Thursday, July 30, 2009

Reading Lives

Until recently, I wondered why anyone would read nonfiction books when there are all those thrilling novels out there. I adore history and at one point could tell you a good bit about the kings and queens of England and the times they lived in. But that was because I read so much historical fiction, especially a prolific writer named Norah Lofts, whose career spanned a large portion of the 20th century.

I think I've collected almost all her books (at least 50 or so), and they cover every time period of English history--from the Saxon invasion and the occupation by Caesar's troops, through Civil War and Restoration and right on up until current times. Although her stories sprawl across time periods, most of them take place in one small area of England, with characters and families that are interconnected. Once you've read enough of her books, the fragments of English history start falling into a memorable pattern. Now, that's my way to learn facts. Read a suspenseful, thrilling story and have the educational bits slipped in like medicine in a spoonful of sugar!

As a part of research for my fiction writing, I have to dip into nonfiction, of course. I usually consider this a chore. But lately, I've started reading biographies to help me get an insight into people. Maybe I need details on a certain career, or insight into a unique personality, and a biography seems like a good resource. In the past two weeks, I've dipped into several different bios, and I'm surprised to find myself actually zipping through them.

One was called If I Am Missing or Dead, by Jeanine Latus. I picked this one up because I may soon be writing a character who is obsessed with a particular man and will do almost anything to hang onto him. She blinds herself to his abuse and manipulations and rationalizes everything he does. I have trouble understanding the motivations of someone like that, but I need to be sympathetic to her. In real life, both Jeanine Latus and her sister put themselves in that situation not once, but over and over--until sister Amy ended up dead. Latus's book covers their lives and "loves" from childhood until the time of the tragedy in an attempt to understand, and help us understand, what went wrong. It's a sad and disturbing story, but it broadened my knowledge of people who are different from me.

On the other hand, the celebrity bio I'm reading makes me realize that people in different walks of life can be pretty similar under the skin. There And Back Again is an autiobiography by actor Sean Astin, maybe best known for playing Sam in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Astin is the son of Patty Duke and John Astin (remember Gomez Addams?) and has been acting since childhood, including a major role in The Goonies when he was a kid. What fascinates me about his story is that, even though he was born into a successful show biz family and has been acting professionally and successfully since childhood, the angst and self-doubt he experiences sound incredibly similar to what Kristi and I write on this blog!

Astin is open about his experiences and his feelings, and even though I've only read about a third of the book, it's fascinating to know this "star" agonizes over feeling untalented, or insignificant, or what direction he should take. Just as Kristi and I do, he wonders whether he should do things that are commercial that don't interest him, or follow his art. He'll have a major success, followed by...nothing. Then he'll worry that it's over and he'll never work again. He knows there are games and strategies to be played to get ahead in Hollywood, but doesn't really know how to go about them. He knows that ultimately he wants to be a filmmaker and director, but has trouble staying on goal, or figuring out whether taking certain jobs will help or hinder him in his direction.

And just like me, he gets distracted from his goals. I had to laugh when he confessed that, in the middle of his most successful acting phase, he tried to fit in going to college because he felt inadequate without a college degree. I, on the other hand, always take college for granted but feel inadequate because I have no real artistic accomplishments!

People are indeed complex creatures. I'm glad I'm finally catching on so I can enjoy some of these real-life stories.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Little Fish Updates

Sorry it's been such a long time since I posted. You can blame part of that on Robin, who demanded that I fly back to Georgia for a visit week before last. Part of it you can blame on me and my weakness for not being able to decide between twenty different projects and trying to work on them all.

I do want to thank Robin for flying me back. We got to see the the new Harry Potter movie at the midnight premier (and once more after that while I was there). It was excellent, and the crowd was really into it. I dressed as Molly Weasley, who if you don't know, is the mother of the seven red-headed children, including Harry's best friend Ron and his future wife Ginny. She's such a fun character to dress as- I like to intimidate people and call them "dear" (only while dressing as Molly, of course). I also had a wonderful trip spending quality time with my parents and grandparents, and seeing some old friends. And I thank the Lord the flights went well! I am not crazy about flying, and this was my first time since before the terrorist attacks in 2001. This week, though, I was back in good ole Southern California and had to work a lot to make up for missing work the week before.

