Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Ebook Revolution

Last month announced its fourth-quarter 2010 financial report, and for writers, myself included, who have decided to take the indie ebook plunge rather than go the traditional publishing route, it contains some exciting news.

First, Amazon is now selling more Kindle books than paperbacks. In 2010, for every 100 paperbacks Amazon sold, it sold 115 Kindle books. This statistic doesn’t include free Kindle books, so the figure is actually higher.

Authors, especially indie authors, will frequently offer their ebooks for free, or at a greatly reduced price, for a limited period of time. Check Amazon’s Kindle store and its Limited-Time Offers page for the latest, and if you’re on Facebook and Twitter, watch for authors' announcements of free ebooks and ebook specials. You can also find free out-of-copyright books at the Kindle store, including classics like Pride and Prejudice and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Second, Amazon sold “millions” of third-generation Kindles in the fourth quarter of 2010. That makes it the biggest selling product in Amazon’s history, even bigger than the previous record-holder, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’ve got a first-generation Kindle, and I’m dying to get my hands on a Kindle 3.

Third, the U.S. Kindle store has more than 810,000 books, and that number is growing every day.

And fourth, Amazon has launched even more free Kindle apps, allowing ebooks to be read on devices other than the Kindle (including Android phones, iPhones, BlackBerries, and your PC or Mac).

Just a couple years ago the experts were saying that most people would never exchange an in-the-flesh book for an electronic one, but the Kindle (as well as the Nook and other e-readers) is proving them wrong. Publishing is undergoing a sea change. It’s an exciting time to be a writer.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands

I was doing more research on wicca and paganism last week and I found this post on a pagan forum:

We have this ornamental cherry tree in the front of our house, and I like to go beneath her branches. . . . I sit under her branches and it feels like she is trying to embrace and protect me. I sing to her sometimes. . . . I lean against her trunk and just feel the energy and vibrations.

Most of the posters on forums like this are in their teens and twenties. They’re interested in spells, spirit guides, animal totems, magic, divination, amulets, and talismans. They want to channel energy, shield energy, scry, cast runes, and perform telekinesis. In fact, for young people, after the need to connect with others, the strongest draw to wicca and paganism is the need to experience and connect with the supernatural.

But what strikes me about the practices they discuss—aside from the fact that they are counterfeits of reality—is that they sanitize the supernatural. They present it in a safe and palatable way. (Hard-core dangerous practices such as astral projection are another matter. While all of the above practices are dangerous, especially in the hands of naive teenagers, some are quicker pathways to trouble than others.)

Wiccan spells are often rhymes invoking mythic figures such as the “Lord and Lady,” pagan amulets are beautiful jewelry fashioned with silver and gemstones, and pagan animal totems are kind wolves and wise bears. Wiccan rituals make use of oils, incense, and candles, and modern-day pagans follow pretty ethnic “paths”: druidry, shamanism, Celtic reconstructionism, Hellenic polytheism. If a path’s accouterments—music, deities, clothing, jewelry—aren’t aesthetically appealing, it has no followers.

When I read these forums, I always get the impression that wiccans and pagans want to keep the supernatural at arm’s length. They don’t want to embrace it, they want to catch a fleeting glimpse of it from a comfortable armchair. They seem more willing to consider the existence of fairies than the existence of God—and all that belief in God would require of them. I sometimes wonder what they would do if they encountered the mind-bending, bone-rattling supernatural reality of God.

The Bible is full of stories of everyday human beings coming face to face with the supernatural. Usually they react with great fear; sometimes they even collapse. One of my favorite such stories, about Elisha and his servant, is told in 2 Kings 6:8-17.

The king of Syria sent an army to capture Elisha at Dothan. The army moved at night, so when Elisha’s servant woke in the morning, he discovered that Dothan had been surrounded. It looked hopeless, and the servant was terrified. Elisha told his servant not to be afraid, that “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” But the servant saw only the Syrian army—no help from God. Elisha asked God to open his servant’s eyes so that he could see the unseen reality around him, and God answered Elisha’s prayer. His eyes opened, the servant, to his amazement, “looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

That beats your hawk totem talking to you in your dreams.

The Bible contains many more encounters with the supernatural, of course, including a bush burning but not burning up (Ex. 3:3), water pouring out of a rock (Ex. 17:6; Num. 20:11), birds bringing food to a man (1 Kings 17:6), bread and fish multiplying when passed through Jesus’ hands (Matt. 14:17-21), a resurrection (Matt. 28:8), and—for the young pagan poster who loves his cherry tree—trees clapping hands (Isa. 55:12).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Hillerman Thesaurusectomy

Stephen King once said that “any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word.” I agree. You should never search a thesaurus for a specific word to replace another specific word in your work-in-progress, though I think a thesaurus is useful at other times for unsticking you and opening your mind to words and phrases you may not have considered.

But what King said got me thinking. What if you took a passage from a classic mystery novel and tweaked it using a thesaurus? So just for fun I took this paragraph from Tony Hillerman’s Dance Hall of the Dead. This is how it reads as Hillerman wrote it:

The moon now hung halfway up the sky, the yellow of its rising gone and its face turned to scarred white ice. It was a winter moon. Under it, Leaphorn was cold. He sat in the shadow of the rimrock watching the commune which called itself Jason’s Fleece. The cold seeped through Leaphorn’s uniform jacket, through his shirt and undershirt, and touched the skin along his ribs. It touched his calves above his boottops, and his thighs where the cloth of his trouser legs stretched taut against the muscles, and the backs of his hands, which gripped the metal of his binoculars.
This is what that same paragraph looks like with a moderate thesaurus tweak:

