Saturday, July 23, 2016


I have been very sick this week, so my blog post is running later than usual.  But, given the horrible tragedies that have enveloped this world in the last month, there has never been a more timely moment to examine this timeless question.  In this passage, late in the novel, the Capri Team has been devastated by a truck bomb, and Dr. Isabella Sforza's mentor and friend, Giuseppe Rossini, is now dead along with Simone Apriceno, the team's Paleobotanist, and a half dozen more museum employees and tourists.  Isabella is exhausted, wounded, and devastated.  She asks her Christian colleague Josh - with whom she has shared a budding romance - why such a horrible thing could happen.  This was his answer.

Her tears had stopped, but her eyes were still red with grief. He gave her a Percocet and sat on the edge of the bed.  She took his hand in hers and pressed it to her cheek, closing her eyes for a moment or two.  Then she looked at him directly.

“I don’t get it, Josh,” she said.

“What don’t you get?” he asked.

“You say that God loves us so much that He sacrificed Himself for us in the person of his only Son.  You say that He hears and answers prayer. You say He deserves our absolute love and devotion,” she said.

“I believe all those things to be true,” he said calmly.

“Then why is there so much shit in the world?” she asked bitterly.  “Why do children starve, and good people die of cancer, and innocent girls get raped and evil clerics blow up innocent people in the name of Allah?  Why is Giuseppe dead?” Unable to contain her emotions, she broke into fresh sobs.

Josh looked at her long and hard.  “If you expect that my faith somehow gives me all the answers to the unfairness of life, you are going to be disappointed,” he said.    “I don’t know all the answers.  I have asked the same questions of God that you just asked me.  But I do know a few truths that might just help you understand a little,” he said.

“Right now I need all the help I can get,” she said.

“OK,” he said.  “Here goes.  There are two things that keep this world from being the perfect place God made it to be.  The first of these is what has cursed man from the beginning – the fact that God made us with free will.  Since the garden, every man and woman has been free to choose their own path. There are people in the world who voluntarily choose to do evil. God usually does not stop them – not because He is complicit in their evil, but because He will not force someone to behave as He wishes them to. Secondly, and hand in hand with that, there is the presence of sin.  Sin is the cancer that eats up everything that is good in people and replaces it with bile and hatred.  Sin is what twisted Dr. Tintoretto’s life and filled her with anger and misery. Sin is what drives fanatics to murder in the name of a supposedly compassionate god.  Sin ties us in knots and keeps us from reaching for the good and perfect life that God has waiting for us.”

She nodded, understanding but not convinced. “And there is something else,” Josh added.  “That is the fact that God is omniscient and we are not.  When something like today happens, all we see is the short term pain and anguish and not the eternal consequences.  Sometimes great evil can be turned into an even greater good.  And sometimes pain is the way that God draws us nearer to Himself.  Did I ever tell you about my cat, Lovecraft?”

Isabella actually laughed a bit.  “You named your cat after a writer of Gothic horror stories?” she asked.

Josh sighed.  “I told you I was a total nerd,” he said.  “Lovecraft was a pretty Siamese, friendly and approachable.  Far and away the best-natured cat I have ever owned!  Of course, she had to be, given that I was a very typical mischievous teenager.  But one evening, we went off to Wednesday church services, and Lovecraft the cat found her way into our garage.  Dad had been bass fishing that Saturday, and left a rod and reel leaning in the corner with a lure still on it.  The lure was something called a “Devil’s Horse” – about three inches long, shiny, and with three treble hooks attached to it.  I guess the lure was hanging free and the cat batted at it with her paw. The treble hook bit in and got hold of her. The more she yanked and pulled, the deeper it went.  So, being a cat, she tried kicking at the lure with her back claws to make it let go – and she got a hook in her back leg as well.  By now the rod was broken and the garage has got fishing wire everywhere.  When panic and flight did not work, Lovecraft tried aggression again.  She BIT the lure to make it let go - and got a third treble hook through the cheek!”

Isabella looked at him, laughing and crying at the same time. “I think I know that feeling!” she said.  “Everything you do makes the situation worse!”

“Exactly!” Josh said.  “So we get home from church and Dad’s fishing rod is smashed, there is fishing line all over the garage, stuff is strewn everywhere, and in one corner, tangled in a huge ball of fishing line and miscellaneous things that had gotten caught up with her, was my poor cat, yowling, hissing, and ready to claw the eyes out of anyone who got close!”

