Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"The Artist" and risk-taking

I've decided not to be apologetic about being a consumer of popular culture. I like movies. I like TV. We watch reality shows. I'm taking a break for an hour from writing to watch "The River." I watched the Oscars without guilt.

There were four of the Best Picture nominees that I would have been perfectly content to see win one of those little baldheaded gold men. But I was rooting for "The Artist," even though "War Horse" was the best picture of 1938, and I had a special spot for "The Help," because it took place right here in town, and I got to meet Emma Stone while they were filming at the state capitol, right across from where I work. (An annoying aside ... she told me "you are the greatest." That was in response to me saying that "for you to get to play Skeeter is like Gregory Peck getting to play Atticus Finch." I got a hug for that one.)

Anyway. I rooted for "The Artist" because (a) I'm a huge fan of silent movies - D.W. Griffith is a hero of mine, and (b) it showed evidence of a colossal risk taken by the film makers. I mean, in a year that produced "Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon" and "The Artist," which was the safe bet and which one wasn't? - and (c) it was a darn good movie, and blessed my heart.

Granted, "The Artist" had a minimal budget and box office receipts have been modest, at best. Still, what we have is a movie that, against all conventional wisdom, managed to walk away with a trifecta -Best Picture, Director, Actor. No small feat.

Think director Michel Hazanavicius faced any naysayers along the way? You bet he did. Yet I want to believe that he was so consumed with love for his project, and believed down to his corpuscles that he had something to share with the world, that he did whatever it took to get his story on the screen. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

This should encourage you. It sure did me. What is it that is driving you these days? What is a dream you cherish that is so personal and so insane that you just KNOW no one would understand it but you? And that perceived lack of understanding has paralyzed you.

My sense is that there are about a gazillion folks out there who are robbing the world of a blessing because they are listening to other voices, imagined or real. The voices are saying that "you can't do this", or "that's a stupid idea", or "you don't have the talent/ability/luck/breaks to make it happen."

Well, poop on 'em. Do what you should be doing. Fulfill what the Almighty God placed you here on this earth for a season to do. If you fail, then at least you've failed while attempting something amazing ... and remember, to fail does not mean that YOU'RE a failure. And if you succeed, then, by golly, the universe is going to be a better place.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Sneak preview of the new book!

I don't know if this is good form or not, but I thought I'd share the first few pages of "The Fixin' Place," my latest obsession. Understand that the completion is several months away, but I think if I'm at least sort of accountable to some of you, then I'll be more likely to not get stonewalled along the way. Enjoy, and feel free to post any comments. I'd appreciate it!!

I remember the first dead person I ever saw. Uncle Jack – actually, he was a great-uncle - was one of those relatives who seemed to me when growing up to be older than time itself. My recollection of him was of a man, stooped in such a way that he looked like a living comma, with his head valiantly held erect so that he could at least see where he was going rather than looking at the ground. He came back from World War I shell-shocked, as the term used to be, and was prone to mutter to himself in idle moments. Someone said that in his last days, as he slipped in and out of a coma, that he believed the Germans were after him again. I was glad I was spared hearing him rant. Just thinking about it disturbed me. I was seven years old.

I guess Mama and Daddy felt that insulating Sarah and me from death was not the right thing to do. It is not as though they rubbed my nose in it. They came from the generation of rural Alabamians who didn't treat death like the sterile and distant event it is now. In their days, someone died and the body would lay in state in the house, usually in the parlor. Uncle Jack had made the comment that he sure didn’t want to be left up at the funeral home by himself. His reasoning was that if the family had been able to put up with him all those years, one more night wouldn’t hurt.

And, of course, that wish was honored. Uncle Jack and Aunt Belinda’s house was one of a half-dozen on a dirt road that wandered off Highway 137 about five miles out of St. Helena, going southeast toward the Canaan community. Aunt Belinda kept a neat and well-groomed yard. Their house was in front of a row of six chicken houses, the smell of which hovered close to the ground, a musky, organic odor which wasn’t entirely unpleasant. I believed then, as I do now, that chickens are some of the nastiest creatures to inhabit God’s earth, but Uncle Jack loved them and they had given him a good living.

Their house had belonged to Aunt Belinda’s parents, who had long since passed. The house’s front porch sagged in spots, and the boards creaked and popped when we walked across them to the front door. Mama and Daddy nodded and spoke gravely to the various kinfolks and friends who were huddled in sad little knots on the porch and in the yard. Death was very much a social event.

