Friday, March 28, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday: The Journal, Part Six

Check out Sara's journey after awakening in a world with a rewritten history in episodes 1234, and 5.

The Journal, Part 6

Sara sat quietly in the passenger seat of the black car as Jack drove toward the city. They left her dad's car behind, as well the mysterious accident scene where she somehow hit a child and yet didn't. Apparently another one of her hallucinations.

She didn't know what to believe anymore. The man beside her claimed to be her brother, but she never had a brother growing up. Yet this was the man who held all the answers she needed.

"If you're my brother," she said, "why wouldn't I remember you?"

"It's interesting," he said. "I remember a history completely different than you do, and in it, we were really close."

"So the history of the world is different here?" she said.

He glanced at her briefly before putting his eyes back on the road. "Of course," he said. "That's what they always wanted."

"Are you telling me you didn't exist before all this happened?"

He picked up the journal and held it up. "How could I have left this for you if I didn't exist?"

"But we don't remember the same. What makes you think you're really my brother?"

He smiled as he glanced at her again. "There's nothing I'm more sure of in the world than that I grew up with you, and I've loved you more than I could love anyone."

She wasn't sure how to feel with a complete stranger professing his love to her as a brother. She wanted to believe that he was who he said he was, but it made no sense. For her, their history together never happened.

"Were you there when the world ended?" she said.

"We all were," he said. "You and I tried to stop it together."

"Wait," she said. "That's not something I would forget. There was only one person who was with me until just before the end." She tried but failed to block the image from her mind of her boyfriend Michael plummeting to his death from the rooftop of the Faceless Corporation Headquarters.

"It's really not that far-fetched, Sara," Jack said. "Look around and you'll see that Faceless has managed to erase everything. The world ended and yet nobody even knows about it except us. Surely, it wouldn't be that hard for them to erase me from your memory."

It's possible, she thought.

"So what's our plan?" she said.

"We drive to the Faceless Corporation building. It is, of course, something else now, but it's the only place I know to start."

"Don't you know who's behind this?" she asked, remembering what he wrote in the journal.

He stared straight ahead. "I can't tell you that just yet. I don't want you to die, and have to protect you for as long as I can."

"From what?"

"Faceless prepared for this for a long time," he said. "If they know you survived and somehow have most of your memories in tact, then they have to be looking everywhere for you."

"Why would they care? No one even knows they exist now."

Jack suddenly pulled the car over to the side of the road. He put the car in park and looked at her, a look of determination on his face. "You're the only one who can stop what they're planning. It's all about you. It's always been all about you."

"What do you mean? I didn't stop it. It happened."

"No," Jack said. "Their plan has always been much bigger than destroying the world. This is about enslavement and eradication of everything of everything we believe in. They want to change everything, and not for the better. Not by a long shot."

Sara's head was spinning. She had always thought she understood Faceless's end game, but clearly she didn't.

"I've gotta get some air," she said as she reached for the door handle.

The moment she stepped out of the car, her vision lit up with the scene of a burning earth and the screams of dying people. Then it was gone.

She got back into the car. She looked over to speak to Jack, but Jack wasn't there. The journal sat in the driver's seat.

Where did he go? she thought. I was only out of the car for maybe ten seconds.

.She grabbed the journal and opened it up. A new entry was written inside.

Dear Sara,

I wish this journey didn't separate us the way it does.
I hate that I can't be there to protect you all the time.
They've changed things, and I'm not sure how to stop it.
They're looking for you.
You have to hide.
We'll find each other again.
Don't lose this journal.


