I’m Like Bogie, But Cooler

James Rubart says many interesting things. Which is a good thing, since he is a writer of such big selling books as The Chair and Rooms.

I was locked in a room with him sitting in an uncomfortable chair last weekend, along with best selling legal thriller writer Cara Putman and about twenty-five other folks. We were learning about story. Okay, I was learning about story. I can’t speak for what the other twenty-four were doing. We’d all paid to be at the ACFW, and I wanted to get my monies worth.

In the midst of the intriguing discussion Rubart said, “Tell me your three favorite movies, and I will tell you the theme of your life, which is really the theme of all your stories.”

I told you he says interesting things.

What I wondered was, is it true? Can someone deduce your major life theme (assuming a person actually has a life theme, which is not something I’m sold on completely) from the films you really like. He did the experiment with himself–and showed how it fit into the theme of his life and therefore was the overarching theme of his books. Then he performed the wizardry on a couple of other attenders to the seminar.

It was fun and entertaining. But is it true?

As others were talking and sharing, I began to make the list of my top three movies. This is a near impossible task, as I have shared here before. I love many movies across many genres. Picking three is a fool’s errand. But I worked at it.

The first thing I did was work on stand alones. That meant Star Trek II was out the window, and so was The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Series of movies can grab so many different themes and are primarily character driven. My love for them might have more to do with memory or character bonding than anything else. That is why From Russia With Love can’t be on the list either. No Indiana Jones. No Star Wars.

Should I put The Godfather on the list? It is such a great film, but I decided it might be in my top ten, but not the top three. This is the same fate as The Outlaw Josey Wales. These movies are wonderful, and in the top ten, but not the top three. Same goes for you, Dr. Strangelove and Mars Attacks (although I have found Mars Attacks to be prophetic. Someday I’ll blog about that, but that day is not today).  As for recent films, Spotlight came close. Very close, to making the list. But it didn’t.

Before I give you the top three, a caveat. The list may change. Nothing is settled. I reserve the right to change my mind.

  1. Casablanca
  2. North by Northwest
  3. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

Bogart5a_thumbThere they are. The mother of all cliches, the greatest spy movie, and pure 1970s alien nostalgia.

Now find my theme! I’ll give you a moment to work it out.

Okay, I’m tired of waiting. It took me a bit to work through what Rubart was saying, but then it hit me. Each one of these films features a man trying to find a way to beat the system that is blatantly set against him. Bogie has to beat the Franco-German officials to find a way out for Ingrid Bergman. Cary Grant must find a way to survive in the face of Russian spies, Martin Landau, and American intelligence. Richard Dreyfuss knows what he saw and where he must go even though everything is telling him he’s wrong.

My theme is me against the system. You can see how Spotlight, Dr. Strangelove, The Godfather, The Outlaw Jose Wales, and even Mars Attacks all fit this same basic template? Interesting (strokes beard), very interesting.

Realization washed over me when I found that Butch Gregory’s theme is the same. The inherent evil in the broken system was a major part of the plot in The Little Girl Waits and the conspiracy angle was high in How Great Is The Darkness.

Then there are my monster stories, which I have taken down because I am re-releaseing them with five times more story early next year, which are all about the evil system of mad scientists at Deep Cove.

Guess what? That motif pops up, not as strong, but it pops up, in my current WIP.

I guess Rubart was right.

I’m gonna turn on comments for this post. I’d love to hear your three favorite stories and how it fits.

FREE!!! FIRST CHAPTER

Below is the Prologue and first chapter of my exciting new thriller, How Great Is the Darkness. If you’re interested in purchasing a copy, click here to go to my Amazon author page.

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How Great Is The Darkness

A Pastor Butch Gregory Novel

Jamie D. Greening

Copyright Jamie Greening, 2016.  All Rights Reserved

http://www.butchgregory.com

http://www.athanatosministries.org

ISBN:  978-1-936830-83-1

The cover art for this novel is a 1599 painting titled Judith Beheading Holofernes. It was painted by the Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and is currently located at Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica at Palazzo Barberini in Rome. This is the painting Monica Bennett studied in college that would inspire her later in life.

 

PROLOGUE

People receive inspiration for their behavior, whether good or bad, from all kinds of places. Take, for example, the story out of the Apocrypha about the brave woman named Judith.

The Assyrians had come to conquer Israel, just as they had conquered every other nation in the region.  The Assyrian general Holofernes brought his troops against the Israelite town of Bethulia. The Israelites were feckless in their defense, and all seemed lost. A beautiful young Jewish widow named Judith understood what was wrong. The Israelites inability to stop the Assyrians was a result of their unfaithfulness in following God’s laws as given to Moses. In her frustration, the heroine takes matters into her own hands with subterfuge that would make a Cold War spy envious.

She and her unnamed servant girl pretended to be willing to betray the Israelites, feigning the Assyrians and Holofernes with promises of secrets and strategic information. She ingratiated herself to the general, and so he lowered his suspicions of her. Holofernes got drunk and passed out under her seductive wiles. In this defenseless state, Judith and her servant beheaded him, sneaked out of the camp, and then carried the bloody trophy back home to the Israelites. The Jews received inspiration from Judith’s bravery, thus they defeated the Assyrians.

The story is a morally ambiguous Hebrew novel designed to teach the importance of purity, law, faithfulness, and bravery in the midst of a polluted culture that stands in opposition to faith.

Monica Bennett first heard the story of Judith in an art history class lecture during her first year of college. It soon became her favorite story, as well as the inspiration for her terrible deeds.

 


Chapter One

A Phone Call

 

Frosty air shot out of Michael Westgrave’s mouth. He glanced behind him to see if someone followed. He didn’t see anyone, but he couldn’t tell because of the darkness.

His breath quickened. The nighttime fog was heavy. November raindrops formed and fell to the earth. Michael ran off the trail.  He sprinted across the shadowy baseball field in the middle of the park, then toward the lot lights. There was a tiny break in the hedgerow in front of him, and he slid through it, emerging into the parking lot where his Lexus sat. He pushed through the gap in the hedge and transitioned from mud puddles and wet grass to slippery pavement. When he did, his footing gave way. He fell to the ground.

Michael popped back up, wiped off his pants. There was a slight tingle in the right foot, like it might be sprained. He realized his left hand was throbbing. The humming overhead lights revealed blood gathering in the palm of the hand. Loose gravel had dug into him like burrowing worms. It burned. The crystal on his Omega Seamaster wristwatch was smashed, a victim of gravity and other forces of physics like momentum, velocity, and the crushing power of mass.

There was no time to worry about a little blood or broken glass now. Michael limped as fast as he could to the opposite side of the lot where his car waited for him.

Inside his car, he felt safe—safe from the darkness, safe from the people chasing him, safe from his own bad decisions. Michael Westgrave was smart enough to know the feeling of safety was an illusion. The interior of his luxury sedan was only a temporary sanctuary, a momentary elixir for the panic ripping his insides apart. Eventually he would be found, or found out, and then nowhere would be safe. Not even his car.

He needed to do something to fix this problem, and fast.

But what? They had trapped him like a wild beast, like a circus animal whipped into submission, forced to perform tricks at the sting of a lash. He had lost his freedom. Michael Westgrave was no longer the master of his own fate. He was a slave, and the realization made him sick.

Michael didn’t drive home. Instead, he drove from the park to his office on the other side of town, the money side, of Sydney, Washington. He found a large dishrag in the office kitchen. The gravel clanked against the porcelain sink when he pushed it out of his flesh. He wrapped the rag around his oozing hand. He hobbled back to his desk.  Once inside, he took off his shoe to check his ankle. It had swollen but didn’t appear to be broken or too badly damaged. It felt so good to take the wet shoe off that he took off the other one, along with his socks. Michael Westgrave let his feet relax in the luxurious carpet so richly provided for his study.

His watch, however, didn’t make out as well. He took it off his wrist. He stared at it, snarled, and laid it on his mahogany desk. The destroyed timepiece looked out of place on the immaculate desktop, where everything was tidy and perfect—an opened organizer that only had his secretary’s handwriting in it, a fancy desktop pendulum he bought years ago at Sharper Image, leather-bound books he’d never read, and an oversized lambskin Bible, positioned perfectly in the middle of the desk, opened, as it had been for almost five years, to the same page of Scripture.

The picture perfect desk told an idealized story about Michael’s life. It was the life he wanted others to believe he lived, a life of order and stability, grounded in wisdom with an appreciation for the sophisticated blessings of life. Michael worked hard to cultivate the image of success.

The smashed watch told an altogether different story of Michael’s existence. This was the life he worked so hard to keep hidden, a life of broken beauty, destroyed by carelessness and arrogance, clutched to a past that, if known, would ruin him.

