Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year’s Eve 2015 Writing Reflections

As the end of 2015 nears, I’ve been thinking about how my writing went this year. Here are the things that stand out to me the most.

- One of my biggest accomplishments in 2015 was to start writing uncredited technical articles for businesses. I’ve sold more than seventy articles that way.

- I became a columnist for TRC magazine, which published my articles “5 Animal Symbols of Jesus” and “The Raven: Bird of Death or Messenger of Life?”

- I submitted more than thirty short stories and articles to magazines. So far, eleven have been accepted, including the two articles mentioned above. I’m still waiting to hear back from some of the magazines.

- I sold one story at a professional per-word pay rate.

- My children’s story “Mr. Turtle” was read by over 1,000 people on Short Kid Stories.

- I wrote 50,000 words of short stories as a National Novel Writing Month rebel, which I talked about here and here.

Now I'm planning for the coming year. In 2016, I want to continue writing many short stories and articles, while also devoting more time to completing novels.

What plans do you have for 2016? If you’re a writer, how did your writing go this year?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Book Review: Nightmare City by Andrew Klavan

The Story: After a teenage boy wakes up one morning in a nightmarish, monster-filled world instead of the normal world he’s used to, he sets out to discover what’s going on.

My Thoughts: The creepy place that the hero awakens in is extraordinarily atmospheric, filled with descriptions that helped me imagine it as I read. Because the intriguing, mysterious circumstances provide such a memorable set-up, I began wondering if there was any way that the author could possibly give an ending that lived up to the rest of the book.

Thankfully, the resolution to the dark mystery fits well and provides a solid conclusion. It didn’t amaze me as much as the rest of the story, but it wasn’t a letdown, either. Every fan of Klavan’s classic series The Homelanders should definitely try this book, especially if you like horror. I enjoyed Nightmare City just as much as The Homelanders, and you might too.

Content Overview: Mild violence and scariness.

You might also like my review of The Homelanders by Andrew Klavan.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

TV Review: Star Trek - The Animated Series

The Story: Most of the actors from Star Trek: The Original Series lend their voices to this animated continuation of their live action space adventures. As with the Original Series, the Enterprise and its crew-members, such as Captain Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy, travel throughout the galaxy exploring its wonders, helping people, and battling evil.

My Thoughts: The concepts in the Animated Series equal and occasionally, due to the creative freedom offered by animation, exceed those of the Original Series. The writing overall, however, is not as good, but it’s far enough above typical children’s cartoons that most fans of Star Trek will likely find it fairly entertaining.

Although the episode “The Magic of Megus-Tu” may be a contender for the worst Star Trek episode ever made, many others such as “Beyond the Farthest Star,” “Yesteryear,” and “The Ambergris Element” are as fun as any of the live action episodes. If you’re a fan of Star Trek and you like animation, then the Animated Series is well worth trying.

Content Overview: Safe for any viewers able to sort out the complicated worldview issues that one would expect from Star Trek. There’s just minor violence.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Victory for the Rebellion: National Novel Writing Month 2015 Update

As I mentioned at the beginning of the month, I was a rebel for this year’s National Novel Writing Month. I wrote 50,000 words of short stories instead of 50,000 words on a novel.

It went well overall. Pressing onward when a short story isn’t going as planned is a lot easier than pressing onward when a novel isn’t going as planned.

On the other hand, once a short story is finished, the momentum ends. Starting a new tale can be difficult on busy or exhausting days.

In the end, I’m glad I did short stories instead of a novel. It was a fun experiment, and most of the stories seemed to turn out pretty well. I completed ten stories in all. Once they’ve been edited, I hope to submit them to magazines or other publications.

Did you do National Novel Writing Month? If so, how did it go for you?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Movie Review: Darby O’Gill and the Little People

The Story: After years of trying to trick the king of the mystical little folk into giving him a fortune, an elderly Irish man has nothing but entertaining tales to show for it. When he is forced to retire, however, he comes up with one more scheme to try to force the little folk to provide for his daughter’s future.

My Thoughts: While this Disney film is somewhat obscure, it’s well-made, and better than some of Disney’s more famous films of the era, such as The Love Bug. Since the story draws on legends of Ireland’s “little folk” and other magical beings, it’s likely to appeal to fans of folklore, fairy tales, and fantasy.

Sometimes the story is a little uneven, and the ending didn’t resolve things as neatly as I would have liked, but otherwise it’s a unique and charming film. The colorful Irish settings are nice to look at, and it’s also interesting to see Sean Connery, of James Bond and Indiana Jones fame, portraying an everyman sort of character instead of one who is larger than life.

Content Overview: Some mild violence. Scary scenes, such as a murderous banshee, may frighten young children. Mildly bad behavior is occasionally condoned.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Raven: Bird of Death or Messenger of Life?

My newest article was just published by TRC magazine. In "The Raven: Bird of Death or Messenger of Life?" I compare how the culture often views ravens with how the Bible views ravens.

You can read the article for free here: The Raven


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Why I Decided To Be A NaNo Rebel

I enjoy participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNo) each year. It’s helped me to successfully write the first draft of a novel for each of the past three years.

But this year, I wanted something different. I’m going to be busier than in previous years, and since my novels tend to not get truly finished until the end of December due to 80,000+ word lengths, I wanted to write something that would actually be finished at the end of November.

