#90: Footnotes on Guidance

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #90, on the subject of Footnotes on Guidance.

Recently I have encountered someone several times who appears to me to be struggling to find God’s direction.  I could be wrong, and in any case we have no relationship which forms a basis for me either asking or advising.  Yet I was considering what advice I might give, and a number of thoughts came to mind.

There is a significant chapter on Guidance in my book What Does God Expect? which is in the main a reworking of the earlier web page Objective and Subjective Christian Guidance.  This present work does not touch on that significantly, and I still regard that an important part of finding God’s direction in our lives.  This is rather a more informal collection of observations about that direction as we experience it.

img0090Rose

The individual in question was suggesting an interest in a particular direction; I asked why, and was given a reason which seemed from my experience to be inconsistent with reality–that is, it was thought that this direction would make money, and I have been down that path many times and never profited financially from it.  Since I take it as essentially a ministry direction (although not everyone would) I was a bit repelled by the reason.  Yet as I contemplated it I realized that there were aspects to this I had not considered.  One is that I have often pursued what I perceived as a ministry direction with the notion somewhere in mind that it might incidentally make money; I just had not listed it first on the expectations in most instances (although sometimes it may have been second or third).  The other was more complicated, but I think, too, more important.

It seems to me that God sometimes directs my path by letting me see reasons for something which ultimately have little or nothing to do with why He sent me that direction.  That’s not to say He lied to me; it’s more to say that I don’t get to know the plan, only my next task within it.

The example that springs to mind occurred when I was in college, having finished two years at Luther and started at Gordon.  I had placed out of the first three terms of music theory and had not yet decided whether I should be a music major or a Biblical studies major.  My career objectives were to become a Christian rock recording artist and performer, and I could see that either direction might be valuable.  Yet at some point I came to the conclusion that a degree in Biblical studies would aid my career in Christian music more than a degree in music.  I thought it might open doors, that people would be more interested in a Christian singer with a degree in Bible than a musician who happened to be Christian.

I am certainly not going to say that the degree in Biblical studies did not help my career as a musician.  It has contributed significantly to the lyrics of my songs and “patter” in my stage presentation.  However, that “career” has been at best spotty, and I do not think anyone ever asked me about my theological degrees (I got one from Luther also).  Having a degree in Biblical studies did not do much for that career.  It did, however, open the door for me to work at WNNN-FM, and gave me a solid foundation for the beginnings of my public teaching ministry there.  That in turn, in a very odd way, began my notoriety as a Christian defender of role playing games, and the combination of my degrees and my role playing game connections brought me to the place of being Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild, writing several books, and writing for many web sites including this web log.  God was indeed preparing me for ministry; He just was not preparing me for that ministry.

Getting back to that young believer who appeared to be seeking God’s direction, I wrote a note suggesting a possible path, and after a week or so received no reply.  I had written previously, a month ago, on a similar subject, and that had not progressed far, so it is possible that my correspondent had decided not to pursue anything I suggested and also decided not to tell me this.  I am not offended; there is no obligation to me.  However, that caused me to think of another observation:  God often leads us where we had no desire to go.

It was 1997.  I was struggling to get Multiverser into print and promote it.  As part of that promotional effort, I polished up an unpublished article I had written almost a decade before, entitled Confessions of a Dungeons & Dragons™ Addict, and found a space on the Internet to post it.  It got a fair amount of attention, and I received an e-mail from a Reverend James Aubuchon, who together with two others had launched an organization named The Christian Role Playing Game Association.  He was inviting me to join.  I declined politely.  I am not a joiner, I was on dial-up and needed to spend whatever time I had online to promote the game that was expected to make me if not rich at least solvent, and I wasn’t particularly interested in such a group.  However, within a few weeks someone who was playing the game wrote to tell me that someone in that group was making negative statements about it, so I felt it necessary to join and address these (which were apparently entirely resolved before I got there).  Once I was a member I began to become involved, I became interested, I got asked to do one thing and another and wound up temporarily stepping into the Chaplain’s office when it was vacated by the original Chaplain who felt that it was incumbent upon him to step into the Presidency when both the President and Vice President had resigned.  Along the way the outgoing President changed the name to the Christian Gamers Guild.  I don’t know what I did as Chaplain that first year, but apparently they liked me and when finally elections were held I was elected to continue as chaplain–and re-elected to the two-year position every even-numbered year since.  It has opened doors for ministry in places I did not know existed, some of which in fact did not exist when I was in college.  God has taken me on an unexpected path that caused me to think about issues no one else was addressing, write articles and books no one else was writing, and minister to people no one else was reaching.  He did it by pushing me into a place I did not want to go.

