Wednesday, February 24, 2021

"The Boy Who Cried Christmas" by Dennis Bailey


Logan Ailshie is nine years old. He lives with his mother and stepfather in a condo in New York City. It’s nearing Christmas, and Logan is mostly focused on the gifts he’ll be getting, one of which he wants to open like now, and he’s not above throwing a tantrum to get it. 

His stepfather refuses to have anything to do with Christmas, believing it’s a deceptive fairy tale. His mother was once a regular church attender, but she’s followed her husband’s wishes and avoided church. Logan’s stepfather is also always too busy with work to have much to do with Logan.

 

One night, Logan finds a homeless man in his bedroom closet. He and his mother had seen the man on the street, but Logan has no idea how the man has gotten into his room. The window is open, but the condo is 10 stories above ground. But Robert is no ordinary man. Nor is he homeless. He’s there to take Logan on a journey, back to ancient Judea.

 

Dennis Bailey

When the boy disappears, FBI agent Marcus Garraway leads the investigation. The disappearance seems impossible; the boy couldn’t have flown out of the window. Garraway is dealing with his own angst about Christmas; it’s the day his wife died when a drunken driver crossed lanes. Inf act, Garraway is close to suicide. 


Robert leaves Logan with a group of shepherds, outside the town of Bethlehem. And it’s there that Logan will discover the reality of Christmas and find a kind shepherd who cares for him like a father. 

 

The Boy Who Cried Christmas by Dennis Bailey is the story of Logan, Robert, and Garraway, and how divine intervention saves a boy, saves a suicidal FBI agent, and reverberates across a dying, decaying culture.

 

Bailey is a retired police detective who is also the author of the novel Army of God, a suspenseful account of the story of Noah. He lives with his family near Charlottesville, Virginia. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Poets and Poems: Samuel Hazo and “The Next Time We Saw Paris”


You read the poems of The Next Time We Saw Paris by Samuel Hazo, and you think that this poet has mastered the art of wisdom poetry. Or perhaps he’s just wise, and when he writes a poem, he can’t help but write wisdom poetry. 

His words are simple and direct. Hazo wastes no time getting to the point. The poem quickly explains what it’s about, and then it provides the detail or example or explanation. I understand this style much better than I used to; I think it comes with age. You reach an age when you’re not going to waste time with flowery or profound introductions, filled with metaphor and allusion. Instead, you get right to the point, and then you tell the story behind it. You might not have the time to do anything else.

 

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Birth of a New Story


Last week, I mentioned on Facebook that I had finished the first draft of a new novel. Tentatively entitled Stonegate, it finished at just over 92,000 words, about the same length as the first four of the Dancing Priest novels. The fifth included a 20,000-word novella, but without it, it would have been about the same length as the others. 

The idea for the story was born in early 2019, but I didn’t seriously begin to tackle it until late last year, almost two years later. What had to be finished first was Dancing Prince, the final novel in the Dancing Priest series. I had to get the Michael Kent-Hughes story fully out of my system before I could turn to a new story.

 

I surprised myself when I started it. First, there were two very strong story ideas I’d been toying with, one based on my own family history and the other a more-than-half-written novel. But as these things will happen, Stonegate grew and became something real. 

 

To continue reading, please see my post today at Dancing Priest.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Locked away


After Acts 5:17-21

Dragged from the streets,
they are locked away,
prison cell doors locked
to prevent infection
and stop the contagion,
this pandemic of piety,
from spreading. Locked
away, they feel the fear
and uncertainty yet know
the security of what 
they have locked away 
in their hearts. They know
the powers will stop at nothing
to preserve and protect
themselves, yet they know
the power of the way
they follow. 

In deepest night, a light
appears, an angel; the doors
open. The prisoners are
freed from their prison,
their bodies, souls, and voices
liberated, and told to go
and speak and preach and teach.
They obey; they leave the cells
just as the prison doors
lock back into place.

Photograph by Damir Spanic via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Saturday Good Reads


I’ve been reading Sharyl Attkisson’s Slanted: How the News Media Taught Us to Love Censorship and Hate Journalism. Attkisson, an award-winning reporter for CBS for 20 years, has a lot to say about what she calls “the narrative,” or what the major mainstream media hold to as dogma, often in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. She dates the change in journalism to about 2010, or at least that’s about the time “the narrative” began to reach critical mass.  

