Sozo – Story Review

Sozo (Original Cover)

Sozo, by Patrick Todoroff, is the story of Booker, an ex-marine suffering from PTSD. When he’s recruited to do a job for some shady folks, his suspicions that he may be walking into more than he bargained for try to deter him from following through, but he ignores his moral compass at first, succumbing to the numbness that years of violence have brought him.

After reading this story and Patrick’s other short tale, The Barrow Lover, I’ve come to realize that I really enjoy Patrick’s writing style. Many of Sozo’s sentences are short, snappy, and to the point. Patrick’s writing gives you just enough detail to see the world he wants you to see without holding your hand through it. Characters come to life through a gritty, non-apologetic lens, and the story bleeds off the page in a hell-driven cascade of bullets and memories.

Sozo is the perfect read if you’re short on time, as it only came to roughly nineteen pages on my computer. But, as short as it is, it leaves you satisfied at the end – like any good tale should. Where shorter fiction is starting to come to the surface for many self-published writers, Sozo is a perfect example of a value-priced piece of fiction that both entertains and doesn’t demand much of the reader’s valuable time, especially with Patrick’s snappy and powerful prose.

Without sermonizing to his readers, Patrick writes a unique form of Christian fiction that one can’t readily recognize as Christian fiction. The language may jolt you, the violence may jar you, but that’s the beauty of his storytelling power – he draws you into his world and you’re not able to leave until the last page is read.

You can grab your copy of Sozo on Amazon here.

Christians and Writing and Stirring the Pot

6005169633_6b1151b3fa_bIs it okay for Christians to stir the pot with their fictional writing, to raise questions we know will receive negative reactions or challenge millenia-old beliefs? Are we allowed to put words to paper that may end up tearing down the strongholds of ‘religious’ thinking? Are we heretics if we write anything other than G-rated Christian fiction?

These are questions I find myself pondering as I continue to move forward in my plans to start a publishing company based around edgy Christian speculative fiction. I can already sense the naysayers peeking around the corners, sniffing for blood. “Christian fiction can’t have edgy content,” they grumble. “Cursing and violence are absolutely prohibited in your novels – if you call yourself a Christian writer.” “You wrote a story that had sexual content in it? You’re a pervert, plain and simple.” “Why would anyone write about alcoholism, kidnapping, murder? Dismemberment? GASP!” *faints*

All sarcasm aside, I’m not surprised when edgy material (ie adult content, violence, cursing) in Christian fiction causes a stir. There are many professing Christians who hold to the belief that including edgy content in Christian fiction is the same as having a bag of week-old trash on the dining room table during Thanksgiving dinner. It just doesn’t belong. It stinks, it’s filthy, and it distracts from the beauty of the dining room table.

I’ve finally come to realize that this stir that’s constantly being caused is actually a good thing. This controversial type of fiction isn’t just challenging the boundaries of ‘Christian’ fiction with the nature of the story itself, but also with the content found within these stories. Did you know that Jesus caused controversy? It’s true, despite what version of the Bible you may have read as a child. He was constantly turning everyone’s beliefs upside down. He was constantly questioning – and debunking – the status quo. He stretched – and sometimes broke through – the boundaries of peoples’ beliefs to show them a new way of thinking, a non-‘religious’ way of thinking. He came to bring truth, and sometimes the truth goes against the very structure – mental, religious, physical – that people have established within and around themselves.

To break through these boundaries is exactly my reason for writing edgy Christian speculative fiction. When I first penned Black Earth: End of the Innocence, I realized that everything I had written before was based on my childhood belief that Christian fiction had to be squeaky clean – that ‘Christian’ meant ‘Family Friendly’. I couldn’t have curse words, I couldn’t have any kind of sexual content, I couldn’t have anything that resembled more than cartoon violence – and sometimes even that was going too far.

