Odds and Ends

So is it time for a news-and-updates blog post, a I-didn’t-have-much-planned-and-this-is-easy post? Yes, I think so.

At the end of May, I joined SpeculativeFaith as a regular contributor, posting every other Wednesday. In June I made my first two posts, and I’m scheduled to post my third this Wednesday. (Sneak preview: It will be about why Christian fiction is predominantly romance novels.)

Today, Anne Elisabeth Stengl graciously hosted me on her blog. There is an interview, a snippet from The Valley of Decision, and a giveaway.

The Prism Book Tour of The Valley of Decision has come to an end. In addition to the interviews and guest posts, I got a few good reviews. Melanie, at her blog Mel’s Shelves, wrote kindly about the ending: “There are lots of moving parts that came together in the end for a satisfying conclusion. I’m glad I had the opportunity to read this, and I look forward to reading more from this author!”

Tina at Mommynificent commented, “The characters were definitely my favorite part of the book. I really enjoyed coming to understand the complexities of the three main characters, who interestingly are all male. I also really enjoyed the unfolding mystery of who the Fay are and why they are a part of this world.”

Sara, writing on Platypire Reviews, also remarked on the characters: “Keiran, the Captain of the Hosts, was an interesting character. From the beginning of the book, I wasn’t quite sure what direction the story was going to go in, and I didn’t know what to think of him at first. As things were revealed and I got further in the story, I found myself rooting for him as a reader and enjoyed his character development.”

Which is just the sort of thing an author likes to hear.

CSFF Blog Tour: Interview with Wayne Thomas Batson

Wayne Thomas Batson is the author of the new book Dreamtreaders, the first of a trilogy. To learn more about him and to see a full listing of his works, visit his Goodreads page.

Good to have you here! Can you begin by telling us about Dreamtreaders?

Great to be here! Thank you for having me! Dreamtreaders is what you might call “urban dream fantasy.” It’s the modern world that all readers will recognize but with a disturbing caveat: Dreams are far more serious—and dangerous than we ever guessed. Archer Keaton, at age 14, is the youngest Dreamtreader ever chosen. He and the other two Dreamtreaders are guardians of the Dream realm where a deadly serious enemy is out to destroy mankind from the subconscious level. Throughout the centuries, the Dreamtreaders have kept the Nightmare Lord in check, but now, something has changed. The very fabric between the Dream and Waking Worlds is fraying. Will Archer and the Dreamtreaders do enough to stop the cataclysmic Rift from occurring? Read and see. 😀

The back cover of your book says that “dreams have been powerful ingredients of God’s plan as revealed through Scripture.” How did that influence your thinking as you wrote Dreamtreaders?

As I explored the Dreamtreaders concept, I needed to know what God has to say about dreams. Are they noble? Are they sinister? Are they a gray area? I was more than a little surprised to see just how often God used dreams to communicate truth to His people. But not just truth, but warnings as well. And I got to thinking that the enemy of our souls usually likes to pervert anything God has called good. And I thought about nightmares. Sometimes they can feel so real, can’t they? Sometimes bad dreams shake us up. Sometimes, they can provoke anxiety or even a sense of confusion over what was dream and what was actually memory of reality. So that took me deep into the plot and gave me the Bible backbone I needed.

How did you go about constructing the world of the Dream with all its rules?

The first step was recognizing a need for rules. The fantasy genre is rather free with such things, meaning that you can invent whole worlds, cultures, races, families, and such. But no matter what the setting, there must be an internal logic to it. The Dreamscape, for instance, cannot simply be anything goes all the time because it robs the story of its tension. Sure, it’s fun to have no-rules, imaginary, crazy town for a little while, but after a bit, the reader would soon realize that nothing really matters. If a villain cannot kill me or even hurt me, then, there’s no threat. If, in the dream, my enemy turns himself into a cat to scratch me, but I turn into a dog, and the enemy turns into a lion, and I into a hunter…see where that goes? It’s Merlin versus the Fairy Godmother all over again. It’s cute for a little while but soon becomes exhausting.

The next step is to decide what rules make sense for a dream world? Since dreams happen in the mind, it made sense to have there be a limit to just what the mind could endure. So, in the Dream, you -CAN- create anything you want, but it’s harder the first time to create anything you’ve never created before. And, your mental energy is finite. Your will can wear down over time, so that creates a boundary and, by extension, adds tension. What happens to a person who tries to create something too big or too complex? What happens to a person when the mental energy runs out? Those are the kinds of dangers that can (hopefully) drive a story!

Reading Dreamtreaders, I had fun noticing the names. “Kara Windchil”, for example, is one letter different from “wind chill”, “Rigby” is one letter different from “rugby”, and Thames is, of course, a river in England. Are there other meanings or references in your characters’ names?

I do like to play around with names. In fact, I kind of obsess over names. But, as to the names you mentioned, I can neither confirm nor deny that these names indicate anything significant or sinister about their characters.

Was there any character you found particularly hard to write?

Master Gabriel, the head of the Dreamtreaders Order, was difficult because I kept picturing Gandalf the Gray in my mind. I really don’t want a character to be derivative of another well-known character or type. But Master Gabriel is very cantankerous, very sarcastic, and very impatient. And, like Gandalf, Master Gabriel always has one thought on this world and its troubles and
another thought simultaneously on troubles beyond our comprehension. I did find a few ways to nuance Master Gabriel, so I think he still succeeds on his own merits. Readers, ultimately, must be the judge of that.

Can I ask you which character is your favorite, or is that like asking you to identify your favorite child?

