The character of characters

Spec Faith had a really interesting article over the past week: Characters matter, and their characters matter.

The gist of it is about how we fall in love with characters and want to spend hours and days and weeks with them. But that’s not generally the case with Christian books.

One of the things I’ve noticed lately about a lot of the Christian speculative fiction I read, is that the main character isn’t all that likable. In an effort to show the reality of sin in a person’s life, a good number of authors are depicting flawed characters who aren’t very nice. Some are whiny, others are too caught up with their own interests to care about other people. Some are lazy or disinterested or foolish.

In other words, it’s hard to imagine readers saying, I want to live with these people.

I commented,

Wow, that’s something I’d never thought of before. And you’re exactly right. The Christian novels that push the “u need to get saved lolz” message are the ones with the most unlikeable main character. The girl who was raped and never got over it (save it for Wattpad), the guy with the drinking problem (join the other 98% of the population), the kid with the abusive parents (yawn), the guy estranged from his teenaged daughter (how many times has this been done? Left Behind was only one in a long string of them).

Characters who I want to see get saved aren’t like that. It’s characters I root for, who start to wonder about supernatural things–and maybe encounter them–and their lives are empowered as a result. They don’t start with a crappy personality or I wouldn’t stick with them.

Look at how Madeline L’Engle did it. Meg is very likeable before she encounters anything supernatural. Or the hero in Grisham’s Testament–he has problems, but we root for him because he’s trying to do the right thing in spite of his own weaknesses. His conversion is a very quiet, off-camera affair, but it helps him start to get a handle on his alcoholism.

Can you imagine if Harry Potter or the rabbits in Watership Down were forced into a conversion experience? Harry actually kind of has one in book 7 (if you consider the implications of his experience at King’s Cross–play on words, anyone?). Even the Watership Down rabbits had a rabbit-god they worship and it makes sense. But there’s no conversion scene or preaching heavy-handed redemption. And the characters are likeable long before that comes along anyway.

After much thought, I can only recall a few overtly Christian books that I read over and over. Like Father Tim and the rest of the Mitford folks in Jan Karon’s books. And the heroes and heroines of Lee Roddy’s YA books. (His book the Mad Dog of Lobo Mountain is more or less Kujo for kids. It terrified me and I read it over and over.) Or Frank Peretti’s characters, whose faith and lives mingle believably. Of authors I’ve read more recently, Anne Elizabeth Stengl and Megan Whalen Turner are the only Christian authors who I’ve loved their characters.

So, what say you? Do you know of any Christian books with characters you love, or are they rare?

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Art I want to do

I was looking around our new apartment, and I need some art for our blank, boring walls. I got rid of all my other (old, crummy) art when we moved, which I now regret horribly.

But now my hubby has a job, that means our financial situation will improve. That also means I might be able to afford a canvas, which I can work on in stolen moments while the munchkins are napping and such.

So I’m starting to collect reference pictures of things I might like to put on the walls.

One gem comes from This Page, which is a comparison list of various Magic the Gathering lands, most painted in night lighting, and repainted in daylight. (Mouse over each pic to see the difference.)

The one I really love is this one.

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Knowing my hubby, we’ll have to have at least one warrior angel somewhere in the house.

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Angel of Thune by namesjames

I’m partial to weird landscapes with a sense of wonder, like some of these.

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Follow the Wind, by FotoN-3

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Mt. Saimour, by FerdinandLadera

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Road, by VityaR83

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Background by dimarinski

Maybe a bit ambitious for my skill level, but it’d be fun to have something similar on the walls. Something you could look at for years and never get tired of.

Jonathan Coulton: Indie success story

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Jonathan Coulton is a nerd singer/songwriter, best known for his work on Still Alive for the Valve game Portal. In the geek/gamer community, his music has achieved cult status with hits like Code Monkey (about a sad programmer), The Future Soon (about a kid dreaming of the future where he can engineer away all his problems) and Re: Your Brains (a letter from one employee to another after the first guy has been turned into a zombie.)