The orb of night now dangled halfway up the sky, the yellow of its ascension defunct and its face converted to scarred white ice. It was a wintertime orb of night. Under it, Leaphorn was cool as custard. He hunkered down in the shadow of the rimrock checking out the commune which called itself Jason’s Fleece. The cold percolated through Leaphorn’s uniform jacket, through his chemise and undergarment, and frisked the skin along his ribs. It manipulated his calves above his boottops, and his thighs where the fabric of his trouser limbs stretched taut counter to the muscles, and the flip sides of his hands, which clasped the metal of his field glasses.
But I couldn’t leave it there. I had to try a complete thesaurusectomy:

The orb of night presently dangled smack in the middle of the sky, the amber of its ascension defunct and its visage converted to traumatized alabaster permafrost. It was a wintertime orb of night. On the nether side of it, Leaphorn was cool as custard. He hunkered down in the obscurity of the rimrock checking out the municipality which designated itself Jason’s Fleece. The frigidity percolated through Leaphorn’s uniform threads, through his chemise and undergarment, and frisked the dermis along his upper trunk. It manipulated his calves above his footwear zeniths, and his thighs where the fabric of his dungaree limbs expanded snug counter to the muscles, and the flip sides of his mitts, which clasped the chemical element of his field glasses.
One thing I noticed, aside from how ridiculous the two thesaurus-ated passages read, is that Hillerman’s paragraph kept getting longer the more I tinkered with it. Hillerman knew what he wanted to say, and he said it succinctly, using just the right words. Even the short sentence “Under it, Leaphorn was cold” loses its punch if you change it, very simply, to “Under it, Leaphorn was chilly.” You can’t change one word of Hillerman’s prose. But that’s why he was a master of the mystery.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Guest Blogger Melissa Nesdahl

It’s my pleasure to welcome guest blogger Melissa Nesdahl. Melissa and her coauthor Pam Stenzel have a new book out, Nobody Told Me, which helps young people understand the physical, emotional, and spiritual risks of sex outside of marriage.


My name is Melissa Nesdahl and I’m honored to be guest posting here on Karin’s wonderful blog.

As readers with a heart for Christian issues and writing, I am excited to share with you my new book with Internationally known abstinence educator Pam Stenzel.

You see, everything that is written sends a message. The type of message it sends is critical because everything read has a ripple effect. It infuses the mind of the reader, influences their thought process, and impacts the conversations they have about the topic with others. There is a social responsibility to writing.

Knowing this—and completely in love with youth ministry (as well as equipping the adults that love them)—we recently released our first book together entitled NOBODY TOLD ME: What You Need to Know about the Physical and Emotional Consequences to Sex Outside of Marriage.

Pam speaks to over a half a million students world-wide about dating and sex each year. I join her in the trenches through crisis pregnancy ministry and together we share our insights and help to help people live out God’s best.

Sadly, today’s teens are often rushed into making adult choices without complete awareness of healthy boundaries. How far is too far? Am I really at risk? Do I need to see a doctor? How do I handle these consequences? What is God’s design? Does He really care? How do I say “no?” What are safe dating boundaries? Is it too late for me? These questions and more swirl through the minds of developing adolescents often times before their faith is mature, and they need helpful, honest, accurate answers now so that they don’t suffer tomorrow.

To help students understand Truth and recognize healthy boundaries, Pam and I took years worth of teens’ shared stories and questions about God’s design for sex, Scriptural encouragement, media influence, peer pressure, abuse, pregnancy, STDs, emotional heartache, and choosing abstinence until marriage and formatted in a way teens like to communicate. Using a fun Facebook-like style, we meet teens (and those who love them) where they are at and provide them with answers to today’s tough questions so that they aren’t the next to tearfully say to God, their parents, a physician, or a future spouse, “Nobody told me. I didn’t know.” Because it is in their authentic voice, it draws them in and helps adult readers to better understand their world.

The best part about this book is that it is applicable to every student regardless of the choices they have made. For those who have abstained, this book will offer a window into the heart of their peers, provide answers to difficult questions they still might have (and be afraid to ask), strengthen them to remain pure until marriage, and offer for them suggestions to help them live that out. If, on the other hand, a young person has made mistakes this book is still for them (making it unique to others) because they will hear stories of young people struggling right along with them, but laced within the message is clarity where there was confusion, hope where there was pain, experienced forgiveness from a loving God, understanding that their past choices don’t have to define their future ones, and practical steps to redeeming their future.

For parents, youth workers, crisis pregnancy workers, mentors, etc. this book is an excellent help because we live in a rapidly changing world. The consequences that they may have faced as a teen are no longer the same as the teens of today. The number of STDs has risen, media exposure delivers wildly different messages, and the people in the home and church haven’t always known how to effectively deliver an abstinence-based message that is both glorifying to God and powerful enough to pack a punch with the students who hear it. This book will place them inside of today’s teenage experience and bring them up to speed on current statistics to help them effectively communicate a message that empowers the teen they love to have a healthy future.

Appropriate for any student 12 and up, this book will help teens’ personal faith blossom, self-confidence grow, expect respect for oneself and the people they date, and live a life a wholeness.

Many Christian leaders have endorsed the book and popular musical artist Rebecca St. James is on the cover stating, “This book is relevant, powerful, and packed with truths that all young people need to hear.”

As Christians, we all have prayerful hearts that students will hear and stand on this counter-culture message. And, as those who care about the writing world, we have a responsibility to write and promote materials that promote a Godly life.

Please join me in spreading the message!

Melissa Nesdahl is a happily married wife, mother, author, writer, and volunteer who believes that when people recognize their identity and value in Christ they will experience life to its fullest. Combining her passion to write with her love of sharing Truth, Melissa frequently updates her Fill My Cup blog, writes product and curriculum with Pam Stenzel, and contributes to ModSquad. Melissa has served as a crisis pregnancy center counselor since 1999 and currently serves on the Board of Directors.