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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Love is a Many Crazied Thing

"And remember. . . " Milnore pointed a long, bony finger at Josh. "Be careful with this spell. Love is a very powerful emotion. It isn't to be used without good cause."

Josh raised his eyebrows. "What is a good cause?"

Milnore tipped his pointed hat back and scratched his forehead. "When it is in the best interest of all parties to do so."

"And how will I know that?"

Milnore huffed. "Use the thought reading spell."

Josh wrinkled his forehead. "I don't think you've taught me that one yet."

Milnore's eyes grew wide. "I haven't, have I?" A smile cracked across his face. "I suppose you are right. But one spell at a time. Avoid using this one until I teach you that one, then."

Milnore raised a finger. He closed his eyes and murmured a spell. His eyes flashed open. "No one is around or listening in. Here is the spell to cause someone to love you."

Milnore leaned in and Josh tilted his ear to him.

"You obtain an item of the one to make love another. Hold it in your hand, and recite the following words after you initialize for a spell: Eros love comes from above, from within, from the heart, instill it in thee for me."

Josh recited the words a couple times.

Milnore nodded. "Good. Keep practicing. I have a meeting to attend. When I return, I'll see if you can use it."

Josh smiled. "If I can't use it on anyone, how can I practice using it?"

Milnore opened the front door to the house and paused. "Insects and animals." He turned and exited the door, shutting it behind him.

Josh grimaced. "I'll not be using that on mosquitoes." He pulled out a chair at the kitchen table and recited the words of the spell several times between gulps of water. After the tenth time, he yawned.

A knock echoed from the front door. Josh leaped up and answered it. His best friend, Sisko, stood in the doorway. "Hi. Come on in."

Sisko stepped inside the house. "Thought I'd come by and see how your training is going."

Josh smiled. "I learned a new spell today."

Sisko's eyes snapped wide. "Huh...I just remembered my mother had some errands for me to run." He wheeled around on his heels and headed for the door.

Josh mumbled the kinetic spell, and the front door slammed shut. "Not so fast! I'm not going to use the spell on you."

Sisko put his hands on his hips. "That's what you said the last time. You about killed both of us with those flying axes."

Josh held up his hands. "I know, I know. I blew it that time."

"And then there was the incident with the dentist."

Josh closed his eyes. "Okay, so I've blown it a few times. But this spell is easy. So easy, it is foolproof."

Sisko seated himself on the living room sofa. "So what is this spell?"

"A love spell."

Sisko rubbed his chin. "A love spell, eh? To make people fall in love with...?"


Sisko smiled. "So someone would fall in love with you? Not me?"

"If there is a spell for that, Milnore hasn't taught it to me yet."

Sisko sat up. "I'll bet you can't make Sarah fall in love with you."

Josh gulped. "Sarah? Are you crazy? She's the last person I want falling in love with me." The crazy girl taunted Josh every chance she could.

Sisko pointed a finger at Josh. "That's just it. We both know she hates your guts. If she can be made to love you, you'll know the spell is working."

"It would be a test. But Milnore said not to use it yet."

"I'll do a chore for you."

"Really?" Milnore did expect him to haul wood in and chop it for the fireplace. The spell was simple enough. "Okay. Deal."

Sisko stood. "I believe she is at the market. Let's go."

What had he gotten himself into this time. Why did Sisko want to see this so bad?


Sisko pointed down the isle of vegetables. "There she is. With her sister Lori."

Sarah held a brush, combing it through her hair every once in a while. Josh breathed deep and stepped toward them. Sarah glanced his direction as he approached, and then fixed her eyes on him. "What do you want, goofy."

Josh grinned. "Your love."

She gritted her teeth. "In your dreams, wizard want-a-be."

Josh laughed, and then stuck his tongue out at her. The action had the desired effect. She launched the brush at Josh. He ducked, but not quick enough. A thud resonated inside his skull.

"Ouch!" He rubbed his forehead as the brush landed at his feet. He glanced at Sisko, who covered his mouth in a controlled laughter as he approached. He began to think Sisko wanted to see him squirm.

Sarah laughed. "Now, give me the brush back, or I'll beat you up myself."

Josh picked the brush up and then mumbled the love spell. He focused on Sarah to see what she would do or say. Instead, Lori ran his direction.

Sisko patted Josh on the shoulder. "Looks like you nailed the wrong girl."

Josh glanced at the brush in his hand. "This must be Lori's brush." Josh braced himself as Lori raced toward him, a crazed look in her eyes.

Lori flew past Josh and landed on Sisko, sending him sprawling into the dirt. Her lips locked onto Sisko's, as he stared wide eyed at Josh and flailed about on the ground.

Lori moved to kissing his face and neck. Sisko gasped. "Josh, do something!"

