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My ecclesiasial experience began in my youth by attending services with my maternal grandmother. This only happened in her company, and then only in summer. The rest of the year, my family was so very protestant we didn’t darken the doors of any church with our presence. Not at Christmas, nor even at Easter.

God was simply a paradigm with nob practical relevance for me. Yet interestingly, most of my reading consisted of works within the genres of horror and fantasy. Even then, there was a hunger in me for something more, something numinous, supernatural. In a way, those books became my church, a way of joining a world greater, darker, lighter, more mysterious than the one in which I lived.

Like Emeth, in Lewis’s The Last Battle, my allegiance may have been to Tash, but heart (perhaps even unbeknownst to me) was seeking. Seeking something more, something other: a new, a different, life.

That search was to have its fruition when I met a girl, right around Easter time, 1988. The girl, of course, invited me to church. And in May of that year, like Lewis before me, I admitted that God was God, and that it was He Whom I had been seeking. Casting off the books, I embraced my Savior.

To honor that journey, this Lenten season, I am returning to some of those books I loved as a child, the ones which first awakened in me that desire for a different life. In looking back I am taking stock of whence I’ve come to more clearly see the signposts of where God was at work when I didn’t know Him. My hope is that in so doing is to thereby kindle the fires of faith for the road ahead.

What are you doing for Lent?

Your Last Day

randomlychad  —  January 21, 2015 — Leave a comment

The following is a story I submitted for consideration in a contest last month. It wasn’t chosen as a finalist. It represents the first time I’ve used the  second person in fictional form. A friend of mine read it, and pronounced it the most intriguing, evocative thing I’ve written. This piece is an adaptation from  a much longer work in progress.

Your Last Day

You awake in the dark. You hear the howling of a biting wind outside. You know that chill, you can bundle up for it. Chillier still is the city itself, and the cold within your soul. You don’t want to get up. You don’t leave your cracker box flat. You’d rather listen to the scurrying of your only friends: the rats and roaches.

But you know you’ve got to go.

You know you failed. Spectacularly failed. You wanted a little for yourself, so you reached for the brass ring. And it didn’t pan out. Not only that, but the boss found out. Mr. Osgood doesn’t suffer fools lightly. You knew the risk, but you were so alone, so unseen, so unknown. You’ve practically been invisible your whole life through, with no one taking much notice of you. No notice at all, really.

Except when you bolloxed things up.

Then they noticed you. Parents, teachers, employers: they saw you for the colossal failure you were…

You get up. Woolgathering won’t make this any easier. You shiver in the cold, stumbling towards the light switch. You flick it on, pass into the bathroom, relieve yourself. You flush, looking down into the swirling water, and see your life going down the drain with your urine.

If only.

But it didn’t.

Why did you cross Osgood?

You don’t know. Except you do: you did it to be noticed. But now you’re not sure you can take the heat your rash choice has brought.

Why?

Why?

WHY???

You’ve been noticed alright. Maybe for the last time. And when you’ve gone no one will know of your demise. Looking in the mirror, you see eyes bloodshot, red-rimmed. You should be weeping–the tears want to come. But you’ve none left.

They’ve been burned out of you, leaving just a cold shell of a soul. The things you’ve done. You knew there was no turning back.

But you had to try.

You turn on the shower, waiting for it to warm. It doesn’t. You get in, shivering all the more. You soap, lather, shampoo. Turning off the water, you reach for your towel. Drying quickly, you get out.

Do you even recognize that face looking back at you in the mirror as you shave? Who is it? Whose is it?

You don’t know. But you do know that it’s like looking at a dead man.

You finish, dressing quickly. Cold as it outside, you don’t bother with your coat. It can’t be colder than it already is inside you. All the tender, soft, human parts of you have long since turned to ice. It would have to be very, very hot indeed to warm you, bring you back. You chuckle, a sardonic warble in your throat.

You leave your apartment. It could burn for all you care; you won’t miss it, or its old, moldy smells of decay. You look down at  your hands, imaging you can see right through them. Alas, you’re not that invisible–still essentially a man.

Maybe Osgood will have mercy.

And maybe whales don’t swallow tiny Krill wholesale.

Mercy?

Where is it? You’ve never seen, nor given, it.

Mercy is the dream of children. But you’ve awoken. And it’s not the world you know. Especially not here. Not in Osgood’s city. Where every dream is a reality. And nightmares lurk just beyond the veil. You know. You helped bring some of them to fruition.

Making your way down the stairs, you want to stop. But don’t. You know better, know nothing good awaits. But you’re drawn by some strange magnetism. You’re drawn to that great man, Osgood, who’s both more, and less, than that.