So to any young believer seeking God’s direction, let me give this advice.  God is going to lead you.  He is not necessarily going to lead you where you think you are going, nor tell you the plan in advance, and sometimes He is going to open doors to possibilities you did not foresee and which you think are not where you want to go.  If there is not a very good reason not to go there, take the open door, explore the possibility that does not sound like what you wanted or expected, because that’s often the way God is taking you to get you to places you never imagined going.

That, anyway, has been my experience, and while I have disappointments in my own hopes and expectations not having been realized, I ultimately must admit that what God has done with me has been very special, unique as far as I am aware, because I let Him take me where I did not intend to go and went for reasons that ultimately proved to have nothing to do with His plan.

#89: Novel Confrontations

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #89, on the subject of Novel Confrontations.

With permission of Valdron Inc I am publishing my second novel, Old Verses New, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first one, you can find the table of contents for it at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel.  There was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; the last of those for the first novel is #71:  Footnotes on Verse Three, Chapter One, which indexes all the others and catches a lot of material from an earlier collection of behind-the-writings reflections that had been misplaced for a decade.  Now as the second is being posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, and perhaps in a more serious way than the previous ones, because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book or how this book connects to events yet to come in the third (For Better or Verse)–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them, or even put off reading these insights until the book has finished.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #74:  Another Novel (which provided this kind of insight into the first nine chapters along with some background material on the book as a whole),
  2. #78:  Novel Fears (which continued with coverage of chapters 10 through 18),
  3. #82:  Novel Developments (which continued with coverage of chapters 19 through 27),
  4. #86:  Novel Conflicts (which continued with coverage of chapters 28 through 36).

This picks up from there, and I expect to continue with additional posts after every ninth chapter in the series.

img0089Camp

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.


Chapter 37, Hastings 56

I needed to bring back the clue about the acorn.  It was going to be important in the third book, and so it needed to be remembered.  Using it in passing to get to the marble made sure it was mentioned without being emphasized.

The eyesight trick had a lot of uncertainty to it.  For one thing, it hadn’t occurred to me that the first thing she was likely to do was create light, and so all this preparation for fighting in darkness was unimportant.  Also, I thought I might use it in the end scenario, but I didn’t really have any idea how (and in fact I didn’t).  The whole black and white versus color thing was interesting to me, but not terribly useful but as a way of making it seem like something was happening while they waited.


Chapter 38, Kondor 54

The luck of the dice gave me a string of potentially disastrous situations, and the opportunity to have Kondor worry about whether he was ever going to reach civilization with his crate.

The idea that Kondor can tell himself he is not superstitious simply because in thinking about whether or not his emeralds were the cause of recent events he does not use the words “luck” or “curse” shows the shallowness of his antisupernaturalist views.

The customs problem was an afterthought, something to keep the story going.


Chapter 39, Brown 13

The camp routine was built from my own camp memories.

Bob is a conglomerate person, but somehow I think that John Walker is a significant part at least of his temperament.  But John is not terribly religious.

Bill always calls to mind Bill Friant, so he’s big, powerful, slow-moving, kind-hearted; I don’t know if Bill goes camping.  The pack was there so Derek could take it with him (remember, Derek needs a pack).

Pete isn’t anyone.  Neither is Ralph, although I knew a Robert Schwartz back in elementary school (in Scotch Plains, through the ’60’s) who may have contributed a bit to this one.

My mom always liked the copper enamel jewelry; I often wish I could make it at home.

I had briefly considered the possibility of the dungeon master killing the players, but it was so lame and unrealistic an idea I didn’t stay with it more than a few seconds.  However, it led to the idea of the anti-gaming kid doing it.  Also, I created the player interests to match the murders at this point–except for David, whom I had already created as a lifeguard so he could patch the tire.  The story characters were then matched to the game characters in a way that captured a bit of each personality (I thought) and also fit with the murders.  And I introduced Michael as the anti-gaming character.

The game is clearly Dungeons & Dragons, although it never says so.  Roll your own fate is more something we say in Multiverser games, but it applies here as well.

Mary Healy was the name of the old lady who lived next door to us in the ’80’s.  I think I took the name Marybeth from one of my wife’s high school friends I had met briefly but who was often in her stories.  She was just a name.

Having Derek learn to use a bow was supposed to open into the use of the weapon in the future, but the situation didn’t arise until the third book (and it only occurs to me now that it will).


Chapter 40, Hastings 57

The extended scripture from Romans 8 was thought too long to use in combat by the editor of the first novel; yet it was so strongly defensive I wanted to continue using it.  The solution seemed to be to run it against unrelated physical actions which would enable her to pronounce the words while fighting.

I had not decided whether another vampire should appear that night or not; but on reflection it seemed once they had prepared for it such an appearance would not add to the story.


Chapter 41, Kondor 55

The customs interruption was a sudden inspiration; it would help to have something go wrong, and this seemed ideal.

The difference between studying for credentials and studying for knowledge was something I learned in college.


Chapter 42, Brown 14

It seems to me that I went on a treasure hunt during an overnighter at a Y.M.C.A. day camp.  I remember the counselors went with us, and that there was a problem about the clues being in the wrong places.  I didn’t actually create counselors for this story, but these were older kids and it didn’t seem a problem to let them go on their own.

It was important that the boys were always separating when they ran from place to place, because it meant no one knew where any of them were at any moment.


Chapter 43, Kondor 56

I suppose that my ship-to-ship combat ideas are a combination of playing Pirates (a computer game) and watching a few swashbucklers like Captain Blood.

I don’t think I’d considered this as an opportunity to remove Kondor from this world right away.  It was more an afterthought once the combat began, that I could find a colorful way to remove him, and ultimately I’d gotten all I could from this scenario and needed to move forward.

In the early ’80’s during a D&D game, Bob Schretzman lent me a book about ships of this period.  I don’t remember much about them, but tried to put what I recalled to good use.

My father-in-law had a ring with a star sapphire which she remembered being silver; it was supposed to go to my wife after his death and she had wanted to give it to me on our twenty-fifth anniversary, but it was too small for my smallest finger and got put away to await a day when we could afford to size it (it turned out to be gold).

Joe is of course going through the stage two dream state as he comes into his next world; the imagery of the dead comes from his surroundings.


Chapter 44, Brown 15

Derek’s story was heating up, and Lauren’s was slowing down, so I jumped him ahead of her here.

Michael bringing the nurse is actually the first real clue to this mystery.  He was supposed to find the camp director, and let Bill get the nurse.  He brings the nurse because he knows that Bill is dead.

The mention of the defibrillator was difficult.  Derek’s story has to reflect Derek’s thoughts and observations, as it is from his perspective; the use of the proper name for the device in the direct narrative seemed to break that.  I tried to capture his perception by calling it a “portable electric shock thing” and then parenthetically stating that he didn’t know the name for defibrillator.

The mention of Pete playing the archer is another clue, pointing to the game as the motive.


Chapter 45, Hastings 58

Lauren’s story had a couple of serious problems at this point.  I couldn’t let her kill Horta, because she had already faced him in the future; I couldn’t let her kill Tubrok, because he was now my villain for the future scenario.  However, somehow I had to establish her as Laurelyn of Wandborough, Mystic of the Western Woods, so I couldn’t allow them to kill her, at least, not yet.  Thus I have them escape.

Lauren here invents a new psionic skill from consideration of two other psionic skills.  It is part of the process that makes her mind skills a bit more credible to the reader:  she doesn’t simply decide she wants to do something, she thinks through a way to do it.

When I created Garla at this moment I did not know what I would do with her in the future; I just needed a werewolf, and I needed a reason to put Lauren in a cave in the woods, and this did the job.

The cave was a sudden inspiration.  I was thinking at that moment in terms of a place for Lauren to wait; but I was also going to need a place for her to live for an extended time, to create the legend of Laurelyn of Wandborough I needed, and the cave suited that.


I hope these “behind the writings” posts continue to be of interest, and perhaps some value, to those of you who have been reading the novel.  If there is any positive feedback, they will continue.

#88: Sheep and Goats

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #88, on the subject of Sheep and Goats.

Some years back I was again listening to a wonderful collection of Keith Green songs, but came to one I never much liked in which he plays the piano, cleverly retells Jesus’ parable of separating the sheep from the goats, and preaches a conclusion from it.  This time I asked myself why it bothered me, and it struck me that he had to be wrong:  what Keith was drawing from the story was not the gospel of Christ.  So I looked up the parable (it is in Matthew 25:31ff) and read it once again–and indeed, Keith had it wrong.  So, it occurred to me, did most of the people I had ever heard talk about it.