I didn’t know what to expect when we entered the parlor. There was Aunt Belinda, clutching a hankie, her eyes bright and large, as though she were trying to look chipper. Their twin girls, Anna and April, were there, along with their husbands and children. I barely knew them – Anna and her family lived in Columbus, Georgia, and April and her brood lived all the way out in Midland, Texas, which to my mind was as distant as Babylon. Everyone was whispering, as though Uncle Jack might be offended if someone spoke too loudly. Sarah, two years older than me, crowded up alongside Mama as though she wanted to bury her face in Mama’s skirts. I just wanted to see what the fuss was about.

Daddy obliged me. Uncle Jack was actually Mama’s father’s brother, but I learned later that Jack and Daddy had been closer than I had realized. I looked up at Daddy, and saw that the muscles in his jaw were working, as though he wanted to say something but was restraining himself. I noticed, too, that while the smell from the chicken houses was noticeable in the parlor, there were other odors – of baked goods, of fried meats, and one unidentifiable medicinal aroma – that competed for attention.

Daddy walked me toward the casket, which seemed huge to me, and the people standing close by parted as we approached. The casket gleamed in the dim light and was sitting on a steel cart covered by a drapery. I wondered why the lights were so low – it wasn’t as though Uncle Jack would be bothered by just a bit more illumination – but when I got my first look at him, my questions didn’t seem all that important.

I was just tall enough to peek over the pleated and ruffled edge of the lining of the casket. My eyes were about level with Uncle Jack’s nose, which I remembered to be mottled with spider veins. His nose was the first thing I noticed, because I had never known him to have such a clear complexion. Like the dorsal fin on a dolphin, it rose above his face in stoic grandeur, and was a translucent and perfect peach color. After I got home, I got down my box of Crayolas – the sixty-four count box with the little plastic sharpener in the side – and sure enough, I had a crayon that matched his nose perfectly.

The other thing I noticed was his mouth, stretched way too taut and thin. It seemed to begin and end too far along his cheeks, like the corners of his lips were split. The whole effect was one of a clown’s face without the white and red makeup. That, and the total immobility of his whole face, is something I can yet see in my mind’s eye after all these years. It was as though he were a stranger wearing an Uncle Jack mask. It just wasn’t him. That intrigued me.

Aunt Belinda had appeared at our side during my time of study, and made some comment or another, something to the effect of “isn’t he sweet,” and Daddy cordially responded with another bizarre comment – “he does look good.” And I’m standing there thinking, well, he looks dead to me. Daddy’s shoulders had begun to shake, just a little, and his jaws were all knotted up again. I turned around to check to see what Mama and Sarah were doing, and Mama was already crying, as I knew she would. Sarah was, and is, the kind of girl who was prone to cry when other folks did. This time, though, she wasn’t crying – she was just standing there in abject horror, pale and rooted to the spot. That was as close as she ever got to the casket.

I turned back to observe Uncle Jack again. He hadn’t moved, although it would have been alarming if he had. I felt two separate sets of hands on my shoulders – Daddy on one side, and Anna’s husband’s on the other. I guess they thought I would faint, or needed to be restrained because I might run from the house screaming, so they were probably disappointed when I did neither.

I did make it out of the house and into the yard. Several people were eyeing me, evaluating me, to see if I had survived this rite of passage. I felt like I had been initiated into some arcane club – I had seen a dead person. Looking back, I suppose it was a life-changing experience for me. Nevertheless, I just didn’t see the big fuss over a corpse. I was more interested in going out back to peek into the chicken houses, and thought it would be fun to throw some little stones at those wretched birds just to watch them flap and squawk. I didn’t want to hurt any of them, but I figured they might appreciate a change in their routine and boring lives. Uncle Jack wouldn’t have anything to say about it, that’s for sure.

There was some debate between Mama and Daddy as to whether or not Sarah and I would be allowed to attend the funeral the next day. In the end, they decided that we should both go. At seven, it was supposed that I would be oblivious as to what was going on, and that I had weathered seeing Uncle Jack laying up there as a corpse just fine. So I was forced to put on the starchiest white shirt you can imagine, which I thought was going to rub my neck raw, along with a ridiculous bow tie and shorts with suspenders. Sarah was dressed in multiple layers of petticoats, and I wasn’t sure if the funeral was more about how nice we looked more so than how Uncle Jack looked. I guess subconsciously Mama and Daddy wanted us to look better than the dead man, although I’m sure they would have denied it.

I’d been to “big church” a few times before, although I found it to be stifling and way too long to have to sit still. Well, the funeral was a thousand times worse than big church ever was. For one thing, folks were all grim and mournful, with most of the women clutching little crumpled tissues and the men looking like they’d been drinking pickle juice. Second, when the preacher got around to doing his part, the congregation was already wrung out with manufactured emotion. It’s like people were trained to cry on cue. A lady named Mrs. Honeycutt sang “Abide With Me,” and it was just awful – it’s like someone had pinched her with pliers. Then the preacher prayed, and read some scripture, something about “the resurrection and the life,” and it made no sense at all. Then Mrs. Honeycutt wrapped her nasally voice around “In the Garden,” and I wondered who “Andy” was, because there was this one line that went, “Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me, Andy tells me I am his own,” and I thought the song was supposed to be about Jesus.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the preacher mounted the pulpit and did his very best to make everyone cry some more. His face was all pinched up and his brow was furrowed, as though he had gas pains, and again he took off on something about how we were all going to be raised incorruptible – I wasn’t sure what all that meant, but it did have something about dead bodies coming out of the ground, and for a little while he had my attention, because I thought that would be something to see.

But he lost me soon afterwards, and I got to looking at the stained glass windows, which were a frosty blue and had no designs other than swirls and smears, which reminded me of an aquarium. I had managed to sit still – Mama had already threatened me – but I’d had enough. But then the preacher “amened,” and the family was asked to rise, and we got to march out in front of the casket, which had been closed all this time.

At Aunt Belinda’s request, the casket was reopened so we could all get one last look at Uncle Jack, which I thought was pointless, because we’d already had plenty of opportunities to inspect him. My parents weren’t aware that I’d been privy to the conversation they’d had the night before, saying that the casket should have stayed closed, because it might upset everyone and undo all the good the preacher had tried to accomplish in giving some comfort and closure. I’ve since learned that funerals bring out the strangest things in people, and Aunt Belinda had insisted on the casket being opened once more, so there you are.

Turns out Mama and Daddy were right. As soon as Aunt Belinda walked in front of the casket, she let out a wail that caused the whole congregation to gasp in unison, and before it registered with anyone what was about to happen, Aunt Belinda had reached down into the casket, grabbed Uncle Jack under his shoulders, and lifted him upright in the casket to a sitting position. His head flopped backwards like it was on a hinge, and Aunt Belinda hollered “OH JACK” as she threw her own head back, too. Then she wailed.

Anna and April’s husbands sprang into action, with one of them prying Aunt Belinda loose while the other, grimacing, tried to gently lower Uncle Jack back down. The preacher stood by stupidly, watching this spectacle.

Uncle Jack didn’t want to cooperate; he was already pretty stiff, even though his neck was still pliable, and April’s husband Freddie was trying valiantly to get him arranged back in place. The funeral director and two of his henchmen shooed Freddie away and managed to situate Uncle Jack back into the casket, and just as efficiently clamped the lid down.

By this time, of course, the congregation had absorbed this drama with a blend of horror and fascination. The pallbearers were able to wheel the casket down the long center aisle of the church and out toward the front door – family members and the other congregants had to part to let them get by. The ritual of the funeral, choreographed like a Broadway musical, had been disrupted beyond repair, so the best that could be hoped for was a semi-dignified graveside service. I don’t know how it all ended – Mama went on to the graveside, and Daddy pulled Sarah and me aside, with the promise of popsicles later.

If I live to be a thousand, I’ll never forget Uncle Jack’s funeral. This, I believe, was what started my lifelong fascination with death. And it was also the first time that I began thinking about God and heaven and other things I was expected to believe in, just because it was the way I was raised. If a belief in God was supposed to bring comfort, I sure didn’t see anything very comforting that morning, and even at seven years old, I decided that God was pretty much a myth, and was done with Him. No hard feelings.

That’s how I felt then. It was six years later that I came to understand that while death can’t be avoided, it can be postponed. Or even reversed.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The "D" word (discipline!)

Ah, discipline. Something that in my flesh I don't have much of.

