October 5th, 2010
I arrived back form the western foothills of Texas on Sunday night, and thought I’d write about my experience at the Laity Lodge Writers Retreat.
The Laity Lodge courtyard and fountain.
(The following notes are as best as I can remember, so if I have forgotten details or gotten the order of events mixed up—mea culpa!)
After six hours of travel (four flying and two driving), I arrived at the lodge, making friends with Cameron Lawrence on the way: a poet and soon to be father. Olga drove us—right through the river in the canyon—the only way to get to the lodge!
The view of the “road through the river” out the back of Olga’s jeep.
After settling into my room that I shared with David Meacham, I went and explored the Frio River, which had been dammed up to make a kayaking, swimming, and fishing area in front of the lodge. Amazing!
The Laity Lodge great hall and dining room across the Frio River in southwest Texas.
While I was waiting for our orientation session to start, I spoke briefly with author Ross Lawhead, Stephen R. Lawhead’s son. We chatted about his and his father’s books, and then I went to sit down again.
I was very nervous about approaching his dad, who shortly entered the room.
Well, I had nothing to worry about, because within about five minutes, Stephen Lawhead approached me! Ross must have mentioned my name, and Stephen must have recognized it from my writing sample as well as Tegid mentioning my name at the Dallas book signing.
Anyway, we spoke for awhile, and he was very friendly! Soon the bell tolled for dinner, and I was able to sit across from him and we spoke at length about The Skin Map and the direction the series will take.
At the session that night, Steven Purcell (the director of Laity Lodge) shared the history of Laity Lodge, as well as the H.E.B. Grocery store chain and the family that founded it. It is truly amazing what God has done!
The worship music was provided by Ashley Cleveland and Kenny Greenburg, and it was heartfelt, fun, and jazzy with a touch of soul.
David and I stayed up late talking about writing, and soon it was…
I slept in until breakfast … and here I must express my thanks to the kitchen staff for graciously providing me with vegetarian alternatives where needed. While I eat eggs and fish, it was wonderful to have fresh salads, quinoa, squash, mashed potatoes, and an asian cabbage dish as alternatives at the various meals!
Scott Cairns, a poet and professor from Mizzou (the University of Missouri, Columbia) gave the devotional that morning, reading from his book The End of Suffering.
Afterward, we had our first fiction writing workshop with Jeffrey Overstreet. Jeffrey has written the excellent Auralia’s Colors series, and I am eagerly awaiting the next installment arriving next Spring: The Ale Boy’s Feast. I had Jeffrey sign all my copies of his books, woo-hoo!
Then came free time, and I spent some time kayaking on the Frio river … absolutely clear and fresh. Amazing!
At the end of my journey, Marcus Goodyear and I had a talk about our books and struggles … he laying on the floating dock and me sitting on the kayak. This was fun, because Marcus and I met online a few years ago, and the writers retreat is his brainchild. Thanks, Marcus!
The general session that night was by Jeffrey Overstreet on how to tell stories. Excellent, heartfelt, insightful, and touching.
Robert with Jeffrey Overstreet.
Stephen, Ross, and I had a fun time trying to figure out which edition the book was and where it was published—because I had bought it recently to replace one lent and never seen again. This copy was slightly smaller than the standard edition, and we finally concluded that it must have been a book club edition.
I would have brought all my books for him to sign, but, alas, my suitcase would have exploded!
Soon it was…
The morning was a blur, the workshop with Jeffrey excellent, and I soon found myself preparing to meet Stephen Lawhead for my 45 minute writer’s consultation about Merlin’s Shadow.
Beforehand I went to the art center and made a bead necklace for my wife, Robin, from the hundreds of beads they had available. The art supplies are all free, and I was able to make something special for her.
Robert with Stephen Lawhead, his son, Ross, and wife, Alice.
At the consultation I received one-on-one help from the master novelist himself. Stephen has a unique perspective ideally suited to advising me, and he helped me realize:
- I need more rigor in my name and place-name choices, creating proper spelling and pronounciation rules. For instance, I need to avoid using both “C” and “K” and pick one or the other ("C” being my choice)
- I need to limit my one sentence paragraphs, which I seem to litter all over my chapters. “If everything is special, then nothing is” … and I need to use these at most once a chapter.
- I need to check all of my dialog to make sure it never sounds like a 20th century American with bad grammar! Likewise, some of the dialog can be too formal for some characters.
In short, though, I was greatly encouraged, and with these minor changes the speedbumps should be removed for those more familiar with ancient British history.
Then we enjoyed a concert from Over The Rhine, who taught the songwriting workshop during the weekend.
Ah yes, the evening ended with a rousing ping-pong battle between musician/comedian Jim Gill and I … more about him on Sunday!
Sunday morning began for me as usual … up early, tea in hand, sending emails to my family to start their day, and writing a new scene in Merlin’s Shadow.
The final meeting of the retreat was a worship service. For this they reversed all of the chairs so that we could see God’s creation in the incredible view of the canyon.
The beautiful Frio River
As part of this, they had a sharing time, and Jim Gill and Jeffrey Overstreet had planned a humorous skit of Jeffrey singing a modified “Rainbow Connection” while holding a Kermit-like green sock-puppet playing a Banjolele (a ukulele like banjo). Jim hid behind the piano and played his full size banjo so it would appear that Kermit was doing it.
Jeffrey Overstreet with Kermit The Sock, and Jim Gill hiding behind the piano
Anyway, it was hilarious, and a hard act to follow for the more serious minded.
Gordon Atkinson gave a strong message pointing to our need for grace, and then we received communion.
Brunch was spent with Stephen Lawhead and Gordon Atkinson, and then came the time for the long trip home to my wonderful, loving wife and family!
Before leaving, I was able to spend time in the airport with fellow church-member, Glynn Young. We had seen each other for years at the large church we attend, but had never spoken. It turns out Glynn is a professional writer, poet, and editor for the High Calling Blogs—and we both learned about Laity Lodge through Marcus Goodyear!
Glad to meet you finally, Glynn, and what an odd way to do it!
September 28th, 2010
Book 1 Summary
(For those unfamiliar with the Berinfell Prophecies)
Book 1, CURSE OF THE SPIDER KING, is a fantasy inside-out. In most fantasies, the person from earth goes through a portal into another world and has adventures there. In this series, the fantasy world enters through a portal into our world, which is very creative.
The seven elf lords were captured by the Spider King. Unfortunately, due to an ancient curse, he could not kill them before they come of age without bringing doom upon himself.
So they were secretly hidden on Earth and disguised as humans. Now they have come of age, and the Spider King seeks to kill them before Elven sentinels can bring them back.
The Plot (From the back cover … no spoilers here)
Time is running out…
Trapped in the strange world of Allyra, the seven royal Elf lords struggle to control their new powers. With the Spider King chasing them and traitors in their midst, the young lords must unravel the mystery of hte legendary Rainsong before the Elven race is destroyed forever.
Standing in their way are peculiar and perilous creatures, a trap-filled fortress, and a dangerous secret.
Will the prophecies come true?
Or will the Spider King win again?
- Jett Green (Hamandar) — has the gift of strength and healing
- Jimmy Gresham (Thorwin) — has the gift of foresight
- Kat Simonson (Alreenia) — is able to read minds
- Kiri Lee Yuen (Lothriel) — can walk on air
- Johnny Briarman (Albriand) — can light things on fire
- Autumn Briarman (Miarra) — able to run and act very fast
- Tommy Bowman (Felheart) — leadership and incredible marksmanship
The seven must learn to fight and work together as a team so that they can defeat the Spider King.
My Verdict (Some Spoilers Ahead)
Here are the positives of the novel:
- Wayne and Christopher have created some really fun visuals for young adults – riding an underground river at high speed, taking a zip line for miles, and an incredible battle at the end of the book!
- For those that like it, there is a touch of young romance, yes, but in a dignified, upright, and sacrificial manner
- We get to know the characters a lot more … so that their suffering is painful to read.
- Once the action gets going, the plot moves along at a fast pace, keeping readers on their toes
- Positive messages abound: Working together, Sacrificing for one another, Learning to trust God, Assuming the best, Giving your enemy a chance to repent and become your friend, Obedience and trust in the face of difficulty, etc.
- Bad guys … oooh … lots of nasty bad guys to loathe!
- An amazing plot twist at the end … you won’t see it coming!
The only negative is that the book just went too fast! I wanted more! Wayne and Christopher easily could have made this into two books and filled in more details. As it is, I will just have to eagerly await book 3 to see what new nefarious things the villains can plot up!
So … Venom and Song is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for all young adults and young-at-hearts who love a great fantasy. Think of this as a cross between the movie GOONIES and THE LORD OF THE RINGS with a Christian basis.
Oh … and check out my daughter, Nessa’s short review of Venom and Song!
Make sure to check out the other participants on the Christian Scienc-Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour:
September 27th, 2010
But we are all afraid of venom. Deathly afraid of it.
Song. Who isn’t moved by beautiful music? Not all of us can sing, nor can many of us play, yet we all enjoy music. I myself am fairly tone-deaf, yet I love music, and even pretend now and then to be a musician for my kid’s band, Wren Song.
These two words cannot be more opposite. One that blisters and destroys from within, the other that lifts and soars upon the heavens. And that is the heart of the new novel, VENOM & SONG, by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper: deadly danger, and against it uplifting hope.
Here is the book’s description from Amazon:
Now in the strange realm of Allyra, the Seven young lords confront a traitor in their midst, a creature-infested forest, teenage fears and doubts, inexplicable mysteries … and the Spider King himself.
In a rigorous training program that makes boot camp look like Disneyland, the Seven must quickly learn to harness their own powers, work as one, and elude the Spider King’s spies. But as the ancient Berinfell Prophecies are revealed, the Seven soon discover their training might not be enough. To stop the Spider King they must also unravel the secrets of the Rainsong, travel to a creepy, trap-infested fortress to find the legendary keystone, and lead the Berinfell Elves in an attack on the Spider King’s own turf. An epic adventure with powerful messages about true strength, forgiveness, and working together as one body that will grab the attention of intermediate readers.
Learn more about The Berinfell Prophecies at www.heedtheprophecies.com, and come back tomorrow for my own thoughts about this excellent young adult novel.
And make sure you check out the other participants on the Christian Scienc-Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour:
September 23rd, 2010
Both of these are excellent books, and both are fun to read. Venom & Song is the CSFF Blog Tour book for next week, and THE SKIN MAP is planned for October’s CSFF Blog Tour.
And … in the October tour, I will be giving away a FREE COPY of THE SKIN MAP!
I had purchased a copy for myself when Stephen Lawhead’s BRIGHT EMPIRES TREASURE HUNT kicked into gear, and I was the thankful person to solve clue #7 here in St. Louis and find ANOTHER copy of THE SKIN MAP! This one unlocked clue #8 so the hunt could continue.
The amazing thing is, of all the clues so far, only clue #7 has to do with King Arthur! This means that I had to solve an Arthurian referenced riddle to solve the clue. Here it is:
King Arthur and his knights were chivalrous and true. Since 1953, on Ladue, the administration of this academy has hoped that the same can be said for their young scholars. Come to the place in St. Lou where Merlin and Arthur and Gawain tell their tales. Go to the main desk and ask the people there whether they think it’s possible to pull a sword from a stone.
(Note his contribution to John Piper and Wayne Grudem’s book, RECOVERING BIBLICAL MANHOOD AND WOMANHOOD. Also, through research, I was able to ascertain that George W. Knight III graduated from college in 1953.)
I was providentially designed to solve this clue, having in the past been a member of John Piper’s church when I lived in Minnesota, and also having a friend in fellow author L.B. Graham, who teaches at Westminster Christian Academy here in St. Louis.
The funny thing is that the contact person (not L.B.) for the treasure hunt at Westminster Christian Academy didn’t understand the directions and had failed to drop it off at the Knight Library.
It took me three trips to the academy, interspersed with visits to Panera Bread Co. for internet access, before they located the free book and I was able to unlock the next clue.
So … come back next week for the VENOM & SONG book tour, as well as next month for THE SKIN MAP book tour and a chance to win a free copy!
And, Lord willing, I’m going to get my treasure hunt copy of THE SKIN MAP signed by Lawhead himself next week when I go to the Laity Lodge Writers Retreat. I’m pinching myself.
August 25th, 2010
Having loved the tales of King Arthur since childhood, I can say without a doubt that Merlin’s Blade is a fabulous reimagining of the legends. This book ensnared me in a manner fiction has rarely been able to do. The characterization was deep, the plot imaginative and unpredictable, the villains made me cringe, and the heroes I loved. I’m a critical reader . . . but Merlin’s Blade is a classic I will add to my shelf of favorites. I highly recommend this book and anticipate its sequels!
August 22nd, 2010
This interview is SO excellent that I decided to post this before I even finished reading it!
The greatest thing is that he talks about the method he uses to write his books, as well as gives some great insights into his latest novel … The Skin Map, book 1 of the Bright Empires series, published by Thomas Nelson.
Also, he talks about coffee … and yes, it does have to do with his latest novel!
August 5th, 2010
This is an article I wrote for the Holy Worlds website, and I thought I should finally post it here, updated a bit.
Keep in mind that although I directly speak about fantasy novels—being an unpublished author of a fantasy—what I say applies equally to other genres of fiction.
So here it is:
What is Christian Fantasy?
A Definition and a Challenge
From the pen of Robert Treskillard
As I endeavor to define what is meant by the term “Christian fantasy”, the task reminds me of angling for catfish. When I was a kid in Minnesota, my brother caught a catfish, and I was amazed at its foot long, very thick girth. But that did not prepare me for catfish Missouri style. In Missouri, they don’t fish for catfish, they noodle for catfish.
Now noodling is, to say it mildly, a very personal way to catch a fish. What you do is this. You find yourself a stream, climb down into the water, find a hole in the bank, and stick your bare arm in it up to the shoulder. Now, mind, you’ve no idea what’s in the hole. Down here, it could be a poisonous snake or a snapping turtle!
What you are hoping for is that the hole is actually the mouth of a catfish. If so, you grab the inside of the fish, and pull the fish out. And we’re not talking little, teensy, tap-dancing, foot long catfish here. They can be 100 pound, four foot monsters that can actually eat your arm. Well, at least you’ve got it by the, you know, gills and guts, so I guess you win. Anyway, I’ve seen pictures of these fish and, needless to say, I’ve never been tempted to go noodling.
So that’s my first impression of trying to define Christian Fantasy: it’s far bigger than I can imagine, and I’m going to have to wrestle it out of its hole to get it into the light of day.
July 23rd, 2010
I finished working through Tegid’s excellent edits this last week, fixed up the cover image last night … and just placed an order for twelve copies of MERLIN’S BLADE!
Most of these are for securing endorsements, but a few are for friends.
Also, I am 100% through my edits on MERLIN’S SHADOW, so I should hopefully begin writing new material very soon!