April 23, 2012

"Is your book 'Christian Fiction'"?


And yes.

No, my book is Fantasy Fiction. It is neither an allegory, nor was it written intentionally to be a witnessing or evangelizing tool, nor was it written only for other Christians. The story is first and foremost an adventure tale. It is first and foremost a story, written to entertain.

However, I am first and foremost a Christian; I am an author second. My relationship with Jesus Christ is so much a part of who and what I am that I cannot separate it out from my writing.

The themes and character traits that I value and think about show up in my books. For example: In my books, there is a "creator" that some of the characters acknowledge and follow and serve, he is called Cruithaor Elchiyl (which means "Almighty Creator") and although he takes no visible part in the story, his hand is at work throughout the series and becomes apparent even more so in the fourth and final book (I cannot reveal more without giving away far too much). I tried to follow the example set forth by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien - to acknowledge the need in any world for a Creator, but I also tried to keep "religion" out of the mix of my story except for subtle touches and references here and there that show up because of who I am and what I believe.

April 20, 2012

"What are some of the themes in your book?"

Unlike the previous two, this question is an easy one for me to answer. The themes in my book sort of unfolded naturally. In other words, I didn't think up a bunch of themes and then try to write a story around them, I wrote a story, and the themes slipped their way in.

1. Good versus Evil - this is a theme that can often be found in fantasy fiction (as well as many other genres), the battle between the "good guy" and the "bad guy." "Evil" in this case is a little bit more complex by the end of the book, as the "bad guy" is not just evil for evil's sake: he has been surrounded by corrupt councilors who are only interested in attaining personal power, he has made some bad decisions in the past that have served to drive him to the brink of madness, and he has been consumed by a jealousy that has driven him to seek revenge where none was truly warranted. None of this excuses his decisions and actions, which just makes those actions all the more evil because he and others have attempted to rationalize his choices.

2. Revenge versus Forgiveness - not as big of a theme in the book, but it definitely plays a part. Is revenge ever okay? Is there ever a point where an "eye for an eye" mentality might be acceptable? Is killing in self-defense or in defense of others ever okay? These are questions that one of the characters deals with throughout the book.

3. Courage versus Fear and Timidity - all of the characters wrestle with fear at different points in the book. What is fear? What is courage? What are the traits of a courageous hero? The story seeks to give some answers to these questions.

4. Heroism, Nobility, Honesty, Strength of Character, Selflessness - these themes appear throughout the book in varying degrees.

5. Loyalty versus Betrayal

I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting, but those are the big ones.

April 18, 2012

"What is your target audience?"

Also known as "would this book be age-appropriate for my (insert age here) year old?" This is another question that ought to have a simple answer, but it doesn't. Or perhaps it does.

The simple answer is: my target audience is families.

But what does that mean? What age-range will most appreciate my story?

It means that when I wrote the book, my target audience was my 11-year old sister, my 15 and 17-year old brothers, and my parents, who were in their 40s. My dad would read the book out loud to the entire family each night. This is the setting I wrote the book for, specifically.

Alright, but what about families that don't read together? Is there an age this story would not be appropriate for?


In the past, the age-range that has responded the best to this book is 14-17 year olds. The group that has responded almost as well is 11-13 year olds. I have a few friends whose younger children (8-10) have read the books recently, I am curious to hear how they did with the book.

Is there anything in the book you would not want your child(ren) to read?

