And Evening and Morning Were the First Day… Or Was It the Fourth?

The Foothills Writers Guild has started something called the First Draft Society (FDS). It is strictly in-house. Members can submit short pieces to be distributed to everyone in the guild through email for a first reading and feedback. Most of these submissions come in response to challenges from the president. Of course, last month there was an Eclipse Challenge. There were at least half a dozen submissions before the eclipse. I started mine on the day and just submitted it. Since it took this long, you probably already guessed it’s not really a first draft. So sue me.

Still, I understand it’s pretty late for this topic. So if you can take one more commentary on Eclipse 8-21-17, I really appreciate you stopping by and reading this, my first FDS submission.

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I bet when Bonnie Tyler recorded “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” she had no idea it would be the biggest hit of 1983. Even more so, I bet she had no idea that 34 years later, it would become number 1 again, and everyone would be talking about it. Or that a cruise ship would hire her to sing it as they sailed into the path of a Solar Eclipse. I didn’t make it to that cruise, but I was one of the lucky ones who only had to step into my back yard to see it. I didn’t really want to get caught up in Eclipse-mania, but when a wonder of the heavens is observable right where you live, you know you will never forgive yourself if you miss it.

imperfect image of solar eclipse of 2017
I tried to photograph the eclipse. But without the protective lenses, you don’t actually see the moon starting to block the sun. But you can see one star.

The sun is the very model of consistency and dependability. The earth keeps spinning on its axis, and the sun holds its position, so every part of the globe experiences daytime and nighttime. Sunrise and sunset happen at totally predictable times each and every day. You can literally set your calendar and watch by it. It shines on everyone on the face of the earth… except during a total eclipse.

The newspapers said Greenville (South Carolina) got 2 minutes, 10 seconds of totality, while Anderson got 2 minutes, 34 seconds. I couldn’t watch the event and start a timer, so I wasn’t able to track the timing. Thanks to the website www.eclipse2017.org, I found out the eclipse I watched started at 1:09:15 PM. I saw totality for 2 minutes, 35 seconds, starting at 2:37:57 PM. And “total” is important. The difference between 99% and 100% is never more striking than when you are watching an eclipse.

It amazes me how today, scientists can calculate exactly where the path of totality will travel, and based on your location, tell you exactly when the eclipse will begin, exactly when and for how long you will see totality, and exactly when it will end, down to the second. But what if you were living at a time before that kind of mathematical precision? What if you were a caveman, and you saw a total eclipse for the first time? You know it’s supposed to be day, and then all of a sudden it’s night. You look up, and it looks like the sun has been swallowed by the moon, which now has this fiery halo all around it. Day has turned to night. Nocturnal birds are waking up. Crickets and cicadas are chirping. What’s happening??? But after about two and a half minutes, the sun returns, and you’ve learned an important lesson. The sun can be hidden, but it is always where it should be in the sky.

The sun, moon, and stars, were created on the fourth day of Creation. I thought about this, because the only time you can see the sun, moon, and stars all together is during a total eclipse. Unfortunately, when it turned dark, the automatic streetlights in my neighborhood turned on. The ambient light hid all but a handful of stars. Still, it was enough to make me marvel that for the first time in my life, I could see all the heavenly bodies represented at once. It made me appreciate that fourth day of creation in a new way.

Fourth Day vs. First Day

Did you notice that in Genesis, light was created before the sun, moon, and stars? Light was created on the first day, but then God waited three more days to create the sun, moon and stars. I’m not arguing for a literal 6-day creation here, but I do believe the author of that particular passage did this deliberately. Whether the author was Moses (as tradition says) or the unknown author known as the Elohist (as scholars say), by separating the creation of light from the familiar lights in the sky, he wanted to tell us something much more profound than how old the heavens and earth are, or how many days did it all come together, and were they actually the 24-hour days we know, or were they 1000 years as the Psalmist said, “A thousand years are but a day in Thy sight”? Or were they billions of years, as evidence now indicates the universe is approximately 13.8 billion years old? I find all this fascinating to study. But at the end of the day, I don’t know, and I don’t care.

