Tag Archives: The Art of Writing

The Ol’ Horror Novelist

Every now and then I encounter a comment like this: “What’s a ‘horror novelist’ doing, writing Christian commentary?” The people who make these comments seem rather ticked off that I should be writing anything at all.

Thirty years ago, I was writing horror novels and four of them got published. Lifeblood was my first–and note the tiny little letters for the author’s name. I wrote them because I’ve never wanted to be anything but a writer, all my life; I like scary stories; and horror was booming at the time. And even if I do say so myself, as Steven King knock-offs go, these were pretty good.

But it was thirty years ago, and it would be a sad thing if I never grew and matured spiritually in all those years. Obviously I don’t write that kind of book anymore. I doubt I could, even if I wanted to.

So, because I used to write such books decades ago, that disqualifies me from ever writing anything else? Is it like an armed robbery conviction and prison term suddenly appearing in the resume of a political candidate? Some folks out there seem to think so. But I think this phase of my writing career was a door that I had to pass through to get to where I am today.

I once wrote for the glory of me. Now I write, I hope, for the glory of God.

Robbie Update: They gave her a shot to subdue her nausea, and since we came home this morning, Robbie has already eaten more than she has in the last two days put together. Not a lot, but enough to give us some encouragement. Please, Lord, in Jesus’ name, make this turn out right! Amen.

And now this old horror novelist is about finished for the afternoon.


Thank You, Lord (and Bonus Hymn)

Sometimes a day of tracking the news just knocks the stuffing out of me. This hymn, and God’s grace, puts it back in: Who Would True Valor See, words by John  Bunyan–who knew a thing or three about these things!–with music by Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band.

Meanwhile, what can be done for a great city sliding into sin? That was a sticking-point today, for my new book, The Temptation. And, as He has so often done before, the Lord gave me the next step in telling the story–something I never would have thought of on my own. Something that, quite frankly, blew me away.

For which I give Him the glory and my thanks, and pray my work will be fruitful in His service.


I’m Still Writing a Book

Image result for images of andrewsarchus

One of the unusual animals you’ll encounter in my books…

Don’t let anyone tell you writing a fantasy novel is easy.

Somehow today I have finished another half-dozen chapters in my new Bell Mountain book, The Temptation (No. 11 in the series), which is beginning to live up to its title. I give God the glory for that.

Robbie is all wiped out from her visit to the vet, Peep is hissing and growling at us because we have a vet’s office smell on us, Patty is trying to do more paperwork for Aunt Joan’s Medicaid while fearing for the health of our poor cat, and our poor country is being torn apart by lunatics. Other than that, everything’s just ticketty-boo.

The book soldiers on. Lord Chutt might be cracking up, and maybe the whole city of Obann with him. We shall see. I won’t know what happens till I write it.


How Bad Should Your Bad Guys Be?

Image result for images of villains

People think it’s easy and fun to create villains for your fiction. Fun, yes; easy, no.

Don’t worry, I won’t make one of those political jokes. “I stop one step short of making them as bad as Hillary Clinton.” Oops.

I find that, in writing up villains, the most important consideration is the character’s motivation. What makes him or her do bad things? Here are some of the motivations I’ve resorted to.

The villain honestly thinks he’s doing good. This easily descends into sheer fanaticism, which I don’t think is quite as common in real life as movies suggest. Much better is–

The villain has selfish or personal reasons for doing evil, which he has rationalized into altruistic reasons. This kind of self-deception is easy to find in real life. “I’m doing this for your good!” Haven’t we all heard that a thousand times before!

Burning with lust for someone (or something) that he doesn’t have, and probably can never get, the villain stops at nothing. This was what motivated Lord Reesh in my Bell Mountain books: he had a vision of Obann’s ancient greatness, and the near-fantastic powers wielded by men of those days, and nothing would ever satisfy him but to bring back those times–in pursuit of which, there was nothing that he wouldn’t sacrifice.

The villain is a moral imbecile and simply doesn’t know any better. According to classical leftist ideology, this is always the case–“It’s the unjust society that’s at fault, not the armed robber!” Yeah, where has the system failed you, sunshine?

Simple greed, simple lust for power–I’m from New Jersey, so I’ve seen how often these sordid motives inspire various crimes.

The one thing I try to do, with every villain I create, is to make his actions understandable and acceptable to himself. I believe most bad guys think they’re good guys, even if they have to engage in almost superhuman mental gymnastics to do it. Really, how many bad guys in real life ever sit down and think, “Gee, I really am garbage”? Much more common is, “I got a raw deal!”

So stay away from two-dimensional, sneering, mustache-twirling villains who tie Little Nell to the railroad tracks and kick poor Grandma out of the farmhouse.

Villains who think they’re good are much more fun to write about–and way more true to life! I’m sure you can think of a couple dozen real-life examples inside of ten minutes.


Progress on ‘The Temptation’

Image result for images of ruined city

Books don’t write themselves. You have to be there, writing them. This has been difficult for me, these past two weeks: doctor appointments, car inspection, really horrible weather, and so on.

Nevertheless, I plug away at it, trusting in the Lord to give me the story that He wants me to tell. Ten chapters of Book No. 11, The Temptation, are written. Fnaa, King Ryons’ double, has just gone down in history, although he doesn’t know it yet. Lord Orth is preparing for a long missionary trip into the Wallekki country. And if you haven’t read any of my Bell Mountain books so far, those last two sentences won’t make a lick of sense.

It has become necessary to re-visit Old Obann, the massive ruins across the river from the living city. It was the capital of Obann’s empire, destroyed by God’s wrath in the Day of Fire. It is not a nice place. I wouldn’t recommend messing about with it, but Lord Chutt, the usurper-in-chief, never listens to me. He has plans.

I won’t find out what happens next until I write it.


My New Book Marches On

Image result for images of hard-working writer

I was stuck at the bank all morning, arranging Aunt Joan’s finances and providing for her continued care. After what seems like an eternity of frustrated wanderings in a bureaucratic labyrinth, that business seems to be just about done.

It’s been a week since the Lord gave me, out of the blue, a big chunk of the plot of my new book, The Temptation (that would be No. 11 in my Bell Mountain series), and I have steamed ahead to write five chapters of it. Considering all the interruptions and distractions, not bad!

What kind of distractions? Well, yesterday the cops showed up to lead away some guy next door, after cuffing his hands behind his back. He was shirtless. I don’t know who he was or what he might have done, but it was pretty distracting.

Ah! But Lord Chutt found himself in a serious spot of trouble yesterday, and against my expectations, Ysbott the Snake has, at least for the time being, bailed him out of it. I can hardly wait to see what happens next.

But first I’ve got to write it.


Writing a Book Can Be Exciting

Image result for images of great idea

It was just about bedtime last night, and I wanted to thank all of you who wished me a happy birthday, so I thought I’d do it as a brief post.

It was my hope yesterday to spend a lot of time writing the opening chapters of my new book, but what with one thing after another, I didn’t get to do much. So there I was, just before going up to bed, typing my thank-you post–and suddenly, half the new book (or more!) was in my head!

Never happened quite like that before. I’ve gotten climaxes and whole chapters while walking up a flight of stairs, or a few blocks down the sidewalk–but never such a huge chunk of a book. I had to stop, sit up, and blink my eyes. Then the excitement set in, and getting to sleep seemed unlikely for a little while.

And so it seems the book is going to go in a direction neither I nor the characters in the story ever expected; and yet, when I think about it, it makes perfect sense. One of those “Why didn’t I think of that much earlier?” moments.

I always ask the Lord to give me the story that He wants me to tell.

So He gave me a big piece of it, a few minutes before midnight, on my birthday.

I think I’ve gone way past the point of any expectation that I can teach anyone how to write a novel.


All Aboard for Obann

Weather permitting, tomorrow I hope to start writing the next book of my Bell Mountain series. That would be Book No. 11, with No. 10, The Silver Trumpet, still being edited and waiting for cover art, a blurb, and everything else.

How does one of these books get started? I have to wait for the Lord to give me something–a scene, a new character, a title, any kind of hint. I never know what it’s going to be. The Fugitive Prince (No. 5) blossomed out of a brief observation of lacewings fluttering around the porch light on a summer night. The Silver Trumpet was just the title, nothing more. The Temple (No. 8) was a continuation of the story from No. 7, The Glass Bridge, plus an urge to see a prehistoric marine reptile like the one Kirk DouPonce depicted on the cover.

The Silver Trumpet left me with several story lines that have to be continued. The new book, so far, is nothing but a tentative title–The Temptation–and a single scene involving a horrific experience for Lord Chutt.

What will happen in this novel? Beats me! I really don’t know, and I’ll just have to wait and see it unfold. I used to prepare my novels in fine detail, going so far as to make up color-coded index cards for each subplot and trying various arrangements until I found what seemed to be the best one.

But now I just wing it, trusting in the Lord to show me the way; and so far, He has. Much better than I could have done myself.


Where I Get Some of My Ideas From

I write about a world that never was, inspired by a world that used to be.

This is footage from Roy Chapman Andrews’ Gobi Desert expeditions in the 1920s, for the American Museum of Natural History. This is Mongolia as it was then, but isn’t anymore.

God has wired into some of us a longing for places we cannot reach, either because they exist no more or because they never did exist. A fantasy writer taps into that. We know the past was real, because we used to live in it: but was it really? Things change. Sometimes they change too much. Places I used to know very well are so gone, so wiped out without a trace, that they might as well have been in Mongolia in 1926: or tucked away in Lintum Forest. Pick one.

Did I dream these places? Were they ever really real? Because I can’t find them anymore.

Oh, but God can. He most certainly can.


The Birth of a Book

Product Details

I’m often asked, “Where do your books come from?” Well, I could say “New Jersey,” but what they really want to know is how a book gets started.

I can’t answer that, because there are as many starts as there are books. But I can tell you how one of my books, The Thunder King (Bell Mountain No. 3) got started.

It started with an image that popped into my head, a small boy riding a Baluchitherium, the largest land mammal that ever existed. This was very vivid to me, and served as the germ of the story. How was I to get the boy onto the Baluchitherium, and why did I want him there in the first place? What were the two of them going to do, and how would they do it?

Next, a new character showed herself: an old woman living in the city of Obann, not doing much of anything until she becomes a vessel of prophecy. And next thing I knew, I imagined her standing in the rain, soaked to the skin, white hair blowing in the wind, and crying out, like Moses, “Now see the salvation of the Lord!”

When I put those two images together–the boy on the Baluchitherium, and the old woman in the storm–they became the ingredients of a climax for a new book. And all I had to do was figure out how to get there. So I had the ending of the story first, instead of the beginning. That was The Thunder King.

Even now, I find the hardest thing to do is to wait for God to send me something that I can work with. The weather’s getting nice and I’m eager to get started on a new book, but I’ve learned it doesn’t work that way. I can’t command it to happen. I can only wait–and I know by now that whatever I’m given, it’ll come as a surprise.


%d bloggers like this: