Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It's Still a Merry Christmas

When my Mom was a kid, she and her sisters would grab a bucket and walk to the Reading Railroad yard at Wayne Junction. They would walk up and down the tracks, picking up stray pieces of coal.

That's how they heated their house at Christmas.

My Dad came home from The War and worked as a second-shift machinist at a factory in Philadelphia. He came home for lunch at 8:00 each evening ... worked until after midnight. Never complained.

By the time my Mom and Dad passed away, they had enjoyed a house in the suburbs, with a pool. Dad had bought, and discarded, his Cadillac. They had travelled to Europe, the South Pacific and most places in between.

And they had a son who went to college.

Times change. God's soverign will never does.

The banking system may implode. All of us may be living through the greatest economic catastrophy since the Great Depression (don't know what was so great about it). And such a calamity would certainly strike the publishing industry as well, limiting resources and opportunities.

But people not only survived the Great Depression. Some prospered during. Some prospered after.

The people of Israel stood at the edge of the Red Sea, Pharoh's army braying at their backs, and they praised God. Before the water moved. They sang songs of praise.

Thats what we need for encouragement.

The water will move.

Until then, it's our job to praise God and do what he gives our hands to do. Whether that's picking up coal along the railroad tracks, or working at our craft ... making ourselves the best writers in the world.

If we have faith, this will be our best Christmas ever.

May God bless us ... every one.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sunsets Don't Last Very Long

One of the benefits of recently moving (if there are any benefits of moving ... where did all this 'stuff' come from?) is that, for the first time in our 30 years of marriage, I have a real, functional office. With bookcases, for all my collected rare (or just old) books. And a private place to write.

Another benefit of this office is that it has windows that overlook the Hudson River. Very rare ... and very peaceful. A true blessing.

I was sitting here yesterday evening, working on my next book - Scorpion Pass - as the sun was setting over the Jersey Palisades. One of those dramatic moments when a reality of life strikes.

Sunsets don't last very long.

There are many changes, rapid changes, in the evolution of a sunset. From early hues to hot orange to fading pink and then, ultimately, grey clouds and darkness.

Life is like that, isn't it. It doesn't last very long.

Childhood doesn't last very long. High School seems like an eternity when you're going through it but, really, that doesn't last long either. College goes by in a blur (probably too many evenings at the Rathskeller); "the best years of your life" are generally missed in a rush to establish a career ... and then you're old.

Early hues to hot orange to fading pink then, ultimately, grey hair and darkness.

I tend to miss too much of life. Spend too much time lamenting the past or looking to the future.

That's too bad. Because sunsets don't last very long. Yesterday, I caught some of it. But I was too busy to sit and watch the whole thing. Too often, that's the story of my life.

Don't miss Christmas. Make it the best one ever. And say Happy Birthday to Jesus.

Monday, December 22, 2008

An early Christmas Present

Pastor Jim Cymbala of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church had a few words to share after Brooklyn Tab’s Christmas concert this past weekend. Something for us to consider in the last dash to Christmas.

There are at least three reasons – in addition to the redemption of mankind from the sentence of sin – Jesus Christ choose to be born in Bethlehem, to become a man like us.
The first, said Pastor Cymbala, is that God loves you. A simple statement, yet often so hard to personally accept. God might love everybody else, but can He really love me?

Yeah … God loves you. If you were the only son (or daughter) of Adam throughout all time, Jesus would have become flesh and blood just for you. God loves you. That is His character.

Second is that God feels what you feel. The Bible tells us that God is Creator of all things, including man. It also tells us that God feels our pain, our loneliness and our discouragement. God feels what you feel.

And, because He loves you, there is the third reason. Jesus came into this world to give us hope. The hope that comes from the fact that God loves us, God feels what we feel and God cares so much about us that he asked His son to become our Redeemer to give us hope.

And so, we have Christmas.


I’ve held off on a November newsletter because things were moving along rapidly at Kregel Publications regarding the release date of The Sacred Cipher and I wanted to make sure I shared solid information.

While Kregel is still working to lock down its production schedule for the spring, it appears The Sacred Cipher will be released to bookstores in May.

The folks at Kregel have been great, and very encouraging. According to the marketing department, Sacred Cipher is one of their “lead titles for the season” and they are being very deliberate to ensure its success. What a blessing!

I have seen one result of Kregel’s commitment to The Sacred Cipher – the cover design. It is stunning … dramatic … and really cool. Kregel engaged an outside designer/artist to work on the cover and rejected two initial designs until they got the design they wanted.

So, my first Christmas present this year is one I'll share with you ... the official cover of The Sacred Cipher. Cool or what! Keep an eye out for the January newsletter. I hope to have a lot more details to share with you by then.

From the Brennans – may you and your family be blessed with joy, peace and God’s rest this Christmas.

Terry, Andrea, Meghan and Matthew

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

October Newsletter - Dallas, here we come!


My intention is to make this a short, monthly update to keep you informed and help get you excited about upcoming books.

So, to the news ....

