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Still Writing?!?

I have been lost in my day job.

The past six months have been rather immersive for me. Due to changes in my medical practice, I have been unable to work on my upcoming books, social media, publishing, etc. It’s been tough.

I have received some very encouraging emails from those of you who have purchased “The 10th Demon: Children of the Bloodstone”. I am working on expanding my publishing offerings. And, I hope to have an official book launch here in Shreveport for “The 10th Demon” sometime in June — only six months late!

Just to give you an update on my writing. I am half way through “The 9th Demon: A Wicked Numinosity” and, honestly, the story I had planned for this book would not have worked without recent advances in nanotechnology and virtual reality. I started the book about seven years ago but only in recent months has new technology allowed me to make the story believable and possible in our world.

I am also revising a new project. “Death By Darwyn” (There’s a reason Darwyn has a “y”) was a book I originally presented to Realms way back in 2009. They optioned a first refusal and it has been sitting on the shelf. This past November, I finished the rough draft as part of NanoWriMo. I recently had another inspiration that allowed me to finish the story. It is a legal thriller and here is the synopsis:

Ruth Branson is a junior partner in a major law firm in Dallas, Texas. Bryan Nicholas and Ruth are up for the same position as full partner. When a prominent scientist is brutally murdered, Ruth is given the impossible task of defending the murderer, Dr. Frank Miller. Nicholas must prosecute. Whoever wins the case becomes the next partner. The problem is Dr. Miller was caught red handed holding the claw of a recreation of the dinosaur “Annieraptor” after ripping the heart out of his boss, Dr. Wallace Darwyn. As the trial unfolds, the issues of God versus evolution surface as Nicholas tries to depict Miller as a religious fanatic. Joining the legal team is the mysterious Jonathan Steel in the capacity of lead investigator. Can Ruth find the real killer before Miller is convicted of first degree murder? Can she resolve her own confusion about the existence of God?

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I wrote the book to give Jonathan Steel a minor role in hopes that readers who like legal thrillers might read the book and then want to learn more about Steel in my “Chronicles of Jonathan Steel” series.

So, keep in touch. I hope both books will be available by late summer, early fall. Thank you again for your support.

The 10th Demon is Close By!

10th Demon Book Cover5

I just approved the final proof for “The 10th Demon: Children of the Bloodstone”. I am so excited to announce the fourth book in the “Chronicles of Jonathan Steel”. My tentative plan is to have a book launch at Brookwood Baptist Church on Friday, November 13th from 630 to 8 PM pending the arrival of my books! So, keep in touch and I’ll keep you posted for details. In the meantime, look up for EVIL REIGNS FROM THE SKIES!

The Shreveport Times Article

I met author Judy Christie a few years back at our “Author! Author!” event here in Shreveport. Judy writes excellent novels with a “Louisiana flair” and her books are delightful. Check them out. Well, not too long ago, Judy and I reconnected and she has written an article for the Shreveport Times about little old me! I am humbled and honored by her article you can read at this link.

Now, for an update to the fourth book in the Chronicles of Jonathan Steel. I am finishing up the final edit this week. After being released from a very restrictive book contract and whittling down the story from 120000 words to 75000 words it is a pleasure to completely redo the novel. I was forced to cut so much of the story in order to meet these word count restrictions. Now, I have written the book I want to read. And, hopefully, my writing has improved thanks to editorial input from fiction editors I worked with while at Charisma.

My plan now is to publish the book under my own imprint and I am shooting for August or September so I will keep you posted.

Thanks again to Judy for a wonderful article.

Writing Tip #1: Yes, Say “NO”!

9781490813882_COVER.inddIt’s been a while since I posted on my own website. I’ve been busy over at that other site, www.conqueringdepression.com  promoting our new book, “Hope Again: A 30 Day Plan for Conquering Depression”. I just received a letter from my warehouse and I need to move many more of my copies of “The 11th Demon: The Ark of Chaos” if I want to put out the next book by the spring. So, here is the deal. I’ve now officially published four books since 2011 and for the next few posts I want to share with my readers some tips I learned about the process of finally getting that book on the shelves. These tips came to me over the past 20 years and they apply not only to publishing but to any creative endeavor.

