Bits and Pieces; Odds and Ends

Well, I had almost given up.

 

And then this:

Hey, Bruce, just wanted to say congratulations for winning the CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award this month. Your posts on The Warden and the Wolf King were awesome. So glad you’re a part of CSFF. (Christian Science Fiction Fantasy Blogtour)

CSFFTopBloggerJuly14

Now, back to my despair!

I can tell anyone reading this blog post that it is incredibly frustrating being a published author in today’s publishing environment. I have written three books in the series, “The Chronicles of Jonathan Steel”. After the second book came out, my publisher, Charisma, “released” me from a five book contract. But, I and already written the next two books in the series. I put a few feelers out to interested publishers and had my agent try and generate some interest in the third book. No response.

I have self published before and at the first annual Platform conference in Nashville, Michael Hyatt told me to self publish again. Take control of your own destiny, he suggested. I turned to Westbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson where Michael Hyatt was once CEO. That book became available in December, 2014 about six weeks later than my third book would have come out through Charisma.

Unfortunately, the third book has not received as much attention than the first two. In fact, after months of writing this blog and promoting my book here and through Facebook and Twitter I had become very discouraged. I had all 13 books in the series mapped out. But, it seemed interest was dwindling in my book series.

HopeAgain_04At the same time, B&H Publishing approached me and my co-author, Mark Sutton during the ICRS, the largest Christian media trade show in the country. In July, 2012 I was asked by B&H to update our depression book, Conquering Depression. This development was a complete shock and a pleasant development. But, it would mean I would now be dividing my time between Jonathan Steel and a new book on depression.

The last two years have been tough but ultimately rewarding. “Hope Again: A 30 Day Plan for Conquering Depression” will be released in September and soon, our website will debut. I am currently working feverishly on the website and social media and marketing and publicity and . . .

But, what about Jonathan Steel? The fourth book in the series is already written. In fact, the original manuscript was responsible for securing that five book series deal with Charisma. But, the original novel was 150,000 words long. My contract with Charisma specified a maximum book length of 75,000 words! What was I to do? It would mean seriously chopping down the fourth book to half of its length! I considered breaking the book into two parts, but the story just wouldn’t hold up. I went to work, painfully and carefully whittling down the manuscript. It was tough, let me tell you. As my books have come out, I have had the great fortune of working with an excellent editor and my writing has improved. This is a great lesson every aspiring novelist should pay attention to. Spend the time and money to get an editorial input on your manuscript. You will learn so much and your writing will improve or you will walk away in total frustration.

Now, with my former contract kaput, I have to decide what to do with the fourth book. Back in April, I made a decision to take the new, shorter edit and the old, longer manuscript and bring them together. The shorter work had so much more going for it, but the longer manuscript was meatier with more character development and lots of new backstory. A shocking development occurred in the narrative as I rewrote the book for the shorter version and I was excited about the potential.

But, again I became discouraged. Should I press on with the series? How could I afford another self-publishing package in the tens of thousands when the third book just wasn’t bringing in the funds to offset these expenses? But, as I started in on the third revision of the book, I got excited about some story changes based on hints and clues I placed in “The 11th Demon”. I really want to get this book out there.

And then, I decided to check out a relative’s new book on Amazon. I can’t reveal her real name, but her pen name is Lorraine Britt. I read some of the reviews of her book and wondered, “What about my books?” I had checked out only one review for “The 13th Demon” that called it an “honest effort” and I was afraid to go back and check for more reviews. But, I was pleasantly surprised! The reviews definitely reflect the improvement in my writing so that was a relief. And, as I read the reviews I had to keep pinching myself. People actually like my books? They want to read more books?

ufo

It is late on a  Friday night and my discouragement had reached a new high (or low, depending on how you look at it). But, after reading the reviews, I have made a final decision. “The 10th Demon: Children of the Bloodstone” will be released in some form or fashion by November, 2014. I am strongly considering forming my own independent publishing endeavor. The reason? The fourth book will definitely lead to a spin off science fiction series called “The Node of God” if it succeeds. And, I have several other books planned. These are NOT in the genre of Christian Speculative Fiction and I am pretty discouraged with fiction publishing by traditional publishers right now. I may only have a small group of readers who like my characters and want to read my books, what Michael Hyatt calls a “tribe”. And, I imagine we are a strange tribe indeed to want to follow Jonathan Steel on his quest to rediscover his memory and his life. But, I have always lived on the edge of the strange, odd, and edgy.

