Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Time Out

I think I'm going to take a brief time out from blogging. It will only be for a week or so, but right now I need a break. Although I've been steadily putting up content for months now, last night I realized I need to step back for a bit and reevaluate where things are heading with my book writing and my blogging. On a side note, I do have plans for three new books in the works (one non-fiction, two fiction) that I hope to release sometime next year if possible. More details on those projects in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, some nice reviews have come in from a recent Goodreads giveaway I did. They can be found here and here if you are interested. I also plan on having a Goodreads giveaway for Horizons soon, too...and probably within the next couple of weeks.

Be back soon.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Playing God, Part I

Do you watch many movies? If so, I'm sure you can come up with a list of your favorite actors/actresses at a moments notice, or maybe even your favorite director. When it comes to historical movies, for example, I've watched many interviews where the actor or actress will describe their process for "getting into character" and sometimes they even talk about the hours they put in trying to prepare for a particular role. The pressures and standards they are held to seem to be higher when they try to represent a person out of history, especially a well-known figure.

Yet Christians do the same thing everyday, whether they know it or not. People who know little about Jesus (or maybe are turned off by the church) will likely consider any believer to be a representative whether they feel like being one or not. As a representative, however, it can sometimes be easy to fall into the trap of substituting ourselves in God's role instead of pointing people back to God himself. Unfortunately, there are usually a lot of drawbacks to "playing God" instead of pointing people to God. In a sense, instead of being a signpost we end up becoming a stop sign.

It seems like people are always looking for a physical representation of God in some form or another, even to the point of creating their own representation and turning the created item into an object of worship. Some preachers also like to substitute their own philosophies or even their own representations of the Word in place of what the Word actually says. It's difficult enough that we are imperfect representations of the real deal, but when a preacher puts their own spin on the Word to make themselves feel better or even in a sincere effort to make someone feel better, the results can be long lasting and in some cases devastating.

None of this is new, however. This type of thing happened in the Old Testament era, and can be found in the Corinthian church. Consider I Corinthians 1:12-13 (NKJV):
"Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?"

In verse 17 Paul adds (NKJV):
"For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect."

Here Paul can see several divisions within the early church already appearing, and instead of pointing people back to himself, he steps out of the way and points them back to Christ. This is a tough task because it's tempting to take credit for a great message. I've heard innumerable stories over the years, too, though, of where a person stopped going to church because of something a pastor said to them. Usually this was because the person was dealing with a stressful or tragic situation and needed answers. It's difficult, however, for a pastor to know where a person is coming from sometimes when approached with such questions. Even if they do know, it doesn't mean that's what God would say in that instance.

Next Monday, I'll cover more on this topic and look at some ways that we can get out of the way.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Horizons Now Available

Just in time for Christmas...Horizons is now available in paperback here. A Kindle version will also be available within the next few days. Although this is a relatively small collection (under 100 pages), it covers a broad range of topics in the form of short stories and poetry.

Here is the back cover copy for the book: 

If God does not play dice, does He ever play marbles? A gambling weatherman finds hope in the heart of a hurricane, amidst mounting losses. An ancient message arrives to a futuristic church...but is it too late?

Here are six short stories and twenty poems whose themes range from rollercoasters to fatherhood to the aftermath of a summer thunderstorm. From an underground library to a remarkable rescue in a Christmas Eve blizzard, each story is a venture to a new horizon.

In addition, three more books are in the works and will become available over the next 1-2 years. The next book to be released will be non-fiction, followed by another novel, Race the Sky, and a much larger short story collection, Corridors. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Word Counts Are Overrated

There. I said it.

I was reading this post about traits of successful writers, and his comments about daily word counts resonated with me. I often see an abundance of posts on forums and blogs that talk about the importance of writing daily but few that talk about writing in streaks or bursts. In fact, that almost appears to be shunned or frowned upon as if it were an act of laziness or unprofessionalism.

I disagree, and here's why.

For some writers, having a word count goal is a great motivational tool. For others (like me) I tend to work in bursts. I've tried to write on a daily basis and reach word count goals, but for whatever reason they do not work. My writing quickly turns into diatribes about my writing, which is kind of strange really. I find I am much more productive if I take breaks instead. It is NOT indicative of laziness, because if you actually saw how much work I put into an individual book or story, you'd quickly realize the amount of planning and editing I do is sometimes a little ridiculous. Suprisingly enough, for novels I do quite a bit of outlining.

