In search of goodness in modern books

A few years ago, I was listening to Elizabeth Elliot teach on the Fruits of the Spirit. I knew what Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, etc. were, but I’d never understood what Goodness was. It’s sandwiched in between kindness and gentleness, and my thinking was that Goodness was part of both of those. Kind of like saying “He’s nice.” It doesn’t mean anything.

So I was fascinated when Elizabeth Elliot defined Goodness as being high quality. “It’s like when we say, ‘This is a good cheese,’, or ‘This is a good vintage of wine’. In the same way, we are to be high-quality people.”

This stuck in my mind, especially as applied to writing. Was I portraying Goodness as desirable? Was I showing characters struggling to become higher and higher quality? After all, the refining process takes time and pain, both of which make for great stories.

Note: Holiness is: The state or character of being holy or sinless; purity of moral character; perfect freedom from all evil; sanctity.

Goodness is: The state or quality of being good, in any sense; excellence; purity; virtue; grace; benevolence.

Speaking of great stories, the other day, we were talking in my Discord about why Narnia and Lord of the Rings are still the Christian fantasy gold standards. One person said, “It’s wrong that their writings are still the best of Christian fantasy. By now we should have hundreds of works that are way better, and they’d be mostly honoured as those who started, not … all that it’s recommended when looking for Christian fantasy books.”

This got me thinking. As a Christian writer, I am obsessed with showing sinful man grappling with Ultimate Good. Evil is less interesting to me. Like, I pick up any Christian book, and yawn, it’s some lukewarm believer sinning again. You know what made Lewis and Tolkien stand out? They didn’t bother wallowing in the evil. Sauron has zero on-screen appearances. Instead, they grappled with Goodness, and man struggling to measure up. The Ring is a constant temptation, and arrayed against it are the Goodness of the elves, and Gandalf, and Gondor, and all the Good characters struggling to maintain their holiness in the face of corruption.

Goodness is treasured. It is something precious and desirable.

In Narnia, it’s each character coming to grips with Aslan. We’re not so much interested in what a pathetic waste of space Eustace is. We want to see him face Aslan and see how he changes. Each character is transformed by the end of each book by their confrontation with Good–they are either changed, or destroyed by it.

How many Christian books have been written since then that focus on man’s struggle with Goodness and Holiness and Righteousness? How many treasure goodness and constantly seek it out? I can’t think of any, and I’ve read quite a few. They kind of miss the point. Instead, they turn God into this cosmic battery that the hero channels in order to defeat the Bad Guys. Oh, and the hero wallows in evil. A lot. Like, in some books, the evil is pretty much front and center. This is no different from any book written by a non-believer.

Now, Mormons tend to get it right, and that’s why we have runaway authors like Sanderson and Meyers and Farland. They still write the stories of Man grappling with Good, although imperfectly. I think that’s why their books resonate so much.

For instance, Jeff Wheeler says in his Manifesto on Virtue:


When I was in college at San Jose State, I took Latin classes from Marianina Olcott. That is where I learned about the Roman concept of Virtus (pronounced “where-tuus”). It was a trait that the Romans respected, but it did not mean just virtue. It included other qualities too: prudentia (prudence), iustitia (justice), temperantia (self-control), and fortitudo (courage).

As I look around in the world today, I see that these traits are no longer honored and respected as they were in the past. Maybe that is why I love reading and why I have certain favorite movies I watch over and over again. You see, in my favorite books and films, the stories that grab me are about Virtus. All right, they can be cheesy sometimes. But I love that moment in Return of the Jedi when Luke throws down his light saber and tells the Emperor he failed to turn him to the Dark Side. That despite everything that will happen to his friends and (gulp) his “sister”, he surrenders and takes the blast of Force lightning full in the chest. That is Virtus.


I posted about this in a Christian writer’s group on social media. I received comments utterly dismissing my argument out of hand.

“Simple factor. [Narnia and LOTR] were not wrtten as “Christian” books. They were written for a secular audience and published by secular publishers. They were just writing great literature. They weren’t writing great “Christian” literature.

