Monday, December 29, 2008

If I Were The Last Man Alive, by John Long (Jawbone Publishing)

(Click cover for more information)
If I Were The Last Man Alive takes an intriguing, albeit not altogether new, concept and puts an interesting spin on it.
Jamie Miller, a young pastor and recent widower, survives a cataclysmic extra-stellar event that wipes out nearly all animal life on Earth. Shielded by multiple protective barriers in a bank vault, our hero emerges to the unexpected stillness of a world devoid of people. After the inital shock, Jamie sets about stockpiling supplies for his future, whatever that may be, all the while dealing with not only his sudden solitude, but also the loss of his dear wife--a loss he's never quite gotten over.
Author John Long takes us on a reading journey similar to what we experienced with Tom Hanks, in Castaway, only in an developed urban environment that is now decaying due to the lack of humans to maintain it. We're given detailed insight into Jamie's thought processes on what becomes important to survive, and--sometimes to our surprise--what becomes trivial. He wonders if he is the sole survivor on Earth, and, if so, why? We delve into Jamie's psychological, theological and emotional ruminations on his predicament, as they impact on his will and efforts to live on.
Does anyone else survive? Is Jamie to make this journey by himself? You'll have to read it to find out.
John Long wrote If I Were The Last Man Alive as an anniversary present to his wife. What a neat gift!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Quote of the Week

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live. - Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sober Justice, by Joe Hilley (River Oak)

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Mr. Hilley is probably tired of being compared to John Grisham. But, hey, there are worse authors to be compared to, no?

Sober Justice is a solid, well-written crime novel with an interesting spiritual twist. Our hero, Mike Connolly is a lawyer whose life is pretty much in the toilet. Hooked on gin, divorced, estranged from his daughter and living with an exotic dancer, he’s not the stereotypical protagonist in a Christian novel. Mike is assigned a case by a judge who considers it to be cut-and-dried: a black man with a felony record accused of capital murder in the death of a prominent citizen. But, as Mike digs into the case, oddities begin showing up almost immediately. As you’d expect, he embarks on a twisting and perilous road to discover the truth about the crime. His investigative efforts are both inhibited and, at the same time, oddly enhanced as he discovers himself —or perhaps better, is discovered (you’ll see what I mean)—at the same time.

Mr. Hilley takes us on an incredibly detailed journey through the city of Mobile Bay in deep South bayou country as you follow Mike’s steps in uncovering evidence and protecting his client from a corrupt legal community. We learn as much about the local environment of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ as we do about the legal processes constraining his capital murder case. Intricately researched and intensely written, we sweat with Mike in the relentless heat and humidity of the Gulf coast, burn with frustration as he is beset at both the personal and professional levels by those who have no confidence in him, and muse with him as he wonders what God is trying to tell him through spiritual trials and revelations that come at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected ways.

This is a must-read for those who enjoy a good crime thriller coupled with a unique story of redemption. Sober Justice is the first in the Mike Connolly Mystery series. According to Mr. Hilley’s Web site, this book is currently out of print, but there are still some copies available by ordering through the Web site.

Great story. Worth waiting for.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

House of Dark Shadows, by Robert Liparulo (Thomas Nelson)

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This is my first foray into the young adult thriller genre, and I entered with guarded expectations. Modern young adult readers have been conditioned to supernatural worlds largely without boundaries through the imaginations of writers such as JK Rowling and Lemony Snicket. Therefore, the Christian writer nudging this genre must marry other-worldly story lines into a Christian world view gingerly, as there exists the danger of contorting one or the other beyond reason in the attempt to achieve a believable, peaceful coexistence between them.

In House of Dark Shadows, Robert Liparulo unfolds an intriguing tale of horror and adventure, capturing the teenage perspective wonderfully through the mind of 15-yeard old Xander King. Xander and his family have moved from their LA home to a backwoods upstate community where his father has accepted a high school principal’s job. They move into an old Victorian-style house that has a dark history, one that it immediately begins to relive. Strange things begin to happen to Xander’s family, things that lead to a reenactment of the horrific event that lent the house its notoriety.

Mr. Liparulo sets the stage, and acts out a couple of the scenes, that tickle the reader’s attention and forces the next page turn. Toward the end of this first installment of the Dreamhouse Kings series, the truth bursts out about the family and the house…but you’ll have to dig into the next volume, Watcher in the Woods, for any resolution. Yup, it’s gonna leave you hanging.

House of Dark Shadows is well written and very entertaining. I must confess, though, that I’m still waiting for any hint of the Christian perspective to emerge, however. It need not be blatant—in fact, it hopefully won’t be blatant—when it does emerge. However, as of the final page of this book, there’s no hint of such an attempt to achieve that believable coexistence. Perhaps that, too, is resolved in the next volume.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Quote of the Week

Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize it's just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff into it. - David Sedaris

Friday, November 28, 2008

Such A Time as This, by Rebecca Velez (OakTara)

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In Such A Time as This, Ms. Velez retells in unique style the delightful tale chronicled in the Biblical book of Esther. She takes us from the young girl Hadassah’s warm and peaceful home in Susa’s Jewish enclave, to the guile and intrigue of the royal harem in Xerxes' palace. Along the way we’re given glimpses into the tender mind of Hadassah as she copes with her capture by Xerxes’ soldiers, her preparation for his bed, and finally with her prominence as his queen.

Ms. Velez appoints a poignant cast of characters to add color to the story, some as close allies of Queen Esther, some as scheming enemies. Together, we tread the streets of Susa, the halls of Xerxes’ palace, and the gentle corners of Hadassah’s mind as her role in God’s plan for his people in exile begins to unfold. Reminicent of Tommy Tenney's A Night With the King, Ms. Velez takes the story further along, as the family of the disgraced and executed Haman plot revenge against Mordecai and the Jews of the realm.

The story of God’s deliverance of His people from the evil Haman’s genocidal plot through His fragile servant Hadassah is well known. But the ‘what’ of the story is not the draw of Such A Time as This, it’s the ‘how’.* The precious thoughts of this most humble of God’s servants carry us gently along the storyline, imbuing a poignant pathos—even empathy—into Hadassah’s experiences at the hands of a moody and unpredictable king, an often hostile court, and growing in her devotion to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Each of these experiences matures a young, sometimes naïve, Jewish girl, who, in the fullness of time, blossoms into a competent queen—a woman of substance prepared to give her life for her people and her God in ‘such a time as this’.

* See this review for a discussion of the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of a novel.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Everybody Called Her a Saint, by Cecil Murphey (Heartsong)

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Of course, when I reviewed Everybody Loved Roger Harden and Everybody Wanted Room 623, you knew it was inevitable that the final book of Cecil Murphey’s ‘cozy mysteries’ would also find its way into these spaces. But even if I hadn’t read the first two, I believe this one would’ve shown up anyway. ‘Cuz, as the A1 Steak Sauce people say, “Yeah…it’s that good.”*

In this final installment, our heroic duo, Julie West and James Burton, embark on an Antarctic voyage at the request of their mutual friend, psychiatrist Twila Belk. Startling to discover, Julie and Burton aren’t on speaking terms. Mm hmm, something has happened since Room 623 that has sent Julie through the ceiling and she has broken their engagement. More on this later.

Early in the voyage, Twila is murdered. This presented me with a problem. In real life, Twila Belk—yes, Cec did it again; he killed off a friend—is Mr. Murphey’s esteemed assistant. The delightful Ms. Belk is actually the person who sent me the book. Which, in and of itself is fine; however, when I read of her demise on the first page…and then looked down at the return address on the envelope in which the book arrived…well, it was a little eerie. You get it, right? Enough on that.

As I said prior to digressing, early in the voyage, Twila is murdered. Clearly, the only possible suspect is among the other 45 passengers on the ship, all of whom are friends and/or patients—former and current—of Twila’s. No coincidence; Twila had chartered the boat and paid everyone’s passage, for one reason or another. So, as we’d expect, with the unofficial blessing of the ship’s captain, Julie and Burton set about investigating the murder. This, of course, is complicated by their strained relationship, which they have to shelve to do honor to Twila’s memory.

Mr. Murphey succeeds in pulling off another intricate whodunit, again in the first-person through Julie’s eyes. The gripper of this tale, though, has nothing to do with the investigation, or even with Twila’s murder. It has to do with Julie and Burton. If you read my review of Roger Harden, you’ll recall each person on the island had a secret known only to Roger and the respective individual. During that investigation, everyone’s secret came to light. Everyone’s except Burton’s. It’s this secret that, when he tells it to Julie, unravels their relationship. Want to know what it is? Hah!

You. Will. Never. Guess. This. One.

