Archive for May, 2011

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by truth.” -1 John 1:5-6

“Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in darkness.” 1 John 2:9

P1030210 by Dan Hatton

Disclaimer: I am not preaching and this is in no way meant to speak to anyone specific–with the exception of myself. As Beth Moore says, I can only teach you what God is teaching me. If it resonates with you, then I praise God, that He would use me to work in your life. But it is Him and not me that must do the true teaching.

We’re going to start with the obvious.

God is light.

Even though it the verse above states it, this fact bears repeating. God is light. He makes the sun look like a 60 watt lightbulb. The moon doesn’t even stand a chance. And the stars? Forget about the stars. You can’t see them, He’s that bright. He washes everything out. In the Greek the word used here is Phos, meaning light…the light. There is no other light like this light. Just like there is no other God like our God. He is light is it’s purest essence. He defines what light is.

And what darkness is.

There are two words used in these verses to refer to darkness. Skotia and skotos. Obviously these are conjugates of each other, so the meanings are simlar. But it’s the subtle differences that God loves to use. Skotia, which is used in verse 5 and 9, refers to wickedness or “the darkness due to want of light”. Basically, a life without God. Skotos is darkness. Used in verse 6, it can also mean “persons [or a person] in whom darkness becomes visible and holds sway”. Here it isn’t talking about just wickedness. It’s talking about people who claim to be of the light and of God, but for some reason or another have strayed, leaving God’s presence wanting in their life. People who are held by darkness, not light.

Now I’ve read 1 John before. And I’ve read over those first two verses many times in the last couple weeks (my Bible study plan has me focus on one segment of scripture for the duration of a month). Each time my thoughts have been, “Praise God, I’m in the light and not the darkness”. Because I have been born again. I am a new creation in Christ. My thought is that most Christians think like I did. I mean, yes, I sin. Yes, I make mistakes, but God is faithful and just to forgive me when I come to him in repentance. In my mind, darkness…let’s just name him for what he is, Satan had no stronghold in my mind. He could try and cause me to doubt, but my faith is strong because my strength is not my own. I couldn’t see where he was sinking his little hooks in and truly trying to separate me from my Lord.

This morning, 1 John 2:9 hit me like a slap in the face. “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in darkness.”

I’m sorry, what!

Now, brother in this verse can be taken to mean fellow man. So, God’s not talking (specifically) about your brother–the one that stole your Barbies and spent most of his childhood making airplane noises (though this does apply to him too). He’s talking about that guy that cuts you off in traffic. The lady in the next cubicle that talks a little too loud. The boss/co-worker/customer/acquaintance that just rubs you that wrong way. That’s who he is talking about.

I would say that I don’t outright hate anyone (not anyone real at least, with fictional characters it’s a different story). I get along with most people…and I tolerate those few who I don’t particularly like. I smile. I nod. I hold my tongue. But in my head, I’m thinking “I can’t believe, grumble grumble grumble grumble and they are a complete creative-dergatory-non-cuss-word-type-phrase”. My thoughts are not always nice and pleasant. And I knew, that it wasn’t exactly godly. That thinking mean and ugly things about others is not nice, because God loves them anyways. So I should to.

But today, it was like there was this glowing line linking these two verses together. The Holy Spirit showed me a connection, not only between the two verses, but between the verses and my own life.

These nasty thoughts, or as a pastor friend of mine, this stinkin’ thinkin’ was/is a stronghold of the devil in my life. It is something that he is using to drive me away from the person God wants me to be. God has called me to love as He loves. He has called me to be His light unto the world. And I can’t be that, can’t be a part of Him, if there is any darkness in my life. (Am I scaring you yet?)

And stinkin’ thinkin’ is skotos.

And it’s scary. Because it is in me. I can flee from sinful people and sinful situations. I can get the heck outta dodge and escape the temptation. But my thoughts are in my head. And as many days as I wish, I could remove my brain from my head and just not have to think period, I’m pretty sure it’s not good for my health. No, escaping stinkin’ thinkin’ is hard. It requires real work. It require repentance and changing the way I think.

