What is my Novel About? Here’s the Answer.

Image of Empress Matilda (far right) from a 12th century manuscript

These days, I tend to get the same question time after time. “What is your novel about?” People ask this question after they learn that I have written a novel. If they were to ask it before receiving that piece of information, I would consider them rather odd…or maybe psychic. In any case, it’s a natural sort of inquiry. They no doubt wish to know if I am the sort of person that writes Stephen King-esque horror novels (in which case they should avoid me), or one who writes teenage chick lit (in which case they should also avoid me), or even one that writes science fiction epics (which in my husband’s case would make me his ideal woman).

Alas, I write none of these things, and thank God for that! The only one I might attempt some day is the sci fi epic, and then only because my husband is already begging me. No, my domain is that of historical fiction, if indeed I can refer to it as “my domain”. It must be noted that it was never my life ambition to write novels, and I did not receive the level of academic and/or professional training that is common among many of those hoping to break into that industry. I am simply a person who wrote essays and academic papers, only to one day be seized by a particular story…and then wait a few years before doing anything about it.

Some people know they want to write a novel, so they go searching for a story to tell or create one on their own. That was not my experience. It all started back around the time I graduated from college (the first time). I developed an interest in family history and decided that I would attempt to trace my bloodline back as far as I could in any and all directions. I was rather fortunate in this enterprise, for a few relatives had made a start at gathering records in years past. This allowed me to quickly discover some of my heritage, though in the cases where I had less information at the start, the task was that much more difficult. Nevertheless I progressed to the point where I was able to identify approximately 2,000 of my ancestors.

Early on I realized that a few of these lines were particularly interesting. When you reach a certain point in history, the record keeping is just not as good. Births, marriages, and deaths were somewhat forgotten unless the people in question were very rich. For this reason, I have had difficulty tracing many lines back past the 16th century. Lucky for me, some of my ancestors were rather important people, and as a result, I was able to follow the line not 100 years, nor even 500 years, but well over 1,000 years into the past.

One day, I was sitting in my dorm room in London (for I was a student at King’s College at that time) and came across a rather interesting name: Empress Matilda. She was clearly a member of the English royal line, but I was quite confused as to why she should be called “empress”, as that is not a normal title for British monarchs. (Technically, Queen Victoria did have herself styled Empress of India.) I quickly went to that source of all questionable wisdom – Wikipedia – and what I read there ended up changing my life. Continue reading

A Puritan Response to William P. Young’s New Book

Many of you may be familiar with the new movie titled The Shack, which is based upon William Paul Young’s novel of the same name. Depending on what circles you run in, you may have heard this described as a great Christian film, or alternatively as a terrible piece of heresy. The extreme popularity of Young’s novel (20 million copies and counting) has caused many Christian leaders to address the theology contained therein, and they have found several topics of concern. However, those who defend the novel typically fall back on the fact that it is, after all, a piece of fiction and not a theological textbook. Some have even argued that Young’s true beliefs are rather ambiguous.

Well, with the release of the film now upon us, Mr. Young has done us all a favor and released a non-fiction book (though given its contents, some may still wish to classify it as fiction). This one is called Lies We Believe About God, and it has rocketed to the top of the bestseller lists. Within its pages, the author gives us a series of statements that are often made by people in the Church and tells us why he believes each one of them is wrong. Tim Challies has already written an excellent article looking at several of the more troublesome claims made in the book, but for my purposes I wanted to examine just one of the statements that Young says is a lie: “God is in control.”

Now, if you hold to anything like orthodox Christianity, the fact that this is described as a “lie” ought to set off alarm bells in your head. However, you might be thinking, “We need to actually hear his explanation before we make a judgment one way or the other.” I fully agree with you, which is why I got my hands on a copy of the book and read the chapter in question. Continue reading

“No Little Women”: An Awesome Book about Women in the Church, Written by an Awesome Person

Never before have I hawked another person’s book on this site, but I am about to make an exception. I commend to you the latest release by Aimee Byrd entitled No Little Women, a book that addresses a very real problem in our churches today: the dearth of good literature and good teaching aimed at the fairer sex.

Why am I taking the time to promote this book, for which it must be stated that I receive absolutely none of the proceeds? First, because the subject matter is very important. After 2,000 years of trying, the Church as a whole still struggles to discern how to deal with women. Most of the literature out there about women in the Church has to do with their roles, whether that be as wives, mothers, or congregants. Much of the literature aimed at women is rather shallow doctrinally, trumpets internal “feelings” over the truth of God’s Word, and even manages to slip in the occasional heresy or two. There are too few books out there that challenge women to up their game theologically, to be good analytical readers, and to think twice about which sources of “truth” they devour. Continue reading

“The Chronicle of Maud: Fracture” Awaits Your Vote On Kindle Scout

Yes, it’s true: I wrote a novel. In fact, it is the first in a series of three novels that tell the life story of Empress Maud of England, also known as Mathilda. The series title is The Chronicle of Maud and the title of the first book is Fracture. Not only was she a fascinating woman, but she was also my ancestor twenty-some generations removed. I have submitted the book to the Kindle Scout program, where users can nominate it to be published by Amazon’s own label. I invite you to head on over to the Kindle Scout page for The Chronicle of Maud: Fracture and read more about the book. If you have an account with Amazon.com, you can click the “Nominate Me” button just below the initial summary. I also encourage you to visit the official website, where you can learn all about Empress Maud’s life and times and read the first two chapters of the first book. I have been working on this project for a long time and am happy for it to finally see the light of day. Thank you to those readers who have expressed their support for this project! I am excited to bring some attention to the life of this incredible woman.

Revising (and Reviving) History through Fiction

Photo by Flickr user History Books

Photo by Flickr user History Books

 

“History takes a long time for us to reach.”

That rather obvious statement was made by a former president of the United States, George W. Bush, when reflecting upon his legacy. While some sneered that his B.A. in history from Yale University meant little, this was not the only time that Bush proved he had learned a little something about the topic. He told Brian Williams in 2006, “There’s no such thing as short-term history, as far as I’m concerned.” He also famously said, “History. We don’t know. We’ll all be dead.” (In Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward)

While it is possible to view these quotes as simple explanations of a basic fact of human existence – time adds upon time adds upon time – or as an attempt to avoid responsibility, Bush was actually getting at something profoundly true. While we may view history as that most unchanging of all things, forever frozen in place, experience suggests otherwise. Continue reading

For Japan and China, a Dispute Worthy of Voldemort

Yasukuni Shrine Wikipedia Fg2

The Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on a rainy day. Photo by Wikipedia user Fg2

I had a nice post prepared for today that was going to deal with a controversial issue in the religious world, but I have decided to put it aside and instead address a controversy that is currently brewing in the world of international relations.  One might even say it takes place in the fantasy world.

Let me first state a well known fact: China and Japan do not get along.  Subjects of disagreement between them include the fact that one is Communist and the other is a Western-style democracy, one is a major U.S. ally and the other more of a U.S. competitor, both are economic powers going after some of the same markets, a controversial chain of islands is claimed by both of them, they each have capable and expanding military forces, and one of them has a bunch of cute pandas while the other does not. (Ok, that last one isn’t really a source of tension.) Yet, all of these factors tend to take a backseat to a list of historical grievances that have proved to be infinitely hard to forget. Continue reading

Lost in Austen Adaptations

Eymery

Picture courtesy of Wikipedia user Eymery

While at the movies this past weekend, I saw a trailer for the new film Austenland, which apparently features Kerri Russell going to some sort of Jane Austen-themed resort in England where guests dress in period costume, attend nightly balls, and engage in flirtations with the opposite sex.  The film will apparently show how a dose of Jane helps the heroine to overcome her fears and give in to love, or something like that.  All I could think was, “Another one of these movies?  Really?”

Don’t get me wrong: I love Jane Austen, as do most women who are at least moderately clever and can appreciate men who know how to dress and dance properly.  I’ve seen pretty much every adaptation of an Austen novel made in the past twenty years.  There are probably too many of them, but at least they tend to stay true to the source material.  There are worse things I could spend my time watching. Continue reading

Niebuhr on the Road

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The hills of Pennsylvania on the road yesterday.

It used to be that when I would go on a long road trip, I would spend most of my time listening to music, first on my portable CD player and then on my iPod.  Once I had a laptop, I could also watch movies, which seemed more than anything to provide a pleasant distraction from the hours of cornfields zipping by my window.  Eventually, I started using my laptop to write while on the road, which was probably a slightly more productive use of my time.  However, this summer I have gone decidedly old school: I spend a good portion of my hours in the car…reading books.

I know, no one reads books anymore.  Why else is every bookstore but Barnes & Noble now closed?  If people do read books, they read them on their tablet, phone, or Kindle.  Only in extreme circumstances will they resort to real paper and ink (not “E Ink”).  For every person not reading a book, there are two or three people not reading a newspaper.  I recently observed that soon our libraries will be nothing more than a place where people go to sit down and read something electronically.  After all, it’s better for the environment. Continue reading

Aslan and Jesus

If you started reading this post thinking that it was going to be a comparison between Aslan, the unsafe but good hero of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, and Jesus Christ, the hero of the Christian Bible, then you are in for a bit of a disappointment. (However, you have to give me some credit for pulling you in like that!) No, this is a discussion of the recent controversy surrounding Reza Aslan’s new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.  If you really do want a serious discussion of the aforementioned links between Lewis’ literary creation and the Son of God, you may find one of many examples here.

Mr. Aslan – whose previous books include No God but God: The Origins and Evolution of Islam and How to Win a Cosmic War: Confronting Radical Religion – is, in the words of his personal website, “an internationally acclaimed writer and scholar of religions”.  He is an Iranian American who works as an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California in Riverside, and his list of professional associations include the Council on Foreign Relations.  Oh, and he is also a Muslim. Continue reading