Josh snickered. He must have said "thee" twice instead of "me." But this wasn't innocent fun. Lori had started unbuttoning Sisko's vest. She'd have him naked in the middle of town if he didn't do something.

A hand grabbed Josh's shoulder and spun him around. Sarah bared her teeth. "What did you do to my sister, you perverted spell-caster?"

"Nothing really. I..." Sarah's fist landed across his face. Blood trickled from his nose as he staggered back, cradling his jaw in his palm.

Sarah reared her fist back again as she gritted her teeth. "Now fix her, or I'll knock your teeth out."

Josh blinked at the hovering knuckles. He could only think of one solution. He grabbed her arm and said the love spell under his breath.

Sarah's face relaxed. She jerked her head around to see Lori spread Sisko's shirt open, revealing his chest. Her kisses worked their way toward his stomach.

Sarah shoved Josh away and raced toward Sisko and Lori. "You can't have him. He's mine!" She banged into Lori, rolling her to the side. Then she caressed Sisko's bare chest. She closed her eyes and smiled into the sky.

Sisko tried to push her away. "Josh! I'm not doing your chore!"

Lori rose to her feet and plowed into Sarah. "He loves me! Get off him!" The two girls rolled off Sisko and into the dirt road.

Sisko scrambled to his feet. "Now what?"

Josh scratched his head. "I don't know."

A voice behind Josh said, "That's the first sensible thing you've said so far."

Josh spun around. "Master! Am I glad to see you."

Milnore lips tightened. "I thought I told you not to use the spell yet?"

Sisko raised his hand. "My fault. I encouraged him. I should have known better." Sisko glanced at the two girls clawing at each other.

Milnore frowned and shook his head. He mumbled a spell and cast his hand at the two women. "Never mess with a woman's emotions. Way too unpredictable."

Sarah and Lori stopped fighting. They paused for a moment as they stared at each other. Then Sarah rose and dusted herself off. She stalked toward Josh.

Josh ran behind Milnore and peaked out from behind him.

She pointed at him. "You better hide, numb-face. I'll get you back for this humiliation." She growled before turning on her heals.

She paused to look at Sisko, his shirt and vest hanging open. She wiped her mouth with her arm and spat on the ground. "In your dreams, scrawny." Then she stomped away with Lori in tow.

Sisko shrugged his shoulders. "What did I do?"

Milnore cracked a smile. "I do have a spell for turning people into toads."

Josh stood by his side. "Really?" That certainly sounded appealing.

Milnore cleared his throat. "But now would not be a good time to teach it to you. However, I hope you have learned your lesson today."

Josh nodded. "Yes. Don't let friends convince you to use a spell before you know how to reverse it."

Milnore nodded. "Good, but not what I was thinking of."

Josh stared up at him. "Then what?"

Milnore stroked his beard. "Eros love is not a tame mistress. Treat her with respect, and a good dose of agape love to balance it."

"I didn't know about that."

Milnore patted Josh's head. "That, my apprentice, is why I told you to wait. I hadn't told you the whole spell yet."

Josh groaned. Would he ever learn?

Read more stories about Sisko and Josh in Reality's Dawn!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Non-Fiction Readers Less Empathetic than Fiction Readers

Recently, at the Speculative Faith blog, I posted an article on how fiction affects the brain in the same way real-life experiences do. While non-fiction can transmit information, fiction transmits experiences that give context and concreteness to that information. The very reason so much non-fiction relies heavily on short story snippets to illustrate their points.

But those short story snippets are no replacement for total immersion into a story. At best they can illustrate the point being made, but the reader is not often lost in a story by which they experience the truth. This is where novels shine and non-fiction is severely limited.

This fact is highlighted by an article from NBC News by Meghan Holohan, titled, "Getting lost in a novel means you're more empathetic." She makes the following observation based on scientific studies:
People who lost themselves in the fiction showed more empathy than people who did not become as involved in fiction or read nonfiction.

“[W]hen we get lost in a book, we are in another world, in which we can freely experience the character’s feelings and thoughts as if they were our own, through which we ‘learn’ how other people think and feel about problems in life. This again can be transferred to real life, so by reading a book and getting involved in the story, we are able to sympathize with other people,” Bal says.

Chalk up another point to the benefits of reading fiction. Not only do those who eschew fiction in preference of non-fiction lose out on experiencing reality from different perspectives, a broader cultural exposure, and increased brain functioning, but also lose out on the opportunity to break out of our ego-centric focus. Fiction gives us the opportunity, as my mom always used to say, to "walk a mile in their moccasins." Or as St. Paul would say, "Treat each other as more important than yourself."