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An Old god . . .

My son, Sean, recently shared with me some thoughts on content and media in the wake of the introduction of a new game console. His insight into story and creating content are very interesting from the point of view of the twenty something generation. Here it is:

 “every great thing that ever was, was small on the day before it became great” Michael Hyatt

The biggest problem we’re facing in the modern world is not hunger or disease, government overreach or corporate ownership, shifting global industries or climate change (though believe me, all those issues are important and vital to address in one way or another.) No, the biggest problem facing our generation is this: what do we do with the time we’re given?

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We live in an unprecedented season of human history where technology, social development and worldwide prosperity gives an increasingly large portion of the world more free time than they know what to do with. Access to tools for information technologies and public information create a world where secrets can’t hide, and if they can, they can’t hide for long. Information access is the great socially destabilizing force of our time. When combined with the reshaping of world socio-economic systems, a larger population of the world’s population has access to a larger pool of comfortable free time than at any other point in human history.

 

Like Clay Shirkey points out in Cognitive Surplus, we’ve spent the last 50 years trying to reckon with this enormous shift in social and cultural life around the globe. Shirkey asserts that like the gin craze of industrialized London, society has coped with our influx of free time by investing in something easy and palatable (though by no means healthy): the television. We befriend characters (fictional and “real”) and we live vicariously through them, letting producers and writers take our nigh-genetically-encoded hunger for story and shared experience and transform it into a multimedia, multi-national conglomerate entertainment complex. For many years, television viewership was like a national religion – the shared set of stories and cultural understandings that grounded us in modern life.

 

But (and this is a really, truly crucial but): the world is changed. Ironically, the information access that created this coping mechanism’s key systems is also slowly dismantling it. With the advent of personal computing, interactive entertainment and affordable mobile electronic devices, people have more opportunity than ever to actively participate in and sometimes even co-create the media they consume. Smartphones enable users to photograph or record any event they choose; games like Minecraft and even Mass Effect allow users the opportunity to custom-tailor their story experience and tell stories of their own; and digital hosting like Youtube or Instagram allow for easy and free distribution of created material. We have participated in stories because we must be involved in shaping our understanding of our world; we have consumed them passively through commercial media production because previously we have had no choice.

 We have participated in stories because we must be involved in shaping our understanding of our world

That has changed. Reality has shifted, and media creation (and participatory media consumption) is now within reach of (if not already a reality for) a vast majority of people in the developed  world (and a good portion of the developing world too.) Humans have always had a nigh-infinite capacity for creation and self-realization; technology now allows our created works to finally catch up with our imaginations.

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Most people realize that this change has come about on an instinctive level. They share photos and videos of their lives on Facebook; they post pictures to Instagram and keep up with far-flung acquaintances through digital audio and text. The capacity for deliberation and deep, honest engagement with people of like mind has never been greater. Therefore, for most people the television has become the new household god, a marker of cultural identity maybe, and a presence to which people feel great affection or deference, but not the overwhelming, monolithic driver of human existence and identity that it once was.

It’s an old god in a new world, having the appearance of power but slowly losing any of that power’s realities, not by outright defeat, but by a slow fade into irrelevance.

 

There’s a secret to that god, one that its fondest worshippers diligently spend millions of dollars a day to obfuscate and disguise. The secret is this: the god was never real, and was of our own making from the beginning. Before television, before commercial radio, we created: we told stories, we laughed at bars, we wrote songs on our porches. Sure, there were always consumptive media (and interactive experiences like games, incidentally), but we have always actively engaged them: we have gone to the theater, we have cheered at games, we have sung together in church. One of our human prerogatives is to create, and no amount of media consumption has ever fully suppressed that compulsion. We’ve consumed because we’ve been trained to; we create because we have no other choice.

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So that’s my invitation to you: create. Make something. Do something; do anything. There is no amount of cultural gatekeeping that can keep you from creating. The tools are there; the desire is there. You need only to act. Michael Hyatt says every great thing that ever was, was small on the day before it became great. You have no idea how important your stories are: to you, to your loved ones, to me, to the world. You just have to tell them. If you do, if we create and share, then the world will never look the same again.

Summer is coming and you an find supernatural thrillers to read at the beach. Check out The Chronicles of Jonathan Steel and my newest book, “The 11th Demon: The Ark of Chaos” at the ORDER tab on this website.

We are Chimera!

Last night while sitting before my work computer I felt the gaze of a watching creature. I have written about evil and the supernatural lately, so perhaps this feeling echoed my latent paranoia. In the dark shadows behind my computer I noticed this object.

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My reproduction of a famous sculpture recreates the mythical creature, the chimera. The beast has the head of a lioness, a serpent for a tail, eagle claws for feet, and a goat head protruding from its midsection. The chimera arose in Greek mythology as a monstrous fire breathing beast composed of many animal parts. Homer described the chimera in his Iliad as “a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle, and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire.”  The hypothesis about the origin of this myth refers to an area in southwest Turkey. Hikers on the “Lycian Way” encountered an area of over two dozen vents in the ground spewing forth flaming methane.

 

In modern times, the term chimera has come to represent a single organism composed of genetically distinct cells resulting in male and female organs, two different blood types, or subtle variations of form. This situation can occur in animals by organ transplantation such as a bone marrow transplant that can change someone’s blood type. in 1953, a human chimera was discovered to have blood containing two different blood types. Apparently this resulted from her twin brother’s cells living in her body.

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You’re Just Being Paranoid!

I watched the sword impact with the woman’s neck and, thankfully, the news channel cut off the feed before it got too grisly. The newsfeed had originated from a soccer stadium on the other side of the world. I couldn’t breath and glanced over at my wife sleeping soundly in our hotel room bed for an afternoon nap. I quietly eased through the curtains and out onto the balcony. In stark contrast to the images of a real execution in Afghanistan I had just witnessed, the magical world of Disney’s California Adventure stretched out below me in the fading evening sun. My cell phone rang and I settled into a chair. My pastor was calling to see how our trip to California was going.

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“Not too well, Mark.” I said. “It just seems that everyone I meet is so narcissistic, so self centered. It’s all about me, me, me. And, on live television I just witnessed a fanatic faction executing women in an arena for being caught in public with their ankles exposed. What kind of a world is this? I’m sitting here overlooking a Disney theme park in a state that is known for its self absorption and on the other side of the world crazy, fanatics are killing women because of a little exposed ankle flesh!”

 

“Well, I’m having a good day, too.” He answered sarcastically.

 

I went on to apologize for being so negative. And, I shared with him my growing sense of evil all around me. For weeks now, I had become increasingly enveloped by a cloud of oppression and despair the likes of which I had not felt since I went through my horrific depression years earlier. It was as if some great, unbound evil was coming preparing to pounce upon the world. I’ll never forget what I said next. “Mark, I think Satan is about to perpetrate a horrible evil on America unlike anything we have seen in decades and we are totally unprepared for the spiritual repercussions. God is trying to get our attention. And, the sad thing is, if something horrible happens the very person we will blame is God! And yet, we have escorted God right out of our daily lives and we will wonder how God let this thing happen.”

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Why I Wrote “The 11th Demon”

My friend Mike Licona contacted me to meet him Abilene, Texas to interview a man who came back from the dead. How could you resist such an offer? At the time, Mike was head of the Apologetics division of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Man, was that mouth full! He had received word of a man whose near death experience was so fascinating, he couldn’t resist interviewing him. He wanted me to come and review the man’s medical records to see if there was a medical reason for his out of body experience.

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I arrived on a cold December morning and put the address in my iPhone. Soon, I pulled up in front of a flat building with the title, “Love and Care Ministries”. I soon met a man I can only call Julio and learned that due to a nondisclosure agreement we could not share his story. Mike and I interviewed Julio anyway and his story was truly amazing. I had studied everything I could find on near death experiences from an objective and scientific point of view and Julio’s was a classic case of NDE. In fact, a scientist had developed a grading scale on elements of NDE and Julio’s story fulfilled almost all of the minimal elements. Later, the director of the ministry informed me that Julio had told that story over and over for years and the details had never changed. When one fabricates a story, one cannot help but embellish and add to it over time. Julio’s consistency smacked of authenticity.

