Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Unpacking Creative Speculative Non-Fiction

When I plan a vacation, my first thought is the box of books.  Which can I finish?  Which will inspire me?  Which will propel me forward in life?  I stare at the piles of books and the corrugated box.  I want to include everything and nothing.  I want the selected few, but I don’t know which fall into that category.  Should I take the books waiting to be reviewed or the ones I didn’t finish last year or the year before or the year before that?   

This year, I became wise.  I took one fiction book

Valley of Bones (Jerusalem's Undead Trilogy)



one book of creative non-fiction 

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America


an academic book I have been reading 

On the Reliability of the Old Testament

and my Kindle which contains my Bible and other books.


So how did I do with the reading?  I never picked up Valley of Bones.  I never picked up On the Reliability of the Old Testament.  I completely finished The Devil in the White City.  And I read a few out of print short stories on my Kindle.

The Devil in the White City is a work of creative non-fiction.  I am not completely convinced that this genre should even exist.  Creative non-fiction is factual writing mixed with “what could have happened.”  Now, if you take this to its extreme, it is historical fiction.  Historical fiction is a fictional story set in a historical period.  Could it have happened?  Maybe. 

The Devil in the White City is a true story set in a historical period with what may or may not be fictional elements.  I am writing a series of novels about the Prophet Elijah.  What we know about him would not fill a single book.  However I have set his story in its historical time and included elements of modern thought, technology, clothing, etc.  How would I have to modify my novel to make it creative non-fiction?  I could take out the modern elements, thought, and place names.  What then?  The characters I invented could have existed.  There is no evidence for or against their existence.  The action I wrote could have taken place.  There is no evidence for or against it. 

Others have told me that my fiction is speculative fiction.  How about creative speculative non-fiction?  If I include footnotes will that make my novel non-fiction? 

And what is true?  If we add what might have been and call it “creative” is it still true?  And if it is not true, can it be called “non-fiction.”  I have always believed that the untrue was fiction.  Have we so blurred the lines of demarcation that we no longer call what is true, non-fiction?

There is a writers conference in the spring on narrative non-fiction.  If I attend will they answer my questions?

What do you think about all of this?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Authors that Disappoint: A Review of Two Books

I recently had the opportunity to read two novels:  one by a best-selling Christian author I have long known and read, the other by an author I had never heard of.  The first book is One Step Away by Eric Wilson; the second, Indelible by Kristen Heitzmann.

These novels are set in the current time, in recognizable places in the United States.  What both novels also share is unexpected poor writing.  Let me qualify the remarks that follow by noting that One Step Away was in paper book format, Indelible in Kindle format.

Both books suffer from grammar and punctuation errors.  The first is homonym confusion.  Homonyms are words that sound alike or similar but have different meanings.  For example, you can pique someone’s interest, but you cannot peak their interest.  That was an actual example of homonym confusion from Indelible.  Other words were simply wrong and I suspect the author consulted a thesaurus rather than a dictionary.  Among these are canted which is never something done with a neck as the author states and a word not used at all in this time; spewed which is poured out of something, not as the author used it for rocks sliding away from a trail runner.  And two characters drive their hands; one into dense clay which is an acceptable use, one into water, which is not.  One Step Away contained missing words. 

The worst offender, Indelible, contained hyphenated words that should not be hyphenated and  individual words that should be hyphenated left unhyphenated.  Some paragraphs were indented; some weren’t.   Some phrases were in a much larger font than the rest of the book.   Some words were combined which should have been spaced.  Finally, the letter “r” or “S” in a different font was inserted sporadically. 

One Step Away contained characters that acted out of character, creating unbelievable characters and a predictable plot.  Indelible had characters with silly names and a predictable plot.  Indelible used at least one unbelievable metaphor (eg. disturbed leaves in a rocky mountain stream compared to goldfish—which would never be found in a cold Colorado creek) and other descriptive terms pulled inappropriately from other disciplines (eg. segue, a musical term).  Possibly Indelible most inexcusable error was to use bits of the the epic poem, Paradise Lost, pulled out of context to drive a subplot.   