The term “favorite” is kind of loaded in that it seems to imply that I think one character better or more interesting than another. I don’t have an ultimate favorite in that sense. But I find myself very fond of Kaylie Keaton, Archer’s 8-year-old little sister. She’s a true genius but still a little kid. She’s mischievous, tender-hearted, fearless, and afraid all at once. Lots of fun to write her scenes.

Dreamtreaders is marked for middle-grade readers. What thoughts would you hope they would be left with after reading it?

Anchor first. Anchor deep. This is one of the Nine Dreamtreader Laws and, in my mind, the most important for our current generation. This world is rapidly being cut adrift from our moorings. No one seems to know what’s right and wrong any longer. In the hurricane of “do whatever feels good,” our nation’s youth are being swept away. You have got to have anchors. Know what you believe and why. Stand on truth. For the Christian, you have to absolutely count on God to be good, to be there, to be right, and to ultimately save you.

When will the next book come out, and do you have any teasers for us on where the story will take us? I’d like to learn more about Bezeal and Master Gabriel, myself.

Dreamtreader’s 2: Search for the Shadow Key should be out this fall. All I can tell you is that there’s a series of chapters in that book —whoo!— it’s the most tension-filled sequence I’ve ever written in any of my 14 books. It will leave you breathless. I can’t wait to see what readers think! Oh, and you’ll get more on Master Gabriel and Bezeal too!

The last word is yours: Any final thoughts, anything you want to say that I didn’t get to?

I guess I’d kind of like to offer up a disclaimer to readers: Dreamtreaders is not a theological treatise. It’s not a parable to the Bible or a gospel tract dressed up as urban fantasy. It does, however, have a soul. There are themes that I truly believe will sharpen the Christian and challenge the unbeliever. Some of the best themes in the book came about very organically. It wasn’t until after that I looked back and thought, “Holy cow! That’s a lot like…” God is so cool in that way. The Lord of the Harvest is also the Lord of Surprises.

Interview: Anne Elisabeth Stengl (+ Giveaway!)

Anne Elisabeth Stengl is the author of the popular Tales of Goldstone Wood – a series boasting six full-length novels and one novella, with a seventh novel due out in autumn. Her novel Shadow Hand was released just this month. Here is my interview with Anne Elisabeth, discussing Shadow Hand, the Tales of Goldstone Wood, and Rooglewood Press.

Good to have you here! Tell us something about your new book.

Hi, Shannon! Thanks for hosting me.

Let me see, something about the new book . . . Well, Shadow Hand is book 6 in my ongoing Tales of Goldstone Wood series. It is a standalone story, but I personally think it reads best in context with the rest of the series, particularly Veiled Rose and Moonblood. It features cold Lady Daylily of Middlecrescent as the heroine . . . an unusual protagonist, since she played the much-hated “bad girl” in previous books. But she proved a challenging and fascinating character, one to whom I think many people will relate.

This story also features possibly the most frightening villain of the series to date: the parasite Cren Cru. It is unlike anything else we’ve seen in Goldstone Wood . . . but I really can’t say too much without spoiling the story!

It’s a dark tale, but full of lighthearted moments and characters I dearly love. I think it’s one fantasy readers will enjoy.

What is the greatest adversity – outward or inward – that your characters grapple with in Shadow Hand?

Well, Cren Cru is certainly a great adversary for my protagonists. Lady Daylily is also struggling with the secret, frightening truth of her soul, which she is terrified will “get out” and destroy everyone she loves. Foxbrush is a gawky, earnest young man, the last person to fit the heroic role in which he finds himself, pitted against the dreadful Cren Cru and the twelve Bronze Warriors. There’s always a balance of outer and inner conflict in my stories . . . but usually the struggles my characters face in their own souls are the more bitter and brutal.

What characters in Shadow Hand did you most enjoy working with and why?

I adored working with Prince Foxbrush. He is set up as such a chump in the first two books in which he features (Veiled Rose and Moonblood). And I really didn’t change anything about him from those two stories . . . I simply changed our perspective on him. Which made an enormous difference! He’s a fun character to write, and I loved seeing him come into his own.

I understand you’ve founded Rooglewood Press, which will be publishing (among other things) your novel Golden Daughter. That’s a lot of work and investment. Can you tell us why you’ve chosen this direction?

Rooglewood Press allows me the freedom to write my novels how I want and when I want, not to mention as big as I feel the story needs to be. I like having that flexibility! Golden Daughter, as a result, is going to be a good 50,000 words longer than Dragonwitch (which was my longest book thus far). Book 8 may well be longer still. I have epic stories in mind, and I like knowing that I can decide how I want to write them. I also like knowing that I don’t have to crunch everything into some of the tight deadlines I have been working with these last several years. I still plan to produce a lot of work as quickly as possible, and I set my own rigid deadlines. But some of the pressure is off, which is nice for creativity.

What books are currently in progress at Rooglewood?

Let me see . . . first we have Until That Distant Day, a novel of the French Revolution by award-winning novelist Jill Stengl (my mother!). That is our spring release, and it comes out in late April. I am so excited about sharing that story, I could just burst! It’s a fantastic novel, my mother’s finest work.

We also have the beautiful Five Glass Slippers anthology releasing in June. This is a collection of novella-length retellings of Cinderella by five talented new novelists. We hosted a writing contest last year to pick the winners and were overwhelmed with wonderful submissions from all over the world. Narrowing down to five winners was tough, but I really love the stories we finally settled on. It’s going to be a fabulous book, and I’ll be doing all I can to launch these new writers into the publishing world.

