Jeri Massi

As most of you realize by now, I’m a great fan of Jeri Massi’s novels for tweens having posted two book reviews: Derwood, Inc. a year ago, and Hall of Heroes earlier this week. Jeri graciously agreed to an interview. After all, how could any author resist my enthusiasm?

Hall of Heroes

 

Whenever possible, the Scriblerians invite our honored authors to “sign” our slam book.

Nickname (in childhood or now or both): Jeriwho

Genre: I prefer to write fantasy and SF but rarely get a chance to do so. I’ve written across many different genres: Westerns, mysteries, adventures, historical, fantasy, SF, etc.

Favorite scripture: Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.

Isaiah 53:10-11

Favorite quotation: All warfare is based on deception. – Sun Tzu

In high school, I was… loud, and tall.

 

 

Jeri blog
Jeri, welcome to the Scriblerians.
Thank you, Linda. It’s an honor.

 

 
As you know, I love your Peabody Kids series, especially the first book, Derwood, Inc. The humor is timeless. In fact, I recently spoke with a fifth grade teacher who still uses Derwood in her classroom. She shared with me that the book is her kids’ favorite choice in the curriculum. How have you updated your characters since the Derwood Series was published about – what – 30 years ago?
If a character works in a story, he or she should never need to be updated. Jack will always be the charming leader, and Penny the loyal companion. Scruggs will always be the person in transition. Humor and mysteries alike tend to be built on certain familiar character types, so while their clothing or jargon may change over time, they remain essentially the same whatever the time setting of the story. We see the same characters clearly in Hall of Heroes, which is an exact mirror of the characters from Derwood, Inc.

 

 
While Derwood was fun and adventurous with lessons for the Peabody Kids in each book, Hall of Heroes strikes deep. I took in such themes as: “Love God and enjoy Him forever,” and “Heaven completes our creation.” Have I nailed it, or would you add another theme dear to your heart.
“The Christian life is built on humility.” The humor of the story is built on the fact that the “good guys” think they are always going to be victorious, just because they are the good guys. They’re actually pretty arrogant and full of themselves. In short order, the bullies overthrow them and steal their club house. There is a thematic link to Martha Jenkins, who has done so much good in her life, but is facing certain death while still too young for it. Both groups have to accept their lot with humility. Jean herself notices that Digger seems much more heroic when he is helping around the house for Martha. He fulfills the role of a manly Christian effortlessly when he forgets about acting like a hero and simply offers his work to a suffering person.

 

 
Many of the readers of the Scriblerians blog are also writers, so I’d like to ask questions in relation to how you write your novels. Do you consider yourself a plotter or a pantser? When I think of Derwood, Inc. I assume it had a bare skeleton which you fleshed out with twists and turns that might have surprised you as you were writing. But did Hall of Heroes need a stricter outline?
All of my stories are outlined. I always think of the plot first, then complete it in outline form, and then start writing. If I decide to throw in a new twist, I usually outline it into the main outline.

 

 
While you had several comical moments with the villains in the story, the mature spiritual issues caused my chuckles to subside as I contemplated eternity and how God sees our mission on earth. When your readers finish the last sentence of the book, what do you want them to come away with?
Well, first, that nothing is as it seems. Martha Jenkins had a lot to offer, but she was pretty much ignored by her church. And nobody meant to be unkind to her; they just didn’t look hard enough to realize their Christian duty towards her. The real Hall of Heroes meets in Martha’s living room, three overlooked people who love each other and have fellowship in the face of a great tragedy. Christianity today is blinded by grandeur, and that’s a horrible blindness. We will find the power and the fellowship of Jesus Christ with the least of His brethren, always.

Second, we all die, and yet we all must live. Digger’s joy over regaining the club house is not misplaced. Martha herself had a full life until close to the end. We ought to live joyfully and make our boast in God, and we ought to approach death with humility and willingness to go where He leads us, even there.

 

 
I always enjoy teen and tween fiction when the main characters have GOOD parents, intact families with Mom and Dad loving each other and watching out for their children. Jean experiences growth as she makes her own decisions, and her wisdom comes from the example of her parents. Am I in the minority of adult readers today, or do you find the reading public does want wholesome material for their children?

I think the best readers want the truth, whether that truth is couched in a conventional story with a home and a hearth, or whether it’s couched in science fiction, or fantasy, or talking animals, etc. The reality is that many children do lose one parent, or both parents, and so fiction should also reach out to them. I have given up on figuring out what most readers want. I write what I believe makes a good story. I assume that if it keeps me and my spot readers entertained, it ought to entertain others.

Jeri Massi

Jeri and Ben

 

Want to know more about Jeri Massi? Read her Blog on the Way (www.jeriwho.net), follow her on Twitter (@jeriwho), or like her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jerimassi).

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The Hero Stands

shelob

credit to periannath.com

 

Nothing rings epic like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy. While I am not a fan who follows every bit of trivia regarding the movies or the books, particular scenes thrill me. One is the battle in the spider’s lair. Frodo the Hobbit lies helpless, wrapped in a cocoon of spider silk. Sam, his friend who sticks closer than a brother, defends him from the spider with light and sword. Bruised and exhausted, Sam does not give up, but presses the fight until he wounds the evil arachnid badly enough to force her retreat. Sam is willing to give his life for his friend. He refuses to desert Frodo even as Frodo is driven toward madness in his the obsession with the ring.

frodo and sam

art by Josi Fabri

Although Frodo is the main character given the responsibility to destroy the ring, Sam is the true hero. In spite of all the magnificent battles and the courage displayed by elves, dwarfs, mythical creatures, and men, Sam loves Frodo and will not turn back, will not abandon him to failure. He can’t force Frodo to give up the ring, but he remains nearby pleading for him to do the right thing.

Ephesians 6:13 tells the Christian soldier to put on the whole armor of God in order to withstand evil, and when you have done everything you can, you stand. Do not retreat. Do not give up. Sam exemplified that soldier. He did everything he could, he refused to retreat, refused to give up. He stood at his friend’s side, and he faced evil even when he was helpless to stop it.

spiritual-warfare 2

credit to nightshade130.wordpress.com

Am I as faithful to my friends? Do I hold up the light of Christ as I pray for a friend who has turned away from truth and has been captivated by the world? Do I wield my sword of the Spirit to battle evil that would dare touch someone I love? Do I exhaust myself in defending him? Do I remain at her side no matter what? Regardless of my friend’s decisions, have I done everything possible to plant my feet and face the Enemy? Oh, may I, like Sam the Hobbit, be the hero in service to Christ!

Reading for Inspiration

 

rays from heaven

As a senior in high school, I took an English elective titled “Reading for Pleasure.” Every day in class, I was required to spend forty-five minutes reading fiction. This would be my favorite class of all time!
The catch? Over a ten-week period, I had to read thirty-six books from a general reading list or fifteen books from the classical literature list to get an A. Eager and ambitious, I signed up for the classics. How hard could it be? Less than two books per week, and I could just keep reading at night for homework. Oh, and I had to take a test over each book. Piece of cake.

Success in College

from the book, Success in College

I read the books – Anna Karenina, War and Peace, The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, The Count of Monte Cristo, Madame Bovary, Animal Farm, to name a few. I got my A.

I was so depressed.
Didn’t these writers believe in happy endings?? I’ll give Dickens a little credit. At least Oliver Twist got a new and better family after he’d been abused for the entire novel. And Louisa May Alcott proved an exception to all the gloom.
For the second ten weeks, I contracted for the thirty-six general books. My teacher was not pleased.

credit to rallythereaders.com

credit to rallythereaders.com

Yet, even after that intense semester, I love literary fiction. While I often read cozy mysteries, fun chicklit, and some spec fiction, I prefer highly complex stories of mainstream literary fiction. Someday, I hope to write complicated stories of my own. Only I want Jesus as the central theme when generations of my characters weave a tapestry of tragedies, adventures, and daily living.
I’ve provided a list below of Christian authors who create wonderful, many-layered novels. While no one pens a story as heavy as Tolstoy, these authors write in a literary style filled with hope in the midst of their characters’ trials, and they bring the reader, and their protagonists, safely ashore by Finis. They don’t sugarcoat the reader’s world, but they offer far more hope and joy than the most lighthearted works of Jane Austen.

Pinterest.com

Pinterest.com

Wouldn’t it be great if high schools had required reading lists with these authors?

Ann Tatlock

Gene Stratton Porter

Elizabeth Musser

Madeleine Engle

Lisa Wingate

J.R.R. Tolkien

C.S. Lewis

John Bunyan

Francine Rivers

 

Who would you add for Christian literary fiction?

 

The Giver – And More

The-GiverLois Lowry’s Newbery Medal winner The Giver has been part of the literature curriculum in both Christian schools where I have spent my teaching career. Years ago, I had read the book and found it disturbing, but intriguing. It lacked a true resolution. Even though my natural optimism held high hopes for Jonas and Gabe, I would never know for sure. I hate making up my own ending. I want to know what the author had in mind.
Oh. There’s a Book Two?

Actually, Lowry wrote a quartet.

gathering_blue_cover

themessenger2_copy

-Son_by_Lois_Lowry
Our English teacher graciously loaned me all four books. I started over with The Giver, and then read the next three as though they were one huge volume.
Satisfying. Very satisfying.
Gathering Blue introduces the new main characters of Kira and Matt who seem to have no connection to The Giver until the last three pages. It still leaves us hanging since Kira cannot have her heart’s desire.
Messenger continues with Kira and Matty, and we only get a few clues regarding any connection to the quartet’s original title. While Book Three hints at a better future, it also ends in sorrow, and we know there’s got to be more.
Finally, in the last section of the fourth novel, Son, Jonas and Gabe reappear, nothing hidden, and we can see what Lowry intended all along.

Tapestry - Kinkade

art by Thomas Kinkade

All four tales can be read as stand-alones, but string them together, and the final novel weaves every thread of the previous stories into a tapestry of God’s love. Which is an odd thing to say, because like A Wrinkle in Time, whose message is similar, the word “Jesus” is never mentioned.
For that specific reason, The Giver and its companions are controversial in some Christian circles. Schools use it as a study in types of government since it so closely parallels communist societies. Students in Christian schools are challenged to consider the spiritual insights in the book.

We are free to interpret the series, as well as each individual novel, as we wish. Isn’t that what makes a great book? Like art, classic literature doesn’t dictate; it leaves room for discussion. Do any other classic books for tweens and teens come to mind that lead to lively debates?

 

How edgy is too edgy for Christian fiction?

Writing partner, Beth Steury asked a series of interesting questions earlier this week:

What I’ve been wondering is this: Are there places that Christian fiction shouldn’t go? Are there subjects too taboo to make an appearance in a work of fiction considered “Christian”? What is absolutely, positively, without question off-limits?

I posted my answer in the comments. For me, looking at specific examples especially extremes, helps me to narrow in on where to draw the line. Here are 5 books I consider edgy for Christian fiction.

Example 1: Demon by Tosca Lee

What begins as a mystery soon spirals into chaotic obsession as Clay struggles to piece together Lucian’s dark tale of love, ambition, and grace – only to discover that the demon’s story has become his own.  And then only one thing matters, learning how the story ends.

Demons

Example 2: The Resurrection by Mike Duran

What if one woman received the power to raise the dead… and woke something else?

Miracles, the occult

Example 3: The Atonement Child by Francine Rivers

AtonementChild1

“The Atonement Child explores the emotional and spiritual aspects of abortion through the fictional story of a young woman experiencing a crisis pregnancy. Author Francine Rivers drew on her own abortion experience and the stories of women she met at post-abortion support groups and crisis pregnancy centers while researching her subject.” ~FrancineRivers.com

Rape and abortion

Example 4: Amish Vampires in Space by Kerry Nietz

AViS

For this book, it’s not the premise that’s edgy, it’s the mashup of genres (and possibly the cover). Should combining certain elements in fiction be off limits?

Vampires + Amish 

5. Swimming Through Stars by Rajdeep Paulus

swimming through clouds

Domestic violence, child abuse

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I’ve read and completely enjoyed these books. I recommend each one of them. They are edgy, but they don’t cross the line for me. They might for some.