But Coulton achieved internet stardom without ever publishing under a record label. He quit work, and spent a year writing and recording one song every week in a tiny bedroom in his apartment. He called it Thing a Week.

From an Interview on AboutCreativity:

In the course of the year you spent working on Thing a Week, did you develop any techniques that seemed to help you tap your creative side?

I wish I could say that I developed a sure-fire strategy for writing a song. That’s one of the things I was hoping would come out of Thing a Week — that I could somehow discover a process that worked every time. But it was always different.

I spent a lot of time walking and riding my bike, mumbling under my breath, making up lines about things I saw or thought of. Ideally, one of those lines would be interesting enough to stick with me and grow into something. Sometimes I would get inspired early in the week and the song would sort of write itself. Other times I would think and think all week, and Friday would find me with no good ideas.

The one thing I did learn was that even the good songs have a point when they feel awful — for me there’s always this deep valley of self-doubt when it seems like I should stop writing and abandon the idea. But sometimes even the songs that started with bad ideas would have a very strong finish, and I would find that I’d pulled something really great out of nowhere. Not always — there were certainly some songs that never really got good. And I think that’s an important part of the process too — you’re going to write some clunkers for sure, but you’ll never really know unless you write them. Starting a song is easy; finishing it is a lot harder.

How did you stay focused and productive, particularly on those days when you were feeling a little less inspired?

JC: Solitude and boredom. If I ever found myself stuck, that was usually a good time to take a long walk or a bike ride. There was something about separating myself from all the instruments and gear in the studio that made things move forward — I think it’s easy to get bogged down in a particular detail when what you really need to do is brush lightly over the surface of the whole thing. And I have so many patterns that I rely on when I’m actually playing the guitar that it can sometimes be a hindrance to write with it in my hands — my brain makes different choices when it’s by itself.

From an interview on Joystiq:

Which one of those songs surprised you the most? That went on to be a hit?

I would say the longest distance from how much I thought it sucked to how much people actually liked them, is the song “Mr. Fancy Pants.” [download link] — which is really about a minute and fifteen seconds long; which is evidence of how little regard I had for it while I was writing it. It’s kind of a silly, nonsense song with a tune that gets into your head and creates lesions in your brain. And I was writing it I was thinking this is completely dumb and it doesn’t make any sense. It’s kind of catchy but what’s the point? And the form of it was weird and so it ended up just being this really small, fluffy thing.

And then … a few weeks later, I still sort of had that song in my head. I’m actually kind of proud of that song! It’s weird but it’s one of those songs that you’re like, “Wow! How did anyone ever write this?” And it feels that way to me the more distance I get from it. How did I possibly … it doesn’t seem possible. And of course, now when I do that song live, I don’t do it with a guitar. I do it with a Zendrum, which has a midi controller that lets me play the drums and trigger samples and all this stuff. I sort of do this live remix of the song to distract people from the fact that it’s short and nonsensical. And in that sense, that’s always a big hit at shows. And it’s a good example of something that, as I’m writing it, I never would have imagined what it was going to become.

From AboutCreativity:

Was there anything that you learned about the craft of songwriting that really stands out, in terms of what makes for a good song?

The best ones were always the ones that sounded a little bit crazy in my head — there’s a safe way to write a song, and there’s a way that’s more risky. The risky approach almost always ends up producing something that rings true in a way the safe approach never does.

I knew I had hit the spot when the character I was writing started saying really ridiculous things. It certainly makes things more interesting when you go off in a strange direction and have to find your way back, but it’s also a kind of release. Sort of like I had to get my own ego out of the way and let the character say and think whatever they wanted, even if that made them sound like a jerk or a loser. And strangely, the characters who get that freedom tend to talk and think like me — go figure.

What’s the best advice that you’ve heard about the creative process?

I think Stephen King said some great things in On Writing — the main bit that I took away from that is the idea that you really have to sit down and do it. Treat it like work, spend a few hours TRYING to write every day. Sometimes it will be good and sometimes it will be bad, but there will be a lot of it. And really, it’s not the creating that’s the hard part, it’s the decision to sit down at your desk and start working.

And lastly, from an interview on Nukezilla:

Do you have any closing words of wisdom, any advise for anybody either about getting into the music industry or the music indepen…dence? I guess? Or otherwise?

JC: [Laughs] The only thing I will say is that, you know, people ask me all the time, ‘how did you do it and also how can I do that?’ and the answer is, ‘I don’t really know, and nobody does, and everybody is still figuring it out’. So, whatever the creative thing is that you do that you want to do professionally and for a wider audience, the best advise I can give you is [to] work very hard, make the best stuff you can make, and make a lot of it. And publish. Publish, publish, publish. That is the biggest thing that divides people that you have heard of and people that you have not heard of, is that the people you have heard of have all published, and usually they have published a lot before anything happens. You know, there’s no real secret other than doing the work and putting it out there.

Jonathan Coulton’s website, his music

Pitcharama – Pitch your mate contest

Rachel Meenan and I are entering the Pitcharama contest. The idea is that we each pitch each other’s stories on our blogs, and a bunch of publishers will come by and check us out. So here’s my pitch for her story! You can read her pitch for mine here.

Author name: Rachel Anne Blackmon

Title: The Stolen Defender

Audience age: 13-18

Genre: Young Adult Urban fantasy

Word count: 78,000

Brief novel description: In a modern fantasy universe where Faunos (anthropomorphic creatures) are synchronized with magical Gems, Matt and Izzy are Defenders–elite magical soldiers, trained to use their Gems to defend the greater good. Matt and Izzy are the Golden Guardians, and among the highest ranking Defenders available. So when an alien creature called Ouranos invades their planet of Zyearth, Matt and Izzy are called to respond.

But the life-long friends get more than they bargain for. Ouranos is a Weather-Wielder, a kind of magical user not seen on Zyearth for thousands of years. He’s damaging, fearless, calculating, and powerful.
And then, by some strange chance, Ouranos physically and magically fuses with Matt, a feat thought impossible. Together they are the creature Gaia- a creature the Defenders have no hope of fighting, let alone stopping.
Now Izzy must fight military politics, black, inky monsters and time itself to reclaim Matt from the darkness, before it’s too late.

Why I dislike Eragon

Recently I waxed eloquent to a friend about why I disliked Eragon, by Christopher Paolini. But she likes it, and I think I offended her. I didn’t mean to.

So I got to thinking–WHY did I dislike the book so much? I read the first book when it came out, and my sister and I thought it was the worst book we’d ever read. So I started remembering where I was in my life, and what I was comparing Eragon to.

Without further ado,

Why I dislike Eragon by Paolini

Eragon came out in 2002. In 2002, I was deeply involved in the Sonic the Hedgehog fandom. This website was an active fandom hub, I spent hours on my forums, and all my friends were debating the game and furiously writing their own fanfiction adapts. I was writing and posting up my own adapt of Sonic Adventure 2, and its sequel, Flux (an excessively dark story about the end of the world and a bait-and-switch antagonist).

Among other things, I’d also written a fanfic based on World War II where a dictator swarms the world with his Borg-like robots and the heroes are hopelessly outgunned. It was epic fantasy in every sense of the word.

Let me summarize what SA2 is about, without the character licensing:

A mad scientist breaks into a military facility and frees a creature calling itself the Ultimate Lifeform. It’s genetic experiment. It’s invincible. It has crazy powers. It’s a complete antihero. And all it wants to do is blow stuff the heck up.

The heroes set out to stop the madman and the experiment. Their quest is mixed up with the world’s magic and the gems that control it–hidden launch pads hidden inside pyramids, monsters, secret agents, and a space colony that carries a world-destroying superweapon locked away inside it.

As the heroes delve deeper into the strange stories surrounding the colony, they realize the genetic experiment actually has quite a tragic past. After all, being an experiment is hard on anybody. They talk him around to saving the world, but his last secrets come to light and things have already been set in motion that will destroy the world anyway. The experiment sacrifices himself to save everybody.