To be fair, Indelible ‘s author had greater dexterity in describing scenes and places than did the author of One Step Away.  But I found myself racing to the end of both books merely to be done with them.  Do authors realize how much grammatical errors distract from their writing?  Have publishers stopped editing?  What more can I say about these books?  If you want to read a well-written novel, stay away from both of them.


I was provided a free review copy of Indelible by the publisher for the purpose of this review.  I purchased my copy of One Step Away.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011



From Eugene Peterson’s book

Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination

. . . [E]very casual or pompous way station at which people seek easy and instant centering [is a delusion].  People who do not worship live in a vast shopping mall where they go from shop to shop, expending enormous sums of energy and making endless trips to meet first this need and then that appetite, this whim and that fancy.  Life lurches from one partial satisfaction to another, interrupted by ditches of disappointment.  Motion is fueled by the successive illusions that purchasing this wardrobe, driving that car, eating this meal, drinking that beverage will center life and give it coherence.

No one could have said it better.  Centering on God is the only way to live!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Persians

In my review of ancient history, I've progressed from the Babylonians to the Persians, and from Cyrus through the lesser kings to Darius.  I'm working my way toward Xerxes so I can have some good background on the book of Esther.  This is the book I read:

Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West

What are the differences so far between the Babylonians and the Persians?  The Persians let all the conquered peoples stay in their own areas, retaining their own language, culture, and religion.  To some of those they conquered, this strategy made them look weak, so there were always uprisings.  In addition, the Persian language never became the lingua franca of the areas they conquered and their holdings were vast and extended from modern day Turkey to India and through northern Africa to Ethiopia. 

Why are the Medes and Persians tied together?  Why do we call it the Media-Persian Empire?  The story goes (there is historical support for this story) that the King of the Medes married his daughters off to the Persian King.  But he had been told by his advisors that a grandson would murder him.  So the King of the Medes had his chief lieutenant steal the child and kill it.  However, the chief lieutenant decided to hide the child instead, and then inform the Persians where the child could be found.  That child was Cyrus.  The lieutenant remained a double agent and when Cyrus became king, he assisted Cyrus in killing Cyrus' grandfather and uniting the Medes and the Persians.  He became Cyrus' lieutenant and the famous Median cavalry joined the Persian armies and navy, and together the Medes and Persians became a world power.   Sometimes subterfuge backfires, but in this case it served the Persians well.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Daniel’s Mesopotamia

A study of the book of Daniel led me into a review of the history of the region.  I like to know the details in order to understand the big picture.  I like to know the big picture to put it all in context.  And in this case, all I wanted to know was what it was like when Daniel arrived in Babylon!


We cannot minimize Babylon's importance.  This region is known as the cradle of civilization.  The Tower of Babel was here.  And similar towers have been unearthed by archeologists.  Abraham was a resident of Babylon (Ur) until he was called out by God.  Babylon's earliest greatest ruler was Hammurabi 1792-1750 BC)who everyone knows from his legal code and alphabet.  Babylon was a great culture whose dialect became the lingua franca.  I'm going to skip a lot of history just to keep things brief!  Around 1300 BC, everything changed and for hundreds of years there was turmoil.  Babylon was no longer on top.  Over time, things changed again and a second dynasty of Babylonians became great.  The second and greatest king in this dynasty was Nebuchadnezzar II also known as Nebuchadnezzar the Great.

  Two of the historical people mentioned at the beginning of Daniel are Kings Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and Jehoiakim of Judah.  Nebuchadnezzar was considered the Babylonian King who brought peace to Mesopotamia.  Fighting by both the Chaldeans and the Medes subdued the Assyrians (this was when Nineveh was leveled) and an agreement was made to divide the Assyrian holdings between the Medes and the Babylonians or Chaldeans.  (Note: The Chaldeans were a distinct people group from the southern part of Babylon.)