And both being classically trained lit professors probably didn’t hurt, especially considering the types of education they got. They probably wrote more during their teen years than most authors writing today have done in their entire lives”

Because Lewis and Tolkien were obviously gods among men and we can’t hope to achieve anything they did, or even study them to learn what they did. Yes. Very good lesson to draw from this.

I was also informed that stories that are dark and vile and end in death and despair have value. I have to wonder, to whom? English lit teachers? Fantasy readers seem to enjoy it with Game of Thrones, but I think that, even there, people still hope for some kind of a satisfying ending. There will probably never be one.

So, as a fellow Christian writer, I challenge every writer. Look at your books and see if you are glorifying good or evil. How many pages are devoted to villains and sin and perversion? How many pages are devoted to Goodness and Righteousness and Holiness? And I don’t mean in an ironic way. I mean in an honest, actual, doctrinal way, which shows what you know of Goodness?

Tolkien and Lewis changed the entire fantasy genre. Let’s change it again, writers. But we have to focus on grappling with the Good.

And now February

I kind of fell off the bandwagon with Bloganuary, sadly. I kept trying to do the prompts, but they were like, “Describe yourself as a tree” and “what do you feel when you look at the stars?” and … I had nothing. Or more like, I had way too much and it was too personal to put in a public blog, heh.

Anyway, now it’s February, and I need to get my rear in gear. I have a book to publish this month! It’s Beauty and the Beast set in space with aliens. It’s only a novella, probably barely topping 100 pages. I had my husband proof read it for me. He was ‘meh’ until he got to the kidnapping and space battle stuff, and then he was entertained. So hopefully this story will entertain guys as well as girls.

I’m hoping to have it out by the 14th for Valentine’s, so I’ll be formatting and launching it this week to get it live on all platforms before I announce it. I like to give people lots of buying options.

After that, I hope to get Sanctuary launched in March. It’s the next book in my After Atlantis series, and it’s still deep in revisions. I’m pondering whether to add a couple of scenes, and got bogged down. I’m very happy with it so far, though. It has the fluff and magic and wonder I was aiming for when I wrote it: basically, what happens when a guy whose very life force is infused into a magical island begins breaking his heart over a fickle girl. And how both him and his island begin to die in very apocalyptic ways. And how the girl has to straighten out her own problems in order to save him … and then still half-injured, stave off an attack of bad guys who would like nothing better than to drag both guy and girl off and leash them for their magic.

And then I have to write a fresh book and I have no idea how I’m going to top Sanctuary. 😀 😀

Here’s a manga-style book cover mockup for another story I’m playing with. It’s high fantasy inspired by Final Fantasy 14, which is interesting, because I loathe high fantasy. It’s just a little story about an angstball knight on a quest to find the wife he saw in a vision, and the healer who travels with him and thinks it’s great fun. They earn their keep by slaying monsters, so … it’s like fantasy battles and romance all in one.

A couple of artworks

Been working on a commission to start the year, and it’s been nice to be back in the saddle again. I’ve been studying a bunch of different art techniques, and I’ve been quite happy with the results.

This is the cover art for Power Burn (title under consideration) by H.L. Burke. It’s part of a series, so look her up for the others. I had a lot of fun painting this one, and I think it’ll be a great cover once it gets the text on it.

Final Fantasy white mage

I did this artwork as an entry into deviantart’s Final Fantasy 14 Endwalker contest. Competition was stiff, but it was fun to participate. I haven’t actually done a lot of art for FFXIV, despite enjoying the heck out of it. Certain plot points in the Heavensward expansion made me ugly cry. I played World of Warcraft for years and never got kicked in the feels the way FFXIV does.

Anyway, I’ve been over here writing fairytales in space. I just finished a little novella that is Beauty and the Beast in space, and I’m currently working on Cinderella in space. I have no idea who will want to read this nonsense, but I’m currently in love with my alien spaceships. Hoping to do Snow White in space and make it a little trilogy. 😀

How 2021 fared, resolutions for 2022

Yikes, it’s already the 3rd, and I haven’t written my yearly resolutions post yet!

