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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Blackened Keyboard Friday: November 24th

It's almost Thanksgiving. Mmmmm...can you smell it? No, I don't mean the roasting turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pumpkin pie! No, I'm talking about the effervescent scent of ash and soot and charred plastic! Yeah, now can you smell it? Mmmmm...

That's right it's almost time for Blackened Keyboard Friday! Spurning the marketing gimmicks, sales, lines, and stampedes, I'll be comfy at home and writing all day. And...I'm asking you to join me. Regardless of your time zone, come aboard the Lunatic Writing Ship as we sail for record-setting word count madness! 



Interested? Here are the particulars:

1) Anytime on Friday, November 24th, join my Blackened Friday posting on Facebook. In the comments, introduce yourself and your writing project. Give us your starting word count.

2) Write like maniac for as long as you want within the 24 hour 11/24 window.

3) Then, post your final word count and your sum total of NEW words written.

4) PRIZES: 

A) If you beat me, I will put your name into the acknowledgements section of the next book I release: likely "Errant King - The New Author-ized Version" just before Christmas. 

B) If you score the highest NEW words written count, I will either: 1) if you're an author with books to sell, I'll put an ad for your book(s) into Errant King—at no charge! (You'll have to send me the completely finished, print-ready ad.)  -OR- 2) If you're not an author with books (YET!), I'll give you your choice of getting a character named after you in a future book or getting a free critique from me on ONE of your fiction chapters!

FELLOWSHIP OPPORTUNITY: I'm going to start a "Secret" Blackened Keyboard Friday Group on Facebook. Let me know if you want an invite. That way, we can have writing fellowship with whoever's writing at the time. We can share writing blurbs, ask for help (I need a word for excited but needs to be more powerful), and, of course, the ever present possibility of inane banter. 

Until then, limber up those fingers. Get ready to singe those keys! Kick the tires and light the fires, big daddy!

-Wayne

Friday, September 01, 2017

The New Improved "Author-ized" edition of Sword in the Stars is HERE!!!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am STOKED to announce, the new "Author-ized Edition" of Sword in the Stars is now available in paperback!

I have to admit, I was a little shocked to see how thick it is. I mean, I knew I added a few thousand words, but WOW! Get ready for a serious journey!



I want you all to know that CreateSpace forced the price to this height. The minimum was $22.36. In order for me to make a decent profit, I made it $24.99. 

SPECIAL OFFER: From now until the end of Labor Day, all the profits from Sword in the Stars will go to help Houston. If you're going to get one (or three), please purchase in this window. I'd love to send a nice donation to help those who've been blasted by Harvey.



Thank you, readers, for being so patient! There's more to come!

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Cross Promotion Opportunity





Hey, fellow authors! I'm getting ready to publish the new "Sword in the Stars," both in paperback and ebook (kindle). I've never believed in author competition. If someone reads my stuff, I'm thrilled, but I'm not trying to keep readers all for myself. How dumb would that be? People read my books and look for something else. Great! To that end, I'd like to offer to my fellow authors the opportunity to publish a full page ad for your book(s) to appear in the back of "A Sword in the Stars." Here are the specifics:

Also, I need to let you know, I have room for only 15-20 ads. My interior designer said we'd go beyond CreateSpace's page count if we go any more than that. Sorry! First come first serve!

1) The ad would cost $25; payment via check in the mail or PayPal. If Paypal look for me under this email: mdbatfam (at) yahoo (dot) com

2) The ad would need to be "PRINT AS IS" in pdf, should look good in color or B/W. Kindle ad will be color. Print ad will be B/w

3) Probably should be books in the fantasy / scify / adventure genres

4) I have to protect my readership, so please, if your books are "anti-Christian," sexually explicit, or sensationally violent, I can't take the ad. If you send me something "iffy," I might have to turn it down. No offense intended. Seriously.

5) The ad can be for selfpubbed or professionally pubbed books. Again, cross promotion is awesome!

6) Please message me on facebook or email me (batguy21784 (at) yahoo (dot) com) if you're interested.

7) Thank you!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Have you enjoyed my work? Consider being a Patron of the Arts!



Greetings, Marvelous Readers! I try not to do this very often, but this summer is a pivotal time for me as an author. For the first time ever, I am NOT under contract with a traditional publishing house. Everything I'm writing will be completely self published. And over the next six months, I hope to be publishing FIVE novels, Myridian Constellation Books 1-4 (formerly Dark Sea Annals): A Sword in the Stars (Author-ized Edition), The Errant King (Author-ized Edition), The Forsaken Continent (Late June), Mirror of Souls (August), and GHOST 2: Minister of Fire (October).



And so, if you've enjoyed my stories or, by God's grace, have been built-up, encouraged, or inspired by my writing, would you consider becoming a Patron of the Arts on behalf of my future stories? In Ye Olde Days of Yesteryear, artists, musicians, and writers were sponsored by private citizens who wanted to make sure more of their favorite creative works could be produced.
But in 2017, becoming a patron of the arts couldn't be easier. 



If you're still reading, thank you. If you're thinking you might like to become a patron for me, check this out:

https://www.patreon.com/WayneThomasBatson 


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Rent "A Glimpse of Heaven," Have a heavenly vacation...and a signed book!

