My Copies of THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL Have Arrived

When I finally received my copies of The Dragons of Sheol yesterday, it seems like the long process of writing this book has come to an end and I can concentrate on the next one, Coventry 2091.

As a novelist who is trying to build his reputation, I realize many readers take a chance to spend their time and money reading one of my books because they have come to know me personally and so have become interested in what I write. Indeed, as a writer, one pours so much of oneself into one’s book you can probably get to know how I think and look at life much more clearly through my writing than simply by speaking with me.
When I first started out, personal sales, including sales where I mailed my books to readers was a big part of getting the word out. In those early days, I could mail my books to readers in Canada for $7-$8 postage (from a mailing perspective, unfortunately none of my books except Questioning Your Way to Faith is small enough to be sent as a letter-sized package). Now, there are so many surcharges that even with a small business discount, it can cost me $17.50 to mail one book to a small town in Ontario (I could drive it there for that). There is no point in giving my readers a $6-$10 discount when they buy a trade paperback from me if the postage costs $17.50. If you buy from Amazon®, you can often get free shipping if you are willing to aggregate orders. For Chapter/Indigo® one can avoid shipping cost all together if one is will to drive to the nearest store for pickup.

So where does that leave me? I had discussed this change in the dynamics Indie book publishing in a previous post. For me it means personal sales that avoid postage charges are very important. I always carry a few carefully bubble-wrapped copies of my books in a satchel in my van. If people express an interest in my writing when they meet me, I can let them buy a book from me directly and avoid the postage charges. So if you see me, and want one of my books at a discount, be sure to ask.

Launch Special: 99-Cent Sale on THE HALCYON CYCLE Books 1 and 2

Wolfsburg Imprints has never run a sale on The Battle for Halcyon, but they are running a 99-cent sale now on this e-book for a limited time as launch-bonus for book 3, The Dragons of Sheol. If you haven’t yet tried books 1 and 2 in The Halcyon Cycle or, if you’re like me, and wish to have an e-book copy for reading after “lights out,” now is the time to take advantage of this special value. You’ll need a free Kindle® app on your smart phone or tablet to read these e-books.

Download the e-books from my Amazon® author page.

Barnes and Noble® has been the First to List THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL

The first listing of THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL

Barnes and Noble® were the first to list The Dragons of Sheol. If you would like to check it out, here is the link.

I’m often asked: “Can you make money as an indie author?”

When people ask me this question, they are usually asking because they or someone they know is active or will be active in writing a book, and they are wondering what to expect. Others ask it because they are skeptical that it is even possible to make money without going through a traditional publisher.

My answer is usually a qualified “yes” it is possible (but certainly not guaranteed) to make money through an indie or as I prefer to call it, a micro-publishing endeavor.

Why the qualification? There are three basic reasons.

Indie or Micro-Publishing is a Small Business Endeavor

The first thing that one has to remember: Micro-Publishing is a small business. Like other small businesses, this means you will likely not be making money out of the starting gate. Rather, like other small business start-ups, you will have to put in long hours with little remuneration, and finally there is significant risk that you will run out of money, patience, or interest before the business begins to pay off. This comes with the territory of starting something you own.

A case in point, many writers that try to find a traditional publisher also spend a great deal of time writing with no remuneration and then attempting to convince a publisher to take on their manuscript (also with no remuneration). This start-up time when taking the traditional route is often excluded from pay-back calculations. The writers who run out of money, patience, or interest choosing this route are ignored leading to a “survivor bias” when comparing traditionally published authors with indie authors.

Many writers augment their early cash flow with writing-related income, for example, editing, free-lance magazine submissions, contract writing for trade journal or instruction manuals. In my own case, since I write Science Fiction, I tutor in physics and chemistry, as well as provide chemistry consulting as a way of staying connected to science.

Indie or Micro-Publishing is an Annuity Business

Secondly, Micro-Publishing is an annuity-driven small business. When you publish your first book, there will be an initial flurry of interest and then slower sales over the long term. Long-term sales depend on how many people hear about your book and hear enough good things to take a chance to buy it. You may also get copyright remuneration or some remuneration for library usage. These long-term sales are your annuity.

The key point: as you write more books, this annuity stream will grow, but often in the initial stages, the up-front costs of writing and publishing more books will grow faster than the annuity stream.

Most Writers Care About the Art as Much or More than They Care About the Business

Finally, writers are artists as well as business-owners. They have a message or art they wish to develop which is often more important to them than the money. I’ve often been told, “If you wrote Science Fiction more like mainstream SF, you would sell more books.” I think that’s true, but I wanted to write Science Fiction that I would like to read but no one else has bothered to write. For me that means I explore worldview, spiritual, and philosophic questions as well as maintaining a strong science component in my novels. Not optimizing only for the money, probably puts one on a slower growth trajectory, but through it I hope to connect with kindred spirits who long for the same kind of story that I seek.

