Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Interview with Young Adult Author Matthew R. Horn

God has laid it on my heart to highlight some up-and-coming authors who write young adult fiction. Recently I featured The Gift of Fate by Valerie King about a young female protagonist. Today I feature a book with a male protagonist in The Good Fight, by Matthew R. Horn. 

I am thankful that more Christian authors are writing for twelve to eighteen year olds--we have an opportunity through Christian fiction to impact secular teenagers in a way that is often impossible with traditional nonfiction Bible stories and the Bible. Christian worldview fiction is powerful when well written. Please enjoy this short interview of Matthew R. Horn about his new book, The Good Fight.

Lorilyn: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Did you write a lot when you were young?

Matthew:  I've always had a very vivid imagination.  When I was young, my three sisters and I or my two neighbor friends would run around playing some game that we had concocted in our minds.  I could always see the ideas playing out in my head.  It probably helped me to be a writer, to never have really matured past the age of four.  

I did not start writing, though, until college. Even then I only tried once or twice before giving up.  I wrote my first full book only two years ago, but when I got the desire it hit me with great force.

    Lorilyn: I was curious if the protagonist in your book The Good Fight represents parts of your life and past?

    Matthew:  The protagonist in The Good Fight is named Jeff.  He is not a specific representation of any part of my past, but he is a representation of how I think I would act in a similar situation.  Our pasts are very different and Jeff by nature must be much stronger in his convictions to have pulled himself up from where his parents left him.  The Lord led us to the same place but through very different paths.

     Lorilyn:  How do you write fiction? Do you outline or create the story as you write? 

     Matthew:  I would love to answer "both," but I do create an outline before I begin.  I keep a book of notes on me most of the time to record inspirations and outline my ideas.  That being said, my outlines are always extremely vague and don't detail specific events.  They are used only as a guide to keep me on track.  I find it very difficult to not visualize my end goal when writing as if my characters know the end as well as I do and are always working toward it.
    Lorilyn:  Is your book aimed at the young adult market or adults? 

    Matthew:  The Good Fight is aimed more at the young adult market than anything.  Jeff is pretty young and the main topics are vigilantes and fighting crime.  My hope is that the symbolism and deeper meanings I try to convey are not lost on a younger market.  My niece read this book as a book report book and I was very impressed at how much she picked up on.  
    Lorilyn:  Is it part of a larger series of books you are writing?  

    Matthew:  I had originally intended it to be a stand-alone book, although I did leave it with an open ending.  When I first signed with Brighton Publishing, they told me I should start working on the sequel right away.  The sequel, Nothing Good is Free, is currently in production at Brighton and is expected out this fall.  

    I also plan to complete a third book in the next year or two.  Jeff is such a great character that I think he has relevance even as he ages beyond his crime fighting days because of his experience and the role God plays in his life.
    Lorilyn:  What has been the most rewarding part of writing The Good Fight?  

    Matthew:  Writing a book is hard enough, but finding a publisher and selling a lot of books is even harder.  The feeling of accomplishment from reaching each of these things is so empowering that it makes you feel like you can do anything.  Sometimes I wish I could see the plan the Lord has for me, but then I realize how boring that would make everything.  I have so many interests and desires and being able to do what I've done with The Good Fight makes me want to try them all. 

    Lorilyn:  How can people connect with you and also purchase your book?  

    Matthew:  The best way to connect with me is through my website  You can see all of the groups I'm involved in, link to my publisher's page, email me, stay current on news, or jump over to Facebook or Twitter.  The Good Fight is available not only from my website, but also at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. 

The following is a small excerpt from the Prologue of The Good Fight. Jeff is a young boy and is startled by three thugs in an alley. 

"Jeff watched as the figure on the roof produced a length of rope from somewhere near his side.  The dark figure somehow secured the rope to the roof and began descending the wall above the three men.  As the figure lowered himself through the shadows and the moonlight, his fluid form changed and Jeff could not tell where he was from where he was not. 
Jeff tried once more to yell out but nothing came out of his mouth.  The apparition on the wall quit moving about ten feet above the men, who had inched away from the wall and walked towards the center of the alley..."  

Saturday, March 17, 2012

On Moral Fiction, By John Gardner, Analysis by Christian Author Lorilyn Roberts

I empathize with John Gardner and his frustration with the mediocrity of modernism, postmodernism and nihilism, and the lack of what he refers to as moral fiction in much of the arts. I have struggled with it also as a reporter/captioner; and art, as he so pedantically stated, imitates life.
Thomas Watson said, “The chief aim of man is to glorify God.” To glorify God is my standard as a writer. If I deviate from that, I need to find another avocation.
I struggle with the fact that for the past thirty years I have made my living providing court reporting and captioning for broadcast television and that very few of those millions of words I have labored to accurately record have glorified God. They will burn up in the last days when God judges mankind and the world.
In the sense of structure, I did my job professionally, but the content did not glorify Him. As a creative writer, I relish the freedom to write what I choose.
As I was reading On Moral Fiction, Ecclesiastes 12:11 came to mind: “Of making books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” I grew tired of trying to understand some of John Gardner’s more salient points which oftentimes made little sense to me. I found a lot of what he said to be the ranting of a frustrated critic tired of analyzing art in a mediocre world that does not care for Good, Beauty, or Truth. While I agree with his attitude toward the meaning of art and the responsibility of the artist, I disagree with some of the conclusions he drew and found them depressing.
Here is an example. I want to quote the following paragraph from page 181:
“Art begins in a wound, an imperfection—a wound inherent in the nature of life itself—and is an attempt either to learn to live with the wound or to heal it. It is the pain of the wound which impels the artist to do his work, and it is the universality of woundedness in the human condition which makes the work of art significant as medicine or distraction.” 
I found this quote to be insightful and uplifting. But he lost me with his conclusion when he then went on to say:
“The wound may take any number of forms: Doubt about one’s parentage, fear that one is a fool or freak, the crippling effect of psychological trauma or the potentially crippling effect of alienation from the society in which one feels at home, whether or not any such society really exists outside the fantasy of the artist.”
From a worldly point of view, I suppose these would be legitimate observations, but from a spiritual point of view, we know that God doesn’t leave us in doubt, full of fear, a psychological cripple, or alienated; and He is more real than any fantasy that an artist could dream up, sane or crazy.
Gardner failed to instill the hope of healing and that things can be better. I believe his idea of Beauty, Good, and Truth, while a good beginning, falls short. I hope to take his idea of “moral fiction” one step further which I will expound on in a moment.
On page fifteen, Gardner gives a definition of moral as being, “‑giving—-moral in its process of creation and moral in what it says.”
According to Miriam‑Webster’s dictionary, moral means “relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior.”
Clearly these two definitions are not the same thing. Perhaps Immanuel Kant’s philosophy is instructive in the use of the word “morality.” Peter Kreeft in “The Pillars of Unbelief—Kant,” The National Catholic Register (January ‑ February 1988), discusses Kant, and summarized Kant’s philosophy that morality is “...not a natural law of objective rights and wrongs that comes from God, but a manmade law by which we decide to bind ourselves.” 
I normally wouldn’t quote someone who espouses a belief contrary to Christianity, but I believe it makes my point. Morality is arbitrary depending on the situation, the culture, and religion.
If one is in Nepal, it is considered immoral to kill a cow because cows are worshipped.  In our culture I consider abortion to be immoral, but according to our laws, it is not immoral to kill a baby inside a mother’s womb.
In the Bible, Jesus turned over the money tables in the synagogue because the religious leaders had turned His house of worship into a den of thieves. What Jesus considered a moral and righteous act the religious leaders of his day considered immoral and sought to arrest him. Therefore the term “moral art” has an ambiguous meaning because it is too subjective.
Gardner attempted to refine “moral art” to more precisely say that it should pursue Good, Beauty, and Truth.  He believed good art would embody these qualities and bad art wouldn’t.
To talk about each of these words individually, Gardner discusses “Good” on pages 133 through 139, but he leaves out any understanding of God. Because man is inherently sinful, or immoral, leaving God out of this discussion came across to me as meaningless commentary.
His definition of good is described as “...a relative absolute that cannot be approached”(page 139). Because it can’t be approached, he states that, “The conclusive answering of a question has not to do with the Good but with the True,” and “...thus relative absolute ‘Truth’ through reason”(page 139).
God is the ultimate source of Good and is not a relative absolute who cannot be approached. He came to earth and dwelt among us and indwells us with His Spirit—a deposit guaranteeing what is to come. It was interesting to me that when Gardner was unable to define Good in an understandable way, he then tied good to “...truth through reason.”
As Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, Pilate asked the question, “What is truth?”  I do not believe it is possible to come to an understanding of “...truth through reason” at the level that Gardner intimated and Pontius Pilate asked.  This type of truth, humanly‑speaking can’t be seen, heard, or written, but through art we can “feel” His presence and capture that longing for something beyond ourselves. If Truth could be arrived at through human reasoning, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day would not have sought to crucify Him.
