Sunday, December 27, 2015

Writing Controversy (Redux)

Writing Controversy

*Redux. First posted on Backing Books Blog, 12-8-2015. 

R. J. Larson
My latest work, Valor, is based in part on the much-debated, controversial text from Judges 11:30-40, concerning Jephthah and his courageous daughter. Their story stirred my imagination from the first time I read it as an eight-year-old. I remember staring at the page in my Children’s Bible, greatly distressed and seriously resenting that particular story’s ending. Why had that girl’s father made such a rotten vow? Why had she agreed to fulfill her father’s vow—couldn’t she have run away? (No, I was never tempted to run away from home when I was a child, just sayin’.) But I wished I could change the ending for her.
Fast-forward decades later.
Last year, while I was writing Queen (inspired by Esther and other scriptures set in a fantasy realm) it occurred to me that the Agocii lands were an almost ideal place to present the story of Jephthah and his daughter. Much as Israel during the time of Judges—when there was no king, but each person did what was right in his own eyes, when pagan beliefs and customs surrounded those who followed the Lord, and when wars and conflicts presented themselves at every turn—the Agocii reflected spiritual and social turmoil similar to Israel’s during the time Judges. It seemed a perfect place to present Jephthah’s story.

I chose the warrior Vsevold from Queen as my fantasy-realm Jephthah, and with Aniya’s name chosen for his daughter by a friend, I turned my attention to researching the verses which had distressed me when I was a child. Almost immediately, I found numerous web sites citing the debate over Jephthah’s story. The original Hebrew of the text is a marvelous multilayered and versatile language, which often conveys multiple meanings. In Jephthah’s case, this meant that his story, and mine, had two potential and equally defensible possible endings. First, as the most basic and straightforward translations suggest, Jephthah could have actually sacrificed his daughter as he vowed. Or, according to the nuances of some of the Hebrew words in those verses, Jephthah might have dedicated her to the Lord—to serve the Lord’s House, some of the debaters insisted, to live the remainder of her life unmarried and a virgin. The dedication theory also sets aside any quandaries concerning Jephthah’s hero-status mentioned in Hebrews 11, placing Jephthah in the company of Gideon, Barak and Samson.

Could Jephthah’s daughter have survived the threat of sacrifice? I certainly hoped so. Whatever happened, I knew above all that the Lord abhorred human sacrifice, and this must play out strongly in Valor. I dug through the debates and accompanying commentaries, and found several mentions from different sources that the “dedication” theory had first been presented in the early middle ages when it was common for women to become nuns, never marrying in order to serve the Lord. While that gave me pause during research, I still found merit in both sides of the debate.

After reading all the debates, looking up the Hebrew root words, and studying the circumstances surrounding the book of Judges, I had to make a decision. My main hesitations were:
1. Deuteronomy 23:3. (An illegitimate man many not enter the assembly of the Lord, nor many his descendants down to the tenth generation.) Jephthah and his daughter were considered ceremonially unclean due to the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his birth, therefore she couldn’t have served in the Lord’s House as some Dedicated theorists argued. (Though she could have been isolated for the remainder of her life, unwed and a virgin.)
2. The apparently late emergence of the dedication theory.
3. Numbers 30:2. (If a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath and obligates himself by his own word, he must not break his word. He must do everything he said.)
Even if that vow displeased the Lord? This made me hesitate.
Certainly the Lord would never approve of human sacrifice. Therefore … and yet ….
Being fallible as so many other leaders from the Scriptures, such as David, Samson, and Abraham, could Jephthah (within the chaotic framework of his times) have fallen prey to a rash and desperate vow in an attempt to bargain with the Lord, when faith in the Lord’s provision for victory would have been enough?
Could Jephthah have committed a terrible sin, yet still be regarded as righteous based solely on the fact that he believed in and followed the Lord?

No matter which way the book might end, it would not be happy.

After weighing both sides of the controversy, I wrote Valor, praying through each chapter. Was it easy? No. Yet I hope you’ll enjoy the story and love the characters as I do.

R. J.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Shameless Plug for Curio promotion

In 2010, while I was writing Prophet, I joined a critique group led by a dear friend, the amazing Donita K. Paul, author of Dragonspell. Donita's daughter, Evangeline Denmark, also joined the group and shared an unpublished manuscript she was working on. Evangeline's skill with words and her vivid imagination instantly drew me into her story, and I knew that soon a wise editor would read Evangeline's work and snatch up her stories for some lucky publisher.

"Soon" in the publishing world takes a while, but at last the time is near! Evangeline's book, Curio, will hit the shelves in January and I'm reading it now. (Yes!) Curio is a steampunk-inspired mixture of whimsy and menace guaranteed to lure YA readers into Evangeline's intricately fashioned fantasy storyline.

To celebrate, Evangeline's publisher, Blink, is offering a set of 3 charms with each pre-published purchase. If you've been eyeing this book, now is the time to buy!

Here are the details:

And don't forget to snatch a free e-copy of Evangeline's Mark of Blood and Alchemy, the prequel to Curio!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Dreaming while writing

While I'm finally writing my beloved 1890's historical (as Kacy Barnett-Gramckow) I'm already dreaming of future projects. Is it too soon to allow my thoughts to stray toward future castles in the clouds? Hopefully not!

This dreamstate is the most creative point in my writing process. All potential "What-if"s are still on the table, and everything, everything is possible. I'm not yet getting the full picture, nor am I seeing my characters in their personal realm. However, I am glimpsing their realm, and right now, it's lovely.

 Yet even in this hazy sunlit dream, I'm studying those shadows ... the dark places within and perhaps beneath the waters of that castle. What secrets might dwell there? I'm eager to explore this new realm and find out, in due time.

Right now, I'm just enjoying this potential story in its unformed dreamstate. Even as I'm telling myself, "Enough! Get back to work. Write."

Blessings, Dear Everyone!


R. J. and Kacy

Image: Shutterstock

Friday, October 23, 2015

Scene Stealers

Characters who steal scenes.

As an author, I love all of my characters--good, bad, horrid, awesome--they're my babies, and I relish the instant when a supporting character steps into his or her role with zeal, bringing the plotline to life. They're the characters who light fires, challenge the protagonists, and fight for their own ideals every step of the way, sometimes unleashing epic struggles.

Did someone mention Scythe? (Also known as "Pet" from Prophet.)
While such characters do add wonderful life to stories, and sometimes provide much-needed comic relief, they present a charming danger to every plotline, even affecting the way that readers might eventually feel about your main character, whom you also love as a parent-author.

They become major scene-stealers, and it's not always a good thing. In Valor, a vibrant supporting character was threatening to completely overshadow the female main character, whose introverted nature made her vulnerable to fading away in the lesser character's glow. By the third chapter, I was consciously "shushing" the lesser character to allow my main female lead to speak for herself, and allow the reader to live in her quiet but no less admirable thoughts. (Dear character kids, you really do have to share the scenes!)

Fortunately, in Valor, my supporting character understood perfectly. As for Scythe/Pet in Prophet ... well, yes, he's another story.

Blessings, Dear Everyone!

Image: Shutterstock.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Valor Cover

 Valor Cover

At last, we have a cover image for Valor, the seventh volume in the Books of the Infinite stories!

Valor was inspired by Judges, chapter 11, specifically, the tragic story of Jephthah and his heroic daughter--verses from the Scriptures, which distressed and absorbed me when I first read them at age eight. 

For readers of the Books of the Infinite, Valor is set in Agocii lands, which is perfect for unfolding this tragic story, so horrifically bound by its own times, traditions, and laws, as well as eternal expectations. 

Yes, you might cry--never say I didn't warn you--but I pray that Valor will leave you with hope!

Blessings, Dear Everyone! You are in my prayers. 

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Quiet Characters

Not long ago, a reader sent me an email--YAY!--listing his favorite characters thus far in the Infinite series.
1. Bryce, the dauntless household steward turned spy in Judge.
2. Tsir Aun, the calm, efficient commander in Prophet.
3. Pet/Scythe, the ever-hungry monster warhorse in Prophet, Judge, and King, who is not, I repeat NOT, based on Maximus from Tangled. (Prophet was on my editor's desk months before Tangled hit the big screens. I bought tickets to Tangled, enjoyed the show, bought the dvd, and told DH, "I'll receive mail asking about Max/Scythe." Sure enough.)

I was intrigued by this list because this reader, Jeff, had chosen two of my favorite supporting characters, Bryce and Tsir Aun. I replied, of course, and asked why these two made the top of his list, and in our ensuing emails, we agreed that Bryce and Tsir Aun were quiet characters. The sort of friends we should all be lucky enough to number among our own. Read more Here.

Ever since this email exchange, I've been pondering Quiet Characters. Why are they important in life and, as a result, in fiction?

I'd like to think of Quiet Characters as the everyday heroes who cross our paths and our Main Characters' paths routinely--calm, efficient, dauntless, honorable and faithful souls who are pleased to remain in the shadows while they work in humble occupations. In short, Quiet Characters provide glue that holds our societies together. This is not to say that Quiet Characters lead boring lives and are content with everyday humdrum. They don't, and they aren't. Didn't Bryce volunteer himself as a spy and infiltrate an enemy army's encampment to aid his own people? Didn't Tsir Aun accept and undertake (honorably and efficiently) a punishing political task after striving mightily to lead his country away from defeat in battle?

Hats off to you, dear Quiet Characters, in life, poems and prose. Life on Earth would be bedlam without you.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Bringing Inspiration from Esther into a Fantasy Realm

Queen, Fantasy Inspired by Esther
Bringing Queen Esther into a fantasy realm, and entwining her story with another heroine, was a challenge I thoroughly enjoyed. While I was writing Prophet, Judge, and King, one of my editors wrote to me about the importance of bringing the mood and intent of the scriptures to life, while making the fantasy realm and its stories unique. How did I bring Esther’s story into Serena’s world?
If it helps, Serena is actually based on two women from the Scriptures. One is Esther, so both storylines are entwined and not the second character-inspiration from Scripture is more overt until the end. (I'm not mentioning the second O.T. woman's name due to spoilers.) 

Queen’s parallels to Esther actually begin in Exiles. Nik (Nikaros) is Serena's relative, who protects and rescues the king while rising to power within the kingdom, and his kinship with Serena strengthens his position, as well as brings him favor with the king. Vashti's disgrace is reflected in Zaria's rebellion and scheming, and Dasarai and Ebatenai are Serena’s final judges (within the harem). When Serena meets Bel-Tygeon in his own kingdom, I've drawn some oblique comparisons in her thoughts and resolutions as she prepares to meet the king. Also, Serena is chosen throughout her journey over and over again based on her looks, and she is chosen against her will, as Esther implied. I made a deliberate decision to show the Infinite working quietly in the background, as the Lord did during the story of Esther, to save His people (in this case, the Eosyths who love and revere Him despite the threats from their enemies). 

As for the king, I had such FUN bringing Ty (Bel-Tygeon) into an ordinary family, and his longing to have a family and children of his own really came to the surface here, when it was only hinted at in Exiles. Which beloved names from the Scriptures are represented in Ty’s character? There are several—one no one has guessed yet!

Blessings, and happy reading!

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Queen and DownFallen News!

News! Elk Lake has released QUEEN! 

 Yes, my baby has been sent out into the world, and I'm delighted.
Celebrating with chocolates and tea--not in that order. ;)

To preserve the book's formatting, Elk Lake is offering Queen in ebook for all Kindle Fire tablets, and all Kindle apps for PCs and portable electronic devices. The paperback is also available, and audio versions are being discussed! I'm hoping for a "standard" version of Queen compatible with
older Kindles like my beloved non-backlit model, but we shall see.

I hope you enjoy Serena's story, inspired by Esther and another epic heroine from the scriptures. No spoilers!

And...we have a cover for DownFallen! At last, my adventuresome antihero has its official "Face"! I'm not sure if the battle-worn protagonist on the cover is the renegade nobleman from Exiles, Corban Thaenfall, or our hunted and haunted royal, Matteo of Darzeq. Either way, I'm pleased with the new look and hope you'll follow Corban, Matteo, and Matteo's valiant cousin Anji into the Realms of the Infinite!

Sample chapters from Queen are available through Amazon and DownFallen, Chapter 1, is now in pdf form HERE.  Gather your weapons, Dear Everyone, and follow Corban, Matteo, and Anji!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Spring 2015 Scavenger Hunt Stop #9

Welcome to the Spring 2015 Scavenger Hunt Stop #9!

You've reached R. J. Larson's blog, just in time to visit with R. J. and Margaret Brownley!

Welcome to the Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt! I am a part of TEAM PINK, and this is Stop #9. If you’re just joining us, there are two loops—pink and purple—and they begin at Lisa Bergren’s site and Robin Hatcher’s site for stop #1 for either stream. If you complete either the pink loop or purple loop, you can enter for a Kindle paperwhite and the 17 autographed books from that loop. If you complete BOTH loops, you can enter for the Grand Prize of a Kindle Fire HDX and ALL 34 autographed books.