Beth asked another question. She wrote, “While the premise is interesting, the question ‘But why write a story about THIS?’ keeps spinning through my brain…”

I have no idea what book Beth was writing about, although she said it was speculative. [Really, what piece of fiction isn’t speculative? But I digress…] What I do know is that without books like the ones above, the world would be a darker place because each of them offers hope. Perhaps that’s the key? The subject isn’t as important as the message. We’re here to encourage, to build up, to shine light in dark places.

Sometimes to do that, you have to go into the dark. It can be ugly and scary there.

A caveat: Another thing I realized while putting together this list, is that there were books that I didn’t enjoy because they crossed a line for me. I didn’t include them here. Was it that they were too edgy? Did they offend my sensibilities?

On some level they did. One was a vampire book that had too much gore for what I considered a Christian character. [And I’m not talking about Ben Wolf’s Blood for Blood. That’s a great book and certainly worth reading.] Another was a book that portrayed the devil as an idiot. It’s not that I’m pro-Satan, but I have this thing about fiction that portarys angels and demons different than the Bible represents them.

SO TELL US: What crosses the line for you? What Christian books have you put down because they went to far? (You don’t have to name names, just give a generic description.) I’d also like to hear about Christian fiction that you thought was edgy but great. 

How far is too far?

And no, this time I’m not talking about boundaries for expressing physical affection or promoting saving sex for marriage. Plenty of discussion about that on my “Waiting Matters… Because YOU Matter” blog.christian-fiction-2

What I’ve been wondering is this: Are there places that Christian fiction shouldn’t go? Are there subjects too taboo to make an appearance in a work of fiction considered “Christian”? What is absolutely, positively, without question off-limits? And I’m mostly questioning subject matter rather than the inclusion or exclusion of profanity.

Now I want to be perfectly upfront. The tagline I’ve adopted for my fiction writing career is:

Realistic Contemporary YA Fiction — The Unflinching Realities

And I already mentioned my blog that very candidly addresses abstinence and renewed abstinence so it’s safe to say I don’t shy away from tough subjects or touchy issues. My philosophy about such things can be summed up like this –

The world never misses an opportunity to discuss issues of a “mature subject matter” and neither should Christians. Sin and its consequences are a reality. So are difficult decisions. Jesus’ power and presence are the answer to both.

So you may be wondering what’s up with the “how far is too far?” question. Actually, I’m wondering the same thing myself. You see I normally engage in conversations promoting more grit, more edge, more reality in Christian fiction. But I suddenly find myself asking “When is enough enough?”

file000739253401I’m reviewing a manuscript for an acquaintance who’s wondering if his story “goes too far”, whether the premise will be offensive to Christians. While the premise is interesting, the question “But why write a story about THIS?” keeps spinning through my brain, like a coyote circling a cluster of Conestoga wagons bedded down for the night. Does this go too far?

It’s gritty and edgy to be sure. But maybe it’s the “reality” part I’m struggling with as the story is clearly speculative fiction, taking place in a “what if?” world that sprouts from a ghastly, if interesting, premise. Do we really need a story about this? Even as I ponder my own reaction to the story, a chill creeps over me as the real-life events of the past several months play through my mind.

A year ago did we have any real clue the dark path our country and our world would be headed down? Did we have any grasp of the hatred and persecution that would be directed toward Christians and traditional values? Maybe what concerns me about this story is that its other-worldly reality isn’t as far of a stretch as I’d like to think, especially considering recent events.

I’ll admit “But why?” is a question I find myself asking a lot—and not just about fiction storylines. I have a curious naturfare in general. But I really want to know the “But why?” behind this story. I’m trying to decide if I need/want to know the answer WHILE I’m reading or wait until I finish.

Now, back to my original questions: “How far is too far?” and “When is enough enough?”

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Humor Author Deborah Dee Harper

Deborah Dee Harper

A versatile author—that’s Deborah Dee Harper, who writes humorous mystery and inspirational fiction for both children and adults. Her children’s adventure series, Laramie on the Lam, was published in 2012 and will be re-released in four books soon. Misstep, her 2015 debut adult novel, is published by Write Integrity Press under the Pens of Mystery imprint. Misstep is the first book of her Road’s End series, and from the following description, is a full-flavored read:

Retired Air Force chaplain Hugh Foster and his wife Melanie dream of a peaceful life as innkeepers in the pre-Revolutionary War village of Road’s End, Virginia. When Hugh is pressed into service at tiny but historic Christ Is Lord Church, their dream crumbles right along with the old building. One of Hugh’s first challenges is Emma River, a woman who needs no one—especially God—and lives in seclusion in her home, Rivermanse, guarding her dark secret and hated by most of the town. With a church in desperate need of repair, a dwindling congregation, and a record-breaking blizzard, the town’s residents—comprised mostly of ornery senior citizens—are forced to outwit some drug dealers who are bent on revenge against the church caretaker. Poor drug dealers.

Misstep Cover concept update 5 (1)Laramie-cvr

Deborah, welcome to the Scriblerians.

Thanks, Cynhia. I’m so happy to be here.

You like to mix humor, mystery, and spiritual inspiration in your fiction. Which mystery writers influenced you the most and why or how?

I don’t know that mystery writers, per se, influenced me, unless it was just a natural extension of all the reading I did as a kid and beyond. I did love Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew books, although I just discovered that Carolyn Keene was a pseudonym and more than one person has written under that name. Nevertheless, I guess you’d say that she (or they, as the case may be) influenced my early writing and started me on the path toward writing mysteries. And by early, I mean about 4th grade. My first mystery was titled, The Mystery of Castle Dawn. That was as far as that ever went—the title. I should finish it someday! Of course, Stephen King, James Patterson, John Grisham, all of whom have some element of mystery in their books are favorites of mine and I suppose that may have rubbed off on me too.

Some elements of Misstep remind me of a few of my favorite movies and television series from the 80s and 90s, such as Funny Farm, Murder She Wrote, and The Golden Girls (without the sexual references and innuendo). Without spoiling the story, please share with us how you used characters and situations to tickle the reader’s funny bone.

In Misstep, one of the characters is a young man about 18 years old who comes to town in the middle of the blizzard. His name is Sherman—a bright, nearly fluorescent orange-haired fellow—who brings Sophie with him to appear in the town’s upcoming outdoor live nativity. Sophie is a camel. With all his other problems, the last thing Hugh Foster needs to take care of is a camel. Nevertheless, Sophie is here and needs a place to stay, so Hugh directs Sherman to pull the camel’s trailer over by the 18th century henhouse. Sherman misunderstands and puts Sophie in the henhouse, which receives several visitors throughout the night, some of them less than happy to see Sophie there.

Is humor a natural part of all your fiction? What other books in addition to the ones already mentioned contain humorous elements?

Yes, humor permeates most of what I write. I’ve written two other books in the Road’s End series, Faux Pas and Misjudge, which are full of humor. Other manuscripts are being developed and they too have an element of humor throughout. It seems to just pour out of me as I write.

It’s a blessing when something comes easily in our writing. So much about being a writer is hard work. Do you have a favorite scripture verse that motivates you as a writer or keeps you centered?

As part of my email signature, I’ve included Psalms 68:3, “But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.” It reminds me that living as a child of God is not only a glorious adventure, it’s filled with humor. God gave us our sense of humor; we need to use it!

I agree!

More about Deborah and where to connect with her:

Deborah Dee Harper lives in Tennessee but spent four years in Anchorage, Alaska, where she hiked rugged paths to blue glaciers, watched the whales (and otters, sea lions, Dall sheep, ptarmigans, bald eagles, black bears, foxes, wolves, you-name-it) in their glorious natural surroundings. She even chased a grizzly bear down a dirt road to get a picture of it. She got it too (and survived to tell the story)!

http://www.deborahdeeharper.com

Author Facebook page http://tinyurl.com/nrg8ola

Goodreads Author page www.goodreads.com/goodreadscomdeborahdeeharper

Twitter handle @deborahdeetales