Bloody Vomit

Today I share the beginning of a short story. It came to me as a synergy of two things. The first was from my reading of Living Water:

Centuries ago Christians built remote monasteries in the mountains to help them get away from people and supposedly avoid the “contamination” of the world. Today in Protestant circles the same thinking prevails in a different guise. It results in a stream of believers only equipped to play spiritual games inside the safety of their church walls, but totally ill prepared when they have to leave their Christian environment and interact with real people in the outside world.

Yun, Brother. Living Water: Powerful Teachings from the International Bestselling Author of The Heavenly Man (p. 256). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

The second was the two words “bloody vomit”, which have a lot of emotional resonance of innate fear.

So, do please enjoy some “Bloody Vomit”…

Bloody vomit. That’s how it started, and that’s how it would end. Bloody vomit: the first sign the grim reaper had selected you, and the final sign he’d returned.
I’d woken up in the middle of the night to hear my wife Sarah retching. No other sound was as scary these days. She’d looked at me, and even by the moonlight we could see the fear in each other’s eyes.
“Get away,” she’d yelled and stumbled backwards, even as I ran to hug her.
“I’m not going to leave you. We’ll get through this together,” I promised as I held her tightly.
It had been just 3 months since the first incident of the plague had occurred. Two days later there had been localised quarantines, a week after state borders were closed. Within a month all international travel stopped. And then came the mass death. Everywhere you looked people were either dying or panicked out of their minds. And both categories of people were dangerous. The Government, or what was left of it, was desperately working on a cure to what was being called the precursor of human extinction. The officials and scientists worked in isolated and fortified emergency compounds. Soldiers guarded the perimeter and used their guns to enforce it. Sadly, it was simply too dangerous to be out among the sick; any attempt to care for the unwell was highly selective – the vast majority were left to die without aid or comfort. And now Jessica was infected.
“We shouldn’t have left the secure zone,” Jessica said, “we should have stayed there.”
“You know someone had to make the trip. If there’s a cure, we have to find it.”

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Escaping from Hell

I’ve made significant progress in my revision of Escape from Hell in the last week (hence the pun in the blog title). I’m currently working through the 5th and what was the final chapter of the original story.

The observant among you might notice that doesn’t match my progress bar on the right (and it’s not because I’ve been lazy in updating it… this time). The 50% indicator is because I am strongly considering extending the story by approximately another 4 chapters. In fact the first version of the story didn’t have ‘chapters’ at all. It was a single block of 9,700 words. I’ve broken it into chapters because the text naturally divides into chapters. Plus chapters are friendlier for the reader. If I’m torturing the character in my story, the least I can do is make it convenient for the reader 🙂

There was a time, now thankfully in the past, where the mere idea of lengthening a story would be enough for me to do it. After all, word count was the measure of success, right? Now the important question of any addition or reduction is will it make the story better?

I believe that it will. By lengthening the character arc I can be more nuanced in telling the story and make the ending punchier. I can also explore the themes more. I’m just about ready to sketch out the next few chapters…

Vengeance Will Come, First Review

Today I discovered that I had a review for my novel, Vengeance Will Come on Amazon. Further more, I’ve had the review since November and didn’t even know!

For some strange – and surely nonsensical – reason, it appears Amazon displays comments only on the Amazon site where the novel is purchased. I would have thought it’d make more sense to display all of the same-language reviews on every Amazon site that caters for that language… i.e. give your customers more feedback about a product (and not to mention, potentially help your authors).

The review is very generous:

An engaging story with a surprising twist at the end. The characters are very well developed and vivid. The story is told masterfully and I wish to congratulate the writer on such a well written book. I only wish that they make it into a movie! I look forward to Book 2.

Thanks so much “Amazon Customer” 🙂 Such a review is encouraging, and encouragement is a big help. You too can buy my novel at the Amazon US, UK, AU or other site of your choosing 🙂

I have heard before that every author (regardless of previous successes) doubts themselves and their writing ability. It’s nice not to be alone in that feeling. It just so happens Francine Rivers who is an incredible writer, recently wrote about her continuing doubts and how she overcomes the immensity of the goal.

Herding People

Herding people (i.e. getting them to do what you want) is sometimes like the task of herding cats. That is to say, not easy. For just under three years I was running the men’s ministry of my church, and in this blog post I’m going to discuss and share an automated tool I created which helped to organise ‘interest groups’. You may find it helpful in similar endeavours.

I’m going to assume a reasonable knowledge of Excel skill. The code works on Office 2016; minor tweaks might be required for other versions. (Note when you open the spreadsheet you will get a “Macro Warning” at the top of Excel, which you have to “Enable” if you want to run the macros).

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A World in Need of Balance

This week there was some pretty disgusting news that in New York the abortion laws were extended. It’s not the first state in the US to allow it, but it’s the first I’d heard about.

The new law allows a child to be killed up to 6 months for any reason. It also allow a child to be killed up until birth, for the nebulous “health reasons” of the mother. Tired of the sore back? That’s a health reason. Stressed your life is going to change? That’s a health reason. Worried about how the budget is going to stretch? Also a health reason.

https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/foetal-development-worksheet-6257624

The above chart is pretty shocking. Think about it – at 16 weeks the baby can suck it’s thumb.

It makes me sick. It makes no sense that an abortion is legal 1 minute before birth, and considered murder 1 minute after.

Babies are treated with less regard than convicted serial killers; they at least get 20 years in prison. Let’s dispense with the euphemisms and the rare outlier stories which make the law seem more palatable: what we’re actually talking about is personal convenience (or responsibility avoidance) and corporate profit.

As a disabled man my parents could have decided that I wouldn’t have a fulfilling life, or that I might be too much of a burden. Thank God they resisted the doctor’s advice to give me a chance. I was only a helpless babe; I needed someone in my corner.

(I know some who read this, may be confronted and hurt by my words. I honestly don’t want to hurt you, but neither do I want to permit the normalization of abortion or shield you from hard truths. It’s only when we acknowledge our guilt before God that we can be forgiven (1 John 1:9)… and I too have much to confess myself (Rom 3:23). To ignore the guilt we have is to choose not to accept God’s forgiveness).

2018 has Come and Gone

2019 seemed to roll unobtrusively around this year. Not that I’m one for big New Year parties or even resolutions; I’m quite happy to be in bed well before the clock strikes midnight. In fact, I’d be rather annoyed if I was still up at that ungodly hour. Even still, it came and went like a grease-fingered pick-pocket with me barely noting its passing.

Unlike previous years, I don’t even have intentions of what I’d like to achieve in the coming 12 months (well, 11 now). Perhaps that’s because work often has me feeling like a wrung-out rag and I don’t have energy for much else… but it could be more than that. I’ve often written about my ongoing wrestle with how I should be spending my time. As I’ve written in my fictional story, Escape from Hell:

I’d always assumed I’d live into my 70’s or 80’s. I saw myself dying from a heart attack while gardening or, best-case scenario, drifting off to sleep one night and never waking up. Peaceful, placid, timely. I’d never even considered I might die from a long-term illness or in tragic circumstances. I had expected death would be accompanied by a warning, a death-rattle of sorts. There would be gradual signs of declining health as my peers began to die around me. I would live, I would grow old – and then when it was time and I’d lived a full life – then I would die. I now realised those thoughts were nothing more than a hope-filled assumption. I had never expected death would approach me so stealthily or be so instantaneous.

No matter who you are, the limited-time problem is an important question of priorities that we all need to grapple with. We only get to live once, and if we don’t ask ourselves what’s important in life – on a regular basis – and then do that, we’ll find our lives are evaporating away, with little to show for it.

As a Christian, I believe that I’m answerable to God for how I spend my time while here on Earth. It’s not just about fearing a “telling off” when I get to heaven, but a responsibility to make full use of the opportunities that I have. It’s about realising that I’m not living for myself.

As an amateur writer is my spending a huge amount of hours writing good value for time? And if it is, what kind of material should I be writing? I want to write things – do things – which have eternal value. Everything else won’t survive.

In discussing this recently with a friend, he pointed out that the arts can draw people toward God. Even if it only about drawing the creator toward God, there can be value in it. Both statements are true. And yet I want to be confident that it’s what I’m supposed to do. At least I need to listen to God and give him the opportunity to tell me it’s not what I should be doing. It’s all too easy to justify what I want to do if I’m the judge. If there’s one thing I don’t need, it’s lessons on how to be selfish. If it could be called a skill, I’ve got that one mastered.

One thing I am inspired to do is begin a Word document I’m calling “The Tome of Thankfulness”. I’m going to write down in detail, and categorise all of the things which I have to be thankful for. I expect, over time, that it will grow large. Sometimes in life, I forget to be thankful and I can start to go into a woe-is-me spiral. This document will be invaluable as a source to uplift me, to remind me of the many thousands of things I have to be thankful for.

As an example: I’m thankful that I can see colours. When I’m driving down the road, I love seeing the range of greens in the tree-tops. How wonderful is that – when you consider that it’s possible that we could only see in monochrome?

I haven’t fact-checked these data, but this was from spam I received recently:

  • If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep… you’re richer than 75% of this world.
  • If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change somewhere in the house… you are in the top 8% of the world’s wealthy
  • If you woke up this morning with more health than illness… you’re more blessed than a million people who won’t survive the week.
  • If you have never experienced the dangers of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation… you’re ahead of 500 million people in the world.

It seems to me, whether you ascribe to a loving God or not, if you can read this blog, you have much to be thankful for. And maybe if we are thankful, we can extend more grace and love to those around us and be happier about our lives.

Continued Writing Skill

Last year – to the day as it turns out – I wrote about a good and bad example of continuity in TV. If I do say so myself, I enjoyed re-reading my own blog post. The good example was NCIS and how they dealt with Tony DiNozzo leaving the show.

After many seasons I still enjoy NCIS; but that doesn’t mean I am blind to the show’s weaknesses. It is highly formulaic and the plots of the episodes are seldom surprising. That’s not to say there isn’t any suspense or the occasional plot twist which catches me unaware. What keeps me watching are the characters. After so many seasons their quirky natures and chemistry continue to be enjoyable.

Continuing on the same theme as my former post, the way the writers handle characters leaving the show is done well; much better than many other shows handle it. Season 15 of NCIS saw Abby wave farewell to her former colleagues as she left the show. As if to echo my earlier blog post comments about continuity, McGee had a phone call with Tony and DiNozzo senior popped in for a cameo visit.

After the death of MI6 agent Duane Henry, Abby decides to leave NCIS to carry on his community work. Like Tony had, Abby left on good terms, after having “nice moments” with most of the crew. Killing Abby, even if it was dying heroically, would not have been kind to the audience. And its my belief that it wouldn’t fit the tone of the show. While characters do sometimes die – killing a 1-season Kate needs to handled differently than a 15-season Abby. Kate was also a field agent where danger is expected; Abby would have been more of “an innocent”. Killing her off in any manner would have been traumatic and put her long-term fans offside.

Kasie, who would become Abby’s replacement entered the show six episodes before Abby’s departure. She entered the show as Doc Mallard’s editor/writing assistant. (Incidentally, letting Mallard write a book and teach is also setting him up for a transition out of the show. It is a reward for both him and Jimmy who is my favourite “autopsy gremlin”). I’ve heard writing advice that says to create a twist by letting a side-plot become the main plot – and this is largely the same: a minor character transitions into a major character.

Kasie is introduced early, she builds a good rapport (if shallow) with all of the characters, and importantly shows homage to the brilliance which is Abby Scuito.

Also important, she defines herself quickly as both quirkly and different from her predecessor – which will leave many opportunities for interesting interactions with her co-stars. (Ditto that, with the introduction of the troubled Jack Sloane).

In a character-driven show it’s important that we’re seeing character development in both their personal and professional lives. Ellie is stepping up as a potential leader and McGee now has baby twins to deal with. Torres – well I’m not sure about Torres…

The way the writers handle introducing and departing characters is stronger than many others shows.

(In closing, I also want to mention how I wish they’d have a few more multi-episode plots. Take Vance’s capture at the end of the season… I’d like to see that drawn out for at least 3 episodes… it doesn’t need to be tied up in a bow after a single episode or 2. Let the characters work hard to secure his release – give me at least one try-fail cycle first).