December 25, 2011

The Nativity and Period Detail

Merry Christmas!

As a writer of historical fiction, period detail is the muscle in the body of my writing. The principles of craft and the story itself are the skeleton, and the finished manuscript and reader experience are the skin. What others will see and know when the work is complete. The period detail is integral to the function of the work and like muscles on the body, control the strength of the writing, particularly in the historical genre.

There is such a thing as period detail overload. Picture a misshapen bodybuilder whose taken things too far. Of course, there's also period detail deficiency. Recall an image of a visibly starving person who you can count the ribs on and whose knees are wider than their legs from starvation. (By the way, this process known as autophagy, while tragic to see in reality, is pretty amazing, and another example of how science supports intelligent design.) A reader knows when period detail is there in a sufficient quantity to meet their tastes, and because I enjoy historical fiction rich in period detail, I write that. Occasionally I'll let the work "flex" for the reader, ;-) where a particular point of period detail, usually a historical fact or figure highlighted in the plot comes to the forefront. This must be done very sparingly, in my opinion, for greatest effect, and done well so as not to become author intrusion..

The nativity best illustrates the thorn in my writer side regarding period detail. Almost every nativity scene I have ever seen includes the three wise men. A closer study of the book of Matthew chapter two tells us the wise men from the East weren't there to worship Jesus and present Him with their gifts until he was a young child. King Herod ordered the killing of the children in Bethlehem two years and younger (Matthew 2:16) supports this, and there is no possible way the wise men were there with the shepherds at the inn keeper's stable. Another problem with the period detail here is there were three gifts, but the scripture is silent as to the number of wise men. Over time, culture has extrapolated the three gifts to be three wise men. I have this idea that I'll make my own nativity scene for my lawn one day with no wise men, or make a second scene on the other side of the driveway with a toddler Jesus in His house when the wise men, ten seems a good number, bringing their gold, myrrh and frankincense. 

And there's the rub, to quote Hamlet's famous to be or not to be soliloquy.

Sometimes when you're right, you look wrong. If I take the three wise men out of my Nativity, it looks incomplete. And if I put seven wise men in my nativity, the scene also will appear wrong. The author must be mindful of this as well when layering period detail into a manuscript, and carefully choose when to be true to period detail and when to exercise artistic license so as not to thwart your reader. A critique partner called me on this brilliantly in a romantic scene in a manuscript where a slave entered to refill the lamps and empty the chamber pot. While that is indeed what would have transpired, I chose to leave out the chamber pot bit because it killed the overall mood of the scene. I allowed the interruption to remain with only the refill of the oil in the lamps to highlight the tension for the hero and heroine in the scene, because in a battle between period detail accuracy and reader experience, reader experience always wins. The story must and should always rule.

A final note on this topic:

I love Christmas. I put up a tree, exchange gifts, and use this season to engage others regarding the amazing gift of Christ and the miracle of His coming to earth to take the form of man and through His death and resurrection atone for the sin of the world for all who believe. I also know that the Christmas celebration as we know it, the gift exchanges, the feasting, and the particular date on the calendar, December 25th, come from the merging of the celebration of the ancient birthday of the pagan god Mithra by the Romans. The Romans absorbed this pagan festival into their culture as was their habit historically, and it became a celebration of the Roman equivalent of the sun god Saturn. Part of the celebration of the week long Saturnalia festival (which always ended on December 25th) included the priests of Saturn carrying boughs of evergreens through the temples of Saturn. All this is sounding eerily familiar, is it not? Emperor Constantine, who converted the state religion of Rome to Christianity in AD 336 converted the pagan festival of Saturnalia into the Christmas tradition we know and celebrate today.  

As a believer and follower of Christ, I'm at peace with this and know I do no wrong in celebrating Christmas traditionally. I do enjoy knowing the facts surrounding the roots of these traditions, and thought I would share them today as this is one of those bits of period detail that will likely never make it into my manuscripts. In the guest blog I did on research HERE for Jackie Layton at Back Porch Reflections, I shared about ten percent of what I gather in my research will ever translate into plot, character and setting elements. These are the moments I allow the period detail to flex, and the rest works quietly below the surface of the reader experience. And it's cool to know. Not because I plan on joining a pagan cult like Mithras or the daughters of Isis, but because understanding the challenges of the early church and the mindset of the culture at that time not only enriched my writing, but my understanding of how radical the coming of Christ to earth as a man truly was. He changed EVERYTHING. =)

Merry Christmas all and I'll see you in 2012!