First, a look at last year’s post.

My goals were to publish Mercurion in the early part of the year, and to buy a house. Mercurion wound up needing a rewrite that took most of the year, and it got launched in the fall. And we bought a house! We absolutely had to move in June when our rent was up, and everything worked out perfectly. God’s hand was totally in it all. We live in the country now, and after 15 years in apartments, I can’t tell you how wonderful it is. Here’s one of my posts about the wildflowers out here in the desert.

Flowers on jumping cholla cactus

My goals for 2022 are pretty loose. I want to get our overgrown property whipped into shape, I want to get the kids playing outside more, and I want to write the last After Atlantis book.

After Atlantis has been building to a huge war between the supers and the Exiled Atlanteans, who want to come home and plan to drive everyone out of the islands. I had a lot of scattered ideas of books that could take place during the war, then it dawned on me that I could do all of them in one book. And what an awesome book it would be. My husband is over here hyping about it, and I’m like, dude, I just barely started planning it. 😀

I want to get back to doing a weekly art post on my blog, here. I kind of forgot about updating it, between my deviantart, my other deviantart, my tumblr, my other tumblr, and my instagram, where I’m the most active. Poor blog.

Anyway, that is my very short New Years resolution post. I want to write 1 book and work out in the yard. And … that’s pretty much it. But man, if you could see the ragged state of this property, you’d agree that it’s going to take a whole year.

The most wonderful time of the year: end of year recaps

I just love December, and not because of Christmas. I mean, Christmas is nice, too. But I just love it when people start writing their end of year retrospectives. What art they made, what books they wrote, what they learned, where their journey of life took them. They usually come along about New Year’s, and I’m looking forward to them.

I haven’t had a chance to go back through my records and see how my books did this year. I’ll save that for the New Years retrospective, heh. But I was looking over the artwork I did this year, and I’m happy with my progress. Here’s my Art vs Artist meme:

artvsartist meme

You can get on twitter or instagram and look for #artvsartist and see loads and loads of people showing off their best work. It’s a neat way to find new artists to follow or commission.

I had other artworks I’m proud of that wouldn’t fit into the eight boxes. Here’s a couple:

Girl and guy back to back, painted in rough brush strokes
“But where has he gone?”
Dark angel of fire and light angel of ice

Each artwork has been a study in a new technique. I’m trying to learn all the time. Starting next year, I want to feature some new artists I’ve found whose work I’ve found to be absolutely marvelous.

On the writing front, I finally finished the next After Atlantis book, Sanctuary. It had to have a giant rewrite the way Mercurion did, because I wrote it while pregnant and stupid. I can write fluff while pregnant, but not action scenes. My brain just won’t do them. Sanctuary needed a some really big action scenes at the end, with everybody getting their Crowning Moment of Awesome, so I redid the climax to make it better. I was joking to my Discord that this book is hurt/comfort, hurt/comfort, cool thing, cool thing, cool thing.

I’ve written enough books now that I can be my own developmental editor, and I am a brutal one. I wrote my own letter to myself. “The first 100 pages are nice, if a bit thin. But those last 90 pages? Garbage. Do them over with more attention to each character.” Crushing when coming from someone else. Pretty grim when coming from yourself, too, heh heh. But it’s done now, and I’m hoping to launch the book late January. Just depends on how long editing and revisions takes. I already have the cover done, which I hope to showcase on the blog soon. It’s already up on my deviantart gallery, if you want to take a peek. 😉

Also, have a merry Christmas! Here is my Christmas artwork from last year:

Father and daughter admire Christmas lights

2020 creativity recap (and 2021 resolutions!)

