Jon del Arroz: Faith in Writing

The following is a guest post from Jon del Arroz, the leading Hispanic voice in science fiction.

For a long time, I was hesitant to mention my faith in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the context of my science fiction writing. Within the halls of sci-fi conventions and within the major author community, there’s a scorn that’s held for “those backward anti-science” types, which is how they think of us. For years, I would be silent while I’d attend panels at conventions where they praised paganism, actually ran panels like “combating Creationism,” and created a hostile environment for Christians. It intimidated me, and actually succeeded in keeping me from talking about my faith as an author.

I feared that people would see my faith, and it would turn them off from reading my books, which I simply wanted to be fun science fiction for everyone—and I still strive for that within my books. But last year I made a determination not to hide who I was for the sake of the few who would get outraged. They did. They are some of the loudest people in science fiction and on the internet, but at the end of the day, their influence is small, and that’s what I found encouraging.

As I feared, my outspokenness has caused me to lose several of the contacts who I was afraid would. My sense on that was correct, but my perspective on it had changed. If these people who spent time with me broke bread with me, and shared my hobbies with me were going to hate me for being me—it’s a fault with them, not with me.

That mindset was freeing. It allowed me to speak what’s on my mind without fear, which is what’s important. Fear only holds us back, it doesn’t do anything for us. Living with fear makes it harder to produce good work and good art, and it’s not what God intended for us. How do I know this? Because fear is the opposite of love, and the scriptures clearly say that God is love. If you operate without fear, you free yourself from shackles, and that’s exactly what God’s grace is intended to do.

We’re also intended to praise Him. When you start to be more open about your relationship with the Lord, it starts to feel better inside, and it also helps you to more consistently think about Him, pray more, and live your life more as He intended. It really is a snowball effect where everything piles in a good way, and it starts with making a commitment to yourself to not be afraid, to trust God and not worry about your speaking being offensive to the non-believer.

It can be tough out there in the entertainment field, but I say this a lot and it also holds true—the more of us there are who are vocal, the less “odd” and “stand out” it tends to be. This is a good thing, because it also creates less fear of the other from the people who are vocally opposing Christianity when they see so many of us. As it stands now, very few are willing to take the slings and arrows, and for good reason, as they can be many, but the more we’re present, the safer it becomes for us to be able to speak our minds, and most importantly, create art that is true to ourselves. When you get to that point where you’ve got no critic who matters to you but God, your creativity can flow better than ever before, because you are made in the Creator’s image.

Jon Del Arroz is the leading Hispanic voice in Science Fiction, a multi-award nominated science fiction author. His new book, The Stars Entwined, is out now.

Thanks to Jon del Arroz for his post! I’ve enjoyed his books and follow him on Twitter. Go thou and do likewise!


Cyndi Carter: Follow their Example

The following is a guest post by Cyndi Carter, author of the teen/young adult fantasy ‘The Road Home.’

Follow their Example

I hope you have a favorite author (or two) that you enjoy reading. I enjoy the characters in the stories, and it’s like visiting with old friends. I feel like I’m getting to know the author, too, and it’s like spending time with him or her.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I believe that. Reading and rereading my favorite stories has enriched my thinking and my speaking. I hold these writers as dear friends. When we moved into our house six years ago, one of the first things my husband and I did was to unpack the books and put “our friends” on the bookshelves.

Learn from your favorite authors. What do they do that you like? Do you like their sense of humor? How do they make a character or a scene come alive? How do they weave the story – chronologically, parallel plot lines, or flashbacks?

If you want to be a writer, be a reader.

Cyndi Carter lives in Clearwater, Florida with her husband John and dog Max.  She enjoys reading, history, language, cooking, and almost all kinds of music.  Celtic and traditional music are special loves.  They make her heart sing.

Cyndi’s website:

Cyndi’s Facebook author page:

Cyndi’s book: The Road Home

‘Unprofessional’ for a writer to use a free blog or website?

Here is where I have to disagree with the ‘experts’, specifically Joanna Penn. She says that using free blogging services— and Blogger in my case, is ‘unprofessional’ and that discerning viewers can tell a free website and, evidently, look down on you for it.

Even people who have plenty of money might choose to not spend more of it on paid blog services and domain names and such. And also, it might be a sign of solidarity with poor, disabled, and other disadvantaged writers and aspiring writers who haven’t made it big yet.

If you are a writer or aspiring writer with Asperger Syndrome [autism spectrum disorder], you have according to some statistics an 80% chance of being unemployed— even though the Asperger Syndrome diagnosis (when they still had it) rules out retardation and extreme low-functioning. It’s hard to get even the most menial job when employers take one look at you and see you as ‘odd’ and ‘shifty’ because you can’t make eye contact correctly!

Writing was one of the recommended careers for Aspies according to one book I read, and the prospect gives a lot of us hope. But being told you have to spend money on just starting a blog….. There are better things to save our limited funds for.

