Category Archives: Essays

Are You Weird Enough?

by Allen Taylor

weird frog birdWorking on my third Biblical Legends anthology now, I’ve noticed that for every anthology I’ve edited so far I have received a handful of well-written stories that I can’t publish. I won’t publish.

That might sound odd, especially if you’re the type of person who believes that quality literature should be published. In fact, you may even believe that the best submissions should get their place in the anthology. But I don’t go that route.

Despite my best attempts to encourage writers to be weird, it is inevitable that I get submissions for each anthology that don’t even attempt to be weird. And, frankly, I’m a bit befuddled.

Watch Out For That … Flood

I went so far in the guidelines for Deluge: Stories of Survival & Tragedy in the Great Flood to ask writers to send their best tales of an alternative flood scenario.

Tell us a story of a catastrophic flood somewhere and at some time. It can be past, present, or future. It can be on Mars or one of Jupiter’s moons. Maybe it’s in an alternate space and time. Or maybe it’s a flood of dark matter into the earth’s ionosphere. Whatever the case, give us strong characters with a need to survive.

Still, I get stories of some character named Josiah who is Noah’s cousin’s best friend. He and Noah are as tight as a nut and bolt on the Titanic.

I’m not calling anyone out, and that scenario is one I made up, by the way. But you get the gist.

It seems that writers want to tell their flood stories, but they don’t want to let their imaginations loose to do it. There could be any number of reasons for this, which I won’t go into. The gnomes could be partly responsible. But I thought I’d offer some encouragement to writers who want to have a story published for one of the BLAS anthologies to, first, rip the straightjacket off your imagination.

I’d encourage you to start by reading at least one of the anthologies we’ve already published, preferably both. It’s not because we want your money. It’s because we want your best and most imaginative tales. Ideas give birth to new ideas. Even then, I’d say many of the stories we’ve already published, though they may touch on the weird, aren’t weird enough.

Which brings me to my next question: What is weird literature?

Well, Asshole, What IS Weird Lit?

Weird lit is somewhat difficult to define. It’s more a tone than a genre. But there are some distinctive elements. And it runs the gamut from extremely weird—like many Bizarro authors—to simple absurdism. We like it all.

One of our goals at Garden Gnome Publications is to publish weird literature that is representative of the breadth that can be found in the weird lit pantheon.

Diversity of style is difficult to achieve. Of course, the garden gnomes are partly to blame because maybe we haven’t done all that we could to reach every corner of the weird lit marketplace (at least, where the writers hang out). We do, after all, have day jobs. But that’s a morbid digression.

If I had to say succinctly what we’re looking for in all of our Biblical Legends anthologies, I’d say it’s three things:

  • Weirdness
  • Excellent storytelling
  • Boundless imagination

Stories do not have to stick closely to the original. As long as readers can tell your story is based on, in same way, the original Bible story, it’s good. You can be Christian, atheist, or somewhere in between. Heck, we won’t even ask. All we want is a good story that makes us laugh, say “huh?”, or send us to the toilet to make us retch at the horridness.

We aren’t officially re-opening the submissions process (we’re still reading some of the short stories we already have), but if you have a story you’d like us to consider for the flood anthology, send it now. Our biggest needs are flash fiction, narrative poems, and essays. We’d really like to see some gut-wrenching or thought-provoking essays on the flood theme.

To learn more about the guidelines for the formats we seek, read our submissions page, and get familiar with the BLAS submissions page, as well. We look forward to seeing what seeps out of your gray matter. Otherwise, we’ll see you in a crater on the dark side of Ganymede.

Allen Taylor publisher at Garden Gnome Publications and editor of the Biblical Legends Anthology Series. Check out Sulfurings: Tales from Sodom and Gomorrah now.

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Explaining the Inexplicable

by AmyBeth Inverness

On Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park in California, there are rocks that move seeming of their own volition, sometimes even sliding uphill. They leave long trails behind them. It is a well-documented phenomenon, and numerous scientific studies have attempted to solve the mystery. An abundance of theories have been proposed over the years, such as some kind of interaction with the Earth’s magnetic field or hurricane force winds. With no conclusive evidence, the sailing stones remained a mystery until 2014 when a pair of investigators used GPS to solve the puzzle. When conditions are just right, a combination of daytime rain and nighttime freezing followed by high winds pushes the rocks along on thin sheets of ice. Several scientific authors wrote an article on the phenomenon in August this year.

One might think that this news would be greeted with enthusiastic cheers by the world at large. However, there were some who expressed a certain disappointment that the mystery was no longer a mystery. There is a sense of loss that something once thought to be fantastic has turned out to be, if not exactly normal, mundane.

Humans are fascinated by the paranormal. The sailing rocks are no longer in that category.

As humans, we strive to understand the world around us. For millennia, scientists have performed careful studies while self-proclaimed intellectuals fabricated theories based on speculation instead of evidence. Junk science is alive and well, where investigators use questionable methods to reach their often paranormal conclusions.

Explaining Paranormal Activity

Paranormal phenomena abound on Earth. An anomaly does not have to be proven to involve aliens, ghosts or gods to be considered paranormal, it only has to lack an explanation related to what scientists know about our world. These mysteries are the perfect inspiration for speculative fiction. The Stargate franchise, for instance, is based on the idea that aliens once lived on Earth and enslaved humans. The show points to the pyramids at Giza and hypothesizes that the ancient Egyptians did not have the technology to build them, therefore it must have been aliens with superior technology.

Reality television also jumps on the bandwagon of pseudoscience. Several shows claim to hunt for and even find evidence of ghosts. For thousands of years, humans have postulated that, sometimes, when a person dies, their spirit lingers on Earth in some kind of other state of being. With such equipment as infrared cameras and EMF meters, investigators attempt to prove their existence.

Sherlock Holmes, a popular fictional character, is known for saying “Eliminate the impossible; whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” A good speculative fiction writer can come up with near infinite explanations for any scenario, whether mundane or abnormal.

Introducing The Incorporeum

The Incorporeum stories (included in the Biblical Legends anthology series from Garden Gnome Publications) postulate a single theory to explain multiple phenomena. The Incorporeum are non-corporeal creatures that exist symbiotically with humans. They are sentient and benevolent, referring to their human hosts as ‘Beloveds.’

The Incorporeum are not constrained by time. They move forwards and backwards at will, slipping seamlessly from a host in one era to a host in another and then back again. Ghosts are not the spirits of the dead, they are incorporeum who linger for a time after their hosts have died. A person remembering past lives is not reincarnated. They are simply sharing the memories of their incorporeum’s other hosts. Someone who hears a voice in their head is simply having a conversation with their symbiote.

In this purely fictional scenario, not all humans have an incorporeum, and those who do have one don’t always know it. Without evidence to the contrary, humans form mundane explanations for Incorporeum-related phenomena. They postulate that a person is mentally ill, or a charlatan, or that they are recalling something fictional and believing it is real. Sometimes humans attribute the Incorporeum’s presence to something supernatural, such as communion with an angel or a telepathic link with aliens.

Science Vs. Speculative Fiction

Real science and speculative fiction will forever be interrelated. A science-fiction writer looks at the science of their time and imagines how life would be different if the technology was much further advanced. Real scientists look at science fiction and sometimes find ways to turn the imagined science into something real and useful.

The purpose of science is the advancement of human knowledge and betterment of the human condition. The purpose of speculative fiction is to entertain and inspire. Both make valuable contributions to our world. The key is to always know which is which.

A writer by birth, a redhead by choice, and an outcast of Colorado by temporary necessity, AmyBeth Inverness is a creator of Speculative Fiction and Romance. She can usually be found tapping away at her laptop, writing the next novel, or procrastinating by posting a SciFi Question of the Day on Facebook and Google Plus. When she’s not writing she’s kept very busy making aluminum foil hats and raising two energetic kids and many pets with her husband in their New England home. AmyBeth Inverness is a featured writer in Garden Gnome Publications’ Garden of Eden and Sulfurings: Tales from Sodom & Gomorrah anthologies.

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An Ode to the Prophets

by JD DeHart

Prophet JeremiahOf all the genres of the Old and New Testament, the prophets stand out as some of the most intriguing and imagistic. They start out with the familiar pattern of “The word the Lord came to” and then it is anybody’s guess what happens from there.

Ezekiel features the image of a valley of dry bones snapping into life, resurrected and gift-wrapped with flesh. Where else in the Bible can one find an image so akin to The Walking Dead? Ezekiel also features an inaugural image involving four creatures, each a mass of faces and wings. This is the “wheel within intersecting wheel” passage. The book is also the source of the trope of Lucifer cast out of heaven, like a spear to the earth, a snapshot repurposed by authors like William Blake.

God asks Isaiah to put a live coal in his mouth, purifying his speech in a highly symbolic text. God then commissions the prophet to go and speak to a people that will not hear with words that they will not understand (sounds like bus duty to a public educator). Most people like to quote the part where Isaiah says, “Here I am, send me!” Churches love this verse because they can print it on banners and use it to start building programs, inspire mission trips, and sell hotdogs at the local welcome center.

What they fail to cite is the following passage about how Isaiah’s message is one that will be ignored, and that this journey will continue until everything is ruined, deserted, forsaken, and ravaged. It is easy to see why these words do not make it onto the banner. The commission concludes with God saying, “the holy seed will be a stump in the land” (Is. 6:13). Now, that is reassuring. Words like stump do not sell hot dogs.

Then there are the other tasks that the prophets are assigned. Isaiah gets to walk around in the buff, Ezekiel cooks his food over excrement, Daniel gets to spend time in a lion’s den, Hosea marries a prostitute, Joel uses locusts as a prophetic device, and Jeremiah laments…a lot.

The message presented against the backdrop of these odd actions is usually similar. It goes something like, “The people are doing wrong, punishments will come unless the people turn, and mercy will be given to them if they repent.” It is like hubris, ate, nemesis, with much more emphasis on grace.

This dichotomy is so strong in the book of Isaiah that some scholars insist there are two authors. The first part of the book deals with Isaiah’s original commission under the reign of King Hezekiah. Hezekiah then invites a Babylonian entourage to tour the kingdom (hint, wink: bad idea, coming invasion), and the second part of the book features a pissed off Isaiah prognosticating about events that will happen far into the future. The transition really occurs at Isaiah chapter thirty-nine.

What particularly works in some of the prophets, elevating them beyond a simple call to repentance, are those strange images and symbolic texts that cause the reader to look twice. It is easy to bog down in genealogies and lists of laws, but the section of the Old Testament devoted to prophecy is an entirely different matter.

The same could be said for the New Testament; the reader gets the same story told with essential accuracy in the first three synoptic gospels, with the Gospel of John telling the story from a different angle. Then the reader encounters a series of epistles in which various authors attempt to apply the events of the gospel narratives to situations encountered thereafter.

The book of Revelation sits at the edge of the New Testament like a road sign, with its heavy-handed images of the world melting like candle wax. The prophets seem to be the capstone genre, existing at the edge of the periphery. Once the history is told, the inevitable question is, what happens next?

The prophets answer that question with symbolism and strange characters, leaving the reader guessing still.

JD DeHart is a featured author in Sulfurings: Tales from Sodom & Gomorrah. He is the author of two collections, Decaf Days and Sunrise of Tomorrow, both available on Amazon.

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The Bible As Literature

by AmyBeth Inverness

AmyBeth Inverness Bible as literatureThe Christian Church was central to my upbringing. No one could beat me at Bible trivia. I could recite the Beatitudes and the Ten Commandments (I can’t anymore) the twelve sons of Jacob (still can) and I was pretty good with the books of both the Old and New Testaments. I can still name all the minor prophets, but I have to sing them. (I prove this via Youtube.)

It wasn’t until I was in high school and allowed the indulgence of choosing an English class that went beyond basic grammar and sentence structure that I began to put together the random trivia and assorted stories into some kind of perspective. The class was “The Bible as Literature.”

I had never before realized how much an author’s own society and environment affect their writing. It’s not something that can be avoided, unless the story is reduced to a set of inarguable facts. Even then, a writer might describe something they see in terms they and their contemporaries can understand, even though it is not entirely accurate. We don’t know whether the ladder in Jacob’s vision (Genesis 28:10-17) was a literal ladder, an analogy, or his best description of something else that was beyond his comprehension.

My husband and I read some not-so-ancient fiction out loud to our youngest daughter starting on the day she was born. I’ve always loved L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, but it wasn’t until reading them out loud as an adult that I realized just how different the language is. These books were written in my own language in my own country only a hundred years ago, yet the sound and the flow of the words is markedly different from anything written today.

The stories in the Bible were written not just hundreds but thousands of years ago. It’s not just the flow of words that is vastly different. Rather, it is the very way that ideas are conveyed in those words that has changed across time and cultures.

In my high school English class, one book we read in its entirety was the story of Job. Job is unique in that it isn’t written as a historical account but as a story with God, Satan, and the angels as characters with dialog. This story meant something else to the ancient Hebrews than it means to me. For example, I’m not okay with the idea that all Job’s children died, even if he did end up with more offspring at the end of the story.

The Christian Church is still a large part of my life today, but it’s no longer just a collection of neatly encapsulated narratives to me. I can see the words that ancient peoples were inspired to record, both for their contemporaries and for history. The New Testament’s letters were written specifically to individual churches in various cities. Yes, there are lessons to be learned from them, but the reader must keep in mind who was writing the letter, to whom it was written, and why it was written. Paul wasn’t sitting around thinking “Well, I’d better make darn sure this thing is still relevant two thousand years from now!” He was writing to his fellow Christians in fledgling churches.

