On March 31, Robin Moran tagged me in a bloghop called “The Next Big Thing.” First, I need to say THANK YOU to Robin for bestowing this honor on me. Check out her blog–>HERE!

This bloghop requires that I answer questions about my current Work in Progress. So here are the questions and my answers:

What is the working title of your book?


Where did the idea come from for the book?

The collision of a couple of ideas. First, the idea of a teenage alien being stranded in Victorian London. H. G. Wells’s WAR OF THE WORLDS dealt with malicious martians invading Victorian London. What if the alien was a confused teenager? The other thought was this: why is it aliens are always technologically superior to us? What if there was a race of aliens who thought our technology was advanced?

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s a blend of YA sci-fi and YA historical, but it’s probably more on the historical side than the sci-fi.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Ummm… ones that can act and look the part? I have no idea!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

“A teenage alien winds up stranded in steam-powered Victorian London, in need of electricity to get home.”

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

At this point in my writing career, I need the wisdom and oversight of an experienced agent to make sure my work is the best it can be, and to find the right publisher for it. I have no objection to self-publishing, but I want a few agented novels under my belt before I go there.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

A little over a year… or one month. Let me explain. I’d been toying with the first few chapters for a long time, then I re-wrote those chapters and went on to finish the first draft for NaNoWriMo last November.

What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

The idea is a bit Douglas Adams-ish, but it’s not totally sci-fi. This is probably not very accurate, but let’s just say it’s THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY meets Downton Abbey just to make you want to read it.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I love British History, Doctor Who, and H.G. Wells. A love child was bound to happen at some point. This might be it.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

You mean the last two answers aren’t enough? How about a handsome stable boy and ABBA?


I now have to tag a couple of people to write about their WiPs. And I choose…

RTW: Cross-Country Companion

It’s Day 3 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, and it’s also Road Trip Wednesday day on YA Highway. This week, the YA Highway folks want to kDoctor-RTW-1now:

If you could visit any country with a fictional character as your guide, who would you pick and where would you go?

This may seem like an obvious answer if you’re a regular to the blog, but I would choose The Doctor (as in Doctor Who). My reason may not be so obvious. You see, I’m a contradiction. I’m a home-bod, but I like foreign travel, experiencing different cultures, and meeting people from different countries. I’m also not very adept socially. It takes me a while to get comfortable with people. I don’t do small-talk very well. Now, once I’m comfortable with someone, I can yabber on for hours. But it’s that initial awkward “Uhh… hello…” that doesn’t help if you want to meet people and get to know them. This is why The Doctor would be my perfect traveling companion. He would be all smiles and enthusiasm, going up to complete strangers saying, “Hello, I’m the Doctor and this is my friend Colin. We’re new in town–my, that’s an interesting hat…” etc. I would learn a lot more than if I was left on my own.

Where would we go? Honestly, I wouldn’t care. The Doctor would make it interesting, wherever it was. However, I know the first thing he would ask me when I step into the TARDIS would be: “So, Colin–where d’you want to go?” I ought to have an answer ready, so I’d probably say Scandinavia. Maybe Norway or Finland. I’ve never been to any Scandinavian countries, and I’ve always wanted to visit that part of the world.

What about you? Who would be your ideal fictional traveling companion, and where would you go? You can share your thoughts in the comments, or join in the Road Trip (see the YA Highway blog for details).

What’s Going On?

Those of you who still keep track of my ramblings on this blog may be wondering what’s going on. I haven’t participated in a few Road Trip Wednesdays, I haven’t been posting as many articles (aside from the regular Sunday School Notes and Sunday Devotionals). Am I getting blog fatigue? What’s happening?

First, no, I’m not getting blog fatigue. In fact, one of the things I’m doing is planning for next month’s A to Z Blogging Challenge. I may not be posting a lot of articles at the moment–but wait till next month! Twenty-six articles in thirty days. Consider this a little respite before the storm.

Also, I’m trying to catch up on some reading. If you’re one of my Goodreads friends, you’ll know that I’ve read some really good books so far this month, including Stephanie Jaye Evans’s spectacular second novel, SAFE FROM HARM, and SCARLET, the second in Marissa Meyer’s “Lunar Chronicles.”