That led to me to consider writing 50,000 words of short stories instead of 50,000 words of a novel. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.

A short story rarely takes more than a few days to write, so if I’m in the middle of one at the end of NaNo, it won’t take me much time to complete. Another benefit of short stories is that they’re far easier to edit than a novel, which means I can have them ready to submit for publication in a much smaller amount of time.

I also like the challenge of writing 50,000 words of short stories in a single month. It’s something I’ve never done before, and I’m sure it will help me grow as a writer.

That’s why I decided to be a NaNo rebel this year and write 50,000 words of short stories.

Are you doing NaNo this year? Have you ever been a NaNo rebel?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Three Christian Horror Stories

Since it's October, I've compiled some of my published horror or suspense stories in case you're in the mood for a few scary tales. The three stories I'll link to below are all free to read online, so click on each title and enjoy!



"The Coming" is about four men who wake up in a creepy house near a dead woman and have to sort out what happened. It was originally published in Fear and Trembling magazine.

"The Black Spot" portrays a righteous woman who has to deal with a rather unusual manifestation of darkness in her life. It was originally published in Fear and Trembling magazine.

"Shattered" follows a woman who receives a mysterious, frightening phone call. It is currently on TWJ magazine's website.

Let me know what you think of the stories!

If you're in the mood for more horror-related reading or think that Christians and horror don't mix, I also have a blog series called Thoughts on Christian Horror, which starts with the post "Dark and Twisted."




Thursday, October 15, 2015

Book Review: The Richard Hannay Novels by John Buchan

The Story: A British secret agent has several wild adventures during World War I and in the following years. This exuberant series influenced later spy novels and thrillers.

My Thoughts: Despite it having a good premise and some good scenes, I didn’t find the first book, The Thirty-Nine Steps, to be particularly memorable overall. It feels more like a series of good scenes than a well-plotted book, but because so many of the scenes are so entertaining in and of themselves, I decided to try the next book, in the hope that it would have better plotting. (Note: There's little resemblance between this book and the Alfred Hitchcock film version.)

I found book two, Greenmantle, to be a bit better plotted than the first, though still suffering from the problem of individual scenes being far better than the book as a whole. I almost gave up after this book, since it gave me the impression that John Buchan was an adequate adventure novelist, but not someone to spend time reading when I could be reading better authors. I’d bought a volume that contained all five Richard Hannay books, however, so I decided to give Buchan one last chance by reading the third book, and I’m glad I did.

Book three, Mr. Standfast, finally pairs Buchan’s knack for memorable scenes and interesting characters with a solid, well-paced plot. The result is an excellent thriller. It’s slightly overlong, but it’s so much fun that I hardly noticed the excessive length. For those who like old-fashioned action novels, it’s well worth reading.

Book four, The Three Hostages, upholds the high standards of the third book. If you liked the third book in spite of it being too long, you’re pretty much guaranteed to like this one, where slight overlength is again its only notable flaw. If, however, you thought the third book dragged on too much, then you may feel the same about this one.

Book five, The Island of Sheep, is great for the first half, just like books three and four. In the second half, however, it loses its way, reminding me of the shaky plotting in the first two books. Still, the individual scenes and characterizations are as strong as ever, so it’s a pleasant end to the series, though not a particularly memorable one.

I highly recommend the third book, Mr. Standfast, to all fans of adventure and thriller novels. You don’t need to read the earlier books to understand it. If you like it, be sure to try The Three Hostages, too. And if you are especially fond of old-fashioned adventure novels, you might want to give the whole Richard Hannay series a try.

Content Overview: Some mild foul language and mild violence.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Movie Review: The Wilderness Family Trilogy

The Story: In The Adventures of the Wilderness Family, The Adventures of the Wilderness Family Part 2 (also known as The Further Adventures of the Wilderness Family), and Mountain Family Robinson, a family from the big city decides to try living out in the middle of a wilderness, and soon find themselves plunged into numerous adventures.

My Thoughts: Although this trilogy of family films can’t quite be taken seriously, it’s still entertaining. The great outdoors are portrayed as veering wildly between a paradise and a living nightmare, similar to how a child might imagine adventures in the wilderness. One moment, there’s peace and tranquility next to a magnificent lake, the next there’s a violent blizzard. One moment friendly animals are frolicking all around, and the next a grizzly bear or pack of wolves is attacking.

One would have imagined that at some point, after numerous animal attacks, the family would realize the need to always take a gun along, but they tend to forget, leading to frequent life-or-death fights between them and vicious beasts. The family also does various other dumb things that, of course, add more drama. It can get quite silly, but at the same time, the family’s commitment to each other and the fascinating idea of living in the wilderness add enough substance to keep the films from being too over-the-top. Children who love nature and adults who can handle melodramatic entertainment are likely to find this trilogy at least mildly amusing.

Content Overview: One use of God’s name in vain in the third movie. Other than that, there’s just mild violence relating to animal attacks and wilderness dangers.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mr. Turtle Comes to Short Kid Stories

My children's story "Mr. Turtle," which won a contest over a year ago, is now on the children's story site Short Kid Stories.

Click here to read it!

A box turtle I met that helped inspire "Mr. Turtle."

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Movie Review: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

The Story: In the distant future, after war left most of the earth a toxic wasteland, a few kingdoms struggle to survive. Poisonous plants are spreading relentlessly into the few safe areas, and one kingdom begins conquering the others. Humanity seems destined for extinction, until a gentle princess sets out to bring peace between humanity and nature and also between kingdoms.

My Thoughts: Although the story isn’t as strong as in Hayao Miyazaki’s later masterpieces, Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa is still great and is still one of his best films. The animation is as dazzling as one would expect from Miyazaki, with the post-apocalyptic settings hauntingly depicted. And the protagonists, including Nausicaa’s realistic animal sidekick, are all quite likable.

Even the message of humans and nature finding harmony, which so many films have handled poorly, is well-presented. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind goes to the core issue of pursuing balance, giving a beautiful illustration of humanity and nature learning how to work together. It’s a must-see film for all fans of Hayao Miyazaki or animation.

Content Overview: One use of God’s name in vain. Pervasive but mild violence.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Movie Review: Beast From Haunted Cave

The Story: A group of career criminals pulls off a heist near a small ski resort, then tricks a ski instructor into taking them out to an isolated cabin to wait for a plane to pick them up. The criminals are planning to kill the instructor, but a blizzard, unexpected romance, and a monster roaming the snowy forest complicate their plans.


My Thoughts: Due to its obscurity and the cheesy title Beast From Haunted Cave, this film might at first glance appear to be just another cheaply-made and completely forgettable horror B-movie. And, as one would expect, the writing is a bit clumsy and the low budget sometimes shows. Yet amazingly this film rises far above its limitations.

It’s a lot of fun watching the likable hero go up against human villains who are just as monstrous and heartless as the creepy creature that is hunting them all. The characters are surprisingly well-done for a cheap horror movie, and the story has enough depth to make it worthwhile for fans of classic horror. Even the final confrontation with the monster is imaginatively staged. I recommend it to those who know what they’re getting into with a movie of this kind.

Content Overview: Mild violence and scariness.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Book Review: Last of the Breed by Louis L’Amour

The Story: A Native American fighter pilot is captured by the Russians during the Cold War and taken to Russia, where they plan to get military secrets out of him by any means necessary. The pilot, however, is no ordinary man, and he quickly escapes their clutches, using his outdoor survival skills to head through the Siberian wilderness. As they pursue him relentlessly, he heads for the Bering Strait, hoping to find a way to Alaska and freedom.

My Thoughts: The amazingly original premise of this novel manages to mix L’Amour’s legendary western prowess with a thriller plot that he handles just as deftly, and the result is every bit as memorable as one would expect. Journeying with the hero through harsh wilderness as he is pursued by even harsher enemies is an exhilarating experience that, for awhile, gave me high hopes that this novel would place itself high on my favorites list.

The story, however, ends abruptly with little resolution. While an abrupt ending is better than a bad ending, this one is so abrupt that it is annoying, for much of the story still remains to be told. It almost feels like a set up for a sequel, but a sequel was never written. The novel is still well worth reading for thriller and western fans, since the premise is handled well for most of the book. It would make a great action movie as long as the screenwriter resolved the ending in a more satisfying way.

Content Overview: A small amount of mild language. Some mild violence.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

My Accidental Dystopia (Guest Post)

J. Grace Pennington is one of my favorite science fiction authors, and today she's visiting my blog to talk about how she ended up writing Implant, her newest novel.

What makes a story a story?

Students of the One Year Adventure Novel curriculum will recognize that question as the phrase that starts the introduction of every lesson on every DVD of the course.   And the memory of those simple words is intertwined with the writing process of my latest novel Implant, because I wrote the book to go along with the curriculum.

In doing so, I actually broke several of the rules.  I held to their formula, I eliminated many (though not all) adverbs, and I used the archetypes set forth, but I also wrote sci-fi (not recommended), wrote in third person (discouraged) and gave Gordon two mentors instead of one (a no-no).  I’m a free spirit like that.  They’re more like guidelines than actual rules.

I wrote sci-fi because it’s what I do (try not to think of Geico commercials here).  I didn’t, however, intend to write dystopia.  At the time, I hadn’t even heard the word.  I’d heard vague whispers of The Hunger Games (book, this was before the movie came out).  My dad had mentioned 1984 and Logan’s Run and other sci-fi worlds gone bad, but the young adult dystopia craze was only just budding.  You could still go into a Half-Price Books without being smacked in the face by Divergent, Matched, Uglies, The Maze Runner, The Program, The Lunar Chronicles, Shatter Me, etc., etc., etc.

Yet I somehow ended up writing a young adult dystopia.

It was an accident of sorts.  My first spark of an idea was just about two men who respected each other and each hated everything the other stood for.  My second idea was about a world where governmental healthcare turned deadly (yes, this was when Obamacare first came on the scene) and my third idea was to use the standard sci-fi trope where there’s only one person in the world who doesn’t have the technology that’s ruining everything.  And getting such a person in such a world really ought to involve time travel, a la Star Trek: The Voyage Home.  So I was really just combining a bunch of my favorite things--complex relationships, medicine, sci-fi.  No apocalypse, no factions, no love triangles.  And yet somehow, a dystopia popped out.

I have only read a small fraction of the current popular titles in that genre, but I’ve noticed a lot of them seem to suffer from copycatitis.  There are good stories out there, but a lot of them fall flat and seem suspiciously like all the other stories.  They seem divided into two distinct categories; those who said “I have a story to tell,” and those who said, “This is popular, I’ll try to do this.”  Of course, I don’t truly know the authors’ minds.  That’s just how it seems.  There’s nothing wrong with writing something popular, if you really have a story inside you that fits that mold.  But it’s most fun if, like me, you find your book’s niche by accident, spilling your words and then realizing they have a very particular shape.  Taking what’s inside of you and letting it twist and turn into pixilated emotion and plot and character and something that makes your reader feel something that changes their world a little bit.

That’s what makes a story a story.

J. Grace Pennington has been reading stories as long as she can remember, and writing them almost as long. She is also a prolific medical transcriptionist, amateur musician, chocolate eater, daughter, sister, friend, and laundry folder. She lives in Texas, and if she was part of the Implant society, her role in the rebellion would probably be monitoring current events and correspondence in the computer center. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook, check out her website, or buy Implant on Amazon.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Movie Review: Appleseed

The Story: In the near future, a woman is fighting in earth’s ruins during a war that has nearly destroyed the world. Just as she is about to die, she is rescued by mysterious soldiers who take her to a protected city that seems to be a utopia. But underneath the surface of this peaceful place, evil is lurking in many forms, and her toughest battle yet is about to begin.

My Thoughts: One of the things that sets Appleseed apart from most science fiction films is that it truly feels like it deals with two extraordinarily complex subjects in an insightful and not gimmicky or heavy-handed way. Mankind’s propensity for violence and the idea of a biologically engineered version of humanity are both thought-provokingly explored throughout the story.

As interesting as serious treatments of those subjects are, it wouldn’t mean much if the story was weak. The plot, however, is deftly-handed, aside from feeling a bit rushed in some places, and is filled with believable characters. Holding it all together is the unique animation, which combines computer and traditional animation in a way that for the most part looks spectacular. I highly recommend this movie.

Content Overview: Rated R for violence, but the only R-level instance is when a man’s head is bloodily crushed during a battle. All the other violence is on a PG-13 level. There’s some mild foul language. Much of a woman’s body is seen while she’s nude in a life support machine, but critical parts of her are covered. There are a few non-explicit sexual references.

Friday, July 31, 2015

5 Animal Symbols of Jesus

I recently became a columnist for TRC magazine, and this is my first article as a columnist.



The Bible sometimes uses animals as symbols of Jesus. Each creaturely picture of Christ has striking elements that make it memorable, sometimes because it fits so perfectly and sometimes because it is completely unexpected. These wildlife images help us understand important aspects of His nature and accomplishments, from His love to His might, from His sacrifice to His victory. Here are five animal symbols of Jesus. Read More

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Movie Review: Little Nemo - Adventures in Slumberland

The Story: A boy named Nemo is troubled by vivid dreams, none of which are real. Then one night, messengers are sent by the king of Slumberland to bring Nemo to be a playmate to the princess of Slumberland. When Nemo arrives, his naive tolerance of a troublemaker ends up unleashing a living nightmare that only he has any hope of stopping.

My Thoughts: The most notable thing about this unusual movie is the animation. Spectacularly imaginative dream sequences and colorful fantasy scenes are brought vividly to life at a level of masterful artistry that few films have ever matched. I found it worth watching for that fact alone, and many fans of traditional animation may feel the same way.

Sadly, the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to the animation. Although the story is fine overall, it has a weak ending and gaping holes that are never explained. The holes can perhaps be attributed to the dream-like tone of the film, but even so, they lessen the impact of the story. Also, despite the film having many good messages, a troubling hint of moral ambiguity lingers at the end.

Content Overview: Mild crude humor. Some mild violence and scariness that is perhaps slightly more intense than usual for a G-rated movie.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Book Review: William Carey: A Biography by Mary Drewery

The Story: William Carey was a pioneering missionary of the 18th century in a time when missions work was mostly ignored by Christians. His life serving God in India was so filled with triumph and tragedy that it seems like fiction, and it shows the great things that a single man can do when faithful to God.

My Thoughts: I’ve read some slowly-paced biographies, and fortunately, this is not one of them. It was almost as easy to read as a novel, despite the significant amount of information given on each page. The inspiring and unique life of William Carey is described vividly and yet succinctly, offering a solid, accessible resource for those interested in his life.

The author tends to take a moderate stance on many of the controversies of the era and of Carey’s personal life, and while this often appears wise, in a few places it seems timid. Aside from that, however, the book is excellent, and I recommend it. Anyone who enjoys biographies, missionary tales, history, and shining examples of faith will find much to like.


Content Overview: Safe for all readers.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

7 Criminally Underrated Rock Songs

Sometimes rock songs may be hits when released, but still achieve far less success than deserved. Or they may fall through the cracks and become inexplicably little-remembered. Or they may come from such an unlikely source that rock fans haven’t given them much notice. I want to bring attention to some of these forgotten, ignored, or unappreciated classics.

Here, in no particular order, are seven criminally underrated rock songs.



#1 “Let the Day Begin” by The Call

What better way to begin this list than with one of the greatest rock songs of all time? I prefer this seemingly forgotten gem over most of what gets played on the average classic rock station.



#2 “Run” by Collective Soul

Pretty much every single and every album from Collective Soul could be classified as criminally underrated, and “Run” is perhaps the best example. It’s a powerful ballad that never gets old.



#3 “Lord of the Dance” by Steven Curtis Chapman

Steven Curtis Chapman is a living legend with a long and hit-filled career. “Lord of the Dance” shows why and is one of many songs that proves he deserves even more popularity than he’s seen so far.



#4 “King of Comedy” by R.E.M.

The catchy guitar riff, experimental vocals, and satirical lyrics seem like the perfect recipe for a mega-hit, but this song was hardly noticed when it was released.





#5 “Colored People” by DC Talk

If I had to pick one song on this list as the most under-appreciated, “Colored People” would be it. The combination of profound lyrics with moving music creates a masterpiece.



#6 “Cowboy Casanova” by Carrie Underwood

Although this song has a country twang, it out-rocks most rock songs in recent memory. “Cowboy Casanova” perhaps got the appreciation it deserved from country fans, but—understandably—not yet from rock fans.



#7 “Love Don’t Die” by The Fray

The Fray outdid themselves with this catchy, insightful rocker. It’s my favorite song of theirs. Strangely, however, “Love Don’t Die” wasn’t as successful as some of their other hits.



What do you think of this list? Are there any songs you’d like to add?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Cover Reveal for Implant by J. Grace Pennington

I've enjoyed all of J. Grace Pennington's novels so far, and she's got a new book coming out soon called Implant. It's her first dystopian tale. Today, she revealed what the cover will look like.


Here's the synopsis:

Welcome to the world of a universal cure.

Gordon Harding didn't ask for the life he has. He didn't ask to be orphaned. He didn't ask to go through life with cancer. And he certainly didn't ask to be pulled into a future world without warning--a world where every human being is controlled by means of a medical implant.

And when he learns that he's the only one who can destroy the base of operations, he's faced with an impossibly painful choice: either hide and let the world decay under this mysterious futuristic force, or rescue humanity from oppression, knowing that there's someone out there who is willing to use any means necessary to stop him.

If you'd like to learn more about Grace and her writing, here's how:

Website: www.jgracepennington.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/jgracepenningtontheauthor
Twitter: www.twitter.com/jgracetheauthor
Cover designer's website: www.thebrightnessproject.com

Friday, June 26, 2015

Movie Review: Chain Reaction

The Story: Two young scientists working on a project to create a new, clean energy source are shocked when the project is blown up and they are framed for working with foreign agents. As they go on the run to try to clear their names and find out what’s going on, they aren’t sure who to trust and who wants to use them then kill them.

My Thoughts: While the story of Chain Reaction is somewhat on the pulp fiction side of things, the movie is surprisingly entertaining. Exciting action sequences are lined up one after another, and the characters and themes are complex enough to keep the film from being nothing but a series of neat explosions.

The director also made The Fugitive, which was a superior film, but this one is still pretty good. Strangely, critics gave it got poor reviews. Perhaps they were expecting another The Fugitive, and were disappointed with the solid but not spectacular results. The only serious problem with the movie is the unnecessary and annoying level of profanity. Otherwise, it’s a fun thriller.

Content Overview: Some harsh foul language, mostly taking God’s name in vain. Violence is mild.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

New Published Story: The Silver Rose

A fairy tale of mine, "The Silver Rose," was just published in the June edition of TWJ magazine! The story is currently exclusive to the magazine's newsletter subscribers.

TWJ previously published my thriller story "Shattered," and it's available to read online: http://twjmag.com/fiction-nonfic-poetry/shattered

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Book Review: Outcast of Redwall by Brian Jacques

The Story: A badger escapes from slavery with the help of a kestrel and ends up becoming lord of a mountain kingdom. Meanwhile, the ferret warlord who once enslaved him has raised a mighty army and is coming to conquer the mountain kingdom, which will bring these two enemies face to face once more.

My Thoughts: Few authors can cram a book as full of memorable characters as Brian Jacques can. And few authors can come up with so many amusing and exciting scenes, from rowdy feasts filled with original songs and vividly described food to journeys through mysterious and dangerous settings. These elements are in abundance in Outcast of Redwall.

Although repetitive storylines drag down some of Jacques’s later books, this is one of his earlier books, and the story is adequate enough to tie all the fun scenes together and give the charming characters plenty of interesting things to do. The Redwall series is not for all tastes, but for those appreciate whimsical animal fantasy, this novel is one of the best.

Content Overview: Frequent mild violence. Some pagan religious elements.

Friday, May 29, 2015

New: Alphabetized Book and Movie Reviews

For ease of browsing, I have arranged all of my book and movie reviews in alphabetical order.

Movies are, of course, listed by title.

Books are listed under the author's last name.

Click on the Book Reviews or Movie Reviews page to see if there's a review you're interested in.

Enjoy!


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Movie Review: The Adventures of Robin Hood

The Story: As the evil Prince John plots to take over his brother’s throne, nobleman Sir Robin of Locksley is one of the few to stand up to the scheme. Soon Robin is forced to become Robin Hood, an outlaw hiding out in Sherwood Forest with a band of merry men, protecting the poor from Prince John’s oppression and awaiting the day when the good King Richard will return.