Last night I was working at the new book, which I think is coming along nicely. But I didn't start work on it until I'd watched "Survivor." Honestly, I love TV, and I can rationalize all day on why it's important for me to have that hour of down time after a day at work and an evening ministering with some great teenagers at church.

Still. I used up a potentially productive hour on something that was inconsequential at best.

I've noticed that if I get slack in one area of life, it impacts other areas as well. That's one reason I don't buy into the whole "compartmentalization" concept. For instance, if I'm lazy at writing, I'm more likely to slough off in areas of health and exercise. I've done such a great job at taking care of myself this past year, as shown by a significant weight loss, to lose ground now is unacceptable. And if my spiritual life is neglected, I'm more likely to be less frugal. All these life components are connected by a fragile web, and if one strand goes slack or breaks, the whole system suffers.

Here's my conclusion. It doesn't have to be yours. But if I am taking care of my soul, seeking after God single-mindedly, a whole host of things happen: It's easier to maintain my health, weight loss goals, and proper nutrition (and portion control!) I'm more likely to be productive and turn out good stuff when I write. I'm more conscious of stewardship and thinking in terms of how I can manage my blessings. And I actually think I'm a better husband and father.

This does not come naturally - I'm a creature of flesh, just like you and everyone else. But, if you're a believer, then knowing God is the most important thing in your life. And the better you know Him, the closer you get to Him, then the more likely you are to submit to His Lordship in all the areas of life.

Does that mean that if you're fat, you don't love Jesus? I didn't say that. But I will state that the more intimate you are with the Almighty, the more you'll be assured that He can, and does, rule all areas of your life.

Thanks for indulging me in a little homily this morning. Have a terrific day!

Monday, February 20, 2012

So, is it autobiographical?

At this writing, I'm at Lake DeGray State Resort near Hot Springs, Arkansas. I had the opportunity to do a little magic for a group of Arkansas Baptist leaders and families, and we had a great time. (Magic is just one of those hobbies that got out of hand - check out www.tonydoesmagic.com if you're so inclined.)

One attendee had heard about "Reign of Silence" from a Facebook posting and like a lot of readers had a boatload of questions. His main question, though? "Is it autobiographical?"

I sure can't speak for other authors, but in my case, as a fiction writer, the answer is ... just a little. I am NOT my protagonist, Joshua. But as far as some of the scenes - there is an occasional smidgen of truth. They say "write what you know," and that's what I did.

I have a quirky theory. I think there is a little guy who resides in your mind. It's his job to keep the more bizarre parts of your subconscious all bottled up and safe, because if it were to seep out too much, you'd be committed to a little room and spend the rest of your life writing in crayon. BUT - sometimes during dreams, and sometimes in creative moments, he lets some of that stuff ooze out into our conscious mind. And we're compelled to write about it. For me, that's why when I'm in the zone and there's some serious juju going on, I write stuff I don't even know. Those characters take on lives of their own and I have to work like the dickens just to keep up. I know plenty of writers go to extraordinary length to plot every setpiece, but my brain doesn't work that way. I began Reign of Silence thinking one particular major character was going to die, and I was just delighted when they didn't. 

Weird, I know, but there y'are.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What drives you?

That's not just a lame academic question. My theological understanding of "call" informs me that every one of us is here for a purpose. At the risk of sounding like a fortune cookie, I'll state outright that YOU, yes you, have a destiny.

What is it? Well, you may just spend the rest of your life hammering out what you're supposed to be doing. I'd imagine that there may be one reader out there who is droning away at the practice of law, for instance. He cares nothing for it - it's good money, it has unique challenges, but it's just not him.

Sir, get up some gumption. Don't worry so much about following your parents' desires for your life. Don't get caught up in some weird "image" issue, as in: "What would others think?" If you have family, make sure that they're cared for and will continue to be cared for.

And then - take the necessary steps to become a white water rapids guide. And do it before you get too old. The universe will thank you for being truthful.

If that sounds too far fetched, try this: Keep the day job, because it pays the bills. And figure out how to do what you really love, what makes you passionate, the One Thing that ratchets up your pulse rate. Don't settle for a life of "I shoulda's."

If the call is to write, guess what. You can do it, and what's more, you can make your work available to millions with a couple of keystrokes.

This is a terrific time to be alive.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Well, HI, Barnes and Noble!

