Thursday, July 21, 2016

The phrase in question: The Future is not Promised

I haven't written a blog post in a while, but last night as I lay in bed I got to thinking of two possible posts.

So the first is this one. And again it's about watching our words.

Bible-believing Christians are told that "Life and Death are in the power of the tongue." They understand that words have power to harm emotionally, spiritually, financially, etc. And yet, so often we use certain phrases that just should not be used. I think I wrote a post once about a neighbor who kept using the phrase "My poor son! If it wasn't for bad luck, he'd have no luck at all!" Certainly not a thing to go declaring about one's son.

Watch your word phrase: THE FUTURE IS NOT PROMISED.

Why is it said: It's used by some --mostly Black-- folks to show their gratefulness for still being alive, and it is used when someone unexpectedly dies. It becomes a habit. My mother used to say something similar: "I should make my will, God suffereth not." It was a habit with her but it is totally unbiblical. The Bible says God does suffer.

The (seeming) wisdom of the phrase:
When this phrase is spoken, it makes us aware of the work we still have to accomplish, the fleeting lives of ourselves and of those we love, of the sudden turns life might take...including sudden death. It brings God into the conversation by implying that He has plans for us that we know nothing about.

What the Bible actually says:
1) Don't say "I will go to such a town and make such and such money because we don't know what a day will bring forth."
2) Death and Life are in the power of the tongue
3) Wage war by the promises you received
4) He who hears my commandments will live by them
5) A Man may plan but God's plan succeeds.
6) God tells His prophets what He plans.
7) You will hear a voice which tells you walk in this way.
8) You shall be safe from sudden fear.
9) God's sheep hear His voice.
10) God guides us through dreams
11)  Psalm 91

What is the problem with this verse?
The problem is the word "promised" and the way the phrase definitely states what is or is not promised. You know my dislike of generalities. Generalities create laws. They create expectations, and non-expectations. Of course I know a few folks might say "You're making an awfully big stink about a phrase which even you admit is meant to be respectful; what's the big deal?" Well, that's the danger of certain phrases. Either we believe all our Bible or we don't. Either it's a manual for life or we can pick and choose what to believe.

My biggest complaint about this verse is that it makes God appear sneaky under the guise of saying he is mysterious. And it blames Him for deaths which He might not have ordained. Yes, there is such a thing as someone dying when God doesn't will for that person to die.

We must watch our words or we will curse our lives. Rachel cursed her life and Jacob cursed it as well when he cursed the one who stole Laban's gods. Elisha destroyed his own life when he spared the life of a king God had wanted to kill. Ananias and Saphira destroyed their lives by lying to the Holy Spirit and the church.

God has said that His sheep hear His voice. Is it possible that God warns us everyday about what we should do? Is it possible that God told people what not to eat, where not to go, which friends not to hang out with, what train not to take?

"So why are you bringing a charge against him?
Why say he does not respond to people’s complaints?
For God speaks again and again,
though people do not recognize it.
He speaks in dreams, in visions of the night,
when deep sleep falls on people
as they lie in their beds.
He whispers in their ears
and terrifies them with warnings.
He makes them turn from doing wrong;
he keeps them from pride.
He protects them from the grave,
from crossing over the river of death." Job 33:13-18

I will focus only on God's promises, though. In the Bible, St Paul wrote this:

Timothy, my son, here are my instructions for you, based on the prophetic words spoken about you earlier. May they help you fight well in the Lord's battles. 1 Timothy 1:18

This is an important verse. It means there are certain promises God has made for us personally -- through dreams, the prophets in our church or in visions-- and generally through the Bible. These prophecies are promises. But they are conditional on us fighting for them. If God tells Joseph that his brothers, father, and mother will bow down before him...doesn't that give hope to Joseph that he will rise up out of the well, out of slavery, and out of the prison?

In the book of Acts, we are told that Moses supposed his people understood that he was their savior. Apparently Moses knew some prophecy about his life. Nevertheless, Moses left and lived I the wilderness and only returned when God called Him from the fire.

The place to where the Israelites were sent was called The Promised Land.
The Promised Land is conquered because we believe God promised it to us.
Even if Pharoah wants to keep our goods, our children, our possessions, our spouses, we must say what Moses said: "We will leave this slavery with everything that is ours."

This is the reason why we pray "Thy Will Be Done!" The will of God is not easily done. The devil comes against God's people because of the Word, because of the promises and prophecies of God. The promises must be fought for.

We may not all be promised a long life. God told Samuel that the descendants of Eli would all live short lives. Jeremiah was a descendant of Eli, some scholars have said. So even Jeremiah was fated for a short life.

The Bible doesn't say we are all fated to have 80 years. It was an observation: Most people live to seventy, and if we make it to eighty, we have sorrow and pain. So we can't use that psalm to say that we are promised a long life. But age is just a number. The young and the old can die. And some of the greatest deeds in the Bible were done by people who were very aged. (Caleb, etc.)

The important thing to do is to live as the Bible commands us to live, to hear God's voice, to listen to the guidance in our dreams, and to watch our tongues that we don't curse our lives.

So should we say this phrase?  No, I think not.


Friday, January 15, 2016

Poem: On the Deaths of Alan Rickman and David Bowie

Close My Eyes.
Then, Closetland.
And of course Stardust was always there.
Not sure when it entered my mental world.

And yet, strangely,
I am not devastated.
Not sure why the lack of devastation.
Not that I want to be devastated..
but yeah, wondering

I'm at peace.
Perhaps it's age
the now-common death of close friends and older celebs
normal occurrences now.

Younger folks wonder
why the grief for Bowie:
they've never heard of him.

At the same time, other actors much older
are dying or have died
--90 year olds etc--
whom those now mourning Bowie
never heard of.

So yes a daily occurrence,
at my age.
At my age, death is numbing.

Once in a great while
there is this terrifying squeal
a strange overflow of grief
from my own mouth
from my own heart
which leaves me amazed.

And I think:
how strange this grief!
I didn't know this death
would devastate me so much.
I cried so much when Orson Welles died
I thought my heart would break.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Lesson Learned

The desperate can be charming;
I'll say that for them.

The homeless desperate for home
The unloved desperate for love
The poor, desperate for money.

And, perhaps,
at the back of my mind I always knew that.

Knew that I was being used
by someone poor, homeless, and desperate.

And I forgave the little hidings
The squirreling away of self
The curious carving out of personal space
although my family had freely given her
all our home and heart to roam in.

She kept her heart free of us, though.
And when
her own home, her own life, her own ...her own...
had finally arrived.

She stepped out of our lives
and forgot us
as if we had never existed at all.

Worse than a thief;
If robbers came,
they would have left something.
But she stole our hearts.
And then betrayed.

My heart has become quite cynical.
There is no healing it.
I cannot dream
of being kind again.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Wattpad Block Party - Winter Edition II

I'll be doing the Wattpad Block Party -- Winter edition. And yes, I'll be doing a giveaway of one of my ebooks. If you want to be included in the giveaway, please subscribe to this blog (by feed or by email) and write something in the comment section below.

Post Title: What Writers can learn from a Writing Contest Judge by Carole McDonnell
Username: CaroleMcDonnell
I recently became a judge for a flash fiction short story competition. It was an interesting experience. Note, I do not say "fun experience" because there were moments which were decidedly not "fun." Especially when I had to (gently) critique a story or reject it entirely. So, I thought it'd be a good idea to share some of the writing advice I gave to some of the contestants.
The genres I judged were scifi, fantasy, ghost stories, and fairy tales.  