Mary Lu Dovel Batson and I are here in North Topsail Beach, NC, and the weather is stunningly nice. 76 degrees today. The sun, like rippling diamonds, on the ocean is mesmerizing. We've named our beach house "A Glimpse of Heaven," and just the view from any of the five decks will tell you why we named the place as we have.

Just wanted to let you know that we are now accepting rentals for this season. You'll be shocked at how affordable the weekly rates are. If you are looking for a gorgeous beach vacation this spring or summer or fall, click the link below and get your reservation!

Then, private message me, and I'll send you a signed book of your choice from my 17 published books as a thank you for renting our beach house.














Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Love is More than a Feeling

There are many kinds of love, but all too often what this culture calls love is more like affection or even infatuation or attraction. Nothing wrong with the love we "feel." It's wonderful when we really feel it. But relying on feelings as the sole proof of love is one of the dumbest things we could ever do. Forgive me for being blunt, but some of us (chiefly me) need to be hit with a hammer sometimes to get the point. Feelings are fickle. They come and go. Feelings can be impacted by 10,000 variables that have nothing to do with real love. Too little sleep, too much sleep, a poor diet, not enough of a certain vitamin, the time of year, the time of month (cough), clouds, body chemistry, etc. etc. etc. Love is far more than a feeling, and if we forget that, we will crash and burn in our relationships with people…and with God. For years, I struggled with not "feeling" the love of God. I wanted warm fuzzies, hugs from God, to hear and feel Him near. Seemed like some other people got that, but not me. So I quite literally found my faith shipwrecked in despair…because of feelings.

In contrast, the bible tells us that "Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for a friend." John 15:13. That's agape love right there, folks. Selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love. Boom. Just this past year, I've come to grips with this reality, and it has changed my life. I don't have to feel God's love. I don't have to beg Him for love. I don't have to base my confidence of God's love on what I feel. The scriptures tell us that God took love to a whole new level: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8. Let that sink in. While we were still sinners, meaning when we cared nothing for God or for Jesus. When we went about our merry way, seeking self above all things. When we spent our lives on our own appetites—Christ died for us. Christ. Died. For. Us.

Forget feelings. They will come and they will go. But you can KNOW that God loves you because He lay down His life for you. He took action. He saved us. Believe it, and you'll know you're loved by God. Happy Valentine's Day. 
 
 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Politics versus Unity in Christ: Which One is Winning?

34 “A new command I give you: Love ONE ANOTHER. As I have loved you, so you must love ONE ANOTHER. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love ONE ANOTHER.” John 13:34-35

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be ONE, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be ONE as we are ONE— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete UNITY. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." John 17: 20-23

"1 But I, brothers,[a] could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is JEALOUSY and STRIFE among you, are you not of the FLESH and behaving only in a HUMAN way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely HUMAN?"

"5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are ONE, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building." 1 Cor 3: 1-9

"18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is WISE in this AGE, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the WISDOM of this WORLD is FOLLY with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 21 So let no one boast in MEN. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's." 1 Cor 3: 18-23.

"14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point YOU THINK DIFFERENTLY, that too GOD WILL MAKE CLEAR TO YOU. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained."

So why the scripture barrage on unity? Do you really need to ask? I am calling out to all of my Christian brothers and sisters (and myself) to take a quick soul check based on these verses. If facebook, private conversations, flurries of sarcastic jabs, etc. are any indication, Christians (many of whom I know and love dearly) are dividing publicly about President Trump and a whole host of political issues. And many of us, in the act of making divisive comments, are splintering the Body of Christ. All the while, the nonbelieving world says, "see how they disagree and don't love one another." And satan is laughing. 

So I have a few suggestions, for myself, and for my Christian friends and family:

#1: Stop it. Just stop. Stop the Facebook posts, stop obsessing over politics. Stop thinking you know better than all your other brothers and sisters. And honestly, stop acting like you know more than God. Do you think God's in heaven wringing his hands thinking, "Oh, no, Trump is president! Look at that horrifying policy he just signed into law. That's trouble, right there. What ever shall I do?" Do any of you really think you have a perfect godly perspective on everything that is happening? And, even in a worldly sense, do you really think you know what's going on at the highest levels of government? It's House of Cards on steroids mixed with trigonometry! And you think you've got it all figured out? Get real. Just stop. Go back and consider 1 Cor 3: 18-23. In delving so deeply and so obsessively into politics, are you trying to be Wise in this world? Maybe, it's time to pull out a bit and be a fool for God.

#2: Pray. Pray for our president. Pray for our government. Pray for senators and representatives. Pray for our nation. Since Trump has become president, how many times have you actually prayed for the man? How much time do you spend praying versus venting politics on Facebook, Twitter, etc?

#3: Consider Who's Watching: I recently saw a post highlighting every single thing that Trump has done wrong and not once mentioning anything his administration has done right. And the worst thing about this post is that it was a Christian addressing other Christians and basically lobbing guilt trip bombs, saying things like are you going to be the kind of Christian I need to explain to my kids? And why? Because we're not ALL screaming and yelling about the terrible things Trump is doing. That's like Paul objecting to factions forming to follow him and other factions following Apollos. Are there genuine Christians who are republicans? Of course there are. Are there genuine Christians who are democrats? Of course! So start acting like it. The world is watching. Our children are watching. And, since His vigilance never sleeps, God is watching. Will they, will HE see unity?

#4 Go private. If you absolutely need to discuss political issues with your fellow Christians, send private messages. Call people and do lunch (at an uncrowded restaurant) and talk it over. Run it through scripture and see if you can agree. If not, pray, submit to God and allow Him to make things clear between you.

#5 And finally, put love first. Sure, someone might be a hand or a foot or an eye or an arm, but we are ONE body. Sure, someone might be a republican or a democrat or libertarian or even undecided, but we are all ONE body. Spend less time plotting how to annihilate the political stance of another and much more time determining ways to love each other.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Christians, Take a Page from MLK: We Must Wear Down Our Enemies with our Ability to Love Them.

My favorite MLK quote. I pray that all Christians could adopt such a love battle cry as this (thinking of myself as chiefly in need of it). But if we all did as Jesus told us to do and loved our enemies, the world course would be altered forever.



"I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say:”We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, but we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory." Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Want to Be an Author? Read this First.

I was contacted the other day by a young writer who was working on a project for a class. She wanted to ask a published author a few questions about the trade. They were such good question and led to some very detailed answers that I thought others should have access to them too. Seriously, if you are an aspiring writer and want to be a published author, read this first:



1. What does the day-to-day work in your field look like? Pertaining to writing, that is.

It'd be impossible to pin down what the day-to-day is in my field because writers are a wacky breed. Not a one of us does it the same way. Stephen King writes 10 pages a day no matter what. Me, I can't do that. I can't even create a set writing time. My life is so fluid with family and teaching demands that I just write whenever I can. When I can write, I put the headphones on, listen to epic trailer music, and dive into story mode.

2. What are some key considerations you'd tell someone like me who's considering this field? That is, considering making writing part of one's income?

I'd recommend just that: making writing PART of your income. At first, no one, I mean NO ONE has ever heard of you or your books, so you need to have a primary source of income. Perhaps something that compliments your writing like being an editor or an English teacher. Once you have safe income in place, you can go to town on your writing, either going the traditional / legacy route with a publishing house or self pubbing on Amazon Kindle etc. If you do the selfpub route, consider submitting your novels to a service like BookBub. You can often start a readership through such services.

3. What skills would be important for me to have in this field?
Besides the obvious, I suppose. Lol.

I suspect "writing" might be a good skill to have. 0,o Seriously, though, there are a couple of subsets of writing that you need. First, I highly recommend taking a few classes in poetry (contemporary, if pos) because, in it, you will learn to make every word count. And that is SO key. When you tell a story, you are not telling every detail of someone's life, but only the highlights and most meaningful qualities that will form the basis for your character's decisions in the novel. Don't just pick good words or words that "will do," but rather, pick the best words. Try to use connotative words, words that trigger a reaction or feeling in the reader. Don't say "she sat down." Say she slumped. Don't say he walked across the room. Say he lunged. Don't describe a winter tree as bereft of leaves. Say the tree was black and rigid with branches and limbs like a thousand spiders linked in some unholy dance.

Secondly, work on suspense techniques because that, my young swordmaiden, is THE name of the game. You must make your readers wait for what they want. Be cruel in that way. Use mystery, the unknown, intense emotion, danger, unusual events, clues that stick out like a sore thumb—you will have the reader flipping pages like some kind of mad librarian! And do this right at the start. Your first sentence better grip the reader by the throat. Then, the first paragraph, should yank them forward. Then, the first page must shake them senseless. And your first chapter, well, your first chapter should end on such a potent cliffhanger that the reader will very nearly rip the page trying to get to the next chapter.


 

4. What are some of the unique challenges I might encounter in this career?  

There are several unique challenges that I've faced, and I'm not totally certain they are common to all writers, but for what it's worth: The first major challenge is wearing too many hats. When I got my first publishing contract, I was already a Dad of four young children, a husband of a wonderful wife, and a full time English teacher. Still am all of those things except that the kids are all in their late teens now. {Sigh}. Finding time to write was difficult. My wife was incredible, bearing a ton of extra burdens so that I could head to the library or the local Panera and spend the day writing. But the worst thing about it is that no matter what I was spending my time doing, it always "felt" like I should have been working on something else. If I spent the day sledding with my kids, I loved it and cherished that time, but always on the back of my mind: the deadline or the lesson plan. If I was writing, I would constantly think of my wife and kids and how I wasn't there for them. No matter what I did or was doing, I felt the pang of other responsibilities. Time. That's the big thing about writing. Novels take an absurd amount of time from your life. And, while it might be a ton of fun to invent worlds and races of people, creatures, etc, to do so, means letting the real world go by, real people and relationships are missed. Writers must sacrifice hours, days, weeks, and months. And it's time you cannot get back. Honestly, if I didn't feel that God wanted me to write these stories, I don't think I would have been able to keep doing it. Time is precious. What I wouldn't give now for an hour to play with my kids when they were young! Of course, I can still play with them now, but they can pretty much beat me up. lol

The second challenge was living up to the expectations and demands of the publishers. When I signed the dotted line for The Door Within Trilogy, I paid no attention at all to the deadlines. I was, more or less, mesmerized by the dream come true of being an author. But suddenly, I needed to write 75,000 words in three months. And then, I had to do it again for book 3. But there can often be creative differences too. I had to do research and fight and email battle with my publisher who didn't think the main character in The Door Within should be named Aidan. It's too uncommon, they said. Too unusual. I loved "Aidan" because it had roots in Irish (Gaelic), and it meant "little fire." To defend the name, I researched baby name sites and found that for that particular year, Aidan was the most common boy name given to newborn boys. The publisher conceded. Yay!

But they don't always.

There were times that I had to cut parts that I loved or add parts that seemed pedestrian. And there was once, during the writing of Curse of the Spider King (cowritten with Christopher Hopper) that I think the publisher was close to firing us—or whatever it's called when a publisher cuts you loose. The contention came over the ending of the book, which CH and I believed to be an AWESOME cliffhanger. But the publisher felt like it didn't follow the usual story arc or allow enough closure. Eventually, we came to a compromise, but it was a painful one. There was another unique situation that kind of blew my mind. Publishers, especially big publishing houses, tend to have "profit" worked out to a formula. And so they plan everything out ahead of time, often including the side of the book's binding, how many pages, etc. I'd always thought that the author just writes the story, however long it may be, and then, you edit out what needs cutting, and VOILA! A book. But with my publisher, I most often worked on a word count of @75-100K words. But with Isle of Swords, I went way over that. It was originally 120K, and so, after much discussion, I had to cut 20,000 words. That was an arduous and heartbreaking task.


 

5. Yikes, I imagine that would be. I wouldn't have guessed, though. I love Isle of Swords as it is. If you had to do it over, what would you do differently? 

If I had to do the author portion of my life over, there's a ton that I would change. 1) I would get published earlier. I took 13 years to publish The Door Within. But most of that was a lack of persistence and discipline on my part. God was patient and still opened the door later for me, but I wish I'd started earlier. It would have been so much better for my family financially. 2) I'd ruthlessly cut other "hobbies" from my life and use that extra time to spend with my wife and kids. On top of the time I needed for writing, I often took too much so-called "me" time for things like golf, tennis, video games, etc. What an idiot I was. Nothing wrong with any of those things, but those hours are gone. Jesus tries to tell us in His word, "if you lose your life for my sake, you'll find life, but if you keep it to yourself, you lose it." I was quite literally a fool for spending so much time with selfish pastimes. Please don't misunderstand, I was a very involved husband and father, but I could have been more. I should have been more. I'm sure there are other things I would change, but those are the main two.

Thank you, that's a lot of awesome advice. I appreciate the time you took to answer all these questions.

You're very welcome. It was kind of cathartic to explore all that you asked. I'm going to publish the whole Q&A on my blog. Hopefully, other aspiring young writers will learn a bit from it.

I hope so, too. You were one of my main inspirations to start writing. I don't know if God will guide me to opportunities in this field yet, but I'm sure your advice will be helpful if He does.

Well, aww, thank you for saying so. I pray that you'll take whatever path God lays out for you. It'll be an adventure, that much I can promise you. And, as you know, adventures always begin with the unexpected...    

     
   

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The only gift we ALL need...


Look, I know that you are not stupid. And I know that you are probably wandering through life, in many ways, just like I am. You know something's not quite right. You know the world isn't the way it's supposed to be. There's too much pain; too much suffering, and not enough love, not by a longshot.

You've been to church. You've met so-called Christians. You WISH there had been more to it, but were left feeling empty. So now, you disappear into the routines of every day. Step 1 thru Step 9, and then you go to sleep and start it all over again. You wish there was something more, but science has proven there isn't. So you just go on, doing the best you can. And as Henry David Thoreau put it, you "live a life of quiet desperation."



There's a part of you, bruised and battered because every time it speaks up, you hit is with your fists until your knuckles are raw and bleeding. But this part will not be silent, not completely. It whispers to you: "There is more." It makes your skin crawl with the idea that this life is not all there is. And somehow, some way, you know you were meant to travel on, to be transcendent. That the grave will not consume you whole, but will let some inner part of you go.

I wish I could reach out to each one of you and somehow change your heart. But all I can do is tell you what I've seen and what I know. As the apostles said, "Gold and silver, I do not have but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk."

That's right. Walk. You think all this life has been is walking. No. This life is a long distance crawl, and worse, it's like Atlas pushing that stupid stone world up the hill, only for it to come rolling back down around us or over us. You're so right. This world SUCKS. This world is NOT what it should have been. And this world is NOT all there is.

Jesus came and picked me out of a strawberry field. That's my story. I was working at one of those pick-your-own strawberry patches, and it was my senior year at UMCP. An old old friend came out that late afternoon to pick strawberries. He ended up picking me. He simply asked "How are you doing?" And somehow, against my better judgment, I did not respond with the usual, "Fine, how are you." Instead, I said, "I'm actually awful."

And that was such a strange thing for me to say. I had just graduated near the top of my class. I had letters of recommendation that made me blush because of the high praise. I was quite certain of a teaching position and quite certain I would become the next Stephen King. But God revealed to me that I was broken. I left a relationship with a very sweet young lady, in the worst possible way. And the future, to me, looked more of a burden than anything else.

I had this pressure on my chest. I can't explain it. But it was like God pointed His finger directly into my pectoral muscle. All day long, I felt it. And I cried out to everyone I trusted, trying desperately to explain what I was experiencing. But the only person who had a clue about what I felt was the old friend who came out to the strawberry field.

He said, "Wayne, could it be that God is trying to get your attention?" He went on to babble a TON about Jesus and being born again and all that. And I nodded a lot. But, honestly, I didn't really care "what" he was saying. But I was absolutely captivated by the peace that he wore like a glow in the dark suit. He had, I knew, something I had never ever had. There was peace and security and well, a sense of love and belonging that I'd never thought possible.

So we agreed to meet together to read through the bible's book of Romans together, and I read Romans 7 and it hit me over the head like a sledgehammer. It was a full color portrait of me, but written 2000+ years before my birth. I was stunned. And I prayed that Jesus would forgive my sins (many, many, many sins). And I believed in Jesus for eternal life.

My life didn't instantly become a JOYFUL merry go round. It has been a struggle. I have doubted more than God deserves, and I have struggled and fought, and came kicking and screaming back to the realization that God. IS. REAL. That, JESUS, IS. REAL. And that He is both GOOD and LOVING, and calling out to all of us. The transcendence I feel in my deepest heart, I now realize is eternity calling. An eternity with Jesus in a world that knows no pain, no tears, no sickness, and no death.

When my father died last October (2015), the bottom dropped out from under my feet. Suddenly, death was something real and for those left behind, crushingly permanent. Look, you can deny it all you want, but you are going to die. You may be hitting the gym and eating kale all the time, but still, the death ratio is 100 to 0. No matter how much fun you can fill your life with, it's going to end. And likely, people you love will be taken before you, and you will feel the aching emptiness of that loss. This is no joke. This isn't funny. No movie, no book, no alcohol or drug can take away this truth: you will die. And though you invest in stocks and bonds, though you have the greatest life insurance known to man, though you have given careful thought to the legacy you will leave behind...you are still leaving.

There's a place in you, battered like your bloody knuckles, a place that is weeping quietly that everything you've done in this world, every single act, every memory, and every experience, will melt away when you die. There's a divine melancholy that hits you at the end of every birthday, every Christmas, every Vacation. A very real sense that what should be....didn't last as long as it should have. And, if you're honest, you'll see that this feeling is real.

All I'm saying is this: I'm 48, the wrong side of forty. You might be fifteen, thirty, twenty-four, or sixty. It doesn't matter. Time will kill you. And after? There will be eternal life. One way or the other. You will not disintegrate and be no more. You will live on. I beg of you, look for Jesus. Read the book of John or read Romans and see. Taste God and see that He is good. He's not closed minded and intolerant as the modern press would preach. Instead, He offers eternity to EVERYONE who would believe in Jesus and what He did on the cross, saving us from our sins.

I hope I've got a lot of time left. I want to see my kids graduate high school and college. I want to see them get married and make a dent for good in this world. I want to write a gazillion more books. But more than anything else, I want to see people believe in Jesus and be forgiven. I want to see you all in the GREATEST PARTY IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE. In heaven. That's our real home. As much as this world doesn't feel quite right, Heaven with Jesus will feel like the far off country we've always felt rumor of. And it will be ours to share with the Lord forever.

If you've read this and believed in Jesus, please message me. If you have questions, doubts, flaming rebuttals, etc, message me.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Review of Theocracy's New Release: GHOSTSHIP

It's no secret that Theocracy has been my favorite band since, well, the first time I heard Mirror of Souls off their 2nd CD. There's something about this band's unabashed Christ-centered message coupled with extraordinary musicianship and vocals that has resonated with me since the first listen.

If you don't know the band or their style, I'll do my best to explain them. They are considered Progressive Power Metal. That means they play hard-rocking music with uber crunchy guitars, thundering drums, galloping bass, ethereal keys, and stunning vocals. But rest assured, this is not heavy metal as it's been described by people who slam the genre. Theocracy's music is filled with beautiful melodies and each CD has such a mix of styles. One song might be a power ballad. Another, a 10+ minute epic. There are some tunes that are soaring anthems, and there are some that have a cathedral like worship quality. And yes, there are some MELT YOUR FACE OFF flat out thrashfests too. But no growling. Nothing vexes me more than a fantastic progressive metal symphony ruined by a Cookie Monster vocalist. But, I digress.



GHOST SHIP

I give the CD 5/5 Stars. Yes, it's that good. And, to me, it does what so many bands fail to do: it progresses. Yes, there are echos from their first three CDs, but they don't stagnate. They hew and hone there sound so that it is at once "The Historical Theocracy" but also "The 2016 Theocracy," better, stronger, faster, and more meaningful than before. So that's my generic overall review. The CD is fantastic. So, if that's all you needed to hear, just go get the CD. You won't regret it. Here's the Amazon link for it:


The rest of this review is a more formal track-by-track evaluation. I kinda feel like I should say {SPOILER ALERT} because I'm going to be very specific about each of the songs.

PAPER TIGER:
The song begins with a very Iron Maiden-esque choral guitar lead, but with a serious thrash beat. At first I didn't think I'd like it because of the thrash, but then, as usual, Theocracy changes tempo. Matt Smith's vocals enter with a very haunting tone, made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Seriously, this song is like a visit from Jacob Marley, warning all Christians to snap out of self obsession, entitlement, and invented dramas—all things that keep us from loving God with all our heart, mind, and soul, as well as, loving our neighbors as ourselves. "The narcissist machinery, forging a self-made victim's society..." BAM, talk about a sledgehammer blow to the solar plexus. The thing is, that's where our society has gone. Everyone's offended by everything. Everyone's a victim. Everyone's entitled to pretty much everything. Paper Tiger tells us Christians that we're supposed to be above that. It's a message hard to endure but so needed. The chorus is a bit of a paradox because it soars with the sound of hope, but lyrically delivers a scathing reprimand. The 1st solo is solid, leading into a CRUNCH FEST of cool transitions. The 2nd solo follows and it's melodically righteous...with a little more homage to Iron Maiden's twin guitars. What follows is a vocal onslaught. Set to another beat, it could be a killer rap, but this is just hardcore, in your face indictment of American Christians being poisoned by the snakes in the dark, decrying how hard life is on us while our brothers and sisters in other nations are being murdered for their faith. 4/5 Stars.



GHOST SHIP:
The title track opens with a sonorous guitar attack with some sort of audio effect in the background, sounding something like a warning siren. Once the vox kick in, there's a great bed of delightfully creepy gothic keys beneath that set the tone nicely. There's serious power in this song, and the chorus comes crashing in like a rogue wave. "Pay the piper, here we go, got a ticket for a one way journey, Slay the viper, come follow, even if you're ordinary." And this is the heart of Matt Smith and Theocracy for GHOST SHIP: all you out there who feel like you don't fit in, all you misfits, the uncool, the left behind—God has room for you aboard His ship, and once you're with Him, we will shake the world. The solo in GS is really interesting, a blend of some serious tapping, sweep picking, and some blues hooks. Then comes a part I can't wait to hear live because they most definitely will pull the audience in to sing "WHOA OH OH!" The abrupt crunch ending is genius. 5/5 Stars.


THE WONDER OF IT ALL
Big guitars and drums open this 6.5 minute track, and I though I heard a little Randy Rhoads in the slide rhythm. Lots of guitar breaks between the lyrics here, and it just works. One of the best lines of the whole CD comes in stanza 3: "Hear the fool's soliloquy: cannot grasp, it cannot be." WOW. This song is about the amazing paradoxes in the scriptures and in Jesus Himself. But the fool doesn't understand them and so claims they cannot be. Have we forgotten how far above our minds God is? Instead of denying the paradoxes, revel in the wonder of it all. Die to live. First will be last. Give to receive, etc. What a magnificent message. The solo of Wonder Of It All is virtuoso beauty. I don't know what makes a solo's tone change so drastically, but the melody of this solo is spoken in such a reverent, ethereal sound that it made me long for a whole track of just that kind of guitar work. 5/5 Stars.




WISHING WELL
Some nice Pirates of the Caribbean keys open up this tremendous tune, giving it a serious nautical vibe. And for those who think Christians are all holier than thou, judging non Christians, listen to this song (and Paper Tiger). Wishing Well is all about lip service. We talk a good game and offer a hearty "I'll keep you in my prayers," but when do we actually get up of our collective butt and go out and help people. One of the catchiest choruses on the CD, Wishing Well's will stay with you. But this song isn't just indictment. It, like many of the psalms, opens with broken hearts and terrible practices, but ends with hope, returning to God to take action and help those in need. 4/5 Stars.



AROUND THE WORLD AND BACK
This is my favorite track on the CD for a hundred reasons, but to summarize, this song is personal to me. It's as if God lifted Theocracy's pen to speak directly to me. The song begins with a nostalgic music box melody that reminds me of the musical teddy bears my mom gave to each of my children when they were young. So yeah, ten seconds into the song, and I'm misty eyed. The opening lyrics reached out to me at a heart level: "Hey weary traveler, have you finally lost your way..." Uhm, yes, that's me. I've been a Christian since 1991, and there have been times when it was so easy to believe in Jesus and the scriptures. It was as if I finally could see the world clearly because the Word of God made sense! But then, time passes, and we get bogged down in a thousand directions, some good, some bad, but the next thing you know, you're living a double minded life, going through the motions of serving, worshiping, etc. but in our hearts feeling a 1000 miles away from God. A perfectly timed ticking clock introduces the instruments, and this is one unique song. It's part power ballad, concert hall AOR rock, but has these lovely CRUNCH moments to remind us, hey this is Theocracy here. And again, another part of the lyrics crush me: "Grace has a way of building hope out of despair..." Wow. Theocracy wants us to know that salvation is ALL ABOUT JESUS. We can't work for it. We can't climb to it. We can't build a bridge to it. All we can do is surrender to His love. "Grace alone is free, so rest in Me." A story to tell about the solo on this track (my favorite of the whole CD). At the risk of TMI, I'm one of many Christians who, from time to time, suffer through seasons of clinical depression. I had an awful bout of it this summer. And one day, I open up facebook, and Matt has posted a behind the scenes video of Jon working on a guitar solo for the new CD. I clicked the YouTube vid and the solo just brought me to tears. I felt like I heard Jesus in that solo, a rising, soaring, upbeat thrill of hope. It just broke me wide open that day in the best possible way. And then, to finally get the GHOST SHIP CD and realize that that very solo was on Around the World and Back, well, it kind of blew my mind. The chorus is rousing and hopeful, and the lyrics near the end tell us "Be not afraid; Your price is paid." I've kept those words as a kind of mantra to fight back when the doubts creep in. 5/5 Stars.



STIR THE EMBERS
Stir the Embers begins with an in your face guitar barrage. Supremely cool. Righteous transitions of tempo here. The whole concept of crying out to God to stir the embers, kindle once more the flame of faith is so needed in the church today. "Walk with me, I'll never be the same again I know." My son's favorite lyric. This is just a skull crushing, kick butt ROCKER, and it ends appropriately with the sound of a newly kindled fire. 5/5 Stars.

A CALL TO ARMS
From the opening licks, this one blew me away. I thought I heard a little homage to Dokken's George Lynch in this tune, for me at least, a very good thing. Loved the rhythms and the solo. Val, were you paying a little tribute to Lynch there? The chorus, while catchy as can be, somehow didn't fit the song. There was so much great hard groove in this song, and then the chorus sounds a little sing-songy, like a camp song. The lyrics are great. But for a real metal call to arms, it just didn't fit. Still a strong tune overall. 4/5



CURRENCY IN A BANKRUPT WORLD
This song caught me by surprise. The opening rhythm definitely had echoes of older Theocracy material, but whoosh, that fast, they transition to a slower, more melodic sound. They're telling the stories of two people who have lost hope to the point of wanting to end their own lives. It's a little dark and very heartbreaking, but it's reality today. I'm a middle school teacher by day, and I hear WAY too many stories of suicides or attempts...and it just underscores the point that we're living in a bankrupt world, if we try to live it without God. After a fine lead break, Matt does something tremendous with his vocals. He's telling of a man who thinks he's blown his whole life. Listen to the emotion in Matt's voice when he sings, "Checking out, 'Cause no one will miss me now." Very few vocalists can evoke that kind of emotion. Matt does it time and time again. But for a song this dark and melancholy, there just had to be a payoff in the chorus, and WHOA, Theocracy comes through with a soaring message of hope that will echo in your mind for weeks. 5/5 Stars.

CASTAWAY
Not sure how I feel about this song. Lyrically, I love it. I mean it tells the story that most every Christian feels from time to time, that of being left behind by friends or family or even by God. It's about being ridiculed by the world for believing in Christ and understanding that this world isn't our real home. We are all just pilgrims passing through. Musically, the skill is all there, but it's a style of power metal that I least enjoy. And that's all preferences, right? 3/5 Stars.



EASTER
This is the epic song on the CD, clocking in at 9:53! And it really is an epic retelling of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The remarkable achievement in this song is that the music completely compliments the lyrical content of each section. From the mournful, dirge like opening where the disciples are destroyed at the loss of Jesus to death to the confusion of "But He promised" and "What now?" It's all there, and then "GLORY GLORY hope is alive!" Such an uplifting component of the song. You'll be singing that out loud! Interesting is that this song has close to a 3 minute interlude where the band just jams! It's a masterpiece. The final section is a conversation between God and his brokenhearted disciples. They are despondent and lost, but God reminds them of His promise to rise on the third day. It reminded me of the Lord talking to Peter. Peter, do you love me? Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. Jesus asked Peter three times, and in Easter, there's an element of that same loving and repeated reminder: my promises are true. Then, just when I thought this song couldn't wow me anymore than it already had, at 8:50 there's this wonderful Queen Bohemian Rhapsody harmonic section that just gave me chills. Lots of songs have been written about the events of Easter, but this may capture the emotion of the time better than any other.

In summary, GHOST SHIP is an amazing achievement. I can only imagine the countless hours Matt and the band put in to craft such a masterpiece. But, I'm so glad they did put in the time. It glorifies God and helps fellow weary travelers like me.
















Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Point is NOT who Won the Election.

November 9th, 2016

America awoke this morning to the news that Donald Trump will be our next President. For Hillary supporters, I suspect there is doubt, depression, despair, and a myriad of other emotions. If the results were otherwise, I would likely have similar fears and feelings. And even though I hoped, if one of them HAD to be elected, it would be Trump, I still feel a wide range of emotions.

For me, in the end, I gave up my faith-driven “write in vote” plan and went for Trump after all. It was, for me, a question of Prolife, Supreme Court Nominations, and other conservative issues. Instead of trusting God with the vote my conscience urged, I took matters into my own hands. If Trump turns out to be a murderous despot, I will regret my vote for the rest of my life.

But for me, there is no victory today. It feels more like a stay of execution. America is in trouble. More personally, the people who make up the nation are in trouble. We are at a moral and spiritual crossroads. And I appeal to history as my witness. From the late 1950’s to the present, America has changed from a Christian nation to a Humanistic Nation. And the result? Our foundation has become one of no ultimate meaning. Nothing matters ultimately because, if there is no God, no moral standard higher than our own whims, we are utterly hopeless and alone in this world.

We are teaching children that marriage isn’t important. We are teaching our children that their physiology doesn’t matter, that they can simply “choose” to identify as whatever sex they want. We are teaching our children that they are all evolutionary byproducts, that by some mathematically mindboggling series of unlikely fortunate events, we people just are. No one outside of the natural made us. We have no ultimate point or purpose other than to make the best of our situations and try hard to ignore the looming specter of our own inevitable deaths.

I feel as if the dynamic of Romans Chapter 1 is happening in America: that we have been given over to our sins. We asked for abortion. We got abortion. We asked for Gay Marriage. We got Gay Marriage. We asked for Wealth. We got Wealth. And at a very deep and secret level, we’ve been begging to have no rules and to have life revolve around ourselves. And, to a degree, that is happening now. And from a parent’s perspective, I grieve for our children. Day after day, I hear of suicides or attempts. Day after day, I hear of addictions or overdoses. And day after day, I hear the hollow clanging of death bells for untold millions who are murdered before even having a chance to live.



I’m heartbroken by where we’ve come and what we’ve become. And I know of NO other solution than Jesus. Love God. Love your neighbor. Follow Jesus and yes, even love your enemy. Go to God with your personal selfishness and repent. Lay it all on the cross, and ask God to help you to love, to give, to help, to hope, and to try.

Hillary supporters: I am sorry for judging you. We are all broken. Trump supporters, I am sorry for judging you. We are all selfish. But now, America: I beg of you: turn back to God, rediscover HIS moral standard, and press on for this nation to live within that standard. Turn to Jesus, watch His example of loving some of the most despicable and downtrodden members of His society. And hear Him as He cries out from the cross, not insults and condemnation to the people who have nailed Him to the cross, but rather, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Today, like so many of you, I feel a grim weight pressing down upon me. It feels like we are inevitably headed for self destruction. Our political system is inferior, likely corrupt, and unreliable. But our God is not. Take hope in our God. Take hope in His love, in His promises, and in His infallible standard. May America truly be great again, but not because of Trump or Hillary or any of those. May America truly be great again in this way: “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Creation vs Evolution: The Debate RAGES on. But, maybe there Should be Less Rage.

I'm a Christian and a creationist. I believe that God created the world. And frankly, I think it's immature how some evolutionary thinkers act like creationists are stupid or insane or both. BUT, I'm even more concerned by Christian creationists who are beginning to represent evolutionists as stupid or crazy or both. We Christians are supposed to know better than that. Love neighbors as yourself, right?



I think we've already lost the chance at an honest discussion if we characterize those who believe in evolution as idiots. It's insulting, and, for the most part, it's just not true. Evolution believers run the full spectrum of intelligence just as creationists do. There are some absolutely BRILLIANT people on that side of the argument. Don't kid yourself. These are people who, at the highest levels, if engaged in an informal debate with most of us, would undress our arguments in record time.

And don't laugh off the evidence for evolution. There's TONS of it, much of it at the microbial level which most of us wouldn't even begin to understand. HOWEVER, their intelligence and the metric tons of evidence don't prove evolution is true. All it proves is that if you have a predisposed bias toward a naturalistic explanation of the world, THEN, evolution is the Inference to the Best Explanation. They see the fossil record, the similar DNA, the similar biological features...and they conclude: common ancestor.

Our side, the Creationist side, is the same. Brilliant folks here too. And metric tons of evidence for Creation. And, I believe, it's built so much more on common sense. Our predisposed bias toward a supernatural explanation of the world leads to creation as our Inference to Best Explanation. We see the fossil record, the similar DNA, the similar biological features...and we conclude: common Artist.

The trouble comes when either side fails to grant that the other side might have a shred of intelligence and an inference worth at least considering respectfully in an open dialogue. The secondary trouble comes when either side mistakenly represents its argument as FACT. Both Evolution and Creation are theories...inferences, conclusions drawn from evidence.

In addition, if we're ALL honest, both sides of the argument are really engaged in a belief system. Evolution's religion = naturalism. Creation's religion = Christianity (among some others). None of us were alive when everything began. And none of us lived long enough to confirm or deny what we believe happened over time. In fact, if you go back far enough, both evolutionists and creationists believe in a type of supernatural creator. Evolutionists / naturalists go back to an eternal particle or element, from which everything evolved. Christians go back to an eternal God who created everything.

Rather than shot insults at each other, maybe we should begin with those things that we have in common. My .02. 

Monday, March 07, 2016

Upcoming Book Signings and Author Events!

Hi, most excellent and admirable hob-er, readers!

I've been pretty cloistered with writing for the last six months, but the time has come to hop into the Batmobile and head out for a booksigning or six. 

Here's the schedule:


 

1) Author Night/Ice Cream Social event at Liberty Christian School on March 9th from 7-8:30pm.
 
Address: 11303 Liberty Rd, Owings Mills, MD 21117
Phone:(410) 655-5527 (ask for Amy Huey)

Note: Free Ice Cream. Yeah. Nuff said.






2) KIDZPO. Health and Fashion For All, benefitting Children's Chorus of Carroll County March 19, 2016 at 1:00 PM

Batson Signing and Tons of other Booths with Local Vendors and Crafts!

Grace Lutheran Church,
21 Carroll St. Westminster, MD
Tickets - $12.50/person

To purchase tickets call 410-925-4392 or go to http://ccccnotes.com/second-annual-kidzpo-announced/


For you West Coast Folk:




3) Dramatic Readings and Booksigning at Auntie's Bookstore of Spokane, Washington, 7pm, March 30th
http://www.auntiesbooks.com/

Auntie's Bookstore
402 West Main Avenue
Spokane, WA 99201

509-838-0206



For Floridians:



FPEA Annual Conference: May 26th thru 28th, Orlando, Florida at the Gaylord Palms Hotel and Convention Center.

I'll be out on the floor signing books all three days, but I have teaching events on Friday, May 27th, 1:45 and 2:35pm