February 29, 2012

Muffin Man Cover

Thanks for all your input. Here's the final cover art for Muffin Man. Just a month away from release, peoples!

February 23, 2012

Drinking With Calvin and Luther!: A History of Alcohol in the Church ***

*** Drinking With Calvin and Luther!: A History of Alcohol in the Church, Jim West, 2003

I've been looking for a credible history of the attitude of the church toward drinking and this is probably as close as it's going to get. It starts with the reformation, assuming that up till then the Catholics were in charge and obviously in favor of drinking. However, I read some quotes in other books dated from the 4th century which indicate that there were abstainers and prohibitionists from early on, so the dark ages are still in doubt.

All that aside, it appears that Protestant denominations took a turn toward teetotalism in the mid 19th century. Before then things weren't quite so extreme. In fact, I learned that bourbon was invented by a Baptist preacher from Kentucky, Elijah Craig! (It's pretty good stuff, too.) Rev. Craig was in his thirties during the Revolutionary War. He was ordained a Baptist preacher in 1771 and in 1789 founded a distillery.

It's an interesting book, primarly devoted to stories of theologians beginning with Martin Luther. The section devoted to analysis of the verses makes some good points, but lack the obsessive deep-dive into the languages characterized by Patton's work.

My take: WWJD

February 20, 2012

Why I hire a graphic artist for my covers

Publishers send an ARC (advance reader copy) to reviewers and potential endorsers before the release of the book so the reviews and endorsements are ready for the release. The ARC is not the final novel. It's not copy edited and doesn't have the front and back matter or the final cover.

A few weeks ago I found two potential endorsers. They are great writers and voracious readers, so I figured on sending an ebook version. Nope, they're both old-school. Paper copies. I can appreciate that, but that means printing out copies and mailing them. I thought about doing them at home on the office printer. Then I thought about going to Kinkos to have them printed and spiral bound.

Then it hit me. I'm going to have to do the interior design anyway, why not use Createspace to make an ARC? They could read a real paperback. But that meant I needed a cover. Me, the writer, not the graphic designer.

I could have gone with the draft version of the cover I got from my graphic artist, but I wanted to make it very clear that this is an ARC, not a released novel, so I chose to design my own cover. As you can see, there's a good reason I don't do my own covers for the final product.

February 18, 2012

Muffin Man Cover Art Redux

One detail I should have covered and, and one that is very important in marketing books, is viewing the covers in the sizes they will appear on online sales channels. The art may look good on the book, but if it doesn't grab the shopper at pixel sizes 56 x 86, 85 x 115, and 190 x 260. The middle size is particularly important as it is displayed it the list of hits.

Does that change your vote?

February 17, 2012

Muffin Man Cover Art

The lovely and talented Amanda Cobb is creating the cover art for Muffin Man. By looking at these two preliminary designs, you can see why I chose her for this project. Drop a line in the comments to tell me which one you like best, A (top) or B (bottom). However, I must warn you that The Woman has the final word.

February 16, 2012

Cracking the Wine Case: Unlocking Ancient Secrets in the Christian and Drinking Controversy *

* Cracking the Wine Case: Unlocking Ancient Secrets in the Christian and Drinking Controversy, Scott E. Smith, 2010

The thing that disturbs me about this book is that it purports to be an unbiased examination of the scriptures to find what the Bible says. But every chapter starts with a quote about the evils of alcohol and it takes over 100 pages before it gets to actually examining the scriptures. The first seven chapters stack the deck before we get there.

  • Introduction: Stories about how alcohol abuse destroyed the family of a childhood friend and how God saved him from alcohol through a childhood experience.
  • Chapter 1: Story about a drunk driver who killed someone. Story about arguing his case in a Bible study that met in a bar. Long section addressed to those with alcohol addiction.
  • Chapter 2: Story about how Martin Luther was right about a lot of things but dead wrong about drinking.
  • Chapter 3: Compares drinking to porn, snake venom. Quotes from AA that the only safe way to drink is to not drink at all. Negative, medical facts. Analyzing motives of those who drink. Admonitions that God can set you free from a distorted lifestyle of drinking.
  • Chapter 4: Calls preachers who advocate drinking "wolves in the pulpit."
  • Chapter 5: Compares drinking to premarital sex, LSD, meth, cocaine. If you love God, you will do want he wants, which is to not drink.
  • Chapter 6: Different words for wine in the bible.
  • Chapter 7: History of fermintation techniques.

All of this before we actually examine what the Bible says in Chapter 8. By now he's lost credibility with me because of this whole sandbagging technique. As far as looking at the verses, it's nothing I haven't already read in the other books, although once again there are discrepencies with how other abstainers interpret things.

For example, some say Paul told Timothy to take wine to kill the bacteria. Others say there is no evidence for this and people who say that are distorting the scriptures, that it is well known that wine is not good for for your stomach, and obviously in this case oinos meant grape juice.

If there were any doubt about this being a dispassionate study, chapter titles such as "Jesus the Miraculous Bartender" (referring to the miracle at the wedding at Cana) remove any doubt. This chapter is also a good example of the creative explanations that these guys seem compelled to come up with.

This book treats all drinkers as if they are alcoholics and in some places outright says that anyone who takes one drink will eventually become an addict and have his life destroyed. This is clearly not true and compromises the credibility of his other statements. To be fair, Smith's viewpoint might be colored by the fact that he has a prison misistry to addicts whose lives have been destroyed by alcohol. But not everybody who drinks wine ends up a drunk. That's just a fact and this book does a disservice by claiming otherwise.

My take: WWJD

February 13, 2012

The Bottoms ***

*** The Bottoms, Joe R Lansdale, 2001

This one won the Edgar award for Lansdale. The usual disclaimer applies, not as much as a Hap and Leonard book, but more than A Fine Dark Line. The story of a serial killer in 1934 East Texas back before the term was invented, told through the eyes of a pre-teen son of the constable.

The voice is perfect and the writing and characters are prime Lansdale material.

I felt it moved a bit slow for a thriller, with the investigation moving in fits and starts as circumstance advanced it. It came to a complete stop when Grandma showed up, and again when the father escaped in a bottle.

Normally, the hero would advance the plot, but the protagnist is a pre-teen kid who can't really advance the plot of a multiple murder investigation and the investigator is a backwoods constable with know training, experience or knowledge in how to investigate. Consequently, happenstance is the main engine to move things forward, which is not as satisfying as a pro-active protagonist.

I guessed the killer early on, but the writing was strong enough to carry the story even so.

Interesting that the book won the Edgar, as I wouldn't have thought of it as a potential winner. Maybe I should consider submitting Muffin Man.

February 9, 2012

Bible Wines or the Laws of Fermentation and Wines of the Ancients ***

*** Bible Wines or the Laws of Fermentation and Wines of the Ancients, Rev. William Patton, 1871

It was clear from the title page, which indicated this book was published by the National Temperance Society, what I would find inside. However, despite the fact that it was written 140 years ago, I found it refreshing in many respects, particularly this sentiment from the introduction from which other writers in this review should have taken a cue from (emphasis mine):
"My reasonings are conducted in candor, and with due respect to those from whom I am constrained to differ. Their views are carefully stated in their own chosen language, and their quoted authorities are fairly given. When their relevancy is questioned or their inferences shown to be illogical, no suspicion of motives has been allowed. Truth gains nothing by asperities."
Despite the fact that this book is older than all the others I read by over 100 years, it was the most compelling for the case of abstinence. It's not easy to read, but I recommend for anyone who wants to dig deep in this subject. I'm not completely convinced, but this honest and respectful approach is far, far better than the snarky arguments of 21st century writers.

My take: WWJD

February 6, 2012

Hunger Games ****

**** Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins, 2008

I've seen all the hype about Hunger Games for the past few years, but I tend to discount hype and I had plenty of things I needed to read, so I didn't bother to check it out. But I saw the trailer for the movie and thought perhaps I should check it out before the movie came out. I saw it was under $6 on the Kindle, so I grabbed it and read it in a weak moment.

Wow. That's all I can say. Wow. This is a rare case of the hype being justified.

I guess I can say a little more, but Wow. The writing is good from the start, but when the games begin it becomes almost impossible to put this thing down. And the final battle in the games, holy freaking cow! I understand this to be a YA book, but man is it gnarly. I'm not a fan of movie violence, so who knows if I'll do the movie or not. Probably. We shall see.

Bottom line: Worth the read.

***Spoiler alert***: There was one thing that bothered me about this book: How the protagonist doesn't snap to the fact that the romantic interest from the other tribute is sincere. It took her way to long to realize he was legit.


Why it matters.

The ebook version was flawless. Didn't see a single typo, formatting issue or navigation problem. I can't rate the next/last chapter navigation from the 5-way navigation pad because I upgraded to the Kindle Touch, which doesn't have any buttons. I kind of miss being able to skip forward or backward a chapter, and I miss being able to change the orientation to landscape, but other than that, love the Touch.

February 2, 2012

The Biblical Approach to Alcohol *

* The Biblical Approach to Alcohol, Stephen M. Reynolds and Calel Butler, 2003

These books are starting to wear on me. That's the danger of reading books by preachers. They have no interest or experience in expressing an idea with an economy of words. In addition, this book needs a good going over for organization. It seemed to be a list of vignettes thrown down as Reynolds thought of them in random order, which made it more difficult to build a solid understanding of the larger picture.

But there were several things that stood out for me and made me think, "You're serious about this? Really?" How about this quote:

"God left a number of things somewhat difficult to perceive as a test of spiritual perception of Bible readers. [Section about Jesus being the Messiah.] In the same way God may have left His true teaching concerning alcoholic beverages with what the undiscerning find to be ambiguities. This may have been with the view of separating the spritually perceptive (those whose ears are attuned to the true testimony of the Holy Spirit) from those whose perceptions are made dull by some sin which they cherish. Such a separation of those who take advantage of paradoxes in order to indulge their fleshly appetites may be used by God in judging man."

Really? You're saying God intentionally inspired an ambiguous message on alcohol so he could jerk believers around as a test to see who is really serious? Here's another passage 80 pages later:

"He may have left the teaching concerning the command to total abstinence somewhat obscure as a test to determine who among those who profess to believe in Him would discern His true meaning. Some, understanding that alcoholic beverages are a Christian liberty, overindulge themselves to the point of total ruin; others become soft and flabby in their Christian warfare; others who are teachers of religion mar their record by giving the people who follow them bad instruction. In the end God accomplishes His purpose of sorting wheat from chaff, and in grading how much each servant made from his talent, or talents."

God uses intentional ambiguity on the subject of alcohol to separate the wheat (saints) from the chaff (damned)? This gets even more absurd when, as we see later, that even people who agree on total abstinence disagree on the meaning of specific uses of the original language. And notice the repeated use of "may" in both passages, which leads me to the next complaint.

While these books frequently make good points, many of them don't seem content to leave it at that, but seem compelled to descend into speculation to drive the point home.

For example, regarding the miracle at Cana, Reynolds speculates that Jesus and Mary arrived late, and that unlike Mary, Jesus perceived that the crowd was drunk. He says this explains why Jesus reacted with outrage when Mary suggested he help out the steward with his wine problem. He also speculates that Jesus left quickly after creating 180 gallons of grape juice because he wouldn't hang out around drunk people.

Honestly, how can you take a book seriously when the author just makes up crap out of whole cloth and presents it straight-faced alongside serious research into the original languages? It destroys any credibility that might be left after the "God is jerking you around" statement.

I readily admit in WWJD that I'm no Biblical scholar and can't research back to the original languages. However, Bacchiocchi and Reynolds are Biblical scholars, so I paid attention to their exposition on the original words. I learned that there are two Hebrew words translated to wine in the OT, tirosh and yayin and one word in the NT, oinos. There one word translated to strong drink, shekar.

From Bacchiocchi I learned that tirosh always means grape juice. This was foundational to his position. On the other hand yayin and oinos sometimes mean grape juice and sometimes wine, depending on the context. And shakar always means fermented drink, except in one passage where it would be inconvenient if that were the case, so in that passage it means grape juice. He goes to great lengths and many pages to talk his way around this one exception, even though it seemed to me, the complete doofus in Hebrew I admit, that it was more handwaving than substance.

On the other hand, from Reynolds I learned that all of the words, tirosh included, can mean either wine or grape juice. The fact that tirosh could swing either way was very important to his point. So I'm left thinking, if these two scholars can't figure it out, what hope do I have of coming to a solid conclusion based on the original languages? Is God really going to judge whether I'm wheat or chaff based on whether I figure out what these two scholars can't agree on?

These two also seem to enjoy engaging in circular reasoning, which occurred repeatedly in both books. One example goes like this:

  1. We will search the original language to see what is the attitude of the Bible toward drinking fermented (alcoholic) drinks.
  2. In the original language, tirosh always means grape juice (or doesn't necessarily, if you're Reynolds) and always is used in positive references.
  3. In the original language, yayin sometimes means wine and sometimes grape juice. You can tell which by the context. If it's a negative reference, yayin means wine. If it's a positive reference, yayin means grape juice.

You see the problem here? In step three we have the problem of deciding which references mean wine. We solve that problem by assuming that if the reference is negative, it means wine. But that is begging the question, assuming the thing we're trying discover, which is what is the attitude of the Bible toward wine. So the exercise is completely useless.

Overall, there were some diverting sections, but much of the book was less than helpful. And, like Bacchiocchi, Reynolds takes a lot of space to talk about medical implications and social issues and several other things that have nothing to do with the scriptural position.