So What Should I Worry About as an Indie Writer?

1. Scalability

First, ask yourself what happens if my next book goes viral and hundreds, even thousands of readers want it at once? Can your distribution system handle it? If you only sell personal copies or mail them yourself, the answer is probably “no.” If some other organization handles the sales, then the answer is likely “yes.” In other words, make sure your distribution channel is scalable in case the breakthrough you hope for happens.

2. Marketing

Writers are often taught to market aggressively. I won’t do that for two reasons: (1) I don’t want to approach anyone in a way that I would not want to be approached. I don’t like aggressive tactics so I won’t use them. (2) I started to realize that when friends would see me, they would immediately think “I haven’t bought Peter’s book yet.” I don’t want that either. Their friendship is much more important to me than a sale. They need to know that they don’t have to like or buy my books to be my friend. That thought should not even come up.

As a consequence, most of my “advertising” or marketing is low-key on social media, by email signatures, or by magnetic signs on my vehicle. Word of mouth, without my intervention, is still the best form of advertising. Improving my writing craft so that readers will enjoy my books so much that they will give them as gifts or recommend them to friends and family is my long term objective.

3. Things Change Unexpectedly

When I published my first book, it was still possible to use Canada Post to mail books to customers at a reasonable shipping charge. Now so many surcharges, special charges have been added that even with a small-business discount, it can cost me $17.50 to ship one book to a nearby small town. Who can afford to pay that much on a book worth $20-30? the answer is “no one.”

This unexpected change has shut down one potential channel for reaching readers. These kinds of changes that are beyond a writer’s control have a major impact on the business. Like all small businesses, one has to adapt and make sure there are several ways to get your books to your readers.

Final Thoughts

Above all, keep writing, connect with like-minded readers, and connect with other writers who share your passion to communicate with others and bring a little beauty and inspiration into their lives.

Kazmaier 2019 Spring Newsletter

Personal News

Most of our immediate family birthdays occur from mid-December to mid-May. Kathy and I have had a wonderful time celebrating almost non-stop since Christmas. This culminated with our youngest grandson’s birthday in May along with Grandparent’s Day hosted by the school our two oldest grandchildren attend.

Family is truly a blessing and we are thankful that everyone lives within driving distance.

We also had a cold winter and were privileged to get away from the ice and snow and spend a few days with my sister and her husband in La Quinta near Palm Springs. The picture below shows the lagoon in their gated community that Kathy and I would walk around daily for exercise.

This year we opened our cottage in mid-May (which is quite early for us). When we arrived the trees still had buds and we had a open view up and down the water way. When we left, less than a week later, the leaves were all out and we had our more usual seclusion and privacy. I’ve attached a couple of pictures from the cottage to show that Spring is truly here.

It was interesting to me that on Grandparent’s Day the grade one class showed us their writing project. The picture below shows they process they followed. It’s exactly the same process I follow to produce my books (although I am sure I go through it much more slowly than they did). It’s a wonderful school. Kathy and I are so glad our grandchildren are able to attend there.

This June is the 50th anniversary of my Crescent Heights High School class’s graduation. I am disappointed that I cannot make the trip out west right now and join the festivities, but I wish my classmates well and am grateful for the re-connections I have been able to make in the lead-up to this significant event.

Peter’s Writing

This spring has also been a significant milestone in my writing journey as shown in the picture above. I’ve just completed my fourth book, The Dragons of Sheol, the final book in The Halcyon Cycle. The print copy should be available in a few weeks, and the e-book likely earlier. I have already been working on my next book which I have tentatively entitled Coventry 2091.

I continue to work to improve my writing with each successive book. I hope this is my best book yet. My readers have always been helpful and I hope to hear from them.

If you are interested, either follow my website for unfolding news [ Peterkazmaier.com ] or check out one of my author pages such as at Amazon.

As always, one of my favorite aspects of these infrequent newsletters are the emails Kathy and I receive back. These personal contacts mean so much and give us a chance to re-connect with our friends.

Books are Expensive!

Books are expensive, especially if you buy hard cover or trade paperbacks and have to include the shipping costs. It makes sense then to be reasonably sure the money you’re spending is worthwhile.

June is launch month for my latest book, The Dragons of Sheol, the third and final book in The Halcyon Cycle. This book should list on Amazon in a few weeks. If you think you might be interested, why not read the first few chapters. The first chapter is appended. I plan to make a few more chapters available for reading later in the month.

If the image does not display use this link to read the original blog with images.

Here is the first chapter of my upcoming book, The Dragons of Sheol. I like books that begin quickly, with a good deal of action right away. I hope you enjoy it.