If you read either of the first two cozy mysteries, you’ll leave this earth at the end of your life incomplete unless you’ve read Everybody Called Her a Saint. If you haven’t read either of the first two, you can still enjoy this final mystery—but you’ll be oh-so-much-happier to have read Roger Harden and Room 623, first.

Yeah…they’re all that good.

* Yes, yes, I know the A1 slogan is actually, “Yeah, it’s that important.” Allow me a little artistic license, would you, please?

Quote of the Week

Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book. - Edward Gibbon

Field of Blood, by Eric Wilson (Thomas Nelson)

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In Field of Blood, the first installment in the Jerusalem’s Undead Trilogy, Mr. Wilson weaves an intricate tapestry comprising two fundamentally strange bedfellows: supernatural terror and Christian spiritual persuasion. I couldn’t avoid the image of Anne Rice straddling the line of salvation—one foot sunk in the mire of the inglorious world of vampires and werewolves, and the other planted on the Rock that rescued her from that world. Yet Mr. Wilson skillfully and thoughtfully reconciles these two genres in a work that both entertains and provokes thought.

Picture the proverbial dark cloud with the silver lining.

The dark cloud is the ethereal world of the Collectors: fallen angels who are bent on ushering in Satan’s alternative to the Final Judgment. The Collectors have no corporeal form of their own, but are constrained to indwell ‘host’ bodies to execute their agenda. Their hope of release from this Separation from the physical lies in the field that absorbed Judas Iscariot’s self-shed blood after his betrayal of Christ. After an ancient tomb in the field is breached by an Israeli construction crew, the Collectors seize the opportunity to invade the crypts and inhabit the ancient bones of those buried beneath the cursed soil. They must sustain these host bodies by ingesting human blood, feeding continually in a vain attempt (Okay, yes, I was tempted to say ‘vein attempt’.) to treat their insatiable thirst. The Collectors exploit the human weaknesses of their victims—pride, self-righteous piety, lust, illusions of self-sufficiency; you know, the stuff you and I fortunately have no problems with—to gain advantage over their victims. All the while they seek to destroy the ‘silver lining’.

The silver lining is the nestarim, thirty-six immortal souls who were raised from the grave at the moment of Christ’s crucifixion, per Matthew’s Gospel. And, much like a full silver lining that traces the entire circumference of the cloud, the nestarim contain the Collectors, engaging in perpetual physical and spiritual battle until God executes His Final Judgment. But the nestarim, too, have their vulnerabilities, and the loss of just one of them will collapse the whole community. Then the lining will fade to nothing. And the dark cloud will become suddenly unrestrained.

Gina, a young girl we first meet in Romania toward the end of Nicolae Caucescu’s regime, is unknowingly one of the nestarim. As such, she becomes the target of a clan of Collectors who have traced her whereabouts from Israel. Inhibited by her mother Nikki, and aided by her mentor Cal—both of whom know of Gina’s heritage—the young Gina suffers from the burden she carries into adulthood without knowing why. Not until an unimaginable tragedy strikes does she understand, accept and assume her role in the battle against Satan’s minions.

Mr. Wilson’s research is impeccable. He displays a remarkable ability for subtlety and surprise in tying Old Testament events (such as the story of Jael and Sisera in the book of Judges), New Testament occurrences (such as the Gospel account of Christ banishing the demons into the herd of swine) and recent events in Israel, the Balkan region, and the United States together for the backdrop of his story.

A caution, however. You won’t be gathering the children around for bedtime stories from these pages. Field of Blood is masterfully contrived, its theme acutely poignant, but it is not light reading. The cloud is very dark, and the silver lining often seems woefully inadequate for its task of containment. Prepare to be frustrated, dismayed, perhaps even a bit annoyed. But those, I believe, are among Mr. Wilson’s intended destinations for his readers, and he delivers us there in style.

As a point of critique, the story flows, but there are moments when the dream hits a speed bump laid by thickness in the prose. That, however, should not dissuade you from reading Field of Blood, if your interests lead you into the darker corners of the supernatural genre. It’s a fascinating tale. I look forward to the next part of the trilogy, due out next summer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thing's Are Movin'...

Sorry about the lull in posting on the blog, but the earth appears to be moving under A Prophet's Tale. OakTara is working the manuscript now, so it should be one of the first titles to come out as they begin posting new novels. Still don't have a firm date, but you can bet I'll letcha know soonest when I do. (Oh, yes, you can betcha I will!)

Meantime, I do have another couple of book reviews on the way. I finished the third and final of Cecil Murphey's cozy mysteries, and will have a report on it pretty soon. You may recall I promised a review on Rebecca Velez's Just A Time As This. It was backordered at CBD and I only just received it in the mail, so it's back in the active queue. I'm also reading a legal thriller by Joe Hilley (Sober Justice) and a r-e-a-l-l-y interesting supernatural thriller by Eric Wilson called Field of Blood.

I leave for Germany on Saturday and won't be back until the following Saturday, but I should be able to keep up with the blog from "over there" (remind you of a song?).

So, I guess what I'm saying is that there's plenty more to come--and, hopefully, some firm news on A Prophet's Tale, too, very soon. Thanks for your patience.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Quote of the Week

No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft. - H.G. Wells

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tribulation House, by Chris Well (Harvest House)

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I’ve pondered now for several days on how to review Chris Well's Tribulation House. It’s one of the most unique books I’ve read, both in scope and in style. About the best generic descriptor I think I can muster is “compassionate satire”. Is that a curious mix, or what? Let me take it a piece at a time.

First, the scope.

It’s really hard to recap the story in a tidy little package. Mr. Well entertains a variety of social, spiritual and personal issues through a network of loosely, but definitely, connected subplots. I know that sounds rather complicated, like you could get lost in its intricacy. And it is intricate. But you won’t get lost. He does such a great job of undergirding the network with solid writing that mapping the characters and their dilemmas—oh yes, they all have dilemmas—flows quite smoothly.

Okay, an example: The first line of the synopsis on the back cover was enough for me to take it to the checkout counter. “It’s not the end of the world--which could be a problem...” I mean, how do you not read a book with that kind of introduction? In this subplot, Mark Hogan has bought into his pastor’s carefully calculated conclusion that Jesus is coming back in less than two months. On October 17, 2007, to be exact. At 5:51 am, to be even more exact. That’s all well and good, but it does present him a quandary. You see, Mark Hogan wants a boat. He’s always wanted a boat. Now it’s too late…or is it? Of course not. All it takes is a quick loan from his friendly neighborhood Mafia shark to secure him his dream craft. Naturally, he won’t have to pay back the loan, for he’s about to be raptured—and everybody knows the Mafia is going to be ‘left behind’. Well, the fact that you’re reading this review is proof enough of his pastor’s miscalculation. Now Mr. Hogan is faced with an impossible debt, and kneecaps in imminent threat of extinction at the hands of Mob thugs. Oh, the dilemma is resolved, but not how you might expect.

Other characters include Charlie Pasch, a police detective who stumbles through areas of service at his church until he finds his niche in the most unexpected way; Tom Griggs, Charlie’s detective partner, who is estranged from his father, and whose story ends up harboring the final and most poignant twist in the entire book; Hank Barton, another church member running for a vacant city council seat, with all the campaigning trials and tribulations you might expect (and some you might not); Ross Cleaver and Bill Lamb, a bumbling pair of Mob thugs who have their own issues—well, it just goes on.

Second, the style.

After reading Tribulation House, I envisioned Mr. Well's tongue so firmly planted in his cheek that I feared he may never be able to enjoy solid food again. The number of times I found myself laughing out loud is surpassed only by the number of times I found myself nodding my head and smiling. The satirical element elicited the former response, the compassion the latter. Gifted storytelling!

Mr. Well employs a clipped style of narration that may catch you a little off guard at first, but you’ll get used to it. It’s very effective in delivering quick punches of plot, and you’ll appreciate it in that context. In my estimation, though, it may be a bit overused; that is, applied in passages that require no such rhetorical device to push them along. But, again, the story is well worth any minor stylistic distraction you may encounter. Indeed, it may not bother you at all.

If chuckling at yourself doesn’t come easy, you may have a more difficult time with Tribulation House. It will stomp on your toes, like any good satire. But keep reading. As the story unfolds, you’ll discover Mr. Well's stomping shoes to be so generously padded with compassion, the pain becomes quite bearable.

If you’re a Christian who can laugh at yourself, make this the next book on your reading list. If you aren’t, make this the next book on your reading list; you’ll surely be one by the time you’ve finished.

Tribulation House was just plain ‘really, really good’. Bravo to Mr. Well!

Quote of the Week

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. - Cyril Connolly

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Extreme Makeover - Web Site


Just a quick break in the action to let you know my Web site has just undergone a redesign. I actually had somebody who knows what she's doing revamp it. It's ever so cool.

It should be lauched soon (hopefully within the next day or so). You can get to it here. If it hasn't changed the first time you look, keep checking back.


Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Bone Box, by Bob Hostetler (Howard Books)

(click cover for more information)

Rather than keep you in suspense of the inevitable, I’m going to begin my review of Bob Hostetler’s The Bone Box with a digression. That’ll get it out of the way up front.

One of the great things about Biblical fiction is that it allows us the freedom to examine the record in greater detail than what Scripture often actually gives us. However, that’s a two-edged sword. On one edge, there’s a danger of the writer weaving his own agenda into the Biblical record and straining, sometimes to the breaking point, reasonable inference (witness accusations against Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code).

On the other edge, through careful research and skillful storytelling, the author can present angles on events and people that are entirely plausible and in keeping with the Scriptural account, but lend a novel (pun intended) perspective on them. In doing so, she offers something perhaps we hadn’t thought of before. The unexpected inference—or ‘twist’—not only enhances the entertainment value (see my February 11th post), but can also broaden our spiritual horizons.

The latter requires intellectual honesty. The former requires…well, nothing to commend. Happily for us, Mr. Hostetler’s The Bone Box is guilty of the latter and not the former.

Dr. Randall Bullock is an archaeologist who has pretty much mucked up his personal life in deference to his professional one. Recently widowed, Dr. Bullock tries to put himself back on an even keel by immersing himself in a new dig outside Jerusalem. When a construction project collapses an ancient tomb nearby, he is offered the opportunity to solo the project to examine its contents before having to turn them over to the Antiquities Authority. He discovers no less than the ossuary (bone box) containing the remains of one Joseph bar Caiaphas. Yup, the same Caiaphas who presided over Christ’s trial. In the ossuary is a small scroll, the contents of which cast a stunning light on the events of over two thousand years ago.

Enter daughter Tracy, recently expelled from college, who shows up in Israel in search of a father she barely knows—and respects even less—due to his absence from all the significant events of her life, including the death of her mother. They both embark on an awkward road of attempted reconciliation, which comes at a particularly difficult time as the demands of this momentous archaeological discovery pull at her father’s attentions. Just like before. Just like always.

Interspersed with Dr. Bullock’s story are flashbacks to the first century ad, with Caiaphas playing the central role. From his installation as Kohen haGadol (the High Priest), through the preaching of John the Baptist, to Jesus’ trial, Caiaphas is shown in a very interesting light—and as the subject of a most fascinating twist. I don’t think you’re going to anticipate this one.

Mr. Hostetler’s careful research is evident throughout the story. You’ll learn loads about modern and ancient Israel through the pages of The Bone Box. The only possible criticism I could offer to the author’s technique might be the reliance of side narratives to enlighten the reader on Hebrew history and culture. Perhaps more of the education could have been interwoven into the story. For example, Dr. Bullock could have presented some of the facts in dialog with Tracy (or other similar exchanges), thereby educating the reader through the action of the story instead of digressive explanations, which, I felt, pulled me away from the story a little more often than I would like to have been pulled. But don’t let that dissuade you. The tale and the education are well worth the ride.

Mr. Hostetler’s skill at storytelling is just as evident. He mixes intrigue, suspense, pathos and even romance wonderfully in a tale that tackles a well worn story in a fresh and meaningful way. Oh, and what becomes of this discovery that has such crucial historical and theological significance? Well, that’s Mr. Hostetler’s point. Read the book. He relates it much better than I ever could.

Final thought: I note on the title pages of my own works of Biblical fiction the following: “It has been the author’s intent to remain as true to the Biblical account as possible, filling in additional events, descriptions and characters where Scripture permits to accommodate the story line. Such extra-Biblical references are products of the author’s own imagination and are not intended to represent any persons, living or dead.” It, I believe, should be a goal of every author of Biblical fiction that their work would motivate the reader to delve back into the Bible (cf. Acts 17:11). There, fact will be separated from fiction, and the lesson can be applied against the Authoritative record.

Fortunately, (at the risk of putting words in his mouth) it appears Mr. Hostetler shares the above sentiment. The Bone Box was a real pleasure to read. Entertaining, thought-provoking, real, and honest. A great blend of historical and contemporary fiction that really means something.

Yup, highly recommended.

Thanks, Mr. Hostetler.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Quote of the Week

"An author is a fool who, not content with boring those he lives with, insists on boring future generations." - Charles de Montesquieu


As I look for more books to review--I have two underway and am ordering another, even as I, type--does anyone who has been kind (and patient) enough to read through these have any requests? Is there a specific book, author, or a particular genre you'd like me to take a look at? Open to just about any suggestions.

Current batting order:

At bat is The Bone Box, by Bob Hostetler. (Historical/contemporary/archaeology)
On deck is Tribulation House, by Chris Well. (Contemporary/humorous satire)
In the hole is Such A Time As This, by Rebecca Velez. (Historical/Biblical)

If you'd like to place a book on the roster, please let me know. There's plenty of room!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Quote of the Week

"Many books require no thought from those who read them, and for a very simple reason; they made no such demand upon those who wrote them." - Charles Caleb Colton

Until the Last Dog Dies, by John Laurence Robinson (River Oak)

(click cover for more information)

Guy’s book. Good guy’s book, but definitely a guy’s book.

In Until the Last Dog Dies, John Robinson does a terrific job of rolling out a great PI tale in true Mike Hammer fashion. The lingo, the interior monologues, the first-person view—he’s got it down to a T. But John is in no way a Mickey Spillane wannabe. John creates a unique character with a complex personality that keeps him two steps ahead of predictability.

Joe Box is a Vietnam vet, ex-cop, now private investigator, who’s wartime past is thrust back upon him in an extraordinarily terrifying way. In a search-and-destroy mission that goes horribly wrong, his infantry squad captures a traitorous sniper, Martin ten Eyck. Politically connected, the traitor is spirited away Stateside and tucked out of sight into a mental institution—presumably for life. That was thirty years ago. He’s out. Not long enough.

The “rehabilitated” patient is released and the horror begins. Now, each member of Joe’s old infantry squad is being fingered for death—not just any death, but death meted out in way each individual feared the most: stabbing, aircraft accident, electrocution—you name it. It’s up to Joe to find him and stop the killings. Only he doesn’t have to find the killer; it’s his turn for the killer to find him.

A new Christian, Joe is still sorting out his spiritual responsibilities, moral obligations and personal expectations immersed in a hard-bitten line of work and battling a history of traumatic episodes that multicolor his world view and self image. Helping him deal with all this is the lovely, witty and intelligent Angela, an intercessory prayer warrior at his church. But Angela helps him do more than overcome his own mental obstacles, she plays a crucial role in the battle against the spiritual forces driving ten Eyck.

In Until the Last Dog Dies, John Robinson takes us back to rural Kentucky where we relive Joe’s grass-roots boyhood haunts (pun intended). We trek the steamy paths of Vietnam with his unit on the trail of a rogue sniper, whose phantom-like ability elevates the nerve-shearing terror of jungle warfare. And we journey with Joe along the uneven road of discipleship, learning with him what it means to trust God and apply Biblical principle in the toughest emotional, mental and physical circumstances.

And everybody knows only guys are interested in stuff like that.

Oh, okay, so maybe not just a guy’s book. Read it and see whatcha think.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dear Enemy, by Jack Cavanaugh (Bethany House)

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(DISCLAIMER: I normally avoid the cliché “couldn’t put it down” like the plague. Therefore, please be advised that if you encounter it, or something like it, in this review, it will be for the simple reason that it was true.)

Dear Enemy is a quick read. It’s not a quick read because it’s particularly short, but because it’s particularly good.

Okay, maybe part of the reason for my enthusiasm is a fascination for the Greatest-Generation era. As horrific as World War II was, there was an ambient romanticism not born of war, but of a resurgent American society; reborn hope emerging from the Great Depression. You saw it in the films, read it in the literature, and heard it in the music. Values were less relative: right was defended, wrong was condemned, friends were friends, and enemies were enemies. Mr. Cavanaugh does a gripping job of highlighting these attributes in Dear Enemy—and bringing them into stunning conflict.

Annie Mitchell is an Army nurse at a field hospital in Belgium. Newly married, she and her husband, Keith, look forward to spending their honeymoon in Paris. Their plans are abruptly changed as Hitler launches his Panzer divisions on one last-ditch effort to stem the tide of a war gone sour—the Battle of the Bulge. Annie’s hospital is in imminent danger of being overrun, when she and a companion nurse commandeer an ambulance and race against time to find Keith before the enemy does.

A series of events catches Annie behind enemy lines in the Ardennes Forest, falling prisoner to a lone German soldier who is himself on the run. Her inborn hatred of all things “Kraut” drives her to escape, and, hopefully, kill her captor in the process. But something happens in the Ardennes that challenges her mores and preconceived notions, as common enemies and hardships force her to rely on the German—and him on her. A guarded relationship begins to emerge that disassembles and reshapes her understanding of what an enemy really is.

