Called to Speak – Disabilities & Chronic Illness

As part of the blog hop for Nadine Brandes upcoming novel A Time to Speak, we bloggers were called to speak out on issues that were close to our hearts.

For me, this meant focusing on an area that is as close to my heart as my mother. My brother. My husband. And my own brain.

Disabilities. Whether they are physical, neurological, or even the result of chronic illness, they profoundly affect the way many people live. While Americans live in a culture that supposedly promotes inclusiveness and tolerance, ultimately even the idea of having a disability is often a taboo subject, especially for adults.

Having a disability marks you as someone who needs help when everyone else doesn’t. Someone who is incapable of being normal. Someone who will never quite fit in, because physically, neurologically, or due to illness, you just cant.

A disability makes you…

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A Time to Die – A Review

51+0GidPH4L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_One Year.

That’s all Parvin Blackwater has left.

Then she dies.

Author Nadine Brandes’s debut novel, A Time to Die, pulls its readers into a Dystopian world in which all citizens are assigned a clock at birth, showing each person exactly how long the have to live. To the second.

Parvin’s time is almost up…and she’s determined not to waste it.

A review I saw described A Time to Die as “dystopian fiction…with hope”. And this is the critical component that makes this book more than just a good read. Parvin’s journey illustrates that even when we are come face to face with death, our lives still matter and that those moments are often the time when God chooses to use us in the most powerful ways.

Granted, Parvin’s journey is hardly a stroll through the park. In the race against her own clock, Parvin is harassed by cruel government agents and ultimately leaves her home, left alone against wolves, assassins, the raw elements of nature, and learns the ropes in the trader city of Ivanhoe, which feels like a re-imagination of Bartertown from “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.”

To use a phrase that the cool kids are using these days, “the struggle is real” for Parvin. Very real. So much so in some sections, that I probably wouldn’t recommend the book for reader’s younger than 12 depending on the sensitivity of the child (parents should make their own judgments). But Parvin’s resilience and the story’s strong faith elements help balance the narrative, guiding it away from the “doom and gloom” of many of Young Adult novels.

Central to this hopeful atmosphere for the book, is Parvin’s own faith in God, which is excellently shown throughout the book. Brandes lets us in on Parvin’s prayer life as she endures her trials. And the best part is that a lot of Parvin’s prayers sound like my own. Fear prayers. Whining prayers. Sarcastic prayers. A Time to Die handles its faith elements better than nearly any other Faith based book I’ve ever read.

The story itself is magnificently crafted, with complex, well developed characters. Several tropes common to the dystopian genre are implored (the brave young heroine, the brooding but handsome hero, the twisted calculating government official), but the story leads these tropes into new and exciting territory.

The only complaints I have toward the book come mostly near the end, where several abrupt plot twists happen right before the last pages, leaving the reader with a knot of unresolved emotion in their chest and a slew of nagging questions which go unresolved until the second book.

Maybe that’s a valid complaint. Maybe not. In either case, the story takes its reader on a fantastic ride which leaving them itching for the next book in the trilogy.

Fortunately for you, book two just so happens to come out next week. Be on the look out for my review of A Time to Speak here in the next few weeks.

If this looks like your kind of book, you should saunter on over to for more awesome Faith based SciFi/Fantasy titles.


ACFW Conference Wrap Up

Some of your are confused right now.

sword“Andrew, didn’t you say you weren’t going to ACFW Conference this year?” Yep.

“Didn’t you post on Facebook explaining how you felt God telling you to stay home instead of going.” Absolutely.

“Didn’t you spend part of that week commenting on people pictures and texting your friends saying you wished you were there.” Guilty.

So why am I writing a wrap up post for a conference I didn’t attend? That’s a great question…and I wish I had a great answer.

