We thought this article would be appropriate for Halloween. Seems this week has been ghoulish with this story on demons and Mike’s “Good Vampire,” and an interview with a well-known horror writer. Did we even pay attention to Halloween on Novel Journey last year? Hmmm, I’ll have to check the archives. I can’t remember. But since it is Halloween, any there are any true scary stories to share?

HALLOWEEN – AN EERIE READ

Halloween. Time for ghosts, goblins, princesses, pirates, witches, warlocks, and…demons? From a Christian novelist?

Author Tosca Lee says, yes, demons exist. “On the earth. In the air. In the heavens.” It’s that belief that caused Lee to pen the recently released, Demon: A Memoir.

But, just as this holiday itself draws criticism from Christians, Lee has had to handle critical response from the faith-based community questioning her beliefs. Some even wondered if she’d communed with demons to write the eerie manuscript.

“No, I’ve never had a personal experience with an angel or demon,” Lee responds. “Not in the visceral way that others describe. Thank God. I think I would have had a heart attack.”

The surprise success of her novel was enough to get Lee’s heart pumping. Her Amazon rank across all Christian fiction was in the top ten and her writing drew comparisons to the great C.S. Lewis work The Screwtape Letters. The Smith College graduate has criss-crossed the country on a whirlwind book tour in such cities as Boston, Denver, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and her home city of Lincoln. Yet time on the road is a welcome respite from the strange encounters Lee suffered during her writing.

“Things broke down in my brand new house. Mice infested it. The water turned blue. Smoke came out of my dishwasher. These were petty and stupid happenings that made me roll my eyes.”

Then, it got even more strange.

“My computer’s motherboard fried—I could smell it burning. I became more prone to anxiety attacks. My new laptop began to blank out in the middle of working on the story before I had saved anything. I was constantly distracted. While all of these events have practical explanations, it was the timing of all of them that made them a bit weird.”

Then came the fear.

“As the things that happened became both more subtle and distracting, I had moments where I actually began to worry about the safety of those around me and, at times, for myself. Yes, I know it may sound superstitious at best to anyone who doesn’t believe in these things. For me, though, I believe I was peering into a realm that should be understood to the best of our ability, but one that consists of opposing forces.”

Whether coincidence or demonic activity, one thing is certain. Tosca Lee is happy to be writing about something else while Demon hits the shelves for Halloween. Her second novel is about Eve.

“At the heart of these books is my desire to more deeply understand this idea of God, of good and evil,” Tosca says. “And of the struggle of the first people to grasp these concepts and deal with their implications. I write foremost to fill in the gaps in my own conceptual understanding of my faith. When a reader writes to me and says, ‘You made me see something in a whole new way,’ or ‘I never thought of that before,’ that is the greatest compliment.”

Accepting Your Natural Bent ~ Kathy Herman

Before becoming a bestselling author and an award-winning poet, Kathy Herman worked on staff at the Christian Booksellers Association and served as a preliminary judge for the ECPA Gold Medallion Awards. She gained eleven years of bookstore experience as a children’s products specialist.

Herman earned accolades when her first book, Tested By Fire, became a CBA bestseller. Her popular Baxter series and successful stand-alone book, Poor Mrs. Rigsby followed. The author of twelve novels, Kathy’s newest dramatic series, Phantom Hollow, has now taken center stage. The debut novel in the series is, Ever Present Danger. The second installment, Never Look Back, is available in bookstores now.

Kathy Herman and her husband Paul, residents of Tyler , Texas , have three grown children and five grandchildren. Her hobbies include world travel, deep sea fishing and ornithology.

By Kathy Herman

Practically from the beginning of my writing career I recognized that I’m a “seat of the pants” suspense novelist who creates stories without following an outline or implementing a set technique. I’m required to give my publisher a synopsis of the storyline, usually a year before the deadline, but I know the story is going to evolve into something much better than what I include in the synopsis.

