Tuesday, February 23, 2016


  Well, the best-laid plans of mice and men aft gang agleigh, as Burns once said!  My planned blogpost for this week was going to be a comparison and contrast between the movie RISEN and my book, THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE.  However, events this weekend have conspired to keep me away from the theater, so I don't have the raw material to write that post. (In other words, I haven't seen the movie yet!) So I sat and thought all day about what I might come up with for tonight.  I even asked my muse, who offered these topics:

"West German slurs for someone from East Germany?"  Nah.
"The depth of Peanuts cartoons?" It's been done.
"The 100th anniversary of Verdun?"  Non-historians would say: Who is Verdun, and how did she stay married that long?
"Chap Stick as a medium for adding olfactory content to dreams?"  I don't know if that works on other people, muse!
"The decline of the letterman sweater in the 1970's?"    Huh??
"The failure of Beanie Babies to be worth the cloth they are made of?"  OK, that's not bad, but I never bought into the craze. Plus it's so 90's!
"The joy of cheesecake?"  Well, that one is pretty universal! But, an entire blogpost?
"I know, how more kids today should explore the great outdoors, and find dinosaur bones!"  OK, this one I really liked, but I think I'm going to save it for a rainy day.

At this point I told my muse to go to sleep so I could get some writing done.

You see, one more reason I am short of blogging ideas this week is that I have been pouring out the pages on my latest Work in Progress, THE GNOSTIC LIBRARY.  Since last Thursday, I have written about 25 pages on this latest adventure of the Capri Team.  Right now, I am about three quarters of the way through the story arc, and I will tell you, this is going to be the best Capri Team adventure yet!

What makes this remarkable is that my average time to write a book, as I noted in last week's blog, is nine or ten months.  But this book I actually started on October 12 of 2015.  That means, as of today, I've been hammering away at it for four months and eleven days.  My upcoming trip to Israel is going to disrupt the writing schedule a bit, but not too badly.  I firmly believe that I will be completely done with this story by the end of April, maybe even the end of March.  That's five to six months spent on this story - far and away my quickest time yet!

So why is this story going by so quickly?  Well, first of all, it is pretty fast-paced.  When I wrote THE TESTIMONIUM, I was introducing characters, giving them back stories, spinning out long conversations between them on everything from romance to New Testament apologetics - and it was all good, but looking back, I could have trimmed it up a bit without hurting the plot.  I like to think I've gotten better as I've gone along, and this plot - even with the subplots - is moving along at a much more even clip.  Also, this is the third novel I've written about this particular set of characters.  Of course, each story introduces some new people, but by now, all my readers know who Josh, Isabella, Luke, Alicia, and Father MacDonald are, so I can spend a lot less time introducing and explaining them.

Then there is the story itself.  My goodness, this may be the best thing I have ever written!  This time, the archeological discovery that draws the main characters together is really just a vehicle for a very dark adventure, a hostage drama involving Father MacDonald (a Catholic priest who does archeological work for the Vatican) and a strong-willed, beautiful British archeologist named Katherine Feezel.  The two of them have been captured by an ISIS-like band of Egyptian jihadists, and they are subjected to some pretty horrific suffering before - well, you know what?  I'm not going to give it away. For one thing, I'm not done yet, and the story's ending is still rather fluid.  For another, I want  you to actually BUY THE BOOK when it comes out!  Suffice it to say, this Christian-based thriller will take you to some pretty dark places - but it is in the deepest darkness that light can be the most blinding.  I can't wait to finish this thing, honestly!

Now some of you, especially in my vast horde of new followers, may be wondering who "The Capri Team" is.  By way of explanation, they are an elite group of Biblical archeologists who have been the main characters in two of my books now.  So, by all means, BUY and read their first two adventures, and then you will be ready to enjoy THE GNOSTIC LIBRARY!  Here are the Amazon links:



And once more, thanks for reading my weekly scribblings!  See you next Tuesday!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

"Where Do You Get Your Ideas?" and Other FAQ's From Book Signings

  I had a great time this weekend signing books at Half Price Books in Rockwall, TX - a great store where I always sell a good many books and have a lot of fun in the process.  I have my own personal standard for what makes a successful signing.  If I sell ten books or more, I call it a good day.  If I sell more than fifteen, it's a great day.  Over twenty - well, that's a stellar day for me (my books cost $20 a pop, so that's a nice chunk of change when I have such a day!).  Saturday was a twenty book day, so I was a pretty happy camper when it was all said and done.  I love socializing and talking to people anyway, and I get so many great questions (and some not-so-great) at these occasions, so I thought I'd share a few of them with you tonight.