Changing the way I think.

I’m sorry, but sometimes, it takes me a little bit of time to realize that I’m thinking the way I’m thinking. Sometimes I catch it a little faster than others. Sometimes, I still dwell on the nasty thought and let it build into something really ugly.

And that means that it is also going to require discipline.

I have to die to myself in my thought life. It requires putting my pride and feelings away. Because they get in the way. Nobody wants to admit that they are wrong, or that their feelings have been hurt. But I cannot let these things drive me if I want to love the way God loves.

Because that is the only way to love as God loves is to see through His eyes. And I can’t see through His eyes if I’m too busy massaging my bruised pride with angry, ugly, skotos thoughts. It don’t work. It’s like trying to use a hammer to clean a window. You end up with a painful mess. You lose friends and coworkers and employees and customers.

I end up bitter and holding a grudge that I didn’t mean to hold.

So it’s time for me to repent. To ask God to give the strength and discipline (which means that He will try me so that they develop within me) to stop the nasty thoughts the moment they enter my head. I can’t always help the thoughts that come into my head. But I can keep from dwelling on them and letting them become sin. And with God’s help and this thing called Grace, I can change the way that I do think and become that much more like him.


Throne of Fire

Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan

Ages 12 and up

In the series’ first book, The Red Pyramid, we meet Carter and Sadie Kane. Long separated siblings brought together on Christmas Eve by their dad. They are quickly sucked into a world that they never knew existed, the world of ancient Egyptian gods. Through the first book, Sadie and Carter learn to work together as they try to save their father from a face worse than death–only to discover that things are even worse than they originally expected. Apophis, the lord of Chaos, is rising and he is bent on world destruction. Three months later, we start The Throne of Fire. Sadie and Carter have started training other young magicians at Brooklyn house (they stay away from Manhattan, it apparently has other immortal problems *cough Olympians cough cough*). We find them right in the middle of a museum heist as they try to locate the three pieces of the book of Ra. They only have five days to find all the pieces and perform the ritual to awaken the senile sun god, Ra. Otherwise, Apophis will break free from his prison and the world will have no defense strong enough to put him back in his place and keep Ma’at in balance. With a cast of new characters as well as the beloved old ones, they set off to save the world from Chaos.

I remember when I first heard about The Red Pyramid. I had just finished the Percy Jackson series and adored it. So my first reaction was “He’s doing the same thing with Eyptian mythology? AWEsome!” I would have been perfectly happy with an Eygptian version of Percy Jackson. Every word would have eagerly devoured and just as thoroughly enjoyed. But for Riordan, that wasn’t enough. He didn’t rely on the same old concept with the Kane Chronicles, he came up with a slightly different one on that fit the mythology of Egypt so much better. And I love it. Throne of Fire delves even deeper into the Egyptian myths. We are introduced to new gods (Well, new for us. They’re actually very, very old). Each one is just as colorful and unique as the ones in the first book. Even the minor characters, the ones you only see for a page or two, are memorable.

One my favorite things about Rick Riordan’s books is how well he does first person narrative. With two narrators! The Kane Chronicles are told from both Carter and Sadie’s views. They take turns narrating the story (sometimes peacefully, sometimes not so much) into a tape recorder just as it was narrated in the first book. Sadie and Carter both have distinctive voices, so that even without having the current narrator’s name at the top of each page, I knew who was talking (Sadie’s British upbringing helps with that). And we get these funny little asides as they fight over the microphone/details of the story.

Riordan is really great about hooking you and drawing you into a greater plot. First in the sense of the plot over a series, he has this trick of creating a “minor’ bad guy to focus on in the first book before dangling a greater, world-ending threat at the very end so that you’re dying for next book. It works beautifully, he creates a sense of anticipation with making me want to tear my hair out from the suspense. Secondly, he jumps you right into the action. There is always a brief segment at the beginning where the main character (0r one of them) sets the stage and then BAM! They hit you with a hook that is pure brilliance (I believe the one in TOF had something to do with setting Brooklyn on fire).

