Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014, A Year of Change

   As we sit here on the threshold of a new year, pundits, writers, and pastors all across the world are preparing remarks on what this past year has meant.  Since I have pretensions in all three categories, I guess I will have to weigh in also.
   2014 was good to me personally and to my family.  My lovely daughters Rachel and Rebecca are now well into their second year of college, and making decent grades despite their dyslexia.  Both of them have regular boyfriends who are kind to them, respectful to my wife and me, and neither of whom has a criminal record, visible tattoos, or nose piercings.  Most importantly, both my girls are active and dynamic in their faith, exhibiting a spiritual maturity beyond their years.  And both share my love of scary movies, so after 30 years of watching them alone, I now have partners for scary movie night!
   My lovely wife Patty continues her career in music education, getting excellent performances out of her students and enjoying the respect and favor of her administrators.  She did a killer mini-term in grad school this summer and is getting very close to finishing her master's degree.  We managed to sneak in a several trips together this year - in February we drove up to Springdale, Arkansas for an Indian Artifact show and had to run  the gauntlet of a nasty blizzard on the way home; then in August we drove down to Waco, TX for three days of movies, museums, and fine dining; then finally last week we spent three days down in Galveston, walking on the beach, shopping, and enjoying the Gulf.
  I began this year as a wannabe writer who had two manuscripts completed and was about to start a third, but had enjoyed no success in finding a publisher or an agent - unless you count the many vanity presses who were quite eager to take my money (and large amounts thereof!) in exchange for printing my books for me.  All that changed in February when I contacted Electio Publishing and they read the manuscript for THE TESTIMONIUM.  They offered me a contract, and after that deal was finalized, I sent them the manuscript for THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE and they liked that one too! 
  Thus encouraged, I completed another novel this year, MATTHEW'S AUTOGRAPH, and began work on a fourth one entitled LOVER OF GOD.  Election offered me a contract for AUTOGRAPH almost right away, and I am optimistic that they will like my current work as well.  I have been truly blessed to work with Jesse and Chris at Electio - they are an excellent team!
  I also completed my 18th year of teaching at Greenville Christian School.  One of the most remarkable classes it has ever been my privilege to teach graduated in May - many of their names pop up in THE TESTIMONIUM as characters - but this year's senior class, though less flashy, has a very dear place in my heart as well.  The fact is that I come to love all these students as I teach them in grades 7-12.  Watching them grow up in my classroom is an incredible privilege, and one I hope to never take for granted.  (Shout out to all my GCS students and alums here!)
  In other things, I am a year older, not much wiser, and about the same weight I was last year.  I celebrated my 30th anniversary (see post below) and my 51st birthday.  I was disappointed by Elder Scrolls Online but still get a great deal of enjoyment out of SKYRIM and OBLIVION.  The HOBBIT trilogy came to a satisfactory conclusion, and my Cowboys are going to the playoffs, and looking good doing it!  I was also pleased with the outcome of the mid-term elections and am optimistic about my party's recapturing the White House in 2016.
   Looking forward to visiting with all of you, here, on my FB page, and at my book signings, in 2015!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Book Recommendation: THE POWER OF BROKENNESS by Jim McCreagh

I just finished this book this evening, and really enjoyed it!  Anyone who has struggled with the pitfalls of this world - depression, codependency, addiction, grief, anger, family problems, divorce, abuse - can benefit from this work.  Here is what I wrote in my Amazon review:

