Sunday, March 19, 2017

Contest Entry!

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Hey, everyone!  I'm here with a quick announcement:  I've entered the Faith Radio Writer's Contest again this year, this time with a submission called Althea's Choice.  Only the top ten fiction and non-fiction entries with the most reader votes will be judged by the official judge's panel, and since my entry is kinda last minute, it's doubtful I'll get far.  But if you guys would like to go check the story out and (if you would) give it a vote, you can find it here!  

Thanks in advance to any who decide to vote.  :)  Share it with your friends and family and we'll see how far this story can get!

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-Emmarayn Redding

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Relevance of the Church

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People online are always full of opinions.  Fairly recently I saw someone post an opinion that really stuck with me.  It was on the "relevance" of the church.  This is the gist of what they said:

"If the Christian Church does not revise its views on homosexuality, other religions, and other contemporary issues, they will be irrelevant within the next ten years."

The person was, of course insisting that the church needs to adopt and endorse the above mentioned issues or become extinct.  The comments on the post were mostly hearty agreement from the secular community, and awkward fumblings from the few Christians who saw fit to respond.

But honestly, my first thought when I read the post was, "If that's the  case, we're already irrelevant.  And yet, we never will be."

See, the Church (note the capital 'C') is not about what is relevant.  We're not about acceptance of popular or common opinion, we're about God.  We're not out to please people or provide a feel-good atmosphere. We're not here to be a big open house with cookies and coffee for everyone.  We're here to honor God.  God is the one who decides right from wrong, so it's His opinion we care about- not the World's.  

The World has already decided that homosexuality is cool, and that other religions are just as viable as Christianity.  They've already decided that the highest morality you can follow is your own opinion.  What's good or convenient or inoffensive for you personally is what goes.  So in that sense, yes, the Church is already irrelevant- we don't matter to them.  We don't match their ways.

But we never have. 

We are called to be separate.  When you take on the Name of Christ, you leave the ways of the World behind you to live a life that's pleasing to Him.  Why?  Because the ways of the World only lead to one place:  Eternal Death.

The Church is relevant because everyone on this planet is in need of a savior.  If you're alive, you're already fallen.  No matter how good or how bad we live our lives, we will never be good enough to get to Heaven on our own.  God knew this, so God made sure there was a way we could be saved anyway-  He Himself took our punishment.  When He died on the cross and rose again, He paid the deadly, bloody price that our sinful nature demands.  Because of His sacrifice, we no longer have to be enslaved to the things that dishonor Him.  We can be free, and we can live forever with Him in Heaven, rather than having to face the punishment of Hell.

This is a hard message to swallow for a lot of people, so if you're reading this as a non-Christian person, bear with me for a moment. 

When a Christian tells you that you're sinful and you need to repent, that's not an insult.  We say it out of love, and a true desire to see you safe!  Sin is something that afflicts us all from the moment of our birth.  We're so used to it that by the time we're actually old enough to think about it, we hardly even notice it.  That's why God gave  us the Law:  that is, the 10 Commandments.

It's a simple set of rules, or so you'd think.  But no human being on EARTH is able to keep every single one of them.  Not even the most annoyingly shiny-perfect person you know.  The Law isn't a checklist for us to complete and earn our way into Heaven, it's a mirror to show us how much we need a Savior.

God is Holy.  So clean, so pure we can't even comprehend it.  So perfect that even what seems like a slight infraction to us is really a deadly crime in comparison to His standards.  Things that seem right and desirable to us are dishonorable to Him.  I understand what it's like to love your sin, and to wish that it was acceptable, believe me.  I've experienced the deep shame that comes of being told that you're wrong and that you need to change.  It doesn't feel good.

But then again, neither does taking that nasty cough medicine.  It's miserable, it tastes awful and it stays with you for a while, but in the end, it helps you overcome your sickness.  God's laws do NOT feel nice.  Following His ways is the most difficult thing you will ever do.  And if it wasn't hard enough to follow through on your own out of a desire to please Him and stay safe, the World makes it harder by despising you for trying.

People are always screaming about how their way is right, and God's is wrong.  Christians are not and never have been popular- at least not when they actually do what God says to do.  I'm not talking about the "social christian" who goes to church, smiles at everyone and does nice things.  I'm talking about the people who love God desperately and know that they are not good enough on their own.  I'm talking about the people who have placed their trust in Jesus and try daily to live according to His words, regardless of their success rate.  I'm talking about those who place God's standards above their own, and above the rest of the world.  True Christians must do God's will even when it means giving up things which are dear to us, a concept which is foreign the majority of society today.

These people are not popular.  They are not "relevant" according to the World's standards.  But we are according to God's, and that's what really matters.  Jesus's sacrifice on that cross has made it so that we can relevantly, legitimately approach God and be justified before Him.  

In closing, the Church will never be relevant when it comes to matching the popular morality (or lack thereof) of the world.  But it will always be relevant when it comes to your eternal, everlasting home.  God has provided a way for us to be safe with Him forever, if we only will listen and submit ourselves to His Way, the Only Way that is right.

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-Emmarayn Redding

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Beautiful Music: The Plains/Bitter Dancer

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I missed last month's Beautiful Music post, so I'm not gonna miss it again!  

I recently started listening to some of Fleet Foxes' songs, and they're pretty interesting. They've got a really different style, but it's calm and fascinating at the same time.  Their unpolished vocals, though something to get used to, have a haunting and down-to-earth sound that is very distinct.  

This song, The Plains/Bitter Dancer , is a story song told in two acts (as near as I can see anyway). The chords.... oh man, the chords.  I can imagine what it must have been like writing this song, with that kind of strange, complex chord structure rising and falling in the depths of the writer's mind.  This is definitely not a "background" song to put on while you study.  It's an attention grabber.    Listen to the lyrics once they get started- the story they tell has quite the twist.  

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-Emmarayn Redding

(DISCLAIMER:  Song copyright Fleet Foxes.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Story Inspirations: The Traveler's Game

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"The Traveler bent down to look upon he wide, sad grin of a whitened skull.  He shook his head solemnly and placed his hand over his heart.  'Don' worry, old chap.  Only one more must join your number, then you may rest in peace.'
So saying, the Traveler stood up and walked boldly to the gate, and rapped loudly three times.
Then he stepped back and waited politely, without looking up at the battlements to see if anyone had heard..."

And now we come to the final story in The Madman of Elkriahl and Other Fairy Tales.....  The Traveler's Game.

Something of a last-minute addition to the collection, Traveler's Game replaced another tale that I had originally intended to include called Patchcoat.  I had encountered some difficulty with Patchcoat and I had no wish to postpone the release of the whole book because of it.  Fortunately, as I tried to solve the delema, inspiration for another story came while I was hunting through good artists on DeviantArt.  I was looking through different illustrations of fairy-tale-esque pictures when all of a sudden, this dark, grim picture came up.

(WARNING:  Image depicts a dead body and multiple bones.  If you're one of my more sensitive readers, well, you've been warned.  ;)

Image property of Gaius31Duke of DeviantArt.

Look at that!!  Isn't that just.... gripping?  

The artist included a short snippet of story for the picture, but I was already off on my own line of thought.  An evil monarch who murders without guilt, an oppressed, snow-bound kingdom, and one lone hero who takes justice in their own hands.  

Originally, I intended for the Traveler to be female, but as I started planning the climactic sequence in which the Traveler's game is initiated and she and the Wicked King place their bets against one another, I couldn't escape some undesirable subtexts resulting from her gender.  

I quickly nixed the idea of the female traveler.  A male protagonist made for a much more satisfying story with this particular plot.   

It took me a while to decide on how the titular game was actually played.  I eventually decided on a simple dice game, highest score wins.  But even that turned out more complicated than I'd expected when I had to research dice and their construction.  Before writing this story, I had no idea that the little dots on dice actually had names.  (They're called pips, by the way.)

While I wrote the last half of the story, after the Traveler has entered the Wicked King's castle, the song "In the Hall of the Mountain King" kept playing on repeat in my head.  And also over my speakers.  My family probably got sick of it by the end...  XD  

Tonally, this story was heavily inspired by Jim Henson's The Storyteller, a charming miniseries which I love.  Here's the opening sequence to give you an idea of what it feels like-

If I had the means to do it, I would LOVE to produce Traveler's Game as an episode of the Storyteller.  Though, considering my resources, maybe I'd be better off adapting it for the stage.  :)  We'll see if either of those dreams ever actually comes to pass.  

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-Emmarayn Redding

(Hand-drawn image copyright Emmarayn Redding, all rights reserved.  
DISCLAIMER:  Painting copyright Gaius31Duke of DeviantArt.  Clip from The Storyteller  copyright Jim Henson.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Story Inspirations: Stoneheart

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"I lay a curse on your kingdom, and upon your unborn son!  Your soil will be infertile, your forests will dry up.  All your land will shrivel and fade, and so will our people as year after year their crops fail.  As for your son- yes, he will grow strong- and yes, he will become king after you- but he will never love.  His heart will be as stony and cold as the land he rules.  And as the years pass and your kingdom grows ever poorer, he will have no choice but to pledge his allegiance to me.  Then your kingdom will be mine forever!

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The Fisher King is a part of the old Arthurian legends.  It tells the tale of a king who is wounded in battle (usually in the legs, crippling him).  As his health deteriorates, so does his spirit and his kingdom.  If the king is healed, his land will flourish once again- but if he dies, his land will be cursed forever.

In Stoneheart, which was originally titled The Stonehearted King, a young prince is cursed with a heart of stone, incapable of feeling any strong emotion.  His fate is tied to that of his land, and one cannot be healed without the other.  

Once again, love is the central theme to this story.  I guess you can tell where my thoughts drift most often.... love, love, let's have some more love.  Brotherly love, fatherly love, motherly love, romantic love, oooh!  And you know what we need more of?  I know, LOVE!!!  >:D

This story came to me in the evening while I was listening to a song from one of my all-time favorite shows, Riverdance.  This song, called The Heart's Cry has little to do with the story for the most part.  But the choruses were the entire basis for both King Stoneheart's curse and *SPOILER!!!* the breaking of it. *END SPOILER!!!*  The lyrics are as follows-

In time....

(Time holds the heart's key)

Key to everything is love....

(Love makes the heart flower)

Flower into a deep desire....

(Passion in the heart's cry)

Passion and desire.....

As these moving chords resonated in my mind for the hundred-billionth time, I wondered what sort of story might go along with such a song.  Whipping out some paper to sketch out a quick outline, I quickly formulated the tale and began writing.  I wrote... all... night.  Almost, anyway.  It was a mad rush of writing.  The first draft was pretty rough, and it went thought a huge re-write once I got around to adding it to the fairy tale collection.  The original ending was much more simplistic, and still managed to have some logic loops that I couldn't stand. 

Stoneheart is the story that had the most typos of the entire book, and this was mostly because I lost the file somewhere along the lines and had to re-type the story completely from a manuscript I'd printed out after the first night I wrote it.  So while my eyes read the manuscript, my fingers typed what I saw, resulting in quite a few spelling mistakes and half-repeaed sentences.  

This story was also the hardest to illustrate.  Five full-color watercolor illustrations lined with black ink seemed like a great idea in the beginning, but I quickly found that combination to be challenging due to the black ink's tendency to bleed.   -_-

There was one illustration that didn't make it into the book, and remained uncolored.  The reason?  Well, I started it somewhat late in the formatting process and I didn't want to ruin the rest of the document by squeezing in another picture, thus upsetting the word placement in every other story in the book.  I sometimes wonder if I should have just bitten the bullet and put it in.  Here it is... you can tell me your thoughts.  :)

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-Emmarayn Redding

(Images copyright Emmarayn Redding.  All rights reserved.  Song and lyrics copyright Bill Whelan)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Story Inspirations: Dilmond Garp and the Wibberwon Gamby

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"Dilmond Garp lived with his mother in the village of Flitchens.  He was a tall, gangly lad of fourteen with straw-colored hair and bright blue eyes.  He was a good boy, for the most part.  He was respectful of his elders and kind to everyone, and he never indulged in any mischief.  But Dilmond had one great fault- he had the terrible habit of leaving his chores undone until the last moment possible." 

Wouldn't it be nice to have the ability to snap your fingers and have your tasks done in the blink of an eye?  To be able to concentrate what time you'd usually spend on working on something more fun and enjoyable?

Of course, every person EVER has probably thought this at some point.  I know I have... many, many, many times.  

One of my greatest faults, I must admit, is procrastination.  I look around, and if I see work to be done, I think, Hmmm... I should do something about that!  It won't take long.  I'll do it!  Right after this one quick thing!

And then one thing leads to another and I end up putting it off until it's too late.  It's a shameful cycle and I'm well aware of it, and I truly have been working on changing that about myself.  At its root, procrastination is just another form of laziness, and that's the last thing I want to be.  The only thing that can really be done about it is to purpose in your heart to stop procrastinating and GET BUSY!!!!  And then do that.  Right away.

A lot of times when I'm dealing with something I'll externalize it by putting it in a story.  Letting a character experience the same things I or other people in my life do allows me to work through it in a more coherent manner.  So, during one of those times when I was thinking a lot on this particular issue, a character was born to me named Dilmond Garp, an imaginative young boy on the brink of manhood (sort of) who is faced with the difficult challenge of balancing chores and playtime. 

I knew I wanted Dilmond to face temptation in a physical form of some kind, and what better way to entrap a young, well-meaning person than a magical trickster?

Enter the Wibberwon Gamby.

Again, for this mischievous creature I was playing around with syllables in my head trying to come up with cool new words.  Once that peculiar mess came out- wib-ber-w-on gam-by- I knew I had something.  At first, I didn't even know what it would be.  Would it be an object?  A person?  A place?  An action even?  

After a moments' thought, the image of a little green fellow with large ears and a red scarf came to mind, and the whole story began to take form.  

Intrigued by this line of thought, I went on a brisk bike ride.  There's nothing like a surge of adrenaline to induce some inspiration.  I just hope  none of the neighbors heard me muttering planned lines like "The dress looks better on the goat than it does on you, you miserable, horrible old hag!"  as I passed their farmsteads.  

I came home at last and told my mom about the idea, and she thought it was a great idea.  I went to work writing right away, and by late that night I had finished the short story.  I had my aunt read it to my younger siblings and cousins, and though I wasn't there for the reading, I later heard that the room had been filled with laughter.  Y'know, in a good way and all...  and it was then that I really started thinking that this fairy tale book could be a thing.  

With Dilmond Garp and the Wibberwon Gamby, coupled with The Fairy King and the Madman of Elkriahl (at the time still just an idea) I had a fairy tale collection already half-way done.  I had always intended to do it some day, but it was Dilmond Garp that really got me going.   And although I can't really decide which of the five stories in this book are my favorite, Dilmond certainly has some of the fondest memories attached to it.  

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-Emmarayn Redding

(Image copyright Emmarayn Redding.  All rights reserved.)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Story Inspirations: The Fairy King

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"Be wary my child, and never run off into the woods.  For the Fairies live there, and they are perilous.  Many an unhappy traveler has followed their call, never to be seen again.  Always they seek merriment in their mischief- who knows whether they will harm or help you?  Never stray far from the house, my love, lest the Fairies steal you away."

Well, I meant to do these inspiration posts pretty much back to back, but then life got super busy and I let it slide.  0_0  Woops!

Anyway, we now move on to the second fairy tale, The Fairy King.

It's difficult to track when exactly this story began to take root in my imagination.  It had probably been simmering for a year or two before it actually started to take shape.

It was December, and still in the nice months when  there's snow but the temperature keeps pretty much in the 20s.  I had been reading The Silmarillion  and had just reached the beginning parts of Turin's story.  The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was about to come out, and I was aching to write something.  I've always love stories of a father/daughter or big brother/little sister relationship, and themes of adoption have always interested me.

One evening, all of these elements just kind of coagulated into a story in the space of about an hour.  Images flashed through my mind of a young, ragged urchin girl with windblown curls, and of a grand but earthy man in a palace made of living trees.  These were the seeds of the characters that would become Anya and the Fairy King.  

Related image
Image result for jareth the goblin king end scene
The appearance of Thranduil in The Desolation of Smaug influenced my vision of the Fairy King, as did (I reluctantly admit) David Bowie's Jareth the Goblin King.  But his character was influenced by the old Fair Folk in Celtic, English, and Norse myths.  Dangerous and unpredictable, the Fairies of Old were not the cute, beneficial wish-granters that are popular today.  They were beautiful and alluring, but also deadly and mischievous.  When a wandering hero passed their way it was anyone's guess as to whether the Fae would aid or destroy him.  They were prone to acts of trouble making, everything from spoiling a cow's milk supply to stealing a newborn babe- or even fully grown men and women.

I wanted to explore what would happen if a creature such as this began to feel, for the very first time, a selfless, parental love.  To learn what it means to care for someone else, and be a protector rather than a tormentor.

I spent the three days before Christmas planning out the words I would use to tell this fairy tale, and then stayed up far too late on Christmas Eve actually writing it.  By the evening of Christmas Day it was finished, and went through no further changes other than the correcting of spelling mistakes.

After I finished writing the story, I was at first concerned when I could find no clear moral.  Most fairy tales have a moral after all... and this one just didn't seem to have one.   The character's motivations were clear, but what did they learn from their experience?  The Fairy King became a safe haven for Anya during her time of need, but his influence was not what she needed in the long term- it was her real father that she really needed.  Anya, in turn, was a positive influence on the Fairy King, helping him understand love.  But in the end, her presence did not bring happiness put pain... so what was the point of the story?

I think, after all that, the story is about love at its core.  Love changes people for the better, but it isn't always easy, and you have to work at it.  Love requires sacrifice and wisdom, and faithfulness.  The characters of the story each have a different affect on each other, and must learn to deal with the consequences of both their own actions and the actions of those around them.

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-Emmarayn Redding

(Hand-drawn images copyright Emmarayn Redding.  All rights reserved.
Other images taken from The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug and Labyrinth)