When I DO Like Fantasy

The first thing that comes to my mind upon hearing “fantasy fiction” is a medieval setting. Knights and dragons, sorcerers and quests. Unreadable names for every castle, dell, and hero. How annoying. I like to use basic phonics and sound out unfamiliar names. But with all those Welsh spellings? Forget it!

I realize there is far more to fantasy fiction than settings based on the Middle Ages in western civilization. Maybe Tolkien started the entire sub-genre with his Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have finally realized that Tolkien and Lewis weren’t the only authors to use fantasy as a vehicle to present Christian truth.

Take Lloyd Alexander (1924-2007). An American author, he found his niche in the 1960’s writing children’s fantasy. In 1969, he won the Newbery Award for The High King. Having spent his army years during World War Two in Wales, he gained first-hand experience in medieval geography. Yeah, there are a lot of Welsh names in his books. I wish I had known about his pronunciation guide, a separate book published in 1999.

Since I didn’t like fantasy, I never read much of it, so I only recently discovered his five part series, The Chronicles of Prydain. I had scanned The High King, the final book in the series, and was impressed with the deep philosophies analyzing good and evil which he wrote in such a way that children can understand.

Chronicles of Prydain

Until I have read them all, I don’t want to comment further on whether this could be considered Christian fiction, but I don’t mind if you spoil it for me and make your own comments.

Ideas introduced in the first novel, The Book of Three, figure prominently at the end of The High King, so I expect to have the total satisfaction of seeing the story come full circle, every loose end neatly tied to another.

I have read voraciously from kindergarten on, but the older I get, the more I realize how many books I’ve missed out on. While I’ll never live long enough to read all that I would desire, I want my tablet to be filled with so many books to read that the number of titles could rival Santa’s Naughty and Nice List!

What other inspirational fantasy fiction would you recommend to me? Especially in children’s literature?

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The Art of Self-Deception Part II

or…How to Drown in a Teacup

Greetings from the Great (wet) state of Texas. The Trinity River here in Henderson County has been approximately fifteen feet over flood stage—give or take a couple of feet—for several weeks. After nearly four months of rain, we are praying for more sunny days.

Vanessa Morton Trinity River Henderson County

Vanessa Morton
Trinity River Henderson County

The water table in Henderson County is typically high due to numerous lakes and springs, even without the recent heavy rains. Roher Springs, five miles away, is one of three sources of Ozarka bottled water in the southwest. Likewise, my family enjoys sweet well water from an underground spring in our vineyard, a mere 35 feet below the surface.

So . . . what does flooding have in common with Drowning in a Teacup? I’m glad you asked!

After my life-changing health challenges (read Part I), I’m gradually returning to my passion—writing—but this time it’s different. Previously, I agonized over passages, phrases, and dialog while drafting. Thus, my writing—overwhelmed by trivia—sometimes “drowned in a teacup” of my own making.

drowning in a teacup

Help!

With greater self-clarity, I now realize my perfectionism was only another form of self-deception. For example, while I tweaked, polished, and re-tied plot threads, I avoided the big issue: What if no one liked my books? Unpublished, my stories were still my babies with infinite potential. Once they left the nest, however, I’d have to face the reality that not everyone would find them superbly brilliant or vastly entertaining.

Now I write for myself instead of an audience, and I resist editorial backtracking until after the end of the rough draft.

Having a health crisis is strangely freeing, yet somehow poignant. I mourn the fact I wasted time, not only on my writing habits, but also on the mundane. Being unable to do some tasks—such as housework—released my inner perfectionist. Despite my initial misgivings, I found the world did not stop spinning when I failed to dust the house for a month.

The creator made each of us unique, and I believe your stories are different than mine and we can learn from each other. Would you share the techniques that help you meet your goals while maintaining balance?

 

How Do You Define the Horror Genre?

Mary Shelly created the modern monster character, Frankenstein.

Mary Shelly created the modern monster character, Frankenstein.

