Monthly Archives: August 2012
Hey there! You’re probably wondering why today isn’t a Storytime Friday, considering it’s…well Friday. The fact is that right now I’m both in my first week of school and still working nine hours a day at the park. Sunday is my last day and after that I won’t be so busy, but right now I’m swamped. Don’t worry, I’m not going to put off my updates. But this particular update will be pretty slim. If I can I’ll post the next section of the story over the weekend, but I can’t promise anything.
So what do you get today? You get the It’s All Good Kitty.
He’s just letting you know that it’s all good. I’ll see you later.
Normally I get Sundays off of work. I asked for them off, so I could go to church, and since government workers get paid slightly more on Sundays there were always plenty of people willing to cover that day for me. This week however I had to use my days off to attend the first day of school. My school started today, and I don’t get off work until labor day. Which means tomorrow I have to go to my classes and then hop in the car for a four hour drive back home so I can work all weekend. Woohoo.
Anyway I had to work last Sunday instead of going to church. As the morning began I felt a little awkward. I needed to find some way to honor God or improve myself spiritually. I just wasn’t sure what. I was reading a book when suddenly an idea came to me:
What if I prayed for everyone coming into the park?
In case you’ve forgotten it’s my job to take people’s money when they come in. On occasion I’ve said a prayer for a customer (after they left of course; it would be pretty creepy and unprofessional to pray for them while they’re still there) but always when the customer had a bad problem (can’t find their wife, kids are sick, completely lost, stuff like that). I’d certainly never considered praying for every person who went past my booth. Hundreds of people go by my booth on a busy weekend. But the more I thought about it the more I liked the idea. I believe in the power of prayer. I believe that when we pray incredible things can happen. And here I was on a Sunday in a job that sends hundreds of people from all of the world past my door each day. Who knows how many of those people need some prayer right now? People of all types come to the park; Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, rednecks, urbanites, hippies, gangsters, nerds, jocks, Canadians, Europeans, Africans, Asians, Mexicans, South Americans, old people, young people, just about everyone you can imagine. I suddenly realized what an opportunity I had. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? Lets do it!
During the morning it was easy. Cars come in spurts, with gaps in between them. After each customer left I’d say a short prayer for them. When we hit peak hours and the cars were coming through as fast as we could move them I managed to streamline my prayer so I could say it in the five seconds I had between cars. This is what I ended up with:
“Lord, please bless them, and please use this day to bring them closer to you.”
I think it’s a good prayer, given the context. It fits for anyone. I’d want it prayed for myself if our roles were reversed.
The praying itself was an incredible experience. Here are the highlights:
I’m a Lot Happier: The customers don’t bug me much today. They still don’t pay exact change, they still ask stupid questions, and they are occasionally rude (all of which is normal) but I’m not upset. They haven’t changed, I have. I don’t get upset, frustrated, annoyed, or cynical. This is mostly because…
It’s Not About Me Anymore: When a customer normally comes up to the booth I’m thinking about myself. I want to know whether they are going to make things easy for me or not. If they don’t (by asking stupid questions, not paying with exact change, and being occasionally rude) then I get upset. I’m just concerned about myself. But since I’m praying that God would bless each person it changes my whole outlook. I can’t exactly ask God to bless them without trying to bless them myself. How can I get angry at someone I’m trying to bless? I start to think about how I can help them instead of how they can help make things easier for me. Which, counterintuitively, does make things easier for me. I’m less stressed out and at the end of each shift I feel a lot more satisfied.
This is Suprisingly Like Hiking: Just like hiking the first hour of praying is tiring, the second and third hours are exhilarating, and the final three hours are a gradual decent into exhaustion. It’s just instead of my body being tired it’s my mind and in emotions. By the end of the day I am emotionally drained, but like a long hike I don’t regret doing it.
Why Haven’t I Been Doing This All Summer?: God has given me a rich field of opportunity at the park, and I can’t help but feel like I’ve wasted it. Who knows what kind of impact I could have made if been praying for people all summer?
I might have some more insights to share later, but that’s about the gist of it. If you find yourself having the opportunity to spend a little time with strangers each day, then I would recommend trying this. Pray for everyone you meet. You don’t have to do it while they’re there, or even out loud. Just try it out; for your own sake as much as theirs.
