August 10, 2015
I know that The Curse of Crow Hollow is still hot off the presses, but I wanted to share an opportunity to download When Mockingbirds Sing for free for a limited time. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, this would be a great opportunity to do so from
If you’ve already read When Mockingbirds Sing, would you consider helping us spread the word about the free download?
August 4, 2015
As difficult as it still sometimes is to wrap my head around the idea that there are people (more and more of them, in fact) who will not think twice of laying down a bit of their own hard-earned money for a story I’ve written, it is something I do not take for granted and never will. I count it rather as a gift I receive once and at times twice a year. A partnership, if you will, between the two of us. Your end of the bargain is to sacrifice a small part of the fruits of your labor and a bit larger part of your time. My end is to promise a story that will make you think, make you wonder, and—especially—make you feel.
Today marks the release of a novel I think will do all of those things in equal measure. The Curse of Crow Hollow should be available wherever books are sold. If you have either the time or the inclination, I hope you find a copy of your own. And as always, I thank you for what part of your life you rent to me, whether in the pages of my novels or in my tiny corner of cyberspace. I don’t pretend to know any of the answers to the things that vex us in life, but I do enjoy asking the questions.
And it is a grand adventure after all, is it not?
July 31, 2015
Last night, my son and I alone in the truck, running an errand:
“You know about cards?”
“You know, like birthday cards?”
“Sure,” I said.
I looked in the rearview mirror. He was seated directly behind me, his face turned out of the window and toward the mountains, where the setting sun cast his tanned face in a red glow. Sometimes I do that with my kids—just look at them. I’ll look at them now and I’ll try to remember them as they were and try to imagine them as they will be.
“What about them?” I asked. “The cards.”
He didn’t hear me. Or maybe he wasn’t going to say. Sometimes my kids (any kids) are like that. Their conversations begin and end in their own minds, and we are allowed only tiny windows into their thoughts.
“Do you like Target?” he asked.
“Don’t ever buy cards at Target, Dad.”
Another look into the mirror. His face was still toward the mountains, still that summer red. But there was a look to him that said he was turning something large and heavy over in his head, thinking on things.
“Why are they inappropriate?”
“They’re bad,” he said. “On a lot of them, do you know what they have?”
“They have butts on the cards?”
“Yeah. Big ones.”
Silence. More driving. I thought that little talk is over. I kind of hoped it was. I didn’t know where it was all going. I was pretty sure that was a ride I didn’t want to go on.
Then, “Do you know what else they have besides big butts?”
“That a fact?”
He likes that word, my son. Surely. Uses it all the time. And upon such occasions I like to say, “Don’t call me Surely.” I did then, too. There was no effect. Still toward the mountains, still the red glow. Still turning things over. I tried turning the radio up, found a song he liked. Whistled. Anything to stop that encroaching train wreck of conversation.
“Really bad words,” he said.
“Bad words aren’t good.”
I had him then. Conversation settled.
“That’s what the cards have on them. A-s-s.”
“Don’t think I like that,” I said.
“Me, neither,” he said.
I looked in the mirror one more time. He still faced outside, out in the world, and in his tiny profile I saw the babe he was and the boy he is and the man he would be. Saw it all in that one moment, all of his possibilities and all of his faults, how high he would climb and how low he could fall.
He looked out, and in a voice meant only for himself and one I barely heard, he whispered,
And there was a smile then, faint but there, as the taste of that one vowel and two consonants fell over his lips. It was a taste both sweet and sour, one that lowered him and raised him, too.
I could have scolded him. Should have, maybe. But I didn’t. We rode on together, talking about anything but asses. Sometimes one lesson must be postponed in favor of another. And last night, right or wrong, I decided that more important than teaching my son what to say was letting him discover alone the awesome power of a single word.
July 28, 2015
There are little things like forgetting where I’ve put my keys and wallet, and also big things like where I’ve put my children. I’ve forgotten appointments, to eat, to set my alarm, and, I noticed today, the fact that the oil needs to be changed in my truck.
The reasons for this may be many or one, depending upon whom I ask. My wife says it’s because I’m too tired, my friends say I’m too busy. Standard excuses for everyone with a short attention span. My mother, however, offered her own reason in her typically loving way:
“Your head’s too full of useless stuff,” she said. “There’s no room for things that matter.”
I thought about that and had to agree that what she said was at least partly right. I wasn’t sure if it were possible to have so much in my head that nothing else could get in, but I did have a lot of seemingly useless stuff stuck in there.
Stuff like the fact that a dragonfly can eat its own weight in thirty minutes. Or that Hollywood was founded by a man who wanted to build a community based on his conservative religious principles. Couvade is a custom in which a father simulates the symptoms of childbirth. Einstein went his entire life without ever wearing a pair of socks. I could go on.
Where I’ve managed to scrape up such tidbits of uselessness is beyond me. So is the manner by which I can remember that John Milton went blind because he read too late at night but not the name of someone I see at work every day.
The fact that I may simply be absent-minded occurred to me. It’s a distinct possibility. I come from a long line of absent-minded people. But that seems like a poor excuse in itself, and I keep thinking about what my mother said to me.
There’s little doubt that we all fill our lives with things that don’t matter, thereby sacrificing some of the things that do. Worry robs our faith, doubt our hope, and discord our love. But is that true for knowledge? Can we know too much for our own good?
Some people think so. I have friends who believe that faith is all they need, that thinking has done nothing but bring the world a whole lot of trouble. Communism, moral relativism, and Keeping up with the Kardashians wouldn’t exist if someone hadn’t thought them up and ruined all of our lives. Sometimes I think that’s true, especially with Keeping up with the Kardashians.
Faith is pretty much the most important thing a person can have. I also think having as much knowledge as possible easily breaks the top three. Because despite what everyone says, ignorance is not bliss. It’s more like a prison cell with walls of our own making.
Of all the inborn traits God sees fit to give us, few are exercised less than our curiosity. Spending some time with the nearest child will convince you that we’re all born with a probing mind. But that somehow gets lost as we get older. We all are tempted to reach a point where we just don’t care to know anything else. We already know enough about the world to realize it’s all spiraling downward. Why pile it on?
I get that, I really do. There are plenty of things I would rather not know, things that would keep my life chugging along rather nicely if they weren’t stuck on one giant playback loop in my brain.
But then there’s this to consider—our world really is a wonderful place. Flawed, yes. And a bit ugly in some places. But it’s also amazing and inspiring and so utterly almost-perfect.
The truth? I want to know everything. Even the stupid stuff. After all these years, I’m still curious. I still want to know. Because I’ve found that the more I can know about God’s world and the people who inhabit it, the more I can know about God and me. If that keeps me from checking my mail every once in a while or not realizing the truck’s almost out of gas, then so be it.
I think we would all be a little better off if we cracked a book every once in a while. There’s too much ignorance in this world. Life, like music, must contain several parts equally. There must be melody and beat. And there must be heart and head. That’s how we dance through our days. And God is a musician at heart.
Just ask the common housefly. Whose wings, by the way, hum in the key of F.
July 24, 2015
A friend recently confessed that not only had he never prayed, he had never found an adequate opportunity to do so. Why bother, he asked, to resort to empty words to a God who is at best noncommittal and at worst uncaring?
I gave him an appreciative nod. There had been times in my life when I suspected God to be both, but in the end the opposite had always held to be true. But his words struck me. Prayer was much a part of my life even in my darkest days. Not praying, no matter how far the distance between myself and God, was never an option.
I’d always assumed there were many in the world who never lifted their voice to heaven. I’d just never known one.
I figured I prayed about seven times a day. Not bad, really, until I started thinking about some of the things I prayed both for and about. Asking for God to watch over my loved ones is a lot different than asking Him to let the Yanks win and the Sox lose. I asked for both over the weekend.
And while asking Him to make my headache go away is maybe an okay thing, asking Him to give the person who caused my headache sudden and uncontrollable diarrhea probably wasn’t.
It all got me thinking not only about how and when I pray, but how and when others do the same. Prayer is something many of us take for granted. I doubt we pause enough to consider the gravity of actually speaking to the Creator of the universe.
Prayer is serious stuff. Fascinating, too. Nothing says more about us than how we talk to God. So I decided to take last Sunday and observe both family and friends in a sort of super secret prayer survey. I wanted to know who got it just right, who didn’t quite, and why.
Church seemed like a logical starting point. Lots of people pray in church. I listened to the Sunday School teacher, the pastor, and an usher pray with both an eloquence and spirit that I could aspire to but never quite accomplish. Eloquence has never been my strong suit. Me often don’t talk like that pretty.
Lunch with my wife’s family, however, seemed more promising. There are a lot of things country folk can do better than others, and talking to God is among them. Country prayers are not as flowery as church prayers. There are plenty of ain’ts and gonnas. It’s not praying, it’s prayin’. Big difference.
So we prayed for the hands that cooked the food and the ground that grew it. For the rain that would make the corn grow and the closeness of family. That prayer was nice. Homey. But it still wasn’t quite…right. Something was missing.
Bedtime found my family gathered around my daughter’s bed, knees to floor. And though I normally assume the traditional pose of head bowed and hands folded, I cheated that night. I kept my eyes and ears open as my children prayed. Together.
“Thanks, Jesus,” my son said, “for all the cool stuff You showed me today.”
“And,” said my daughter, “for the green grass. It’s my favorite color.”
“Thanks for the macaroni, because I love macaroni,” added my son.
“I didn’t like the broccoli,” my daughter said. “Can you please do something about that?”
“You made pretty clouds tonight.”
“I love you, God.”
“I love you too, God.”
“We both love you.”
Then, together: “Amen.”
I walked outside a while later to make sure the stars were still there and say goodnight to God. I’ve always liked praying outside. For some strange reason, I’ve always thought my words could go through a ceiling of clouds much easier than a ceiling of plaster.
I’ll be honest. Prayer has always been a little confusing to me. Like the people at church, I’ve tried to be eloquent and flowery. Like the people I shared lunch with, I’ve tried to be folksy and homey. And like my children, I’ve tried to keep things simple.
It isn’t always easy to put thoughts and feelings to words, no matter to whom we’re talking.
I guess in the end it isn’t so much what we say to God as it is the heart with which it’s said. What we can’t explain, He knows. What we can’t say quite right He knows exactly.
And sometimes, many times, a prayer needs no words at all.
Which is why that night, there beneath the stars, I simply looked to heaven and smiled.