There is also the case of homeless aspiring writers who are bloggers. I’ve read of a case where a homeless girl wrote a popular blog about her homeless life and eventually got a book deal. She wrote her blog, I assume, with a free blogging service, and used the computers in public libraries.

I reject the notion that you need to pay for your blog and for a domain name to be serious about being a ‘professional’ writer. I have seen writers who have tried to save money on a domain name and turned their free blog into something less functional. If your words are good, people won’t notice your blog isn’t a paid one. If your words are not yet good because you are still learning, people won’t notice your blog’s free status either because they will either criticize you (a good thing) or just look down on you.

What is an author brand, anyway?

“If you are an author, you need a brand!” they keep saying but they rarely explain what they mean by brand. It’s not cowboys on horses rounding up a herd of authors and applying hot metal brands to tender author-flesh.

According to Jeff Goin’s book, ‘You are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)’, an author brand has three elements.

  • Author name. Ideally, your real name. But if you have the family name of Dickens and the first name of Charles, you need a pen name. Same if you could lose your day job by the politically incorrect things you write, or if it would cause problems to your family members.
  • Image. Your author photo. It’s like when you are on Facebook and someone you know ONLY on Facebook has a photo of himself as his FB profile picture and it kind of feels like you know him in real life. Or it could be a logo. That’s less personal, you need a reason to use a logo, and you need a professional to design one unless you are a professional graphic designer.
  • Your Voice. That’s the hardest one. A writer needs to develop a unique voice and no one really tells you how to do that. But it’s really just when you are being YOU and you say the you-things you might say in real life with your friends. OK, when you are writing online or in books you may develop you-things to say that you wouldn’t say in real life. Maybe it’s just the a few unique turns of phrase you have that you use in certain situations, or some issues you can’t shut up about. If you are still unsure, ask some of your best social media friends— ‘Is there something you recognize about the things I say when I post? So if I posted on someone else’s account by mistake, you would guess it’s really me?’

Warning: Although your voice will develop and change over time, you shouldn’t be switching names or images/logos much. Once you start putting yourself out there as a writer/aspiring writer, you can’t expect people to follow you to your new identity.
If your image is your author photo, it’s better to keep the same one for a long period of time than to switch each week. If you need to update because your old photo was taken when you were twenty and you are now 108, try to have similarities in your background, clothing and overall look so people can pretend to recognize you. Remember, Coca-Cola is a success because it’s kept the same name and logo for a lot of years! You need to do the same.

The Protagonist as Hero: Dexter Morgan

It used to be that writing theory called the central character of the novel the hero. Today terms like ‘protagonist’ or ‘main character’ are more popular, and even ‘antihero.’ What is the difference? I propose it is that the hero practices one or more virtues— habits of choosing the good rather than the bad.

Perhaps it is the secularist writing experts who make it impossible to say ‘hero’ about everyone that is not morally perfect. Christians know that they only perfect Man was Jesus Christ, and His very perfection makes it difficult to use Him as the main character in a work of fiction.

The reason that the Hero was popular is because the reader would rather identify with a somewhat good character than with a nasty sort. The Hero can have flaws just like the Villain can have virtues, but we really don’t like to root for the guy who beats up his three-year-old or who rapes prostitutes for fun.

An example of this is Dexter Morgan. He actually is a somewhat Heroic character, in spite of his bad habit of being a serial killer. The author of the book series has negated the bad effect of this bad habit through several means:

  • Dexter is a ‘good’ serial killer who doesn’t prey on victims who excite him, or victims whose deaths will bring him personal profit, like real serial killers. He preys only on other serial killers, and he uses his forensic skills and police connections to make sure his victims are guilt. In other words, he acts as an unofficial supporter of the law, although he is breaking the law. Serial murder is one crime that cries out for the death penalty, both as a matter of justice and because it’s never safe to risk letting a habitual murder out of prison.
  • Dexter’s sister and her ‘vicious arm punches.’ Dexter has a very bossy sister, Deb, who often punches Dexter in the arm just to get his attention. Dexter doesn’t respond by pulling out his flensing knife, but he usually does what his sister wants. He even loves his sister, to the extend that he can love people.
  • Dexter as a henpecked husband. Dexter’s wife Rita is also bosses Dexter around, though in a gentler way. He appreciates her good cooking. He may claim he can’t love anyone, but he certainly acts like he loves Rita. She is also useful to him, as she expects him to act like a ‘normal’ husband and tells him the things she expects him to do to fit that role.
  • Dexter as a protector and friend of children. Dexter particularly loves to kill serial killers who prey on children. And he is good with kids, especially his stepchildren. It’s perhaps because Dexter was traumatized as a child himself.

So you see, Dexter Morgan has enough heroic qualities that we feel good about rooting for him in his hunt for the serial killing villains who take innocent victims. As a serial killer, Dexter may seem to be a villain, not a hero. But in the context of Dexter-world, he is so much more virtuous than the more wicked killers he is chasing, that he IS enough of a hero that readers can identify.

