It’s a quiet night. The kids are tucked into bed. My wife is upstairs reading a novel, and I’m downstairs contemplating a bowl of ice cream before we watch a rented flick. Tomorrow is Sunday. I’ll be preaching on trusting each other. The thrust of my message is that we can pretty much trust each other to mess up in our relationships, but we should choose to be vulnerable anyway as an act of love.
I’ve started yet another new book. I’m beginning to suspect what I’ve known for a long time. I have a hard time finishing novels. This time I’m working on Saint Jude. Saint Jude is the story about what happens when an ex-con, a convicted pedophile in this case (I tried to imagine the worst possible sin I could), moves back home and wants to start attending church. It’ll be an interesting contrast in grace versus law, I think. I’m not sure about the beginning just yet, but I’ll keep working on it. At the moment I have 5,136 words.
So here are the stats:
Topheth – 27,910 words
Jezebel – 6,486 words
Autograph – 24,475 words
The Novem – 26,289 words
Gee, if I’d have just concentrated on one book, I’d have (gets calculator) 90,296 words. A second finished novel in addition to The Coppersmith. My only consolation is that if I keep this up (and don’t add any more new novels!) I’ll be able to knock out a series of books to sell in a short period of time. I don’t know if that will be a good thing or not.
On the other hand, I prefer to spend time working on multiple stories. I can switch back and forth whenever I get stuck or bored, and keep writing without any real issues with writer’s block. Oh well. As long as I’m enjoying the process.
This is an excerpt from The Autograph, a story I’m currently working on. It’s a little long, but I hope you like it.
“Brother Demetri, your garden looks well.”
Demetri Antonescu turned to his unexpected guest, surprised and somewhat pleased to have a visit from the Abbot. He immediately grit his teeth against the surge of pride forming in his heart, and fought for an appropriately humble reply.
“It is the blessing of the Lord that makes it so. He sends the sun and rain, and gives the increase to these simple tomato plants.” He fingered a leaf on one of the plants, then picked up his clipping shears and snipped off a large, round tomato from the vine. He held it up for the Abbot. The Abbot took it with a smile.
“You tend it with a faithful hand, Brother.”
“Thank you, Father.” The sun was bright today, and the breeze blew fresh from the Aegean over the peninsula, gently caressing the leaves in his garden and filling his heart with a warm contentment. “It is my task.” He turned back to the tomato plants.
“I have another for you.”
Demetri paused, hand still holding the clipping shears. There was something in the Abbot’s voice that quelled the peace in his heart. His fingers tightened on the shears, and for a moment it felt familiar, reminding him of the gun. He set the clippers down and stood to face the monk. Drawn to his full height of six foot two, two hundred and twenty pounds, he towered over the smaller Abbot, and in his black cassock and brimless kamilavkion cut an intimidating figure. In his previous life in the Romanian Securitate, he could take a man like the Abbot and send him to God with a single strike to the Adam’s apple, or heart, or any of a dozen other vital targets on the human body. Such thoughts troubled him now, and why he should have them toward his spiritual mentor—a man who had shown him nothing but kindness—filled him with sorrow. He’d come to the holy mountain two years after Comrade Supreme Commander Nicolae Ceauşescu’s execution in Târgovişte on Christmas Day 1989. It had been almost twenty years since he’d taken a life. He’d spent a decade reliving the faces of those he’d killed, his willfully deaf ears now awake to their pleading. He hated himself for the monster he’d become, and he marveled at the grace of a God who could forgive such a man as he. His spiritual training at Mount Athos purged him of the nightmares he’d earned enforcing the Romanian dictator’s will. But there was a deeper training, one ingrained from a generation of hunting down dissidents and foreign operatives which rose to the surface now. There was something in the Abbot’s voice which called to it.
“How may I serve?” he asked, praying to God his instincts were wrong.