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And that’s just the game. Think of what it’d be like as a book! And a bunch of us set out to do just that.

Around about the same time, I was dabbling with an original story about a guy who meets a griffin and they go on a valiant quest together, fighting bad guys and fantasy races, finally battling the bad guy in an epic swordfight on his airship as he’s attacking with his armies. It wasn’t up to my usual standards, and I scrapped it.

Then we read Eragon, and it was sub-par fanfiction of Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Dragonriders of Pern. (And the title is one letter removed from Eregion, the region in Lord of the Rings containing the Shire.) As a fanfiction writer with high standards for fanfic, it galled me. And it was more or less the same story I’d just written and scrapped.

I was hanging around epic writers and thinkers like Shax Davis, who wrote one fanfic tackling different religions, and another tackling different schools of political thought. Reading published books that were anything less was an affront of my teenaged tastes.

So, I’m sorry if my viewpoint offends people. It’s quite all right to like Eragon. But I was steeped in a fantasy culture with extremely high standards at the time, and it didn’t measure up. I guess it just goes to show that our opinions of the media around us are informed by where we are in our lives. I guess it’s also why one person will hate a book and another person will love it. Different opinions and life experiences. 🙂

Map of the pre-flood world

The Ica stones are really controversial. They’re really old rocks with carvings of dinosaurs and stuff on them, and people riding the dinosaurs. But it’s shockingly close to our modern depictions, so people brush them off as frauds. Even though when they were discovered, people thought dinosaurs were big stupid tail-dragging lizards and would have depicted them as such.

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I love how this one is a guy going hunting with an eagle or something, and his dinosaur mount is biting his leg. This isn’t something modern man commonly depicts the cliche gentle plant-eaters doing.

Anyway, there’s lots more stuff on the Ica stones than just dinosaurs. There’s medical procedures like C-sections and surgeries, and astronomy stuff. While I was poking around Google, just looking at the pictures, I ran across these maps.

Maps that creepily fit the preflood world as described in the Bible.

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Genesis 2:10-14: And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.
The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;
And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone.
And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.
And the name of the third river is Hiddekel [Tigris]: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.

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There are four lands and four rivers shown here. The lands are broken down into grids to show the people and animals living in each area, like lots of cave-drawing types of maps do. It’s a logical pictograph way to convey information. You can see where the ocean started. This is actually a fine drawing of the theoretical Pangaea, before the continents split in Noah’s flood.

(I don’t think they actually split–I think it happened like Psalm 104 says: “The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place which You appointed for them. You have set a boundary [for the waters] which they may not pass over, that they turn not again to deluge the earth.” And given what we know of tectonic plate theory, this makes more sense.)

Researching the Ica stones is great fun. People gnash their teeth and call them frauds, but the fact remains that there’s over 11,000 of the things. S8int.com has a nice compilation of research and writings about them here.

Internet trolls and Proverbs

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While studying Proverbs, I ran across a whole bunch that seem to pertain to internet trolls. You know, that random jerk on the internet who argues with you, saying nonsense crap that is nonetheless mean and gets you to respond with something logical. To which he responds with more garbage, etc. etc. That’s a troll. Here’s some advice on how to deal with them.

A [troll]s wrath is quickly and openly known, but a prudent man ignores an insult.

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A prudent man is reluctant to display his knowledge, but the heart of [self-confident] [trolls] proclaim their folly.

He who belittles and despises his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding keeps silent.

He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy and faithful in spirit keeps the matter hidden.

As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman who is without discretion.

Satisfied desire is sweet to a person; therefore it is hateful and exceedingly offensive to [self-confident] trolls to give up evil [upon which they have set their hearts].

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He who walks [as a companion] with wise men is wise, but he who associates with [self-confident] trolls is [a troll himself and] shall smart for it.

A a troll seeks Wisdom in vain [for his very attitude blinds and deafens him to it], but knowledge is easy to him who [being teachable] understands.