Whether studying the Bible from the point of view of a Christian believing it to be the inspired Word of God, from the point of view of a secular scholar who does not believe God exists, or from anywhere in between, the Bible as literature is a varied, epic work. From the straightforward listing of who-begat-whoms (which held extreme importance for the ancient peoples) to the wild visions of Revelation, seeing what our ancestors chose to preserve for posterity and how they chose to present it informs us when we strive to do the same.

A writer by birth, a redhead by choice, and an outcast of Colorado by temporary necessity, AmyBeth Inverness is a creator of Speculative Fiction and Romance. She can usually be found tapping away at her laptop, writing the next novel, or procrastinating by posting a SciFi Question of the Day on Facebook and Google Plus. When she’s not writing she’s kept very busy making aluminum foil hats and raising two energetic kids and many pets with her husband in their New England home. AmyBeth Inverness is a featured writer in Garden Gnome Publications’ Garden of Eden Anthology.

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Are There Answers In Genesis?

by Jason Bougger

evolution vs. creationAs you may have heard, Answers in Genesis recently sponsored a debate between its founder, Ken Ham, who would be defending young earth creationism, and Bill Nye “The Science Guy,” who would be defending evolution.

Nye was universally criticized by his peers for even entertaining the idea of debating Ham. Famous atheist Richard Dawkins proclaimed, “When you turn down the invitation you will be accused of cowardice, but that is better than supplying the creationists with what they crave: the oxygen of respectability in the world of real science.” Ouch.

As a Christian, I have to admit that I cringed when I heard the debate had been scheduled. The cynic in me assumed that Bill Nye agreed to this debate not to promote science but to portray the image of the Christian as an uneducated out-of-touch American who simply ignores plain facts and believes that human beings were living side by side with dinosaurs only a few thousand years ago.

I not only feared the worst, I expected it. In my head, I could see Bill Nye smiling as he explained the basic facts of evolution while Ken Ham would stand at the opposite podium giving his rebuttal with a Bible in hand and using words like “Gawwwdah” and “Jayyyysus!”

Fortunately for me, and the entire viewing audience, it was nothing like that at all.

In Bill Nye’s opening statement, he immediately pointed out most of the millions of religious people in the world who do not subscribe to Ken Ham’s version of creation, showing me that his motive was purer than I thought.

Ken Ham, as well, was nothing at all like I expected him to be. He was polite and soft-spoken. He was well-researched and sounded like he knew what he was talking about even though I didn’t agree with what he was saying.

In the end, both men presented their cases well. I thought Bill Nye was the decisive winner, but I’m sure Ham’s fans said the same thing about him.

So, how do Adam and Eve fit in? That can be a little tricky. In the Nye/Ham debate, Adam and Eve were discussed only in the context of young earth creationism versus random evolution. To the young earth creationist, Adam was planted on Earth on the sixth day according to a literalist interpretation of “day,” binding the creation of the universe into six physical days as we currently understand them.

The Catholic Church, and most other Christian traditions, including Orthodox and mainline Protestants, don’t take this literalistic view of Genesis 1. “Six days” could have a variety of meanings – stages of creation, for example. So, according to that view, there is no reason the creation of Adam couldn’t have been a million-year process through an evolutionary process.

Anyhow, as a Catholic, sometimes it’s just easier to default to the Church’s position: Adam and Eve must be viewed as the father and mother of humanity, and the Fall was an actual event. Without the Fall, there would be no need for Christ, after all, so we can’t just say that it’s an allegory.

But what is the official Catholic position on evolution and the age of the earth? There isn’t one. A Catholic Christian is free to believe whatever his faith and logic tell him as long as he acknowledges that God is the creator of space, time, matter, and the soul.

In other words: there is no reason God couldn’t have chosen evolution as His means of creation.

So in closing, I’d like to say the debate between creationism and evolution doesn’t present all sides of this issue, and I’d also like any non-Christians reading this to understand that it really is a very small percentage of Christians who believe in young earth creationism. Those who accept it are buying into a narrow literalistic interpretation of scripture.

Putting everything else aside, if I ever find myself in Kentucky, I’ll be visiting the creation museum – just because I really like the idea of riding on dinosaurs.

Jason Bougger grew up in Brainard, Nebraska and currently lives in
Omaha with his wife and kids. His fiction has appeared in a
dozen places in print and online, most recently in the Garden of Eden anthology (Biblical Legends Anthology Series), Mad Scientist Journal, and Until the End: An Anthology of Love Vs the Apocalypse (Horrified Press). You can visit his writing blog at his website at http://www.jasonbougger.com.

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