Gonna keep this brief, but I just saw where Barnes & Noble has "Reign of Silence" available for sale. I hate to be such a total novice about these things, but if you want it and your local store doesn't have it, they can get it for you. How about that! And Amazon has it too, of course.

I've stated this in other places, but if you have a book in you, just write the stupid thing. Don't wait for your muse to show up. Just DO it. Write like the devil were chasing you. Write junk - you'll be doing more than one draft anyway.

And when you've written, and re-written, and gotten trusted friends and family to proof the dickens out of it, understand this: the gatekeepers are no more. While I think it's worth the effort to find an agent, and then a publisher, you have this amazing level playing field. Get over any stigma you might have about epublishing. Your readers don't care how it got in their hands. I mean ... how many absolutely splendid books never saw the light of day because they were strangled at birth by someone who didn't "get it?" Lordy, "The Help" was turned down by scores of agents, something like 60. Which means ... there are 59 agents out there dealing with utter depression.

If you've got it in you, you owe SOMEONE in the world the opportunity to share in your creation. Go for it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

It's fun being interviewed!

Recently I did an online interview with Wendy Siefken. She and her son have a terrific blog/website that you need to check out. I know this is long, but I thought their questions were very insightful. Check 'em out at www.seifkenpublications.blogspot.com. So, here's the Q and A.