Go from the presence of a foolish and self-confident man, for you will not find knowledge on his lips.

A wise man suspects danger and cautiously avoids evil, but the troll bears himself insolently and is [presumptuously] confident.

He who foams up quickly and flies into a passion deals foolishly, and a man of wicked plots and plans is hated.

The mind of the [uncompromisingly] righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.

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Everyone proud and arrogant in heart is disgusting, hateful, and exceedingly offensive to the Lord; be assured [I pledge it] they will not go unpunished.

A worthless man devises and digs up mischief, and in his lips there is as a scorching fire.

A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.

An evildoer gives heed to wicked lips; and a liar listens to a mischievous tongue.

An evil man seeks only rebellion; therefore a stern and pitiless messenger shall be sent against him.

He who has a wayward and crooked mind finds no good, and he who has a willful and contrary tongue will fall into calamity.

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Why I’m not writing feminist novels

So, this girl wrote a blogpost about how to write a feminist young adult novel that sparked some controversy. I’m going to stir the pot a bit with my own personal oar.

I pretty much didn’t mind the first 3/4ths of her article. She was wrestling with some characters in her book, trying to make them strong women and such. Since I don’t actually know any weak women, I don’t have a problem with strong women.

It was when she got to the sexual revolution that my Disagreement Light started flashing. This is just about the only part of the section that didn’t have dirty language in it.

Everybody hopes their “first time” will be meaningful and special and, like, doing it on a cloud without getting pregnant or herpes, but if it isn’t like that-barring major trauma or violation—it doesn’t matter. You aren’t tainted. You aren’t cheap. It hasn’t spoiled everything. And if he doesn’t respect you in the morning, that’s his problem. When it comes to sex, the only thing—literally, the only thing—that matters is that you respect yourself.

But we already know this. What we have to do is somehow pass this not-so-secret knowledge onto the girls who may not realize it yet (although I sometimes worry it will take forty years of wandering in the desert, until there arises a generation who hath not known Twilight).

That kind of “pat ’em on the back, free love is all right” kind of attitude sets my teeth on edge. Fortunately, Dave Farland already said it far better than I can, talking about Robert Heinlein:

Robert Heinlein was a fine entertainer. He sounded a clear call. Yet in his books, Heinlein preached “free love” long before the idea took hold nationally in the 1960s. In fact, I suspect that his works helped spur the sexual revolution. He spoke of pedophilia in a somewhat encouraging tone, and professed that if a child happened to be born from a casual union, it should be left to the care of those who could be bothered to nurture children.

Now, there are excellent reasons why cultural norms across every society in the world have long countered Heinlein’s reasoning.

Heinlein didn’t take into account the dangers of what he promoted. He doesn’t discuss the risks of catching STDs such as AIDS. It’s a terrible disease. I have one old friend who is ill with it now. If dying from the disease wasn’t bad enough, he once confided that he spread it to several lovers, who have all since passed away. I can’t imagine bearing that kind of guilt. I’ve noticed over and over again how men who give into promiscuity become distant with their spouses, families, and friends. They seem unable to bond—as if by making love with many, they become unable to love anyone deeply. Heaven help any children that are born from such unions. They may lose a parent before they were ever born.

If you can’t tell, I don’t think much of writers who champion hedonism. Heinlein was a moral idiot. He was a fine entertainer. He sounded a clear call. But his reasoning was faulty.

When moral idiots write books containing moral idiocy, we wind up with fine books like the one Kat Heckenbach reviewed here. It’s about a teen who drinks, smokes, does drugs, and sleeps around, and never experiences any consequences. At the end of the book, the reader is left with the idea that doing all these things is a viable way of having fun and none of it will hurt you.

That’s sheer fantasy on the author’s part. Wishful thinking, pie-in-the-sky, castle-in-the-clouds moral idiocy.

So my books are not feminist. I have strong female characters, because like I said, I don’t actually know any weak women. But sex is not free and my characters are smart enough to know it. Love is hard work.

Wolf Books for the new fan

I’ve been reading a lot of stuff on Wattpad lately, especially werewolf stories. I’ve come to the conclusion that nobody has ever read a wolf book in their lives, or knows where to find one. So here’s a helpful list of titles, wolf and dog books, so young writers can see how to get inside the head of an animal, write great fights and excellent action.

But first, to get it out of the way …

Cry Wolf, by Patricia Briggs: “Anna never knew werewolves existed until the night she survived a violent attack…and became one herself. After three years at the bottom of the pack, she’d learned to keep her head down and never, ever trust dominant males. But Anna is that rarest kind of werewolf: an Omega. And one of the most powerful werewolves in the country will recognize her value as a pack member—and as his mate.” … and I think this book and its sequels are what 99% of all Wattpad werewolf novels are based on. In case anyone was curious.

Snow Dog, by Jim Kjelegaard: The steel-gray Husky Chiri was just a puppy when he watched the black wolf kill his mother and two brothers. Left alone inthe snow-covered land oof the coyote, caribou, and gizzly, Chiri learned to fend for himself, to hunt and survive by his keen instinct and natural intelligence. Now full-grown and full of courage and cunning, Chiri forms a tentative bond with trapper Link Stevens, the only human he’s ever learned to trust. But the Husky knows that one day soon he will have to face the black wolf again–and this time only one of them will survive.

Wild Trek by Jim Kjelegaard: (Sequel to Snow Dog) This is the story of the trapper, Link Stevens, and his fearless snow dog, Chiri. It began when the trapper and his dog set out to rescue a naturalist stranded in the perilous Caribou mountains–the impenetrable storm-blasted heights from which no man has ever retumed. Forced to live by Stone Age methods, they relied on every resource of the dog’s wild cunning and the trapper’s woodlore. How they battled a killer cougar and bloodthirsty wolves, yet brought their man to safety, is a gripping, action-packed saga. It is also the stirring tale of the deep love between a loyal snow dog and his courageous trapper master.

Kavik the Wolf Dog, by Walt Morey: Kavik is half wolf, half dog, and a champion fighter. He is bought by a wealthy businessman, but while being shipped aboard a plane, the plane crashes and Kavik is stranded in his cage, injured and exposed to the elements. A boy finds him and saves his life, but Kavik has lost his courage, even running from the town mutts. Unfortunately, the businessman who bought him discovers him and hauls him a thousand miles away to his home in the city. Kavik escapes and begins the thousand-mile trek homeward to the boy he loves–and fights to recover his lost courage.

White Fang, by Jack London: London tells the story of a wolf-dog who endures great cruelty before he comes to know human kindness. (Free on Kindle)

Kazan, by James Oliver Curwood: Kazan is a husky who loses his master and takes to the wild to survive. He mates with Gray Wolf, whose eyes are later torn out by a panther. But Kazan and Gray Wolf compensate for her blindness, relying on her hearing and sense of smell to become an unbeatable hunting team.

Silver Chief: Dog of the North

From Goodreads review: The main appeal for me is that it was the first serious novel I read as a child — and of course, it’s about a heroic dog! It was published in 1933, therefore some of the narrative is a bit dated, but the depiction of life as a Canadian Mountie in the early years of the 20th century is hauntingly convincing. The writer, Jack O’Brien, was surveyor on Richard Byrd’s expedition to the Antarctic, and that experience shows, adding a lot of depth and realism to the suffering his characters endure in the brutal winters of the far north. It definitely gives you the feeling that you’ve left civilization far behind.

Never Cry Wolf, by Farley Mowat: EYE TO EYE WITH DEATH: THE WOLF PROJECT
Hordes of bloodthirsty wolves are slaughtering the arctic caribou, and the government’s Wildlife Service assigns naturalist Farley Mowat to investigate. Mowat is dropped alone onto the frozen tundra, where he begins his mission to live among the howling wolf packs and study their ways. Contact with his quarry comes quickly, and Mowat discovers not a den of marauding killers but a courageous family of skillful providers and devoted protectors of their young. As Mowat comes closer to the wolf world, he comes to fear with them the onslaught of bounty hunters and government exterminators out to erase the noble wolf community from the Arctic. Never Cry Wolf is one of the brilliant narratives on the myth and magic of wild wolves and man’s true place among the creatures of nature.

Wolf Pack: Tracking wolves in the wild: Describes the social interaction of wolves in a pack as they share the work of hunting, maintaining territory, and raising young

Winter Awakening, Dana Bell: World Warrior and Anumati are unaware kittens, pups and rightful prey are being stolen by strange metal monster. All that is left behind are odd jagged paw prints of an animal they do not know.

In their world of snow and biting wind they must decide if they trust each other enough to find out the truth or if old predator-prey rules remain with no hope for change.

There’s a whole bunch more in lists on Goodreads. This one had a lot of good stuff, for example.

Poison and honey

There are people who are poisonous. And there are people who are sweet as honey.

I’ve been studying Proverbs, and there’s so much good stuff in there. As I’m circulating through the published and pre-published (and non-published) circles, I see people fall into two camps. Poison, and honey.

Prov 14:10 The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.

On Twitter, Facebook, blogs and Wattpad, there are writers who are happy and enthusiastic. Wherever they are on their career path, they’re happy about it and willing to share advice and resources with others. They build up. They encourage.

Then there’s the poison people. The angry ones who rant about how poor their sales are. They brag about how drunk they are on Twitter. They curse other authors and tear them down (like all the Dan Brown and James Patterson hate. Good grief, people).

Prov 14:23 In all labor there is profit, but idle talk leads only to poverty.

In my circulating around the internets, I occasionally bump into a particularly vitriolic individual who never has a nice word to say about anything. I’ve watched this person poison everyone in their social circle. My goodness, the bitterness and bile! I will never recommend this person’s books to anyone, simply because I happen to know the author will get no joy from it.

Prov 14:30 A calm and undisturbed mind and heart are the life and health of the body, but envy, jealousy, and wrath are like rottenness of the bones.

This week on Wattpad I joined a little “book club”, where everybody reads and comments on everybody’s books. There’s only seven books, I think and only one or two of them are completed, so it’s a pretty quick read. Everybody on there is kind, and helpful, and eager to learn. Everybody critiques everybody’s work. I suggested one writer look up the Emotion Thesaurus on the Bookshelf Muse, and she thanked me profusely. The critiques I’ve received have been surprisingly good, and I’ve been keeping notes for my next draft.

Prov 12:1 Whoever loves instruction and correction loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is like a brute beast, stupid and indiscriminating.

So I’ve been trying to be careful of who I spend time with, online or off. Poison is easy to pick up, but honey has to come from inside. I don’t want to poison others. I want to sweeten their lives a bit.

Prov 14:7 Go from the presence of a foolish and self-confident man, for you will not find knowledge on his lips.

It makes me think of the story of the bee and the spider from Jonathan Swift’s Battle of the Books. After a bee escapes from a cobweb, he and the spider have an argument about who is better.

“…I visit, indeed, all the flowers and blossoms of the field and garden, but whatever I collect thence enriches myself without the least injury to their beauty, their smell, or their taste. … You boast, indeed, of being obliged to no other creature, but of drawing and spinning out all from yourself; that is to say, if we may judge of the liquor in the vessel by what issues out, you possess a good plentiful store of dirt and poison in your breast;… Your inherent portion of dirt does not fall of acquisitions, by sweepings exhaled from below; and one insect furnishes you with a share of poison to destroy another.

“So that, in short, the question comes all to this: whether is the nobler being of the two, that which, by a lazy contemplation of four inches round, by an overweening pride, feeding, and engendering on itself, turns all into excrement and venom, producing nothing at all but flybane and a cobweb; or that which, by a universal range, with long search, much study, true judgment, and distinction of things, brings home honey and wax.”

From Battle of the Books by Jonathan Swift