Had you but known? It wouldn’t have mattered: you would have done the same. You had your time in the sun.

Now it was time to pay the piper.

You make your way out of your building, into the street, not flinching at the cold. You pass the unseeing throngs, bundled against the chill. All your life this is all you’ve known: the hustling bustle of the salmon hordes, streaming this way and that. Everyone fighting for their piece, their dream, their brass ring.

You wish you could watch them burn, but as you head to the subway you know you won’t get the chance. If you were a man of regrets, that’s your only one: that you won’t live to see the world burn.

You deposit your tokens, passing through the turnstile, head onto the platform. Almost you look for number 9.5, but know he would find you even there. There’s no running. Your train arrives. You get on.

It’s a quiet ride to your stop. Cold and dark, people are more insular than usual. Nobody looks up, or around. No one wants to be bothered. Least of all you. You are cold and hard as a glacier, moving inexorably on to what comes next.

You tense your jaw, square your shoulders, squint your eyes. The train arrives at your stop. You get off, make your way back up into the world above. There it is, two blocks over, surpassing every other skyscraper with its sheer size: Osgood Tower.

You swallow. You will not plead. You will not simper, or cower. You will face your fate like a man. You don’t hurry, but you arrive at the building altogether sooner than you suppose. You enter through the revolving door, heading for the elevators.

You get on with a group, punching the number for the highest floor: 144. Osgood’s personal penthouse. They all quickly look at you, and just as quickly look away. They want nothing to do with you, or your fate. It’s almost like they can smell it on you, your utter failure. Your uselessness.

They shrink back as much they can. You don’t blame them. Then you do what you do best, and kill them all. All five souls who thought they were so much better than you. Looking up, you know all but Osgood’s private camera had been disable the moment you stepped on.

“Good, Jud, good,” a voice rumbles over the intercom. “But it’s not enough. Not by half. If anything, you may bought yourself some company for your journey.” The elevator continues to rise.

And rise.

Then it stops at floor one hundred forty-four.

“You know what this is, Jud, right? This is the end. The end of our journey together. The end of what I had hoped would continue to be a fruitful relationship. Alas, it was not be,” Osgood intones with a sigh.

“Goodbye, Mr. Mericot.”

“You’re the devil,” you hear yourself say. And the elevator, Osgood’s elevator, begins to make its plunge.

“No, Jud, nothing so dramatic. Not as far as this world knows. I’m merely your disgruntled former employer,” he says with a chuckle.

The elevator is falling so fast now, the blood you spilled begins to rise, spattering you, the ceiling, the mirrored walls of the car. Like the famous NASA plane, the so-called “vomit comet,” you begin to rise from the floor, feeling nearly weightless.

You feel like you’re falling forever… Forever falling. But you know there will be a sudden stop at fall’s end.

You keep falling, picking up speed.

And then you stop.

The bodies around you float to car’s floor; you follow them.

You’re not dead. At least you don’t think so.

Then the bell dings, doors sliding open.

“Welcome, Mr. Mericot,” a raspy, grating voice intones. “We’ve been expecting you.” You’re suddenly cold–colder than you’ve ever been. The last thing you want to do is leave the confines of the elevator. You try to hold on, but can’t–invisible hands drag you through the air as if you were so much ephemera. The corpses around you rise, streaking up, out, and away.

You know where you are. The one place colder than you. You try to scream, but icy air suddenly solid occludes your throat.

“Mr. Mericot, welcome to Hell.”

—————-

You awake in the dark. You hear the howling of a biting wind outside. You know that chill…

—————-
You awake in the dark. You hear the howling of a biting wind outside. You know that chill… You’ve been here before. The sense of deja vu is a palpable thing. Like someone with synesthesia, you can taste it in the cool air.

Then it dawns on you: you’re reliving your last day.

For eternity.

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 11.20.12 PM This is Dean Koontz. You may have heard of him. 😉 He is one of the biggest bestselling novelists in the world. After starting as a science fiction writer, he broadened the scope of his work to encompass multiple genres: thrillers, mystery, horror, humor, etc. He is now more of a cross-genre writer, as his work encompasses all of these elements–and all within the pages of a single book!

He can take us to the darkest depths, make us weep with despair, and then raise us to the highest heights. For no matter how dark his stories skew, there is always a ray of sunshine. Hope somehow not only survives, but thrives. As in our own lives, this doesn’t happen without cost. There are sacrifices to be made, lives are lost on the way.