 For an overview of the complete hunt, click HERE.

When you complete the pink loop for its top prize, click here for the entry form.

When you complete the purple loop, OR both loops (for the grand prize!) click here.

The Hunt begins at NOON Mountain time on April 16 and ends at midnight Mountain on April 19, 2015, so you have a long weekend to complete all 34 stops and maximize your chances at prizes!


BE SURE to keep track of the clues at the bottom of every post in the loop and the favorite number mentioned. You’ll need those clues to enter for the loop prize and every number mentioned in order to enter for the grand prize.


ALSO, please don’t use Internet Explorer to navigate through the loops. Some web sites won’t show up using IE. Please use Chrome or Firefox—they’re better anyway!


Without further ado, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to my guest for the Scavenger Hunt, the amazing Margaret Brownley, who encouraged me to continue writing after she read my first--UGH, my very first--attempt at a novel. (I do hope Margaret has forgotten it!) Margaret Brownley is a N.Y. Times bestselling author with more than 35 books to her credit.  A former RITA finalist, she has won numerous writing awards and wrote for a TV daytime soap.  Margaret and her husband have three grown children and make their home in Southern California.

Margaret Brownley

More Love and Laughter from Margaret Brownley

Taking a Chance—a Big Chance—on Love

My June release Undercover Bride is a mail order bride story with a twist.  Maggie Michaels is a Pinkerton detective working undercover to nab the Whistle-Stop Bandit.  To do this she is posing as his mail order bride.  If she doesn't find the proof she needs to put him in jail soon, she could end up as his wife!
My heroine has a good reason for doing what she's doing, but what about the thousands of other women who left family and friends to travel west and into the arms of strangers?

Shortage of Men
The original mail order bride business grew out of necessity.  The lack of marriageable women in the west was partly responsible, but so was the Civil War.  The war not only created thousands of widows but a shortage of men, especially in the south.
As a result, marriage brokers and “Heart and Hand” catalogues popped up all around the country. Ads averaged five to fifteen cents and letters were exchanged along with photographs. It took ten days for a letter to travel by Pony Express and often the wax seals would melt in the desert heat, causing letters to be thrown away before reaching their destinations.  

According to an article in the Toledo Blade lonely men even wrote to the Sears catalogue company asking for brides (the latest such letter received was from a lonely Marine during the Vietnam War).

Cultural Attitudes
Marriage was thought to be the only path to female respectability. Anyone not conforming to society's expectations was often subjected to public scorn.  Women who had reached the "age" of spinsterhood with no promising prospects were more likely to take a chance on answering a mail order bride ad than younger women.
Not Always Love at First Sight
For some mail-order couples, it was love (or lust) at first sight. In 1886, one man and his mail order bride were so enamored with each other they scandalized fellow passengers on the Union Pacific Railroad during their honeymoon.

Not every bride was so lucky.  In her book Hearts West, Christ Enss tells the story of mail order bride Eleanor Berry. En route to her wedding her stage was held up at gunpoint by four masked men.  Shortly after saying “I do,” and while signing the marriage license, she suddenly realized that her husband was one of the outlaws who had robbed her. The marriage lasted less than an hour.

No one seems to know how many mail order brides there were during the  1800s, but the most successful matchmaker of all appears to be Fred Harvey who, by the turn of the century, had married off 5000 Harvey girls.

Under what circumstances might you have considered becoming a mail order bride in the Old West?  

Purchase Links:


Enter to win Queen!
Thanks for stopping by on the hunt to visit with Margaret Brownley! Before you go, make sure you WRITE DOWN THESE CLUES:

Secret Word(s): be

Secret Number: 54, a number I chose, because it's my dh's number.

Got ‘em down?? Great! Your next stop is #10, Margaret Brownley's site. Click on over there now. And if you get lost, a complete list of the pink loop with links can be found at Robin Lee Hatcher’s site.

BUT WAIT!!!  Don't forget to leave a comment and your *Coded* email below, and follow this blog for the chance to win an e-copy of QUEEN, inspired by the Book of Esther and other amazing favorites from the Scriptures! 

  Thank you, dear Hunters, we're delighted that you've stopped by! 


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