Friday, January 27, 2012

"Underground Rising": My Thoughts

February 7th is looming ever closer and, with it, a time of horrors (of the good kind, though) thanks to the newest installment in The Coming Evil Trilogy. But, today, I want to take this opportunity before the marketing blitz surrounding Enemies of the Cross takes hold, and talk about the Biblical Cyberpunk anthology I was recently involved in: Underground Rising, set in the world of Frank Creed’s Underground series.

The book came out back in November, but I wanted to give it some time before I posted the following.

I’m not going to call this a review, because I’m really not going to tell you what the stories are about, though they are all top-shelf stuff, people. If you’re not at least familiar with Frank Creed’s futuristic series, be prepared to be a little dumped-in-the-middle-of-things, but I think you’ll figure out your way as the stories progress.

What I am going to do is share with you my experience in reading this anthology for the first time. I submitted my story “Ex-Communicator” years ago for this project. I had no idea who else Frank had contacted about working in the anthology, I never read their stories, never even heard what they were about. In preparation for the mega-interview I conducted back in November, I asked Frank for an e-copy of the finished product, so I at least could review and see who my co-contributors were. I was initially surprised to see that some of the men and women I call friends in the Christian Fiction community were listed, so I knew that I was in good company. When I sat down to actually read the book…I had an experience.

Seeing my story featured first was an instant thrill, sure. I hadn’t read it since I submitted it and it read so good I was convinced someone else had wrote it :p It’s one of the finest things I’ve written, I believe. But then I turned the page and read the next story. Then the next. And something started turning in my mind. A thought, pulling itself together. I didn’t know what it was, so I went ahead and read the next story. That same thought, getting clearer, beginning to excite me. Read the next. My heart was pounding, that thought poking at my mind. I felt moved. Elated. I had to stand up and walk around for a bit, all of this feeling coming out of me. I read the next story and it suddenly dawned on me what I was seeing.

As I said, I knew some of these authors. I’d heard of most of the others. I knew, firsthand, that while we’re all Christians, we come from different denominations, different educations, different family lives, different political leanings, different countries. I’ve seen us leave comments on discussions about Christian Fiction and the nature of writing about our faith. We disagree. Sometimes we argue. But here, in this one little anthology, that’s all gone. There is a unity in this book that I can only begin to articulate. Here, in this book, we’ve rallied behind our leader into this tech-noir world of Sandmen and Neros—Frank Creed—and we’re telling stories about the church under persecution. About faith tested by fire. Some of the stories are slam-bang action, some are thoughtful accounts of simple believers trying to live under a government that would kill them for their beliefs. Each writer has brought his or her own voice, his or her own journey to this project—but we’re all telling the same universal story.

I was blown away when I realized this. You may not think it’s that big of a deal, but I’ve really struggled with Christian Fiction in the past. Not the "genre", itself, but all the division among those who write it. There are so many internet-based arguments on how to get “the message” out—or if we should even try to get one out at all. We argue over who’s right and who’s doing this or that better. It’s tiring. It’s discouraging.

But not in Underground Rising. This is the Body of Christ, working in unison. All unique, but unified to share stories of surviving when the world is against you. It reads like a family getting together for dinner, after many years apart. Everyone’s equal at the table, telling stories, sharing their troubles and their triumphs. Everyone gets a turn to speak, and, once they’re finished, we all sit and nod with meaningful tears in our eyes because we understand exactly what they mean because we’ve lived it too, we just didn’t know it.

This is a story about survivors, about soldiers, about heroes. They’re covered in mud, hiding in shadows, scraping for every meal, and hated by the world. Like the heroes of the Bible, these characters struggle with their doubts, bicker with one another, but ultimately love and forgive and turn heavenward for hope.

I’m sorry, but I think that, if you’re not a Christian, you’re just not going to be able to fully appreciate what this book represents. “For those who have ears, let them hear”. However, even if you’re not a Christian, I’d plead with you to read this. I believe this is us at our best. This is "Christian" Fiction at its best. It’s not about preaching, it’s about living. It’s about sharing our stories.

I can’t give Underground Rising a review, because it wasn’t a book to me. It was an experience that I lived through. I’m proud to stand in this anthology with my fellow authors—my brothers and sisters in Christ. They’ve encouraged me and given me a little more fire in my furnace to keep on keeping on in my own writing journey. For that, I thank all of you, guys, and I thank “the Boss”. I think He had something to do with this all along.

I encourage everyone to head over and check it out. Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Everything You Need to Know About "The Coming Evil"!