We are making plans for the next fairy tale-related writing contest as well . . . Details coming on June 1. We have a cover designed, and it’s gorgeous. I hope to see this second contest be even more successful than the first.

Golden Daughter is currently in production, due to release in November. And we also have another novella set in the world of Goldstone Wood, though the release date on that one is still up in the air.

These are the primary stories we’re focusing our efforts on at present, though we have a few other projects bouncing around. Lots of exciting fiction to come!

Judging by the reaction you have received from fans, which of your characters is the most popular and what do you think is his/her special charm?

Oh, easily Bard Eanrin, Chief Poet of Iubdan Rudiobus. He’s sometimes a cat, sometimes a beautiful man, and always a charmer. Funny fact: My editors at my first publishing house didn’t care for this character at all. But I knew he was going to be the fan favorite, and I have subsequently been proven correct. He’s so much fun both to write and to read! He’s arrogant, self-centered, sarcastic . . . and he’s also brave, loyal, and (odd though it may sound) surprisingly humble at times.

Have you ever been surprised by the reaction of your readers – what they liked and what they didn’t?

I’ve been surprised at some of the bad reviews I’ve gotten from people who hated this, that, or the other about my work. I’m not as surprised by these reactions as I was when I first started out, however. I’ve come to realize that not every book is going to suit every reader. So I write for my audience, and if a reader doesn’t happen to fit that audience . . . oh, well.

Some readers completely despised the spoiled princess heroine of book 1, Heartless. Many seemed to think I had accidentally written her as spoiled and selfish and called me all manner of variations on “bad writer” as a result. But then I still get fan mail from readers telling me how Princess Una is their favorite character of the series and the one they most deeply relate to. I think many of us have a “spoiled princess” side to our nature, whether or not we like to admit it. So while I was surprised at the negative reaction to her, I’ve also learned to accept (as stated above) that not every book is going to suit every reader.

I wasn’t surprised at all by the general adoration for Eanrin. As I said, I strongly suspected from the get-go that he would be the fan favorite. He’s my favorite too, after all!

I know the Tales of Goldstone Wood has endless potential to be mined, but do you foresee yourself writing books outside the series?

Possibly. But my focus is pretty much centered on Goldstone Wood right now. It’s so ripe with new ideas all the time!

What do you hope for yourself and for your readers in the publication of a new book?

I hope that new readers will always be swept up in an exciting new story, completely unlike the last story . . . but always filled with the same refrain of grace extended to the undeserving. For myself, I just hope to continue having opportunity to write these stories I love, sharing the vivid worlds and characters in my head.

Any last thoughts (anything you want to say that I haven’t gotten to)?

Well, I want to give a big shout out to all of my wonderful Goldstone Wood Imps! These are the core fans who have really jumped on board with this series, adding to the life of these stories in profound ways I would never have expected. They bring fan art and fan fiction that is completely delightful, and they contribute to discussions and ideas. I write these stories for all of them. They are always so inspiring and encouraging to me . . . I know this series would not be what it is today without the Imps!

Thanks you again for featuring me on your lovely blog, Shannon. ☺

To learn about all of Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s works, visit her Goodreads page.

Anne Elisabeth has graciously provided a book for a giveaway. Enter below to win.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

CSFF Blog Tour: Interview with Robert Treskillard, part 2

Here is the conclusion to my interview with Robert Treskillard, author of Merlin’s Blade and Merlin’s Shadow. To learn more about his works, visit the blog tour, or his profiles on Goodreads and Amazon.

What level of historical veracity did you aim to achieve?

Well … as highly accurate as I was able to write, given normal time constraints. Thankfully my mother had visited Britain in the 1970’s and had brought back a small truckload of old books, which she then gave to our family. This helped a lot, as did the internet, but I had to be oh so careful, as you can’t take anything for granted.

For instance, the Brits don’t have lightning bugs … they have glow worms! Every detail had to be carefully checked. I’m sure I’ve made some mistakes (as Lars Walker has pointed out!), but the fact that the novel takes place 1500 years ago helps readers to give me a bit of charity. To be honest, we don’t know as much as we’d like to know about the era.

What sources did you use, for the history or the Arthurian legends?

For Arthurian legend, I read the original source texts, such as the Annales Cambriae, Nennius, Bede, Gildas, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Sir Thomas Malory, and a small bit of Chrétien de Troyes. I’ve also relied quite a bit on many of the Welsh writings about Merlin and Arthur, including the poems Y Gododdin, and Pa Gur.

As it is with such lofty legends, though, there is much confusion, contradictions, and embellishments, and that is the beauty and also it’s bane. It does give me a lot of leeway, however, as I can pick and choose what parts of the legend I want to include.

I tend to eschew modern retellings of Merlin and Arthur, though, because I don’t want to taint my own writing. Sadly, I’ve even mostly avoided the BBC Merlin TV show for the same reason. This show came out after I had finished my first draft of MERLIN’S BLADE and thankfully brought a lot of interest to the genre. I almost wonder if I’d even be published if not for the TV shows success!

For general history, I used lots and lots of books, many of which are out of print. For more recent titles, here’s a sampling. I hope they’re all still in print!

* The Brendan Voyage, by Tim Severin
* Celtic Myths and Legends by T.W. Rolleston
* The World of King Arthur by Christopher Snyder
* Roman Scotland—Frontier Country, by David Breeze
* Following The Path—The MacCallum House by James O. St. Clair
* The Celts, by Frank Delaney
* The Celts, by T.G.E. Powell

There’s also an itty-bitty Celtic prayer book that I’ve lost track of that I wish I could reference here. These good people’s prayers are very inspirational and really give a feel for the beauty of their simple, rhythmic lives, and their reliance upon God.

Oh, and I also have a collection of Cornish, Gaelic, and Norse dictionaries to draw from, and that is a help beyond measure.

What’s with the wolves?

Aha! The wolves originally were to play only a small role in the blinding Merlin, but then their importance grew to the point that when the novel was submitted, Blink/Zondervan put a wolf on the cover. The funny thing is that after this was done they came back to me and asked for “more wolves” in the latter half of the novel. I obliged them!

Perhaps the single most important story about Merlin is his role in Arthur’s conception. How did you come to grips with that element of the legends, and how did that affect your story?

I don’t want to give anything away, but I answer that question satisfactorily in book two when the party visits Dintaga, which is known in the modern day as Tintagel, the fortress of Gorlas. This is where legend says Arthur was conceived. It will be interesting to see what you think of how I plucked that legend from the mists of time and gave it some neon running shoes.

You are one of the few – in fact, the only I can name – who has experienced the CSFF blog tour as both a blogger and an author. Now that you’ve seen the tour from both sides, what do you think?

Well, there have been other authors who’ve been part of the tour … Jill Williamson, for one, and also Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper. Probably more. They were part of it as already published authors, however, so I suppose my story is a little different.

One thing that being on this side has helped me see is the importance of Amazon reviews. I always thought that my blog was the “important place” to put the review, and that Amazon was an “add on” if I had time—which I rarely did.

Now I know better. Yes, the blog is very, very important, but reviews on Amazon, BN.com, and ChristianBook.com, etc. can be critical to a book’s success.

When Michael Hyatt, the former CEO of Thomas Nelson publishers, wrote his first book, his goal was to have *40* reviews posted to Amazon the very first day the book was released. He now has over 340 reviews and is a New York Times Bestselling author.

For me … I just now received my 40th review, and it’s been six months!

Goodreads.com was also a sleeper to me. I never paid the site much attention, but have since learned of how critical that community can be to help get word out about a novel.

Also, I’m just thankful for everyon’e hard work to review my books and to promote speculative fiction in general. Being part of the tour as a reviewer is always fun, and being on this side is fun as well—but also humbling as I see people helping me out and sharing their thoughts on what worked and didn’t work in the novel.

Thank you!

CSFF Blog Tour: Interview with Robert Treskillard, part 1

This is the first half of my interview with Robert Treskillard, author of Merlin’s Blade and Merlin’s Shadow, books one and two in the Merlin Spiral. Enjoy!

How far back does your interest in King Arthur go?

When I was fourteen I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and I fell in love with the concept of kingship, swords, and battles … and soon after that I encountered the lore of King Arthur and became fascinated with those particular legends.

These were just seeds, however, and I hardly read any fantasy at all after that for the next fifteen years.

Then I encountered Stephen Lawhead’s SONG OF ALBION series, and this opened my eyes to the merging of faith and fantasy. I quickly devoured just about everything else he had written … even his kids books! This, of course, included his historical treatment of the Arthurian legends, which renewed my interest.

Still … the longings for exploring these legends more deeply laid dormant in me for eleven more years until I began to ponder the question as to “why would someone thrust a sword into a stone?” It made sense to me why you would pull it out, but why was it there in the first place? Every Arthurian author had tackled this question, but none quite satisfied my wonder. Finally, in a burst of inspiration, I came up with the answer … “what if the stone was the enemy and you were trying to kill it?”

That single answer grew into The Merlin Spiral trilogy, as well as the follow on trilogy that’s still in the planning stage—The Pendragon Spiral.

In the Arthurian legends there is a wealth of fascinating and imaginatively powerful figures. Why, of all of them, did you pick Merlin to center your story around?

Not an editorial comment. Just humor.

I think because he was so enigmatic, and also because he is so often misunderstood. In the Welsh legends Merlin is a combination of prophet and slightly crazed seer—not a wizard with blue robes and a pointy hat.

Not only that, but many scholars think, based on the era, that Merlin and Arthur would have been Christians. That, too, is often misrepresented.

How did you change Merlin from the original stories and why?

Well, part of that was answered by the fact that I wanted to write the novels for a (primarily) young adult audience. Editorial norms dictated, then, that Merlin be young. So I made him 18 … on the verge of adulthood.

I also made him mostly blind—very reluctantly—but that was dictated by the story. I had an evil stone that needed to do something, so decided, based upon research, that people would worship it. Stones, among many other things, were often venerated by the ancient peoples, including the Celts. Thus I gave the stone the power to make the people who see it want to worship it. So what better way to make Merlin immune than to make him unable to see it?

This created no end of difficulty for a debut novelist, however, as I had to learn to write from Merlin’s perspective without relying very much on his sight, which is poor at best. This was good medicine for me, however, and stretched me as a writer.

Keep in mind, though, that in MERLIN’S BLADE I am planting a lot of very small seeds of the more familiar legends, and these will grow and mature as the series progresses.

Why did you choose to use the Druids?

Interesting question! In A.D. 477, the druids were in the unenviable position of having been ousted from religious control of Britain, as Christianity had recently taken root. So then, this is an era of real conflict and fodder for the novelist, providing a powerful backdrop for THE MERLINS SPIRAL.

I’ve had some complaints that I presented the druids as one-sided, but I would disagree with that assessment. Look at Trothek and Caygek for example. These are druids who disagree with Mórganthu and resist everything he is doing, even to the point of death.

