Tag Archives: The Art of Writing

Did I Do That?

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These remarks may strike some of you as a little weird. But writing fantasy novels does tend to lean a bit in that direction. And there are always readers who are curious about what it’s like to be a writer. So here goes.

I’m editing Bell Mountain No. 11, The Temptation, which means I have to read it attentively. And although I do know I made up the characters that populate my books, it doesn’t feel anymore like I made them up! They feel like real people that I really know.

When I’m actually writing a book, I’m too deeply involved in writing it to respond to what I’ve written. So when I read it, much later, it’s a whole different experience–almost as if someone else wrote the book, not me. I read a passage that gets to me and find myself thinking, “Oh, I didn’t write that! Did I? Could I?” It feels like these characters, places, and events came into print through me and have a real existence that has little or nothing to do with me. As if I were more a chronicler than a creator.

I wonder if other writers feel these things. I know she isn’t, but at the same time I just can’t shed the notion that Gurun (that’s her, pictured above) is a real person who is even now doing things, experiencing things, that I don’t know about.

I believe the people I read about in the “news” are real, don’t I?

“Never heard of ’em,” says Gurun.

‘My Hometown Fans’ (2015)

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Welcome to the Local Authors section.

Three years have gone by, and my hometown library still has not restored my books to their place in the Young Readers section: they remain exiled to the Local Authors ghetto, where no one in his right mind will ever find them.


Not to be a snob: but in this age of easy self-publishing, I don’t think people understand how blisteringly hard, trying, tortuous, soul-harrowing, and gut-wrenching it is to get your work published by a real publisher and get paid for it. I actually achieved that–but only after years of heartache.

So to get tossed off as “probably one of those self-published Local Authors writing about the kids he played horseshoes with in 1962”–well, that rankles. Like it would be impossible for a yokel like me ever to write something that anybody would pay to publish.

I still can’t get anybody around here to read my stuff.

I Love My Characters

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Ellayne at work

I have to admit an embarrassing thing. I have fallen in love with my characters.

They’re fictional. I made them up. But by now I’ve spent so much time with them, they don’t feel like made-up people anymore. They feel like real people.

Yesterday–sometimes it’s like I just watch this stuff come out of my pen–Ellayne had a set-to with Lord Orth. I love Ellayne because she has so much go to her: you just can’t keep her down. And I love Lord Orth for the totality of his conversion, which took away the gourmandizing theological show-off and left a humble servant of God… who is now more himself than he ever was before.

I love Wytt for his resourcefulness, his complete lack of fear, and his very small size that never stops him from doing big things.

I love Gurun for her courage: here’s a girl who’s deathly afraid of riding a horse, dreading that she might fall off in front of all these men who insist she be a queen; but that doesn’t keep her out of the saddle.

I love King Ryons for his earnestness, Fnaa for his irrepressible sense of fun, Uduqu for his cheerful bluntness, Obst for his devotion, and Helki for his wildness–and for the fact that there’s no one else remotely like him.

I even get kind of fond of the villains. Lord Reesh. Ysbott the Snake. Lord Chutt. Just don’t let them know I said that.

And I love Nanny Witkom standing up in the cart in the middle of the world’s worst downpour, hair flying every which way, crying “Behold the salvation of the Lord!” No wonder Chief Zekelesh, who couldn’t understand a word she said, was so attached to her.

Of course, if you haven’t read any of these books, you won’t have met any of these characters. But that’s a problem easily remedied.

But if you have, tell me–are there any characters you’ve fallen in love with?

Yeesh! At one point, when they thought I’d killed off Chief Uduqu, both my wife and my editor were ready to tan my hide… I guess I’m not the only one who gets kind of involved with these books.

Progress on ‘The Temptation’

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I heard from my excellent copy and continuity editor, Kathy, today. She’s finished her work on The Temptation, aka Bell Mountain No. 11–and she loved it. Her main job is to find mistakes and contradictions in the text, and she doesn’t seem to have found any–none, at least, requiring my attention.

So now I’ve got to contact our artist, Kirk DouPonce, and see about a cover. I don’t think he’s had a chance to read the book yet, but there must be a scene in there somewhere that he’ll want to use. Not all cover artists read the book first, so I’m very grateful that he does.

Meanwhile, I’m toiling away on No. 12, His Mercy Endureth Forever, taking every opportunity I can, between rain and thunderstorms, to get outside and write. I don’t know yet where the next few chapters will be going: I can only ask the Lord to guide me.

While you’re waiting, there are now ten Bell Mountain books in print, including No. 9, The Throne, pictured above. I know some of you have already read all ten. If you’re eagerly waiting for the next one–well, I’m working as fast as I can.

Are We Really Talking ‘Christian Fiction’?

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I’ve decided “Christian fiction” is probably a good label to get rid of. I mean, would “Christian peanut butter” be all that different from ordinary peanut butter?

It seems that when we use that label–the fiction, not the peanut butter–we’re talking about two different things: fiction pitched to a predominantly Christian audience, and fiction written for a Christian purpose.

We don’t want to spread our art so thin that it has no depth, any more than we want to focus so narrowly on a Christian audience–if such a thing actually exists–that we freeze out everybody else. “You really can’t enjoy this book unless you’re a Christian” is not a principle that holds much appeal for me.

If a book is sappy, it’s sappy whether it’s “Christian fiction” or not: it’s sappy.

What about fiction written for a Christian purpose? Well, what would be a Christian purpose? Several spring to mind. Reclaiming cultural ground for Christ’s Kingdom by competing successfully with secular products: and maybe even pushing some of the truly nasty stuff right off the shelves. Introducing readers, who might not have any Christian background, to Christian themes and habits of thought: sort of breaking ground for the Gospel. Exposing dangers and faults in some aspects of the culture that most readers just take for granted, never thinking about it anymore, when really they should be. Thinking about it hard.

“Unknowable” once made a telling remark about a certain kind of “Christian music”–the kind that takes out “baby” and plugs in “Jesus” but otherwise doesn’t change anything: it remains the same old secular stuff, with slightly different words. He put his finger on exactly what I mean.

Let’s compete and let’s win–not by out-heroding Herod, but by offering something better. Much better!

And yes, I do know great secular fiction when I see it, and I try to learn from it, so that such art as I have can more effectively serve Christ’s Kingdom. Besides, who do you think gave those great secular writers their talent?

I Asked, and It Was Given

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Ice Age hyenas with their kill, a wild boar: the mammoth and horses in the background are lucky the boar came along when it did.

With two deaths in the family coming virtually back-to-back, I haven’t been quite at my best lately. Not good: because I have a book to write, and the weather has held me back considerably. I’ve written a couple of chapters of His Mercy Endureth Forever, but as of this morning, I still didn’t know where it was going. Note I said “didn’t,” not “don’t.” Because now I think I know.

So I sat outside with my cigar and asked the Lord to give me the story He wants me to tell: and He has. Like, right away. All I had to do was ask.

Now I know why He gave me that title, and why He gave me Ice Age extra-large and ferocious cave hyenas, without an Ice Age to go with them. Now I can proceed.

Thank you, Father. It’s a weird way to write, but so far it’s carried me through ten Bell Mountain books, plus two awards.

A Peaceful Day

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Well, that’s not the most compelling headline I ever wrote, is it?

I had to walk to the mailbox just now, and was passed on the sidewalk by a band of Catholic schoolboys in blue shorts and clean white shirts, running, yelling, whooping, laughing. Where can I go to get that kind of energy?

Uncharacteristically low, low, low readership day. *Sigh*

But it was too nice a May day to pass up a bike ride, and I wrote a decent chunk of my new book. Writing books in a series can be tricky. For the benefit of the reader, you have to backtrack a bit: it’s been months since anyone read the preceding book. You might even have some readers who haven’t read any of the earlier books, and you don’t want to lose them in a forest of unfamiliar names and places. But if you backtrack too much, you risk boring your audience. It can be tricky, deciding how much past history to provide.

And there’s still a high stack of paperwork, relating to Aunt Joan’s death, to plod through.

Still waiting to announce the imminent publication of The Silver Trumpet. Jill at Chalcedon HQ tells me it’ll be any day now. She’s also my tech support, and had to work a lot of magic yesterday for me to post that article about the seminary president gone bad: when I finally found it on the Chalcedon website, the first half of it was missing! But I was amazed by how quickly Jill was able to fish it out of cyber-limbo and repair it.

Aloha for now. See you in a little bit, for Cat Video time.

‘How Good Should Your Heroes Be?’ (2016)

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The other day I talked about villains, so it’s only fair to give equal time to heroes.


Recommended: The Heart of Midlothian, by Sir Walter Scott. A young woman’s fiancee is cast into prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and there’s no one to help him–no one but her. Armed only with her faith and with her goodness, she sets out, alone, to do the impossible… Wow!

I’m Going with the Hyenas

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It’s been raining every day this week, which has really slowed the writing of my new book. But at least I was able to make one artistic decision about it.

I’m going with the oversized prehistoric cave hyenas. I can’t provide them with an Ice Age, but to make up for that, I’ve provided them with dangerous savages who worship them as holy.

Today’s spotted hyenas of Africa are pretty nasty, but these put them to shame. Hey, they ate mammoths and rhinoceroses.

Now if only this rain would stop, I could get down to business.

P.S.–I’m calling it His Mercy Endureth Forever. My wife and my editor like that title, so there it is.

‘How Bad Should Your Villains Be?’ (2016)

I’ve always heard that most actors enjoy playing villains. It’s kind of fun to write about them, too. Fictional villains, that is. Not real ones.


Note to those who really want me to unravel Obann’s glorious past: Some of that will be done in Book No. 11, The Temptation, so please stay tuned.

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