If you’d like to see the fourth book finished, just drop me a comment. I need the encouragement. And for now, I will cling to this one thought: God is not done with me yet and I will never give in, never give up.

Check back soon for more information on my new website promoting “Hope Again: A 30 Day Plan for Conquering Depression”.

The Warden and the Wolf King Book Review – Part 3

wolfkingpic2

I wrote about Leeli yesterday. But, today I want to finish with three truths I took away from the story. These may not be the messages that Andrew intended, but they are messages I took away from this wonderful story. So, what did the characters and the story of “The Warden and the Wolf King” teach me?

Evil does not always take on the expected form, particularly in the beginning.

Every good story must have a compelling and dangerous villain. From book one, I have been waiting impatiently to find out more about Gnag the Nameless. Try as I might, I could not imagine what Gnag looked like. He was not only nameless, he was faceless! Was he a reptile? Was he a wolf? Was he some other hideous manifestation of animal/man crossover?

I must confess, when I finally met Gnag the Nameless I was, well, underwhelmed. This was the creature responsible for an evil wave of Fangs overtaking the world? Really? Surely we can do better than this, Andrew. But, I trusted Andrew. I knew that the best villains are not necessarily the most vicious appearing villains. The best villains are subtle, almost ordinary, and certainly instill a sense of overconfidence in those who oppose such a villain. Hmm. Sounds remarkably similar to our own Enemy. He is subtle. He moves behind the scenes. And, he assumes a pleasing or nonthreatening appearance. But, he is NOT nameless!

Andrew does not disappoint in the area of bringing out the worst in Gnag. I cannot even begin to describe the events but there is no way any reader could ever be disappointed by Gnag’s ultimate plan and his ultimate appearance.

My take on this was how the Adversary works quietly behind the scenes in our lives. He places obstacles and crises in our way to trip us up. He throws his minions at our daily lives. We get frustrated, angry, and disillusioned and we often don’t even know why. The Adversary at this stage is truly nameless, faceless, and loving every minute of it. And then, through a glimpse of Truth through the eyes of Spirit, we see how Satan has tried to stop us from doing good. And now, in the light and in the open, the Adversary becomes the Beast that he is. And that is when we must choose — fight or flight — stand and engage in spiritual battle or run away and hide. Andrew has shown us that the fight can be intimidating and we can think we are losing but God will bring us the victory over an adversary who is already defeated! Thank you, Andrew for that insight.

The plan we have for our lives is not always the plan God has for our lives.

Kalmar did not want to be a king. He just wanted to indulge his artistic expression. This desire to avoid what others wanted him to do with his life led to his big mistake of singing the song that converted him into a wolf. Of course, being a wolf placed him in the desperate situation of fighting to retain his true identity and forced him into the very situation that led him to king like behavior. Andrew deftly and authentically shows Kalmar’s struggles in the final book. He takes Kalmar literally all over the place and through the story, Kalmar grows. Not only does he end up becoming the King, but his reluctance to be the king is the very thing that makes him a good king — the servant king.

In my own personal life, I know that God has taken me down paths I never imagined. Becoming an author, a dramatist, an apologist, and a public speaker was not in my plan. But, through the years of crises and refinement in the fire of depression, God has taken me to the place in life where I have found my purpose. And, in finding that purpose, I have found true joy. Unfortunately, the joy often comes at a price as we see in “The Warden and the Wolf King”. You just need to read it to see what I mean.

Running from God will leave us confused and unhappy and out of phase with the world. When we turn toward God along the path we have been avoiding, true fulfillment happens and we glimpse the eternal plan of God and see our place in it.

Janner just doesn’t want to be the warden. He doesn’t want to have to take care of his little brother. He wants to read. He wants to settle down in the huge library of ancient books; to get lost in the lines of poetry and essays and stories. And yet, in his desire for this we see his unease, his displeasure with a sense that everything is not quite right for him. He reluctantly takes on his role as warden with disdain and ultimately guilt. Of course, we see Janner’s brave protection of his brother in spite of his inner monologue of guilt and despair. And, ultimately it is Janner’s journey I most identified with.

Ultimately, we want to do God’s will for our lives and at times, we resent that. But, we know it is the good and right thing to do so we press on. And, in the perseverance, God begins to shape us and mold us into the person He intends us to be. Then there comes that moment, when our vision transforms from the momentary to the eternal and we see through God’s eyes the grand plan unfolding from the beginning of time and our place in it and we give in to that plan; we open our mind and our heart to the inevitable; we lose ourselves in the glory of His purpose with no regard for the price. And, in that moment we are most like Christ; a pale reflection in truth but still a connection with the sacrificial Lamb that is our salvation.