I talked about it in more than one venue, and got some interesting responses to what I taught, but it continued to nag me.  So I am now sharing it here, so more of you can read what the parable really says, instead of what so many seem to think it says.

img0088Flock

Let’s start with the way the parable is understood by too many people.  It appears that at the end of the world Jesus separates everyone into two groups.  He puts all the people who did good things over on his right, and all the people who did bad things to His left.  Then he says to the people on His right, “You people, because you did all these good things, I recognize that you are sheep.”  Those people say, “Thank you, Lord, yes, we worked hard to be sheep, and are pleased that you noticed.”  So the Lord says, “Come into the Kingdom, you’ve earned your reward.”

Then he turns to the other group on his left, and says, “Because you did all these bad things, I recognize that you are goats.”  They replied, “Yes, well, we liked doing bad things, made an effort to be bad, and don’t really care what you think of us.”  So He says to them, “Go away, you deserve your punishment.”

If you think that’s what the parable says, I hope I can disillusion you of this.  It says something that is almost the complete opposite of that in the most important ways.

First, we got the part right that it is the end of the world and Jesus is separating everyone into two groups–but He does so strictly on the basis of whether they are sheep or goats, not on anything they do.  That is, like any shepherd with at least a day of experience, He can tell the difference between a sheep and a goat by looking at it, and doesn’t have to observe what it is doing.  In the picture above you can clearly recognize the goat in the bottom left corner foreground as distinctly different from the other animals in the flock, most of which are obviously sheep.  So he looks at each animal and puts it in the right group, sheep to the right, goats to the left.

Now Jesus talks to the sheep.  What He says is, “You know, I’ve noticed something about you sheep:  you are always doing all these kind things for me.  It’s as if you can’t help yourself.  You see people in need, and you reach out and do something.”  The sheep, now, reply, “What are you talking about?  We don’t remember doing anything out of the ordinary.  We just did what we did, what sheep naturally do.”  He says, “Yes, but what you sheep naturally do for everyone makes you the kind of creatures I want to have in the Kingdom, so come.”

It’s time to talk to the goats, and you know what He says, but you might still have it wrong.  He begins, “I noticed something about you goats, too.”  What He noticed about the goats, though, is not “You are always doing bad things.”  No, not at all.  He says, “You never showed Me any kindness.”  It was the absence of those kind acts that Jesus noticed.  And notice the reply:  they say, “We never saw You in need of any kindness.”  The goats aren’t cruel; they’re oblivious to the needs of others.  Those needs never come onto their radar.  It does not occur to them to do anything for anyone else.  It is entirely natural for them to be completely self-absorbed.  Then Jesus says to them, “Your attitude toward others prevents you from being good members of this Kingdom, so I’m going to have to send you away.”

The important point to notice here about both the sheep and the goats is that neither of them is trying to do what they do.  The sheep are acting like sheep, and the goats are acting like goats, and both are doing so completely oblivious to the fact that they are doing something unusual.  Sheep show kindness to others because they are sheep and naturally see needs and try to meet them; goats do not show kindness because being goats they are oblivious to anything that is not about them.  Neither is really aware of what he is doing; he does it because it seems the natural thing to do.  You don’t try to become a sheep by doing something; if you are a sheep, you act like one.

I taught this in a small worship service at the Ubercon game convention some years ago, and one of the attendees I’ll call Avian shared a story from her own experience.  She had been invited to what was something of a house gathering, possibly a meeting or something like a service, by a Wiccan.  She accepted the invitation, and arrived to find the home filled with people she didn’t know, but a hostess who was obviously rather sick trying to make everyone comfortable as they interacted with each other.  Avian immediately saw that the hostess was exhausted, struggling against some kind of head cold or allergies or something, and said, “You don’t look well.  Come on, show me your kitchen, I’m going to make you a cup of tea.”  She took the hostess into the kitchen, and with a bit of coaching on where to find things soon served her a cup of hot tea and sat with her to see what else she could do.

The others at the meeting were flabbergasted.  They asked why she was doing this.  She was confused.  “What do you mean, why am I doing this?  Why aren’t you doing this?  It seems the thing anyone would do, that this woman is not feeling well and she needs someone to help her feel better.”  They didn’t get it.  It strikes me that they were all goats, completely oblivious either that their hostess had a need or that they might want to do something about it.  Avian was a sheep, someone who sees a need and looks for a way to help meet it, because that’s what she thinks people do, because she is a sheep and that’s what sheep do.

Obviously at this point I can’t tell you to act more like sheep.  That would be putting us back to where we were with Keith Green’s error.  You don’t become a sheep by acting like one.  Either you are a sheep or you are not.  But Paul tells us that if anyone is in Christ he is a new creature, old things passed away and new things come.  That is, God changes us from goats to sheep when we look to Him to save us; part of being saved is being turned from our selfish self-absorption to see the needs of others.  We are changed by the renewing of our minds, by the softening of our hearts, by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  He teaches us compassion, gives us compassion, causes us to become sheep, and then we act like sheep–and probably don’t even realize we’re doing it, because like Jesus being moved with compassion we try to help.  Whether we give money or time or effort, we do so to meet needs we perceive, to make the lives of others better.  So let your guard down, let God give you that concern for others, and allow yourself to take the risk of becoming a sheep.

It will seem the most natural thing in the world.

#87: Spanish Ice Cream

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #87, on the subject of Spanish Ice Cream.

My sister has what I call a facility for languages.  She was, for a time, a United Nations translator.  Before she finished high school, she sometimes dreamt in French.  When she worked in Taiwan, sometimes people speaking with her on the phone would use a word she did not know, and when she explained in Chinese that her vocabulary was limited because she was an American, they would argue with her that she could not be an American because she spoke Chinese too well.  Her Taiwanese-born husband told us that we should ask her, not him, about Chinese pronunciation, because he had what he called the equivalent of a “Brooklyn accent” and her pronunciation was much better.  She also knows smatterings of Italian and I don’t know what else.

I do not have that.  Our parents spoke French at the dinner table not because they were French (my father was Nth generation Southern) but because they wanted to be able to discuss things in front of the four children without our understanding them.  I took two years of French, but when I get mail in French I reply Je parle un tres petit peux de français, and ask if they can send again in English.  I have written several articles which have been translated into French, and I can’t read them.  I remember fewer than a dozen words of Romanian from my three-week concert tour there decades ago (thank-you, you’re welcome, what does this cost), but I never knew more than a score and don’t know the syntax or grammar at all despite being rather good at the linguistic side of languages.  I struggle with Koine Greek to teach New Testament, have picked up a bit of church, law, medical, and logic Latin, know probably less Hebrew than Romanian (and to quote a character in my wife’s favorite movie, “Who would ever bother with Romanian?”).  Most of the Spanish I know I learned from not watching Sesame Street when the kids were watching it–numbers through ten, open and closed–plus a few words that I’ve picked up in funny stories.  I use to tell people that I couldn’t speak enough Spanish to say “I don’t speak Spanish” in Spanish.

In short, I understand that some people have trouble learning a new language.  I certainly do.  Fortuitously I speak what is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world, and the language of my homeland, quite fluently.

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Leon’s Frozen Custard, in the south side of the city since 1942, has gotten in serious public relations trouble for what on the surface seems a very foolish reason:  the owner does not permit his employees to speak to customers in any language other than English.  Hispanics and liberals called for a boycott, but current owner Ron Schneider has stuck to his guns.  Not all of his employees are bilingual, and he does not want customers to expect bilingual service.  That’s the simple response; there are a lot of other reasons why an employer might have such a policy.

img0087Leon

The protestors are certainly correct that offering multilingual service is a competitive advantage.  I joke with the guy who is probably the best person for computers in the area, because he is co-owner of a small but busy shop that does mostly cellular phones plus computer equipment, and he genuinely is the only guy in the place who is not fluently bilingual (English and Spanish).  They hire no one out front who cannot deal with both the English-speaking customers who come from outside the small city because they know he’s the best and the local Latino population who come because they can ask questions and get answers without a language barrier.  It is an advantage for the store; it translates into a marketable skill for the potential employee.  I could not get a job there, even if I learned a lot more about computers and cell phones than I care to know.  Leon’s could attract more business by serving Spanish-speaking customers with Spanish-speaking employees.  That is a choice he makes.  On the other hand, he’s a landmark, and people in the suburbs drive into the city just to get his ice cream and sandwiches, and apparently hire him to cater weddings and parties.  More business is usually a good thing, but one weighs the costs against the gain in such questions.