My own personal experience dates it a bit earlier – about 2003-2004, when a reporter covering the company I worked for was shameless in her bias. It took some convincing, because the company was so reluctant, but the only thing that could stop her was to publish fact-checking of her stories. She later left her employer (to work for an activist group), but she left behind a social media-fueled sea of misinformation. Jacob Falkovici at Quillette takes a look at “the narrative” and the distortions it’s causing in American society and life.

 

Like many counterparts in the United States, Leicester University in Britain is rethinking is English Literature offerings, including a proposal to eliminate the teaching of medieval literature. That’s BeowulfPiers Plowman, Chaucer, and a host of other works and authors foundational to the history of the English language. You might shrug, but without BeowulfThe Lord of the Rings would never have been written. Alexander Larman at The Critic wonders if all of this means the end of serious literary study.

 

More Good Reads

 

Life and Culture

 

The Doublethinkers – Natan Sharansky at Tablet Magazine.

 

The Slow Death of The Chronicles of Narnia Franchise (Video) – Curiosity Stream.

 

The Problem with Democracy – Bruce News The Critic Magazine.

 

Reading Petrarch’s Secretum with College Sophomores – Elizabeth Stice at Front Porch Republic.

 

The Compound Fractures of Identity Politics – Karl Zinsmeister at CityJournal.

 

Writing and Literature

 

How the Suffering of World Wars Seeded the Creativity of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis – Joseph Loconte at The Federalist.

 

Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles Is an Unexpected Masterclass in Suspense – Helen Cooper at CrimeReads. 

 

On the Our Town Spin-Off That Served as WWII Spirit Building – Howard Sherman at Literary Hub.

What we can learn from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's years in lockdown – Fiona Sampson at The Guardian.

 

Faith

 

Discipleship is Not a Factory; It’s a Field – Michael Kelley at Forward Progress.

 

The Eucharistic Short-Circuiting of Cancel Culture – Timothy O’Malley at Church Life Journal.

 

‘Adieu, Adieu, My Brother:’ John Calvin and the Five Martyrs of Lyons – Derek W.H. Thomas at Desiring God.

 

Poetry

 

Stones – Daniel Leach at Society of Classical Poets.

 

Searching for Gwendolyn Brooks – Bernard Ferguson at The Paris Review.

 

The Power of One: Monosyllables in Classical Poetry and ‘To West’ – Adam Sedia at Society of Classical Poets.

 

Living Hope – Phil Wickham



Painting: Reading Woman, oil on canvas (ca. 1900) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919).

Friday, February 19, 2021

Nothing angers like success


After Acts 5:17-21

The sick healed,
the demons cast out,
people coming together
to pray, to worship,
to sing, and the share, 
and the powers that be,
good elites that they are,
sense disquiet, sense danger,
sense threats to the status quo,
all of which means threats
to themselves, threats
to their positions, so
they do what any self-respecting
elites would do, and arrest
these rabble rousers and
peace disturbers, tossing them
into cells and securely locking
the threats away.
So they think.

Photograph by Andre Tan via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

How Many Writer Hats Do You Wear a Day?


The hats we writers wear can seem awfully heavy. 

The hat we wear every day is the writer’s hat. This is what we do. This is what we’re about. We’re here to tell a story, and that can be difficult enough. It looks like a baseball cap.

 

We learn to write by listening, memorizing, and repetition. We learn writing by doing writing. We don’t sit time the first time and write stories effortlessly. We wrestle with our plots and themes. We fight and argue with our characters. We imagine scenes in our minds long before someone else reads the scene on a page of text. We’re perfectionists, because we’re not satisfied until we get it exactly right. And while we write, we occasionally have to add a few additional hats – like fact-checker, editor, and researcher. This is the bowler hat of writing.


To continue reading, please see my post today at the American Christian Fiction Writers blog


Photograph by Joshua Coleman via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Poets and Poems: River Dixon and “Lost in the Hours”


A dreamlike quality permeates the poems of Lost in the Hours, the new collection by River Dixon. The poems mirror the images and ideas that come with telling and recalling stories, introspection, self-reflection, musing, and daydreaming. The images are those that come to you while you stare out of the window in a snowy winter’s day, or as you allow yourself to float on a lake on a warm summer’s day. And as you dream, the unexpected happens – the gaining of clarity. 

Dixon writes of a letter received and imagined to be from a former love. The envelope is placed in a drawer, unopened, representing the letter never sent. He considers what happens when you realize that life is very daily, and usually repetitive. Loves are lost, and sometimes regained. Failure is imagined as a clean shovel. He recognizes hope, or perhaps control or understanding, when a lot of life concerns waiting. And he writes about pain, and memory, and loss, and love.

 

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, February 15, 2021

A Blogging Respite and a Work-in-Progress


My posting may be irregular for a few weeks. I usually try to post daily, but I’ve gotten way behind on my reading. As in, I’m covered through tomorrow and not beyond that. The reason: the story that’s the work in progress. 

The idea for the story came during watching an online worship service at our church (a blessing during the virus pandemic). The worship leaders and musicians were leading the congregation in singing, when I noticed the guitar player had stopped for a moment, not losing his place, exactly, but as if something had struck so forcefully that it gave him pause. It was only a moment, and then he continued. 

 

And I asked myself, what might have caused that? Could I build a story around it?

 

I started writing in November. It happened in fits and starts, do-overs and delete-alls. Sometime in the Thanksgiving period, I realized the story wasn’t about the guitar player. He becomes a major character, but the story is about – and told by – someone else, an 11-year-old boy. I rewrote the beginning. I have the boy as a man, 20 years later. And he’s forced to consider what happened to his family when he was 11, when it was torn apart and almost atomized. And it doesn’t happen in a war zone, but in a St. Louis suburb.

 

I’m a long way from London and the Dancing Priest novels. 

 

Inspiration for a setting in Stonegate

By the end of December, I had passed 16,000 words. A week into the new year, and I had doubled that number. Things were moving swiftly, until I hit 40,000 words. Then I hit a wall. I couldn’t see where the story went next. I stopped. It took me a week, and a few walks, to begin to work it out. Fortunately, the weather was cooperating at the time, and we were still having a mild winter. I could go on hour-long walks. To help envision the sense of place, I took photos of three houses that are like three of the houses in the story. 

 

The writing has picked up again. I’ve passed 75,000 words, and the end is in sight. I know how the story will end, and I know the three major scenes left. 

 

The words have come at the expense of reading, which means also at the expense of blogging. I usually blog daily, four days a week about books. It’s going to be sporadic for a while. It’s disorienting to a degree because I’ve been posting daily since 2011, including during five trips to Britain. But to do this story right, something had to give.

 

I have a working title: Stonegate. It’s the story of a family blown apart when the oldest child, a 13-year-old, is accused of a criminal act, and no one believes he’s innocent except his 11-year-old brother. That guitar player, the guy who started the story in my head, is still there, but his role is not related to his guitar playing.

 

We’ll see where we go with this. I have no ETA. Once the draft is done, I’ll have to spend considerable time working it over, editing, and rewriting. I’ll continue to post for Tweetspeak Poetry, and I have a blog post publishing tomorrow for the American Christian Fiction Writers. The Friday and Sunday poems are already scheduled into January of 2022. Saturday Good Reads will continue. But expect the Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday book reviews to be sporadic. 

 

Top photograph by Vlad Shalaginov via Unsplash, Used with permission.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Signs and wonders


After Acts 5:12-16

What is rare becomes
commonplace, 
signs and wonders
done among the people,
the people joined
together in one place.
It is a spectacle,
inspiring amazement
and fear and awe;
reverence and reticence;
multitudes join and
multitudes hold back, 
casting nervous eyes
at the rulers and elites
watching for a whiff
of disloyalty and
insurrection.
But multitudes come,
adding to the rising
of belief, the word
of signs and wonders
spreading outward.
People hear and people
carry the sick and ill
and diseased and lay 
them on beds and mats,
hoping that even
the shadow of the healers
would fall on them,
touch them, heal them.
And they are healed,
multiplying the evidence
of signs and wonders.

Photograph by Sorasak via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Saturday Good Reads


Attention, Walmart shoppers! That product you buy that was made in China might have a note in it from the person who made it. Like the one Amelia Pang’s daughter found in a purchase from a store. And Amelia was suddenly confronted with the reality of slave labor in the Chinese gulag. It’s real, and she’s written a book about it. 

The state of San Francisco’s public schools is not unlike the state of large public-school systems everywhere. There’s a behemoth struggle underway over reopening schools, closed because of the virus. The mayor of San Francisco is facing mounting political pressure; the district’s school board seems largely unruffled, content to undertake a renaming of 44 schools for various reasons. Isaac Chotiner at The New Yorker explains how the renaming happened. Jonathan White at Smithsonian Magazine comes to Abraham Lincoln’s defense (Lincoln is being canceled, too). Ezra Klein at The New York Times takes the broader view; he says that what is happening in California is proving to the nation that progressive policies are out of touch with reality.

 

This week, I’m introduced a new category for Saturday Good Reads, called the Saturday Bad Read. It’s an article or post that’s so bad that to read it is to learn something important. The debut link is a column by Virginia Heffernan at The Los Angeles Times, who describes her existential dilemma when her Trump-supporting neighbor committed the unspeakable act of plowing her driveway after a snowfall. Neither the writer nor her editor seemed to realize that there is such a thing (at least outside of big cities) called neighborliness and kindness, and that plowing a neighbor’s driveway is not a political act. I hope this will only be a sporadic feature, but this is America in 2021.

 

Saturday Bad Read

 

What can you do about the Trumpites next door? – Virginia Heffernan at Los Angeles Times.

 

Life and Culture

 

‘More Weight’: An Academic’s Guide to Surviving Campus Witch Hunts – Dorian Abbot at Quillette.

 

The Front Porch and the American Dream – Paul Krause at Front Porch Republic.

 

 A Place Called Home – Kevin Ford at Story Warren.

 

American Stuff

 

The State of the Union – Mark Malvasi at The Imaginative Conservative.

 

Faith

 

How letters mingle souls – Christine Farenhorst at Reformed Perspective.

 

When You Have Nothing Left to Give – Jen Avellaneda at Rich Faith Rising.

 

Poetry

 

The First Five Sonnets from ‘The Gift of Life’ – Amanda Hall at Society of Classical Poets.

 

A Gascon Day – Stella Wulf at The High Window (H/T: Paul Brookes).

 

Outside – Seth Lewis.

 

Writing and Literature

 

The Greatest Literary Alliance of All Time: You, the Author, and the Character – Lisa Zeidner at Literary Hub.

 

Christ Figures in The Lord of the Rings – Joseph Pearce at The Imaginative Conservative.

 

Stepping Stones – James Zug at New Criterion.

 

Annotate This: On Footnotes – Ed Simon at The Millions.

 

Solzhenitsyn & the engine of history – Robert Kaplan at New Criterion.

 

British Stuff

 

5 Sites That Tell the Story of Early Anglo-Saxon England – Historic England. 

 

Bronze Age Graves Uncovered at Stonehenge During Tunnel Excavations – Ashley Cowie at Ancient Origins. 

 

Someone You Loved – The Piano Guys



Painting: Man Reading, oil on canvas by Mavis Blackburn (1923-2005).


Friday, February 12, 2021

Great fear


After Acts 5:1-11

A man dies for his deception,
a woman dies for aiding and
abetting deception. Not just
eventually but right at 
deception’s revealed moment.
The people, the witnesses,
see the deception, 
see the penalty immediate,
and are seized with a fear,
a great fear, and those
not there, but only hear
the story later, are seized
with a fear,
a great fear,
a trembling of the heart,
a trembling of the soul.
This God, our God,
is the God who knows
all things, even
the dark places
of the human heart.

Photograph by Olesya Yemets via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

"Frozen" by Ann Cleeves


I’ve read all of the Shetland mystery novels by Ann Cleeves, which feature police detective Jimmy Perez and are the basis for the popular Shetland television series starring Doug Henshall. And we’re working our way through the Veratelevision series, starring Brenda Blethyn as Vera Stanhope, the police detective based in Yorkshire. It’s based on the Vera Stanhope mystery novels by Cleeves. 

But I haven’t read the Vera books. I’m starting with a freestanding short story, Frozen.

 


In the story, Vera stops by a bookshop in the small town of Corbridge, which is not far from the home where she lives on the rather desolate moors. She’s interested in find a book about the 

Roman soldiers and women who lived along Hadrian’s Wall. The bookstore building is a former chapel, only recently converted to a retail book shop.

 

Instead of a book on Hadrian’s Wall, the shop owner is opening up the old baptismal chamber in the floor before the altar area. And in the chamber is a fully clothed skeleton. Vera recognizes the clothes and a leather band around the wrist. And she knows the skeleton belongs to a 14-year-old girl who went missing years before. But what is she doing in the baptismal chamber of the chapel?

 

The story includes Vera’s familiar colleagues like Holly and Joe, but it’s too short to go beyond a brief appearance for Joe and a slightly less brief appearance for Holly. The focus is Vera pursing the case, with all of the attributes both the television Vera and the print Vera are known for – abruptness, borderline rudeness, a diet that leaves a great deal to be desired, a wardrobe consisting of mostly a scarf and raincoat, and a razor-sharp mind that keeps plugging away until she gets it right.

 

Frozen is a good introduction to Ann Cleeves’ detective, and it looks like I’ll have a new series to read.

 

Related:

 

My review of Wild Fire by Ann Cleeves.

 

My review of Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves.

 

My review of Red Bones by Ann Cleeves.

 

My review of Raven Black by Ann Cleeves.

 

My review of White Nights by Ann Cleeves.

 

My review of Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves

 

My review of Dead Water by Ann Cleeves.

 

My review of Thin Air by Ann Cleeves.

 

My review of The Long Call by Ann Cleeves.

 

Top photograph: Brenda Blethyn as Vera in the television series.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

“Joey Flynn’s Extraordinary Tale” by Meghan White

J


oey Flynn has moved with his family from California to Oregon. His dad has a new job, and the family’s new house is in a remote area, not far from Multnomah Falls. Joey’s rather miserable; he’s left behind everything that’s familiar, including friends and school. 

One good thing about the new home is the nearby forest, perfect for an 11-year-old boy to explore. What he doesn’t expect to find is Zibbis, a roughly three-foot tall, well, something, like a racoon who walks around on two legs. Zibbis hands joy a silver calling card that reads “Special Agent Zibbis, Department of Children’s Needs and Emergencies.”

 

The strange creature doesn’t explain where he’s from, but Joey discovers his new friend is extremely resourceful (with a kangaroo-like pouch full of bubble gum soda and purple stones ideal for skimming across water, among other things). What Zibbis doesn’t say, or at least say immediately, is what his mission is. And the mission has a lot to do with Joey.

 

Meghan White

Joey Flynn’s Extraordinary Tale
 by Meghan White is the story of what happens to Joey and his new friend Zibbis during that first summer in Oregon. Joey is going to learn about trust, faith, and putting others before himself.

 

The short novel is White’s first published work. She says it began when her family lived in Oregon and her husband got an idea for an illustrated book, based on a character he’d drawn. She resisted the idea for years, until the family moved to Texas, where she finally wrote the story.

 

Joey Flynn’s Extraordinary Tale is reminiscent of the Glade series of novels by Martha Orlando. A mythical-like character appears to guide a troubled boy to an understanding of faith and self. We need more stories about children like Joey Flynn; Our children do, too.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Poets and Poems: Damien Donnelly and “Eat the Storms”


In his new chapbook Eat the Storms, poet Damien Donnelly has staked a solid claim to being the poet of color. Each of the 20 poems is shaped by a color or shades of a color – yellow, scarlet, purple, black, ruby, red, cerulean, blue, gray, brown, gold, and green. 

I’ve long associated color with emotions and feelings (feeling blue, red with embarrassment, green with envy), but the poems go well beyond only the emotional. They prompted me to take a look at the idea of color, and what color can mean beyond the emotional. I discovered there’s an entire psychology of color, one that adds considerable layers of nuance and understanding to what Donnelly conveys in his poetry.


To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.