The Pressures of Change

I’m not one who appreciates change as much as I know I should. Over the years, I have become a very structured individual, and I don’t do well when change comes my way – when the hand is suddenly re-dealt, when the table is flipped, when the chips are scattered. All of it tends to send me into a tizzy. I’m not proud to admit that, but that’s the truth. I tend to be more inflexible than I would like to be.

Lately, change has been coming my way in spades. A little over a year ago, we moved back here to Arizona from the Bay Area – a move I have been incredibly unhappy with. Just when I start recovering from that, my grandfather dies. Then I start to move out of the mourning stages, and my wife gets a new job with a schedule that is anything but structured. And then my son started Kindergarten – after I have been a work-from-home-dad with him for the last five years.

Life will bring change. God will bring change. Some changes are good. Some changes are normal. Some changes are bad. Some changes are dark. It doesn’t mean I have to like the changes that comes my way, but I do need to handle them appropriately. Instead, I’ve felt my anxiety levels skyrocketing to where any minor change in life, schedule, plans, or daily routine throws me off course. My focus and my motivation suffers, and I end up spending most of my days biting my nails, trying to solve what-ifs, and pushing every ‘red alert’ button I can find – frantic with worry and frustration.

Instead of rising above it, instead of getting a foothold over the last major change to occur, instead of realizing that change happens and I can either use that change to my benefit or end up being done in by it – I end up drowning in all of the changes. It’s a cycle my wife just recently pointed out, and I know she’s right. I’m getting hit, and I’m going down, little by little.

Have you ever felt this way? Like you’re the nail and life is the hammer, and the hammering won’t stop to let you take a breath? Sometimes this constant change can turn into frustration, bitterness, and even depression. How do we rise above it? How do we conquer that which is intent on conquering us?

I’m reminded of a speech about life that Sylvester Stallone’s character gives to his son in Rocky Balboa

My part in this life is to keep getting up, no matter how many times I’m hit and no matter how hard I’m hit. But I know also that because my trust is in God, I must find peace in knowing that no matter what changes, no matter what structures are destroyed on a daily, monthly, or lifetime basis, that God is in control of all of it – and that there is purpose in the change. His plans are better than the ones rolling around in my head, so I must defer to His judgment and know that

God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. – Romans 8:28

So instead of going down after I’m hit, instead of wallowing in depression and frustration, I’ll simply stand to my feet – as painful as it may be – and surrender myself to God’s will for my life. He’s counted the hairs on my head, right? So there’s a good chance He cares for where I want to be, and sees me where I’m currently at, and knows the changes that are beating me down, and simply desires the best for me.

The Friday Muse – My Grandmother’s Untimely Death and Why I Write

Fridays are usually the days I end up posting a snippet of any new writing I am working on to fill The Friday Muse segment of this blog. Not today. Today, I want to go in a different direction. Don’t worry, I’ll still be talking about writing, just in a different vein.

Go back with me to 1995. What were you doing? I was a tenth-grader living in Modesto, California. I was surrounded by family and friends, and my adolescent life – I have to admit – was at one of the highest points I can remember. I had been writing fiction for a number of years by this point, and I had just finished my first novel – Mission: Australia.

2016-08-12 06.57.59 (Resized).pngMission: Australia had taken me years to write. It was a compendium, really, of the various short stories I had written throughout my younger years (6th grade and beyond), and served as my first full-length novel that I believed (at the time) would skyrocket me to publishing success.

But 1995 wasn’t so much about the novel than it was about my grandmother. See, she was my biggest fan at the time. She used to read all of my work, and she loved all of it. Yes – I believe a good portion of that validation was because she was my grandmother and I was her grandson. She loved my writing by default. I could have published coffee stains on crumpled notebook paper and she would have gushed about how much she loved what I did.

That aside, her encouragement always fueled me. She read my stories. I wrote more stories. I didn’t write for her, but she read for me. And when I finished Mission: Australia, she read it. Well – most of it. It was in an unfinished state when I handed it to her one day. She read some of it and gushed.

wpid-fote9e5.jpgThen I found out she was struggling with breast cancer. Months later, she passed. The last time I saw my grandmother, she was on her death bed. The cancer had spread through her body and had wiped out a good portion of her memory. Our family stood around her bed. She couldn’t remember most of the faces staring down at her. But she reached out to me and asked if I had finished my novel.

When my grandmother passed, I shoved my writing in a black hole for a number of years and pursued life apart from writing. I graduated high school, tried to survive ‘real-life’, and buried myself in countless relationships and 9-5 jobs.

My grandmother’s death nearly caused the death of my writing.

