Saturday, March 30, 2013

Slavery & Human Trafficking

A few weeks ago, I began a series on tough, ugly issues that confront our world (and fantasy stories) today. I encouraged us as fantasy writers to use our writing as a platform for change. So far, I've spoken about racism and bullying. Today, I'll continue the series with a post on the very ugly issue of slavery and human trafficking. It'll be a bit longer than usual, but please bear with me!

I. Slavery in the Bible

First, some Biblical background. In the Bible, slavery is mentioned multiple times, especially in the context of the enslavement of the people of Israel. The Bible addresses how horrible slavery felt to those suffering in it by saying in Exodus 2:23, "The people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help." However, the story doesn't end there. The Bible tells us that, "Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel--and God knew." (verses 24-25) And God acted by bringing the people out of slavery.

In the New Testament, where slavery was a common practice, the church did not forbid slavery. Rather, speaking to slaves, the Bible said, "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ...rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man." (Eph. 6:5-7) To masters, Paul wrote, "Do the same to [your slaves], and stop your threatening, knowing that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven." (verse 9) We should keep in mind, though, that slavery was legal back then and that the early church tried to obey the laws as much as possible, so long as they did not contradict God's law. More important for today may be the verse Micah 6:8, which reads, "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" It is our calling as Christians to fight injustice--including human trafficking--in the world today.

But let's dig a little deeper into Scripture. The Bible also refers to slavery in a deeper spiritual sense. Romans 6:17-18 and 22 reads, "But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin ... and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. ... But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life." While we know that physical slavery is a horrible injustice, we must remember that as Christians there is an even greater issue: the slavery of people's hearts to sin.

II. Slavery Today

Now let's fast-forward two thousand years to slavery in today's world. For some background, I'd like to quote from the information found on International Justice Mission (IJM)'s website.

Forced labor slavery is the use of deception, threats or violence to compel someone to labor without pay or for no pay beyond the substance necessary to continue the labor. It is called by many names, including debt bondage and forced labor, and is a form of modern slavery.

Modern-day slaves face brutal conditions in rock quarries, rice mills, brick kilns, fisheries, garment factories and many other industries around the world. Victims of slavery are often deprived of the freedom of movement, unable to leave the facility where they are forced to work and unable to seek employment elsewhere. Forced laborers are also often victims of violent physical and sexual abuse.

Debt bondage is a common method used to entrap victims of slavery. In this illegal scheme, an employer offers a small loan (often as low as $25) to a laborer, with the understanding that the loan will be repaid through work at the owner’s facility. The owner then ensures this repayment is impossible by refusing to pay the employee and inflating the loan through exorbitant interest rates, false charges, and denying requests for information on the status of the loan. The laborer is forbidden to leave the work facility until the loan is “repaid” in full—despite the fact that the work already completed by the laborer should have fulfilled any obligation to the owner long ago. The employer becomes the laborer’s owner—and the loan’s conditions are often extended to relatives of the victim, including children, who are forced to work off a false and ever-growing debt.

  • There are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today—more than any other time in history.
  • Children below the age of 18 years represent an estimated 26% of all forced labor victims.
  • In a wide-reaching survey conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, approximately 40% of countries had not registered a single conviction against perpetrators of trafficking and slavery, which is crucial for deterrence.

III. Slavery in Fantasy

So, now that we've got that information under our belts, what can we do? Besides donating our time and resources to supporting ministries like IJM, we can harness our writing as a tool for change. How?

First and foremost, you can mention the issue of slavery or human trafficking in your story. Even just mentioning it will raise awareness of the issue. Getting the problem out in the open is crucial to eventually affecting change in our world. It doesn't have to be a major theme in your story, but knowing that the problem exists in the background could make a world of difference.

Second, if your story allows it, you can describe and show the suffering caused by slavery through the lives of one or more of your main characters. Mentioning the problem of slavery is all very well, but it's only when people realize that slavery is a problem--an unjust, painful, hideous problem--that people will start to think about what they can do to change it. As writers, one of our best tools is making something come alive to our readers. What better way to use that skill than to make the pain of slavery visible and tangible to readers, making them realize that not only slavery exists, but it must be changed!

Finally, if your story permits, you can even propose solutions to slavery through your story. Perhaps the talking eagles in your fantasy world are enslaved, but your main characters, a group of fearsome magical mice, wage a war to free the eagles. Or maybe your characters recruit freed slaves to join the fight against the evil dark lord. Maybe your main character, a former slave, returns to the place where she was kept as a slave in order to rescue her family or friends. The possibilities are as wide as your imagination; through these and other ways, you can use your story to propose solutions to slavery.

As always, do keep in mind that your story is not a sermon. Your story is life contained in words on the page. Never try to force your story into a message; instead, allow the flow of the words and the lives in the story to allow your message to shine through.