Q:  How long does it take you to write a book?
A:  On average, 9-10 months per book.  My current WIP may be finished even sooner; the story line is flying and I'm three quarters done after starting on October 12.  But, I am coming up on my busiest time of year at work, so who knows?

Q:  Did you write this yourself?
A:  Yes, that's why my name is on the cover.  (Seriously, people ask me this all the time and it amuses me.  Why else would I be sitting at this little table in an uncomfortable chair asking you if you'd like to check out my novels?)

Q:  Where are your self-help books?
A:  I could tell you, but that would defeat the purpose.  (OK, I only got to answer this once, but I'd been saving that reply for over a year at that point.)

Q:  Where do you get your ideas?
A:  This one I will take some time to answer.  As of now, I have three books in print.  THE TESTIMONIUM was inspired, in part, by a monologue I performed one Easter describing the Resurrection from Pontius Pilate's point of view, and also by an assignment I gave my freshman Bible class - asking them to write a letter after the Resurrection from Pontius Pilate to Tiberius, explaining what on earth just happened!  And finally, by my discovery that such a letter once existed, and was referred to by Justin Martyr barely a century after the Crucifixion of Jesus.  That got me wondering - what if a copy of that letter survived and was found today?
   My second story was inspired by my first one.  I found myself wondering - what happened to Pilate after the events of the Passion Week?  Did presiding over the trial of Jesus change his life? What kind of man was he?  How did he wind up in Judea, anyway? History provides few answers to these questions, so I made some up. 
  Finally, MATTHEW'S AUTOGRAPH was inspired by a loyal friend and Beta reader who kept wondering (as did I) what happened to Josh, Isabella, and the rest after the events of THE TESTIMONIUM.  So yes, this is a good question and one I never get tired of answering.

Q:  Do you have the whole story mapped out in your head before you start writing?
A:  Heavens, no.  Sometimes there is a single scene that's burned into my brain, and sometimes I know where the story ends but not how it gets there.  I compare writing a story to hopping on the back of a big and stubborn horse:  you may think you know where you're going, but your transport has a mind of its own and will take you where it wants you to go before it gets you to your destination.

Q:  Are you famous?  (I get this one from kids a lot)
A:  Not yet, but I'm trying!  With three books in print, I seem to be stuck somewhere between "rookie" and "up and comer".

Q:  I've always wanted to write a book.  Any advice?
A:  Read a LOT.  Then start writing. and keep writing.  If your first story sucks, file it away somewhere and start another.  I started and abandoned two novels and wrote a dozen or more short stories before I finished my first book.  You can do this.  And, to quote Billy Crystal in THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN: "A writer writes - always!"

Q: Will this store be carrying your books later?
A:  (If it's my local Hastings, Lord bless them!) "Yes, they are on the rack up next to the cash register!"  (Anywhere else) "Nope, sorry, today only, unless you want to get it off of Amazon!  And I can't sign that copy!"

Q:  Is this book OK for kids?
A:  Well, for teens, I'd say yes.  Pre-teens, well, REDEMPTION is basically a PG-13.  I'd read it first if I were you, because I don't know what you let your kids read.  But if you're OK with them reading THE HUNGER GAMES, then this should certainly be fine.

Q:  Who are your favorite writers?
A:  For fiction, Lincoln Preston, Douglas Child, Harry Turtledove, Stephen King, and James Rollins.  For non-fiction, Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, David McCullough, and H.W. Brands.

   Book signings are a lot of fun.  I always keep a dish of candy at my table for the kids and for store employees - as well as customers, or anyone who wants to stop by and visit.  I hear great stories, meet fellow authors and pastors, and generally enjoy myself (although, I will ask anyone who wants to drop by, remember I am here to sell books.  As much as I am enjoying our theological/political/historical debate, I need to make eye contact and make a sales pitch to everyone who comes in the door if I am going to have a successful day!

   And there is always that one fellow or gal whose random comments make my day.  One nice gentleman from Dallas won the day from me Saturday with this exchange:

   Him:   "So why did you want to write about Pontius Pilate?"
   Me:  "Well, for one thing, I just love Roman history . . . "
   Him:  "Me, too! When I am stranded in a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific with one other person, that is ALL we talk about!"

