First, thanks to all of you who sent encouraging notes related to my previous blog concerning depression and Zephaniah 3:17. One dear friend quoted Thomas Brooks, one of Spurgeon's favorite writers: "Ah, believer, it is only heaven that is above all winds, storms, and tempests; God did not cast man out of Paradise that he might find another paradise in this world." So true. Much of what prepares us for our true home is what reminds us that we are aliens and strangers, who are seeking a better country.
Today I'm meditating on Jeremiah 32, especially verses 38 to 41. While written to Israel, the heart and commitment of God extends to all His people in every place and time. God says of his people, "I will rejoice in doing them good." Great stuff. The weight hasn't lifted, but God faithfully keeps it from crushing, and I trust He will make me stronger and more dependent on Him through it.
I leave today for a novelists' retreat and booksellers' convention in Atlanta. It's always good to connect with so many friends, authors and publishers and booksellers. I've just written the next blog, to be posted while I'm gone, next Tuesday or so.
Some readers have said it's their favorite of my novels. Some say they laughed out loud as they read. That’s an encouragement, because here’s the truth: you work so hard on a book that by the time you’re done you are just so tired of it that you lose objectivity. It usually feels like it’s a piece of junk, and it's only several months after it's out that I start to think "maybe it's not that bad, and maybe it's even kind of good, here and there." It’s always surprising to me when people like my books. Which I guess is better than expecting them to like it, then finding out they don’t.)
My friend Skeets Norquist sent this picture, which proves young readers like to kick back and read my novels. Notice that Elena, undistracted, is looking directly at the page. Elena's mother Kim’s maiden name was Kim Suda. If you read Deception, you’ll discover that someone with the same name, which sounds a lot more nefarious than Kim Norquist, has a major role in the book. Deception’s Kim Suda also had a boyfriend named Skeets who worked for Microsoft, which coincidentally, the real Skeets does also. My assistant, Kathy Norquist, is Skeets's mom and Elena's grandma, and she goes on and on about her grandchildren. Sort of reminds me of Nanci and myself
Speaking of young readers, but not THAT young, here’s a comment about Deception made last week on a previous blog. It’s from Dave Mumford, in Angers, France. Dave wrote,
Our oldest Marissa (14 years old today) just read Deception. Usually when we recommend a book to her, she is a little leery...But Sunday afternoon she picked up the book and by 11PM had almost finished it! It was both exciting and spiritually uplifting to her. Marissa is in Junior High here in France- it's often rough for her to keep on for Jesus- but books such as yours really contribute to her faith. Now she wants to read Deadline and Dominion as well! Praise God for the imagination, talent, and longing for heaven that He has given you. Thanks.
Thank you, Dave. And Marissa, you too. We're getting their address in France so we can send them Deadline and Dominion too, with the two new covers that correspond to Deception. (See pic near end.) Given the way overseas mail operates, hopefully you’ll get them before Christmas.)
I didn’t write the book with fourteen-year-olds in mind, but I often get letters from kids who’ve read my books. My biggest novel, biggest book I’ve ever written, is Dominion, a 600 pager with a central character who’s an African American journalist. One time, after I spoke at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland (great church, part of the wonderful Sovereign Grace Ministries), a junior high boy told me he’d read it six times. I thought he was kidding. Turns out he wasn’t. He knew it better than I did. Maybe way better.
While I’m already digressing from Deception, in an earlier blog I included a photo of my grandson Matt because his name is on the baseball in Wait Until Then [now out of print].
In the next blog I’ll include a photo of my grandson Jake because the boy in my new book Tell Me about Heaven is named after him. Well, in this blog I’m including a photo of my grandson Ty, with his favorite plastic hamburger that belongs to our dog Moses. I'm putting in this photo because….well, I just feel like it, that's why. This is my blog, and in the spirit of self-indulgence that drives the world of blogging (which I once resisted, but now am apparently embracing), I can do whatever I want. So there.
Still digressing, writing stream of consciousness, sometimes I have a problem that I’m sure some of my writer friends relate to. I'll be discussing a book with readers, and they bring up scenes they like or have questions about. Fine. But I remember the scene the way I first wrote it. Then I refer to scenes that I cut out of the book and they have no clue what I’m talking about. I also remember characters by the original names I gave them, which I changed by search and replace at the last minute. (Sometimes search and replace misses and you find a character’s original name in the published book instead of their new name. Authors and copy editors miss it and readers are asking, who’s that?)
After it first came out, I was talking about my novel Edge of Eternity and calling Nick Seagrave, the main character, by the name Forrest. Somebody says “Who’s Forrest?” and I realize, oops. For a year of working with the guy every day he was Forrest, then he became Nick in the last two weeks before I finished. It’s like changing your kid’s name when he’s a one year old. (I don’t recommend that, by the way.)
Okay, grandsons and other books aside, what about Deception? It’s a first person murder mystery told by wisecracking and lovable homicide detective Ollie Chandler. It was a fun book to write, though it took a lot of time and effort. Writing always does for me. Many people say they want to write a book. Often what they want is to have written a book. The actual writing is not always fun and easy, but in each case for me, looking back, it’s been worth it.
Ollie’s closest friend is Mulch, his bull mastiff. I asked our friend Diane Meyer to provide a pic of one of her bull mastiffs, who was the inspiration for Mulch. (We dedicated the book to Diane, for reasons even greater than her dog. Maybe I’ll say more about her some other time. Don't worry, Di, I won't even mention the Swiss Miss chocolate pudding.)
I’ve never had the viewpoint character from any of my novels continue as the main character in a subsequent novel (though Ollie, Jake and Clarence are all in the 3 D books, they take turns as the viewpoint characters, and the other two support the main one). But in Ollie’s case, I might make an exception. I like him, and I think there’s more to do with him. We’ll see.
I’m always asking God what I should write next, and He always leads me, for which I’m grateful. I never want to write a book unless I believe He's in it, start to finish. Part of that is selfish—I need His empowerment, and apart from Him I can do nothing. (Another way to put it: anything I do apart from Him will amount to nothing.)
I decided to include this pic because it shows not only Deception, but Deadline and Dominion, which have been given fresh covers that tie them all together. But the special treat is that the artist and designer, Tim Green, grew up at my church, and his mom, Robin Green, was principal of Good Shepherd School, which our daughters attended. Robin’s on our EPM board, and will be completely embarrassed that I mentioned her here, which is part of the reason I’m doing it. Tim is a great guy, and I’m so proud of him for his art. He did a fantastic job. You're the man, Tim. I saw online that these covers won some kind of important design award.
Though I've written about three times more nonfiction books than fiction, I love stories, don’t you? We each have a unique part in the greatest story ever told, and Jesus is the author and main character of that story.
Did you know that as we live our lives here in faithful reverence before our God, right now our part of the story is being written about us in a book in Heaven?
Malachi 3:16 tells us something amazing, worth pondering: “Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name.”
Which reminds me of perhaps my favorite paragraph outside of Scripture, where Lewis finished the The Last Battle by saying this:
And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia have only been the cover and the title page. Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the great Story which no one on earth has read; which goes on for ever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.
Next blog will be about my newest book, releasing this week: Tell Me About Heaven. It contains eleven beautiful works of art, eight of them brand new, by my friend Ron DiCianni. And yes, another grandson will show his face in that blog too.
Just for fun, here's a question a reader asked me, and my answer:
Is the hamster Clarence names Brent in chapter 27 of Deception the same hamster Paul Frederick owned, or different? I couldn't figure it out from the chronology, but you can chuckle that we thought about it.
Yes, there is but one hamster in Deception, and his name is Brent! He was named that by his owner Paul Frederick. In the book, Paul was named after a close friend of my son-in-law and daughter, and Brent is named after a guy on our team when I was a high school tennis coach. I deliberately named the hamster something no normal person would name an animal!
The portion with Ollie saying Paul had left Brent to him in his will was of course a joke, based on the earlier banter at the Frederick home concerning Ollie saying to Paul if he didn’t cooperate, Clarence might eat his hamster!