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Sunday, July 28, 2013

How to Write for the Glory of God

If you are a writer who is a Christian and have been involved in discussions with like-minded writers, I'm sure you've heard this statement before: "My goal in writing is to glorify God."

I'm not saying this isn't a valid goal, but that it gets misused. In short, my response might be, "That doesn't means what you think it means." Here are three of the messages sent by that statement that I see as misusing it.

If you're writing for any other reason, you're on the wrong track.

In confusing overall vision with purpose-goals (more on that in a bit), people tend to dismiss any other reason—like entertainment—as an inferior goal that denies the goal of glorifying God.

Quality doesn't matter since I'm doing it for God.

Most people probably don't literally mean this or wouldn't come out and say this, but it is the message sent if the statement is in response to someone's goal to improve their writing or set a high bar for quality work. Some do use the phrase to mask laziness.

Any story that fails to present the Gospel and refer, allude, or represent Jesus is failing to write for the glory of God, and is inferior.

The phrase tends to be code words for "true Christian writing" that directly promotes God and the gospel in the proper way. I'm not saying this type of writing should be avoided (I've written some of it), but that can be a worse witness to God than a story that never mentions Him. Being overtly Christian in content does not qualify as glorifying God.

In my experience, people who use that phrase often don't fully understand what they are saying or they wouldn't use it when they do.

The key point often missed is the route to glorifying God in our writing is by successfully fulfilling the purpose of the work.

It should be obvious and clear that not just our writing, but our whole life should be done for the glory of God. Therefore, that isn't a goal for a specific part of our life, but a purpose for all our lives. But how does any one part fulfill that life-vision?

Let's use the example of our driving. Yes, our driving should glorify God. How does it do that? By successfully navigating one's passengers to their destination as safely as possible. By obeying traffic laws out of consideration for others' safety. By acting as if everyone else on the road is more important than yourself. To let your light shine through your actions. By effectively and successfully fulfilling the purpose of driving a vehicle: to get people and cargo safely and efficiently to their destinations, including others on the road, in a Christ-like manner.

We glorify God when we effectively fulfill the purpose of a task in a manner that provides a good witness to what God has done in our lives. To look at it from another angle, what we do, we do unto God. So whether one is witnessing, singing, cooking, reading, or writing, we give our best offering unto God in each task.

For fiction, what is its purpose? For some writers, they admit to only writing to please themselves. They don't care if anyone else is ever interested in reading it or have any message they wish to communicate to the masses. For them, if the story pleases them, it has fulfilled its purpose. But still, what is that purpose?

It is the same as anyone who picks up a work of fiction to read: to be entertained. Whether your audience is yourself or a group of readers, the main purpose of a fiction story is to entertain that audience. If it fails to do that much, if fails to fulfill its purpose.

"But I'm a reader, and I like fiction with a message." All well and good. I'm not saying other goals cannot exist alongside entertaining your audience. Rather, if your story is boring, doesn't engage the reader, few are those who will ever read that message. It is unlikely you'll continue reading a message oriented story if you find it boring and bland, no matter how much you prefer message-oriented fiction.

If fiction fails to entertain, it fails at everything else, including glorifying God. Because that is the main point of reading fiction. In some cases, not entertaining can be a bad witness for God, especially if it includes a gospel presentation or uses Jesus as a character.

It is the equivalent of putting a Christian bumper sticker on your vehicle and driving rudely. You'll do more damage to God's glory than help it.

In effect, not to have entertainment as the primary goal of writing fiction is to fail to glorify God. Being entertaining doesn't mean it replaces the purpose of glorifying God in your writing. It means it supports it.

That is why as a fiction author, my goal is to first entertain. Doesn't mean there aren't other issues of content that could effect how well a story glorifies God. Only that if I fail to be entertaining, I've already lost that battle no matter how well I execute the rest.

Instead, I allow God to use a story for whatever message He might have for people, even if it is to plant a seed, make someone realize being a Christian doesn't equate with boring, inferior stories, or whatever. Because if my work doesn't get read, whatever messages I have will not be heard.

For me, that does not glorify God. To fulfill that goal, I have to write engaging and entertaining fiction stories.