The protestors are also right that they don’t have to buy ice cream there.  That’s a cost against benefit analysis, too, as their protest by boycott means they are sacrificing what some claim is the best food of that category in that area, accepting lower quality in the name of principle.  By the same token, though, doesn’t Leon’s have the right to establish the terms on which they will serve customers?  If they have to allow people to order in Spanish, why not Farsi?  Cantonese?  Japanese?  Russian?  Romanian?

If I were invited to sing in a Spanish-speaking church, I am not certain how I would handle that.  On the one hand, I am of the opinion that the lyrics to songs matter, and when I sing I want you to hear and understand the words.  On the other hand, I don’t think it would enhance the performance to have a translator standing next to me trying to repeat everything I sing in another language–even if he doesn’t disrupt my focus he’s going to be talking over the music.  I wouldn’t trust myself to try to sing a translated version of my lyrics–I might wind up calling myself a jelly donut, which does not put me in bad company but is still embarrassing.  You cannot expect everyone to speak every language, or do business in every language.  To do so is to demand that those who cannot speak multiple languages not be permitted to speak at all.

In this case, though, the argument is made that Leon’s already employs some bi-lingual servers; the rule is that those employees who could talk with customers in Spanish are not permitted to do so.  What possible reason could there be for that?

There are quite a few possible reasons, actually.  We’ll begin with the one advanced by Leon’s’ owner, that he does not want customers to expect to be able to order in Spanish.  Not all of his servers can understand an order in Spanish, and if someone comes to the window and no one is working who can take a Spanish order, that customer has to be chased away; and if that customer does not understand enough English to understand that they cannot help him, that slows the line.  On those days, the line is further slowed by the fact that there will be numerous customers in it who cannot be helped because the servers cannot understand what they are saying, the longer line moves more slowly with fewer sales, and people driving by are less likely to stop to queue onto a long line, which is more lost business.  If Leon’s cannot serve you in English, you become a problem for the business, because they can’t serve you every time you come, and you’re scaring away real business by taking space in the line.

Of course, some days some of the servers can speak Spanish.  Why not just let them do so on those days?  Apart fromn the fact already noted, it is clear that not all of the servers speak Spanish.  If some of the customers expect to do business in Spanish, that fouls the queue when they reach the window and have to wait for the bilingual server to be available to help them while the English-speaking server is now trying to find someone else in the line who wants to order in English without giving anyone the feeling that the service is unfair.  Service is now inefficient again.

There is also the problem of management.  I don’t know whether owner Schneider speaks Spanish, but he probably does not make it a requirement for his management staff to do so.  Even the best of employer-employee relationships are a bit adversarial; your employer might be a friend, but he is not a buddy, and he is watching to ensure that you do the job right.  Customer service is a vital part of any business, and particularly in the food industry.  If I’m running the store, I want to be able to understand what my employees are saying to my customers, and it is important to do so for a lot of reasons–easily illustrated by giving a few ideas of things I do not want to hear my employees saying to my customers.

  • You’re ugly, go away.
  • Hey, can I see you Friday night?  Great movie showing, and a hot girl like you shouldn’t sit home alone.
  • That’s the large cone; pay me for the small, and later you can make it up to me.
  • You don’t want to eat here.  The food here isn’t worth what they charge; you’re better off at the place down the street.
  • My boss is a jerk and the pay is a joke, I’m quitting just as soon as I can find another job.
  • I hate this place and everyone who works here.  By the way, the AR-15 assault rifle I ordered arrived yesterday.
  • They’re going to make the deposit at three-thirty, and that blonde girl will walk across the parking lot to the bank across the street; you can ambush her by the clothing drop.

You get the point–or do you?  Remember, the store is responsible for what its employees say to its customers.  To exercise that responsibility, the managers have to be able to understand what the employees are saying.  In order both to meet the demands of the protestors and protect the interests of the business, Leon’s would have to fire any employees, and particularly any managers, who are not fluently bilingual–a mistake for any business that has been running so long, because they undoubtedly have some excellent and trusted people working there who would be out of work, and would create a lot of disgruntled employees and former employees.

And what happens when the immigrant Middle Eastern population insists that they should be able to order in Farsi or Arabic?

I saw the list a few years ago; I believe that official government publications in these United States come in over a hundred languages.  Every court of law in New Jersey has a Spanish interpreter on staff, and in most jurisdictions they earn their money translating for defendants who do not adequately understand English.