Follow the Rules
The very first advice that comes to mind is this: Follow the rules, submit your story to the appropriate genre, try to understand all the elements of a particular genre.  
One story, especially, had me quite torn. It was the best story I'd read in the entire competition, probably one of the best stories I'd read in years. But I had to disqualify it. The author had put it in the wrong category, the scifi category.  I suppose the author thought the story was scifi, but having a sprinkling of scifi catchphrases does not a science fiction story make. 
Other authors were rejected either because their stories did not have all the elements of a genre or the authors decided to go meta wink-wink nudge-nudge and parody a traditional scifi, fairy tale, or fantasy story.  It's best to create your own original fairy tale than to play with a well-known one. I cannot tell you how many "not your mother's fairytale" stories I saw. Worse, these "new" twists on traditional fairytales were not so new at all. Competition judges have read a lot; few "twists" are new to us.    
Know when to begin a story
Knowing when to begin a story is difficult. It is not necessary to start the story with guns blazing. A story that begins too close to the action might confuse the reader if it is badly-executed. So, should we start a story a second, an hour, a day, a month, a year, three hundred years before the event in the opening scene? Infodumping background and backstory at the beginning of a story is problematical. Most readers will not remember names, places, and dates, presented to them at the beginning of a story. Those captains, kings, nations you dumped on them in the opening prologue will have to be interwoven into the story again. Remember that people generally don't care about facts unless emotion is involved, and they don't care about a character's history until they've lived a few hours with the main character in the present.  Some writers use flashback scenes and others sprinkle backstory into a story, interweaving past events into the present. One warning about flashbacks: it's best not to use flashbacks too early in a story. In a novel, wait a few chapters or you will halt the forward thrust of the story. It's best not to use flashbacks in a short story unless one can get away with it. (And never assume you are so skilled that you can get away with breaking the rules.)
Know how many characters are needed
A failed story sometimes has too many characters; this just leads to confusion and a list of names the reader cannot connect to. Sometimes a story has one main character in the beginning then changes to another main character toward the end. Sometimes there is a missing character. Just as there can be a missing line in a story that pulls certain thoughts together, or a missing scene or a missing chapter, the missing character is the hardest character to "see." The writer has to step back and see if everyone present in the story is necessary, and if any essential person is absent. 
Talking heads
Narrative beats are not always necessary but long sections of dialog only punctuated by "he said" or "she said" is a lost opportunity to show aspects of the story, characterization, even subtextual metaphors.
Filtering words
Words such as "I looked," "I saw," "I glanced," "I heard," "I felt," or "I smelled" are filter words. They put a distance between the reader and the story's narrator. If one isn't careful, these words can overwhelm a manuscript, at every sentence. Instead of writing, "She saw him that morning wearing a blue-colored shirt," tweak the story to make it more active. "The blue shirt he wore" or "That morning, he wore a blue shirt." Instead of "She listened to the sounds of a bird singing in the woods," write "The caw of a raven echoed through the pine barrens." Avoid words such as "seemed," "appeared," "felt," "had the feeling," and "realized." They are often a sign that the writer is telling. Don't write "She seemed happy" or "I realized he was holding his breath" or "he looked scared." Try instead, "A smile flickered on her face" or "His shoulders relaxed and a silent sigh escaped his mouth" or "His hands shook."
Vagueness never helps
Use the perfect word. Why use "car" or "sound" when you can use Lexus or hooptie? Or splashing or gurgling? 
Lack of Voice
One of the worst problems I encountered was the lack of voice in the stories. Voice is not difficult, and yet it is one of the hardest things for new writers to master. I wil only say that "voice" reveals the narrator's heart. Sometimes it reveals more, such as the author's culture, obsessions, or preoccupations. But at its basic level, voice reveals the narrator's personality and heart.In the same way that a visual artist chooses a particular palette, medium, or subject, a writer chooses --or allows-- voice. Voice is often found in description. The way a character washes laundry can be conveyed in different way depending on the narrator's backstory, present situation, emotional state, age, rank, wealth, hopes. The description of an abandoned house depends on who is describing it. If the description of the abandoned house in your story could fit into any genre or could be done by any author, that description lacks voice. The writer doesn't have to be over-the-top, but merely himself.   
A story is not a summary
Know what a story is, how to tell it, and how to end it. A story is not a synopsis or a memo. Stories have elements of fiction, which include characterization, description, action, a story arc, a geographical or chronological setting. Many of the stories I read seemed to have characters hanging in space. The season, time of day, locations, were absent or had no effect on the character. Some stories were more like descriptions of situations; there was no beginning, no middle, no end. And some stories felt as if the author thought the twist ending would make up for the lack of plot.  
Watch the coarse language
Coarseness doesn't imply honesty, truth, passion, edginess, or anger, especially if a writer uses the coarse word repeatedly. Also, you never know if the judge is religious or easily offended. If you're going to use a coarse word, make sure it's absolutely needed.  
Be careful when attempting versimilitude
Fiction reflects life but in order to work, it can't reflect life too much. The dialog must feel real, have verisimilitude, but it must also be crafted. If two characters are arguing, don't write every word of the argument in order to show how stressed both characters are. Real-life arguments go on forever...but dialog is perfected conversation.  Have you ever seen a movie where characters are having a boring conversation? The boring conversation lasts just long enough for the viewer to understand that it is a boring conversation. Then the scene ends. The writer doesn't give us the full extent of the conversation but manages to cut away after the plot point is achieved. Consider also good dialogs, which are fictionally styled and carefully-crafted but somehow feel real, natural, and free-flowing.  
Pronoun Referrents
When using pronouns such as "it," "its," "she," "her," "this," "of them," "these," "those," "that," "there," or "which," always remember that the reader is not inside your head. Always ask yourself if the reader will understand what "it" is referring to. 
Watch for overly-long sentences 
Some of the sentences I saw in some stories were doing much too much work.  There is just so much information a sentence can hold. And some sentences work so hard they should be paid overtime. Watch, also, if you overdo it with commas, prepositions, clauses, phrases, etc. 
I hope this helps you. And happy creativity, all!