My first novel, The Sacred Cipher, will be released by Kregel Publications in April. I knew it was going to be in the spring, but now we know it will be April - the first month of Kregel's fiscal year. That's exciting.
(this is an experiment ... below is a drawing - very small version - of my attempt to draw the secret scroll which is at the heart of The Sacred Cipher. The symbols are my rendition of Demotic, the third language on the Rosetta Stone. Check out the book to learn more!)

It's also exciting that Kregel has designated Sacred Cipher as part of its "A" list of releases this spring, which I believe means it will receive prominent promotion in Kregel's catalog and focused attention by Kregel's sales force.

But what's really exciting is that Kregel has decided to fly me down to Dallas in March for the first Christian Book Expo which promises to be the largest gathering of Christian book sellers and Christian book publishers in the nation.

Christian Book Expo is a convention sponsored by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA). The Expo was created to raise awareness of Christian authors, books, and publishers following interviews with 15 publishing CEOs and 23 Christian publishing houses who wanted a consumer-based show that would connect with actual readers.

So the Expo will be open to the general public. There will be a huge exhibit floor with publishers booths, as well as workshops, evening programming, author signings ... and media coverage. Kregel's plan is to have Sacred Cipher available at the Book Expo, to have signage and promotions for Sacred Cipher in the booth, have me do a book signing and possibly even a reading and reserve some booth time for me to do a "meet and greet" with the folks at the show. Wow! Isn't that cool?

My agent, Rachelle Gardner, said some authors get really freaked out when they go to a book show and there's really big pictures of them and their book covers.

Me? I'm already really freaked out.

We are just receiving so much favor and grace with this book - it is clearly a God thing and not a Terry thing. Important to keep in mind, I think, come March.

The folks at Kregel have been absolutely fantastic to work with. I couldn't have asked for more. We should get our first look at the book's cover sometime early next month. That will be the subject of next month's newsletter.

In the meantime, this week I submitted the edited and revised manuscript for my second novel, Hunger's Ransom, to my agent and she will be forwarding it to the Kregel staff. We're hopeful it will be reviewed, and accepted, at Kregel's editorial staff meeting in November. Stay tuned.

And I've just begun work on the sequel to Sacred Cipher, a book called Scorpion Pass. Pray for me that I can get a good jump on this book over the next eight weeks.

Okay, that's enough.

Stay tuned for more exciting adventures of "Terry Through Book Land" - probably late night, community-access time on the Jewelry Channel.

Ciao, baby ...


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Seven Years Ago Today ... Not so Cool

I'm exhausted, but I figured I had better pop my head up here ... just in case anyone is checking in.

The chances of that are better today than last week.

Tuesday I sent out a blast email to 165 addresses ... the initial venture in what I hope will be a newsletter. The blast email announced to those I know - well, some, and barely - that my first novel will be published by Kregel Publications in the spring:

The Sacred Cipher
History's Greatest Secret May Be Tomorrow's Greatest Threat
Of course, at the bottom of each of those 165 emails was my contact information, including my blog address.
I think I've gotten about 70 responses to the blast email thus far. That's 70 people who may have been curious enough to check out this blog site, only to find out that I haven't been here for the past couple of weeks. Not good.
So, for anybody who's checking in - here I am!
Now, do I have anything to say? That is always the question.
Try this on for size.
My wife and I live on the Lower East Side of New York City, in a wildly popular and trendy neighborhood nicknamed NoLita (North of Little Italy). It's a cool place. We don't live in a cool place. We live in The Bowery Mission, which clothes and feeds and rescues the homeless and addicted. A wonderful place ... a place of miracles ... but not always a 'cool' place to live.
(As an aside, and just to give you a glimpse of how cool this neighborhood has become, a building two blocks away was just gut renovated. Five story, pretty old brick building that was derelict for the entire 11 years I've been here - until now. Sits on the corner of Spring and Elizabeth Streets. The owner has converted the building into six, full-floor condos ... perhaps 2,000 square feet each - maybe more. The price? Starting at $6 million each! That's how cool .)
Anyway, back to the point.
I was coming home the other night ... may have been Monday ... and as I crossed Bowery and walked toward the entrance to The Mission, my attention was caught by something to my right. I turned. And looked into the sky.
Up into the darkness of the night were two shafts of light.
My throat got thick. My heart skipped, stopped, then tripped along. For just a moment ... a fleeting, unexamined moment ... I thought I might break. And I stood on the sidewalk and stared.
The beams of light were most likely two of those special-event spotlights that some businesses will shine up into the sky to attract attention. They certainly got mine.
The lights were aimed at about a 40 degree angle, running upward from south to north ... from downtown to uptown. So unlike their predecessors, when you come to think of it. But who stops to think when there are two shafts of light piercing the sky of downtown Manhattan.
It was seven years ago when it last happened. Seven years ago today (now that it's 12:39 a.m.).
The lights didn't shine seven years ago today. Someone had the bright idea for the lights to shine as a way to commemorate what happened seven years ago today. There were two, huge, powerful shafts of light launched from the now-famous "Ground Zero". Nothing will ever replace The Towers, but the light shafts gave a sense that something was there again. They rose high into the night sky, their lumens lessening until they were just wisps of grey fading into dark.
For some reason, for many of us who lived through those awful days when Manhattan became a ghost town, the shafts of light brought comfort. And hope.
Monday night, someone was throwing a party and hired a couple of spotlights.
They weren't pointed in the right direction, but those arbitrary shafts of light brought a memory, resurrected a fear, rekindled a hurt. For a moment. For a moment, time stopped.
New York City wasn't so cool when Lower Manhattan was off limits - barricaded from 14th Street South. When there were armed soldiers stationed on every street corner. When there was no traffic. No ... there was NO traffic. No cabs, no buses, no trucks, no cars. Anywhere. Just soldiers, jeeps, and a couple of million people scared to breathe the air or think about what was coming next. Not so cool when every breeze carried the smell of burning. Not so cool when every public square was wallpapered with the leaflets of the grieving, uselessly searching for the dead.
No, not such a cool place, then.
You probably could have gotten one of those apartments for a buck-fifty a month. Who'd want to live here, anyway?
Seven years.
The City has been reborn. The buzz and the money have returned.
The grief has never left. All it takes is two shafts of light to pierce the darkness. And memory returns.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Relief Pitcher

