Friday, February 28, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday: Never Too Late

I'm taking a break from the continuation of The Journal this week, but here's a flash fiction story I wrote awhile back. Thanks for reading.

Never Too Late

Wendy wanted to rush at the man standing over her son's bed, but the gun aimed at her face and the knife held to Billy's neck caused her to stand planted in the doorway. A villainous smile crossed the man's face.

"If you do anything to hurt him, I swear..."

Wendy could feel the rage well up as the man laughed and made a pinprick cut with the knife into the flesh of Billy's neck. 

Billy screamed, and Wendy began moving toward him when she felt a searing pain in her right thigh. A loud pop rang throughout the room. Wendy collapsed, staring at the dark gash where the bullet went in.

Billy was still screaming, writhing in the bed.

"Shut up, or I'll shoot her again!" the man said.

Billy stilled. "Mommy..."

"Mommy's okay, sweetie. Just listen to what the he says." To the man, "What do you want with us?"

The gun was leveled at her face again. "I want him to show up. He can end all of this by merely coming here. We'll leave together. And you and Billy will never see me again."

It can't be that simple, can it?

"Are you going to hurt him?"

"If he doesn't show up, Billy dies. Don't you think he'd be willing to make that sacrifice?"

The man threw her a cell phone. "Call him."

Wendy made the call. No response.

"He didn't answer."

The man frowned. "Bad news for you."

The man laid the two weapons down and reached into the inner pocket of his black jacket. Wendy saw a syringe in his hand.

"What are you going to do with that?"

Before he answered, the man jabbed the syringe's needle into Billy's leg and injected its contents into the boy.

"No!" Wendy lunged toward the man on her good leg, but she was met with a back-arm to her face. She fought the need to black out.

The man trained his gun back on her. "That was a very lethal virus. My own design. Billy has exactly one hour to live. More like fifty minutes, really, because in the last ten minutes his body will be ravaged beyond anything anyone could possibly survive."

Wendy felt her body shaking.

"Please..." she said with tears blurring her vision.

"There is an antidote." He reached back into his jacket and pulled out another syringe. "Get him here and Billy will be okay. If he doesn't show up, Billy dies."

Wendy grabbed the phone again. She waited as it rang.

Why isn't he answering? He always answers.

She finally got voicemail.

"Dad! You have to answer...please answer...Billy is going to die if you don't get to my house now...Nate is going to kill him...please Dad!"

She heard herself screaming the words, but it felt futile. She threw the phone on the ground.

"You can't do this, Nate. Please just give him the antidote."

"No! Either Dad shows up to save the day from his prodigal son or Billy dies."

Wendy sighed. "Will you just let me close to him?"

Nate stepped aside as Wendy came to Billy's side. She held his hand and watched his chest rise and fall. Unconscious had already set in. Nate kept the gun pointed at her.

Please, Dad. We need you.

Wendy looked at the clock on the wall next to the door. Thirty minutes had passed, and nothing from her father. Why was he ignoring her?

She grabbed the phone to call again.

"Hello?"

"Dad? Tell me you got my message."

A pause. "It's going to be hard to understand, baby, but I'm not going to make it."

Wendy froze. "What do you mean?"

"I know it's going to hurt, but I promise it's going to be okay."

How can it be okay if Billy dies?

The call disconnected.

Wendy felt her breathing quicken. "No...Why would he do this? Why wouldn't he come?"

"Either he doesn't care," Nate said, "or he's a coward and powerless to stop it. Either way, Billy dies."

"Please...I'll do anything."

A smile crossed Nate's face, and Wendy thought that maybe he would have mercy.

"I know you would," he said, "but the one person who could do something about it failed you."

Nate lifted the gun and brought the butt of it down on the back of Wendy's head. She crumpled to the floor as everything went to black.

When she woke up an hour later she found Billy's tortured body lying on the bed. Nate was gone. She began sobbing, begging Billy to wake up.