I have found Truth to be the most elusive of the three—Good, Beauty, and Truth—because sin blocks the ability of each of us to recognize Truth. It takes a very honest person to confront his own sin and be willing to seek Truth at all costs.
Despite the limitations of knowing Truth this side of eternity, I take comfort as a writer that I am pursuing Truth that is embodied in a person and not in a relative absolute. 
The third example he gave of moral art is it should portray Beauty.  I recently watched the movie, American Beauty, and while it won five Oscars, I was struck by how ugly this movie was. Finding beauty in a floating trash bag, a dead bird, and perverted sexual behaviors is not my idea of beauty. Again, Gardner’s use of the word “Beauty” is too subjective and therefore only partially instructive in what moral or good art should be.
I also take issue with his railing against “bad art.”  I don’t know if it’s fair to classify art as good or bad. I believe it’s a matter of how redeemed we are and what our capacity is for recognizing what God would call “good art.”
That brings me to what I believe the purpose of all art should be, and the most important point—it should be redemptive. 
Even though most art today is not redemptive, I don’t believe that means we should get rid of what Gardner would probably consider “bad art.” In the end, God can use anything, good or bad, to teach us more about who He is. However, we have the choice, because we have the freedom, to choose what art we like and don’t like. If someone chooses to like bad art, they should have the ability to enjoy it for what it is.
Once we start putting labels on what art is, however, we become critics (like Gardner). Once we judge art as bad, we might believe it gives us the power not to allow it or to do away with it. Once we believe we can rid the world of bad art, then who is to say that someone, given the right circumstances, would not attain the power and do away with good art? Freedom is necessary for the expression of all art, good and bad, to use Gardner’s words, and I for one do not want to do away with pluralism even though I cringe at much of the art today because it is offensive.
It struck me as interesting that the authors whom John Gardner attacked in On Moral Fiction mostly have been forgotten.  Bad art, if it’s bad, won’t last anyway, and so I don’t see a need to categorize it. Pluralism is safer because then the Hitlers of the world and mockers can’t take away our freedom for what is near and dear to us as Christian writers.
Continuing with the idea of Redemption, let me give an example of the power of Redemptive art—the quality that goes beyond Beauty, Good, and Truth.
In 1999, I was in Hanoi over Christmas. Displayed in the front window of one of the restaurants I frequented was a large Nativity. Vietnam is a communist country and there are many Christians who have been killed and imprisoned in Vietnam for their faith. But the Nativity scene was displayed prominently in the window as art—redemptive, full of Good, Beauty, and Truth. I may have been the only one who recognized it for what it was, but it spoke volumes to me about the freedom of art and how it can accomplish so much more than what we can didactically or academically.
Art gives us the ability to speak the Truth in a way that can reach the masses. It reassured me away from home that God was with me. Who knows what it spoke to others—but that is the catharsis of art. The individual expression in the heart of the person works out Redemption in a way that goes beyond reasoning. God is at work bringing glory to Himself, and as I said in the beginning, the chief aim of man is to glorify God.
The other piece of art I want to share comes from the same trip to Hanoi in December, 1999. It was Christmas Eve and there was a lovely Christmas celebration in downtown Hanoi. Uplifting holiday music wafted from the loud speakers over the noisy crowd. The music spoke a message of “tidings of great joy.” My soul felt enraptured with joy, a balm for my homesick heart. I found myself enveloped in oneness with those around me who were there for a different purpose.
But it was the art of music that sung Truth wrapped in Beauty and Goodness, embodied in the person of Jesus Christ who brought Redemption.  For me, that is the purpose of art.
I do take comfort in the fact that God promises in Isaiah 55:11, “ [my word] will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Perhaps someone in Vietnam heard the music or saw the Nativity and asked the question, “What is Truth? What is Beauty? What is Good?” We will never know, but I don’t think it matters. We’re just the bearer of what Gardner would call “moral art.” We pursue the purpose for which God made us, whether we are the planters or the reapers. In the end, God’s will is done and we, through Redemption, can have a small part in it. 
I always like to end on a positive note, and so I will do so here. There are many great writers, in my opinion, where Beauty, Truth and Good have been used to achieve the ultimate purpose of art—redemption. The likes of C.S. Lewis, George McDonald, Madeleine L’Engle, and J.R.R. Tolkien have withstood the “isms” of the world and embodied hope in their writings that have impacted my life. 
My favorite quote from “On Moral Fiction” appeared on page 204: “So long as the artist is a master of technique so that no stroke is wasted, no idea or emotion blurred, it is the extravagance of the artist’s purposeful self‑abandonment to his dream that will determine the dream’s power.”
As a creative writer of memoir, that would be my dream—that what I write will not burn up in the last days but will survive into eternity. Maybe, just maybe, one person will be drawn to the Creator because of the creativity God has given me. If that be true, I will have accomplished my goal as a writer—to glorify God.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Book Review by Lorilyn Roberts, Mysterious and Hauntingly Beautiful