In just a few short weeks, on February 7th, the second book in The Coming Evil Trilogy--Enemies of the Cross--will be invading bookstores across the nation. Can you believe it? For some of you, you've waited a whole year for this book. For those of you who bought the original self-published version of The Strange Man, you've been waiting since 2007! For me, I've been waiting since 1999!! I'm extremely excited that the trilogy is finally moving along, at long last.

To better equip you for February 7th, I've prepared a helpful guide to give you a crash course in the world of The Coming Evil. Whether you've read The Strange Man and need a refresher, or whether you've never heard of this story and you're ready to jump into Enemies of the Cross blind, here's everything you need to know about Book One to get ready for Book Two.

Obviously, this thing is full of spoilers, so if you've yet to read The Strange Man, you still have plenty of time to order your copy and get it read before Enemies of the Cross is unveiled. The book is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, CBD, and for you e-readers, it's also on the Nook and Kindle!

Ah, enough plugging. On with the guide:

In The Strange Man, we are introduced to the small country town of Greensboro, a once-thriving community that served as the last stop on the way to the City, but has now fallen on hard times since the highway was moved. Shops have closed up, jobs have been lost, and families are struggling. At a time when the collective mood of Greensboro is one of apathy and bitterness, it is the perfect striking point for the demon known only as "the Strange Man".

For over a hundred years, the people of Greensboro have told stories of a cadre of monsters lurking in the North Woods. But now those stories take on a whole new meaning as the Strange Man and his horde of flesh-eating gremlins descend upon the brittle town during the night of the terrible storm. The Strange Man was banished to the North Woods long ago by the faith of the town's forefathers and, now that that faith has diminished, he is ready to exact his revenge from the shadows.

His first victim is Eldon Granger, a homeless man living in the North Woods, who tells half-true ghost stories to the local children. Next is Lindsey McCormick, a pretty young woman whose car is found at the bottom of Greensboro Park Lake. Her body is never recovered. The demon also visits the bedroom window of five-year-old Millie Walker, though no one will believe her chilling tale.

As the rain pours, the Strange Man encounters The Rave Scene, a hangout for young twenty-somethings looking to escape their dreary small town life. It is here that the demon fixates on Rosalyn Myers--an outsider in Greensboro, haunted by the memory of her father who committed suicide years ago. The bogeyman is attracted to Rosalyn and seeks to corrupt her. However, there is someone standing in his way: Dras Weldon.

Dras is a foolish young man who's refused to grow up. His is a life of monster movies and comic books. He lives life only for himself, drinking away his nights and sleeping away his days--much to the disapproval of his older brother, Reverend Jeff Weldon. Jeff and his wife Isabella have tried to get Dras to commit to the faith he once claimed as a child and return to the Good Church of the Faithful, where Jack Weldon--the boys' dying father--served as pastor for years. Dras is content to live in eternal adolescence, but is forced to face reality when the Strange Man approaches him. What Dras doesn't know is that he is marked by God and the Strange Man cannot destroy him. Instead, the demon hopes to remove the boy from Rosalyn's life by threatening him. Terrified by a head-on confrontation with a creature he believed was only a story, Dras briefly considers the Strange Man's offer to leave town and save his life.

But, with Rosalyn's soul hanging in the balance, Dras rises to the challenge of standing up to the monster who would harm his best friend.

Sobering up, he puts aside his immaturity and attempts to share his faith with Rosalyn, an effort that is an utter failure thanks to Dras' lifelong hypocrisy. Time is running out as night falls, and Dras tries to convince his brother to help him in his battle. But after a lifetime of being disappointed by Dras' actions and attitudes, Jeff refuses aid. Hurt by the dismissal, Dras strikes out on his own, facing down the Strange Man's demonic brood of gremlins. The monsters chase after Dras, tearing through Main Street, but by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Scriptures, Dras manages to survive in time to reach Rosalyn's side at The Rave Scene, where she's gone to blow off some steam.

However, in retaliation for Dras' defiance, the Strange Man orchestrates a plot to frame Dras for the mysterious disappearance of Lindsey McCormick and the murders of Deputy Dane Adams and little Millie's older brother TJ Walker--all victims of the demon's cruelty. The bogeyman petrifies Millie into corroborating his story to Sheriff Hank Berkley, a tired man who's just barely keeping the town together in the midst of this bizarre onslaught. While the town comes alive with talk of "gremlins", Hank struggles to make sense of it all. Dras pleads with him via radio that the bogeyman from the old stories is real and has returned, but refuses to turn himself in for the crimes he knows he didn't commit.