The Abbot smiled, oblivious to his torment, and invited him inside the skete. Demetri swallowed, staring up at the thatched roof and cinder block walls of the skete. It had been his home for more than a decade, but now it felt foreign. A fragment of scripture trailed through his mind. ‘Eu sînt străin şi venetic printre voi.’ ‘I am an alien and a stranger among you.’ The three pillars of monastic life were poverty, chastity, and obedience. He’d willingly given up material possessions to serve God. He’d never had much to begin with. Long ago he’d lost interest in sex, except for the occasional indiscretion. Here on the holy mountain women were forbidden, and he deliberately allowed the feel of a woman’s body to fade from his memory. And obedience? His years in the Securitate taught him to obey without question—a virtue here on the mountain.
And yet, he hesitated. The Abbot poked his head out of the skete, a puzzled look on his face. Demetri fondled the clippers, then flipped them in his hand so he clutched the sharpened blades, with the handles pointed safely downward. He ducked through the door and set them in their place on the shelf, next to his Romanian Bible and book of prayer.
The Abbot swung the teapot over the coals of the fire pit in one corner, tossing a few more briquettes into the glow and stirring it with the simple poker by the hearth. Demetri picked up a pair of cups from the shelf and set them on the low table by the only window in the skete, draping a single tea bag in each one. The Abbot took his seat across from Demetri, leaving him the chair closest to the door. He sat with his back to it, trying not to feel uncomfortable.
“Where to begin?” said the Abbot, folding his hands. “Are you familiar with the Domo tou Bibliou?”
Demetri furrowed his brow. He’d heard of it, once or twice in idle conversation—speculation among the monks about relics yet uncovered. Always it was dismissed as a legend, on par with those who sought the Holy Grail.
“It is a myth,” he replied.
“It has been found.”
He laughed nervously. “Surely, Father, you have made a joke—a story to play sport with me.”
The Abbot poured his tea. He looked at Demetri from over the kettle, his eyes veiled by the steam. “Dear Brother, I would not trifle with you. The legend of the Domo is true. This most holy relic was entrusted to a simple priest by the Bishop Crescens, before he left to join his brothers in glory at the hand of the pagan Caesar Trajan. The priest carried the secret with him to the grave. Even his name has been forgotten. But in nineteen centuries of sleep he did not fail to keep this sacred trust—until now. A week ago the Protus learned an unbeliever has disturbed his rest.”
“The crypt has been found?”
“Then it is lost?”
“No brother,” the Abbot shook his head. “The Lord has smitten the unbeliever. But the man was an archaeologist and would have told others of his discovery. We must protect it, my friend.”
Demetri stopped in the act of sipping his tea. He swallowed and set the cup down. His instincts had been right. “You wish me to leave the mountain.” It was a statement, not a question.
The Abbot sighed. “We have prayed about this mightily, my friend. There is no one else here who possesses the skills needed to accomplish this great work.”
“Skills?” he stared down at his hands. “Father, do you know what it is you are asking of me? To go back to that life? To become that which I have crucified? Eighteen years I have tried to forget these ‘skills!’” He put his head in his hands, trying to flush the memories from his eyes. “Long ago I beat my sword into a plow. Please do not ask me to remake it.”
The Abbot rose and came around the table to place a kindly hand on the monk’s shoulder. “Dearest Brother, we would never ask such a thing. And if you do not wish this assignment, someone else may go. Someone far less likely to succeed, I am afraid, and perhaps at greater cost.”
Demetri turned and looked hard at the Abbot. “Who?” he asked. There were more than sixteen hundred monks in the twenty monasteries of Mount Athos. He knew of none who could do what the Abbot proposed.
“Consider this, my friend, with all that you are, and all that you once were, whether or not you were saved for such a time as this. Perhaps it is God’s will.”
God’s will. He folded his hands and rested his chin on them. So much he had tried to forget. Could it be? Might God even redeem his past for His service? His eyes wandered to the window. Outside the sun shone on the leaves and trees—a field of green rushing endlessly down to the perfect, forgetful blue of the Aegean Sea. Maybe he wouldn’t have to be the man that he was. Maybe this time would be different. He turned around and looked up at the Abbot who leaned against the doorframe, watching him with silent, patient eyes. When Demetri spoke, his voice was even and smooth—a ready soldier willing to lay down his life for his Captain.