Thank you, Andrew for a wonderful tale that works on so many levels to convey Truth to a world drowning in the Adversary’s lies. I know that children (and adults) will enjoy this wonderful tale for a long, long time. And, I hope that we haven’t seen the end of the Jewels of Annieria.

To Find this book use this link.

For Andrew Peterson’s official book site this is the link. And Andrew’s personal site is here.

I gladly and with great anticipation received a copy of this book for this review. Readers of the first three books may feel appropriately envious!

Check out these other reviews of “The Warden and the Wolf King”:

Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Pauline Creeden
Vicky DealSharingAunt
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Ryan Heart
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis
Rachel Starr Thomson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

 

And, if you would like to check out a special offer for my three books in the Jonathan Steel Chronicles, go to the order page at 11thdemon.com.

The Warden and the Wolf King Book Review Part 2

wolfkingpic2Bitter disappoint burned in my chest. I had just found out I was being released from my 5 book contract with Charisma after my second book. It was late on the first night of Hutchmoot 2012 and I wandered the beautiful grounds of Redeemer Church in Nashville crushed and weepy. I made my way back into the sanctuary to listen to our hosts regale us with song and sat on the last pew. In front of me, a young girl, probably 5 or 6 squirmed on the pew beside her mother, restless and bored. On the stage Andrew Peterson was about to sing a number from his newest album, “Light for the Lost Boy”. He told us this story:

An artist told about growing up without knowledge of God. But, somehow he knew there was Someone to watch over him, a secret Companion. Later in life, this man came to know Christ and realized that God was always with him in the quiet, desperate moments of his life. Andrew decided to write a song about this secret companion. Then, he paused and called out to his daughter. The girl on the pew in front of me snapped to attention and with great delight ran up to the stage to sing with her father. As they sang, “The Voice of Jesus” I wept silently with joy that even in the midst of my depression and disappointment, the voice of Jesus still whispered hope and love. When she joined in with her father at the end of the song, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room and a hushed, reverent stillness gripped us all. In that moment we heard not just the voices of Andrew and his daughter. We also heard the Voice of Jesus. My despair lifted and the music calmed my soul and brought me a measure of sorely needed peace.

I tell you this because when I read of Leeli in “The Warden and the Wolf King” I hear the voice of Andrew Peterson’s daughter raised in song. In fact, song and music are integral to the story of this novel and permeate throughout the narrative. This shouldn’t surprise me. Andrew Peterson’s songs are more than catchy tunes. They are deep, thoughtful reflections on our life in this imperfect world and the redemption we find in Christ’s love.

Song is so important to the story of “The Warden and the Wolf King”. I remember reading “Lord of the Rings” as a teenager and being impatient when I came to long verses of song lyrics. Most of the time, I skipped over them. And, although the songs’ words gave some framework for the world of Middle Earth, I could have done without them.

Read the rest of this entry

The Warden and The Wolf King Book Review — Part 1

wolfkingpic2I was sitting at an outdoor table under a tent with my son Sean when Andrew Peterson plopped down next to us and began to eat his dinner. It was a cool September evening in Nashville at the 2012 Hutchmoot. Talking to Andrew was like talking to a long lost friend. The conversation meandered to children, much like the three jewels of Annieria in the Wingfeather Saga. Andrew scrunched up his face, shoved his nose in my son’s face and proclaimed: “You better behave, Sean me boy, or your father’ll have you hoisted up the petard!”

I’m sure Andrew doesn’t remember this. He said things like that to everyone at Hutchmoot, but we remember it well. And, it is that spirit of random abandonment to reality that flows through the Wingfeather Saga.

Being a alumnus of two Hutchmoots, I can easily see in Andrew’s writing his love for Buechner, Lewis, MacDonald, Tolkien, and Wendell Berry. He blends elements of fantasy, swashbuckling, and allegory with a touch of parable throughout his works all set against a lushly realized landscape. Now, I am an author of a book series. I am currently in the final edit on book four and I can tell you it is not easy keeping all the story lines coherent and moving in parallel. One of my pet peeves is with authors who set out to write a book series and run out of creative energy early on. They create immersive worlds, stunning characters, and set up elaborate plot lines and then just get lost in their own maze. The list of book series I have given up on is long. By book four, you can tell you are lost in a forest along with the author and there is no way to get out unless you turn back (reboot your story) or open up the Pandora’s box of contrivances and let loose the deus ex machina.

Read the rest of this entry

One Giant Leap . . .

45 Years Ago . . .

With bleary eyes I glanced at the clock. Almost 4 AM and somehow, I was still awake. I had just turned 14 and I was determined to watch the live broadcast of mankind’s first step onto the surface of the moon. What would happen? Would he sink in the lunar dust? Would a lunar xenooctopoid grab his leg and pull him under the surface of the lunar soil? Would his spacesuit explode in the vacuum and splatter frozen blood and guts all over the black and white camera poised to show the world this most historic moment?

My nephew, Keith, had decided to stay up with me. He was only 10 at the time and he was not happy about being awake at this early hour. My father, a raving space enthusiast, had gone on to bed. After all, he had to work the next day and all I had to do was sleep in on a hot, lazy July morning.

The year was 1969. The world was on fire. War protests raged across America demanding an end to the Vietnam War. Rock music filled with the raucous, explosive anger of millions of young adults vibrated across our radios. Angry women marched in the streets demanding equality. Fury still washed across the country from the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and racial tensions were at an all time high. And, most teenagers and young adults were high on acid, heroin, marijuana, speed, quaaludes, opium, hash, you name it. Our new president, Richard Nixon would soon be rocked by a political scandal that would force him out of office. Communism in the guise of “socialism” was sweeping across the world from the USSR and into Eastern Europe, South America, and Cuba. Every single minute of every single day, I lived under the threat of instantaneous mutual nuclear annihilation. My future was bleak. Would I end up in a body bag on the other side of the world? Would I die in a race riot or war protest? What kind of world was I inheriting?

Read the rest of this entry

Awake My Soul!

Summer is here along with the heat and humidity. I wrote in my last post that soon I will launching a website dedicated to depression and our new upcoming book, “Hope Again: A 30 Day Plan For Conquering Depression”. So, I dug through my previous posts and found this little story I wrote for the now defunct website, Posterous. It is set in the dead of winter, a reflection of the cold, dead feeling one can experience with depression. But, it is a story of hope!

Camellia in the snow

 

Awake My Soul

I do not move.

I am quiescent and still.

Movement for me is pain. Life is pain.

The trees outside are harsh and bare. Winter has stripped them of vigor and life. Gray fingers claw at the even grayer sky. Even the clouds do not move. The air is still. No wind. No breeze. No life.

My daughter has placed me here on the porch. I feel the sting of cold on my cheeks but I can ignore it. I have ignored all feeling for months now. Since Tom died, I have had no reason to move.

My daughter has wrapped a scarf around my neck and tucked it into the woolen sweater Tom gave me last year for Christmas. I can still smell him on it when I choose to acknowledge my sense of smell.

The air is so cold, it numbs my face. The numbed is numbed even more.

“Why is she out there on the porch?” That is my son-in-law inside the warm house.

“I’m tired of her, Richard. I can’t take this anymore.” My daughter has tears in her voice. I cannot feel them. I cannot touch them. The tears mean nothing to me.

“She’ll freeze to death.” Richard says.

“That’s the idea.”

There is a profound silence. And then, subdued sobbing; quiet, subtle.

A white flake shimmies down the still air and lands on my nose. I choose not to feel it melt. So intricate, so beautiful in its design — one of a kind — it dies on my cold skin. It dies on the already dead. For, she has left me to die out here alone; cold; still; frozen.

The sliding door opens behind me and a waft of warm air bathes the back of my head. I cannot feel it on my neck for the scarf. Richard’s shadow falls over me from the lights inside the house; lights that try in vain to chase away the gray.

“You’ll have to forgive your daughter, Mom.” He says behind me. “She is very frustrated and wants to leave you out here to die.”

“I’m already frozen.” I whisper and he leans over me. His breath touches my forehead.

“Did you say something?”

“I’m already frozen.” I said more strongly. “Let me finish dying.”

My lips pull apart and I realize they have frozen together. I feel the pain as the first real sensation I have experienced in months.

Richard squats beside my wheelchair and for a second, I choose to notice the strong profile of his face; his angular cheekbones; his gently stubbled chin; his clear eyes. He is watching the trees.

“Winter is hard for all of us, Mom. Spring is coming. I want to tell you a secret. It is a deep and abiding secret that no one can know.”

More flakes are falling now and caressing my cheeks. I choose not to feel their gently touch. One lands on my cornea and I blink involuntarily. I must not do that again. But, try as a I might to ignore his statement, the attraction is there. What secret is he talking about?

“What secret?” My voice is a bare whisper.

“Virginia is stressed out because we have chosen to take a journey. It is a long and tedious journey and we will be gone for weeks. She doesn’t know what to do with you during that time. She can’t leave you alone. And, she isn’t going to leave you out here to die.” His breath streams away from him, a living thing full of warmth and moisture and the snowflakes eddy and swirl.

“Journey?”

“Rawanda. In Africa. There is a little girl. She needs a family.” He turns his head to me and his gaze is full and hot on my face. Tears mingle with the snowflakes. “She needs to know her grandfather. She needs to know what he was like. Only you can tell her that.”

Another snowflake hits my eye and melts. The moisture runs along my eyelid and I feel a hot tear trickle down my cheek. No! I cannot let this happen! I cannot feel!

“Will you come with us to Rawanda? Will you come with us to get your granddaughter?” His eyes are full and round and wet and the snow is covering his bare head, peppering his shoulders.

I feel something deep within stir from a slumber of unforgiving anger and frustration. The black dregs of my depression begin to drift away as the warmth stokes itself in my heart. No! I want to scream. No! I want to hold onto the stillness; the inertia; the coming of winter’s death. I try to ignore Richard’s gleaming eyes and his warm breath and when I subtly avert my gaze a flash of bright red burns my retinas. A lone flower dares to challenge the grayness from my camellia bush. The snow flakes are covering it now and it wants to be seen; it wants to look upward to the hidden sun for life and warmth; it wants to live.

The chair creaks; the ice breaks across my knees and I push, push, push up and out of the heaviness of my crypt of sorrow and I stumble to the flower. I brush away the snow with shaking hands and my tears anoint the petals with life. With life!

Awake my soul!

Awake!

I turn to my son-in-law who is standing with his mouth wide open and the snow covering his head and my daughter stumbles through the open door with her hands pressed to her tear streaked face and I feel the ice crack as I smile. “When do we leave?”

 

Don’t forget to pick up copies of “The Chronicles of Jonathan Steel” for your summer reading. You can go to the “Order” tab or check out 11thdemon.com.

A New Website is Coming along with Hope!

Check back on my website over the next two weeks. My co-author, Mark Sutton, and I will be launching a new website on August 12, 2014 for those suffering from depression. There will be lots of content and weekly blogs. I’ll announce more about it in the coming week. This is to support our new book, “Hope Again: A 30 Day Plan For Conquering Depression” releasing September 15, 2014.

My Father — A Testimonial on his 100th Birthday

In memory of my father, I would like to share an experience I had with my father the day I first saw a dead person! My father would have been 100 years old on June 13th if he had lived but he passed away in October, 2012. Here is my story:

loverboy

Tessie – Of Death and Roses

My father was 41 years old on the very day I was born. My two sisters and one brother were almost grown by then and my mother thought she was going through “the change”! Neither of my parents was prepared for the arrival of a new baby so late in their lives. Perhaps my father had forgotten how to play with a child or perhaps he was following in his father’s footsteps to be stoic and unemotional around your child. Whatever the reason, my mother’s instruction to me each and every day was not to “bother” your father when he “gets home from work.” I looked up to the thin, balding man in black rimmed glasses with some trepidation. In fact, there were times I feared him. And so it was on one particular day at the age of eight I had an odd connection with my father.

We were spending the weekend in the countryside of central Louisiana. There, the rolling hills of red clay were carpeted with towering pine trees and kudzu vines. The journey from Blanchard in the northwestern corner of the state to Saline near the center of the state took two lifetimes it seemed. At age eight, one and half hours easily passed for such an epoch. The winding roads always left me carsick and I had to avoid my cherished M&M’s and Pepsi cola until we arrived. But, when we turned right at the stop sign in Lucky just five miles from Saline and I gazed out the rearview window into the distance and saw the towering peak of Mount Driskill, I knew snack time was near.

I often daydreamed of what lived on Mount Driskill. It was the highest point in the state of Louisiana and the state’s only mountain. To my mind, it was Mount Doom with marching hordes of goblins and trolls and the tentacled sea monsters that populated my favorite television show, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. I would crane my neck around and rise up on my bare knees in the back seat of our Rambler to watch the mountain disappear in the pine trees behind us. I vowed that one day, I would climb that mountain. One day, I would beat the beasts of hell to the pinnacle and save the world from certain doom! But for now, I had to settle for gingerly turning around in my seat to avoid getting sick and breathing in the fresh air that came in through the open window.

We often stayed with my grandparents in a towering and crumbling ruin of a house filled with darkness and shadows and the smell of ancient sweat. The eaves sagged and sloped down from the huge tin roof. The stairs swayed in the middle as if beaten down by a thousand footsteps. The ceilings inside the house stretched a half a mile into the darkness and one bare bulb hung from this distant roof by a black wire in each room. If you bumped it, the light and stumbling shadows would fill the air with dizzying, swooping stuff of nightmares. I would run out of the room when these creatures descended and hide in my grandfather’s outhouse.

To this day, I have no idea what possessed my father to ask me to accompany him. He never invited me to go with him anywhere unless it was a family affair. But this Saturday morning was different. I was playing in my grandfather’s front yard avoiding the shifting shadow monsters in the house when my daddy came down the stairs and stopped to stare at me. He seldom stared at me. I was only a chance distraction from his piddling and guitar playing and jogging from one end of the house to the other or his jury-rigging of a broken air conditioner or a henhouse wall. Don’t get me wrong. I knew my father loved me. He sang to me and laughed at me and always kissed me once in the middle of my forehead every morning before he walked out the door. But, he never really looked at me. It was not until I was twenty years old at his brother’s funeral that he told me he loved me. But, I knew he loved me as well as I knew the sun would wallow up from its covers each morning and Sootie, my dog, would slobber all over my face when I sat on the back steps and werewolves were real just kept away from our house by my mother’s prayers and her bush of switches that could leave red welts on the skin of dinosaurs.

But, to look at me deep in thought? This was new. I stopped in my tracks and let the three headed monster I was chasing escape somewhere in the distant bluriness of my imagination and stared back. We stood like that in the stillness and the sound of cicadas buzzing and the trees creaking in the wind. A pine cone bounced beside me and I jumped.

“What is it, Daddy?” I whispered.

“Do you remember Mrs. Tessie?” He said.

I blinked. Mrs. Tessie was unforgettable. When we ventured to Saline, my parents always went to church on Sunday. The church was right behind me, across the street from my grandparents’ house. It was white washed and made of clapboard with a short steeple and a bell tower. It was not air conditioned and when we went to church, mother always made sure we sat next to a window to catch the breeze. Mrs. Tessie would appear out of nowhere. She was a short, thin woman with wild yellow hair and bright blue eyes. She always wore a purple hat with netting. But, she never pulled down the netting around her face and it flew up over her head like Peter casting his net for the fish Jesus brought to the Sea of Galilee. Mrs. Tessie would hurry over to our pew and descend on me like one of those funny birds that bends at the waist and dips its beak in a glass of water then bobs back up and tilts back and forth. Mrs. Tessie was like that only her nose wasn’t covered in felt.

“You are too pretty to be a boy! Isn’t he, Lena?” Tessie said to my mother. She would pat me on the head and then reach into her purse. I knew what was coming. It was the only reason I did not hide behind my mother. She pulled out two pieces of Juicy Fruit gum.

“Here you go, young man. You are a miracle from God. Don’t you forget it.” She would pat me on the head again and then bob up and down and hurry away to her favorite pew.

“Yes, Daddy. I remember Mrs. Tessie. She gives me gum.” I said.

My daddy just looked at me some more and nodded. “Well, she has died.”

I knew what it meant when something died. I lived on a farm. Animals died all the time. I didn’t like it. When my parakeet Cappy died, I cried for two days. When my horned toad died, I didn’t know it until it started stinking up the aquarium. When I picked him up he practically crumbled like one of those old mummies.

I didn’t know what to say to my daddy. It was sad that Mrs. Tessie had died. I would miss the gum. But, she was just one of the many people in my life. Back home, we had 45 cats and 26 dogs and it was sad when one of them died, but there was another one to take its place. Someone else would give me gum.

My daddy looked away then and wiped his face. He seemed to be coming to some kind of decision. He was sweating in the summer heat and beads of water dripped down his bare head into his eyebrows. At home, he would wear a cap with a handkerchief rolled up in the front to catch the sweat. “I’ve got to go see her family. You should go with me.”

I drew in a deep breath. “Go where, daddy?”

“To her house. To console her family.” He looked at me. “To tell them how sorry we are Mrs. Tessie has died. It would mean a lot to them if you came. Mrs. Tessie always loved you so much.”

“Okay.” I said. “I’ll go.”

Daddy nodded and led the way across the yard to the car. I started to open the back door and he shook his head. “You can sit up front with me.”

Sit up front? My face burned with excitement. I never got to sit Up Front. I ran around to the passenger door and hopped up onto the seat. In those days, seat belts were accessories and not required by law. So, I ended up tucking my knees under me with my hands on the dashboard so I could see. It was so different Up Front. As my daddy pulled out of the driveway and into the street, I almost got dizzy! I could see the gray road piling toward us and growing wider as the car ran over it and shoved it behind us. The dashed lines in the center of the road hurtled toward us and each time the car passed over one, I cringed waiting for the crash or the sound of laser fire as if they were energy beams shot at us by aliens.

Daddy was silent as we headed out away from the small town of Saline into the rolling hills covered by the pale green heads of thousands of watermelons. Saline was famous for its watermelons and they were everywhere covering every bare piece of land. They seemed kind of sad to me. It was as if the hills had a million green eyes all gazing to heaven pleading with God to rescue them from the hot, sandy earth; to spare them from being split open with their red meat exposed to the hungry mouths of people.

Daddy pulled the car off the road and down a dirt driveway to a small, dark gray house. The exterior had never been painted and the wood was gray streaked with green lichen and the dead husks of cicadas. The small front porch was dotted with men and women in their Sunday best. As we climbed out of the car, I began to feel a tremble of fear and anxiety. The people fell silent and their heads turned toward us with terrible swiftness. Some of the women’s faces were marred with dark streaks of tears. Some of the men wore frowns and blew smoke into the air. I froze in terror. I didn’t know why. These were the same men and women that sat around us in church. But, here on this gray porch in this hot, fetid afternoon they seemed like the very demons of the devil filled with a terrible knowledge, too terrible to share, too terrible to bear.

Then, the moment passed and as one, the people began to move again and speak in hushed whispers and their eyes drew away from me and I was no longer important to them. My daddy spoke to a young woman who glanced at me frequently and nodded as she whispered. Daddy took my hand and led me up the rickety stairs onto the porch. That is the first time I recall my Daddy taking my hand. His hand was dry and rough from working his garden and scaly with dead skin. But, his grip was intense as if he wanted to hold on to me to keep me from being swept away by the people who milled and swayed around us; as if some dark current from some rising river would wash me away.

We stepped into the living room of the small house. The air was thick with the fragrance of roses and six women sat in chairs and on a couch. Their faces glowed with an unearthly sheen. Their eyes bore a deep sorrow and hurt I had only seen in the face of my Sootie the day he climbed up under the house to die. I tried to reach him. But, the timbers that held up the floor of my house were too close to the ground. I could see Sootie’s black eyes glittering far in the darkness. He had gone there to die. Alone. Why had he done this? Why would he have to die in the first place? And, why did he have to die away from me? I lay there in the dirt and dust under the house and cried until my sister found me and coaxed back out into the light. Two days later, my Daddy retrieved Sootie’s body and we buried him in an old basket out by the pond.

“You must be the little boy Tessie loved so much.” One of the women said. It broke the spell of quiet and I swallowed.

“She gives me Juicy Fruit.” I said.

“Do you know why she loved you so?” The lady’s eyes glittered with tears.

I shook my head.

“She had a dream that your mother’s life was not over and that she would have a child. God told her you would be born. You’re a miracle. You were born so late in your parents’ lives. She always said you were a gift from God.” The woman wiped at her tear streaked face with a lace handkerchief.

Daddy’s grip tightened on my hand and I tried to breath. I was a gift from God? Me? This fat little clumsy boy who got sick riding in the back of a car? I looked up at Daddy and tried to loosen his grip. His teeth were gritted so tightly I thought they would shatter. He looked down at me and sighed. His hand relaxed. He squatted down in front of me and studied me from behind his dark rimmed glasses. “A gift? Yes, a gift.” He mumbled and then his clear eyes fixed on mine. “Do you want to see Mrs. Tessie?”

I raised an eyebrow in confusion. “You said she was dead.”

My daddy nodded. “She is. She’s right over there.”

I turned and for the first time saw the roses. They were in vases and on stands and on shelves at the other side of the living room around a long, black box sitting on a table. The box was long and shallow and my heart raced. I knew what the black box was. I had seen the same box on television when Dracula had opened the lid to his coffin and climbed out to bring death and destruction to mankind. I took a step back and felt my daddy’s hand on my back.