Carole McDonnell 

Jpeg of My Life as an Onion attached to this email.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Weird Western Wednesdays

Today I am guest blogging at
I am participating in Nicole Givens Kurtz’s Weird Western Wednesdays!
My guest blog post appears on her blog, Pulp Reports, which can be found on her website, Other Worlds Pulp (



            I remember the first story that devastated me: it was a fairy tale and it was Hans Christian Andersons The Little Mermaid. A sad work quite unlike the happy Disney film version, it taught me the world was unfair, that a kind-hearted person could work hard for a particular and peculiar heart-loved treasure and yet not receive it. It was not merely the simple act of not receiving the treasure that bothered my tween heart but the fact that the treasure had been stolen, willfully, cunningly, and by someone with a rationalizing conscience. The Little Mermaid had saved the prince from drowning. The Little Mermaid had given up much in order to win the human prince. Therefore the Little Mermaid should if life were fairwin the prince of her heart. But she had not.

            The second story to bother but not truly devastate-- me was the film High Noon with Gary Cooper. The hero was loved by two women. One pale and blonde. The other dark and foreignand somehow used or damaged goods.

I have always loved and hated Westerns. To me there is no difference between a cowboy with a rifle and a warrior with a sword, lance, or quiver. They are often both on quests, they have a right to wrong, they follow the rules and laws of their times, they exist in a solitary often desolatelandscape. Trouble was, westerns were often upsetting me because of the way they treated minority characters.

So, as I watched High Noon, I could not see what all was so bad about the Spanish spitfire. She was quite noble, trustworthy, and honest, and she loved the hero. Except that there was that taint of being the other and somehow not being worthy enough. Like the Little Mermaid, she lost her love as well. I suppose Ive always been more interested in stories when a love story and an underdog were involved. And, like all little minority kids who watched TV in the nineteen-seventies, I developed the art of mentally adapting the story being told on the big screen. It seemed perfectly clear to me that Romeo and Juliet were about two lovers from different religions, and that Hamlets love Ophelia was black. That is how we heal ourselves.

Later, when I found out that Hans Christian Anderson had written The Little Mermaid in order to tell the real-life story about a Jewish girls unrequited love for a Christian boy, I understood why stories about the rejected, the unseen, the wounded other meant so much to me and why I simultaneously loved and hated westerns.

Weird Westerns are not my favorite genre but they are in the top ten of my faves. Probably just after wounded warrior fantasies. Why? Because they combine my love of heroes with my love of the fantastic. And when the story is multicultural, all things come together to make the world right again. If not for the Little Mermaid, then at least for me.