Truthfully, I would much prefer to follow an outline. I think it would be less stressful to have the entire storyline nailed down ahead of time. But I’ve learned to trust my natural bent because things always seem to fall into place. I’ve tried outlining and employing some of the techniques my peers do, but I feel as if someone has put me in a box. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m much more effective doing what I do naturally. I’m always guided by the synopsis I give to the publisher, but inevitably it develops into something much better as I get into the heads of my characters, who often move the story in directions that surprise me. But even in my less-than-conventional approach to novel writing, I have developed patterns over time.

First of all, I choose a setting for each series. I decided on Colorado for my current series, Phantom Hollow, because I lived in Colorado Springs for fifteen years and did a lot of traveling around the state. When I began to think about this series, my husband and I took a car trip to the western slope of Colorado to do a little research. One of the things I enjoy most about starting a new series is putting together a mental picture of the fictitious elements I want to create. Phantom Hollow does not exist outside the pages of my novel. But it’s as real to me as Durango, Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride. I can close my eyes and see the jagged peaks of the San Juans that rise high above the valley floor and surround the little town of Jacob’s Ear like a pure white fortress. I can smell the rich, robust aroma of coffee wafting from Grinder’s Coffee House and taste every buttery bite of a homemade fruit muffin Jewel’s Café. I tend to pick locations that appeal to me because I “live”(in my imagination) in that setting for the entire time it takes to finish a series. Once I feel at home with the setting, adding the fictitious elements is easy.

Also creating a host of characters is easy once I can picture the setting. I decide who should populate the story and give them names. They don’t come to life for me until I get into their heads, but I find it rather easy to develop a cast and come up with names.

Before I begin to write the story, I choose a Scripture that I can build a story around—something that lends itself to the suspense and is relevant to the reader. For example, in Never Look Back, book #2 in the Phantom Hollow Series, I chose Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” This verse lent itself perfectly to my protagonist, Ivy Griffith, who has just been released from jail after serving six months for covering up the strangulation death of a high school classmate ten years earlier. She’s paid her debt to society. Kicked her decade-long drug habit. And recommitted her life to Christ. But she hasn’t even begun to deal with the judgmental attitudes of other people.

Everyone in her hometown of Jacob’s Ear, Colorado knows what she did. And her brother Rusty wants nothing to do with her or the child he thinks she should never have had, seven-year-old son, Montana. Plagued by her own shame, her brother’s rejection, and her little boy’s cries for male affirmation, Ivy is reminded of her failures every single day. Keeping Psalm 103:12 as my central focus, I know that Ivy must eventually confront her doubts about whether God truly did remove her sins as far as the east is from the west—and not just the sins others judge her for, but the secret sins she can’t forgive herself for. Not only is this verse powerful, but it’s also easy to weave a highly suspenseful story around. The spiritual theme gives me direction but leaves the story wide open for all kind of twists and turns.

Undoubtedly this story would have been easier to write if I would have been able to determine ahead of time exactly how it would play out. But it was only after I was engrossed in the story and became intimately acquainted with the characters that I knew to take the story through twists and turns I would have never gone if I’d decided to stick to an outline. Again, this is so individual. Truthfully, I wish I were the type of writer who could follow an outline and bang out a story according to plan. But that methodology stifles my creativity and removes the element of surprise I can’t predict at the time I submit the synopsis.

I’ve learned that being a highly intuitive/feeling author working without an outline does not have to be a disadvantage. For me, it’s important to focus on the Scripture I choose and build my story around it, using as a guide the synopsis I give my publisher. So much of the story’s effectiveness depends on how well I develop my characters and how well the reader connects with them. When I create characters the reader cares about, I have the power to turn up the suspense by putting any of those characters in danger.

The writing of a suspense novel can sometimes be as exhilarating as the reading of it. I’m often surprised when one of my characters takes an unanticipated right turn. My choice to follow has resulted in my books being a much more exciting read. And when I submit that final manuscript to the publisher, it invariably turns out to be a deeper, richer, and more inspiring story than what was in the synopsis.

If you’re a “seat of the pants” writer, it probably won’t do any good to fight it. My advice is learn to accept your natural “bent” and let your own individual methodology of novel writing develop. But by all means, stay teachable. I know my way of developing a story has improved as it has evolved. I don’t believe there is a right way or a wrong way to write a novel as long as the methodology enables me to do my best work.

The Good Vampire

Mike’s stories have appeared in Relief Journal, Forgotten Worlds, Alienskin, and Dragons, Knights and Angels, with articles in The Matthew’s House Project, Relevant Magazine and the forthcoming 316 Journal. He is included in the upcoming Coach’s Midnight Diner anthology and was one of ten authors picked for Infuze Magazine’s Best of 2005 print anthology. Mike is an ordained minister, has led numerous small groups and developed discipleship-training curriculum for several churches. He and his wife Lisa live in Southern California, where they have raised four children. You can visit him at http://www.mikeduran.com/.

By Mike Duran

Those words seem like an oxymoron, don’t they? Good vampire? Aren’t all vampires bad – night loving, Christ-hating, sex ravished ghouls? But if vampires are fictional constructs, then why can’t they be good?

Not long ago, I pondered the idea of a vampire novel from a Christian perspective. The genre, it seemed to me, lent itself to great redemptive possibilities. Anne Rice, author of the Interview with the Vampire Chronicles, says as much. On her blog, in a post entitled On the Nature of My Earlier Works (you must scroll down on her page for this essay), she discusses the concept. Since publicly professing faith in Christ, Ms. Rice has been repeatedly asked to renounce her earlier vampire works. After tracing the history of “dark stories” — from Dante’s Inferno, to Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth, to Flannery O’Connor — she states her belief that many such stories are “transformative” in nature. According to the author, the gist of her popular series is the “near despair of an alienated being who searches the world for some hope that his existence can have meaning. His vampire nature is clearly a metaphor for human consciousness or moral awareness.”

I’ve not read the books and thought the movie was pretty gloomy. Nevertheless, the idea that the vampire figure holds a mirror to “human consciousness or moral awareness” is intriguing. Historically, the vampire motif is often used to portray Original Sin, wherein fallen man is viewed as an addict, thirsting after wickedness. As such, vampire lore is rife with biblical lingo and imagery.

So there I was, a neophyte novelist, conniving this idea about a vampire who wants deliverance from her infernal appetite. After all, people don’t willingly become vampires, do they? Much like Original Sin, the vampiric nature is inherited” or, should I say, inflicted. Then it only stands to reason that some would despise what they have become and battle the impulses. Right? Okay, so figure on a Christian vampire — more accurately, a Christian bitten by a vampire. Let’s suppose she was nipped in a botched raid on an unsuspecting local crypt and, after busting her braces and developing a revulsion toward garlic fries, is exiled to the underworld. But our Bat Babe won’t go down without a fight. She stays home when the gang goes out for dinner, renouncing blood like a vegan does Prime Rib, and takes to dividing the flock with the promise of deliverance. They can’t kill her, she’s already undead. But even though the poor thing is anorexic and iron deficient, they give her the boot. She is a disgrace to vampires everywhere!

Our heroine wanders the city, shunned, feared, hunted. She takes refuge in a cathedral and contemplates suicide — but the thought of chugging a receptacle of holy water is just too painful. Here, she encounters others like herself — a subculture of conflicted night creatures living in the catacombs, a monastery of abstinent bloodsuckers. They perpetuate tales of a coming day when unwashed necks will cease to appeal. But they may never see such a day because, as we speak, some misguided Van Helsing type is plotting a massive campaign against vampires, an ad hoc inquisition designed to rid the world of genetic and spiritual impurity. Thus, the good vampires find themselves on the wrong end of the theological stake. They must yield to either indiscriminate slaughter or band together to fight both their blood brothers and the unmerciful Pharisaical persecution.

Okay, whaddya think? So far, so good?

Well, the storyline is not that original. Take for instance the Confessor, a character in the comic book series, Astro City . The Confessor was a Roman Catholic priest who was seduced by a vampire. As penance, he fought crime in Astro City , eventually becoming a religious-themed costumed hero. The Confessor’s mantle is eventually taken up by Altar Boy. He confines himself to the church during daytime, and on his chest, wears a large, shining cross that inflicts sufficient pain to prevent his temptation to drink blood, and remind him of his mission.

As one inclined toward penance, I must admit that the idea of prancing around in tights, adorned with a large enough crucifix to administer pain, tickles my flagellistic fancy. Anyway, the point is that people have been tweaking the vampire tale for a while now; making the night creatures conflicted, sympathetic, even good. So why not a Christian vampire?However, the more I floated my idea, the more I discovered a great resistance within the Christian fiction community. We don’t do vampires, was the resounding response. Some suggest it is the horror genre in general that causes CBA publishing houses to hedge (although, there are positive signs that is changing). Others say that the vampire genre has become so laden with erotica and evil that it carries an automatic stigma, making it unsalvageable.

Coach’s Midnight Diner, recently released by the folks at Relief, is subtitled The Jesus versus Cthulhu Edition. Created by horror-meister H.P. Lovecraft, Cthulhu is a fictional entity, one of the Great Old Ones, possessing a tentacled head and a grotesque scaly body (think Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean ). The ancient monster has become an icon of terror for horror / sci-fi fans everywhere and may even rival the vampire in terms of its rabid following. Nevertheless, when the anthology was first announced, there was some discussion among Christian authors about the convergence of those characters. Jesus and Cthulhu? Is that really right? Cthulhu stands for all that is evil. How can we even associate him with Jesus? Some disavowed the concept on the basis of its incongruence, others on biblical grounds.

But the answer that resolved it for me was this: It’s fiction, baby! God is written into many fictional settings. We may argue that a biblical caricature of God does not exist in all fiction. That’s a given. However the idea of inserting the real biblical God into hypothetical situations with fabricated figures is the basis of all Christian fiction. So if God can interact with Ransom, Reuben Land, Elmer Gantry or George Bailey, then why can’t He engage Cthulu or Count Dracula? After all, none of them – except God — really exists.

Much as Tolkien and C.S. Lewis sought to reclaim mythology and unearth the underlying sediment of biblical truth inherent in folklore and fable, perhaps the same could be done with vampire lore. Current notions of the nocturnal nemeses are shaped largely by superstition, gothic literature and pop culture. Therefore, it remains in flux, unmoored, largely freed from factual constraints and rife for further tweaking. But, as Christian authors, do we dare?

Either way, I’ve since scrapped my idea about a Christian vampire story. Too many Van Helsings with theological stakes to drive. Nevertheless, the question still remains: If vampires are fictional constructs, then why can’t they be good?

Sunday Devotion- Crawl-ins Welcome

Janet Rubin

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I love reading signs and bumper stickers. Being a bit “wordy” myself, I’m often amazed how much can be packed into so few words- humor, cynicism, a powerful message. One of my recent favorites is the fishermens’ twist on the “Got Milk?” slogan. They’ve got a bumper sticker that says, “Gut Fish?” Another all-time favorite of mine is the one that says, “What if the Hoky Poky is what it’s all about?” (Thank God, it isn’t!)

But it was a sign that got me thinking recently. I pass a chiropractor’s office in my daily travels. They just put up a new sign by the road. On it is a picture of a stick figure person on all fours, and instead of “walk-ins welcome,” it reads, “crawl-ins welcome.” Isn’t that great?

I thought it would be a great sign to put up in front of a church. People shouldn’t have to have it all together to come to church. They come to be healed, touched, restored. Walk-ins welcome, Crawl-ins welcome, drag-ins welcome. Even the ones we have to carry in. Amen?

My pastor says church is like a hospital. You don’t come because you are healthy. You come because you are sick and need healing. So we shouldn’t be surprised when the people around us are bleeding and vomiting and crying. We should be glad they are in a place where there is help.

I have a terrible habit of shying away from the throne when I’m messed up, feeling that I need to fix myself before I can be with God. But Jesus wants to meet us right where we are. And without an encounter with Him, there is no healing. Are you hurting today? Get yourself to Jesus. Walk, crawl, or just cry out. You are welcome.

Lord, Thank You for welcoming us, whatever shape we’re in. You are the Healer. May you sprinkle this message into our stories: “All are welcome.” Amen.

Matthew 9:12 ” Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”