“What would you have me do?”
“What is truth?”
It’s one of those questions I wish Jesus had answered Pilate verbally, rather than simply standing there in front of him, giving him the opportunity to see the One Who Is Truth before Him.
I believe fully in the principle that Jesus Is Truth. He is the definition of truth, the One Who defines truth and falsehood, right and wrong, life and death, by the fact of His very being.
But we live in a generation that has forgotten about truth. And in many situations, has gleefully forgotten about Facts as well.
It’s frustrating as someone who’s been trained in the modern school of apologetics, which focused on demonstrating the truthfulness and factualness of Scripture and the claims of Christ against those who declared them to be untrue and non-factual. There are a host of arguments ready-made for this sort of discussion (with big fancy names like The Ontological Argument, the Cosmological Argument, the Teleological Argument, the Historical Argument, etc) gathering dust in a drawer somewhere, because the battle has shifted away from the familiar turf of “What is real or true?” to the far less familiar turf of “what is entertaining or at least interesting?”
Indeed, the most pressing question on the minds of Post-modern Americans today has less to do with what is true or factual than it does with whether or not something is an interesting belief or story. The frontline in the cultural war has to do with Making A Good Impression. I am convinced Americans have fallen prey to all kinds of disinformation, distortions, propaganda, and outright falsehood only because the fiction is told with a little more flash and flare than the facts.
Part of the problem, though, is that we’ve allowed our stories to become obscured by the passage of time. We’ve lost the sense of passion, the color and wonder such stories once engendered, and like the images of the Sistine Chapel above, the beauty of the stories has been marred.
I believe this is where the Christian fiction writer has an opportunity to present these stories again. We can change the names of the characters, the settings, the events, and so forth–but stay true to the themes in the best possible way–and if we do so, we can tell a better story of Truth than can possibly be imagined by anyone else.
My prayer is that God will so expand our imagination that the best stories come forward, and we can win the battle of the impression as well.
Time for some numbers. Why? Because like a lot of writers, I want to be able to make a living from my novel writing. So what’s it gonna take?
Here are the numbers. A single sale on Bookhabit nets me about $1. If I sold my books through Parus Press, at $15 per hard copy, I would retain about 7% from each sale – or $1.05.
In other words, I get about a buck from every book. That’s a real easy number to remember.
But if I want to make a living doing this… yeah, that’s a lot of books to sell. Per year.
I can try to write one bestseller, or I can try to write many books that might do okay. If I can sell better than 10K per book per year, then I have a shot at making a living this way. Otherwise, it just won’t happen.
Of course I’m going for it! What kind of question is that? I just want to be upfront about what it will take. I have so many stinkin’ novels in me I have to write them, and the more I’m able to write and put out there, the greater chance I have of selling more of all of it. But that’s what it will take.
Yeah, there are a lot of easier ways to make a buck. That’s not why I’m doing this. I’m doing it because I love writing – and who wouldn’t want to get paid for doing what they love?
So now I’m active in at least three forums (which is a drop in the bucket, of course), and I’m getting emails throughout the day responding to various comments I might leave in different locations. Hmm…
Not much writing getting done.
I took some time the other day and worked a bit on Autograph. I have my doubts about finishing it (although I think sheer stubborness will win out), if only because I haven’t really found myself liking the book so far. I like the concept, and I even like the story I came up with in my outline. Just not the writing. It isn’t even style or grammar. I just don’t like it that much yet.
I’m going to give it some time, though. I may yet find the story’s voice.
The real difficulty in balance is in having so many conflicting priorities. I have to look for a steady job (which is irksome, ’cause I’d rather get paid to be me – or at least to write). I have ministry to do (I don’t get paid for that usually. I have a little support coming in, but nothing to live on). And, of course, my wife wants my expertise on putting together her homeschooling reports. Sigh.
I know that sometime today I will be prayer walking the neighborhood. I’m convinced this is how God wants me to gather His people together – if only because nothing else has worked!
And maybe part of the problem is having so many stories I want to write – stories I have started and just not been able to finish yet. Heck, I have more of them coming to mind all the time.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic wand I can wave to make this all happen. I have to work at it all slowly and steadily, all the while acknowledging that none of this may go anywhere except for my harddrive. On the other hand, the truth is I’m not really writing for everyone else. I write because I want to. I tell the stories I’m interested in.
And I remain confident that all of this is going to make sense – even bear fruit at some future date.
I planted a garden the other day. We have these woods and underbrush behind our house. I cleared away about 60 square feet, tilled the soil, and planted about seven rows of corn. I’m told most people don’t succeed with corn. I just about broke my lower back working with the shovel and rake (no pick axe or motorized equipment. Just a shovel and rake), not to mention the blisters on each hand. I’ve also contracted a nice bout of poison ivy all up my hands and arms (should’ve seen that coming.).
And now I have this barren patch of earth behind my house. The seeds are in the ground. It’s good soil. The sun is shining, and the rain falls. And in about two months time, I might see some corn. Right now I just get to trust that all my hardwork and pain will pay off.
Now my wife wants me to plant some squash…
Okay, so since I keep talking about The Coppersmith in this blog and on various forums so much, I thought I’d give you an excerpt from one of my favorite chapters. Enjoy!
He stared over the surface of Onondaga Lake, marking the small whitecaps as the wind pressed against the water, shoving it repeatedly against the shore like some abusive step-dad. Ahead he saw the white facing of the Carousel Mall, its teal roof and spire pushing ahead into the air, the kitsch steeple of a mega church to consumerism. The city of Syracuse sprawled out to the right toward the end of the lake, a vast display of commercial and industrial warehouses decaying through time and disuse. Deeper in, the city showed signs of life and urban renewal, especially in the inner city near Clinton Square and the various government buildings, and also in Armory Square, with its bars and cafés appealing to the student body of Syracuse University. But the residential side streets of south Syracuse were garbage strewn and graffiti stained, graphically highlighting the street gang problem city officials had long denied. The city’s renaissance was less a rebirth than a refusal to die completely. A combination of political maneuvering and inherent cynicism stifled the entrepreneurial ambitions of even the most ardent developers. The consequence was the city, like many in the United States, lay exhausted on the ropes of twenty-first century progress, not willing to concede the bout, but unable to score a knock-out either.
He breathed in, filling his lungs. The vague fishy smell of the lake mingled with the cool dampness of the air. A storm was on its way, probably lake effect sweeping down from Ontario in one of its frequent reminders of the great lake’s presence to the northwest. A small prayer of unknown tongues slipped through his lips, and the interpretation that pressed itself upon his mind was thanksgiving for the weather. The storm would hold out long enough for him to accomplish his mission. Torrents of cleansing rain would wash away the evidence of his passing and obscure his retreat. Slipping his hands inside the fingers of the work gloves, he stepped in the boat and examined his cargo.
Pastor John Ellingworth glared at him from where he sat in the bow, not quite as fearful as he’d been when Marshall first tackled him in the lavatory at the Full Gospel church on Salina Street, but not confident, either. He was secured across his ankles, knees, arms, and hands with duct tape. A final piece was fastened across his mouth. He continued to work at the tape with his jaw and tongue, but it showed little signs of loosening. Marshall had pressed his hands together and wrapped them in tape. A mocking posture of prayer. He further strapped them both across his neck and behind his knees with several layers of tape. It kept his hands in an uplifted position but prevented him from standing up.
Marshall inspected the bindings, then patted him on the head while he returned to the stern. He sat down beside the motor and filled the tank from the gas can on the floor of the boat. He took what remained of the gas and began sloshing it liberally around the deck and sides of the boat, pouring a generous portion over the top of Pastor John’s head. John squealed beneath his tape. He leaned to one side, examining the water.
“Go ahead,” Marshall said to him. He sat bolt upright. “I really don’t care if you drown here or drown there, heretic. But it’d be nice if you’d stay with me a little bit longer.” He fired up the motor and grinned. “Helps with the message, you see.”