What I am really showing is just one bad example in Mórganthu and his leadership … and then beyond that, the other druids are following him because of the enchantment of the Stone. Thus I am attributing the real source of evil to the stone and to that shadowy figure I call “The Voice”. There will be much more about him in book two.

Also, I try to help the reader sympathize with Mórganthu and understand his motivations, especially through what happens to his son, Anviv.

The rest of the interview will be posted tomorrow. Until then, here are some links to chew on:

Merlin’s Shadow on Amazon;

Robert Treskillard’s website;

Robert Treskillard’s blog (incidentally, this is where I got the “Merlin’s Spiral” graphic above);

and the blog tour:

Interviews, Guest Posts, Giveaways, and Summer Leaves

The last two weeks have been busy for me. Just before Thanksgiving, I did an interview and a guest post. Just after Thanksgiving, I released a new e-book.

Yesterday evening, Homeschooling Teen Magazine released the interview; this morning, Sarah Holman posted the guest post up on Homeschool Authors.

In conjunction with these, I am running a free book promotion on Amazon. Today, and through tomorrow, Sweet Green Paper and The Last Heir are free on Kindle.

As for the e-book, I am happy to announce the release of Summer Leaves: A Story in Three Acts. It is the second book in the Sons of Tryas, with Beauty of the Lilies leading the way.

Ruark, Lord Heir fourth in line for the throne, and once first in line, came so close. Still, he missed it entirely. His brother reigned, and dreamed, and Ruark himself wandered, burning his restlessness on distant, wild planets.

Then the premier of the Assembly found him, with an offer to give him everything he ever wanted, at only a small cost to his soul.

In Summer Leaves, Shannon McDermott continues the story of the sons of Tryas, begun in Beauty of the Lilies.

Sold on Kindle Amazon; estimated length 67 pages; price $2.99.

To read the beginning of the book, go to Amazon and either “Look Inside” or download the sample.

Interview with Cheryl McKay

Cheryl McKay is a screenwriter and professional author of fifteen years. She co-wrote the Wild and Wacky, Totally True Bible Stories audio series and books with Frank Peretti. She was also chosen to write the screenplay for Jim Stovall’s novel The Ultimate Gift. In 2007, Fox released The Ultimate Gift into theaters. The movie won a Crystal Heart Award at the Heartland Film Festival and a CAMIE Award for one of the Top Ten Films of the year. The Ultimate Gift also received three Movieguide Nominations, winning one of the Ten Best Family Films of 2007.

Cheryl wrote a screenplay called Never the Bride that was adapted as a novel and published by Random House in 2009. Less than two weeks ago her nonfiction book Finally the Bride was released. In Finally the Bride, Cheryl tells of her journey as a single woman and what, through it, she learned – about singleness, about hope, waiting, and God. I am planning to post my review of the book in a week or two; today, I am posting the interview I did with Cheryl McKay. Enjoy.

First, can you tell us the genesis of your book?

During the novelization process of my script to book with Rene Gutteridge, I started to feel God prompting me to write a non-fiction version of my story, sharing of all my years of being single and waiting on Him to do something about the lack of love in my life. He’d asked me to surrender my pen to Him (just like I wrote into Jessie’s story). And the years that followed of waiting on Him included a lot of trials, lessons, and preparation that I felt God wanted me to share in Finally the Bride.

Did it take a lot of faith to keep on writing about how God does write love stories, when He hadn’t written yours?

Absolutely! First of all, it was hard with the release of the novel version, Never the Bride, to have to answer to so many interview questions about how I keep my faith alive and share this message with the world that God does this for people when He clearly hadn’t done it for me yet. God was stretching me, asking me to put myself out there, and declare that I had faith that He was at work even though I had no tangible evidence in the natural. Releasing a book like that put my “singleness” in my face daily. My “wait” got a lot harder. Then He asks me to write this book while still waiting. (I thought if I wrote it fast enough, the husband would follow quickly. Not so much. I shelved it for a year before continuing to write, and even then, it wasn’t yet with the conclusion of my love story. That came two years after we released Never the Bride.) In the process of writing it, I found my way to loving Him more and more each day. It was quite a journey and it’s why this book has a “real time” feel. I wrote it while I was going through it, not as a reflection of what I learned and what God did in and through me “after the fact.” I always knew without a doubt one day God would move in this area. I just didn’t know when and had to write, in faith that He would. I just didn’t realize the story of my novel would so closely match the story my real life would take on! That was the fun part to watch!

You write a lot about receiving a “prophetic word” from God. There are Christians who don’t believe God does that, or who believe He might but haven’t experienced it themselves. What would you say to them?

That is an excellent question. I have been unable to find any evidence in Scripture that says God would stop talking to us after the last word of the Bible. We’re not talking about writing New Scriptures, of course. But in His word, He says His sheep know His voice and follow Him. If we never hear His voice, how will we follow Him? How can we be directed by Him? I didn’t always share such a communicative relationship with God, as I didn’t know He wanted to be so personal with us. But when I think of God as our True Husband and that we are looked at as the Bride, it’s hard for me to imagine He would just be completely silent, not guide us, and leave us on our own down here while He’s tucked “way up there” so impersonal and uninvolved. As you know from reading the book, I share a lot of cautions about prophetic words because not every allegedly prophetic word we receive is from Him. Yet, He gets the brunt of our anger sometimes when we feel like He’s let us down on something He never actually said or promised. So, prophecy is not to be taken lightly. But experientially, I have felt and known God’s presence, including words I’ve felt He’s said to me directly or through His Word or others. And He’s given me amazing testimonies to share about what He’s told me in advance and then how it paid off in real life. It takes faith, and confirmation through multiple sources sometimes, to discern what He’s saying.