These are things I told myself based on what I saw in the publishing market, in our culture, and in our Christian community. I think that’s why I stayed close to the Young Adult genre as I grew up, because it more easily catered to squeaky clean Christian beliefs. But once I started writing out the rape scene that occurs in my novel, End of the Innocence, I felt…well…free. Not just as a person, but as a writer. The scene was written according to what the story demanded. I didn’t go into ridiculous and senseless detail, but I didn’t shy away from the subject matter either. My character needed to be raped for her story to have purpose, and I couldn’t just write, “She was raped. The next day…”. Omission works well for some things, but I don’t subscribe to the ‘rule’ that omission is the solution in every single storyline, in every single book.

6298831693_ce2bbb0c87_zHere’s the way I look at it. If you have a light bulb, you don’t stay in a brightly lit room with it. You travel to a dark room and install that light bulb to bring the light to other areas of the building. You don’t need a light bulb in a room that is filled with constant sunshine. That light bulb is needed in the room that has no windows, that is filled with shadow. But in taking the light bulb to other dark rooms, you have to encounter the darkness. You don’t know there is a need for that light bulb until you encounter that darkness and recognize it as darkness.

I think some Christians who are writers have steered away from being controversial in all the right ways because they are either afraid of being rejected by the Christian community (or the secular community), or they are too busy being ‘religious’ about the wrong things. I know that first one applies to me. I struggle with wanting everyone to approve of everything I do. I want to keep the peace, I want everyone to get along. I don’t want to rock the boat because it will disrupt my daily routine. I don’t want the Christian community coming at me with pitchforks because they don’t understand – or don’t want to take the time to try and understand – why I write what I write.

I know that many Christians read Christian fiction so they don’t have to confront worldly things like they would have to in much of the secular fiction that is out there. But writing and reading about the contrast between good and evil is writing and reading about life. You can stick your head in a book and pretend the darkness isn’t there. But once you get done with your book and take a good look at the world around you, you’ll find that we live in a dark and fallen world full of crime, tragedy, and constant strife.

But we have a savior who died to save all of us from that darkness, a bright light against this tapestry of darkness. And I write what I write to take that light to the dark rooms of the human soul. And soon, that’s exactly the type of material my company will be publishing.

photo credit: neonzu1 via Flickr
photo credit: josemanuelerre via Flickr

The Friday Muse – The Wounded Crow

The Friday Muse (Cropped)I haven’t worked on Salt & Lyte at all this week. I’ve actually been a bit sick (I’m in the middle of cutting coffee cold turkey), and I’ve also been working hard on a Kickstarter video. But, since switching to this blogging platform from Blogger, I realized some of my older posts that originated on Blogger might have gotten buried under the rubble of the move. Figured I’d resurrect one of my old The Friday Muse pieces.

This is a short snippet I had to write in preparation for NaNoWriMo. It’s actually a scene that serves as a bit of backstory for Ryn, one of the antagonists in Salt & Lyte. Ryn is a priest who defiles the temple of the God of Lyte and poisons the faith of the people of the Kingdom of Lyte. This scene sees Ryn as a young child as he begins to develop his unnatural obsession with crows…

The Wounded Crow – 
“You know, you’re not allowed to have animals here,” Jameson said as he shook his finger at Ryn.

Ryn ignored the young boy and set the wounded crow on the dresser. “Can you fetch me some bandages?”

Jameson crossed his arms and sighed. “Really? You’re not going to listen to me, even after the last time you got in trouble? I warned you then too. It took you three weeks to finish cleaning the kitchen area.”

vector-crows_fJzUs_I_Ryn slammed his fist on the top of the dresser, and then immediately cooed the crow to calm down. Once the crow steadied, Ryn turned and scowled at his friend. “Get me some bandages or get out. I have to help him.”

Jameson opened the top drawer of the dresser and pointed in the bottom left corner. “Right there.”
By the weakening candlelight, Ryn could make out a cream-colored roll of bandages wedged next to his some men’s undergarments. He took the bandages and began dressing the crow’s broken wing.