To be continued in Part 7

Photo Credit: karimiaz via PhotoPin CC

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Review of GETTING IT WRITE by Lee Jessup

Title: Getting it Write: An Insider's Guide to a Screenwriting Career
Author: Lee Jessup
Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions
What It's About: Getting It Write is about pursuing, achieving, and sustaining a career as a professional screenwriter. 
Why I Read It: I've toyed with screenwriting a bit for a few years and have recently taken it more seriously as I've begun working on an original idea I came up with that I'm excited about. Though I don't hold any serious aspirations of becoming a full-time professional screenwriter to support my family, I have always had dreamed of writing at least one screenplay that got made into a movie. This book seemed like a helpful career guide.
What I Liked About It: Getting it Write is a serious unflinching career guide for anyone interested in the professional world of screenwriting. I heard about the book after listening to a podcast of Pilar Alessandra's On the Page where Lee Jessup was the guest. Jessup is a screenwriting career coach with years of experience and an incredible wealth of insight. She lays out what it takes to be a professional screenwriter and break into the business, and she makes it very clear that breaking in involves intentionality and hard work. The temptation is to write a great screenplay and be done, but Jessup tells readers that a great screenplay won't sell itself. You have to do the work, access the proper channels, and be relentless about trying to sell your script.

Another thing that I loved about this book, because I don't have ever plan to move to L.A., is that her advice isn't limited to those who have the most access by being physically near Hollywood. A screenwriter in the middle of the country can make it. It doesn't matter what your situation in life, if you can write a great screenplay, you can become a professional screenwriter. She carefully outlines some of the steps a screenwriter will have to take to succeed if they don't live in L.A. 

Furthermore, the book is packed with helpful information about screenplay submission, networking, the writing samples a screenwriter should have available, and a lot more. Jessup's book will help you to understand the business and career side of screenwriting better than ever before and give you the practical steps to make your screenwriting journey a successful one.

Review copy provided by Michael Wiese Productions

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Review of THE HIDDEN TOOLS OF COMEDY by Steve Kaplan

Title: The Hidden Tools of Comedy
Author: Steve Kaplan
Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions
What It's About: The Hidden Tools of Comedy is a tool for writers to understand how effective comedy writing works so that they can write things that make people laugh.
Why I Read It: I love storytelling in general, and I love to learn new things about different genres. I've written a few blog posts that have gotten some laughs, but I wanted to understand what makes something funny and what doesn't.
What I Liked About It: Kaplan's definition for comedy is extremely helpful. Comedy is about sharing real life. It makes sense, and he shows how. In drama, all the real things, the flaws that people have, are taken out. Drama is about getting the perfect moment. Comedy is about capturing moments as they really are, and this often produces funny results. He then outlines his "comedy equation," which contains the tools for creating comedy that gets people engaged and laughing. The rest of the book is spent explaining each element of the comedy equation and illustrating them through examples from popular movies and television shows. The Hidden Tools of Comedy is a very instructive book for understanding what makes something funny. It's the first kind of book like it that I've read, and it's a good one.

Review copy provided by Michael Wiese Productions
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Review of THE DOODLE REVOLUTION by Sunni Browne

Title: The Doodle Revolution
Author: Sunni Browne
Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover
What It's About: The Doodle Revolution is about the inherent creativity and ability to think visually that we all experience at a young age. Sunni Browne uncovers the many benefits of the practice of doodling and why doodling should be encouraged.
Why I Read It: I watched Sunni Browne's Ted Talk on doodling, and I was intrigued by the insights she provided in just a short time. When I found out she wrote a whole book on the concept she outlined in her Ted Talk, I knew I wanted to read it. 
What I Liked About It: What Browne reveals about the benefits of visual communication is compelling. I've always loved to draw, and with young children, I enjoy encouraging my kids to be creative and think creatively. The Doodle Revolution is a sweeping argument for why people should practice doodling. She shows how it helps with communication and how it helps with our thinking processes. The book includes doodles throughout to illustrate as well as exercises for the reader to practice their own doodling skills. This is really fun book and one that is beneficial to the communication conversation.

Review copy provided by Portfolio Hardcover
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Friday, March 21, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday: The Journal, Part 5

I've had a lot of fun writing this episodic flash fiction piece. Here's the 5th installment. Be sure to check out episodes 1, 2, 3, and 4.

The Journal, Part 5

Sara raced down the road toward the city in her father's car. Though she could see the city skyline up ahead, she was currently surrounded by forest on each side of the road.

