Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Book Report - 2017

Not quite the end of the year, so I'll probably add two or three more books to these totals. But since I met my goal of 80 books in 2017, at least 20 of which being non-fiction, I thought I'd take a moment and celebrate.

Touchdown! Okay, enough excessive celebration. Below I'll highlight some of my favorite reads from this past year.

First off, the numbers: I read 84 books - 23 non-fiction and 61 fiction. Of the 23 non-fiction, 17 were Christian/theology and 6 were writing/publishing related.

I abandoned 6 books - Goodreads counts them as  read, but I do not. This is unusual for me. In the past I've felt I've had to slog through even terrible books I've started. But life is too short. If I'm not into it by a quarter way through I'm out of there.

GR also counts short stories as books, so my totals look inflated. I read about 50 short stories these past few months but only recorded about 30 at GR. I'll do a lot more short story reading in 2018 as I want to write more short stories. Makes sense, eh?

Of the 61 fiction books, they roughly fall into 5 genres - 27 were thriller/mystery, 19 were SF/F, 11 were classics, 3 romance, and 1 western. That one western suprised me. I used to read a lot more western - a few years ago my most read authors were Grisham, Asimov, and L'Amour. Still representative of my favorite genres. ;)

Here's a format breakdown. Out of the 84 books I read (both non-fiction and fiction), 27 were ebooks, 28 were paperbacks, 18 were hardbacks, and 11 were audio books. I can't recall exactly but at least a dozen of the paperbacks/hardbacks were from the local library as were almost all the audio books.

So my favorites? Here's a sampling in no particular order (super favorites in bold).

Fiction (6 of 8 are classics I finally got around to reading!):
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
+ Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
+ The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
+ Camino Island by John Grisham
The Spy by Clive Cussler

Non-fiction (7 are theology, 1 writing):
+ The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher
+ No God but One: Allah or Jesus? by Nabeel Qureshi
The Jesus Prayer by Frederica Mathewes-Green
Your Mind Matters by John R.W. Stott
A Case for Faith by Clark H. Pinnock
The Great Omission by Dallas Willard
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Books I "should" have liked but did not:
+ The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (hated this one, actually, lol)
Grendel by John Gardner
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Books that were just plain bad, imo (did not list my abandoned books):
The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz
10th Anniversary by James Patterson
The Last Mile by David Baldacci
The Athena Project by Brad Thor

That's about it. What were some of your favorites? Some duds? Feel free to comment.

And good reading in 2018.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Litmus Test Questions

I pastor a small church.

Small churches want visitors. Heck, we want more than visitors, we want people who will show up and stick. Stickers, that's what we want.

But not just any sticker. There's a category of folks I will gladly pass on to the next church they visit.

I call them litmus test people.

See, every now and then we get folks who drop in for worship or bible study, but afterward they have a list of topics they want to cover with me.

Or I'll get an email or phone call from someone with a bunch of questions about what we believe.

Litmus test questions. And no matter how we answer them, we always fail the test.

That's the nature of such questions. Bottom line, the person posing litmus test questions is almost always looking for ways to disqualify you from their list.

* Do you believe in a literal six-day creation?
* How old is the earth? Was Noah's flood universal?
* Are you a premillennialist? A pre-trib premillennialist?
* Do you preach from the King James? Aren't all other translations hereritical?
* What do you believe about women in ministry? Is the husband the head of the wife?
* What are we going to do about all these gays and transgender marches and such?
* And on and on it goes.

This is where I'll probably lose a good chunk of you.

My answer to these questions is that I can't answer them. Not in five minutes anyway. Which is more time than what the person asking me is actually willing to give me.

By and large, litmust test people want a thirty second response that mimics their predetermined correct answer. The moment I go off script...WRONG!

It's like I'm on the Gong Show and got the boot.

So I don't even try anymore. I usually cut straight to the heart of the matter: "You know, I appreciate your questions, but our church probably isn't for you."

Don't even address their questions. Why? Because they aren't interested in answers or nuance or discussion. They want to disqualify you. I save them the hassle.

Now, that being said, we do want visitors who turn into stickers. And over the past few months we've had a few of those types of folks join us at Faith Renewal. And they are a joy!

They are a joy because they show up wanting to worship. They show up wanting to know Jesus better. They show up knowing we are all broken but believe broken together in a faith community is better than broken alone.

Sure, they have questions. And questions are great. But they also know there are sometimes no easy answers. That when we work on the answers together we get to know God better, better than when we come to church with everything already figured out.

So if you're a litmus test person, know that you are welcome at our church. But also figure we might not be the kind of church you're looking for. We have answers, sure. Jesus is the way, the truth, the life.

But we want to be worshipers first. Laying aside our own agendas so we can submit to God's.

See you at worship this Sunday? If not, there's another church just down the street...

(Note: image is from pixabay, chapel-2980025_640, used by permission.)