In the Roman Empire, every province had its own language, and people spoke that language with each other locally, much like Italian neighborhoods of the last century and Hispanic neighborhoods today, but on a larger scale.  Yet business was usually conducted in the international language Greek, and legal proceedings generally in the official language Latin, and almost everyone was tri-lingual.  There’s nothing wrong with being multilingual, and there’s nothing wrong with offering multilingual customer service to attract customers who do not speak English.  However, when we attempt to force people who do not speak a foreign language to use it in their business transactions, we are being unfair to someone.  The customer can always find a merchant eager to accommodate his language requirements to make a sale.  The businessman can only work in the languages he knows.  It is therefore the choice of the business what languages will be spoken in their business transactions, and if the customer doesn’t like it he can bring an interpreter or shop somewhere else.

#86: Novel Conflicts

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #86, on the subject of Novel Conflicts.

With permission of Valdron Inc I am publishing my second novel, Old Verses New, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first one, you can find the table of contents for it at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel.  There was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; the last of those for the first novel is #71:  Footnotes on Verse Three, Chapter One, which indexes all the others and catches a lot of material from an earlier collection of behind-the-writings reflections that had been misplaced for a decade.  Now as the second is being posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, and perhaps in a more serious way than the previous ones, because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book or how this book connects to events yet to come in the third (For Better or Verse)–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them, or even put off reading these insights until the book has finished.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #74:  Another Novel (which provided this kind of insight into the first nine chapters along with some background material on the book as a whole).
  2. #78:  Novel Fears (which continued with coverage of chapters 10 through 18),
  3. #82:  Novel Developments (which continued with coverage of chapters 19 through 27).

This picks up from there, and I expect to continue with additional posts after every ninth chapter in the series.

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History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.


Chapter 28, Kondor 51

I skipped Lauren in part because she was ahead of Kondor in stories and I’d already determined that he would be out of the next book; and in part because I’d created a cliffhanger for him and had a story idea pressing on me at the moment which I wanted to pursue.

One of the problems I had with the first draft of the first book was that Kondor’s atheism seemed to start when he encountered Lauren’s Christianity; I did a lot of rewriting to strengthen it earlier.  In this book I did not expect to repeat any of those arguments (been there, done that), but needed to keep his identity as an atheist solid as part of his character.  The debate about whether mythical beasts like sea monsters were a challenge to that belief helped in that regard.


Chapter 29, Hastings 53

Saying that Lauren learned many magics and became a powerful sorceress gave me options to use spells and psionic abilities in the future that had not been established specifically.

I needed to keep her distant from the core of the Arthurian legend as a way of explaining why she doesn’t appear in any of the tales.  She did not need to be entirely gone, just distant enough that no one would wonder that she wasn’t mentioned.

When I mentioned Morgana, I did not realize that she would reappear later in an unanticipated role.

By the time I mentioned the oak forest, I knew what the acorn was.

The healing magic was something she had not done previously, and thus an example of what she was learning.

The idea of having Horta accuse Lauren was a step toward establishing the confrontation I needed to have him kill her; having him flee would give me a viable reason to move Lauren from Camelot to Wandborough.

I chose Sir Sagrimore because he is a known knight for whom there are no familiar stories.  I guessed that in doing this I reduced the possibility that anyone would say I was not representing the knight’s character correctly, as they might with Gawaine, Galahad, Lancelot, Tristram, and other famous knights for whom stories are extant.


Chapter 30, Brown 10

It was during the readthrough of this section that I made a stone block out of the stone wall; it seemed to work better.

John Walker often says, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”  I’m not sure whether I ever heard it from anyone else, but it seemed to fit Derek’s situation.

I needed to make the trip take a long time through the swamp even though it could not be so far to the castle, because I needed Derek to be tired enough to fall asleep again.  I didn’t see a fight with a vampire as maintaining the mood of this story, although I wasn’t certain exactly how it would end next.

There was a stupid servant in the version of this played in the game, but he was not so deformed nor so stupid as this one I created.

“Morbius” is a nod to a Doctor Who episode in which some dying scientist has created a body in which he intends to put his brain.  It was the name of the madman, but from that also that of the animated body.

The conversation with the servant gives a lot of clues about the situation, although to some degree the world does not completely make sense.  I used his pauses as if to remember to suggest a number of ideas.  I have since run this world for players and had to expand on a number of aspects, but at this point this was the entirety of the world.


Chapter 31, Hastings 54

Lauren isn’t certain how to track Horta, and neither am I; but I’m also not certain what to do when they find him, so I’m exploring the situation while I look for answers.

It was established in the first book at some point that Lauren had always wanted to move to a more rural location and keep a horse.  It suggests that she is like the many girls who spend time with horses when young.

Lauren’s estimates of how long in the future various events will occur is very inexact; she does not really know what year it is now, only that it is anno domini.


Chapter 32, Kondor 52

There was a part of me that wished I had thought of this idea of trading food for emeralds sooner; but I resisted the urge to back-write it into the story because it didn’t seem realistic in my mind for Kondor to have thought of it sooner.  I thus committed myself to bringing him around the circuit again, and to creating interesting adventures to fill that time.

In-game, travel times are determined by die rolls and by travel (and port) events determined by die rolls.  I was deciding these things based on averages and ranges, and making them a bit shorter due to the fact that Kondor’s travel clock was a significant aid to navigation.


Chapter 33, Brown 11

Oddly, although I had decided that the mysterious host was a vampire, I had not determined how Derek was going to die–that is, the actual death moment escaped me.  Even when he fell asleep, I expected he would awaken and actually face the monster.  But having him not awaken was believable, and saved me the disadvantages of another fight scene.

The introduction of the summer camp world was from the outset intended to be a slasher movie story; but none of the details had yet been determined.


Chapter 34, Hastings 55

I created the comfort bubble with a view to using it in the climactic scenes.  Always there were things I did to prepare for the climax and things that I did to make the current scene work which I later found a way to use.  The comfort bubble was to save their lives and allow the denouement of the story.

When I wrote about Raal’s uncanny ability to spot the undead, I didn’t realize myself that it would lead to his ability to smell them.  But it made perfect sense for a werewolf to be able to smell decay in an undead body from quite a distance, and I needed a way for Lauren to do the same, so this developed from it.

Creating fight sequences is in some ways the most difficult aspect of the writing.  Each has to be distinct, using maneuvers and techniques in ways that don’t sound like she did this again; yet they must also sound consistent with all that has been done before.  It must seem like the same person involved in the battle doing the sort of things he or she usually does, but it must not seem like the same battle over again.  Thus I find myself mixing established bits with variations, and looking for reasons why that which was done successfully last time doesn’t get done exactly the same way this time.


Chapter 35, Kondor 53

The sextant is one of those things that I expect will eventually be useful; I just don’t know when.

I immediately recognized the tension involved in having a crate of uncut gems and a distant place at which to have them done.  It would become a nagging weight on Kondor, for a little while.


Chapter 36, Brown 12

I’ve actually never seen a slasher film.  I was not at all certain as I started how it should play through.  I needed characters and a relaxed atmosphere, and so I set about to create it.

A lot of my camp notes recall my days at Lebanon, a Baptist campground in New Jersey; but very little is even similar.  The bell was near the mess hall, there were separate boating and swimming lakes (but no docks on the boating lake that I recall), plenty of woods and trails, a barn where the craft department was, and two-way radios used to keep people in touch with each other.  Oh, and there was a chapel, and to a degree the major landmarks in my mind are roughly in the same relationship on the map as they were there–except that the cabins are in exactly the opposite direction, beyond the barn rather than beyond the mess hall.

Getting the tire fixed was a good excuse to keep Derek here.  I don’t know that I ever used the bicycle as a means of transportation in this book, and although I thought I might I had no specific case in mind.

Everyone in the game develops something we call a “philosophy of the verse”; eventually they start putting together an idea of what is happening and why.  Derek’s, so far, is that he’s comatose and dreaming.  This notion that he is using his expectations to turn the dreams to nightmares is a good step in that development, and it gives him reason to try to put the horror thoughts to one side for now.

Apart from the biblical reference, Shiloh happens to be the name of the next town over, and of a church there which runs a summer camp not far from here, although the camp is not called “Shiloh”.

David isn’t anyone I remember; he’s more a type of person who seems right at summer camp, a conglomerate of those modest leader types.  My cousin Ron probably contributed significantly here.

Mahwah is the town next to where my parents live.  I don’t know whether I’d mentioned it as his home before, but it seemed a good place for his origin.  Newark also is a city in New Jersey, but it happens to be one in Delaware as well, and I recall there being such cities elsewhere.


I hope these “behind the writings” posts continue to be of interest, and perhaps some value, to those of you who have been reading the novel.  If there is any positive feedback, they will continue.