For example, my novel, Theft at the Speed of Light, took fifteen years to write. There are four very different versions of it that all represent efforts to get the story right. Yet I did not work on it every single day during those fifteen years...sometimes I went for months or even years without working on it.

Another upcoming novel that I hope to start and finish next year is Race the Sky, which is about stormchasing. I already have one version of the novel written, but I was unhappy with certain parts of it. The new ideas that I intend to add to it will transform it into a completely different book, but I will also bring the vivid storm chase scenes from the old version with it. I have also sunk several years of research into this book already, mainly by reading chaser diaries online, going through books, and watching every single storm chasing video I could. That's hardly laziness, and I fully expect this book to be written in a big burst that will stretch across several weeks. Leading up to it, I may not write much of anything for days or weeks.

My main point here is that as writers, we all work a bit differently. Word count goals may be a great way to keep you motivated, but for some of us we need breaks because we work so intensely on any given project, and maybe even to the edge of burnout. Word counts on those "burst" days could easily reach into the thousands and when you average all the numbers out over a year, you'll find the same goals are reached: productive writing. In the end, isn't that what counts?

How about you? Do word count goals work for you? Or do you tend to work in streaks?

Monday, November 21, 2011

When to Leave a Church, Part II

Last week, I addressed some issues that were occuring locally and some warning signs on when it might be time to move on and find a different congregration. Although this seems to becoming a more common thing nowadays (and I'm sure we can all come up with our own lists of legitimate reasons to leave a congregration), this week I wanted to point out a couple of issues that seem to be contributing to these issues.

First off, some context. In I Corinthians 3, Paul talks about divisions that were already coming into the church back then. In other words, as Solomon once wrote "there is nothing new under the sun," (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Even in the Corinthian church, there were many obstacles to overcome such as the numerous gods and goddesses that were previously worshipped in the region. Funny how some things are coming full circle now.

In this instance, however, I'm seeing a couple trends that preceeded some of the unusual issues I mentioned last week. The biggest one by far is biblical illiteracy. With the abundance of reading devices, access to the internet, endless Bible study availability, this is actually surprising. Yet time and again I find it amazing how few people "do their homework" when examining a new set of teachings...including the pastors/preachers themselves. Maybe it is due to the excessively busy lifestyles that Americans tend to lead nowadays.

Another piece to this puzzle also seems to be what I wrote about in this post. Why is it that so many people can power their way through 1,000 page novels or non-fiction books in a matter of days but can't even read a chapter a week out of their Bible? They'll even go so far as to read books about the Bible, but seriously struggle with day-to-day or even weekly reading of the Word on their own time. Again, with the abundance of resources and Bible translations out there, I find this amazing. While it is true that not all are called to teach out of the Word, basic reading seems to be an incredible struggle.

The other potential factor here is that we may be in the End Times. There is lots of commentary on either side of this issue, but some relevant verses here can be found in Matthew 24 and in II Thessalonians. Both speak of a falling away before Christ returns, which is in sharp contrast to some of the current teachings making their rounds that try to promote a theology that "God is powerless" unless we act (or get out of the way) and that we (the church) are the ones who will bring about Christ's second coming. Again...this goes back to basic knowledge of a handful of Bible verses.

Ultimately, whether an individual or a family decides to move on from a church due to heretical teachings is a personal decision. A case can be made to try to "hang in there" and stand on the Word in the hopes that others will listen. At some point, however, it may be time to walk away and move on to work with those who will listen.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Nine Things

Today's post is part of the blog chain (see sidebar at right). This month's topic is "nine things". Please be sure to visit the others' posts, too. 

One thing I continually try to work on in my fiction writing is character development. At times, though, I've found it difficult to come up with original characters. So over the years I started to develop a "system of lists" as a means of avoiding writer's block in this area. The lists are organized by categories: occupation, hobbies, traits, and psychological needs.

How this works is that I usually start with an occupation, and then match it with a hobby, then add some traits, and finally combine it with a psychological need. In other words, it's kind of like an assembly line for characters. You don't need to start with the occupation, though, and often times I'll freely draw connections between the lists or try out different combinations to see what is the most interesting.