Do you think those who are more empathetic lose themselves in fiction, or does losing oneself in fiction makes one more empathetic, or both?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

House Cleaning, God Style

Not too many people enjoy cleaning. Yet my wife cleans houses for a living. Being unemployed the last several months, I've been helping her when she needs it. While it is a little physically demanding for an aging man like myself, it is doable. But every once in a while we get a "special" job.

Such a job came up last Saturday. A client's father had died and the client had done some refurbishing to the house: new ceiling, carpet, and some other work. But not everything had been cleaned up from the move out. So the job had the worst of both types: move out and new construction.

Like most move outs, we had to clean everything. Vacuum out the drawers and shelves. Since they had installed a new ceiling, a visible layer of dust coated everything. And I mean everything! Small rocks lay on the fireplaces. The freezer needed extensive cleaning. The bathtubs, especially one, had crud that needed scraping out. Fun, fun, fun!

On most of these jobs, I get the floor duty. I'd say about 90% of the house was carpeted, with brand new carpet. Did you catch that? Brand new pile carpet! Do you know what that means? I didn't until I started vacuuming.

You see, new pile carpet isn't dirty. But, it is fuzzy. Extremely fuzzy. We use a bagless canister vacuum (luckily). We would have gone through several bags if we hadn't. For each bedroom, I had to empty the canister at least twice. Full of dirt? No, full of carpet fuzz. I must have emptied it out at least 5 or 6 times in the living room. Lots and lots of carpet fuzz! I never realized that new carpets were so full of loose fuzz.

It took both of us working a full 6.5 hours to clean the house, for a total combined 13 hours of work. We were tired, to say the least. And hungry! We'd hardly eaten more than a 6" sub all day. So eight o'clock at night, we went out to eat before heading home, and refueled. Long Saturday!

He texted my wife today. "Great job! Thanks." Another satisfied customer. Not to mention the pay was good. Now he can show the house and sell it. And we can pay some more bills.

The surprise? I expected to be sore the next day as my back was hurting after we finished. But I felt good. While I can't say, "Oh, I love cleaning houses!" I do feel a sense of satisfaction at a job well done. And the joy of spending the whole day with my wife.

Come to think of it, isn't that our motivation with God? Why we "buffet our bodies" and spend time worshiping Him? Because we love Him, and want to spend time with Him, and He deserves it? I think that is part of letting your light shine so that He may be glorified. Whatever you do, do all for the glory of God. Wise words to keep in mind whether we're cleaning a house, worshiping, or writing a novel.

How do you glorify God in your daily activities?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sex Sells

We all know it. That title alone probably brought you here. It has become common place in many movies to have a sex scene or two. Many books, especially in the general market, have them. Some more descriptive than others.

The Christian market's response appears to be "don't indicate it happens at all." Even in the romance novels, hints that a couple have had sex, even when married, are absent. The buyers of those books read them primarily because they don't have to worry about running into a sex scene, among other "naughty" things.

Somewhere in the middle is a group of writers who want to offer a more "realistic" but not "erotic" set of stories. Show that it happens, but not end up writing erotic porn into their stories. I've seen various views presented, including those in the past on Mike Duran's blog to most recently in a series of articles on the Speculative Faith blog about Vox Day's new book, Throne of Bones, published by an imprint of Marcher Lord Press.

I'd sum them up like this:

No show. Among those willing to go further than nothing, one group doesn't mind indicating it happened or is about to happen, but don't show anything about it. Perhaps the most you're likely to get is kissing and holding hands. Then a statement, if any, that he took her to his bed. The rest you fill in for yourself. Scene break, and you are on the other side of the event. Note: this is what one might refer to as the Biblical model, since this is how the Bible tends to speak of a couple who has had sex.

Stop short. That is, more showing is done to indicate where this is headed. Some heavy petting, maybe touching in more suggestive ways, but the scene cuts away before anything too erotic-like happens. Maybe a telling statement tacked onto the end, but usually not. It is real obvious what happens after that. This is more natural for fiction in that if one is going to show it, then it comes across as more realistic. The "no show" method can appear like someone is purposefully avoiding it and coming across unrealistic. After all, the Bible isn't fiction, and mostly tells rather than shows.

Crack open the door. In this version, the reader follows the characters into the sexual act, but very scant detail is given or more allegorical terms are used. It might be as brief as "he pulled her under the sheets and enjoyed his wife's love." This would use language more like that found in The Song of Solomon. One must keep in mind, however, that the Song of Solomon isn't describing a specific encounter, but is more a teaching on faithfulness to one's spouse, and therefore to God. It isn't going there to tell a story, but to instruct readers.

The primary issues with both the "stop short" and "crack the door open" models is where is the cut off point? At what action in the "stop short" method have we crossed over into a lead up to sex and are getting into the act itself? Once you crack the door open, how far is too far before it becomes erotica?

Some of these can be "gray" areas. For instance, in my novel Reality's Fire, I used the "stop short" method for showing that a married couple who have been apart for a long time were about to have sex. I had them involved in some semi-heavy petting right before cutting away. One of the last actions I had written was him running his hand along her thigh. My editor felt that crossed a line. I was okay cutting it, even though for me, it seemed minor. But that represents that gray area. Some draw the line slightly differently.

That said, it is easier to draw a line with that method than the latter. Certain actions will obviously be crossing that line. If I'd had him groping intimate parts of her body rather than sliding a hand along her thigh, there is no doubt we would have cracked the door open and followed them into a sex act. There is some gray area, but not a lot. Only on the boarder between heavy petting and sexual acts. Most people will know the difference.

But the "cracking the door open" method has its problems in there is no well defined boundary when one has gone too far. Some will find any description of a sex act, no matter how medical, allegorical, or brief, to be too much. Such an intimate act is reserved only for the couple, and to crack open the door on the bedroom is invading their privacy and causing the reader to be voyeuristic.

Some might accept my brief example above as fine, but balk at referring to any body parts, or touching any of them. Others are fine with the body parts or touching, but any descriptive words that convey emotions or feelings would put them into erotica-land. Each person would have different boundaries as to what is too much. So, it is much harder to write with that method and not cross lines.

One also has to consider the unique nature of this act. Unlike a lot of other things: violence, greed, gossiping, eating ice cream, etc., a couple in bed together is an intimate act. Few of us would (or should) feel comfortable sitting in a chair watching their married friends have sex.

Most of us, sitting with the family watching a movie, will feel real uncomfortable when a hot sex scene comes up. "Don't look kids!" But if we are in the room alone, a different feeling arises. Suddenly it is okay, because we're adults and can handle these things. But is it any different, really? When reading about it in a book, are the mental images it creates any less voyeuristic?

The key for me is based upon the following guidelines in my own writing:

Is it gratuitous? That is, does the scene further the plot and/or characters or is it tacked on adding little to the plot? This can be a fuzzy line. What may not be to me could be to an editor or reader.

For instance, the above mentioned sex scene, to me it would have come across as unrealistic to not have that there (more on that in a moment). Removing it and the consequences of that act would have drastically changed what happens. So some case could be made that it furthered the plot. But I could have left that out, even though it would have created a gaping hole. As a sub-plot, it wasn't essential to the main plot. But the initial reason I put it in there is it would have felt extremely unnatural to ignore it based on the circumstances in the scene. Some, however, may conclude the scene was gratuitous. For me, it had a distinct purpose in furthering the story, so it wasn't gratuitous.

Does it promote a sinful lifestyle? When take as a whole story, does a sinful encounter, and this goes for showing all sinful actions, not just immoral sex, give the appearance of endorsing that sin? I've said before: It isn't where a story starts that makes it Christian, but where it ends. I have no problem showing sin, but its negative consequences and moral failure should be shown as well. Otherwise, I'm not being realistic within a Christian world view.

Does it end up drawing the reader into reading pornography? For me, whether an affection can be done in public or not is the key. What happens in the bedroom, stays in the bedroom. Even for fictional characters. Strictly speaking, when the actions and descriptions move into experiencing a sexual act, it becomes pornographic. Once you've gone there, you've drawn the reader into sin, not just observing it. If it would be sinful to watch in real life, so should it be in fictional life.

Is it realistic? Hold on before you jump on that and let me explain. I'm not one to suggest because people do it, we need to show our characters doing it all the time. That would be violating the gratuitous rule. For the same reason we don't show our characters going to the bathroom very often, or taking a bath, or think all the random and meaningless thoughts that go through our heads everyday. Why? Because we'd have one ultra boring book on our hands, and it would take a mega-volume to write it that way.

No, fictional stories are very unrealistic. Few people are put through what most fictional characters endure. How many times in your life have you saved Earth from annihilation? You would have multiple times if you were the Doctor (Doctor Who). If everything that happened to Sisko, my protag in Reality's Dawn, had happened to me, I'd be in a mental ward. Not riding off into the sunset to my next adventure.

But despite that, we give stories the appearance of realism. What destroys that isn't failing to include every bit of realistic activities possible, but to include any that would destroy the illusion of realism. Big difference there. That's why I said to have a husband and wife who have been apart for months, suddenly be together again for a short time and avoid thinking about sex would have broken that sense of realism. It would be expected in that situation. To not go there would have felt artificial.

So I wouldn't include those things to be realistic, but I would to maintain realism in the story.

The issue for me in moving from "stop short" to "crack the door open" is in necessity. Rare would be the plot, short of writing an erotica book, that would require us to follow a couple into the sex act. It is enough to know that it happened whether through telling or cutting away. Much beyond that is venturing into pornography.

Where are the lines you draw as a reader? As a writer? If you are both, do they differ?