What the author was trying to tell us is this. It is not the sun, moon, and stars that are the source of light. It is God, who made all of them. Most people at that time worshiped the sun, moon, and stars as gods. The account of creation says those bodies we see in the sky give light for only one reason. God said it, and it was so. And so they are not gods. They are natural phenomena that operate under the sovereignty of God. God is light and the source of all light. God’s light pre-existed and is independent of the light we see with our eyes.

But sometimes even that light may be blocked from our vision. Many saints of old said they experienced a few dark nights of the soul. Sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances that hide God’s light like the moon hides the sun during an eclipse. I’ve experienced a few times in life when God’s clear light of day suddenly turned to night, and they lasted a lot longer than the roughly two and a half minutes I experienced under a total eclipse. If Bonnie Tyler’s song was called “Total Eclipse of the Soul,” would you have known what she meant? I would.

Maybe you have experienced some of your own dark nights. Maybe you are going through one now. If so, one bit of good news I can offer is you are not alone. Name any Biblical hero (and in some cases, I use that term loosely), and I guarantee you the Bible includes accounts of their dark nights of the soul. God’s light was hidden, and it was as strange for them as that caveman I mentioned seeing day turn to night. All the caveman had to do was wait, and the sun would reappear again. God, however, does not move as predictably as the sun, moon, and stars. No one can give you a timetable for when your dark night will end, but it will end.

The moon appears to swallow and devour the sun, but really the sun is still there all along. In the same way, no matter how long God’s light remains hidden from you, it is always there. Neither life nor death, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come can destroy it. They can only hide it for a time.

When the moon moves, as it always will, the light you see will most likely look different than before. Don’t worry. That is a good thing. Our dark nights of the soul remove our illusions and delusions we once held so dear, so that we can see the true light more clearly.

References

http://www.eclipse2017.org/2017/communities/states/SC/Anderson_1401.htm

http://www.eclipse2017.org/2017/communities/states/SC/Greenville_1483.htm

http://www.eclipse2017.org/2017/communities/states/SC/West%20Pelzer_1654.htm

Is Multiple POV Dead?

When I first started seriously shopping my novel manuscript in 2014, secular agents/publishers said

  1. It’s too Christian for us.
  2. We don’t want more than two points of view.

Christian agents/publishers said

  1. It has too much sex and violence for us (none of it gratuitous, I assure you).
  2. We don’t want more than two points of view.

I expected #1 from both to be an issue that I would just have to negotiate and maybe make some changes for them. #2, however, came totally out of the blue for me. All my life I’ve read and liked novels with multiple points of view (POV). Donald Maass in Writing the Breakout Novel devotes a whole chapter to how to write in multiple POV. But they just wouldn’t seem to budge on that. They really prefer one POV. Even two is pushing it.

When I first started writing this manuscript, I envisioned it as two POV, a criminal condemned to death and his prison guard. It wasn’t working. After trying different things with the plot and working on my writing technique, it improved, but I still didn’t feel like it was ready for publication. When I wrote some chapters in a third POV (the wife of the condemned criminal), that opened up new scenes and characters that made the story and main characters more real to me. I felt I was moving in the right direction.

Then I tried out a chapter from the perspective of the Procurator of the Games, to get access to important Arena scenes and intrigues around the emperor. My critique group loved it, so I wrote some more. So that meant I had four POV characters.

At the time, I had no idea it would even be an issue. When I kept running into the same brick wall, I stopped sending query letters and tried to figure out what to do with it. Can I eliminate two POV’s? And if not, what then?

A sock in the gut from an author and an agent

A few months ago, award-winning author Lynette Eason spoke at the local chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). She writes mainly romantic suspense for the Christian market. She wrote one novel with four POV, like mine. It was 90,000 words while mine is 76,000. She suggested they might be thinking it’s not enough words to develop all four of these characters. It was the first thing anyone in publishing said that made sense to me.

However, I recently attended a workshop through Writer’s Digest that suggests I may not be able to overcome this no matter how many words I add. I got to ask all my burning questions to a reputable agent. She asked if there were any bestsellers comparable to mine that

  1. Were written by debut novelists, and
  2. Were published in the last two years.

There’s the rub. I can think of multiple POV bestsellers. Preston and Child’s Pendergast series, the most recent of which was The Obsidian Chamber (2016). George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series, which has been adapted very successfully for television. Jodi Picoult’s latest novel, which has seven POV in one chapter. But all of these authors have consistently written bestsellers going back to the 90’s. They have a proven track record. As a debut novelist, I do not. In fact, the last multiple POV bestseller from a debut novelist I can remember was The Help by Kathryn Stockett (2009). Eight years ago.