Now tell me: can you recommend any good books that tackle this problem? Have you ever tried to write about slavery? Do you have any suggestions or things to add to what I've mentioned above? Any resources about slavery in the Bible? Please comment and let us know!

(By the way, if you haven't had a chance to yet, I'd really recommend checking out IJM and getting involved in the fight against modern slavery.)

Friday, March 22, 2013


Last week, I started a new series on tough issues in our world that we as fantasy writers can--even should--confront in our fantasy stories. If you missed out on my post last week, I highly suggest that you read it here. In today's post, I'll be talking about another extremely serious issue: bullying.

Most of us have had experiences with bullying before, especially as children. Now a few points, first, about bullies. According to many studies, bullies are often insecure people who tear others down in order to make themselves feel better. Bullies are not automatically "evil." Rather, they are often motivated by envy or resentment and may think that bullying is the only way they are esteemed, valued, or noticed. In terms of personality types, bullies are usually authoritarian/dominant personalities that enjoy controlling others, especially those against whom they are prejudiced.

With that information under our belts, let's turn to bullying itself. Bullying refers to some form of coercion or belittlement, whether emotional, verbal, or physical. Bullying often happens in the presence of a crowd of uninvolved bystanders, which adds to the victim's sense of humiliation. Bullying involves hurting someone through some sort of abusive language or behavior, usually intentionally. In some instances, casual or flippant words may have the same effect as bullying, even if they were not intended spitefully. Some common forms of bullying are name-calling, exclusion from events, verbal or written abuse, and physical violence.

Those who are victims of bullying often suffer the effects of bullying all their life. They typically feel belittled, and sometimes take that out on others by becoming aggressive or bullying themselves. Victims often feel lonely, depressed, and suffer from very low self-esteem. If you have had any experiences being bullied, you will remember the feeling of humiliation and misery as a result. It should come as no surprise, then, that those who are bullied also suffer from increased risk of suicide.

Bullying is a huge issue in our world, and can be found in as many different environments as there are people: school, the workplace, clubs and activities, on the Internet, and more.

Now, how can we translate this issue to our own fantasy worlds? The opportunities are nearly endless. Even fantasy races can participate in bullying, whether as bullies, bystanders, or victims. The psychological consequences of being bullied can add layers of meaning to certain characters in your story. You could include bullying as a backstory for a character, or you could make a character who has to stand up to bullying over the course of your novel.

One thing that I'd like to encourage here is that we, both as people and as writers, should have compassion on everyone involved in bullying. Of course we should condemn bullying wholeheartedly. However, we can also recognize that bullies and bystanders might sometimes deserve some compassion because of the things that are out of control in their lives (although that's not to say we should support their responses). Keep in mind the fact that everyone is hurt by bullying. Look for ways to translate bullying in your story into more complex situations with the potential for redemption.

Let me know what you think. Have you ever written a story in which someone is bullied? Do any of your "bad guys" show signs of being bullies? Have you read stories that dealt with this issue? (Note: If you're interested in finding out more information about bullying, I'd start with Wikipedia's overview here and the US government's stop bullying site here.)

Sunday, March 17, 2013


In these next few blog posts, I'd like to focus on some deeper, darker issues that we as fantasy writers are in a perfect position to tackle. For today, we'll be talking about racism.

First off, why should we even mention ugly issues like racism in a fantasy story? Isn't fantasy all about escaping the dark realities of this world and immersing readers in a world full of fairies and rainbows and light? As anyone who has read fantasy will tell you, no, rainbow-fairies and escapism is not what fantasy is all about.

In fact, I believe that fantasy is a medium that is excellent for conveying even the darkest truths about this world. You see, fantasy is like the reflection in a pond on a crisp autumn morning. The real world inspires the fantasy reflections. Sometimes, though, by seeing those reflections, your readers will be able to look at the real world with a clearer eye. What fantasy gives us, then, is a change of perspective. When we finish the last page and close the book, we don't look at the world in quite the same way.

So, in essence, fantasy provides us with the chance to challenge and maybe even to change a reader's view of the world. What a task--and what an opportunity!

Now that we've dealt with the power of fantasy, let's get down to the dirty business of racism. As most people know, racism refers to judging others based only on their skin color or race. Racism can result in one race believing itself superior to others and segregating or enslaving other races.

How does racism fit into fantasy? Well, most fantasy worlds have multiple beings/species/races. For example, Lord of the Rings has a variety of sentient beings--Elves, humans, wizards, and hobbits, among others. What if hobbits suddenly decided that their height entitled them to a superiority above all the other beings in Middle-Earth? Instead of a dark lord you would have a hobbit, both terrible and beautiful and powerful and short! Or, to make the issue a bit more human, what if the men of Gondor decided that they were superior to the men of Rohan and Bree and the North, and then decided to enslave anyone other than the inhabitants of Gondor?

