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Thursday, December 21, 2006


Taking a Break Here

I'm taking a break from HillCountryWriter. I may come back, I don't know. In the meantime, I'm spending some time launching a new blog in WordPress over at GoodWordEditing.com. If you get a chance, drop a comment over there. I'll be posting several times each week.

I'll also continue to upload chapters to my Entire Book in a Blog. I'll also continue to use blogger for short-term, self-contained blog projects like that.

And everyone remember, the same Mark Goodyear that posts here is posting there. For all the title changing and whatnot, I'm still me. I just need to explore whether WordPress can work the way I hope it will. Here's hoping.

Part of that hope will be to see what happens when I grab my archives here and take them there. It sounds like a kind of blogger armageddon, but I want to give it a try. If the world of HillCountryWriter ends suddenly, you'll know that my little archive grabbing experiment failed.

So anyway.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 16, 2006


I Need Your Advice

A friend of mine built me this beautiful blog over in Word Press. I like the Word Press platform a lot better, but I could never have learned it without my blogger training wheels.

Originally, my thought was to run HillCountryWriter here and a separate blog there, GoodWordEditing. Similar to what Camy does with Camy's Loft and Story Sensei. But now I worry that I will not be able to keep both blogs running.

So I'm thinking of bringing HillCountryWriter to a close. I'll still be writing over at the other site as myself, plain ol' Mark Goodyear. I still post the same kinds of content, but the new platform will give me many more options for design and content uploading.

So here's the question. What do you all think I should do? Is it a travesty to close HillCountryWriter? Do you think the other site looks good?

Also, does anyone know what would happen to inbound links if I moved HillCountryWriter archives over to WordPress?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Does Your Work Help Others or Harm Them?

Andre Yee raises some interesting issues about work as a calling over on his blog. (I'm a bit slow in responding, but better late than never.)

In the comments, he recasts Spurgeon's statement about "trades which are injurious to men's minds" in 21st century language: "whether it does good or harm to our fellow man."

Now, I don't think marketers, actors, or grocery managers who sell alcohol are immoral. I've just heard people call them immoral professions. I've also heard people throw such stones at public school teachers (really!), nuclear power, and businesses that they deem "too financially successful."

I like Andre's idea that our work must not do harm to others, but I wonder how much we are held responsible for the decisions of others to harm themselves with our work.

For example, Andre suggests that working as a bartender may be immoral. I can imagine seedy bars where that would definitely be the case. But what if I were a bartender at Chili's or some similar restaraunt? Does my specialization within the restaraunt make my work there inherently immoral?

Can someone mix margarita's for God? Can they brew beer for God? Can they ferment wine for God?

And more importantly, if they can't, then am I depending upon someone's immorality before I can order up a margarita?

These questions are rhetorical really. I think people can mix drinks for God. It's strange to say. And it's a job that would certainly require a high level of integrity, but it is conceivable to me.

(I should add a reminder here that my views on this blog are not the opinion of my employer or the websites that I edit. Whew. Had to get that off my chest.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Darkness and Truth - CSFF Blog Tour Day 2

First, if you haven't read the first chapter of Trackers, Stuart Stockton posted it over on Speculative Faith. (Ok, that's a lot of links for one sentence, go here to read the first chapter. And as long as we're sharing first chapters, consider reading the first two chapters of my fantasy novel. And I fully admit that link is shameless. ; )

Here's my favorite paragraph from the first chapter of Trackers:
"Twenty paces high and a hundred deep, the Wall of Traxx ringed the stronghold with a vast stretch of flowers and thorns. The flowers bloomed on the outside—tiny but profuse blooms of roses, lilies, sunflowers, daffodils, and flowers even an experienced tracker like Timothy couldn’t name, all infused with intoxicating fragrance. But beyond the blooms lay a maze of thorns the size of a strong-arm’s lance and briar thickets that a mogged rhinoceros couldn’t pass through. Many men—indeed, full armies—had been fooled by the wall’s enticing exterior, only to be impaled by the thorns and die tangled in the briars."
Yesterday, Becky LuElla Miller commented on the darkness of the imagery in Trackers. A lot of the Christian market shies away from dark imagery. Even Anne Rice, the Queen of Dark Fantasy, felt she had to distance herself from such images once she returned to the faith.

