayerfully and in joy. The end result is a messy, but joyous, first draft. Only in later drafts do I worry about the rules. If I do this I end up with a story in which the rules are there to support the writing, rather than control it. And hopefully, one day, a publisher will have this to say: “solidly written, AND exciting.”

Next time: Singing, Discus-throwing, and Writing.

A Growing Pile of Rejection Letters

Last time: The Urge to Write

When the agent’s letter arrived asking if they could see the full manuscript I think I set a new world record for getting from my front door to our local post office. I don’t remember much about the next few weeks. Part of me wanted them to like it. Another part expected them to send me the usual rejection letter. We prayed over it and left it in God’s hands. Three weeks later a letter dropped through the mailbox. They liked The Wire but felt it needed more dialogue. I spent a week revising the manuscript. I sent if off again. Two weeks later they replied. I read the letter. I read it again. My hands started shaking. One sentence stood out from all the rest: “May we represent you in selling The Wire?”

At this point I honestly thought I had begun a new career as a writer. I immediately set about writing down three more ideas and submitted them. The agent liked them all and took them on. In the meantime, the rejection letters started coming back. The Wire ”came very close” to being published with a major company but was too similar to something they already had on their books. Comments ranged from positive (“solidly written”) to not so positive (“not exciting enough”). Almost a year after the agent took me on, they wrote to say that they could no longer represent me. My ideas were good but my writing was simply not strong enough for modern markets.

I continued submitting to publishers but every rejection letter became increasingly difficult to take. I stopped submitting but pushed on with writing stories–mainly for my children. Every now and then I would show someone my work. One colleague was so convinced that I would be published that he asked me to sign a chapter I had shown him. That same colleague showed another piece to a publisher friend who said it was “smart and witty, should be published, just need some luck.” I tried for publiication one more time. Again, the rejection letters rolled in. I decided to stop trying for publication and seriously doubted that this was what God wanted me to do. I battled with depression and my whole walk with God became shaky. Then I received two seperate prophecies from friends saying that I would be published, but not yet.

At this point I took a good look at my original manuscripts and reached a sobering conclusion: my writing, while solid, was not good enough. It lacked something. It lacked a voice. Enthusiasm and drive were not enough. I needed to improve my skills if I ever wanted to see my dreams come true. Most of all, I needed to find a voice. I looked around for ways of improving my writing but found nothing that caught my interest. Over the next two years I stopped writing to concentrate on my day job. I decided my resume needed improving and looked around for a degree I could do from home. It was then that I found an online college that offered a degree in Creative Writing. After praying about it I decided to enroll on my first ever writing course.

Next time: Finding My Voice

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