The Gift of Fate
by Valerie King

“What if you had the ability to know your fate?” That question lingered in my mind as I read The Gift of Fate. It challenged me to think, if I did, how would I live my life differently?  By the end of the book, my whole being had embraced the question in this hauntingly beautiful story which seemed more real than imagined.

If you like a story that asks profound questions, you won’t be disappointed.  The Gift of Fate is mysterious and thought-provoking. Teenagers face life and death choices and the story threads passion and love into a surprise ending. Well-written from the first person point of view, you won’t be able to put this book down. I read it in two sittings.

Want a fantasy book that doesn’t cross the line of Christian values?  Make sure you read The Gift of Fate. A book that makes me ponder deep questions long after I have finished reading it is a book that I must recommend and share with others.


Valerie has always possessed a vivid imagination and a mind full of stories waiting to be told. As life moves forward, her pen has finally hit paper and incandescent sagas are being written. Her passion has transformed itself into the Fatum book series, along with a number of short stories. May you find a fable of deceit or perhaps a love story to fill your heart. Welcome to her journey…
Valerie lives with her husband and their three children in Dallas, TX.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Review of Children of Dreams by a Christian Pastor, Bob Saffrin

Today I received this email from a reader of my book Children of Dreams. I was moved because it was written by a Christian pastor, Bob Saffrin who just recently returned from India. So many children, no many needs. What we could do if more Christian families would choose adoption, or even sponsor a child through World Vision.

I read your book “Children of Dreams” on the 20+ hour plane ride to India. I thought it would be a book that appealed more to women but I wanted to read it because I am trying to read stuff that will help me be a better author. I was surprised. I think it is the best book I have read in as long as I can remember! I was so touched by your struggles to have a family and how well you related it all to God’s own efforts to have a family. Mercy is not my giftedness but I have been on many trips with “moms” who cry over little naked village children with no hope and no future. They cry as we get into our rented SUV and drive off, leaving them behind. 

This year I met a 12 year old boy who worked in a brick yard making bricks by hand by filling a wooden mold with mud. He had no family, his mother just dropped him off there when he was 5 because she couldn’t feed him. I asked him how much money he made. He said he had to make 1000 bricks a day. It took him 12 hours, 7 days a week and he made 5 rupees a day (10c) and also they gave him rice. This boy was a virtual slave and I stood there and there was nothing I could do. I made friends with him, had him teach me how to make bricks, and introduced him to Jesus but in the end I got in the car and drove away. I was touched as I read your book to hear of two little girls who God rescued from the darkness and the hopelessness. I wish every woman that is considering an abortion could read your book.  I’m so glad that in your book you recognized that they truly are children of dreams but they aren’t your dreams, they are God’s. You just got to go along for the ride. Little by little I’m learning to let go of my dreams and connect with God’s dreams for my life.
Some of the cultural issues you dealt with in Nepal reminded me of India. In India unless you are in a major city there is no such thing as TP. If you ask they don’t even know what you are talking about. When I meet with new team members for India I usually tell them they can bring their own or I will have it for sale for $1.00 a sheet. It seems that God has given you and I a similar call to adventure. By the way, I looked at your Facebook photos because I wanted to see Manisha and Joy and I discovered that you and I share the same birthday – Oct 17th. J

Monday, March 5, 2012