Isabella was giggling now, as the Percocet took hold.  “So what did you do?” she asked.

“I wasn’t able to do anything,” Josh said.  “I was only 10 years old. But my Dad got a beach towel and threw it over the cat, wrapping her up tight.  Then he uncovered one pierced cat member at a time, pushed the hook through the wound until the barbs came out the other side, used wirecutters to cut the barb off the hook, and then pulled it back out.  You should have heard the cat howl! It sounded like she was being disemboweled!  And despite the towel and two pairs of hands helping, she still managed to claw my Dad up pretty good.  After he got the last hook out and cut her free of all the fishing line, she bit him for good measure, went streaking out of the garage and under the house, and did not come out for two days!”

“Poor kitty!” Isabella said.

“The thing is,” Josh continued, “to her limited understanding, Dad was just torturing her.  There was no rhyme or reason to his actions that she could understand. All she felt was the pain.  But the whole time, he was actively working to free her from the mess she had gotten herself into.  And she clawed and bit him for his troubles!”

Isabella was quiet now, her rich brown eyes staring up at Josh.

“That’s us,” he said.  “That’s our whole world.  We are so caught up in our own sin, our own misery, and their consequences that we can’t even begin to see a way out.  And when God tries to help us, we fight back because we can’t see the situation from his perspective.  All we see is more pain, so we lash out at Him.  But the whole time He is just patiently trying to extricate us from the mess we landed ourselves in by our own stubbornness and pride.”

Isabella was quiet for a very long time, and he thought that perhaps she had gone to sleep.  But when she spoke, her voice was soft but very clear.  “Thank you, Joshua,” she said.  “It doesn’t make everything better – but it helps me understand. A little. I still wish Simone and Giuseppe did not have to die.”

Josh’s own tears started up again, surprising him.  “Me too,” he said softly.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Week in the Life of a Writer

   I'll admit, being a writer didn't change my life as much as I expected it would.  First of all, I really thought that, after some pushing and promotion on my part, my novels would gain a following of their own and start selling steadily on Amazon and other online venues.  No such luck.  I was expecting maybe five or ten Amazon sales a week; instead, the first quarter of this year, with three novels in print, I saw twenty Amazon sales - virtually all of the E-books.  Lesson learned: if you want your books to sell, you have to go out and sell them yourself, in person.  So that is what I do now.

   Last Saturday I drove an hour and a half down to Tyler, TX to a nice little Christian bookstore there called THE SCROLL.  I stayed for five hours and sold nine books - not bad, considering the slow foot traffic that day in the store, but slightly below my ten book threshold for a successful signing.  But the folks at the store were very nice, and I have already booked a return engagement there.

   I'm a school teacher on summer break, so during the week I didn't devote a lot of time to writing related endeavors.  I am trying to put off starting another novel till this fall, but I have written a couple of short stories this summer and have gone back and edited some of my older ones, horror stories that I wrote some 20 - 30 years ago.  I'm actually pleasantly surprised at how good a couple of them are.  I also visit my books' Amazon sites almost daily, seeing if there is any change in my sales rank or any new reviews posted.  I use social media to promote my books, and try to post tidbits about them several times a week. I'm supposed to do a radio interview this coming Wednesday, so I got that date and time nailed down with the host.

   Wednesday night I went to my old church, which I left five years ago when I took my current pastorate, and did a slide show on my trip to Israel.  Of course, along with my pottery shards and Roman artifact collection, and brochures from all the neat sites I visited, I packed along copies of my books, and sold four more of them.  Several of the folks in the church had bought one of the books and wanted another; others were buying them because they knew me.  But, the money put some groceries on the table, filled my car with gas, and paid for lunch out yesterday, so that's always nice.  Another lesson learned: the money from book sales does come in handy, often providing a bit of income that is sorely needed to get through the week.

   My big literary effort this week, however, has been editing my recently finished novel, THE GNOSTIC LIBRARY.  I finished this one in March and haven't touched it since then - haven't opened the file a single time.  I like letting a story gel once it is completed, and after three months, this one was now ripe.  So Thursday I opened the file and started reading and snipping here and there. The problem is that I want to just get lost in the story and not change anything, but I manage to keep my inner grammar Nazi channeled and spot some spelling inconsistencies, redundant word use, and awkward sentences here and there.  Really, though, my prose generally comes out pretty clean. 

