• The Sideshow is Ready for Consumption!

    The Spring 2014 issue of The Common Oddities Speculative Fiction Sideshow is live! Check out the Spring issue (and the re-designed website) here. This issue is much more beefy than our last issue. We have a few returning contributors, and several new authors. We opened this issue up to poetry as well, and we’re thrilled [...]

  • It’s Snowing! (Again.) Time to snuggle with a (FREE) book

    Really? (Yes. Really.) Snow is on the way again, and lots of it. Let’s hope the bunnies have filled up on grasses during this “warm patch” so they don’t gnaw the remaining bark off of my ornamental bushes. This picture features my 10-year-old blue star juniper surrounded by rabbit pellets. (Blue star juniper. You read [...]

  • One Realm Beyond by Donita K. Paul: A Review, Part 2

    Welcome to the third and last day of the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy blog tour featuring Donita K. Paul’s young adult fantasy novel, One Realm Beyond. Yesterday I left off half way through my review, so today, I’ll finish up the review and offer some thoughts about the religious/spiritual aspects of the novel. As [...]

  • One Realm Beyond by Donita K. Paul: A Review, Part 1

    Welcome to Day 2 of the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy blog tour featuring Donita K. Paul’s YA fantasy novel, One Realm Beyond. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a habitual fantasy reader, but I will delve into it from time to time. I made an exception for One Realm Beyond because the idea of [...]

  • Discerning Speculators

    Today is the first day of the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy blog tour featuring Donita K. Paul‘s young adult fantasy novel, One Realm Beyond. (Note: I received a free review copy from the publisher.) The cover design by Steve Rawlings is gorgeous and deserves to be shown in a size that highlights its details: [...]

The Sideshow is Ready for Consumption!

The Spring 2014 issue of The Common Oddities Speculative Fiction Sideshow is live! Check out the Spring issue (and the re-designed website) here.

The Common Oddities Speculative Fiction Sideshow, Issue 2

This issue is much more beefy than our last issue. We have a few returning contributors, and several new authors. We opened this issue up to poetry as well, and we’re thrilled to bring you three original poems. Also included are reviews of A Feast of Buzzards and Under a Cloven Moon. Finally, we have two novel excerpts, including a sneak peek at Part 2 of Patrick Todoroff’s The Clar1ty Wars series.

Special thanks goes to Assistant Editor, Jill Domschot, and Cover Artist, OddMrT!

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy our Spring issue!

Jessica

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It’s Snowing! (Again.) Time to snuggle with a (FREE) book

5-Day-Outlook7

Really? (Yes. Really.) Snow is on the way again, and lots of it. Let’s hope the bunnies have filled up on grasses during this “warm patch” so they don’t gnaw the remaining bark off of my ornamental bushes.

This picture features my 10-year-old blue star juniper surrounded by rabbit pellets. (Blue star juniper. You read it right.):

nom nom nom...

nom nom nom…

Other than the shrubbery damage, I don’t mind the snow. I realize most people are sick of it, but I’m excited! To celebrate the occasion, I’ll be giving my book, This Quiet Tyranny, away for FREE on Kindle!

This Quiet Tyranny will be available for FREE Saturday March 1st through Monday March 3rd.

In return, I ask for two things:

1. When you finish the book, please post a review on Amazon, and
2. Spread the word about this promotion so that as many as possible can obtain their free copy.

I’d love to hear your honest thoughts about the book, so no need to be shy in your review.

SPREAD THE WORD! :)

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One Realm Beyond by Donita K. Paul: A Review, Part 2

Welcome to the third and last day of the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy blog tour featuring Donita K. Paul’s young adult fantasy novel, One Realm Beyond. Yesterday I left off half way through my review, so today, I’ll finish up the review and offer some thoughts about the religious/spiritual aspects of the novel.

As I mentioned yesterday, throughout the novel the characters often refer to corruption within the Realm Walkers Guild. It’s not until the end of the story that we see the Guild’s corruption portrayed. As instances of corruption unfold, the plot begins to move quickly, and just when something very important is about to happen…

…the POV shifts.

This isn’t a critique so much as an observation. Several times in the story, when the characters are about to get into a sticky situation, Paul shifts us to a character outside of the action or jumps forward in time rather than dramatizing some of the grittier details.

The story’s climax is quite dramatic, yet as Paul often does, she spares us the gory details. The lack of details and the relatively unemotional response of the characters left me scratching my head, but I can only conclude that Paul is attempting to protect her young adult audience.

