Wednesday, September 19, 2012

50 Shades of Not-So-Grey


The Hunger Games is a novel trilogy that’s wildly popular with teenagers. They’re being made into movies and my local Sam’s Club had a themed display for the books. In fact, the series is so popular that this Sam’s Club sold enough of those books that there was empty space on this end cap and the staff had to fill those shelves with another series. What did they suggest for those teen readers? 50 Shades of Grey.
                This post isn’t likely to win me many friends. The 50 Shades trilogy has sold 40+ million copies, it’s pornography, and it’s being sold to our teenage girls. That’s right. Today, we’re talking youth, sex, and some hard truths.
What is 50 Shades of Grey? You might have heard the title and a few flitting rumors. It was based on the wildly profitable Twilight series. It features some unconventional and explicitly detailed sex that’s got the married-with-kids-30-something-year-old-wives whispering and raving. It’s being dubbed “mommy-porn” and too many Christians are silent about it.
The story centers around a female protagonist and her love for a man that wants to control her. Control her thoughts, control her actions, control her body, what/how much she eats, where she goes, who she sees, what she does and more. He tracks her movements on her cell phone. He tries to engage her in a sex contract and he does all these things, why? Because he has issues and he “loves” her.
And our women are eating it up.
The author, E.L James, hides all this abuse under an extremely misused umbrella of BDSM. Boiled down, BDSM is a consensual practice of two partners in which one partner is in control of the sexual pleasure. The hinge word is consensual.
Because at some point in this series, the female protagonist tells her “love” interest no, and he ignores her. That’s right. He rapes her. Let me remind you again, this series has sold over 40 million copies.



This is the cover of the first book. It certainly doesn’t look like something the media could dub “mommy-porn” does it? I mentioned that the author was inspired by the Twilight series, but that’s not entirely true. 50 Shades started as an erotic fan fiction of Twilight. The protagonist was Bella Swan and her love interest was Edward Cullen. The cover photos of the two series even look similar. Both have a black background with one object serving as a metaphor or theme from the book. I encourage you to take a walk through the Young Adult section of your local book store sometime because the vast majority of those titles have the same style covers. It’s a marketing stratedgy.
And Young Adult books are for ages 15+.
And now we arrive at my core heart of this post. This abusive, XXX detailed novel series is being marketed to our high school girls. Godly and Christian mothers are unknowingly buying their daughters porn because their church stands silent.
Erotica isn’t new. But before 50 Shades, the covers were half naked men with long hair, riding stallions and holding roses on a beach. The covers of 50 Shades are a neck tie, a mask, and a pair of handcuffs. Twilight was an apple, a bloody flower, a ribbon, and two chess pieces. The Hunger Games is different incarnations of a bird called a Mockingjay set against a solid color background. 50 Shades looks like all the other books teens are reading right now.
And what message are these books giving our youth? That abuse is normal. That if a man loves you, he will control your life, what you do and who you’re friends with. That if he can’t control his sexual need for you, that if he rapes you and sends you lavish gifts, that’s love.
Whether your definition of love comes from a Christian perspective or not, no one should consider this love or something to be glorified and reveled in. This is abuse. This is not a story about a woman that fixes a broken man. This is abuse. This is not about kinky sex, or having a handsomely rich man love you, or finding your happily-ever-after. This is physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. There is nothing “grey” about it.
The silence of our churches and Christian leaders on this series disgusts me. If this were a XXX movie with the same plot and scenes that prominent male members were watching and sharing with their guy friends, our pastors would be outraged at the pulpit. But it’s in a book, not a movie. (Yet. The 50 Shades movie is in development.) And it’s for women. It’s a difficult subject to talk about not least because its popularity is such an odd phenomenon.
The question can be raised that if a married woman is reading these books and finds them erotic, is it really harming anyone? If we assume that she’s lusting for an imaginary character but taking her bolstered enthusiasm into her marital bed, is it that really sinning?
Matthew 5:28 tells us, “But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Adultery and lust are not sins exclusive to men.
Wives: Would you encourage this same behavior from your husbands? Reverse this and turn it into a man lusting after a female XXX film star. He’s coming to his wife, asking her to replicate things he watched another woman do, chasing a high created by sin. Again, the picture becomes a lot clearer. We’re dealing with something that is black-and-white Christianly immoral, not something meandering in grey area.
What can you do? Send this post to your friends. Send it to the women in your Bible Study, to your sisters, to your daughters, to your granddaughters. The women most at risk to being taken in by this series are those who are not of this world and buy these books without knowing what’s between the covers. Send it to your pastors. To your elders. To your youth group leaders. Help break the Christian silence.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

I'm getting ready for ACFW


I've had business cards made.



I crocheted a choker.



And the icing on the cake, I've got my shoes picked out for the week. The shortest heel in that bunch is 5 inches. Yes, I'm taking Advil as well. :)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pinterest

Pinterest: The perfect place to idolize pictures of things and convince yourself that if you only had *this* or if you only had *that* then your life would finally be complete and you'd be happy. I'm sorry, but I just don't get why this is so popular. Sort of like how girls over the age of 14 don't make magazine collages of famous guys they'll never date. You love those super perfect and adorable cupcakes? Great, but take a baking class.   Love those clean-lined couture clothes and you have an eye for style? Take a sewing class. You might make something worthwhile, you might learn something you can share. But envying a picture is not going accomplish anything. 

As Dumbledore said, "However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen...."

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Everyone is Afraid of Monsters


Last April, I wrote a short story with a character called Ramsey who lives in a world where monsters are real and only your blanket will protect you when they prowl in the night. It turns out that Ramsey isn’t done with her story, so I’m happy to bring you the second part of her tale today. (Pssst, if you missed the first part, you can find it right here.)


I killed my first monster when I was three, and Mother said we shouldn’t speak on it. But she couldn’t tell me what to think. My thoughts were all my own.

It was during my third year at the schoolhouse by the field of violets that I asked Teacher, “Where do monsters come from?”

“From our closets!” Called a girl in my class named Gudytha.

Teacher, sitting at her desk, pulled off her spectacles and laid them on the cherry wood. She came around and faced the whole class. Her blanket, a raggedy thing that might have once been green but had turned grey with age, was folded neatly at the corner of her desk. I never saw her more than an arm’s reach away from that blanket.

She laced her fingers together and sighed. “The more you know, the more you’ll be afraid.”

From my desk, her shoulders seemed to curve up at the ends and I could see her nose hairs. She reminded me of a hawk that was always ready to take to the sky.

Teacher started again. “We have one story about where the monsters come from. At the end of world, over the great waters, balanced on the precipice—”

“What’s a precipice?” Asked Francine.

Fortune and Frideswide giggled on either side of her.

“Precipice means the edge of something,” Teacher answered. She cleared her throat. “Balanced on the precipice of the infinitely falling waterfalls that are the edge of the world, there is a cave. This cave winds down below the waters and into the darkness, where no fire can light the way. And at the bottom of the cave, there is a great green crystal.

“Children, when you wake up from a nightmare, and return to your sleep, and the nightmare is gone, that is because it has left you. When a nightmare leaves us, it flies away like smoke and goes to this cave. Nightmares have no eyes, so they have no need for fire to see by. When they reach the crystal, they go inside of it. More nightmares come and enter the crystal. When the crystal is full of nightmares, a monster is born.

“That is where monsters come from.”

I shot my hand up but I didn’t wait for her to look at me or call my name. “What if no one had nightmares?” I asked. “Would the monsters stop being born?”

Francine, Fortune and Frideswide all laughed.

“You can’t—” Francine said.

            “—get rid of—” Fortune said.

                        “—the monsters!” Frideswide said.

I remember looking at them and thinking that they were three heads of the same snake. Francine, Fortune and Frideswide were all pretty girls, and best friends. One of them was blonde, one brunette, and one red haired. But for all the salt I’m worth, I can’t remember which was which. It doesn’t really matter. You probably know girls like these. They were lovely and social, unlike me. Everyone wanted to be with them, unlike me. And, of course, they would date the sort of boys that a girl like me would haplessly fall in love with.

Teach quieted the trio. “They are correct, Ramsey. We can’t get rid of the monsters.”

“But I did! I killed one in my room when I was three.”

The whole class, except for a dark skinned boy name Oshbuert, erupted into laughter.

Ramsey!” Teacher spoke like a whip. “You must not lie like that. You will stay with me after class.”

“It’s not a lie!” I was young and couldn’t understand why she would think I had lied. “I tied it up with my blanket because I wasn’t afraid of it. It burned when the sun rose. I don’t want to hide from them.”