Ever since I decided (reluctantly) not to go, I have been trying to figure out what God had in mind for me. I spent a lot of time last week asking God “Why am I still here?”. Why am I not around my friends and my family of writers? Why am I missing out on a chance to get some face time with agents and editors and other industry folks? Why don’t I get a chance to get away from the junk of life for a week and just live in the awesome fantasy world where everyone likes to create stories with their brain?

Because you've got to have an elephant at your writer's conference. You've just got to.

A few answers came to mind. It is a busy season with my “real job” right now and it’d but my boss in a major pinch to abscond to Texas for a week. I’m certain that some of it was God simply reminding me that this desire in my heart to tell stories was originally His idea, not mine, and that ultimately my writing career will unfold on His time table, not mine. And on some level, I’m sure that part of it was just God testing me to obey in sacrificing something I really really (really) care about, even when I don’t fully know why.

But in the end…I still don’t get it.

There’s been no silver bullet answer. No “Full House” moment where God sits me down on the couch and say “Well Andrew, the reason you didn’t get to go to Dallas is…” I’m just here, resigned to the fact that, like so many things this side of Heaven, I may not know what God, in His sovereignty, was (or wasn’t) up to.

So I get back to it. Plugging away at revisions on my novel. Fine tuning my short stories. Working hard with a launch team for an upcoming novel (some of which you’ll be seeing on this blog). All the while confidant that God, who called me to tell stories, will has my best interests in mind will ultimately work things out.

One day, I’m going to make a website where I can say whatever I want. Twitter or Facebook (or a blog) is supposed to do this for us, but we all know they really don’t.

There are so many things we’re not supposed to say. Things that would scare your friends if you said them out loud or just depress them.

Courtesy of Colin Logan via

Courtesy of Colin Logan via

“I’m pretty sure I’m going to be a horrible husband.”

“My dreams are all empty.”

“I know there are a lot of people who have it worse off than me, but I really don’t care.”

“At least I know I’m a disappointment.”

“Pretty sure most of my friends wouldn’t notice if I was gone.”

I’d post this stuff and more, not because any of it is true, but just to get it said. No need for a long string of comments asking “You okay, bud?” or “Hang in there”. No need for fortune cookie encouragements like “The night is darkest just before the dawn.” No need for my family and loved ones to look over my page and wonder if I’m doing okay.

We don’t say these things because we believe them. We say them because we’re afraid they’re true and we think we’re protected if we just accept it.

For as many awful days as I have where I believe all these lies, there are just as many (and more) days where life is actually pretty darn good.

But on those bad days…the lies seem so real.

So maybe if instead of saying proclaiming lies on my fancy website to protect myself, maybe I can say them to call them out and reveal them for the twisted fiction that they are. Put it all up on a bill board like “Hey! These things aren’t true!”

It’s actually not a very good idea for a social media page, but it’s a thought. I’ll put it on the back burner.

For now, I’ll get this stuff off my chest in long angry prayer sessions, in quiet talks with good friends, or just shouting it into my steering wheel on the way home from work.

You know, the old fashioned way.

6 Terror Tactics For Really Scary Villains

Sacha Black

6 Terror Tactics For Terrifying Villains

I first watched the Exorcist when I was about 9, I don’t know whether it was the projectile green vomit or badly done makeup, but I wasn’t impressed. These days it might be a little different. I was skeptical about everything back then. These days I’m only skeptical about some things because I know there really are things that go bump in the night. Scary movies, books or stories, have a better effect. Leaving me switching lights on, scanning rooms and ceilings and ensuring there’s a hockey stick within reaching distance!

I’m my own worst enemy and can never please myself. I started this series because I wasn’t happy with my villain, guess what, I’m still not. So I started investigating what makes a really scary bad guy. This post aims to identify what sets apart your Lemony Snicket from your Michael Myers (Halloween).

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13 “Tells” of a Novice Writer

WordServe Water Cooler

In the poker-playing world, professional card sharks have a term for a novice player who inadvertently gives away the cards he’s holding through some sort of gesture or tick of which he is unaware. The pros call it a “tell.”

pokerIn the publishing world, professional editors and agents look for the “tells” of a novice writer whenever they scan a manuscript. With practice, we can almost always pick out the amateur from the pro from reading just a page or two. Here’s a list of 13 Common “Tells” of an Amateur Writer that may give you an inside advantage at the publishing table.

  1. Too many clichés. If you find yourself using a common cliché–try changing it up for humor or effect. Instead of saying, “He marches to a different drum,” you might say, “She rhumbas to a different drum-ba.” You want to avoid cliches but they can also be…

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Happily Ever After?

About a year ago or so I having a phone chat with another writer friend of mine, discussing a story I was working on at the time.

I described the dynamic between the two main characters, a guy and a girl, and I told my friend (who just so happens to write and read stuff on the more Romantic side of the Force) that my plan was to have romantic tension between these two, but that they would ultimately never get together.

There was a sudden silence on the other end of the phone followed by a perturbed “What?”

happy couple hands

This led into a long and rather animated talk about the need for a story to have a “happy ending”.

I’m not really beholden to the idea of a perfect, fairy tale ending. I’m not opposed to happy endings, nor do I enjoy stories that try to be dark and depressing for the sake of being dark and depressing, but I enjoy an occasional tragic twist en route to “happily ever after”.

Most of this comes down to a simple question: Would you rather have a poorly done happy ending or a well done sad ending?

A brief Facebook chat with a fellow writer brought up the fact that a lot of movies today and afraid to go with a sad ending. There’s a fear of leaving the audience with any unresolved feelings as they walk out of the movie theater.

Like the movie makers are afraid to leave their audience with anything but the most sugary, cookie cutter conclusions. Chris Pine quits his big job on Wall Street to be with Natalie Portman and help her run her family’s candle making business. Sandra Bullock finally overcomes her fear of oceanic life and swims out to Gerard Butler’s fishing boat where they share in a sloppy wet kiss right before he proposes. I can’t really remember the last romantic film I saw where the couple didn’t get together in the end. (Granted, it’s not really my genre, but I feel like the point still stands.)

But if you think of some of the most timeless love stories in film history, aren’t there a bunch of them where guy and girl don’t get together in the end? Would we still be talking about Gone With The Wind in Rhett suddenly decided that he did give a damn? What about if Rick said “Here’s looking at you kid.” right before kicking Victor out onto the runway and flying off with Ilsa?

To paraphrase Roger Ebert, we shouldn’t “I don’t like sad endings” or “I can’t stand happily ever afters”, but instead say “I like well done endings”. Certainly there’s a place for both “Roman Holiday” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” on the same shelf?

happy couple

And it all balances out. Sometimes we need to sit back and take it them complex emotional end to “An Affair to Remember”. Other days, I’m sure people just need snuggle up with “Sleepless in Seattle”.

But in the end, let’s not forget that it’s a movie. It’s entertainment. Whatever your preference, enjoy it. Always be on the lookout for that next favorite, but while you’re at it, don’t be afraid to try something new. Who knows. The end might just surprise you.

I Hate My Blog!

It happens every Tuesday.

I get halfway through the day and I’m like “Great Caesar’s Ghost! I was supposed to post something today.”

I’ve had a blog for something in the neighborhood of 2 years, but only really got serious about it at the end of last year. Had some success with a few posts that people liked and even got to guest write on a few other blogs.

But suddenly the neat ideas I had are coming at a much slower pace.


Seems I like I keep reading cool posts like “5 Exciting Characters Every Good Suspense Novel Needs!”, meanwhile I’m working on a piece like “What it’s really like being a Christian and a Star Wars Fan.”, recycling ideas from other posts.

I have having to force myself to write something just to get it done. I’ve had to do that with the book I’m working on. Just getting something on the page. It’s just something you need to do. But the only people who see that are my critique partners and a few others. Then I have months to work on it and get it ‘perfect’ before anyone else sees it. But posting on my blog is like sending out a half formed, typo ridden first draft where anyone anywhere can see it.