I said earlier that The Little Mermaid devastated me. There are two genres of devastating stories: those that clearly open a childs eyes to the fact that the world is unfair, and those that utterly disregard some aspect of the child, such as race or disability. The Little Mermaid may have been a fairytale but it is inherently true. High Noon is about reality but it is not only true but cruel. Why? Because it is part of a canon that excludes. That is the worse kind of canon. I think stories help to set the world right. They either set the world right by not consciously or unconsciouslyignoring certain aspects of humanity such as race and disability. Or they set the world right by warning us about the evils in the world. In that way, stories point to the obstacles we may encounter in our path. I hope the stories in this anthology will help light and right the way.


Carole McDonnell
    1. Twitter- @scifiwritir


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Should Christian Stories Evangelize

The easy answer is: “yes, we should evangelize.” Evangelism is often about making the world see our light…without us being aware of it.  They see us warts and all, without us being preachy.
However, most Christians are
  1. legalistic and preach the law more than the riches of His grace;
  2. inside a box but don’t realize they are;
  3. don’t seem to understand that it is often the goodness of God that calls sinners to repentance;
  4. are not really good at speaking about other big issues in the world; and
  5. American Christians preach their class, race, agenda, and denomination.
Here is more of what I mean.
1. We don’t know enough about the riches of God’s grace to share that. So often preachers will preach about the many facets of being good and how we should not sin and how thankfully Jesus saved us. This is preaching legalism under the guise of preaching grace. We have to understand the many facets of His grace. We have to widen our understanding of grace. Then we can teach and evangelize instead of always majoring in being good.
2. Christians often think they know what the world is saying, thinking, doing. But really they don’t know. Case in point, most Christians have been so taught that the world really needs to understand John 3:16. But honestly, the world has heard that a lot. The world already knows the gospel. Another case in point, most Christians see every conversation through what their church or denomination teaches. So even when they talk to or debate a fellow Christian, they are often unable to hear what the other Christian is saying because they are so trained to think the other Christian thinks like they do. Can you imagine such folks having conversations with non-Christians? Already imagining where they think the other person is coming from.
Case in point — a recent conversation I had with two Christians in which I used this quote:
“Once our hearts get broken, they never fully heal. They always ache. But perhaps a broken heart is a more loving instrument. Perhaps only after our hearts have cracked wide open, have finally and totally unclenched, can we truly know love without boundaries.”
— Fred Epstein
Every Christian who spoke with me about it interpreted it as Epstein saying “God’s sovereignty created trouble.”  They were self-righteous and angry and could not see that God was not shown as the causative agent at of broken hearts at all. They could not see past their assumption about what the “other” was thinking or about where the “other” came from.
For 3, I will just point you to this article. Note that this writer WAS a Christian and she believed that we go to heaven because we are “good.”
For 4, I will also use the above link. Note also that she speaks of social justice. American Christian evangelism generally only speaks of sin. There are no Romeros, Martin Luther Kings, etc in the United States. Not in a big way. Most of the times Christians talk about anything in the world, they speak of it in order to get a “person” to stop sinning. They ponder only personal evangelism and saving each human or saving The United States (as a nostalgic hearkening back to a rural type of Eden where America is the unique country, the city set on a hill) rather than saving the world.
The problem is that while some folks are focused on their personal sins and will be open to dealing with their own salvation, there are other larger “secular” (so-called) issues that Christianity could touch. And I don’t mean “touch” as “show how sinful it all is.” American Christians are also very divided so they deal with issues in a very me-oriented way. Most white Christians don’t go on marches against guns, poverty, climate change, torture, war. They don’t give flaky lectures in the way New Age philosophies do. Christianity and art. No. Science, sex, and dehumanization …or whatever else. The spiritual joy of sex, artistic creation, linguistics, horse-racing, interior design, fabric design, whatever. Christians are just not good at engaging the popular culture without making it be all about sin.   The upshot is that the world (and the world’s religions) speaks of stuff like this and there is no Christian counterpart. There are Christians who don’t seem to understand that all good gifts come from God therefore even atheists are blessed with talents, etc, and are speaking of God’s beauty and creation even though those atheists aren’t aware of it.
For 5, I will use as an example the following quote:
I ask, “How have you all this wealth?” For the care of the poor consumes wealth. When each one receives a little for one’s needs, and when all owners distribute their means simultaneously for the care of the needy, no one will possess more than one’s neighbor. Yet it is plain that you have very many lands. Whence all these? Undoubtedly you have subordinated the relief and comfort of many to your convenience. And so, the more you abound in your riches, the more you want in love.
— Basil the Great
Even if this might be deemed by some as a bit extreme, a Christian should not look at the quote and immediately start talking about welfare mothers. But this is just what most white Christians do — especially when the quote is mentioned by a black Christian. If the quote is mentioned by a white Christian, then most Biblical American Christians will start talking about commies and progressives.
So then, to your question. How can people who have so much of the world in us, how can people who are so blind to the speck in their own eyes, how can people who cannot see past their own cultural issues truly bring a great wonderful Christ to a sinner without the sinner — if said sinner is perceptive — rolling their eyes?