December 18, 2011

Sandi Rog Giveaway Winner

So in the first second of this video, you can tell I haven't gotten much sleep lately, it's been a rough past couple of days AND there needs to be a few tubes of lip gloss in my stocking this year. Seriously. :-p But like my writing, I don't edit out the harsh realities or the tough stuff so here you go, LOL, and congrats to our drawing winner.


Also HERE on youtube

In a heartfelt conversation earlier today, someone asked me a veiled "Why does God let bad things happen to good people?" question. When facing extreme suffering and hardship like so many around the world, cancer like Sandi, or trusting God for a miracle most think impossible like me, the question does lurk in the mind for sure. I've been through so much the past few years that's radically changed how I understand God and this was my answer.

"I understand why it feels that way, but you know what really gets me? Why does God even allow us to exist? If you think about it, the moment God fashioned Adam out of the dust of the earth and breathed the breath of life into him, that act of creation also condemned Jesus to the cross. God knew what would happen, that Adam and Eve would bring sin into the world and Jesus would have to one day atone for it, and yet, he made us anyway."

If you really wrap your head around that for a minute, its astounding. And this week as we continue to celebrate the birth of our savior, enjoy family and friends, be mindful of the amazing gift of salvation through Jesus Christ but also the amazing gift of life itself.

December 12, 2011

Author SANDI ROG stops by, with a gift!

I am interrupting my regular blog schedule because I have the extreme privilege to welcome award-winning author Sandi Rog to my blog. A little Q&A with one of my favorite writers regarding her newest release, YAHSHUA'S BRIDGE, and then at the end a chance for some pretty extreme prizes I'm equally thrilled about. But before I welcome Sandi, I must tell you how I discovered her as an author. 

When researching existing Christian fiction about gladiators, I came across the description of her book and had a serious meltdown of epic proportions that we'd written the same book. I couldn't click "Buy it now" fast enough and when my copy of THE MASTER'S WALL arrived, I read it cover to cover the same day. Both because it was that engaging and because I was still panicking. Thankfully, even with an almost identical premise (a young man wrongly enslaved in Ancient Rome who trains as a fighter to earn his freedom and rescue the woman he loves) we'd written two very different stories. And I loved her story! Well, David's story I should say, the hero of The Master's Wall. I also discovered a talented writer whose passion for God, history and a great story dripped off every page. And I've kind of been stalking her writing ever since ;-)

Now, without further ado, welcome Sandi!
Thank you for having me as your guest, Nancy. It’s an honor to be here.