Consider this New York Times quote from "A Once-Feared Kingmaker Called to a Different Battle": "After announcing in 2003 that she would no longer 'approach the altar of God in convolution' by writing books about vampires, Ms. Rice in 2005 published Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, the first of several planned novels about Jesus."

It seems to me that Christian fantasy always approaches the altar of God in convolution. Or is this simply a matter of degrees?

I love literal novels about Jesus, and I love writing poetry about Jesus. Don't get me wrong. But what I love about this genre. Speculative fiction gets underneath people's defenses. Public school teachers read Narnia to their students. Tolkein's faith comes to life through the redemption of Frodo and the shire.

That's the power of speculative fiction.

I read an essay by William Edgar in It Was Good (Square Halo Press) about how Christian artists wrestle with the issue of evil.

Edgar wrote, "C.S. Lewis once said that the Christian writer should have blood in his veins, not ink. What he meant was that if an artist sets out to make a Christian statement in an art object, the chances are it will not be art, but a contrived pronouncement. Rather, the believer, like anyone else, should first be passionate about his chosen medium, work in it, and let any ‘message’ emerge almost as a by-product. . . . Living in the real world, being human, knowing about life and people, believing in truth, and wrestling honestly with the troubles and sufferings that inevitably come along, these are the best ways to prepare to create.

I agree with William Edgar. Too often Christian artists "don’t quite dare walk between the flames trusting that God can guide us and deliver us. We refuse to admit of tension and ambiguity. Because of that we can’t honestly ask with the Psalmist, ‘Why, O Lord?Our artistic production is not surprisingly one-dimensional. Being real in art is only possible when we can be real with God. The slaves in the antebellum South were… They are among the many in ‘misery’ to whom the light has been given. And so they have asked, ‘Why?’ When we have recovered their candor we may be able to say it in our artworks.”

The world is a dark place. Speculative Fiction allows us to discuss that darkness in ways that won't dangle temptations before the reader.

Here's a good example. My wife is terrified by realistic violence in movies. But she adores Lord of the Rings. "Oh, that's fantasy," she says. Somehow, the genre trick of setting the morality tale in another world contains its literal dangers without diminishing its moral power.

That's the power of speculative fiction.

Yesterday I confessed that this market for Christian speculative fiction seems to be wide open. Who can doubt the market for Christian fantasy? Becky emailed me with this comment (because blogger comments were acting buggy),
"It seems evident to me that there is a demand for these books, but publishers who haven't picked up CSFF before are watching the few who have and telling us at writers' conferences that the books don't sell.

"My response is, fans of the genre don't know it's out there and aren't going to Christian stores to look for it, so our first job is to educate the public.

"Once readers find an author like Mackel, I think it will be like the bursting of a dam. But first ... there's this "get the word out" stage."
Finally, I should let the author of Trackers speak for herself on this very issue! Beth Goddard posted an interview, in which Kathryn Mackel says,
"What I love most off all is using the vehicle of fiction to portray the daily provision and deliverance by which a Spirit-led life is blessed. Niki huddling under a piece of shroud to escape the fire of wrath is an exciting scene but more importantly for me, it’s a picture of the covering that Jesus Christ gives me. Fantasy gives the writer so many opportunities to portray spiritual truths—and joys."

"Imaginative literature gives us the tools to show truth in so many compelling ways. People perceive truth in different ways. Jesus knew this, which is why he taught some in parables and others in harsh tones. The apostle Paul geared his teaching for different cultural groups. Certainly Tolkien, Lewis, and Charles Williams used fantasy (and a little science fiction, in Lewis’ case) to great effect."
What do you think? Is there a market for Christian fantasy? Does the Christian market have room for the dark truths of the world?

(And keep your fingers crossed that blogger comments start working.)

Here's that list of participants again: Jim Black, Jackie Castle, Valerie Comer, Frank Creed, Gene Curtis, Chris Deanne, Janey DeMeo, April Erwin, Beth Goddard, Mark Goodyear (Yours Truly), Todd Michael Greene, Karen Hancock, Elliot Hanowski, Katie Hart, Sherrie Hibbs, Sharon Hinck, Joleen Howell, Jason Joyner, Karen, Oliver King, Tina Kulesa, Lost Genre Guild, Kevin Lucia, The Bookshelf Reviews 2.0 - The Compendium, Terri Main, Rachel Marks, Shannon McNear, Rebecca LuElla Miller, Caleb Newell, Eve Nielsen, John Otte, Cheryl Russel, Hannah Sandvig, Mirtika Schultz , James Somers, Stuart Stockton, Steve Trower, Speculative Faith, Chris Walley, Daniel I. Weaver


Comment Problems

I was so excited to switch to the new blogger. And now people are emailing me saying they can't comment.

This isn't a shameless attempt to get comments, but I need some comments on this post to check some things.

And of course, I love you all!

Monday, December 11, 2006


Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour!

Recently, I joined the CSFF blog tour. It's a group of folks dedicated to helping the publishing world see the validity of this genre. I'm still puzzled though. Why do we need to convince publishers that there is a market for books like Lord of the Rings and Narnia and Wrinkle in Time?Trackers

Speculative Fiction was part of Christian fiction long before Christian Publishers organized themselves in the mid 1980s.

Still here we are. Over the next few days, I'll be posting more about this specific blog tour and the Kathryn Mackel's book, Trackers.

As much for myself as anyone, here is the complete list of people participating in this blog tour.

Jim Black
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
Frank Creed
Gene Curtis
Chris Deanne
Janey DeMeo
April Erwin
Beth Goddard
Mark Goodyear (Yours Truly)
Todd Michael Greene
Karen Hancock
Elliot Hanowski
Katie Hart
Sherrie Hibbs
Sharon Hinck
Joleen Howell
Jason Joyner
Oliver King
Tina Kulesa
Lost Genre Guild
Kevin Lucia
The Bookshelf Reviews 2.0 - The Compendium
Terri Main
Rachel Marks
Shannon McNear
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Caleb Newell
Eve Nielsen
John Otte
Cheryl Russel
Hannah Sandvig
Mirtika Schultz
James Somers
Stuart Stockton
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Chris Walley
Daniel I. Weaver


Modern Day Noah

For better or worse, it's The Office meets Noah's Ark. A 21st century sit com interpretation of holy writ. Of course, I still haven't seen Bruce Almighty.

To the point. For now let's assume good faith about the movie, which is to say I figure it contains no obscene heresy or ridiculous denials of God's basic goodness or justice or what have you.

Are movies like this helpful to the gospel or harmful?

Friday, December 08, 2006


Darn It, Men Can Be Thankful Too

"A damn'd mob of blogging women." That's a paraphrase of Nathaniel Hawthorne's feelings about women.

I don't feel that way.

But, man, these ladies are blogging fiends. I'm talking about productivity here. How do they do it? Tip of the hat to Camy Tang for leading me to the One Thousand Gifts.

(The only guy I know who even comes close is Scot McKnight. I'm convinced Scot is actually a team of preachers spread across denominations. Scot must be a conspiracy. It's the only explanation for his prolific abilities.)

Have you seen this?

It's sponsored by Christian Women Online. Their expressed purpose is to unite women of faith. That's a good purpose, but I'm not a woman.

Still, I couldn't find any rule that said their One Thousand Gifts project was specifically to unite the women of faith. It seemed to be more inclusive than "Finding the Me in Mommy" or "Scriptural Fruit Cake," for example.

So, I'm going to list One Thousand Gifts, too. Try and stop me.
1. My wife, Amy, who keeps me in line.
2. My daughter, Carroll Jane, who we call CJ and who reminds me to slow down.
3. My son, Lyle, who reminds me to run (the pre-school teachers at our church call him "4 by 4").
4. My dad, the FedEx pilot, who taught me to dream.
5. My mom, who taught me to love.
6. The resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Wow, am I a bad Christian for not thinking of this until #6?)
7. My friend, Dan. (Who apparently ranks just under Jesus.)
8. In fact, the entire communications department starting with Keith (you're the best, man)
9. And Vicki (she is a Llama farmer!). I can't say how much you all mean to me in #7-9.
10. Oh heck, I can't leave out the development people. Like Perri. She taught me about dispensationalism.
11. And Connie, who gives me chocolate kisses and a poinsetta!
12. And Sherry, who just retired to be with her grandkids full time, but I miss her.
13. Let's see. More people. My sister, Renee, OF COURSE. She lives in San Antonio. And I love her to death. She can't tell a lie.
14. My brother-in-law, Greg, her husband. We had a good time at Laity Lodge. We need to kill each other on the XBox again soon.
15. My other brother-in-law, Rob. Amy's brother. You keep me honest, man. And we can watch slasher flicks together. Cool.
16. And OF COURSE, my blood brother, Nathan. I love you, bro. Enough said.
17. His wife, Tammy, who is still trying to help me understand the perspective of a Southern Belle. I'm trying (and I love you too.)
18. Their wonderful four kids. My daughter can't wait to spend Christmas with you all.
19. My sister's wonderful kid(s). The one that's out and playing with Lyle . . . and the one that's still cooking.
20. The sudden feeling of being overwhelmed by the tremendous blessings of my friends and family and the knowledge that none of them will think I'm ranking people here. This is a stream-of-conscious list.

