f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: 09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Type of Writer I Strive to Be

Neil Gaiman in a wide-ranging interview (that also included Joss Whedon) in Time said:
Somebody said that writers are like otters. And otters are really hard to train. Dolphins are easy to train. They do a trick, you give them a fish, they do the trick again, you give them a fish. They will keep doing that trick until the end of time. Otters, if they do a trick and you give them a fish, the next time they'll do a better trick or a different trick because they'd already done that one. And writers tend to be otters. Most of us get pretty bored doing the same trick. We've done it, so let's do something different.

Also a quote from later in the article (Gaiman talking about his new movie Mirrormask.)
But then, I get fascinated because, in America, it almost seems like family has become a code word for something that you can put a five-year-old in front of, go out for two hours, and come back secure in the knowledge that your child will not have been exposed to any ideas. I didn't want to do that. I like the idea of family as something where a seven-year-old would see a film and get stuff out of it, and a fifteen-year-old would get something else out of it, and a 25-year-old would get a different thing out of it.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Short Story Contest

24 hours, 25 minutes left. Lots of entries in. Hopefully I'll see yours, too. Email it here.

When to Worry About Niche

I don’t know what your writing habits are like. If I can suggest one thing it is to try and forget all but your characters and story while in the middle of writing. Self-editing and worrying about “markets” and “gate-keepers” are good ways to find yourself staring at either a very blank screen or a screen filled with words you don’t believe in very much.

There are two times that seem most fit to thinking about the market:

1.) When you’re deciding what to write.
2.) After you’ve completed your first draft.

Number one may not be an option. You may be the kind of writer who has a single burning story that needs to come out. If so, don’t try and write something else. Others may have a variety of stories that could be worth exploring. If publishing is a goal, then it’s not the worst idea to think through what each idea could mean in terms of market potential, etc.

In the end, though, please write a story that you want to write. I’ve seen lots of proposals that appear to have been dictated by the “industry.” I see far fewer that fit the industry but seem to reflect a deep passion of the writer as well.

After finishing your first draft you may see some new avenues or adjustments you could make to your story market friendly. These probably aren’t going to be big things. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to turn a story about a woman caring for her dying mother into a lighthearted chick-lit novel simply because the genre is hot.

When all is said and done, both #1 and #2 pale in importance to what happens in between. You could have the greatest idea in the world, but if the writing is incompetent, it won’t fly. The writing should still be your focus and your joy. Most everything else is the hard business of ink and paper.

When What a Word Means Changes....

From the USA Today.

(I love it when professors get interviewed for things like this. "I have a Ph.D. in Linguistics from freakin' Harvard and all you people want to talk to me about is naughty words!")

Also, I agree with the T-shirt.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Niche, Hook, Whatever

We like to think of writing and novels as pristine territory, untainted by the forces of markets and marketing. That’s obviously a load of hooey. And while I don’t think dwelling on such things improves your writing a lick, it’s important to be cognizant of these things, especially as you approach being published.

To gain a sense of why it’s important to think of your book in terms of an open niche or in terms of a marketing hook, let’s spend a moment inside someone’s head. That person is the fiction buyer for a store. It can be the religion buyer for a Borders. Or the fiction specialist for a major CBA chain. Or just the owner of an small independent store tucked away in small town.

In each of these cases, the buyer’s main responsibility is…what? I’ve never worked in retail but my assumption is that the buyer’s main responsibility is to stock the books that readers will want. This includes those they know they want…and books they don’t know about yet…but will want.

The hook for the first category is easy. Fans love Author X. Author X has Book Z, a new novel that is on par with her earlier novels. Fans will more than likely flock to Book Z. There’s no such thing as a guarantee in publishing…but some authors (Rowling, Grisham, etc.) are at 99.999%.

Now imagine that you’ve made it through those authors. You’ve spent a fair amount of money already on books you’re reasonably sure will earn you cash back. Now comes the difficult part. Now you’re faced with an onslaught of books. Some have wonderful covers, but the story sounds too familiar. Some have interesting sounding stories, but the cover and title are dull. Some are from authors who’ve not done well at your store. Others are from new authors—and every salesman is promising that Author B is going to be the breakout of the year.