The annual American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Conference will occur in a few weeks in Minneapolis. While I've been to several other writer's conferences over the past three years, this will be my first visit to this venerable, national gathering of the best and brightest in Christian fiction.

As a "rookie" to ACFW I was included in a 'first-timer orientation' email loop. The loop has been a mixed blessing.

It's one thing to get 30 or more extra emails each day. It's another thing when most of those emails are concerned with what women should wear to the Saturday night dinner. Or are an on-going discussion about whether coffee will be available or how much chocolate is too much.

Okay, it's a guy thing ... I don't care about prom gowns and I'm not concerned about OD'ing on caffine or a chocolate binge. So, those emails I've learned to delete.

What has been interesting, for me at least, is the often agonizing dialogue about how to throw your "pitch".

For the uninitiated, a "pitch" is what a writer will share with an editor, publisher's rep or an agent when they are trying to sell either a manuscript or work-in-progress, or trying to sell themselves. The "pitch" is generally about seven sentences and can be delivered in about three minutes. In sales, it's often called your elevator speech.

Sadly for the rookies, the writing business has a lot of unwritten traditions and expectations that people are expected to know and follow ... and which cause a great deal of anxiety for those going into a big-time conference for the first time.

What is a one-pager? What should be in a one-pager? What does it look like? What is a summary? What is a synopsis? How do they differ? What should I bring with me? What do I pitch ... the one-pager; the synopsis; the summary? When do I pitch? How do I throw the pitch - fast ball ... curve ball ... slider?

And on and on it goes.

I've been empathizing with every one of them who is agonizing about bringing the "right" thing to the "right" person at the "right" time. Should I bring a business card, a one-sheet, a two-sided one-sheet, a proposal (what should be in a proposal?), a manuscript (finished? unfinished?), a tuxedo?

So I wrote this in one of the email loop responses:

I remember the second writer's conference I went to. I had appointments the next day with an agent and a top publisher. One of my author/mentors told me these two appointments were critical and to give each of them the synopsis and first few chapters, "perfect - squeaky clean." I was up until 4:00 a.m. working on my laptop and then I was standing outside the door of the local Staples, grumpy and bleary-eyed, when it opened at 7:00 a.m. to get hard copies off a CD.

The folks at the appointments never asked to see it.

It's so hard, coming into this strange world for the first time, because everybody inside the world (even through they ARE great people) seems to know the secret code and all of us on the outside are trying to figure out the secret code and we don't even know the language.

Here's the bottom line. All you need is passion, and a great idea. Leave the rest at home (not really, but I hope you know what I mean).

Whether you have a glitzy, drop-dead designed one-page, a synopsis, a pitch or five squeaky-clean chapters is not as important as having passion and a great idea. The rest of it you can learn by going to the seminars at the conference and reading books on the craft (Sol Stein; Donald Maass; Stephen King On Writing).

But ya ain't goin' nowhere without passion and a great idea. If you can share passion and a great idea - coherently - with an author, editor, agent or publisher, you don't need anything else. Honest.

Two years ago I came to my first conference amazingly ignorant. I didn't know anything or anybody. My first paid critique was a disaster, and so was my finished manuscript. But I had another idea I was passionate about. So I wrote that book over the next year and got an agent. Last month I signed a contract with Kregel and the book will be coming out sometime next year.

Last week I went to my third Philly Conference and took along my 26-year-old daughter. We've got an idea we're collaborating on. All we had was a storyline we had verbally brainstormed. Nothing on paper.

She was in a first-evening Practice your Pitch seminar, just to observe and learn. But they broke up into small groups and each person in the group was to give their pitch to the rest of the group. So while the others were pitching, Meghan was scribbling away in her notebook. When it came her turn, she shared her seven sentences and everybody loved it. She pitched to three other mega-authors. Two of them spent more than an hour each in separate brainstorming sessions, helping Meghan flesh out the plot. One of them told her, "You finish that book by next year and make sure you bring it to me. I want to endorse it."

She had no business card, no pitch, no one-sheet, no proposal, no synopsis, no manuscript. No tuxedo.

But she had an idea we had hatched - and it's a really good idea - one she was passionate about. That's a pitch that others can catch.

If you believe in what you're doing, share that. All the rest works itself out.

So, that's the lesson for today. I don't have an answer for the chocolate and the coffee. Forget about the prom dresses.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cinder Block Blues

The first guy with the cinder block had it clutched to his chest, like a fireman holding a baby he had rescued from a flaming building. Two arms were underneath it, the right arm slightly askew from the bottom, just past the corner of the right side.

He was wearing a blue t-shirt. What else, I don't know. I was looking at the cinder block.

The first guy with the cinder block had copper colored hair, before the patina set in. Brown, with pervasive red highlights, wispy in the front but enough to lift in a wave and sweep back over his head. His cheeks were full, chipmunk-like, with the yellow and burgundy flush of peaches in total exertion.

The cinder block was grey.

The second guy with the cinder block was different.

Let me stop here a moment and share an observation.

Prince Street in NoLita does not often entertain cinder-clock carriers. Everything else, yes. Cinder-block carriers ... well, this was a first.

Prince Street in NoLita is a "great neighborhood" in Manhattan, particularly for those who don't live on Prince Street in NoLita. God only knows why, but this section of Manhattan - hard against The Bowery and its historical queasiness and the Lower East Side (LES) and its ethnic barrios - has suddenly become the "in" place to be. Not "in" for the residents, but "in" for the one million tourists who seem to prowl its streets every weekend.

Walk down Prince Street, or it's sister to the downtown - Spring Street - and it's unlikely you will hear English. None of the people with the maps out, the shopping bags in their hands or the odd dialects emanating from their mouths, have grown up in Dubuque.

Can you say melting pot? Can you say, get the tourists out of my neighborhood?

Needless to say, the guy with the cinder block was an interesting diversion.

The second guy with the cinder block was shocking. What was this, a cinder block parade? Was this another clever marketing ploy for Obama '08? Was someone giving away cinder blocks?

The second guy with the cinder block was thin. He was also tired. Perhaps frustrated. The cinder block sat, upright, on the sidewalk. Guy Number Two had dark hair. He was older than Guy Number One. I think he wore jeans, but, hey - who can tell after two cinder blocks?

Most memorable is that Guy Number Two took a deep breath, looked like he wanted to be someplace else, then bent over and lifted the cinder block onto his left shoulder. Shazaam! A whole new way to carry cinder blocks on Prince Street. Stop the presses!

Okay, perhaps not so dramatic.

Until you got to the corner of Prince and Bowery, directly across the street from the New Museum of Contemporary Art which is, in fact, a new museum. An icon, already. Seven floors of off-center boxes, clad in chain-mail, with no windows. This is a building?

Anyway, at the corner of Prince and Bowery, was the Girl With Two Cinder Blocks. It was an odd alignment.

Girl was on her cell phone. Obviously, not with Guy Number One or Guy Number Two, who were too busy carting cinder blocks down Prince Street to carry on a reasonable conversation. But, Girl was on her cell phone. At her feet sat TWO cinder blocks, one of top of the other, the one on top vertical.

Was she calling for help? Was she calling for directions? Was she calling for more cinder blocks?

The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind. The light changed and it was time to cross Bowery and get home.

New York City ... this is My Kind Of Town (wait, wasn't that Chicago?)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Do you have a point of view?

For some of us, there are no rules.

Take a guy like Stephen King. I just got finished reading his book, The Stand - the original, uncut version of 1,140+ pages - and one of the main things I got out of the book is that King doesn't follow the rules.

Well, at least not some of them.

King's novels sell a lot of copies. A LOT of copies. So he abides by Rule Number One - make your publisher happy.

And King's novels are a great read. So he abides by Rule Number Two - make your readers happy.

Rule Number Three is - follow Rules Number One and Two.

However, there are other writerly rules. One of the first I learned was POV. And POV killed my first novel.

Sol Stein defines POV as: "the character whose eyes are observing what happens, the perspective from which a scene or a story is written."

At my first writer's conference I was told there is no such character as "narrator". And, for the first time, I heard about POV. So the novel I had spent four years writing and had come to pitch was tossed in a drawer. It had no POV and was told almost entirely by an omniscient narrator. OOOPPPS! Time to try another profession.

But, wait. Hold your hyphens!

Have you read a King novel? Stephen King is POV-challenged. In fact, in The Stand, King is bouncing around from one person's head to the next from sentence to sentence. In double fact, there are even two scenes where he gives us the thoughts of a dog. I kid you not.

