Category: Personal

The Shadows Danced

The Shadows Danced

“The Shadows Danced” is set to release on August 1st, 2017.  There’s a long road between here and there, but I’m looking forward to the journey.  Here’s a peak at the technical steps of my writing process, for anyone interested.

Making the Plan

Generally, my books start with a character.  The first book I remember reading on writing was Robert Peck’s “Fiction is Folks.”  My mother kept it on a shelf in the living room, and I picked it up one day and read it straight through.  The big-idea of the book, as the title puts it, is that fiction is folks.  Books are about people.  So, naturally, if you know the characters well the fiction will flow easily.  Of course, the idea for Averelia started with a world instead of people.

My dad loves science fiction of all flavors, and I grew fond of them as well.  One of my favorite ideas was a tidally locked world, that is, a world which doesn’t have a day-night cycle, but is permanently set in either night or day, depending where one stands.  Scientifically, it presented problems.  The light side would always be ash and lava, and the dark side would be a frozen wasteland.  I moved away from sci-fi and let Averelia grow a little more, fantastic.  The world became less physically harsh, and people flourished.

Cities bloomed, cultures grew, individual stories popped into existence, and before I knew it, I had a world full of folks, and that’s all fiction needs.  I was ready for the next step.

Setting Pen to Paper

The hardest, but often most enjoyable, part of writing is, well, writing.  After the planning, the research, the design, the dreaming, I get to sit down in my comfy armchair with a laptop and a cup of coffee or tea and explore a world of my own creation.  Honestly, there’s almost nothing like it.  Every sentence, every turning page, is a discovery.  For the most part the actual writing process doesn’t involve many decisions.  I just choose where to point the lens.  I know I’ve planned well when I can sit down and let the characters simply exist and act as they would if they were real.

The most exciting moments of writing are when I realize what a character is about to do. , rather than decide what a character is about to do.  It’s a subtle difference, but it makes a world of difference in the feel of the text.  Currently I’m writing a conversation between three individuals and it’s fun just to let them talk – or not talk – as they really would.  “What would they say?” is a very different question from, “What do I want them to say?”

So I plug away at the keyboard, excited to see where my characters go next, how my world unfolds, and how the story is told.

The Editing Process

After the last sentence of “The Shadows Danced” is written – and I take a good few days to breathe – I’ll set in to the editing process.  These are two very different stages, and they use different halves of the brain.  Writing is creative, free, and fun.  Editing is analytical, structured, and challenging.  They’re both enjoyable in their own way, but I’ve found any attempt to mix them into one stage only ends in depression, anxiety, and a million renditions of Chapter One.

Being a fairly poor college student, I’ve found I can’t afford most professional editors. Instead I’ve trained myself to do the hard work of fixing grammar, analyzing sentences, and chopping my book into little pieces and stitching it back together.  It takes a few weeks, and I’m sure it never ends in perfection, but after a few rounds of editing the book will feel much more polished and coherent.  It’s hard work, but it’s worth it.

The Last Steps

Self-publishing is blessedly simple after a few days of poking around.  I’ve already put together the cover, so it will just be a matter of formatting, uploading, and a few days of waiting.  I use Amazon’s Kindle Direct for eBook publishing.  It’s companion site, CreateSpace, is fairly straight-forward for paperback editions.

Then it’s on to marketing.  I still have no idea how to properly market an independent Christian fantasy book.  It seems like a fairly small niche, so if you enjoy my books, thank you!  Be sure to share them with your friends, give them as gifts, and – best of all! – leave reviews on Amazon!

Thanks for reading!

To follow my progress on “The Shadows Danced,” check in whenever you like.  There’s a progress bar on the sidebar of my site that will be updated as often as I work on the book.

It looks like this:

The Shadows Danced
Phase:Writing
Due:6 months ago
28%

Thanks for reading!  Leave any feedback or thoughts in the comments!

-J. Christopher Earl

 

Let the Kingdom Come

Let the Kingdom Come

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.  Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

-1 Peter 5:5

As human beings, we long for harmony.

Music isn't the same when the notes do nothing but clash, sending screeching, nails-on-a-chalkboard pain through our ear-drums and down our spines.  We prefer harmony.  We crave it as individuals and as a society.  We consider ourselves happy in our personal lives if everything is balanced and well-ordered.  The bills are smaller than the paychecks.  The meals are bigger than the appetites.  Everything moves just as it should.

It's a common belief that if we just work hard enough, if we understand the system well enough, we can achieve this perfect state of harmony.  It's the great modern dream of "Utopia."  From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.  No child left behind.  Free puppies for everyone.  A shining city where everything is perfectly in place and nothing ever goes wrong.  We struggle to attain that dream not just as a society, but in our personal lives too, and it seems far more attainable for the little things we call our lives.