She heard the front door open and close. She grabbed the knife that Nate had left on Billy's bed and prepared to use it on whoever was in the house.

"Wendy?"

Dad?

Her father walked into the bedroom. "I'm here, baby."

Her father leaned down in front of her. She began to pound his chest with her fists.

"You're too late! Why didn't you show up? If you would've just came, Billy would still be alive! Why weren't you there for me?"

Wendy buried her face in her hands and begged God to let her die. Her father was too late, and now her son was dead.

She felt a hand on hers and heard a tiny voice,"Mommy, I'm okay."

Through blurry eyes she looked up to see Billy standing in front of her. Fully alive.

She looked up at her father. "How?"

He smiled. "Too late isn't always too late."

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Review of THE ARTISAN SOUL by Erwin McManus

Title: The Artisan Soul
 
Author: Erwin Raphael McManus
 
Publisher: HarperOne
 
What It's About: The Artisan Soul is Erwin McManus's exploration of what it means to be human, and from a biblical perspective, one of the primary things that makes us human is our ability to imagine and to create. The Artisan Soul is about revealing the creative spirit in every individual while silencing the voices that would tell us that we can't create or that we're not creative. Creativity isn't just about art; being human and advancing as a people depends on the innovation of people.
 
Why I Read It: I've been a fan of McManus for several years, and I've read every book he's written. Each book he's written has refreshed my soul and sparked more creativity in me. McManus is a voice for people to realize that God has created them with great potential.
 
What I Liked About It: Everything. I love the subject of creativity, and McManus is one of my favorite voices on the subject. McManus shares deeply personal stories that carry us into a story that is bigger than us. He makes much of the Jesus that loves us and wants to unleash us to be truly human as he originally designed us to be. McManus does a great job of exposing the misconceptions people often have about creativity and encourages people to realize that they have the power to create the future. This can be a future that is God-honoring or one that is destructive to humanity. McManus calls believers to love Jesus and love people out of the giftedness with which God has created each of us. The Artisan Soul is a beautiful book about purpose and finding meaning in pursuing the heart of God in changing the world.

I would recommend this book to creatives, naturally, but I would also encourage other Christians to read it and understand their calling to be creative in the things that they pursue. This is another great book from McManus.

Advanced reader copy provided by HarperOne
 
Where You Can Buy It: Amazon.com

Photo Credit: HarperOne

Monday, February 24, 2014

Review of THE SHADOW THRONE by Jennifer Nielsen

The Shadow Throne by Jennifer Nielsen is the third book in the Ascendance Trilogy about a mischievous boy named Jaron who becomes the reluctant king of Carthya after his parents and his brother are murdered. Jaron is a reckless boy who has caused his parents and his kingdom many problems, but the circumstances of his life force him to be more than just a boy who clowns around. The Runaway King, the second book in the series, shows Jaron giving much to prove that he’s capable of being a selfless and devoted leader of his people. The Shadow Throne forces Jaron to give much more to protect his people and especially those he loves from a war that surrounds his country from all sides. Betrayal that has been years in the making threatens to destroy Carthya and its new king.

I loved the first two books in the series. I tend to love the storytelling structure of trilogies, and I was highly looking forward to this book. Jennifer Nielsen has created a memorable character with Jaron. He’s reckless and immature, and yet he’s capable of being a great hero. I think the overall story was brilliantly set up in the other two books to lead us to this place of war where an arguably unqualified king must somehow figure out how to survive and keep the people of his kingdom safe. In a way, Jaron seems to be the only one who could possibly be he king Carthya needs because he’s the only person crazy enough to pull the kinds of stunts that somehow get him to where he needs to be. I was rooting for Jaron all the way through this last book, and Nielsen doesn’t make it easy on him. Death is a very real risk for him and his complete failure seems like an inevitability for much of the book.

I loved the exploration of the relationship between Jaron and Imogen because it shows us a side to Jaron that not even he realizes is there. The relationship that Jaron has with many of the other characters reveals Jaron to be a loyal friend and a trusted ally.

With The Ascendance Trilogy, Jennifer Nielsen has created both a memorable story and a memorable character. This is a great read, and I look forward to the stories Nielsen will write in the future.

Review copy provided by Scholastic Press

Where You Can Buy It: Amazon.com

Photo Credit: Scholastic Press

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Weekly Intake: February 23, 2014

Here are a few things I enjoyed reading and watching last week.

David Lomas is a pastor in San Francisco, and he has a great new book that I've been slowly reading called The Truest Thing About You. So far, this book is one of the best books on personal identity that I've read. He covers the dichotomy between what is true about us and what is truest about us. This video explains what the book is about, and it's definitely a book to check out.

"How to Simulate Motherhood" - Stephen Altrogge
Stephen Altrogge shared this funny look at what it's like to be a mom. I have an incredible wife whose job is way harder than anything I've ever done, and I'm grateful.

"Writing the Feature Script: Week Three - The Treatment" - Sean Hood
I love screenwriting because it's fun and visually imaginative. This is a great post on different ways of developing a story before creating a script.

I love J.J. Abrams and this new show created by Abrams and Alfonso Cuaron looks really interesting.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday: The Journal, Part Three

This is part 3 in my episodic flash fiction story The JournalRead part 1 and part 2 of The Journal.

The Journal, Part 3

Sara ran down the sidewalk, quickly crossing each busy street she came upon. Her heart felt like it would pound out of her chest. She held the journal she found when she'd awakened firmly in her hand.


She couldn't let her father get it.

He was wrong. Sara had been an only child. She'd always wanted a little brother, but her parents could never get pregnant again after her. 

Suddenly, the man who claimed to be her dead father tells her that she had a brother named Jack?

If Jack was real, then where was Jack now?

Her father said that he died, but the journal had a note from at least within the past few days from someone named Jack.

Surely, the man who wrote in the journal wasn't her brother, but she had to find out who he was.

She looked back, hoping her father wasn't pursuing her. He'd tried to stop her from leaving, but she couldn't take his lies anymore.

She'd seen the world end. It wasn't a hallucination.

As she ran, her vision shifted for a split second. In that tiniest of moments she saw the city before her, not as it was now, but as it had been. Vehicles thrown everywhere. Fires lining up and down the street. The bloodied bodies of people trying to run from the carnage.

She stopped. She looked around, but everything was normal again.

Was it a hallucination?

Only a few hours ago, that was the world she lived in. A world that was dying at the hands of an evil corporation.

She had to find answers.

She stopped a man who was about to cross by her. "Excuse me, sir?"

The man stopped and smiled. "Can I help you?"

"I hope so," she said. "Has anything strange happened in the past few days?"

"Like what?"

She had to choose her words carefully. She didn't want to sound crazy. "Something to do with the Faceless Corporation."

Something like the end of the world, she thought.

The man looked confused. "What's the Faceless Corporation?"

No one could live in the world of the past year and not know what the Faceless Corporation was, Sara thought. 

"You've never heard of them?" she said.

"I'm sorry, miss. I don't know what you're talking about."

So maybe she was hallucinating. A really long hallucination.

"Sorry to bother you," she said and continued down the sidewalk.

Sara stopped and sat on a bench, pulling the journal open to the page she'd read earlier.

Despite what you believe, the world ended.
I saw it all, and I know who really caused it.
But if I told you now, your life would be in much more danger than it already is.
What you see is real, but it's not what you think it is.
Just know that you're not crazy, Sara.

"You wrote that," a voice behind her said. 

Her father sat down beside her. She wanted to run, but there was no longer any point.

"It's your handwriting," he said. "I can tell."

She looked at it closely, and it did look familiar.

"You've been through a lot," her father said, putting his arm around her. "You don't have to be afraid anymore."

Sara stared ahead. "It had all been so real," she said. "The fighting. The destruction."

She looked her father in the eye. "We were trying to save the world."