And I can’t fall back on Donald Maass, as great as his book was, because Breakout Novel was published in 2002. Book publishing has changed a lot since then. That’s why in your query letters, when you name published books comparable to yours, you can’t go back more than two years. What sold three or four years ago is already outdated. The one bit of good news I have is I found three novels set in ancient Rome all published this year. But, of course, they are all single POV.

I spent about twelve years working on this novel, writing and failing, writing and failing, over and over again until I finally had a manuscript I believed in. And in that twelve years, the very thing that breathed life into my novel like God breathing life into clay became the thing that makes publishers say, “Thanks, but it’s not for us.”

What to do now?

I don’t know. I could maybe bring down the number of POV’s to three. That’s still too many for the major publishers. Are there any agents, and maybe independent publishers, that are willing to take a chance on a debut novelist with a multiple POV story that is a damn good novel if I do say so myself? I’m going back in the ring to find out. Because after all the work I’ve put into it, I just can’t accept that I created something no one will care about.

If you are a writer, what POV do you write in? First person? Third person, deep POV? Third Person omniscient? Do you use one POV character? Two? Do you ever use more than two?

And whether you are a writer or reader, what do you think about this situation? Are publishers right that multiple POV novels don’t sell any more (unless you are an established bestseller)? Or are they misreading the market? I would love to hear your comments.

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In the meantime, we are coming up on the 20th anniversary of the deaths of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. I wrote a short story imagining them meeting in heaven called “A Requiem for Two.” It’s available on Kindle for only $0.99. And it’s only one Point of View (Princess Diana) in case you were wondering. If you like it, I would so appreciate a rating or review.

J. C. and the 12 O.G.’s (Mk 3:13-19a; Mat 10:1-4; Lk 6:12-16)

In the 1980’s, I loved Carman. He had a sense of humor, and early in his career, he said he wrote some songs that weren’t accepted by mainline Christianity because they were, in his own words, “a little off the wall.” This post is going to be a little off the wall. I hope you can handle it.

As someone who believes Christianity was originally nonviolent, and should still be, you might be surprised if I make a comparison between gangs and early Christians. I might not have the “street cred” for this. I was never in a gang. My only experience with them is through TV, movies, and news reports. However, like today’s street and motorcycle gangs, Christianity was sometimes an illegal organization in its early days.

In previous posts, I have talked about my novel manuscript that has not yet been published. (Maybe it’s a little off the wall). A major theme in the story has to do with persecution. How did the church continue to not only survive but grow when just being a Christian could get you tortured and killed? I think I got a few insights from watching Gangland and Sons of Anarchy. Gangs create a culture that encourages extreme loyalty that will stand up to prison, torture, and death.

Image of Sons of Anarchy cast members Kim Coates, Charlie Hunnmam, and Tommy Flanagan

The main rules you must accept to be part of any gang:

  1. Respect the O.G.’s
  2. Gang before everything, even family.
  3. Brotherhood: Intense love for each other.
  4. No snitching.
  5. Make some friends outside the gang.
  6. Never let a rival gang disrespect you.
  7. Recruit new members, but be careful.

The early church used these same tactics. I’m not saying they were a gang literally, but I think in some ways they had to have a gangster mentality. Let’s compare how this looks in gangs versus first century Christianity.

1. Respect the O.G.’s

O.G. stands for Original Gangster. Every gang has its founders, i.e. O.G.’s, and you must respect them. The Twelve O.G.’s of Christianity were the twelve apostles in the scripture references above.

2. Gang before everything, even your life and family.

Gangs make it clear up front you must give them your ultimate loyalty. The gang comes before your wife, your kids, your job, your mother, your father, your brother, your sister, your life, everything and everyone. The church wouldn’t expect you to put them above your own life and family, would they? Well, how do you explain verses like this?

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Mat 10:37).

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it (Mark 8:35).

Their loyalty to Christ had to be absolute. Their loyalty to each other had to be absolute. Your family might turn you in to authorities – whether the Sanhedrin or the Romans – but your brothers and sisters in Christ never will.

The authorities might threaten not only your life but your family’s lives as well. You had to remain strong. That was the only way to ensure the gang could continue after you were gone.

3. Brotherhood: Intense love for each other

In Sons of Anarchy, which is clearly modeled after the Hell’s Angels, they talk all the time about being a brotherhood. They will say to each other, “I love you, my brother.” There aren’t many places where men declare their love for each other without afterward saying, “But I’m not gay.” Being a part of a brotherhood like that is definitely part of the attraction of gangs for young men.

John’s Gospel and epistles give some of the most succinct expressions of brotherly love:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (John 13:34).

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (1Jn 4:20).

Their loyalty to Christ was directly tied to loyalty to one another. He died for us, so we have to be willing to die for each other. That formed the basis of their brotherhood. And yes, sisterhood too.

4. No snitching

Have you heard snitches get stitches? Gangs punish betrayal severely. In gangs, if you rat, you die.

Remember how I said earlier your brothers and sisters in Christ will never rat you out? The flip side of that coin is you’d better not rat them out. The worst name you could be called was Judas, the mother of all rats. To most gangs, it would be unthinkable to let a rat live. To the church, killing was forbidden. However, the church had another punishment that was even worse: “Leave it to the wrath of God… ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay,’ saith the LORD” (Rom 12:19).

How would God repay? Hell was certain, unless like Paul, you repented. Death comes to everyone, and after that, judgment. If you turn in your fellow Christians to the authorities, knowing they are going to be tortured and probably killed, do you want to face God on the judgment seat after that? I don’t think so.

Why such severe punishment? Think about the situation they’re in. The authorities can use severe punishment to coerce testimony against you and your gang. You hope your brotherly love will keep them loyal under any duress. But just in case, you need punishment even more severe to be sure they keep their mouths shut.

5. Make friends outside the gang

In Sons of Anarchy, they had people in their pocket who could help them in ways people inside the gang could not. If they were in a bind with the authorities, they had people they could call in favors from: A sheriff, a police chief, a few deputies, a few prison guards, a few businessmen, a city council member. Now think about that when you see a verse like this.

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward (Mat 10:42).

What does that mean? Are you a Christian? Ok, then, I’ll give you this water. Why would anyone do that?

Is he talking about Christians giving to Christians? That’s the only case where giving to someone because he’s a Christian makes sense. Why would a non-Christian give to a Christian because he’s a Christian?

This verse did not make any sense to me until I thought about how gangs have friends on the outside. Maybe this is referring to friendships cultivated with outsiders. Maybe there were some people who saw their persecution and were sympathetic to them. During the Holocaust, there were some Gentiles who helped Jews because they were Jews. They hid them and did what they could to help them survive. I think Christians had friends like these when they were persecuted as well.

6. Never let a rival gang disrespect you.

The Sons of Anarchy were constantly in tension with, or outright war against, other gangs in the area. Someone in another gang disrespects them or kills one of their own, it’s war. Literally. At one point, I had to stop watching because there was too much blood and guts. I don’t mind realism, but it was getting excessive, and innocent people died too often just from doing their job or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

What does that have to do with the first century church? Early Christianity was not monolithic, as we tend to think. The orthodox, or “correct,” version had not yet been established. There were rival factions, and I think some sects were not above using the authorities to remove some they thought of as heretical. Consider this.

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God (1Jn 4:2-3a).

I don’t think we should take this literally, because I have seen and met some people who believe all the right doctrines and are not from God. You can talk to just about any KKK member and ask,

Do you believe in God almighty, maker of heaven and earth?

Yes.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son and our Lord?

Yes.

Do you believe Jesus Christ came to earth in the flesh?

Yes.

Do you believe white people have to keep uppity [N-word] in their place?

Yes.

That spirit is definitely not of God. Why would this or any one specific doctrine be some absolute standard of trustworthiness? Like one of my professors said, “Right beliefs, right confessions, and 50 cents will get you a cup of coffee in the coffee shop in Sheol.”

Maybe there’s something else going on in John’s community that’s not immediately obvious almost 2000 years later. We know from the New Testament and other literature of the time there were some Christian sects who did not believe Jesus was a flesh-and-blood human being. They believed he was a pure divine spirit who appeared in human form, sort of like Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Image of Q as a judge
Caption: It’s not like I’m an all-powerful space entity or anything, but — Oh, wait! I AM an all-powerful space entity!

To John, the community’s O.G., it was very important that Jesus was a real flesh-and-blood human being. I’d like to propose that John was talking about not just a theological dispute but also a way to identify a separate sect, i.e., a rival gang. Saying Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh would be like a red bandana to a Crip or a blue bandana to a Blood.

John’s message to his community is, “They may call themselves Christians and preach about Jesus, but if they don’t believe like we do, they don’t belong to us.” In an environment where Christians are part of something illegal, they need to know who they can trust. That gang over there, they may look and talk like us, but they are not us. You can’t trust them.

7. Recruit new members, but be careful

People die in gangs: From old age (if you’re lucky), but more likely from being killed by police or rival gangs. This outflow makes it necessary to recruit new members. But how do you recruit for something like that? You can’t run an ad saying, “Anyone want to join an outlaw motorcycle gang? Meet us on the corner of 5th and Oak Street.”

They can only take people they know will not betray them. They need people who will follow their rules. Most people only get in if a member recommends them, though occasionally someone might be able to approach them, especially if they have a useful skill.

But getting in doesn’t mean you are a member. First, you are granted “hangaround” status, which means what it implies. If a member is willing to sponsor you (absolutely necessary), you have the right to “hang around” the gang and show you know your place. After a while, you may be upgraded to Prospect. This is the time when you prove your loyalty by doing anything a gang member says, from guarding bikes while the gang members party and cleaning up afterwards to criminal activity, even murder. Only when the gang is satisfied you’ve proven your loyalty will they accept you as a full member, and the vote has to be unanimous.

The early church wouldn’t have people run drugs or murder anyone, but there were times they had to be careful about who they let in. They needed to know any new members would be loyal to them, no matter what. I don’t have texts to prove this, but I believe early Christian communities had an initiation period where people would have “hangaround” or “prospect” status before being accepted as members. They would be instructed in their most basic beliefs – as much as they could tell, and probably emphasizing that they accepted the authority of Rome in earthly matters, while Christ is Lord over spiritual matters (Just in case they were spies for the Roman government). They would be encouraged to “count the cost,” because Rome did not always accept their distinction between earthly and spiritual Lordship.

If they still wanted to join, and the members accepted them, then they would be baptized to recognize their full membership. Only those who were baptized could join in the Lord’s Supper. Only the those who partook of the Body and Blood of the Lord together would be trusted with their secrets.

Jesus himself modeled this. He would speak to the crowds in parables but only explain the meanings to the twelve disciples. This made it difficult for his enemies to pin any charges on him, while communicating his true message only to his inner circle of twelve friends. Those twelve went on to become the “Original Gangsters” of the first underground Christian communities.

Award Winning Author!

One of the items on my pre-publication bucket-list for my manuscript was to be able to call myself an award-winning author. I can now check that off. I entered the first twenty pages of my  book, Through Fear of Death: A Novel of Empire and the Kingdom, in a contest sponsored by the Foothills Writers Guild. Last month, it won the Juanita Garrison Prize for unpublished fiction.

image of pre-publication cover of Through Fear of Death
Possible cover for as yet unpublished novel

A few days ago, I actually got to meet Ms. Garrison herself! What an honor not only to win the award but to meet the person for whom it was named. She was a lovely lady and a gracious host.

I certainly hope there will be more awards to follow, not to mention publication. But for now I am pleased as punch.

Cover Image Survey – 2nd & Final Round

I’m calling the last cover survey. You can see the results by clicking here. Ran into a problem, though. The most popular were the ones with the empty helmet. One respondent pointed out that was a Greek helmet. My book is set in Rome, not Greece.

So in this new survey, I’m asking to pick between the helmet – gladiator helmet this time – and one with the gladiator that showed respectably in the polls. Another problem: in the helmet theme, the one with the T like a cross got the most votes, but in a thumbnail view (necessary for Amazon, B&N, or iTunes listing) the T did not show up well. So it’s down to the correct helmet (with T not t in DEATH) and a gladiator cover.

Your vote is greatly appreciated.

 

Through Fear of Death cover choice1, gladiator helmet
Option 1

 

Through Fear of Death possible cover image, gladiator in arena
Option 2