And now the story continues (read part 1 here).
Though she was scared to go she had made up her mind. The bear nodded to her as she walked over to him in the cool evening air. “Climb on to my back” he said in a deep, but not unfriendly, voice. He kneeled down so that she could climb up, which she did with only a moment of hesitation. The bear smelled nice, like fir needles and earth. He rose to his feet and said “Hang on tightly to my fur, and do not let go.” She grabbed hold of his thick white fur until she was satisfied that she had a sure grip. She looked back at her family, who had gathered outside to see her off. Her mother looked worried and her father looked unsure. She gave them her best smile.
“Don’t worry about me,” she said. “I’ll be alright. I’m ready to go now, bear.”
Suddenly she found herself in a world of motion. The bear was running through the forest at incredible speed. Trees whipped past her on either side, but no branches touched her. She was so surprised that she nearly let go of his fur, and if she had she would have surely fallen off and been smashed to bits. She closed her eyes and concentrated on keeping her hold on his back. After a few minutes she couldn’t hear any more trees rushing past. She opened her eyes and found that they were traveling across a broad clearing beneath a tall mountain. The air of the alpine meadows was perfumed with the fragrance of wildflowers. She had never smelled anything so nice before, and it made her laugh. To her surprise the bear laughed too, a low and jolly rumbling noise.
Soon they were traveling at great speed up a steep mountain slope. Far ahead she could see lights coming from near the top of the peak. When they drew closer she gasped at what she saw. The lights came from a magnificent palace, built of beautiful and honey gold stone. The palace’s towers reached up into the evening sky toward the brilliant Northern Lights. Within moments they were there, standing before its magnificent gates. The bear slowed to a normal walking pace and as he approached the two tall and broad oak doors they opened before him as if by magic.
Inside was a large and magnificent garden, filled with every kind of beautiful plant of the high mountains. Wildflowers in all the colors of the rainbow seemed the paint the garden with streaks of light. She had never seen such beauty concentrated in one place before, and it filled her with awed silence.
“I’m glad you like it,” the bear said in his heavy voice. “I planted it just for you.” She was surprised. No one had ever made anything so beautiful for her before. “I made this whole palace just for you.”
At the far end of the garden was large door covered with silver engravings of trees, flowers, animals, and stars. When they reached it the bear went down to his knees and she carefully climbed off. She stared at the door. It was beautiful, but it had no handle or ring or knob to open it with. She reached out and touched its cold silver surface and drew her hand back in surprise. As soon as she had touched it the door began to open, its silver hinges making no sound. The bear nodded. “This is your palace. There are no doors you cannot open, and no room that is not yours to do with as you please.”
Beyond the silver door was a grand entrance hall, thirty feet wide, a hundred feet tall, and three hundred feet long. On either side of the hall and at its far end were three giant fireplaces with logs the size of tree trunks burning cheerfully and warming the massive space. Far above their heads the ceiling was made of a graceful spider web of silver framing panels of clear crystal. The Northern Lights shone above their heads, filling the hall with pulsating light. Doors lined the walls, and four grand staircases occupied the corners of the room.
They walked slowly down the hallway. She took it all in with amazement. It seemed like a dream; there was no way such a magnificent structure could exist, and if it could exist it was impossible that it could be hers.
The bear led her up one of the staircases, which slowly and gently spiraled up into the palaces tallest tower. Halfway up he stopped at a door covered with carvings of the sun, moon, and stars. The door opened and revealed a magnificent bedroom. The room itself was bigger than her entire house had been and contained a magnificent bed covered with fine furs and thick quilts. There were also dressers, and wardrobes, and a golden mirror. It was so luxurious and so outside of her experience that she almost began to cry at the sight of it all. It was too much to believe.
The bear walked slowly to an end table next to the bed, on which sat a small silver bell. “Right this bell and ask for whatever you wish and shall have it.” She said, with a hint of excitement in his voice. “Food, clothes, jewelry, anything you wish. You will want for nothing here.”
She walked over to the bell, and lifted it carefully. It was engraved with the sign of a bear. “Well…um. I guess I wish I had a good nightdress, one that would fit better in this beautiful room.” She rang the bell, and suddenly on the table before her appeared a beautiful white nightdress. She gasped in delight, and picked it up. It was as real all right, and made of fine silk. She turned the bear, her eyes moist. “I’ve never had my own clothes before. I mean clothes that were just mine, and not my sister’s old things. Thank you. Thank you so much for…well for everything. It all seems too much…” She almost was crying now. It had been an overwhelming evening.
The bear stared at her for a while, and then politely looked away as she wiped her wet eyes dry. “There is one thing you must know.” He said in a much more serious voice. “I have duties elsewhere, and must go now. But tonight, when you have put out all the lights and gone to sleep, I will come back.” He pointed his nose as a tall chair that sat facing the bed. “I will sit and watch, and sleep myself. I will do this each night. Whatever you do,” and now he looked her straight in the eyes “you must not light any candles or try to see my face. It must remain perfectly dark in this room when I am here at night. Do you understand?”
She was confused, but she nodded. It was a strange request but she felt like she would do anything in order to stay here in this magical place. “I understand.”
“Good.” The bear replied, sounding pleased. “I will go now. I will be back tonight, but when you wake in the morning I will be gone again. I have many duties, and my work will often take me away during the day.” The bear turned, and left the room. In the hallway he looked back at her. “Good night, love.” Then the door shut.
That night, as she slowly fell asleep in her bed (the largest and most comfortable bed she had ever slept in, and the first one she hadn’t had to share with her sisters), she wondered whether she would wake up the next morning and find it was all a dream. The last things she heard before nodding off were the door quietly opening, someone sitting down in a chair, and gentle breathing.
End of Part 2
Well I’ve done it again. For the second time ever I have broken my schedule. Again it was a Monday I missed. Monday’s are hard.
I had a post all planned out. I have a series on giving that I want to go through. I’ve been rereading Randy Alcorn’s book Money, Possessions, and Eternity. It’s a fantastic book that has had a huge impact on my life and I wanted to share some of the concepts with you all, while also developing some ideas of my own.
Unfortunately personal problems have gotten in my way. Right now I don’t feel capable of writing, at least not about what I was planning to write. I’m feeling down, and anxious. Hopefully things will get better (I’m taking steps to try and help that happen) and my spirits will rise again. Until then I’ll keep muddling through and post something every MWF. I could just stop writing and justify it to myself by saying “It’s just no good writing in a mood like this” but that would be self-sabotage. I started this blog to learn how to be a better writer and that means learning to write no matter what my emotional landscape may be. If you work in a factory or an office (or a national park!) you can’t call in sick just because you’re feeling down. Writing is my job (at least I’d like it to be) and I have to show it the same respect.
Still I’m not prepared to write about giving. Because I missed Monday I’m writing as quickly as I can and I don’t have some of the books and other resources I was planning on using. Don’t worry! Today isn’t just going to be personal sad stuff. I do have an actual topic; publishing short stories!
Most of you are familiar with my sci-fi short story “Insomniac”[LINK]. I wrote it on a whim but I decided to try and get it published. Nothing ventured, nothing gained after all. I looked around online and quickly found a website that offered to buy short stories. The place looked reputable but I was honest with myself; I cared about money most. I wasn’t going to submit my piece to some cheap thrown together website in exchange for a pittance; if “Insomniac “ is good enough to be published at all then I should get a fair wage for it. This first website offered 8 cents a word. I did some quick calculations; at almost 2,000 words I would receive $160 for the piece. This is a nice number (more than I make in a day, I’ll tell you that much) I had no idea if it was a good price or not, nothing to compare it to I poked around a bit with Google and found another site that was willing to buy short stories; for the “token” payment of $5! Obviously they expected to get lots of submissions by timid nerds who didn’t think their work was worth much and were just happy to be published. A word of advice to would be writers out there; it’s easy to be published these days. Just get yourself a blog, that’s what I did. Respect yourself and your work and try to get a fair wage for it. If it’s not a good enough piece to get published then you’re best off just putting it up on your blog for free then letting other people profit off your hard work.
