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Cover art for The Day the Angels Fell

I want to tell you about a book. A beautiful, wonderful, terrible, moving, life-altering little book. What I mean by that is, upon finishing it, I (an avid reader) couldn’t find another volume in my library which I felt could even begin to come near to the experience I’d just lived through.

 
Picture if you will the following scene:
 
You are in a dusty tent in the near middle east. The air is close, scorching your throat as you try to breathe in great, gulping gasps. Your sweat-soaked clothes cling to your body like a wetsuit; you’re not sure you’ll even be able to peel them off. The tanned animal hides, sweaty bodies, the remains of a lunch hastily eaten add a piquant bouquet to the cloistered air.
 
Like Saul of old, you’re there on a mission; namely, to ask the favor of a witch. But it’s not the shade of Samuel you’re there to raise; no, it’s someone much more recently dead.
 
You ask the witch there, in Endor, to raise up the shade of Madeleine L’Engle, late author of A Wrinkle in Time (and many others). You have a request of her; something you feel only she can do. You want her to rewrite Stephen King’s Pet Sematary.
 
But not as a horror story; yes, it’s still a book about death, and the lengths which we’ll go to try to get around, behind, beyond it. Now, however, it’s thesis isn’t necessarily that “sometimes dead is better,” but rather that death is a gift to be embraced.
 
You have traveled halfway around the world, and are now presently standing in this stifling tent, because you believe that L’Engle is the only one who, as one of (if the the most) preeminent young adult authors of the 20th century, can turn a story of horrific death, loss, and pain into a tale of blazing light, probing the darkest reaches of the heart.
 
She agrees.
 
——————
 
The foregoing is fiction; Madeleine L’Engle is still, sadly, dead. That said, there is a voice working today, and I swear he channeled L’Engle (with just a dollop of Stephen King) in his book, The Day the Angels Fell. This is the volume I alluded to above. It’s the book that, upon finishing, left me reeling, unable to find anything suitable to read in its wake.
 
Who is this genius author? None other than Shawn Smucker. His book, The Day the Angels Fell, releases on September 5th. I would be very sad if you didn’t pick a up copy or three.
 
Find it on Amazon here:

I believe in the Gospel of grace. Grace here defined as a free gift of God’s unmerited favor bestowed upon sinful humanity. None of us deserves it, yet it’s given freely. I don’t understand that. Yet I embrace it. For I know my need.

As with any gift, the grace that is given must be received. While the invitation is open to all, while there are seats at the table for all, not all want God’s grace. I don’t understand that, either.

For those that receive His grace, and freely come, we’ve not found a license to sin. We find salve for our wounds, balm for our souls. But we find something, Someone, else as well:

Jesus.

And that encounter with Him must fundamentally alter the course of our lives. He gave His all upon the cross; died a death which wasn’t His, payed a debt He didn’t owe. When we come to Him, as with any loving parent, He in His grace, will gently, lovingly, yet implacably, remove from us (as we let Him) all that is not Him. Anything that is not Him, to which we run for comfort, try to assuage our brokenness, fill our emptiness, in which we find identity, He will inexorably take away. There can be no other before Him. In other words, the Gospel of grace is the Gospel of death: a death to self.

Grace is found in, and fills, the cracks, yes.

But make no mistake: it is grace which takes our our sacred cows, everything we exalt above Our Lord. Take it from me (with generous portions of sodium chloride, naturally) that when Jesus comes asking to take that thing away (whatever that thing may be), yield then. You really don’t want His graceful two-by-four upside your stubborn head. Because He will.

Make no mistake: He loves as we are, where we are, but loves us enough to not leave us there.

So, yes, grace is free. But not pain-free. Jesus is the cosmic cow-tipper. Upending our comfortable, carefully controlled lives He longs to give us something so much better.

James Prescott has written, and just released, a book called Mosaic of Grace God’s Beautiful Reshaping of Our Broken Lives, wherein he writes so much more eloquently than I ever could about grace. Consider this your not-so-gentle reminder to pick up a copy of James’s book at your bookseller of choice. Find James on Twitter, Facebook, and on his blog, James Prescott.

Casita106

I self-published my second independent work, Casita 106 at the Red Pinesback in May of this year. I think maybe because it was such a hard, long, slow road for me, I priced it at $2.99. Even though one can read it in an hour (or less), the tale took me six months of work. And then in fear, I sat on it not knowing what, or if, I would do with it. Honestly, the 70% royalty that Amazon offered via its Kindle Desktop Publishing (KDP) certainly appealed. In any case, I’ve changed my mind, and not because I don’t believe the story is worth it (I do), and brought the price down to make it more commensurate with other stories of similar length. Yes, I’ve effectively cut the royalty in half, but I hope to make up for it in sales. Even if you bought a copy before, would you consider gifting a copy to someone you know who might like a story that goes bump in the night?

You can get it by clicking here. Please take a moment to share this in your social media channels.

Thanks so much!

  As a teen, I read continously as a means of escaping what I then saw as a quotidian, banal, meaningless, dysfunctional existence. All white plastered stucco on the outside, and while not wanting for food and shelter, my upbringing was nevertheless starved of affection, notice, approval. As a latch key kid, there were really no boundaries, and thus no real sense of security. And without security, there was no feeling, no bedrock, of love to fall back upon. 

So I read to feel something, anything. To know I wasn’t alone. To know that, as bad as I perceived things to be, some folks had it worse. Oftentimes, these folks were the characters at the heart of a Stephen King story. One of my favorites was Pet Sematary. I read that book through three times (something I didn’t normally do) in rapid succession. Due, I think, in part to its sheer visceral appeal, but perhaps unconsciously also to its parallel to my own (limited) life experience up to that time. Consider:

1) The Creeds move was supposed to make their lives better, bring them closer as a family. Likewise, my dad’s promotion, transfer, and my family’s subsequent move west was supposed to do the same. In neither case did that prove to be true. Both families ended up falling apart.

2) In both life, and art, there was a father haunted by demons he couldn’t shake; both, while the specifics are of course different, succumbed to their unholy siren song.

3) While my cat was named Cornelius, and not Church, I lost him in a neighborhood accident. Whether animal, or a vehicle, got him I don’t recall.

4) Much like Judson Crandall in the story, we had a kindly older neighbor named Johnny. Like Louis in the book, my dad spent many a night drinking with him.

These are but a few of the ways in which life imitated art. Though as I said I wasn’t likely tuned into at the time, being an isolated, largely self-involved teen. I just share this as a means of explaining the book’s hold on, and power over, me. It appealed in ways I couldn’t then even begin to understand. Much in the way I couldn’t understand why my dad grew more and more distant. More and more closed off; until he just wasn’t there anymore at all. Like Louis Creed, he had his secrets, and those secrets destroyed a family.

Family is what I wish to write of today. As a husband and father myself, I’ve seen the devastating effects of my own secret sins wreak havoc on my family. Things, as they do in Pet Sematary, have a way of finding is out. And there is usually hell to pay. Oftentimes in art, as in life, warnings are given; yet we stubbornly, steadfastly choose to trudge right past them into our own (metaphorical) burying grounds. We believe somehow, as Louis Creed does, that it will be different for us–that we’ll, if not totally unscathed, escape the brunt of the consequences. That is basic human nature.

It is this power of temptation to work upon the mind, and heart, its wiles which lies at the heart of the Pet Sematary.

You see after reading it three times, I did not again revisit the Pet Sematary until just recently. Perhaps as a married man and father, knowing the general content of the tale, I was afraid to? This is likely. Perhaps it was because I knew that tales have a way of growing with us as we grow older? Yes, this, too.

So with trepidation and not a little dread, I reread the book. My worst suspicions were confirmed. Rather than diminish, the power of the book had grown. For what man among us, and despite the dire warnings, if he called himself a loving father, would not be tempted to do exactly as Louis Creed does? That is the insidious appeal and power which King has placed at the heart of Pet Sematary. Louis Creed is everyman who, when faced with a devastating loss, turns to the only way he can see out of it. It’s his fault, and by God (or other means) he’s going to fix it.

Only never works out that way, does it? Despite trying over and over again, we never can quite manage to squeeze some good out of something bad.

That, my friends, is the power of temptation, and the sway under which all of us on this side of the grave live.

God help us all, darling.

 
Folks, my ebook, Casita 106 at the Red Pines, is on sale for $.99 for just one more day. Following are the opening paragraphs:

“On the highway just outside of Sedona, home of Arizona’s red rock country, is a retirement community, Shady Acres. Bisected by a road, the other half of the community was split off, and instead of retirees the property was used to attract vacationers as a timeshare. They called it the “Red Pines.” It was a way for the owner to keep a good revenue stream coming in year round. Too bad it was this side which sat upon an old indian burial ground–bulldozed in the name of progress, and profits. 

With stuccoed walls, and large windows, every unit accommodates four comfortably. Well, mostly. A single wide all gussied up is still a single wide no matter how fancy it is outside.

It’s the allure of the environment that draws people there. It’s close enough to town, but far enough away from the tourists clogging the area. It’s like camping in style: all the units have plumbing, hot and cold water, microwave, refrigerator, stove… All the comforts of home in the beautiful pines.

Or so Jack and Veronica Hartman thought on their way up from the Valley of the Sun. As timeshare owners, they had a membership in RCI (the preeminent exchange company in the business), which gave them access to thousands of properties outside their club. Having already used their points on a trip to Park City during ski season, they went looking for an extra vacation to get out of Phoenix’s mind melting heat.

Having waited so late in the year to book this trip, they had to take what was available: the Red Pines Lodge.

They hoped for a vacation to remember.”

Get your copy on Amazon:

Casita 106 at the Red Pines