Teacher smacked the desk with her hand. “Ramsey! You will stop these lies and I am never to hear of you killing monsters again. Understand me? Everyone in this room is afraid of monsters. I am, your classmates are, and everyone you’ll ever meet cowers under their blankets at night. Fear is the natural order of life.”

I stopped objecting to her. In fact, I said less than a dozen sentences in that schoolhouse after she fed me that line about fear being the natural order.

At the end of the day, everyone put on their sun goggles and another boy showed off his new steam powered watch. The thing was brass and ornate and it took up half his arm and he wouldn’t stop repeating how expensive it had been and that his father hadn’t even cared. In the end, the boys tied their boots and the girls laced up their practice waist corsets, and everyone chattered on about what they would buy at the penny store on their way home.

But I remained at my desk, head hung. My hands cupped my face and I cried quietly. Maybe if I was silent and small enough, everyone would forget I was in trouble.  Maybe they would forget I ever existed at all.

A small dark hand appeared on my desk. Oshbuert. He had black hair and his eyes were the same shade of brown as the chocolate Mother had given me for my last birthday.

“Hi, Osh.” I wished he would leave me alone. I didn’t want anyone to see me crying.

“I… I just want to say that I wish I was brave like you.”

Fortune squealed behind us. “Did you hear that? Osh-BUTT has a girlfriend!”

I buried my head further as the class laughed and mocked him.

“Do you like her?”

“Do you love her?”

“Are you going to marry her and have little freak-brave babies?”

“She doesn’t even have pretty hair!”

I heard Osh’s footsteps as he ran out of the schoolhouse and our teasing schoolmates followed him.

I could have died from the shame. I wanted to curl up into myself, disappear, and be forgotten forever.

“Ramsey,” Teacher said gently.

I wiped my tears and a line of snot ran up my arm. She walked over and handed me a handkerchief. “Clean yourself up, dear.”

I did.

“Do you see the coal bucket by the steam heater?”

It was as big as I was and higher than my waist. It would have been a nice place to hide.

I nodded.

“There is more coal in the cellar.” She placed a much smaller bucket on my desk. “Fill up the large bucket, please. Then you may go.”

I picked up the smaller bucket and walked toward the cellar door.

“Don’t forget your blanket,” Teacher said.

I went back and grabbed it.

Teacher sat at her desk, hunched over our recent spelling tests. She used one finger to tap her own blanket. “We must always be ready to hide.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I descended down the creaky cellar steps. It was too dark to see the whole room, but I made out some old tables and chairs and a cog-work clock that ticked unevenly. There was one crack of light, coming from the hatch in the ceiling that led outside. The light revealed a giant pile of coal and a large gathering of dust at the side of the pile.

I picked up pieces of coal, one by one, and let them clatter to the bottom of my bucket. Teacher never said I had to do my task quietly.

The pile of dust moved.

I wasn’t sure it was real. I dropped another piece of coal into the bucket.

A pair of red eyes opened and stared at me. The dust shifted, gathered, and rose like a pillar. I grabbed my blanket and jumped onto the coal. “Monster!”

Two hands, blacker than death, reached for my neck.

“Monster in the cellar!” I yelled and continued to climb over the mountain of coal toward the hatch door that led outside. The monster entered the thin strip of light and a tiny flame appeared above it’s eyes.

The hands came closer and I wrapped my blanket around them.

Teacher screamed from halfway down the steps.

“Open the hatch,” I cried.

She disappeared back upstairs.

The monster came closer. A hole appeared below it’s eyes, a sort of mouth. It opened and then it opened wider. Wider and wider until it was the size of my torso.

I dropped to my knees and rolled to the side. The monster, still tied up in my blanket, fell with me. It’s evil red eyes looked up at the ceiling. I forced my arms into the coal and felt some of my skin rip on the jagged edges. The maneuver had wrapped my blanket around the monster’s neck.

The hatch opened and the cellar was flooded with sunlight. The monster burst into flames and I yanked my blanket away. The blaze was intense but short.

“Ramsey!” Teacher reached down for me. “The coal. Take my hand!”

I took her hand, but I studied where the monster had died. Nothing was left of it but black ash and red embers. But, no, as I look closer, the embers weren’t from the monster, it was the coal. The heat of the monster burning had set the coal on fire. Teacher latched onto my outstretched arms and pulled me up. I scrambled onto the grass and sat outside the schoolhouse, clutching my blanket and shaking, trying very hard to catch my breath.