    And I am very proud of this story.  I think it is the best of the Capri Team series, and I hope it will fare better than MATTHEW'S AUTOGRAPH has - my third novel has proven to be the poor stepchild of my literary efforts, selling far fewer copies than the first two.  I plan to bundle the three of them together as THE TESTIMONIUM TRILOGY when this latest one comes out and see if I can sell them that way.  At any rate, I've got three quarters of the story edited.  I may publish another excerpt here on my blog when I am done, and then it goes back into cloud storage to wait until I send it to my publisher this fall.

   What else has gone on?  Well, I've lived life, of course - all the non-literary aspects of it, being a husband, father, rancher, pastor - the many hats that I wore long before I became a novelist.  I even managed to get out Monday and go arrowhead hunting for the first time this month and found three nice points, one of them a sweet Paleo artifact (for the non-collector, that's a spearhead from the Paleo-Indian era, over 9,000 years old!).  I've dealt with household stuff, bills, church activities, and even had to put down one of our goats that got mauled by a dog.  In short, life goes on.

   Has being a writer changed things?  Yes, sure, it has, in some ways.  My Saturdays are rarely my own any more.  Even now I am thinking OK, Lewis, in two hours I have to start getting ready for today's book signing event in Watauga, TX.  I've also met some wonderful people and gotten some amazingly positive feedback for my books.  But overall, being a novelist is just one more hat I wear as I walk the road of life.  Thank all of you, faithful readers, for walking it with me.

    And, if you haven't yet done so, surf on over to Amazon and buy or download my books!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

An Exciting Excerpt From My Newest Novel

This spring I just finished a new novel, another adventure story featuring my characters from THE TESTIMONIUM and MATTHEW'S AUTOGRAPH, whom I have dubbed "the Capri Team."  This story is set in Egypt, and is called THE GNOTIC LIBRARY.  It's a corker of a tale, part archeological mystery and part hostage drama.  I'll confess: this story gets very dark at one point.  Bad things happen.  But at the same time, it's in the darkness that the light can shine most bright. As things now stand, this is the final volume of "The Testimonium Trilogy."  But that could change - the muse is fickle.   So here is the prologue to the story - which tells of the discovery of the library itself, in the shifting sands of Egypt's Black Desert.  Enjoy!



          EGYPT’S BLACK DESERT, Modern Day:  Ibrahim al-Safar squinted at the approaching brown line that covered the horizon.  The dust storm was still miles away, but it was approaching fast, and that meant trouble.  His battered Toyota truck was the only concession to modernity in his life.  He still wore the traditional robes of his Bedouin ancestors, prayed five times a day towards Mecca, and worked as a shepherd, like his father and grandfather before him – although he also worked as a digger when the foreign archeologists were hiring.  The great oasis at Kharga was originally his home, but he had been driven from it several years before during the tumult and confusion that Westerners, in a fit of unbridled and largely unjustified optimism, had called the “Arab Spring.”  Ibrahim had no love for Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s former dictator, but the longtime American ally had kept Egypt at peace with her neighbors and kept some of the more fanatical elements of Islam from disturbing the lives of everyday citizens for three decades.  Like most of his people, Ibrahim hated the Israelis and resented the Americans, but at the same time, he had enjoyed the peace and stability Mubarak brought to the desert land, and didn’t realize how good the average Bedouin had it until those times were gone.

          During the months after mobs of angry citizens had forced Mubarak from office, Ibrahim had watched in dismay as Egypt descended into chaos.  The more radical elements of the Muslim Brotherhood had seized control of every level of government, unleashing an orgy of persecution against Egypt’s non-Muslim population and a wave of destruction at many of its historical monuments.  One radical cleric had even proposed destroying the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids at Giza as relics of a pagan culture.  Safar shook his head at that memory.  While he was a deeply religious Muslim, he was also a proud Egyptian, and the knowledge that his country had created an advanced civilization at a time when the rest of the world was languishing in the Stone Age was a source of great pride to him.  How could anyone want to destroy the proudest relics of the greatest civilization of the ancient world?

          Now the Army had taken control of the government, and Muhammad Morsi, the Brotherhood’s chosen President of Egypt, was in prison awaiting trial on various corruption charges.  But the radicals had fled into the desert, laying waste to peaceful villages that had endured without significant change since the Muslim conquest of Egypt thirteen centuries before - villages like the one that Ibrahim called home.  Wadi-al-Duresh was a small town just south of the larger Kharga community, and the radicals had occupied it two years before.  As soon as they seized control from the village elders, they had descended like a pack of jackals on the small group of Coptic Christians that had shared the community with Bedouins for as long as anyone could remember.  The men were taken out and shot, the women raped and then divided among the jihadists as trophies, and their homes burned to the ground.  As Muslims, Ibrahim’s family had been spared the worst of the slaughter, but his wife had been forced to clean and do laundry for the terrorists, and his only unmarried daughter had been taken from the family at gunpoint and forced to wed one of the group’s clerics.  Ibrahim had only seen her once or twice since.

          Six months later, the army had come in and driven the radicals out, but the jihadists had simply fled into the desert, where they still lurked in ancient caves and tiny oases, living as bandits and highway robbers.  The poor shepherds and day laborers who populated the region didn’t have much to steal, but that didn’t stop the Islamists from taking whatever they could lay their hands on.  The worst group, led by a fanatical cleric named Muhammad al-Shavadi, had pledged their loyalty to the Islamic State. They were not just thieves but murderers as well, mainly targeting the handful of remaining Copts and Sufis, but also any Muslim family who cooperated too closely with the government for their taste.  No wonder, Ibrahim thought, that so many Westerners thought that all Muslims were terrorists.  A religion that could spawn such fanaticism was certainly capable of great evil.  And yet . . . there is one God and Muhammad is His prophet, he reminded himself.  Despite the horrible acts of his co-religionists, Ibrahim remained convinced that Islam was the answer.  He was not sure; however, that jihad was the way.  Perhaps it had been in Muhammad’s time, but that was fourteen centuries ago. Surely there was another path that could lead Islam into the modern world - but he was a simple shepherd and part-time digger.  Such matters were beyond his ken.

          He had left Wadi-al-Duresh that morning looking for his brother’s camel.  He hoped the beast had simply wandered into the desert, but he feared that one of Shavadi’s men had stolen it.  He had followed its tracks for miles west of the village, into the scorching Black Desert that stretched before him now, over two hundred miles wide.  He knew of no shelter for the beast in the direction it was heading, but he supposed it was possible that there was a cave or spring in the rough range of sandstone hills that protruded from the dunes a few miles in front of him.  It was said that camels could smell water many miles away if they were downwind.

          Now he saw that there was no way to get to the hills before the sandstorm arrived.  He knew that it was possible for a vehicle to be completely buried in the shifting dunes, and had no intention of becoming a find for a future archeologist.  He wheeled about and gunned the Toyota’s engine, already rehearsing the explanations he would give his brother when he got back to the village.  The sandstorm was closing fast, he saw in the rearview mirror.  It looked like a bad one, too, covering the whole horizon like a brown scar, growing taller by the minute.  The dunes and rocks flew beneath him as he headed for home.

          Suddenly the Toyota bucked wildly and shuddered, the wheel twisting in his hands.  He braked to a stop and got out, dreading what he would see.  Sure enough, the right front tire was shredded – one of the jagged desert rocks had done it in. He had a spare tire and a jack, but the storm was coming on too fast now.  He mouthed a silent prayer to Allah, asking for guidance.  Should he stay in the vehicle, or look for shelter?  The winds were already picking up, blowing the sand along the ground in swirling patterns.  He scanned the desert on either side of the road, looking for a place that might be preferable to the cab of his truck.  Something was protruding from the side of a dune about a hundred yards away.  Was it a stone wall?  He was far distant from the Nile, but there had been many more oases in the desert once, and ancient structures dotted the sands.  Could it be a house or building of some sort?  Eyeing the rapidly approaching brown line on the horizon, he grabbed a flashlight and ran for it.

          It was indeed a sandstone wall, over two meters of its height exposed, its bricks scoured smooth by centuries of desert erosion.  The roof was also of stone, and surprisingly, it appeared to be intact.  Visibility was declining by the minute as the volume of sand in the air increased, but when he rounded the corner he saw that there was an ancient doorway of dried wood, standing partly open.  He wriggled through, and then kicked enough of the sand away so he could get the door to close. He looked for something to reinforce it with, and then saw an ancient wooden table nearby.  He pushed it against the door, knocking over a small pottery bowl of some sort, and paused a moment.  That should keep the worst of the sand out, he thought.  In fact, although the building had apparently been buried in the dune for centuries, there were only a few inches of sand on its floor.  Whoever built the place knew a thing or two about keeping the desert at bay.  But what sort of building was it?