Dynasty XI of Babylon (Neo-Babylonian or Chaldean)

Nebuchadnezzer was known for uniting Mesopotamia and for his building projects.  After he had settled things by fighting.  He settled in Babylon and began building projects such as massive gates, walls, boulevards and, of course the famous hanging gardens.  Here are two photos of the Ishtar gate (a reconstruction in Modern Day Iraq) and a detail.


To capture the beauty of the city, here is a description of the Ishtar gate. 

The famed Ishtar Gate played an important religious role in the life of the city and is fortunately the best preserved.  The surface of the entrance was covered with blue enameled bricks, which served as background for alternating red-and-white dragons (symbolic of Marduk) and bulls (symbolic of Adad).  The gate was approached by means of an impressive processional street, sixty-five feet wide in places and paved with white limestone and red breccia.  Bordering the street were walls that were found still standing as high as forty feet.  They were decorated with lions six feet in length (symbolic of Ishtar) with red or yellow manes on a blue ceramic background.  It was along this street that the king would accompany the statue of Marduk in grand procession each spring during the New Year festival.

This is red breccia (I didn't know what it was either.)  Mined in Egypt.


The source for the quote came from this book:

Who Were the Babylonians? (Archaeology and Biblical Studies) (Archaeology and Biblical Studies)

Jehoiakim of Judah

Background:  After the death of Solomon (around 1500 BC?), civil war broke out and Israel became a divided country.  The northern kingdom was Israel, its capitol was Samaria and the southern Kingdom was Judah, its capitol, Jerusalem.  There continued to be fighting, invasions, and the like. The whole region was in turmoil for hundreds of years starting around 1300 BC. 

Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians in 721 BC.  Descendants of David continued to rule the southern kingdom, Judah.   Judah ended up making an alliance with Egypt.  What this means is that Egypt "owned" Judah and Judah paid tribute for Egypt's protection. 

Jehoiakim (Hebrew name Eliakim) was the eldest son of King Josiah of Judah.  After Josiah died, the people named Jehoahaz (Shallum) King, but he was deposed by Pharaoh Necho II after 3 months and appointed in his place was Jehoiakim who reigned 11 years.  When Babylon defeated Egypt in 605 he was required to pay tribute to Babylon.  However, against the counsel of the Prophet Jeremiah (in 2 Kings 24:1), he revolted against Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar took him and some of the vessels from the Temple back to Babylon.  It may be that Daniel was taken at this time. 

Jehoiachin, Jehoiakim's son, was eight years old when he began to reign.  His reign was three months and ten days.  He was succeeded by Mattaniah (one of Josiah's sons) whose name was changed to Zedekiah.  Zedekiah ruled 11 years. This would make it about 594 BC.  During this time Zedekiah conspired with Egypt to revolt against Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar sent troops to besiege Jerusalem in January 587 and it fell in July 586, the following year.  It was an 18-month siege.  He successfully conquered the city, destroyed the Temple and removed some of the nobility to Babylon. 

Scholars indicate that Jewish people were deported from Judah to Babylon in 597, 586, and 582.  This does not rule out other deportations which were not recorded.  It was common practice for the conquering country to leave officials in the conquered city to make sure that tribute was paid and revolts were put down.  There would have been communications and supplies transported between Jerusalem and Babylon on some regular basis.  At these times, people could have been deported also.  I believe, however, that since Daniel was deported during or prior to Jehoiakim's 3rd year of ruling, it was probably early, around 597.

For more information, I recommend this book. 

Who Were the Babylonians? (Archaeology and Biblical Studies) (Archaeology and Biblical Studies)

Other sources include The Bible, any translation.  2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, and of course, Daniel.  I am reading mainly from the New International Version, the Net Bible, and the New American Standard Bible translations. 

Faith in Action Study Bible: Living God's Word in a Changing World

but also from The Message:

The Message Remix 2.0: The Bible In contemporary Language