Neither story was authentic. He’d lived both lives, but neither one was who he really was. He was somewhere in the middle; he lived between two worlds, at home in neither.

Michael opened the bottom drawer of his large desk. He pulled out a glass tumbler along with a half empty bottle of Macallan twenty-one-year-old scotch. He poured out two fingers, then savored its complex flavor and texture. He took another sip, then read the Scripture that was literally opened to him almost every day, but which he’d not read in years. It was the Twenty-Third Psalm, written in Petersen’s popular modern translation.

God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing. Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.

The irony of the passage cut his soul, dividing it as a sharp knife divides a slaughtered animal. He felt anything but security. He had caught his breath, though, and he did have a good drink. However, Death Valley felt close and he didn’t think it was God’s beauty or love that were chasing him. It was demons that chased him, vile demons that used his past to threaten his present and future. The Bible talked about heaven. The succubus promised him hell.

There was no escape. He was trapped.

Reaching down again to the same drawer that held the booze, he pulled out a SIG Sauer 9mm pistol. Maybe he could just go ahead and live in the House of God now.  He’d really rather not give his enemies a chance to ruin him or hurt his family. His career and life would never be revived in this lifetime. He had managed to turn the cup of blessing into a bottomless brew of curses. It would be quick to end it all right here, right now.

Michael Westgrave grasped the custom rosewood grip, squeezed the cold steel, racked the slide to chamber a round, then put the barrel of the pistol in his mouth. His finger was on the trigger.

The thought that he should at least finish his drink before he pulled the trigger sparkled inside his mind. It felt like a good thought to him, so he put the pistol down beside the broken watch. Swirling the drink around in his mouth, he looked at the photographs on the wall. A sad smile swept across his face as he beheld the various photographs of him, his fashion-model-looks wife, and their three blonde children. There were other pictures as well. One of him with the governor at an awards ceremony for community service. There was a picture of him on K2, water skiing in Hawaii, and the obligatory photo from his African safari.

Taking his drink with him, he walked to the gallery wall. One particular picture captured his imagination. It was taken two years earlier at the dedication of the new children’s hospital on the south side of town. Some of his colleagues were there:  Stuart, John, Allison, Terence, Fred, Calvin, R. T., and several others he’d never gotten to know. There at the end, though, was Butch.

Michael took a drink.

Could Butch help him? Of all the people in the world, Butch Gregory was one of the few he trusted. Butch had been refined by fire. Maybe he could help Michael get out of the fire?

Sitting back down behind his desk, he set his drink down, pulled out his phone from his leather jacket.

“Michael, how are you old friend?” said the voice on the other end.

“Hi Butch. I’m okay—I guess?”  Michael took the last drink from his glass tumbler.

“Then what’s up?”

“Well, I guess maybe I’m not okay. Do you think we could talk tomorrow, I mean, do you have time in your schedule? I know that tomorrow is Wednesday and all, but if you’re able, I’d like to talk to you about some things.”

“Yeah, Michael, absolutely. I’ve got an 8:00 AM breakfast appointment, but other than that my day is open. When do you want to get together?”

“Is the morning too soon, say around 10:00 AM?”

“Sure,” Butch said. “You want to meet at Starbucks for coffee? You can buy me a cinnamon dolce latte and a blueberry scone.”

“Butch, I’ll bring you a latte and a scone, but I’d like,” he paused as he put down his empty glass, “no, I need to talk somewhere more private than a coffee shop. Is it asking too much for you to meet me here at my office? I don’t want to be around a lot of people right now. It’s inconvenient, I know, but is that okay, to meet me here?”

“Yeah Michael, that’s fine, but are you sure you don’t need to talk tonight?”  Butch paused and then exhaled, “It seems to me like there is a bit of edge to your voice, not that I’m trying to overanalyze you. It’s just that it seems like something is wrong. It wouldn’t take but a few minutes for me to come meet you now.”

“Butch, something is wrong, but now is no good. I’ll tell you everything tomorrow. For now, I’m going to go home and go to bed. I want to be with Celeste and my kids. I suddenly miss my family very much.”

“If that’s what you want, okay, but . . .”

Before Butch could finish the sentence Michael ended the call. It was enough for Michael that he would see Butch tomorrow. He could feel the strange and encouraging feeling of hope on the horizon, or at least on his calendar. He had hope, a hope that his friend might somehow show him the way out of this mess. Butch Gregory would rescue him. Everything was going to be okay.