Her father smiled. "You're going to do great things, Sara. We'll get help with the hallucinations, and I have no doubt you'll be someone who changes the world."

"Let's go home," he said, standing up and taking her hand.

"Okay."

As Sara lay in bed that night, she flipped through the journal's empty pages. How could she have imagined all of it?

When she got to the back inside cover, she noticed a small logo in the bottom right corner with writing next to it. She had to look closely to read it. 

Her heart began racing again.

Next to a circle with the letters FC inside of it were the words Property of the Faceless Corporation.

To be continued in Part 4

Photo Credit: karimiaz via PhotoPin CC

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Imagining the Future Versus Remembering the Past

J.J. Abrams is one of the most talented and innovative storytellers in Hollywood, and he's known for the mysterious landscape of all of his stories, whether in television, movies, or his newest book with Doug Dorst called S. In his 2007 TED Talk, he told the audience that mystery “represents infinite possibility…it represents hopes [and] potential. Mystery is the catalyst for imagination.”


There's nothing more mysterious than the future. We can't know exactly what will happen when we wake up in the morning, and because the future is a mystery, it holds infinite possibility.

"[I]t represents hope [and] potential."

We know the past, and the past is often filled with disappointment, but the future doesn't have to be like the past.

The problem with the past is that you don't imagine the past, you remember the past. And depending on what the past was like, we often end up trying to remember our way into the future instead of imagining our way into it.

We let the past dictate our future. Or, more accurately, we let he past dictate our vision of the future, and we live based on a false perception of the future.

What we believe about the future impacts how we live today. If mystery represents infinite possibility and is the catalyst for imagination, we can't assume that we know what will happen in the future.

We either work hard to create the future, or we default to repeating the past.

We live to discover, not to remember. And if we don't live to discover, there won't much to remember anyway.

Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via PhotoPin CC

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Blog Tour Review of SPIRITUAL WARFARE by Brian Borgman & Rob Ventura

Title: Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical & Balanced Perspective
Author: Brian Borgman & Rob Ventura

Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
What It's About: Spiritual Warfare looks at the biblical teaching on spiritual warfare and presents it in a way that is biblically faithful.
Why I Read It: In my early years, I grew up in a charasmatic church and heard a lot about spiritual warfare. As I grew up and began reading the Bible for myself, a lot of what I learned seemed to be different than what the Bible was teaching.
What I Liked About It: The book promises a biblical and balanced perspective, and it does this well. The book helps readers to understand how common spiritual warfare is and what it looks like. In this way, we understand that the things of spiritual warfare are much more mundane than we may have been previously taught, yet it's very real and it's a struggle sometimes. Temptation to do things that dishonor Jesus is real, and the authors explore what the Bible says about overcoming these temptations. Specifically, the book is about what Jesus has done to help us be free from the things that try to destroy us.

Review copy provided by Reformation Heritage Books through Cross Focused Reviews
Where You Can Buy It: Amazon.com

Photo Credit: Reformation Heritage Books

Review of BETWEEN THE SCENES by Jeffrey Michael Bays

Title: Between the Scenes
 
Author: Jeffrey Michael Bays
 
Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions
 
What It's About: Between the Scenes looks at the ways scene transitions impact a story through film.
 
Why I Read It: The book is written for film directors, writers, and editors. I read it from a screenwriter's perspective. I've never seen a book that was devoted solely to scene transitions, and seeing that the author felt so strongly about scene transitions, I thought I should check it out.
 
What I Liked About It: This book is illuminating in the way it reveals how crucial scene transitions are in a movie. It's not something I would have thought about before, but now I see it clearly in the movies I watch. The author shows how audiences become invested in the story during scene transitions. These are the moments the audience reacts to what has happened in a scene. A filmmaker uses these transitions to get the audience to think, to feel, to experience tension or relief, or to connect with the character. Before reading the book, I didn't even realize what scene transitions were, but the author outlines all the ways you can transition between your scenes to build a more powerful story. I never realized that scenes themselves can function as scene transitions. The author uses Gladiator as a case study to show how scene transitions really do impact the way an audience experiences a story.

As a writer, I appreciated what I learned about screenwriting from this book. It's helpful for a screenwriter to think about scene transitions at the writing stage to make the director's and editor's jobs easier as the film goes from production to post-production. This is definitely a much-needed book for telling a better story through film.

Review copy provided by Michael Wiese Productions
 
Where You Can Buy It: Amazon.com

Photo Credit: Michael Wiese Productions

Monday, February 17, 2014

Chasing Your Destiny: Course Correction Versus Adaptation

When you’re writing a story, the main character often goes on a journey in which he makes mistakes and goes in a different direction than the one he’s supposed to be going in. That's what keeps the story interesting and the audience tuned it. We want to know how the character will get back to where he's supposed to be.

In a story, the main character has a destiny, even if they’re not aware of what that destiny is at the beginning. Yet, there are hints within the character’s story world that tell them that something isn’t right, that they’re going in the wrong direction, and that they need to course correct somehow. The character faces opposition, either internally or externally, and they often have to fight and strategize their way back to the path toward their destiny, with help along the way.


In the M. Night Shyamalan movie Unbreakable, Bruce Willis’s character David is having a conversation with Elijah (played by Samuel L. Jackson) that goes like this:

DAVID: This morning was the first morning I can remember, that I didn’t open my eyes and feel that sadness….I thought the person who wrote that note had an answer for me.

ELIJAH: That little bit of sadness in the mornings you spoke of? I think I know what that is. Perhaps you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing.It’s a brilliant exchange because Shyamalan perfectly captures the human condition. How often do we feel this restlessness, this discontentment with who we are and what we’re doing? Our story world is soaked with hints of something more that we could be and more that we could be doing.

It's Easier to Adapt
Yet we often settle for far less. The sadness continues, but somehow it seems easier to settle than course correct. How many people have taken a career path that is completely outside of what they should be doing simply because that's the path on which they found themselves? Rather than work their way out of it, they make the most of a bad situation. They adapt. Yet the discontentment continues. Like David in Unbreakable, we settle for being a security guard when we're meant to be a superhero.

Why should we settle? C.S. Lewis puts it this way, "It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

Course Correction Isn't Quick
The scary thing is that, just like in really good stories, course correction isn’t quick and it isn’t easy. It’s often grueling and it takes time, sometimes lots of it. It’s so much easier to settle than to hustle.

When you’re in the midst of course correction, the thing to remember is that you’re only somewhere in the middle of your journey back to the path toward your destiny. If you give up, you’ll always feel that sadness that you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing and that you're not who you're supposed to be.

Don’t settle. Course correct. And realize that course correcting sometimes means doing things you don't love for a time to earn the right to do the things you do love later on.

Question: What's the one thing that you feel you should be doing with your life that would take you some considerable time to get to?

Photo Credit: CarbonNYC via PhotoPin CC

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Weekly Intake - February 15, 2014

Here are some of the things I found most interesting read about and watch this past week.

Stephen King is undoubtedly one of the most well-known storytellers in the world. I read and loved his sequel to The Shining last year and 11/22/63 the year before that. This year he's releasing two novels. I'm excited about both of them, but I'm particularly looking forward to reading Revival since it's about a preacher. It sounds interesting, and King is known for exploring the spiritual in his stories.

I discovered Ben Arment when I read his incredible book on church planting Church in the Making a couple years ago. Of course, Ben is known for much more than that now as the creator of StoryChicago and Dream Year. He's become an encouraging voice for the creative and the entrepreneurial. Blogger Anne Bogel had a conversation with Ben on her blog about the books on his bookshelves. Ben has an interesting approach to organizing his books. It's interesting to learn what the most creative thinkers consider worthy of their intake. If you're unfamiliar with Ben Arment, you've got to check him out.