Now, in Waynes World of Writing, Stephen King is just lower than diety. Clearly, he can do no wrong.

How many writers do you know who can go back to their publisher and require them to restore the 150,000 words that were cut from the original published version of The Stand? Taking it from a 700-page book to an 1,100-page book.

But he don't know no POV!

Which brings us to the QUESTION OF THE DAY.

Do people speak in words? Or in numerals?

When I was a newspaper editor, I would skewer writers who would quote people in numerals.

"I told Jack I was going to hit 6 home runs today."

No, you numbskull ... people speak in words (six) not numerals (6).

Boy, did that get me in a lot of arguments. (I won, because I was the boss)

What do you think? The first 3 responses will each receive four calling birds and 5 golden rings.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Love for Rent

This is so bizarre ... writing in the ozone with no guarantee that anybody else is out there.

If you are, hopefully you haven't been holding your breath, waiting for the next post.

Just finished the first draft of my second novel. Perhaps that is wishful thinking. I thought it was finished two weeks ago. Turns out I didn't have enough words. The first one was too long by nearly 30,000 words. Now this one is too short.

Maybe I can combine the two of them and then just cut it in half in the middle. That would be interesting reading.

Oh, yes, there is a reason why I've surfaced once again - besides the fact that I finished a first draft today and can now think and act like a (fairly) normal person again.

Neither of the books I've written have a romance. They are both adult action/suspense/thrillers. They both have significant women characters.

But - not in the chic-lit sense, at least - neither one has a romantic sub-plot.

Now, I admit, I'm over 45 and there is snow on the roof. But when I'm writing a suspense novel, I'm thinking of driving the plot, stepping up the action. I'm not thinking of getting a squeeze with Mata Hari. My wife would never go for that, anyway.

My point (question) is, how do you do that?

I'm a plot-driven writer, not a character-driven writer. I don't spend weeks creating a persona for each character, delving into the inner sanctums of each person's navel. In fact, I'm generally surprised when characters begin to display personality quirks because I certainly didn't plan them.

So, if there's any of you out there (if there is anyone out there) who enjoys developing romantic sub-plots in suspense or thriller novels, give me some clues. I know how you crime drama folks do it - every gumshoe has a dame. But, how about the rest of us?

There may be snow on the roof, but how can we get some fire in the furnace?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Gol, dang it!

I think that's what Gabby Hayes used to say, when the "seven deadly words" still reigned on TV.

I was writing a scene today that I hope is powerful and emotional - an argument of verbal violence at the crux of a disintegrating marriage.

Tell me, are Christians really so insulated to think that real people say, "Dag nab it" (Walter Brennan?)? I did have a girlfriend once whose mother always said, "Christmas" as her one and only epithet. Very thoughtful, genteel.

So much not like me.

I get in a shouting match and that match ignites my mouth in ways that embarrass me but reveal both my ancestry and upbringing. You can take the kid out of the street ...

Aren't there a lot of people like me - saved by Jesus, alive by his grace - but still with a mouth that, at times, invites a thorough soaping?

So, to my point.

Why can't my characters talk like me? Or like my accountability partners - sweet, wonderful men of God who at times could burn the paint off a barn?

It seems so phony and arbitrary to have a character, who's about to blast a gasket, come out with polite prose instead of street vernacular. Some of my characters are dying to let it fly.

Or ... or ...

Is that just lazy writing?

Truth be told, I'm not sure.

Truth be told, there are times when I'm not disciplined enough to keep the odd 'damn' from slipping past my lips. Truth be told there are times when I think that kind of language is just normal.

Then I write a line like this.

“Shut your mouth,” he growled, hair-trigger danger boiling in his eyes and balled in his fists. “Shut your mouth, do you hear me. Or you may not be able to open it.”

Don't need no 'damn' in there, do I?

Ah, but it feels so good to let some spicy language fly onto the page, doesn't it?

Dag nab it, I just don't know. What am I'm going to do? Christmas!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Out of the Ashes

There's nothing like talking to someone else to put your own miseries in perspective. Or, to look at the glass half-full, there's nothing like talking to someone else to make you more thankful for your blessings.

Take Mike Dellosso, a bright, energetic, inventive young man who is launching his first published novel, The Hunted, today. Mike is a teacher in Hanover, Pennsylvania, has a wonderful wife and, I believe, two young daughters.

Mike is also battling colon cancer.

Take Marlene Bagnull, a faithful servant of God. Marlene is an author, editor and speaker. She is, perhaps, more famous for organizing the annual Christian Writer's Conferences in Philadelphia and Estes Park, Colorado. There are so many labels you could attach to Marlene ... prayer warrior; faithful servant; tireless worker; ambassador of Christ; adversary of the evil one ... but not one of them would be sufficient to fully encompass all that Marlene is, or does, every day.