The honor is all mine, believe me. Can I start by telling you when reading Yahshua’s Bridge, I was struck with how often I would be overwhelmed with emotion as a reader because of what the characters were experiencing? Beginning on page one where the hero Alexander is being drowned by his master, all the way to the very last page. Especially the last page. Were there moments in the writing of Yahshua’s Bridge that you experienced that as the author?
That’s a great question. I never felt overwhelmed while writing the story. Maybe that’s because this story has been on my heart for over ten years. However, when I pitched YAHSHUA’S BRIDGE to an editor at a writer’s conference, my eyes filled with tears. I was shocked at how emotional I got when I was supposed to be conducting business. But it told me how close I already was to the characters in my book. Oh, and the editor asked for a full. :-) 
And I'm SO glad they did! Although I have to be really honest here and confess that at one point, I truly laughed out loud and it was completely inappropriate for what was happening. Alexander turned to the atrium, sagging onto the edge of the impulvium. With the master drinking again, he’d better get used to spending more time in the fountain. I was so angry but at the same time, Alexander’s perspective touched me as funny because in different ways, each of us has been there and that’s how it really is. (Though I did feel like a terrible person afterward for laughing, I really did.) You’ve been enduring some extraordinary hardships with your health recently and your note to the reader shared that you also grew up with abuse. How did those experiences translate into the writing of Yahshua’s Bridge?
It’s true, that is how it really is. And I don’t think you’re awful for laughing. In fact, the line that makes me laugh out loud is one that is even more inappropriate. It’s when Alethea’s father says to David, I thought you finally died! Poor David. But it was so true. They were just waiting for him to be killed in the arena, but David was too good of a fighter.
Anyway . . . yes, I was abused as a kid, but there’s always someone out there who’s had it worse. I mentioned the abuse with the hopes of helping others who have suffered (that’s why I dedicated this book to those who suffer). I just had to write this story, had to get it out to readers, because life can be overwhelming, and I wanted to show them how to be overcomers in this world. A lot of times we hear media blaming adult behavior on the fact that they had a rough childhood. To me, that’s no excuse. I know that abuse can affect how we make decisions and treat others, but God has given us a choice. That’s why I wanted to contrast the choices made by David and Alexander. Alexander was used to being a slave, so it was easy for him to give in and simply do what he was told. It actually made him a better Christian, because it was easy for him to bow down to his Maker and be humble and obedient. But David, who never adapted well to slavery, could only see his own will.
Recently I came to the realization that I start all my stories with children, either being abused or in difficult circumstances. I can remember a lot from when I was young, even when I was just one. I can remember how I felt and what I thought. So, I often implement that into my stories. While my characters experience different types of abuse than I did as a child, it’s still the same.

One of the things that truly engaged me as a reader was Demetri’s story and how there were moments I absolutely hated him, moments I cheered him, and moments I actually hurt for him, which shocked me. I’ll ask carefully to avoid a spoiler, but was it difficult at all to give Demetri an end that might seem fitting to some readers and unjust to others?
Yes, it was difficult. That’s when I had to try to see Demetri through God’s eyes (as if he were a real human being). God wants us ALL to be saved, to come to repentance. And the best person to reach him was his own son because he had the most to forgive. What better way to show God’s love?
I wanted to show readers how to see those around us through God’s eyes. It’s not about this life. It’s about forgiveness. But when I say forgiveness, that doesn’t mean a victim should be stupid. If you recall, Alexander had no expectations from his father. We should have no expectations from a former abuser (especially when it’s a parent). But you can still love them and show them God’s love. And loving them does not mean breaking down boundaries. I believe having boundaries is a form of love and keeps us from enabling our abusers to continue abusing.
The way you felt about Demetri is so natural and real. I’m glad you felt the way you did because it’s how many of us feel toward our abusers.
There is at least one moment in Yahshua’s Bridge that takes us deeply into the spiritual realm from the point of view of a character who has died physically. (I won’t tip you off, readers. I’ll let you be terrified the entire time like I was leading up to it.) While reading that section I found myself intrigued by how the descriptions and reader experience fit perfectly what I know from scripture but at the same time never broke from the story. While I’ve read other Christian fiction that glimpses this aspect of our world, I’ve never read someone who went there as deeply as you did, especially in a historical novel. Were you at all nervous about how that would be received by your readers or your publisher?
Very nervous! I did as much research as I could, based solely on scripture. I wanted to be as accurate as possible, but there’s so little information out there. In fact, the Bible (from what I could tell) talks more about hell than heaven. And because of that, there were still things I had to invent. That was not easy. Especially because I like to be as accurate as possible.

Oh I can tell you're driven for accuracy, both in your theology and in your period detail. That's a time period I know well, obviously, hehe, and found both Master's Wall and Yahshua's Bridge spot on. Bravo for that by the way. What do you hope readers take away when they turn that final page in Yahshua’s Bridge?
I’m hoping readers will learn to see how temporary this life is, to see things from God’s point of view, to be overcomers despite what’s thrown at them, and to learn to forgive. After all, if we don’t forgive, God won’t forgive us.

Can I break here to throw down a Texas-sized AMEN? That truth is everywhere in the bible, and specifically in the Lord's prayer, and yet so often we want to ignore it. That was specifically one of the things I enjoyed in the story is that there are consequences to unforgiveness in addition to being disobedient to God's Word. I want to also break here to say this interview might make it sound like Yahshua's Bridge is all message, but believe me, it's not. The story is absolutely incredible, with gladiators, sheiks and traitors, old friends... and enemies... from book 1. So now that book 2 is out, are there any sneak peaks or things you can tell us yet about The Father’s Rock, Book 3 in the Iron and the Stone series?
Sure! THE FATHER’S ROCK takes place about 200 years after YAHSHUA’S BRIDGE. Here’s the book jacket description:
As a thief, all Ander knows is the master who rescued him after his parents were murdered. Ander's criminal behavior becomes an art and his passion.
During a drunken stupor, his master reveals an uncut amethyst stone shaped like a star. Ander recognizes the unique jewel that once belonged to his father—a stone passed down from generation to generation. Is it possible that the man who rescued him murdered his parents?
Disillusioned, Ander escapes his master and goes in search of his past. Little does he know, the past is waiting for him.

Ugh! Now I wish I hadn't asked that because I already want to get my hands on it, hehe. Maybe we can talk later about getting an advanced reader copy ;-) Thank you again for stopping by and all God's best to you, my friend.

Visit Sandi on her website, and her blog "Dare to Dream" at  and check out Yahshua's Bridge in more detail HERE at Amazon.
Now then blog readers, I'm ready to give away some books, and a shot at a free nook color or kindle fire to boot. Here's how this is going to go down:
1. At midnight (CST) Saturday night, December 17th, I'm going to take the names of those who leave a comment with an e-mail address or a link-back to reach you to get a winner. That person will get a print copy of Yahshua's Bridge, Sandi's new release, which is an awesome prize on its own, trust me.
2. BUT... if I go look on the donor list at Sandi's GiveForward page and see your name there also (and it matches your name or username here) with "Friend of Jonathan" in the comment and a donation of at least $2.00 (Two Dollars), I'll also send you a copy of book 1, The Master's Wall. Info about Sandi's battle and the fundraiser is at the top of my page or at the Giveforward link HERE.
3. But there's MORE! That donation will also enter you into Phase 2 of Sandi's fundraiser raffle, where prizes abound from gift cards to the grand-prize, a Kindle Fire or Nook Color e-reader (Winner's choice!) Those raffle tickets are $2.00 each and you get entered just for donating at the GiveForward page. Read more about this extra giveaway HERE.

Ready, set, GO! =)

December 10, 2011

Ummm... what is that exactly?

Bird nest soup? Really fresh eggs? A contemporary work of art?

This is a photo I snapped with my phone of a place setting of all things while at a very upscale retail store on an errand for the day job this week. The three foot tall Christmas tree as a centerpiece for the large round gilded table isn't what made me do a double-take. I know to expect the outlandish every time I'm there but even this went way over the top of unexpected and dare I say... why? As an old friend used to say, "Who does that?" It's not that I find it offensive or anything but the whole concept here is beyond my ability to appreciate the eclecticism of the designer. In short, this is too random, even for me.

And I'm pretty random. Not midnight snack leads to stolen car leads to waking up in a foreign prison random, but more "What's the point of white crayons?" random. Seriously, what is the point of white crayons??? Can someone please tell me? And while we're at it, why is it necessary to label things like plastic fishing worms and play-dough NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION? Or to include on the recordings for health care practitioners, "If this is a medical emergency, please hang up, and dial 9-1-1."
Sometimes the double-takes for me don't just happen with vivid depictions that common sense is not so common or extreme wealth is not necessarily an indicator of good taste. Sometimes the double takes are random musings in moments throughout my day that spin themselves into ideas for stories. Those are way more fun. 

I know for me, Stephen King describes it best as walking in the desert and seeing a chimney poking up out of the hardpan (go google it like I had to :-p). He knows he could dig the house out if he wanted to, and stories are the same way. This week a chimney poked out of the ground for me in the way of a strong premise for a contemporary women's fiction novel. Like the weird bird nest place setting, I kept being drawn to it against my will because it was just so strange. So I walked all around the chimney, took a few pictures, but decided not to dig that house up by trying to write that story. Contemporary really isn't my gig. Nor is women's fiction. Historical is what makes my heart sing and my fingers fly over the keyboard, but I liked the chimney enough to at least take a picture to remember it by. This is that snapshot... and if anyone else out there wants to dig the house up, go for it =) 

            The door to the women’s restroom opened and Amber hissed a sigh of frustration from inside her stall. She hit the end button and dropped her cell phone back in the pocket of her suit coat. Not only had this intruder aborted Amber’s call, but now she would have to wash her hands if she left first so she wouldn’t look like one of “those” people. In hindsight, the stairwell would have been a better choice for privacy to make the call she’d been dreading since four a.m. The click-click on the waxed linoleum signaled high-heels and she ran through her rolodex of who that might be. Priscilla, Mary Beth and Lexi would be the usual suspects but Priscilla called in sick this morning. Leopard print kitten heels came into view below the partitioned wall—Lexi’s shoes. Amber could have made two car payments for what that woman spent on those Salvatore Ferragamo shoes. Lexi loved to tell everyone what her expensive taste cost under the pretense of raving about “bargains” she found. When a swear word dropped more appropriate for the men’s bathroom in a trashy bar somewhere, Amber would have known it was Lexi even without the shoes.
            “Amber, is that you? Would you be a dear and pass me some bathroom tissue? This one is out.”
            The shoe thing worked both ways. Amber pointed the toes together of her black Payless pleather flats. Lexi was good, too good in fact. Bathroom tissue? That’s what stores print in the signs over their aisles. Real people call it toilet paper. Amber stared at the two ample rolls bolted to the wall at her side. One still had the thin strip of adhesive of a brand new roll, and she grinned.
            “So sorry, Lexi. I just used the last of it.”
            “Oh, well… thanks anyway.”
            “No problem.” Amber left her stall and turned the water faucet on for long enough to keep up appearances. She even pushed the button on the air dryer for good measure. As the door shut behind her, leaving Lexi to her own devices, Amber smiled bigger than she had in days. Next time Lexi should shamelessly flirt with someone else’s husband at the company Christmas party.

December 4, 2011

The Last Straw Isn't Always A Bad Thing

This almost didn't happen this year. I will probably forever be teased now over in Seekerville because of my bah-humbug comments in this post. Ruthy called it on the money when she said, and I quote "NANCY!!!!! YOU ARE THE PERFECT, QUINTESSENTIAL CHRISTMAS HEROINE WHO MUST BE SAVED!!!!" 

Any holiday, Christmas especially, often reminds me of the loved ones I'm not able to spend time with that many people, including me once upon a time, took for granted. It's hard for me to be festive but God is so good and gave me an early gift this year I thought I would share.

This gift came via Linda Kozar at our ACFW Writer's on the Storm Christmas party this past weekend. A simple ornament that simply says "Published Author" we autographed in silver on the other side. Well it was the last straw. That single ornament meant so much to me that I ventured into the attic, found my tree and put it up last night. That night I lit a fire in the fireplace, curled under a blanket on the sofa by my tree (with a good book of course ;-), smiled at my lone stocking hanging on the mantle, and thanked God that he knows just what I need when I need it.
It's beautiful, isn't it? Maybe 2012 will be the year. Martha Rogers did sign her first contract after receiving her first ornament. I'm just saying. =) I'm not worried either way. I know I'm right where I belong in my publishing journey and right now, where I belong period. I'm enjoying my fire again tonight, my tree, and a video I have on loop of a friend playing beautiful acoustic guitar by candlelight. I wish I could post for you all to enjoy but since I can't get his permission, you'll just have to trust me it's awesome. Trust too that God knows right where you're at for whatever you're waiting on or toughing through. And be generous, with your time, your money, and your words of encouragement to loved ones and strangers alike. You never know when you might say or do something that is the last straw that person needs to push them forward for the better. 

And if you want to see what the rest of the party was like, visit the Writer's On The Storm blog HERE to see some seriously horrible books, and some amazing women who enrich not only my writer journey, but my life with their friendship.
Newer Posts Older Posts Home