Genesis: An Overview

So many important people and events come alive in the pages of this first book in the Bible—including the first man and woman, hand-fashioned by God.

This simple creative act—simple for God—surely carried a weighty resolve to which Hero Yeshua consented… Just like I discussed in my post about the Hero’s ordinary world.

To allow creation was to invite all kinds of destruction—including His own.

Though it’s hard for us to grasp, God stands outside of time—sees the beginning from the end. In this way, God creates man, knowing full well that time plods inexorably toward the cross and Yeshua’s death. Both Father and Son have already counted the cost and decided it’s worth the sacrifice. That we’re worth it. That’s the beauty of Creation.

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God created man in His image, male and female. Not as robots but free agents capable of obedience… or else defiance. He made life in the garden simple. No ten commandments there; just a single rule: “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17).

God essentially said, don’t stick your finger in the socket or you’ll pay the price. Unfortunately, even then man had an enemy (Genesis 3), the crafty serpent, who may as well have said as he “palmed” his scaly forehead, “but of course God doesn’t want you to stick your finger in the socket. He’s hoping to keep you from the very power He Himself bears!”

Can you imagine how someone with no concept of electricity might mistakenly feel snubbed here? How long, I wonder, did it take mankind to succumb to this twisted taunt? To this day, we still suffer for acting without having all the facts. (And trust me—no matter what we think—we never have all the facts.)

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To this day, we’re still faced with choices that reap blessings or curses… life or death…

The question is: In any given moment, will we choose to follow God or Satan?

Will we submit to the Creator—remaining within the protective bounds of His perfect law—or will we sin?

Will we trust our own strength to carry us—thus erecting Self as a golden idol—or will we admit that God is the Source of every talent, every fortune, every success?

Let’s be clear: To choose God is to choose life.

“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life…” Deuteronomy 20:19-20

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The remainder of Genesis ushers in a series of divine promises and human failures as God steers mankind toward the great redemption He’s planned:

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“And I will put enmity between you (the serpent) and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he (singular) will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

Even if this passage speaks of an ongoing battle—for surely we are, even now, victims of spiritual warfare—it also hints at the One whose death would ultimately cleanse man’s sin and reverse The Fall’s curse.

Even in the beginning, a Savior is promised… He’s coming—but not yet.

Before that time, man’s inclinations are so evil, God can’t withhold justice. His judgment comes in the form of the Flood, followed by another promise symbolized in a rainbow.

And on it goes. The tower of Babel—defiance and pride. The confusion of language—mankind brought low. And finally the Patriarchs, through whom God’s promise in Genesis 3:15 will ultimately be fulfilled in, Jesus, the promised Messiah.

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. (Galatians 4:4-5)

Genesis displays God’s power and provision in creating a world to fulfill more than man’s base needs. The natural world beckons exploration. Adam and Eve are co-fashioned for deeper relationship. Even knowing the risk of rebellion, Father-Spirit-and-Son grant their image-bearers the freedom to choose. And when man inevitably falls… God’s plan of redemption sweeps into motion.

See also, Lessons from the Patriarchs and Genesis: The Bible in Fiction, coming soon. Learn more about the biblical fiction blog series here.

Resources

Youtube Overviews: Part 1 | Part 2

Outline of Genesis: Blue Letter Bible | Bible Study Start

Chronological Reading Plans: 1-year Plan | Simplified 61-day Plan

Bible Timelines (Pinterest): Bible Hub | The Bible Timeline | Amazing Bible Timeline

Jesus in Genesis and other Genesis-related Questions: Answers in Genesis

 

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Biblical Fiction: My Testimony, Part 1

Young-LaraSome people “come” to Christ in a spectacular moment of revelation. For me, that’s not how it was. I grew up in a Christian household. I attended church from birth. One of my earliest memories recounts a time in Sunday School in which I scribbled my thoughts on a scrap of paper: “I hate myself.” Naturally, the Sunday school teacher’s face showed her shock. I’m sure I confounded her (and maybe even myself).

It seems the enemy had a grip on me even then—but where was God? He was a concept. I knew all about God, of course—through my years in the pew, in Sunday School, and, later, as confirmand in the Lutheran church—yet I somehow missed knowing… Him. Or maybe I knew Him as well as an infant knows anyone.

Whatever the case, I lacked the living, breathing faith that presses into God daily. I tried devotions for a while, of course…in my own strength. But the fervor didn’t last. How could it for a concept?

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In high school, I started caving, which led to an interest in geology. After earning my BS at my hometown university, I never wavered in my intent to attend graduate school; I wanted a PhD like my dad. Furthermore, I knew which field most piqued my interest: Volcanology. I was so sure of this decision, my mom and I visited several west coast colleges. (Where else would one go in the US to study volcanoes?)

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Geology Field Camp out west near the end of my undergraduate studies.

But—after spending all that time and money… after freaking out from my mom’s crazy driving in San Francisco before giggling our way twice down Lombard Street in a much needed release—I woke up one morning back at home with a very different certainty: Rather than studying volcanoes, I wanted to understand metamorphic reactions.

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< Lombard Street zig-zagging down  |  My graphic of the Rock Cycle >

At this point I should note that, as a Geology undergrad, I learned almost nothing on this particular subject, since the professor who taught hard rock petrology—which is the collective study of igneous and metamorphic rocks—was, in fact, a volcanologist who focused mainly on what he knew. As such, roughly 75% of class time was spent on Igneous rock processes and identification with the last 25% glossing over the metamorphic equivalent. Suffice it to say, the logic in my sudden change of mind—to pursue a field I didn’t know enough about to really know why I should pursue it—was minimal.

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It wasn’t a logical decision but, rather, a deep inner knowing.

And from that knowing, the landscape of my future suddenly changed from a steep-sided volcano—the source of rocks born in a violent reincarnation of molten material—to a graveyard of mountains, sheared by erosion to expose old rocks transformed from a slower subjection of heat and pressure. And in so doing, I would undergo my own slow metamorphosis… in upstate New York instead of California.

So there I was, my first real time away from home. I met my future husband almost immediately and connected with others through the outing club. I traded caving for whitewater kayaking and indulged my scientific curiosity. My graduate studies began with a vibrant enthusiastic hope and ended in disillusioned depression.

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< Posing with my dad by our recent whitewater conquest  |  A whitewater slide >

During my first years at RPI, I didn’t attend church. There was no platform for God in my life besides the former knowledge of my upbringing. My would-be husband was agnostic, saying, “I believe in God, but I’m not sure about Jesus.” To which I replied, “But it’s all about Jesus!” My upbringing spoke, yet God was still silent.

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During this time, my would-be husband began reading The Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Sometime later, we discovered the first few movies in the discount bin at Walmart. I never read the books, but I did watch the movies and found my soul gripped with emotions I can hardly put to words.

81xrn3cckwl._ri_sx300_It wasn’t the theology that won me (whether the theology in that book is flawed or not). Or the production quality or acting (which some have claimed is not up to Hollywood standards). Instead, it was the fervor of the persecuted church. It was the thought that Jesus could be so real His followers would risk anything to remain true to Him… Like Stephen the martyr looking to God instead of the stones hurtling toward his head. The idea of a peace that truly passes understanding. Of beauty and truth and a love beyond what any of us can fathom in this life except in a brush with our risen Savior.

That’s what captured my imagination and whispered to my heart, “This is how it could be.”

God used those books and movies—used fiction—to inspire me (and my husband) to start going back to church, but—in retrospect—His tender luring began long before that. You see, my home church was good, but God knew I needed something different. He knew I needed to leave my father and mother and be joined to His Son, no longer relying on the faith of my parents but—with His help—coming into my own. He knew I needed to hear the whispers of His Spirit… to be exposed—for the first time—to tongues and prophecies and the Spirit of God Himself.

I wanted to study volcanoes, but God had a different plan.

Biblical Fiction: Why?

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Some may question the value and validity of biblical fiction. “We have Scripture,” they might say. “What more do we need?”

This is true—I don’t disagree that we could live with Scripture (and the Spirit) as our only guides—but, equally true is that we can have Scripture without really having God. We can read without understanding. We can understand without being inspired and empowered by what we read. We can learn about God without entering into relationship. Our minds can become numb in the retelling of familiar stories seemingly devoid of emotion and relevance to our lives…

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Until an author brings some biblical character to life, sparking our imaginations to how we’re all really the same—all trapped in the same desperate condition. All sinful. In need of a Savior. Then suddenly, the far-off characters so easily condemned for their foolish actions are revealed for who they really are: obscured versions of ourselves—so that we, like David, suddenly grasp the author’s intent: “That person you despise… You are that man!” (2 Samuel 12:7)

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In being plunged within a character’s point of view, seeing our own struggles reflected back, we can no longer play judge and jury. Instead, in sympathy, we feel, once again, the utter heartache of our sinful condition. We observe God’s faithful provision as we long for the saving grace only He can give.

I ask you: Does it matter that the details are fictional if the story draws us closer to the heart of God?

The truth is, whether we’re reading the Bible or Bible-inspired fiction, whatever emotional impact we reap comes from God. His Spirit is the One Who moves us to tears when worshipping, reading Scripture, or even indulging in a novel. I also believe some personalities are more responsive to creative arts. And God uses what we need.

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Here’s the power of good fiction: It facilitates emotion. Expands our nebulous thoughts. Paints scenarios of possibility to be pondered. While commentaries present multiple options (Dinah might’ve been raped—or possibly not), fiction presents only one, which we hope is both plausible and self-consistent, as well as aligning with the Word of God. Fiction isn’t meant as a Bible substitute but can serve as a unique kind of commentary on what might’ve been. However, we shouldn’t be careless or indiscriminate. Instead, just as we test prophecies, sermons, and our own interpretations of Scripture—we have a responsibility to discern if any given novel is beneficial (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

My point in all this is not to denigrate the Bible, but merely to point out that God isn’t restricted in His methods. (He once spoke through a donkey!) Furthermore, Scripture can only save and edify through the power of God’s Spirit, Who isn’t above using fiction (my testimony—coming soon—a case in point). Finally, consider the difference between a narrative, objective account of facts (like a history book) and an immersive story, rich with emotional impact (like historical fiction).

The Bible tells us what happened. Fiction shows us how it might’ve looked and felt. And the Holy Spirit moves our hearts.

With that, I’ll conclude with a corresponding biblical/fictional contrast:

Eve in the Bible (Genesis 2:21-23, ESV)

21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

Eve in Fiction (Havah by Tosca Lee)

How about you? Are you a fan of biblical fiction? Or are you drawn more toward devotions and inspirational self-help? Besides the Bible, is there any book you can recommend? Or, if you prefer to stick to the Good Book, what’s one Scripture or practice that’s drawn you closer to the heart of God?

To learn more about this series, visit my page, “Biblical Fiction in 2019.”

New Year’s resolutions and Character Goals

The Importance of Goals

One of the most basic lessons in writing fiction is that characters need goals. Without goals, characters are aimless, plot flounders, and the overall narrative lacks drive. So, too, in life—as the heroes and heroines of our own stories—we give our lives purpose and direction in the goals we pursue.

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In essence, New Year’s resolutions are nothing more than goals to bring change. Of course, there’s no reason to wait for the new year to pursue a new goal, but for some reason that ticking clock—that inevitable flip of the calendar—always gets us thinking, “what if?”

What if I were healthier? Thinner? Richer? Happier?

What if I could overcome that bad habit? Get that degree?

What if?

How about you? Have you set any goals yet for 2019? Whether or not you have, take a moment to consider your life’s greatest dream.

How could that be translated into a successful resolution?

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Of Dreams and Goals

Before we tackle that question, we have to admit there’s such a thing as a flawed resolution (or goal). Most resolutions are born of dissatisfaction—followed by a burst of motivation centered around a desire for change.

A desire—a dream, a wish, a hope—not necessarily a goal.

The trouble with desire is that it tends to be passive. Furthermore, desires need not be within our power to achieve. Not only that, but desires and wishes—hopes and longings not fully formed in our minds—are often nebulous and vague (while a successful plot goal never is). In the section below, we’ll explore each of these issues in turn—and more.

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What New Year’s resolutions and character goals have in common, or should

(1) Character Goals aren’t Passive

Passive vs. Active.

Those two words might conjure nightmares about grammar, about that critiquer who won’t stop picking at a sluggish character, or about one’s own personal lack of motivation. By the structure of a sentence, we can tell if our characters are taking action, or if—instead—they’re being acted upon. Proactive characters take charge of a situation, whereas those who are passive allow circumstances to dictate the course of their days.

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I doubt many people think of goals as being passive—but rather, the characters themselves. However, inferior goals make it harder—even impossible—for characters to be proactive. In that sense, there really is such a thing as a passive goal.

For example, what if one’s greatest wish is that their spouse would stop drinking? Or that their boss would lighten up? Goals to get pregnant or overcome cancer seem futile for a reason. Like the examples above, they represent hopes not entirely within the dreamer’s control.

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The point is this: Just like characters in a book—we, too, need agency. In other words, whatever goal we choose must be within our power to attain. Secondly, our attitude toward our goal should be active rather than passive. When we don’t have agency, we can’t help but become passive players in the stories of our lives.

However, even if we do have the power to act, we might still be passive if our goal is inferior in other ways. Such as…

(2) Character Goals should never be Vague

Since goals are so important in shaping the momentum, direction, and personal stakes of a story, it’s important to get them right. One major lesson I had to learn before I could even approximate good fiction is that a character’s goal should never be vague.

Janice Hardy explains it this way:

“What makes plotting tough is that vague thematic statements like, “find love again” or “learn to trust others,” are great story goals (and good for internal character arcs), but unhelpful plot goals. Think of it like this: Go out right now and find love again. Um, you can’t, not really. It’s not like “love again” is something you can go get at the store. But you can act in a way that will help you find love again, such as go to a museum and talk to cute guys.”

Whenever we confuse the inner and outer journeys, our progress flounders. The inner goal—linked to a character’s arc—can be vague, but not the outer plot goal, which drives the action. So how are these two kinds of goals related? The inner goal—akin to character motivation—drives the outer goal. The plot. The action. Vague inner wishes are okay so long as they translate to specific actions.

So, even if we begin with hazy goals, we can’t end there. Instead…
→ The vague…must be made specific.
→ The abstract… be made concrete.
→ The broad… broken down into bite-sized steps.

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In other words, we need a specific plan of action. Something we can picture ourselves (or our characters) doing, step by step.

For example, instead of vaguely resolving to be healthier and lose weight (in what would’ve amounted to nothing more than a blind and/or random approach), I found an app to keep track of my caloric intake. My specific goal is to get back down to my high school weight by May 11th of this year. Without the app—which prompted my goal and calculated my daily target intake—I probably would’ve restricted myself too much, felt like I was starving, and promptly given up.

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With the app as a guide, I can tell when I’m pressing closer to my goal—and when I’m falling farther behind… which leads to my next point.

(3) Character Goals are realized and refined in the context of SCENE and SEQUEL

One way to bring change to our lives is simply by being more action-conscious. How can we make good decisions if we aren’t truly aware of our choices? Like when we eat without looking at labels—or without any sense of what a healthy portion should be. Weighing in—if our goal is to lose weight—is all well and good, but it doesn’t address the real problem: our net intake. Certainly, we can measure progress on a scale, but a successful goal mandates changes in diet and/or exercise, as well.

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Here, the link to character goals is a bit thin, but consider the micro-structure of a novel: Goal, Conflict, and Disaster (in a SCENE). Reaction, Dilemma, and Decision (in a SEQUEL). Characters move through novels by way of action and reaction. Similarly, our example resolution (to lose weight), can be divided into two parts: Action and Assessment (which leads to Reaction and Reassessment).

Continuing our example:
Action = Eating and Exercising according to our plan. (SCENE)
Assessment = Weighing in to measure our progress. (SEQUEL)

Just as SCENE and SEQUEL drive progress in a novel, we need both action and assessment—both effort and progress-measurement—in order to be proactive for the long haul. Otherwise, we’ll end up spinning our wheels in one of two ways—either blindly acting, or else passively reacting to our poor choices.

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The ultimate end is to take actions that move us closer to our goal (the equivalent of plot motion).

(4) Character Goals are more or less Singular

Finally, as equally problematic as leaving our stepwise actions vague—or leaving SCENE or SEQUEL out of the equation—is trying to fulfill, all at once, our every desire.

For a novel to be cohesive—and a character’s motivation, single-mindedly sufficient to prove the stakes—one goal (and one goal only) must rise to the top. Otherwise, a reader’s focus—and likely their interests, too—will be divided.

When that happens, the novel’s trajectory grows hazy as the “story question”—equivalent to the overarching plot goal—frays into thinner and thinner threads. At which point, readers begin to wonder what’s truly important to the story; the overall stakes dilute; the pacing slows.

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Likewise, we need to pace ourselves. Prioritize our ambitions. Avoid getting distracted with multiple goals, which could end up suffocating our success in what matters most.

Character (or self) to-do list for a successful goal (or resolution):
Agency: Pick a goal within your power to achieve.
Action: Be intentional. Not passive, but proactive.
Avoid Abstractions: Make your goal specific—not abstract or vague.
Assessment: Be active, yes, but also measure your progress.
Avoid Distractions: Start with one goal and go from there.

What do you think? Are you reassessing your goals right now? Feel free to share your 2019 ambitions in the comments below.

 

The Hero’s Ordinary World

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When we think of Christmas—especially if we’re Christian—we tend to focus on the manger. The baby. The star. But as a writer, it occurred to me… the manger isn’t the beginning.

In every story, the hero’s journey begins in the ordinary world—his ordinary world. But this hero’s ordinary world is far from ordinary.

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Light is a state of being for the wise prince, as ancient and unchanging as His glorious Father.

With infinite creative power, He summons clear waters with the breath of His lips. They spread out from the sole of his leading foot, perfectly still, reflecting a wash of pastels perfectly mirrored from a radiant peach and gold dome. With every step, spikes splay out like textured snowflakes across the water’s surface while a glittering mist rises—dances up to the pristine hem of His robe, such a pure white it’s glowing.

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The warmth of His Father’s embrace is a constant presence. He spins one finger in the air and a thunderous waterfall springs up, etching angular stones as if it’s been grinding them forever. Green spreads out around the fallen stones forming the shore, a soft carpet of vibrant moss. Ancient trees rise, bringing shade. Flowers sprout. Every color of butterfly flutters—a moving impressionistic painting.

The scene is perfect.

All is Love and Peace.

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In the middle of the pond, where the fall’s spray is a battering wind, He gazes straight down between his feet. Beneath the bright reflection, rainbow-colored fish dart. Beneath the fish, algae grows up from blocky stones and sways in unseen currents.

Beneath the stones, a tiny blip—a little pocket of space and time. Very small and dark, filled with stars and planets, and—more important than that—the crowning glory of His creativity: Humankind.

All of them lost in darkness.

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“They are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

He looks up and the thundering rush of water is a white beard—a voice. “To save them, you must become like them. You must give up your powers, your title, and live like a man. Submit yourself fully to Me, as if we are not equals…

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“Instead of growing trees with a single thought, you will toil and labor, shaping wood by grinding the rough edges to dust, which in turn will raise blisters in your tender flesh. Instead of perfect harmony and love, you’ll be surrounded by those who hate you. Sweat and dirt and pain prevail in the fallen world, as you know.”

“Because it’s under a curse…a curse I can break.”

“At great cost.”

The prince paces on air because the pond is gone—the waterfall silent. Instead, its thundering pulses in his head. He sees…all. Every child born into sin—yet precious. Every tear streaking their dirty faces. They don’t all see the dirt—but He does. They don’t see their worth—but He does.

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He built His own worth into them.

He counts the cost. The thorns, the metal beads ripping his flesh. The utter rejection by God and man. The betrayal…

The nails digging in and torturing his nerves in a body capable of death. It’s his vehicle to carry all the sins of the world to Satan’s lair and leave them there.

“I bind myself to this course… Our love will cover their multitude of sins.”

“And so shall it be.”

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Disclaimer: I took creative license in creating this scenario. More than trying to be 100% accurate in every respect, I hoped to inspire awe for Jesus’s willingness to give up everything in pursuit of me and you.

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Build-a-Better-Alien

World building is one of those topics speculative writers can’t seem to get enough of. Probably because the topic is so broad, spanning astronomy, biology, politics, culture, and more (or less, depending on the type of story one envisions).

We can learn a lot by examining the stories that have gone before, unearthing nuggets of inspiration wherever our reading eyes go. So today, I’d like to do just that by focusing on the unique qualities of the aliens featured in Annie Douglass Lima’s heartwarming YA sci-fi, Heartsong.

Aliens

For as many good alien stories out there (movies included), one can probably find as many or more examples of alien clichés. Let’s face it. Because it’s easier to write what we know, we humans have a tendency to invent either animalistic aliens (very similar to earth species) or humanesque ones (with cultures too much like our own).

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As to the former, I can think of some truly unique examples that stand out. How about the sandworms in Frank Herbert’s Dune? Or—one of my personal favorites—James Cameron’s Aliens.

Acid for blood is fun, to be sure, but what considerations arise when the aliens are more civilized—less animalistic? In my opinion, creating intelligent fictional life requires a whole new depth of development: Not just environment—but culture. Not just biology—but personality. And the last thing we want to do is reinvent the human. On second thought—Just make ’em blue!

Aliens Anonymous

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I guess there’s no hiding the fact—I’m an alien.

So, let’s take a look at Annie Douglass Lima’s Somavians to see what inspiration can we glean.

Language and Speech

Anyone who’s studied foreign languages probably knows that sentences are structured differently in different languages (e.g., English: “I like aliens” = Subject-Verb-Object vs. Japanese: “I aliens like” = Subject-Object-Verb). They also know that adjectives have different placements (“the blue alien” in English would read “the alien blue” in Spanish). And why should we naturally assume that adding an “s” to an alien word should designate plurality (when not even the English language consistently follows that rule)?

I don’t know about yous guys, but Mooses are one of my favorite animals.

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Blue alien mooses, especially.

Clearly, from these examples, there’s much room for creativity in cultivating fictional alien speech. Certainly, an understanding of different languages can help, as I’m sure it did for Heartsong‘s author. According to her bio, “Annie Douglass Lima spent most of her childhood in Kenya and later graduated from Biola University in Southern California. She and her husband Floyd currently live in Taiwan, where she teaches fifth grade at Morrison Academy.”

In this case, “write what you know” turned out beautifully, as the Somavian language Annie created bears a tonal quality like the Mandarin spoken in Taiwan. (Learn more about tonal languages here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foImPuD_bKc)

Here are a few quotes for more language inspiration (and to convince you to read this book, I hope):

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Yellow saw me looking at his planet. Pointing at it, he said something in his musical language, some notes higher than I knew my voice could reach, others at the very bottom of my range.

“Are you telling me about the planet? My people call it Somavia.”

Yellow pointed again and spoke just one word this time, slowly and clearly. Then he repeated it. It sounded like hu-a-bi, three syllables with three musical notes. He pointed to me, and I got the idea he wanted me to say it. So I tried to repeat the word, singing it more or less the way he had. He fluttered his elbows. I wondered if that meant he was pleased with me for trying to pronounce the name of his world or annoyed that I hadn’t said it quite right.

Gestures & Other Extralinguistic Communications

What is communication exactly? When we interpret what someone says, heaven forbid we should restrict ourselves to words. We’re not robots—and even animals show emotions in the form of body language.

Consider the cat, for example—hair standing on end, tail raised, dancing sideways. Yikes! How about a cowering dog or a tiger ready to pounce? Both have their heads drawn down, but the underlying message is different. I daresay we can see it in their eyes.

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But what if we couldn’t—what then?

Consider this description of the Somavians:

Just like Forerunner’s pictures had shown, they were covered in fur. The one on the left had pale yellow fur, and the one on the right was dark red.

Fur-colors

They were roughly humanoid, with what seemed to be mostly the same basic body parts as humans—except for the extra set of arms at waist level. Their faces were different, too: bulging black insect-like eyes at the sides of their heads, tiny rounded ears set just behind the eyes, flat noses with two little slits for nostrils. Their mouths were huge, stretching almost all the way across the front of their faces.

Wait. No eyebrows or eyelids?

Think for a moment how much meaning is conveyed by those two tiny features. It would’ve been far easier for the author to give the Somavians the ability to narrow their eyes—to smile or frown—but that’s not what she did. Instead, she limited their facial expressivity and created a unique range of gestures to serve that purpose.

Fluttering elbows—oh, what does it mean? I guess you’ll just have to read the story to find out. (Hint, hint: It’s not a chicken dance.)

Physiological Differences

Humans rely heavily on their vision. We use computers with screens. We create art with splashes of color. But what if our vision worked differently? Or if we relied more on other senses?

How often, for example, do we focus on texture?

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“Do you like my home?” Mountain gestured around the little apartment.

“Sure. I mean, it’s pretty different than houses on Earth, but it’s cute and cozy.”

“What is different about it?”

“Well, where I come from, people don’t live underground, and most houses are bigger than this.” I glanced at the empty walls. “And humans like to decorate their walls with art.”

“I have decorated my walls with art.”

I looked at her to see if she was joking. “What do you mean? Your walls are plain gray. They just look like rock.”

“You do not notice the art?”

“Um, no.” Wondering if you had to have Somavian eyes to see whatever was on there, I stepped closer and peered at the nearest wall. Then I realized there actually was something on the wall, though it was almost invisible. Tiny ridges and grooves barely showed up in its surface.

Texture

Mountain followed me over, translator in hand. “You will not notice it easily by looking. You must touch it.” She brushed the palm of her hand across the wall.

When I did the same, I realized that section of the wall had far more texture than I had thought.

This same consideration alters their designs of technology, but I’ll leave those details as a surprise for future readers.

Traditions, Habits, and Customs—oh my!

In some cultures, people eat with their hands. In other cultures, cutting off ones fingers is a way of showing grief. All this variety is born of the human mind and linked with human abilities—which need not be the same as the aliens inhabiting your fictional world.

Creating unique habits is good. Linking them to physical differences is better.

I was surrounded by more of the massive, colorful aliens. Some stood looking into the truck, some crouched in it beside me, and the air was filled with their musical language. Buggy eyes stared at me. Leathery hands reached out to touch my arms and hair and face.

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I shrank back. “Stop touching me!”

The hands pulled away, but the conversations continued. These Somavians seemed to have no concept of personal space. They were all right there, some only inches away from me, their fur brushing against each other. Most had placed their hands on each other’s arms or shoulders, and with four arms each, that was a lot of fellow-aliens to be in physical contact with. At least they weren’t doing anything to hurt me, but this was just weird. What’s up with all the touchy-feely stuff?

What’s up with it, indeed. I won’t give you the answer, but I will say I loved the concept—especially how it added depth to the themes.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me what unique factors you’ve built into your own alien creations. Or, what’s one novel or a movie you enjoyed that boosts your alien inspiration?

By the way, did you find the hidden image? If not, you might want to take a second look at the pictures and check out the scavenger hunt instructions here.

About Heartsong

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Two alien worlds.
One teen emissary.
No reality she can trust.

Thirteen-year-old Liz Smith has been ripped away from one foster family after another for years, so the idea of a permanent home is tantalizing. Who cares if that home is a colony sixty-five thousand light-years from Earth? The friends in her trusty e-reader will keep her company just fine on her interstellar relocation.

But when the adventure of a lifetime turns into the disaster of the cosmos, Liz can only retreat so far into the books that have always sheltered her from loneliness and loss. Trapped in half-truths and secrets that leave her questioning reality, can one orphaned bookworm find a way to stop two races from destroying each other … and somehow write a happy ending to her own story?

If you like books about space travel, aliens, or cross-cultural transitions, you’ll love this poignant science fiction adventure. Get your copy of Heartsong now to start the journey today!

About the Author

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Annie Douglass Lima spent most of her childhood in Kenya and later graduated from Biola University in Southern California. She and her husband Floyd currently live in Taiwan, where she teaches fifth grade at Morrison Academy. She has been writing poetry, short stories, and novels since her childhood, and to date has published eighteen books in a wide variety of genres (science fiction, fantasy, YA action and adventure novels, a puppet script, anthologies of her students’ poetry, and a Bible verse coloring and activity book). Besides writing, her hobbies include reading (especially fantasy and science fiction), scrapbooking, and international travel.

Connect with her here:

Did you find the hidden image?

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Guess what. It’s my birthday.

And today, I have a special treat for you. A sneak peek into Yaasha Moriah’s amazing novella, Wings Beneath Water. Two whole chapters! Because why wouldn’t someone who’s passionate about stories want to share one of their favorite reads of all time on their birthday???

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In my Goodreads review, I said this about Wings Beneath Water: “[It’s a] poignant story about truth, sacrifice, and brotherly love. Absolutely amazing: 5+ stars.” If you know me at all, then you know I don’t say such things lightly. Honestly, I can think of no better birthday present than for you to read to the end of this preview and tell me what you most enjoyed.

And of course I would be doubly ecstatic if you loved these two chapters enough to buy the book. But I think I’ve already said enough. Read the blurb or not—it doesn’t matter. The beginning speaks for itself.

Back-Cover Blurb

“They say if you see wings beneath the water, you get a second chance to live.”

CoverBrother. Ever since Risha was found on the shores of the river and adopted into the tribe, he and his brother Uraun have been inseparable. But when a neighboring tribe ignites war, killing the boys’ father, their lives start on a path that begins to divide them.

Siyeen. As the tribe goes to war, Risha’s gift awakens. He is the Siyeen, capable of reading a person’s true nature—and in Uraun’s nature, he reads only vengeance.

Fearing that his gift will endanger Uraun, Risha flees to the marshes. To save his brother’s soul, Risha must learn the secrets of the first Siyeen and seek the redemption that will grant his brother a second chance.

In this detail-rich tribal fantasy, author Yaasha Moriah asks questions about the nature of truth, brotherhood, and redemption.

CHAPTER ONE

DEEP WATERS

They say if you see wings beneath the water, you get a second chance to live. If that is true, I may live yet. If it is not true, my blood will stain these waters within moments.

The marsh mists swirl around me like transparent hands, chilling the sweat on my forehead as my footsteps explode through the murky waters. I pause, catch a gnarled branch, and lean gasping over it.

The surface of the dark waters shows the face of a boy, with round cheeks and frightened purple eyes. Will the Karagi have mercy if they see me as a child?

No. They know what I am, and they will not waver. They will remain at a safe distance, and shoot to kill. They are master bowmen. I should know. They trained me.

That was before they knew what I am.

According to the wise woman, some say it only happens when you are born in the marshes on a moonless night. Others say that it begins when a child looks into the waters and, unknown to him, the Siyeen looks back at him from beneath the surface of the waters. Still others say it is a gift given to the one who seeks truth above all else.

If a gift results in your death, is it not a curse instead?

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I have lingered too long. Even as I move, some instinctive twitch saves me, for a death-breeze fans my chin and a crimson ribbon opens across my collar-bone, the warning of a razor-sharp arrowhead.

I turn, and they are there, emerging like ghosts from the mist, their long dark hair loose around their lean faces, their leather vests leaving bare their muscled shoulders. Emotions stab my stomach, for Uraun leads them, the scar upon his right cheek lit in silver by the wavering moon.

“A child?” one hunter asks, glancing quickly at the foremost of the men.

“It is an illusion,” Uraun says darkly, and draws his shaft to the corner of his lips.

I cannot outrun his arrow. I have watched too many times the stumble of a woodland buck, stricken while in mid-flight by Uraun’s skill. I am also tired, too tired. This hunt has taken all my strength, all my heart.

How do you run away from someone you love?

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“Uraun.” My voice carries across the waters. “Please.”

So long as he holds his breath, he will not shoot. Experienced archers release only at the exhalation.

I stand upon a small hillock of marsh weeds. The waters beyond my feet ripple like black silk, for I have come to the edge of the deeper waters, where the bottom is invisible and the feet find no purchase. Many things that have been lost to the deep marshes.

“Uraun,” I say again. The corner of my vision snags upon something, a glimmer in the water, like light reflecting upon an outstretched wing.

It is here.

Then Uraun’s jaw tightens, and, plunging, I give myself to the waters. The arrow’s shaft pierces my side and my instinctive gasp fills my mouth with liquid darkness.

Something smooth slides beneath my grasping fingers, then jaws clamp around my ankle and pull me downward, deep. I struggle, panic-stricken. Have I misunderstood? Did I see a wing, or only the glitter of a marsh eel’s serpentine body?

I spiral downward until my mind becomes as dark as the waters around me and my breath burns and explodes in my head. Then light births, broadens, shimmers, and I rush toward it. Am I swimming down? Or up? I cannot tell.

That is when I see the face staring back at me from the other side of the water.

My face.

I know it is my face because only I among the Karagi possess eyes the color of wild irises. It is the mark of my separation.

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CHAPTER TWO

REFLECTIONS

I turn from the water’s edge where I have laid my woven trap under the surface. Strange. I thought I saw a face in the waters, my own face, but leaner and more angular, an adult face clouded with scarlet from a wounded side.

“Risha!” My mother calls. “Come say goodbye to your father.”

I do not want to say goodbye to my father, but goodbyes are inevitable.

I wade ashore and jog barefooted from the tributary, up the hill, past our dome-shaped hut of woven wood and dried river clay and descend the rocky slope. My father waits by the glass-gray river near the long boat, in which other men have already taken up their paddles and await the last of their companions to join them.

My father goes to trade upriver with the neighboring tribes, a gesture of goodwill. It is a journey made only a few times a year, and it keeps a tenuous peace amongst the People of the River. My father kneels to kiss Uraun’s forehead, then mine.

“Take care of your brother,” he tells each of us. I do not need telling. Uraun and I are inseparable, and have been since the day my mother found me as an infant at the edge of the marshes, abandoned. Were it not for my eyes, Uraun and I could be twins, for we have the same raven hair and brown skin.

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My father steps into the long boat with the sure-footedness of a man long acquainted with the roll of the water. He sits with the other traders, and raises a long paddle that dips soundlessly, then rises silver from the waters, then dips again, as the craft glides into the current and toils upriver. Two other Karagi longboats join his, staggered a little behind in a V formation like the migrating geese of autumn.

My father lifts his hand, touching two fingers to his heart, his lips, his forehead, then raising them in the traditional farewell. It is the sign of truth, truth buried in the heart, spoken from the lips, treasured in the mind. It is the sign of our people.

My father’s deep voice carries over the water. “Seek truth always.”

“And the truth will preserve you,” the watching families reply as one.

That is when I see it, a vision that jars me from reality. In the marred reflection, every man in the boats lies dead, twisted limbs dangling over the sides, half-closed eyes frozen. Even my father.

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My gaze startles up from the waters. The men in the longboats are living, but the men in the reflection remain dead.

I do not know what to do, so I am silent, but my flesh quivers.

Uraun thinks that I am weeping and touches my shoulder. I turn my face from him, for if he sees my horror, he will ask questions I do not know how to answer.

Five days later, the river returns our men.

Every one of them has been slain, and some still carry Sarudi arrows in their bodies. When Uraun and I hear the ululating wails of the women, we abandon our quest for duck eggs in the shallows and scramble toward the faster water. But father’s brother sees us and runs toward us.

“No!” he says in a tone that slaps us both across the face. “Go to your hut.”

He sees the protest in our faces, but his stance is firm, his tearless eyes smoldering, and he is an elder. We go to the hut, our skin rippling with fear and do not speak.

We know.

We learn later that every warrior’s face has been slit from ear to lip, a sign of a warrior utterly defeated. For the living, it is a permanent mark of shame and no feats of bravery can wipe away the stigma of that disfigurement of defeat. For the dead, it is a mark of an enemy’s utter contempt to dishonor a warrior’s valiant acts in life by smearing his honor after death. Such a cowardly act is beyond comprehension among the People of the River. The Sarudi have not only become bold, but they have lost their honor. An enemy without honor is a fearsome thing.

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It is customary for the grieving to wash their hands and faces, and to paint black at their hearts, their lips, and their foreheads. When I bend over the water bucket to wash my hands after Uraun, I see my father’s face in the reflection, his eyes glazed in death, and behind him, indistinct with smoke and overshadowed by a sky like blood, I see the People of the River at war.

I have to close my eyes to complete the ritual of mourning.

The weak Peace of the River is broken.

The Sarudi, we learn, demanded a toll for passage through their waters, and our traders, knowing that the river is no one’s to claim, refused to pay. The Sarudi replied with arrows and spears.

Such a clear excuse for war demands answer, so the remaining Karagi men arm themselves and go to war with the Sarudi. The women and the old and the sick remain with a few choice warriors for defense.

My mother kneels by the grave of my father day and night, and eats little, too exhausted to weep, too broken to live. Her older brother offers us a home with his family, and his wife cares for my mother and coaxes her patiently to drink a little soup every day. Uraun and I cannot speak for weeks, and our cousins leave us be. No Karagi interferes with another’s sorrow, except, as in the case of my mother, to preserve life.

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I often find Uraun by the river’s edge, the wind lifting his long black hair like an outstretched raven’s wing. His eyes are filled with pain. I cannot bear to look at him, and spend many days in the marshes, fishing with a net I have woven and knotted from long roots. The marshes are my solace. Some see only the skeletons of trees and the cloudiness of the water. I see the life of geese and ducks and frogs, and the scattered reflection of a limitless sky.

The Karagi wait, breathless and tense, until their warriors return from the battle with the Sarudi, victorious but with many dead. An uncle and two of my cousins are gone, slain in battle. The few prisoners that the Sarudi took during the battle float back to our village, mutilated horrifically.

After the funeral rites, a restless peace settles over the river like a damp mist. We know that the war is not over and some from the Karagi journey to ask the Haveddi for aid. Such negotiations can take months, we know, but secretly we all wonder if the messengers have been caught by the Sarudi. We visit the river’s edge every day to see if the Sarudi have sent their bodies back to us.

The war sleeps, but we know it will wake again soon.

Buy the book to read more! It’s available in digital form direct from Yaasha’s webpage here.

Book Trailer

About the Author

Yaasha Moriah writes speculative fiction stories that incorporate the painful, the beautiful, and the numinous, following the pattern of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, of which C. S. Lewis said: “Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron. Here is a book which will break your heart.”

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