“You know, it’s not a him,” Jameson said. “It’s a crow. An animal. A Filth.”

“I know what everyone else thinks he is. But he’s a crow, and I have to help him. I couldn’t just let him die out there in the darkness.”

“Crow’s love the dark.”

Ryn finished dressing the crow’s wounds and set the bandages back in the dresser drawer before shutting it. He stroked the bird’s beak. “I have to name him.”

“Name him?”

“Yes. Shadow.”

“That’s appropriate. You know, if the counsel leaders find out you have ‘him’, they’ll boot you and it out of the kingdom. They’ll even boot me out if they find out I helped you.”

Ryn waved his friend away. “Then get lost. I don’t need this grief. Everyone here talks so much about mercy and honor, and yet they’d stone us if they found out we helped a suffering animal?”

“It’s Filth. Filth isn’t allowed in the kingdom for obvious reasons, Ryn. I don’t even want to be around that thing. I’m here because you’re my friend. And if you get in trouble again, you’re going to need my communication skills to get you out of it.”

“Yes, I suppose you do come in handy.”

A loud bell rang out, the sound rushing through the glassless window on the other side of the room.

Jameson gasped. “The king’s making an announcement!”

Ryn took the bird into his hands. “Go. I’ll catch up with you. I have to find a place to hide him.”

Jameson huffed. “Okay, but hurry. If the king doesn’t see you in the plaza, he’ll ask me what’s up. I can’t keep lying for you.”

“Just go,” Ryn snapped.

Jameson hurried out of the room.

Alone with the crow, Ryn let a grin steal his face.

Learning About the Past

imageBeautiful, isn’t she? This is a picture of my late grandmother, Priscilla. I was very close to her growing up. She passed away some years ago from breast cancer. She’s a big reason why I am a writer because she showed a great interest in my writing when I was a teenager.

This last weekend, while visiting my grandfather, I found out that my grandmother used to take classes at the Los Angeles City College in the Department of Radio Broadcasting. I never knew she did anything with radio, and it was fascinating to get my hands on some of the old scripts she used to read from and even get to see some of the scripts she actually wrote herself.

Guess I know part of the reason why she was always so interested in my writing.

Fifty Shades of Filth and the Degradation of Freedom

dog-with-poo_GJqUUh8uThere’s a lot of controversy hitting the fans over the latest piece of crap that Hollywood decided to put out onto the big screen. While the buzz started as a piece of Twilight fan fiction and escalated into a best-selling book, Fifty Shades of Grey has turned into a global phenomenon that has sought to further shatter humanity’s moral compass.

This post really isn’t about Fifty Shades of Grey though. There’s enough articles you can read online right now written about how degrading and disgusting the movie and books are – this one being the best I’ve read. The books and the movie promote sexual abuse, a rape-mindset, and strips men and women of their self-worth and moral compass to a point that portrays both sexes as rabid animals ready for a romp with anything that emits heat.

That being said, I think Fifty Shades of Grey is really just another mile marker on the road that humanity has already been on for years now. As appalling as the concept of the movie is, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise to me that it’s sparked worldwide appeal. Society in general has been declining for decades now in terms of how everyone views sex lust, and it’s only going to get worse.

Why?

Besides the fact that our country is moving farther and farther from Biblical and Godly principles, there also seems to be a serious entitlement issue going on in this generation in particular. People feel entitled to every ‘freedom’ they can get their hands on, and if they are denied these ‘freedoms’, they fight tooth and nail to make sure to put laws in place to make sure they are never denied these ‘freedoms’ ever again. I put quotes around the word freedoms because its the buzz word that people are using to justify their want to do things that are both degrading and morally corrupt.

Sure, we (in America in particular) have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of sexuality – freedom to pretty much do whatever we want. But through the course of the past few generations, the responsibilities that come with these freedoms have been ignored. And if you try and speak your mind against the immoral and unethical behaviors that these freedoms have been used to produce, you are dubbed a hater, a religious nut, or worse – a fuddy duddy.