Michael put his shoes back on, but he threw the wet socks into the garbage can. He hid the bottle of scotch and shot glass safely in its usual bottom drawer, away from any janitorial or administrative prying eyes. He left the broken wristwatch on the desk, but put the pistol in the inside pocket of his jacket.

No sense taking any chances.

He turned the light out in his office. His wet shoes squeaked all the way across the hall tile to the front door of the building. It could have simply been the alcohol, or it might have been the decreasing levels of adrenaline dissipating from his bloodstream, but Michael felt optimistic as he opened the door to the administrative complex and stepped outside. It was probably because he trusted Butch, and even though Michael didn’t have any idea of what he could do to escape the situation, he believed Butch Gregory would. God was with Pastor Butch Gregory, recent history showed that, and everyone in Sydney knew it.

He punched the code to lock the door, then he walked down the sidewalk to the small parking lot behind the building. Just as he turned the corner, he heard the rush of footsteps. His movements were a bit slowed, so he didn’t completely get turned around before the metal rod smashed down on his head.

 

DESERT ISLAND DEVOTION

A cruel, mean-spirited thought entered my mind this morning.  It was so heartbreaking I just had to share it with you.

What if, in some bizarro Rod Serling moment, you were marooned on an island.  You had plenty of supplies to live out your life to a long old age, so food, water, and shelter were not problem.  The problem was in this nightmarish world you could only choose five of the books in the Bible to have with you.  It is a similar conundrum to the ubiquitous “Psalm 126” where you’re stranded and can only have five albums of music.

Told another way–perhaps you’re stuck in a bleak story, something like Fahrenheit 451, and you can only have five books of the Bible because that is all you can safely hide from the book police.

Which five would you take?  It is heartbreaking because the whole Bible is precious, a “perfect treasure” that is linked to my very being.  So which ones?  If I had to make such a choice, here is what they would be.

  1. Psalms.  Without a doubt, if I’m on a desert island, I’m gonna need Psalms–all 150 of them.
  2. Isaiah.  It was close between Jeremiah and Isaiah, but in the end I decided the poetics of Isaiah would be helpful in my exile.
  3. Exodus.  I can’t have both Genesis and Exodus, and while Genesis is a great book, I think I’d take Exodus because it contains the great deliverance story of Israel, the decalogue, and a lot of other spiritual data.
  4. LukeJohnLuke.  John.  See, this one is tough.  Of the synoptics, Luke is the easy choice, but choosing between Luke and John, now that is hard.  I need a gospel on this island, and in the end I chose John simply because of the devotional, meditative quality of the material.
  5. Romans.  Of course it is Romans.  Romans contains such dense theological material and it is littered with many scripture quotations (which gives me insight into other books I couldn’t choose) all of which allows me plenty to chew on on this imaginary island.

I sure hope I never have to make this choice.  I would be interested to know what choices you would make?

A PREVIEW OF THE EXCITING NEW BOOK, THE WARDEN-WATCH BY A. R. HORVATH

Several months ago I was blessed to be read a preview copy of A. R. Horvath’s newest book, The Warden-Watch.  To say it was delightful is an understatement.  The book, written primarily from the first person perspective is about a boy who finds himself wrapped up in a dangerous world where fantasy, faith, history, and reality blend in ever increasing ways.  The big idea of the book is, “What if all the old stories were true,” and from there it takes off.  One of the best ways to describe it is as a mash-up.  This is the first novel in a series.417caJJFvaL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_ With Horvath’s permission I have included part of the first chapter here for you to read.  You can buy the book at Amazon or the author’s website http://thebloodking.com/.  I recommend it as fun reading for anyone, but it might really be a good fit for those looking for fantasy YA that is written from a Christian perspective.  It would also make great beach reading.

