Category Archives: Reading

The Superior Storyteller

As a writer, I often wonder, am I telling my story (fiction or real) in a way that people will both understand and embrace? Especially as a Christian who wants to relay certain truths (without the sermon), storytelling is my avenue by which I feel called to do it.

Sharing stories isn’t new. It seems to be ingrained in every human, perhaps even in our DNA. Storytelling goes back to cave-dwellers before written language. Scribes wrote down a leader’s accomplishments many times in the form of a story, sometimes true, often embellished to make said leader appear larger-than-life, and thereby worthy of being followed.

The Bible itself is full of stories. Whether you believe they literally happened the way they’re written or not is–as far as stories with a point go–irrelevant. Because the truth (or message) of that story is what matters. Many of Jesus’ words also took the form of stories, because he knew his audiences. To simply say, “don’t steal,” wasn’t enough to drive the point home. By creating characters who stole, and showing how those characters had to face sometimes devastating consequences, the listener (or reader), can better relate to the story, remember it, and hopefully apply the lesson to his/her own life.

I’m reading “Engaging Unbelief: A Captivating Strategy from Augustine to Aquinas,” by Curtis Chang. The author also talks about telling stories, but on a macro, societal level. On page 29 he says, “The one who can tell the best story, in a very real sense, wins the epoch [or era]. History is replete with examples of epoch-defining power gained by superior storytelling.” He then goes on to use examples of the Nazis (negative), and the American civil rights movement, namely Dr Martin Luther King, Jr and his “I have a dream” speech (positive).

To use a cliche “the pen is mightier than the sword,” in many cases this is true. Hitler wielded words that turned Germany from the biggest loser in WWI to a world power in only a few decades. Dr. King wielded words that gave minorities a bigger and more influential voice in American society and politics. Their speeches often included narrative that, as Chang put it, “[took] every thought captive.”

As a storyteller, I and others like me sometimes forget the impact our words can have on others. Too often we think our words will never matter. While we may never spur a new epoch in our history, what about that those who take our words to heart, and in turn influence others who do change the course of history?

If you’re not a writer, and have no desire to be one, nevertheless, tell your stories. Show others the lessons life (or God) has taught you, so they may avoid the mistakes you’ve made, and instead enjoy more success.

Be a superior storyteller; take people’s every thought captive so that those who might otherwise lead them astray can’t.

Beatitudes and Woes, The Anthology

First off, to everyone, both new and regular vistors, welcome! Pour yourself a cup of your favorite beverage and have a seat!

Now before we get into the meat of this post, I recommend you read Rebekah Loper’s entry and first installment of this blog tour. She describes best the humble beginnings of the anthology as well as the anthology itself, and I don’t want to repeat what you may have already read.

You’re back now! Great!

For my story, I was lucky enough to pick the first Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3, KJV)

I’ll admit to some trepidation over writing a story about that verse, because I never studied what “poor in spirit” actually meant.

So I brought out my handy-dandy study Bible, and it referred me to this verse among others:

Isaiah 57:15: “The night and lofty one who lives in eternity, the Holy one says this: ‘I live in the high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble.'” (NLT)

As one who has to work hard at being contrite and humble, this was double the challenge!

After three complete rewrites (and a lot of prayer) where nothing but the first paragraph made the final draft, I finally completed my story called The Promise:

Cantis promised his parents to take care of his ailing twin sister, Cathrin, before they died. In order to do that, he must take her through unknown and dangerous territory where Marauder ambushes are frequent and deadly to get her the help she needs.

He soon learns firsthand what it feels like to be “poor in spirit,” and to depend on God when all seems lost.

Intrigued? Will he and Cathrin, avoid being caught, robbed–or worse–killed by Marauders? You’ll have to read the story to find out!

But it doesn’t end there! Since my story is only the first of thirteen, I guarantee if you like mine, you’ll love the rest.

Although the official release date is July 13th, you can pre-order the Kindle edition for a mere $4.99. There will also be paperback and hardcover editions available soon!

Something else to add to your calendar: all the authors and our illustrious editor, Travis Perry of Bear Publications will be hosting a Facebook Party on July 13th for the book’s official release. Come and join the fun where you can ask questions of the authors, answer trivia, and perhaps win a prize or two.

Since I doubt Rebekah or I have whet your appetite enough, check out the next stop on this tour written by RJ Conte who “writes realistic, issue-driven fiction that explores human nature and the depths of the soul, while pointing readers to their Creator.”

Agendas in Stories. Good or Bad?

When I first started writing, specifically Christian Fiction, I went to many Christian writers conferences. Out of all the classes I attended, one piece of advice was stressed above all others: Don’t preach. At the same time, many agents and publishers ask one question about the story: What’s the main message or take-away?

It seems like a contradiction, but it’s not. As I’ve written previously, stories matter, not because of the message, per se, but because they’re engrossing, entertaining, and sometimes terrifying. Stories immerse us into worlds and cultures we’ve never experienced, and give us characters we can love, hate, and everything in between.

Should all stories contain a message? No, but I also think few stories don’t have a message, however subtle. Like it or not, writers can’t help but bring their own biases, and yes, agendas to their stories.

For instance, I wrote my first novel because I was frustrated with the current selection of stories in my favorite genres. At the time (the early 2000s) I found little to no Christian science fiction, and few science fiction stories where God played any role at all. Most science fiction, in fact, was by and large hostile to any religion or idea of a higher power beyond a Force or ethereal Universe.

As I was silently lamenting my frustration, a little voice in my head said, “Then you write it.”

I doubt I’m alone in writing certain stories out of similar frustrations.

Plus it’s difficult to find stories without some message, even (perhaps especially) a lot of classics: George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984,” Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” Charles Dicken’s “Oliver Twist” and “A Christmas Carol,” and Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” I could name a hundred others.

While many of the messages the authors sought to convey shined through, I doubt many readers would call them preachy. The plot, setting, and characters always came first.

All that said, a few days ago I saw the following conversation on Twitter (with permission):

“The best stories have no agendas. They’re not shoving social justice down our throats or giving us a limited narrative to make us learn. They just grip us with their excellence and beauty, the thrill of their surprises and the poignancy of their narratives. #books #writer” ~ Jessi Lyn Robbins (@jessilynrobbins)

And:

“I think I can safely say I’ve never learned anything from a book that set out to make me learn a lesson. Well, maybe I learned never to read anything else by that author.” ~ Gillian M Kendall (@GillianMKendall)

Does that mean I disagree with them both? Based on what I’ve written so far and my response below, you might think so:

“It depends on the story and how it’s written. I read a book where the MC struggled with clinical depression. I used to silently scoff at those who suffered (I’m a pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of person). I’ve never scoffed (silently or otherwise) at sufferers since.”

Ms. Robbins graciously responded: “From the sound of it, I’m not sure that book has the kind of agenda I’m talking about. It sounds like it’s extremely well-researched and well written with serious subject material that made you really feel something. Agenda books are not written like that. They’re not genuine.”

To which I added: “Perhaps. I agree too many books have “social justice” agendas. They make me leery of reading newer books. When I want to be preached to, I’ll go to church. Then again, if someone wants to add a message, write it in a way that I find it on my own. Don’t bust my head open with it.”

So no, I don’t disagree with either Ms. Robbins or Ms. Kendall. They both are expressing the same frustrations I have with so many newer books. The authors writing agenda-driven stories haven’t learned the lesson that I learned so many years ago: Don’t preach.

Their — and my — complaint is when the agenda or message becomes more important than the story. Too many seek to convert the reader through intellectual and emotional force instead of inviting the reader to see a different point of view through the plot and characters.

Stories should be an invitation, not an invasion, because the former shows trust in the reader whereas the latter does not.

UPDATED: “Moby Dick” was written by Herman Melville (I accidentally attributed it to Charles Dickens).

An Update on Story Matters

If you haven’t read my previous entry, yet, I recommend you do before continuing (https://almarquardt.blog/2018/10/22/story-matters/).

I have since discovered that the last books will be completed by another author.

In the meantime, if you enjoy fast-paced epic fantasy with science fiction elements, and with deep, colorful characters struggling to find their way in worlds they never before imagined, I highly recommend you check them out. The first novel can be picked up on Amazon for a mere $0.99.

To find out more about Brandon Barr and his “Song of the Worlds” series, check out the attached link.

My thanks to Brandon for writing such a fabulous and memorable story, and to #BrandonsBuddies for taking up the torch on his behalf.

https://www.facebook.com/EpicFantasyFanatics/posts/569164893515956

Or if you don’t use Facebook:

http://epicfantasyfanatics.com/brandons-buddies/

Story Matters

An author recently posted on Facebook asking for feedback on one of his series. Unable to turn down an opportunity to read a book in one of my favorite genres (two actually. The series is a combination of sci-fi and fantasy), I eagerly accepted.

I ended up loving the story and characters, and the author graciously sent me the other two in the series as well as a prequel novella.

In one of the emails, he mentioned that he was pushing the release of the final two (out of five) due to an illness. I was bummed, but I also know the importance of one’s health takes precedence.

Yesterday, the author posted that his cancer had returned, and the doctors gave him about two months to live.

My completely selfish response was what you might expect. I thought, “Oh, no! I’ll never read the rest of the series now!”

As you also might expect, I mentally berated myself for thinking such a thing. I did post a comment saying that I would pray for him and his family, but it felt hollow as I typed.

Do I want him healed, or if not, that his family experiences God’s strength and comfort? Absolutely. But my prayers still feel tainted by my selfish and silly desire to read the final books, when a man is dying and a family is soon devastated. What’s an incomplete series compared to that?

Or am I wrong?

I heard a story years ago where a woman dying of cancer wrote Stephen King. She asked him to tell her what happened at the end of his “Dark Tower” series, because she wouldn’t live long enough to read the remaining — and as yet unreleased — books.

Sadly, he couldn’t answer, because even he didn’t know at the time.

Studies have found that those who read fiction are statistically more empathetic. Understandable when you think about it.

When reading about fictional characters, we learn their thoughts, motivations, loves, hates, fears and desires. Something we don’t always see or get in real life, because few of us lay ourselves bare with the exception of a scant few — if that. As we read, we place ourselves in the shoes of the characters, and we can’t help but correlate their experiences, thoughts and feelings into our own life and those around us.

To give an example, I’ve never been clinically depressed. I didn’t understand how debilitating it can be, and I used to quietly scoff at those who did. Until I read “Becoming Olivia” by Roxanne Henke. The book is about Olivia who has a great life, but can’t shake the depression that seemed to come out of nowhere.

After reading it, I will never again scoff at anyone who suffers from depression again.

Now it may seem at this point that I changed subjects on you. First I talked about selfish prayers, then I jumped to how stories make us more empathetic.

What both illustrate is the importance of stories in our life. They not only entertain, but can convey certain truths. Stories, like most other arts engage us emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. They can also live beyond the creator’s own life. Plus we never want the story to simply stop with no end in sight.

We are built to both create and listen to or read stories. They’ve been used since the advent of language to remember our past as well as convey truth. Even non-Christians know the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah’s ark, and Jonah and the whale (although technically, it was a fish). Whether they literally happened is always up for debate, but their messages still stand many millennia later. The same goes for Dicken’s “Oliver Twist,” and “A Christmas Carol,” Shakespeare’s plays, many Greek tragedies, and countless others.

Stories matter. My selfish response and a dying woman’s letter is evidence of that.

Still, I do hope God will ignore my selfishness behind the words of my prayers, because I never want to see a person die so soon, and his/her family left to pick up the pieces.

Stealing Labor

Someone shared the article below on a Facebook group I follow, and I commented thusly:

“The article was infuriating enough, but some of the comments . . . I would charge any of those people who think an author can’t be harmed by electronic piracy to try writing and publishing a book (some authors can only afford to publish ebooks). Then they will understand just how much it costs, both in time and in money.”

I’m also reminded of when I purchased a student-version of CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) software for $250. When it arrived at the school, at least five people descended upon me asking for a copy.

“Absolutely,” I said. “For $250.” Their expressions were priceless. I then told them, “I didn’t pay $250 just so you could get it for free.” The same thing happened after we built our garage. Several people came to us asking to store their boat, motorcycle, you name it. I said, “Absolutely. For $30,000.”

My parents taught both my sister and me that we should always value the work we do, and to never allow people to expect us to give away our labor for free. In fact, I had to purchase my mom’s prints at full price, but when she needed me to draw a few things for her, she paid me a per/hour rate to do them.

So, yeah, I get a little upset when people expect others to give away their labor at no cost to them. I guarantee if someone told them they needed also to work for free, they, too, would get a bit upset.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/aug/08/elitist-angry-book-pirates-ocean-of-pdf-author-campaign-website

You Don’t Own Them

You Don’t Own Them

I just read a Facebook post by Mike Rowe ( https://www.facebook.com/TheRealMikeRowe/posts/1794612627215539 ).

A thought occurred to me when I read some of the comments:

“Mike, if you really want to stay out of politics, you might reconsider appearing with a squinty-eyed, race-baiting dipshit like Carlson.”

“Mike I respect your support for the trades as I am a high school trades teacher myself. Are you sure Tucker and Fox is the most credible source for you to voice your opinions? Tucker’s track record of his behavior and demeanor towards guests he does not agree with is disgusting. I have lost a little respect for you.”

I responded to the first comment thusly: “So what if he is? He has an audience that Mike wants to reach. I won’t complain if he appeared on a show I dislike, because Mike wants to reach that particular audience as well.

“Because Mike’s overall desire is to reach everyone, regardless of their political leanings.”

I’ve seen similar complaints when Mike appeared on shows considered more left-leaning as well.

He isn’t alone in taking that kind of criticism. Rush Limbaugh was once excoriated in the 1990s for doing an interview for “Playboy” magazine.

I constantly see tweets, Facebook posts, blogs, and articles of people complaining how a reporter, singer, actor, author, athlete, etc. broke some unwritten rule that violated their chosen political worldview.

Since when do we own famous people (or anyone else for that matter)?

It seems like an odd question, but when I read such comments, it has to come from a certain mentality. The only correlation I can think of is that between master and slave.

While people don’t literally own anyone (at least here in the States and other countries), if those posting overly-critical comments didn’t believe they held some kind of “ownership” over that celebrity, why give said celebrity a figurative public beating for breaking their “rules?”