February 24th, 2014
Come one! Come all!
Over $750 in prizes, including a 7″ Kindle Fire HD, spread over THREE contests, with a $1000 Excalibur sword for the GRAND PRIZE!
And Excalibur’s guard and pommel will be bronze-cast by the author himself! And the scabbard? Hand-made as well!
To join the contest just go to the website for The Merlin Spiral at the following web page:
December 28th, 2013
As part of a previous contest, I interviewed award winning author Douglas Bond, and wanted to re-post the interview here for all my loyal blog readers.
This is a great pleasure for me, because Doug and I met at the 2009 Reformation Day Faire up in Peoria, IL. Doug was speaking on the life of John Calvin, and our family was blessed through his gifted teaching and books. We’ve been able to see each other three times since then: twice at conferences in St. Louis, and then again when I flew out to Seattle for the ALA Mid-winter for a book signing.
Another fun detail is that Doug and his wife are great friends with a couple that my wife and I used to work with up in Twin Cities, Rick & Lisa Demass.
So, now for the interview!
TRESKILLARD: At what age did you realize you wanted to write? And if I may ask, what was the first creative thing you remember writing?
BOND: I’m not one of those guys who had a passion for writing from my training-wheel days. Not me! In high school I did everything I could to get out of writing–hated it. Writing was too much work. In Journalism class I signed up to be the photographer in large part so I could ditch out of writing articles. Sorry to disappoint readers who are young, passionate, aspiring writers. You’ll probably chuck my books out the window now.
So, all that to say, I’m a late bloomer as a writer. In college, however, I was asked to write an article for the college newsletter. Meanwhile, I was reading Spurgeon and being fascinated with his command of words. I really enjoyed writing that article (truth be told, it probably was terrible, full of fragments, split infinitives, and pedantic ugliness).
Later in graduate school I found that I absolutely loved doing the research and then writing my master’s thesis (it was supposed to be in the 35 page-ish range; mine wound down at 118 pages). Next I began writing some articles for magazines, ones that paid me for their right to publish the articles. That was fun. Shortly after that I began secretly working on writing fiction; I would slink around like a housebreaker, concealing what I’d attempted to write from prying eyes, terrified that sometime, somewhere, someone would find me out.
TRESKILLARD: Far from chucking your boots out the window, they’ll probably be bronzed one day, Douglas … you bloomed at just the right time! So, for question two, which authors, including Spurgeon, have had the strongest influences on your writing?
BOND: I know it seems almost cliche to admit it, but the imaginative works of C. S. Lewis have probably done more to inspire me than any other single author. I have also found great inspiration in the historical fiction of Rosemary Sutcliff, the Swallows and Amazons of Arthur Ransome, Flannery O’Conner, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, Dickens (especially his Great Expectations). I would follow that line-up with the disclaimer that I don’t attempt to write like any one of them, though their works have significantly helped in the on-going process of finding my voice as an author.
TRESKILLARD: That’s quite a lineup of influences, and good company to be in. For the next question, what’s your view on e-books and the new publishing revolution? Are there any self-published e-book plans in your future?
BOND: E-books and the publishing revolution. I love books. My living room, front hall, dining room, bedrooms–every room in my house has books, lots of books, in them, old leather bound ones, new releases, and almost everything in between. I’m conservative by nature and the quintessential tech-tard, so put that together and you might expect me to be a teeth-champing opponent of e-books and the rest. But to be so would be akin to the Renaissance collector of ancient manuscripts setting up a picket line in front of Johann Gutenberg’s house in Mainz, Germany and chanting, “Moveable-type printing–it’s a sin. Move it to the recycle bin!”
Has electronic media changed the way we read and how we process information, maybe even how our imaginations work? I think it has, and not all for the good, I fear. Nevertheless, I don’t see how opposing e-books will solve the real problems. My wife was the first to get a kindle, and even I, techno meat head that I am, have read a few books on my ipad (especially when traveling and doing research abroad).
At the end of the day, however, curling up in front of the fire on a blustery evening, cup of Earl Grey in hand, Bach’s Orchestral overtures playing in the background, and reading a book–a real one, with pages made from trees–will always for me trump the sterility of the touch screen.
TRESKILLARD: Amen! And I love that mock picket-line chant in front of Johann’s house … hilarious! Next up is a question that I don’t intend to be morbid, but rather hopeful. How would you finish the following sentence?
At the end of my life, I want people to remember me and my writing as…?
BOND: Compelling, authentic fiction that when all was said and done left the reader enthralled with Jesus Christ; “I must decrease; he must increase.”
TRESKILLARD: So … If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be? And, knowing you, I must also ask the follow-up question of what would you have for dinner?
BOND: That’s a tough question because there are so many I would love to sit down with over a delicious meal and talk and talk and talk. My first would be John Bunyan and his wife (and my wife, of course). I can just picture us sitting around a plank trestle table, wooden trenchers of coarse peasant fare, honey mead to wash it down with, and talking about Pilgrim’s Progress, of course, but I would want to ask him more about his book, The Mystery of Law and Grace Unfolded.
And then a meal with C. S. Lewis and Joy (and my wife, of course) at the Eagle & Child in Oxford (where I have eaten a number of times, but never with Lewis, though reading aloud from his books to some of my students after the meal). We would have steak and ale pie, he and Joy drinking beer, my wife and I, cider (Thatcher’s Gold, if you please), and talking about the change I have observed in his theology of free will from Screwtape (1942) to Magician’s Nephew and Silver Chair (both penned more than a decade later). And I would want to find out just what he disliked so much about most hymns (though I expect being in heaven since 1963 has changed all that). My wife would want to chat with Joy about her knitting, and I think Lewis would not think this unimportant in the slightest–and he would be absolutely right.
I think I would like to sit down with John Knox and his wife at Trunk Close on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, five children bustling about the place, my dear wife at my side, of course. We would be eating haggis, nips, and tatties, and drinking a Rhone wine he brought over from his time in Geneva. I would want to ask him what he wishes he would have done more of and what he wishes he had not wasted his time doing at all (I suspect, not being from the modern world, he would not entirely understand the second part of this question).
TRESKILLARD: Very fascinating! I had at first envisioned one meal with all three together, but of course three different meals, each appropriate to the time and person, is much more fun … and having it a family meal and discussion adds so much as well. Thank you for those details—I almost felt like I was watching it all happen. And speaking of watching … what’s this I hear about a DUNCAN’S WAR movie in the works? This is REALLY exciting, and I must know more, so fill us in!
Bond: I have gone from excited to cringing over one of my books being turned into a movie. It has been a roller coaster for me. So often when I go to see a movie based on a book I’ve read, the movie disappoints me. And I don’t want that to happen with Duncan’s War. And I especially don’t want the substance to be tampered with in any way; let’s not turn Sandy M’Kethe into a hand-wringing 90s parent. The guys spearheading this movie project won’t do that.
There’s still lots of hoops to pass through for Duncan to go from playacting in the opening scene of the book to actually being playacted in a real movie. But these guys (Phillip Moses, Producer/Director, and James Chung, Art Director, etc.) feel the same way I do about that. Nobody wants to do a lousy movie flop of this book. You’ve heard what John le Carre is supposed to have said, “Watching your book be turned into a movie is like watching your oxen be turned into bullion cubes.” Hence my cringing.
But all that said, they are in the “development and packaging” stage of creating this movie. I’m learning all kinds of new terminology from these guys. And the soft launch at the AFM convention in LA went far better than either Phillip or James anticipated. They were meeting with potential distributors and financiers who seemed very impressed with the grass-roots enthusiasm for Duncan’s War becoming a big-screen film. Over 1,100 likes and lots of people talking about on the fb page (https://www.facebook.com/DuncansWar), and all in about 4 days time. Now they need some deep pockets to make it a reality. Finally, all of this is in the Lord’s able and wise hands, and there’s no better place for me to rest either.
TRESKILLARD: It’s certainly a scary and exciting thing to have this happen … may this process be more like giving juicy steaks that feed hungry souls! So, with the potential for a Scottish movie in the works, it is quite appropriate to ask the next question … If you had to choose one place to live other than Tacoma, where would it be? Britain, Scotland, France, Switzerland, or _________? You’ve written about so many places that I won’t venture to guess the answer.
BOND: That is a good one. Before I answer, I want to pause and think of the line of poetry from Anna Waring, the Welsh poet and hymn writer, “Content to fill a little space if Thou be glorified.” I love traveling. I find it so stimulating to my imagination, and I especially love writing on location. While researching for Hammer of the Huguenots, I wrote in a huge cavern high up in the Cevennes in the south of France where as many as 900 Huguenots would gather in secret to worship the Savior. I sat there in the dark with my iPad and wrote what I was hearing, smelling, feeling, and what it must have been like filled with fugitive worshipers of King Jesus. So right now, I’d say I would want to live with my family in La Roque sur-Ceze, a tiny medieval village in the south of France, near where Huguenots lived and worshiped, suffered and died in the 16th century.
But I really do want to live in a little space where I can glorify the Savior–and after being away I always love coming home to my little corner in the Pacific Northwest.
TRESKILLARD: Your travels definitely add a sense of realism to your novels, and I can’t wait to read that cave scene! Do you have a favorite piece of writing (novel, non-fiction book, short-story, article, poem, or hymn) that you’d like to tell us about?
BOND: I wrote the initial draft of this scene at the early end of my research for Hammer of the Huguenots while sitting in the square around the village fountain at the coastal town of La Ciotat. At that point I wasn’t sure where it would fit in the big story; only later did it find its place near the end of the novel.
Philippe had never felt thirst like this. Burning and constricting so intense that he feared it was irrecoverable. He had halted, and almost collapsed at the village square in the town of Tillac near Navarre. At that particular moment he was so thirsty, hungry, and exhausted, he little cared if the enemy rode into the village and he was discovered.
He listened to the chuckling of the fountain, a massive stone bath, the water poised on the rim, here and there trickling over in rivulets that filled a narrow moat surrounding the entire structure. Four grinning stone dolphins spewed an unrelenting stream of water from their mouths, dribbles of it falling from their rigid lower lips.
Fountains worked like magnets, thought Philippe, drawing all living things to themselves. No one had to tell creatures to come to fountains. It seemed as natural as breathing to find refreshment in their cool waters. His horse had buried its mouth in the fountain and was breathing in great gulps of water.
Not only horses but all creatures knew what to do at fountains, including pigeons. Pigeons cooed softly from window sills, tile roofs, and the stone niches of the tall narrow arched windows of the parish church. In a flurry of clapping wings and contented squeaks, the gray and white feathered birds descended to the rim of the fountain, there to plunge their heads in the cool water for a refreshing drink. Not satisfied with a mere drink, several of them dipped and bobbed until they had drenched themselves entirely in the cool water. One flew to the top of the fountain, a large round stone capital that reminded Philippe of a cannon ball, there to dry its feathers in the sun. Philippe wiped droplets from his face as more of them flew off to their various perches around the square, dripping water from their feet and beaks.
Extending his hands haltingly, Philippe closed his eyes and breathed deeply at the feel of the cool water. For what seemed like weeks, he had had little time to look at his hands, what is more, to wash them. Ladling handfuls of water onto his arms he scrubbed away the layers of caked on dirt and grit and blood. He could recall few things in life that gave him as much pleasure as bathing his hands that day. And then, when his hands were sufficiently clean, he cupped them and breathed in a long cool drink, and another and another. He was on his knees now. Bathing his face and neck, he drank again in deep silence, as if it were a holy activity too sacred for words.
Through louvered shutters high above the little square, women and children—few boys and fewer still men—peered cautiously at the stranger bathing and drinking at their village fountain.
TRESKILLARD: Excellent scene! As a follow-up to that, have you ever found yourself weeping while writing?
BOND: Guilty, big time. The time that first comes to mind (there have been many) is when Sandy M’Kethe was fatally wounded in the rescue in Rebel’s Keep. My father was going through his induction Chemo therapy for AML Leukemia as I was writing the book. He had suffered every complication during six horrific weeks of hospitalization for the mega-doses of chemo they were pumping into his body, with several near-death episodes that brought us to his bedside in the middle of the night. I wrote that scene (I’m starting to choke up recollecting even) with more than verisimilitude informing my imagination; I had just been at my dying father’s side, stroking his brow, holding his hand, praying, singing, comforting and encouraging him with the gospel promises he had taught me. Yes, without apology, I cry like a baby as I write. Which makes it a bit awkward at times. I do a good deal of writing at Collins Memorial Library at the University of Puget Sound near my house. College kids don’t seem to appreciate it when a white-haired dude in his fifties is hunkered over his laptop blubbering like… well, like an old man.
TRESKILLARD: That’s a very powerful example, and I can relate. We really do pour our souls into our writing! For a final question … tell us about the book you are contributing to the giveaway — HAND OF VENGEANCE. Also, do you have anything new in the works? Any secret projects?
BOND: I loved writing this book! Hand of Vengeance, set in 8th century Anglo-Saxon Northern England, is a tale that emerges from the days of the mead hall, the battle axe, and the mounting threat of Viking plunder and pillage along the northern coast of Northumbria. The Lindisfarne Gospels are being crafted an th Venerable Bede is teaching and writing a few mile down the coast. The novel is my first murder mystery–and a tale that explores true biblical romance. Whether you love it or hate it, I doubt that you’ll put it down until the last page. So much enjoyed writing this book.
Today I began writing on my next historical fiction book, set in my backyard–almost literally! I guess it will be sort of a Bond version of some of the favorite frontier stories out there for young adult readers. Mine will have lots of beaver trapping, PNW trading musket shooting, salmon fishing, horses, HMS Beaver steamer for the HBC, small boat sailing, Douglas fir felling, log cabin building, trading and friendship with coastal Indians, frontier tensions between American and British settlers, the Pig War, and the rising storm to the Civil War. A good deal of it set at Fort Nisqually, a short hop from my front door. So no secret about it!
TRESKILLARD: Thank you so much for the interview, Doug. Your new novel sounds like it will be a lot of fun to write … and to read! Any M’Kethe’s involved? Oh wait, that’s another question … this interview might go on forever if I don’t stop.
December 18th, 2013
Today is day three of the CSFF Blog Tour, reviewing my second novel, MERLIN’S SHADOW!
Yesterday we covered how God works in the world, including a powerful example from my own life. Todays I’d like to share a Biblical example.
Three things coincided to bring the story of Joseph to mind:
- My wife and I talked through God’s involvement in Merlin’s Blade, and she came up with the story of Joseph as a similar example.
- I’ve been reading through the Old Testament, and the very morning after my wife and I had this discussion about Joseph (and just before I went to the International Christian Retail Show for an interview), I came to, as a matter of course, the very story of Joseph and his enslavement in Egypt. There was no planning here, it was up next in my daily Bible reading.
- That night at ICRS we sat and listened to Max Lucado speak about his new book YOU’LL GET THROUGH THIS, and found that the *entire* book is based on the story of Joseph.
Max hit the nail on the head for us … no wait, let me rephrase that … Max hit my wife and I on the head! We sat there almost dumbstruck as Mr. Lucado laid out for us what I call “The Biblical Encouragement” of how God works in the world to turn the bad things in our life into good.
Here was Joseph, a young man for whom everything had gone wrong. Sold into slavery by his brothers and taken forcibly to a strange land, he was accused falsely and thrown into a dungeon even though he had done no wrong. And even there he was forgotten by those who should have remembered him.
So how did God work? It was through events that, when put together, add up to amazing things. But no kapow. No flash of light. No angel visitation.
Does God do things like that? Yes! Just look at Paul and Silas chained up in Acts 16:25-26. An earthquake came and opened all the doors and unfastened all their bonds! Wow!
But for Joseph? Nothing like that.
On page 58 of YOU’LL GET THROUGH THIS (advanced reader copy), Max details the struggles of some people who have written to him with difficult problems in their lives … people who feel imprisoned, like Joseph, by their circumstances. Afterward, Max says this:
Each of these individuals wonders, “Where is heaven in this story? Why would God permit such imprisonment? Does this struggle serve any purpose?” Joseph surely posed those questions.
And these are the same kind of questions some have asked about Merlin’s Blade. Where is God in this story? Well … he is involved in the same way that he was in Joseph’s story … walking with Joseph through slavery, jail, and loneliness.
Like Joseph, Merlin was miraculously elevated to serve a king. Like Joseph, Merlin was used providentially to save the entire land.
Novelist and singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson puts it this way in his song titled “The Last Frontier (A Lament)”, found on his beyond-excellent “Counting Stars” album:
… And my heart is black as coal
It’s been mined and their ain’t no gold
It’s so dark in there, that I don’t care
I will lay down in this empty hole
Where my heart is black as coal
And, oh … there is nowhere left to go … from here,
and I have fallen past the last frontier,
and at the bottom of this well I hear you … breathing:
Love … below me
Love … around me
Love … above me
Oh love … has found me
Love … has found me … here!
And so it is. When we’re at the end of our rope … there God is, waiting to turn our suffering into gold, to pull us up, by grace, and set us on our feet again. Sometimes we will only see this happen in heaven. Sometimes in this life. But, like Joseph, God can turn what appears to be intended for evil into good—both for us as well as others.
This is how it was for Joseph. After God miraculously raised him up to the one of the most powerful rulers in the land, and through him God saved the lives of all the Egyptians, as well as his own family. In the end, Joseph declared the following to his brothers:
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
And these words are echoed in the New Testament by Paul:
… for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)
And don’t take that verse out of context … it is followed shortly by these words:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39 ESV)
Max Lucado wonderfully summarizes YOU’LL GET THROUGH THIS with these powerful words:
Consider the Old Testament story of Joseph—tossed in a pit by his brothers, sold into slavery, wrongfully imprisoned. But God weaved what was meant for evil for good. God is in the business of redeeming the broken. He was then. He is still. Do you crave some hope for these tough times? Then this is the message you need.
You’ll get through this.
It won’t be painless.
It won’t be quick.
But God will use this mess for good.
Don’t be foolish or naïve.
But don’t despair either.
With God’s help, you’ll get through this.
And this message is not only for us, but it is also the message that God has for Merlin in MERLIN’S BLADE as well MERLIN’S SHADOW and MERLIN’S NIGHTMARE.
A FINAL POINT
And for one final point, let me bring up one other issue that has been raised … the “gloomy” appearance of the angels to Merlin. Let me just say that the angels themselves are not gloomy, but rather the vision that the angels break into are gloomy.
Why are these visions gloomy? It is because they are showing Merlin “spiritually” what is happening in the physical world … that Merlin is in a spiritual battle the likes of which he has never imagined. And the spiritual forces levied against him are represented by different Celtic deities.
Each vision parallels the physical reality with a spiritual reality. But the angels? They appear, not as part of the visions, but as God breaking in and giving Merlin a message:
And each time, this is the warning that Merlin must heed.
In closing, here’s a quote from Jojo Sutis’s video review of Merlin’s Blade. These thoughts were especially encouraging to me!
“Which leads to the second thing that’s so wonderful about this book, and that’s the faith factor. That’s one thing that’s missing from the BBC Merlin is a faith factor.
Sure you can watch the show and there are some really great messages and some valuable things you can take away from that, but it’s not the same as what Robert Treskillard has done so wonderfully in this book. And that is incorporating themes of faith.
As I’m reading a book I love to know it is changing me, that it is strengthening my faith, giving me hope. It’s changing the way I see my own circumstances, and that’s what I want when I read a book, and that’s totally what I got from Merlin’s Blade.”
So this concludes my three day, probably over-explained, answer to the question of “Where is God in The Merlin Spiral.” It is my hope that you would be encouraged that despite the suffering that Merlin goes through, that God is with him through it all. And though this is fiction … it is true of your life as well.
I want to end by thanking all of the tour participants for taking the time to read the novel and thoughtfully write up reviews. As a new author, this is encouraging far more than you can know.
Here are the other participants. Go to it!
December 17th, 2013
Today is day two of the CSFF Blog Tour, reviewing my second novel, MERLIN’S SHADOW!
Yesterday I covered how God was involved in the novel of Merlin’s Blade.
Today I’d like to broaden that discussion to see how God works in the real world … not just the fictional world of my novel.
(For those new to the topic, read the first article. Basically, I had a few readers question whether God is present in the books of The Merlin Spiral, and so this is my attempt to answer to those questions in detail.)
HOW DOES GOD WORK IN THE WORLD?
Well, keeping in mind that I will show God’s direct and supernatural power in a future novel, here are some of the other ways that God works in the world:
- through turning intended evil to good,
- through God’s people, and
- through wider events that he is orchestrating.
And those three can include:
- … through our suffering.
Merlin suffers. People die. Does this happen in real life? Yes. All the time. All around the world. Does God perform miracles? Certainly. Does he always? No.
If I were to pen a novel that somehow promised you that this earthly life will be easy for you if you would just trust God and pray, I would be a liar. God is telling a story of painful redemption through our lives, and far be it from me to pen a novel that isn’t true to that story.
We look at the news and despair at all of the horrible things going on at any moment. But God is intimately involved with his children, working in the cracks where the news reporters can’t see.
Is God working in the novels of The Merlin Spiral? Yes. God chose Merlin for his time, his place, as well as for this epic struggle that is about to commence for the soul of Britain. God is directing Merlin.
One final example.
Near the end of the book, after the final struggle against the Stone, God heals Merlin and Natalenya—but not Owain or Dybris.
One could ask “why not Owain? Why not Dybris?”
Indeed. God can heal every single person on the face of the planet, but he chooses not to.
- God’s ways are not our ways.
- He is Holy, which means “other,” and He doesn’t think like us.
- We see the finite, but God sees the infinite.
- Miracles are not for everyone.
- Instead, God often chooses to be the “still small voice” that speaks to us in the midst of the storm of our suffering.
But remember: God himself suffered when he came down to earth and died upon a cross for our sins.
He knows exactly what he is allowing. Yes, God’s story is mysterious to us. We cannot know God fully, nor his plan for our lives, but we can know Him truly—through his revealed word, through his Spirit, through His suffering, and through his working in our lives.
Here’s an example from my own life.
When I was learning to bronze-cast the hilt and pommel of my version of the sword Excalibur, which is featured in a photograph on the cover of all the novels in The Merlin spiral, I ran into a big problem.
You see, I had ordered my bronze, and I had ordered my crucible, but the bronze chunks were too large to fit in my crucible. And the crucible was made of clay, so it was fragile. I couldn’t chance breaking it.
How did I solve this? I bought a lodge cast-iron pot to melt the bronze in! Ah, just the idea! Iron melts at a higher temp than bronze, so I was good, right?
Well, no. I had the bronze all melted in the furnace, and ran in to get my plaster molds from the oven where I was heating them. While I was on my way back outside, my son started yelling.
The bronze had melted a hole right through the bottom of the iron pot! And it had all fallen into the bottom of the furnace where I had charcoal sitting on angle-irons. It was all lost.
What a catastrophe! What an expensive catastrophe!
I was mad. Why would God allow this to happen?
I had spent months preparing to pour that bronze, and here, within 60 seconds of pouring it, a lot of good bronze was lost, and all my preparation time to boot!
So I called an expert the next day to ask how I could melt these big bronze chunks in a too small crucible, and do you know what he asked me?
“You weren’t about to pour molten bronze into a plaster mold, were you?”
“Yes,” I answered.
You see, I had done pewter casting before, which melts at around 500 degrees. You heat the pewter in the oven and then pour it into a hot plaster mold, and it works great.
I figured that if I could somehow melt bronze at 2000 degrees, I could just pour it into a plaster mold.
“YOU CAN’T DO THAT!” he told me.
And then he went on to explain to me that even though plaster molds feel dry, they actually have water bound up chemically inside the plaster structure. When you pour 2000 degrees bronze into a plaster mold, the water is released and then turns into explosive steam.
The end result?
A 2000 DEGREE BRONZE VOLCANO!
If God had not allowed the bronze to be lost, I could have ended up in the hospital with severe, life-changing burns. I might have even been blinded or killed, and spent my days like my own character, blind Merlin.
And so it turns out I knew just enough to get myself in trouble, which meant God had to save me from my own stupidity, and he did it through what appeared at first to me to be a minor tragedy yet major setback.
And I firmly believe that God works in this way far more often than we realize. For instance, do you really know what kind of person you might have turned out to be without some suffering in your life?
God is not only humbling us, he’s protecting us and teaching us compassion. These barbs are the wounds of a friend who loves us far more than we can ever know.
And this is what I try to portray in The Merlin Spiral. God cleansing, purifying, and working through suffering to benefit his people.
Would you like an example from scripture? If so, then tune in for day 3… !
Also, make sure you visit the other participants on the tour:
December 16th, 2013
Today is day one of the CSFF Blog Tour, reviewing my second novel, MERLIN’S SHADOW, strangely enough!
I want to start out thanking all of the tour participants for taking the time to read the novel and thoughtfully write up reviews. And I’m even thankful in advance for any critical ones! I cannot improve as a writer without honest, helpful advice.
However, since I’m the author I’m not about to post a review of my own novel, so I’ve decided to post an article broken over three days that, I think, is informative about the series, and may even help the other reviewers understand what I have written.
This is all prompted by two different readers who asked the question about book 1: “Where is God in Merlin’s Blade?", feeling like the power of God isn’t shown clearly in the novel.
Well, since the CSFF Blog Tour is about book 2, I realized that the same question could be asked of this novel as well. So even though what follows is about book 1, it is pertinent to the discussion going on this week for book 2.
But I would do so gently, for I must admit that I’ve written God’s direct role in the novel with a fairly subtle brush.
I did this for two reasons:
To avoid a Deus Ex Machina.
Just in case some readers are unfamiliar with this phrase, it means “The God from the Machine”, and it refers to the practice of ancient Greek playwrights to have a god come in at the end of the play and solve all of the problems.
In modern literature it has become a “no-no” for authors to do this. Therefore, as an author working within certain accepted styles and expectations, I try to avoid having God solve everything miraculously in my stories.
Because I honestly think that God often chooses to work in subtle ways in the world.
Yes God can, and does perform miracles, but often he chooses to work in and through us, in and through our suffering, and in and through the events around us.
These events may seem random from our perspective, but they are not, and God can and does use them and weave them together into a beautiful tapestry-like story.
Does this mean that because I have given God a subtle approach in Merlin’s Blade that I have done so in the other novels in The Merlin Spiral? Certainly not! One of the hallmarks of The Merlin Spiral trilogy is that each of the novels has a very different ending from the others. Expect the unexpected!
But … when I choose to show God’s power in a more active way, I still avoid the Deus Ex Machina sinkhole by making it clear that God is working through an individual and in a direct, seamless way considering the plot of the story. I foreshadow it. I make it an “oh yes, that fits”, and “now I see” rather than a “wow, that just came out of nowhere”.
Before I get into specifics, let me make one thing clear: You need eyes to see God’s involvement.
If a reader doesn’t believe in God, nor in his involvement in the world, then it is possible that they may miss God’s involvement in the lives of the characters as well as in the outcome of the novel.
If you believe that God is involved in all aspects of life, and that he is intimately involved in his creation, then you will see his power and grace everywhere, especially throughout Merlin’s Blade.
So then … what about the charge of God’s power being absent from Merlin’s Blade?
(NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD! IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE NOVEL IN FULL, THEN PLEASE DO NOT READ THE FOLLOWING!)
Dybris Painting A Cross On The Stone at the end of Part Two
A quick summary: Dybris sneaks up to the Stone with Merlin and paints a cross on it, proclaiming Christ to those surrounding it. Despite this effort, the Stone burns the painted cross off and causes an explosion, blowing Dybris backward. It would appear God failed. The proclamation of God failed. God’s power failed. Or did it?
First of all, let’s ask a question—what is Dybris trying to do? He is trying to Christianize the Stone. Here is what it says on page 163, my first indication of Dybris formulating his plan:
Dybris stopped pacing and whispered in Prontwon’s ear, “Why are we wasting our—”
Prontwon shushed him. “Dybris, if we cannot defeat the power … this Druid Stone has over Owain, how can we have … hope for anyone else?”
“Why can’t we Christianize it?” Dybris asked. “Like the standing stone by the abbey spring?”
“A pagan stone … that the people formerly worshiped … yes, and we carved upon it a cross to point them to Christ. But how do you … propose to do that to this Druid Stone?”
“I’ve been thinking about it—”
“Some things cannot be changed,” Prontwon said, his voice weakening.
As you can see, Prontwon warns Dybris that some things cannot be changed. This would be similar to baptizing the Devil. Can it be done? Dybris thought so.
You see, in his formerly pagan culture the monks often took the pagan standing stones and re-carved them with Christian images. This was a normal way of pointing the people to Christ.
But what about the Stone? Is it a normal Stone? Would painting a cross on the Stone be effective? Can you make the Stone Christian?
A Story From My Youth
Here’s a story that may be instructive:
I was a fairly new Christian, and had just given up playing the game Dungeons and Dragons due to my personal convictions.
My friend, who was also a new Christian, wanted to keep playing. So he took the “Dungeon Masters” manual with its demon on the cover and stuck an “I LOVE JESUS” sticker over the demon’s head. During the next month he found that the contrast was just too much for him, and he threw the books in the trash.
He just couldn’t Christianize that demon!
Also, one must remember who is God, and who is not. Dybris is not God, and just because he comes up with a plan, does not mean that God will bless it. God is not Dybris’s vending machine, nor is he anyone else’s.
Can you Christianize pagan things? Can you Christianize evil? Can you Christianize anything, Christian bookstore Test-a-mints aside? (I’m teasing here!)
Christians have this idea in modern society that the image of the cross somehow makes something holy. Is that true? Does God honor our multitudinous crosses?
Yes these things can proclaim Christ, but sometimes I wonder if God sees idols when we see “cool stuff”. Kind of like the iron serprent that Moses raised up to heal the Israelites, yet later had to be destroyed by Hezekiah because people began worshiping it (2 Kings 18:4).
A joke that I once heard is instructive:
A man died and went to heaven. Standing before the pearly gates, he asked God to let him into heaven. God told the man that he didn’t know him.
“But look at my car!” the man replied, “I have a cross hanging from the rear-view mirror … and a “honk if you love Jesus” bumper sticker!”
“Okay,” God said, “open the gates and let the car in.”
And while I think crosses and “Christian stuff” have their place, we must remember that even these things can become an idol to us and can actually get in the way of knowing God. We slather ourselves in these things sometimes thinking we are closer to God for them, but we are not.
Now to the heart of this incident with Dybris and the Stone. What actually is the final result of evil “showing its power” by exploding Dybris backward?
Think about it.
Merlin is saved from certain death!
Remember the assassin that’s been sneaking up behind Merlin? Just as his knife is about to plunge down and kill the kneeling Merlin, Dybris is blown backward into him, and the assassin ends up with woolen robe stuffed in his mouth and his knife is lost!
Thus … I show God working and turning what the Stone intended for evil into something good!
They have the Stone in a wagon and they’re being chased. The mule won’t budge.
Here again, Merlin prays, and God seemingly does nothing. And the Stone erupts in burning cinders on Merlin’s back and neck. Where is God’s power? Well … one of those burning cinders hits the mule and guess what? It gets moving REAL fast!
This is another case of evil intending harm (trying to stop Merlin from praying), and yet God is able to turn this into the very answer to Merlin’s prayer.
What about Garth’s betrayal of the monks and his joining the druids?
God uses this to eventually open Garth’s eyes and miraculously preserve Arthur’s life.
So, then, in the next article we’ll cover one more incident from MERLIN’S BLADE, including a story from my own life.
Also, make sure you visit the other participants on the tour:
November 21st, 2013
If you live near St. Louis, mark your calendars for December 7th and stop by the West County mall’s Barnes & Noble store at 1pm.
I’ll be signing copies of both MERLIN’S BLADE as well as the newly released MERLIN’S SHADOW!
And, if enough of you show up at 1pm, I’ll be sure to read a never-before-seen-or-heard sneak preview selection from book 3: MERLIN’S NIGHTMARE!
25% OFF FOR EDUCATORS and HOMESCHOOLERS!
On the SAME day as my book signing, Barnes & Noble is having 25% off for ALL purchases by EDUCATORS! This includes HOMESCHOOLERS!
All you have to do is sign up for their free educator program, which you can do in store, and then ALL PURCHASES that day are 25% OFF, whether for educational or personal use.
This also includes your purchase of MERLIN’S SHADOW!
NOTE: this sale is ONLY AT THE WEST COUNTY Barnes & Noble, so come on out for some great savings and get a signed copy of my novels!
CAN’T MAKE IT?
You can always order MERLIN’S SHADOW online! Here are just a few links:
November 14th, 2013
MY FAVORITE CHARACTER
Today, short on time, I want to talk about one character that I especially like:
Etzel (Engelbert) Stiffelbeam!
Yes, the pudgy baker, who always seems to be in the background, faithfully making pastries and bread to please his customers. Always there for Mina when she comes back from her adventures in ley-leaping.
And not only that, but he is shown in this novel as being kind to the poor (and also you know *who*, the very man who deserves it the least). In this he embodies sacrifice, and in a deeper way, perhaps he shows us a small portion of God’s character, always there with open arms, providing for us, forgiving, merciful.
We all need an Etzel in our lives. And when our Etzel’s pass on, we need to remember that then it is our job to become Etzel’s in other’s lives.
As you can tell, I really like Etzel.
Also, did anyone notice that his name rhymes with Pretzel? I wonder if Stephen Lawhead loves those soft, hot, and salty pretzels you find for sale? He certainly must love coffee to have such fun with it.
What is your favorite character from the series? Post it in the comments!
FINAL DAY OF THE GIVEAWAY!
What am I giving away? A FREE COPY of THE SHADOW LAMP. Not only that, but I have requested a signed book-plate that I will attach to the novel before I send it out. (The only gotcha is that you have to wait for the book-plate to arrive from Stephen.)
To be entered into this give-away, you must solve THREE RIDDLES! One on this blog post, one on yesterday’s, and one more on the day before’s!
For today’s riddle, I’m going to make it a bit easier. Simply complete the following sentence:
The quest for answers—and ultimate survival–hinges on finding the cosmic link between the Skin Map, ___ ______ ____, and the Spirit Well.
Your answer will be a three word phrase, which you should email to me through the following contact form.
AND NOTE: THE CONTEST ENDS ON FRIDAY AT MIDNIGHT. After that I’ll hold a random drawing for the winner!
THE OTHER TOUR MEMBERS
Make sure you visit the other tour members’ websits to read more reviews of THE SHADOW LAMP!
November 13th, 2013
This is day 2 in a 3 day review of the novel THE SHADOW LAMP by Stephen Lawhead. The fourth book in Stephen’s mind-bending, time-blending, and space-rending five part series which will conclude next year with THE FATAL TREE. I’m not sure anyone can wait!
MY THOUGHTS ON THE PLOT AND CHARACTERS
This books plot advanced the story in many different ways …
First, each of our supposed villains (Lord Burleigh and Douglas Flinders-Petrie) receive proper come-uppances … one of them more than once! This was not only informative, but fun to watch.
It also raises a fascinating question … are these two redeemable? Is it even remotely possible that they could join forces with Kit, Mina, and the others to solve the immense threat facing the universe?
For me, one of the fun things was to see Kit coming into his own as he begins a romance with Cass, the American. This was a long-hoped for part of the plot since his relationship with Mina fell apart in book 1.
Also, Kit is the one who makes a critical discovery at the end of this book. What it means, I can only guess (the key to interpreting the Skin Map? A way to unlock the Bone House? Lots of possibilities here…)
Thus Kit’s continued role as the one who “figures it all out” justifies his choice as the primary character in book 1 and throughout the series. He may have been clueless at the beginning, but he is swiftly becoming the one who may just solve all the riddles, with the help of the others, of course.
I also find significance, not in the name “Kit", but in his full first name—Christopher—which means “Christ Bearer". Did Lawhead choose this on purpose.
On the philosophical side, I did have a possible issue with the science behind the discovery by the Zetetic Society. (***SPOILERS IN NEXT PARAGRAPH***)
If indeed people on Earth have just now observed that the universe is now contracting … doesn’t the laws of the speed of light dictate that this phenomena happened a long time ago? And if so, it’s probably too late to do anything about it. Or am I missing something?
But even this is a minor quibble, and didn’t subtract from the enjoyment of the novel.
The only other thing I could think of is that a little more foreshadowing of this issue in the first three books would have helped. Again, a minor point.
As with the other books, I really like Lawhead’s modern emulation of an older style of writing. That along with the “torn page” look makes these novels quite the classics.
Also, I wanted to point out one VERY masterful piece of writing. I won’t say where this occurs in the novel, and I’m going to cut it off early, not only because its a long passage, but so as not to give anything away. I found this to be amazing prose. Even then this is a spoiler of sorts, so if you haven’t read the novel, you may want to skip it. Also, there may be typos below … I’m retyping this rather fast!
As she spoke these words, time seemed to pause. Its relentless headlong race slowed, the brief duration of a moment lengthened and protracted to a leisurely, lingering dawdle. Kit watched the colour slowly ebb from Mrs. Peelstick’s face, ruddy flesh bleaching bydegrees to the pallor of old parchment. Her eyes grew round and wide in apprehension, and the tray in her hands wavered, wobbled, and at last began to unbalance.
The glasses on the board jiggled and, as the tray tilted from horizontal, the large flowered teapot began to slide—slowly at first, but as friction gave way the heavy container slewed sideways across the surface of the board, contacting the glasses in its path, knocking them down, scattering them like bowling pins. The rolling glasses reached the edge, slammed into the shallow side rail, bounced against it and, driven by the oncoming mass of the teapot, were forced over the side, first one and then another until all were spinning through the air in free fall.
The passage goes on in splendiferous detail for another two pages of destruction. Wow! And if you’ve read the novel … did you catch the metaphor here? The similarity between what has just happened and what the Zetetic Society has discovered? Very, very cool!
What am I giving away? A FREE COPY of THE SHADOW LAMP. Not only that, but I have requested a signed book-plate that I will attach to the novel before I send it out. (The only gotcha is that you have to wait for the book-plate to arrive from Stephen.)
To be entered into this give-away, you must solve THREE RIDDLES! One on this blog post, one on yesterday’s, and one more on the final one!
Today’s riddle is to convert the following QR-Code to text and then finish the sentence.
Note: If you don’t have a QR Code Reader on your cell phone, you might be able to find a “QR CODE READER ONLINE". Hint-hint! If you need the URL to the QR Code image, here it is:
Your answer will be an eleven word phrase, the last word of which you must provide by finishing the sentence.
Once you have the phrase, email it to me through the following contact form.
Once all the entries are in I will hold a random drawing for the winner, so stay tuned!
THE OTHER TOUR MEMBERS
Make sure you visit the other tour members’ websits to read more reviews of THE SHADOW LAMP!