          Ibrahim scanned the back walls with his flashlight.  The building was about ten meters wide and maybe twice that in depth.  There were shelves lining the walls, and each shelf had multiple niches carved into it.  The taller niches held pottery jars, each about half a meter high, many with lids still attached.  The smaller niches held scrolls and books – dozens of scrolls, two or three to a niche, some partly unrolled, others still tied with coarse twine.  It was a library, he realized - a library that had stood here, undisturbed, in the desert for centuries.  He wondered how old it was, and looked for something that might give him a clue.

          He spotted a row of wooden cots against the far wall, and walked over to them.  In one was a mummified human body, tattered garments still clinging to it. It was clutching a roll of papyrus in one hand, and next to it on the floor a glass inkwell was protruding from the sand.  He had worked on enough digs as a day laborer to know that the papyrus would crumble if he tried to unroll it, but there was something else sticking out of the sand beside the cot.  He brushed the sand away from it, confirming his suspicions.  It was a small drawstring bag, made of leather that was as stiff as wood.  But the mouth of the bag was open, and when he poured it out into his hand, several coins fell out along with the sand that had filled it.  He studied them in the beam of his flashlight.  He could not read the inscriptions on them, but he recognized the language.  It was Latin, and the faces on the coins all wore laurel wreaths.  This library had been here since the days of ancient Rome!

          Safar smiled.  There was enough here to keep a team of archeologists busy for years, he thought, and he had discovered it.  Allah willing, if he survived the storm, this discovery would make him a rich man.



Friday, July 1, 2016


JULY 1, 1916

     A hundred years ago today, the British Army, in a desperate bid to divert German forces from the bloodbath they were inflicting on the French at Verdun, finished up the largest artillery barrage in history and sent their troops "over the top" along the Somme River in France. They had fired some 2 million shells into the German trenches over a two week period, thinking that they would collapse the bunkers where the enemy troops huddled underground and demolish the barbed wire that blocked passage into the German trenchline.  Never before had so many shells been fired at such a small area in so short a period of time.  Surely the attack would be virtually unopposed, the British High Command thought!

They were wrong. The German bunkers remained intact, and as the artillery barrage lightened up, the grey-clad Teutons came pouring out of their underground shelters and manned their machine guns. Their intelligence officers knew the hour and moment of the attack, primarily due to the idiocy of a British general who broadcast a motivational speech on the next day's attack over the wireless, unencrypted, the night before!  Forewarned, the Germans were ready to meet the attack.  The advancing allied troops were cut down like summer grass before a mower. Despite the innovation of a creeping barrage that was supposed to stay a hundred yards in front of the advancing troops and move with them, resistance was fierce.   Sixty thousand British soldiers were killed, captured, or wounded that day. SIXTY THOUSAND. Approximately twenty-four thousand of those were killed outright. In one single day! That is more men than America saw killed in all ten years of the Vietnam War.  I live in a town of 26,000 - so basically, the British dead that day equaled Greenville's entire population.  The total casualties equaled the entire population of our county.  The names of the dead and missing would cover page after page of the London Times for the next few months.

And the Battle of the Somme lasted until November. By the end of the battle, the Allies would suffer 623,000 casualties, with roughly 150,000 of those killed outright. The Germans and the other Central powers lost 465,000, with around 160,000 killed. That's over one million total casualties, with about a third of them killed, or missing and presumed dead.  Britain's population, at that time, was 46 million.  By the war's end, three out of four young Britons (men between 18 and 35) would have been killed or wounded in this conflict, and a large proportion of that number in this one, single, awful battle.

      For what it's worth, the Allies won.  In exchange for a generation of their youth, they managed to move the front line forward eight miles. That stretch of the beautiful Somme valley, in 1916, became the most expensive real estate in the history of our planet.  And the Germans?  They fell back and dug more trenches. The slaughter continued for two more full years, until sheer exhaustion, compounded by the intervention of the USA, with its incredible industrial capacity and inexhaustible supply of manpower, forced Germany, Austria, Turkey, and Bulgaria to surrender.  But some fourteen to sixteen million had died in a little over four years, mostly because they were ordered to charge heavily entrenched machine guns with bayonets.  The machine guns nearly always won.

Was there ever a more stupid war?