Later I sat myself down and found a list of the ten most popular science fiction magazines around. I then found each of their websites and looked at their submission criteria. I discovered that the first site I found was a fair one and that 6-10 cents a word was the usual compensation, regardless of whether you’re published in a young sci-fi mag with little readership or one of the big boys who have been around since the 40s. The big old guys wanted only print submissions (funnily enough; you’d think people who have run a science fiction magazine for decades would be less afraid to use new technology) but there were several younger ones who took email submissions. I settled on one in particular because they promised 10 cents a word. However when I read the fine print I started to wonder if it was really a better deal than the first website I had found. The first site only offered 8 cents a word but if they chose to use my piece in an anthology they would pay me an additional 5 cents a word (13 cents total). I saw that this other magazine also reserved the right to publish my work in an anthology but I wouldn’t receive any additional payment. It’s a gamble; if I sell to the first site and they like my work enough to include it in their anthology then woot, 13 cents a word! On the other hand there was no guarantee of that, which made the 10 cents a word site a lot less risky. I started to look at the site closer. The 10 cent site wanted “First Worldwide Electronic and Print Rights”. I had no idea what that meant. Was that good? Bad? Beats me. If only I had a worldwide repository of knowledge and information at my disposal to help me figure all this out.
I love living in the information age.
One Google search later and I found a very informative page[LINK] about short story rights. This is how it works, in a nutshell.
You have the right to your work. You own it, and nobody can use it without your permission. Whenever you sell a short story to somebody you’re not actually selling them the story but just the right to use that story. The usual agreement (when working with print magazines) is for First North American Print Rights. Let me break that down into its component parts. “First” means the right to be the first to publish your work in a particular medium. If your work has already been published then you can only sell reprint rights. Sadly, most magazines don’t want reprint rights unless you’re a big name writer. You certainly won’t get top dollar for it either way. The “North American” stands for a particular geographic area. So if you’re selling “First North American Rights” then you’re selling the right for them to be the first to publish it in North America. After selling that you can sell the piece again in Europe, Asia, etc. as a “First” piece instead of a reprint. This is neat because you can sell the same story multiple times. Unfortunately with the rise of the internet geographic areas are becoming less important. You can also sell First Spanish rights or First English rights for different translations. The “Print” stands for the medium it can be published in. If you only sell someone print rights then they can’t use it on their website for example. If you sell someone Electronic rights then they have the right to publish it electronically, whether it’s on the web or CD or whatever.
Now let’s look at what the 10 cents website offered me for my work: First Worldwide Electronic and Print Rights. Now this is a lot of rights; they have the right to be the first to publish my work in the entire world in both electronic and print format. If I sell them those rights then I don’t have any first rights left. Now for a starting out writer like me that may not be a huge deal; after all I doubt I the Asian or European markets would be interested in my work. Still it is giving up the ability to sell it in multiple places as a high earning First.
It was then that I realized that I had made a huge mistake. You might have spotted it already. I put “Insomniac” up on my blog which means that technically it has been electronically published. I can’t sell “First Electronic Rights” for it. Let me tell you, that is a big problem. Most of the sites I visited refuse to even look at reprints. I considered taking it down from my blog and pretending I’d never put it up there, but I rejected that option. If I did sell the piece as a First after doing that I’d be committing fraud and it’s more important to have a clean conscience then to have $160. Still, all is not lost. I can still sell First Print Rights, though that will mean finding someone who doesn’t want the Electronic Rights which is hard to find these days. I’ll have to try some of the old, internet avoiding big guys which means going to the trouble and expense of printing it off and mailing it in with a self-addressed and stamped envelope included for their reply.
So that’s been my little foray into the publishing world. I’ll keep you updated on whether anyone buys “Insomniac” or not. For better or for worse you lucky few were the first to see its electronic debut. If you see it anywhere else please let me know. I haven’t sold Electronic Reprint rights to anyone yet.
Lets all give a shout, it’s time to start another story! Gather round, and hear the tale called “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”
East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Part 1
There was once in a small valley in Norway a poor farmer who had many children. The farmer worked hard but he could barely afford to keep his family fed and clothed. All of his daughters were pretty and his sons were handsome but the prettiest one of all was his youngest girl. She was almost too lovely, though she hardly knew it. Life as a farmer’s child had kept her from becoming proud. She was used to going to bed hungry and she had never worn a dress in her life that hadn’t already been worn out by her four older sisters. She was not neglected or mistreated, for her family all loved her. There simply wasn’t enough to go around.
One Thursday evening in autumn a powerful storm blew into the valley. The sky grew very dark, and the whole family huddled inside their tiny wooden cabin and tried to keep the fire lit as rain began to pour, the wind began to howl, and lighting flashed while thunder roared like an angry giant. The wind blew the rain against the sides of the house until the walls began to creak. The farmer was beginning to worry about wind when suddenly someone knocked three times on the door, so loud that he could be heard over the wind and the rain. The whole family looked to the door; who could be out on such a terrible night? “It must be some poor soul who got caught in the storm,” said the farmer’s wife who was a kind woman. “Let him in quick, before he catches his death of cold.”
The farmer opened up the door as quick as he could and there, in the midst of the howling wind and rolling thunder, stood a great white bear.
The farmer was so shocked that for a moment he could not move. His muscles were completely frozen. Before he could regain control over his body the bear looked him in the eyes with a benevolent expression and said “Good evening.”
“Good evening” replied the farmer, who knew his manners well. It always pays to be polite to talking bears.”
“I’ll get right to business,” replied the bear “I’m here to ask for your youngest daughter’s hand in marriage. I will take her off to live with me in a beautiful palace. In return I will make you and your family just as rich as you are now poor.”
The farmer was surprised to hear this, to say the least. Still a talking bear must surely be magic and he knew the bear would be true to his word. Still this was his youngest daughter, who he loved as much as any of his children. “That is an interesting offer, Mr. Bear.” said the farmer. “I’ll tell you what; come back in a week and I’ll have an answer for you.” The bear nodded, and lumbered off into the stormy night, disappearing into the darkness.
Well, this was an interesting development. The farmer went back into the house and explained what had occurred. Everyone was astonished, but no one more so than the youngest daughter. She certainly didn’t want to marry a bear and leave her family behind. And that was that.
Or it would have been, except that her family very much wanted to be rich. They weren’t heartless, mind you; but the bear had said she would be kept in a beautiful palace so they knew she would be safe and comfortable. She’d certainly have better food and clothes than they could give her. So all week long they talked it over with her. They told her how rich she would become, how they would be much better off, and how excellent it would be for her to have a fine palace to live in. Slowly they began to change her mind until Thursday came again and she agreed to marry the bear. So she washed and mended the few raggedy clothes she had and made herself look as pretty as she could. She didn’t have any luggage to bring with her, because she didn’t own anything besides the clothes on her back.
That evening was calm and the stars shone bright. There came a knock at the door and when the farmer opened it the white bear was there, standing tall and proud in the moonlight. It was time to go.
End of Part 1
Alright! Last week I put up the potential new folktales to write up for Storytime Fridays. Nobody voted here on the blog, but two people commented on Facebook with their votes. Sadly it was a tie with one vote for “The Widow’s Son” and one vote for “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”. So it’s up to me to decide between the two. I’ve thought about it and made my choice. Starting next Friday there will be weekly installments of (drumroll please)….“East of the Sun and West of the Moon”!
They’re both good stories but I really do want to write “East of the Sun” for my children’s book project. Ever since I heard its name I’ve wanted to do something with it, and it is a good solid story with conflict, rising action, climax, and resolution. Do you know how hard that is to get in a folktale? Surprisingly hard. Most are based on jokes, slapstick humor, or explaining odd local events like how a giant rock ended up next to the church (a giant threw it at the church because he hated the sound of the church bells but he missed, just in case you were wondering). A great deal of them are also gory, violent, and macabre which doesn’t suit them very well to a children’s story. Some of them are almost incomprehensible without having specific cultural knowledge of the time and place the story was written in. So let me tell you, “East of the Sun” is a gem.
But since “The Widow’s Son” got half the vote I’ll do it after this one. See you next week for the start of the story!
By the way, interesting bit of history; Don Bluth, the animation genius behind The Secret of NIMH, The Land Before Time, An American Tale, and many others originally planned on making an animated film out of “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”. Only in his version it all took place in the year 2500 AD in outer space. You can’t make this stuff up. They got seven months into production too, but an animators strike in the 80s led to its cancellation. I managed to dredge up some concept art for it to help whet your appetite. Just take note that the original tale was not in space, and mine won’t be either.