I think I know how the prophets of the Old Testament felt when they spoke God’s heart to the masses who rejected them.

Fifty Shades of Grey is simply the latest piece of garbage to slip through the weakening safeguards in the guise of sexual freedom. Unfortunately, it does more to degrade the holy, marriage-bound act of sex and turns it into a sick and twisted perversion that is (ironically) doing more to shackle us than give us true freedom.

My roommate was a big fan of Adam Levine and his band, Maroon 5. I never cared for the guy (I’ve always though his voice sounded like a fork being scraped against a washboard), but evidence of his popularity is clear as his band’s records have sold millions. He’s starred as one of the judges on The Voice, and he has fan girls around the world swooning over him as fans have done so for musically talented demigods for decades.

My roommate wasn’t as bad as these fan girls, but she did admire Adam Levine because she saw amazing musical talent in him. And then Maroon 5 put out their song, “Animals”. Just another song with a catchy beat. I didn’t think anything of it, and neither did my roommate. But then we spotted the music video on TV, and it changed our opinion of Adam Levine and his band.

I’m not going to promote the video here on my blog. The internets allows you to search for it yourself, but I’ll warn you that it’s a disturbing piece of pornographic trash. In the video, we see a man (Adam Levine) stalking a woman (Adam’s real-life wife) around town. He photographs her, and then goes back to his…lair?…in a slaughterhouse and smears blood all over himself while he fantasizes about her. Eventually, he catches up with the woman and has fairly pornographic sex with her while blood rains down on the both of them.

Romantic.

I was speechless when I saw this, as was my wife and my roommate. It provoked me to look up the lyrics to this song:

Baby, I’m preying on you tonight
Hunt you down eat you alive
Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals

Maybe you think that you can hide
I can smell your scent from miles
Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals
Baby, I’m

So what you trying to do to me
It’s like we can’t stop we’re enemies
But we get along when I’m inside you
You’re like a drug that’s killing me
I cut you out entirely
But I get so high when I’m inside you

Yeah, you can start over, you can run free
You can find other fish in the sea
You can pretend it’s meant to be
But you can’t stay away from me
I can still hear you making that sound
Taking me down, rolling on the ground
You can pretend that it was me
But no

Baby, I’m preying on you tonight
Hunt you down eat you alive
Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals

Maybe you think that you can hide
I can smell your scent from miles
Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals
Baby, I’m

So if I run it’s not enough
You’re still in my head forever stuck
So you can do what you wanna do
I love your lies, I’ll eat ‘em up
But don’t deny the animal
That comes alive when I’m inside you

Yeah, you can start over you can run free
You can find other fish in the sea
You can pretend it’s meant to be
But you can’t stay away from me
I can still hear you making that sound
Taking me down rolling on the ground
You can pretend that it was me
But no

Baby, I’m preying on you tonight
Hunt you down eat you alive
Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals

Maybe you think that you can hide
I can smell your scent from miles
Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals
Baby, I’m

Don’t tell no lie-lie-lie-lie
You can’t deny-ny-ny-ny
The beast inside-side-side-side
Yeah, yeah, yeah

No, girl, don’t lie-lie-lie-lie
You can’t deny-ny-ny-ny
The beast inside-side-side-side
Yeah, yeah, yeah

Yo…
Whoa…
Whoa…
Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals
Just like animals (yeah…), animals (yeah…), like animals-mals (yeah…)
Ow

Baby, I’m preying on you tonight
Hunt you down eat you alive
Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals

Maybe you think that you can hide
I can smell your scent from miles
Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals
Baby, I’m

Don’t tell no lie-lie-lie-lie
You can’t deny-ny-ny-ny
That beast inside-side-side-side
Yeah, yeah, yeah

No, girl, don’t lie-lie-lie-lie
You can’t deny-ny-ny-ny
That beast inside-side-side-side
Yeah, yeah, yeah

It’s not hard to see the degradation of sex – and humanity – through this video alone. The video – and the song – have no plot except to showcase a (very) disturbed individual hunting a woman down like she’s prey, catching up to her, and then having sex with her as if she was a piece of prized porterhouse steak ready to be gobbled up. I’m not sure if the video is trying to promote hunting, stalking, rape or cannibalism. There’s not a lot philosophically or theologically that you can pull from a video like this. It’s just trash, plain and simple.

In hindsight, I was a bit naive to simply listen to a song mindlessly without paying attention to the song’s lyrics. But that’s a topic for another day.

We need to grab the wheel, people, and turn this ship around before we encounter the iceberg waiting for us underneath the surface of these ‘freedoms’.

Everything has a consequence – good or bad. And this generation’s moral compass has waved God off to the side and demanded that the ‘religious oppression’ that seeks to take the fun out of everything be destroyed. When Martin Luther King Jr. fought for freedom, he did so for a worthy cause that changed our country for the better. These freedoms many are fighting for now are nothing more than thinly-veiled justifications to live in sin and drown our society in an ocean of filth. One by one, filters are being turned off, and now we’re exposing ourselves and the next generation to the things that will bring about the demise of this nation and eventually this world.

Fifty Shades of Grey is simply another nail in the coffin. Fortunately, I won’t be in that coffin when it’s nailed shut. My freedom lies in Christ, and my life will be lived according to the freedoms and laws that God has established – regardless if this world agrees with them or not.

The Friday Muse – The LZR Project

The Friday Muse (Cropped)I took a break this week from my current novel, Salt & Lyte, to work on a Kickstarter video I am doing for an upcoming campaign to raise funds for the publishing company I am starting. The break from my manuscript helped me to realize something very important: I don’t have enough hours in the day. I’m ‘supposed’ to turn the manuscript in to my editor in April, but there’s almost no way I’m going to finish it by then. The more I sketch out backstory and character profiles for the book, the more I need to write and rewrite. I definitely want to do the book right, so that means I may need to switch things up a bit.

TLP Web Cover (Resized)For the last eight months, I’ve been running a special short story miniseries called The LZR Project. Each story is in episodic format and acts as a prequel to my Expired Reality series. I’ve been releasing each weekly episode through Gumroad – which is a great platform I’ll go into more detail about in a later post. Despite the fact that I’ve only made a couple sales with the series, I’ve enjoyed the experiment of running short story serials. And, I think I’ll do it again in the near future.

This being said, I’m winding down with the series (only six episodes left) and after that, I’ll be compiling them all into paperback and digital versions. My thought right now is to trade The LZR Project for Salt & Lyte. This means The LZR Project will be published soon, Salt & Lyte before the end of the year, and the third novel in my Expired Reality series will be pushed out a little further.

I’m just happy I am too busy to get into trouble.

The Value of a Dollar

20150209_150907 (Resized)It may seem silly to some, but I was beyond excited when I saw this lunch pail at a local rummage sale last weekend. The price tag of $5 seemed too good to be true, but once I showed my true geek colors and gushed over this prized artifact, the owner agreed to sell it to me for $1.

Sure, it’s a lunch pail. And it’s rusted. And it’s dented. And it’s missing the Thermos mug. But to really understand why I got so excited about this, you have to understand a facet of my youth. See, I grew up with Indiana Jones. I was five in 1984 when the movie came out. The Temple of Doom was the first Indiana Jones movie I ever saw, and that was because my neighbor was kind enough to invite me over to watch it on his television. The movie franchise and the character of Indiana Jones are ingrained in my childhood with everything from the old SNES and N64 games (which I have), the Indiana Jones Adventure ride at Disneyland, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles television series, to the movies that helped ignite my imagination and my desire to write adventure stories.

I nearly squealed like a schoolgirl when I first saw this lunch box – which in fact looks like it came out of the Temple of Doom. But for a buck, it was as if I had been offered a sparkling ruby for the last four dirty quarters in my pocket.

It just goes to show that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

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