“You don’t have to see her, if you don’t want to.” Daddy said.

I will forever be transfixed in that moment. Eight years old and caught between the world of fantasy and reality, on the cusp of the great opening of my mind to the true world around me, poised on the knife edge of childhood. I could turn and run back out to the car. I could climb back into the back seat and turn my face through the rear window and long to see Mount Driskill. But, a growing sense of inevitability gripped me as if a tight rope was threaded through my navel and slowly, oh so slowly growing taut with anticipation pulling my mind, my soul, my body, my childishness out of the thing it was into the thing it had to become. I took my first step away from childish things, away from the mirror darkly, away from the rain streaked window where Mount Driskill became nothing more than a big hill and the three headed monsters disappeared into simple shadows and the smell of roses became the aroma of death.

I shook my daddy’s hand off my back and walked across the room to the box. I was just tall enough to look over the edge. Tessie was asleep in the dark box. Her hair was perfectly combed beneath the purple hat and the netting. Her lips were red with lipstick and rouge burst forth in crimson from her cheeks and her boney hands were crossed over her stomach. I wanted to feel sad. I wanted to cry like I had when I had seen Sootie. But, instead I was fascinated. So, this is what death looks like? Not some dark phantom of the creaking night with taloned hands and foul breath. It looked like sleep. Like a nap.

I reached out and before anyone could stop me, I touched her hand. These fingers had dug through her purse for the gum. This hand had patted my head. But, the flesh was as cold as an iced watermelon rind. And, I knew there was no life here. Tessie was not here in this room with doting friends and crumbling roses. She was in heaven. She was with God. He would warm her flesh and open her eyes and He would hold her hand as he led her down the streets of gold that we sang about in church.

My daddy took my hand then and pulled me gently away from Tessie. I studied her still features until the edge of the black box eclipsed her from my view and the hot sun greeted my backturned gaze and my father lifted me bodily and put me in the front seat of the car. I do not remember the drive back to the house. I do not remember the road rising up to meet us or the monster emerging from the bushes in the front yard of my granddaddy’s house to play with me.

I only remember one thing. The door to my side of the car opened. And, my father reached in with open arms and gathered my stunned body into his grasp and held me close to his warm chest and his beating heart and his firm shoulder as he carried me, crying, up the stairs into the house.

Guest Post Laura K. Cowan

A week or so ago, I posted a blog sort of in answer to another blog post by a young, millennial atheist. Her blog is fascinating and necessary reading for anyone who professes to be a Christ follower, especially if you call yourself a “religious” person. Here is the link to her post: “This is Why We’re the Atheist Generation”. Well, I got slammed from well meaning “Christians” and from “atheists” who refused to return to the “manacles of the mind”. The comments came so fast, I decided to pull the post and regroup. But, there was one comment from a writer and novelist whose book I reviewed in the past. I asked her if I could post her comments as a guest blog. I find that her analysis of the current state of the church and its relationship to the twenty somethings out there is spot on. I asked if I could post her comments and I encourage every professing Christian and every church goer (whether a practicing Christian or not) to read her comments with a fresh mindset and respect. It gives us all great insight into what our “church” is doing wrong and what it is doing right in today’s world. I find it ultimately encouraging.

 

 

Laura-k-Cowan-headshotMusicofSacredLakesBookCoverFront

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Millennials Leaving The Church: The Story of a Child of Evangelicals

Laura K. Cowan

for Bruce Hennigan 6/15/14

 

I am the child of Jesus People, radical hippy Christians, who were near-original members in a charismatic, evangelical church that grew out of an ecumenical Protestant-Catholic community in the Sixties. My parents lived in Christian communes with their friends, pooling their money, praying together with Catholics in a setting I didn’t realize was rare until I grew up (grateful for that example of unity), reaching out to the community around them to share their faith. Sounds a little weird but all right, doesn’t it? I think most people’s hearts were in the right place. I know a lot of wonderful people who came out of that movement.

Read the rest of this entry

Flowers Are Pretty!

Flowers are pretty!*

flowers

*Apologies to anyone who does not like flowers, who has an allergy to flowers, who think flowers are a tool of evil capitalists, or anthophobics.

 

This blog was approved by USCRAPIT (United States Commission on Restricting Politically Incorrect Thinking). Remember: Be Intolerant of Intolerance! Big Sibling is watching out for you!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 114 other followers

%d bloggers like this: