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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 have dreams. Some good and pleasant; filled with fluffy clouds scudding in an azure sky, warm breezes, brilliant sunshine, picnic baskets, and sticky fingers. 
Some… not so good. In those dreams, the fingers are sticky, too; not with cotton candy, or caramel apples, but with blood. There is death, divorce, decay, mayhem, mischief, and maybe a glimmer of hope. Hope that I might wake up.
But what if I don’t? These are my Mean Dreams. They have teeth, biting with the carrion beaks of buzzards, fetid, foul, and smelling of the grave.  The air is redolent with their heavy scent.

They will linger long in your memory, too, these Mean Dreams.
Mean Dreams, an anthology of stories, coming by the end of 2015. 

  Folks, I’m excited today to feature an interview with newly published author, Chad Jones. According to Chad, he’s been writing stories since grade school. Most, however, he’s completed in the grey matter residing between his ears, leaving them there for his amusement. Sometimes, to his utter astonishment, these stories make their way out into the wider world. Casita 106 at the Red Pines is one such. Without further ado, here’s Chad:

(Following is a transcript of a telephone interview).

“Chad, thanks for taking the time to talk to me today.”

“Sure. Flying monkeys couldn’t drag me away. Or maybe they could. Anyway. You wanted to talk about my new ebook, right?”

“Yes, that’s correct. First of all, you’re a Christian, right?”

“Yes, I am. Have been since nineteen eighty-eight. This has come up before, and I think I know where you’re going with this. See, here’s the thing just because I’m a Christian it doesn’t always follow that I’m going write quote-unquote Christian stories. Sometimes an idea grabs me, and I’ve got to follow it. The way I see, often the most Christian thing I can do is make the best art I can, and not just throw in explicit references to Jesus at every turn. Make sense?”

“I see where you’re coming from. So if I understand you correctly, what you’re saying is that a story starts with an idea, which comes to life in the characters, and grows organically from there?”

“I couldn’t have said it any better myself. Without living breathing characters there isn’t much to go on. Even a killer idea isn’t enough to save a story with characters that you, the writer, don’t care about. Really what I’m about is that I want the reader to feel something. So I have to feel it first. Even if it’s revulsion.”

“Speaking of, Chad, there are some revolting things that happen in your new story, Casita 106 at the Red Pines. I have to ask: where do you get your ideas?”

“Everyone asks this. Here’s the deal: we writers don’t know. Some things come from snippets of conversations I have with my wife. For instance, one time we were talking about the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes. It got me to thinking what would it be like if zombie Ed McMahon came to your door with a check? That idle conversation sparked an idea that’s grown into a work in progress. Other times, it’s events. Casita came out of a trip my family and I took to Sedona, which is this really rich, beautiful, weird place. Part of a microwave really did fall on my wife, and I actually did have a dream about the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Those things combined in my head in this sort of frisson and Casita was the result.”

“That’s interesting. Thanks for the insight, Chad. But, c’mon, horror? I mean why do you write horror? Is that a very Christian thing to do?”

“I’m going to paraphrase the late C.S. Lewis here. He said that if one is a lawyer, or bricklayer, or whatever, one shouldn’t necessarily seek to leave one’s profession because one has converted to Christianity. God, he said, wants more Christian lawyers, et cetera. So it is with me. Horror is a genre I grew up loving, and found that that love didn’t dissipate just because I’d become a Christian. To quote director Scott Derrickson, “horror is the genre of non-denial.” We’re forced to confront our fears, and yet we’re able to do so in a safe, vicarious manner. Moreover, in my mind the genre is perfectly suited to explore the big questions of life, the universe, and everything. We are presented with ordinary people in extraordinary situations, and see how they respond. We get to ask ourselves: how would we respond? We learn something about ourselves while enjoying a rollicking good yarn. Or a good fright.”

“So you’re saying that horror puts the reader in a crucible along  with the characters in a story, allowing them to share the experience? And decide what they might, or might not, do in a similar situation?”

“Something like that, yes. Have you watched the Walking Dead? That show is rife with questions of morality, faith, trying to hold onto our essential humanity while simultaneously trying to survive. Horror allows us to focus a high lens, or microscope, on these issues. They’re closer to the surface.”

“I see what you’re saying. How does that apply to your story, Casita?”

“Well, of the top of my head, we’ve got the ordinary people in a seemingly ordinary situation. They’re seemingly innocents. And then you as the reader find out, as the story progresses, that neither they, nor the situation is as they first appeared. Then we’ve got other characters who, in the name of survival, are complicit in something… I can’t say anymore here. Don’t want to spoil things for anyone who hasn’t read the story yet. I will say this: I wanted to take some of the normal horror tropes, and either run with them, or appear to run with them, and thereby subvert the reader’s expectations.”

“Sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into this, Chad. Before we go, can I ask what’s ahead for you?”

“Sure, it’s your blog, man. You can ask whatever you want. To answer your question: I’ve a zombie story in the pipeline. When done, it will likely be the longest thing I’ve ever written. Beyond that, there’s a short story about an exotic dinner that isn’t what it seems. There are plans for a novel, but that’s a little ways down the road.”

“Those sound interesting. I look forward to reading them.”

“Thanks. Me, too.”

“Chad, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to check in with us. Is there anything else you would like readers to know?”

“No problem. Always willing to open up my schedule for you. Uh, yeah; folks can find Casita 106 at the Red Pines on Amazon. It’s hopefully a fun, quick ride for them with just enough tension (and a little humor) to keep them reading to the last page.”  

  
“Thanks, Chad. Good talking to you. Looking forward to the next time we get to check in. By the way, do you have an Internet presence? I know you writer types often seclude yourselves.”

“Sure. I can be found at RandomlyChad.com, and on Facebook at RandomlyChad. Check ’em out, folks.”

“Thanks, Chad.”

“Anytime. Goodbye.”

Last week, I posted ridiculous riffs on Rob Bell’s book titles. I also invited you to do your worst best, and proffer your own takes on famous Christian books.

There were some very clever, creative entries, such as:

This one from Chris Morris (follow him on Twitter @cmorriswrites)
All of Joel Osteen’s books were originally titled Look at My Pearly Whites Shine Like the Sun in My $3000 Suit.

Then there was this from Larry Carter (follow him on Twitter @larrythedeuce):

Don’t Lick The Mini-Me

This from Rob Shepherd (follow him on Twitter @robshep):

Everyday A Payday (by Joel Osteen)

Kevin Haggerty (follow him on Twitter @kevinrhaggerty) brought this gem:

“Intimacy with God (and His son, and His buddy the Holy Spirit…because they’re totally different people — not one person)” by T.D. Jakes

These were all strong contenders, but as with Highlander, “there can be only one” winner. Up for grabs was a copy of Leanne Shirtliffe’s hilarious book, Don’t Lick The Minivan. In the interests of objectivity, I had my good buddy, Ricky Anderson (who because he already owned a copy, recused himself from the giveaway), pick the winner.

Which was (drum roll, please)…

Meerkat Christianity, submitted by Blake Atwood. You can follow him on Twitter @batwood, or @FVMomentum

Congratulations, Blake! A copy of Mrs. Shirtliffe’s book is on its way to you from her agent. Thanks to everyone who played!

I’m breaking my self-imposed blogging exile to bring you this video. Let me put some perspective on this for you: I’ve been reading, and enjoying, the late Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series for the past twenty years. It will soon be brought to a conclusion by Brandon Sanderson (A Memory of Light releases next month). As I said, I’ve been reading those books for the past twenty years. I’m excited to see the end. I’m even more excited for Iscariot! How can that be, you ask? Simple, really: the book gets to the heart of what is to be Judas–which means it gets to the heart of what is to be human, to be you, and me. Would we have done the same? The book is out February fifth. Don’t miss it! Preorders are available everywhere books are sold (you won’t be sorry–the woman writes gorgeous prose).