 

Later that evening, we had dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. Julio had never met  me, you must understand. He had never heard of me before I walked into the ministry offices that morning. He sat across from me at the table and paused and glanced over my shoulder. His intense gaze then fell on me.

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Why Do I Write About Demons?

Self examination

Because I have stared the enemy in the its face and I will not back down again!

When was this? My first encounter with pure evil took place shortly after I finished medical school during my interniship. I was an intern just seven months after my graduation from medical school rotating through the emergency room. It was a cold February night and a raging icestorm had transformed Shreveport, Louisiana into a crystalline wonderland. Unless you were driving in the stuff or if you were homeless. Dozens of people were crowded into the emergency room waiting room trying to stay warm. The ER was divided into the surgical side and the medical side. If you were a victim of the “knife and gun club” you came to the surgical side. If you could walk through the door under your own power, you came to the “Walk In Clinic”. This is where I found myself on that cold, frigid morning.

 

“Groundhog, it’s your turn to see the next psych patient.” One of my team members informed me. I never figured out why my nickname was Groundhog, but it was appropriate given it was Groundhog day, albeit only 2 A.M. I reluctantly got out of my chair and headed to the far hallway where we kept the crazies. My job was simple. Evaluate the patient to make sure the “psychotic” behavior wasn’t induced by a medical condition and if not, then call the psychiatry resident to come and admit the patient to the psych ward.

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Saving Mr. Bruce!

APphoto_Golden Globes NominationsThere is a scene in my play, “The Homecoming Tree” where a 13 year old boy cuts down a tree for Christmas and it falls on top of him. It knocks him out and he has a vision of his father from whom he has heard nothing since the bombing of Pearl Harbor ten days before. It is a moving and chilling scene in the midst of this play and it serves as a turning point in the boy’s life as he realizes he must put aside childish things and become a young man.

 

That incident is based on a true story. I wrote about my own experience cutting down a tree for Christmas at the age of 11 here. I have written well over 100 plays since 1989 and on reviewing these plays, I realize I have imbedded within these stories bits and pieces of my own life story. Characters emerged based on real people from my life experiences. Ideas and messages surfaced based on my own life lessons. Such is the life of a writer. Often, whether or not we realize it, we bring to our stories pieces of our life. Sometimes, this is conscious. Other times purely subconscious.

 

My wife does not like serious movies. She only goes to a movie that will make her laugh. Yesterday, she asked if we could go see “Saving Mr. Banks”. And so, I, my wife, and my daughter Casey found ourselves in a crowded theater on a Sunday evening expecting to watch a light hearted movie about Walt Disney and P. L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books.

 

We went through more than three wads of napkins. In fact, if we had brought a box of tissue with us, it would have been inadequate. I was totally unprepared for the story that played out on the screen. In short, it was depressing, uplifting, sorrowful, and joyful. I went through a dozen roller coaster moments. And, it was easily the most wonderful film I have seen in the last year.

 

“Saving Mr. Banks” focuses on P. L. Travers’ childhood and the influence of her father on her imagination and her life. From what I gather from the film and from reading about her, she was not a happy person. And, she was totally against Disney’s “Disneyfication” of her books. What makes the movie stand out is not Emma Thompson’s magnificent portrayal of Travers or Tom Hanks’ very serviceable portrayal of Walt Disney. Rather it is the growing realization by Travers of what her books are REALLY all about.

 

Now, this may sound strange to the non-writer. How can you write a book and not know what it is all about? How can you tell a story and not see all of the nuances, the sub-texts, the messages hidden within the story?

 

My first book, “The 13th Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye” is a straight forward supernatural thriller about the influence of good and evil in our lives. It centers around demons and angels and the humans caught in the midst of this spiritual battle. I created a villain, a rich, manipulative corrupt businessmen, Robert Ketrick. I was stunned when a life long friend of mine read the book and commented, “I get what the book was all about. It was about greed and avarice. Your demons were metaphors for the way in which a love of money damages people.”

 

What? No, that was never my intent. My demons were not figurative. They were literal, real destructive beings in the book. They were NOT metaphors! However, if the story did have that message for this particular reader and it made him think about the destructive power of greed, then I did do some good with the book.

 

After seeing this movie, I stopped and asked myself if my first book was about greed after all. Did I subconsciously associate wealth with evil? Do I see rich people as inherently greedy, evil, manipulative, and demon possessed? Good question. Because, as a writer, all of my preconceived notions color every aspect of my writing. Perhaps I need to stop and examine my past and see if I was emotionally damaged by a wealthy person; if I felt betrayed because I grew up in poverty and was deprived as a child. Was that possible? The answer will wait for another blog post.

 

The point I’d like to make is the power of our past to drive and color the present expressions of our imagination and creativity. Our own personal demons; the ghosts of our past; the “messages” that programmed us as children are still there. I would like to think I have pushed them away into a corner of my mind. I would like to think I have healed. But, watching Travers as the childish innocence of Disneyland brought back painful memories of her father and his battle with substance abuse brought pain back into her life, I began to wonder.

 

All of us are Story. Every one of us is a story in and of itself. Elements of our Story are our backstory, our background, our past. And, those back looking elements will forever determine our future. The questions we must ask is if the future they bring about is a better one because we have grown and matured. Or, will it be a worse future because of our bitterness and anger. P. L. Travers’ books touched and moved millions of children and adults and continue to do so. If she had not suffered through the traumas of her childhood, there would never have been a Mary Poppins. But, it was obvious from this film and from other sources she was far from a happy person. I did a little research and she died at age 96. Here is a quote about her death: “According to her grandchildren, Travers died not loving anyone and nobody loving her.” How truly sad! To have brought so much happiness to the lives of millions and yet, to die “not loving anyone nobody loving her.”

 

Look in the mirror, I said in response to that quote. In my own life, the tragedies, the crises, the pains of my past life all serve to build on one another and with my joys, my triumphs, and the abundance of joy being a child of God brings me, these elements serve to produce more stories. I cannot forget the elderly woman who saw the tree scene mentioned above in its earliest version in a play called “The Night Gift”. In that play, an elderly man tells the story of being a boy who cut down a Christmas tree and learned his father had died at Pearl Harbor in a vision. I took that older man and wrote his childhood story for the play, “The Homecoming Tree”. But that little snippet from the earlier play touched the life a one woman. After the last performance of “The Night Gift” she came up to me and here is our conversation:

 

“Are you the person who wrote this play?’

 

“Yes, Ma’am.”

 

“I want you to know my brother died at Pearl Harbor. And, I was so mad that he died, I’ve hated him all of my life. And, I blamed God for his death. Well, young man, tonight you gave me the opportunity to tell my brother goodbye. And, to make peace with God. Thank you!”

 

How could I have possibly known that one cold afternoon while trying to cut down a Christmas tree and almost getting hurt and possibly killed in the process, that incident in my life would one day become part of my Story. How could I have possible known that a painful memory could become a scene in a play or a book? How could I have possibly known that these painful memories would resonate with a total stranger; that the story from my life would intersect with a stranger’s story? How could I possibly imagine that my little snippet of a story would be the Answer to a life long prayer; a pleading for understand; a search for release from bitterness and anger? Like the greed metaphor, that was never my intention. But, it was God’s!

 

If you are creative in any sense of the word, you MUST go see “Saving Mr. Banks”. It is a powerful and amazing story. It has inspired me. It has uplifted me. It has given me such solace and peace for this tortured soul of a writer. It has made my puny efforts and my doubts fly away like a kite soaring up “where the air is clear”.

 

Go fly a kite! Go see this movie! And, then come home to the cloistered world of your life and tell your Story! And then see how God uses it to make this world a better place than you found it!

 

Don’t forget you can purchase all three of my books from the Chronicles of Jonathan Steel at a discounted price at www.steelchronicles.com or www.11thdemon.com.

 

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