My Rebellious Blood

The thing about non-fiction is that you can’t dismiss the truth when it stabs you in the heart.

Warren Petoskey tells a story at a Northern Michigan bonfire, July 1, 2011.

Right now I am completing the website for Dancing My Dream by Warren Petoskey, an elder in the Odawa and Lakotah tribes. It should go live in a few weeks. Warren writes with great passion and compassion about his experiences as the most American of minorities, the native who has had to ask permission to use the land his ancestors once worshiped and worked freely.

Reading Warren’s book and other writings, researching historical photos and building these web pages has ripped off a scab I didn’t know I had. The romantic image of the noble savage marrying into civilization, like Disney’s Pocahontas, has shattered. My native ancestors cry for justice and my European blood is too ashamed to look back – not too closely, anyway.

I have been asked, especially when I was young with long, straight, dark brown hair, if I was native. Eventually, I began to answer with a laugh, “Yes, but not enough to get me a scholarship.” Curious, isn’t it, that admitting my Scottish, German, Irish and English heritage never required a qualifier.

The print on this 1891 picture says, “Three of Uncle Sam’s Pets. We get rations every 29 days. Our pulse is good. Expressive medium. We put in 60 minutes each hour in our present attitude.” Three Lakota teenage boys in western clothing, sitting near a tree—probably on or near Pine Ridge Reservation.

The greatest thing about Warren is he does not reverse discriminate. His love for all things Native includes us whose blood is so dilute as to be nearly invisible – but still enough to call us back to nature whenever we get the chance.

This is what Warren wrote for the website, and almost exactly what he said to me when I expressed my grief that I cannot legally claim the native status I feel calling me so strongly when I return to the woods, water and hills of Northern Michigan.

“As I have traveled many apologize to me that they were only an eighth Indian or less. I asked them who they felt they were in their heart, admonishing them not to allow anyone to dictate to them.”

I draw great comfort from Warren’s words as I ponder how much of my own native blood came from women who married white men to survive rather than for love. I have come to recognize the Northern Michigan countryside my European ancestors have owned for generations also owns me – a fractional breed daughter of Mother Earth, who draws strength from the hills and seasons, lakes and trees.

My own Christian faith echoes in and fulfills the native beliefs of a kind and generous Creator.

Registering as a Native is unlikely, even after adding up all the diluted parts I have inherited from different branches of my family tree. So I take great comfort in from Warren’s words, that Native is not all about blood, but about blood memory.

Do you have a heart for nature and preserving the Creator’s work? Are you stirred by traditional arts like the flute and drum? Is there peace for you resting quietly around a campfire?

My answers are yes, and my blood is enough.

FEAST is released, contest announced

Merrie Destefano’s sophomore book, FEAST, was sent out into the world this morning. I am marking the release date with a recap of a previous interview. But the real party will be Thursday when I post my review of FEAST and tell you how you can win a signed copy all for yourself.

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Jane: AFTERLIFE (Merrie’s first book) is a fantastic mix of old-school science fiction and older-school pulp noir, set in a near-future New Orleans… FEAST, your upcoming book to be released in June, seems to be a different animal altogether, the teaser copy indicating something more along the lines of vampires and werewolves. How does your faith play out in fantasy like that?

Merrie: Like I mentioned earlier, the faith element is stronger in some stories than others. Obviously my worldview colors what the characters are allowed to do and the conclusions that they make. I think FEAST has a moral quality to it, but the faith element isn’t nearly as strong or as outspoken as it was in AFTERLIFE. Although it’s never mentioned in the book, the premise for this story was found in Proverbs 29:18: “Without vision, the people perish.” In my mind, I changed that to, “Without dreams, the people perish.” So, the paranormal creatures in the book harvest people’s dreams, but if they take too much, the people die. Basically it’s a parallel for how we can’t survive without hope or dreams, and the fact that Satan strives to steal our hope. The creatures in FEAST aren’t bad in themselves, although some of them have base desires that drive them to commit evil acts—just like humans.

Jane: Have you been given any static for writing fiction as a Christian? Have you been surprised by the reactions you’ve observed?

Merrie: Actually, I’ve had a pretty good response, which was a bit surprising. I think everyone brings their worldview to their fiction—sometimes it’s their political views, sometimes views on conservation, sometimes it’s their faith-based views.