Reading the prologue of the book sealed my decision to buy it; however, I wondered if perhaps Mr. Cavanaugh didn’t reveal too much information in it. I almost felt like I knew the whole story just from the prologue. I was wrong. The prologue answered most of the “what” question, but not the “how” or the “why”. The “what” is the easiest part of a novel—it’s the “how” that is the finesse, the force that compels you to turn the next page…and the next…and not be able to put it down (There, I warned you…) until you’re emotionally satisfied with the “why”.

Mr. Cavanaugh mastered the “how” in Dear Enemy. The tension never lets up, but he achieves a flow, a rhythm, allowing non-stop action that doesn’t exhaust you. His character development is pristine; you really get inside Annie’s and Karl’s heads—and you care about them.

My only criticism is that the back cover came too soon. Well, too soon, anyway, for someone who couldn’t put it down. (Oops!)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Everybody Wanted Room 623, by Cecil Murphey (Heartsong)

(Click cover for more information)

Well, I hadn’t planned on doing this. When I first thought to post book reviews, my intention was to focus on a breadth of authors; share the wealth, so to speak. I didn’t intend to review a single author more than once.

Butchya know? Sometimes ya just hafta changeyer plans.

I reviewed Everybody Loved Roger Harden, by Cecil Murphey, earlier this month. Everybody Wanted Room 623 is the second in his cozy mystery series. It is an absolute gem. As with Roger Harden, Jeannie and I read it aloud in the evenings before bedtime. We barely made it through the first chapter, with all the giggling fits it prompted. I’m sorry…did I say giggling? Jeannie giggled; I chuckled. Guys don’t giggle.

But I digress. (Guys do digress.)

Our heroes from Roger Harden—Julie West and James Burton—return in another murder mystery. This one takes place at the quaint Cartledge Inn, situated in the beautiful countryside near Stone Mountain, Georgia. A mutual acquaintance of theirs is found shot in his room (which, incidentally, is a particularly painful place to get shot)—Room 623, of course. Police detective Oliver Viktor (coincidentally, a former college pal of Burton’s) is on the scene conducting the investigation. The three pool their skills and resources into sorting out just what must have happened in Room 623. Several characters related in various ways to the victim drop in and out, adding their pieces to the puzzle of who committed the murder, and why. Of course, Mr. Murphey does another great job of concealing the murderer’s identity until the last minute.

So, why all the giggling—and chuckling? A couple of reasons:

First, Mr. Murphey assigns his characters (save Julie and Burton) names of real-life authors, agents or publishers. For example, the murder victim is one Stefan Lauber (a name those in the Christian writing industry will recognize as a take-off on Steve Laube, a well known and highly respected Christian literary agent). In a delightful e-mail exchange I had with the author after my earlier review, he shared, “I love killing off my friends.” Indeed, Mr. Lauber didn’t survive the first sentence of the book. Appearances by characters such as Deedra Knight and Terrance Waylin (Diedre Knight and Terry Whalin – also highly regarded literary agents), added to the fun. But when the Scott Bell-James character walked in, I nearly lost it. It doesn’t stop there, as many more ‘literary’ characters add their color to the story. (Important to note, by the way, is that Mr. Murphey employs his friends’ names, but not their real personalities or other actual attributes. Having had the pleasure of meeting some of them, their characters’ descriptions and roles became that much more precious.)

Second, if you had the pleasure of reading Roger Harden, you’ll get a double treat watching Julie’s and Burton’s personalities, as well as their relationship, develop. Writing a novel in the first-person perspective is a bit risky, and not at all easy. It effectively puts the reader inside the head of the character; therefore, the author must remain focused, consistent and honest with the character’s personality biases, limited frame of reference over the entire plot, and even the nuances of his/her gender. I personally am guilty of setting aside a novel by an accomplished writer who had a promising story line, but just lost me with the handling of the first-person point of view. Mr. Murphey doesn’t just make it work, he uses it to elevate the reader’s experience to a whole new level. His command of the technique is flawless, and seeing events unfold through Julie’s eyes is absolutely priceless. Her acerbic wit, professional slant (she’s a psychologist), feminine intuition—and especially her attraction to Burton—imbue a unique deliciousness into the reading. Mr. Murphey’s practiced pen would still have succeeded at telling the story in the more common third-person narrative style, but I don’t think it would have enhanced the tale to nearly the extent it does by allowing us to view the world through Julie’s eyes, heart and mind.

All things considered, it’s not necessary to read Roger Harden to enjoy Room 623, but your pleasure will be greatly enriched if you do.

Everybody Wanted Room 623 is a must-read for those interested in a true mystery, but who also enjoy multicolored threads of the Gospel and the Christian ethic interwoven skillfully through the fabric of a story—not awkwardly basted over it. And Mr. Murphey never drops a stitch.

Oh, and be prepared to giggle…or chuckle…whatever.

Quote of the Week - No, no particular reason...

"I know I was writing stories when I was five. I don't know what I did before that. Just loafed, I suppose." --P. G. Wodehouse

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Leonardo’s Chair, by John DeSimone (River Oak)

(Click cover for more information)

I pulled Leonardo’s Chair off the bookshelf at my local Christian bookstore because of its curious title. I took it to the checkout counter because of the intriguing synopsis on the back cover. I’m glad I did both of those things. I highly recommend you do the same.

The title “character”, Leonardo’s chair, as you might surmise, is just that: a chair made by the great artist Leonardo Da Vinci. Frustrated that his life was waning and his artistic genius will die with him, Da Vinci builds an ornate chair and somehow imbues it with a supernatural power: his own artistic greatness. Anyone who sits in the chair can achieve the artistic mastery that Da Vinci himself had. However, the gift comes with a price—a terrible curse that entraps the unwary artist in his own ambition for greatness.

This price has been paid repeatedly throughout the family history of the Duke of Savoy. The Savoy dynasty has owned the chair since the 16th century—that is, until it’s lost just prior to World War II to the Nazis, as they plundered the great art treasures of Europe. A California artist, Vincent LaBont, acquires the chair and tastes of its mystical powers. When the chair is stolen and returned to the Duke of Savoy’s castle in the Italian Alps, Vincent dispatches his son, Paul, to recover it. The Duke has other plans, however, and Paul is caught up in an elaborate scheme that ultimately puts him in mortal danger—by the lure and the curse of the chair itself! Complicating the plot is the Duke’s beautiful daughter, Isabella, who has her own plans for the chair, unbeknownst to both her father and Paul.

The New World and the Old World clash in a fascinating story that is steeped in classical Renaissance history and the intricacies—and passion—of the art of painting. You won’t know who to trust, who to cheer, or who to boo, as Mr. DeSimone skillfully unfolds his story one brush stroke at a time.

It sometimes seems that authors, in their effort to produce something new, something different, something outside-the-box, occasionally stretch a story’s moral or theological theme so thin that it either disappears altogether, or—even worse—stays visible and travel to places it should never go. Mr. DeSimone has accomplished the former without resorting to the latter; that is, Leonardo’s Chair may be unlike any other novel you’ll find in a Christian bookstore, but its spiritual impact is stark, and its message solid. But Mr. DeSimone takes a risk in subtlety. Twice while reading this book I nearly set it aside when encountering Biblical arguments that go awry. But for the reputation of the publisher (River Oak is an imprint of Cook Communications Ministries), I may have followed through with my error. Thank the Lord for perseverance, though, because Mr. DeSimone delivers wonderfully on his message, using the seemingly logical arguments to illustrate the fallacy of faulty perspective. And, as someone who values subtlety in story-telling, I’m somewhat embarrassed that Mr. DeSimone caught me as flatfooted as he did.

All the better! Bravo!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mysterious Ways, by Terry W. Burns (River Oak)

(click cover for more information)
Clever, inspirational and well written. Mr. Burns pens a homespun western tale of a man God catches up in his own game. Amos Taylor is a robber, con man and all-around scoundrel who steals a parson’s outfit as the “perfect disguise.” Much to his surprise—and chagrin—when he dons it in the peaceful town of Quiet Valley to cover his latest crime, the people actually expect him to perform as a parson. He finds himself in the awkward position of having to preach Sunday morning services, counsel a quarreling married couple, give solace to a dying woman, and even conduct her funeral service. If not for the help of Joseph Washington—a godly, blind, black man, who is himself not what he seems to be—the ‘parson’ would have been detected at the very beginning for what he was. But the blind Joseph saw in Amos what no one else would have dreamed was there: God’s grace.

On the slow and stumbling road to his own eyes being opened, Amos wraps himself tighter and tighter into his own web of deceit until his schemes, and his ego, blow up in his face at the most unexpected moment. But, as with most of us, it's difficult for him to abandon his fallen ways. When he does, there's recompense to make for his past, which presents him with the greatest mortal and spiritual trials of his life.

You’ll fall in love with Judy Valentine, the unwitting victim of Amos’ heart, admire John David Slocum, the kind of Texas Ranger you expect all Texas Rangers to be, and empathize with the simple, but honest, citizens of Quiet Valley who learn as much from Amos’ experience as he does himself. God has in mind to teach every character in the story—and perhaps everyone who reads the story—more about Himself.

This is Mr. Burns’ first book in the Mysterious Ways series. You need not read the next two to fully appreciate Mysterious Ways—but when you finish this installment, you’ll probably want to!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Everybody Loved Roger Harden, by Cecil Murphey (Heartsong Mysteries)

(Click cover for more information)

What a fun book! Cecil Murphey is a prolific writer (just Google him), and Everybody Loved Roger Harden is a great addition to his repertoire.

This is a whodunnit with a Christian slant. A classic murder mystery, Roger Harden is written mostly in the first-person through the eyes of Julie West, a psychologist and one of the two primary sleuths investigating Mr. Harden's murder. Her co-investigator is James Burton, a pastor who, like Julie, is a dinner guest of Harden's the evening of his murder--and who, again like Julie, shares a first-person perspective alternately througout the story.

It seems a carefully selected group of Roger Harden's "friends" have been invited to his private island for dinner. The guest list has been carefully prepared, for each one of the invitees has a unique relationship with Mr. Harden. Unfortunately, before dinner even begins, their host is found murdered in his study. The remainder of the story has Julie and James piecing together the puzzle of who may have killed Harden.

As the story unfolds, each of their fellow guests reveals--some less willingly than others--why they probably appeared on the guest list for this special dinner, and how they really felt about Roger Harden. Each one of them, it appears, has a motive for eliminating their host. But who stands to gain the most by his death? His wife, who inherits her husband's considerable estate? The TV weather personality, who's indebted to him for her success--and hates it? The professor, who Mr. Harden discovered cheated on his dissertation and holds this knowledge over his head?

Everybody Loved Roger Harden flows wonderfully from chapter to chapter as, bit by bit, the facts emerge about a manipulative, hard-hearted millionaire who craved control over people and their lives. But something has happened in Roger Harden's life, and he has invited--no, not invited, but summoned--them all to his island for dinner and a special announcement, one that will affect each one of their lives. Does his announcement die with him? Can Julie and James ferret out the truth, or is there more to the story than can ever be told?

If you enjoy a light-hearted mystery with plenty of twists, but don't want to be nervous about turning the page into a gory or explicit scene thrown into your face for effect, Everybody Loved Roger Harden is for you. Oh yes, did I mention there's chemistry between Julie and James that teases their efforts to concentrate on the mystery at hand? The fun never ends!

This was another one Jeannie and I enjoyed reading together at night. Give it a try. See if you can finger the culprit before Julie and James do. We didn't...

Waking Lazarus, by T.L. Hines (Bethany House)

(Click cover for more information)

In his work The Prophets, Abraham Heschel writes, "None of the prophets seems enamored with being a prophet nor proud of his attainment." Jude Allman, hero of T.L. Hines' Waking Lazarus, can identify with Dr. Heschel's words.
His gift? Well, it’s unlike any popularly associated with that of a prophet. He writes no book, he preaches no sermon, he calls no fire down from Heaven. Rather, Jude has experienced clinical death no less than three times: once as a young boy, once as a teenager, and once as a young man. Each time, against all medical reason, he returns to life. But these resurrections are not his gift; they are merely preservations of the gift.
The notoriety these miraculous raisings inflict on Jude has a sensation-seeking public breathing down his neck at every turn. Like the Biblical Jonah, he runs from the world and from his calling. Jude’s Tarshish is Red Lodge, a sleepy hamlet in Montana, where he adopts a name change to protect his identity, a comfortable paranoia to protect his sanity, and tucks himself into a cocoon of obscurity.
Enter a series of crimes so heinous it strips away Jude’s protections and he is forced once again to face his calling and the eyes of a prying world. He stubbornly clings to the shreds of his cocoon until events threaten to destroy the one connection to his past—his only son.
Waking Lazarus will evoke a curious mixture of emotion. You’ll find yourself in the awkward situation of fearing the next page turn, but being powerless to resist it. Masterfully written and eerily imaginative, Mr. Hines achieves a quasi-believable surrealism without resorting to excessive paranormality. There are twists and turns, blind alleys and perpetual horizons, and a spiritual element that is quiet, but unmistakable.
Highly recommended for readers who lean toward the Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker edge, but have a greater appreciation for the art of subtlety.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Heroes of Old, by Jay Young (iUniverse)

(Click photo for more information)

I must confess to being somewhat nonplussed when I heard Jay Young describe his Heroes series as “the X-Men meet the Old Testament”—but I’m glad I took a chance! Heroes of Old, the first volume in the series, is a great blend of Biblical, Middle Age and modern adventure, intrigue and action--yet with a poignancy missing from so much of today's fantasy.

Our story is rooted in the days of Noah, when the Nephilim roamed the earth (Gen. 6:4). The wickedness of man had reached its fullness and God was preparing to cleanse the earth by flood. However, a daughter of one of the dark gods, Henna, is redeemed through her marriage to Noah’s son, Ham. But the seed of the Nephilim is carried within her, and so survives the flood. This terrible seed of power worms its way through history, its struggle to regain dominance kept in check throughout the ages by a small cadre of super-powered warriors called The Faction.

Enter No, an unassuming modern-day teenager living in obscurity in New Mexico, who accidently discovers he carries a unique power. He doesn’t understand the nature of this gift, until the leader of The Faction arrives at his doorstep and enlists him into the group. As he learns more of The Faction’s divine mission, he begins preparing physically, mentally, and spiritually to take his role in a war unknown to man that has lasted millennia—a war, though, that may be coming to its conclusion in our age.

Jay Young has done a great job of weaving a story that covers a vast time span. He keeps the dream intact as we bound from ancient proto-Semitic Canaan, to present-day America, and even to the era of the Crusades, and witness the battle between good and evil in all its forms.

Heroes of Old is a must-read for Christian fantasy lovers!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Pirate Daughter's Promise, by Molly Evangeline (Pleasant Word)

(Click cover for more information)
A delightful tale of high seas adventure, faith and perseverance, and a young girl’s steadfast honor for her earthly father and love for her Heavenly Father.

Orphaned at a young age, Skye McHenry’s life seems destined to drudgery and hopelessness, but for the love and care of a boy, Will James, also orphaned. Her life takes a drastic turn when she is kidnapped from the orphanage by the merciless pirate, Francis Kelley, for the knowledge she possesses of a hidden treasure. Kelley will stop at nothing to wrench the secret from Skye—and Skye is equally determined to resist Kelley’s tortures, for there is a promise to keep. Sail with Will, Captain John Morgan and the crew of the Good Fortune as they pursue the infamous Kelley in a quest to rescue Skye. Turn after turn, twist after twist await you until the final showdown between Will and Kelley, when the most unexpected twist of all bursts onto the scene. And through it all, God’s overriding faithfulness and protection over His loved ones endure.

Classically narrated, The Pirate Daughter’s Promise is an ideal book for extended family reading. Cluster the kids on the bed and transport them to a time when pirates ruled the seas, but not the hearts of men—or the heart of a young woman. They’ll hang on every word as Ms. Evangeline takes them from storm-ridden seas to sun-baked deserted islands, dingy orphanages to wealthy mansions, and the depths of man’s greed to the heights of God’s grace. Your only problem will be settling their protests when it comes time to close the cover for another evening.

Molly Evangeline is a recent home-school graduate who has been writing since she was eight years old. This is her debut novel—but you can bet it won’t be her last.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Aegypt, by LD Alford (OakTara Publishing, LLC)

(Click cover for more information)

Mr. Alford spins a gripping tale of supernatural intrigue that explodes in a clash between early Egyptian mythology and postmodern science. Lying dormant beneath the desert sands for four thousand years, two secrets—one the antithesis of the other—await discovery. Meticulously concealed, yet clearly designed to be found, the ancient burial site catches the notice of Paul Bolang, a lieutenant in the French Foreign Legion and astute amateur archeologist. Lt. Bolang studies the ruins and ponders its abnormal construction and curious markings while awaiting the arrival of an international team of professional archeologists.

The team arrives, the tomb is breached, and its seals are broken—but instead of finding the answers to their questions, the lieutenant discovers they’ve unleashed powerful counterpoised deities heretofore unknown to modern archeology. The soldier must search both his intellect and his faith in deciphering the meaning of these phenomena, while the team of archeologists struggle to deal with what they’re witnessing through the biases of their own disparate world views.