But the journey! The icy shock of confronting the blackest of evils, the good guys–misunderstood, and on the run. Koontz’s books are like literary crack! One wants to put them down, but cannot! There is always the next page, chapter… until the final one is turned, and stumbles to bed, bleary-eyed, at three A.M., fallen into a fitful sleep.

Like all the best writers, Koontz often writes himself (and his characters) into a corner, and one just keeps reading to see how he is going to get himself (and them) out whatever outrageous pickle he has imagined. For my money, the best writing does this: posits impossible scenarios–creates problems–and then finds a plausible way out.

Koontz does it time and time again.

I share my exuberance for his work here because I would be honored if you would join the on Thursday, January 23rd at 5:00 P.M. EST. Dean will be chatting with his publicist, a Vice President of Random House publishers, and three lucky fans. Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 11.36.39 PM

I’m inviting you, my readers, to this event because, out of all of the people that applied for one of those three spots, I was chosen.

It feels a little like winning the lottery. It felt a little clandestine: there were emails, sample questions, and a phone call from New York to “triple confirm” my availability. I was like, Are you kidding me? Of course I’m there!

This is where you come in. Not only can you watch me blubber like an idiot (if you like), it’s also your chance to be heard! It may be my face being seen, and the sound of my voice being heard, during the hangout, but it could also be yours. In addition to, of course, taking questions via chat during the hangout, I would like for you ask any questions you may have for Mr. Koontz here in response to this post.

If you have questions about writing, about research, about the creative process, please ask them below, and I will do my best to get them answered on air during the hangout.

Thanks much for your support! I couldn’t do what I do here without you.

–Chad

The Beggar’s Billions

randomlychad  —  December 20, 2013 — 7 Comments

“The Beggar’s billions,” he said. “We’ve got work to do.” It was then that his appearance changed before me: where a moment before stood Lucifer, Prince of Darkness, now stood a figure familiar to billions:

A rotund, jolly, jowly red-cheeked, bearded man bedecked in a festal red suit. Where there had been cloven hooves there were now black boots.

“Come along, Rancidspoor, we’ve the Beggar’s billions to deceive,” he said, donning his Santa cap. “Ready to be an elf?”

“Tis the season,” I replied, reflecting upon the chance encounter with Beelzebub in the lower echelons which led to this sugar plum of an assignment.

“Ho, ho, ho,” Santa said. “Let’s go.”

—————-

This piece is part of a sudden writing challenge issued by Joseph Craven and Ricky Anderson. The requirements were to:

Call the story “Beggar’s Billions”
Have a Santa cap
Include a chance encounter

I had fun doing this, and look forward to future challenges.

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I’m a fan of well-crafted stories. If you know anything about his writing process, nobody spends more time crafting books than Dean Koontz. Seriously. His process–continually revising a page until it’s just right, then moving onto the next–would drive me crazy. But it works for him. Some accuse him of being formulaic, of being inferior to King. That may be.

There’s no discounting his success. The numbers don’t lie. And when he’s hot, he’s hot. Witness: Watchers, Strangers, Intensity, Lightning, and Odd Thomas. (My friend, Ricky Anderson stayed up into the wee hours last night reading Odd).

In my estimation, there’s more to Koontz’s success than just adrenaline-laced plots that keep the reader turning pages (as welcome as that is). No, it’s his characters. They feel like real people–people facing insane situations overwhelming odds, and yet somehow holding onto hope. These people could be you, me, or the neighbor down the block. And his villains are more, or less, than human. Their motivations are real, and they never see themselves as villains. Like Satan, Koontz’s villains usually see themselves as the aggrieved, misunderstood, party. Thus they are justified in their own eyes.

Like most Catholic writers I’ve read, Koontz isn’t afraid to let his villains be villains. Thus he portrays evil as it is. And thus the light of hope, of the protagonists, shines out all the more brightly in contrast. That is what I love about Koontz: he is an eternal optimist: no matter how dark, how bad things get, there’s always hope. Good will triumph on the end. (Now this is not say that his good guys aren’t flawed people–they are. They overcome these shortcomings, confront themselves, and the darkness in their own hearts).

The genius of Koontz is that, while not writing sermons, his work is infused with his faith stamped upon every page. His is the voice of one calling us out of the darkness into the light. It will, like life itself, be a bumpy ride. If you know any of his personal story–raised in poverty with an abusive, alcoholic father–you know that Dean is an overcome. He doesn’t see himself (or his characters for that matter) as a victim of circumstance.

By extension, he is calling us into the same life. We are not victims of circumstance unless we choose to be. We, like the people of which he writes, can overcome whatever life throws at us.

In this way, Mr. Koontz is an evangelist.
An evangelist of hope.

Have you read any Dean Koontz? What are your favorites?