As writers who want our fiction to win over readers, we should make it easy for them. Make our main characters heroes— both by giving them virtues, and by giving the villains vices. If your hero has major moral flaws like Dexter does, give him some virtues, and a villain who has much worse moral flaws. No matter how much a reader might claim he has rejected traditional moral rules, he will still prefer to root for a character that has some good in him.

What true crime stories can teach us about fictional characters

I like to read true crime books, if they are well-written or if the case is interesting to me. And one thing I’ve learned about true crime stories— it’s all about the characters. There are some true crime books published every year because the murder cases garnered a few headlines and people want to read more. But the books soon drop out of sight, because most people don’t find the cases all that interesting.

Other cases— like those of Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, Albert Fish, Ed Gein, and O.J. Simpson— remain of interest, no matter how much time goes by. Why is this? The difference is about the characters.

Some murders are almost routine. Armed robber kills victim. Pimp kills prostitute. Violent husband kills wife. Wife poisons husband— or a series of them— for the insurance money. These cases make headlines at the time, but most of them are quickly forgotten once the trial is over.

But the interesting cases are those with something special. A murderer that is notable and interesting— like O. J. Simpson, once the nation’s hero during his football career. Or perhaps an accused murderer that many believe is innocent, like Lizzie Borden. Or a sympathetic victim, like little Grace Budd who was lured away by Albert Fish and cruelly murdered.

Murderers aren’t normally the kind of people we want to spend time with, but the good true crime author presents the case as if it were a fictional tale with heroes and villains, and an ending that often brings a degree of closure.

Fictional stories are like that. It’s all about the characters. If the characters are dull and prosaic and walking stereotypes, the book is dull and you may not be able to finish it.

I knew an author that had a longish book out on Kindle. I read a lot of the beginning but I couldn’t find characters I much cared about or plotlines where I just had to know the outcome— perhaps because they involved characters that hadn’t caught my interest. But then the author wrote a novella about one of his more minor characters. He did a great job on the novella and on the Lead character. It still didn’t give me the inspiration to finish the longer book, though I did try. But my experience makes the point— the characters are the thing.

Many writers, like those with Asperger Syndrome or autism, lack the social skills and insight to learn enough about the real people around them to create book characters based on these real people’s traits. But reading books, both fiction books and nonfiction like true crime, allow you to benefit from some other person’s social insights. Of course, a true crime writer might be inaccurate about the details of some of the characters. Some writers repeat local gossip about a murderer to blacken that murderer’s name. I read a book about a woman who killed all of her own children, perhaps because of the mental disorder Munchhausen Syndrome by Proxy. The local gossips accused the woman of being part of a rumored witchcraft coven in the area. But the evidence seems to point to the idea that this woman was quite conventional and attended Christian churches.

Now, fictional characters are not exactly like real people. Each fictional character has a function in the overall plot of the story. Real life isn’t that neat. But learning more about real people, even through a habit of true crime fandom, can help you create more compelling fictional people.

What is a potboiler? #writing

The term ‘potboiler’ is an old-timey writing term for a writing project which is short or easy to do, and will result in some writing income that the writer can use for basic survival. Picture a writer in a garret, working on a project so he can buy some dried beans or lentils so he can make a pot of soup so he can keep eating even when he is between project and his REAL writing work is far from finished.

In the days when pulp magazines in every genre were on the newsstands, and they paid enough to make a difference, many writers wrote short stories for income while they were waiting for their REAL writing career to take off.

In more recent times, the common potboilers have been when a literary author writes in a popular genre, usually using a pseudonym. Stephen King’s novel The Dark Half tells about such an event. Being a Stephen King novel, of course the pseudonym who got the credit for the literary author’s violent crime novels comes to life and starts killing people, but I understand that rarely happens in real life.

Another example is when a lady author of science fiction and/or fantasy dashes off some quick romance novels to get the income flowing. I’ve known of a couple of well-known authoresses who have gone this route.

Of course, for many authors it may feel that selling a potboiler crime novel or romance is just as hard as selling other work. It’s a pretty risky source of income. Especially when you don’t have an agent yet, or a novel in your REAL genre on the market.

One trick that many modern author-bloggers do is to monetize their blog readers by selling a self-published ebook to that audience. If the author normally blogs about the process of writing, he might write some how-to-write ebook, perhaps a short one, for a little income. If the author-blogger has other non-fiction topics covered on the blog, those topics might also earn some income.

Non-fiction is often an easier sell than fiction by an unfamiliar author. Especially when you have a blog on that covers that topic. You may even be able to re-write and expand a few blog posts into something that will sell.

Perhaps you are thinking that a potboiler is all too crass and commercial. But the Bible says ‘Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn.’ (I Cor. 9:9, KJV.) A writer needs to be paid for writing, or it feels like just a hobby. An unjustifiably expensive hobby, when you buy how-to-write books or pay to attend writers’ conferences. Many writers feel that their early potboiler-writing years improved their writing skills, and made them feel like a real writer.

What kind of writing could you do, right now, that would probably make you a little money to keep the wolf away from the door?