Teacher sat with me. Beside us, the schoolhouse was already on fire. “You can’t get rid of all the monsters,” she said, her hands and blanket clutched above her heart. “There will always be more.”

I thought of the green crystal and the cave where all the nightmares went. “Maybe there doesn’t have to be.”

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mediocre

I believe in honesty. And if an aspiring writer (such as myself) has a blog, then they ought to be honest with it. The journey I’m on right now has taken a sorrowful turn.

I received word that I didn’t make the second round in the Genesis contest. It’s a sad thing, but not a terribly crushing thing. It’s a Christian contest and my 500 word synopsis and first 15 pages did not scream Christianity, so I shouldn’t be terribly shocked by this. (Actually, it might make a red-herring plea for atheism or agnosticism, but I digress.)

Not making round 2 was sad, but nothing prepared me to receive my three scores. Out of 100 possible points, I earned 55, 56 and 60. Each category in the judging was given a minimum score of 1 point and a maximum of 5 points. This means that in an average category like Point of View, Showing/Telling, Inspirational Elements, Dialogue, etc. I received a score of 2 or 3. A 3 means average and off to a good start. A 2 means below average/major revisions needed.

And given the consistency of my scores, this means I’m at most a mediocre writer and at worst a rather poor one.

It has not been a good week.

See, I’m not a stranger to getting criticism. I’ve handed my work out to friends. I’ve gotten multiple paid critiques. Goodness, I’m even in a critique group. And yet all of my other responses have been positive. Generally, people like my work. These critiques could not be more opposite.

My writing didn’t hold their attention. My characters weren’t distinct from one another. I use too much telling. I could go on, but do we really need to rehash how awful I am? Probably not. Ugh, I’ve never gotten a response that left me so dejected.

Worst of all, the negativity is starting to take root in me. I’ve begun to wonder if maybe I’m really a pathetic excuse for a writer and no one has told me. Maybe someone should have pulled me aside at some point and said, “Look, you’ve got a great imagination. But this just isn’t for you.” Maybe no one has had the heart to tell me that there’s an inside joke—a real laughingstock—and it’s me.

I really hope those things aren’t true, but doubt keeps growing in my heart. I know writing is my life’s calling. But for right now, I have a little imp in my mind. He’s telling me to quit, that there’s no point in writing a story that no one will want to read. He’s fighting me every time I pick up a pen or sit at my keyboard.

On the same day that I received the news about Genesis, my stargazer lilies were accidentally weed wacked. Our neighbor, out of the kindness in his heart, has offered to mow our lawn this spring and summer. He also trims the side of the house. My lilies were coming up and really looking healthy. But they hadn’t bloomed yet and he didn’t know that they were flowers. So while he was intending to be kind and do me a favor, my lilies were cut down before they could bloom.

They’re supposed to come back next year, but there won’t be any stargazers this summer.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Fire Under my Bottom and Bold as a Bull




I considered posting something seasonal and celebrating the wonderful weather we’re having in Iowa. But I wrote a short story instead, so we’re switching it up a little today. When I saw this image, it got me thinking. How many times have we heard something go bump in the night, and even as adults, we pull our covers over our head and pray ourselves to sleep? As a Christian, I know it’s the prayer keeping me safe. But the comic sparked an idea in me. What if there was a world where a blanket was all that protected you from the things that creep in the shadows?
-Charis

Fire Under my Bottom and Bold as a Bull


I know you’ve been told to fear the monsters hiding under your bed and in your closet. But that’s a lie. I’ll admit they’re terrible. But your nightmares should be made of the monsters that stalk behind your curtains.

One week after I had learned to crawl, Mother took me to get my blanket. I was five months and thirteen days old. Of course, I don’t really remember that day, but she’s told the story so many times that I can picture it more vividly than a memory.

We took the steam train into town, walked seven blocks east, two blocks north, and arrived at Mole’s Blanket Emporium. It was a tiny shop, squeezed between Catherine’s Clothing Cache and Bit’s N Spit’s, common brass cog replacements. I’ve always thought of the Blanket Emporium as Mole’s Hole. Truth be told, calling it a shop is misleading. There wasn’t a sign or window front, just a foggy glass door and peeling gold letters that read, “Hipothecary Apothecary.” Mole never changed it from the last tenant.