Marlene is going to the doctor today to try and get answers about some "abnormal results" to recent blood tests. Her husband, Paul, has just 13 weeks to go before he can retire, but his ankles are so painful he needs braces and still has trouble walking. And tests last month revealed spots in his lungs. Marlene's daughter is pregnant with her third child and may have labor induced after 39 weeks ... with Marlene to watch her two grandkids. And the Philly Conference is only two months away.

Why is it, do you suppose, that so many of God's people appear to be getting clobbered at the same time? I can't tell you how many faithful, earnest Christian families in our church are going through the most difficult 'pressing'. How many faithful warriors are discouraged and beaten down. It appears a plague has been unleashed upon believers; that we live in a time that makes you wonder what will come next.

These continuing reports of trial and trouble have at least one salutory effect. At least for me. They keep me humble. And protect me from self-pity.

I lost my job of 11 years at the end of October. My daughter, who worked in the same parachurch organization, was dismissed May 8th. I've had three interviews for a position I'm perfect for and got the call yesterday that I'm no longer in consideration. (I hate being unemployed.) And the book I love, that I had so much fun writing, still can't find a publisher willing to take a chance on an unpublished writer.

Me ... I'm Irish ... I can easily get in a black mood.

But then I think of Mike Dellosso, whose day of triumph today is being tempered by chemotherapy. I think about Marlene Bagnull, whose tireless service is being tempered by health alarms. And I think about how all of us are tempted to take our eyes off our Loving Father ... who will never leave us as orphans ... and put our attention on our problems or circumstances.

Please, if one person reads this, please pray with me today for ALL our Christian brothers and sisters who are captured in the midst of God's pressing. For all of us who are battered and wounded and weak. Pray that the God of heaven and earth, the Almighty Creator of all things, will burst through our circumstances and seize all of us in his arms, holding us close to his heart until night turns into day and despair into shouts of joy.

For the first time I understand this verse - Psalm 63:3 "Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you." (NIV)

Christ's love and hope is our fullness. Hang in there.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Keep Your Eyes Open

I don't know what title is attached to a guy who spent 22 years in the newspaper business, a guy who wrote 'stories' nearly every day for the first 12 years and then wrote more than once a week for the last decade. A guy who's clippings fill up a couple of file drawers.

In the book business, if he's not published (yet), you call him a rookie (I loathe the word 'novice').

So, this rookie may make a few rookie mistakes along the way, but that's okay. They won't be deadly.

Say, did you know that there's a thing called "rookie stripes" at the Indy 500? At least while I was covering auto racing for seven years, during the month of practice leading up to qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 any driver who was at the Brickyard for the first time had pieces of parallel tape applied to the back of his car. The strips of tape were there to enable drivers coming up behind the car to know there was a rookie driving and to take appropriate caution.

(I think, in the last couple of years, the stripes have been dispensed with. The cars are going so fast now - over 200 mph - by the time a driver would see the rookie stripes they would already be too close.)

Wouldn't it be great to have rookie stripes in real life?

Ooops ... watch out for that advice, it comes from a rookie! Don't want to hire that plumber - look at those rookie stripes!

Anyway, you're forewarned from me.

To the point? Oh, yeah. Keep your eyes open. We live in Manhattan, so there are lots of great 'locations' as settings for scenes (as 'Law & Order' has proven on its many spinoffs). My wife and I have taken to wandering around the city, looking for a quiet place to sit. Often, I'll write while she reads a book. And, often, the setting ... wherever it is and whatever it is ... will find itself as the setting for a scene in one of my chapters.

Sure, not every place is Manhattan (Believe me, Manhattan is cool. Lots of other things, too - like dirty and noisy - but this city is really cool). But, no matter where you are, where you are has something unique about it. Use it. Color it, shape it, squeeze it, date it - who cares. But get out and write about real places. Eyeball witness adds great texture and richness to writing.

If this is a rookie observation, that's okay. Just give me a wide berth as you zip on by.



Monday, April 21, 2008

Lost in Space Bar

A couple of years ago I had a really great idea for a book. It took me a year to write it.

Everyone I talked to about the idea, including other authors, loved the idea.

Everyone who read the completed manuscript has really enjoyed it, told me how good it was. I got connected to an agent, who also liked the book. Liked the way I write. Agreed to represent me. So we submitted it to 13 publishers in mid-January.

In spite of the odds, in spite of the competition, the shrinking publishing market, the fact that I'm a "rookie" at novels - I was sure this book would click, someone would agree to publish it and off we'd go.

Now, it's past mid-April. Four of the 13 publishers we submitted it to have declined. The other nine seem to be lost in space bar.

My agent admits she's surprised by the lack of interest generated by the book. Yeah, it burst my bubble, too.

But here's my quandry, oh-great-web-universe in the ozone. Now what?

I've got three other book ideas kicking around: an old one that is complete but needs a major overhaul to come off life-support, and two others that are sketched out in synopsis form and the first few thousand words. But neither of the two in summary form is as much fun as the first book. Only one includes terrorists, international intrigue and weapons of mass destruction ... the things that stoke my engine.

Seems the market now is for "small" stories, intimate stories.

Now, this ... this is work.

Give me a good disaster any day. Must be that old reporter is still kicking around in my psyche.

Friday, April 11, 2008

God Lives on the LES

My wife, Andrea, and I have lived on the Lower East Side of New York for the last eight years - more or less. We've gone to the theater, the opera and concerts in Central Park. We've visited the major museums on a regular basis. Discovered a plethora of little, out of the way restaurants that are out of this world. Seldom have we trolled the dive bars where music is plentiful and excellent.

I thought we were pretty plugged into the city. We live in one of the most trendy sections of Manhattan - NoLita: North of Little Italy, where SoHo is spilling over into uncharted territory. Our sidewalks are packed with tourists every weekend and much of the 'normal' time.

But when God has a curveball aimed for your head, there ain't no duckin' and divin'.

Andrea has been down at her sister's place in New Jersey this week - cleaning out the storage space and the attic for a much-needed yard sale. Me, I'm trying to find story ideas in a desert of blank. At the end of the week, I'm looking for someplace to go ... something to get my mind off the things that are always on my mind.

Recently, The Times ran a story about all the blue grass music that is available in the city. I was looking through that article, searching for a place to fritter away my lonely Friday night. One of the spots was the RockWood Music Hall - two blocks from home!

So, after a dinner of Guiness and pizza at our local Spring Lounge, I wandered over to the RockWood Music Hall (yes, having told Andrea of my plans in advance) in search of some music, and no trouble.

Guess what? God was waiting for me.

The RockWood Music Hall is a little, hole-in-the-wall bar on Allen Street, just off Houston, two blocks from where we live. It's smaller than our apartment. I squeezed myself inside the packed confines. I wanted to hear some music. (I'm a dive rat from way back ... saw Dylan at the Cafe Wha in Greenwich Village in the mid-60's). And what do you think I heard?

The Zach Williams Band ( playing some great rock & roll (my opinion), story-driven songs ... about Christ and faith.


One song was about the stuggles Zach had when his wife fell off a horse and was diagnosed with several fractured vertebrae. How God saw them through. Another was about - somehow, with a great beat - the seven deadly sins.

I'm sitting there, on a bar stool, looking for rock & roll, and this guy is evangelizing (subtely) the ultra-cool of the LES.

What is going on here?

After the set, I asked the band's handler/manager: "Are you guys Christain?"

He looked at me as if I was from Mars.


"Well, God bless you."

Later, after the next band was playing, I got to talk to Zach on the sidewalk outside the RockWood Music Hall. He and his wife live in Brooklyn - Park Slope. The rest of the band are primarily from Canada, most of then non-believers. Zach says:

"Man, I've been praying for you. I've been asking God to send me a mentor, someone of maturity (read, old guy!) to help me. Help me with discernment. Tonight, this was a showcase for Warner Brothers. Last night, we did a showcase for Atlantic Records. Tomorrow night there's a guy flying in from Florida - a believer - who's tied in with (some record company). Can I call you?"

Ahhh, sure. (Gee, I just wanted to tell the guy how much I enjoyed his music). I just live around the corner, in The Bowery Mission.

"The Mission! I'm going to be doing a benefit for The Mission in July ... something on the river."

You have got to be kidding.

Kids With a Promise, one of the ministries of The Bowery Mission, has an annual fundraiser on the Fourth of July. The ministry charters a luxurious, very large, yacht and has a dinner cruise around Manhattan Island, ending up in the East River, right below the barges that are about to unleash one of the largest and most spectacular fireworks displays in the country.

And these guys are going to be the music?

Ready for another curveball? My daughter works for Kids With A Promise, overseeing the minsitry to children in the inner city ... After School Programs and summer Day Camps. These are the kids that the July 4th cruise will benefit.

And here I stand, in the rain, on Allen Street on the Lower East Side of New York - outside the RockWood Music Hall, looking for good music - talking to a Christian troubadour who is trying to bring the saving grace of Jesus Christ to the "very together", very cool denizens of the LES.

And that's where I happened to drop in on the Friday night I'm lonely and looking for something fun that is not debauched.

Hello, God? Are you listening?

Absolutely, you knucklehead!

I can't tell you how awesome it was to walk out the door of the RockWood Music Hall, take Zach Williams by the hand, and share the power of Christ's love for all of us whackoos!

Miracles happen every day ... even in New York City.

Praise God.

Terry ... blown away at The Bowery Mission.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Fact Check

Monday night, the last day of March, my wife and I attended an author's night at the Tenement Museum ( on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Joseph O'Connor, the Irish-born author of Star of the Sea and the 2007 released sequel, Redemption Falls, was interviewed by fellow author Kevin Baker (Dreamland). Star of the Sea, set in 1847, tells the story of a few of the two million Irish who fled their homeland during the great potato famine when over one million Irish died of starvation.

Star of the Sea, which sold one million copies, was O'Connor's first venture into historical fiction. He has written five other novels, two short stories, five works of non-fiction (including The Secret Life of the Irish Male), three stage plays, three screen plays and was editor of a serial novel, Yeats is Dead!, by 15 Irish writers. Not bad for a relatively young man of 44.

Okay, so you get the picture. O'Connor, who lives in Dublin, is an accomplished and successful author. Went to Oxford. Had a year's fellowship to study historical correspondence at the New York City's main research library on Fifth Avenue and Bryant Park. The guy's a pro.

Here's one of the stories he related Monday night.

Pius Mulvey, the main character in Star of the Sea, (not necessarily the protagonist - the book is written in several voices), is walking the deck of the title ship, late in the night, watching the shadow of Ireland fade in the distance, perhaps watching the stars over Ireland for the last time. O'Connor said he wanted to insert some "softer element into what was a rather stark description". So, as Mulvey searched the heavens, he recalled a "nonsense phrase" a teacher had given him to remember the distance of the planets from the sun:

Mary's Violet Eyes Make John Sit Up Nights Praying.

"So, I got a letter from a fellow at the National Astronomical Institute. He said Pluto was not discovered until 1930. Great. The book was selling well, so, before the second printing, I took out 'praying.'

"The second edition comes out, and I get another letter from the same guy at the Astronomical Institute. 'Well, you know, Neptune was not discovered until 1847, so, unless your 'teacher' was an astronomical genius ...' You think he would have told me this the first time.

"So, I changed it again for the next printing. Out comes Neptune. So, my universe kept shrinking the more the book sold!"

O'Connor's point, for which he had many illustrations, is that readers demand accuracy, even in works of fiction. If we're using known places, things, times, people - even though it's a work of fiction - we better get our facts straight.

Or the letters will start filling your mailbox. (Not a bad result, really. At least somebody's reading.)

Friday, March 28, 2008

The man with no socks

The well-dressed man with no socks seemed oblivious to the cold.

Odder, still, was how short his pants were -- that a man in a nice suit and well-shined dress shoes, would opt for pants that ended at his shins, exposing his bare ankles to the biting March wind, instead of longer pants, hiding his shortcomings.

One thing for sure. I wasn’t getting on the train with this guy.

He walked briskly, with purpose. His pace made it difficult for me to catch up, determined as I was to see what kind of face belonged to those exposed ankles.

He wore a three-quarter length trench coat (again, shorter than it should be), unbuttoned, flapping in the breeze. Light, russet hair in short, looping curls. The suit was grey, with light pinstripes. Neatly pressed.

Unaware of the closing pursuit, he plowed his way along 32nd Street, toward the train stop on Park Avenue. I dodged another pedestrian, stepping to the curb to avoid the parking sign pole, and came abreast of my quarry.

New Yorkers generally come to master the fine art of “apparent gaze”. There are, of course, all the unwritten urban rules of eye contact. Young women keep their eyes downcast, searching the sidewalk, in fear of catching the unwelcome glance of an uninteresting man. Train riders (we call it the train, you know – never the Subway) learn to feign interest in the multitude of ads rather than lock onto the eyes of another rider.

We see past what we’re looking at in order to gather in what we should not see.

Coming abreast of the man with no socks, I flipped on the switch for “apparent gaze”. My, that is an interesting shop window, isn’t it? Click – the shutter snapped. No tie, either. Glasses with dark rims. A poor attempt at a mustache. An unwavering stare into some unseen destination. He didn’t flinch as my “apparent gaze” passed over his countenance. Perhaps he didn’t see me. Perhaps his “apparent gaze” had developed the ability to see sideways.

He walked past the entrance for the 6 train, into the human flow of the Park Avenue sidewalk. His pink ankles disappeared last.

Losing my job of 11 years … no, better explained as losing my position, my title, my authority, my self-image … I felt much like the man with no socks.

Smartly dressed, with no place to go, and an urgency to get there.

Desperately clinging to the trappings of normalcy, dangerously close to tripping over the portal for lunacy.

I wouldn’t get on the train with me, either.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A rookie's first at-bat

One of the things that most intrigued me during last August's Philadelphia Christian Writer's Conference ( was author Patricia Hickman's explanation of "emotional blueprint".

She was describing one of her books, a story which was derived from the experience of several family members.

The problem she faced - one that I've faced several times in this fledgling career - was how to convey the real and powerful elements of a very personal story without damaging her family relationships.

Patricia Hickman's solution was what she calls "emotional blueprint".

Instead of writing your sister's story or your mother's story ... or your story ... and finding a posse of angry, or embarassed, relatives banging on your front door (or banging on the front of your head), go back and explore how that circumstance or situation made you feel. Try to experience how it made the others feel who were personally involved.

Hickman ("Words to Go" at
then instructs writers to take that experience, and the emotions and memories from that experience (an emotional blueprint) and overlay on top of it a fictional story.

New names, new place ... new people, dealing with the same circumstances and the same emotions. But it gets us off the hook. We can now fully mine the depths of our personal experience and still protect all those we care most about.

I found it to be a great tool that I'm already putting to use.

Many thanks to Rachelle for helping me to enter the new millennium.