I almost wish that I had something bad to say or something to be critical about, then this would seem a lot less like overeager brown-nosing. But my only problem with this book is that it ended and now I have to wait until next May for the third and final volume (Though Son of Neptune will help with that).

His sense of odd ball humor (think magic penguins, weasel cookies, and flying wombats) is fun and refreshing and just different enough from the humor he displays in Percy Jackson and the Olympians to make it distinct. It’s what makes his books so darn lovable. There are moments you can’t breathe for laughing. This is not a book you can read quietly. The chapter titles alone had me in stitches. Revenge of Bullwinkle the Moose God anyone? (Actually he’s a ram, but Sadie doesn’t seem to care.) Part of this humorous approach is what makes the minor characters so memorable. I only saw a few pages with nine-year-old Felix, but I remember him because he has a penchant for solving his problems with penguins.

Of course, it isn’t all giggles and laughs. After all, we are facing the end of the world as we know it. We have to watch as lives are given to save the world, because what Egyptian apocalypse would be complete without self-sacrifice? And Sadie and Carter are not always on the best of terms. They are two stubborn, decisive children who have to work through their differences to work together–and sometimes their fights have consequences. But they are still a team and they do still love each other. It helps to lend a sense of realism to a story that is completely fantastical, transforming it into something believable.

All in all, this book was a blast to read. I wish I could say that I couldn’t put it down, however, life did call and I had to put it down. Never willingly though. I have a feeling that just as with the Percy Jackson books, this is a book that I will return to time and time again. And force on my children someday, when I have some.

This is a good example of:

  • Distinct first person narrative
  • Switching between viewpoints
  • Fitting pieces into a larger plot
  • Character development
  • Good minor characters
  • Brilliant humor
This book is on my recommended reading list.

Writer's Block (8) by Jonno Witts

Far be it from me to offer you advice and then just leave you hanging. In Chugging Right Along, I talked about how writers write–rain or shine, inspired or not. But sometimes that can just be hard. Sometimes you get stuck and just can’t think of anything and you end up taking three hours to write one sentence. Been there, done that.

Writing well and consistently is all about practice and persistence. You can’t sit down and expect you first book to be the next great American novel, it’s going to take a lot of trial and error. You have to learn what your good at and what you just suck at. And that can only happen if you write–a LOT. But what do you do when it takes you that long to put together a sentence? When you are fresh out of ideas or you are just not at your best, how do you find something to write about?

We’ve all experienced it: writer’s block (And if you haven’t yet, you will. Trust me). It’s a common disease that affects anyone who has ever picked up a pen and tried to tell a story. You start the story and you’re going full steam, the words are pouring from your brain onto your paper and they’re pretty darn good. It’s exciting, it’s exhilarating, it’s a high unlike any other. And then, KABLAM! You run full force into a brick wall.  You reel, you stagger, you fall flat on your butt in the dust. But that doesn’t stop you. You’re a writer, so you pick yourself up. You dust off the seat of your pants and you try to get past the wall. But you can’t. You couldn’t figure out how to get past that wall if your life depended on it.

I know, I’ve been there. My notebooks have doodles in the margins from where I’ve hit that brick wall–and if the doodles weren’t enough proof I’ve taken up the habit of writing “Writer’s Block” in the margins every time I hit it. Sometimes it is because I’m not really sure where I’m going (hence the reason I’ve started outlining my books). Other times it’s because, dagnabit, I just don’t want to work on the silly book anymore. That’s when I know it is time to take a break. Believe it or not, you can get tired of your story. Or just burnt out. So close the notebook or save the document and do something else. Write a short story. Work on a different scene (often this is more than enough to get me past whatever I couldn’t get past). Clean something. I’ve found cleaning the bathroom and/or the kitchen can be very inspiring. Especially if there is music involved (Pandora is my best friend). Or watch a movie that’s set int he same world/time/situation as your story. The LOTR movies and Princess Bride have gotten me through many bouts of writer’s block. Come back in an hour or a day and try to write again.

