Excerpt from Jezebel

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).

One
“You’re not gonna believe this.” Bobby Fulton stepped up his pace to stay ahead of his older brother Ray. His breath came out in a wispy vapor. It flashed briefly in the morning sun before vanishing. Ray shook his head and lengthened his stride.
“What are you yammering about?” He took a puff from his inhaler and tried to be nonchalant. It was probably nothing. When his little brother approached him five minutes ago he was chatting amicably with Jessie Curran, one of the cooler boys in school. Always good to buff your image, he thought, just like his old man said. Ray never had been the most popular kid in school, a fact largely due to his chronic asthma. He’d spent most of his middle school career falling further and further down the social totem pole—a worry that plagued him relentlessly. Even the new cell phone he showed off after Christmas was met with a dismissive nod. That’s why striking up a conversation with Curran was such an opportunity. Jessie’d actually asked him how to get past the fourth level in Halo three, and Ray was more than happy to oblige.
Then Bobby was tugging at his coat and whining, “Raymond! You gotta come see this!”
He rolled his eyes and told Jessie it was probably a dead bird or something stupid like that. Bobby persisted, and he finally pulled away to follow him. It annoyed him that Mom insisted he watch his brother. He’d rather have been shooting hoops or scoring at the arcade—anything. Mom seemed possessed by this ridiculous notion that he and his brother should play together. There was five years difference between them. Playtime consisted of nothing more than a walk to Lincoln Park where Bobby’d clamber on the monkey bars while he sat and played with his Gameboy. Sometimes he’d watch groups of other kids gathering for a pick up game of football nearby—kicking up clouds of dust and shouts of action as one team pressed the other down the field. There’s no way he’d ever be allowed to join them. Even if he wasn’t under strict orders to keep an eye on his sibling, his parents would hit the roof if they caught him playing football with his condition. And his little brother had no compunctions at all about telling on him. He hated him for that.
Still, Bobby had his curiosity piqued.
They made a left turn down an alleyway and Ray grew wary. This was Chip Geller’s turf. Geller was an eighth grader who stood about a foot taller than everyone else in his class. It was widely reported he carried a real switchblade. Last year he’d beaten up a ninth grader with a baseball bat in the fields behind school. Ray wasn’t sure the story was completely true, but Geller was no one to mess with at any rate. In the football games he watched Geller always played quarterback. He’d have made a better linebacker with his size and strength and utter lack of a throwing arm, but nobody had the guts to tell him that—leastways not to his face.
He pulled his hands out of his pockets and searched the alleyway. Bobby went on confidently ahead, oblivious to the danger. He looked over his shoulder when he sensed his brother wasn’t following and urged, “Come on Ray! You gotta see this.”
.
Swallowing, Ray followed him into the shadows.
The alley was cooler than the street outside. With no sun to warm it the alley took on a damp quality in the early winter air—a chill that seeped through his jacket and pants and left him feeling like he wore nothing at all. Rivulets of water seeped from downspouts and pooled along the edges of the brick and mortar walls, soaking and staining the decaying remains of broken bottles and empty cigarette packs. Trash cans lurked beside the locked rear doors of shops and apartments, occasionally letting their pungent contents spill to the asphalt below.
He glanced nervously at the shadowed doorways he passed, half-expecting Geller to leap out from any one of them and—well, do something unpleasant—but nothing happened.
“Come on, Ray! Come on!”
“What is it, already?” His voice sounded whiney and impatient. He hated it. Hated Bobby for making him sound this way. Stupid kid.
“He’s up here.” Bobby pointed to a silver gray car parked in the side alley. The chrome and paint were both highly polished, reflecting the ice-blue of the sky even down here in the darkness of the alley, like a diamond glittering in mud. It clearly didn’t belong here. Raymond slowed as he approached the car, his brow furrowed. It was a Lexus. A new one, too. What was it doing here?
“He’s in there, Raymond. I just saw him like that.”
Him? Him who? Ray crept up to the driver’s side window, where the figure of a man was clearly slouched in the front seat. He put his hands on the glass and stared down. The man’s eyes bulged in their sockets, with pinpricks of brownish-red spots dotting the whites around his lids. His face was bloated and gray, and an ugly purple welt stained the flesh under his skin. His right hand clutched at his throat, claw-like. A part of Ray’s mind told him to look away. He shouldn’t see this. It was then he realized he couldn’t move.
.
“That guy’s dead, ain’t he?”
“Don’t use ain’t, Bobby. And yeah, he’s dead. We should—uh—we should call the cops or something.”
“Think there’ll be a reward?”
Raymond turned and stared at his little brother. Bobby stuck his jaw out. “I found him.”
Raymond turned back to the dead guy. “This isn’t like finders-keepers, Bobby! Sheesh!” He shook his head and pulled out his cell phone. He dialed 9-1-1, and waited for the operated to pick up the phone.
Bobby pouted.

Word Girl

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.

Christian Horror

Hello-o?! Hello! (hello, hello, hello). Echo! (echo, echo, echo).

Hmm….