2020 was quite a ride, wasn’t it? At the beginning of the year, I decided to take the Publishing 12 Books in 12 Months challenge. I had a baby due in June, so I figured that I would be doing really well to publish 6 books. I wound up publishing 5 books and a novel-length fanfic, so I figured that counted. Here are the books:

They’re all the same series. I have to figure out how to have the Vid:ilantes series labeled as happening inside the After Atlantis series. You’ll notice that Guardian’s Vow is book 2. I redid the cover for book 1 when I launched the paperback:

Once I had the baby, my writing mojo went out the window, of course. I wrote a few very short fanfics because fanfics are easy. I also drafted all of the next Vid:ilantes book, where the HeroTubers meet up with the characters from the After Atlantis trilogy. It’s still in edits, and I’m hoping to launch it late January or early February.

My goals for 2021 are to write one more book. And one more. And one more. I don’t have a set number. But I’m halfway through writing the book after the next book, so that’s at least two books for 2021 already. Maybe this year I can actually get some advertising traction so folks will hear that this series exists. It’s superheroes who film their own exploits and put them on HeroTube for those sweet ad clicks. And everybody’s powers come from Atlantis, which sank and is a modern-day island chain visited by tourists and cruise ships. It’s terrific fun, and I can’t wait to write more.

As for resolutions, my only resolution is to write and improve my writing, and to continue to improve my artwork by studying fundamentals. We’re hoping to move sometime in 2021, so I’m not planning anything beyond that. Moving is a brain-suck, just as much as having a baby. I’m going to keep on posting my weekly art blogs, with the occasional opinion piece here and there.

Speaking of art, here is a Destiny Christmas art, which I finished on New Year’s Eve:

A warlock takes his daughter to the City to see the decorations.

And that’s my very simple goals for next year. Let’s make it a good one!

On fanfiction and publishing

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs and books on writing lately that are changing my perspective a bit.

It started with Don’t Give Money to People Who Hate You. This book was eye-opening for me. But it also gave me resolve to go on writing the sort of entertainment I’ve been writing. You know, fun, fantastical escapes. People need that more than ever.

Then I picked up The Pulp Mindset, which explores how pulp writers of past decades wrote fun, entertaining books that sold like hotcakes. James Bond, Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage, and other heroes are from this era. With the advent of ebooks, we’re back in the era of cheap, fun entertainment for the masses.

I finished the first draft of Mercurion on Saturday, and immediately started writing a couple of fanfics I’ve had waiting in the wings. As I did, I got to thinking about those books I’d just read. Fanfic is just another form of publishing. People read them by the truckload. Here’s some of my stats from May, which is the last time I published a story:

Stats for May, when I published a new fanfic

That is a lot of hits. That is a significant amount of people reading my stories. We’re talking over a thousand unique visitors who came back every day or two to read the new chapter. Some reread the old chapters while they waited for new ones.

Fanfiction is the unsung pulp fiction of today. It makes no money, but people read it for the same reason they read anything–for escape, for entertainment, to have an experience.

It made me sit up and realize that if I write for this hungry audience, they deserve the best content I can produce, the same as my paying readers. I don’t know why I never thought of it that way before. I guess I don’t think of fanfiction as “real” writing because it doesn’t go through a publisher. For me, fanfic is play or practice, kind of like the sketches I’m always posting on this blog. But those are serious readers. A lot of them. So I’m going to work on giving them what they want. And I’m going to try very hard not to do what other writers have done to me and drive off my own readers by chasing the almighty buck.

“Whump” … you have to earn it

The other night, I was up late with the baby and idly scrolling through Pinterest. Pinterest shows me all kinds of weird, random things, and for some reason, it started showing me Whump prompts.

Whump is a splinter-genre that mostly hangs out in fanfiction. It’s the story of a character who is injured in some way, but conceals it from their friends until they collapse (the “whump” is them hitting the floor). Here are some sample prompts:

So, basically, it’s teasing out the scenes in books when a character is hurt, and then wallowing in just that scene via fanfic. Probably some fetish thing.

Anyway, as a professional author, I wanted to point out both the weakness of Whump, and how it make it stronger:

You have to earn it.

If the reader doesn’t care about this character, why should they care when they’re injured?

This works well in fanfic, because the original writers have already done all the work worldbulding, establishing the characters and their arcs, relationships, etc. Readers come to the fanfic with all that background already in their heads, and thus enjoy a story about their favorite character in peril.

But what if the fanfic writer did a little more work? What if they wrote a character arc and a story with actual stakes? That way, when the character is injured, readers have even more reason to care.

What about original stories? You have to work even harder so the worldbuilding and character arcs make sense. If you’re writing any kind of adventure story, the characters taking an injury is one example of conflict and raising the stakes. “If we don’t get medical help, he’ll be dead in eight hours!”

Readers love caring about characters. Make them care about the character first–make them funny, or annoying, or agreeable, or hateable–anything you please. And then put them through hard things to see them react and watch them grow. Readers love stakes and conflict. It’s what makes a good story. Whump is only a small, small part of it. So if you want to write something like whump, make sure you’ve done the work to earn it. You’ll have your readers screaming in anguish. And the screams of readers are a feast for the author. 😀

Why don’t publishers hire ghostwriters for the books they want written?

It’s summertime, and writer’s conferences are in full swing across all my social media. My writing groups are full of people writing proposals and summaries, trying to catch the eye of various publishers or agents. It’s a busy time full of hopes and dreams.

I’m sitting in my corner, doing revisions on my own work, and watching this go on. I’m watching my friends get rejected, watching publishers with really weird requirements. And a question has arisen in my mind that I’d love to ask publishers:

Why do you accept submissions at all when you already know what kind of books you want? Why don’t the publishers write proposals and summaries, and hire writers to write those books?

Publishers don’t want authors who write random books. They want particular books: romance, mystery, or whatever. They want particular formulas in those books. They want particular writing styles. Authors who don’t fit those requirements get rejected, no matter how good their book is.

So … why don’t publishers just hire ghostwriters? Any writer worth their salt can write according to somebody else’s rules. Heaven knows that enough authors have to rewrite their books according to what an editor or agent thinks will sell. Why not go all the way and just write a book from scratch that the publisher has ordered? Authors of licensed fiction do it all the time for Star Trek and other properties.

I think my author friends could avoid a lot of heartache by self-publishing their books and picking up ghostwriting gigs from publishers. I mean, there are indies like Bella Forest who are just a pen name for a jillion ghost writers churning out series books. It’s a thing. I just don’t know why publishers continue to use the old model in the modern era. It’s nonsensical.

Book launch: Vid:ilantes book 2 – Bloodbound

I’m so excited to announce that the second Vid:ilantes book is live!

One by oath, one by blood, one by election.

In a world of superheroes, Jayesh has a rare healing power that he uses in the local hospital. When teenagers are admitted with feather-patterns burned into their backs, Jayesh is reluctantly drawn into the underworld of black market magic smuggling.
A chance encounter with Omniscient, the villain in charge of the smugglers, leaves Jayesh with his magic shattered. A portal to the hospital goes wrong and Jayesh is instead sent to an island in another dimension: an island that has awaited its Bloodbound for centuries. In exchange for healing, he is magically bound to the island, and half his magic is turned into a tiny dragon.
Now, with the help of the Islesworn, James Chase, Jayesh must go undercover to recover the mysterious Pandora. But this means facing off with Omniscient, a villain who can bring a person’s fears to life—and who is increasingly ruled by his own power.

Grab it here!


This is one of those stories that was just so much fun to write. Jayesh is the gentle, quiet, introverted type, very much a healer. And he goes and gets himself into very hot water, just because of trying to do the right thing. I wrote it as an escape, mostly, so all the parts where he hangs out on the island Sanctuary, just walking on the beach or resting, were because I wanted to go to a place like that, myself. I hope readers enjoy the visit as much as I did. I’m already messing with a followup because I just can’t leave this universe alone.

The third book in the trilogy will take it full circle and plug everything into the After Atlantis trilogy. Tane might even appear in Bloodbound. Everybody from After Atlantis will meet up with the Vid:ilantes, and things are going to get really crazy.