How do you make your choice…especially when you’re only looking at a catalog? (The actual book is still months from being published.) What criteria do you set?

I can tell you a few:

1. Title and cover/package. Is it going to attract attention on the shelves?
2. Timing/Newsworthiness. Will the book’s release correspond with something that is going to garnering mass attention? Narnia-mania is a current extreme example of this.
3. Early feedback. Are there reviews/blurbs from noteworthy names that might attract notice?
4. Cultural trends.
5. Niche

Publisher catalogs and sales presentations focus on providing the people in the field with the information that’s going to catch a buyer’s attention. “Procedural crime shows are incredibly hot right now. There’s nothing on the shelf for that audience. What about this new mystery series about a forensic pathologist?”

Or: “Chick lit is hot right now. This new heroine will really capture attention because she was raised Mennonite and is facing the world for the first time.”

For good or bad, salespeople sometimes have literally seconds to communicate a book’s premise, audience, and potential. If these things are muddy or unclear (ie. “It’s about a big historic house on a hill and some people want to save it.”) you’re on a swift creek without a paddle.

Least Likely to Be Invited to Next Year's Mardi Gras

Yahoo news.

How's that 80s' Howard Jones' song go? "No one ever is to blame."

Monday, September 26, 2005

Niche Publishing

I gave a talk in Philadelphia about genre—which are hot, which are dwindling. The take-home message of the talk was that, at this point, CBA is as broad and active as its ever been. Writers are publishing in nearly every genre and most are finding at least some category success.

Sure there’s down soft spots (Fantasy and hard-core sci-fi haven't broken out. Westerns aren’t booming.) But otherwise you can probably name an author who’s doing fairly well in almost anything else.

Which makes approaching the market tricky. On the one hand, it’s good because there’s strong-selling precedent set for romance and suspense and historical and everything else. On the other hand, how many more entries can those genres handle? And what about your book is going to displace someone at the top?

I was thinking about these questions over the past few weeks while reading some general market mysteries by an author named CJ Box. I’m not immersed in the ABA mystery world, but I read enough to know that most successful authors seem to have been able to carve out a specific space that they claim as their own. Whether it’s a locale or a character-trait of the detective, there’s something that sets the books apart.

CJ Box is writing fairly standard mysteries. But they have a western kick. Set in Wyoming, his Joe Pickett novels star Game Warden Joe Pickett. What really makes the novels work is that the issues at the heart of the mysteries are “location specific.” Ecoterrorism, protection of endangered species, anti-governmental communities, mineral rights…these things all have a specific and important place in the western community. They’re issues Box employs to solid effect, often showing both sides of the argument—and showing how extremism can lead to bad ends.

I’m sure there are other western mystery novelists (Nevada Barr’s detective is a Park Ranger) so its definitely not virgin territory, but Box is a solid enough writer with a distinct enough niche that he’s able to gain a good following and has recently published his fifth novel.

The question that’s going to be asked of your book is: where does it fit? You can say you’re writing to Dekker’s audience or Karen Kingsbury’s audience… but remember those authors are still very much alive and still writing. The likelihood of you denting their sales is slim. But if your book manages to fill a slot, seem both familiar and distinct at the same time—that has a chance to offer not only a strong launch but a fruitful career.

To Those Down in the Gulf Region

I'm assuming you're all okay. Also...don't go swimming anytime soon.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Quiet Lately

Sorry for the dearth of posts recently, I’ve been caught in what can best be called—if it’s not too Catholic-sounding for CBA—“Meeting Purgatory.” Part of that was a review of the past fiscal year and its always nice to see that the BPG publishing platform is not just dawdling along but actually steaming ahead with vigor, purpose, and strength.

(It was also interesting to see some cost breakdowns. For instance, I was surprised to learn that we spent $740 on red pens filled with the blood of puppies and kittens for editorial use. A nice upgrade from thin rabbit’s blood.)

Anyway, best to all my friends and acquaintances down Houston/Galveston way. This is about #398,474 of the things you need now, I'm sure. I know many of you have already fled Rita. I hope the rest of you bunker down and stay safe. And that she's more bluster than bite when all is said and done.

Finally, two quick reminders:

1. The Conversion Short Story Contest ends next Friday, Sept 30, at 5:00pm central time. Click here for more info. I'm not sure at this point when the "finalists" will be announced. Possibly at the end of October.

2. October 10 we begin our discussion of Ezekiel's Shadow.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Day 3 of From the Corner of His Eye – A World With a Worldview

Not every book allows the room for it, but this novel from Koontz, more than many, actually tries to get to the heart of a worldview. What’s that mean? Well, the core theme of the book outlines not just a principle of the heart or a lesson of faith but tries to explore a concept that actually affects, even explains, everything around us.

Sound intimidating to do in a novel? Well, consider this fact, too: Koontz chooses to use quantum physics and God as his two core foundations. In a suspense novel that’s really not about God and certainly isn’t in anyway about quantum mechanics. (There’s no physicists within half-a-mile of the book.)

I think in some ways it works because it isn’t about either quantum mechanics or God. (Those novels can work, too, but they often become tedious or obvious or heavy-handed. Bogged down in their subject matter.)

Instead, Koontz takes the guts of these things, simplifies them greatly, and makes them into grand arching themes. As he puts it in his author note:
“Every human life is intricately connected to every other on a level as profound as the subatomic level in the physical world; underlying every apparent chaos is strange order; and “spooky effects at a distance,” as the quantum-savvy put it, are as easily observed in human society as in atomic, molecular, and other physical streams.”

Or as priest-turns-cop Tom Vanadium puts it to murderer Junior Cain early on:
“I believe the instrument is sort of like an unimaginably vast musical instrument with an infinite number of strings. And every human being, every living thing, is a string on that instrument. The decisions each of us makes and the acts that he commits are like vibrations passing through a guitar string….When you cut Naomi’s string, you put an end to the effect that her music would have on the lives of others….That discord sets up lots of other vibrations, some of which will return to you in ways to might expect—and some in ways you could never see coming. Of the things you couldn’t see coming, I’m the worst.”

The point here isn’t to argue over the efficacy of Koontz' worldview, particularly quantum mechanics. Frankly, I couldn’t. The point is that Koontz early on established a worldview for his novel, a central theme that he let shape the actions and course of the book. I think it’s a fascinating thing to have done. Books that deal in big theories, often take a stab at them. (Or do the opposite by having a character’s worldview undermined by the end of the book.)

Again, this isn’t for every novel. And for whatever reason it seems to work well in suspense and fantasy and visionary novels that can perhaps be a little more literal with these worldviews than other books. (One recent example of this is Improbable by Adam Fawer. Or even Blink by Ted Dekker works this way on some level.)

ACFW Attendees

Sickness kept me from the conference last week and that's to my detriment. It also kept you from being able to submit your proposals to a rep. from one of the larger fiction publishing houses out there.

So I'd like to invite all of those who'd hoped to meet with me at ACFW to email me and we'll start a little dialogue about your work. In your first email, I'd like three things:

1. Your name and relevant contact information.
2. A one-page synopsis of your work (attached or in the email)
3. A short thought on why you feel BHP is a match for this project.

Remember, your submissions may span the breadth of CBA. They can be mainstream historical novels or edgier suspense and anything in betwixt. I was going to ACFW as a representative of BHP as a company and we obviously publish a variety of fiction.

Thanks. I look forward to your submissions. (Since my old goal was to find at least two phenomenal writers at the conference, I'll simply shift that to reading two phenomenal proposals on the computer.)


Also, if someone who regularly reads/chats/participates in the ACFW loops can email me, that'd be great.

Friday, September 16, 2005


I'd post on how ACFW was going except, ummm, I'm not there. I got shellacked yesterday by one of the less thrilling bouts of flu to cross my path. Spent a semi-delirious day in bed. (Too bad I wasn't at the conference. I probably could've been convinced to sign nearly anything.) I'm on the mend, having managed to eat five saltines, toast, and Gatorade. High times here at Casa Long.

