Monday, July 30, 2012

"Rift Jump" Commentary (Part Three)

Read Part One
Read Part Two

Welcome to the third installment of my commentary for Rift Jump. Yada yada, beware of spoilers, yada yada.


This section of the book is really where the new material starts to drastically diverge from the original material I wrote in high school. Originally, this episode took place in a near-identical world to Michael's own, leading him to think that he's actually home. His brothers are the same. All the locations are the same. Even the circumstances surrounding his own "death" are the same. The only difference is that--duh, duh, duuuuhh!!!--this NOT his world and the Michael of this world is bad.  

I changed it for two reasons. One reason is that, for a book that deals with "a multiverse of infinite possibility", all the worlds in the original stories looked pretty much identical to our own except they'd have a super hero in them or an alien in them or whatever. It was like the last few seasons of Sliders (great show in the first season--terrible show from there on out), where every world they went to was just the same street (soundstage) with the same hotel, same bar, even some of the same people--just their alternate selves. I needed to shake it up. I'd been dabbling in the idea of doing more Weird Western stuff like my buddy Ed Erdelac (who is AMAZING and you should check out his Merkabah Rider series), so I decided to relocate this story to a Civil War-type world, with a sci-fi twist. But then that also changes things. Michael can no longer think that these are his brothers. I liked that, however, because it puts him in a position where he's lying to them, pretending to be their dead brother, in order so that HE can feel some semblance of family. It's sad, and totally the right character move for Michael.

A special note: To all the steampunk fans who were really hoping I'd go all geek on the hows and whys of these Civil War spacecraft, I'm sorry. It would have been fun--and were this episode an entire novel length, I would have--but, like I said in the last commentary installment, my focus is always on Michael and Sara's emotional journey.

Sara begins to take a bit of a turn in this story. Again, when I originally wrote these stories in high school, I had a very skewed idea of what a woman "should" be. I sort of knew (or thought) that they wanted to be "wooed" and "won"...but I didn't have a whole lot of idea of what to do with them AFTER I "won" them. Movies and books focus so much on getting a woman, and they don't do a lot of showing how to keep a woman. As I grew up, I realized that--shock, gasp--women are a lot like men. They want to feel needed. Special. Important. They want to be a part of the journey of life. They're not trophies to be gained and sat on a shelf in your den. I mean, there are some girls, yeah, who just want to be mooned over and pursued and treated like sacred cows all the time, but that's unhealthy. Treasure your women, menfolk, but include them in your struggles. Bring them into your heart. Trust them with your lives. They're fighters, too.

So that's what Michael is seeing in this section. Sara loved being pursued by him, but she doesn't want to be stuck in the tower for the rest of her life. She wants to feel needed.

With that out of the way, I direct your attention to a pretty controversial move for me:

I have swearing in my book. Gasp!

I know that 99% of the world's population won't even bat an eye at that, but for some of my readers it's going to be a major stumbling block. I want to be accountable for what I write, so I'm gonna take a second to explain my position on this. You may not agree, and that's okay, but I want to be honest and real with you so at least can understand my thinking.

Cursing is one of the last great taboos of the Christian Fiction market. It always amazes me that, no matter how much violence and evisceration I get away with, I throw one "damn" in there and I've suddenly committed an atrocity on the page. This is a pretty complicated topic and many better-articulated writers (such as Mike Duran) have gone on and on about this. People have endlessly debated it and everyone's pretty firm on their stance. I know that some of Rift Jump's readers will--hopefully--be picking this up because they enjoyed my Coming Evil series. The Strange Man and Enemies of the Cross were both published within the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) that has REALLY strict rules on what you can and cannot put in their books. For instance, I had to cut one instance of the word "criminy" in The Strange Man because it was a 16th century curse word! 16th Century, folks!! Some CBA publishers won't even let you say "darn" or "shoot" or "frickin'". "Crap" is considered a bad word with some people, as is "butt".