Jane: What was your journey to published fiction author like, both “real world” and spiritual?

Merrie: Like every writer/author, there were a number of bumps in the road along the way. I started writing books and short stories in my twenties, then stopped for about fifteen years. Then I wrote, designed and illustrated a series of four gift books that I sold to Thomas Nelson, which was pretty cool, except that this happened right when that publisher merged with Word. As a result, my books got dropped. I got to keep the money—again, very cool—so I was able to stay home for two years and really work on writing books. After that, I got a job as the publisher at The Word For Today, which I believe was totally a God-thing, since my experience up until that point was in graphic design and illustration. At this point, I had worked in publishing for about 15 years, but still, this was my first job as an editor/publisher. I worked there for 3 years, then got laid off. After that, I got a job as the senior editor on Victorian Homes magazine and Romantic Homes magazine. I eventually became the editor of Victorian Homes, the founding editor of Cottages & Bungalow, and a contributing editor of Romantic Homes. But honestly, my heart has always been in books, specifically novels. I just love making up stories. When I got laid off from my position as editor of Victorian Homes, I decided that I was going to focus seriously on becoming a published author. I believe that God answered that prayer. I got laid off in April and my agent sold AFTERLIFE to HarperCollins/Eos in August. Since then I’ve been working full-time as a novelist and a freelance editor.

Jane: Thank you, Merrie, for your time. I know you’ve been busy lately with convention appearances and a myserious new Work In Progress! I can’t wait until the day we don’t have to do interviews via e-mail and can have real coffee in real time in person.

Merrie: Jane, thank you so much for inviting me on your blog today! All your questions were great. And I wish you the best in your writing!

Merrie’s books are Afterlife: The Resurrection Chronicles at HarperCollins Eos and Feast: Harvest of Dreams, available today from Harper Voyager. Her website is http://www.merriedestefano.com/. You can read her blog at http://merrie-destefano.blogspot.com/.

Can’t wait for Breaking Dawn? Get your fix, part 2

I know you’re probably still in the middle of Anointed by Sarah Witenhafer, but you must plan ahead. The next book on your To Be Read pile really should be Ravenmarked, book one of The Taurin Chronicles, by Amy Rose Davis – if you’re serious about keeping the Breaking Dawn release date anxiety at bay.

Ravenmarked is not exactly apples to apples with the Twilight Saga. Ravenmarked is high fantasy along the lines of J.R.R. Tolkein, as opposed to the urban fantasy/paranormal romance setting of Twilight. However, for epic romances and star crossed lovers, Amy’s got your fix. Also like Stephenie Meyer, Amy Rose Davis writes a thick book. (“You keep saying that like it’s a good thing.” “Yeah? Well. It is.”)

Mairead is about 20 years old, and has spent most of her life in the care of the nuns who began preparing her for her position as the rightful heir to the throne of Taurin. However, trouble has come to the land. The Regent, Braeden, who by law only holds the throne for the rightful heir, has declared himself king. The ancient earth magic that protects the sacred relics from misuse is weakening, and Mairead is sent to the far north in an attempt to save her life.

Her escort and protector is Connor SilverAir, a half-breed human who has been marked as a Raven. The Ravenmarked are divine avengers, appointed to serve justice no matter how violently that may be. The romantic tension comes when Connor falls in love with Mairead – but believes his Ravenmark prevents him from ever obtaining peace or happiness in life.

My two favorite characters in this book, though, are secondary. One is the mystic woman, Rhiannon, who helped raise Connor and just happens to appear again in his greatest need. Her faith is complete and  unshakable. She literally challenges evil to confront her, she is so secure in her place in the safety of her god.

My other favorite is Igraine, the Eiryan princess. She and Mairead were at the convent together. Unlike Mairead, an orphan, Igraine is a recognized princess from a neighboring kingdom there to avoid an arranged marriage. She is a political animal who never intended to take her vows of service to the church. When Braeden takes the throne by force, Igraine uses her beauty and her brains to save both herself and the sisters. And although she comes to realize her role in the fate of their world may be greater than that of becoming the queen of Taura, she continues to wrestle against divine will in an attempt to exercise her own.

These two women encapsulate my spiritual walk. Sometimes I feel as invincible as Rhiannon, secure in God’s love, invincible in his armor. Other times I fight fate, determined to do things my way, forgetting God’s way is more peaceful evenin the midst of struggle and His success more fulfilling.

Ravenmarked is currently only available in digital form through Amazon.com, B&N and Smashwords, which you can access through Amy’s blog, http://modicumoftalent.com/. Amy is currently editing Bloodbonded, book 2 in the series, and has several other books available as well.

Can’t wait for Breaking Dawn? Get your paranormal fix here

So, yes, MTV debuted the trailer for Breaking Dawn part 1. And yes, I’ve watched it more than once. And yes, I intend to reread the whole Saga before the release date of November 18, probably in one long marathon session starting on or about November 10th.

So don’t plan on talking to me that week.

“But,” I can hear you asking yourself, “what to do until then? I can’t spend all that time in the ‘real world.’ I’ll go stark, raving mad!”

Ah, do not fear! I have some suggestions for you. Starting today, over three Mondays, I’m going to suggest three fantastic authors whose books have more than filled the Stephenie Meyer hole in my imagination.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Sarah Witenhafer. Sarah is audacious. She read the Twilight Saga, liked it a lot, but thought it could be done better. As the penultimate TwiMom, she decided to pen a book for her own demographic. The result is the page-turning Tamed, its sequel Anointed, and a third book currently in the works.

In this series we meet and follow Reign Phillips, who recently earned her PhD in ancient languages. She meets Damon Sarantos, the owner of a curious piece of antiquity that he seems to have an unusually deep connection to. As they fall in love, Reign begins to realize that Damon is more than – or maybe less than – human. There is action, mystery, romance and betrayal – and some seriously freaky supernatural stuff too. Plus, the books are over 400 pages each so they kept me happy for hours and hours.

What I love most about this series is how Sarah weaves Christian faith throughout. Reign, for instance, is a devout Christian. But she is far from perfect. There are no prairie dresses and demure hair covers here (in fact, Reign keeps a gun tucked into her tall, black boots). Reign screws up. And she receives as well as gives grace. I think it is the best example of how a Christian life should look that I have ever read.

Tamed and Anointed are available from Amazon.com and at www.SarahWitenhafer.com.

After “Afterlife”, Merrie Desefano and What’s Next

I love a “chewy” book, one that keeps you thinking about the story and themes after you’ve turned the last page, and for me Afterlife was just that. Chewy. What ifs kept bouncing around my head for days and my fellow soccer moms were about to throw me through the goal posts themselves if I didn’t shut up about it. Would I chose a re-do in  a perfect body once this one was completely worn out? Could that be justified within a Christian faith and a Bible that states, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgement” (Hebrews 9:27)?

While she’s not going to settle my internal debates, Merrie Destefano did graciously answer some other questions. So, pour yourself a big mug of coffee and join us while we chat!

Jane: Afterlife is a fantastic mix of old-school science fiction and older-school pulp noir, set in a near-future New Orleans. What parallels between the world of Afterlife and “real” life are your favorites? Are there any parallels that make you anxious for the present or future?

Merrie: I think one of things that I liked most about working on Afterlife was the fact that this story had a strong religious dynamic. Not every book or story has that and I think it’s important that, if faith is part of a story, it has to be an organic element. It can’t be painted on. So for me, I liked looking at how the resurrection process in Afterlife might affect our faith. Would it change our major world religions and, if so, in what ways? And also, how would this play out on a personal level? Does it make me anxious for the present or future? No. I’m one of those people who believe that God is in charge of the big stuff and the details. I’m not really worried about how science is going to change our world. I think the important thing is to keep your eyes focused on the One who created the world.

Jane: Why, do you think, is it so easy to sell a physical resurrection, even if it isn’t permanent – but so difficult for people to buy the real one?

Merrie: Wow. Great question! I think if I knew the answer to that I’d be Billy Graham. I think we all have a natural desire for immortal life, so that may be why a physical resurrection is appealing. As far as the real resurrection, that involves belief in the spiritual world—things that we can’t see or feel—and it’s pretty hard for most people to trust in something they can’t see. Hard, but not impossible.

Jane: While Afterlife is a beautiful stand-alone book, the subtitle is “The Resurrection Chronicles.” Are we going to see some familiar characters in the sequel(s)? And (if you can drop a girl a hint) when?