We live in a broken world, and all of us are broken in some way.  We may be broken by grief, anger, lust, depression, addiction in any of its many forms, or by frustration with our careers, our families, or our own shortcomings.  In the end, the thing that has broken us is the same thing that broke the world in the beginning: sin.
    The modern world often seeks to deal with brokenness by denying it - by encouraging everyone to be "comfortable in their own skin," to embrace their faults as part of who they are and deny that there is anything fundamentally wrong with our nature.  In other cases, modern therapists try to treat the symptom while failing to recognize the underlying disease.  We try to deal with addiction through self-help rather than God's help.
  What Jim McCraigh shows us in his book, THE POWER OF BROKENNESS: THE LANGUAGE OF HEALING, is that God can fix what is broken within us, as long as we acknowledge that we are broken and entrust our repair and restoration to Him.  McCraigh focuses on twelve words, exploring the popular understanding and spiritual meaning of each.  He devotes a chapter to each of them: Life, Seek, Trust, Fearless, Forgiven, Transform, Miracle, Relationship, Community, Vigilance,  Power, and Share. In each chapter he used this term to guide the reader into a better, closer relationship with God, which will in turn make the person who follows this path a better, stronger Christian.
   I thoroughly enjoyed this book; it is not a quick read - each chapter requires some time for reflection.  But I highly recommend it either for individuals seeking recovery and restoration, or for group studies, especially in Christ-centered recovery programs.  Excellent overall - my only (small) criticism is McCraigh's insistence on not capitalizing the name of Satan when he refers to the Father of Lies.  While I understand and even appreciate the reasoning behind it, as a grammarian I found it a trifle annoying. But that's really the only thing I did not like about this book. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014


I know, I know - this is an author blog.
I am supposed to weigh in about serious literary matters related to my novels and the world of writing, or else to offer up carefully thought out opinions on deep matters both spiritual and political.  In short, this blog is SUPPOSED to be serious stuff.
And, most of the time, it will be.

But today is about my Dallas Cowboys.
Wrapping up a 12-4 season with a crushing win over the hapless Redskins (44-17, can you dig it??), they are looking more and more like the fabled Cowboys of the 1990's, who won three Superbowls in four years, and could be relied on to give you a win almost every time, and a good game on the other occasions.  Now, I will be the first to say that this 2014 team is not there yet - the playoffs loom ahead, and both Green Bay and Detroit are formidable teams - but if they bring the game to the playoffs that they have trotted out the last four weeks, the Packers and Lions will be stepping into a buzzsaw!  Unbeaten on the road, this team with a history of December meltdowns after getting our hopes up in mid-season went 4-0 this December.  They have momentum, they have enthusiasm, they have a love for the game and for each other that makes them the most cohesive Cowboys team in at least two decades.

One more thing:  all the Tony Romo haters out there need to go to the nearest barnyard, scoop up a big, steaming shovelful of fresh dirt, and eat it!!! They need to eat it, like it, and then say "Thank you sir, may I have another?"

I have watched for the last ten years as this incredibly talented young man has done his best to carry the team on his back with no defense and no offensive line to protect him - nor any kind of running game to take the pressure off of him.  He has put up incredible numbers, made some sensational plays, and gotten the team further every season than they would have ever gotten without him.  For that phenomenal effort, he has been criticized, vilified, condemned as a choke artist, a lightweight, and called every other dirty name in the sports book. Fans have griped, complained, and begged for another quarterback to take the snaps.

My answer to them has always been this: what would the Cowboys' record be if every player on the team was playing at the level that Tony was?  No one man can win a championship, or even carry his team to the playoffs year after year.  For the first time, this year, Romo has a complete team to back him up.  He's got a great offensive line, a phenomenally skilled running back, several great receivers including the remarkably talented Dez Bryant, and a defense that is better than average and improving with every game.   

No, we haven't won a playoff game yet.  The Superbowl is four games away, games against very talented teams who have records just as good as ours. 

Championships are hard.  Nothing is guaranteed.

But for right now, I am basking in the glow of a great season.

And I am more optimistic than I have been in many years.

Go Cowboys!  All the way!!!!!!!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

His full name is Gaius Octavius Julius Caesar Augustus, but today we remember him simply as Caesar Augustus. 2014 years ago, he was the most important man on earth. He created the Roman Empire, ending 100 years of civil war that had torn the Republic apart. He avenged his adoptive father's death at the hands of a cabal of Senators, and defeated the most popular man in Rome, Mark Antony, in order to seize supreme power. He took over a dysfunctional Republic and made the government run like a well-tuned engine. He expanded the Empire and then made peace. Four times he was able to extinguish the fires in the Temple of Mars, signifying that Rome had no foreign conflicts going anywhere. He boasted that he "found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble." Poets sung his praises; sculptors vied to create images of him; and a grateful Senate named him "First Citizen of Rome."
 Yet today he is primarily remembered for a single verse in the Gospel of Luke: "Now there went forth in those days a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed . . ."