My Thoughts: Errol Flynn was the king of old-fashioned adventure movies, and this film shows why. He set a standard in his portrayal of Robin Hood that I have never seen equaled. The other characters, from Prince John to Maid Marian to Friar Tuck, are brought vividly to life as well. The settings in forest and castle are all colorful and believable.

Although the story could have used a bit more depth and benefited from being longer, it’s still exciting, just with less emotional force than it could have had. Most of the action scenes, like the film as a whole, have aged well, making this a fun adventure film for all ages, recalling a lost time when Hollywood made far more movies for the whole family.

Content Overview: Mild violence. Some passionate kissing. Suitable for most viewers.

You might also be interested in my review of Disney's animated Robin Hood.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book Review: Heartless (Tales of Goldstone Wood #1) by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

The Story: In a wondrous fantasy kingdom, a princess dreams of a handsome, charming suitor who will come to sweep her off her feet. Instead, after her first suitor seems quite boring and her second suitor is just after her money, she realizes that her fairy tale romance may not turn out like she hoped. As nightmares start to haunt her and dark forces encircle her, who she gives her heart to will turn out to be a far more serious choice than she ever imagined.

My Thoughts: While this might sound like a typical princess fairy tale, it is actually quite different. Few princess fairy tales are this dark and complex, or have such a strong moral message. A large cast of colorful characters helps bring the story of life, as do a variety of original fantastical touches, such as the way the author weaves many exotic fairy elements into the story.

The writing often gives the impression of looking at a painting instead of words, with skillfully-placed details scattered about on almost every page. The only serious flaw is that the plot seems to lose its way after awhile, and while the beautiful prose mostly covers up this problem, the plot issues grow more noticeable toward the story’s end. Since the book has so many enchanting traits, however, I still enjoyed it a lot, and its strengths make it worth reading.

Content Overview: Mild violence. Some intense and scary scenes.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Movie Review: Red Eye

The Story: A hotel manager ends up next to a seemingly nice man on a flight, but soon the man reveals he’s working for terrorists who want to assassinate a homeland security official. The official will be staying at the woman’s hotel, and if she doesn’t cooperate in the assassination, her father will be killed. Can she find a way to save both her father and the official?

My Thoughts: This film has one glaring problem that may make some viewers find it unbelievable: A significant part of the story takes place on a crowded plane, and while it is not impossible that no one would notice the events that are unfolding, it seems unlikely. A few tweaks might have made this aspect easier to swallow.

If you can get past that detail, however, it’s otherwise an excellent thriller, with an especially likable heroine pitted against an especially nasty villain, sending them on a suspenseful battle of wits and ultimately weapons. Red Eye doesn’t quite achieve greatness, but it’s good enough that thriller fans who can swallow the premise are likely to have fun watching it.

Content Overview: Occasional mild language and one instance of harsher language. A bit of mild innuendo. Brief but intense violence.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

New Published Story: Freelance Drakky Hunter

My steampunk monster hunter story "Freelance Drakky Hunter" is in the newest issue of Havok magazine! And the steampunk setting, an intrepid monster hunter protagonist, and incredibly freaky monsters are really just the beginning of the story. To find out what other entertaining elements are woven into "Freelance Drakky Hunter," you'll have to read it.

Havok's newest issue is available here: Havok 2.2 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Where to Submit Your Christian Short Stories

Although the number of magazines publishing Christian short stories has shrunk lately, a few are still around and open to submissions from writers. Here are the ones I know of, including several that are perhaps best described as Christian-friendly, since they are not aimed only at Christians.

Paying Magazines

Clubhouse (children's, open to some speculative)

Clubhouse, Jr. (children's, general fiction)

Havok (speculative)

Kids' Ark (children's, open to some speculative)

Primary Treasure and Our Little Friend (children's, true stories)

Ruminate (general fiction)

Splickety (general fiction, including historical)

Non-Paying Magazines

Ancient Paths (most genres, including some speculative)

The Common Oddities Speculative Fiction Sideshow (speculative)

TRC (all genres, including speculative)

TWJ (all genres, including speculative)

The Untold Podcast (speculative)

Also, the Splickety Blog, while not a magazine, publishes stories in all genres, including speculative.

Do you know of any other magazines that publish Christian fiction?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Movie Review: Rise of the Guardians

The Story: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and Jack Frost are brought together by the Man in the Moon. Their combined forces are needed to battle the Boogeyman, who wants to steal wonder and hope from children and replace the kindly magical figures of childhood with his own wicked one.

My Thoughts: The trailer and concept for this film gave me high hopes, despite its lukewarm reception at the box office and by critics. And the concept doesn’t disappoint. The protagonists are all quirky and amusing, while many of the fantasy elements are unique and fun to see for any fantasy fan.

The story’s execution, however, is a bit stiff and clumsy, which keeps the film from being great, and that may be partly why it wasn’t a big hit. In spite of this, the film’s original fantasy touches and unflinching look at the darkness of evil make it well worth seeing for all lovers of speculative storytelling. It’s a film I look forward to watching again.

Content Overview: A bit of mild crude humor. Some mild violence. More scariness than parents might expect in a film aimed at children.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Music of "The Balcony" (Guest Post)

I've been a fan of author and screenwriter Aubrey Hansen for a long time, and her latest project, a short film, is quite unique. Its music angle especially intrigues me, becausewell, I'll let her tell you about it, and then you're likely to be intrigued, too.