So, here are eighteen words from each list to help you with your own writing (nine things times two ='s the eighteenth...get it?):


trucker, cook, inventor, musician, doctor, plumber, teacher, drifter, firefighter, librarian, jeweler, clockmaker, woodworker, banker, chemist, farmer, carpenter, resort owner


rockclimbing, music collector, gambles, teaches, plays golf, stargazer, weaves, plays chess, hunts, writes, does crosswords, marathon runner, paints, has no time for hobbies, sculpts, plays in a rock band, hikes, draws


shortsighted, free-spending, aggressive, passive, analytic, impulsive, picky, honest, punctual, carefree, manipulative, meticulous, opportunist, conceited, control freak, comical, hypochondriac, intuitive

Psychological Needs/Motivations

wants to fall in love, vengence, needs to be right, to discover truth about the past, wants to help everybody, running from past life, needs to win, to right a past wrong, to be in control, misses church, medical quest, lost parent or sibling, need for acceptance, to conquer things, poor as a child, needs lots of friends, wants to be alone, social justice

And, since I normally post tech-related links on Fridays (and since this was a low-tech post), here's a link to a video that shows the strange phenomenon of "bioluminescent waves". Not really tech-related, but colorful nonetheless. Oddly enough, this effect is a result of a red tide.

Lastly, here's an article describing the effort to build two ten-story Tesla coils in order to study lightning. It's one of the more intriguing uses of the Kickstarter funding program I've seen.

Have a good weekend.

Monday, November 14, 2011

When to Leave a Church, Part I

Are we in the Last Days church? Some days it really looks like it.

The other week some "new" teachings being introduced at a local church were brought to my attention. I did some research which involved looking at both sides of the issue (pro and con) and also watched multiple sermons by this particular teacher. I then brought the research to the attention of one of our small group discussions and was met with some resistance. I prefaced my comments by saying that the information I was bringing forth was nothing personal and that I knew some people had spent years studying this particular preacher's works. Some eye-opening comments came forth and none of them were based on comparing things with Scripture.

The meeting ended with me choosing to leave early and seriously questioning what direction the church was moving. I soon realized that perhaps it was time to move on to a different congregation.

I then sat down and compiled a short list of the reasons why I, and others, would have grounds for leaving a particular congregation. They included:

  • When it becomes more interesting to find "gold dust" in a Bible than actually reading what's on the pages
  • When people become more focused on the "experience" rather than learning anything from the Word
  • When you point out substantial errors in the new teachings that directly conflict with the Word and no one seems too concerned about it
  • When there is talk of a lack of "unity" over the new teachings, not because they are unbiblical, but because they are "new"
  • Little to no comparison of the "miracles" with what Scripture teaches
  • There is widespread twisting and spinning of Scripture in the new materials being taught

As you can probably see, some of this has to do with an ongoing "signs and wonders" movement that is sweeping the churches around the world. Often times these "signs and wonders" are attributed to the Holy Spirit, but is that really what is happening? Or is it a confusion of true miracles with false signs mixed in? Why is every supernatural event being attributed to the Holy Spirit? These verses came to mind as I was doing research:

II Thessalonians 2:7-10 (NKJV) states:
"For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved."
Matthew 24:24 (NKJV) states:
"For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect."
In Acts 17:11, the Bereans were commended by Paul for searching the Scriptures to see if his teachings were true and worthy. I saw none of that occuring with these recent events. I even willingly offered to compare the new sermons and teachings with what the Word actually says. There did not seem to be much interest in that. Although there is hope in this situation, it brings to light a much bigger ongoing issue that shows little sign of improvement.

Next Monday, I'll cover what I think is leading to this phenomenon and where it may be leading next.

Have you ever left a church you've attended for a long time? What led you out the door?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Random Tech Bits

To offset the heavy duty post I have planned for next Monday, today I thought I'd follow the usual Friday routine as of late and share some tech related links.

Here's a link to a video for a Microsoft Kinect-based instrument. Very creative and I'm curious to see what direction this project takes in the future.

Here's one from on "quantum levitation". I'm not sure how to describe the video, other than it looks like a smoking pancake levitating above and around a track.

This one has been around a while. It's a tornado vs. a train. You can probably guess who wins.

If you've never been to the Computer History Museum, there's always the opportunity to check out their videos here

Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Storms From Above

A few weeks ago, I saw this video taken from the International Space Station as it orbited around the Earth. Around the 22-second mark in the video, there are bursts of lightning from storms occurring on the surface. It's a fascinating view, and yet it reminds me of the verse from Psalm 24:1-2 (NIV - 1984) which reads:
"The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for He founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters."
That's everything, including the sky, the clouds, and even the lightning bolts. To illustrate further, in Job 37:3 (NIV - 1984) it reads:
"He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven and sends it to the ends of the earth."
Or even Job 37:11 (NIV - 1984) it states:
"He loads the clouds with moisture; he scatters his lightning through them."
A little more ominously, in Job 38:35 (NIV - 1984) God tells Job:
"Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?"
The other week I mentioned how storms can be an act of God, and here I discuss how the phrase "global warming" will take on a whole new meaning in the future. A lot of times, though, I'll see reports that comment on the increasing severity of certain types of weather (the recent Alaska superstorm/hurricane/blizzard for example) but God (as usual) is almost always left out of the equation, despite the use of terms such as "disaster of Biblical proportions" or "epic" or "record-breaking".

Granted, an individual weather event does not necessarily mean that a certain city or region is getting punished for anything, but the potential does exist and there is a Biblical precedent for this. That said, from Scripture it's pretty clear who controls the weather, even down to the individual components such as a lightning bolt.

Next Wednesday, we'll take a look at how certain elements of heaven are often compared to the weather and what conclusions can be drawn from that.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fact in Fiction

How much of any given novel is truly "fiction"? The answer depends.

One of the stories for my upcoming collection, Horizons, for example, has a bit of an autobiographical twist to it. The story involves a down-and-out bookstore owner whose car crashes into a snowbank in the midst of a snowstorm. On a seemingly lonesome highway, allies suddenly appear when he least expects it.

At the risk of giving the story away, what happens next really did occur to me on a lonely highway in the middle of a snowstorm. I wasn't working at a bookstore at the time, but I was returning home from the late shift at a nearby restaurant. For the story itself, I altered the looks of the people that came to help, but I did not change how they worked that night to pull me out of my situation. You'll have to read the actual short story to see what happened that snowy night, but this made me think of an age-old question when reading other authors' works of fiction: how much of the story really happened to them or somebody they knew?

Sometimes, such as in the case of Hemingway, you can see where he got his inspiration for a book such as The Old Man and the Sea. Then if you try to read interviews with the author, the line between fiction and reality seems purposely blurred. It's pretty much impossible to tell what events in that book happened for real and which ones did not.

This tension sometimes leads to peculiar conversations. I remember being asked by a couple of people if the events in An Echo Through the Trees really happened to me. My answer: it depends how you look at it. Have I ever had to go and rescue someone who we thought was lost in the woods at night? Yes (turns out they weren't lost, though, but late in coming back to camp). The main character in that story also freezes his feet. Have I ever experienced that? Yes. I pretty much froze my feet after a long game of snow football in knee deep snow. Not fun. Have I ever written letters for months or even years and not gotten replies? Yes.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Maybe a better way to describe this process is that an author will sometimes, but not always, draw from personal experience and then use those experiences as a sort of palette to paint with. The end result may not look anything like the original event, but in many cases, there might be a connection. Again, though, it really depends on the author as to how much "fact" they want to put into their fictional characters.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Still Going

It's Wednesday, and that means it's time for another outdoors or weather related post. This week, however, I'd like to take a brief detour from the heavy duty posts I've been making as of late (see the 130 pound hailstone post here or the one about increasing twister sizes). Instead, I'd like to mention a strange trend in our garden: frost-defying Brussels sprouts.

When I read the package of seeds this past spring it mentioned about how the plants could tolerate a frost. Okay. What they didn't mention was that the things appear to be able to tolerate multiple frost events and keep growing. It's November according to the calendar, but these things are still sprouting.

I sense the potential for science fiction material here.

After reading this week that genetically modified mosquitoes are being developed and that some have already been released into the wild, part of me wonders if these things in the garden have been tinkered with, too. I mean, why not? Are there genetically modified bees pollinating the garden? Sometimes I think some scientists seriously underestimate the complexity of the natural world that they are manipulating.

With the first snow of the season just around the corner, I'm thinking by Thanksgiving I'll be harvesting sprouts in a snowbank.