I wonder if Augustus, in his wildest dreams, ever imagined that a child born to a destitute teenage mother in a barn surrounded by livestock, cradled in a feed trough, in a tiny village of the most insignificant province of his Empire, would become King of Kings and Lord of Lords? That history would be split in two at that moment? That he would become a mere footnote in the story of the carpenter from Galilee who would change the world in a far more lasting way? Angels sang at His birth, and the whole earth trembled at his death. The glory of Augustus is but a memory for historians, but the glory of the Lord of Hosts endures forever and ever.

Joy to the world, the Lord is Come!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Atheists and Christmas - It's the Most Purposeless Time of the Year!

  Just got back from town with my wife, where we braved the frenzy at Wal-Mart in order to complete our year's Christmas shopping.  We still have to get the tree up, but overall, I am happy with what all we have done.  It's a fun time of year - yes, there is a lot of craziness and bustling to get things all ready for the big day, but there's also a great sense of fun in the air.  Many of my former students are back home from college and I can hardly drive around town without running into one or two of them.  It's fun to hear how they have grown up and what God is doing in their lives.
   In the end, the joy of Christmas lies in what we are celebrating - the fact that we are not cosmic orphans marooned on an uncaring world.  We have a Father who loves us so much that He broke into human history two thousand years ago in a supernatural way, to become one of us in order to speak to us face to face, to buy us back from the cruel master we had sold ourselves to - at the cost of His own blood.
   I am a man of faith.  I don't say that trying to come across as some holy, altogether righteous, ridiculously religious person.  I am far from a perfect Christian - I don't pray or read my Bible as often as I should, I think lots of stuff I shouldn't, I wrestle with sin on a daily basis.  Sometimes I come out on top, other times sin puts me in a half-nelson until I cry "Uncle!" (Well, technically, I cry "Jesus!" but you know what I mean.)  When I say I am a man of faith, I mean simply this - I believe in God.  I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was His Only Begotten Son, the Word Made Flesh, very God of very God, dwelling among us as one of us to bring us the message of hope and salvation that we proclaim every year at this time.  I was raised as a preacher's son, and believing in God came as naturally to me as breathing.  I cannot imagine existing in a world without God - and I certainly could not imagine celebrating Christmas without celebrating the Savior whose birth we commemorate.
   Study after study has shown that people who believe are happier, have more friends, more satisfying marriages, and more fulfilling lives than those who reject the idea of God.  This isn't to say that atheists and agnostics are bad people - most of the ones I know have been thoroughly decent folks.  But they have voluntarily chosen to divorce themselves from the very purpose of human existence - in fact, in embracing atheism, they have pretty much chosen to deny that there is a purpose to anything.
   Consider this: most atheists embrace evolution, and its philosophical twin Darwinism, as the explanation for all life on earth.  In other words, humanity is a biological accident,  a meaningless fork on the primate family tree, a parasite species busily engaged in destroying the planet that created it.  Our lives have no more value than that of a beetle or a rat, because we are nothing more than they are.  Our consciousness is a fluke, our free will an illusion, we are nothing but organic pain collectors on a one-way path to oblivion.  The great, liberating cry of atheism - "Without God, all things are permissible!" - becomes a hollow shout of just how trivial we actually are.  Without God, morality is meaningless, a simple collective statement of what a culture believes or thinks at any give time.  Who are we to condemn the Holocaust, the crusades, the gulags, or ethnic cleansing?  Didn't the people who perpetrated those atrocities believe they were doing right at the time?  Who are we to say that our morality is in any way superior to theirs? 
   Where can we find hope, if not in God?  Does anyone really have faith in humanity?  In the goodness of human nature? I would challenge them to watch the news.  We are clearly a fallen, self-destructive, greedy, and wasteful race.  We began the Twentieth Century under the mantle of Progressivism - which said that man was perfectible, that vice and crime were a product of environment and conditioning, and that if we would just empower the state enough, we could eradicate those negative influences and create a perfect society.  A hundred years later, vice and crime are still rampant.  We have spend four trillion dollars in America since the sixties in a "War on Poverty," and poverty won.  Anyone who thinks that, given enough time and resources, man will simply redeem himself, has not studied history.  Whatever redemption we seek will have to come from something greater than ourselves, and while I love STAR TREK, I don't think the Vulcans are waiting out there to guide us into a new age anytime soon.
   I was talking to a friend of mine who left Christianity not long ago, and I said that without God, life has no purpose.  He didn't even bother to argue the point.  He simply said: "Who says life has to have a purpose?"  I think that is perhaps the saddest thing I have ever heard in my life.  If there is no purpose, what is the point?  If this life, here and now, is all we have, then there is no reason to take joy in anything, least of all, Christmas.  So as you decorate your tree and wrap your gifts, be thankful for the greatest gift of all - that our lives do have meaning and purpose.  We were not placed here so that we can take part in a mad scramble to pass on our genes before we die.  We were placed here by a loving Father, who left us many signposts pointing the way to Him.  He gave us all the information we need to find our way, to learn to love each other as we go, and to reach out our hands and touch the face of the Divine.

"For with the woes of sin and strife, this world has suffered long.
Beneath the angel strains have rolled, two thousand years of wrong.
And man, at war with man, heeds not the love song which they bring:
O Hush the noise! ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing!"

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Birthday, "Tweener Day", the Dallas Cowboys, and "Mawwage"

  It's been a fun, crazy weekend at Chez Smith.  Saturday was my 51st birthday, as previously noted, and my wife had to work all day at a UIL event. So I got together with a couple of friends of mine and we spent a long, muddy day walking around looking for Indian arrowheads.  We had a decent day, thanks to recent rains that had washed the beaches down, and I came home with about a half dozen nice points.  My lovely daughters had baked a double chocolate cake for me, and my wife put 51 candles on it, nearly setting the icing on fire - but I still was able to blow them all out at once!  We also had a huge pot of chicken and dumplings for supper, which I thoroughly enjoyed - but my poor wife managed to spill part of her bowl, burning both her wrists.  We got her iced and medicated, and then I opened her present to me - a copy of Stephen King's latest novel, REVIVAL.  It's probably the most mean-spirited thing he's written since PET SEMATARY, but the man is still a genius.  He is a better writer on his worst day than I am on my best.
   I was born on December 13, and my wife and I got married on December 15 (not in the same year, however!).  So in our household, December 14 is affectionately called "Tweener Day".  (The day between the two - oh, come on!  Like you never give silly nicknames to things!).  This year "Tweener Day" fell on a Sunday, so after sleeping till 8 AM, I dragged myself out of bed and began to get ready for church - but I had forgotten to take ibuprofen before bed, and the day's hiking and sliding along the muddy lake banks had left me very sore.  Nonetheless, I made it to church, taught the male youth Sunday School class since their teacher was absent, the preached a sermon on the birth of John the Baptist from Luke 1.
  I was delighted to see an old friend, David Yates, from the first church I ever pastored, Honey Creek in Wolfe City, TX, drop in for a visit.  We invited him to dinner, and he spent most of the afternoon and evening.  We went to Hastings for awhile, walking down the movie aisle and playing the "seen this one?" game,  but we really spent the most part of the day just visiting and catching up - till 7:20 PM rolled around, that is!  Then it was down to serious business.
   It is time I came clean here: I am a diehard Dallas Cowboys fan.  I was a fan when they went 1-15, and I was a fan when they won three Super Bowls in four years.  I started watching in the twilight of the Tom Landry era, and have watched them play under every hapless coach in the Age of Jerry.  (Being a Cowboys fan in the Jones era is not unlike being a subject of Louis XIV, the longest reigning monarch in European history - you might love him, you might hate him, but he is going to be there, year after year, no matter what, as the supporting cast around him changes again and again.) Like all true Cowboys fans, I have a deep and abiding hatred of the Philadelphia Eagles.  The team, their coaches, their fans, their putrid green Eagle mascot . . . this is a team I want to see the Cowboys CRUSH, every year.  And, after the absolute donkey-stomping they gave us on Thanksgiving Day, I wanted it BAD.  Well, I got it!  It was a thrilling, frustrating, and ultimately soul-cleansing win for my Boys, and I went to bed and slept the sleep of the righteous and vindicated.
   Monday was, of course, time to go back to work - albeit with a reduced workload this particular Monday.  I teach at a small Christian school, and most of our high schoolers were either in the Dominican Republic or Shreveport, LA on mission trips this week.  The 20 or so remaining 9th thru 12th graders got on a bus Monday morning and drove over to Operation Christmas Child in Dallas to help pack toys and presents for the poor, so I had only two classes all day.  I used the time to grade papers, average grades, and figure out exemptions for semester exams.
   But Monday was also the 30th anniversary of the day that I married my best friend and childhood sweetheart, and she was never far from my thoughts as I read student essays and punched numbers into our gradebook program.  As soon as she got off work from her job in Royse City, we met in Greenville and went out for a very nice Japanese dinner at the local hibachi grill, Shogun's.  (We spent the first year and a half of our married life in Japan, and have a fondness for all things Oriental that persists to this day.  It was a lovely dinner - sushi, gyoza, and fresh grilled hibachi steak, salmon, and calamari.  It was way too expensive, but we enjoyed every single bite, and then came home and spent a good part of the evening sitting on the couch, digesting our meals as we watched TV together and talked about times past.  "Mawwage is the weason we are hewah today," the old priest in THE PRINCESS BRIDE said, and he said a mouthful despite the funniest speech defect in motion picture history.  Marriage isn't just about romance and passion and long embraces and sweet kisses; it's also about having a person who knows you better than anyone and still enjoys your company, who is just as willing to sit in silence and watch a movie with you as to spend the evening in deep conversation, who laughs at my jokes, even if she's heard them a hundred times before, and who shares all those silly "inside jokes" that no one else in the world will ever understand.  Patty and I got on this merry-go-round together thirty years ago, and we are still laughing at every circuit and not ready to get off the ride yet.  I am blessed in many things, but perhaps most of all in my life's partner.  Here's to the next thirty, my love!