 

I’ve been “bear baiting” a bit in my last posts on horror. Yes, I have tried to be evocative, but I want to alter the tone for this blog. There are people that actually enjoy horror and probably don’t know it. Recognizing and defining horror fiction has become difficult in the new millennium, and not because it’s really hard. The true reality of horror as a genre has been eclipsed by the successful marketing of  the modern horror slasher and spatter films. Talk about horror as a genre and no one brings up Universal Studios “B” monster movies anymore. What everyone thinks of are films that are wall-to-wall blood and gore. Movies and movie franchises like the Saw films, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Evil Dead, and others have done a lot to obscure modern horror stories of the 18th and 19th, and 20th centuries. Maybe that’s because we have a hard time defining what “horror” as a literary or film genre is.

How should we define the horror genre? One of my favorite working definitions of horror comes from Dr. Donna Casella, instructor\scholar of film theory, film studies, and early American Literature at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Casella states that horror is an, “An atmospheric genre — populated by creatures of dread – that plays on human and cultural fears.” Give a story a creepy atmosphere (whatever that is) to give it legs, while making sure the themes play against cultural fears and throw in creatures of dread (monsters, but monsters that can be human, or natural creatures, as well as supernatural).frankenstein-cartoon-character_zJJoosvu

The first recognized modern horror genre is known as Victorian Gothic horror. Reading those books says a lot about what got under the skin of the people of that time, especially women. During the Victorian era, significant amount of horror was written by women for women. That’s pretty progressive, considering society of that time didn’t allow women to vote, hold property, or even have checking accounts. I fell in love with Gothic horror when taking a graduate course on women authors. As tough as the stories from that era could be to read, many that were preserved had rich payoffs and were completely worth the effort.

If you accept Dr. Casella’s definition as a primary definition, and I do until someone comes up with a better one, horror as a genre can be about every day things, as well as the paranormal. Remember Stephen King’s Cujo? An adorable St. Bernard becomes one of the scariest monsters in twentieth century literature.

Horror can also contain the fantastic or mundane, but to be sure, horror isn’t always about ghosts, vampires, zombies, blood and gore, or flesh-eating monsters. Creatures of dread can be rats (Willard 1971), sharks (Jaws 1975), bears (Night of the Grizzly 1966), rabbits (Night of the Lepus 1972), relatives (Uncle Silas by Le Fanu), and even ordinary people turned murderous for one night every year (The Purge 2013).

Best selling author from the late 18th century. Her mysteries of Udolpho was ground breaking.

Best selling author from the late 18th century. Her mysteries of Udolpho was ground breaking.

One of my favorite all-time horror movies is Jack the Bear with Danny Devito. Devito’s character is a host for late night horror movies on television. There was no blood or gore, but when a neo-fascist shows up to indoctrinate a vulnerable neighborhood kid in Hitler style Aryanism, the atmosphere amps up and propels the creature of dread theme forward.  And yes, I consider neo-facists creatures of dread. Remember, horror has to play against personal or cultural fears. That doesn’t mean horror is always intended to incite fear, sometimes it’s an incredible tool for evaluating fears.

Lest you think horror can’t be humorous, you should check out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahme-Smith. I laughed a lot in spite of the “bone crunching” scenes. The novel can very tongue-in-cheek in parts, at least I thought so. See what I did there? I didn’t say whose tongue in whose cheek as this is a zombie novel, right? Let’s move on.

A very hilarious and clever book is a grammar textbook called The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Elizabeth Gordon. I have used this to successfully tutor college students in English grammar. Yes, infinitives, prepositional phrases, gerunds, passive voice, and everything else English can be truly terrifying, but Gordon successfully mimics the Gothic horror style and uses it to teach English. Pretty useful for a genre blacklisted in the minds of many .

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire:

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire:

 

Douglas Winter, horror author and critic once stated,“Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion.” But if you think the only strong emotion allowed in horror is horror, terror, or dread, you’ve not read very much. Pathos is just as much a part of horror as the emotion of horror itself. Consider a truly iconic horror/monster movie of the twentieth century, King Kong (2005). Personally, I find a lot to dread in this scene as to what it says about humans.