More later. (If I'm crashing a party by doing this, I'll stop. I just think the idea is too good to limit to one gender, even if they are the fairer sex.)


Open Letter to a Kid Discouraged with the Cello

Dear Barkat Kid,

First, I think you should seriously consider becoming an outlaw. "The Barkat Kid" is a moniker that is just too cool to pass up.

So, here's the deal. I heard you are discouraged with the cello.

Your mom says you are good at the piano. Yea! I wish I could play it well.

Knowing that you are good at the piano, I'm going to make a little leap here. But I also suspect that your talent with the ivories is partly to blame for your frustration with the cello. You know what good music should sound like. And you know that the squeaks and sqawks coming from your cello are something else entirely.

The cello is so hard. Hard even to play in tune. And you probably feel like you are years away from sounding the way you know good music should sound.

But your mom has these free lessons. Maybe you can agree to a trial period? Maybe you can set some specific goals you need to achieve during that time measure your progress? To feel better about the instrument? Maybe lessons for a year allows enough time to test it?

You know. I'll bet your mother secretly wishes she could play the cello. Maybe you feel like she is forcing her ambition on to you. That's a divisive way of putting it, but it raises another question. What if your mom took cello lessons with you? She'll probably kill me for suggesting this. [UPDATE: in the comments, L. L. Barkat reveals that her husband has the cello ambitions. Hey, man, I can't blame you. I have similar guitar ambitions. But no guitar discipline.]

Also, the cello can feel like a very serious instrument. Try to remember what it means to play an instrument. Don't work the cello. Play it. Enjoy it--even when it feels like the cello is always winning. Eventually, you'll get it. Someday, you'll play that game and win. Checkmate. If you can learn to love it, you'll master it slowly, but surely.

Finally, see if you can find some cello mentors. Not your teacher, of course. He or she is hopelessly prejudiced toward the cello. Older high school students who play well, might work.

Finally (that's a second finally), you may be interested in the music by our youth minister and his wife. Lady Jane Grey. They play Texas Folk with guitar and--you guessed it--cello. And if you get a chance, you should definitely read Midnight Hour Encores by Bruce Brooks. It's about a young cello player.


(just another adult who wants you to keep playing cello because he wishes he could play cello)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Read Christian Fantasy Online - Light on Trite

Reader beware: I've been a little obsessed with a larger book project lately, so the post you are about to read is shameless navel gazing and self-promotion. Enjoy the lint!

"Light on trite." That's a summary of L. L. Barkat's comment on chapters one through four of Into the Mountain, my Entire Book in a Blog.

And isn't our tendency toward trite cliché the big challenge in Christian fiction? How do we write moral tales, avoid immoral descriptions and immoral characters, and still present a truth that is real enough to be honest?

Too much Christian fiction ends up being trite.

We want to avoid pain in our books. It's only natural. The world has enough pain. So why would we create more pain for people to read about?

The reason is simple. If our characters don't work through real pain and suffering, then their redemption will be cheap. And cheap grace only leads to self-righteousness and apathy.

Thanks also to Patrick Borders at Emdashery for inviting his readers to check out EntireBookInaBlog.

Be sure to subscribe to guarantee your chance to read the entire book. (If NavPress asks for the full manuscript, I will stop posting new chapters. UPDATE: NavPress asked to see the second half of the first half of the novel on Tuesday!--um, that would be the second quarter of the novel, I guess.)

If you haven't read much, I'd invite you to start at chapter 1, The Dreams Begin.

Here's a teaser for chapter 6...

“I went to the Iska this morning,” I said. “She took one of my mountain blankets and told me the creation story again.”

“The Iska took a mountain blanket?” Jena looked confused. Looking at my display, she must have realized the reason for my strange folds. My blankets were folded to hide their designs. “How long, Beka?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Are you dreaming?”