She checked her rear view mirror for the black car that had been following her for the past twenty minutes. Just as she got her eyes back on the road, she noticed a small child standing in the road in front of her. She jerked the wheel to the right, but it was too late. She heard the thump of her car and the child's body colliding. 

Sara's tried to regain control of the car as she sped off the road. In the next instant, the car slammed into a large tree. She felt the shattered windshield glass cutting her face as her forehead slammed into the steering wheel.

Sara fought to stay conscious. She opened the car door and got out. Her head was pounding. She looked back to the road, expecting to see the child's body lying dead on the ground. Instead, she saw nothing. 

The black car was parked on the side of the road sixty feet to her left. The windows of the car were black, hiding whoever was sitting in the vehicle. 

Sara had to know what happened to the child, so she cautiously walked back to the point of impact.

What she saw made no sense. There should be a pool of blood and a body. There was nothing.

She looked all around, but the child wasn't anywhere that she could see.

She looked at the black car. Why hadn't anyone gotten out to check on her?

She looked back at her dad's car, realizing that she'd left the journal in the passenger seat.

She ran toward the car and as she did, the black car began moving slowly toward her, threatening to cut her off from getting to the journal.

As she ran, the landscape around suddenly flickered and she saw the world on fire again. Dead bodies and wrecked cars littered the road.

Then she saw the world normally again. 

Just as she passed the black car, it stopped and the driver's side door came open.

She didn't stop to see who was getting out of the car.

She reached into her dad's car for the journal, but it was gone. She looked frantically under the seats, but it was nowhere to be found.

She looked back at the black car. A tall figure was coming. A man. Her age or a little older. She didn't recognize who he was.

She looked at the forest before her, then one last glance into the car. The journal was gone.

She dashed into the trees, noticing she now had a pursuer. 

Her head was still pounding, but her legs carried her forward. 

She ran for what felt like several minutes when she came to an abrupt stop in an open area. She found herself inside of a perfect circle about 25 yards in diameter. The edges of the circle were lined with trees. In the middle of the circle was a bright blue pond with a perfect circle island in the middle with a bright red flower. She had never seen anything so breathtakingly beautiful.

She walked closer to the pond, forgetting that she had been being pursued.

The pond was the clearest of blue and its depth seemed to descend forever. Suddenly, her mouth felt dry.

Was the water safe to drink.

Surely it is, she thought.

She bent down her hands to dip in the water, and as soon as she touched the surface, her vision lit up again with a scene of the world's destruction. She was on the hill again, and she felt a searing pain in her stomach. 

She looked down. The gunshot wound was back, and she was dying again.

It was all a dream?

She searched the ground beneath her, but there was no journal as there had been before.

This is the end, she thought. I only imagined a second chance

Just then she felt someone grabbing her shoulder and she was back at the pond. 

She turned around and looked up to see the man who had been chasing her. He was holding the journal and grinning.

"Looking for this?" he said.

"Who are you?" Sara said.

He held out his hand to her. "I had a feeling you wouldn't remember me," he said.

She grabbed his hand and he helped her up.

"Who are you?" she repeated.

"I'm Jack."

To be continued in Episode 6

Photo Credit: karimiaz via PhotoPin CC

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review of THE FINAL DAYS OF JESUS by Andreas Kostenberger & Justin Taylor

Title: The Final Days of Jesus
Author: Andreas Kostenberger & Justin Taylor
Publisher: Crossway
What It's About: The Final Days of Jesus is basically a scriptural walk-through of the last week of Jesus' life, presented in chronological order.
Why I Read It: I've enjoyed the writing of Andreas Kostenberger in the past, and I've been following Justin Taylor's blog for awhile. The book looked interesting in that it focuses specifically on Jesus' final days before crucifixion.
What I Liked About It: I was expecting more of a theological look at the last days of Jesus, but the book is more of a chronological reader's guide to the scriptural text of Jesus' final week. Though the format is good, I was a little disappointed because I was expecting something else. Nonetheless, the book is a helpful look at the key passages leading up to Jesus' crucifixion. The book itself has the relevant Scripture texts printed with Kostenberger and Taylor providing commentary throughout. The book works well as a devotional reading book leading up to Easter. The introduction is helpful in giving some important information about the Gospels. The key differences between this book and just picking up a Bible and reading are that this book organizes the Bible passages in chronological order and the commentary that's provided in addition to the text.