Artfully written and painstakingly researched, Aegypt achieves a delicate balance of enthralling entertainment and solid scholarship. You’ll taste Lt. Bolang’s fear coming face to face with the ancient forces, and share his frustrations as he strains mind and heart to perceive their meaning. And you’ll examine your faith, as he examines his, in reconciling the spirits’ significance to our age—an age in which both deities will assume decisive roles in the affairs of man.

I highly recommend Aegypt to those who would find it a fascinating prospect to delve into the lore of ancient Egypt and the mind of modern man in a common enterprise. Supernatural conquest and natural adventure, new life and grisly death—even a startling spark of romance! Mr. Alford delivers it all in Aegypt.

Book Reviews

While I await the publication of A Prophet's Tale: The Journey Begun (which is coming, but may be awhile yet...), I thought it an expedient exercise to post reviews of some books I've recently completed. Some will be from better known authors, some from lesser knowns (such as myself). They will all be works of fiction--as I'm not really smart enough to evaluate non-fiction--with the hope that my reviews may interest you in picking up one or two of them.

Hope you enjoy the reviews. I'll interrupt them as updates become available on my next work. But for now, here are some suggestions for your discretionary reading pleasure.

Have fun!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Friends in the Business

I had the joy of making two new friends today. Both are Christian authors, and I met both of them in different writer forums I subscribe to online. Spending the time I do on some of these forums, I'm struck by the sheer number of little known, or unknown, authors out there. We all have our favorites, but we seem to hear the same few names bandied about, depending upon the niche in which we're interested. Readers immersed in the Christian publishing world know Francine Rivers, Brock & Bodie Thoene, Jan Karon, Karen Kingsbury, and a handful of other names--and well we should. These folks are prolific writers of quality Christian fiction (C'mon, Francine! Still waiting for the next one!). They're at the top of the heap and deserve to be so.


The proliferation of self-publishing opportunities and small publishing firms now in the marketplace has given the "common" author (such as myself) an inroad to the industry. This is both good and bad. The bad is that, without the quality control imposed by the traditional publishing houses, there's a lot of pretty lousy self-published books littering both online and brick-and-mortar bookstores. The good is that there's also a lot of really good books there, too; books that would never have found sponsorship taking the traditional publishing route.

As I encounter these authors, I'm going to link to their homepages from this blog and from my Web site (, for those who didn't see my previous announcement). I'll note their genres along with their names, so you don't waste time clicking links only to find yourself at a Christian romance writer's site when what you really wanted was a good fantasy.

So, having said that, there will be a slowly growing list of links at the left of this page. You might not recognize their names (yet!), but please take a moment to peruse their sites. You may find something interesting. I'm sure they'd love to hear any feedback you may feel led to provide, whether it's a guestbook signature or e-mail contact on their site, or a reader review on

Oh, and I wouldn't mind any of those things, either! :-)

Friday, June 20, 2008

"Houston, we have a publisher!"

This'll teach me not to whine.

I received a contract from OakTara Publishing for A Prophet's Tale: The Journey Begun! Looks like we're back on track. Jonah has a future!

Jennifer, you were, of course, right. The sweetest thing about God saying "wait" is what it means and how it feels when He says "yes".

Thanks to all for your prayers. I'll keep you posted on the production schedule.

(This is so cool...!)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Rejection (No real writer's blog is complete without a post like this)

There's a favorite Dilbert cartoon of mine, where Alice is gloomy due to negative feedback she's received. Dilbert and Wally try to comfort her, to which she replies that it's easy for men to handle rejection because they have so much experience with it. Wally replies, "We're lucky that way." (Apologies to Scott Adams--he made it a lot funnier than this)

Assign an exponential factor to that experience and you have the typical author trying to get published.

As an update, I've submitted queries (usually single-page proposals by authors designed to sell their projects to a prospective agent or publisher) to around a dozen agents in the last couple weeks. My motivation is to sample various rejection systems employed by selected agencies. To receive a request for further information, or an outright offer to represent, would just ruin my experiment, so I'm relieved that so far no one has responded with interest in my project. I intend to write a book on rejection letters...oh, okay, okay! So nothing in the last two sentences was true. We all cope differently.

True to the adage, I'm collecting a nice little pile of rejection letters. Some are impersonal form letters, some are actually very nicely worded ("not for me, but best of luck!"). When I have enough to wallpaper my study, I'll have come close to paying my dues. My tender ego prompted me to only approach agents who I thought would reject me gently. So far, my strategy has worked out pretty well. :-) :-(

There is hope, though. This week I sent a package to a new, small publisher, from whom I think I have a pretty good chance getting a favorable response. They ask for 6-8 weeks to get back to you, though, so the waiting game has kicked off. Until then, I'll continue to probe the industry for a window carelessely left cracked open.

So, rejection becomes important. It builds character, I'm told. By the time all is said and done, I'll be an even bigger character than I am now (if you can imagine that!). So, really, I'm in a great position. Being a guy with Alice's averred history of rejection AND and author who goes out actually looking for more, I'm prepared to face whatever life throws my way.

I'm lucky that way.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Blogs Of Note

While waiting to hear the results of further querying on behalf of Jonah, I've done some customizing. No, not the nip-and-tuck kind--although that's probably not a bad idea, if I decide to post a picture on the cover of the next book. Nope, this is on the blog. You may notice an expanding list of linked blogs on the left side of the page. Stay tuned. It'll grow.

I'm mixing family and friends' blogs with writing blogs partly because it's an interesting mix, but mostly because I don't know how to do it any other way (at least not conveniently). There are a couple of literary agents' blogs I've linked, you'll notice. Whether you're a writer or not, these are really cool. I highly recommend bopping over for a moment or two and buzzing through their musings. ("Bopping" and "buzzing" are technical editing terms used only in the highest circles of literary critique. No, really!) The styles are hilarious--painfully so, if you're a writer; not so painfully, if you just like to read witty stuff.

Anyway, take a look. You'll enjoy the trip!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Well...Maybe A Little Longer

I received a very nice rejection message from the agent I contacted most recently concerning A Prophet's Tale. This is normal. I'm not bummed...

Actually, for those who haven't investigated the publishing industry, it's a very curious beast. There are different approaches to getting a work published:
  • Self-publishing - Do it yourself. There are several ways to self-publish--everything from going straight to a printer to hiring a middle-man organization to do some of the work for you. You also pay all the costs, of which there are many.
  • POD - Publish on demand. There are companies that will help you essentially self-publish, but offer a variety of associated services (editorial, artwork, retaining printer, obtaining ISBN number, etc.). As the name implies, copies of the book are only run off as they are needed/ordered.
  • Subsidy Publishers - These folks charge the author a fee, usually for a package of services similar to POD (indeed, some are POD outfits). A close relative to subsidy publishers are the "vanity publishers" (so close are they that some in the industry don't really distinguish between the two). They charge you for services and then it's up to you to do all the marketing and selling.
  • Traditional - This, as the name implies, is the way most writers prefer to get their works on the street. You contact a mainline publishing company (query, proposal, partial manuscript, full manuscript--don't get me started; there's a bunch of ways to try to get a foot in the door) and hope you hit the timing just right for the genre to interest someone who reads dozens and dozens and dozens of contacts every week. Many publishers don't accept "unsolicited" manuscripts--only those from established authors, referrals, from contacts at writers' conferences, or via literary agents. This last avenue is the one I'm probing at the moment. Trouble is, many of the literary agencies are just as swamped as the publishers they ultimately approach on the writer's behalf, and so to attract an agent can be as tough as attracting an editor at a publishing house.

And there are several shades in between each of these. Like any other private industry, the publishing houses are motivated by profit. What sells, what doesn't sell. The manuscript might be flawless, but if the various editorial and marketing committees it must meet don't think they'll make a profit--or at least get their investment back out of it--it goes into the rejection pile.

The bad part is that there are a lot of nefarious folks who take advantage of new authors who are either naive or overly anxious to get their book published--or both. The writer gets sucked into a really bad deal and is often left with a garage full of poorly produced books to try to get rid of. And they're broke. There are several Web sites dedicated to exposing the bad guys--e.g., Predators and Editors--but ya still gotta do the homework.

Ben Amittai was published by a subsidy publisher. That's okay--there are pros and cons of each of the above approaches, as long as the outfit you end up with is reputable. It depends upon your goals and the level to which you're able (or want) to immerse yourself in the industry. Do you want to eventually go full-time, or will it remain an avocation? How much marketing do you want to do? Is yours a niche book you really only want to get out to a few friends and family, or does it have broad appeal? You know, stuff like that.