Of course, stories don’t pop out of thin air. If you don’t feel like coming up with your own idea, then writing prompts are a great way to go. These are great to get you started writing something, anything. And it doesn’t have to be good. You just start writing and let the idea take you where it takes you. You are allowed to let these ramble a bit. You can use them to develop a specific skill, like description or dialogue. And if you really like the story you can go through and edit it, tighten it up, cut out the rambling and turn it into something you could send in to a contest or have a friend read. Or you could file it away (try to always save your writing, you never know what you might be able to use down the road) and never look at it again. Prompts aren’t hard to find. I currently have a free eBook full of them sitting on my nook (there also is a longer version available for $.99). You can also search for them on Google. Here are a few that I liked:

Now if you are focused or you don’t want to separate yourself completely from the story, this is a good time to work on a character story. For example, in one story the main character has this beautiful bow made by Elves out of the wood of a very special kind of tree (yes, I know, my LOTR obsession is showing). Now how and why she got the bow isn’t really important to my story,  but just for the fun of it, I did write the scene where she received the bow. All that that mattered to the main plot is that the Elves gave it to her, thereby signaling their approval of her. However, suppose instead that the bow had been given to her by her father. The relationship between the main character and her dad is very important to the story, which would have made it possible to include the scene in the book. But for the most part, scenes like this are for your eyes only. They can enrich your writing secondhand (I didn’t even realize how important it was for her to gain the Elves approval until after I wrote this little vignette), but they bog the writing down when they aren’t pivotal to the plot.
If you’re really brave, you can try combining the two ideas above. Take a writing prompt and adapt it to your world with your characters. It’s a great way to play with your characters and see how they would react in situations that they wouldn’t encounter in the course of your story. It can be enlightening.
And for when you’re feeling really lazy, there is always fan fiction. Can I just say that I love writing the stuff? Well, I love writing the stuff (and not just because I’ve been an incurable shipper wince the age of four). I have characters, I have a setting, and I have a story that shows me how they react. And I am free to take all those things and use them to craft a story. This is an awesome way to practice your writing. It can show you how flexible you are as a writer. When I write fanfics, I try to blend my voice with the original author’s voice as much as I possibly can. I’m always proud of myself when someone says, “It’s just as if So&so wrote this story”. It makes me feel like a super-secret writer spy. Of course there is a lot of bad fan fiction out there. And of course you can’t actually publish any of the material you write…or can you? I know for a fact that I have used conversations and other things that I’ve discovered through writing a fan fiction (heck, my first complete story started out as a fan fiction). But even if it is only to entertain yourself, fan fiction is a good way to practice your writing. You’re free to come up with your own story (I find myself doing this when I’m not happy with the way a book/movie ended) or you can take a scene and rewrite it. I do this frequently with manga. Since manga is a visual medium, you don’t always get the inner thoughts of the characters and there is a lot of room for interpretation. I like to flesh out the little details about what is going on in a character’s head. All in all, if you do it well, this can be a valuable opportunity. Do you want to write in first person? Learn to do it well but imitating an author that writes killer first person novels. Need to work on your dialogue? Find a book with dialogue sections that you like and try to create a conversation between two of its characters. Before you know it, your fingers will be itching to open your notebook back up and return to your own characters.
These are just someways to keep yourself writing through rain and shine. I know there are many, many others. If you have any of your own tips/tricks please share them. I’m always looking for more ideas.

Disclaimer: I will do my best not to get completely carried away and spoil anything for you, but in proving my point I do need to reveal some things. I will refrain from using any names from last nights events, but if you’re afraid of spoilers DO NOT READ THIS. And that is all.

So, for those of you who aren’t as hip as I am (yes, that’s your cue to laugh), last night was the season finale of Fringe.

I have this tendency to find a TV show and get a little obsessive about it. The number of TV shows that I watch with almost religious devotion to continues to grow. It started with Bones, and then, Fringe, Grey’s Anatomy, Castle, Chuck, and Smallville followed. My favorite part about television is that it keeps going and going and the good ones keep you begging for more. Why? Because they are always delivering something new. Now I could go on and on about how good TV shows are at teaching you about character reveals, significant details and plot development, but that’s not why I am here (not this time at least).

I’m here because even while still trying to process the ending of last night’s Ffinale I was struck by this thought: J.J. Abrams is a master of plot twists. I mean, what better way to having your audience gasping for the next season than to erase the existence of a character that everyone has grown to know and love over the last three seasons? (That is as far as I will go into detail for last night. Please if you know who I’m talking about, don’t ruin it for anyone who hasn’t had a chance to watch the finale.) The plot twists that they have dreamed up for this show over the last two seasons constantly leave me feeling blown away.

And that’s how I want my readers to feel when they read my book. I want them to sit back at the end (or when real life calls and they have to put the book down) and go: “Whoa.” And sometimes, I don’t want them to see it coming. Sometimes it’s fun to have the audience know things before the main character, but other times you want to completely catch them off guard.

For those who watch the show, think about how they ended season two (this is all easily accessible info, so even if you haven’t watched the show, you probably know some of it). Olivia has gone over to other side and convinced Peter to come back with her. To be with her. Oh yeah, I was doing a happy dance in my living room. I mean, finally! After two seasons of agony, they were going places I liked. And then, five minutes from the end–They switched the Olivias (parallel universe, for those who don’t watch). But here’s the kicker, the audience didn’t know (or couldn’t be sure) until the last thirty seconds of the episode when you see our Olivia sitting, huddled in a confinement cell.

It was the the king of plot twists…Until this season’s finale. I’m still not sure how I kept from throwing anything at my TV last night.

Maybe because I’ve been too busy realizing how much Fringe has influenced my own writing, especially when it comes to plot twists. Looking that ending of my current book (which is part of a series), if I play my cards right, it will have people screaming for the next book. I can definitely see the impact that shows like Fringe and Alias have had on my writing.

Hands down, Fringe is some of the best television writing I have ever seen. The way they are still tying things in season three to events in season one is amazing–Abrams and crew don’t waste a single detail. Which is why I think  that if you write, you need to watch this show. Watch and see how they handle the plot (and its twists), character development, character backstory, the little details that are actually much more important than they seem at first, and how they lead their audience on this incredible journey through the course of each season. I find it brilliant.

177/365 - Lost in the pages by Courtney Carmody

If you could see me now, you’d probably witness me doing some version of the happy dance. My final final of the semester was yesterday (Wednesday), so my summer has officially started (Don’t you love college, summer starts a whole month early). Yeah! And what do I plan to do this summer? Exactly what I planned to do last summer–I plan to write until my fingers bleed.

Okay, maybe I’m not actually going to go to such gruesome extents. But I think I’ve managed to create in myself the discipline (and desperation) to work consistently on my book for the next several months. I have much higher hopes for this summer, than I had last year.

So in addition to my usual list of summer to-dos (you know, clean my room, exercise, actually do some chores around the house, save enough money to last the next two semesters) I’ve come up with a few writer’s to-dos:

  1. Write, write, write: If I’m going to have Draft One finished by the end of the year, I need to buckle down and get serious about writing. Which means that you will probably be able to find me at my CFA even on my days off (I do have plans to see how working at the library suits me, but right now CFA is my office). My goal (and we’ll see how we do) is to have 50,000-65,000 words written by the end of August. I know, scary isn’t it? That’s a LOT of words. But when you do the math (What? I’m a numbers person) that’s only 550 words (roughly three handwritten pages) each day–or 3,800 words (nineteen h.w.p.) a week. Not so scary now is it (See why I like the numbers)?
  2. Blog consistently: Yes, I know I disappeared for a few weeks. I have tendency to do that at the end of each semester. Finals are coming, therefore I put my life on hold until after. But now that summer is here and I only have my job to contend with I want to make a point of writing at least one blog post a week. Probably more if I keep up with my third to-do.
  3. Read: Yep, you knew it was coming. Heck, I knew it was coming. It’s the thing I love most about summer. No school=more reading time. Now, considering that I do plan on work 40 hours a week and I plan on working on my book at least two or three days each week, I should probably keep a conservative goal. I figure that one book a week will make me feel accomplished, while not overwhelming me. Of course, I don’t expect to actually take that long with every book, but at least I have a starting point.
  4. Take a Writer’s Weekend: This one will depend on my financial status towards the end of the summer, but I would really like to do a little traveling as research for Mind Games. Considering that a great part of the first book takes place in a castle, I am currently looking for real live castles here in the U.S. that I can visit for research/inspiration. I would love to go to Ireland or England, but money’s tight and I am currently trying to save for a trip to Germany in two or three summers (Medieval Times Orlando anyone?). And I would love to include in that a few days (maybe even a week?) where I can spend the greater part of the day writing. But as I said, money and whether or not I can find appropriate company (I hate traveling alone) is going to determine whether or not I actually get to cross this one off of my list.
But this is it. Now is the best  time to work on my book.
For all those other aspiring authors out there, what about you? Make this summer the summer you set down a plot, or do some research, or maybe–just maybe–this is the time that you take up you pen and write those first words of your story. Go ahead, challenge yourself. And please, if you have any similar goals for your summer (or month, or year or whatever) tell me about them! It’s always wonderful to know that you aren’t alone.
(And just FTR: The book she is reading is Hunger Games. Found that out after I chose the pic and it cracks me up.)

I don’t know if it’s just because I’m weird or if it’s a common thing, but cliffhanger endings and the waiting aside, I love it whenever a series that I’ve been following comes out with a new book. Something about the suspense, the rush of seeing the promotional material, the bubbly feeling when you finally see it on the bookstore shelves and the joy of the clerk handing you your newly bought book (or the librarian) is just fun for me. My friends will tell you, I have been caught drooling of the Throne of Fire posters and I will probably be doing the rounds to find a friend that has finished it and will let me borrow it (little strapped for cash right now).

Here are some of the books that I am just counting down the days until I can hold them (and maybe take them home, we’ll see)

  • The Kane Chronicles #2: The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan: Comes out May 3rd (eeeek!). I think most of you will have figured out that I am a fan of all things related to RR. And he’s got two big ones coming out this year (more on that later). In the first book, he did for the Egyptian mythos all of the wonderful things that he did in the Percy Jackson books. Cannot wait for the TTF to come out!
  • Heist Society #2: Uncommon Criminals: Comes out June 21. Okay, so maybe the first book is still sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read. But it’s by Ally Carter, so that means it’s pretty much literary gold from my point of view. And while I’d much rather be putting GG5 on this list, I suppose this will have to do. ;D
  • The Heroes of Olympus #2: The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan: Comes out October 4 (Cover reveal May 25). I don’t care what anyone says about this series not being Percy Jackson books…People, these books are Percy Jackson books. Just read them and you’ll see. SON will have me parked outside the bookstore waiting for them to open the doors just so I can get my hands on a copy. I mean, I’ve only been looking forward to this for to come out since  I finished The Lost Hero.
  • Beka Cooper series #3: Mastiff: Comes out October 25. I just recently got into this series and I have to say, Tamora Pierce doesn’t disappoint…ever. I’ve been following her since I was seventeen. And I can’t wait to see how she concludes this one.
  • The Inheritance Cycle #4: Inheritance: Comes out November 8. I know, took him long enough. I remember when Eldest came out I was SO excited. Here we are three years later and I’m considerably less excited for the final book. I’m kinda ready for this to be over…but still, I do enjoy his books. They’re just not as urgent feeling anymore.
That’s it. That’s the list so far. If I hear of anything else exciting (that I’ve read) I’ll put it down.
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