Friday, December 08, 2017

Want to Surprise a Writer for Christmas?

Got 99 cents?

You can surprise a writer this Christmas and put a smile on her face. How? By buying one of his ebooks. 

But not just any book. 

Look for one that's ranked north of 1 million. Spending 99 cents (cheap!) you can make that book jump in rankings and surprise a writer.

Here are a few suggestions (none of them mine! but feel free to find them on your own ;) ...

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Alienated by Milo James Fowler. As of this blog post, ranked #1,125,810.

Here's the blurb: 

Alienated collects 5 speculative fiction stories:

"Insight" - A sculptor is able to see beyond our reality, but can she control her insatiable desires?

"In His Eyes" - On a farm in the distant future, an unwelcome visitor appears in the middle of a thunderstorm.

"Reverie" - Speech is the first sign of rebellion in a hive of highly evolved telepaths.

"Mo's" - The only racism that exists in this alternate history is between Humans and Greys.

"Doppelgänger Mine" - A man is stalked by his horrifying double. In the end, only one of them can survive.

(Note: I published "Mo's" when I edited ResAliens Zine and thought it very good.)

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Street Fox by C.J. Brightley. As of this blog post, ranked #1,050,808.

Here's the blurb:

A boy learns heroes still exist.

This is a short story set in the world of the series Erdemen Honor. It is a prequel/introduction to an upcoming novel and takes place several generations after The King's Sword. It is 6166 words.

(Note: Here's my review on Goodreads.)

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Okay, one more, but you get the idea. Find a story ranked north of 2 million for bonus smiles!

Desperate to Escape by Thomas Robins. As of this blog post, ranked #1,995,996.

Here's the blurb:

Everyone feels the need to get away, but some reasons are better than others. 

Desperate to Escape is the parallel story of Ineeka's struggle as a child growing up in a neglectful home, and as an adult piloting a shuttle toward the New International Space Station.

(Note: This is part one of four episodes. The complete novel can be purchased here for $2.99 and is currently ranked #751,308. Make it jump for Christmas! ;)

What books do you have that are ranked way up there? (See how I did that? The higher the number, the better this works.) Let me know via email, I might just surprise you for Christmas!

UPDATE: Here are a few more...
* Highway 24 by Jeff Chapman (#2,639,532)
* Stormbreak (Serenity Strain Book 1) by Chris Pourteau (#905,440 - okay, so close to 1m)
* Sweet Embrace and Other Adventures by T. M. Hunter (#3,254,699 - this needs a jump in rankings!)


Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Christmas Gift for Ugandan Students

Missionary friends of ours, Kathy & Tim Kreutter in Uganda, have some Ugandan children's books for sale. Want to buy a gift with a benefit? Every 5 books sold pays for a full term (semester) of tuition for one Ugandan student. Here's one of their books:

Tendo's Wish - A Pay-it-Forward Story in Uganda

A simple act of kindness is passed through a Ugandan village with surprising results at the end of the day for Tendo. Tendo's Wish is a circle-story about community with a pay it forward feel that will be enjoyed by the whole family. The repetition and rhythm of the story makes this book a great read-aloud for children; furthermore, the humorous illustration and collage style design of the book takes readers through a village setting in Uganda. It is an interesting way to introduce children to the geography and community culture of Uganda, and the simple jobs that people do in rural areas. A map, glossary and interesting facts at the back of the book give further insight into rural life in Uganda and Africa as a whole.

Hope you can buy one of their books as a gift this holiday season. You'll benefit more than the person you're giving the book to. Happy Advent and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Some SF/Space Opera Flash Fiction

I say I write speculative fiction - including SF, space opera, fantasy, horror, etc. Looking over the stories I've written during this #60DayChallenge, however, I realized I hadn't written any sci-fi yet during Oct/Nov.

So I sat down the other day and wrote a flash fiction piece (about 800 words) called "Long Haul Goodbye." I liked it so well, I wrote a follow up stand alone (about 1800 words) called "Forewarned, Forearmed." If you want to read them, let me know. I'm currently shopping them to some magazines.

These two stories are part of larger story arc that I haven't written yet - and one I think would be sort of cool to write as a series of episodes. It probabaly wouldn't work, but I envision 50 short 1,000 word stories that can stand alone but when read as chapters form an overall novel.

Probably be terrible.

But I may try it. The concept is typical space opera - a spaceship crew hauls stuff around the galaxy and experiences adventures. To me it sounds fun. And that's why I write.

I'm also one story away from finishing 30 stories in 60 days. Will share a bit about that when the time comes and what else I learned trying to write every day and finish various projects. But I can say this, like the picture above, it's been a blast. ;)

You can always check my progress at the current projects tab above. As always, thanks for reading!

(The image above, btw, is rocket-1374248_640 (c) succo at Pixabay Images.)