I haven’t neglected writing, either. I’m batting around my WIP–the NaNoWriMo project from last November. As I figure out what needs to be done with all those words, I find myself on the horns of an old dilemma: first or third person. I drafted the novel in first person, but as I re-read it, something’s not right about it. She’s supposed to be a teenage alien, and she sounds like a regular American high-schooler. I’ve experimented with changing her speech patterns, limiting her vocabulary… but that affects the readability of the story. I’m caught between making you believe the narrator is not of this world, and communicating the story. Think about it: I have to describe her alien kitchen in language she would use, which would not necessarily be terms or concepts that you, the reader, would understand. The usual way around this is to either give the alien a complete English vocabulary, which at my alien’s age stretches credibility and detracts from her alien-ness, or give her a friend from Earth who then becomes the first person narrator, which for this story really isn’t an option. Do you know of any books where the main character is an alien and that alien is the first person narrator–and the author succeeds in balancing alien vocabulary with readability? Perhaps that will help inspire me. Right now I’m considering re-writing in third person, which would solve a lot of these kinds of issues.

With that, and work, family, church, and life in general, that’s what’s going on with me.

So, how are you?

RTW: Book of the Month for February, 2013

It’s hard to believe it’s that time again: YA Highway’s Road Trip Wednesday Book of the Month! And this month, I don’t really have one. I read some non-fiction which was good, and some fiction that was okay, but nothing that made me want to say, “This is totally AWESOME!”

There have been a couple of times in the past when the book I ended up choosing for Book of the Month was not five-star-Goodreads-review worthy, but in those cases, the books were at least very good. I can’t say that for the books I read this month. And I’m not going to choose a book simply because it was a bit more okay than the other okay books. You deserve better than that, faithful reader!

So–sorry! No book of the month for February. I haven’t read SCARLET or UNRAVEL ME yet (I’m exercising restraint and trying to get through books that I’ve had for longer first), so I have great expectations that March will be a better reading month! (Come to think of it, I haven’t read GREAT EXPECTATIONS yet…)

Hopefully you had a better time with your February reading. What was the best thing you read this past month? Comment here, or join in the Road Trip (see the YA Highway blog for details).

Some Thoughts on “Talent”

For a few weeks now, I’ve been kicking around in my head the whole question of what it means to have “talent”–to be “gifted” at something, or to have “natural ability.” Not for any particular reason–it’s just something that often comes up in conversation (“He’s a talented musician…”, “She’s a gifted writer…”, “He’s a natural athlete…”), but how often do we ever stop to consider what that means?

Since we talk a lot about writing here, let’s take writing as an example. Most people beyond the age of five can write. Some of those people can even spell correctly, and some of those even have a handle on grammar. If a person can form letters into words, spell those words correctly, and string them together into grammatically correct and coherent sentences, does that make him or her a gifted writer? Almost instinctively, most people–if not all–would say “no.” But why not? Again, most people can point to the grammatically correct history textbook they had in school, compare it to HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN, and rest their case. Even comparing fiction with fiction, we’ve all read stories that were well composed–correct spelling and grammar–and perhaps even had a good idea behind them… and yet there was something missing. They weren’t quite J. K. Rowling, or Stephen King.

Now, consider this: prior to the mid-17th century, English spelling was by no means uniform. Shakespeare spelled his own name five different ways. Can we say that because Shakespeare didn’t follow modern orthographic conventions, he was not gifted? Of course not! And consider for a moment the function of grammar. Anyone that’s taken the time to study more than one other language will observe that every language has “irregular” forms–verbs and nouns that don’t follow the rules, idioms that make no sense if translated but make perfect sense to the native speaker, and so on. This is because grammar books are descriptive, not prescriptive. That is, grammatical structures are derived from a language, not imposed upon a language. The function of grammar is to try to make some kind of orderly sense of the language, and describe the way the language functions when it is operating at its most communicative. Rules such as “the number of the person must agree with the number of the verb (e.g., “a man (singular) goes” vs. “women (plural) go”), are observations of the language functioning at its most understandable. You can mess with the grammar (e.g., “a man go”) and still be understood, but that defies the conventions of the language, which can lead to confusion.