But every human attempt to attain harmony ends in destruction.  It's the post-modern nightmare of dystopia.  On the outside, everything looks perfect.  However, in order to attain that outward appearance of perfection, the inner-workings of the dystopian society are cruel, unforgiving, exact, and terrible.  It's George Orwell's "1984."  Lois Lowry's "The Giver."  "The Hunger Games," by Suzanne Collins.  Society has finally figured out that, yes, that outwardly perfect society is possible, but inward perfection from the efforts of humans is a myth.

However, we as Christians have a third option.  The Modern day-dream of Utopia will never come true.  The Post-Modern nightmare of Dystopia can never satisfy.  The God of the Universe gives us hope of a society made perfect by Him, a world perfected, both inwardly and outwardly.  The hungry are fed.  The lonely are comforted.  The naked are clothed.  The despised are loved.  He offers us Heaven, and we look forward to it every moment of our lives.  But our looking isn't enough.

As the Church, we are called to be the Body of Christ on Earth.  A society created by the Spirit of God that mirrors, though imperfectly, the society He will one day create.

We are not just called to look forward to Heaven, we are called to bring Heaven to Earth.

The first step is to humble ourselves.

We often clothe ourselves to look good.  When we get dressed in the morning, the thought goes through our head, especially when we're going to see someone, "What will they think of my appearance?"  So we put on our good clothes, even if they aren't as comfortable.  When we aim to impress we dress to impress.  And what's so bad about looking good?

If we look good others will appreciate us, they'll want to be around us, they'll laugh at our jokes and care about our stories.  Right?

But there's a difference between looking good and being good.  Looking good is easy.  Being good is something entirely different.  It's the difference between Utopia and Dystopia.  And it carries the same problems.  Our own attempts to make ourselves look good, not just physically but morally, only corrupt us.  Romans 3:23 clearly tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.  That's all of us.  So when we try to put up a mask that says, "I'm good." we make ourselves liars.  We've only deepened the problem.  The clothes we think make us look good only hide our rotten cores.  Our attempts to make ourselves appear righteous only hide our sinfulness.

Humility is clothing ourselves honestly.  We take off the mask.  We stop hiding.  We confess our sins to each other.  We aren't afraid to ask for help when we need it.  And we know we will need it.  When we live humbly, God is glorified, people are loved, and the Church gives life.

God is glorified because we aren't trying to take the credit for any of the good things in our life.  God has freely given us every blessing, not because of our own goodness, but because of His own extraordinary love!

People are loved, because we aren't trying to compete with them!  We understand our common human nature, our shared struggle.  We know that the message every human being needs to hear is, Christ died for sinners to bring them into relationship with Him!  The list of rules is for our benefit, not as a way to get to God, but as an owner's manual for ourselves.  The rules are second to the relationship, and when we live humbly, we understand that we need to seek loving relationship with people before dumping impossible rules on them!

And the Church gives life.  Have you ever walked into a building where you know everyone's story?  Where everyone knows your story?  And there is no shame, no guilt, no blame - but only love and acceptance?  That is life-giving!  Notice, I'm not saying we let sin slide, I'm saying we recognize that we are all sinners!  We all struggle against the temptations of this life, but in Church we find people to struggle with!  In the Church we find friends.

But pride ruins it.  

Pride makes the Church a place of death.  Pride makes the Church a place where we learn to be holy so we can measure up to one another.  God is on some distant peak we must climb every day of our lives, and hope we never fall.

Pride turns people into enemies.  In pride we constantly compare ourselves to those around us.  Am I better than him?  "Thank you Lord for not making me like that sinner.

Pride robs God of His glory.  Pride says, "I achieved this."  But every good thing we have comes from GOD! There is no gift, no talent, no wisdom, except by the grace of God freely poured out on unworthy creatures.  But Pride says, "I did this."

Pride is so concerned with looking good, that it corrupts, and it corrupts, and it corrupts.

We must lower our guard.

Hiding, justifying, and rationalizing our sins crushes harmony.  In pride we try to protect ourselves, to protect our little pleasures, our secret sins.  "It's not that bad."  we think.

Hiding, like the kid with the cookie shoved behind his back, we attempt to convince others we don't have a problem.  If others knew they would think less of us, and in this mad prideful scramble to reach the top of the heap, we can't allow it.  So we hide our sins.

Justifying, we tell ourselves it was ok, we won't do it again.  It was a one-time thing.  They made me do it.  We look at our past sins and try to figure out why we did it, and then blame the temptation, rather than simply confess we fell to it.

Rationalizing, we look at a sin we are about to commit and come up for all sorts of reasons why it's perfectly fine.  Everyone else does it.  Jesus drank wine, so that makes getting absolutely wasted perfectly fine, right?  We talk ourselves up, prepare ourselves to fall, convince ourselves the sin we're about to commit isn't really what we know it is.

But all of this is a thin mask protecting our sin, and we know it.  We must lower that guard.

And when someone lowers their guard to us, we need to listen carefully, with suspended judgment, not pridefully doling out scriptural "Thou shalt not..." but just listening.  Forgiving where necessary.  When the thief on the cross cries out, "We deserve this but this man is innocent!"  Jesus doesn't say, "You bet.  Sinner.  You know your theft will send you to hell, right?  You'd better stop it."  No!  He says, "This night you will be with me in Paradise."  Jesus, who has every right to sentence that sinner to hell, comforts Him.  Forgives Him.  Loves Him.  And that's exactly what we're called to do when someone confesses to us.

I say this because we are called to confess, but we're afraid to!  We are afraid because we live in a culture of pride.  We don't want to damage our own reputation, but we are afraid that others will look down on us.  But please, that isn't how we should think in the Church.  This is a place of healing, not judgment.  This is a place where someone should be able to say, "I struggle with alcoholism!" and find help instead of hate.  This is a place where we can say, "I'm losing myself to depression!" and be surrounded by people who love us and want to see us healed.  This is a place where one who deals with the most vile, unimaginable, disgusting sin, can confess and be loved.  

Or at least it should be.  Have we let pride get in the way?

Live in humility.

If we saw one another as we truly are, we would see each other as God sees us.  That can be a terrifying thought, but He died for sinners, and the saved are His precious Children.

God, seeing us perfectly, loves us perfectly and brings us into harmony with Him.  God sees us just the way we truly are, with all our pride, and hatred, and lust, and greed, and jealousy, and gluttony, and laziness, and He loves us.

But we don't have God's eyes.  We can't see past one another's masks.  We can only guess.  

Unless we take off our pride, and dress in humility, we cannot be loved, and we cannot truly love others.

Only in humility can we find harmony.

"For God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."  God understands that Pride will kill us, will ruin us, will destroy Churches, so He sets Himself against the proud.  But to the humble, to the ones who aren't afraid to confess and to love unconditionally, to them He gives His perfect grace.  To them He gives a taste of that coming Kingdom.  To them He shows the perfect harmony of everything working according to His will.

So please, "Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another..."

Only in humility can we find harmony.  Any other road leads to destruction.

A New Home

A New Home

As I write this I can hear the noise of my wife brushing her teeth. The faucet is running. There are a few sharp taps as she knocks the brush against the edge of the sink, banishing the last drips of water from the bristles. From my chair I can barely hear her flossing, except the occasional click of the string snapping out of a particularly tight spot. She steps out for a moment, dressed in a maroon blouse, black sweater, and faded jeans. Her hair is tied back in a pony-tail. She checks her phone and stands idly for a few seconds before returning to her bed-time routine. Meanwhile, I’m tapping at a new website, figuring out the nuts and bolts of a new system, hopefully a better system.

The wind rasps through the trees on the other side of the street. Upstairs I hear our neighbor’s water running. There are footsteps. Still, it’s grown quiet. Marissa gives me a minty good-night kiss, but not before I promise not to stay up past midnight. She shuts the bedroom door, and I’m alone with my thoughts.

Graduation is only three weeks away, and then… what? Summer holds all kinds of mysteries and terrors. I’m supposed to make rent, which will probably go up. There’s a baby due in July, and I’m supposed to be a dad? I said something about a book coming out in August. Well, I guess I wasn’t planning on getting much sleep anyway. At least I’ll have something to do. Fall brings another school year for Marissa, her last, but likely her most difficult. I have no idea how she’ll manage with a baby to think of on top of all the studying. Then winter, and Christmas, the turning of the year once again, another birthday, more rain, the “pink mist” of the local cherry trees will come out again, and then she’ll be done with college as well. And then? Is that when the world will open to me? Is that when I will be able to step out of this crowded city into a new home?

For now, I’m still working at the local bakery – garlic bread is on the far side of the far island, top of the shelf, gold foil, can’t miss it – still dreaming of strange worlds – would Sam really say something like that when faced with that kind of creature? – and still trying to make a difference in my local community through my church. All of it seems a little pointless sometimes, when nothing is moving no matter how much effort I put into it. It’s incredibly easy to become discouraged.

Still, for now, this is my home. This is my life. It’s not glamorous or glorious. It’s often quite mundane and monotonous, but I think I must love it, for it’s what I have. I would much rather love what I have than what I might have. I think it will save me some trouble.

Welcome to the new site! Take a look around, and check in from time to time. I’ll be updating more regularly now that school’s almost over. I look forward to the coming days! Thanks for joining me as I face them.

-J. Christopher Earl