One of the founders of the Horror Writers Association, Robert McCammon, once said, “Horror fiction upsets apple carts, burns old buildings, and stampedes the horses; it questions and yearns for answers, and it takes nothing for granted. It’s not safe….Horror fiction can be a guide through a nightmare world, entered freely and by the reader’s own will. And since horror can be many things and go in many, many, directions, that guided nightmare ride can shock, educate, illuminate, threaten, shriek, and whisper before it lets the readers loose.” (Twilight Zone Magazine, Oct 1986).

Once horror is allowed to grow beyond zombies, vampires, werewolves, and Amish vampires in space (author Kerry Nietz is my hero) in the minds of the audience. The genre of horror becomes a potent agent of confrontation and change. So let’s remember there’s more to horror as a genre than just wall-to-wall gore.

The Bowling Ball

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Todd goes through life much like an oversized bowling ball.

Like his arrival home – heralded by the usual thumps of him kicking perennially unlaced runners against the wall, then a shoulder check to the door while twisting the knob and finally, an eruption into the house.

“You won’t believe this,” he exclaims, stomping into the kitchen in his rumpled gray T-shirt and khakis. Frayed hems flop behind his heels. He tosses his backpack onto the island. “Mr. Crowthers sprung a surprise vocabulary test.”

Our cat sidles out of the kitchen.

Todd scratches his wild curls, yanks the milk out of the fridge and slams the door. Three fridge magnets clatter to the floor. He replaces one.

So far, the bowling game is comparatively low scoring.

“Was it a surprise to everyone else?” I retrieve a magnet from under the fridge.

“Dunno. Prob’ly.” He grabs a spoon and the Almond Crisp, then scrapes a stool to the island.

“Well, how’d you do?”

He stares at the back of the cereal box. “With what?”

“You know, the surprise test.”

“Oh, not sure. We didn’t mark ‘em yet ‘cause he had some VERY IMPORTANT things to discuss. He even held us for an extra six minutes.” He splashes the milk into the bowl, and onto the counter.

“So, what did he say?” I hand him a rag.

“Something about mid terms. I think.”

He swipes once at the milk puddle then fires the rag toward the sink, but instead nails my Easter lily. It nose-dives to the floor. Head Pin!

“Oops.”

I hate that word. But, there are others – “uh oh,” “whoops”, and the ever popular, “Was that an antique?”

“Todd. Seriously! Slow down!” I rush over and groan at the severed white bloom in the pile of dirt.

“Sorry…Oh, hey, you gotta see this.” Burrowing through the contents of his backpack, he yanks out a wrinkled piece of paper. He slaps it down exclaiming, “D’ya like that?”

I recoil – it’s stained brown from something in his pack I’d rather not know about. I gingerly smooth it out and see a circled 43/40. “Wow. Nice going. But 43 out of 40?”

“Bonus points.” He pumps a fist. “I named three Roman Emperors.”

For the millionth time, I wonder how consistent he would be if he really tried.

After re-washing the counter, I bring out the dustpan.

“Hey, I can do that,” he blurts through a full mouth.

I glance at my other tender plants – more potential pins. “Uh, no. S’okay.”

Suddenly I’m in a firm neck hold. Todd delivers a smooch that feels more like a playful punch to the jaw.

“Goin’ to Brandon’s to work on a project. ‘Kay?”

I survey my once neat kitchen. This bowling match could turn out a winning score very soon. “Sure. Great idea.” I say a bit too enthusiastically.

He hauls his backpack off the counter, snagging his cereal bowl. It clatters to the floor.

“Whoops.”

“Todd!”

Strike and end of match.

 

Does this sound like anything you could relate too? I’m hoping you can say yes.

This little story was  the winning entry to a contest on personalities I’d submitted to years ago. I think I took all of ten minutes to write it, as it was crystal clear in my mind. I had, right in my own home, all the inspiration I needed to write about a boy’s personality. All I had to do sometimes (when I wasn’t scurrying off in the car to another of his hockey practices) was grab a chai tea latte, and watch. Okay, plus grab a rag.. and a broom.. and a tylenol for my headaches.

But the difference between normal people (and I use that term loosely) and writers, is that life experiences seldom go unnoticed and/or undocumented. Living life is just doing research for our books. My boys know that my characters are them in different settings. And thankfully they are fine with that.