Review copy provided by Crossway Books through their Beyond the Page program
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Monday, March 17, 2014

Review of PROFESSIONAL WORDPRESS by Williams, Damstra, and Stern

Title: Professional WordPress
Author: Brad Williams, David Damstra, and Hal Stern
Publisher: Wrox
What It's About: Professional WordPress is a guide for developers who work with WordPress who want to get serious about their development skills with the program.
What I Liked About It: WordPress is the perfect content management system and is used by many people for blogs and other websites. This book helps you to gain more control over WordPress development. The book covers themes, plugins, and how to code in WordPress. The authors assume that you have some basic knowledge of coding and web development. If you're familiar with just the basics of developing a blog with WordPress, this book will help you to unlock more of WordPress's functionality to get the look and feel out of your site that you want. 

Review copy provided by Wrox, a division of Wiley

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Review of SMASHING WORDPRESS: BEYOND THE BLOG by Thord Daniel Hedengren

Title: Smashing Wordpress: Beyond the Blog
Author: Thord Daniel Hedengren
Publisher: Wiley
What It's About: Smashing Wordpress is a book for bloggers who are experienced with working with WordPress, have knowledge of coding, and want to take their WordPress Development skills to the next level.
What I Liked About It: This book is designed for experienced web developers, so it's not really a book for beginners. For those who are skilled at web development, this book helps to unlock the extensive capabilities of WordPress. WordPress is a great platform for building blogs or other websites, and the great thing about it is that you don't need to much about coding to build a website with WordPress. But WordPress isn't just for people who don't know how to code. It's also for serious web developers. Hedengren unlocks the functionality of WordPress beyond just building blogs and teaches readers how to code in WordPress to gain more control over the program. This is a great book if you want to learn more about how to do advanced coding in WordPress. 

Review copy provided by Wiley

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Review of WATER WALKER by Ted Dekker

Thirteen-year-old Alice Ringwald has no memory of her life before six months ago. All she knows is that she was raised in an orphanage, and she has no idea who her real mother and father are. But she's making a great life with the foster family that has taken her in. They care for her and she feels safe with them. Nothing can prepare her for the day a man who claims to be her real father shows up and kidnaps her to live with him and her real mother. For five years, Alice, or Eden as her mother Kathryn calls her, is raised in a cultic ritualistic upbringing, and in dreams she begins to discover her past and a power within that can change everything. Will she embrace that power or let the waters of her hatred overcome her?

Ted Dekker is at the top of my list of favorite storytellers and has been ever since I read his original Circle Trilogy. His latest book is called Water Walker, the second book in The Outlaw Chronicles, and for long-time Dekker fans, these books are the answer to the question, "Whatever happened to the kids in Project Showdown after the project was shut down?" As one of those long-time fans, I've always loved the way Dekker ties his stories together. Dekker has created his own quasi-transmedia universe with his stories, and it opens up so many possibilities as he continues to create stories.

Water Walker is about Alice, a girl we meet briefly in the previous book Eyes Wide Open. Alice is ripped from a fairly comfortable existence to be brought into a world where God doesn't make sense. A villainous character named Zeke rules Alice's mother and father. They do his bidding, and it is truly abusive to Alice. Alice, or Eden as she's called throughout much of the book, grows to hate the life she lives and desperately wants to escape it. But she meets Outlaw in her dreams, and he helps her to remember the power she discovered as a part of Project Showdown.