If we understand spelling and grammar in this way, then it makes sense that spelling and grammar can change according to changing conventions (for example, Noah Webster “simplified” English in his American dictionary, changing “colour” to “color,” etc.), and one’s ability to spell and use grammar is in no way indicative of one’s ability to write. All it says is that a writer is able to follow social conventions with regard to orthography.

Another point to consider: would a writer still be a writer if he or she lost the ability to write? Popular English fantasy writer Terry Pratchett has Alzheimer’s disease. A few years ago, the condition had progressed to where typing was difficult. He forgot how to spell words, and his coordination was shot. I doubt that he is even able to type at all now. And yet he is still writing novels (his latest book, Dodger, came out in September, 2012). He uses a recording device and has a personal assistant to help him write, and I daresay he will continue to compose stories until he is no longer able to communicate the ideas in his head in some fashion.

The actual act of writing–putting words on a page (virtual or otherwise)–is merely a mechanical transcription of what’s going on between the author’s ears. As long as the writer can get those ideas out into the world, he or she is writing. Don’t forget that the tradition of storytelling goes back to the days when illiterate people would gather round a fire and thrill their audience with tales they had heard, or they themselves had made up.

So, what do we mean when we say someone is a “gifted” writer? I think we can say this: it has nothing to do with one’s ability to “put pen to paper”, or one’s ability to spell, or one’s ability to use correct grammar. But it has everything to do with one’s ability to tell a story, or communicate an idea, in a way that is compelling, and… well… communicates. And not every gifted writer is gifted equally. Some are better able to communicate than others. But there are a rare few whose gifting is enormous. And we all recognize who they are, because their audiences are large, and their emulators are legion.

Okay, I’ve babbled long enough. What does all this mean for me, or you, as a writer? I would say this: YES, learn to spell and learn grammar. Sure, you don’t need them to be understood, but you increase the opportunities for miscommunication the more you neglect these skills. I think it’s more important, though, to recognize that your writing gift, if you have it, is a gift. It’s not something you can learn, and not something that improved mechanics can increase. I can tinker with the engine of my lawn mower so it operates as smoothly and efficiently as possible–but it’ll never be a Porsche. And that’s okay. Start with your love of writing. If you love to write, and people enjoy reading what you write, the chances are you have a gift for it. Practice, and do everything you can to improve your gift. It may be no more than a lawnmower, but make it the best-running lawnmower you can! Don’t feel pressured to be what you’re not. Learn from others, but don’t compare yourself to others. Be the writer you are, using the talent given to you to the best of your ability.

What do you think, writer friends (and others)? Agree? Disagree? Please comment!

Blogging from A to Z Challenge

You might already be aware, either because I’ve mentioned it on Twitter, or you’ve noticed the big orange widget on the sidebar, that I’m participating in the “Blogging from A to Z April Challenge” again this year. “What in the name of sweet Cadbury’s is that?” you may ask. Let me save you a click on the aforementioned big orange widget. The “Blogging from A to Z April Challenge” is a blogging challenge that entails writing a post every day for the entire month of April–excluding Sundays. A letter of the alphabet is assigned to each day (April 1st = A; April 2nd = B; April 3rd = C; April 4th = D, etc.), and each blogger uses that letter to inspire the day’s article. Why exclude Sundays? Because there are 4 Sundays in April, and 30 days (the number of days in April) minus 4 days makes 26 days. There are 26 letters in the alphabet, so that makes one for each day. This also honors those who don’t like blogging on Sundays, and it gives us all (readers and writers) a break.

While the challenge states you can blog about absolutely anything, there are some ground rules. First, you have to incorporate the day’s letter somehow–even if it’s a proper noun. Second, your blog posts need to be at least 100 words long to show you’re at least breaking a sweat to do this. I mean, a challenge isn’t a challenge if it isn’t somehow challenging! You don’t have to come up with an overall theme for the month, but some find it helpful. Last year, one blogger (Kimberly) did an alliteration challenge, where she came up with an alliterative sentence for each day based on that day’s letter, and challenged her readers to come up with better ones. I recall someone else used mythical creatures as their theme.

Last year I challenged myself with coming up with either a flash or a short story every Monday, using the letter of the day to inspire the title. This gave birth to Bloodstain, Hourglass (one of the best short stories I’ve yet written–IMO), Nightmare, Tortilla, and Zoe. In fact, for some of these titles, I asked commenters to make suggestions, which was a lot of fun.