Howdy folks!  My name is Aubrey Hansen, and I’m one of Jonathan’s weird writer friends.  I’m confiscating his blog today (with permission, of course) to ramble about the Kickstarter campaign for my short film “The Balcony.”

But of course one can’t just jump on a blog and start sprouting self-promotion about a Kickstarter.  No, first you’ve gotta say something interesting, make people think you’re a smart and talented and might actually write a halfway decent movie, and then you hit them with the Kickstarter.  So that’s what I’ll do.

Now when I borrow people’s blogs, I usually like to ask them what they want me to blather about.  I try to be courteous like that.  Not surprisingly, when I gave Jonathan a list of topic choices that included “music,” he chose music.  I probably could have guessed that and gone ahead and written a music-related post without asking, but I wanted to give him the formality of having a choice.  You know, like when they ask if anyone wants to volunteer in place of the chosen tributes for The Hunger Games.  They know no one wants to, but they give them the option for that one-in-a-million chance something out of the ordinary will happen and you’ll have a multi-million book franchise on your hands.

Anyway.  Since he didn’t give me permission to ramble about The Hunger Games (although I could do that too, if anyone’s interested), I’ll take it back to music.  Music was the inspiration for my short film “The Balcony,” but not in the traditional way music usually inspires me.  Music is often like a wind of thought; it carries traces of emotions, pictures, and words like a summer wind carries traces of fragrances from the flowers it has blown past.  These wifts of inspiration plant seeds which bloom into flowers of their own.

Not so with “The Balcony.”  Music didn’t just plant whispers of words in my head; music was the words.

You see, “The Balcony” is a silent film, but not in the traditional sense.  Traditional silent films are a compilation of footage with no audio, with a detached score layered on top.  This score might reflect the pacing of the film with queues and fluctuations in emotion, but it was still recorded separately.

With “The Balcony,” however, the music is being played by the actors themselves.  The story is about a flutist who is prepared to jump off the balcony of a concert hall, until a violinist comes on stage to practice.  After listening to the violinist’s lonely solo, the flutist tentatively decides to accompany him.  Even though the violinist cannot see the flutist in the shadows, he begins to play off of her lead.  As their instruments dance with each other, the music shifts to their emotions as though they are having a conversation, a conversation that is much more powerful without words.  Through the friendship of their music, they both receive hope.

When I originally came up with the idea for “The Balcony,” while watching a concert from the balcony seats, I knew I wanted to explore music in a deeper way.  I wanted to let the two actors converse only with their music to show their changing emotions in a much more subtle and artistic way than trite words ever could.

Even though I was very pleased with the finished script and knew it had a lot of potential, I also knew it would take a lot of resources to produce.  One of the big roadblocks to getting this film made would be the need for a custom violin-flute duet, written to match the pacing of the script.  That and, of course, talented musicians who could both play and act!

Because of this, I was surprised and delighted when my old producer Jordan Smith from Phantom Moose Films undertook the project.  He commissioned a talented composer, Rick Holets, who also did the score for my first film, to write the original duet.  Simply finding someone who is able and willing to write this special piece of music was a victory in and of itself.

But we still need your help.  Talented composers need to be paid, and Jordan has also committed to renting high-quality cameras to capture the emotions.  We have the materials to make a very beautiful and original film, but it requires funding, which is why I stole Jonathan’s blog to talk about the Kickstarter campaign!

Through the end of March we are running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the film.  If you’re able to help an indie filmmaker’s dream become reality, even a $5 donation would be much appreciated (and will get you a free mp3 of that gorgeous original score).  Even if you can’t donate, please consider sharing the link so others can see it.  Thank you!

We now return to your regularly scheduled programming.  Thank you for your time.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Book Review: Wildings by Duff Hart-Davis

The Story: Wildings explores the strange and fascinating life of one of my favorite artists, Eileen Soper. Her wildlife art is some of the best ever created, reflecting her love for animals. She is most famous, however, for illustrating many popular books of her day. Wildings reveals how her eccentricities came to dominate her life and sometimes harm her, yet never took away her passion for art and animals.

My Thoughts: When I opened up this book, the many beautiful drawings and paintings it contains were immediately captivating, displaying many facets of Eileen Soper’s talent. The book is worth having just for the pictures. The story of her life, however, is also memorable, and even though the writing is fairly matter-of-fact, this book is still one of the best biographies I’ve read.

Eileen Soper’s life was both wonderful and sad. In some ways her life was as magical as a Disney fairy tale, for her artistic talent brought her international fame, she had a gift for befriending wild animals, and she lived on the edge of a large, one-of-a-kind garden for most of her life. Yet in other ways her life was a tragedy. Obsessiveness squelched some of the magic in her life, causing her to become reclusive and to hide away much great art from the world. In the end, the story of her life is both an inspiration and a cautionary tale. I recommend Wildings to anyone interested in unusual biographies or art.

Content Overview: A brief reference to mild, inadvertent innuendo from an innocent person.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Movie Review: The Haunted Palace

The Story: An evil man tries to summon horrifying monsters through sorcery, but the local villagers catch on to his plan and burn him at the stake. Many years later, a good-hearted relative of the evil man comes to claim his estate, but finds himself under attack by the evil spirit of the man who was burned. Can he escape the dark influence before it takes over his body?

My Thoughts: The Haunted Palace seems to have all the elements it needs to be a horror classic: A fairly unique premise; elaborate, atmospheric sets, including a spooky castle; monsters; a mix of Edgar Allan Poe’s title with H. P. Lovecraft’s plot ideas; and, of course, Vincent Price. How could it fail to be entertaining?

Unfortunately, the film manages to botch all the great elements it contains. In the same manner as another Roger Corman film, The Terror, a stunningly awful twist ending ruins all that went before it. Up until the last scene, however, The Haunted Palace is an excellent traditional horror film, so horror fans may still want to give it a look.

Content Overview: A small amount of mild foul language. An attempted rape and other implied sexual immorality. Mild violence and scariness.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

New Published Article: Aligning Priorities

My newest article, "Aligning Priorities," has just been published in the magazine Joyful Living! The article uses the unusual kudzu plant to illustrate a spiritual truth.

"Aligning Priorities" can be read on page 20 of the free digital edition of Joyful Living's Spring 2015 issue, which is available here: Joyful Living Digital Issues

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Movie Review: Panda and the Magic Serpent

The Story: A young man with a pet panda finds his life shaken up by a strange and beautiful woman. She was previously a mystical snake, but a magical storm turned her into a woman. Their romance and happy lives together are soon threatened by an arrogant sorcerer who views the woman as evil and will do anything to part the lovers.

My Thoughts: This obscure animated movie, the first color anime film ever made, is alternately bizarre and brilliant. The animation is heavily influenced by traditional Asian art, and this gives the film a unique and beautiful look overall. The story is more than a bit odd, and though I suspect this is partly due to my lack of knowledge of Asian mythology, I also wonder if some things were lost in translation. And some of it may be every bit as odd as it appears.

Many unanswered questions arise while watching, including: Why does a dragon statue randomly come to life and drag several characters along for a wild ride? How come the cute little panda character turns out to be nearly invincible? Clearly, this movie is not for everyone, but as a fan of animated films, fantasy, and animal tales, I found it worth watching for its historical significance, and the weirdness was amusing rather than off-putting.

Content Overview: Some minor violence. Various pagan beliefs and magical elements come up in the story.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

New Published Article: 7 Important Facts About Jesus' Name

My newest published article, "7 Important Facts About Jesus' Name," is now in Christian Magazine Today! It can be read for free online. Just click on "Read More" below.

Jesus Christ. It’s a name everyone knows. Unfortunately, unless we’re in a church, it’s a name we’re more likely to hear abused than glorified. Even as Christians we may sometimes forget just how special His name is.

Here are seven important facts to remember about Jesus’ name. Read More

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Divine Protection in the Lions' Den

Another article of mine has been published! This one is called "Divine Protection in the Lions' Den," and it is in the Winter 2015 issue of the magazine Keys to Living.

While "Divine Protection in the Lions' Den" is not currently available to read online, I have two other recently published works that are. "Wings of Hope," an inspirational article, can be read in Christian Magazine Today, while "William the Old," a fantasy story, can be read in Ancient Paths.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Newest Published Story: William the Old

I have a new published fantasy story! "William the Old" has been published in the magazine Ancient Paths, which operates through Facebook.

As a boy, I often painted in the woods near my house. I stayed within a mile of home so my parents knew where to find me, but that mile of woods contained a world of wonders.

Dozens of kinds of trees lined the trail, while rocky streams meandered across the fern-covered ground, and animals as diverse as salamanders and black bears strolled by me. My favorite spot was at the foot of the mountains, where I could look up the forested slopes to the mountaintops.

One day... Read More

Friday, January 30, 2015

Book Review: Wolf Rider by Avi

The Story: A teenage boy gets a random call from a man who claims to have just murdered someone. When no murder victim can be found, the police and everyone else begins thinking the call was from a prankster. The teen, however, fears that the man may truly end up murdering someone, and sets out to find him, putting himself in danger.

My Thoughts: From its riveting opening scene to the brutal confrontation at the end, this book stays consistently suspenseful, vividly portraying the courage of a teenage boy who seeks to do what he knows is right without compromise, even when it causes his dad to turn against him and puts him in peril.

The ending unfortunately leaves significant subplots unresolved and is overly ambiguous, which is odd due to the clarity of the book up until that point. However, the main plot is well-written and wraps up pretty well, so the parts that aren’t wrapped up don’t ruin the book. Fans of YA thrillers are likely to enjoy it.

Content Overview: There’s some foul language, but most of it is mild, aside from in the tense first scene in the book. While there’s a lot of intensity, the violent scenes are brief and fairly mild otherwise.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Wings of Hope

A new article of mine, "Wings of Hope," has been published by Christian Magazine Today. "Wings of Hope" looks at the many times the Bible uses birds to remind us to hope in God’s love.

Birds fly about through the pages of the Bible, often bearing messages of hope. Sometimes hope is pointed to by true stories, such as when a dove brings Noah an olive leaf, letting him know it’s safe to leave the ark (Genesis 8:10-11), or when God uses ravens to bring Elijah food (1 Kings 17:1-6). Most commonly, however, birds appear as symbols, reminding us . . . Read More