Something else which has kept me occupied since I got back was the deadline looming over me to finish a spec script for the Warner Brothers TV Writer's Workshop. A spec script is a script for an existing television show, and the one I wrote is for The Office. After a lot of last minute revisions this week, I was able to send in with my application what I feel is a solid script. Thank God! It was harder than I thought it would be, writing for an existing show. You have to know the show's history and characters very well. If I get into this program, it will be amazing, because they accept about 10 out of roughly 1000 applications per year. The program is a workshop every week for about 9 months, which is supposed to be a major stepping stone to television writing, so we'll see what happens. Prayer would be appreciated. Thanks!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

First Mozart, Now Jeremiah

If you've followed my blogging for awhile, you'll know I'm disturbingly moody about my writing goals. I'm close to quitting and convinced that's what God wants. Then I declare he's let me know he wants me to keep going and I will persevere no matter what. Then I crash again and start asking God if this is what he really wants.

I don't like this about myself, but the other night I was reading a chapter of Jeremiah (ch. 20) and the great prophet himself seemed to be doing the same thing.

In the One Year Chronological Bible (NLT), the section is titled "Jeremiah's Complaint." He says, "O Lord, you persuaded me, and I allowed myself to be persuaded...So these messages from the Lord have made me a household joke. And I can't stop!"

I can't say I'm a prophet carrying divine messages, but I can feel his pain. I know what it feels like when I'm in the depths of self-doubt and feel that my writing is all a joke, and I wonder why God seems to assure me I should continue.

Next paragraph, Jeremiah seems to be full of trust. "But the Lord stands beside me like a great warrior. Before him they will stumble. ..Praise the Lord! For though I was poor and needy, he delivered me from my oppressors."

So now he's got it all settled. He won't waver again like I do, right?

The very next verse starts, "I curse the day I was born! May the day of my birth not be blessed...My entire life has been filled with trouble, sorrow, and shame."

Somehow it helps me to know that faith isn't a struggle just for me.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Great Kitten Caper of 2009

Something about this time of year seems to suck me into adventures with stray kittens. Last year I wrote a post called The Great Kitten Caper. Now, here I go again.

Last week, Kristi was visiting from California. I stayed at my parents' house visiting with her until about 10:15 Wednesday night, then decided to go home the back way, down the country roads instead of the interstate highway. At a particularly lonely spot, I came perilously close to hitting a black and white kitten that was lying with the front part of his body actually in the roadway. He didn't move as my car zoomed by, so I figured he must be hurt--maybe had already been hit by a car.

I turned around and headed back, thinking that if he was okay he would have moved by now, but at least I would be sure. Even though this was a country road with no houses in sight, it was also a throughway from one side of town to the other and there was a good bit of traffic. And there he was, still lying in the same spot. I turned around again to be on the same side of the road with him and pulled the car over right behind him to shield him from other vehicles.

At this point, of course, he could move just fine--and headed straight under my car. So there I was, now in danger myself because a steep bank kept me from pulling far enough off the road, with a kitten under my car.

I got out of the car and was trying to coax him out when I heard more kitten-squealing from behind me, and two more came out of the tall grass. Here's the odd part. (Well, one of the odd parts.) I was sure that the kittens had been abandoned here, because as I said before, there were no houses or businesses close by. But the first kitten didn't seem to have any relation to the other two. The one I pulled over for was very small, emaciated, and terrified. These two appeared to be about four months old, were wearing flea collars, and were extremely friendly. They were literally trying to climb my legs, they wanted my help so badly. I opened the car door and they promptly jumped into my car! I put them back out of the car, trying to think, and they joined the first kitten underneath it.

About this time, a deputy sheriff pulled up, lights flashing, and asked if I needed help. I think I started to babble like an idiot about kittens under my car. I figured he was about to scold me for being in the way of traffic or something, but instead, he got out of the car, blocked traffic, and helped me round up the first two kittens. By this time, I had decided to put them back in the car and get away from the side of the road and try to figure it out from there.

This left the scrawny, starved little one that I pulled over for in the first place. The kitty led the deputy and me on a merry chase from one side of my car to the other, then finally crossed the road, ran up a bank and into the field. I guess this was the deputy's last straw. He more or less told me it was over and that I should move along, so I did. Next, I did what any mature, responsible woman would do. I called my mommy and asked if I could bring the kittens to her.

My wonderful, compassionate mother lives on eleven acres of wooded land and has been taking in strays since I can remember. So she took in Fred and George, too. (That's what Kristi named them. If you've read any Harry Potter, you'll understand.)

My mother also fretted over the one that got away and asked Kristi and me to go back and look for it the next day. I figured we would never find it again, but the minute we pulled over and called "Kitty, kitty," it started squealing and came out. It was obviously starving and would dart toward us to get food but we couldn't catch it. I left more depressed than when I started, figuring I would have to make the drive out to the middle of nowhere every day to feed the ornery little cuss, because I couldn't leave it to starve.

But next day, I was better prepared. I had an upturned cat carrier in the floorboard of my car, with the door wide open. I draped a towel around my neck and took some nice smelly fish with me when I called the cat. He was so enraptured with the fried fish that he didn't notice when I slipped the towel from around my neck and dropped it over him.

He noticed then, though. I grabbed him up, completely wrapped in the towel, and you never heard such snarling and growling from such a little package. I'm sure in cat language it was very, very bad.

I've also never seen such a little package eat so much. When we got to my mother's he ate tuna fish, drank milk, and then found the other cats' food and polished that off.

This would be a great story even if this were the ending. But it's not. My mother, who has not had a stray cat show up in her yard for several years, called me a few hours later and told me that she had just looked out the window and seen two additional kittens in the yard. Can you believe that! I dump three stray kittens on her and on the SAME DAY, two more show up!

Today, a colleague at the library said she might have seen a stray kitten outside. I turned and ran the other way.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mozart and Me

As you probably guessed from my last post, I've been a little down about my writing and my dreams for the last few days. As I often do in times like this, I reminded myself of the lessons I learned from the movie Amadeus, about what can happen if I want success for myself too much or for the wrong reasons. I decided to re-run a post I ran awhile back on my other blog, The Queen of Perseverance. Hope it helps you, too!

It's been years since I saw the movie Amadeus, but I have to remind myself of some lessons I learned from it at least once or twice a month.

If you haven't seen the movie, here's a brief synopsis. In the beginning, Salieri is an up-and-coming composer who thinks he is writing beautiful music all for the glory of God. Enter Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a vulgar young man with few morals or redeeming qualities--but with talent that Salieri knows he will never have. Streaming from Mozart, Salieri hears the kind of music that he wanted to write. But why would God give such talent and success to this horrible "creature," instead of to him, who wants to dedicate his music to the Lord?

That question eats at Salieri, until he eventually declares himself God's enemy. He manages to ruin his own life and Mozart's through his bitterness.

It's easy to condemn Salieri, but I have often felt the seeds of those same bitter thoughts starting to grow in me. Have you ever read a book or seen a movie that affected you so deeply that you were astounded by its beauty? That you went around thinking of it for days, feeling it resonating inside you, and yet--you knew it wasn't really worthy?

You know the kind I'm talking about. The stories that leave you grabbing for the Kleenex and rooting for the man to "follow his heart" and leave his wife for his mistress. Or maybe the story is noble, but the writer is an appalling mess. Sometimes I want to ask God--okay, sometimes I do ask God--why do you allow people with such harmful messages to have such talent? I would love to serve you with my gift, and yet it's so paltry by comparison. Why would you allow "them" such success?

And then I remind myself of Salieri. I have to wonder, if serving God had really been his desire, would he have reacted the way he did when he couldn't be the best? Did he really desire God's glory, or his own? And then comes the really tough question--are my motives any more pure than his?

Do you ever ask yourself these kinds of questions? How do we have the necessary drive and ambition to succeed in this writing business, and still keep our focus on God? Have you ever experienced something similar, when you felt that God was clearly choosing the wrong person to carry his message? (In other words, not you!) How do we respond if, even temporarily, God holds us back and chooses to gift someone else?

Monday, July 13, 2009

My Life as Fiction

A few weeks ago, someone in my email writers group asked us if we could define metafiction. She had read in some publisher's guidelines that they were looking to acquire works of metafiction, which seems even stranger when you know what it is. Anyway, after ruminating on this term for awhile, I decided that the term "metafiction" could sum up my life--at least my writing life--pretty nicely.

If you google the term, you'll find all kinds of fancy, long-winded definitions, but here's my simple one. Metafiction is fiction about fiction.

For example, there's a Stephen King novel where the author's main character turns up on his doorstep. (And being a Stephen King character, proceeds to commit murder and mayhem.) And there's the recent movie with Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson, Stranger Than Fiction, in which a man starts hearing a voice narrating his life, and it turns out he's a character in Emma Thompson's novel.

I've decided that one reason I find the writing life so difficult is that I'm living a metafiction. I have this picture in my head that I've been carrying around ever since I was a child about what it means to be a novelist, and it bears no relation whatsoever to reality. It's a fiction about fiction.

This is how my mental movie goes. An idea for a story comes to me--or maybe it's a couple of characters. There's something beautiful and mystical about the experience. Maybe it comes to me in a dream, or a flash of inspiration. This story is beyond me and my paltry little experience. It gives me goosebumps just to think about it, and I'm sure it'll give you chills, too, when you're lucky enough to share it.

Step two, I'll spend hours alone but happy, translating my characters' story into words--lovely, poetic words that flow over the page like, like--well, like something beautiful and poetic. A mountain stream or something. You know.

Now comes the fun part. I share my creation with others. Like me, they're immediately pulled into the world of my story. Women fall in love with the strong, sensitive men I've created. Men are haunted by my mysterious femmes. They all want to know more--they have to know more! If I've only written the first couple of chapters, they spur me on to finish.

At some point, the second most amazing thing happens since the day the story first exploded into my mind. Totally out of the blue, someone who is reading a sample of my work not only falls in love with it, but has a cousin who's an acquisitions editor...or is an acquisitions editor herself. You get the picture. A little divine intervention and I'm on my way. Published!

After I'm published, there's not necessarily fame and fortune. But there are readers. There are friends who now share this world I've created, who want to live there with me, who love my character-children as much as I do. Again, the bond is almost mystical. Something larger than life is at work here.

If you're not laughing too hard to read, you have by now seen my problem. REALITY.

Reality is that thousands of other writers have created worlds and people that they love, too. Editors have seen them all and are jaded. If what you've come up with isn't almost bizarre, it's been done before. If it is bizarre, they don't know how to sell it and don't want it.

Most people who read your story will be far more interested in how you wrote your sentences than in those strong men and mysterious women you've invented. All that babbling brook poetry stuff? Forget about it! Show don't tell, use active voice, don't use gerunds, blah blah blah.


In my own defense, I hope you noticed that my metafiction isn't so much about me being worshiped as a great writer or making millions of dollars. That would just be a bonus.

Seriously, my dream has always been about making connections. I really do feel that my characters and stories have brought me so much joy, and I'm so fascinated by them that I long to share them. I yearn for "playmates" who will play in my garden with me.

I don't think the whole dream can be real, but some of it can. Maybe if I concentrate enough on active voice and showing not telling and all that, I really can wow an editor. Maybe. One of these days.

Or I can leave all that behind, never get published, and maybe find a like-minded group of Geeks to read my little stories and play in my Garden.

Question is, which part of the dream do you go for?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Proper Order by Fred Pruitt

Hi guys,

I said I would try to post my friend Fred Pruitt's writing on The Proper Order, which I felt strongly related to what I have been blogging about in my last couple of posts, and to some of the struggles I have been going through lately. I know Fred from years ago in Macon, and started out as good friends with his daughter. We have all since moved apart in distance, but Fred and his wife Janice have a ministry, and thankfully Fred inspires me still through sending me his articles. You can find out more about him and his ministry at

I hope this blesses you as much as it did me!

Taken from an email:

Dear _____,

..... Only one thing I might tell you that might put you into a touch of rest. You speak of re-training the "synapse patterns" of your brain according to the mind of Christ.

This is tricky business, because while it is good to study, to seek answers, to desire the wisdom of God, there comes a point when you realize you already have and are what you are looking for. You have already said it in yours to me: "according to the mind of Christ that He had been showing me."

Well, brother, you know where that is, don't you? It is in you. You already know. You already are. Yes, it is being worked into your consciousness, but I will go out on a limb here and say this: it is not being worked into your brain!

You can partially "train your brain" to think with these new ways, and you can go quite a way with it. But it will always be the outer servant of the inner man, and never the repository of Spirit truth, understanding, knowledge, etc. To the rational brain, all that God stuff is at best "fleeting glimpses." We can take conceptual truth, word descriptions of the life of Christ in us, and use that for our rational brain to have some frame of reference and to continually remind itself of Spirit reality which it cannot see, but what has so often happened in the Church over the centuries is that conceptual truth -- which is only a description of Truth -- in people's minds hardens itself into THE truth, when of course it is not. It is an error to take our rational understanding and make its descriptions of truth to be as if they ARE truth. This is what makes for the endless doctrinal wars and splits, or part of the reason anyway. (There are other factors that contribute to that strife as well, but we'll just stick to this subject for now.)

Christ in your inner spirit is where you and He are joined together as one. Our outer self-consciousness, which includes the soulish part of our makeup, is tied to this world and to partial sight, and will never attain "by sight" in this life what our spirit already sees and lives in. Now this is part of the reason the great majority believe they are two, not one. Because of this "outer self consciousness" which always sees the partial, the negative, the unreal, the appearance, and in contradiction to that outer, there is the Spirit/spirit within us, which sees and knows the Truth and Wisdom of God. Even people (in Christ) who don't know our union truth sense this supposed "twoness." That's where the two-nature doctrines come from, from this "experience" people have of seeking the things of God, wanting to be godly, but always falling short in their assessments of themselves.

That might seem, thinking logically, to make you "two," but what happens to us is at some point (that God determines) we realize that this is how we "work" in our oneness. God has determined that the outer shall serve the inner. In some sense the "outer" can be nearly synonymous with this wrongful self-consciousness I've been describing in my various articles, because it so "self" conscious. It is not exactly it, but it is predominant from birth and is closely tied with our "Saul," while our David is the inner us (Christ/I as one) who is coming of age, but really cannot take the reins of government until the outer consciousness realizes its own place in the scheme of things: it must become inert, as if dead, and do nothing, until moved and activated from within by the Spirit/spirit. Then it acts, but only as servant, because now, as says Isaiah, "the government is upon His shoulders." The government of our lives, obviously!

Now this outer brain is part of this makeup, and it can never own the truth for itself. It learns to express it, and there we learn in faith to leave our partial sight and jump to the Invisible -- no sight -- which is as irrational as one can be, seen from the perspective of the outer rational brain. In the Fall it became the predominant part of us where all the decisions were made, where all knowledge of this world resides, etc. It was made to know and express the things of this world, but to be motivated and empowered from within by the Holy Spirit joined with our spirit. But in the Fall spirit became hidden and Satan invaded there, and kept us in darkness by only activating for the most part the outer part of us, making it master instead of servant as intended.

Now in Christ that proper order is restored. But since God wants us to walk in understanding and not as automatons, He wants us to be aware of the order and its workings. I have explained the order. Spirit runs the show. Spirit understands. Spirit lives in the revelation of God.

The outer consciousness, which is mostly our conscious house of dwelling while in this life, sees mostly only the partial reality of this world. Its specialty, appointed by God, IS the things of this world. It is created to traffic in this world, to understand and in a sense master it, as Adam was to be master in this world. He was to bless the world through his outer self which did the business of this world, while living out of and in his spirit joined to God, which directed and ran the outer world out of a paradise or continual inner Sabbath of rest within him. The Fall upset the order, so that his inner house of spirit darkened and was invaded, and the outer, left in the world as if alone, gained the predominance and continued that way in all the generations of Adam.

The proper order that is restored, is that we now live again out of that inner paradise and continual Sabbath of rest within us. We are complete. We are whole. We are full. We do not need anything. Everything is given to us freely of God -- in Spirit/spirit.

This is an inner consciousness, to use Norman's term, and I stress, it is NOT an outer consciousness, nor does it ever in the time of this life become so. To the outer, the "inner" remains mostly hidden and unconscious. It does not make it untrue or unreal, just unseen. The outer continues as before to see and react to the things of this world in its partial sight. But it also, like our inner selves, has become the house of Christ. He, in us, has become now the master of the outer self, the soul self, like he is the master of the winds and sea. He peacefully rests, even sleeps sometimes, in the back of the boat while the boat is tossed on the sea. He wakes and rebukes the winds and boisterous seas, and we marvel, "What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the seas obey Him?" But here is the kicker -- that "manner of man" is now you and me. Inwardly He and we are one, so that we are there in Him in the back of the boat resting even in the storm. Outwardly (like the disciples) we are being tossed in a boat in a storm and we quake with fear, but inwardly we are at peace, whether the waves and winds stop or continue. Because when we have realized the oneness is intact regardless of the ups and downs of our knowledge, emotions, or outer self-consciousness, then we begin to realize that we ourselves are the Sabbath rest of God, inwardly in us. It makes no difference what the soul is doing or what the brain knows or doesn't know.

"As a little child," He says we are to be.

When Gabriel came to announce to Mary she was to bring forth the Christ, at first her rational mind reacted, which is normal and proper, so she asked, "How can this be, seeing I know not a man?"

Gabriel gave her the answer, and then she went into spirit, beyond the rational understanding, "Be it unto me according to thy word." From wanting explanations, to the simplicity of, "Oh, that's how it is. Ok, I'll take that."

There is where the rational brain and the synapses which keep firing off, "danger, danger," or "Oh my God, we're going down," finds its rest. The "training" finally takes its full effect when we learn the end of all that is faith, "O God, this is just You here, doing what You do. I can lie down and rest here (my rational outer self-consciousness), for You, O Lord, always make me to dwell in safety and peace." (Ps 4:8).

Getting back to this operation, what we finally come to realize is that this IS our oneness. To seemingly operate as if we are two -- one part of us that sees, knows, and traffics in this world as it is appointed to do, which means it sees need, lack, terror, danger -- and the other, inner part of us, that lives in the rest and peace of God, which continually sees the fullness and completeness of God. It is two operations of the same person. When we see that, we really begin to know rest, which starts with accepting ourselves where we are, as we are, as the right expression in this world of God who lives in us and flows out of us according to HIS working, by His Spirit, whether with our understanding or not.

So this is just a little tweak here to remind you of things no doubt you already know. Thank you for giving me the privilege of writing you. I am really blessed to know you and look forward to more times together.

In the precious love of Jesus,

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Dark Man (Review)

The Dark Man by Marc Schooley is an interesting book to be reviewing over Fourth of July weekend, because it paints a chilling picture of an America that has lost freedom of religion.

Sometime in the unspecified future, following Christianity will land you in a reclamation center, where the powers that be will use some pretty scary forms of "therapy" on you to attempt to bring you back to your senses. If that doesn't work, you will probably end up dead. Christians sneak into utility rooms in malls and back rooms of businesses to meet with one another and worship. The Christians' greatest fear is that one of them may not be who he seems, but might instead be the infamous master of disguises, Charles Graves.

Charles is sort of a modern-day Paul--or more appropriately, Saul. He pursues the Church stragglers with a frightening zeal, and the reclamation centers are full to bursting because of his undercover work. Since the book begins with a terrifying scene from Charles's childhood when he sees his Christian mother dragged away by the agents, this is a little hard to understand at first.

But it's soon obvious that Charles is a very traumatized young man, and he perhaps blames Christianity for taking his mother away from him. There's also the mysterious "Dark Man" who haunts Charles, but also talks Charles through his missions and helps him achieve his brutal goals. Charles has a complex relationship with the Dark Man, who taunts him and makes life miserable but also helps him survive. Charles at times wants to be rid of him, and at times panics at the idea of life without the Dark Man.

Following in Saul's footsteps, Charles has a sort of Damascus Road experience--only his occurs during a meeting of the underground church he's infiltrating. Charles is astounded to find himself suddenly a Christian, fleeing from the agents he used to work with. He's not nearly as surprised as his girlfriend, Julia, however. Because of Charles, she also ends up working with "the other side" and fleeing for her life, but without the advantage of his new belief.

Charles and Julia both join forces with the Reverend James Cleveland, the leader of the underground church in Houston and the city's most-wanted Christian. They go on the offensive, attacking a reclamation center, attempting to free a well-known prisoner, and making some surprising discoveries about Charles's family and past.

Rev. Cleveland helps Charles discover who the Dark Man is and how he can be rid of him. Of course, Charles first has to decide he wants to be rid of him--a struggle that tests the limits of his new faith.

First, the positives about The Dark Man. It's fast-paced and exciting, with hair-raising capers and heart-pumping twists and turns. It paints a chilling and all-too-believable picture of an American city without freedom. Characters are well-drawn and believable. In fact, it's disturbing to see that a nice, smart girl like Julia could be using her computer skills to track down Christians. But within the context of her world, it makes sense. Charles's sudden conversion is all the more believable because it's a rare case. Other characters start to question the way the world is being run or to show some interest in the Gospel, but they don't start falling to their knees like Christian dominoes. It's a real struggle for all.

The things I didn't like were mostly stylistic and had to do more with my own tastes. I've never enjoyed dream sequences or bizarre visions, and Charles is prone to them. Even worse, he sometimes lapses into cartoon-like visions in the middle of one of their missions, which made me wonder how he had survived, let alone become such a successful agent.

I also had a slight problem with the ending. There's a huge, exciting climax, so that's not the issue. But during it, I wanted to scream at the good guys that they were being stupid, and felt that the climax was partly big because they were stupid, which made the ending one of the least believable parts of the story to me.

Overall, however, I truly enjoyed The Dark Man. It's a unique story told in a unique voice--one that I think men and women readers would both enjoy. And those books don't come along often.
As part of Marcher Lord Press's spring 2009 releases, The Dark Man can be found at Marcher Lord's website or at

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Getting What You Want or Wanting What You Get

Kristi's post yesterday reminded me of lots of things from my own life. She and I are so much alike, only I'm about 15 years further down the road.

When I was in my mid twenties, I made a stab at L.A. and the film industry in my own way. I started a masters' degree in writing at the University of Southern California with a view toward becoming a screen writer. I might have been a flop at most things in life but had always done well academically, so I thought if there was a way to break into the industry through school, that would definitely be the way to go.

The classes were taught by successful screen writers and novelists and playwrights, so I pictured scenarios in which I wrote such amazing works for my class assignments that I would be discovered and catapulted to success. And I would live happily ever after in the world of film and make-believe.

A couple of days after I started the courses, I saw a bulletin board post that Burt Lancaster's production company was looking for interns from my writing program. I applied and immediately got the position. I wasn't particularly surprised. All was going exactly as I expected. My first step on that rung to happiness.

I discovered a curious thing. You can get exactly what you hoped for, and yet it can feel totally different. In the internship, I worked with only one man from the production company. Never did meet Burt or any celebrities. My supervisor was tactless and critical and strangely enough, never did gasp in amazement at my astounding talent. I'd go see him once a week to pick up assignments, and I discovered that visiting the production company was like visiting any other office of any other business. I remember, even after my first visit for the internship, having a let-down feeling and thinking, "This doesn't feel like I thought it would."

One of my courses at USC was taught by a cantankerous old novelist/playwright. He talked a lot about persevering and life and getting through the long haul--most of which was lost at the time on my 24-year-old brain. Still, I remember more of his advice and asides than just about anything from the program, so I guess it made some impression. One thing he said was that success in writing was more about perseverance than talent. Lots of talented people, he said, give up because it's too hard. And there are folks with minimal talent who put themselves out there and somehow find just the right niche. He summed it up by saying, "If you want to be a published writer, you can be that. But don't depend on it to make you happy, because it won't."

Is this an American thing, I wonder--because we watch so many movies and read so much fiction that our expectations are horribly skewed? I always think that feel-good stories are wonderful things and really help ease life's burdens, but sometimes I wonder. Can those innocent stories cause harm by setting us up for disappointment? I know that during my first serious romantic relationship--which lasted for about three years and which I was sure would end in marriage, but didn't--I would catch myself feeling let-down. Again, the real thing just didn't seem to be quite what I expected.

Fifteen years down the road from Kristi, I'm far more content than I was. Partly because I've adjusted my expectations. I don't really expect life to go as smoothly or to satisfy. That sounds depressing, but it's really not. I love getting lost in stories and embracing them for what they are, and I'm so grateful for the small pleasures in life. After seeing what a struggle life is, I'm grateful for a good husband, for days when health is good and my family is happy.

As I commented on Kristi's post, I think this is a struggle that we all go through to some degree. The bad thing is when people don't recognize it for what it is--when they continue to think that the ultimate goal of life is to be happy with their earthly circumstances. Or that marriage and romance will make them giddy like it does in the movies. Or the right job or house or whatever will do the trick. So when they face the reality of plain old life, they figure something's wrong with that mate or that house or that job, and if they just change the circumstance, then they'll be happy again. At least if we start with the premise that that's a false notion, we know what to work on.

Step two is to shift our focus to the eternal and the absolute, never-fail, never-disappointing joy that awaits us there.

I'm getting better at step one. Step two is still really hard for me. But I'm working on it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

My "Revolutionary Road", Part II

I promised you a follow-up to Part I, and I don't want to split this one up, so please hang in there with me. Here goes...

I feel like this is difficult to write, partly because I am still smack-dab in the middle of it, still going through whatever this trial is. I would probably not be writing this, but I feel that God wants me to share some of the discoveries I have been making through His Spirit. I personally believe that God is preparing me spiritually for whatever it is I am supposed to do out here in LA, and is taking my faith to a new level. Right now, though, it just feels like I don't have much faith. Oh, I believe in Him, I love Him, but I have been wrestling with Him. I feel like I don't trust enough, like I don't love enough, like I have too many desires and distractions, and am having trouble putting Him first.

You know, I never understood until recently that whole story about Jacob wrestling with God. I always thought that sounded just wrong of Jacob. Who was he to wrestle with God? Why would God enter into such a thing with a mere man? I never liked the story much. But now I understand, I think.

Did you know this life is not about our happiness? I think I must have. Suddenly, however, seemingly out of the blue, it's a concept I'm having trouble with. Take "true love", for example. It's a concept we're all raised with, and I have come to think lately that subconsciously it has been a notion which has ruled many of my dreams and hopes over the years. That idea of one day finding that happiness which we all seek, which will be fulfilled in the perfect mate.

That's what Kate Winslet's character must have hoped for in the movie "Revolutionary Road", or she would not have married Leo DiCaprio's Frank Wheeler. But does it ever live up to our expectations? I hear once in a while about a marriage which is still full of passion many years later, or ones that get better over time, but still these are not the relationships we read about in the books. I once heard a line on one of my favorite TV shows of all time, "Northern Exposure" that I could not forget. RuthAnne, the store owner, is proposed to by a traveling salesman, and she declines, telling him that he is a romantic, and romantics are always disappointed with marriage. That stuck with me, and scared me a little.

The "Twilight" books are actually what acted as catalyst to this recent worry of mine. I say worry because I should be trusting it to God, but I mostly just worry obsessively over it. They portray such an amazing love story, and there are some really nice elements to the story. However, is it healthy to get drawn into such a romantic story? Does the dream for such a relationship become an idol when we make it so important? I understand all of the things I think I should- that God is who we are ultimately longing for when we long for that, that our happily ever after will be in Heaven with Him, that I need Him and nothing else.

But that does not keep me from wanting other things, or thinking sometimes that I am kind of sad that there is no marriage in Heaven like there is on earth. Of course, I don't think God says there will be no romantic love, but Jesus says there is no marriage (forgive the paraphrase). So I try to trust more, and only end up falling short in my thoughts. Thankfully, a friend reminded me yesterday in a wonderful piece of writing, that the thoughts are not always in sync with what the Spirit knows to be true, and that our inner selves are one with Christ no matter what our thoughts are doing. Right about now, though, I sure wish my thoughts would straighten up.

It all comes down to that whole thing that it is not about me. I started reading "The Purpose Driven Life", which my mother gave my years ago and I had not read yet. I was feeling unhappy and homesick and confused here in LA, even though God has provided over and beyond what I could have hoped for already. I was thinking I would be happier somewhere else, even though I have wanted to be in a position to pursue my dreams for so long. I was confused and needed direction. The first line of the first chapter says, "It's not about you."

Wow- really? I have become so self-involved over the last few years that I must have forgotten what I already knew. I went through so much with my divorce and tried to be so faithful to my marriage and do what was right, I think I came out with this idea that the rest of my life would be about me being happy. And that is not it at all! I believe God wants us to be happy, but His purpose for us is first, and ultimately, we are here to serve His purpose and Kingdom. Some of His beloved, faithful, highly-used servants and prophets suffered horrible earthly ends. Wasn't Isaiah sawed in half? The problem is when you are self-involved and have long-held notions and dreams about what you want that you think will make you happy, it is really tough to let go of those.

So there you go. I am struggling daily to surrender these dreams and hopes, even if that is ultimately what He wants for me. That is one reason I was so fascinated by "Revolutionary Road", because that is what most of us just don't get. We expect to be happy because that is what we were designed for- life with God. But we don't live in the world we were designed for. My reward is in Heaven, not here. And it is really hard to accept this and I constantly fail. I am a romantic and can't help but hope for these things. I can't help myself at all. I just hope that eventually, I will have such a strong love for Him and trust in Him that the rest just follows. I thought I did, but it's amazing what the Spirit will expose that we don't even have a clue is lurking underneath.

Recently my roommate and I were talking about the Bible, which is pretty cool considering she told me in clear terms before I moved here that she is not religious and does not like to talk about religion. Somehow we got on the subject of Abraham, and she wanted to know why God would make him wait all that time for what was promised to him. I think I started to tell her about learning to trust Him, which is true, I believe. But then it occurred to me. Maybe God wanted Abraham to realize that what he wanted so bad, to have a son, just was not as important as he thought it was. Not as important as serving His purpose and loving Him. It turns out, for Abraham, the two went hand in hand, but they may not always. Even Jesus prayed to have His cup taken from Him, but God's purpose was more important to Him than anything, so we can all be thankful for that fact!

I know some of you out there are romance writers, and please don't think I'm dissing on romance. I am a romantic dreamer of the most extreme kind, I think, which is one of the reasons this is a hard lesson to learn. But it's also a lesson that will hopefully help me to store up my treasures in Heaven, as Jesus commanded, and help me keep perspective out here in this place where what is really important is perhaps harder to see than it is anywhere else on earth. If I can ever come out on the other side of this trial, that is. Maybe you can send some prayers my way if you are reading this. I also may post my friend's article about the inner and outer consciousness, and oneness with Christ. It's great! Thanks for your patience with the long post! And one more thing- I am really thankful now that God is willing to wrestle with us and doesn't just quit on us!