-There is no coarse language or swearing
-There are no sex scenes or even kissing (except one or two kisses between people who are married (e.g. the king kisses his wife, the queen; Brant kisses his wife at the beginning of the story))
-There is no drinking or drugs (although later in the series a few tankards of ale will make an appearance at an inn... as my dad has informed me that no book can truly be fantasy fiction until someone has "downed a tankard of ale or two")

There is a lot of violence, as it is a story about Aom-igh being invaded by an enemy kingdom.
-Brant's family is murdered in the first chapter.
- Brant kills several Dark Warriors in both self-defense and in defense of those with whom he is traveling.
-There is a battle in Pearl Cove in which Wessel (a tertiary character) ends up dying.
-There is a large battle at the end of the book in which a lot of people and dragons end up dead.
-Brant faces, fights, and ends up killing the King of the Dark Country in one-on-one combat

All of this violence is neither graphic nor gory. I have tried to write battle scenes in the style of Tolkien: enough details to help the reader see what is going on, but with much of it left to the imagination.

In conclusion: the decision about whether or not a child is at an appropriate age to read any given book is a decision that should be made by the parents with their child, and not by the publisher or author. As a parent, you know what your child is capable of reading and what themes your child is capable of dealing with. I have tried here to present an overview of things that might be concerns to a parent, but I am not going to tell anyone that my book is or is not age-appropriate for any particular child: that is your decision to make.

April 14, 2012

"What is your book about?"

I get asked this question a lot, and believe it or not, I find it very difficult to answer. Maybe it is because the story has undergone so many changes, maybe it is because the answer isn't simple, or maybe it's just that I'm bad at summarizing my own writing. I don't know, but whatever the reason, I always have a hard time with this question. I always feel put "on the spot" by it. A "quick, make your book sound amazing to this person in fifteen seconds or less!" This self-imposed pressure and time-limit doesn't make things any easier, and probably is to blame for most of my bumbling answers.

So what IS my book about?

Well, in its simplest form, it is a story about a princess: a headstrong, adventurous princess, who is sent on a quest to save her kingdom.

But it is also a story about a squire: a boy on the verge of becoming a man, who desperately wishes to prove himself in combat, but instead is given the task of "babysitting" the aforementioned princess on her quest.

It is a story about a man: a man who was once warrior to the king, who has tried to put his past behind him, but when that past finds him and rips away everything he held most dear, he is forced to become, once again, the King's Warrior.

But it is also a story about a country: a land that has isolated itself from the rest of the world and forgotten much of what made it once great, a land that faces invasion, and a king and his people who must rise up and face the challenges before them.

It is a story about dragons: and various other creatures of myth who are outcasts in the land, but who also once made a promise. Will they keep their promise, even if it means protecting those who fear them?

It is a story about courage, and learning that courage is so much more than the absence of fear.

It is a story about love and friendship and loyalty.

It is a story about heroes, who sometimes arise from the most unlikely of places.

It is also a story about a minstrel... but you have to read the whole series to find out more about him...

But most of all, it is an adventure.

April 12, 2012

Upcoming Posts

Next week I will be posting a sort of FAQ series. Questions that I often get asked about my books, and my answers. Included in the series will be questions such as:

"What is your book about?"
"Will my child like your books?"
"Is it age-appropriate for my ______ year old?"
"What is your target audience?"
"Why the fantasy genre?"
"What are some of the themes in your books?"
"Is your book 'Christian Fiction'?"

And others... so stay tuned for the answers!!!

Also, if YOU, dear reader, have a question about my books not listed here, please ask it and I will add it to the list of "questions to answer." :)

April 02, 2012

The Hunger Games - The Movie

Derek and I went to see “The Hunger Games” this past weekend. For those of you who have not yet read the books, I’m going to start here with two thoughts on JUST the movie without giving away any plot spoilers.

1. As movies-from-books go, this one was well-done. The movie does not deviate from the book much (although in places it definitely shows you stuff that isn’t in the first book, at least... but since the book is written in first-person all from the perspective of Katniss... something had to be done in the movies so as not to alienate their audience), and it follows the storyline without any major differences. The acting is good, the cast was well-chosen, and the special effects were spot on.