Friday, December 12, 2014

On Turning 51 . . .

  It's nearly 10 PM as I write this.  In about three hours plus change, I will have completed my 51st trip around the sun.  I am not generally one to make a big fuss about my birthdays - I enjoy presents as much as the next guy, but we usually don't do big elaborate celebrations at our house. Consequently, I really don't fret much about getting older.  I will admit, last year probably bothered me as much as any birthday I have ever celebrated - somehow fifty just seems old.  As long as you are in your 40's you can delude yourself into thinking you are still a "young man," whatever that means, but at 50 you just have to accept that you have entered middle age.
  But now that I have had a year to adjust to that, fifty isn't so bad.  Honestly, I still think and act like a teenager a good deal of the time (my wife and my students can both verify that), I still have decent energy reserves, and I can still do all the stuff I used to do (granted, I tend to be more sore the next day!).  It's really not a bad stage of life - I certainly enjoy myself a great deal, and have lots of friends. I haven't yet entered that mystical place I hear my older friends talk about - it apparently happens after your kids move out and graduate college, and it's called "having money again."  However, since I never had much money to begin with, I'm not going nuts waiting for it to happen.  In the meantime, I have my family, my church, my writing, my endless fascination with B-movies, and even some video games to waste time with.
  Tomorrow I will rise at dawn, take my boat out with a couple of friends, and go in search of those elusive Indian arrowheads I love to find.  When I come home, a hot bath, a hot supper, and - who knows?  Maybe even a birthday cake.  All things considered, life is pretty good - even if I am a year older.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On Being a Novelist . . .