John sank back down in his seat as the boat moved away from the pier. A shout caused them both to turn their heads. On shore, not a hundred feet away, a man ran toward them, pointing. Marshall’s breath came out in a sudden laugh as he gunned the motor, driving the boat into deeper water. John eyes went wide, fixed on the figure on shore, his nostrils flaring with every breath, unmindful of the acrid fumes that penetrated his nasal cavities. He glanced at Marshall, the corners of his eyes creased in what could only have been a grin. Marshall wanted to reach forward and slap the grin off his face, but to do so would require letting go of the tiller, and the boat would stall. He settled for glaring at him menacingly, and ignoring the weakening shouts of the man on shore.
John’s eyes reverted back to the shoreline, squinting under the burning of the fuel that dripped on his eyelids. The man pulled out a cell phone and talked into it, watching the boat disappear in the waves.
Soon they were in deeper water, though the shoreline was visible in all directions. John found the gasoline had loosened the glue of the duct tape, and by rubbing his face against his shoulder and the tips of his fingers, the flap of tape peeled away. It fell from his mouth, still clinging to the other side of his face. He rubbed the other cheek, but it hung there resolutely.
“You won’t get away with it,” he said.
Marshall glanced up, studying the pastor a moment. He shrugged.
“That guy on shore had a cell phone. He’s called the cops. You know they’re coming.”
“You’re probably right.”
“What do you think they’ll do to you when they catch you?”
Marshall smiled and looked away before answering. “It doesn’t matter what happens to me. This isn’t about me.”
“What is it about?”
“This is about what my Lord requires. I am merely the Lord’s instrument, dealing out justice to his enemies, and wrath upon those who prophesy falsely in his name. Whether he wishes me to stop now or see his gospel to completion is up to him. But I will not stop until he takes me.”
“Listen,” said John, “you don’t have to do this. You-you could find someone else. Just put me down on shore and get away before they find you. You could try again later, when they’re not watching.”
Marshall felt the urge to vomit rise in his throat. Worm, he thought. He said nothing.
John pressed his lips together. A twinge of conscience quietly informed him he was encouraging someone else to die in his stead. He angrily shoved the thought to one side. He was only trying to buy some time! If he could convince this lunatic to see reason, he could give the cops a complete description. He knew his face, his car, everything. They’d catch him before he hurt anyone else. Please, God! Jesus, please make him believe me!
“Is that what you’d like me to do then?” said Marshall. “Take you to the docks?”
John’s breath caught in his throat. Oh God, yes! Thank you, Jesus! He nodded his head. “Yes! Please.”
Marshall looked away, a small smile spreading across his lips. “Perhaps you’re right,” he said.
He angled the boat toward the end of the lake and pushed the throttle to full. John turned his head to see where they were going. Over the sound of the boat’s motor he heard another sound, loud and throbbing. Both he and Marshall looked up when a helicopter passed overhead. The chopper circled and came back, settling down low over the lake. A uniformed policeman put a bullhorn to his lips and shouted through it, “Shut down your engine and put your hands on your head!”
John stared at the helicopter, watching it grow larger as the boat sped toward it. His captor showed no signs of slowing down. John turned again in time to see Marshall hold up a large muzzled gun and point it at the helicopter.
“No!” he cried as his eyes were seared by a blinding flash of light. A glowing ball of pink flame arc toward the aircraft. The aircraft lurched in mid air and spun on its axis. The tail rotor whipped around ninety degrees. The copter barely missed the flare that whizzed toward them. In a second, the boat sped under the helicopter. John turned back to watch it. He saw Marshall reloading the flare gun with one hand. The other firmly grasped the tiller of the boat. With a gurgled cry he flung himself at Marshall. Marshall rose in one fluid motion and lashed out at his forehead, palm holding the weapon. It smashed into his face.
John’s vision exploded into a dizzying array of light. For a moment he thought the flare gun had gone off in his face. Then his vision cleared. He stared at the azure vault of the sky. The endless blue was broken by a dark bar that passed above him, then blue again. He blinked. His face throbbed with pain. The coppery taste of his own blood mingled with gasoline seeped past his lips to assault his tongue. He was on the bottom of the boat, and they’d just passed under a bridge. Behind them, closing fast, came the helicopter. Ahead, another bridge loomed. A green sign hung across it said Hiawatha Boulevard.