Anyway, sincerest apologies to all. I'd hoped to meet many of you and that's obviously not going to happen. Carry on without and we'll talk next week about submitting things you'd hoped to chat over with me.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Day 2 of From the Corner of His Eye – Christian Without Christ?

If you didn’t read yesterday’s post today’s title gives away the farm. But I know you’re all dutiful at checking in daily and never miss a post. Right?

The end of yesterday’s post implied that I would have pursued From the Corner of His Eye had it arrived on my desk. There’s some language, a fair amount of violence (but American’s love their violence if network television is any indicator) and no skin/sensuality (which Americans are far feistier about). The book’s heart though addresses the notion that our actions resonate through time. That each choice—for good or evil—not only affects the immediate present but echoes into the future. (It’s actually based as much in quantum mechanics as Scripture, which I’ll try to deal with tomorrow.)

There is a pastor and a sermon that affects the lives of the entire cast. There is a devoted woman of faith whose small good deed is delivering pies to a enormous network of friends and acquaintances. People pray. There’s a priest-turned-cop who seeks justice fueled by righteous anger. The villain is a self-deluded, self-absorbed nut-job who constantly spouts off rhetoric learned from a series of self-help tapes that are deeply new-agey and sound rife with the language of Scientology.

Jesus does not appear.

Bartholomew, his disciple, does. He becomes a symbol, in fact, of the notion mentioned above that (in the words of Maximus Crowe) “What we do in life echoes in eternity!”

Jesus does not appear.

So what about a book that talks about “eternity” and “God” and disciples and fallen sparrows and King Obadiah and yet does not mention the Son, the Lamb, the Beginning and End? Are we in nebulous “deist” territory or are we on a path that points to Christ? Is pointing enough or are we called to name our Savior?

What is the duty of our fiction—to not stand in the way of Jesus or to actively take readers to his feet?

Says his priest-turned-cop: “I can’t explain it to you without sounding like a holy fool, but even as a boy, I wanted to serve the God who had created so much wonder, regardless of how strange and perhaps even beyond all understanding He might be.”

This would fit well in a CBA novel. It would fit well in an episode of Highway to Heaven or Joan of Arcadia or 7th Heaven or Touched By an Angel or whatever other nebulous religion show is playing on Fridays. This is “acceptable spirituality.”

I’m still wondering where Jesus fits in. Because I think when you add him to the mix, spirituality becomes a lot less acceptable. He seems to be the line in the sand, the stumbling block. His name divides.

And I don’t know that he fits into our novels. Even when we try and force him in. Especially when we try to force him in. But to leave him out all together...?
Go to Day 3 of our discussion of From the Corner of His Eye.

Theory and the Historical Novel

Slate takes a small look at the problem of the historical novel and where E. L. Doctorow's latest tome fits into the discussion.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Day 1 of From the Corner of His Eye - Name That Book!

Okay, this is like "Name That Tune" except I’m going to type out a selection and you’re going to read it and then you’re going to try to guess where it came from.

(And, unless you’ve read the book you’re never going to get it right because there are 300,000,000,000 books out there and the passage isn’t famous. But we’ll play anyway.)

Here’s the selection:
“The universe was vast and Barty small, yet the boy’s immortal soul made him as important as galaxies, as important as anything in Creation. This Agnes believed. She couldn’t tolerate life without the conviction that it had meaning and design, though sometimes she felt that she was a sparrow whose fall had gone unnoticed.”

It could definitely fit in a CBA novel, that’s for sure. Which should be clue enough that it’s not from a CBA novel. In fact, you’re probably guessing that it’s from something completely other than a CBA novel. And of course you’re right. Though I’m not going to spill the beans quite yet.

The book, however, should be Exhibit A in any discussion moving forward about what makes a Christian novel…particular a Christian suspense novel. (Oh shoot, gave that clue away. You’re narrowing in on it, I’m sure.)

Here’s the thing, pretend as we might, nobody’s all that clear about what makes a Christian suspense novel anymore. I started this conversation a bit last week. Part of the reason is that for the most part “Christian” and “suspense” are unrelated. Not opposites necessarily, just incompatible through incongruity. Like trying to talk about “melodic cod” or “aggressive marshmallows.” The modifier doesn’t do much to the noun.

