Monday, December 31, 2012

2013. Some Things Are Likely. Bigger Things Are Possible.

We come to it at last, the end of another year. 2012 is finished. Frankly, this has been a major 12-month spread for me. I turned thirty, completed my first novel, and moved 2,500 miles from the west coast to the east coast based on a leading of faith due to my relationship with Christ Jesus. Those are the major milestones, anyway (in other, lesser news, Lego released Lord of the Rings building sets, all of which are excellent, and Christopher Nolan completed a three-film Batman character arc that, while imperfect, essentially compresses the hero's 70-plus years of comic history into a deeply moving mythic retelling that is unlikely to be surpassed in my lifetime).

But I am not concerned with 2012 in this post (though, I will reflect on the year later this week, I promise). At present, my focus is on 2013. What is so special about 2013? Well, nothing. And everything. And that is the reason I want to take some time to consider it before it starts. 

In 2013, I will likely continue to live with my wife and parents in my parent's home. I will likely find full-time employment in some financial setting. I will likely self-publish my novel, Stronghold, on several e-reading platforms, and it will likely be bought by 50 or so assorted friends and family and then disappear with the other hundred-thousand books being released this year. I doubt very highly that my wife and I will get pregnant, but I suspect we may need to buy a second car. I will turn 31 should I live through June, but the birthday will likely be something of a non-event following the major celebration of the prior year. We may or may not receive visitors from California. We may or may not be able to take trips ourselves. All in all, 2013 looks to be less eventful than the last year has been.

But what if it is not? What if I'm wrong? What if my expectations are too low? What if God has bigger plans than I think he does? This is a compelling thought, and I cannot ask the question without being filled immediately with a certain level of anticipation. 

What if 2013 will be the most exciting and most epic year of my and my wife's lives? What if Stronghold catches fire with readers? What if we are pregnant with twins in ten months? What if we don't need to buy a second car, either because we don't need it or a second is gifted to us? What if we have visitors every other month? What if other things fall apart, and we are brought closer to God and to one another through it?

I raise these possibilities as food for thought. We human beings are very good at planning. We are also very good at forgetting. We forget that much of our existence becomes self-fulfilled prophecy when we set low expectations and wait passively for them to be met. We also forget that free will and choice are powerful agents, and we need not be bound to what "will likely" happen. We forget that God is powerful and that he is engaged with us, and ultimately, he does as he chooses--oftentimes upsetting our apple-carts of comfort and mediocrity. 

I hate to think that the next year is only going to be what I, in all my finite ignorance, can comprehend or anticipate. I think God is bigger than my grandest designs, and I think that when we look toward the coming months, he wants us to remember Him. He has already seen all that will come to pass, and he is already at work in it. Consider that. God can do anything he wants in 2013, and in some ways he already has. Makes the year seem pretty important, doesn't it? Makes it feel full of possibilities. Makes me look forward to it far more than I would based on what "will likely" happen. I love to live in the reality of God's existence, not only because of all the great things he has done but all that he can do in the year to come. 

Take a moment. Thank God in advance for the ways in which he'll reveal Himself in the coming year. Beg him to use you furthering his kingdom. Seek opportunities to do so. Who knows? Maybe 2013 will be the best year of your life and mine. This is the hope. May God let it be, to his praise and glory. 

Thanks for reading, 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Revisiting NanoWriMo: Reading an Unplanned First Draft

This year, I completed the first draft of a novel for National Novel Write Month, a writing exercise during which participants must complete a 50,000 word novel in the thirty days of November. After three weeks distance from finishing the manuscript, I decided it was time to read it and see just how bad it is. I am happy to report that it is not nearly as awful and unreadable as I thought it was...or maybe I'm just too in love with my own writing (I am guessing it is the latter, for sure).

As promised, I have completed the below reaction. You will note that my arrogance and narcissism find their way into my remarks, but I try to be fair overall. My response is similar to the type I would have provided while doing script coverage out west. We'll see if I can be as honest with myself as I was with other authors whose works I deconstructed.

The Traveler's Tales: Abinthor (tentatively titled) may be one of the strangest reading experiences I have encountered in some time. While the story begins in a relatively believable way despite its fantasy setting, the narrative derails under the weight of its own rather convoluted plot and the unclear themes it is explores. A certain lyrical quality resides in the language of the text, but it is overshadowed by the storytelling issues.

The tale opens with a strange but interesting event that is left unresolved and provides the reader with something of a false hope. While this initial, attention-grabbing event feels like a short story, the rest of the tale is far more broad and over-reaching, lacking the intimacy that the format of the novel inherently allows. This creates a sense of ongoing disappointment, in that the reader wants the story to return to something more akin to its opening while in actuality the tale gets larger and more cumbersome.

The bulk of the first third of the book is spent with character introductions and a long timeline that does not seem to make a great deal of sense. This structure provides the reader with a cast of players that are clearly interconnected though each is also engaged in his/her own subplot. When the central protagonist emerges, he seems an odd choice given all the other players that the reader is asked to follow. This is not a good development.

The second and third portions of the story reinforce this unfocused protagonist issue, but in a strange way this works in some respects, particularly when one is able to complete the novel and get a contextualized picture of why it is written the way that it is. Whether this brushstroke at the end was deliberate or an eleventh hour addition is uncertain, but it lends itself to making the story's design acceptable (and actually somewhat more interesting).

That being said, however, the narrative does need to be refined and focused, and at least one chapter (the last one) will need a complete overhaul. In the current draft, the reader gets the feeling of unprepared hurriedness in the story's presentation. For example, as already mentioned, the events of the first chapter feel wholly different than the rest of the text, as though the author had one clear idea in the beginning--to get his protagonist on the "road of adventure"--then completely abandoned his initial plan for other ideas and free-associative concepts floating around in his mind. Additionally, the timeline is entirely skewed by the last third of the text, wherein everyone's ages are arbitrarily close despite this being a multi-generational tale. As this is a first draft written in a shotgun-style, a plethora of errors are present on every page, not the least of which is a change in the spelling of several character names, which causes a great deal of confusion. Finally, the author mentions a great number of creatures and people groups without providing any context to the reader, forcing on the audience a requirement to create their own ideas of an item without any context beyond the phonetic nature of the names/terms provided.

Despite these necessary corrections, however, the novel has a certain strength in its language. The text bears a lyrical quality in its structure, tone and voice, as though it is written with a love for the melodic nature of refined speech, even if it sometimes veers into more common vernacular when a more fitting, well-chosen phrase would be more appropriate. Frankly, this rather specific voice will prove to be the work's greatest blessing and curse. Those who find the the style stimulating will likely overlook other possible story-telling sins; but those who do not care for the writer's pace and manner will see through every plot-hole and also abhor the process of reading the work given its cumbersome nature.

Overall, the first draft of The Traveler's Tales: Abinthor is readable despite its free-associative, unplanned presentation; but before it is legible for anyone beyond the author, the text will need more than a polish.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas Eve Thought: Celebrate Sincerity.

This Christmas, I could think of only one thing I wanted to share with the world--a link to my Amazon wishlist (kidding). I have had a moment of inspiration, and I am taking full advantage. I will try to be brief, but please forgive me if (when) I am not. 

This holiday, I want to give some unsolicited advice (the best kind, right?). This Christmas, I want to exhort you, or challenge you, or encourage you--whatever word to which you best respond, whatever word will spur you to action, that's what I want to do.

Friends, be broken this Christmas. At all the various functions you attend, with your friends and family. Be broken. Be honest. Be imperfect. Be exhausted.

Let those who know you know the truth. Let them know the year has been hard. Let them know that you are hurting. Let them know you are tired. Let them know you need prayer or help. Let them know the real you.

Christians such as myself often want to keep some semblance of sacred meaning to this melee called "the holidays", but we are so easily swept into the wave of pageants, presents, and social pressures. Be here; be there. Be on time; be well-dressed. Be peppy; be funny; be careful; be pleasant.

I say be broken. Take your time. Be late but be present. Pause. Rest. Listen. Talk. Share. Give. Give not only the material but the immaterial, not the wealth of your wallet but the treasure of your soul. Give a listening ear, a kind word, a caring hug, a soft hand, a warm heart, a gentle kiss.

So many of us ache during the holidays. The year was harder than we expected; our lives are not where we thought they would be. We miss this person who died this year, or we miss that person that cannot be present. We are hurting for ourselves, or we are hurting for others, and at times we feel alone in crowded churches and long lines, at large dinners or big parties.

This year, connect. Be bold; and be broken. When someone asks "how are you?" tell them the truth, and then ask them to do the same, and be ready for their pain, and love them for it. Thank them for it. Cherish these times. Give them a hug that lasts a little longer, where you squeeze them extra hard, as if to say, "I hurt for you because you hurt, and I love you, and I thank you for being here, for being you."

I gotta be honest. I learned this today of all days at an event that wasn't even Christmas related. This holiday season, I have been in the wave--not so much the buying wave but the planning wave, the events wave, the church wave, and the self-reflection-because-its-the-end-of-the-year wave. None of these waves are bad (in fact, all of them can be very good), but they are the waves that give you a ride, not a lasting, deeply touching experience. No. The honest moments of fragility and self-sacrificial love are the ones that endure. Tonight I sat and released in conversation. I told family how hard this move has been. I told them how it's felt to have no work come Christmastime; and I told them that for the first time, I had empathy, real empathy, for those in a financial bind amidst the pressures of the holidays. For the first time in life, I know how it feels to walk past the perfect gift for that special someone and be unable to buy it. That feeling--that feeling is deep. Powerfully deep. To want to give and be unable makes one feel shameful, wounded, and low. That's the truth of it, and I had never experienced that before this year. Never. What a blessing to be taught such a valuable lesson in love, in compassion, in being broken (not just "broke").

This Christmas, I hurt for people. People I don't know but I have seen or about whom I have heard--people who I know are hurting. And you know what, my friends, this hurt I carry for them feels so incredibly appropriate to the Christmas season. To feel such a thing, to hurt for another person's hurt, what a gift of human emotion; I am blessed for feeling it, and I have acted on it.

But I cannot stop by calling you to be honest with others, though I know that will be the end-all for some of you. I must also encourage you to be honest with God. If never at any other time of year then at this tim, be broken before God and be heartbroken with God. Begin to love him or renew your love for him. You want to celebrate Christ's birth? Seek Christ. Talk to him. Cry with him. Give him praise. Give him worship. And give him your heart--voice your concerns, your joys, and your grief. He already knows your soul, but do you? Give him your attention, let him use it to talk to you; give him your adoration, let him fill you with his love. Read his gift of Scripture, and say to him aloud that he's the greatest gift ever received by any person on this earth. And do this not only at church but alone. In your room. In your bed. In the shower. In the car. Thank him for the blessings you have already received and the blessings to come because you know he is good. Imagine if you had a birthday, and your own family didn't talk to you, didn't tell you that they loved you, didn't give you their time. Don't do that to Jesus, not if you call him Savior. Oh how God wants his children to spend time with Him at Christmas!

All that said (and I know it could hardly be described as "brief"); be broken this year. Let yourself be open and honest, and accept that same trusting sincerity from others in return. That's a gift that requires neither bills nor receipts, neither wrappings nor bows, neither malls nor websites, but it is a gift that we all deeply need, and we all freely can give.

Thank you so very much for reading, and thank you also for your constant support. Love and affection to you all. Be blessed. Bless others. And have a truly wonderful and truly safe holiday, full of fellowship and merrymaking, joy and wonder! Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Confessions of a Christian Blogger

I aim to tell the truth.

When I blog, converse, write fiction, or tweet, I mean to be honest. I realize that in some instances I may be incorrect or ignorant; but I count those effects as acceptable in the face of being trustworthy and forthcoming, especially because I can correct the prior more easily than rebuild trust if it's been broken.

That being said, I am compelled to be a bit vulnerable today with some thoughts that struck me during a recent run. These are not easy things for me to share, but I felt very compelled to just take a respite from usual updates in order to refocus.

I know that often on this blog and twitter, my thoughts pertain to encouragement and changing perspective toward God, and these are good things. I also realize that my Scripture memorization and described prayer life may sound as though I really "have it all together" and that I am ever-optimistic and at peace with myself and place in life.

Truth be told, however; I have very low days. Yes, on these days my focus is recalibrated in light of who God is and who I am in relation to him, but I usually don't post until after that process of re-assessment occurs. Sometimes I will wrestle to spend time in prayer and Scripture reading; some days I fail to do so altogether. Sometimes my actions and deeds are faithless, truly lacking in any desire to glorify God. When I examine myself, I see a regenerate heart but one that is not nearly where I want it to be. I am prideful and selfish and arrogant so often it astounds me, and I fall into sins of gossip, of envy, and covetousness despite my desire to love.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I never want to encourage looking to me as a picture of virtue rather than looking to Christ. Inasmuch as you may value what I share, let the glory and honor be given to Christ alone. Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, is a picture of what Christianity should look like--our model should always be him. He is the one who needs to be seen as "having it all together". He is the one who needs to be the example. He is the one worth of honor, praise, and adulation.

I am not sure why I felt this post was so necessary, but I did.  As always, thanks for reading,

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Memorization: 1 Samuel 12:20-25

[This original post was lost during an update. While the original commentary on the verses is gone, but the text of scripture has been reprinted.]

And Samuel said to the people, "Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that do not profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you the good and right way. Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider the great things he has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king."

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Heaven at a glance

So, this morning, I was going to share some quick thoughts about my anticipation and expectations of heaven and eternity; but I realized my "little post" for Monday was becoming cumbersome and broad and thus undermining its very purpose (that's what I get for not seeing the irony of writing a short post about eternal things). Therefore, I abandoned this first plan in favor of a second, which I hope will prove just as encouraging and require only a fraction of space. I'm simply going to ask a question and respond to it briefly, in a typical three-point fashion, as a taste of things to come.

Do you ever think about heaven? I think about heaven all the time. Not more often than I should, for my thoughts of heaven do not come at the expense of the present, but I still think about that eternal existence regularly. At times I think in the strangest of ways (or maybe not the strangest of ways), but each time that I reflect on a place with God in full view, without separation and fallenness, I am overwhelmed with three reactions, and my mind is usually cleared of whatever noise is filling it at the time. My focus becomes clear, and I am renewed.

Those three things that pull my attention are as follows. First, I desperately and fully want to be in that place, not by my own hand of course but at the Lord's behest when he sees fit to call me forth to Himself. Second, I lament for those who do not believe, who either are apathetic or averse to the existence of heaven at all. I lament not only for their loss of heaven itself but their missing the experience of desiring it. I have lived my whole life within a Christian cultural context, and heaven has always been an idea within that society, but it did not become real to me until later in my years, and once it became more of an imminent reality than a concept, the expectation became so great that I could not fathom waking each day without it. Third, and finally, I am full of gratitude to God for being who he is. When I think of heaven, I am full thanks and awe--not only for what is to come but for what has come already and not only for what God has done but for who God is, perfect and hoy and true.

Oh, and a fourth thing, of course, also comes to mind when I think about heaven. I recall the words of the Apostle Paul, which he spoke in his first letter to the Corinthians (15:19):

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

How true. How unbearably true. How wasted and foolish my days have been if they are spent only to a false ideology of service and self-denial rather than a living God.

To be honest, I do not have full knowledge of what heaven will be; no man does, but I do have a hope that is grand and wonderful and full--yet only a dim echo of what heaven will actually be.

Do you think about heaven? Please comment. I would love to know what the thought of it does for you.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, December 14, 2012

First Response

The first response to my latest draft of Stronghold arrived Wednesday evening, and Thursday I was able to sit and process the notes provided. The individual who sent feedback was the first human being other than me to read the book in its entirety, and I was placing great weight on his response.

The experience was harrowing but very different than I expected. While I was ready for a certain level of gut-wrenching anxiety and unreasonable defensiveness to well inside me, I found myself pleasantly surprised. For one, I was very confident when I sat down to read the notes, because I am relatively secure in my book on the whole and I feel that any criticism leveled against it can only improve a solid foundation set in place. (I should note that this is not the case with my National Novel Write Month endeavor)

More importantly, however, the reader's comments were favorable. He not only enjoyed the text but also found it useful and altogether entertaining. Items need fixing, that much is clear, but overall the text worked for him as I hoped it would, and he was very specific about one particular moment with which I wrestled terribly during the writing process.

During the moment in question, he felt the exact emotion I was intending, and he felt it to such a degree that it became questionable as to whether I needed to go as far as I did in my description of it. His reacting in a such a fashion is the best response for which I could have hoped, because it assures me that I hit the note just enough to strike a chord that was both firm and haunting without jarring the reader to the point of recommending its removal. This is the joy of the writer--when one languishes over an important point in his/her story and is affirmed that it rings almost too true to be bearable.

The best aspect of the notes, however, is that they are a point of return in the event that my later reviewers respond less favorably (which may very well be the case). When the gavel hits with the verdict "guilty of being pedantic, obtuse, and downright silly", I can temper my response to such rejection with the affirmations and the assurance that, at least for one reader, the book works on all cylinders. I have a feeling I will need to this more than once.

I am immensely grateful to the Lord and my reader for this early Christmas gift, and I look forward to sharing this book with more people given that the next draft available will be better than the one just critiqued.

Thanks for reading, today, I know this post is incredibly self-indulgent (even by blog standards), but as many of you have been on this journey with me since the blog began in August, I felt this encouraging information was worth sharing.

PS - I am sorry if you came to this post in hopes of reading the actual text from the reader. Unfortunately I did not ask him for permission to post any of his comments, and I did not feel comfortable doing so until he and I spoke further. I will likely wait until I have all the present reviews before posting any direct quotes from any of them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

One of "those mornings"...

Have you ever had one of those mornings when you wake and feel lousy? You don't know what has led to it nor why it cuts so deeply. You don't know how to solve it, either. You are simply tired, tired and drained, drained and wounded; and again, you don't know why. Something inside you, at your core, feels a bruise--an acute aching--and you don't know from where it comes. I am having one of those mornings, which may be why I am writing right now.

I'll be honest with you. Of late I've wondered if I have fallen off-course and lost my way, not in my day-to-day life so much as here, on this blog and in my online existence. I wonder if I've been lured, slowly but surely, away from my first love of wanting to encourage and bless others, to a new desire for establishing a "presence" or "brand" online and increasing my Twitter followers. I am wondering if I have begun to fall away from my longing to give in pursuit of wanting to be fulfilled--or validated, or vindicated, or whatever it is for which I have started looking while pursuing full-time writing in the absence of employment. 

I am reminded of the second chapter of the Book of Revelations and Christ's letter to the church at Ephesus:

"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: 'The words of him who holds seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. "I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the work of the Nicolaitans [false teachers and disciples], which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.'"

Now, I know we can all get into a discussion about contextualization and exegesis and drawing personal application for oneself as an individual when a document is written to a group, but I have to say, that passage just strikes me today. It really does. I feel like a member of the church of Ephesus, sitting on the floor of some home meeting, hearing those words and feeling the convictions of them. But I also have a great swell of hope, for Christ offers repentance anew and renewal--and I need those things, daily. 

I think I may have just solved my own problem, even sitting here, sending these thoughts out to the world. God works in fascinating ways. When I woke this morning, I felt poorly but went through my normal motions, sincerely but with little result. I spent my time in prayer and Scripture reading and memorization, but my mind was full with all manner of distraction. I really tried to focus, but I walked away feeling empty. Then I sat to blog, and I prayed, "What do you want me to say? What do I write when I am feeling like this?". And he answered, "Tell the truth". And I have, and he has led me back to his Word even as I was obeying, and he has shown me his grace, new and beautiful in the morning. I feel far less wounded now. Convicted, yes. In need of reflection, of course. But I'm certainly not in the same place where I began. 

Thanks for taking this journey with me, even as I processed it myself. Isn't God good? Yes, he is. He is so good. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

On Sequelitis

Now that Stronghold is with readers, and my Nanowrimo novel is too new to re-visit and edit, I have begun outlining the sequel to Stronghold, a book entitled----sorry, not ready to give that out just yet. Originally pitched to one of my former roommates earlier this year, Stronghold's sequel will be an important "bridge story" to reach a final, necessary third act and complete a cohesive arc (an arc that is actually the major point of this whole enterprise). At this stage, I am still outlining the beats of the story, and I am experimenting with the many aspects that sequels offer--deepening the mythos, developing characters, creating new allies and enemies, broadening the story, and so forth.

I must say that being secure in an initial outing makes brainstorming about the sequel a very enjoyable exercise; but my enthusiasm is tempered against the fear of "sequelitis". For those of you who aren't into the subculture of discussing literature and film, "sequelitis" is a term folks tend to toss around to mean essentially "an infection upon a follow-up product that results from the adding of the comparative tense to the same adjectives that describe the initial product, in hopes of reproducing the initial product's success."  Wordy, huh?  Well, I'm a writer; I do that.

Basically, sequelitis occurs when someone says, "Transformers was fast-paced, loud, and mindless, featuring a bevy of action sequences, dispensable characters, and needless crass humor" and a guy across from him says, "Well, then, that being the case, Transformers 2 will need an even faster pace and be louder and more mindless, with more action sequences, more dispensible characters, and more crass humor." You see how this makes for lousy second outings.

The desire to capture an organic and well-designed narrative that not only builds on the original but also enhances it is often surrendered to this "bigger is better" mentality due to the ease of the conceit. Rewriting a first story by simply exploiting its most popular elements seems to be an altogether adequate solution for making a second story (let's be honest, most horror franchises are wholly dependent on this concept). I mean, the first one worked for a reason, right? Shouldn't the same one also work if it is playing by the same rules in the same ball park?  Well, yes.  And no.

In my opinion, a good sequel should resemble the first in some ways while diverging from it in others. Some great sequels that come to mind all do this. Let me offer some examples:

  1. Empire Strikes Back. While this film feels like another Star Wars tale set in the same universe with the same characters,  it's narrative beats and story movements are decidedly different than those of the first--whereas the first builds to a climactic, large scale battle, the second opens with a large scale battle and builds to a smaller, intimate, two-person conflict. While the first film followed the formation of a band of characters, the sequel separated them and deconstructed some of their relationships (plus introduced new dynamics with assorted new worlds and personalities). Third, while the film included more of the same--starships, lightsabers, and the Force--all of the elements were shown in new environments and given new depth.
  2. Back to the Future II: This sequel is not only a fascinating commentary on the first film but also a story that fragments the events in the first film in stunning ways, deepening the complexities of the central time travel idea. Obvious parallels and motifs exist between the original and this follow-up, but with them also come new paradigms and specific shifts in stakes and character dynamics. In the end, this sequel almost rewrites events of the first film, which is no small feat, in my opinion. 
  3. Godfather II: This sequel continues the story of the first while also revisiting events of the far past in order to drive home specific themes about characters, history repeating itself, and corruption taking place in the present. Additionally, the segments in the past enhance the audience's understanding of characters who died in the previous film, making the first film far more layered upon a second viewing. This enables the sequel to develop not only an ongoing narrative but also a woven tapestry together with its predecessor.
  4. The Two Towers. Like Empire, The Two Towers splits the group established in the first picture while also sending them on unique adventures different than those in the first film, less the plot with Frodo and Sam, which feels somewhat stilted due to the fact that is exactly the same adventure of the first film, only with a new ally, Gollum. But two things The Two Towers does exceptionally well is widen the world and raise the stakes in which the story takes place by sending characters to various, new parts of Middle Earth (also done in Empire), and showing the impact of the main story on each of those new realms.
  5. Aliens: Arguably one of the greatest sequels of all time, Aliens changes the format of the series by moving from the horror genre in the action genre, and it delivers on this new front in such a way that the whole premise feels new and exciting. In a way, it IS new. The relationship of the hero/villain are inverted in that now, humans are on the aliens' turf and the aliens outnumber them. 
  6. Terminator 2:  Perhaps more than any other sequel on this list, this one would feel like it suffers from sequilitis. It is another "chase movie" as the first was, and it is chock full of bigger set pieces and action sequences; however, Teminator 2 directly justifies the "more" by virtue of the narrative involving two machine characters instead of one. Additionally, the sequel embraces and improves upon the beats of the first by once again, inverting audience expectations and also showing the way in which the first film affected the world, playing with the idea of destiny set forth in both films.
  7. Toy Story 2: Like so many of the films above, Toy Story 2 divides its heroes, widens their world, and deepens their characterization, all while adding engaging personalities into the mix; but this story's greatest strength may be in the fact that it also flips the narrative itself. Rather than repeat the idea of lost characters trying to maintain their status and then find their way home, the second film focuses on a character struggling with a new identity and moving on with life (while other characters search for him). This film, in particular on this list, also benefits from wonderfully well-drawn secondary characters with emotions, motives, and backstory as engaging as the characters from the first film. 
Not surprisingly, each of these seven films have echoes in my outline for the book to follow Stronghold. And that is a very encouraging thought. Here's hoping I can continue to conceive a follow-up that is dynamic and engaging in and of itself while also useful in enhancing the original. If I am using the above seven films as an example, I have a very high bar for which to reach.

Have any other great sequels you think I should check out? Jot them in the comments section and tell me why!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Memorization: I John 4:1-21

So,  back in October, I posted that I was in the process of memorizing I John 3:10-4:21. I posted the first half of that Scripture at that time, and I have since nearly memorized the back half of it but failed to post it. The passage is absolutely wonderful, so as a self-administered test, I thought I'd give it a run here on the blog.

Here it is (ESV):

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 
Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever does not know God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. 
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testified that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in the world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says "I love God" but hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Alright, full disclosure. I missed a few dependent clauses, capitalizations, and punctuation marks running through the text, and I really fell apart on those last three verses and had to cite my Bible to complete the text correctly. Bummer. If I were grading someone else, and they handed me what I initially typed, I'd have given them C+, slightly better than average and strong in content but also missing some marks. I need to re-commit my time and energy to better cement this passage in my mind, because, let's face it, this truth is excellent and worth remembering.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Dear November, It's been fun. Thank you for being finished.

Who says you can't work while you're unemployed?  Well, no one; though I am fairly certain many people would ask "why would you work while you're unemployed?" To that I have an answer: the pursuit of excellence, as life itself is a gift to be used wisely. In this regard, I spent time on resume builders and projects throughout November while continuing my job search. I felt it worthwhile to share with you some projects on which I worked and what their completion may mean moving forward.

1) I completed the 5th draft of Stronghold, and I sent it to several readers. Depending on their feedback (which is due mid-month), I will have a good handle on what needs to be altered and corrected in regard to my subsequent drafts. I am still hopeful for launch on multiple e-readers by March/April. In the event that the feedback is severely negative and substantial work needs to be done in order to correct the text, I may once again need to push back the release. Hopefully, this is not the case, but we'll discover that together.

2) I completed my participation in National Novel Write Month with a novel originally entitled, The Traveler's History: A Tale of Endworld; however, the more I hear that title the less it is accurate (and the more it feels cumbersome); ergo, I will change it during my second draft. As this exercise was completed with only moderate preparation, this novel is far from being finished or released, but I intend to give it a read this month and also provide an initial review here on the blog for fun. I wrote this second novel for those friends who are interested in my storytelling sensibilities and work but with whom Stronghold would not connect due to its overt religious themes. Whereas this second novel explores ideas of spirituality, the story is also far less explicit in its Christian worldview (though, my worldview does inform all of my work and will be inherent in the text at some level).

3) Based on an open call from the Lego Group, I submitted an idea for a possible boys' theme for the brand in the coming years. To be honest, I went both outside the box as well as my own comfort zone in hopes of creating something very different than Lego's prior themes of the last several years. In fact, I saw nothing in their catalog like the idea I presented. I probably should not give the full details here, but I will say that it involves a rock band that fights crime, which sounds like something little dudes could enjoy. If they run with the theme, I have no idea what my level of participation would be, but I would get to work with them in some capacity.

4) Also in regard to Lego, I built a number of models for Creations for Charity, a project that sells one-of-a-kind lego creations built by fans to other fans, with all the proceeds going to the purchase of brand new Lego sets to be donated to Toys for tots this Christmas. Bottom line, I used my Lego, other fans bought it, and now children will get new Lego sets at Christmas as a result (win-win-win). Inasmuch as Lego is not an essential need, I felt this was a very interesting charitable enterprise, and I developed several sets at very low price points marketed for the buyer who wants to support the charity but cannot afford the larger, more complex offerings. All but one of my creations sold, a fact I find very encouraging. I am already brainstorming for next year in hopes of participating again. =)

5) Though content was significant;y lessened, the blog survived; and I almost doubled my twitter followers by learning some new methods to better engage others with that social tool.

All-in-all, I found November to be extremely rewarding. Now if only I could make a living doing these sorts of things. Thanks so much for reading.