The short answer is this: Rift Jump is not intended to be a "Christian" work--meaning I didn't write it with the Christian Fiction audience in mind. It obviously reflects my own Christian beliefs, but I didn't set out to make this a "Christian" book. What's more, my publisher Splashdown--while a publisher of Christian authors--is NOT in the CBA. The restrictions are much looser because we're not selling to the same types of people who are looking for books at Lifeway. Many people go to buy a CBA book because they know there WON'T be cursing or overt sex or graphic violence. They want their fiction of a cleaner sort, and I have absolutely nothing against that. When it came to taking my 6-year-old daughter to see Brave, you better believe I was scouring the internet, wanting to know what kind of objectionable material she may or may not be exposed to. We need to show discernment. We need to guard ourselves against things that cause us to stumble. I don't believe all fiction needs to have cursing. I don't even believe that all good or "real" or "gritty" fiction needs it. Plenty of wonderful stories don't use it at all. On the other hand, I believe there are plenty of wonderful stories that do use it.

Rift Jump marks my first novel where I've had some cursing. Now, for those of you who haven't read it yet, it's not a whole lot. Certainly not enough to warrant this long explanation. There are no "s" words or "f" words. There were PG rated kids movies in the '80s that had rougher language than this. Nevertheless, I didn't make the decision to have a dash of swear words lightly. Ask Grace, my publisher. I agonized over this, as I knew that it would offend some people or give others the wrong impression about me. I don't condone cursing in real life. Especially, as Christians, I think we ought to be very careful about the words that come out of our mouth, as we're representing Christ. And the Bible says we are called into account for every careless word we say. That's terrifying to me.

But my characters are not representing Christ. The characters in Rift Jump don't start out as Christians. In fact, if we're getting right down to it, they're not even real. They're imaginary figures. But, for the sake of argument, even if they were real, they are lost sinners who have grown up on the streets, or in abusive relationships, or are just plain ignorant of manners. A key moment in "Second Chances" has Michael at the end of his rope. In a moment of complete frustration he complains that he's been "busting his ass" while he doesn't see God doing anything. He's complaining to God. He is completely fed up. Now, I could just have easily have had him say "busting his butt"--though some would think even that was too far. I could have had him say he was "busting his rear" or "hind end". But that shows a level of restraint, doesn't it? This is a teenage boy who has been a child soldier since he was 12. He's coming to God, in all truth, and getting his angry feelings off his chest. For Michael to censor himself would show a deference to God--which is antithesis of this scene. He demands to know why God hasn't answered his prayers. Why God hasn't shown up to make this journey easier. He's not interested in being humble or respectful. He's coming from a place of total anger and selfishness and immaturity. Therefore "ass".

I liken it to cooking. You might have a really bitter spice that is sometimes needed, but too much and it ruins the whole meal. Swearing, I think, CAN be appropriate. Sometimes I think it might even be necessary, to add that little punch of spice. With Rift Jump, I have been very careful to gauge every instance of a swear word I've used. I didn't want to be exploitative about it or flippant about it. It was never my intention to shock you or to "prove myself to the world" that I was a "real" author who liked to cuss. This isn't a declaration that, from now on, you can expect everyone to have a potty mouth in my fiction. You can't (though you can still expect tons of monster mayhem :p). I just felt that, in this particular book, a couple curse words was necessary for the story.

So, for those Readers who might be offended, I'm asking you to show a little grace to my characters. They're a rough group but they are growing. They are maturing. Give them a little patience. They might surprise you in the end. :)

Behind-the-scenes nuggets:

1--There's a typo in this section. It mentions that Civil War Edward and Seth haven't seen their brother for five years in one instance--but it's really only been a year since their Michael left them. Grrr, I hate typos. Five people read these things in the editing process and no one catches it. My wife glances at it after it's published and points it out. Grrr.

2--I believe this might be the book's first mention of Sara's love for Alan Worth: Space Explorer. To read up on the fascinating true story behind Alan Worth, check out my post here.

Click here to the next installment of our commentary for Rift Jump where we talk about superheroes. Buy the book already, will ya?

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