Dras confronts Rosalyn one last time in The Rave Scene, pleading with her to listen to him--to turn herself over to God in order to be saved from the monster's plans. Before Dras is able to finish, however, Deputy Ryan Stevenson and a band of angry lawmen arrive to arrest Dras for the murders they believe he's committed. Dras decides that he can't run forever. The Strange Man has him trapped, but Dras believes God can bring some good out of it. Praying that he's told Rosalyn enough that she can carry on the battle without him, Dras surrenders himself to the police--who viciously beat him. Even when Jeff, having come to his senses and deciding to help his brother, arrives with his wife Isabella, they can do little more but watch helplessly as Dras is beaten. Sheriff Berkley arrives and breaks up the carnage, and, as Dras' friends gather around his broken and still body, the Strange Man calls out to Rosalyn's spirit, tempting her to join him in the darkness.

But Rosalyn's eyes are only on Dras.

Defeated for now, the demon retreats to the North Woods and the lake where he murdered Lindsey McCormick. Her death has served as a catalyst, polluting the waters of Greensboro Park Lake and turning them thick and black. The Strange Man is angered by his personal setback, but knows that the real battle for the soul of Greensboro has only just begun...

To be continued in Enemies of the Cross, in stores February 7th!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Dusty Duck Flies Again!

Now this is a great way to start off the new year.

In stores now (finally) is Ryder Windham's latest Star Wars book--The Wrath of Darth Maul! Maul has long been one of my favorite characters in the series and this book takes you through his life: from the very beginning, through the events of The Phantom Menace where he met his supposed end, and beyond! With Darth Maul making a dramatic and most unexpected return to Star Wars later this year in The Clone Wars, this is a must-read for young fans of the cartoon who want to get the skinny on who this red-skinned devil is.

As excited as I am to see Darth Maul's story told in full, the reason behind this exuberant blog post resides on Page 174. You see, it is on this page that my very own contribution to the Star Wars saga--the Dusty Duck--gets a mention!! Why? Darth Maul plays an integral role in my Dusty Duck story, which you can read by accessing the Wayback Machine and clicking here.

Seeing "my creation" get a mention in a major Star Wars release is really fulfilling. Like any kid from the '80s, I grew up with Star Wars. When I was in high school, I first discovered the Expanded Universe (or EU for short).

It was two things that did it: I glimpsed a hardcover edition of the much-maligned The Crystal Star on the new releases display at Hastings, and then I found the first issue of Dark Horse Comics' Crimson Empire. Crystal Star enlightened me that the adventures of Luke, Leia, and Han extended past the movies (and they had kids!). Crimson Empire showed me that there was a whole galaxy of potential stories--that every minor background character could be the star of his, her, or its own epic space opera. I was spellbound--even more so when I discovered that all of these books, games, comics, cartoons, etc worked together into a single (mostly) cohesive continuity.

Ever since that moment, I was fascinated by this rich lore written over these decades by many talented storytellers. And, perhaps, most importantly--I wanted to write my own story.

Many years later, in 2006, I got that chance, thanks to a limited running contest on the official site. The feature was called "What's the Story?" and gave fanboy writers like me the opportunity to take a minor background character, ship, or creature and develop a backstory that, if selected, would be officially adopted into Star Wars canon forevermore. I worked hard, wanting desperately to leave some small mark on this series that had captivated me. I know it sounds silly, but it was a rigorous time and taught me a lot about perseverance and rejection in the writing biz.

At last, after several rounds and multiple tries, the heavens parted and I won an entry of my very own: The Dusty Duck. My tale of a doomed spacecraft and the star-crossed lovers who flew it was an entry I, initially, hadn't thought long and hard about. It was just one of many submissions, but, looking at it again, I realized how proud I was of the concept. My excitement was renewed when, a couple years later, it received a place in The Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia. After that, I feared my little ship that could would settle in the dusts of obscurity, never to be mentioned again.

But today, that's changed thanks to author Ryder Windham and The Wrath of Darth Maul. Folks, the Duck is in there. Yes, it's only a passing mention--not enough to warrant such a long and gushing blog post, but it's there. My contribution to the Star Wars saga lives on in other writers and there are few things, creatively speaking, that are cooler than that.

I am forever grateful to you, Mr. Windham, for resurrecting my baby :) My hope is that it'll help inspire some other kid to take notice that the stories of Star Wars extend further and deeper than what they've seen in the movies. Maybe one day, they'll make their own contribution to that galaxy far, far away.

Finally here's the deleted scene that started it all, featuring the Dusty Duck....