What is the most important thing for a woman to do while waiting for a husband?

I do have a whole chapter on what to focus on while waiting. I would hope each woman could still live life to the fullest and not spend a lot of her time in the angst that I felt, like something is missing. I wish I had been more settled in my wait, and not so anxious for God to always change my life. (You’ll see in the book many journal entries about this.) Growing closer to the Lord is always time well spent, figuring out what we want to do with our lives, career and ministry wise, is too. I encourage everyone to take advantage of the freedom they have while they can make decisions for themselves and use the time to do things they may not get to do once married.

I also think, while waiting, we should ask God for the grace to not make a bunch of mistakes that we’ll regret or carry into marriage later.

In your book, you warn that close friendships with men can be a snare for single women. Can you explain why?

Yes, I call that dilemma “The Best Friends Syndrome.” I had at least five of those in my seven years of not dating, leading up to marriage. These days, guys are waiting longer and longer to pursue or to seek marriage. But they still seem to want close, intimate friendships with women. As women, we love and crave emotional intimacy. So we take on these friends, especially if there’s an attraction to them, hoping as we get closer the friendship will move beyond that to a relationship. Unfortunately, that is not the norm. At least for me, when a guy wasn’t pursuing me in the beginning beyond friendship, it never went further. With Chris, my husband, his pursuit was so direct it took me off guard! I wasn’t used to a guy being so clear that he wanted a relationship; he wasn’t just calling me to “shoot the breeze”. It was a refreshing change, even if I didn’t say yes to him right away. The challenge with our “best friends” is they’re hard to let go of, they make us look unavailable to others. And if our hearts are involved deeply in the hope they’ll eventually choose us, we truly aren’t available to be open to a real pursuer. Giving up a best friend is like going through a break up. This happened to me in a big way, in a story I share in the book, and it almost wrecked my chances at my marriage to Chris. I share a lot more about this as a cautionary tale for women who find themselves in these kinds of friendships.

Many singles, when they start to feel that they’re running out of time and options, try online dating. What do you think of that as a way to find a spouse?

Personally, I never wanted to. But that in no way means that it’s a wrong way to connect with someone. The irony was that I got reconnected with Chris because of Facebook, so that was technically online since we’d lost touch since the 90s. But it wasn’t because I was looking for a date like on traditional date sites. In fact, I kept my single status off FB because I didn’t want people, especially strangers, to target me based on marital status. That was actually a funny frustration for Chris when we first connected on FB because he couldn’t tell if I was single or not. Because of my own personal history (which will be shared in my next book Finally Fearless), I had a policy to not date strangers, or at least people who didn’t know people really well that I trusted. Connecting with people online doesn’t really allow for the strong and reliable personal references about a guy’s character and that he is indeed who he says he is. I know others who’ve tried it and enjoy it or have gotten married because of it. So, I know it works. I just always wanted to feel safer in a dating situation than I would have, dating someone I met online. That could have also been some God prompting too since God knew I already knew my husband (and just didn’t realize it). If a woman surrenders her love life to God, she can always ask Him how He feels about it. It could be the vehicle He intends to use. It would take some good discernment.

Caedmon’s Call has a song called “Can’t Lose You” with this line: “And maybe I have the gift that everybody speaks so highly of. Funny how nobody wants it.” Do you think singleness is a gift even when it’s unwanted?

Yes. I think every stage of life has gifts of its own. I never felt called to singleness for my whole life as a gift, put in terms that Paul the Apostle discusses. But I think there are parts of life to be celebrated as a single, that you only have while single, as well as benefits you only have (or should only have) once married.

Once you called yourself “never anybody’s choice.” That phrase so perfectly, and so poignantly, expresses the pain that many single women feel. Any words of encouragement for these women?

In hindsight, I honestly believe I wasn’t anybody’s choice before my husband, because God was protecting me. It’s hard advice to accept during the many, many years of rejections! I get that. I hated it, too. In some ways, God can’t “win” because I ask for His protection. He gives it to me in the form of not letting the wrong guys notice me, then I get mad when no one likes me and feel unlovable.

But when I look back on every person who didn’t see me “that way,” I feel certain it’s because God took my request to write my love story seriously. And He didn’t want me getting distracted by any of the wrong people. Had any of my “love interests” responded favorably, I would have dated them, probably gone through more break ups, or maybe even ended up with the wrong person. (I believe our freewill can get in the way of God’s best.) It’s not that they were bad people, but not God’s best. Now that I’ve been married almost a year and have started to see the ministry ahead for my husband and I, I understand why God was so specific in His choice. None of those others, who I was so upset wouldn’t choose me, would have been as suited for ministry alongside me as my husband is. It wouldn’t have fit with someone else, and I would have had a very different life ahead. So while it may have felt like I had that giant sign on my head “Nobody’s choice,” I feel like it was God’s protection until the right one came along. As I said many times while writing Finally the Bride, I would rather have stayed single than ended up in the wrong relationship.

In Finally the Bride, you write that “Ruby” is God’s nickname for you. In Never the Bride, that is the name of the woman eating alone in the restaurant right before the dancing scene. Coincidence?

Wow! Good memory! Not a coincidence. I hadn’t done that in the script initially, because the character is non-speaking in the script, and I didn’t have to name her. But when we were working on the novelization, I asked Rene to put that in as yet another symbol of faith on my end that God was at work.

You mentioned a sequel to Never the Bride Finally the One. As a fan of the first book, I have to ask – when might I get a chance to read that?

While I have a first draft of the script done, I need to wait until we shoot the film version of the first film to see how having actors in Never the Bride will affect the sequel. One little story change for the sake of the film could change how I want to do the sequel. Then once I firm that up, we’ll try to set up it as a book first, with Rene, then a sequel film. But I don’t have a timeline on that yet.

Any other projects in the works?

Rene and I have another novelization in the works, based on my romantic comedy script Greetings from the Flipside for B&H Publishing. It’ll come out next year. I also wrote the film sequel to The Ultimate Gift, called The Ultimate Life. I hope we shoot this year. And of course, we’re still working on raising the funds to shoot Never the Bride, my passion project! I hope we get to shoot in Charleston, SC, such a romantic city.

People can keep up with me and my film or book projects on my website, Purple PenWorks.com. And they can get my book on Amazon in either kindle or print format.

Blog Tour: Interview with Rachel Starr Thomson

November’s CSFF blog tour has been moved to early December, but no fears – we’re still going to have a blog tour this month. This tour’s book is Worlds Unseen, book one of the Seventh World Trilogy. It is written by Rachel Starr Thomson, a freelance editor and writer who has authored numerous fiction and nonfiction books. And that’s only the beginning of her artistic endeavors. In her other life, she is a poet/storyteller/narrator/singer for Soli Deo Gloria Ballet, a Christian performing arts company.

I will be reviewing Worlds Unseen later in the tour. For today, I will be posting an interview with Rachel. Here’s a quick synopsis of the book, just to give you a little background info:

The Council for Exploration Into Worlds Unseen believed there was more to the world and its history than the empire had taught them. Treating ancient legends as history, they came a little too close to the truth. Betrayed by one of their own, the Council was torn apart before they could finish their work.

Forty years later, Maggie Sheffield just wants to leave the past behind. Memories of the Orphan House where she grew up are fading; memories of her guardians’ murder are harder to shake. When a dying friend shows up on her doorstep bearing the truth about the Seventh World–in the form of a written covenant with evil–Maggie is sent on a journey that will change her forever.

Now the main event itself, an interview with Rachel Starr Thomson:

(1) For starters, can you tell us a little about the Seventh World Trilogy?

The Seventh World Trilogy (Worlds Unseen, Burning Light, and Coming Day) was born when I asked what might have happened if the the Protestant Reformation came about in a fantasy world. It has changed a lot since that initial idea, but the underlying idea is still one of reforming life and rediscovering truth. It’s a story about people who find out that the world as they know it is built on lies; that their real history is contained in myths and legends that have long been suppressed—but that the truth is about to break into their world, in the form of great forces that are at war. Maggie, Nicolas, Virginia and the rest find themselves challenged and transformed as they take their own places in the story.

(2) There seems to be Scottish influences in Worlds Unseen. Is there any culture, or any folk tradition, from which you drew inspiration in writing the book?

The Seventh World as a whole is based on Europe, so there are traces of different cultures and regions all throughout. The Highlands, where Lord Robert and Virginia come from, is definitely based on Scotland. Cryneth and Midland roughly correspond to Wales and England. Once Maggie crosses the channel onto the mainland, most of the story takes place in regions that mirror France and Eastern Europe. The connections are always loose, but they’re there. I wanted to create a world that felt vaguely familiar, while still being strange. But it’s interesting that you should mention the Scottish influence in particular, because Celtic ideas definitely influence the book in other ways as well. The whole concept of a “Veil” separating the natural and supernatural worlds is very Celtic.

(3) Of all your characters in Worlds Unseen, which one would you try hardest to avoid meeting in a dark alley? And if you did meet him (or her) in a dark alley, which other character would you choose to have at your side?

Evelyn is by far the scariest–not only in this book, but also in Coming Day (where she shows up again in a rather changed role). She is evil and gifted and ambitious, not a good mix. If I had to face her, I’m pretty sure I’d want Gwryion, the elemental lord of the Wild Things, with me!

(4) Which element of the book did you work hardest to get right?

The rebellion in Pravik. I had to dig into politics and underlying conflicts and past events, and that took a few drafts to figure out. When I first wrote it, it was much more surface, without enough motivation to really make it work.

(5) While creating your Gypsies, how closely did you pattern them after the Gypsies of our world?

Not closely, I’m afraid–they’re more symbolic in the Trilogy than they are a real look at real Gypsies.

(6) Are you up to anything else in the fantasy genre?

I have several things getting ready for publication, plus a handful of ideas I’m kicking around for new books. Taerith, one of my favourites, has just been released as an e-book (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/82687). Two more, Angel in the Woods and Lady Moon, will probably come out in the next couple of years. And of course, Burning Light and Coming Day finish off the Seventh World Trilogy.

To read Worlds Unseen as an e-book, go to SmashWords. A hard copy may be obtained at the author’s own site, and at Amazon and B&N. More information about the book can be found at those sites, as well as the rest of the blog tour:

Phyllis Wheeler (Nov 21)

Carol Keen (Nov 26, Dec 2, and Dec 9)

Bluerose’s Heart (Nov 28)

Lindsay Franklin (Nov 30, Dec 7)

Sarah Sawyer (Dec. 9)

And, finally, here again, for a review on December 5.

Interview with Don Veinot, Part I

Ronald Allen once called Bill Gothard “a living Christian institution”. Some would find this a bit of an overstatement. Some would ask, “If he’s a living Christian institution, how come I never heard of him?”