Chapter 1 Dirty Tricks

Copyright © 2019 by Peter Kazmaier

Dave glowered at the diminutive figure darting and swaying before him like a jack-in-the-box. Wiping the sweat from his swollen left eye, Dave mumbled to himself, “Come here Brandor, you half pint. All I need is one touch with my quarterstaff and you’re finished.” Not for the first time in this match, Dave wished he had picked a lighter weapon. Maybe then he could land a blow.

His fellow students at Gur Academy stood in a circle around the two combatants, cheering them on.

“Come on Rokodor,” called one using Dave’s Gurundarian name, “All you have to do is fall on the little squirt to win.”

“Brandor, stop with the bouncing around. You make my eyes tired,” chimed in another.

Dave fixed his eyes on Brandor’s, whose slender form was seventy pounds lighter than Dave’s solid, well-muscled body. He could smell Brandor’s self-confidence. Then he saw his opponent turn and smile at one of the young women watching them. Dave seized on the moment and rushed in, raising the end of his staff for a quick blow.

Brandor evaded the swing easily, crouched and swung a low, sweeping blow at Dave. Dave felt a sharp crack on the side of his leg. It sent him sprawling to the ground, gasping in pain. He moved to get onto his feet.

“Stop!” came the order from the Academy commandant. Brandor was poised to drive his quarterstaff into Dave’s head, as Dave crouched, vulnerable, on the ground. Dave dug his fingers into the sand of the practice ground. He could smell Brandor’s indecision. He could sense his hatred.

“You’re lucky, skork. You don’t belong here with us. Go back to your own kind,” said Brandor through gritted teeth. Sullenly, he pulled his weapon back from the killing blow, then stood at attention, facing the commandant.

Skork was the pejorative used to describe all bent and broken peoples from the zombie-like Apemen, to the Halfmen, and even to Dave’s own people who were inferior to the Ancients in longevity, speed, and several other attributes.

Brandor was a young nephew of Arachodor, a member of the ruling Council of Thirteen. Arachodor had objected strenuously to Dave’s acceptance into Gurundarian society, after Sirona the healer had called him back from death. In saving him using a healing plant tuned only to Ancients, Sirona had changed Dave’s body from that of a Lesser Man (what Ancients called ordinary people from earth) to that of an Ancient.

I wonder if Brandor would have killed me if the commandant hadn’t stopped the match? No one’s been killed during Academy combat training in more than a hundred years, Dave thought.

He stood up gingerly and limped toward the circle of onlookers. The Academy stood high on the western slopes of the Barrier Mountains and he could see the vast expanse of Lake Tolbar shimmering in the distance. His wife, Arlana, came toward him. Clutching his right arm to support him, she walked with him away from the crowd.

Dave was glad she didn’t talk about the fight. She had neither his strength nor toughness, but she was as fast as thought. She had deftly handled Brandor in a sparring match the previous week. She still had a bruise where Brandor had flailed out and “accidently” hit her when she had started to walk away after their match. Dave had planned to teach Brandor a lesson today—and hadn’t been able to touch him. The humiliation was almost unbearable.

“Well, husband,” said Arlana, “are you ready for our expedition test the day after tomorrow?”

“I think I’m ready, Princess. Any idea where we’re going?”

“I hear we’re heading to the eastern slopes of the Barrier Mountains to replant the guardian trees that were burned by the Halfmen.”

“Sounds easy enough,” said Dave.

“Things are never easy when we’re close to the Skull Mountains,” said Arlana.

“I wish we could get some leave and head home,” said Dave.

“You’re thinking what I’m thinking—how are Al, Pam and Little Thomas?”

“I am. Since we’ve been at the Academy, we haven’t been able to visit our ‘mailbox’ to see if they’ve sent us a message from home. They’re probably wondering why we haven’t answered.”

“Shhhh, Dave. Keep your voice down,” whispered Arlana.

Dave glanced over his shoulder, relieved that there was no one in sight.

“Anyway,” continued Arlana, still whispering, “Since Al and Pam know we’re away at the Academy, I don’t think they’ll be too worried about our lack of communication.”

When they finally reached their quarters, Dave went out back to wash in the creek-fed shower. When he returned, he saw Arlana and Ferris, her cousin, in serious conversation. They looked up as he limped in.

“What’s going on?” asked Dave. “You look like there’s been a death in the family.”

“We have trouble, Dave,” said Ferris. “Your old enemy, Arachodor, used his influence with some of the teachers. He’s made the motion that you shouldn’t be allowed to join the cadets on their expedition. They claim your lack of competence makes the trip too dangerous for you.”

“Arachodor’s concern for my welfare is—well—touching. Can they really do that?”

“They can, and they are trying to do exactly that. I’m about to head over there now, to intercede on your behalf. You deserve to take this first test. Arlana and I have been training since we were very young. You may not have had all the instruction we’ve had, but you’ve seen more real combat than half the Rangers in our force. That should count for something. Perhaps they’ll listen to a seasoned Ranger who knows you.”

Dave sat down and poured himself a cup of siph. “What I don’t get is why Arachodor’s argument for my exclusion is even being considered. After all, we’re only going camping alone on the other side of the Barrier Mountains; there will be seasoned Rangers and Guardians on patrol—so where’s the danger?”

“Husband, as I said before, anytime we are on the other side of the Barrier Mountains we are in the wild and there is danger. The guardian trees have been destroyed in large measure, so there is no protection from that quarter.”

“But I thought,” interrupted Dave, “that the Bent Ones had all fled to Abaddon, and the Halfmen would be cowering in the Skull Mountains, nursing their wounds.”

“We have no proof,” said Ferris, “that the Bent One controlling the Halfmen has left. He may have left. He may still be there. Or maybe a black swamp oak has been established in the Skull Mountains, so that he can travel back and forth to Abaddon. We just don’t know, and so we assume the worst. That is why we train so long before venturing beyond the Barrier Mountains. From the cadet leader’s point of view, you have had much less training than the other recruits.”

After Ferris left, Arlana looked at Dave as if she were deciding whether to tell him something.

“What is it, Arlana?”

“What Ferris said, about us learning to fight from our earliest years is true, you know.”

“Are you telling me you know why I’m losing to a pipsqueak like Brandor? I know I’m losing because I’m just too slow.”

“You’re not too slow. You’re actually much faster now than you were before you became one of us. You’re losing because he knows exactly what you’re going to do a fraction of a second before you do it. Let me show you.”

She picked up her light quarterstaff and took up a defensive position with her left foot forward. Look at the muscles in my arm and my calf; do you see how they’re tensed? It means I’m getting ready to evade.” She shifted slightly. “Now I’m ready to launch an attack. Do you see the difference?”

“So that’s why you beat the little twerp. He was so busy watching your beautiful muscles flexing and unflexing that he completely forgot to defend himself.”

Arlana jabbed Dave in the shoulder with her quarterstaff. “Kree ah na koo![1] Stop joking. This is serious. In two days you could be out on the mountain slope without me to take care of you. How would it look if you got yourself killed? All the women would wonder if you went out looking for death to get away from me. Think of what that would do to my reputation.” They both burst out laughing.

She knows how to handle me. She’s not just good to me—she’s good for me, Dave thought.

“One more thing, husband. You probably don’t yet realize how much more acute your sense of smell is now that you’re an Ancient. By paying attention to your nose, you can tell a lot about your opponent. Is he fearful? Is he confident? Is his anger growing? All these emotions will tell you what he will do next.”

They sparred for a couple of hours with only the occasional breather. Dave began to see what Arlana meant and started to anticipate her moves. Then Arlana showed him how to disguise his next move by deliberately attacking from a disguised defensive posture.

The door opened and Ferris entered again. He was scowling.

Dave’s spirits flagged. “I take it they won’t let me go.”

“Actually,” said Ferris, “they were surprisingly easy to convince. Your father-in-law, Kelldor, and your adopted father Celyddon, had anticipated this last-minute difficulty and were both there to speak on your behalf. The board of the school logged Arachodor’s protests, and then capitulated, agreeing to let you go.”

“So why the long face?” asked Arlana.

“It was too easy,” said Ferris. “I think all of us have been duped. They’re digging a pit for you through the test, and they wanted to register their disapproval in advance. If you have an ‘accident,’ they’ll shake their heads and say, ‘We did all we could to avert this tragedy.’ Be on your guard and watch your back.”

It was getting late and Ferris left. Dave and Arlana began to organize their equipment for the trip. Dave tried on his living cloak, hung a small satchel containing a light gourd around his neck and strapped on his long belt knife, which he had named Skene Dhu. Dave had found his knife, along with his sword, Gram, in a blade tree near the Ancient fortress of Kellburg.

Dave realized he needed a tie to fasten his sleeping blanket to his pack. He had some stout leather, which he had taken from the hide of a Rokash. He took out Skene Dhu and examined the blade lovingly. It had a lustrous blue sheen unlike any other metal blade. The bioengineered alloy of molybdenum-tungsten steel, protein spacer, and diamond fiber, cut through thick Rokash leather as if it were the thinnest of papers.

He put the knife back in the metal-lined sheath and walked over to Arlana.

“Princess, I want you to take this.” He held out Skene Dhu.

“Dave, I couldn’t. The blade tree knife came to you. I have a good knife …”

“Arlana, please take it. I need to keep you safe. If you don’t have this knife, I’ll worry.”

She peered into his eyes, as if wanting to wrest his thoughts from him. Suddenly she relaxed, raised herself on her toes, and kissed him lightly on the cheek.

“We’ll trade knives. Viper will look after you.” She handed him her knife and scabbard and then they both turned to organize their packing.

__________

“No, no ye fool,” Grimbor, the Blade Meister growled as he jabbed Dave in the lower chest. “Rokodor, ye canna shift from an evade form directly to a cut or thrust form. Yer feet are not set. It makes ye too slow. How many times do I have to tell ye that ye must use a transition form first?”

Dave was exhausted. Grimbor had summoned him, to offer some extra help on using his sword after yesterday’s fiasco with his quarterstaff. Now after three hours, Dave was laboring and Grimbor didn’t even seem to be tired.

Dave began to circle once more. Grimbor was shaped like a fire hydrant, with no waist. He was much shorter than Dave, but his shoulders were just as broad. Yet he was fast as well as strong. With his eyes fixed on Dave’s, Grimbor’s feet and sword moved in perfect coordination, with a grace and fluidity Dave wished he could match.

After another flurry of exchanges during which Dave was barely able to evade and block the lightning attacks, Grimbor sighed and said, “Enough fer today.” Sitting down, he gestured to a space on the bench beside him and offered Dave a drink of water.

Dave took a long pull from the water skin and handed it back to Grimbor.

“I know I’m bein’ hard on ye lad, but I’m tryin’ to get ye ready for the test tomorrow.”

“Even if I see a Halfman tomorrow, I don’t think he will press me nearly as hard as you do, Blade Meister.”

Grimbor’s eyes became hard. “It’s not Halfmen I be thinkin’ of. Fer a youngin, ye have many enemies, and to my way of thinkin’, Halfmen are not the most dangerous of ‘em. Watch yer back and practice yer forms every night when it’s safe to do so. Hmm.” Grimbor lapsed into thought.

After a while he spoke again. “Rokodor, ye be fast, and ye have good instincts,” he said. “But ye spend too much time thinkin’ what to do next, and when ye be thinkin’ ye not be watchin’ the enemy. I be wantin’ ye to use only one form in each of the five categories. Practice those until ye can change from one form to the other without thinkin’. When you have those perfect we be addin’ some more.”

With that, Grimbor rose and clapped Dave on the back. “One more thing, Rokodor, find a safe campsite. The safest be a campsite yer enemies canna find. The second safest be one where ye hear ‘em coming. Be smart! Be safe! Come back to me alive.”


[1] An expression in the Ancient Tongue meaning “May the Creator help me!”

If you would like to see what else I have written, including earlier books in The Halcyon Cyclehttp://bit.ly/2qzzi4P-Author

On Reading Ann Cleeves’ THE CROW TRAP while listening to Louisa May Alcott’s LITTLE WOMEN

I had the interesting experience of reading Anne Cleeves’ The Crow Trap (Vera Stanhope series book #1) while listening to the audio book version of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

Alcott and Cleeves are both superb writers, but what struck me was the contrast between the hope and optimism of the one set against the dysfunction and hopelessness of the other. Curiously, the circumstances ought to have brought out the reverse.

Four girls, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, along with their mother, are trying to survive in Concord, Massachusetts with their father away in the Civil War and having to make due with very little money. They live in an era before antibiotics or vaccinations when almost any infection could kill you and are in the midst of the deadliest war America has ever faced. Furthermore, it is long before the welfare state and the only help the very poor received, sprang from the generosity of others. Yet the March daughters had a strong faith, a profound sense of obligation toward others in need even if they weren’t family, a bright optimism for the future, and relationships with each other and their mother and father that made them want to spend time with each other.

Jump from 1862 to the late twentieth century and we have five women in England in the North Pennines. In contrast to the Alcott girls they live in a time of modern medicine, the welfare state, and a time of relative political peace where starving to death or dying from an infection is an almost unheard of event. Yet, one of the women has already committed suicide (Bella Furness), the three educated women conducting an environmental survey, are quite different, but each is beset with her own troubles that so consume her, that there is little evidence that she can care about anyone except herself.

Finally there is Vera Stanhope, a brilliant detective who seems obsessed with her own homeliness, loneliness and the poor relationship she had with her deceased father, Hector. She seems to take out her frustrations on her assistant (Joe Ashworth) who has a happy family life, or would have if Vera didn’t take such delight in calling him out at all hours of the day or night to help with some aspect of their investigation. She’s clever enough to know exactly how far she can push Joe before he quits, or Joe’s beleaguered wife insists he change jobs.

It may be true that Ann Cleeves is an accurate reporter on our times, but it still tells me how far we have fallen from the hope, optimism, and selflessness of our past, and how extensively hopelessness and relational dysfunction seems to color our world. Cleeves writes well, but it’s hard for me to spend extended time is such a world colored a dismal grey. I enjoy it in small doses and then read something more hopeful before I dive in again.

THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL June Launch. The Demonstration Copy has Arrived!

The demonstration copy of The Dragons of Sheol has arrived from the Print-on-Demand printer, Lightning Source.

I’m very pleased with the fonts, layout, and cover. Unfortunately, I did not include the complete set of maps and some of the map images are too low resolution and will need to be re-submitted. After these minor tweaks, all will be ready.

All in all, it’s very exciting being this close to having my fourth book available to the public.

THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL is About to Launch

I don’t consider myself a well known Science Fiction and Fantasy author. Nonetheless, by my count, I have readers in every continent except South America and Antarctica. It makes sense therefore to launch my next book, The Dragons of Sheol, using internet platforms that allow me to interact with my readers, no matter their time zone or their latitude.

So what can you expect? There will be free chapters to read to see if the new book is your “cup of tea,” I plan to have a few 99 cent sales on previous book in The Halcyon Cycle as well as access to free, downloadable and printable maps if you, like me, like to have a printed map handy as you read.

If any of you would like to email me or contact me on Twitter or Facebook, there will be plenty of opportunity for that connection.

I hope to receive my first printed copy tomorrow (for my review). If everything looks satisfactory, the printed and e-book versions should be available later in June. I hope to connect with you soon.

So, whether you live in Picton, Ontario, Canada or Picton, New Zealand, why not come visit via the internet and help get the conversation rolling?

A CREEPING OF HERESIES. A Guest Essay by Mark Jokinen of Peterborough

Picture yourself walking along a path

        Picture yourself walking along a path of many steps, but a path where you can see clearly only one step ahead. You can’t see the end destination. It makes sense to you  to take that one step, and you take it. After that, you can now see the next step ahead, and so on. The thing is, after you have taken many such steps, you look back to where you had begun, and realize that if you could have foreseen the end of the path at the beginning you would not have begun it. What has happened here?

         What I believe happens is that the path changes you. Each step on its own changes you a little, and each seems no big deal. Or each step makes sense on its own if you don’t know the final destination. It is that sum of all the little changes, that you didn’t foresee at the beginning, that concerns me here.

         I see that process in many places. It is part of everyday living, the unavoidable experience of everyone as we age, and ask ourselves, ‘What happened? Where did the years go?’ It happens as we become desensitized to pornography or violence in the media and advertising. It happens with controversial issues such as homosexuality, or divorce, or abortion, where adjustment gradually becomes acceptance, and then approval, and then there is a  new normal. It happens in Christians as we interact with non-Christians socially, intellectually, legally.1  We may change them, but interaction

1 I should state that I consider myself a traditional Christian. My wife 
and I attend a Baptist Church. I am comfortable with Roman Catholicism,
Protestantism, Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and so on.
I have not formally joined any denomination. I accept the Apostle’s Creed
as a statement of faith.

with them also changes us. The changes may be good, or worthwhile, or not, but we should  be aware of the process so that we can choose to assent to it, or not, from the beginning. The two areas I will examine here are (1) the process where many young, university age Christians lose their faith, and (2) the tolerance of heretical ideas, of old heresies returning, such as Gnosticism.

         The important thing is to become aware as soon as possible of the overall effect of the path, and decide whether or not and on what terms to continue. I can see three things to do when one is somewhere on the path. The first is to look back to the  beginning, to recover one’s vision from there. The second is to take one step back as a test; and the third is to take a step sideways, off the path entirely.  (To actually go back to the beginning of the path is usually very difficult, or impossible, and the changes to that point are usually a mixture of good and bad.)

          An example of the first, for a Christian, is reading the Bible, or asking oneself what would Jesus do, or Paul, or Peter. What would they say about this path you are on, the changes in you? Would they approve? How do you feel about their reaction? (Not… ‘what do you think about that?’). Praying. Returning to your root experience as a Christian…

         The second thing one can do is to take one step back. Find out how easy or hard it is, compared with stepping forward. The step back could be easier, or more difficult, or no different. An example of it being easier is a person trying to break an old, long-established bad habit, where backsliding is easy. An example of it being more difficult is when a Christian is alone or in a minority among non-Christians, where it is easier to go along with the crowd. There could be unspoken goals or beliefs among  the majority that are not made clear until that backward step is taken. And if the steps  forward  and back are about equal in difficulty, one could at least stay there until things become clearer.

         The third thing to try is the sideways step, off the path entirely. This is the most difficult of the three because it is the most original response, thinking outside the box. It is seeing the steps, the path, from a different and new viewpoint. From there, one could set off on a new path or direction, or return to the original one with new understanding.

          A great many young Christians leave the faith they were raised in, especially when  they go away to university. I believe one reason for it is exposure to the secular environment, perhaps actively anti-Christian, without the counterbalancing of home and church. The result is a slow leaching away of meaning, of habits and religious practice, to where their faith seems ridiculous, dubious, and restrictive. And their loss of faith feels like liberation to them, which makes it very hard to resist or argue against.

          A change we grow used to becomes the new normal, and each small step can be a small surrender. But each step is also a small confrontation, asking if this path is right, with each person on their own in trying to answer that. Being a religious person in a secular environment is not the same as being a religious person in a different religious environment. A Christian interacting with Hindu or Buddhist people is challenged with a different religious truth. A Christian in a secular environment is challenged by an absence of religious truth, by ‘what’s the point of believing it?’ Key beliefs such as the Resurrection begin to seem ridiculous, irrational, unnecessary, and eventually untrue. Rational argument and scientific reasoning are compatible with  and can support both Christianity and atheism, but somehow atheism has become the default position in secular society.

         The person has to want to stay Christian, has to want it strongly. Without that desire, everything else in their faith is useless. With that desire, the three things to do on the path when in secular society make sense. Returning to one’s roots could be reading the Bible, or ‘practicing the presence of God’.  Taking a step back could be doing a short  prayer at meal-time, both with others and alone. Doing it visibly, not just secretly or silently. And leaving the path entirely could be going on a spiritual retreat to refocus; or starting a craft or art or physical activity that is neither religious nor secular, getting you  completely away from the issues for a while.

          Loss of faith is often perceived or felt by the person as a gain in freedom, but that feeling is a temporary illusion. It is easy for believers  to not face that issue of feeling  and to concentrate on the authority of the Bible, or on belief in the Resurrection, or the Creeds… But the feeling of freedom will undercut any argument. Freedom from feels like freedom to, whether it is sexual freedom, or gender identity freedom, or not having to read the Bible or go to church, or abortion freedom, or freedom to choose what laws to obey, beyond society’s laws. It feels like liberation from a Christianity seen as narrow, constricting, and nonsensical, and into a wider society of more choices.

            Each step taken must be seen instead as a small surrender, not as a step of liberation. To return to the beginning of the path could be to focus on Paul’s gospel of grace, of the ‘Apostle of the Heart Set Free’2 , and then choosing a different path from that point. We must address  the difference between  freedom and license directly, and do it rationally, patiently, respectfully and humbly.

2Bruce; Paul: Apostle. Pages 119 and 141. Also 2 Cor 3:17-18.

         I see a similar path at work in scholars whose ideas become more extreme and provocative as time passes. There is excitement and joy in generating and exploring new ideas, especially radical ones. Developing arguments, marshaling evidence, engaging in intellectual combat: the academic is trained for this, and our culture sees the exploration of radical ideas as heroic. And it is. Jolts of creative pleasure and  intellectual satisfaction are addictive, as they should be. But also addictive are the rewards of public attention and recognition, and the regard of one’s peers. The outsider is seen as heroic. The academic’s earlier ideas become part of his or her mental furniture, and cease to be exciting. The excitement in exploring new, forbidden ideas, new possibilities, more radical and revolutionary ideas is also addictive. Each of us has a secret yearning to be the next Galileo, or Newton, or Einstein. But the scholar may be confusing the pleasures of discovery, and of motivation, with the truth. Our brains are inherent pattern recognition machines, and that of the scholar is trained to be even more so. A friend of mine is of the opinion that modern scholarship, especially in the social sciences, has institutionalized the goal of heresy.3

3Kazmaier, Peter M. Personal communication.

         So what can the scholar (and the creative artist too) do when on a path into the unknown? He can think  back to the beginning, back to first principles in his questions. We are all human: it could mean having to get to the root of one’s motives. For the scientist, how would it feel  to let others have the personal rewards, the professional recognition, the verdict of history for your ideas and work?  For the artist, perhaps the joy of playing/practicing his art with absolutely no audience for it, ever. Would each of them still walk that path, if joy of discovery was the only reward?

         What would taking one step back entail? I see it as a test of resistance and a test of rightness. These are empirical tests, rather than logical ones, for logic alone will keep leading you forward along the path. See if you can reverse the chain of reasoning, which could make just as much sense. Find out what makes it difficult to take that step back. Public embarrassment about changing your mind? Afraid of being called inconsistent or erratic? Listen for a ‘still, small feeling of rightness’ and nurture it. Try to put aside the allure of novelty, of new possibilities that may be illusory. Compare the two steps, forward and back. When you turn and face the other way, the path looks completely different.  And what would be an example of a sideways step, off the path entirely? Perhaps getting an opinion on your situation from someone in an entirely different discipline or craft. (Artist? Musician? Parent with small children?  Manual laborer?)  How well could you convey your situation to them, in their language?

        Another area where this path of many steps effect is at work is in the tolerance of, or indifference to, heretical ideas. I see a deadening or desensitization similar to that to violence or pornography in the media, in our culture generally. The new, the exciting, the offensive becomes in time the new normal. An example of a heretical belief is that Jesus was just a man, a very good man, who didn’t rise from the dead. It is a coherent and persuasive belief that will lead to other beliefs and ideas. Traditionally, it is called Arianism and is a heresy that keeps returning and recurring in the history of the Christian Church.4  (An interesting side question: why do some heretical beliefs keep returning?)

4It is named after its Fourth Century advocate Arius, and has no
relationship to Aryanism, a completely different word.

         There are two dangers in dealing with heretical ideas: the danger of intolerance and the danger of tolerance. The danger of intolerance is clear and obvious from our history: persecution of heretics, book burning, the Inquisition, religious wars, the importance of freedom of thought and expression. The danger of tolerance is more subtle. The issue with heresy is not one of different equal beliefs, but of right versus wrong. It is not a debate with a person of a different religion, but with a person of the same religion who you believe is wrong on a fundamental belief that is accepted as fact. That person is free to believe whatever he or she likes, as are we all, but if we believe the other person is wrong we must be clear in that, and hold to it. A debate format over a belief implies the two sides are equal, are to be treated equally, whether in a formal debate between two people, or in the informal debate within one’s own skull. Any idea should be considered with respect, but a debate about it ends with a choice, and we go on to other things. And we must. But there is a long term ‘wearing down’ or erosion if a debate keeps returning. A wearing down of the older generation having to keep refighting old debates, and of the younger generation not valuing the tradition, rejecting it for the new, the exciting, the different. Both the old and the young must each find their own way back  to their common roots in order to better understand the common path they are on.5

5Two people opposed to each other could each consider their own beliefs to
be orthodoxy,  and the other’s heresy. They would have much to discuss and
clarify. What concerns me is the many-steps process likely at work within
each of them.

         As a society, and in the Church, we have both gained and lost. We have gained in freedom of thought and expression, but we have also lost by becoming less serious in our thinking. It is as if we believe the ideas we think and express have no consequences for us or for others. But they can have consequences, for us in our own personal lives, and for society.

         Consider Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the most influential philosophers. Perhaps his ideas contributed to his insanity, or they resulted from it, or both. But the Nazis took his ideas and misused them. And he continues to be influential and popular. Does he not bear some responsibility for his ideas? Or the scientists who helped develop the atom bomb, and who felt guilty for it afterwards. Or Marx, Darwin, Freud: They are intellectual heroes, role models, shapers of our world, and their ideas are part of us. Their ideas are so influential that we can’t go back in our thinking to before they existed. We can’t unthink  their ideas, we can only agree or disagree with them, challenge them, build on them. We can’t remove their ideas from our heads. An idea, an image, even a powerful photograph, can have a long term effect, one for good, or for corrosive ill. If it is for ill, how best can one resist it?

         If we are responsible for what we think and express, responsible at least to ourselves, and to others if we communicate, we must become aware of the little steps in the path of our thinking, our experience, all the little changes and acceptances we make, and to be prepared to stop, to wait, to reconsider and perhaps choose differently.

         If the path of many steps is an intellectual one, leading perhaps to a heresy or unbelief, what could be the three responses I suggest?

          The first, going back to the beginning of the path: you can’t unthink a thought or idea, once it is in your head, but you can consider other paths from where you are, perhaps other philosophical approaches or directions.

         The second, taking one step back as a test, means facing the other way. A path looks quite different when you face the other way,  and a common unexamined assumption our society has is one of faith in inevitable progress. What resistance is there to taking just the one step back?

The third response, stepping off the path entirely:  perhaps concentrate on the non-intellectual feeling of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps doing  some ordinary, everyday good thing that brings you back to Christ. As Brother Lawrence put it, practicing the presence of God  is more to our essence as Christians than intellectual ideas about Christ  and Christianity are. (Though how difficult the simplest things can be to do!)

         The title, which I coined, is called a ‘venereal’ term6. There were many such terms in late medieval English, and knowing them was considered part of being an educated person  A few such terms have survived into modern English. The best have a richness of  meaning, of poetry and illogic to them: a pride of lions, a murder of crows, an unkindness of ravens, an exaltation of larks… Perhaps a creeping of heresies  can help us each understand our own paths better.

6Lipton; Exaltation. Venery is an archaic word for
hunting.

                                                    Bibliography:

Bruce, F. F.  Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free.
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977.
Lawrence, Brother (Nicholas Herman). The Practice of the Presence of God, With Spiritual Maxims. Grand Rapids: Spire, 1967.
Lipton, James. An
Exaltation of Larks, Or The Venereal Game. New York: Viking,1979. Second Edition.

(c) Copyright Mark Jokinen, 2019