    People.  Gotta love em!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


   One of the biggest objections that non-Christians have about Christian fiction is that it is, well, boring.  Of course, much of that criticism comes from people who have never actually read much Christian fiction - but there is still a grain of truth to their assertion.   What the most popular works of fiction, whether in print or on the big screen, generally share in common is that they dish out both violence and sexuality with a pretty generous ladle - and readers and viewers eat it up, hence the popularity of writers like Stephen King, James Rollins, Ken Follett, and others, as well as TV shows like GAME OF THRONES and BREAKING BAD.

   As believers, we are called to walk a higher path than the world around us.  But does that mean, for us writers who are believers and want to use our books to draw others towards a walk of faith, that we should ignore the realities of the world we live in? It's a vexing question.

   For the most part, Christian writers and producers have a much higher tolerance for violence than they do for sex.  It makes sense, on one level - after all, our salvation was purchased by one of the most horrific acts of violence imaginable!  An innocent man - indeed, the only sinless man who ever lived - was savagely beaten with whips and hung on a wooden cross to die, then skewered with a spear after the life had left his body.  Throughout the long history of the Church, martyrdom has been held up as the highest status a believer can achieve - laying down his life for the One who laid down his life for us.  So millions of believers streamed into theaters to watch THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, perhaps the most graphic and brutal depiction of crucifixion ever brought to the screen, without a second thought.

   I have been accused by some of being unnecessarily brutal in my storytelling, especially in THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE.  My defense against this charge is simple historical accuracy - the first century Roman Empire was a very violent place, and life was cheap in the provinces. Judea was one of the most turbulent and rebellious provinces in the Empire, and Rome ruled it with a very firm hand.  I didn't shrink from describing the scenes of battle, violence, and death that I chronicled in Pilate's story, but I didn't relish them either.  I think the end result was a realistic picture of the world that Jesus and his disciples lived in, and of the government that they lived under.

   However, when it comes to any description of human sexuality, it seems to me that many Christian writers who will describe in gruesome detail every strike of the hammer on the nails that pinned Jesus to the cross will flinch away from even the mildest description of a sexual encounter between characters - unless the sex is portrayed in a negative way, as that Awful Thing We Must Not Do. Parents who will take their seventh graders to see THE PASSION will flip out if those same students catch a brief glimpse of a bare human body on HBO at a neighbors house!

   Now, let me be clear.  I am certainly not advocating a whole new field of Christian erotica.  (Besides, would anybody in their right mind want to read a Baptist version of "Fifty Shades of Grey"?  Eeeewww!!!)  However, to act as if the single strongest urge that God placed within the human body doesn't even exist is not good writing.  God made us to be sexual creatures, and Jesus was perfectly clear that "a man should leave his father and mother, and cleave unto his wife."  The very first command that God gave mankind in the Book of Genesis was "be fruitful and multiply." There is nothing inherently sinful in our sexuality, it's what we choose to do with it that makes it sacred or profane.

    So why not, in our writing, celebrate the beauty of sexual relations in a Christian marriage?  Not with graphic descriptions - I'm a big fan of closing the bedroom door, both in real life and in my books.  But it doesn't hurt, especially when writing about characters who are married to one another and deeply in love, to acknowledge what is, after all, one of the most important and blessed aspects of marriage!  So, in my stories, I create characters who have very human feelings and desires, who sleep together and have children together, couples who tease and banter with each other (just like nearly every married couple I know!), but who also love and honor God in their relationship with each other and with their friends.  My unmarried characters wonder about married life, pursue their love interests, and some of them, before finding the Lord, indulge their desires in ways that are not particularly Biblical - only to realize later that such encounters are not fulfilling or meaningful.  But the rule of thumb, in all my works, is to portray my characters' sexuality in a way that is consistent with Christian conduct and Scriptural teaching.

   I did promise myself, when I started writing, that I would never write anything I would be embarrassed for my Mom to read.  She's read all my books so far, and I haven't heard a word of complaint yet!   In fact, in all honesty, I haven't had a single reader complain about that aspect of my writing.  So I guess my final question is, how do you think I did?

    Of course, to answer that, you'll need to read my books if you haven't.  So, here's a link to my personal favorite - a historical novel set in ancient Rome, that recounts the origins of Christianity from the perspective of the man whose name will forever be associated with the crucifixion of Jesus:


   Feel free to comment on this or any entry, and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Truth, Fiction, and Truth in Fiction - What Do I Write?

(Before I get to tonight's blogging topic - welcome to all my new readers!  I don't know who you are or where you came from, but my page views have shot up over the last month, from 40-60 a week to nearly 300 this last week.  Keep coming back for more! Updates every Tuesday.)