As you may have surmised, I'm currently working the traditional route. I've been encouraged to do so by good knowledgeable folks who have read the manuscript and think it has merit. I've approached three agents thus far (one in person at a conference and two via electronic means). The first simply wasn't interested in the genre, and the second two--although complimentary about the project--couldn't take it on at this time. If you've ever read or heard stories of successful authors' experiences, they usually include a sizable stack of rejections before ever getting their first bite. My stack is growing, but there are still dues to pay.

So, this has been a Publishing for Dummies, entry (Hey! There's an idea! Naw, I'm sure there's already one out there). No insult to you reading this, by the way. The dummy is more likely the one writing it. As you may well imagine, there's so much more to the industry than the brief sketch I just tapped out, but I'll stop here. I'll keep you posted on how things go with further contacts, but there will be a time limit. I don't want A Prophet's Tale to come out ten years after Ben Amittai. Jonah can't run forever!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Update - A Prophet's Tale and Mind Wanderings

Remiss have I been (apologies to Yoda) in not updating sooner. Between closing out the semester, getting grades tallied and posted, two more grandchildren, and a whole bunch more excuses, the blog has suffered. Let's see...what has happened (other than my excuses, that is!)

A Prophet's Tale is still on the front burner. I've submitted a query to a fine agency and hope to hear something within the next couple of months. This part of the series has been a joy to write and I'm really excited about getting it published. Pray, if you will, that the avenue for the book will become clear. And many thanks to those who continue to ask, "When's the next book coming out?" Questions like that keep the heat up under the project. I hope to have news soon--and, of course, I hope the news is good! Meantime...

If you've seen the movie Miss Potter (excellent movie, by the way--highly recommended), the lead-in dialog (repeated at the very end) is very insightful. In it, Miss Potter avers that you never know where a book will lead you after you write the first line. If you've ever written fiction, you'll nod your head, knowing exactly what she's talking about. The story does indeed take on a life of it's own. I recall, when working through a scene in the latter part of The Journey Begun, sitting back in my chair and musing, "Now, that's interesting. I wonder why he did that." A minor character--one I originally brought in as little more than a prop--suddenly did something quite unexpected and changed the whole climax of the story. So, I leaned forward and started punching keys just to see what would happen next. (Nervous yet? It gets scarier...)

It wasn't so much the 'little voices in my head' thing as it was the story carrying me along in its own current. And, like the Mississippi or the Tanana Rivers, the channel changes from day to day--it's never the same river viewed twice in succession. That's the joy of writing. The story jinks and twists seemingly on its own. Where you thought you were going yesterday--or, at least, how you thought you were going to get there--is no longer the same. So, when you hear an author say, "The story kind of wrote itself", he's not being coy. She's being quite honest about the process. And I'm glad, too. If the story didn't write itself to some extent, I'd sure never be able to push one out. Of that I'm convinced.

Hope to have more news soon. Thanks for sticking with me!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

And Another Girl!

I was going to post the details of the newest member of the family, but my daughter, Janelle, beat me to it and did a job I could never hope to match.

See Cambria Jewel May at

You'll be glad you did!

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Girl!

I'd like to share in the joy of introducing our newest granddaughter: Lillian Jeanette Judisch. All the vitals and a few pictures are on Norman Regional Hospital's Web site as well as Neal and Janice's blog.

Welcome to our world, Lillian!

At Last!

It's simple. It's not fancy. But it's functional. My Web site at is finally up and running. I'll be adding more information and functionality to it as time goes on, but at least there's something to look at!

A Prophet's Tale: The Journey Begun is coming along nicely. The manuscript is being, I mean edited by a professional writer. So, providing she doesn't tell me to scrap the whole thing and start over, we should be closer to getting the first installment of the series on the street soonest. There's a brief synopsis on the Web site. Take a look!

The agent to whom I submitted my book proposal politely declined the option. He believes the project has merit; however, he's already representing someone with a similar work and is concerned the two projects would be in competition with each other. (Boy, that made me curious!) All the more reason to get A Prophet's Tale out as soon as possible. Hope to have more news soon.

Monday, March 10, 2008

An Easter Story

Greetings, all! This is a short story I wrote for the Easter season. For those who haven't already read it, I hope you enjoy!

A Bean

“Don’t breathe on it!”

“Why not?”

“’Cuz you’ll kill it.”

“Will not.”

Tabitha lowered her head closer to the top of the glass dish and nudged him aside with her shoulder. “Will, too.”

“Who says?” Adam frowned at his sister and leaned back in, vying for position over the corner of the tiled garden table.

She rolled her eyes. “Everybody knows that.”

The twins peered at the square of pink sponge lying in a puddle of water at the bottom of the dish. The morning sun filtered in through gaps in the lace curtain scrim, splaying a swirling pattern of angles and lines across the pockmarked rubber surface. A thin ray of sunlight glowed pale off a single bean seed lying naked at the center of the sponge.

Adam squinted at the tiny kernel. “See anything?”

“No.” Tabitha pouted and leaned back from the dish. “I don’t think it’s gonna work.”

It had been two whole days—two whole days, mind you—since their mother helped her six-year olds with the project. It was a simple task: a glass saucer, a small piece of sponge cut with the kitchen shears (Tabitha got to do that part) and one seed from the pocket of a paper package mother kept next to her cloth gloves on the table shelf. Adam tipped the measuring cup over the edge of the saucer and they watched the sponge grow and darken as the water wound its way through the fibers toward the top.

“I get to put the seed on!”

“Mommy said I could!” Tabitha threw an anxious look up at her mother.

Rachel smiled. “You both can. Adam, you dip the bean in the water on the bottom of the saucer to get it wet, and then give it to your sister. Tabitha, you can put it on the sponge.”

With the greatest care—and more time than he really needed to take—her young son lowered the dry seed into the puddle and rolled it around until it was drenched. Then he rolled it around some more. Then—


“Adam, that’s enough. Give the bean to Tabitha, dear.” Rachel raised her eyebrow, but the smile remained. “Good boy."

Her daughter laid the seed gently on the saturated sponge and turned it around twice, just to get it right.

“That’s all?” Adam looked up at his mother.

“That’s all. Now we wait.”

Tabitha looked skeptically at the soggy brown bean. “How long?”

“God will decide that. We’ll keep watch together, okay?” Their mother hugged them both around the shoulders and rose to prepare dinner. The twins sighed and, after inspecting the seed one more time, scrambled to their feet and ran off to play.

Two days. Still nothing.

“I think God forgot.” Adam propped his elbows onto the low table and rested his head in his hands.

Tabitha frowned. “I think it’s dead. You probably drowned it in the water.”

“Did not.” Adam creased his brow. “Poppa says seeds have to die before they can start a new plant.”

“That’s silly. If it’s dead, how can it come back to life?” His sister shook her head.

Adam pouted. “I don’t know, but that’s what he said. Ask him!”

“Ask me what?” Josh squatted down behind his children and peered over their shoulders at the pale bean.

“Poppa, Adam said seeds have to die before they can make a new plant.” Tabitha crawled onto her father’s knee as he settled to the floor. Adam squirmed onto his other knee.

“That’s true, sweetheart. Did you know that Jesus said that once, too?” Josh stroked his daughter’s hair. “He spoke of a grain of wheat falling to the ground where it would die. Only if it did that would it produce much, much more wheat.”

“Why would he say something like that?” Tabitha laid her head against her father’s chest and stared at the lonely bean through the side of the glass dish.

“He was talking about himself. It was nearly time for him to die, to give his life so that many, many more men would live.”

Adam frowned. “I don’t like that he died.”

“Ah, but he had to, son.” Josh smiled and mussed his son’s hair. “Just like the grain must die to give life to more stalks of wheat, if he hadn’t died, none of us would have any chance at life, the true life that God wants us to have. Jesus’ death meant our life. It was meant to be. It was God’s plan.”

Tabitha raised her head. “Why would God plan something like that?”

Josh’s eyes went distant. “Many, many years before Jesus came, God made a rule. He said, ‘unless blood is shed—or, unless something or someone dies—sin can’t be taken away.’”
“What’s sin, Poppa?”

Josh smiled. “You know what happens if Mommy tells you to clean up your toys and you don’t do it?”

His daughter frowned. “Yes.”

“And you know what she says when you don’t put your dirty clothes in the hamper, even though you know you should?”


Adam pulled at the hairs on his father’s arm and hummed a quiet tune.

“Sin is like that, Tabby.” Josh tipped his daughter’s chin up and looked into her light hazel eyes. “It’s a bad thing we do, something we know God wouldn’t like. It’s also not doing something we should do that we know he would like. When we do those things, we deserve to be punished, too, just like you are when you disobey Mommy.”

“Do you mean God spanks us?”

Josh laughed, but then he grew very serious. “Adam, are you listening, too?”

His son nodded and smoothed the hairs on his father’s arm.

Josh continued. “We sin and that keeps us from ever being able to be with God because God won’t ever allow sin in his presence. Sin is final, and so whatever replaces it must be final.” He wrapped his arms around his children and pulled them close. “Spanking is not final, because you can always sin again after you stop hurting. Death is the most final thing man knows.”

Adam’s eyes misted. “You mean like when Grandma died?”

“Yes, Adam. Like when Grandma died.” Josh squeezed his son’s shoulder.

Tabitha tugged at her father’s sleeve. “But why Jesus?”

“Because God also made a rule that whatever took away sin by shedding it’s blood—or dying—must be perfect, that there would be nothing wrong with it. Back when he made the rule, they chose animals that were perfectly formed, that showed nothing wrong on the outside, to take away sin. But that only took away their sin until they sinned again. It wasn’t forever.” Josh brushed an errant wisp of auburn hair from his daughter’s forehead.

Adam craned his neck up and looked at his father’s face upside-down. “And Jesus took sin away forever when he died?”

Josh grinned at his son. “Exactly, son! Jesus was forever perfect, and so his death was a forever cure for our sins. He gave up his perfect life to do just that, in obedience to his father in heaven.”

Tabitha cocked her head. “For everybody?”

“For everybody who would believe, Tabby.” Josh kissed her lightly on the forehead.

Adam wrinkled his brow. “Why wouldn’t everybody believe? It’s so easy.”

“It’s not as easy as you might think, sweetheart.” Rachel kneeled on the floor beside her husband and stroked the hair over the nape of his neck with her fingertips.

“Why not?”

She pursed her lips. “Pride, mostly. We like to think we know more than God does, or that we don’t need God’s help—that we can do it all by ourselves. But we’ve never been able to be perfect, not in the whole history of man. So, some have changed the rules and decided you just have to be ‘good enough’.”

“How good is that?”

Josh winked. “That’s the problem, son. If we just had to be good enough, we’d never know what good enough was. How would we ever know whether we’ve done just one too many things wrong—sinned just one too many times? That’s a scary thing to think about when it comes time to stand before God and account for our lives. It’s his heaven and he decides who stays and who doesn’t. Not we.”

Tabitha frowned. “So God didn’t change the rule, then?”

Josh shook his head. “No, sweetie, he didn’t. He hasn’t changed his mind about a thing.”

Wordless moments passed. The only sound breaking the stillness was the tick-tick of the cat clock over the stove. Rachel leaned her head against her husband’s and kissed him through his mop of curly brown hair.

Adam shifted on his father’s lap. “So, Jesus died, then. I thought we were going to see him in heaven.”

Rachel smiled. “We will, Adam. You see, Jesus didn’t stay dead. God brought him back to life on the third day after he died. He lives in heaven where we will see him when we die. That’s what he meant by the seed must die to bring forth life. He came back to life on Easter and he will bring many more—those who have believed—to life in him when he decides it’s time. We call that ‘resurrection’.”

Tabitha swung her head up toward her mother. “Hey, this is the third day since we planted the bean. Maybe it will come back to life—“

“You mean like that?” His family’s eyes followed Adam’s gaze to the little glass dish glistening in the fading sunlight of the late afternoon.

Sometime during their conversation, the minute seed had split at the top. Peeking through the thin veneer was a pure green sprout arcing to free itself from the seed’s cramped womb.

“Yes, son. Like that.”

Thursday, February 28, 2008

...Or Later

Yes, the Web site is still in the works and still hope to have something up by mid-March. In the interests of making it a quality site, though, time is important. Darrell Jacobs, a Web programmer has been working it, but wants to enlist the help of a good Web designer. It's that left-brain/right-brain thing. The left brain is in gear; the right brain just needs to catch up!

Will keep you posted on the progress. Meanwhile, keep praying the literary agency I've approached regarding A Prophet's Tale will be receptive to the project. They've got their hands full with dozens and dozens of proposals coming in to each agent, each month. It takes awhile to sort through them all and determine what's the best fit for the reading public at any given time. Tough job; ya gotta love the industry to do it! Pray for them, also, would you. It's a Christian agency and they have a commission to get the Word out, too. You don't need the name of the agency to pray for those who promote good literature and God's Word.

Hopefully, I'll have more specifics for you in the future.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Coming Soon!

I've decided it's time to step into the big time and develop a Web site. I know, I know, "Bruce, you just live on the edge, don't you?" I mean, it's not like everyone else has one it?

My URL is (original, huh?) and I'm working with Darrell Jacobs, whom I met through my teaching at Northwest Vista College, to develop the site. There's nothing there yet, but, by golly, there will be soon! We're lookng toward the middle of March to get it established. Will keep you posted.

Meanwhile, I'm finishing a book proposal for A Prophet's Tale: The Journey Begun to submit for agency. I'll be sending it out this weekend, so pray there's a receptive agent at the other end, if you would please. The project is coming together nicely and I'm really excited about it.

Here's wishing everyone a great day in the Lord!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

My Project

I mentioned my project in the last post, so I suppose I should introduce it for the benefit of those who don't already know.

As I've already admitted to writing fiction, I can boil that down to historical fiction. My current book is Ben Amittai: First Call, which is based upon 2 Kngs 14:25 and centers on the minor prophet Jonah ben Amittai. It's a novella that introduces the full series on Jonah, A Prophet's Tale, the first volume of which I hope to have out this year.

First Call is a story about Jonah receiving his first call to prophecy. According to 2 Kngs 14:25--which carries the first mention of Jonah in the Bible--God promised to restore the land to Israel. Well, let's let God speak for himself:

23In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, began to reign in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years...25 He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher. 26For the LORD saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter, for there was none left, bond or free, and there was none to help Israel. 27 But the LORD had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash. (2 Kings 14:23, 25-27 [ESV])

How Jonah delivered that message of restoration is the story line of Ben Amittai: First Call. He and his lifelong friend, Elihu ben Barak--a renown Israelite warrior--travel to Samaria to deliver the message. There is peril and intrigue along the way, as well as inner turmoil as an unsure Jonah deals with his call to prophecy. They arrive in Samaria just as an assassination attempt is made on the newly crowned Jeroboam. How they gain entry to the court and audience with the kings is...well, you'll just have to read it to find out. If you're interested, click the below picture to see where to get it.

Hope you'll take the trip with Jonah and Elihu. And I hope you enjoy it!

ACW Conference

Had a great time in Dallas this weekend at the American Christian Writers conference. Steve Laube, of the Steve Laube Agency, and authors Rene Gutteridge and Frank Ball provided the instruction on everything from the basics of writing, to the business side of the industry.

It was a small conference—only 60-70 folks—but we learned a lot and made some new friends (see pix below). I had a chance to meet with Steve Laube one-on-one to discuss my writing project and came away with some great advice.

I would say “and a great time was had by all”, but that, of course, would be in the passive voice, and we authors, well, we just don't do that...

Monday, February 11, 2008

But Why Fiction?

Good question! Perhaps it’s good to start with what is fiction is and where it fits in?

The foremost purpose of fiction is to entertain. It’s what makes us desire a story in the first place. If it doesn’t do that, it won’t be considered successful by the attracted reader, any message the author may have between the lines will be disregarded, and the author himself perhaps even distrusted. Well, that sounds pretty harsh, doesn’t it? Is entertainment really so important in today’s society? Uh huh.

Ours is a society hooked on entertainment. From the ubiquitous white iPod cords dangling from our ears, to interactive online gaming spanning the globe, to high definition video and audio components no self-respecting American household would now be caught without, entertainment has become much more a focus in our lives than a diversion. Our consumer industry strives to produce better and better labor-saving devices that allow us more and more leisure time to fill with—that’s right—entertainment. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34), and America pays her entertainers exponentially more than people in any other industry at the operating level. Is entertainment important? As my dear dad always says, “I hope to tell ya!”

Does that then mean we bow to the demands of society and just pump out stories to feed the need? No, I think it means we meet society where it is and provide the Christian perspective through well written prose (and poetry) that uplifts, convicts and informs us there’s something better than mere entertainment. C.S. Lewis put it beautifully—as he is wont to do—when he wrote “I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more by that than by any directly apologetic work. The difficulty we are up against is this. We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so; but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. As long as that situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible. We must attack the enemy’s line of communication. What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects—with their Christianity latent.” [bold mine] (C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, Eerdmans, p. 93.)

Granted, here Lewis was talking about non-fiction, works of science. However, given his own literary history, I fully expect he reckoned the same to be true of fiction. The infusion of Christian values into good quality literature—fiction and non-fiction— is powerful in its subtlety. Does it perhaps sound a little subversive, even sneaky? I think it’s as an honest endeavor as that which produced the parables of Christ himself, the master storyteller.

And so I write fiction. I’ll defer to the risk-taking reading public to decide whether or not I am “qualified to write a good popular book.”