We went in. Mother says the bell on his door has always been broken. And calling it a bell isn’t a whole truth. I think it was an old soup can that lost a fight with some exploding powder.

But I can be certain of this. Mole’s shop never changed and neither did he. The space was deeper than it was wide and taller than it was deep. It was filled with crooked shelves that were covered in blankets. Mole himself was a squinty, bald man with great big hands. I promise you, he didn’t own a scrap of clothing that wasn’t rumbled and some shade of brown.

That day, like every other day, Mole sat on his stool behind the counter. “And who do we have here?” Mole didn’t stutter or have an accent. But he clicked at his words when he spoke. “Is it a boy or is it a girl?”

Mother held me up. “This is my daughter, Renee Amily Mary Sarah Elise Yvette. But of course, we all just call her Ramsey.”

That’s right. Mother gave me a name so long and so impossible to say that everyone I’ve ever known has shortened it to an acronym. Ramsey.

“Well,” Mole said. “She’s a real looker.”

He was right. I was born with pale grey eyes and a wild mess of jet black hair that sprouted and grew like feathers. My hair never got any lighter and my eyes never got any darker.

Mother sat me on the floor and Mole came around from the counter.
He tugged a blanket out from the nearest shelf. “This one is very nice. Wool. Hand quilted. The tag says the previous owner died in his sleep from old age. Good way to go.”

“Very peaceful,” Mother said.

He put the blanket at my feet. “How about that one, little Ramsey?”

I never even reached for it.

Mole took it back and grabbed another one. “No? Maybe this? Knitted. Owner... died of… cancerous ulcers. I’ll give it to you at eight percent off.”

“That’s very generous.”

Mole put that one on my lap.

Mother says I picked it up, threw it at his feet and applauded myself.
“Do you have anything cotton?” Mother asked. “My own blanket is cotton. Perhaps she takes after me.”

“Of course. Let me—Oh! There she goes!”


Mother says I took off like there was a flame under my bottom.

I crawled to the far right corner of Mole’s Hole and dove into a pile of blankets.

“They’re all discount,” Mole said. “Blankets with some extra wear in them, had more than one owner.”

I emerged with a black and grey damask print blanket. I sucked on my thumb and pressed the blanket to my face like it had always been there to comfort and protect me.

“That was quick.” Mole said. “Must be a good match, bonded pretty strong.” He took the blanket from me and I wailed like a naked newborn.

Mole’s face went white.

“Is there something wrong?”

“I—I don’t know how this got here. Tag says the blanket failed its last owner. Woman, 32 years old, killed by a monster hiding under her bed.

I continued to scream.

Mother clutched her heart. “Ramsey chose a broken blanket?”

“I’m so sorry. We could give her another one, but—”

“But it’s too late. She’s already bonded with that one.” Mother took the blanket from Mole and rubbed the fabric between her fingers. It was ratty and filled with holes. “This won’t protect her. She’ll never be truly safe in the night.”

“I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to do.”

Mother gave me the blanket and I stopped crying. “What’s done is done. We’ll buy this one, but I must caution you to take stock of your inventory and remove anything that shouldn’t be given to children.”

“Of course.”

We left Mole’s Hole. I carried my blanket and Mother carried me. She insists she maintained her composure on the train ride home and I’ve never doubted her.

And so life passed by without incident until the night I was three years, six months and two days old. Mother heard a scream from my bedroom and rushed down the hall in her puce nightgown.

When she opened the door, a shadow monster lay writhing on the floor, hog tied by my blanket. It had been hiding behind my curtains. She says that I stood above it, bolder than a bull, laughing as it couched black spots onto the floor.

She scooped me up, carried me from my room and shut my door. In the morning, the sun came and light streamed through my bedroom window. She wouldn’t let me back inside until after noon. When I went back, the shadow monster had burned away, leaving ashes on the rug. My blanket lay on the floor, still twisted up.

My name is Ramsey. This is my story as the first monster hunter.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Demon, play demon out.

I finished my beast of a chapter today. Technically it's turned into one small chapter, one medium-long chapter, and one tiny-bite-sized chapter. I guess it's my beast-of-a-section now.

In any case, my characters made it out alive (or did they?) and so did I. (Mostly.)

This puts Demon at a little over 40,000 words. Though the last 5,000 aren't typed yet.

Woo for progress!


And, just for the giggles, here's a little throwback music.