What makes for a good hook in your
stories? Where does your inspiration come from?
The best hook I can think of is to populate my
stories with “everymen” and “everywomen.” Characters readers can identify with.
With “Reign of Silence,” I thought putting purely ordinary, conservative
Christian folks into extraordinary circumstances that challenged their whole
belief system was pretty compelling. As for inspiration … that’s an elusive
thing. I can’t remember if it was Zane Gray or Louis L’amour who said this, but
it was something to the effect that “turn on the faucet and the water will
flow.” In other words, you can’t really wait on inspiration. You just hunch over
the keyboard and start working.
Are you an organized writer? Do you do things
like take notes and make lists of characters? Or do you free write
and work it out as you go?
I’m not one to sit down and do detailed
character analyses, or work out an initial plot. I do make notes, or dictate
thoughts into my iPhone as they occur, which tends to be when I’m in a meeting,
watching TV, or when I’m disengaged from the actual chore of writing. What
happened with “Reign of Silence” is that I had my two or three main characters
firmly in mind, and the rest of the cast I just got to know as I wrote. My
technique, which may or may not be proper – I sure don’t know – is just to put
the characters in some situation and watch them try to get out of it. I took a
week off from work to put in some concentrated time on “Reign of Silence,”
sequestering myself in an old farmhouse and writing pretty much nonstop. I wrote
close to two-thirds of the book in that one week. This kind of freaks some
people out, but it got to where I was just transcribing what was happening and
being said. One night I called my wife and said, “You’re not going to believe
what just happened.” There was a significant twist toward the end of the book
that I didn’t see coming, and where it got really weird for me was when during
the first revision, I found that there was some foreshadowing earlier in the
book pointing toward that twist. I never planned or plotted for
What is your normal writing day like? Do
you write when you are inspired or do you have a schedule?
I’m one of the most despised of all humankind,
in that I’m a morning person. So I get up around 5 or so and put in about 90
minutes of writing. My wife is in bed, the dogs aren’t up, and it’s a perfect
time for me because that’s when my synapses tend to fire. I don’t set a word or
page goal. I just do what I can in that time allotted and let it go. Then, in
the evenings, I may put in another hour, but I’m not bound to that. I will say,
too, that I do NOT self-edit in the early stages. I just write in almost a
stream of consciousness mode, because I know I’ll come back and tidy and tighten
up. As I said, if I waited until I was inspired, nothing would ever get done. I
just do it. It’s pretty much a blue-collar exercise. I don’t think of myself as
an “artist.” In my mind it’s more like nailing shingles on a roof, or putting
mulch in a flower bed. Its work, and it’s not glamorous in the least.
Who is your favorite author and how did
they inspire you to write?
That “favorite author” question is tough. My
all-time favorite work of fiction is “Lord of the Rings,” the whole trilogy, but
I wouldn’t consider Tolkein my favorite author. I guess Harper Lee comes the
closest to being a favorite; her style and storytelling ability blows me away,
and I identified strongly with the story she told. I knew every character in “To
Kill a Mockingbird” personally – I grew up in a small Alabama town just like
Macomb, Alabama. And I remember after I read my first Stephen King book (“Salem’s
Lot”), I thought – this guy is telling just the kind of story I want to hear.
Same with Frank Peretti, although I think his earlier stuff was his best. I’ll
admit to being a sucker for what some detractors might consider “commercial”
writers – fellow Mississippian John Grisham comes immediately to mind. Not so
much Dan Brown, who’s written the same book three times. Hard to argue with
success, though!
It’s easy to see that you have a passion
for writing but is there any part of it you don’t like?
Is there any part of writing that I don’t like?
Honestly, no. There is a certain amount of discipline involved, certainly, and
if I’m not careful I can get derailed by trivial things. But I jotted down a
quote from a gentleman named Mark Batterson, from his book, “The Circle Maker”:
“Too many authors worry about whether or not their book will get published. The
question is this: Are you called to write? That’s the only question you need to
answer. And if the answer is yes, then you need to write the book as an act of
obedience. It doesn’t matter whether anyone reads it or not.” So, for me, yeah,
it’s a calling.
Do you make time to read and if you do what are
you reading right now?
I absolutely make time to read. I just finished
the Hunger Games trilogy, and it read like a streak. I was the last in the
family to get around to reading it, and it was so well-paced I was sucked right
in. Worked for me. One cool thing about Kindle and Amazon is you can take a
chance on an unknown author (like me!) and not feel as though you’ve coughed up
an undue amount of cash on a potential dud. So I’ve started on a two-book series
by Aiden James, Terror X 2. The premise of these two intrigues me. I tend to
read two books at a time, something fiction and something non-fiction. I’m also
reading “Radical” by David Platt.
How did you get into writing about the
Christian/supernatural, two topics that always seem to be at odds with each
other? Is there personal life experience in the
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been
intrigued by ghosts. So I wanted to try my hand at a pure, “classical” ghost
story – a haunted house, bumps in the night, whispers and manifestations, the
whole deal. The phenomenon of ghosts and hauntings is almost a cultural
universal – you find it worldwide, in all periods of history. So, as a
Christian, how do you interpret this? As a Christian and a minister, I have to
acknowledge – biblically – that my faith deals with the supernatural, most
obviously in teachings about angels and demons, and certainly also in belief in
an afterlife. What happens when these worlds intersect? So I don’t see these two
topics as being at odds with each other. If I’m asked, “Tony, do you believe in
ghosts?” I say that I do. Now as far as what a “ghost” actually IS, well, we’ve
got a lot of room for speculation, and that is at the heart of “Reign of
Silence.” It isn’t that I was consciously trying to break ground, but I just
couldn’t find any stories that dealt with hauntings from a Christian worldview.
Regarding personal life experiences … well … yeah. There have been a couple of
instances in my life, and in the lives of extended family, in which we’ve faced
events that just simply can’t be explained away by “rational” means. The book,
then, has a couple of mildly autobiographical events. Freaky, yes?
Your books have been published with Amazon.com,
Does this mean you see the publishing industry headed this
My book is indeed available on Amazon via
Kindle, and we’re working on it being available again in hardcopy. I wrote
“Reign of Silence” years ago, self-published through Xulon Press (they did a
terrific job), and it actually did pretty well for a season. Then, when I made
it available on the Kindle in December of 2011, I was absolutely blown away at
how I sold – sold ­– roughly twice as many books in one month as I did in
the previous six years. It was an epiphany for me. All of a sudden, the old line
gatekeepers were marginalized. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t be delighted if
an agent represented me – I probably approached forty or so – and I got that
elusive book deal. It’s just killer when an agent tells you how wonderful your
book was but it “isn’t marketable.” Now, the rules have changed, big-time. I
can’t help but wonder how many absolutely splendid books never saw the light of
day because of those “guardians.” I’m imagining that there are publishers out
there who are feeling sort of like Kodak. If a writer can shuck any thoughts of
self-publishing being some sort of stigma, no matter what the medium, then the
playing field is pretty doggone level. The downside is that there is plenty of
garbage out there now, too, but I’m thinking market forces prevail
Do you have any online sites where
others can read more of your writings?
Readers can keep up with what I’m up to on my
blog (http://tonymartinscribbler.blogspot.com), and I’ll put samples of what I’m
doing from time to time. I haven’t done a dedicated website yet, but that’s
certainly a possibility.
Do you have any more stories in the
works? What kinds of stories do you plan to write next?
I am working feverishly on a new book, “The
Fixin’ Place.” I’m loving it. If you can imagine a mashup between “To Kill a
Mockingbird,” Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt,” and a pinch of “The Green Mile,”
that’s where it seems to be headed. Reading that last sentence, I recognize it
makes no sense whatsoever. Again, I didn’t plan to blend these diverse tales,
but that’s just the way it’s working out. It does take place in the same
fictional town of St. Helena, Alabama, as did “Reign of Silence,” but that’s
really the only tie. The working title of the next one is “Knights of the Golden
Circle” (Google it if you’re not familiar with this actual organization), and
think about how that group from the Civil War would look and operate in the
21st century.
Who would be your first choice to play
Joshua Nix from your book "Reign of Silence"?
I’d like to see Chris Pine play Joshua Nix.
Really. But the more important role from a casting standpoint would be who
played Meredith Dubose. I’d pay good money to see Annasophia Robb play her.
She’d be just superb, me thinks.
If you could meet anyone from any time
who would it be and what would be your first question?
If I could meet any historical figure, it would
have to be Robert E. Lee. I’d ask “How, throughout the course of the War Between
the States, were you able to maintain your sense and call to

Friday, February 10, 2012

A prayer before writing.

Lord, I recognize that You are the giver of all good and perfect gifts. I acknowledge that You have placed me and kept me here on this earth for one purpose, a purpose that is unique to me. I surrender myself to what You have called me to do, and Your divine Providence will sustain me and direct me. May angel midwives congregate around me, assisting me as I give birth to what You have preordained. Let me bring forth what is in me for its own sake, not for what it can do for me or how it can advance my standing. Every breath I take, every heartbeat, every bit of my being is sustained by You. Help me understand that if I don't do my work, I hurt not only myself, but I hurt my family, my friends, the planet.

Make this tale live for us in all its many bearings, O God. Amen.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Old words, new life!

Since “Reign of Silence” has found a new life and audience through the miracle of Amazon and epublishing, I’ve had some questions crop up. I’m not going to do an itemized list, but here are some generalities I’d be pleased to share.
First, the book is NOT autobiographical. I am not Joshua Nix. A couple of the characters are loosely based on real-life folks, but most everyone in the cast are figments of my imagination, or composites of people I do know. Then, there are those characters like Precious who are totally generated out of the ether. I really like my characters, love the dialogue they have with each other, and have been mightily amused at how they react to each other and the otherworldy events facing them.
As for some of the incidents and setpieces in the book – some of those do have a basis in “fact,” sort of. I’ve always thrilled to a well-told ghost story, especially those that were told to me as truth. So, there are a couple of sequences in Reign of Silence that are part of my own family’s oral traditions.
About 2/3 of the way through writing the book, I came to realize that I was going to raise a lot of questions in my own mind that I had no possible way of answering. Some things are a mystery to me, for sure. If you haven’t read the book yet, I promise that you won’t be left with a “lady or the tiger” ending – it does resolve itself nicely, and I found the end very satisfying. But if you’re left with some nagging “theological” questions, that’s going to have to be OK. I had a seminary professor say once that you would spend your whole life hammering out your personal theology. Well, there just isn’t a lot in orthodox systematic theology that deals with ghosts and haunted houses. So a lot of what I wrote was intuitive from what I DID know.
I grant that telling a ghost story from a Christian perspective makes a lot of folks uncomfortable. I’d just like to say to my fellow believers that, as Christians, we HAVE to acknowledge the existence of a spirit world. How does that world intersect with the physical world? Aye, there’s the rub … and the foundation of the tale. Heh-heh-heh.
One other question that I’ve dealt with a good bit here lately: What authors are your inspiration? Well, Frank Peretti is an obvious call. When I read “This Present Darkness,” I thought – this dude has made an audacious attempt at telling a really scary tale – about modern day demons, no less - and pulled it off. Later, when I read “The Oath,” I was irritated because he took on a theme I’d been pondering – I’ve often wondered how “the sins of the fathers” would be visited on future generations. At the risk of being cast out into the outer darkness to spend eternity gnashing my teeth, I’d be amiss by not mentioning Steven King … I remember reading “Salem’s Lot” and being blown away by reading what I think King himself said was “Our Town with vampires.” Worked for me. My favorite book of his was “The Stand,” and I think it was because it had a nifty internal theology that put some real gravitas in the story. So did “The Green Mile.” You can rail against King’s subject matter and what might be considered offensive content, but that sucker can tell a story. I’m a big, big fan of Tolkein; but the biggest influence for me, perhaps, has been Harper Lee. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” both book and movie, are as close to flawless as storytelling can be. Lee bombarded us all with truth, but not in a heavy-handed way.
In a future blog, I do want to share with you how “Reign of Silence” was birthed, and detail the process of writing it. It was unique in my experience. This is my first stab at a novel – I’m kind of in awe of my fellow authors who turn out books weekly, it seems (as in “Book Seventeen of the Builder’s Chronicles Series”). There is a second book being hammered out right now, and a third outlined. Maybe it gets easier as you go along. I genuinely like the one I’m working on now. We’ll see.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Worship X 2

It's Sunday, and all over the world, Christians are assembling at any number of houses of worship. Sunday, of course, celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and whether you're a believer or not, reality is that a lot of folks DO believe.

From time to time, I frequent websites designed for atheists. It makes for intersting reading. One in particular that caught my attention on an atheist community board was when one member asked the question: "What influenced you to become an atheist?" Most of the answers dealt with the respondee's lack of evidence in a god, how religion is irrational, stuff like that. I "get" that. Fact is, in any matter of belief, there has to be a lot of faith involved, and it's a faith in something that doesn't obey the rules of the natural world. To be a Christian means that you have to accept the supernatural, that there is a world beyond ours, and that Christ, through the incarnation, bridged that gap between those two worlds. Sometimes, in discussions with agnostics (I don't personally know anyone who would call themselves an atheist), I want to say, "Most of us were born with open minds. Remember yours?" Because it just seems sensible that since no one possesses the entire sum of human knowledge that God might exist in that realm they know nothing of.

Some folks simply don't want to consider that, although I think that betrays a lack of intellectual curiosity. And there are plenty of gracious, well-meaning people who have genuinely searched for God and came up lacking. I'm not sure of the theology behind that - why some people just can't believe, but it does happen.

The other act of worship for many today will be the Super Bowl. My teams have been eliminated, and we're faced with a duel between two of the finest quarterbacks playing the game. Some folks (fans, short for "fanatic," of course) treat this as a high and holy moment, a gathering of true believers, and their very hearts and minds will be changed based on whether their team is victorious or not. Well, I'll admit to investing myself pretty seriously in my favorite teams, college or pro, but life always goes on. We're having a bunch of teenagers from church over tonight, and we'll have a great time. It's not worship, though.

Finally, check out "Reign of Silence" if you haven't already. It's out there for the Kindle, and you'll find that it's available at an attractive price point. And it's good, if you like that sort of thing.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Into the void!

Blogging has always seemed to be something of a vanity exercise to me, but I've come around to thinking, gee, if you have something to say that might be an encouragement to someone, go for it.

It's also an opportunity for shameless self-promotion, something I'm genetically uncomfortable doing, but here we go anyway.

It's like this: I have a great day job as an associate editor for a large Christian newsjournal. I have a background in local church student ministry - been at that for a lot of years. I'm also a magician, the fruit of a hobby that long since got out of hand. And, to my everlasting amazement, I'm an author of a novel that, at this writing, seems to be doing well in the wonderful world of e-publishing.

It's this last statement that has moved me into blogging. "Reign of Silence" was published back in 2005 by Xulon Press, and did ... OK. It's remained dormant for some time.

Then, in December of 2011, I decided to publish it for Kindle. And I swear, in January, it sold close to 2500 copies, almost twice what it had done in the years before. It was an epiphany for me.

So, I want to promote it some more, because it's a pretty good read. I don't know how to categorize it - is there such a thing as Christian paranormal fiction? Because it's a ghost story, told from an orthodox Christian worldview.

It's out there for you if you'd like to take a peek.

And (drum roll!) I am HARD. AT. WORK. at another novel that has me stepping back in amazement, because it almost seems like it's writing itself. I don't want to talk about it too much, because I'm afraid I'll jinx it, but I feel passionately about it, and I can't wait to share it.

Thus endeth Tony's first blog. Blessings!