Earthly things lead to heavenly things

Jesus said, “If I tell you of earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell  you of heavenly things?”

I think Christian fiction could improve by being more cosmology based. And not the usual cosmology of angels but about some personal dear truth that touches the writer’s unique soul.
There is a kind of trust Christians should develop, a kind of fearless delving into the unknowing and letting the creative chips fall where they may. But often we are so afraid of veering into sin, of veering into what we don’t know, and we work from an invisible doctrinal outline. I really think we have to brave the creative process and discover our own emotional issues. The Holy Spirit works in our spirit and in our emotions. The book of Revelation says that he who overcomes will receive a white stone with a name on it which no man knows but the receiver.

I think our personal relationship with God is like that. We are individuals whom God loves — and He works within our individuality and personality. As artists, Christians are so aware of a Christian creative tradition (Lewis, the Arthurian Cycle, and Tolkien, for instance) and so aware that other Christians want something like Tolkien and company that they unconsciously write for other Christians instead of writing from their own unique souls.

I think the problem with many Christians is that they are very conscious of planting spiritual seeds that might grow and mature in the reader’s mind. And some Christian writers even go so far as wanting to write a book that plants seeds, waters them, and harvests them into an altar call at the book’s end. But I think that’s hard to do when there are often so many mental, emotional, and theological arguments that make the mental soil of the reader so hard to cultivate. If the field is the soul of the reader, then Christian evangelism should try to affect that soil/soul. Even if we only cultivate the soil/soul and someone else reaps the harvest, we will have done our part.

One of my favorite books written by a Christian is George MacDonald’s The Day Boy and The Night Girl. One cannot read it and say it “means” anything. Because whatever theology contained in it is pretty unclear. But it touches the soul. There is such a thing as soul. And so many Christian fiction books touch doctrine, or the mind, or the emotions but not the soul.

It’s not an evangelical book but it is a seed-sowing kind of book that breaks up fallow ground. We each know what has wounded us against God or religious people, what has troubled us about the world, what has terrified us about the cosmos, what has enchanted us about the universe. That is our little white stone with our name on it. And sometimes we don’t really realize that what is what our soul wants to write about. If we would simply trust the creative force of the Holy Spirit and believe that we can dive into a piece of writing without being theologically “sure” how it will all turn out, then our souls will peek through.

When I wrote The Constant Tower, I wasn’t aware the story would be about God’s love and spiritual warfare. But since my spirit is joined to God’s spirit, God knew what the story would be about. When I wrote My Life as an Onion, I thought I was writing a romance, but Holy Spirit knew that I was writing about woundedness. When I wrote Wind Follower, I thought I was writing about cultural wars but Holy Spirit was writing about loss.

All these things — loss, woundedness, God’s love — are not obviously about the cross of Christ or His great work of salvation. But they can touch the fallow ground souls of people and will help to prepare the soil by creatively doing the Great Commission Work of healing, cleansing and raising their souls from the dead.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Poetry: The tainted glass

The poet's eye
should not be mirrors
but glass;
To speak of one's self
one must turn one's gaze outward.

instinctively understand this.
Among the greats,
selfies are rare.
And great conversationalists
do not speak of themselves.

Young poets struggle to believe this.
The challenge to put self aside
insults, hurts, them.

But, if they wish to be great,
this is the passage
they must walk through
In art, this dying to self
leads to a purer declaration of self.
This is what craft is about
the hiding which shows itself.

The poem,
being pure glass --
its taint, its color,
will reveal your true self.

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