Religion/Spirituality in One Realm Beyond

The characters in One Realm Beyond believe in a Christian-like God named Primen. Realm Walkers serve Primen, and they interact directly with Primen warriors (angels).

Twice while reading the novel, my discernment meter spiked, once at the notion of Realm Walkers manipulating “energy” and again at the implied existence of human auras.

Auras

The female character, Bixby, is able to see people’s auras (i.e. the light/energy surrounding an individual), which allows her to read their emotions. To see the aura, she has to wear a special tiara.

Back in high school I wrote a research paper on human aura. The subject fascinated me and it was during my studies that I was first introduced to the idea of God as an impersonal force, which New Agers like to call “love”. I also learned that fear (and thus satan) is an illusion. Luckily God opened my eyes in college to the realities of evil and to the corruption in the heart of every man, as well as to the truth that we need an antidote for that corruption (Jesus).

Scientists have never proven the existence of human auras; however, for a Christian, it’s not too far of a stretch to believe such a thing might exist. God is often described in the Bible as light and fire. There are also seemingly aura-like manifestations in the Bible, such as when Moses comes down from Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:29-35), and Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8). In both of these instances, the light was a manifestation of God, and He initiated the experience, allowing humans to see, for a short time, a hint of his true form.

Many psychics claim to see auras, and they claim to be able to determine a person’s spiritual health by the color and intensity of the aura. Psychics are able to “see” auras due to an innate sixth sense or by employing occult practices to access the spirit realm. In either case, a flawed human is peering into the potentially dangerous and deceptive occult realm, which can lead to dire consequences.

To avoid implicit or subtle endorsement of the occult practice of reading auras, I would rather the word be left out altogether. Bixby could just as easily have a special tiara that allows her to discern others’ emotions intuitively. It would serve the same purpose while avoiding the occult saturated term, “aura”.

Energies

In Paul’s novel, the Realm Walkers are able to manipulate energy. Unless I missed it, this energy is never fully explained, its properties are not described, nor is its source clearly defined. It seems to be a neutral energy, neither good or bad; however, like I said, the reader is left to guess. I think readers could attribute the energy to the spiritual realm, and therein lies the problem.

In the real world spiritual energies aren’t neutral. They’re either positive or negative depending on the source. Since Primen is the Christian God with a different name, Paul has established a spiritual environment in her fantasy world that parallels the real word, thus I see an opportunity for confusion. To clear up this confusion I would have liked a clearer explanation of the “energy” that the Realm Walker are able to manipulate. Is it the lightning producing kind, or is it the spiritual kind? I’m not sure. If it’s spiritual energy, I think Paul could have taken greater care with its use.

I’m not questioning Paul’s spiritual discernment, but I am highlighting the danger of glossing over these kinds of issues to the point where Christian speculative fiction writers give naysayers (those who believe reading and writing speculative fiction is outside of the will of God) valid ammunition to fire back at us. With a few minor tweaks to the story world in One Realm Beyond I think Paul could more easily disarm her detractors.

Final Thoughts

Despite my criticisms above, I plan to set One Realm Beyond on my bookshelf in hopes that when my boys are of reading age, they may feel inclined to pick it up. No book is perfect, and even the best intentions can be misconstrued and used to mislead. As a parent, I strive to teach my children the truths of the Bible. I also strive to teach them critical thinking skills so that they will be well-equipped to navigate through the gray areas in fiction and in life.

To learn what others are saying about Donita K. Paul’s novel, check out the links below.

Julie Bihn Keanan Brand Beckie Burnham Mike Coville Pauline Creeden Vicky DealSharingAunt Carol Gehringer Rebekah Gyger Janeen Ippolito Jason Joyner Carol Keen Krystine Kercher Emileigh Latham Jennette Mbewe Shannon McDermott Meagan @ Blooming with Books Melanie @ Christian Bookshelf Reviews Rebecca LuElla Miller Joan Nienhuis Nissa Donita K. Paul Audrey Sauble Chawna Schroeder James Somers Jojo Sutis Steve Trower Shane Werlinger Jill Williamson Deborah Wilson

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One Realm Beyond by Donita K. Paul: A Review, Part 1

Welcome to Day 2 of the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy blog tour featuring Donita K. Paul’s YA fantasy novel, One Realm Beyond.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a habitual fantasy reader, but I will delve into it from time to time. I made an exception for One Realm Beyond because the idea of portals between worlds intrigued me, and also, since it’s YA, I didn’t expect extensive, intricate (slow, boring) world building.

