My Review of The Pawn, by Steven James

I'm not sure if thrillers count as speculative fiction, but regardless, I feel this is a novel which must be heralded, no matter the genre. I've cross posted a slightly modified version of this review on Amazon and my blog. I've also submitted them to The Suspense Zone and Dancing Word Writers Network.

Clearly, I believe in this author and this book. There has been much talk on the LGG e-mail list about faith in fiction and tons of other topics associated with good novel writing. James has excelled in every area I can think of. Here are the rest of my thoughts:

First of all, I have to say that I am ruined. Mr. James has totally ruined me. It’s like I have just finished off a bar of the best imported German chocolate. How could I ever go back to Nestle? Why would I want to? Will any suspense or thriller ever grab me and shake me and not let me go like this one? Will I ever feel this pulse-pounding, fingernail chewing, sickening, exciting feeling while reading a novel again? I just finished the book today and I think I’m going through withdrawal. I can’t believe the last page is turned and it’s over. I’m sad. What a shame it had to end.

What is all the hoopla about, you ask? Patrick Bowers, an environmental criminologist for the FBI, is consulting on the case of a lifetime. A brilliant serial killer is systematically murdering young women, leaving a chess pawn at each crime scene. But as piece after piece of the puzzle become available, nothing seems to fit. The sicko is always one step ahead of the good guys, taunting them and raising the stakes. Patrick’s recent widower status, estrangement from his stepdaughter, and having to work under an unpleasant former acquaintance escalate his stress level and create additional interest to the story.

The Pawn has a killer plot—complex and riveting, it had me guessing, reeling, sweating, and hanging on for dear life at the end of every single chapter. There is nothing not to like. My only warning is for the squeamish--the book contains several vivid descriptions of victims’ torture as well as post mortem details. The stark realism captured me and brought me totally into the story. I felt as if I was in peril myself, frantic for resolution.

And yes, Virginia, there is a spiritual element. The quest for faith and love run deep within the pages, and not only for the main character. At first glance, this may seem a plot-driven novel, since everything that happens is so paramount to the story. But you will definitely root for Pat, his daughter, and the other law enforcement officers. You will discover that even in the midst of certain evil, there is a God who exists and cares. One that will overcome evil, if not in the next few pages, ultimately.

For you suspense lovers out there, this frenetically paced drama will have you drooling for more. The Rook is the second book in the series, due out in a few months.


My Story or Our Story

As a Black writer and a Christian writer I am often faced with the same problem: Do i tell my story or our story?

Let's face it: many writers write because they feel they have something important to say. In the case of Christians, we feel we need to preach the gospel. In the case of minorities in the United States, we feel we want to tell the world something about our own experiences, experiences that others may not fully understand. This often leads to writing that falls into a category, a shared history.

But writers also write about their own personal histories. This morning, I opened the Bible and it fell open to the Book of Ecclesiastes. Aargh. That meant I had to read it. That's how I choose my devotionals. Everytime I read that book I want to give "the preacher" a shake. Aside from his generally downbeat nihilistic attitude, he doesn't really give women a break. How dare he say that in his own experience he has never met one good woman in a thousand? And yet, that is his story, his own experience. I won't invalidate what he says.

This is supposedly the same guy who collected the proverbs of his people. The Proverbs are a noticeably happier and more hopeful book. But they are the wisdom he inherited from his father and his people, not his own personal experiences. One gets the feeling after reading the book of Ecclesiastes that Solomon believed in these proverbs and yet. And yet. Why all the despair? And why did he have to write it all down? And why did the Hebrew scribes decide that such a book, about the futility of life "under the sun" should be included in the Jewish canon of Scripture? Imagine choosing the Book of Ecclesiastes and not choosing the Book of Sirach.

The funny thing, though, is that although I groan when I read it and I can readily answer all of Solomon's despair with a quick look at Psalm 49, I am thankful to God for allowing us to see Solomon's views.

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon tells his story. Not the story he is supposed to be telling, not the philosophy he learned at his father's knee, not the wisdom he learned in the proverbs. While Proverbs 31, at least allows for the existence of a good woman-- far above rubies-- Solomon doesn't allow for that. (Internal evidence in Ecclesiastes seems to show that the author of Ecclessastes is Solomon and honestly, having one thousand concubines and wives, perhaps he should know. But one wonders what he thinks of his mother Bathsheba.) And the Preacher disagrees with the wisdom of Proverbs in other areas as well.

There are other Bible writers too, who tell sad stories. Jeremiah's Lamentations come to mind. In a Book which tells us that happy endings await the good person, we have characters who prove the Preacher's point, "Be not righteous overmuch. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overmuch wicked. Why should you die before your time?" This was the truth as Solomon saw it.

I suppose that is one of the problems I have with modern Christian fiction. Some of it feels blatantly untrue...and terribly impersonal. Not that I'm against hope or faith, but so much proverbial writing does cause an abundance of happy endings. Even C S Lewis who said every story should have a happy ending killed some of the main characters in The Chronicles of Narnia.

When I read modern Christian writings, I tend to read Christian memoirs. Because it is often in those books that the truth of sad lives can be found. Whether it's the life of an imprisoned Russian believer or the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a true story is being told. There is tragedy in those stories. And grace. And a kind of spiritual triumph that is not always found in stories that have the proverbial happy ending. And in that seeming tragedy, we can see the love and care of God and the triumph of the gospel.

I love hearing those stories. Perhaps because they are tragic. Perhaps because seem truer somehow than so many modern Christian stories which are nothing more than altar calls or facile fantasies. They bring about what Aristotle called a "catharsis" -- a fear and trembling that comes about when we commiserate with a character who is very human and who has not seen the promises of the gospel manifest in his life. They are not the communal story we want to write about: person finds God, person is saved, person lives happily ever after. But they are true. They are the story of one person, told honestly from the deepest part of the heart.

And I can truly say with Solomon, "Whatever your situation in life, this is the conclusion of the whole matter, fear God."


New Kid in Town: Laser & Sword Magazine

~posted by Andrea Graham~

The following is an announcement from Laser and Sword Magazine, of which I am an assistant editor, and is not necessarily an endorsement by this blog:

Issue 1 of Laser and Sword Is Out in its E-edition. Once we receive our final version of the cover art from our fabulous illustrator, Melinda Reynolds, a print edition will be available as well.

In this month’s issue:

  • Earth’s greatest hero, The Sword, seeks to unite all of Earth’s heroes, but will personal rivalries break the Guild of Heroes apart before its first mission? And can the Sword’s chief ally be trusted?
  • A hard luck gang leader from Boise, Idaho gets a second chance in the Imperial Military. Will he thrive in the military or find himself in a hangman’s noose?

Laser and Sword Magazine revives the lost art of serial short fiction with exciting results!

This quarter’s e-Edition is FREE because we’re confident that after this first issue, you’ll want to see what’s the next! Subscribe to our free e-mail list and we’ll keep your abreast on upcoming projects and issues, providing you exclusive info at no charge.

So what do you have to lose? Download this week’s issue, read it, let us know what you think. Click here to get your free copy today.

Note Laser & Sword is also sponsoring the Old Time Radio Superman Show podcast.

And writers will be interested to learn this is a paying market. Primarily, the magazine is looking for strong action heroes, super or otherwise, with a preference for speculative fiction. Solid Christian/biblical world view a must. Payout is currently advertised as $10 per story. Will consider reprints. This is not a juvenile market, but looks at potential for cross-over.


Happy Eternity!

With the last day of the calendar year, many of us start thinking about a fresh start. Even though the earth rotates on its axis unaware of the human-defined change to a new year, we somehow ascribe significance to this man-made observance. It would be sad indeed if we reflected on our lives, goals, and dreams only once a year.

As I get older, I notice I get more desperate for accomplishment and notoriety. I see the sand slipping through that glass and think in terms of years left. "If I can write two novels a year, I'll have twenty-five finished by age sixty." Stuff like that. I notice I push myself hard and it creates stress. I get depressed every day that goes by and my agents fail to call me with good news of a publishing contract. Why can't I take God's view of eternity and know that the gifts and talents I am developing and honing now will follow me into the new order? Part of me wants so badly to touch the world, to make a difference, to end my life with the ability to look back and say I've accomplished something important. That I helped change lives, led people to God, imparted some hope. I pray every day for God to use my gifts and talents to those ends. And I trust He will, in His time, in His way. but what am I to do? What should we all be doing?

I am reminded of Jesus' discussions of being entrusted with precious things. He spoke of those who are given much, and more is then given to them. Why? In another place he says "he who is faithful in little is faithful in much," and that when we are entrusted with a task and we are faithful in carrying it out, we are giving more responsibility. I try to ponder of this concept often. I try not to despise the days of small things, small accomplishments. I know God has given me some very precious gifts and I know He has called me to use them to the full for His glory. He has not called me to be successful; he has called me to be faithful. I also think of the widow who hounded the poor judge until she got what she wanted. So is it wrong for me to pray incessantly that I want these successes? I don't believe it is. But I do believe when we pray for something we really want, we need to take the "talent" God has given us and invest it wisely.

I've read numerous postings of fellow editors, and seen posts of writers' discussing the role of holy spirit in the lives of writers. Many, many authors claim they have been compelled to write their book, story, poem, by God's spirit. Not only that, they say God wrote their piece, so they don't dare edit it or touch it. Many editors reply, "If God wrote your book, why didn't he edit it, too?"

If God calls you to be a doctor, do you just assume he will perform your surgeries for you and you don't even have to go to med school? You will just be given this gift and then you let Him do all the work? We would be horrified to go under the knife of a surgeon who had never spent a minute studying medicine. So why do writers feel they can just write under Holy Spirit and produce a God-inspired, perfect work? Doesn't it make more sense that we first get the call, and then we take the talent and prove faithful in what has been given us? To me, that equates with hard study, practice, discipline, humility to ask for and act on advice in order to be a proficent writer that God can use.

It goes back to the adage: Act as if your life depends upon you; pray as if your life depends upon God. Maybe I have that wrong, but it makes sense to me. If I plow ahead, full steam, sowing day and night, not letting my hand rest--as if it depends upon me--then I am showing the faith I have in God. How? Because if I truly believe He has called me to task, then I want to be about doing it 100%. Putting every determined, faithful effort in that I can. But underneath it all I hear Jesus' words from John 15:5: "Apart from me you can do nothing." Not some things, not little things-NO things. Nothing. We don't know what on earth we are doing for heaven's sake; we only trust that Jesus is in control and he will give us things to do.

So, that's my resolution for the new year--oops--for each and every day until eternity: To be faithful with what I've been given. To not squander the gifts, however small and seemingly insignificant. To pray incessantly for what I want in accordance with God's will. And, lastly, to be alert and awake, so I will not miss the nudgings of God, so I will follow His lead and grab every task set before me so I can prove myself a faithful steward of what He has entrusted to me. May this be a resolve for us all. Susanne



New Year Resolutions

We've been discussing goals for the New Year on our group site this week. It's been interesting to see the responses. They range from general things we all want, like to make more efficient use of writing time, or to meet and talk to J.K. Rowling. (I wouldn't mind that opportunity myself!) Then there was the list of insanely detailed and intricate monthly/yearly goals. If you are having trouble with goals, please contact our own Donna Sundblad, author of Pumping Your Muse! This lady is an expert. Her list puts us all to shame. She has yearly goals, monthly goals, and secondary goals. I have one daily goal: to make it out of bed and manage NOT to land flat on my back! (Ok… maybe that's two goals.)

I've watched these lists appear, and I must admit to a certain amount of envy. I used to plan everything. I used to keep the impeccable calendar of an Air Force officer's wife, with every social engagement meticulously planned ahead, babysitters hired, the perfect wardrobe for the occasion, my husband's uniform cleaned and ready. Dinners were planned, sometimes spur of the moment, but my recipes were well ordered and I could switch gears on a dime if I had to. Now I don't plan past getting up in the morning. My life has turned a full 180 degrees, and I'm feeling a little lost again this year. The injury that changed my life almost five years ago has now disabled me since the last surgery. When I was younger, I never saw this on my horizon. Never!

This time of year is always bittersweet for me. When I was young, I couldn't wait to grow up, to be out on my own and somehow take the world by storm. I longed for the stage, but beyond a few church productions, that didn't happen. Probably a good thing. Sometimes God protects us from ourselves. Then I married and started popping out my children. I couldn't wait until they all started school, so I could pursue my writing, at least for those few hours a day. That worked in a minimal way. I did write more, and I did see publication in several magazines and national church flyers. But school years also increased the activity level, with field trips, parent/teacher conferences (which were numerous with my son), school programs, and after school sports. They were busy years, but looking back now, they were golden. I didn't see divorce on my horizon. I didn't see a broken heart, broken family, broken dreams. Somehow, even ten years later, I find I'm still trying to pick myself up off the floor from that blow.

Then God sent love my way again. Two years ago, Larry Morris swept into my home and my heart with flowers, chocolates, a basket of clementine oranges, a stuffed penguin, and a glass hummingbird. He swept me off my feet and let me know it was ok to love again. Our first date was January 10th, my 50th birthday. Larry made it a memorable one! The best birthday I'd had in years. God brought Larry along at a point when my spirits were low. I'd been hurt on the job and was weary of the constant pain, the doctor's visits, and physical therapy. Larry helped me forget the pain and live again, in spite of my limitations. We had such plans. Trips to take, plays and dinner theatres we wanted to attend, friends and family to visit. Our goals were set together. As writers, we both determined to help each other prepare for publication. Then a fatal car accident changed all those plans, demolished goals, destroyed hope. I still don't understand why God took him away from me. One day, I'll ask Him about that.

This time of year, it's hard for me to set goals. Even though two years have passed since Larry left me for his Heavenly Home, I still face the early months of the New Year with a certain heart-sickness, and a longing for what might have been. I pass the restaurant where we had our first date, and I feel the tears well up. The pain returns, and plans are harder and harder to make.

And yet…. Somehow in all these things, God has kept His gentle Hand on my head. I feel the pressure of that Hand even now, as I write these words. What lies in store? Do I even want to know? Could I face it if God did let me in on the future? If I could have foreseen the heartbreak, would I have even let Larry in the door? Probably not. But if I hadn't, I would have missed not only the blessing of loving him and being loved, but I would have missed the camaraderie of so many dear people, like our own Frank Creed and Cynthia McKinnon-Morris. I would have felt dried up and shriveled, unworthy of the love of a good man. Yes, God had a plan. I don't understand it fully – certainly I don't understand why my future couldn't include Larry's presence HERE. But God Almighty has a divine plan for each of our lives. In spite of pain, heartache, worldly pressures, monetary need – in spite of all the things that distract us and distress us, God has a PLAN.

I'd like to see my own novel, The Last of the Long-Haired Hippies, completed and published this year. I'd also like to make significant progress on a collaborative work called The Song of the Grey Lady. We've been stalemated for quite some time now, and are eager to get back to work on the journey we started together. And I've promised several reviews, which I desperately need to finish.

But goals? I think I'll leave the planning to God for the time being. He's much better at it than I am these days. Pain is still my companion, and earthly issues, like earning some semblance of a living, are pressing like a schoolyard bully. Only God knows what this year holds for me, and I'm content to leave that knowledge in His capable Hands.

I'm doing well to make it out of bed every morning.