Merrie: Thank you for the compliment! I’m really glad that you enjoyed Afterlife. Basically, if Afterlife sells really, really well, then there will probably be a sequel. Or maybe two. I do have ideas for subsequent books. But my contract was for two stand-alone books that were already written.

Jane: Feast, your upcoming book to be released in June, seems to be a different animal altogether, the teaser copy indicating something more along the lines of vampires and werewolves. How does your faith play out in fantasy like that?

Merrie: Like I mentioned earlier, the faith element is stronger in some stories than others. Obviously my worldview colors what the characters are allowed to do and the conclusions that they make. I think Feast has a moral quality to it, but the faith element isn’t nearly as strong or as outspoken as it was in Afterlife. Although it’s never mentioned in the book, the premise for this story was found in Proverbs 29:18: “Without vision, the people perish.” In my mind, I changed that to, “Without dreams, the people perish.” So, the paranormal creatures in the book harvest people’s dreams, but if they take too much, the people die. Basically it’s a parallel for how we can’t survive without hope or dreams, and the fact that Satan strives to steal our hope. The creatures in Feast aren’t bad in themselves, although some of them have base desires that drive them to commit evil acts—just like humans.

Jane: Have you been given any static for writing fiction as a Christian? Have you been surprised by the reactions you’ve observed?

Merrie: Actually, I’ve had a pretty good response, which was a bit surprising. I think everyone brings their worldview to their fiction—sometimes it’s their political views, sometimes views on conservation, sometimes it’s their faith-based views.

Jane: What was your journey to published fiction author like, both “real world” and spiritual?

Merrie: Like every writer/author, there were a number of bumps in the road along the way. I started writing books and short stories in my twenties, then stopped for about fifteen years. Then I wrote, designed and illustrated a series of four gift books that I sold to Thomas Nelson, which was pretty cool, except that this happened right when that publisher merged with Word. As a result, my books got dropped. I got to keep the money—again, very cool—so I was able to stay home for two years and really work on writing books. After that, I got a job as the publisher at The Word For Today, which I believe was totally a God-thing, since my experience up until that point was in graphic design and illustration. At this point, I had worked in publishing for about 15 years, but still, this was my first job as an editor/publisher. I worked there for 3 years, then got laid off. After that, I got a job as the senior editor on Victorian Homes magazine and Romantic Homes magazine. I eventually became the editor of Victorian Homes, the founding editor of Cottages & Bungalow, and a contributing editor of Romantic Homes. But honestly, my heart has always been in books, specifically novels. I just love making up stories. When I got laid off from my position as editor of Victorian Homes, I decided that I was going to focus seriously on becoming a published author. I believe that God answered that prayer. I got laid off in April and my agent sold Afterlife to HarperCollins/Eos in August. Since then I’ve been working full-time as a novelist and a freelance editor.

Thank you, Merrie, for your time. I know you’ve been busy lately with convention appearances and a myserious new Work In Progress! I can’t wait until the day we don’t have to do interviews via e-mail and can have real coffee in real time in person.

Jane, thank you so much for inviting me on your blog today! All your questions were great. And I wish you the best in your writing!

Merrie’s books are Afterlife: The Resurrection Chronicles at HarperCollins Eos and Feast: Harvest of Dreams, soon to be released by Harper Voyager. Her website is http://www.merriedestefano.com/. You can read her blog at http://merrie-destefano.blogspot.com/.

If you could do this again… would you?

If you were guaranteed to get a brand-new physically perfect body every time the body you are in dies – would you be less careful with it than you are now?

That’s just one of the questions I’ve thought about since reading Merrie Destefano’s debut novel Afterlife– a cyberpunk/gothic thriller that explores a futuristic New Orleans in a world where no one really dies anymore unless they want to.

The theme of eternal life has been a fiction fodder for, well, forever. Like The Picture of Dorian Graythere is a dark side to remaining in the light. In Merrie’s dystopian world one unintended consequence is the ban on new births due to a globe overwhelmed by a populace that will not die. Correction, their bodies do die, but scientists have found how to capture the essence of one’s being from their DNA and re-use that DNA allowing someone to be “re-born” up to nine times before the DNA is exhausted. Fresh new bodies of the user’s design await them, usually model perfect and 21-years-old.

What makes Merrie’s book highly unusual in the genre is the introduction of faith and religion. What if you believe one life is enough? What does that do to your social standing in the world? After all, becoming a Stringer (someone who strings lives together) is not a death-bed decision. First-timers are given the option to choose resurrection as a part of their school curriculum. And what about the vast segments of the global population that cannot afford resurrection? Are there revolts? What about the black-market imitations that are bound to spring up, how reliable or monstrous are those results?

I’m not going to ask Merrie those questions because that stuff is in the book and you can read it for yourself. (Just make sure you’ve got a nice uninterupted block of time!) However, Merrie has agreed to answer questions for me next week. What questions would you ask?

Public Policy And Boiled Frogs

A few weeks ago I was browsing the New Fiction shelves of my favorite local library and stumbled across a book by Glen Beck. My first reaction was to think it had been misplaced. My second was the incredulous declaration, “Glen Beck writes fiction! On purpose!”

The Overton Window is a book about a political theory akin to boiling a frog. Theoretically if you drop a frog in scalding water it will struggle until it escapes or dies. However, if you place it in temperate water it will be content to stay there as you gradually turn up the heat until it is cooked. Paul Overton of the Mackinaw Center for Public Policy defined the theory that came to be known as The Overton Window as a way to achieve a desired political result for any given constituency – even if it is currently outside what the general public will accept.

Picture a yardstick. At each end is an extreme of policy with gradations of each tapering toward the middle. Somewhere, probably toward the middle of that yardstick, is a section of options that are acceptable to the public. That section of acceptable policy is the Overton Window. But what if someone in power determines the best possible policy lies outside the window. It would be political suicide to advocate that policy outright, until the window is shifted to include that option. Paul Overton advocated education as a way to shift the window – but it didn’t take long for other minds to recognize that fear also shifts the window, and quickly.

In Beck’s book a group of behind the scenes power brokers have been gradually shifting and shaping American policy to the point that only one more national tragedy will bring about complete government dependence. It is a chillingly realistic glimpse of how an Orwellian world might come into being. The tension is created when a handful of people learn about the plans for that last big tragedy and do everything with their significantly smaller power to stop it.

Now, I enjoyed The Overton Window, in spite of agreeing in part with The Washington Post critique, “… its literary value (none), or its contribution to the thriller genre (small), or the money it rakes in (considerable)…” It was a fun bit of escapism. But unlike other political thrillers that leave my consciousness almost as soon as I turn the last page, something stuck in my head when I was done with this one. The thought that unnamed powers can manipulate events on a global stage to bring about results that directly affect my life can be paranoid inducing.

All the more so when real life events fall directly into the mold.

Just over a year ago, on Christmas Day 2009, a young Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, attempted to blow up an airplane coming into Detroit from The Netherlands. Now, this affected me directly as my home is within the holding pattern of Detroit International Airport. In the summer I sit on my patio and identify jets’ corporate identities by the colors and logos on their tailfins. It is not unthinkable that debris from a successful bombing attempt could have destroyed my life or the lives of people I personally know and love.

The political upshot of the thwarted bombing was the installation of full body scanners and stricter screening measures for civilians flying from airports within the U.S. But it doesn’t address the original problem that someone was able to board somewhere else with explosives in his underwear.

But that was already history when I read the book.

What brought the book back to mind was what was reported by Detroit media last week. “Flight 253 Passengers Claim Accused Nigerian Terrorist Didn’t Act Alone”, reported FOX 2 News in Detroit. A couple returning from vacation witnessed Abdulmutallab being given special treatment despite of his lack of passport, and were a mere six rows behind him when he set the plane on fire. Kurt and Lori Haskell aren’t knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers wearing confederate flag bandanas. They are well educated, well spoken, self employed lawyers who are putting their reputations and livelihoods on the line by going public with information they say has been repeatedly ignored and belittled by the government and mainstream media since the day of the event.

They claim not only did they witness the Underwear Bomber’s kid glove treatment, but also claim he was given a defective bomb by U.S. agents.

It’s not much of a leap from there to full blown conspiracy now, is it?

Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King) once said “Fiction is a lie. Good fiction is the truth inside the lie.”

Really, who needs the Washington Post to praise your books literary value if the results make people think? And Beck himself in his preface says this is the whole point of his book – to cause people to think. Perhaps, now and again, a little paranoia is not a bad thing.