It was a calling – a stirring – I felt one day many years later that prompted me to dig up those old stories, that old manuscript, and start from where I ended so long before. It hurt because I remembered my grandmother’s support of my writing. But it felt good because I remembered my grandmother’s support of my writing.

Cancer – in its most sinister form – could not consume my grandmother’s memories of my writing. I didn’t just understand my calling when I realized that – I understood the power of my writing. That just because someone liked my writing because they liked everything I did, it didn’t mean that my writing didn’t affect them, or that their support didn’t – doesn’t – affect me.

Your writing is powerful. You may not feel it. You may not ‘know’ it. But it is. Don’t let anything stop you. Don’t let anyone tell you no. Just write. Just share that writing.

How has your writing affected those around you? Do you believe your writing – its content and the act – has power? Tell me how in the comments. I would love to hear from you.

The Friday Muse – Terutus Flashback

Last week, I shared a snippet from a short story I am working on for an upcoming anthology. It’s a superhero story, but set in a more medieval-type environment with castles and magic.

The main character of the story is Terutus, a middle-aged man (I think) who, in the beginning of the story, is watching a whole city burn to the ground. Is he a villain? Is he the hero? Only time will tell, but I did write a very short piece of a flashback that he has in the beginning of the story –

It was Seventh Harvest, when the city celebrated their freedom from man’s laws and embraced a loving God who had led them here into the middle of the Expanse, to a place where milk and honey flowed. Seventh Harvest brought about parties and dancing, all done to celebrate, to worship the Living God.

And it was at the very last Seventh Harvest that Terutus would ever attend that he saw her – Olivia. Beautiful violet-colored eyes, violet-colored hair, and tanned skin that indicated to him that she was a field-cropper, as they were called. He couldn’t remember ever seeing her in the fields, nor could he remember seeing her in the markets where most of the field-croppers sold their produce.

They fled the seventh harvest and went to the peer blossom agricenter. The peer plants were toxic if ingested or handled with bare flesh, but the chemical that caused their intense glow were used to light the city naturally and were also used as a natural cleaning agent. The fields brought intense light when the plants were in such a dense area together, so they were contained in an advanced greenhouse that shielded the plants’ light at night and allowed the sunlight in during the day…

I like this piece because it gives a little bit of world-building, a little bit of character-building, and it is short – as flashbacks probably should be. I’ve learned my lesson not to make flashbacks so flippin’ long as I used to do in some of my older writings. I’ve found that it’s easy to bring the point of the flashback across without having to pull the reader from the original story for too long.

I’m not sure who Olivia is exactly, or why she isn’t with Terutus in the beginning of the story, but I’m sure we’ll find out as the story unfolds over the course of the next few weeks.

The Friday Muse – City of Flames

Yes, The Friday Muse was gone for a bit. I’ve been so busy with the publishing company that I haven’t made time to write. Well, yesterday I sat down and belted out a good 2900 words in a short story I am putting together for an upcoming anthology. It’s a little bit fantasy, a bit superhero-themed, and a whole lotta mysterious.

I’m called it City of Flames right now, and for the Muse today, I’m going to share the beginning of the story to give you a taste for what I’m working on. This is all rough draft stuff, but it’s definitely starting to take shape.

City of Flames

Against the black backdrop of a starless night, the flames rose high above the City of Rita, burning what was once the grand jewel of the Shershay province. Orange and yellow fire licked the sky and scattered its kin across the wooden buildings, burning them in rage and malice. It was a hot blaze, a holy blaze, one that melted almost every single object and person in the once great city.

Outside the city, sitting atop a dilapidated the wall that had once protected the precious items within, Terutus sat, watching everything burn. He wore a burlap cloak covered in scorch marks, the hood concealing his emotions and muffling the sounds of those dying within the fires. The screams of those he had once called friends and even family skated across the wind, like souls untethered from life and yet unable to move on to death.

The smell of burning flesh filled the air, and Terutus had to shove his nose into the inside of his hood and breathe deep of the burlap to stop from vomiting. Shortly after the blaze settled slightly, and the night sky had filled with smoke, Terutus turned his back on the city. He folded his hands beneath the baggy cloak and mumbled some prayers before climbing the ladder down the wall. When he reached the bottom, he felt the smooth Gladstone under his feet and couldn’t help but smile. The stones had been placed by someone a very long time ago, before the city had even been inhabited by Terutus and his people. It had a strange calming effect that some believed was the work of God Himself.

His smile was short-lived, as his face twisted into a grimace at the sound of the screams that echoed from the other side of the wall. Screams he knew he would never be able to silence. A cold wind blew across the empty expanse before him. Behind him, the wall was the only thing standing. Before him, a long and tumultuous valley – the Expanse – spread all the way to the western shore, at least ten miles from where he stood.