They were coming to the inner harbor. He pushed himself into a sitting position. His whole face ached. He was certain his nose was broken. Behind them, the helicopter came in closer, then inexplicably it rose again. In the distance the flashing lights of several police cars converged on the harbor. The second bridge flashed overhead, and the helicopter came down again, almost on top of them. Marshall glanced up to watch it for a moment, then back down at the man who cowered near his feet. “Don’t you just love being out on the water?” he exclaimed.
John blinked his eyes in disbelief. This guy was really nuts. Turning around again, he saw the final bridge before the harbor coming up fast. Bear Road, he thought. He looked back.
Marshall crouched on the boat’s aft bench. He winked at the pastor. “It’s time to pay for your sins, Paulist!” he said. John furrowed his brow. “I convict thee of breech of the holy Sabbath, teaching heresy, and blasphemy against the Most High God!”
Marshall rose partway to his feet as they neared the bridge. He pointed the gun at John. “No! No, wait!” John cried.
“And I sentence thee to death!”
The flare exploded from the gun, and Marshall leaped backward off the boat just as it passed under the bridge. The fuel caught fire. Pastor John Ellingworth quickly knew the searing heat of the Coppersmith’s judgment. He screamed.
What everyone else saw was a fiery craft of roiling black smoke careening toward the harbor. It veered toward the right as it chopped across the waves. It struck bow first into the pilings along the pier. The stern of the boat lifted clean out of the water, catapulting a flaming figure toward the wall before crashing down again. The body slammed against the wall with a resounding thud. It dropped straight down, disappearing beneath the water. The half-empty gas can exploded first, rocketing into the air, followed by the louder boom of the gas tanks themselves. Pieces of debris flew high up before dropping back down to land and water.
As rescuers dove into the water to recover what was left of Pastor Ellingworth, a slender form crawled out of the water beneath the Bear Road Bridge. He ran a hand over his forehead, pushing the water out of his eyes. He watched the glorious display of God’s power before climbing up the embankment beneath the bridge. He stripped off his coat and jeans and stuffed them in the plastic bag he’d kept in his pocket before stepping out into the sunshine. He climbed up the embankment to the sidewalk above.
“What was that?!”
He turned to the voice. A young man about his own age stared at the remains of the boat. “I dunno,” he said. “Looks like some crazy fisherman caught himself on fire and blew up his boat.”
The kid glanced at him. “What happened to you?”
He looked at his jogging shorts and T-shirt, still soaking wet. “Yeah. The explosion. I freaked out and fell in!”
“Yeah, I gotta go change.”
Well, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the amount of interest generated both from this blog and from posting on a couple of forums. I’ve found three so far that have been helpful in networking:
My next couple of steps will be to write some brief classified ads and post them on Craigslist, USFreeAds, and ClickCity, among others.
Finally, I’ll start writing articles and then interviews for various article sites like Squidoo, among others.
I want to be very upfront about all of this. I am attempting to build an audience. Hopefully, some will want to buy the book (currently available through bookhabit, but I’m seeking a publishing house as well), and we’ll be able to go from there. The more people who know about any book I or anyone write, the more likely that book is to sell.
I’m confident additional opportunities to build a fiction platform will emerge as time goes on, but here’s where I’m at. Feel free to ask questions or comment on my strategy.
Time for a new post. This one is from my story Jezebel, a second sequel to The Coppersmith. It takes place right after Topheth. Now that I have a couple of people reading this, I hope you like it (that, and it might distract you from the palm leaf).
I’m sitting here in the basement, and my children have decided this is the perfect time to watch television right behind me. Sarah (oldest) just excitedly dashed upstairs to get her siblings because “Word Girl” is on PBS.
I asked them what it was all about. She said, “It’s our favorite cartoon. It’s the only one on PBS with violence.”
Yep. These are Pastor’s kids. Sigh.