Is the suspense related to religion? That could be. But often not. Does the suspense involve followers of Christ. Typically, but so what?

As an acquisitions editor bringing in projects it’s important for me to explain why a book—which may be in large part about violence or threat of violence—should be published by us. The standard that I’ve held myself to, to this point, is that I try and figure out what a story has to say to a “Christian reader’s faith.” The story itself, apart from the interpretive lens of a believer, may not necessarily be overwhelming religious. But if a Christian reads it—or someone with a softening heart reads it—there is a theme or moral or idea that can be grasped that points to the eternal.

And so if this book we’re discussing came across my desk—and of course it didn’t because it’s a NYTimes bestseller—I’d have given it serious contemplation and would have presented it to our contract committee. (Not just for that one bit. The rest of the story expands on the importance of the eternal soul.)

And wouldn’t it have been strange to have seen Bethany House release this book?

(Also just to be clear, this hypothetical is talking solely about the book--apart from its author and apart from the author's previous works. The authors who publish with BHP are all Christians. I'm not sure where this author is.)


Go to Day 2 of our discussion of From the Corner of His Eye.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Difficult Timing

Have you heard of author Chris Cleave? He's a Brit who wrote a novel called Incendiary that came out earlier this summer. It's about an al-Qaeda attack on London...and it released I think the day before or day after the subway bombings.

We're facing a bit of that right now as our sales force is out promoting Bethany House's spring fiction. One of the books in that list, (a book that's soon to make regular appearances in this blog because it's tremendous) is called River Rising by author Athol Dickson.

It's set in 1927 Louisiana and from the title and the time you can probably intuit that part of the plot revolves around the great flood of that year. A flood that's being brought up a lot in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

I don't have any grand point in mentioning this. Athol wrote his book years ago. Chris Cleave did as well. Both publishers set their release dates at least a year before. And yet the timing is eerie. With so many novels being published annually it's bound to happen that a plot will coincide with real life. The hard part is talking about the synchronicity without appearing opportunistic.

Tragedy, on scales large and small, is the crucible that changes lives and makes for affecting fiction. (Hence all the 9/11 books coming out now from Foer and McInerney and others) It's always a slap-in-the-face, however, when reality mirrors our fiction so closely.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A Quick and Random Note

Life at Casa Bethany is busy. How busy you might ask? Well, busy enough to make completing blog posts a lot more difficult. Busy enough to make thinking up ideas for blog posts nearly impossible. For about twenty months now as I've transitioned through things into this job, I knew life as an acquisitions editor would one day become pretty hectic. And we're reaching that point.

That said, I'm committed to this spot and this blog and you guys as readers. I just need to rethink how that's going to happen. And I need to get on the far side of a few things here, including ACFW next week. So, things like the short story contest and the dissection of Ezekiel's Shadow will go off without a hitch...but there may be weeks, like this one, where pickings are bit slim.


In lieu of an actual post I will leave you with perhaps the most horrific example I've come across recently of what bad dialogue can do to a project.

Natalie Portman to the man who would be Darth Vader: "Hold me, Ani! Hold me, like you did by the lake on Naboo!"

(Sorry this is so out of date, but I just saw the movie Sunday night. Mouth open in stunned horror most of the way through. "Put the pen down Mr. Lucas. Back away slowly and nobody will get hurt.")

CBA and Katrina

This was in the Christian Etailing newsletter. I honor and applaud all the companies mentioned (and those that aren't mentioned but are still contributing) for their efforts.

Publishers, ministries rally to give away money, Bibles, hope
Christian retailers, publishers and ministries across the country are pitching in to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Christian Life Missions, the non-profit partner of Christian Retailing, is accepting donations to provide immediate support with 100% of the money going to victims. Strang Communications, parent company of Christian Retailing, will cover all overhead costs for this project. Donations may be made to www.christianlifemissions.org/giving.

Thomas Nelson is donating 100,000 Bibles to the relief effort through Samaritan's Purse, an organization headed by Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham. The publisher also is matching donations made by its employees. The Association of Logos Bookstores also is encouraging its stores to collect donations for Samaritan's Purse.

Zondervan is working with the International Bible Society to provide Bibles to hurricane victims. HarperCollins, Zondervan's parent company, also has pledged $1 million to the Salvation Army.

The American Bible Society also is providing Bibles, and said its first response was being directed to the hurricane refugees from New Orleans housed at Houston's Astrodome.

Tyndale House, Baker Publishing Group and Zondervan also have set up matching programs to encourage employees to contribute to the relief efforts.

Melissa Teutsch, publicist at Howard Publishing, said the West Monroe, La.-based company is open and employees have been volunteering their time to help evacuees.

Suppliers say they will do what they can to help retailers get back on their feet. John Seward, vice president of operations at Tyndale, said the company has reached about half of its accounts in the zip codes in the affected areas.

“We are taking an approach that says, 'Please don't worry about your account with Tyndale House.' We recognize that many of these stores have more immediate concerns than receiving product shipments and invoices.”

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Short Story Contest

Also, in case you're new, we're about halfway through the submission period for the next short story contest. See this link for more details. I hope to have some info. about a possible partner for this one soon. I've received a good amount of entries already and would love to see yours.


Oh, and remember that author who got a book deal in the wake of the last story contest? Check here for more information. The stars of her novels were actually featured in her finalist story, "Home For Christmas." I'm bummed we at BPG weren't able to reel Claudia and Belle and Jazz in but wish her all success with the books.

Francisco Liriano

I attended a Minnesota Twins game yesterday. They got shellacked.

In the eighth inning, however, the crowd where I was sitting started to buzz a bit. I began to hear a pop and snap as a new pitcher warmed up in the bullpen along the third base-line.

"That's Liriano!" baseball dorks like myself whispered to each other.

Francisco Liriano is a lefty who throws stupidly fast. He was 9-2 with a 1.78 ERA at Triple-A and had 112 strikeouts in 91 innings pitched. Oh, and he's 21.

The Twins are loathe to force young players into pressure situations. Francisco won't be starting for us this September because we are still hypothetically in the wild-card race. Yesterday was a pathetic effort though so, trailing 6-0, they let young Liriano warm up and then brought him in to pitch the top of the ninth.

His fastball crackled, but he soon fell behind 3-1 to his first batter. Not wanting to walk his first professional hitter, Liriano reared back and did what I guess he did a lot in the minor leagues--smoked a fastball and dared the player to hit it.

483 feet later, the Twins were down 7-0 and Liriano had an infinite ERA. He struck out the next two guys and got the third out on a weak grounder. All three batters looked silly.

Oh, but that home run.

The big leagues, young Liriano learned, are a different thing. "I dare you to hit me" won't work because if a player knows what's coming (and at 3-1, you can guess it'll be fastball) he's making big bucks to make it soar.

There's about twelve weak life lessons I could draw from this and somehow twist to apply to writing. In most of them you're the pitcher, your first draft is the fastball, and I'm (or editors like me) the hitter, waiting with a sadistic grin.

I guess I'll leave it at this: you're not in the minors anymore. It's exciting. It's energizing. But you won't sneak anything by.

(Thanks for listening. Mostly I just wanted to write about baseball today.)
One quick follow-up -

Most awkward game moment ever! Guy asks his girlfriend (I assume) to marry him on the Jumbotron. And she stands there, crying. She never nods or says "Yes." She just looks mortified and terrified and unhappy. They just kind cut away to bloopers.

To this couple I dedicate Bonnie Raitt's 1992 classic "I Can't Make You Love Me." (see meme below)

Hurricane Katrina Blog

This is just one of a countless number, I'm sure. But the pictures on here are pretty numbing. (This is from a reporter in Mississippi.)

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Writing Despite the Bible?

Does the Bible sometimes get in the way of our fiction ideas?

Obviously we're writing Christian fiction, so our intention isn't to ever write something that stands in opposition to the Bible. Something like, say, The DaVinci Code. BUT...what about an extra-Biblical story. Like Lamb. We know zippo about Jesus' life between the ages of about 12 and 30. Couldn't he have theoretically used those years to study martial arts across Asia? Okay, so that borders on anti-Biblical but I think you see my point.

Christian suspense, especially supernatural Christian suspense toes this line everyday. Leviathan suddenly becomes a modern-day sea monster. The Holy Grail gives you everlasting life. And what about the thorny problem of the end times. Left Behind at some level isn't supposed to be total fiction. It's eschatology, dramatized. BUT, what if you don't take that particular end-times view? Then it's obviously just a story.

As I've said, it gets thorny.

Here's my thing:

I think we need the room to be extra-biblical. We need Randy Ingermanson writing time travel stories. And Mark Olsen writing The Assignment, whose plot twist I won't ruin for you.

We need the freedom because while these things may not mean much for us at a literal level, the often gain strength and power at the metaphorical level.

Horror and fantasy are the genres most impacted by this. The understandable fear of the occult has stripped us of a HUGE breadth of content with centuries of cultural meaning and influence. Magic becomes hexed. Ghosts and vampires (unless explained away in a Scoody-Doo-like twist) are verboten.

I don't know if I'm calling for the first Christian vampire story (although I'm sure you've heard Anne Rice is writing a first-person account of Jesus) but if you send one in, and there seems to be some meaning at the level of context as well as content, I may just look at it.

(BTW: the one writer who you can turn to if you are interested in such things is Charles Williams. An Inkling, but not an Oxford don, Charles had a bit too keen an interest in the dark arts, and wrote some fairly dense and heavily symbolic Christian novels turning symbols and practices from dark places on their head. All Hallow's Eve is a pretty engaging ghost story. The Greater Trumps meanwhile gets into tarot. Eerdmans is publishing him currently.)

The Book...

From the Corner of His Eye by Dean Koontz

A Terrifying Music Meme

Normally I don't take time to dally with memes, but this one I came across at Joe Faust proved too disturbingly tempting. Ah, 1992, so much bad music packed into one year.

How to torture yourself?
1) Go to musicoutfitters.com and, in the search box provided, enter the year you graduated high school.
2) From the search results, click the link for the top 100 songs of that year.
3) With the resulting list:
a) bold the songs you like,
b) strike through the ones you hate
c) underline your favorite
d) and ignore the ones you don't remember/don't care about.

1. End Of The Road, Boyz II Men
2. Baby Got Back, Sir Mix A Lot
3. Jump, Kris Kross - (These idiots also wore their clothes backwards.)
4. Save The Best For Last, Vanessa Williams
5. Baby-Baby-Baby, TLC
6. Tears In Heaven, Eric Clapton - (I can't cross off the saddest song ever.)
7. My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It), En Vogue
8. Under The Bridge, Red Hot Chili Peppers - (Okay song. Suck My Kiss and Give It Away were better.)
9. All 4 Love, Color Me Badd
10. Just Another Day, Jon Secada
11. I Love Your Smile, Shanice
12. To Be With You, Mr. Big
13. I'm Too Sexy, Right Said Fred
14. Black Or White, Michael Jackson
15. Achy Breaky Heart, Billy Ray Cyrus
16. I'll Be There, Mariah Carey
17. November Rain, Guns N' Roses - (I mostly remember--and cherish--the epic MTV video with the wedding and the funeral.)
18. Life Is A Highway, Tom Cochrane
19. Remember The Time, Michael Jackson
20. Finally, CeCe Peniston
21. This Used To Be My Playground, Madonna
22. Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough, Patty Smyth
23. Can't Let Go, Mariah Carey
24. Jump Around, House Of Pain -(Ah, Irish rap.)
25. Diamonds and Pearls, Prince and The N.P.G.
26. Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me, George Michael and Elton John
27. Masterpiece, Atlantic Starr
28. If You Asked Me To, Celine Dion
29. Giving Him Something He Can Feel, En Vogue
30. Live and Learn, Joe Public
31. Come and Talk To Me, Jodeci
32. Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana -("A mulatto. An albino. A mosquito. My libido. Yea." This from the song that changed music.)
33. Humpin' Around, Bobby Brown
34. Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover, Sophie B. Hawkins
35. Tell Me What You Want Me To Do, Teven Campbell
36. Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg, TLC
37. It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday, Boyz II Men
38. Move This, Technotronic
39. Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen - (Thank you, Wayne's World)
40. Tennessee, Arrested Development - (Pretty darn Christian song.)
41. The Best Things In Life Are Free, Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson
42. Make It Happen, Mariah Carey
43. The One, Elton John
44. Set Adrift On Memory Bliss, P.M. Dawn
45. Stay, Shakespear's Sister
46. 2 Legit 2 Quit, Hammer -
47. Please Don't Go, K.W.S.
48. Breakin' My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes), Mint Condition
49. Wishing On A Star, Cover Girls
50. She's Playing Hard To Get, Hi-Five
51. I'd Die Without You, P.M. Dawn
52. Good For Me, Amy Grant
53. All I Want, Toad The Wet Sprocket (Not their best, but next to this list? Art.)
54. When A Man Loves A Woman, Michael Bolton
55. I Can't Dance, Genesis
56. Hazard, Richard Marx - (I make no apologies.)
57. Mysterious Ways, U2 - (Neither this nor One were the best songs on a great album.)
58. Too Funky, George Michael
59. How Do You Talk To An Angel, Heights
60. One, U2
61. Keep On Walkin', CeCe Peniston
62. Hold On My Heart, Genesis
63. The Way I Feel About You, Karyn White
64. Beauty and The Beast, Calms Dion and Peabo Bryson
65. Warm It Up, Kris Kross
66. In The Closet, Michael Jackson
67. People Everyday, Arrested Development
68. No Son Of Mine, Genesis
69. Wildside, Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch
70. Do I Have To Say The Words?, Bryan Adams
71. Friday I'm In Love, Cure - (I dislike this song but The Cure don't deserve x-ing out.)
72. Everything About You, Ugly Kid Joe
73. Blowing Kisses In The Wind, Paula Abdul
74. Thought I'd Died and Gone To Heaven, Bryan Adams
75. Rhythm Is A Dancer, Snap
76. Addams Groove, Hammer
77. Missing You Now, Michael Bolton
78. Back To The Hotel, N2Deep
79. Everything Changes, Kathy Troccoli
80. Have You Ever Needed Somone So Bad, Def Leppard
81. Take This Heart, Richard Marx
82. When I Look Into Your Eyes, Firehouse
83. I Wanna Love You, Jade
84. Uhh Ahh, Boyz II Men
85. Real Love, Mary J. Blige
86. Justified and Ancient, The KLF
87. Slow Motion, Color Me Badd
88. What About Your Friends, TLC
89. Thinkin' Back, Color Me Badd
90. Would I Lie To You?, Charles and Eddie
91. That's What Love Is For, Amy Grant
92. Keep Coming Back, Richard Marx
93. Free Your Mind, En Vogue
94. Keep It Comin', Keith Sweat
95. Just Take My Heart, Mr. Big
96. I Will Remember You, Amy Grant
97. We Got A Love Thang, CeCe Peniston
98. Let's Get Rocked, Def Leppard
99. They Want EFX, Das EFX
100. I Can't Make You Love Me, Bonnie Raitt

Some thoughts:

1. Arrested Development? What happened? Tennessee was a great song.
2. Bobby Brown released a song called, Humpin' Around. The same year Bill Clinton came into office. Coincidence? Or prophecy?
3. Sticking out like a sore thumb? How about Nirvana's Teen Spirit. Kurt and the boys were a wee bit out of place hitting it big the same year as MC Hammer's Addam's Groove.
4. I Can't Make You Love Me is probably #1 on the "Most Awkward Dedication Songs Ever" List.

Documentary I Really Want to See

BBC's The Century of the Self. It takes a look at the building of our consumer culture over the last 100 years.

No clue yet how I'm going to accomplish seeing this. (I'll probably have to buy it. But then I'm just feeding the consumer machine, defeating the whole purpose of watching the documentary in the first place. Alas!)