Dekker is a thrilling writer who also knows how to take the teachings of Jesus and craft a compelling and challenging story from them. We'd easily understand why Alice becomes full of hatred. The last thing we would expect is for her to forgive them. Of course, it's the last thing we would expect Jesus to do to those who are beating him, spitting in his face, and viciously nailing him to a cross. Water Walker is about forgiveness and love. It's about Jesus and it's about us. It's about faith in the one who can give us the strength to do the unimaginable.

From a storytelling standpoint, I loved the first-person narrative. It really gets you into the thoughts and emotions of Alice's character. Dekker also does a great job of causing us to feel empathy for some truly flawed characters. Water Walker is a great thriller story, and it works well as an episodic story. I can't wait to read the next book in the series.

Review copy provided by Worthy Publishing

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Review of FOUR VIEWS ON THE HISTORICAL ADAM edited by Matthew Barrett & Ardel B. Caneday

Title: Four Views on the Historical Adam
Author: Denis O. Lamoureux, John H. Walton, C. John Collins, William D. Barrick, Gregory A. Boyd, Philip G. Ryken
Publisher: Zondervan
What It's About: As a part of Zondervan's Counterpoint series, Four Views on the Historical Adam brings together the four most prominent views on the existence of the historical Adam as outlined by four of their chief evangelical proponents. Each chapter outlines a view, followed by rebuttals by the other contributors, and ending with a rejoinder by the original contributor taking into account the rebuttals presented. The four views are:
  • Evolutionary Creation View
  • Archetypal Creation View
  • Old-Earth Creation View
  • Young-Earth Creation View
Why I Read It: I've always been interested in the intersection between faith and science. When I was in college, I discovered for the first time that there were Christians who believed that the historical Adam doesn't exist and that the Bible doesn't demand us to believe in a historical Adam. This book covers the main views, and I was interested to see what each view had to say.
What I Liked About It: I find John Walton's view to be intriguing, and this wasn't the first interaction I've had with his view. He sees Genesis 1 and Adam as archetypal of the rest of creation. Although, he leans toward the existence of a historical Adam, it doesn't seem to be a make or break argument for him for the validity of Christianity. Though I find his view interesting and somewhat plausible, I don't know that I could say that I agree with it. The Old-Earth Creation View of C. John Collins probably fits my own stance the most, yet even this view holds its challenges for how to or whether to read science into the Genesis 1 account. Denis O. Lamoureux presents the Evolutionary Creation View and argues that there never existed a historical Adam. This view, while held by a man who seems to love God and believe in innerrancy, doesn't seem to adequately address the fact that the New Testament treats Adam as a historical person. As for the Young Earth Creation View presented by William D. Barrick, I have a hard time accepting this one. I used to be a YEC, but I think science has adequately shown that the world is old, and I think the Bible leaves open the possibility of an old earth.

The book closes with two essays regarding the importance of a historical Adam to the Christian faith. Greg Boyd argues that it isn't essential, and Philip Ryken argues that it is essential. Though I don't hold to everything that Boyd teaches (i.e.Open Theism), I have great respect for Boyd and have to agree with him that whether or not there existed a historical Adam should not be a deterrent to our faith in Jesus and that God created the universe. However, I understand the arguments that Ryken puts forward. 

This is definitely an interesting book and worth your time if you're interested in the intersection between faith and science. It can't provide definitive answers, but it will definitely get you thinking.

Review copy provided by Zondervan, courtesy of AcademicPS
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Friday, March 14, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday: The Journal, Part 4

This is the continuation of my episodic flash fiction story called The Journal. Be sure to check out parts 1, 2, and 3. Thanks for reading.

The Journal, Part 4

Sara waited until her father was asleep, replaying the events of the past few hours back in her mind. 

The journal seemed to be the only remnant of the Faceless Corporation's existence.

But why?

Faceless destroyed everything, and now it's as if it never existed.

Except for the journal.

Sara snuck downstairs, ever so quietly. She wanted to believe that the man in her father's bedroom was actually her father, but he had already lied to her about the hallucinations. What more was he keeping from her?