How do your goals in writing support glorifying God in your stories?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Call of Nature

Since a lot of my early short stories/flash fictions were on sites that are no longer active, I thought I would post them here. This story was my first accepted story, back around May of 2006, and was published in Raygun Revival on February 2007. I've also included in my anthology, Ethereal Worlds. Enjoy.
~~ R. L. Copple

The metal hanger, which housed the Z-14X prototype space plane, shined in the moonlight just beyond the barbed-wired fence. The moonlight reminded John of the sun. He couldn't wait to see it against the blackness of space.

The security fence gloated, "Just try to get through," but it hadn't counted on someone who could simply fly over. It hadn't counted on—Moth Man.

The only real ability John possessed: he could fly using the soft wings on his back. That and the fact if someone ate him, they would die of toxic poison. "A lot of good that would do me. Why couldn't a radioactive spider have bitten me? Why a moth?" he had often wondered.

Yet now the wings came in handy. He lifted himself into the air. Wind flowed through his hair as he bounced though the cool night over the compound. Soon he sank to the ground beside the hanger.

John peered into the window and saw the craft bathed in dim moonlight:  a black shell, adorned by four wings well back on the craft, spread out in an "X" pattern. Just as his web research had revealed. Touted as the first plane to fly successfully out of earth's gravity and into space, it looked the part.

A growl sounded. He swung around to see a German Shepherd baring its teeth. He froze. I could probably fly away before he reached me. He prepared to launch.

"Freeze!" A uniformed man swung around the corner, brandishing a rifle pointed straight at John. He froze again.

I might be able to escape the dog, but not the bullet. "Sorry, can you tell me how to get to the Hilton? I seem to be lost."

He didn't buy it. "Up against the wall, hands high." The dog threatened with a low rumbling growl.

John complied, what else could he do? As he followed the officer's orders, his black and gold tiger-moth wings came into view.

"What the…" The officer moved closer and felt the wings. He rubbed the wing dust off his hands with a grimace and then patted John down for weapons.

John saw his opportunity. He swung his wings hard, hitting the officer in the head. The hit and wing dust disoriented him. John's fist landed a hit squarely on the back of his neck. The guard dropped unconscious. John launched himself into the air before the dog could reach him. The Shepherd's snapping jaws just missed John's dangling foot.

The barking dog now broadcasted the fact that an intruder had penetrated the compound. John no longer had time for subtleties. Landing on the roof, he kicked in the skylight.  It shattered open, and he winged his way inside.

Now, where did they store the plutonium fuel rods? John swung around and spotted them, in a box labeled as such along the wall. He grabbed a handful and flew to the cockpit. Once inside, he inserted all but two fuel rods into the power receptors and initiated the injection process.

By now, several guards filed in the door, guns encircled the ship. The engines had power, so John increased the throttle. The plane lurched forwards. Gunfire echoed in the hanger. Warning shots, hoping it would scare John into stopping no doubt. They didn't want to riddle their craft with holes. Not until they had no other recourse.

Doing a standard take-off would take too long. John thought about going right to the nuclear escape engines. Such force, designed for airborne ignition, could tear it and him apart from a near-dead stop. He had only one viable course of action.

He braced himself, then hit the ignition switch. The Gs slammed him into the seat. He struggled to maintain consciousness. The metal groaned under the strain. The plane shot forward and ploughed through the hanger doors. Scraping metal sounds echoed through the cockpit. It bounced along the ground. A fence raced toward the plane. John pulled back on the stick, already speeding past 200 knots. The prototype shot upward. The Gs squished him as if a giant hand pushed on his head.

As the plane cleared the buildings and the land quickly receded, John cut the ignition and switched to standard fuel. His field of vision returned and his face reshaped to its rounded state like a baby fresh out of the womb.

John glanced at the escape-engine fuel gauge. The stunt had expended a third of what he needed to escape earth's gravity. He inserted the other two rods. The solar panels should keep life support going as long as needed. John didn't expect to return anyway.

John released manual control to the computer. The escape engines fired. Again he sank into the seat. The craft angled higher. The blue sky receded. The stars brightened, looking like white sand dusting a black void. The horizon shifted to a curved surface rimmed with the sun's golden silhouette.

Suddenly, a ray of sunlight broke over the earth's rim, bathing John in awe. Its beauty filled his mind. The light entranced John; its song called to him.

Time suspended, the shinning light against the blackness of space filled all desire. Before, John had flown as high as his wings would let him but the sun remained out of reach. Now, he could soar until he soaked in all of its beautiful light.

John pulled a disk from his pocket and held it before his eyes. He had pre-programmed the flight path:  a one-way trip to the sun. His gaze moved back to the enveloping fireball. He could hold back no longer. John slid the disk into the ship's computer. It responded with beeps and a message reading, "program accepted." The engines adjusted the trajectory.

Did John know it would kill Him? Yes. But he didn't care. He could not rest until he took in all the glorious radiance his body could endure.

"Why couldn't I have been bit by a radioactive spider instead?"

Check out Ethereal Worlds for more short stories.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Submit, Woman!

You already know what Scripture verses I'm going to discuss, don't you? My recent guest post, "Have You Committed Adultery Lately," at Mike Duran's blog, "Decompose," inspired me from the comments to address this subject: the infamous Eph. 5:22-24 passage:
Wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, being himself the saviour of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their husbands in everything. (ASV)

Using this Scripture passage, abuse, adultery, ill-treatment, as well as lesser sins and crimes have been excused, justified, and ignored if a woman was the victim. If only she would have submitted like St. Paul demanded, she wouldn't be a victim of these crimes, the reasoning goes.

With the authority of Scripture behind them, Christian husbands, even pastors and religious counselors, have enabled sinful lifestyles at the expense of their victims and God's justice.

So are the above verses to be taken as many interpret them? Even feminist, intent on battling a male-dominated culture, interpret them in this manner and label St. Paul a misogynist.

It is my contention that these verses are taken out of context, and perverted into teaching an attitude that is 180 degrees opposite what St. Paul meant. Allow me to make my case.

First, we must understand the general context and message St. Paul is conveying to us. This is established at the beginning of the chapter:
Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell. (Eph 5:1-2 ASV)

Love. St. Paul is attempting in the verses that follow, to give practical examples of what walking in love in imitation of Christ looks like. Any interpretation, therefore, that does not flow from love, violates this context and is not the message St. Paul sent. It is not God's Word to take a verse out of context and proclaim it as truth. You are, by definition, a false prophet.

If you don't concede the point, then I quote to you the following Scripture, which by your method of interpretation, you are required to do: " would even go beyond circumcision." (Gal 5:12 ASV)

Second, let's take a look at the immediate context:
...subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ. (Eph 5:21 ASV)

Memo to religious leaders: St. Paul is talking about how everyone, male and female, subject themselves to each other! He isn't singling out one group over another. His intent is to show how each group, and he goes through several, subject themselves to one another. Even those in authority over others.

Mutual submission is how we "walk in love" in our daily lives. It is the opposite of pride, of "don't tell me what to do" attitude, of lording it over each other. Any interpretation that violates the context of mutual submission is a false teaching of the evil one. Not worth the words wasted on it.

St. Paul therefore excludes any teaching that a woman should put up with abuse from her husband. He excludes using these verses to justify adultery or other sins. Neither of those is submitting to one's spouse. Neither is walking in love. Neither is imitating Christ.

So what is the context? Simply, this is what walking in love through submission to each other looks like.

Wives, you show your love, your respect for your husband by submitting to his leadership. Obey him.

Husbands, you show your love and respect for your wife by submitting to her needs. Obey her.

"What?" you may ask. "It doesn't say that to the husbands!" It most certainly does. It specifically says, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it..." (Eph 5:25 ASV) What did Jesus say?
But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you: but whosoever would become great among you shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you shall be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mat 20:25-28 ASV)

To be an imitator of Christ, to walk in love as Christ did, requires a husband to become a servant to his wife. You are not married to her to be ministered to, but to minister to her! If you fail to do this, you are not loving your wives as Christ loved the Church. To act as a lord over your wife is in direct conflict with what Jesus taught.

St. Paul clearly intended that a husband and wife submit to each other in love. If one or both fail to do this, the relationship doesn't work and is not following Biblical principles for marriage.

Likewise, it should be clear that any type of teaching from these verses that a woman should submit to abuse, excuse adultery, or live in a hostile environment because she should submit to her husband is not only using these verses out of context, but is using them to excuse and justify sin. A sin in and of itself that Jesus equates as a "brood of vipers."

My advice? Don't be a viper. Be a servant.

How do you submit in your daily life to witness to Christ's love?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Traditional, Indie, Profit-Sharing, and Vanity Publishing

The war is on between traditional and indie publishing. Or so I've heard. I've also seen the vitriol, on both sides of the fence. Human nature, I suppose. You've chosen your path and once selected, seek to justify that choice. Sometimes the reasons make sense. Sometimes they appear to be grasping at straws. Often, an over reaction to the other side. So, what is the real story? What are the options to consider for an author and how does one evaluate them?

First, let's define some terms as I'm using them here so that we are on the same page.

Traditional publishing: The publishing companies and their imprints who distribute widely to bookstores as well as online outlets. There are other players who use a version of the traditional publishing model, from small presses to fairly big ones. I'm not suggesting that these companies are not a version of the traditional publishing model. However, without an established distribution network into bookstores, a publisher is not going to have much more impact than an indie publisher short of some heavy marketing investment, and so straddles the two areas.

Indie publishing: A self-publisher. An individual or small group of individuals who manage and oversee the publication of their own book(s). Though some do everything themselves, most will not. Many hire out help in cover art and design, interior design, editing, and distribution.

Which is right for a specific author and/or book depends on the situation in regards to the following factors.

Traditional Publisher

With a traditional publisher, the author leases to the publisher a set of rights for a guaranteed return, known as an "advance." This is a bit of a misnomer in that an advance typically means the receiver will pay it back in full, if not through future earnings, then out of the receiver's pocket. A true advance is a form of a loan. The "advance" from a publisher, however, isn't paid back no matter how little money the book earns.

So while the publishing world makes it out to be a loan of sorts, it isn't. Rather, it is a payment to the author for the rights to use his book. The author will not get any further payments unless the book earns out the advance, but the author has no obligation to return any unearned money. Therefore, it is not an advance or a loan. It is the payment for leasing rights from the author.

By obtaining rights to publish the book, the traditional publisher invests in the publishing of the book and takes the financial risk instead of the author. Yet both benefit if the book exceeds costs and makes a profit. Because the author does not have to pay back the advance if the book flops, they take minimal financial risk. The publisher takes the hit instead.

Likewise, the less of an advance an author gets, the more financial risk the author is taking on the back end, especially if the rights granted become too expansive. With a traditional publisher, you are negotiating how much rights you will grant them for a specified payment amount. The more rights you sell them for less money, the less of a risk the publisher takes financially, and the more the author assumes.

Indie Publisher

As an indie publisher, you should retain all the rights to your book and benefit from those rewards. Likewise, you also retain all the risk of failure. An indie publisher not only invests time and expense writing a book, but getting it edited, artwork, cover and interior design, marketing, etc. Therefore they take all the financial risks. That is, they invest in the publishing of the book in hopes of a return on that investment, but they may lose that investment if the book tanks.

The investment comes in two forms: time and money. A traditionally published author invests time and some money writing and preparing the manuscript, and sending it out in hopes of a sale to a publisher. It is expected that the advance will pay them back for their time and expenses.

For an indie publisher, the ratio of time to money invested will depend on their abilities and cash flow. If the indie publisher doesn't possess the skill to create cover art or design a cover, he will either learn how or hire someone to do it for him. He will possibly trade edits with other authors, which takes time, or hire an editor, which requires cash.

Many indie authors, if they can do most of the work themselves or very cheaply, have a low cash overhead to publish a book. It is possible now days to publish a paperback and ebook for a cash outlay less than $50.00. If you can earn around $3.00 profit on each book sold, on the average, you'd only need to sell 17 books to earn back that cash.

However, time cost is just as important. If we estimate you write 2000 words an hour, a 70,000 word novel would take around 35 hours of actual writing time. Double that, at least, to account for editing: 70 hours. Assuming you have the following down pat, creating/finding cover art: 5 hours. Designing the cover: 3 hours. Designing the print book interior: 3 hours. Creating the ebooks: 1 hour. Proofing the final products and uploading to various sites: 2 hours. Total time invested: 84 hours.

If we "pay" ourselves at least $15.00/hour, then our time costs comes to $1260.00. Add that $50.00 money cost on, and you end up needing $1310.00 to totally recoup your cost on the project. If any of those activities take longer, the cost goes up. At $3.00 profit per book, you'd need to sell 437 books to cost out and make a profit. If it never gets to that level, you lose money and/or your time invested in the project.

The bottom line for an indie publisher is they retain all their rights, invest in the project, and retain all risks and rewards of that investment. The indie publisher may hire out people to do the various tasks, but they don't sell their rights to obtain a service. They pay a flat fee and hope to recover the cost with future sales.

The good news for indie publishers is the window to make that cost back is much bigger. Traditional publishers have a limited window since they depend on bookstore shelf space to move their books. If a book fails to sell well within three months, they are usually returned by the bookstores and the book hardly sells more. So they must recoup their cost in the first months, then it will likely go out of print unless it takes off.

As an indie publisher, however, your sales will not be on the scale of the traditional publisher, but they can sit on virtual shelves for years earning money. This allows an indie publisher to take five to ten years to earn out, if necessary. Once that initial set up cost are covered, it is pure profit save distribution costs, which are usually pulled from each sale.

Profit-Sharing Publisher

This is a hybrid between a traditional and indie publisher. There are some cautions with this model, but it can be a viable option for some authors. First, let's describe what it is.

A profit-sharing publisher is usually a smaller press. If they give any kind of advance, it is a small token one. Usually the author pays no money up front, but the publisher's cost in expenditures is expected to be paid back by future sales before the author sees any return beyond whatever advance he may have received.

This model is more like indie publishing, but rights are being sold to the publisher in return for services and help in the form of a limited partnership. The publisher takes on some financial risk in that if future sales don't cover cost to produce, they lose that money. The author is not obligated to reimburse the publisher for the loss.

Likewise, unlike a traditional publisher, the author also risk loss. If not in money, in time to create the book. Without an advance, the example of 70 hours to write and edit a book at $15.00/hour means the author's cost isn't covered until he earns $1050. If he received a $100.00 advance, he'd need another $950, or 317 books after the publisher sells enough to cover their costs.

The advantage for the author in this model is he is not required to front any money to pay for the services the publisher is providing. The authors this will appeal to are those who have decided not to go the traditional publisher route, don't have the desire or ability to manage self-publishing, and/or don't have the expendable cash flow to hire out what they cannot do.

For this model to work, the author needs to ensure the following areas are covered in the contract:

Limited rights are granted. The term of the contract should be time limited. No reversion of rights in an "out of print" clause. It should be for a set number of years in the range of 3 to 10. You want a definite cutoff point when the publisher is expected to regain their cost and make some profit, then rights revert back to the author.

No expected payment up front. The publisher's risk is the cost to publish. If the author is required to pay any of that up front, it is no longer profit sharing, but moving into a vanity press situation.

Set cost for publishing and marketing. The publisher should be able to give you a definite dollar figure. Avoid open-ended publisher costs. If your future profits are paying for their services, you have a right to know before you "buy" what you are paying. If it is open-ended, you could be in for some sticker shock.

With these limits in place, the profit-sharing publishing model is viable for authors who don't want to or can't self-publish due to finances, but the doors to traditional publishing are closed to them. Keep in mind, however, that the author is selling rights for services instead of money.

Vanity Publisher

The last model we'll look at is the vanity publisher. It is unfortunate that many traditional publishers have teamed up with vanity presses, usually Author Solutions and its multiple heads, and touted it as a "self-publishing" option. It is not. What's the difference, you ask?

Vanity publishing expects the author to lease them the rights to their book, often in a way that covers the life of the copyright, for free. The vanity press does not risk money on purchasing those rights in either an advance or the cost of publishing. Instead, unlike the profit-sharing model, the author is expected to pay for all cost of publishing up front, including often expensive packages for marketing and distribution.

In the vanity press model, the author gives away their rights, but retains all of the financial risks. They end up with the worst of both traditional and indie models. High cost and reduced rewards in terms of earning potential. It is not traditional publishing. It is certainly not indie publishing. Nor is it profit-sharing publishing. It is a rip off. The author gets no benefit from leasing their rights to the publisher. They might as well have purchased the services directly and retained their rights and profits.

If you encounter someone who wants you to pay for all services, including publishing, up front, but still expect you to give them your rights, but don't pay you any kind of decent advance—run from that contract. You'll be sorry if you put your signature on that paper.

Which option is right for you? Only you can decide. Hopefully the above has given you the business insight to make an informed decision rather than jumping at the first offer that moves your direction.