Blogger and entrepreneur John Saddington shares some lessons that can be learned from playing with Legos from author Steve Klusmeyer. Great stuff, especially if you're a fan of those fun little bricks. I really like this one: "Every brick has a purpose. Some are made for a specific spot--most can adapt almost anywhere--but everyone will fit somewhere."

Another great post by Acuff on taking action on our dreams rather than just talking or dreaming about it. Great story about Sony selling their waterproof headphones and MP3 player in a water bottle.

Author Donald Miller recently sparked a lot of controversy in the blogosphere with his comments on not need the church to worship. Blogger Nate Pyle offers a passionate and humble response for what gathering together as the body of Christ should be.

My kids are really into Star Wars right now, and we found this video on YouTube this week. Hilarious stuff.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday: The Journal, Part 2

Last week I posted part 1 of my episodic flash fiction series The Journal. The story continues here in part 2.

The Journal, Part 2


Sara started backing up slowly, the vision of her father's throat getting sliced playing clearly through her head.

Yet here he was. 

"What's wrong, honey?" she heard the man on the couch say. The man who was pretending to be her dead father. 

"Who are you?" She could hear her voice trembling.

The man who looked like her dad looked confused. "What are you talking about, Sara?"

He got up and started toward her, prompting her to back up even more and start contemplating how she would get out of this if it came to it.

"Stay away from me," she said. "You're not him. I saw him die."

He stopped. She couldn't ignore the look of concern in his eyes. "Honey, I think you're confused," he said. "Maybe you should sit down."

His eyes glanced down at the journal in her hand.

"What's do you have there?" he said.


She pulled the journal tight to her to chest. 

The man held his hand out to her. "Honey, I'm not sure what's going on here," he said, "but I'm not going to hurt you. I would never hurt you. You know that."

She wanted to trust him. To believe that her father really was standing before her, alive.

But she knew what she saw. She was as sure that she had watched him die as she was that she had watched the world go up in flames.

Yet here she was. And here he was.

Her heart felt like it would burst out of her chest at any moment.

"My father died," she said. "Right in my arms as I screamed for God to save him."

Tears began to blur her eyes. "He didn't save you," she said. "He didn't save any of us."

The man who shouldn't be her father slowly put his arm around her shoulder, pulling her in. She should fight it, she knows. But nothing makes sense anymore.

Couldn't this actually be her father? Maybe she really had woken up from a terrible nightmare on that hill. 

But it seemed so real. It had been real.

The man who shouldn't be her father walked her to the couch. "I think I know what's going on," he said.

He heart leapt at that. Could he really have answers?

"Your mom and I never told you this," he said, "but when you were younger, you had a terrible accident that left you in a coma for several days. You had a significant brain injury that the doctor said would cause you to periodically have hallucinations."

She pulled away. She knew what she saw. 

"Honey, we never told you because any of the hallucinations you've ever had have been light ones," he said. "If you saw a dog walking down the street when there really wasn't one, we let you believe it was true. It didn't hurt you, and we didn't want you to be concerned about questioning everything your mind sees."

Her head was spinning. His story made sense, but it also seemed conveniently conceived. A way to make her believe that she didn't really see what she actually saw.

In the journal a man named Jack had said that not everything was what it seemed, however.

Maybe she was crazy. But Jack had said she wasn't.

"You've never had one this bad before," the man said. He tried to pull her into a hug, but she pushed him away.

"I'm so sorry you had to see something as terrible as you're describing, Honey. But you're okay now."

She felt light-headed. She wanted to run. She wanted to scream.

"I know what I saw," she said. 

But now she wasn't so sure.

Suddenly, a thought came to her mind.

She looked the man in the eye. "Who is Jack?" she said.

The man's face said nothing, and then it did. A terrible sadness.

"Honey, why would you ask that?" he said. "Jack was your twin brother. He died when you were little."

What?

She would remember something like that.

"But I've never had a brother," she said.

To be continued in Part 3

Photo Credit: karimiaz via PhotoPin CC