“Everyone dreams. Sometimes I dream the traders will steal me away. Sometimes I dream my parents will work again. Sometimes I dream Adam will decide to marry us both. Then at least I would have a friend in my own family.”

Jena rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean, Beka. Are you dreaming about mountains.”

“I would be his second wife, of course. That would make you third.” I laughed, “Pour me some gepa, Third Wife!” but Jena ignored me.

“Do you think you will leave the village?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I whispered.

Monday, December 04, 2006


Camy Tang on Dialogue and Action Beats

Story Sensei has pointed out something so true--and yet so obvious in her recent series on dialogue. Some writer's tend to qualify their dialogue with too many action beats. (Be sure to read her short post about action beats.)

Camy then discusses both appropriate and inappropriate uses of action beats. Sometimes the dialogue needs a pause. Sometimes the characters stop speaking for a moment, and the writer must insert some description to create that moment for the reader.

But usually dialogue makes the story move quickly--in part because of the short paragraphs, I think.

When we add too many action beats, I think it actually slows the reader down even more than normal description--because now the reader has to switch mental gears from dialogue to description and back again.

I only know one way to learn the art of dialogue. Read plays! And the best way to find the best plays is to look at the Tonys. Search by winner of best Play in the drop down list and you'll find 70 to choose from. Now get some used copies! Often these will come with several plays in one book, like The Beauty Queen of Leenane. (If you are feeling stout of heart, check out other works by Martin Mcdonagh--especially The Pillow Man.)

Friday, December 01, 2006


Flesh Eater - a new poem

Crackers snap against brass plates and scatter
crumbs across paper doilies while we meditate.
Dan, my preacher uncle, believes in water
like his Dunker grandpa, demanding holy baths
to seek God’s face and favor. Catholic Dan,
my friend, once explained transubstantiation.
I wish I could believe this
communion mush mixed with my spit transforms
to flesh in my throat. God's power could turn
symbol into fact, surely, but his Word
spreads fire hotter than literal truth.
Burning symbols leave bushes whole,
green and fragrant with Spring. Why
do I want the bush to burn? Why
do I want God’s power to leave ash
in the land and a scar on my heart?

Some verses I was thinking about when I wrote the poem.

John 6:53
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."
John 3:5
Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit."
John 16:13
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
John 18:37-8
"You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." "What is truth?" Pilate asked.

A note on this poem for Dan Goodyear and Dan Roloff. I love you guys, and I hope it is okay that I used you as symbols in my poem. I'm not trying to critique your specific beliefs here. I'm just thinking about my own. One thing I know for sure, God's grace is big enough for all who call on the name of Jesus as their savior. And I like that you are both named after the eldest son of Israel. It seemed important somehow.


Shhhh, Let's Go Blog Tipping

Apparently, it takes the force of 4.43 people to tip a 1 ½ ton cow. And cows are also incredibly light sleepers. Only an urbanite could believe such a ridiculous idea. Here in hill country slow towns, we know better.

Blog-tipping is no urban myth. This week I'm going with the tip of the hat metaphor rather than the food service metaphor. So no advice to sub for the 20% markup on my meal. Just a nod and a smile.

Also, I'm too tired for more than two.

Patrick Borders at the Emdashery

Darren Rouse at ProBlogger

More blog tipping:
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3


Scot McKnight on Forgiveness

Scot McKnight has a wonderful post this Friday about forgiveness. I don't post things like this very often, but I felt the need to respond to Scot and my thoughts would have hi-jacked his comment section. I'm trying to link to posts more often rather than ramble in long comments or introduce new links. (Thanks to my friends like L. L. Barkat and Andre Yee for tolerating this in the past.)

I barely know how to forgive because I've had so few opportunities to do so. My life has been almost completely free from hardship.

My mother on the other hand, God bless her, escaped an incredibly abusive family. She says she doesn't remember many details, but we know it was bad because she ran away from home when she was only ten. (She thought she was twelve. Unbelievable.)

Every so often we ask if she would like us to look up her blood relatives. Find out what happened to her parents and her four siblings. She just wants to forget them. And in many ways, she seems to have succeeded.

So here's the trouble. Our family tree has no branches on her side. I know a few names, but they are like characters in a book. I find myself needing to forgive people I never knew. People I don't want to know. And I need to forgive them for disappearing so completely.

My grandmother never baked me cookies.
My grandfather never read me stories.
They aren't ghosts.
They aren't bad memories.
They just don't exist at all.

How do you forgive that?

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