He huffed, tightened the hood around his oblong head, and started away from the city. His heart hurt, as if he were leaving behind a child whose umbilical cord had not been completely severed yet. The feeling forced him to turn and gaze on the wall once more. He had a morbid curiosity to see the remains of the city, but the black smoke billowing into the sky and the sickly scent of burnt flesh forced him to turn his back once and for all on Rita, and to leave on a journey he knew he would not return from.

Free Books

Many of you know that I run The Crossover Alliance – a publishing company specializing in blending real-world content with Christian fiction. Well, this week we’re celebrating our one-year anniversary as a publishing company, and today we are giving away our entire ebook catalog! Just head to our website – thecrossoveralliance.com – and grab any of the currently published titles from our catalog, zip through the checkout process, and they are yours to put on your digital readers. Easy cheesy. We’d love to get reviews from you as well when you’re finished reading our books.

The first two books in my Black Earth series are available in this celebration giveaway, so if you’ve been wanting to see what kind of fiction I write without the monetary obligation, head over and snag yourself some copies –

Black Earth: End of the Innocence
Black Earth: The Broken Daisy

Life’s ‘Little’ Distractions

I know I’ve been away from this blog for a bit now. I’m sorry about that. I meant to continue my Flash Fiction Fridays. I meant to raise discussion about my time in San Francisco and where I believe God is leading me. I meant to continue my writing projects – such as Red Crane. But as is the norm, life got in the way.

More specifically, The Crossover Alliance got in my way.

It was only a year ago that I registered an LLC, purchased a business license, and opened the doors of this online publishing company specializing in a ‘different kind’ of Christian fiction. A year later, the Crossover has adapted and evolved into a sum much greater than its parts. I never thought I would be able to run a publishing company – let alone start one. I was told at the beginning of all of this that I was crazy to think that we could publish six books in our first year, that I should drop that number to make things more manageable. Not saying that was bad advice, but I tend to have a desire to do the things people tell me I can’t or shouldn’t do. Before the end of this month, we will be eight books deep in only our first year.

With the busyness that running a business of this magnitude demands, I haven’t had Crossover Alliance Logo 2015 (C Edit White)much time to work on my own writing projects. Red Crane – my supernatural detective novella – has been on the backburner for months now. The third book in my Expired Reality series has been on the backburner for years now – that’s not really the Crossover’s fault, but the busy workload hasn’t helped. And I have a slew of other unfinished projects that need to be tended to – Salt & Lyte, Eternal Midnight, some post Black Earth stories, some more Expired Reality stories, and a host of unfinished NaNoWriMo pieces that have been sitting on my hard drive, crying out to be free from their prison.

I promise you folks, that I have been working on a very strict business and writing schedule that I will be implementing next week that will allow me to continue forward with the Crossover as we cross into our second year and also allow me to carve away at these stories I have been promising all of you.

ER EM Kindle Cover 2014Some of the exciting projects I am going to be working on over the course of the next year? Books 3 and 4 in my Black Earth series will be published through The Crossover Alliance. I will be (finally) finishing up the third novel to my Expired Reality series, and all three will be published through the Crossover next year. Red Crane should be done before the end of this year. I have a short story I’ll be working on for the Crossover’s upcoming short story anthology. And, of course, I want to work on all of the other unfinished projects. Salt & Lyte in particular needs to see the light of day soon.

And, starting next week, The Friday Muse will be back in action with all new writing snippets that I will be working on each week – flash fiction, character sketches, world-building, etc., etc. etc.

Thank you for hanging with me during the interims. It’s been a wild ride starting this company, but one I wouldn’t trade for anything.

A Bittersweet Anniversary

Today marks the one year anniversary of my grandfather’s death. Tomorrow marks the eleven year anniversary of my marriage. These two anniversaries have created a very bittersweet atmosphere in my life at the moment.

This day last year, my grandfather took his own life. His death added to an already challenging season – one I still find myself in over a year later. Between our move back to Arizona from the Bay, to my grandfather’s death, to family turmoil, I have asked myself many times what I’m doing here. God’s hand has led me to this place in time, but why have I had to go through the heartache I have gone through? Why did we have to move from the Bay, away from my grandfather right before he died? Why did I have to move back here to a place of desolation and heat, a place where parts of my family have crumbled to pieces?

These are questions that I ask myself when I’m not being distracted by daily life, questions I plan to address and explore in later posts. God has reasons for everything, and even though I may not find out what some (or most) of those reasons are, it won’t stop me from asking the questions in an attempt to find the answers.

Today, though, I want to celebrate my grandfather. My best friend. I know in my spirit that he is in a better place now. Much better. His cancer, his ailments, are gone – healed. He is at peace. And I know he would want nothing more than peace for me and my family. He was my confidant, an old soul that spoke to me like no other could. I miss him, but I know I’ll see him again someday.

Cheers to you “Old Goat”, and to the legacy you left me.

The Friday Muse – Imprisoned

Today’s piece, Imprisoned, is derived from my desire to write something zombie related. I wrote this a little while ago and decided to dig it up for The Friday Muse. Looks like it might have potential to be a full-blown story. We’ll see…

Imprisoned
The smell is the first thing to hit me. Not light. Not the pain in many of my extremities. But the smell. A combination of rotting flesh and burnt wood. I’m not sure what is causing that smell, but I’m almost certain it is what has woken me from the darkness.

At first, I am not able to open my eyes. I reach my right hand up to my eyelids and find them coated in a sticky substance of which I am certain is blood. I lick my fingers and apply sputum to my sealed eyes. When the blood is wiped away, I try to open them again. Slowly. Flickers of light sneak in through the darkness. As soon as my eyes are opened wide, I see the debris around me: large chunks of cement, metal bars, and small pockets of fire here and there.

My arms and legs are spotted in blood. I am able to stand, but my left leg is sore. I wonder if the cement debris collapsed on me at some point. I realize I am in a very small room – a prison cell, indicative of the bars in front of me.

What am I doing in a prison? What caused this damage?

On the other side of my cell door is a mob of beings that look human but are shuffling around in various directions, as if they are brain dead and inattentive. They flood the open area between my cell and the others. We must be in a barracks of some sort. Each individual is clothed in rags that look shredded and torn from whatever caused this damage. Most are male, but there are a few females in the bunch. Only a few. The skin of these strange beings is whiter than snow, and they each have a black stripe down the center of their face.

I spot one of them staring at me from the center of the crowd. His eyes are glazed in a pearl white. He makes a clicking sound with his tongue and the others suddenly turn their attention toward me. All of the males, anyway. The females keep shuffling around, oblivious to the world around them.

The ones that have noticed me shuffle to my cell door, grab hold of the bars, and began pulling on them. They are not strong enough to destroy this protective cage I am in. I glance around me and find a large chunk of cement which I lift into my hand. I see a set of keys sticking out of the lock of my cell door. I quickly grab them to keep them away from these strangers.

The grim realization suddenly hits me: I either stay in here – protected from whatever these beings are, or I open my cell door and fight through them to get out of this place.

How long until hunger sets in? How long until help arrives? Is there anyone left in this place who hasn’t been turned into one of these things?

I shove the key back into the cell door…

Pushing The Boundaries Of Christian Fiction

I posted this article on The Crossover Alliance website last week, and I think it bears repeating as this is a serious issue in regards to how Christian fiction has been written and the (sometimes) unspoken rules that govern its place in the market. To be honest, this is exactly why The Crossover Alliance publishing company exists – to publish Christian content that falls outside the lines that the Christian publishing houses have established over the years.

When you’re a child, you break the rules to test the boundaries of what is or isn’t allowed. You push those boundaries little by little, sometimes with an exploratory attitude, to see where the boundary lines have been placed. This educates you in what is permitted and at what point restrictions are set to disallow you from going any further.

Most good parents explain to the child why the boundaries have been placed. You can’t play in the street because there are cars that move through it. You can’t write on the walls with permanent marker because it doesn’t come off. You can’t hit Jimmy in the face with a rock because Jimmy’s dad will come after mommy and daddy with a lawsuit if it happens again.

Depending on what boundaries are set, it also reveals the reason for the boundaries. Are the boundaries set to enforce rules and control, or is there a deeper meaning, a deeper heart to the matter? Sure, we don’t want Jimmy’s dad coming after us with a lawsuit, but isn’t one of the deeper meanings for why we tell our kid not to hit Jimmy in the face with a rock is because we don’t want him to hurt others or become a bully?

I think frequently about how Jesus rebuked the Pharisees. The Pharisees enforced rules that God set up. But while God set these rules up with a deeper meaning in mind – holiness, purity, and obedience – the Pharisees turned the rules into an itinerary of tasks to be accomplished for exclusive membership into God’s holy club. Jesus disbanded these ideals because they weren’t true to the nature of why God set these rules in place.

It reminds me much of the Christian publishing industry. There are rules set in place – some strict, some reasonable. But do we know why they are there or why we follow them? Many Christian authors simply follow them because they don’t want to be chastised by the Christian marketplace or other Christian authors. They feel like a minority because the majority has gone along with these rules for so long and have integrated them into the entire Christian fiction writing process.

No cursing.

No sex.

No violence.

No gambling.

No mentions of luck.

No divorce.

No inappropriate slang.

No aliens.

No magic.

No kidding.

The list goes on and on. Of course, common sense tells us that most of these are in place to prevent us from sinning. If I write a curse word, it’s the same as cursing. If we write about sex, it’s the same as engaging in sexual acts. If we write about gambling, we are…gambling? Wait…now that I wrote that out, I realize how ridiculous it sounds. I mean, just because I am recording an act of sin, does that mean I myself am sinning? More importantly, when I write out these things, am I causing others to sin?

Well, this is definitely something to think about.

Is the act of recording a sin, a sin itself? I mean, the Bible recorded many acts of sin. But why did the Bible do that? It’s supposed to be holy. It records acts of sin to show the need for a savior, right? Isn’t that the heart of the matter, to contrast our inability to remain pure and holy against a God who is consistently and perfectly pure and holy?

That begs the question, why would it be okay to break these rules of Christian publishing? Why would it be okay to write about sex and divorce and violence? Is it to revel in these things, or is it to reveal a deeper truth?

We all struggle with these things, with these ‘edgy’ topics. These things make up life in a broken world. So what good does it do to ignore them, to pretend they don’t exist in our ‘real’ worlds of fiction? So much of the Christian fiction publishing in major markets have one-dimensional characters who live in these strange utopias where sin doesn’t exist, and if it does, it has no real bite. It’s watered-down sin. And the struggles these poor characters endure are brushed over with a rose tint and packed neatly in a perfectly square box before being fed to the masses.

Businessman screaming in megaphone on laptop

And anyone who pushes against those boundaries, who tries to write against that grain, is systematically shut down, their voice silenced by a community of Pharisees who miss the true meaning, the real heart of Christian fiction: to reveal truth and to contrast true evil with true grace. These Pharisees are found in the Christian marketplace, which follows the strict set of rules and usually exiles those who have fiction that doesn’t adhere to the membership qualifications. But it’s also the Christian community itself which have bought the lie that this kind of content is detrimental to a Christian walk.

This kind of content is why we have a Christian walk. It’s the struggle against sin, which is why Christ died on the Cross.

Maybe it’s time to try our hand at pushing against the boundaries again. Push against them until they move closer to the heart of the matter. But how do we push against these boundaries?

By engaging in a different kind of Christian fiction.

The Crossover Alliance is here for three reasons:

1.)    To change the Christian publishing industry—drastically.

2.)    To rally around—and build a community of—authors and readers who want more from their Christian fiction

3.)    To reveal God’s truth through compelling, unhindered fiction.

No, this doesn’t mean we are pushing the boundaries just to push the boundaries. We’re pushing them to reveal to the rest of the industry, to the authors and readers, to the world, that Christian fiction can be more.

Winning Camp NaNoWriMo

So, I won Camp NaNoWriMo.

I think.

It’s hard to tell when it comes to the camp version of the National Novel Writing Month. It’s more lenient in its design. While NaNoWriMo is very rigid with its 50,000 word-in-a-month-no-editing-no-backtracking-no-previous-work goal, Camp NaNo lets you edit previously written manuscripts, set your own word count, and pretty much flex your writing muscle with self-imposed milestones.

I’ve only been participating in Camp NaNo for the last few years now, and each one that I do I end up using to work on a novel I originally wrote for NaNoWriMo. This year I decided to resurrect an 11-year-old manuscript that I originally wrote for NaNoWriMo 2005. Dark Horizons is supposed to be the third installment in my Expired Reality series, but this thing has been in limbo and through revisions so many times that I unintentionally gave up on it while I hashed out my Black Earth series.

Strangely enough, both series are connected, making writing Dark Horizons more difficult. The more I wrote of the Black Earth series, the more Dark Horizons changed (as it takes place well after the events of the Black Earth series), so revising is all I’ve been doing every time I look at it.

And Camp NaNoWriMo has been no exception.

The good thing is, my Black Earth series is set in stone (finished), and I now have a set outline to follow for the next couple books in the ER series. Camp NaNo was incredibly helpful this year as it forced me to write out an ‘official’ outline for the book, hash out some character backgrounds that connect to the Black Earth series, and actually make use of Scrivener – which I am finally using to write my manuscripts.

All in all, I consider it a win. I may not have hit a 50,000 word milestone, but I managed to resurrect and repair an 11-year-old manuscript.