It was about mid-afternoon, and the sun had already dropped quite a bit from its noon-day position at the top of the sky. A telephone pole cast its long shadow over the tool shed. The first thing that caught my attention was the sound of something ceramic getting tossed to the ground, presumably on account of the wind. Something wasn‟t right. The trees were waving in the wind and the swing on the swing set was creaking, but there wasn‟t breeze enough to push pottery around. I turned around to see what was broken and, out of the corner of my eyes, I saw a shadow leap, as though startled. The strangeness of this observation did not register in my mind. I continued to gaze blankly in that direction until it dawned on me that there were now two long, narrow shadows lying across the tool shed: one explained by the telephone pole and the other explained by… Well, that was the thing. There wasn‟t an explanation for this second, new shadow. There was no corresponding object like there was with the telephone pole. Still, as odd as that might be, I wasn‟t feeling particularly inquisitive. I probably would have never thought any more about it except that as I sat there on the back deck, the new shadow began rotating in a circle, like the hands of a clock. I could remain no longer in my summer daze; I scratched my head. The shadows of the trees were sweeping back and forth on the lawn as would normally be expected. That is proper behavior for a shadow. No sooner did it occur to me that here was something worth fighting the heat and humidity to investigate did the insolent shadow cease moving. It was as though it had spied me spying it, and froze. It was all to the worse, however, since now the shadow was perpendicular to the shadow of the telephone pole! Not only was there a shadow with no corresponding object, but it was lying in the completely wrong direction. With a sigh and a groan, I stood up. Some instinct kicked up in me, and I felt like if I was going to make a move to learn more, I had better be sly: this shadow was clever. I nonchalantly made my way in the direction of the shed. The shadow didn‟t move. The wind was still blowing, the trees were swaying and the swing set was creaking, but the shadow held fast. I knew that when I got closer I wouldn‟t be able to see on top of the shed, so I decided to make off for the tree-line, which was about halfway up a modest hill. Then, when I circled back, I‟d be on the slope of the hill and would be able to see the roof of the shed for a little longer. I feigned that I saw a butterfly and wandered towards the trees. I had never tried to outwit a wayward shadow before, but I hoped it didn‟t take much more cunning than this. After all, I am just twelve years old. I have only begun to fill up my bag of tricks. Though my legs took me on a long, out of the way ramble, I never took my eye off of the top of the shed. It was probably for this reason that the shadow refused to budge. Even as I changed my perspective as I circled the shed, I couldn‟t deduce what was making the shadow. The more I thought about it, the more I was certain that I had seen that shadow leap into existence out of nothing. I steeled myself; one doesn‟t let one‟s guard down around such renegade shadows! As I finally drew near to the shed, it seemed to me that the shadow was now moving, but just a bit. It was very hard to tell. Could it be that the shadow knew I was approaching, and it thought that by slow, incremental movements, it could fool me? Do shadows have brains? I concluded that my best bet was a surprise burst of speed to take the shadow off its guard. That is what I did. When I got closer to the shed, I leapt towards an old milk crate, alighted upon it, and pulled myself up so that I could just get my eyes over the edge of the roof and could see on top of the shed. Who was surprised more? Take a piece of paper and hold it so you are looking at its edge. If you knew nothing else about 2 paper, you would think it was just a thin, white line. Now take the paper and slowly tilt it. The surface of the paper gets bigger and bigger until at last you can read clearly what is on it. My first glimpse of the shadow was a bit like that. As I made my leap, the shadow „tilted‟ to reveal a larger form. Only, what I saw was not a drawing or a scribble. It was a full bodied ape-man, poised to jump, and hiding in plain sight on top of my shed! When my eyes locked with its eyes, it fell over backwards, startled. I was pretty startled myself, and I fell off of the milk crate. The ape-man had fallen off the shed on the side opposite of me and I, like a fool, gathered up my five-foot, three-inch self and darted around to catch it in the act of retreat. It was Big Foot. Sasquatch. The North American Yeti. It was a huge beast and I was a little man, but I just had to get one more look! It was tall and hairy but its face was wise and startled, rubbing its head in apparent pain. When I came around the corner of the shed and looked upon it, it regained its composure and made like it was going to run away. I don‟t really know what I was thinking. Maybe I felt that if such a large thing was scurrying away in fear from me, then I had nothing to fear from it. Maybe I knew what all the adults would think if I told them what had happened but had nothing to show for it. More truly, I considered the fame I‟d enjoy if I came away from the incident with a fistful of hair that couldn‟t be identified. At any rate, before it could make its run to the woods, I was already leaping towards it. I grabbed hold of its arm… its eyes grew large and white… and my eyes grew large and white… as what I was doing started to settle in. It jumped!—I was still attached! To my astonishment, the world grew larger and larger. Big Foot and I were getting smaller and smaller as we hurtled through the air. I just barely had time to notice that we were falling into a cleaned out mason jar that had been resting against the edge of the shed for who knows how long, before even the jar was so large it seemed like it contained the sky… and then it was dark, dark, dark. “And that,” I said, “is how I came to be in the Great Cavern Council of the Wardens.” I was explaining myself to an assembly of large, hairy creatures. I was standing…

You’ll have to buy it to read more!