Archive for October, 2008

Primeval – A Review

During the opening of Primeval, I was left once again asking the question “White people, are you kidding me?” A series of holes open up around the country, in this case England, dinosaurs come pouring out, and you feel compelled to go through? This is the premise o Primeval, the lastest sci-fi show from BBC.

Co-created by Tim Haines (one of the men behind the Discovery Channel series Walking with Dinosaurs) and similar to Stargate (moving through time instead of space) there is a simple equation to figuring out the show:

Primeval = Torchwood – sexy + dinosaurs

The anomalies are doors to the time zones in the world’s history, the past is right beside us, and becomes linked to us. Prof. Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall), an authority on gaps in the evolutionary record, assembles a team who spend most of their time having crushes on one another. He himself is in a bit of a love triangle as his wife, who disappeared eight years earlier, keeps popping up along with the dinosaurs. Throw in some government bureaucrats, scientific mumbo jumbo, and a bit of an on-going mystery, and you have a strange but entertaining gumbo that lands just this side of camp. It’s not quite Jurassic Park but not quite Land of the Lost in terms of the special effects, though sometimes the CGI comes off as rather cartoony.

“It’s the pieces that don’t fit that interest me.” –Prof. Cutter

As always, a show about dinosaurs stirs up many spiritual issues. Too many Christians apply the litmus test of evolution vs. literal six day creation on folks before they will let them in. The hubris of those in possession of this spiritual secret knowledge (latter day Gnostics in many ways) chase off serious spiritual seekers. It’s just as bad, even worse, when science and religion get in bed together, such as the attempt to apply “scientific principles” and scrutiny to the Genesis creation account from the Bible. People, friends of the Bible, make claims then attempt to prop them up with evidence, proofs, and diagrams. This, by the way, despite the fact that the Bible never makes the claim of it being foundational to knowledge (inspired and useful, yes; foundational, no.)

Primeval achieves the right mix of being kid friendly, without the Sarah Jane Adventures level of kid pandering. I’ve really been enjoying the show, but this is partly based on my oldest son’s (age 7) assessment that “dinosaurs are cool.” So, yeah, the show’s kinda cool.

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BIB – Networking

When I talk to some newbie writers about networking, they seem to hear it as butt-kissing or something they shouldn’t have to do in order to get published. They want no part of the politics of writing/publishing. Typically I hear this from the self-published crowd who tend to show little interest in the business aspect of writing. (Ironic since if you are going to go the self-publishing route, you should know the business side of things even better). So this isn’t for them.

One of the reasons we go to conventions is to network. It’s why we spend so much time on message boards, blogs, and social networking sites. While publishing largely boils down to what you write, the business side of things is eased by who you know. Friends make things easier. I know that as my career has slowly blossomed (I figure I’m in year eight on my road to overnight success), friends are there to encourage me, be first readers of my stories, edit me, and blurb me as needed.

This is not a call to be an unrepentant climber. Name-badging people and ignoring them if they “can’t be of use to you” isn’t going to win you any friends (and people know when they have been snubbed). This mercenary way of going through life will be quickly recognized. It’s about the relationship first. I know when someone is using me to raid my connections, hanging around with me just because of who I hang out with, or talking with me in order to talk to who I’m talking to. I know it’s a part of the game, but if you’re going to so transparently use me, at least buy me dinner first. Networking isn’t about using or ass-kissing people, it’s simply about building relationships, for their own sake.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things can make a Big Difference, described these people as connectors, people who “link us up with the world … people with a special gift for bringing the world together.” Connectors are people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions. A connector is essentially the social equivalent of a computer network hub. Connectors usually know people across an array of social, cultural, professional, and economic circles, and make a habit of introducing people who work or live in different circles.

Some people are natural networkers. Some people have to work at it.

Writers in general aren’t the most socially comfortable people. The bulk of what we do is done in solitude and the business side of art, networking, glad-handing, and nurturing/being with fans doesn’t necessarily come easily. So I offer a few simple tips to proper networking:

-Be genuine. Be true to yourself and your personality. Don’t try to mimic someone else. For example, I can’t do other people’s material. They’re likely funny in ways that I’m not and vice versa. Personality-wise, I can only be me. I’ll never be a Fran Friel, a Kelli Dunlap, a Chesya Burke, a Brian Keene or any of the other budding rock stars of the horror community. Their acts are their own. But that’s the secret: be your own act.

-Be naturally interested in people, for their own sake, without an agenda. You don’t make friends by first asking what they can do for you. You don’t make friends based on who they are or where they are in their careers. If for no other reason that you don’t know what twists fate may have in store for them or you, don’t burn bridges before they’ve formed.

-Be friendly. You are with your peers, people who get what you do and how you do it. You get to cut loose (within reason), and solidify working relationships with fellow writers, editors, agents, and fans. As JA Konrath said, “When we writers go anywhere, we become ambassadors for our writing.”

Sometimes it is difficult getting spouse to see networking as something other than goofing off (I don’t understand my own wife’s confusion on the issue). Regardless, networking is an important part of any industry. Honestly, it’s part of the fun for me since basically I get to build a network of connections through conversation. And I love running my mouth.

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Supernatural (Season One) – A Review

“Family Business – Doing their Father’s Work”

There are two types of horror shows that spring up in the wake of The X-Files: those that are pale imitations of The X-Files (the whole spate of shows that sprang up when The X-Files hit big, Fringe) and those do what The X-Files did at its best, like Supernatural.

“I don’t understand the blind faith you have in the man. I mean, it’s like you don’t even question him.” –Sam

Two brothers, Sam (Jared Padalecki, Gilmore Girls) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles, Smallville) enter the family business of hunting down supernatural intrusions. Their father has mysteriously disappeared, their mother was killed when they were children (engulfed in flames by a demon), and now Sam’s girlfriend has suffered the same fate. Sam wants to escape the family line of work and pursue a normal life while Dean embraces his father’s wishes trying to be the obedient son. So week after week, they pursue any ghost, ghoul, or urban legend, all while arguing like the brothers they are, sort of Kolchak the Night Stalker in a Chevy.

I expound upon much of the following in my blogs the theology of horror (part I, part II, and part III), but at its core, horror is about fear, an attempt to get a cathartic release from dealing with what scares us – be it the unknown or ultimately, our fear of death. There are four things horror explores especially well:

“It must be rough to believe in something so much and have it disappoint you like that.” –Dean

4. Horror deals with the total depravity of man. Sometimes this comes out as wrestling with the theme of man having a darker nature to resist, restrain, or kill (with such archetype monster tropes such as the werewolf or Mr. Hyde). In fact, the modern day serial killer has become the natural incarnation of man’s capacity for evil.

“But if you know evil’s out there, how can you not believe good’s out there, too?” –Sam

3. Horror deals with the nature of good vs. evil. In horror, the reality of evil cannot be denied. Brian Godawa says that: “Another way in which horror and thriller movies can communicate truth in today’s postmodern climate of relativism is in their simple but believable portrayal of real and undeniable evil. Showing the harmful results of a belief has been traditionally called via negativa, or the “way of the negative.” It is making an argument against a certain viewpoint by showing the negative conclusion to which it ultimately leads.

In horror, evil takes on a life of its own. It rages against God and it rages against man. Once the evil is revealed, once we have been dragged kicking and screaming right into the face of evil, one is forced to react. We can’t just deny it and hope it goes away, that’s a sure route to a quick demise for any character in a horror story that pursues that course. Since horror has traditionally been a brand of morality tale that makes us see evil, one of its most powerful lessons is that evil can win if we fail to do the right thing. As the characters, our proxies, gear up for this fight, they must confront their fears. Evil must be opposed. In fact, not just opposed, but opposed in the right way. When we use evil to stop evil, the evil is never defeated and will resurface again, often strengthened (why do you think we have to suffer through so many Hellraiser movies?).

“How can you be a skeptic with the things we see every day?” –Sam

2. Horror, as a genre, embraces the reality of the supernatural. Horror not only acknowledges a spiritual dimension to life, but that transcendent reality often intrudes into our own. Even as we hunger for ths transcendent realm and can’t help but grapple with the idea of its existence, nothing scares like the unknown. The world of the Bible is a world full of mystery. Mystery defies explanation. We’re uncomfortable with mystery despite our need for it. The mystery of the afterlife, the mystery of unseen forces – the Bible takes seriously the world of the supernatural.

“You know what I’ve got faith in? Reality.” –Dean

1. Horror meditates on our mortality and the reality of Death. The fear of death fuels horror. There is a wisdom that comes from contemplating death. The reality of death forces us to assess what is important about life, what makes it worth living, and wonder what may come after it. Horror is about grappling with what we see in the world around us and dealing with the implications of the eternal philosophical question “why?” Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there evil? Why do we do the things we do to one another?

“I guess if you’re going to have faith, you can’t just have it when the miracles happen. You have to have it when they don’t.” –Layla (Julie Benz)

And in the course of their spiritual journey, in the face of all they’ve seen, the horror drives them to grapple with faith.

Supernatural hits all the right notes, the inheritor to both The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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Orgy of Souls: Making Gary Braunbeck’s Brain Melt

Some people have asked about what the thought process behind bringing Orgy of Souls to light. So I thought I would explore that for a bit.

At the World Horror Convention 2007, Wrath James White and I were telling award winning writer, Gary Braunbeck about our collaboration. If I could capture a facial expression of his reaction to just the IDEA of the two of us writing together, and use it as a blurb, I most certainly would have done so.

Wrath James White and I have very little in common beyond being bald, black horror writers. Our writing styles, our lifestyles, our politics, our worldviews, our spiritual perspectives – on paper, we shouldn’t even be friends. He writes for those with “a taste for the violent, the erotic, the blasphemous,” while I write introspective, atmospheric stories. He’s a hedonistic humanist and I’m a Christian, the facilitator (a nebulous title coming from the Greek meaning “we don’t want to keep explaining to the congregation that one of the church leaders is a horror writer”) at a church called The Dwelling Place.

Religion and horror are inextricably tied to one another, probably because both deal with the unknown and try to come to terms with the fear of it. Since spirituality is a fundamental part of the human experience, an examination of faith, especially against the backdrop of the horror genre is something that is near to my heart. Doing so with a voice diametrically opposed to mine, that’s a challenge that I’ve looked forward to.

The a “big idea” to Orgy of Souls is the examination of the idea of faith and in a lot of ways is a continuation of the kind of conversations (read: arguments) Wrath and I typically find ourselves in (in fact, my story recently published in Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest #12, “Broken Strand” is another story stemming from one of our arguments, that time on free will. Just like “Nurse’s Requiem”, in the Dark Dreams III anthology examined the idea of faith stemming from another argument; and my story “Rite of Passage”, in an upcoming issue of Space & Time Magazine stemmed from an argument we were having over the history of slavery. In other words, we do this a lot).

Seen as a crutch by some, faith is that sometimes tenuous, sometimes stronger-than-we-think thing that keeps our world in order. I believe that we’re all people of faith in our own way, it’s just a matter of what we choose to put that faith in, be it in ourselves, science, humanity, or in God. As such, we each are on our own spiritual journey.

I don’t know much for sure and I’m certainly not afraid of questioning or going through a period of doubt. Faith includes doubt. God is big enough for us to question, doubt, and wrestle with. In fact, I believe He expects us to. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty. Finding faith is like falling in love: there is an element of mystery to both and let’s face it, there are times when we feel like we have been chosen and times when we choose to do it (which is what marriage has taught me).

As for “how can a Christian write horror?” (you can imagine the variations on this question I tend to field … and my sometimes less than helpful responses) or justify any story, much less one about faith, set against a backdrop of plenty of sex and violence and the occasional demon … the best answer I can offer is that sometimes exploring faith can be messy.

Orgy of Souls is as much about the collaboration as anything else. It’s important to choose wisely in your collaboration partners because it’s a lot like entering into a marriage (and divorce can be just as messy). The idea is to come together without losing the distinction of your individual voices. The way we looked at it was that I do what I do. Wrath does what Wrath does. I get to play in Wrath’s sandbox (though I swear, he wrote all the naughty bits. Absolutely. He’s solely to blame. I definitely had no role in any of that. For sure.) Wrath gets to play in mine. It was every bit as much two friends coming together to do what we love, writing, just to enjoy the give and take and learning from each other. And have a ball doing it.

Then we invite the reader to join in our fun. You can’t ask for much more than that.

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The Political News Cycle (pics only edition)

My take home lesson from the debates.

Colin rocks it out. Then announces his endorsement.

Got it.

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Yes, I’m Still Pro-Life. Are You?

So in light of my black Republican yet pro-Obama stance, the number one question I’ve been asked of late is “I thought you were pro-life?” My stance on the issue isn’t that different from Senator Obama’s. I fear a ban would force women to seek unsafe abortions. I am also not going to be the one to tell a woman she can’t have an abortion in the case of rape or her life being in danger. I would rather reduce the number of women who feel the need to have abortions in the first place. But I don’t stop there.

A lot of those babies folks work themselves into a tizzy to see born are put up for adoption, enter our foster system, or otherwise become neglected. It’s like most folks quit caring for them once they are here. If we’re to be true pro-lifers, we need to always be about the “least of these”, the poor, the exploited, the abused, the abandoned. For those focused on their Christian duty to have as many kids as possible, to “have a full quiver” as it were, if you have room in your quiver we need to be the first to be adopting babies.

None of my pro choice friends cheer for more abortions though they are demonized as holding that position. The abortion issue is not my litmus test for politicians because I don’t see Roe vs. Wade overturning or necessarily want it to be, if I’m being completely honest. I am very much about letting people have choices, and a bad choice should be folks option (and back alley abortions does no one any good).

However, in this day and age, with contraception being so easy and relatively inexpensive, it’s far more safe and humane to prevent pregnancy rather than terminate one. The whole abortion as contraception thing bothers me to the core. Late-term abortions are pretty much indefensible.
Abortion is a moral issue, a battle that needs to be waged on the level of the individual, not legislatively (though if folks want to be done with it as an issue, it should be put to amendment vote).

So yes, I’m still pro-life. I still believe life begins at conception, but being pro-life means that I don’t stop worrying about kids once they’re born. Being pro-life means I don’t get to move away from all “the problems” of the city and build personal compounds in the suburbs. It means that all life is valuable, the unborn, the underserved, the abandoned, the forgotten. Here’s the bottom line, a nuanced position is hard to encapsulating into a bumper sticker.

Friday Night Date Place: Looking for Communitas?

A friend of mine engaged me in a discussion about the nature of the group of friends that she was currently hanging out with. The group met her companionship needs, a group of people her age in the same life situation. They got together to kill time together, watching television, going out to eat, and in general, enjoying one another’s company. In other words, it was basically a singles group.

Singles groups are singles groups first and part of the church in the secondary. Sometimes VERY secondarily. Your typical church singles group has a few key characteristics: 1) the average stay of the typical member is five years and 2) about every three years, the group has gone through a cycle of turnover. Why? Because it is one of the few ministries where the object is to get out of it. People date, and if they marry, they leave. People date, and if it doesn’t work out, they leave. People hang out, and if there are no prospects, they leave.

Some communities exist for their own sake, but can’t sustain themselves over the long haul. Even in my own experience in singles groups, a few true friendships were forged, but the group on the whole couldn’t sustain itself. I’m not talking about the relationships per se because those interested in true friendship built those relationships. But the group on the whole, if it were just about killing time, got old. Especially since the “mission” of the group was to get out of the group.

Michael Frost in his book Exiles discusses the commendable desire for Christian community, how it has become a buzzword, but how it has gone often unfulfilled. Frost’s contention is that the problem begins when we make community our end goal, how “aiming for community is a bit like aiming for happiness. It’s not a goal in itself. We find happiness as an incedental by-product of pursuing love, justice, hospitality, and generosity. When you aim for happiness, you are bound to miss it. Likewise with community. It’s not our goal. It emerges as a by-product of pursuing something else.”

There comes a point where you want to go deeper with a group, where you want to move from community to communitas. With communitas, you buy into a mission or vision and that mission sustains the group because not only do the activities stem from that sense of mission, but there is a sense of purpose about them. The group becomes united behind the feeling that they have banded together at this time for this reason. Whether to join in with what God is already doing (to put it in spiritual language) or simply to better the world them; either way, they become a part of something greater than themselves and turning outwards, rather than continually focused inward.

This part of a hermeneutic of communitas I can buy into. People will want to go to the next level, deepen the roots of the friendships in any group, moving from a sense of a group of casual acquaintances to real friends, because we are relational beings and long for that sense of connection. If we don’t share a committed pursuit of a greater goal, we often will succumb to being a short term, unsustainable mission of hanging out. Until we leave.

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Don’t Talk to Writers…

…or at least don’t read writers you know. You may be happier that way.

My wife doesn’t read my fiction. The reason why was touched upon in one of the panels I was on at ConText. We were discussing how we incorporate real life into our writing. My position was that everything around me was up for grabs. In particular, I draw on my story and the things that connect to my story. You engaging me, your story bumping up against mine, all stories period … all up for grabs for me to draw on.

When folks ask “where do you get your ideas from?” I don’t want to have to respond, I wait for folks to do or say something interesting, but you rarely do. But it can be a little disconcerting to see bits of a personal argument in print or see a friends’ history informing a character. But it’s what we do. Lord help you if you are friends with a writer/pastor: your story could end up doing double duty in print and a sermon.

It’s a fine line to walk, protecting privacy and being true to the demands of the story. Can we go too far? Um, yeah. Show of hands: how many of us have spent the night on the couch after our spouse came across something we’ve shared or written? It’s so bad, the official term in the Broaddus household for retracting/editing a statement or story is the “corrective memo”. My wife does read my blog. I’ve gotten more than a few corrective memos (she was ESPECIALLY not pleased with the original versions of me detailing—emphasis on details—the birth of our first son (in two parts, no less).

This blog is dedicated to the person who wrote me saying “you don’t have to use this e-mail as a blog or story. We’re just having a conversation.” Yes we were. At least I’m not using your name. When all is said and done, we do ultimately respect people’s privacy (if only for fear of a libel suit). Truth be told, only you will know when your story’s been co-opted, unless you or the author run your mouths about it. Ironically, most of the time my friends don’t even recognize themselves in my stories unless I point them out. That’s the point.

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Orion Rising

Long time readers of my blog have walked with me through the trials of my sister. I’m not going to re-hash everything here (if you want a summary, you can click here and here for the dark times, although there was a wedding I officiated in between them).

The last year has brought an end to her doing her best impersonation of Job. I thought that I’d update you all on the latest bit. Actually, a picture is worth a thousand words:

Born at 8:40 a.m., Orion Lee Griffin. 7 lbs 4 oz and 20 inches long.

(She had banned me from the hospital during the C-section and the first six hours of recovery. Something about me being … me. Though, for the record, it was our fellow board member, Doug W. who coined the phrase “nether region living organism launch!”)

Now that she’s a lot less grumpy, I’m sure she’ll be returning to her duties as one of my board moderators. I can only hope she’ll change the theme of my board back to something, I don’t know, more “horror writer appropriate” (though I am thankful she got rid of the My Little Pony/Hello Kitty and 80s Saturday Morning Cartoon themes).

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Black Republicans and Obama

I’m a black Republican. I know what you think that means (<–). Politically I think I lean to the right, though apparently my love for social justice and environmental concerns doesn’t allow me to exist there comfortably. I believe in personal responsibility and the community taking care of its poor. I’m a capitalist who believes that with great wealth comes great responsibility, and spending has to be tempered with compassion. I think that Democrats take the black vote for granted and the Republicans have written off the black vote. And I want my taxes cut.

Here’s the thing: apparently the Republicans don’t want my vote. Despite the fact that the country rapidly diversifies, the Republican convention far from reflected that. Only 36 of the 2,380 delegates seated on the convention floor were black, the lowest numbers since they have been tracked. We saw visual evidence of no black Republican having served as governor, senator, or house member in the last six years. On a personal level, the historical significance of casting a vote for the first legitimate black presidential candidate hasn’t been lost on me.

But I’m not going to vote for someone just because of their color. I could only imagine the outrage if a white person, regardless of party, announced they were voting for a white candidate because of a white pride moment.

I still find myself comfortable with the idea of voting for Obama since his message of change and hope resonate with me and I’m a big fan of intelligent candidates displaying their intelligence, not condescending to play at being “the average Joe” when clearly anyone running for the Presidency has long been removed from the story of the average American. It’s not like I have abandoned my values. I’m still pro-life, lower taxes, strong defense and strong families. I think the main reason I’m comfortable with the prospect of President Obama is because I’m tired of political labels over-simplifying people’s positions. The label put on me is pro-life, but that simplifies my more nuanced position. I don’t know anyone who advocates America having a weak defense. And I don’t know any candidate that runs on a weak family platform.

President Bush captured 8 % of the black vote in 2000 and 11% in 2004. Maybe the Republicans are writing off the black vote moreso than usual this year. Still, if they’re not going to try, they have less room to complain when we don’t show up at the table. I’m a black Republican, but I’m more than my label. Memo to both parties: black votes count.