Having a blog that nobody reads is kind of a surreal experience. It’s akin to being on a deserted island with nobody around for miles. I mean, I could get totally naked on here and run around screaming, “Woohoo! Woohoo!” and no one would care.

Of course, the moment someone does start reading this, I’m putting on a palm leaf.

I joined the Writer’s Water Cooler forum yesterday, left a couple of posts. It’s a nice site. Lots of traffic. Some interesting things to read.

I wasn’t overly surprised to see references to Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker on the site – but what was interesting was to see the interviews where they both disclaim the Christian Horror moniker. They prefer the title “Christian Thriller” or “Christian Suspense.”

Maybe that makes sense from a marketing pov. I dunno. I’m not so sure I don’t want to be known as a Christian Horror author. I think there are some incredible opportunities in that vein – certainly in terms of branding (the Christian Stephen King!), that sort of thing.

I suspect (know with high degree of certainty) that Frank and Ted (may I call you Frank and Ted?) are recoiling from the label of Horror because of its obviously evil (pronounced ēē‘vîl) connotations.

I submit to you that Grace, the cornerstone doctrine of Christian faith, is itself a Horrific concept. We don’t think so, as we tend to be on the receiving end of it. But look at it from Jesus’ point of view for a moment. The doctrine of grace is this: punish the absolutely innocent with torture and death so the guilty can get away scot-free.

In any other context or story, we would be horrified by such a premise! And rightly so. It is a gross injustice. And without it, we are damned.

Let’s take it a step further: if you were present at the crucifixion (and I’m assuming you have a modicum of Christian faith, or at least human decency), and the Roman soldiers handed you the hammer and nails, would you crucify the Son of God?

If you don’t, you cannot be saved. You’ll go to hell (do not pass Go!, do not collect $200). If you do, you are damned for crucifying the Son of God. It is only in damning ourselves that we can experience salvation.

Horrified yet? (or maybe just by my repetitive use of the word “damn”?)

I don’t advocate gratuitous violence. The Coppersmith is a violent book. But it isn’t gratuitous. The violence is integral to the story line, to show how bad evil is. The Bible is full of violent stories. What is worse, is the Bible’s stories of violence is all true-crime. That my stories are fictional sanitizes the horror somewhat, by removing us from it a step or two.

Someone may well protest: fiction stories use adjectives and descriptions to show us the violence. The Bible doesn’t.

I submit to you the Bible didn’t have to. The people of Its day were well acquainted with blood and death. They saw suffering first hand. A simple word or phrase detailing what happened was enough to evoke the imagery. One of the simplest phrases in the Gospels is “They crucified Him.” People who witnessed crucifixion knew exactly what that meant, and all it contained. By contrast, the prophet Isaiah described crucifixion in more detail, if only because his immediate audience wasn’t as well acquainted with it.

Today, the word “crucify” means practically nothing. We use it to describe character assassination (heavens! Someone said something mean about me!). How different and removed from the actual horror. We’ve lost something in our civilized world (and no, I don’t think we want it back – though I do believe it’s coming back whether we want it or not).

So using description with horror works to overcome the distance – to bring the reader near and allow him or her to viscerally experience evil – so that we may be less accomodating of it in our own lives.

And that’s why I write Christian Horror Suspense/Thrillers.

Excerpt from Topheth…

Fire blazes before him, roiling clouds of black smoke smelling of burning vinyl, fuel and rubber. Glass shatters and crackles as the flames press against the van’s windows. Inside is Ashley. Little Ashley. He screams to her but she doesn’t answer. He reaches for her but a wave of heat slams him to the ground. Ashley, Ashley!

Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.

His sob broke the silence and he looked up, startled by the sound.

Let me go, Daddy.

No, Ashley. It’s time to come home.

Please, let me go.

Come home.

Daddy—

Now.

He picked up the bottle and the lighter, striding quickly to the front of the church. He splashed the fuel across the altar, the pulpit, and the new screen for the projector. He ran a line of it along the back bench of the choir loft, watching it dribble in sagging streams down the back of the pew. He dumped more on the carpet in front of the altar.

No, Daddy!

“It’s time to come home, now.” He bent forward and lit the cigarette lighter, holding the flame close to the fuel-soaked carpet.

“Obey your Daddy, now.”

A burst of orange and blue flame shot out along the carpet, flickering whimsically under the altar. It reached the line of gasoline that had fallen down the right leg and started lapping greedily up the table. He stared at the flame, fascinated by the demon’s pulsations. The fire climbed up the altar, and the line on the floor spread to the pulpit. Heat pushed against his face. It was a dance of hunger, a gyrating pulse of pure desire caressing, embracing, licking, gorging itself upon the wood.

Ashley.

The heat stroked his face, inviting. He gave himself to it, fingers of warmth his neck, his arms, his torso, his loins. He was aroused. Later, he’d feel guilty for this foreplay. Right now, he wanted to give himself to it, to let the spirit that claimed his daughter’s life bring him to climax. He pushed out a heavy breath and retreated to the far pew. He fished out a fresh cigarette and stuck it between his teeth. The heat hadn’t reached the rear of the church, and the back of the pew still felt cool to his touch. His desire subsided.

That was always the danger. The demon wanted him. It craved his flesh, to possess him body and soul—a lover whose embrace would kill. But the demon also carried his daughter’s essence. He could bring her back, but only through fire. The succubus brought her with it, dangling her presence, her smell before him, bait to lure him into the infernal coitus. It was a treacherous courtship, letting the demon woo him. He gave the spirit the churches instead, letting it satiate its hunger on those who’d wrought his grief.

He took a drag from his cigarette and leaned his head against his closed fist. God, how he missed her! Firelight flickered before him, brightening the church with its intensity. A clump of ash fell away from his cigarette, collapsing on the floor like a delicate, gray snowflake. A single touch would smear it into oblivion.

Something fell up front, sending a shower of sparks toward the ceiling. He started, looking up at the front of the church engulfed in flames. Outside the church, flashes of red pulsated against the windows. He’d stayed too long. Swallowing hard, he pushed himself from the pew and darted for the exit. He grabbed the handle and pulled, stunned when the door refused to budge. He tugged again, but it wouldn’t open. Behind him, he heard the demon laugh. He turned around, staring wide-eyed at the entrance to hell he’d opened up. The abyss of fire and smoke stood yawning before him. He turned and yanked on the door.

So What Else Is New?

Okay, so yesterday’s post was whiney. Get over it. You, me, whomever. We’re moving on.

There are a lot of new ideas I’m working on. In fact, I have several novels in the works. There are three sequels to The Coppersmith planned.

  • Topheth – an arsonist in Rochester New York is targeting churches. Janelle teams up with Curtis Bold again to stop him before he turns the Christian witness in this city to ashes. It’s currently about 100 pages.
  • Jezebel – just after Topheth is stopped, Janelle is immediately called away to Albany, New York, where men in a particular group of churches are being murdered. Someone has a peculiar penchant for injecting snake venom into their throats (yeah, gross, but it makes sense once the story takes off). This is around 24 pages
  • Puzzle – some years later, I expect. This happens in North Carolina (I think). A serial killer is playing games with the BAU. He is reenacting famous situational puzzles (think: a man lies dead in the room. The door is locked, the window is shut. Nothing is broken in the room except a pencil which lies in two on the floor.). Janelle teams up with Ron again to put together the pieces to the Puzzle before he destroys them all. Not even outlined yet.

In addition, I’m working up a screen play called “Age of Reason.” It’s a story about what happens when an archaeologist claims to have found the bones of Jesus of Nazareth – and DNA tests on the Shroud of Turin confirm it! (Gee, should I give away the ending?)

Another novel is called Autograph. It is the story of what happens when an archaeologist stumbles upon an ancient manuscript that may be in the original handwriting of the Apostle Paul. It’s more of an action/adventure story – not as dark, but definitely suspenseful. Autograph is around 70 pages right now.

The Novem is a science-fiction story centered around a group of students at an Institute. They have been implanted with microchips which enable them to directly access the Internet from their minds. Someone is hacking into them, and causing them to kill themselves. The Novem has about 104 pages.

One of my favorites is a story called St. Jude. It’s gone through several revisions before I felt comfortable enough to really outline it. St. Jude is the tale of a recently released pedophile who attempts to start living right and starts going to church. The reactions of the town and church people will explore the application of grace.

Another one dealing directly with grace is Heart of Stone. In this story a sociopath (ie: feels no emotion) comes forward after twenty years and confesses to a kidnapping and murder – for which he had been paid a substantial ransom. His reason: he believes in heaven and hell, and wants to be saved–but feels no remorse. At issue is the question of whether or not an emotional response is needed for salvation – or if it can be accomplished on purely legal grounds. Something like that. I have a handful of pages written for this.

There are a number of other thoughts, but these bear mentioning as the most likely stories which I will complete and submit – or make available through the Internet like The Coppersmith.

I will share samples from these in days to come.

No More Naivete

This is harder than I thought. Maybe harder than it should be. I dunno.

I had visions – when I first got the idea for The Coppersmith, when I first started writing it and realized I had something special – I had visions of it being wildly received and taking the CBA (that’s “Christian Booksellers Association”) world by storm.

Now, of course, I recognize how grossly naive that was.

It’s been over a year and a half since I finished the book. Three years since I first met Special Agents Janelle Becker and Ron Wilson, and realized they’d had an affair. Three years since the first priest was found murdered in St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church in Clyde, New York – his face and body torn to shreds by the Coppersmith’s misguided wrath.

Three years, and no one pays any attention. Eleven pastors dead. One more burned beyond recognition. And no one is interested.

Ironic. It’s not all that different from church-planting. Two years into this church plant and we’ve gone through three worship leaders. Maybe people don’t want to go to church with a pastor who writes psychothrillers. Go figure.

Every day in the news I can read about Muslims doing this or that. I can read about Christians being arrested for speaking up for their beliefs. No one seems to notice or care that the philosophical underpinnings of Western Civilization are being systematically eroded to the point where the whole thing will collapse. Psalm 11:3 “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

I’m whining, of course. It won’t get me far, but it’s nice to get it off my chest.