2. Have I mentioned that I detest shaky cam? When I watch a movie (especially when I pay to see it in the theater) I'm sorry, but I want a movie that looks better than if I handed my 3 year old a camcorder and told her to run around with it. The camera work in this movie was horrible. This, in and of itself, could have ruined the movie for me instantly. (I actually almost walked out in the first 30 minutes). It felt as though there were two people in charge of the camera work who had completely differing views on how the movie should be shot, and nobody ever told them which one of them was the Head Camera Guy. In 2 hours and 22 minutes, I think the camera angle changed 2,880 times (which is an average of an angle change every 3 seconds). I only saw one smooth transition between all these camera angle changes. Add that to the “shaky cam” style of shooting the movie (if you are unfamiliar with that term, it is the style used to make you feel as though someone is holding the camera and running - it is used in Bourne Ultimatum and Cloverfield and generally gives me a migraine) and you get a recipe for a very unpleasant time in the theater. The shaky cam stuff does get better once the tributes reach Capitol, but only marginally. It was as if the director told the camera-people, “Katniss is feeling confused, nauseous, has a headache, and can’t stop trembling in these scenes... please make the audience feel that way as well.” Sigh. Rant over.

Ok. If you have not yet read the book or seen the movie and you do not want to accidentally read/hear any plot spoilers, I’d stop reading now.

Last week, I finally sat down and read The Hunger Games. After at least a year of listening to other people rave about the books, and then with the movie coming out recently, and all the reviews being posted about them online by friends, family, etc... I decided it was finally time to start reading them - before it became impossible to set foot in cyberspace without running into plot spoilers at every turn.

Two quick disclaimers here: I’m not going to be “reviewing” this story the way I normally do. I’m assuming anyone reading this has already read the book or seen the movie, so instead of taking you through the storyline, I’m just going to be posting my reactions and a critique of that storyline. Again, this post will most definitely contain spoilers for anyone who has not yet read the first book/seen the movie: read on at your own risk.

Another disclaimer: although I fully intend to do so, I have not yet read the second and third books and therefore do not know how the whole story ends - so if I post something in my reaction to this first story that the end of the series negates, please take my words here with that particular grain of salt.

Ok, I think I’ve covered all my bases there. On to the critique -

First of all, I enjoyed reading the book. I usually don’t like reading novels that are written in the first-person, so it is always nice to come across one that is well-written and not annoying. As I read the story last week at breakneck speeds so that Derek and I could go to the movie this past weekend, I found myself sucked in by the easy-to-read writing style, by the descriptions, by the characters. I can see why this book has been such a hit. As futuristic dystopias go, this one was interesting. I wanted to know more about how this future had happened. I wanted to know (still do) if there is a happy ending in view, if things change. The book raises some thought-provoking moral questions that keep the reader’s mind engaged and I was very much looking forward to the movie.

However, despite my enjoyment of the book, something nagged at me as I read it. Something seemed out of place. For some reason I felt that maybe I didn’t like the story as much as I thought I did. I found myself telling Derek about the book, starting discussions about it and then going to bat for the book when he asked questions or raised concerns about the storyline.

Then we went to see the movie, and I was finally able to put into words all the things that I didn’t like about the story in general:

My number one issue is with the target audience for this story. It is a story marketed to teenagers. The story is charged with a sociopolitical commentary that is interesting, but vague. Even after reading the book and watching the movie, I’m not sure what Suzanne was driving at. Is she concerned that our culture has become desensitized to violence to the point where we might reinstate gladiatorial games? Is she worried that our country is on the verge of complete collapse? Does she think the government is evil and that we should revolt against it?  Or is she wanting kids to ask if there is ever a good reason to lie or to kill someone? Or did she simply want to recreate the story of “Gladiator” in her own way and capitalize on a story that had already been told? Perhaps she just really, really, really hates reality tv (and who can blame her?). Whatever her motivations, Collins has marketed this story, a story in which kids are killing other kids, to teenagers; I have a problem with that. Partially because by adding in the “love story,” the oh-so-insightful discussions about this book amongst teens has degenerated into such “deep thought” in the form of arguments over “team Gale” versus “team Peeta” - which just goes to show that the target audience for these stories may not be mature enough for it.

Now, before you jump down my throat - I’m not saying that no teen should be allowed to read this book or that no teenager is capable of the maturity needed to read this book. I’m just saying I have a problem with this story being MARKETED to that audience.

My second issue with this story is its unbelievability. I believe it was Tom Clancy who said, “The difference between reality and fiction? Fiction has to make sense.” This story doesn’t. As I read the book, I found myself comparing it to the Twilight books, and couldn’t figure out why at first. Besides the fact that they are written in first-person narrative from the perspective of a sixteen-year old girl, they really are nothing alike.

Now, confession time: I actually enjoyed the Twilight books rather a lot. Are there things about those books that I don’t like? Yes. But it’s hard to get overly excited about those issues because the books are also somewhat ridiculous. I can’t get worked up about books that are so “fluffy” and unrealistic. It’s vampires and werewolves, for crying out loud - you suspend your disbelief before you even open the book. However, Suzanne Collins has written a story that she appears to want taken seriously. The dark and serious nature of the themes alone make this apparent. But the story itself is unbelievable. I can’t be asked to take this story seriously, and then also be asked to suspend my disbelief so much. I do not believe that Americans would ever allow this kind of “national punishment” to occur... to paraphrase my dad: Why every single dad in the country wasn't more willing to risk their own lives in revolt rather than run the risk of one of their children ending up in these games is hard to fathom.

The third thing I disliked about the story was how the author tried so hard to make me put a value on each character’s life. Why should I be more broken up about Rue’s death than Cato’s? Why should Thresh dying make me feel sadness when Foxface’s didn’t? Why should I not care about the boy Katniss kills in revenge for Rue’s death? None of these kids are here because they WANT to be. Even if some of them volunteered, they aren’t there because they want to be, but because they have to be. I guess what I am getting at is that it bothers me that in this story some young people can die and/or be killed and it's just fine because they were mean or they said "snotty things" while others are killed or do the killing and we are not supposed to be very concerned.  Tying back to my first point, why would I want my 16 year old son or daughter to ever think it’s okay to beat up their peers, or murder them?

The fourth and final thing that I did not like about this story is that it asks all the wrong questions. Is killing ever ok if it is in self-defense? In defense of others? As revenge? Is lying ever ok in those circumstances? But that is not the issue in this story. Because none of these kids is the true murderer in the story. The adults are. Capitol, President Snow, the Gamemakers, they are the murderers. Every one of these kids is placed in an arena by chance. None of them asked to be there. (Technically there are volunteers, I know... but if there were no mandatory hunger games, there would be no volunteers). You really see this in the movie, where you get to watch the Gamemakers at work: this is not a story about kids being forced to kill each other - this is a story in which kids are being used to commit murder.

Now... the only thing that could make me change my opinion about this story is if somebody can tell me for a fact that Collins wrote these books specifically as an illustration of what could happen in a society that begins to devalue children so much that it begins to condone things like abortion, or awards parents vast sums of money in “wrongful birth” lawsuits. If the author was trying to show how evil it is for adults to murder children, and is using this story to show that murdering children is no different whether they are twelve years old, twelve hours old, twelve minutes old, or as yet unborn... then perhaps this story is brilliant... but if that is the case, then she kept that point very subtle. (So much so, that it is a stretch for me to even come up with it).

Gladiators happened, yes. Corrupt governments have come and gone. Children are often the innocent victims when poverty and tyranny prevail. Some children turn into bullies. It is wrong to make kids kill each other. These things I already knew. I feel like this story took old themes, wrapped them up in “shock value” and tried to pass them off as unique.

So my final word? If you want to watch an excellent but violent movie about an underdog thrown into an arena to fight for his life while attempting to spit in the eye of an evil tyrant and ultimately managing to overthrow a corrupt government... go rent Gladiator.