    So how much of what I write in my stories is really true?  I get that a lot when people come to my table at book signings and read the synopsis of my novels. 
    "Is this real??" they ask.
    "Well, it's a novel," I explain.
    "So it really happened?"

     That being said, what I try to do in all my stories is to use fiction to convey larger truths.  So, with that in mind, let me explain a bit about what is true and what is not in my three published works.  Incidentally, this blog post contains a few spoilers about my books, so if you don't like knowing stuff in advance, I would recommend that you go out, RIGHT NOW, buy all three books, read them, then come back and finish my post. Here's the Amazon link to the first one, click on the author name and it'll take you straight to the other two:


Back?  Good.  Now that you're in the loop . . .

     In THE TESTIMONIUM, I describe the discovery of Pontius Pilate's long-lost report to Tiberius Caesar regarding the trial and execution of Jesus.  What we know for sure is this:  There was apparently such a report, and it supported the claims of the early church about the death and resurrection of Christ.  How do we know this?  The quote I shared at the beginning of the book from Justin Martyr, who lived around 145 AD - a little over a century after the time of Christ.  He wrote a lengthy letter to the Emperor Antoninus Pius, appealing for the legalization of Christianity, which was known as the "First Apology."  In it he described the crucifixion of Jesus in some detail, and then told the Emperor of Rome:  "And that these things did happen, you can ascertain from the Acts of Pontius Pilate."  ("Acts", in the terminology of the time, meant  an official report of someone's deeds.)  That Justin would make such a bold appeal to the ruler of the Empire meant that he was pretty confident of two things: first, that the report still existed, and second, that it would verify his claims as to the manner of Christ's death.

   Now, Pilate's report has been lost for two thousand years.  There were a few later forgeries made during the medieval era, purporting to be the original, but they contain such glaring anachronisms that it's obvious they were fabricated many years later.  But, supposing a copy of the report actually survived?  And suppose it were found today, and published? That's the crux of my tale.

   In the course of the story, I reference several other archeological discoveries.  Some of them are real; however, the discoveries that I attribute to my characters themselves are obviously fictitious.  The greatest literary license I took was in the sped-up timeline of the scroll being removed, translated, and published.  I did try to provide myself some cover by referencing the public site where the discovery was made and the pushy publicity director for the Italian Antiquities Bureau, but honestly, a scroll like that would take a year or two to be opened, translated, studied, and published.  So THE TESTIMONIUM is a fictitious tale about the rediscovery of a document now lost for nearly two thousand years, rediscovered and revealed to the world, but it does contain some references to real events.

    My second novel (and my favorite of the three I have currently in print) is called THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE and is a historic novel set entirely in the ancient world.  I tried to imagine what the beginnings of Christianity would have looked like to a cruel, arrogant Roman aristocrat who was not too happy to be stuck in the desert province of Judea.  This book is closely based on real historical events and contains nearly everything we know about the real Pontius Pilate, as gleaned from the works of Josephus, Philo of Alexandria, and the New Testament.  The following events described in the novel are real:  The crisis over the Legion standards, the controversy over the aqueduct, the appearance of John the Baptist, the Zealot movement, the trial of Jesus, and the Samaritan revolt that Pilate crushed at the end of his tenure in Judea.  Also, some of the events in the life of Tiberius Caesar are accurately described, including his tempestuous relationship with his family and the death of his nephew, Germanicus, and his own son, Drusus, and finally the death of Tiberius.  Pilate's involvement in these events, however, is purely speculative on my part, as is Pilate's consulship and his marriage alliance with the Imperial family.

    In my third novel, MATTHEW'S AUTOGRAPH, I try to provide one possible explanation for the so-called "Synoptic Problem" - that is, the inter-relationship and possible interdependency of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In this story,  I also postulate the discovery of a doctored copy of Matthew's Gospel and the controversy it creates.  Most of this novel is fanciful, although the technologies of pollen analysis and facial reconstruction are both accurately portrayed.  I tried to slow the timeline of discovery, excavation, and translation down somewhat in this story.  It's a fun and fast moving archeological thriller!

   Ultimately, what I try to do in all my works is convey important truths about God, man, and the reliability of the Gospels in the context of an entertaining story that can be read by those who share my beliefs and those who do not with equal enjoyment.  Let me know how I did, and I'll see you next week!

 PS:  I will be doing book signings these next two weekends.  Saturday, Feb. 6, I will be at Living Water Christian Bookstore in Paris, TX, and on Feb. 13, I will be in Rockwall, TX, at Half Price Books.  Come out, say hi, and get your signed copies!