As you can see, there are ample opportunities for racism, segregation based on race, and racial slavery even in fantasy stories.

I suggest that you take a close look at your own story. Is there a place where your story might benefit from the tension and conflicts created by racism? Do you have multiple species or races in your story, and does each one have a separate place in society? If your fantasy world has everyone equal, then think about the history of your world. Was there a time in the past where everyone was not equal? If so, how did the present equality happen, and how could you use those lessons in your story?

All of the above is not to say that you should be preachy in your stories or start ranting about the horrors of racism. Your story, not a moral lesson, is what's important here. I do suggest, though, that you take the opportunity to use your story to reflect some of the darkness in the real world. Challenge your readers by showing them ugliness not just in fantasy but in their own lives. Give people the chance to learn and change. Whether you use racism or some other topic (maybe one that I'll be covering over the next few weeks), I hope that you use your story as an opportunity to challenge and change the world.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Announcing...My Book!

At long last, the day has come: my first novel, Red Sun Blue Earth, is published! You can find the ebook and print book here on Amazon. But before you hop over to Amazon, let me give you a short "review" of my book to let you know what it's all about.

Title: Red Sun Blue Earth
Author: Sienna North
Page Count: 248 pages

Stars: (well, that would be rather self-serving!)

Teaser: Sayaka Sato is an ordinary fifteen-year-old—until 3:46 pm on March 11, when an earthquake and tsunami strike Japan and rip her life into shreds. Sayaka is frantic to find her family, but first, she must survive cold, hunger, and worse. Will Sayaka be able to reunite with her family, earn their forgiveness, and forge a new life for herself, or will she be too late?

Age Level: 13+ (teens and up)

Violence: 3 of 5
  • Scenes of death and destruction make up a significant portion of the story, although there are no graphic/gory descriptions.

Romance: 0 of 5
  • Sorry, romance-lovers--you'll have to find another tale!

Language: 1 of 5
  • A few hastily cut-off exclamations

Christian Worldview: This book is not a Christian fiction book, and none of the characters in the story are Christian--not surprising, considering Japan's Christian population is less than 1%. However, I certainly believe that the themes in the story (such as hope and forgiveness) support a Christian message and don't glorify anything non-Christian.

My Personal Opinion: It goes without saying that I love my book, aside from those horrible moments of paralyzing self-doubt inflicted upon all writers. It took me quite a lot of effort to write, edit, get test-readers' feedback, edit, hire a professional editor, edit, get more test-readers' feedback, edit, proofread, and publish! I would say that the story is especially great for people who want to learn more about Japan, who are interested in the 2011 disaster, or who enjoy coming-of-age stories. I hope, though, that everyone can find something to enjoy in it.

I am hosting a release party for Red Sun Blue Earth on my favorite forum, Holy Worlds Historical Fiction. To add to the excitement, there will be contests, quizzes, and giveaways. The invitation is below, and the party can be found here. Feel free to join the forum and and participate in the party!

And, while you're at it, here is the link for my ebook and for the print book. Check it out and let me know what you think in the comments!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Islands & Fantasy

I recently stumbled across an intriguing lecture series on iTunes regarding islands—their history, their culture, and even their atmosphere. This led me to think, what is the connection between islands in fantasy? What fantasy stories contain islands? What are the pros and cons of using islands in your own story-world? These are questions I’ll explore in today’s blog post.

First, some pros of using islands in your story:
  • Writing a world set on islands is a fairly unique choice. There are other examples of island fantasies, like Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea Chronicles or C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader or Tamora Pierce’s Trickster’s Choice. However, on the whole, islands are an untapped treasure mine for fantasies.
  • The setting of an island can provide a frame for the story to orient your readers and allow you to construct realistic limits on the action.
  • Island stories often include ships and pirates—always a good thing, in my opinion.
  • Islands are so very intriguing in our own world, and they develop such an interesting flavor and tradition all their own. Consider Ireland, England, Japan, Indonesia, or any other famous island in our world. Use these real-world islands as inspiration.
  • Islands provide many interesting cuisine options like sharp shellfish and seaweed. Can be quite interesting for detail and, perhaps, character squeamishness.

Now for some cons:
  • The most important drawback to an island fantasy is that it can be limited, not only geographically but also in terms of characters. If you do decide to use an island story, consider carefully whether you want your island(s) to appear in isolation or connected to/warring against a mainland for more variety.
  • Also, as with many other stories, an island setting will not save your story if you have a boring plot and cliché characters. Islands can only do so much—you need to work out the rest yourself!

And that’s it for today, folks. What about you—have you ever written an island fantasy? What are some of your favorite island stories?

(Side note: My first book is coming soon on Monday, March 11. Stay tuned for the announcement!)