Last week I talked about the problem of religion when it comes to writing fantasy as a Christian. Today I’m going to discuss the other major obstacle Christian writers face when it comes to fantasy; magic.
The problem can be summed up pretty simply: practicing magic is a sin. A pretty big one too. “Those who practice magic arts” are specifically listed among other sinners who are locked out of the gates of heaven in the book of Revelation. Magic was punishable by death under Old Testament law, and the book of Acts records converted magicians burning their books of spells after baptism. All this may seem a bit silly or extreme by modern standards; after all, magic is just superstition. What’s the harm?
If magic was nothing more than old wives tales and charlatan’s tricks then it would hardly be worth worrying about. However the Bible is very clear that this is not the case: magic is real. It’s real and it’s dangerous. As a Christian I know that there is more to reality then the material world we can see around us. There’s also a spiritual dimension that coincides with our own and is as incomprehensible to our senses as a cube would be to a square’s. Magic falls under this spiritual domain, and God has made it clear to Christians that we are not to involve ourselves in it. The spiritual dimension is like a broad river, and we are little children who have been ordered by their father to stay away from the water. He did not give this order on a whim but out of love and concern; there are crocodiles in the river that won’t hesitate to eat us up if we get too close.
Simply put, magic must be avoided for two reasons. The first is that magic is dangerous. We don’t know what we’re doing, or what powers we’re toying with. We’re like a little boy who decides he’s going to join the circus. It’s funny…until the boy wanders down to the railroad tracks at midnight looking for a circus car to hop (because he saw Dumbo once and thinks that circuses all travel by train) and then runs into hobos, street people, and criminals. How do you think that boy’s going to fare out there? Do you think he’s going to have a wonderful adventure? Far more likely he’s going to end up in serious trouble: killed, abused, or exploited by people older, wiser, stronger, smarter, and far more evil than himself. Magic is exactly the same. We have no idea what we’re getting into, and it won’t be long before we run into beings who know exactly what they’re doing and do not have our best interests at heart.
The second reason is simply that God has commanded us to avoid magic. He knows what He is doing, and He does have our best interests at heart. God didn’t make us to do magic. Science, technology, art, music, engineering, cultivating, exploring, learning, living, and loving are all in our domain; magic is not. When it comes to spiritual things God wants us to rely on Him. The only magic we are to do is the magic that is given to us through the Holy Spirit; healing, prophesying, discerning, speaking in tongues, and rebuking and exorcising evil spirits. All of these are gifts from God and ways that He works through us. We cannot cast out a demon by our own power but by calling on God’s power and authority. Christians practicing magic is a rejection of God’s power in favor of our own power. It’s taking the reins from His hands and trying to influence the spiritual realm by our own authority instead of our authority as sons of God. That’s why prophecy is good and useful, while divination and fortunetelling is bad and misleading; the first comes from God and the second comes from ourselves or something worse working through us. If we’re to do magic at all it must be God or a demon doing it through us. The best we can do on our own is card tricks.
Because of all this it’s understandable why magic is an obstacle for Christians who want to write fantasy. Magic and fantasy go hand in hand. Wizards, mages, enchanted weapons, wards, spells, curses, fairy glades, etc. It’s part of the fantasy aesthetic. You can make fantasy without magic but it’s not the norm. On top of that in most fantasy settings magic is used by both good and evil individuals. If only evil beings used magic then there would be no moral objection to a Christian writing about it; but when the forces of good also include wizards and the like you run into trouble. Is it hypocrisy for Christians to say that practicing magic is a sin and then write stories about people using magic with no ramifications?
To answer that question I’d like to look at fantasy’s twin brother, science fiction. As I said in my previous post science fiction and fantasy are similar genres (and offer similar obstacles to Christian writers) because they both imagine worlds that do not exist. Whether its aliens or elves, enchanted forests or far off planets, both create realities that very different from our own. In science fiction we don’t have magic; at least not by that name. We do however have technologies that do the physically impossible, mutations that give people incredible abilities, and in the case of Star Wars “The Force”. Christians usually have no problems here. Nobody forbids their children from reading X-Men because Cyclops can shoot lasers out of his eyes and Storm can control the weather. You don’t hear about Christians boycotting Star Wars because Jedi use the Force. And yet these things are basically magic. What is a superpower except magic in a sci-fi guise? What are the Jedi but space wizards who can levitate objects, shoot lighting from their fingers, and manipulate people’s minds? So why is Star Wars okay but Harry Potter isn’t?
The answer is that the Force isn’t real, and magic is. Nobody believes that the Force actually exists; it’s just a story. But magic is very real and very dangerous. Christians are rightfully concerned that people could fall into real magic from reading about fictional magic. I think this is just and fair. So how can a Christian write fantasy with magic in it at all?
Let’s look again at the two biggest names when it comes to Christian fantasy; J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. How did they deal with magic? Tolkien approached it the same way that he approached religion; by not explaining it or using it much. Gandalf rarely does magic, and he’s almost the only character we see actually performing it in the books. It is mentioned that the Elves can do magic of a sort (they made the rings of power, Galadriel uses it to keep Lothlorian enchanted, Elrond uses it to wash away the Ringwraiths, etc.). Otherwise it’s mostly just mentioned or hinted at the edge of things. There are a lot of magic objects though; the rings of power, the palantir, Sting, the phial of light that Galadriel gives Frodo, etc. Despite all this The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are both accepted by the Christian community in general.
In The Chronicles of Narnia magic is more obvious. The White Witch does magic, turning people to stone, summoning Turkish Delights, etc. In Prince Caspian Caspian’s tutor is a good half dwarf who does magic, which includes divination. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader we run into Coriakin who is a good magician who makes them a magic map and has a huge book of spells. In other words we see magic in many places being used by both good and evil individuals. Even when Aslan dies and the Stone Table breaks in two, symbolizing the resurrection of Christ, Aslan calls it “deep magic” from before Narnia began. That’s some pretty blatant magic! Yet I wouldn’t call C.S. Lewis a pagan, or even a careless writer. The Narnia books are beloved to Christians all over the globe. My father read them to me as a child, and you’ll never find a man more cautious and careful then him when it came to protecting his children from magic and the evil one. So why is this the case?
I think it’s for the same reason that we accept the Force, mutants, and superpowers. It’s obviously not real. Nobody is going to read The Lord of the Rings or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as an authoritative text on performing magic. They’re stories, and the magic performed in them has as little do with real magic as the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive has to do with real physics. I think that’s also why there was a big scare in the Christian community about the Harry Potter books when they became popular. In those books the people performing magic are kids about the same age as the kids reading, and the live in a version of our own real world and in a real country, Britain. Magic makes sense in Narnia or Middle Earth, but in the modern day UK it cuts a little too close to home.
So I’ve basically used over 1,500 words to say a very simple thing; when Christians write fantasy with magic in it they should make it clear that it’s not real. Magic is bad in our own world because we were not made to do magic; but fantasy is a genre of “what ifs”. What if it was different? What if elves lived in the woods, and dwarves in the hills, and impossible things could happen? It’s alright for magic to be there because all of it, the whole process of imagining and creating worlds is itself a kind of God given magic. You just make sure there can be no mistake as to difference between Jedi Wizard “magic” and actual magic.
I read something very interesting the other day about Anthony Trollope. Ever heard of him? I hadn’t either but a quick trip to Wikipedia revealed to me that he was one of the most famous writers of the Victorian age. He was popular and had critical acclaim while he was still living. Beyond that he was also an incredibly prolific writer. He wrote forty-seven novels, forty-four short stories, eighteen nonfiction books, and two plays. This massive pile of work was written while he held down a full time job with the British Postal Service. How the heck did he do it? Was he a genius? Did words pour forth from his pen fully formed, inspiration striking at every moment? Well of course not. Still we’d have to assume that he was something special if it wasn’t for the fact that he explained exactly how it was done in his autobiography, which was published after his death.