   Even in high school, I dreamed of being a writer someday.  I actually started a book my sophomore year and scribbled frantically at it until I was a senior, filling three binders with the adventures of a World War One flying ace named Keith Roxton.  About six years after I graduated, I found the box with my notebooks in it, then pulled one out and read a couple of chapters - and put it back in the box. It was pretty bad!
  While I was in the Navy I wrote several short stories - nearly all horror stories in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft - that were decent.  I even got one of them published while I was in college.  I also started a fantasy novel and got about 50 pages of it written on my ship's UGC-6 teletype machine.  It was, frankly,  pretty terrible, although I do still have it in a folder at my desk.
   After I got out of college, life got busy.  I wrote articles on Indian Artifacts for a hobby magazine, and helped an old World War II veteran who was my neighbor pen his memoirs.  He gave me a nice mention in the acknowledgments of his finished book (PATTON'S ILL-FATED RAID by Harry Thompson; look it up sometime - it's an amazing story from a member of the Greatest Generation).  But after I started teaching full time in 1996, my writing simply stopped.  I never quit reading, and I never stopped dreaming of writing a book someday - but I gave up on trying for a long time.
    But the idea of finding Pontius Pilate's report on the trial of Jesus seemed like a fascinating idea for a novel.  One day in March of 2012, I sat down and started writing the prologue of THE TESTIMONIUM - and I didn't quit till I finished the novel over Thanksgiving break that same year.  Then came the marathon adventure of getting published.  I managed to dodge the huge bullet that was vanity publishing, despite the attempts by predatory presses like Tate and Westbow to sign me up.  I tried for a solid year to get an agent to represent my book - already on the way to being "books" at that point! - with no luck.  Then I found Electio Publishing's website, and thanks to Jesse and Chris, the wonderful duo that run the company, THE TESTIMONIUM finally hit the presses.  When I signed the contract, it really hit me that I was actually a novelist - although it didn't really feel real to me until I held the first copy in my hand on August 12, 2014.
   So what's it like to be a novelist?  Nothing has changed, really - and at the same time, everything has.  I walk into Hastings, and before I go rent a movie, I count the number of copies of THE TESTIMONIUM still on the shelf to see if I've sold any more. If one of the books is crooked, I straighten it.  If someone is perusing the shelf where my book is, I will shamelessly plug it!  Several times a day I look at the book's Amazon page to see if my sales rank has changed, or if I have gotten another review.  And every time I see that familiar brown cover with the bold red Latin letters, a small voice in the back of my head whispers: "Can you believe you did that?"
   There is one other thing.  Now that several hundred copies of the book have been sold, I know that, even as I type this, odds are someone, somewhere, is reading it.  And I wonder - what do they think? Do they like it?  Will they tell a friend about it?  Do they think I'm the next great American writer, or do they put my book in the Goodwill box as soon as they are done with it?  The best thing is when someone I've never met tells me how much they liked the book, but the worst thing is that I will never know how most of its readers felt about it at all.
  And there is one last thing I have to share: writing is VERY addictive.  Three books completed, a fourth in progress, and a fifth already forming in my head.  I may never be the next James Rollins or Stephen King or Tim LaHaye - but I sure intend to have some fun creating stories and sharing them!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Reflections on a Book Signing . . . .

I love doing book signings.  My table is set up facing the front door where I can greet every customer as they enter the store; I have five or six copies of THE TESTIMONIUM stacked neatly in front of me, a dish full of peppermints to give to those who stop by, a frame of arrowheads from my collection as a conversation starter, and a copy of the full page article the local paper did about me and my novel.  It's a busy day in the Christmas shopping season; people are coming and going constantly.
  "Hi there! Want to take a look at my new novel?"  Smile bright, attitude eager, repeated again and again as new customers enter the store.  Most - well over half - will pause and take at least a cursory look; some are intrigued enough to ask a few questions, and about one out of five today says "Sign me a copy, please!"  It's fun greeting the people, even if you have to hear the saddest sentence in the English language several times a day - "I'm not a reader."
   An old friend comes in and you are delighted to see them, but throughout the entire conversation you keep one eye on the door for new people coming in so you can give them your greeting, your sales pitch.  Some folks tell you "I'll pick one up on the way out," then leave by the checkout counter furthest from your table to avoid walking by you again.  Others really do come by and pick one up on the way out.  Some say sadly that they don't have the money right now, but then they pick up one of the fliers you had made and walk away reading the plot synopsis.  Future Kindle sales?  Who knows?
  A former student stops by and asks how many books you've sold, then makes your day when she says "Well, I'm about to buy two more!"  Several people mention that book they started to write last year, or when they were in college, or when they were a kid.  You encourage them all - after all, you started your first book in high school, and as bad as it was, you never forgot how nice it felt to finish a chapter.
  It's getting dark outside, and your box of books is nearly empty.  Twenty sales - a very nice day indeed!  You pack up your props and take them out to the car, leaving the books on the table for last.  You come back in and see another customer. "Want to take a look at my new novel before I pack them up for the night?"  Turns out she does, and since her niece is a student of yours, she buys a copy.  You leave a few signed copies at the bookstore, along with the leftover fliers.  You go to the register and cash out.  Two hundred and eighty-nine dollars for five hour's work.  Of course, you paid $11 each for those books, so it's $4.45 profit per book, but you're not counting that right now.  You're looking at the cash in the wallet and planning to take your wife to the movies tonight.
   A prophet may indeed be without honor in his home town, but local authors do OK.

Friday, December 5, 2014

I need to do some writing . . .

My manuscript is pulled up . . . seven chapters now completed, probably twenty or so to go.  I've typed in Arial Bold the words "Chapter Eight", and a vast expanse of white stretches below those words.  My story is well underway; my main character is on a journey that will see him grow as a man, as a Senator of Rome, and as a confidante of Claudius Caesar.  Still ahead is his chance encounter with the strange sect known as the Nazarenes, and his first meeting with the Jewish evangelist Saul ben Issachar, better known as Paul of Tarsus. Still ahead, too, is the death of the Emperor he befriended and the accession of the twisted youth known as Nero to the throne.  His dramatic stand in the Senate, described in my prologue, lies some six years in the future, story-time.
  My wife is engrossed in a Harry Potter book on her Kindle; the TV from the next room is a faint buzz.  One daughter is on a date with her boyfriend; the other is preparing to go upstairs to crash for the evening after a long week.  I have sole and uncontested control of this computer.
I need to do some writing.
  But when I minimize this blog, I see the row of icons on the right hand side of the screen - those evil foes of productivity known as "video games."  Surely no one would begrudge a tired teacher an hour or so of "Frozen Throne" or "Oblivion" or "Skyrim" on a Friday night, would they?  Then there are the two movies I rented out in the car.  I need to watch at least one of them tonight so I can get my $3 back when I turn them in at Hastings tomorrow.  It would be nice to stretch out on the couch with a movie for awhile, but . . .
I need to do some writing.

  Marcus is about to receive a letter from the Emperor, directing him to the province of Syria to investigate irregularities there.  He must face down corrupt governors, take command of a legion whose legate has been murdered and put down an insurrection, and hear the grievances of several local officials along the way.  And he doesn't know yet about the strange twist his inspection tour is about to take as he leaves the northern provinces and makes his way eastward - but he's about to find out.

I need to do some writing!!!!

What We Believe Versus What We Know

(I originally wrote this as an afterward in my first book, THE TESTIMONIUM. It got cut due to concerns about the length of the book, but I thought I would share it here.  While it contains no spoilers, it does make more sense if you have read the book.)

First of all, I would like to thank all those who proofread, commented on, and criticized this work in progress.  This is the first novel I have ever completed (after two woefully incompetent starts when I was much younger!), and it has been a labor of love from start to finish.  Where did I get the idea?  To tell the truth, several things came together at once that brought this story to fruition.

As a pastor and a Christian schoolteacher, it is my job to make the Bible stories come alive for my students and my congregation.  One of the time honored ways to do this is to do the occasional costumed monologue, speaking as one of the characters from the story.  About five or six years ago, I did one such monologue as Pontius Pilate, dictating his report to Tiberius Caesar about the trial of Jesus and the events which followed.  Having read some of the works of the Apostolic Fathers (second generation Christians who wrote between 96 and 180 AD), I knew that such a document did once exist.  Justin Martyr actually appealed to Pilate’s report in his work, The First Apology, dated around 140 AD.  I also knew that a forged report by Pilate, known as The Acts of Pilate, had been written in the early medieval era.  As I looked through these accounts, I found myself wondering – what happened to Pilate’s original report to Caesar? Could it account for the story related to Tertullian about Tiberius’ interest in Jesus of Nazareth? And how would the world react today if such a report were uncovered?

This brings me to my second reason for writing this work.  There are a plethora of recent thrillers centered on the theme of Biblical archeology.  The Da Vinci Code is probably the best known of these in recent years, but many famous authors have created imaginary archeologists and historians and sent them scrambling the globe in search of ancient Biblical treasures.  As a believer in Christ, where most of these works fall short is not in execution – they are, for the most part, well-written and compelling – but in their message.  Almost invariably, their underlying theme is “Guess what? The Church and/or the Bible have been lying to you all these years about who Jesus was! Here is the REAL truth!!”  And then they give us their vision of the mortal Jesus, the space alien Jesus, the mystic Jesus, the dead prophet Jesus, the pretender Jesus, or whatever. And, as a degreed historian, I will say that they usually do so with an absolutely callous disregard for historical accuracy.  I know it is a novel, but come on! If you are going to call it a historical novel, get your history right!

Then there is the annual parade of dubious archeological discoveries, trumpeted on The Discovery Channel or on the cover of TIME, always purporting to show that this or that aspect of the Gospel narrative is untrue.  Then, invariably, under the light of scholarship, we find out that the discovery was a hoax (the James Ossuary), an exaggeration of secular wishful thinking (the Jesus Family Tomb), or at best, a document written a century or more after the time of Jesus and falsely attributed to one of his disciples (the Gospel of Thomas or the Judas Gospel).  The fact is that the four Biblical Gospels have pretty vigorously resisted all attempts to “debunk” them over the years, and we know now that they present a remarkably unified narrative that gets all the little details of Jesus’ world right.  And if they are correct in so many small historical details, is it not safe to assume that they are correct in their most important and central claim?

So what I set out to write is a (hopefully) readable and enjoyable thriller, with a dash of danger and romance, and at the same time raise a very important, indeed fundamental question: What if the Gospels got it right?  To that end, I have done my best to make sure that all the arguments Josh and his Dad employ to defend the Gospels are sound and accurate.  For example, while most modern scholars would date the three Synoptic Gospels around AD 70, the “defense brief” theory for Luke and Acts still makes more historical sense than any other explanation posed for the abrupt ending of the Book of Acts.  And if it does hold true, then that would also place Mark and Matthew a decade or more earlier than 70 AD.  So if Jesus was crucified in 33 AD, and Luke completed his Gospel in 62 AD or so, that means a gap of less than 30 years between the events he chronicles and the time of his writing. That means that many of the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life would still have been alive at the time these accounts were written.  And some of Paul’s letters are quite a bit earlier than the Gospels! So if the arguments presented in this fictitious tale make you reconsider what you believe about Jesus and the Gospel stories, I would strongly encourage you to read some of the great Christian apologists out there, especially Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel (whose arguments I have shamelessly plagiarized!), or, for a bit more scholarly coverage, some of Donald Guthrie’s works on the New Testament.

Last of all, as a voracious reader, I consume a lot of fiction, both Christian and secular.  Sad to say, there isn’t nearly as much quality Christian fiction out there as there should be.  More than once I have picked up a popular best-seller from the Christian bookstore and lamented that it was really nowhere near the quality of writing that is produced by some of my favorite writers of mainstream historical fiction or thrillers.  I thought, perhaps, that I could do better.  I will let you be the judge of whether or not I did.


Lewis Smith

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hello, World, New Novelist is Here to Opine!!!!

  My name is Lewis Smith, and I am 50  years old as I type this . . . for another 10 days, anyway!  I am a husband, a father, a pastor, a Christian school teacher, and most recently, a novelist.  My first work, THE TESTIMONIUM, was published in August of this year and is enjoying nice reviews on Amazon and  I have two more works that have been accepted for publication and will be out next year.  THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE will be released on May 19, and MATTHEW'S AUTOGRAPH is coming out on December 1 of 2015.  I am currently working on a fourth book, LOVER OF GOD, which I hope to have completed by summer.
  Why this blog?  Well, first of all, I was told that, as an author, I simply MUST have one.  A FaceBook page for my novel is apparently not enough. But beyond that, I am - like all writers, I suppose - in love with my own words, and can't wait to share them with total strangers through the medium of a glowing digital screen.  I hope all of you will join me here regularly to see what wise and pithy utterances my muse has inspired me to type.
  Mainly, I wanted something a little less crowded and busy than a FB page, where I can share things of a greater length.  I also want give folks an opportunity to ask questions about my books, my interests, my views on intergalactic diplomacy, and why SUCKER PUNCH is the greatest film of all time. (It's late at night and I think this first post is getting a little silly, to be honest!)  So I'm going to cut this short, and post something more serious, thoughtful, and literary tomorrow.  In the meantime, I invite you to join the hundreds who have already read and enjoyed my first novel by purchasing your own copy of THE TESTIMONIUM.  Here is the link to its Amazon page: