Cyndere’s Midnight: Reviews and Letters, Part 2

I’m still waiting to hear young Ezra Ribera’s response to Cyndere’s Midnight. I may be waiting for a while.

But I have been hearing from others.

My thanks to the reviewers who are sharing their experiences of Cyndere’s Midnight.

This week, Faithful Reader reported:

[It's] a compelling, otherworldly fantasy novel full of bizarre creatures and redemption. … It requires intense, concentrated reading to take in the plot line, keep track of the characters, and imagine the colorful flora and fauna of Overstreet’s fantasy world of the Four Kingdoms of the Expanse. However, it’s well worth the effort required.

Wow. Thanks so much! I write every day under a cloud of worry that folks who bother with the final draft won’t find it worth reading. So a review like this gives me some measure of relief.

And, as previously noted, The Curator‘s Annie Frisbie wrote a review that encouraged me to get back to my desk and keep writing.

I’m also grateful to those who have written letters. Happy readers encourage this writer’s heart… especially as I’m spending most of my evenings and Saturdays working on the third book, and missing out on all kinds of great gatherings, films, concerts, and books.

This letter made my day:

Jennifer (12) writes:

Oh, my gosh!!! I absolutely love this book! I got in trouble for reading it too late at night. The first night I got it, I read the whole book. I could not get my hands off of it! I am so excited on the release of Cyndere’s Midnight! I am going to buy it as soon as it comes to my local Christian bookstore. I am hoping to buy the whole series one book at a time as it comes out.

MY RESPONSE:

Oh dear. I’m becoming a terrible influence.

I remember staying up too late reading The Lord of the Rings, Watership Down, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Dune, and The Chronicles of Prydain. So I can relate. And it’s an unexpected honor to contribute something to that subversive tradition of interfering with healthy sleep habits.

Thank, Jennifer, for taking the time to write to me!

Here’s a letter from Audrey… but be warned: It contains some SPOILERS about the story…

Mr. Overstreet,

I received a copy of Cyndere’s Midnight as a birthday gift in September, almost a year to the day that I received Auralia’s Colors for the same event. :) It took me until last weekend to finish it, because of not starting it right away (school stuff first) and then not being able to read it all at once (school stuff again). I finished more than half of it in the same weekend, though, and I just wanted to thank you.

When I read Auralia’s Colors, I enjoyed it greatly and got a lot out of it. But it was still hard to see where things were going, how things tied it to an overarching Christian message other than just beauty and purpose. Cyndere’s Midnight blew me away. The glorious explorations of death and life, the impact of choice, redemption and grace, hope and loss, were so vivid and meaningful that, nearly a week later, it’s something I’m still thinking about. Few Christian books tackle these subjects with the finesse and ease that Cyndere’s Midnight does, few modern Christian fantasy authors trust their readers enough to make these connections without them being blatantly pointed out. This is the sort of book that I want to recommend to everyone, because I know that it can lead to conversations about the truth of Christ and the grace of God without friends feeling like the novel itself is hollow or preachy. This is the sort of story that is exciting, that does draw readers in, and doesn’t insult their intelligence. We need more novels that speak in parables so eloquently. Thank you for adding one to the world.

In the small-group college Bible study I co-lead, we were reading Ephesians 2 and talking about how God “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions‚Äîit is by grace you have been saved,” and in my mind, I had that remarkably vivid image of Jordam, agonizing over the rejection of the Essence even while a drop was in his mouth, knowing that he couldn’t save himself but there was something worth running for. It has made that theme, of struggle and surrender and reconciliation, more prominent in my mind in the past several days. It’s something very much worth thinking about, over and over and over again. I’m so excited to see where this story is going, what this will mean for the Houses altogether and what this turn of tide could mean for Cent Regus. I’m wildly hoping for something massive and redeeming for these houses, and reinspired to hope for and anxiously await that day in which Heaven and Earth are remade, and we come to the complete realization of salvation and God’s full plan for mankind.

I also loved the stuff with the Keeper. It was particularly resonant that he terrified the Beastmen when they saw him (it?), but that in moments when he was protecting the ale boy (as a shelter from the storm), sometimes the ale boy didn’t even realize he was there. How often do we need an escape from the storm, not necessarily the removal of it, and criticize God for not being “evident” in the situation? How often do we take our moments of relief for granted, or fail to realize what the shelter really is, when all the while He’s scaring “beastmen” away? It was wonderful imagery and hearty food for thought.

So, thank you, for writing. I’m already excited about the next book. :)

Audrey

MY RESPONSE:

I wrote Audrey back a personal note, but the more I read her letter, the more I find myself pleased that someone is finding meaning and relevance in the story beyond what I’d intended.

But I also feel I should admit that much of what Audrey is drawing from this story was not in my head as I wrote it. That doesn’t mean she’s wrong: the story has a meaning of its own, beyond what I thought about while I wrote it. As C.S. Lewis has said, we don’t create anything. We just rearrange ideas and materials that God has made. And those things continue to speak as he intended. My job is to try and avoid messing that up.

Audrey’s interested in the “overarching Christian message.” And she goes on to explain what she means. Her interpretation is interesting to me, but I certainly didn’t have an “overarching Christian message” predetermined as I wrote… or at least, I wasn’t thinking in those terms. I was thinking about the story and the characters. I was considering, at times, how my characters and their decisions did or didn’t align with the central themes of the classic “Beauty and the Beast” tale. I also considered how the story did, or didn’t, align with other favorite “monster stories” like Blade Runner, Alien, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and Frankenstein — stories about the monsters that men have made, and the monsters that we all sometimes become.

I followed the characters, imagined what they would be likely to do, and played with events and personalities and decisions the way a chemist might experiment with a chemistry set. I tried to stick with scenes and decisions that felt honest and true — representing the way those characters would behave in those situations. I figure that if I focus on crafting something that convinces me, something that feels as if it has grown naturally and reasonably from scenes that have come before, then that’s good enough. The truth of the moment is all I need.

Because what would it mean to designate something as “Christian truth”? There is nothing truly Christian that isn’t true, and there is nothing true that does not align with the teachings of Christ.

That’s why it doesn’t make sense to me to say I’m writing a “Christian fantasy.” Anybody who writes a fantasy characterized by insight and truth is, to some extent, conveying the glory of God with their work (like it or not). Anyone who tries to weave “an overarching Christian message” will, in some way, convey some lies and corruption… because we’re all messed up, we’re all deceived in some ways, and our work will always bear something incomplete, something flawed. We see through a glass darkly, and what we reflect to each other bears both glimmers of glory and the imperfections of our own interpretations.

I don’t want to chart any kind of ultimate “lesson” with these stories, because the more I think about the lesson, the more I’m forcing the story to go a certain way, and choking the life out of it. I want to watch it develop, one step at a time, and be surprised by how it all turns out. Otherwise, I feel like I’m manipulating my readers and carrying out some kind of selfish agenda. That wouldn’t be much fun, and the writing would become a chore.

I’m just doing the best I can with my limited tools, my unremarkable intellect (I certainly don’t speak many languages, like Tolkien did; nor am I a theologian or a philosopher, like Lewis and Sayers and O’Connor), and my severely limited time and resources. (I’m writing these stories on coffee breaks and Saturdays. Oh for a chance to write stories full-time! But alas, we don’t live in a culture that supports that….)

With what I’ve been given, I want to write a true story… true insofar as it has a certain integrity. If a reader realizes that the truth of this story corresponds with the truth of the gospel… hallelujah. But I’m certainly not going to say that the story is just for Christians, or meant it as some kind of evangelical lesson. I wanted to write a story to the best of my ability, hoping to capture fragments of the art I’ve found in stories by Christians and non-Christians who were greater storytellers than me… from Cormac McCarthy to Mark Helprin to Bram Stoker to Mary Shelley to J.R.R. Tolkien to T.H. White to Richard Adams to Madeleine L’Engle, and on and on.

I still have a great deal to learn. If it’s true and it’s beautiful, I’m interested in it, and in learning from it, whatever its source. That’s why I love the discipline of reviewing movies and music.

It’s encouraging to me that the ideas I ended up including in the book are “ringing true” to some readers, as they rang true to me when I wrote them. I hope I’ve written with enough art to ensure that the stories will last a while, and be worth reading more than once. Time and readers will tell. In the meantime, I’m have a grand time making stuff up.

Thanks for reading, and for responding.

And you heard it here first: Soon, I’ll have huge posters of Auralia’s Colors and Cyndere’s Midnight to give away! Bring the amazing artwork of Kristopher Orr to a wall in your home, your office, your classroom, your cubicle… wherever you’d like!

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