But others would understand what Dr. Allen means. Bill Gothard’s organization has existed, under some name, for fifty years. The number of people who have attended at least one of his seminars is estimated to be well over two million. Gothard’s programs have been supported – and sometimes actually mandated – by government officials in Russia, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Indianapolis, and Arkansas. And this is only a partial list.

But it hasn’t been all praise for Bill Gothard. He has his share of critics, among them the Midwest Christian Outreach, an organization dedicated to countering cults and false teachings within the church. The founders of MCO, Don and Joy Veinot, together with Ron Henzel, wrote A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life. It reflects a deep knowledge of Christianity and its history; its tone and arguments are very reasoned. After reviewing the book earlier this year, I decided to seek an interview with Don Veinot. He graciously agreed, and I am posting it here. As Gothard continues to influence Christians across America, it is important that the church be knowledgeable and discerning about his teachings. I hope this helps.

[Note: This interview will be posted in two parts. Tomorrow I will add the second half. You can buy, or just look into, A Matter of Basic Principles on the MCO’s website or on Amazon.]

Q: First, can you tell us a little about your ministry and your work?

A: I was an atheist growing up, adopting the beliefs of my father. My wife, Joy, grew up in a Christian home and accepted the Lord when she was 12. As is often the case, she was not walking closely with the Lord in her teenage years when we met and we dated and married. After we had our son, she regained interest, recommitted her life to Christ and persuaded me to do some research as to the claims and validity of Christianity. I moved from atheism to agnosticism since I couldn’t honestly claim that God does not exist. I have no way to prove that. As I came to realize that God exists I moved from agnosticism to a sort of theism and then concluded that the Bible is fundamentally reliable and the resurrection is true. I accepted Christ in my early 20s.

A few years later my wife met and became friends with some Jehovah’s Witnesses. Our church didn’t seem to have answers other than “stay away,” so we began doing research on our own. Not only did we discover what they believed and their history of false teaching but we learned to understand and defend fundamental Christian doctrine. Sadly, this kind of training is not common in the church as most churches seem to assume that since one attends and even signs a doctrinal statement they actually understand what they are agreeing to uphold. Most often they don’t.

As we began learning about and witnessing to her friends we started helping others and the ministry just sort of grew out of that experience. We began getting calls about other groups, issues and questions. This included questions about groups, teachers and teachings in the church as well as cults and other religious movements. Bill Gothard was one of those we received a lot of requests about since we were geographically close to his headquarters. We didn’t want to deal with these issues but as we prayed about it I think God impressed me that if we didn’t have the integrity to address false teaching within the church we didn’t have the right to address false teaching outside of the church. In 1995 we formed Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. to provide answers, teaching and assistance to those inside and outside the church on issues of essential Christianity, cultural apologetics, cults and false religions. Since we are home missionaries, all of us are bi-vocational and address false teachers in the church, raising support is a very difficult task but we have tried to not let finances get in the way of ministry.

Q: If I had to choose just one chapter of your book for anyone to read, it would be the chapter on grace. Can you explain what, exactly, Gothard teaches about grace?>

In a nut shell he holds a view similar to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Roman Catholic Church. As an old time commercial might have said, “Grace is given the old fashioned way, you earn it.” Like the JWs, Gothard is pretty clear that God gives grace to those who merit it, as is seen in his 2000 document “Definition of Grace.” He writes, “In the Old Testament, certain individuals ‘found grace’ in the eyes of the Lord” and “those who found grace possessed qualities that merited God’s favor.” Grace by definition means “unmerited favor.” So, if God gives “unmerited favor” to those who merit it, isn’t it actually merited favor? But that is absurd. That is also what the JWs teach when they write that they are to go out to give the message of God’s undeserved kindness to deserving ones.

Gothard, like Rome, views grace as a sort of substance. You get some, perform good works and get more, “Those in the New Testament are to act upon the grace that is given to them so that more grace can be received.” Bill Gothard also defines grace as “the desire and the power God gives us to do his will-joyfully.” Unfortunately, this does not come anywhere near the meaning of the ancient Greek word charis, either in secular or biblical usage.

Some time after our book came out, we met with Bill for about 6 weeks in what we might call, “Mondays with Bill.” We demonstrated all of this to him and his response was interesting and disheartening when he said, “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Roman Catholics aren’t wrong on everything.” Even though that is true it doesn’t mean they are right on this. I did notice that in more recent years he has modified his written material on this to at least appear more orthodox on this but even that is dishonest. In our book, on page 86, one of the questions we asked of Bill was:

If a Christian leader changes a significant teaching which was shown to be unbiblical, should he not make a public retraction before his followers?

In our August 20, 2002 meeting with Bill (which we mentioned in our 2nd edition on page 338), his ministry leaders, Dr. Norman Geisler and Modern Reformation Magazine, Bill Gothard agreed that this was necessary. There is an obvious change in his teaching since that time and he has never publicly retracted or repented of his previous false teaching. This demonstrates that he is a false teacher and dishonest as well.

Q: Gothard departs from evangelical Protestants’ traditional understanding of grace, yet it is mainly evangelical Protestants that he appeals to. What do you think accounts for that?

A: I think there are several things that may account for this. First, since there is so little discernment within the church and a general lack of teaching on essentials, many do not really know what grace is. Second, of those who do know, since Gothard is accepted in the church as a good teacher, they often don’t listen to his definition but instead when they hear “grace” automatically define it biblically. I have found that when I point out his definition in his own writings and teaching they are horrified. It is really a matter of listening to what a teacher is teaching carefully and applying the definitions they provide to weigh it out and accept or reject it on the basis of their claims.