So tell me, how many of your characters are your family members and/or friends? Or if not, where do you get your inspiration?

 

 

Hop aboard the Faith-Based-Movie bandwagon!

I guess you could say I’ve hopped on the support-faith-based-movies bandwagon and plan to stay aboard.

I’ve been so excited about the success of the faith-based movie “Old Fashioned” that premiered over Valentine’s Day 1531667_870090766371256_7520934718922429915_nweekend. Dubbed the “little film that could” by producer/director/writer and lead actor Rik Swartzwelder, the movie’s opening weekend broke box-office records for a faith-based film (under 300 screens). The movie continues to open in new cities weeks after its premier weekend.

While many assumed the multiple roles Swartzwelder took on had to do with a lack of funding, he actually auditioned for the lead role of Clay.

The mainstream media would have us believe Swartzwelder only recently bounced onto the movie scene and in response to the highly touted big screen premiere of E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Neither assumption is true.

As Soncee Brown Partida discovered while interviewing Swartzwelder

“Rik Swartzwelder is no stranger to the entertainment business. As a college student in Florida he created Studio 13, a live sketch comedy/improvisation show that ended up playing to exclusively sold-out audiences for the entire two-and-a-half years he was its primary writer, director, and featured performer. He has an M.F.A. in Motion Picture Production from Florida State University, and more than 50 major awards for his work as a Writer/Producer/Director. Nearly ten years in the making, Old Fashioned is clearly more than just another project to Rik Swartzwelder – it’s his labor of love.”

11035292_871610902885909_4700098698302888467_nOriginally scheduled to open in mid-2014, Swartzwelder nixed those plans when he saw the announcement that “Fifty Shades of Grey” would release Valentine’s Day 2015 as a mainstream, romantic date night option. He was stopped in his tracks and describes it as a “moment when the skies part and you hear the choir of angels singing in the background”. The realization dawned that “Old Fashioned” was made for “such a time as this.”

Having begun the project long before the existence of “Fifty Shades”, Swartzwelder never dreamed of the David vs. Goliath type drama he and his film would be embroiled in.

Ten years in the making… That’s a long time.

This fact caught my attention as I’m 5+ years working on a young adult Christian fiction series whose high school characters grapple with issues of love and intimacy, abstinence and renewed abstinence in today’s sex crazed world.

I so appreciated Swartzwelder’s comments

“…when it comes to issues of intimacy or sex, we are terrified of being perceived as judgmental. So we don’t want to make comments on anything, because we don’t want to be a joke on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. We don’t want to be a punchline or be written off as out of touch or just judgmental or condemning.”

I can identify with those feelings but agree with Swartzwelder’s conclusion—

“If the Church is so afraid of being laughed at, or having to bow down and have pop culture sort of affirm us, that we’re can’t even offer an example for that young girl to follow, or that young man who’s growing up, then what’s the purpose of us even being on the planet?”

Amen and amen.

Thanks, Mr. Swartzwelder, for not giving up… for believing in your story… for being obedient to GOD’s timing.

We’ve grown weary of perusing movie rental sites and the cable/satellite TV offerings for the rare less than “R” rated film. I’m praying that the response to “Old Fashioned” will inspire more faith-based films to pursue the oft-times long, rock-strewn journey to the big screen. And I vow to be more supportive of those that make it to either TV or CFDb-Banner-300-x-250the big screen.

I was thrilled to discover the Christian Films Database (CFDb) chock full of information on upcoming TV and theatre movies  including release dates, in-depth reviews and previews. Easily searchable by genre, category, even film format as well as month of release and TV vs. theatre, the site is a comprehensive source of information.

CFDb led me to ccinema_cfdb-2ChristianCinema.com offering plans for buying, renting or streaming faith-affirming, family-approved movies. It appears to operate similar to NetFlix. I will definitely be looking into the details on this great as faith-based films often are not widely released or considered popular enough to be stocked at rental outlets.

Let’s not give up on Christians making an impact on our world but rather get behind cinematic attempts to share truth and light.

What upcoming movies are you looking forward to seeing?

Pay No Attention to the Man, Woman, or Whaterver Behind the Curtain.

What makes for a well-told story? I’m not asking what makes a story good or bad. It is true a well-told story can mean the difference between a story being liked or disliked, but that isn’t always the case.

The most interesting thing about bad storytelling is that it has never stopped an audience from enjoying a story they liked. The stories that interest us as human beings all share some basic elements whether the media\genre is a newspaper article, novel, short story, TV drama, radio drama, true story, current event, biography, memoir, or historical event . Let me give you an example.

I don’t like opera or light opera, but I love a good story. Here is a story I liked:

As a narratives go, there are definite things going on in this clip. There is so much more going on story-wise underneath and behind that is designed to be transparent to the audience. It is this transparency that often means the difference between getting people to view your work or ignore it. When a storyteller learns to master (just knowing them isn’t enough) these transparent elements, it won’t matter what genre or media you use, people will watch, listen, or read your narratives.

If you were in a face to face class with me, after having watched the video, I would ask, “How many of you found the clip interesting and would at least tune in for the next episode?” Of course there’s always some punk in a one hundred level course that thinks showing any interest in a class topic is uncool, but the bulk of students I have shown this clip do found it interesting.

Now comes the fun part,  Did you like this? What makes this something you would follow into the next week to find out what happens or not follow? Please post your answers as replies.

Of course I’m going to share these transparent things, but I want to give you dear audience the opportunity to weigh in. Why? Because learning is always best done together, and I may be the one sharing this, but I never pass up an opportunity to learn something new from others.

The Killilea Family: In Everything Give Thanks

As November arrives and the Thanksgiving/Christmas season of goodwill begins, I will inevitably bump into a grinch who grouses about his or her lack of blessings. The economy is awful, their health is failing, the family is falling apart. Their greatest joy seems to be passing on bad news. I have the feeling I ruin the day further by promising to pray.

Complaints. Credit to robliano.wordpress.com

Complaints. Credit to robliano.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my own seasons of calamity I have learned to be content, and I hope I will honestly be able to say at the end of my earthly life when all seasons come to a close, “I know both how to be abased and how to abound.”
One of those difficult seasons arrived early in life when my sister was born. A victim of the German Measles epidemic in the mid-1960’s, Tricia entered this world with several congenital defects. For her first two years, she was in and out of hospitals as doctors became detectives in discovering what was wrong and what, if anything, medicine could do to help. One of her challenges was cerebral palsy (CP).

Karen
So when I was twelve and Tricia was two, my mom handed me a book. Karen. A true story, Marie Killilea wrote about the hardships of raising a daughter (Karen) with CP. Except the hardships were laced with such joyful episodes of the Killilea family loving and supporting each other, how could I feel sorry for them for long? I identified with them. My family was like theirs.
Karen’s parents treated her like all of their other children. While she had a delightful personality, Karen was no angel, and she paid the consequences just as her brother and sisters did. That’s how my parents treated Tricia. Karen’s siblings helped teach her to walk and eat and play like other children. That’s what my brothers and I did with Tricia! They even had a dog who assigned himself the duty of Karen’s guardian. Well, the similarities ended there. Our dog wasn’t that talented.
The book was not a new publication when I first read it. Karen was born in 1940. Most doctors of the era advised Marie and her husband to place Karen in an institution and forget they ever had a daughter with that name. In response, Marie pioneered the founding of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Westchester County which later joined with other local organizations to form Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York State (CP of NYS) . With the help of a few willing doctors, they tried highly experimental exercises to help Karen coordinate her muscles. Their success brought new hope to thousands of other families who were struggling with the sorrows of CP.

 

Marie Killilea also wrote a sequel, With Love From Karen, and a young children’s version of Karen titled Wren.

With Love From karen                                                                   wrenWhile Marie passed away several years ago, Karen, now in her mid-seventies, still lives in New York state.
Do you want to know what it’s like to live day by day with a child who requires constant physical care? Read Karen. Do you want to expose your children to situations where people rise up courageously to face circumstances beyond their control? Have them read Karen. Is your family going through its own rough season? Be encouraged. Read Karen.