The best word to describe the beginning chapters of One Realm Beyond is “delightful”. The main character, Cantor, is likeable from the start, and the interaction between Cantor and Bridger the dragon is quirky and endearing.

Several times throughout the novel, Paul describes Cantor’s world as a series of “planes” that make up the solar system. I never truly grasped the idea; the closest I came was imagining floating mushrooms. Luckily it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Cantor is a Realm Walker who has the ability to traverse the planes (a.k.a. realms) via temporary portals that appear in the landscape.

The novel’s conflict ramps up when Cantor begins traveling through the realms in search of a lifelong dragon companion. Reference is often made to the corrupt Realm Walkers Guild; however, the corruption is not shown. Even when Cantor enters a dangerous city, the threat is mostly referenced and tension does not build. The characters avert danger a bit too easily. The description of the city seemed lacking as well, which made it harder for me to engage in the scenes.

About a third of the way in, Paul shifts the POV to a female character named Bixby. This was a slight disappointment for me because I was eager to see Cantor’s and Bridger’s relationship develop from Cantor’s POV. From Bixby’s POV, I felt the interaction between Cantor and Bridger was less compelling, which seems a problem since one the story’s main drivers is Cantor’s search for a lifelong dragon companion.

Bridger the dragon quickly proves his usefulness, and everyone, including the reader, seems to realize this except Cantor, who at times devolves into a whiny brat. While this is vaguely annoying, it’s also realistic, since Cantor is young and learning. Like most teens, he’s romanticizing the process of growing up.

One final note about the pace of the plot. Some readers may find it sluggish, but I enjoyed the relaxed pace. It allowed me ample time to enjoy the world Paul created. I may have sprinkled in a few more plot twists to ramp up the tension, but as it is, One Realm Beyond is a pleasant story that maintained my interest.

That’s it for today. I’ll close out tomorrow with the end of my review and some final thoughts.

To read what others are saying about Donita K. Paul’s One Realm Beyond, check out the following links:

Julie Bihn Keanan Brand Beckie Burnham Mike Coville Pauline Creeden Vicky DealSharingAunt Carol Gehringer Rebekah Gyger Janeen Ippolito Jason Joyner Carol Keen Krystine Kercher Emileigh Latham Jennette Mbewe Shannon McDermott Meagan @ Blooming with Books Melanie @ Christian Bookshelf Reviews Rebecca LuElla Miller Joan Nienhuis Nissa Donita K. Paul Audrey Sauble Chawna Schroeder James Somers Jojo Sutis Steve Trower Shane Werlinger Jill Williamson Deborah Wilson

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Discerning Speculators

Today is the first day of the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy blog tour featuring Donita K. Paul‘s young adult fantasy novel, One Realm Beyond. (Note: I received a free review copy from the publisher.)

The cover design by Steve Rawlings is gorgeous and deserves to be shown in a size that highlights its details:

one_realm_beyond

Now, to whet your appetite, here’s the book’s back cover copy:

Cantor D’Ahma waited his whole life for this day. Born with a gift to jump between worlds, the young realm walker is finally ready to leave his elderly mentor and accept his role as protector and defender of the realms. But mere hours after he steps through his first portal, Cantor discovers that his job will be more dangerous and difficult than he ever imagined. The realms are plagued with crime and cruelty, and even members of the once-noble Realm Walkers Guild can no longer be trusted. To make matters worse, his first assignment—finding a dragon to assist him on his quest—has led him to Bridger, who is clearly inept and won’t leave him alone. With the help of his new friends Bixby and Dukmee, Cantor must uncover the secrets of the corrupt guild before they become too powerful to be stopped. But his skills aren’t progressing as fast as he would like, and as he finds himself deeper and deeper in the guild’s layers of deceit, Cantor struggles to determine where his true allegiance lies.

I’ll offer my own review on Tuesday or Wednesday, but today I want to talk generally about speculative fiction as written from a Christian point-of-view.

This month’s Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy blog tour comes on the heels of an interesting discussion between Mike Duran and Rebecca Luella Miller about boundaries in Christian speculative fiction (if there are/should be any).

When the topic of boundaries comes up in Christian writing circles, the focus is often on language. It’s fairly well known that CBA publishers are picky about certain words. (I think “friggin’” is okay, but “fricken’” is not.) The CBA audience can be just as picky, as evidenced by the debate over Becky Wade’s book, My Stubborn Heart. (Beware writers, if you use the term “balls” to refer to a male body part, you may ignite a firestorm.)

