I am Josh, creator of worlds.

josh_creator_of_worlds

In the last month or so, the members of my writer’s group have been challenging each other to write more short stories to submit for publication. The idea is that if we are writing and getting published, then we might have some credibility on the subject. And that is important since we want to do some speaking engagements at writers’ conferences about short stories.

I love short stories. I love all stories in general, but short ones are nice for me because I don’t always have the staying power that long ones require. That doesn’t mean that I don’t dream about long-form fiction. But dreaming isn’t writing any more than wishing to be skinny is exercising.

The problem I have with short stories is that I get the seed of an idea and then it keeps growing. When it grows big enough, by all rights it should become a novel. But I have three unfinished novels currently moldering under a pile of good intentions to finish them and no plans to do so. So keeping my vision for short stories small is important.

But…

Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about fantasy stories. There’s a flash fiction contest coming up from Splickety Publishing Group that focuses on fantasy and sci-fi, and I intend to make an entry. As a result, I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite fantasy stories: Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Discworld, Fablehaven, Harry Potter, etc.

Want to take a guess as to how many of these are representative of flash fiction? I’ll save you the trouble. None of them.

Fantasy stories are made to be long, because half the fun of having a fantasy story is in creating the world in which the story is set. And a good world need rules. If there is magic, how does it work? What are the fantastic creatures like? Are there gods or deities meddling in the affairs of men? How did the world come to be in the first place?

Once you make the playground for your characters to run around in, it is nice to take to your time with a long page count and let them run free. Restricting them to a 500 word count is hard.

And yet, that’s my plan. My seed of an idea is growing, but I think I can break it up in flash fiction tidbits. Essentially, I’m going to create a series of related stories set in the fantasy world I’m designing. Will it work? I don’t know. But that’s not going to stop me from trying.

Would you read a series of flash fiction posts set in the same fantasy world? Do you like world-building? What is your favorite fantasy series and why?

Turn Another World Upside Down with Andrew Rogers | A Breathe Conference Retrospective

andrew-at-jot2There are a few reasons why I attended Andrew Rogers‘ session at the Breathe Conference. First, I found the topic interesting. Second, I regularly write slipstream flash fiction and have a few science fiction/fantasy pieces in the works. Third, Andrew is my friend and fellow weakling, and I wanted him to feel my support. But whatever my reasons for attending, I am really glad I did.

Here’s the description:

Science Fiction. Fantasy. Slipstream. Mystery and Crime. In this workshop, we’ll discuss this question and learn how to start writing meaningful genre fiction.

Andrew opened his session with a question–the question, perhaps–which haunts every Christian writer. How “Christian” do I need to make my book?

It is a question that I have wrestled time and again, as a writer, as a reader, and as an employee of a Christian bookstore. Does every book written by a Christian need to adhere to some redemptive guideline? Does it need a three-point sermon and a hymn? Can is have cuss words? What if my characters don’t behave themselves?

Andrew asked us to write some questions in response to the main one. As writers of genre fiction, how do we approach the religiosity of our books? Are we hesitant to publish–or even tell our friends–about our work for fear of what they might say?

WriteMichigan-cover2-1_0A few years ago, Andrew won the Reader’s Choice in the Write Michigan contest. His story revolved around a mentally handicapped man living in a world where every aspect of life is recorded digitally. And though that is the way things seem to be now, the tale is set in the near future where it is even more the case. The thing about the story was that it didn’t have a hint of Christian message. The main character did not pray, did not worship, did not get resurrected on the third day. It was simply a story about a man dealing with issues of death and legacy.

As such, Andrew was afraid to tell certain friends and family members that he was in the running for the reader’s choice portion of the writing contest. What if they read it and asked him why his story did not share the gospel message? The fear of that question kept Andrew silent until about a week before the end of the voting deadline. With time running out, he decided to share in spite of his fears, and he braced himself for the question.

But he did not get negative feedback from anyone. Not even from the sweet little old granny that he was sure would question his faith upon realizing that his story omitted God.

Andrew realized something; books and stories written by Christians do not need slather the gospel on like a topping. In fact, those that do are worse because of it. Rather, our faith is baked into our work as an ingredient, and made evident by our writing. After all, we are made in the image of a creative God. Writing is simply the form of creativity which allows us special insight into who God is. Our stories are reflections of that creative nature.

As to the question of how much violence or cussing or whatever our books should have, that is something that the author must answer. Sometimes, publishers will ask the author to change this or that aspect of the story, but this is less of a reflection on the author’s state of faith than a consideration of the publisher’s buying community. And cleaning up the cuss words is just the cost of doing business with Christian publishers.

If this post seems a bit scattered, there was a lot to discuss in the workshop and my notes are about as organized as I am. But it was a great session and one that left me thinking long after about the intersection of my faith and my writing.

What do you think about “Christian” books? Should publishers be able to dictate how clean a character’s language should be? Have you ever not shared your work with others for fear of being labeled a heretic?

The Writing Processes of Vonnegut, Pratchett, Gorey, and Tolkien in Links

In an interview this week with a fellow blogger, I was asked who inspires me. I answered with four different authors, each chosen for a different reason (in order to find out what those reasons are, you’ll have to read the interview). This week, I decided to seek out any wisdom that my four favorites might have to share on the topic of writing.

I was introduced to the writing of Kurt Vonnegut in an ethics course offered by the Lee Honors College at Western Michigan University in my freshman year. We read Slaughterhouse Five and explored the morality represented within its pages. I’ve always enjoyed books, but I haven’t always enjoyed them when they were required reading for school. When I first read Slaughterhouse Five though, I couldn’t put it down. I think I read it twice before the due date and then again before the end of the semester. “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time…” Even just talking about Vonnegut’s work now makes me want to pick up a copy and read it over again. The link here features Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing. If you are a writer, I hope you click through.

It was sometime in my first year of working at Baker Book House when a coworker exposed me to the genius of Terry Pratchett. I think we were talking about sci-fi and fantasy stories when she told me that she was doing a paper for one of her literature classes on the topic of rule consistency when creating a fantasy world. “It doesn’t need to be just like it is in the real world, but it needs to be consistent within itself,” she said. She went on to tell me that she was using the works of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series as an example of consistency. When no flicker of recognition flashed on my face, she insisted that I read some. The next day, she brought me three books. “When you finish one of these, you are going to want another to start on right away,” she said. She was right. This link is for an interview that Pratchett did a few years back, and the relevant portion for writers begins about midway down the page.

I ran across Edward Gorey in college on a random excursion with my roommate, friend, and sometime muse, Adam. Together, we would visit Barnes and Noble and search through the bargain racks for anything that looked interesting. I picked up one of the Amphigorey books and was instantly in love with the mixture of dark humor, brilliant illustrations, and tales that forced the reader to fill in the blanks with their own imaginations. Alas, I could not find any advice to authors from Edward Gorey, but this link is for his book The Unstrung Harp or Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel, in which Gorey illustrates the creative process of novel-writing though at the time he wrote this story, he himself had never written a novel. Still, it isn’t far from the truth.

My last author for this list is actually the one that I read earliest in my life. My dad handed me a copy of The Hobbit when I was in 7th or 8th grade and told me that I might enjoy it. I devoured it. Tolkien’s style, characters, and voice drew me in (as they do for anyone who dares to read The Hobbit). After that, my dad gave me a copy of The Fellowship of the Rings which I breezed through as well. And then I hit The Two Towers and got bogged down along with Frodo and Sam in the Dead Marshes. Sadly, I set the series down for a full year before attempting another go. But by that time, I had forgotten half of the details of the story, so I decided to start the whole thing again from the beginning. The Hobbit, check. The Fellowship of the Ring, check. The Two Towers, I powered through it this time, check. After I finished The Return of the King, I was sad the journey was over. LOTR was all I could talk about with my dad for weeks. And then he asked if I knew about the Silmarillion, which I hadn’t. So I decided to start again with The Hobbit, plowed through LOTR, and picked up the Silmarillion. Oh man, I was in nerd heaven. So many things in LOTR were explained, origins of the races, where the wizards came from, what a Balrog is, tales from the first and second ages of the world before the third age (when LOTR is set)! I am helplessly a Tolkien fan, so when I saw this post on Tolkien’s 10 Tips for Writers by the wonderful blogger, Roger Colby, I knew that it was going to be good. Colby culled through Tolkien’s writings and interviews where he discussed his craft and came up with a solid list for writers to use as a reference. Be sure to check it out, as well as the rest of his site.

How I did this week. Also, fun links!Last, for my writing report card, I’m going to give myself a B+ for the week.

I got the most hits in one day to date on Wednesday, I did a blog swap with another blogger, and I had fresh content everyday. The only thing was that I didn’t get a chance to write much on my novel, but I’m not going to let that get me down. Good job, me!

Back to School | Fantasy & Science Fiction

My phone died on the way home from work yesterday. I’m really glad that it did.

My wife and I both get out at 5:00 PM. She picks up our daughter from her parent’s house on the way home from her work, and I get dinner started since I get home first. We always call each other and talk on the way home (driving safely, of course). But yesterday, my phone died just as I was pulling onto our street.

I got home a few seconds later and went about my routine (let the dog out, get the mail, take care of my lunch bag, start dinner). By the time I got my phone plugged in to call my wife back, she was almost home.

“Monkers,” she said to me, “Did you happen to turn on NPR after your phone died?”

I told her that I did not.

“Because I heard something on the radio that made me think of you.”

She proceeded to tell me about a free class being offered by the University of Michigan that had to do with Fantasy something-or-other. My wife knows that I would like to go back to school at some point and get some formal training in writing. I graduated a few years back from Western Michigan University with a degree in Recreation and a minor in Communication. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I took up a serious interest in writing.

“I’d really like to look into that,” I said.

So I did.

The class is called Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World. It doesn’t look like a specifically “writing” course, but it looks great all the same.

Here’s a description from the sign-up page:

Fantasy is a key term both in psychology and in the art and artifice of humanity. The things we make, including our stories, reflect, serve, and often shape our needs and desires. We see this everywhere from fairy tale to kiddie lit to myth; from “Cinderella” to Alice in Wonderland to Superman; from building a fort as a child to building ideal, planned cities as whole societies. Fantasy in ways both entertaining and practical serves our persistent needs and desires and illuminates the human mind. Fantasy expresses itself in many ways, from the comfort we feel in the godlike powers of a fairy godmother to the seductive unease we feel confronting Dracula. From a practical viewpoint, of all the fictional forms that fantasy takes, science fiction, from Frankenstein to Avatar, is the most important in our modern world because it is the only kind that explicitly recognizes the profound ways in which science and technology, those key products of the human mind, shape not only our world but our very hopes and fears. This course will explore Fantasy in general and Science Fiction in specific both as art and as insights into ourselves and our world.

This course comprises ten units. Each will include a significant reading, typically a novel or a selection of shorter works. I will offer video discussions of each of the readings and also of more general topics in art and psychology that those readings help illuminate. Each unit will include online quizzes and ask you to write a brief essay offering your own insights into the reading. All the readings except Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness will be available online at no charge.

The professor is Eric S. Rabkin. Again, from the sign-up page:

Eric S. Rabkin is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Professor of English Language and Literature, and Professor of Art and Design at the University of Michigan. He has won numerous teaching awards, including the Golden Apple awarded annually by the students to the outstanding teacher at the University of Michigan. His research publications include the first English-language theoretical discussion of fantasy and the second of science fiction. He has won the Science Fiction Research Association’s Pilgrim Award for lifetime contributions to science fiction criticism.

And the class really is free.

I signed up last night.  You can sign up here. Who’s going to join me?