I’ve yet to formulate a plan for this year, but this much I do know: I’m going to limit each post to 500 words maximum. This will be a great exercise in word economy, and push me to be clean, concise, and creative in my word choices. I also want to repeat the Monday story challenge, which, combined with the 500-word restriction, means I will need to come up with flash stories based on the letters A, G, M, S, and Y. Beyond this, we’ll see…

Have you thought about participating? The sign up is still active. Last year, over 1,700 people took part, and they’re hoping for a lot more this year. Check out the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge blog for more information. And if you want to read some of my posts from last year, check out the archives on the right (go to April 2012).

RTW: For the Love of Writing!

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate the love in one’s life. Usually, we think of significant others (and, indeed, romantic love is the intent of the traditional celebration), but there are other loves in our lives we should also recognize. Family, friends–and for readers and writers, that wonderful gift of language and story.

With that in mind, for this week’s Road Trip Wednesday, the YA Highway folks want to know…

What do you love most about writing (and/or reading)?

Quite simply, for me, it’s the actual writing process: putting thoughts, ideas, stories, whatever it might be into words. It’s crafting sentences; finding the correct words to express the thought as succinctly and precisely as I can. It’s thinking about sentence structure and rhythm, so the words flow with elegance. And this applies whether I’m writing fiction, non-fiction, novels, papers, blog articles, or emails. Yes, I will even pour over an email message, checking grammar and spelling, sentence flow and vocabulary. In other words, I never stop being a writer. Even this short blog article will be reviewed and edited as if it were a chapter in a novel!

What do you love about reading and/or writing? Comment below, or join in the RTW fun (details on the YA Highway blog).

Castellano’s “Abbey Road” and a Challenge for Writers

Last March, Juliana Haygert put me on to this guy called Richie Castellano. Richie plays guitar for the band Blue Öyster Cult, and he’s what I would call the musician’s musician. He’s a phenomenal singer, and plays multiple instruments (guitar being his forté). In the video Juliana tweeted, Richie performed Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” using overdubs and split-screen (if you’ve not seen it, you really need to–even if you’re not a fan of the song). Well, last week, my brother pointed me to a new video Richie has posted where he does a similar kind of overdubbed, split-screen version of The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” Medley (i.e., the last couple of songs on that classic 1969 album: “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End”). Here’s the video:

Even if you don’t like the music, you can’t deny the guy’s talent. I played this to my older kids, and one said to me, “You think this guy’s awesome, don’t you?” As a musician, I had to reply, “Umm… well, yes, actually!”

On his blog, Richie explains why he chose this particular song, and he also goes into the technical details of what equipment he uses, how he recorded it, and so forth. While much of this is interesting to musicians and people who like that kind of thing, I want to focus in on a comment he made that I think has application for writers.

If you watch the video, you’ll notice Richie plays violin, cello, trumpet, and trombone on this recording. Yes, he actually plays those instruments, and no, prior to rehearsing for this video, he did not play any of these instruments. In his blog he says he could have used samples (presumably on a keyboard) for these parts, but “in a moment of insanity” he decided to attempt the instruments himself. With help from his natural ability, his dogged tenacity, and some YouTube videos, he was able to come up with parts that, while not good by any professional performance standards, were good enough. He ended up using samples to help fill out the sound (overdubbing bad violin playing doesn’t make it sound better–quite the contrary), but the basic strings and brass were played on actual string and brass instruments by Richie himself.

Let me now quote from Richie’s blog–and this is the part I want to connect to writing:

My favorite part of this video was getting to play with instruments I’ve never tried. I recommend it to all musicians. Especially if you write and arrange music. It gives you a new respect for the people who are great players and it gives you a better understanding when it comes to writing for those instruments.

I would echo this sentiment to those who write. Have you tried stepping outside of your preferred genre? If you write YA, have you ever tried NA or adult? If you write contemporary, have you tried sci-fi, or horror? Now, just as Richie would not start hiring himself out as a professional violinist based on this video, I’m not saying you should switch genres as a career move. Rather, try writing a short story, or even a piece of flash fiction, in a genre you don’t normally write. If you’re not familiar enough with that genre, read something to get a feel for it (the equivalent of Richie’s YouTube research). There are plenty of readers on Twitter that would be happy to recommend good books in that genre if you don’t know it well. Even if what you write is bad, I think the exercise is valuable. It broadens your horizons, and perhaps gives you ideas you can apply to your chosen genre. It might also give you a respect for those who write that genre you perhaps didn’t have before.

So, writers, take a tip from Richie Castellano, and step out of your box every now and again. I think your writing will benefit from it.

Have you tried such genre-dabbling before? If you have, how did it work for you? If you haven’t, is this something you might try? Please comment!

RTW: Goals for 2012

Photo Credit: The Guardian, Oct 12, 2012

This week’s Road Trip Wednesday question, set by the writer ladies at YA Highway, is:

What are your goals for the new year—for reading, writing, or other?

I don’t really have a big “2013 To-Do List.” There are things I want to accomplish this year. Some of these are:

  • Revise/edit/polish the first draft of my WIP so it’s ready for beta readers–if it’s good enough.
  • Assemble beta readers for my WIP (assuming it’s good enough).
  • Write more short stories–perhaps even submit some for publication.
  • Read more non-fiction. I’m pleased with the amount of fiction I’ve managed to get through (and enjoy) over the past few years, but my non-fiction (particularly theological and historical) reading has suffered as a result.
  • Have time away from the writing desk–particularly with the family.

This is a really short list, but I think I can sum up my goals in two words: Balance and Perspective.

I want to make sure I give sufficient time to writing, reading, family, work, and so on without getting engrossed (or obsessed) with one to the expense of the others. And I want to keep a healthy perspective on them all–and on life as a whole. Life is short. There are things I want to accomplish, and there’s a good possibility I’ll be able to do those things in the time I have left. And there’s a very good possibility there will be things left undone. All I can do is try to be a good steward of the time I have, do as much as I can, and pray that it counts for something in the end.

How about you? Do you have plans, goals, hopes for 2013? You can share in the comments, or join the Road Trip (see the YA Highway blog for details).

And while you’re here, have you entered my Book of the Year Giveaway, yet? If you already own a copy of Tahereh Mafi’s amazing SHATTER ME, I am now offering an alternative selection: the sequel, UNRAVEL ME, which comes out on February 5th (I will pre-order it for the winner). The giveaway closes at midnight US ET, January 20th. Don’t leave it till the last minute!


Whenever TV shows, movies, books, and so forth predict the future, they seem to assume either a continued advancement in technology, or a return to the Stone Age thanks to some dystopian disaster. But I wonder if there’s another possibility.

Some months ago, my kids were watching a show on Disney, and in this show some teenagers were in a record shop. By “record shop,” I mean quite literally a record shop. It sold vinyl records. I asked if the show was set in the seventies or eighties. My older children said no–it was set in present day. I was confused. Perhaps the producers, probably people of my generation, were being nostalgic for their teenage years, and used an environment that would have been familiar to them, but not to the teens in the show. Not so, according to my kids. It seems vinyl is making a come-back. They tell me there really are places that sell vinyl, and they’re quite popular with the kids. Regardless of how accurate this is (the comments are open if you want to confirm or deny), it got me thinking…

What if the future wasn’t either a Jetsons-like technological paradise, or a Hunger Games nightmare, but rather a conscious return to the “good old days”? Perhaps at some point in the future, technology will reach a tipping point. Maybe there will come a time when our culture gets sick from overdosing on digital and longs for the days of personal contact, music on vinyl, and writing letters. Facebook, Nooks, and iTunes will be shunned in favor of evenings spent visiting friends, or curled up in a chair with a paper book, or listening to 45s on the record player. The museum of the future might hold such relics as iPads and Kindles, reminders of a time when information was at our fingertips, but we forgot how to stop and smell the ink.

This isn’t a critique of our current culture. I have nothing against technology. It’s just an interesting spin on what the future may have in store. Food for a novel, perhaps?

I shared this with my wife, and she asked if I was turning into Nosferacolu–a mix between my name and Nosferatu. (I’m sure she meant Nostradamus, the famous prognosticator, and not Nosferatu the infamous vampire, but I’m not correcting the name to Nostradacolu because that doesn’t sound nearly as good.) But I’m not a prophet, or the son of a prophet, and this blog is not for profit (har har). Just throwing out an interesting thought.

What do you think?


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