I have a talent for people’s negative reaction’s to my stuff. Seriously, it should be some kind of marketable skill. Every time I press send, I hear the critical voices saying “Lame! Boring! Your Joss Whedon jokes aren’t funny!”

Or worse, I just imagining people scrolling past my stuff on their news feed as they go to check out a hilarious meme about goats.

I like the comfortable feeling I get when I know I’ve something really good. I hate stepping out, not knowing what kind of feedback I will get, if any.

100_7244And that is the risk that we all take every time we put pen to paper and use words to bare our soul. There’s always the chance of putting out a stinker or that you’ll get the perfect ending to a short story and readers will sit and go “I don’t get it.”

We take that risk because without it there’s no thrill when people leave excited replies in the comment section or when your friends come up to you saying “Hey man, read your story. Great stuff.”

There’s the sense of accomplishment from knowing that your God given gift of writing is not going unused.

So I’ll keep writing and blogging and we’ll see what comes of it. Maybe it’ll get easier the more I do it. We’ll see.

There are no Zombies in the Bible

I don’t know when I first read it, but I got myself in a little bit of trouble in college when I read Psalms 27.

It reads:
“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; thought war break out against me, even then I will be confident. (Psalms 27:1-3 NIV, emphasis added)

I didn’t get much further than “devour my flesh” and “stumble and fall” before my twisted little brain said “He is totally talking about being surrounded by an army of zombies!” Obviously, I didn’t really believe that was the case, but it was fun to contemplate King David leading his mighty men against a horde of the undead, hacking off the heads of reanimated corpses. (I was also reading the “Zombie Survival Guide” by Max Brooks at the time, which may have had some influence on where my thoughts were at the time.)

It was a great conversation starter. “Hey did you know there are Zombies in the Bible?” I’d flip to the verses and it’d usually get a laugh. Usually.

My friend Emily thought I was being absolutely ridiculous, but this only encouraged me on all the more. I even devised a bogus theory (even less credible than my first) that when Jesus returns, he will in fact do so riding on the back of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The joke went on for months and months.

But alas, this is a story of hubris.

One night a group of us met to pray for the family of one our international students. The man’s wife and young son were trying to flee to the U.S. and were being smuggled out of their home country that night.*

I’d never been in an atmosphere like that, with such a mix of hope, fear, and faith. My prayer life seldom includes literal “life and death” scenarios.

And guess what verses came up during the prayer night.

Go ahead guess.

Yup. Psalm 27. My zombie verses.

My friend Matt started praying for God’s protection over the family. He read the exact verses I’d been using as a punchline for months and there was nothing funny about them that night.

Reading on, he said “For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.” (Psalms 27:5 NIV)

The family made it through the treacherous journey safely, reaching the U.S. where the entire family was reunited.

On my end, it became pretty clear that Psalm 27’s best use was not as a punchline for bored fans of George A. Romero movies. I wasn’t fearful of any lightning coming my way, but it was clear that I wasn’t using the Bible the way that I ought. There are definitely some humorous moments in the Bible, but that wasn’t supposed to be one of them.

So I quit telling people there were Zombies in the Bible, although I know a few people who will argue with you over the T-rex thing.

Most of you are probably smart enough not to twist the meaning of scripture for comedic value, but when you quote the Bible to people, do your best to make sure that it’s done in the right context and for the right reasons. There’s grace for our mistakes, but we should still take steps to avoid being flippant about the things that should matter most.

What about you? You ever misquoted or misunderstood something from the Bible in a way that got you in trouble? I mean, I can’t be the only one…right? Right? Leave a comment with your story if you got one or if it’s really embarrassing, you message me on Facebook or Twitter.

*The whole story of that family fleeing to the U.S. is actually an amazing story in and of itself, but unfortunately it’s a story that I don’t have time to tell here. Maybe in a future post.