She grabbed her father's car keys off of the kitchen counter and made her way to the door to the garage.

As she opened the door, she felt a sudden stinging sensation on her neck. Suddenly, she felt faint and fell back into the arms of someone she couldn't see.

She woke up in a dark room. Alone, as far as she could tell. Her arms were securely strapped to the chair she was sitting in.

Suddenly, a bright screen lit up in front of her. Images of the world as she remembered it when it was on fire rolled across the screen. Every few images, she saw the blood-red logo of the Faceless Corporation. Finally, a black screen with white wording:


Sara fought against her restraints, but she couldn't get loose.

"I know what I saw!" she screamed. "I'll find out the truth, even if it kills me."

An ear-piercing scream that mirrored and amplified her own filled the room. The room went black. Words in red appeared on the screen: WE'RE COUNTING ON IT.

Sara felt light-headed, and once again her world went black.

She woke up screaming and thrashing. She could still feel restraints.

"Honey," she heard the voice of her father say. "You're okay."

The restraints were his hands. He was holding her down. Why?

To stop her thrashing?

Or something worse?

"Get away from me!" she screamed.

He pulled his hands away. His eyes were saddened. 

"I heard you screaming down the hall," he said. "I rushed in here. You were having a nightmare."

Sara couldn't calm her heartbeat or her labored breathing.

"I didn't have a nightmare," she said. "And you're not my father. My father died. I saw it."

She looked him in the eye.

"You're a part of this. Who are you?"

"Sara, you're confused. We have to get a grip on this."

Sara threw the covers off and hopped quickly out of bed. She walked toward the door.

"I don't know who you are, but I'm leaving."

Just as she reached her bedroom door, she heard a disturbingly familiar voice say, "Hey, Sara."

She turned around. The sight that greeted her made her throat tighten because she had seen it before. She had begged to be able to stop it, but she couldn't.

Here it was again. Or was it?

A man in a black mask behind the man who claimed to be her father had one arm around him and the other was holding a sharp blade to his throat.

"Remember this?" the man said.

She knew this man couldn't be her father. This already happened. She should just run. He meant nothing to her.

"Sara," he said.

The man pulled tighter onto her would-be father. "Shut up!"

She saw that her father was slowly reaching his hand for something on the bed. The journal. Somehow he got it without the masked man noticing.

"Run!" he said as he tossed it to her.

Just then, the scene of her father's death replayed for her in real life as the man sliced the blade across her father's neck. Her father crumpled to the ground.

She wanted to collapse, but she couldn't. Not now. Instead, she ran down the stairs, knowing the man was chasing her. 

She grabbed the keys to her father's car and made it through the door to the garage with a thirty second advantage. She'd never be able to get the garage door open and get into the car in time, so she grabbed a softball bat sitting up against the wall.

She waited for him, and as soon as he walked through the doorway, she swung the bat at his head as hard as she could, knocking him to the ground.

She jumped into the car and backed out through the garage door. She drove for miles until she was convinced no one was behind her.

She pulled into a rest stop and parked the car. She sat there, trying to calm her rapidly beating heart and stop the tears from coming. The journal was sitting in the seat next to her, and she noticed a slip of paper sticking out of it.

She grabbed the paper. It had a message hastily written on it.

I don't know how they brought me back, honey.
But I doubt it will last long.
I'm sorry I couldn't tell you.
I needed to protect you until I could find out more.
Everything you saw is real, and everything you see is real.
Their plan is clearly bigger than we imagined.
Please take care of yourself, and know that I love you.
I'll see you on the other side someday.
Love, Daddy

She couldn't stop the tears anymore. She'd had her father back, and she never even got to enjoy it.

She had to find Jack, and she had to find out who was responsible for this.

If they could bring her dead father back once, maybe they could do it again.

Maybe all of this could be undone. She looked all around her. Maybe most of it already had.

She put the car into drive and drove back toward the city.

To be continued in Part 5

Photo Credit: karimiaz via PhotoPin CC