I’ve gone back and forth over the years when it comes to including expletives in my own fiction, but when it comes to whether or not to include “bad words” in “Christian” fiction…I think there’s an idiom for it…something about missing the forest for the trees.

There is a deeper discussion to be had, and Mike and Rebecca begin to address it in their posts No Zombies Allowed (in Christian Fiction), Reading, Truth, and the Bible, Fiction & Theology, Part 1, and Fiction & Theology, Part 2. I won’t summarize the posts here, but simply wanted to point to them as worthy reads.

I’m becoming more and more disinclined to use “Christian” as an adjective, particularly when the object being described is intended for profit; therefore, I’ve made conscious efforts not to brand Provision Books as a “Christian” speculative fiction publisher. As a Christian who publishes and writes speculative fiction, however, the question of how to most effectively intertwine faith and fiction is still at the forefront of my mind. I do have boundaries when it comes to what I will or won’t write, and what I will or won’t publish. In an interview with Mike Duran, I put it this way:

I’m not necessarily looking for Christian speculative fiction. What I’m looking for is speculative fiction that doesn’t contradict or belittle the Christian worldview… Christians, Muslims, agnostics, and atheists alike share a common human experience that is rich with themes worth exploring in fiction. Whether the author’s exploration takes a track that becomes contradictory to Christianity is subjective, and can only be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Deciding whether fiction is contrary to Christianity is an artform in itself, and comparing a work of fiction to a standard checklist of do’s and don’ts (such as a list of unapproved words) is ineffective. I wrestle with this issue during every story I read and write, even sometimes wondering if I should be partaking in speculative fiction at all.

To save myself time, I’ll quote myself again. (Sorry folks.) This is a comment I made in response to Mike Duran’s post, No Zombies Allowed (in Christian Fiction).

Yesterday, I had another one of my “uh oh” moments, as I was studying the trending of American Christianity toward mysticism, paganism, and liberalism. I do see this as a major problem, and for a moment I thought, “Am I contributing to the problem by writing and supporting Christian speculative fiction?” It’s not that I think Christian speculative fiction is “bad”, it’s that I question this generations ability to think critically and to discern right from wrong.

Later I ran across an article at TruthKeepers by C.H. Fisher that answered some of my concerns. Some will find C.H. Fisher’s thoughts controversial, as I’m sure he is well aware. In his article Contemplative Spirituality is Not the Mind of Christ, he has this to say:

What is actually occurring in Christianity is an attempt to humanize Christ and God, make them equal with individuals that claim to have risen above their fellow Christians by means of Contemplative Spirituality. The spirituality that they are experiencing is actually from the realm of darkness. In fact, New Age/Emergent leaders are actually promoting and practicing witchcraft. It is witchcraft because it calls on means other than God to conjure up spirits and produce the supernatural.

Notice that Fisher isn’t denying the existence of the spirit world or the supernatural, nor am I. Clearly God is a supernatural being who moves in supernatural ways, sometimes bending his own physical laws to achieve his means. (Parting the Red Sea. Sending angels to Mary and Joseph. Raising Jesus from the Dead.)

To state that Christians, under all conditions, should not portray the supernatural in their fiction is legalistic and misguided; however, I think it is fair to say that Christian writers should be keenly aware of how their characters interact with the supernatural. While not a clear-cut boundary, this is a line I’ve drawn for myself, and how, specifically, I will navigate along the periphery will depend on my Holy Spirit-led powers of discernment. I may not always get it right, but I’ll continue trying.

So, the questions remain. How far can/should Christian writers go? Do we have limitless access to our own imaginations or are there times when we should reel ourselves back in? Should we scale back because of weaknesses of our brothers and sisters in Christ?

These are questions I think all Christians who are fiction writers should be asking, and I’ll be addressing them in my review of Donita K. Paul’s, One Realm Beyond.

To hear what others are saying, check out the following links.

Julie Bihn Keanan Brand Beckie Burnham Mike Coville Pauline Creeden Vicky DealSharingAunt Carol Gehringer Rebekah Gyger Janeen Ippolito Jason Joyner Carol Keen Krystine Kercher Emileigh Latham Jennette Mbewe Shannon McDermott Meagan @ Blooming with Books Melanie @ Christian Bookshelf Reviews Rebecca LuElla Miller Joan Nienhuis Nissa Donita K. Paul Audrey Sauble Chawna Schroeder James Somers Jojo Sutis Steve Trower Shane Werlinger Jill Williamson Deborah Wilson

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The Sideshow Has a New Website!