I don’t have a copy of his actual autobiography, but I ran into this information in Roy Baumeister and John Tierney’s book Willpower. Here’s what they say;
“Anthony Trollope believed it unnecessary—and inadvisable—to write for more than three hours a day…He would rise at five-thirty, fortify himself with coffee, and spend a half-hour reading the previous day’s work to get himself in the right voice. Then he would write for two and a half hours, monitoring the time with a watch placed on the table. He forced himself to produce one page of 250 words every quarter hour…At this rate he could produce 2,500 words before breakfast. He didn’t expect to do so every single day—sometimes there were business obligations or fox hunts—but he made sure each week to meet a goal. For each of his novels, he would draw up a working schedule, typically planning for 10,000 words a week, and then keep a diary.”
When this process was posthumously revealed he lost a lot of favor in the sight of British critics. It seemed to them to be utterly repugnant to schedule writing. Inspiration does not follow a schedule after all. The artistic Muse does not follow anyone’s timetable. But I think there is a great deal to be said for Trollope’s method. Most writers sit around and write when inspiration strikes, or when the “creative juices are flowing”. I think this is a crutch and an excuse to put off writing. The perfect moment for writing will only come once in a blue moon; in the meantime sitting around on your hands will not make you a better writer. Trollope wrote 10.000 words a week, whether he felt like it or not, and he was a bestseller. He taught himself to make the creative juices flow. It’s not the most talented writers who succeed but the writers who actually go out there and start writing. Trollope concurred: “I have been told that such appliances (scheduled writing) are beneath the notice of a man of genius. I have never fancied myself to be a man of genius, but had I been so I think I might well have subjected myself to these trammels. Nothing surely is so potent as a law that may not be disobeyed. It has the force of the water drop that hollows the stone. A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.”
Want to know something else I found fascinating? Every day Trollope wrote down the number of pages he had written “so that if at any time I have slipped into idleness for a day or two, the record of that idleness has been there, staring me in the face, and demanding of me increased labour, so that the deficiency might be supplied.” It reminds me a great deal of 750 words. I always was ashamed when I’d log on and see I hadn’t written anything in three days, and it would spur me on try and write more consistently. Trollope created the same effect by making goals for himself. He wrote “There has been the record before me, and a week passed with an insufficient number of pages has been a blister to my eye, and a month so disgraced would have been a sorrow to my heart.”
Setting arbitrary goals and keeping score? Sounds like gamification to me, even it is Victorian. I too have my own rule that would be a “blister to my eye” if broken; posting something every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. So far I’ve only failed at that once. When I get around to writing a novel I’m definitely going to set weekly goals for myself. The last novel I started hasn’t been touched in four years now. You know why? Because I was waiting for a burst of “inspiration” before I started the next chapter. Inspiration is fickle; goals aren’t. Keep that in mind no matter what project you’re working on.
I’d say that Storytime Fridays have been a success so far. If you missed out on the last tale, “The Giant Who Had No Heart”, you can read it from the beginning here. Next week I will begin a new story, but I want you’re help in picking it. I’ve chosen three Norwegian folk tales that I’m interested in writing; I just need you to decide which one. Here they are with their titles and a short, teasing, description.
East of the Sun and West of the Moon
A northern version of the myth of Cupid and Psyche complete with magic polar bears, trolls, and a quest for redemption in a land east of the sun and west of the moon.
The Honest Penny
A tale of honesty, desperation, compassion, floating coins, and strange felines. Will good intentions win out, or is it true that every man should watch out for himself?
The Widow’s Son
When the poor widow’s son had to go earn his own living he considered himself lucky to become a rich man’s servant; but what could possibly be hidden behind the four doors in his master’s basement, doors he has been forbidden to open? When he finally looks what he finds will change his life forever.
Will ya look at that? It looks like I’m capable enough to write the terrible blurbs you find on the backs of paperbacks. Still, I can’t really go into a detailed description without spoiling the plot. Comment with the one you like: if you’re a Facebook friend of mine just post your vote on my wall. Whichever wins by midnight on Monday will be featured on Storytime Fridays for the next month or so. Choose wisely.
In the meantime I’m happy to announce that Zingallsartman, who illustrates my webcomic SLOPAN, has already started putting together some illustrations for “The Giant Who Had No Heart”. Below you can find some of his concept sketches for the giant himself! The final illustrations will be in color and I can’t wait to take a look at them. Enjoy!