While the local amphibious and reptilian populations hibernate under the frozen tundra, the Provision Books elf has been diligently working on a new website.

As I’ve mentioned in previous postings, we publish an ezine around these parts called The Common Oddities Speculative Fiction Sideshow. The inaugural issue was originally published here, but now (thanks to the Provision Books elf and his awesome g-design skills) it is published here. All issues henceforth will also be published here.

cosfss-issue2If you have something Sideshow–worthy and you would like to display it for all to gawk at, we NEED your submission no later than March 1st in order to include it in our Spring 2014 issue.

If you have something you’d like to submit, please read our Submission Guidelines here and then click here to begin the submission process!

(We really enjoy rubbernecking at your oddities. Come on…entertain us.)

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News from the North Pole

Futurama Robot Santa

I blame Santa Claus for this polar vortex, with all his hop, skipping, and jumping through time warps in that Turbo X-5000 multi-dimensional sleigh of his. The elves warned him this would happen. “You can’t go punching holes in the fabric of time without creating a persistent, large-scale cyclone in the middle and upper troposphere and stratosphere.” All the kids got their presents and the rest of us got subzero wind chills.

So, while we’re not at the North Pole, it certainly feels like it, and with that, I bring you the news.

(I promise never to say polar vortex again.)

Today’s Top Story

The top story at Provision Books is clearly the recent release of This Quiet Tyranny, a near-future, dystopian thriller by Jessica E. Thomas (a.k.a. moi). The good news is, the softcover version is now available on Amazon HERE. (The Kindle version is also available HERE.) The bad news is that, with all the business of preparation, we pretty much had to forego pre-release marketing, so now we are playing catch-up.

Thank you to all who have purchased a copy! If you have time, please leave a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Whether you like the story or not, whether you loved it or couldn’t finish it, all opinions are welcome. We are slowly morphing into lizards here at Provision Books, our skin is becoming so thick. (Don’t tell the Department of Homeland Security. I don’t know why. Just don’t.)

In other, equally important news…

Submissions have RE-OPENED for the March 2014 issue of The Common Oddities Speculative Fiction Sideshow. We need your speculative short stories, poetry, and artwork post haste. The Sideshow will soon be getting its own website, and we’ve got big plans for the ezine. We hope you’ll join in our excitement and take the opportunity to get involved at a grassroots level.

And finally…

As always, thank you for your support. Feel free to drop us a note. We love hearing from our readers!

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It’s here! Our little bundle of bytes has arrived! Here is the first picture:

This Quiet Tyranny Kindle Edition

Awwwww.

By the way, This Quiet Tyranny has clones. Many clones. To purchase one of your own, click HERE. (Don’t forget to feed it!)

Or, if you prefer to snuggle it close, you can buy it in paperback HERE.

Thank you so much to all who have followed our journey. But this is just the beginning. Please stay tuned and watch us grow!

This Quiet Tyranny at 12 weeks.

This Quiet Tyranny at 12 weeks.

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It’s Almost Here!!!

Baby book

It’s been a long haul, but the due date is quickly approaching and our baby is expected to arrive on it’s due date: January 21, 2014. That’s this TUESDAY. Only two days away!

Based on the ultrasounds, it looks like we are having a 257-page, paperback book! We’ve already picked out a name. You may have heard us mention it because we’ve had a hard time keeping it secret. We are calling it:

This Quiet Tyranny

We were thinking of naming it North West, but that name was already taken. (Darn it!)

Please keep checking this space. We will post more details and pictures soon!

photo credit: amseaman via photopin cc

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Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…

Here on this fifth day of January, on the brink of Snowpocalypse ’14, the employees at Provision Books remain at their desks feverishly working on their upcoming release, This Quiet Tyranny.

Never fear, the mukluks are here, and no amount of snow will keep us from stepping up to the task.

Target release date is January 21st. We are strongly committed to this date. Any slippage will be the fault of Amazon drones.

Breath holding is strongly recommended at this point.

Central Indiana Snowpocalpse 2014 - BEFORE

Central Indiana Snowpocalypse 2014 – BEFORE

Central Indiana Snowpocalypse 2014 - BEFORE

Central Indiana Snowpocalypse 2014 – AFTER

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