. . . and it all started as a joke.

So I was talking with a friend, back in April or so, who was going on a trip in early/mid June. The itinerary was London, to Paris, to Rome/Vatican, Naples/Pompeii/Capri. The National Gallery in London was one of the planned stops. I jokingly suggested it would be cool to have a photo taken of Tobit’s Dog in front of the Gallery, considering its relevance to Francis “Crafty” Forgeron  in Tobit’s Dog. We bantered about that the way friends do (or at least the way my friends and I do) for awhile, and then I forgot all about it. . . until I got a call from Rick a few days before his departure telling me he was in fact taking a copy of the book with him.

As it turned out, the National Gallery was removed from the itinerary, but while he was in London he did take a photo of Tobit’s Dog from the top of the London Eye, that giant Ferris wheel. I saw it on his phone, but he forgot to load it onto the flash drive of photos he gave to me. Still, London was not wasted. Knowing my love for classic cars, especially British and European classic cars, he did include this:

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Then it was off to Paris, where Rick and his wife, Brenda showed Tobit’s Dog the sights:

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Tobit’s Dog got to go to Notre Dame:

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It even got to go into the cathedral:

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Then it was off to Italy, where Tobit’s Dog seemed especially excited about going to the Vatican. . . while Rick is best described as looking, errr, determined.

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So in to the Vatican:

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Rick said he kept seeing statues similar to these in both the Louvre and the Vatican. He thought it would be a great idea to pose Tobit’s Dog in their hands or whatever. Unfortunately, he decided that ropes, glass, metal grates, rails, security guards and probably Brenda, made it impractical:

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We like to think that this seagull is the same one who was sitting on the chimney of the Sistine Chapel during the election of Pope Francis:

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With the tour of the Vatican done, it was on to Pompeii. By this time Tobit’s Dog was a bit travel weary, so it skipped the ruins. However, the hard travelling. hardworking  hardback was treated to day of rest and relaxation on Capri:

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When Rick returned to the USofA, he brought the copy Tobit’s Dog to me as a gift, complete with stamps, stickers and stuff it had accrued during its travels. It had even been taken into the Vatican to be blessed. Rick said a stranger, with an American accent, said he wanted to read that book, but that it was difficult to get American books in Italy. Rick pointed out the publishers name and told him it should easily be had online at Ignatius Press or Amazon, even in Italy.

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It seems to me that a man can easily have to many acquaintances, but never too many good friends. Another, late, friend of mine, Stephen Carter (still luv’ya and miss ya, man), loved this quote:

“Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.
― Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

If so, I have been very lucky indeed.

Next Chapter Bookstore

The Next Chapter bookstore in New Bern, NC is now carrying Tobit’s Dog. Should you be in downtown New Bern, stop in and check out the store, which in addition to used books features books and art by local artists.

 

Really, visiting the Next Chapter is a good excuse for visiting downtown New Bern, which is almost always a fun do.

http://www.thenextchapternc.com/

Book Signing

I will be having a book signing Saturday, 3/28 at Books a Million in New Bern. I’ll be there approximately from 1 to 4 that afternoon.

Also signing books at that time will be Lee Mims. In addition to being an author, Lee is a very talented artist.

http://www.leemims.com/2015/03/local-author-signing-day-at-books-a-million-in-new-bern-nc/

We will be joined by Simon Spalding. Like Lee Mims, Simon is multi-talented, being a musician in addition to an author. You can find links to some of his Cds and downloads on his website below.

http://www.musicalhistorian.com/book.html

I’m feeling very one dimensional at the moment. Maybe I should take up juggling or something?

…your halflings gruff, and your terrain tough, and your storyline rough

The title of this blog post comes from a blurb my cyber-friend and fellow author, Roger Thomas, wrote in an off-hand way concerning my novel, Bogfoke. Other than being totally wrong about Graham Greene, Roger is a pretty perceptive guy.

Of course, Roger understands that the bogfoke themselves aren’t “halflings” in the Tolkienian sense. But like any decent writer in a more or less casual jotting, he couldn’t resist an almost alliterative rhyme. However, halflings, or hobbits as they are more commonly known, are essentially human. The bogfoke are not.

I wondered if I had made that clear enough in early versions of the novel, so I finally put it straight-forward through the perception of one of the human characters, Remus Wolfe.

The sound of it made the hair stand on Remus Wolfe’s neck. The sound of the bogfoke  was like a chant of human voices, but also with sounds resembling flutes and a soft thrumming like distant drums. The communion of voices made him realize just how not human these creatures were. 

More than a few readers of Bogfoke have expressed a desire for a sequel, but I have to point out that the novel ended with their story well tidied up. I would not rule out a prequel at some point in time. Though I have other tales wanting to be told, the tale of Askuwhetaeau, the old one waiting by the water, would tell of the beginning of the bogfoke and their kindred folk. It would stretch from the marring of Creation, revealing how that set the kindred folk on myriad paths that became not just all the “little people” of so many legends, but also monstrous folk like Grendel, the Banshee and more.

I may not live long enough to get ’round to it, but it percolates in my mind nonetheless.

Also, sharp eyed readers might notice an off stage appearance in Tobit’s Dog of two human characters from Bogfoke.

Finally, links to a couple of Roger Thomas’s work below.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Accidental-Marriage-Roger-B-Thomas-ebook/dp/B00OIBA3R2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1425571464&sr=8-1&keywords=Accidental+Marriage+by+roger+thomas

 

http://www.amazon.com/Last-Ugly-Person-Other-Stories/dp/0898703956/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 

Bogfoke: Free e-book

There is a five day FREE promotion on amazon for my novel Bogfoke. For those who have read Tobit’s Dog, it is not the same sort of book, but if you enjoy fantasy fiction, you might like this. Some people have written of Tobit’s Dog not being quite like anything else. I like to think that while it is a fantasy fiction, Bogfoke is not quite like anything else.

My wife assures me that this is probably because a guy who is odd, not quite like anyone else, would probably produce books like this. If I were to ask, “Is that a compliment?” She’d probably say something like, “That can depend, but at least your oddness has a freshness to it.”

http://www.amazon.com/BOGFOKE-Michael-Nicholas-Richard-ebook/dp/B008A6F1AU/ref=pd_rhf_gw_p_img_3

Holy Dread: Why God scares the crap out of me.

Fear of God, an expression often found in scripture. I understand, of course, that the fear in this context is closer to awe than to our modern understanding fear (something that will or means to do us harm). But there is also “Holy dread” which contains an element of fear in the modern sense. So here are some reasons God frightens me.

 

God is big. Really big. Every now and then I run across a belligerent non-believer who will ask me how I can believe in a sky fairy, or some white-bearded man who lives in the sky. Well, of course, I don’t believe in either of those. Jewish and Christian teachers and theologians have not believed in such things from the very beginning. Even Plato and Aristotle reasoned beyond that sort of nonsense.

God is big. Really big. His very bigness intimidates me. If one of the greatest minds ever, Thomas Aquinas, was ultimately frustrated in his wrestling with the bigness of God, what chance do I have? This God transcends the universe itself. Not only that, this God may very well have created more universes than a super computer could count. That is big. Really Big.

God may have incarnated as a man, but God ain’t just a man. I even feel uncomfortable sometimes in addressing God as a “he”. But the English language embraces personhood as he or she. God is a person, but even with the incarnation, not just.

 

God IS.  “I AM that AM,” God declares to Moses (a cheeky son-of-a-gun when you think about, actually pressing for a response after asking for God’s name!). Being. Existence itself.  Why does this frighten me? Because it means that the only real thing is God. Existence. That which IS. That which is being. Everything not of God simply does not exist. I am an arrogant somebody at times, but not so much that I could ever be smug in believing that after the refining process there will be enough left that can integrate with this unrelenting and ultimate reality to maintain personhood. It seems that it is only God’s will that binds me, and to attempt to exist without it must literally be the greatest of delusions.

 

God instituted free will. This one is difficult. Hey, God, just make me good! God’s reply must surely be, “What? You want to be like Pinocchio doesn’t want to be?” Think about it. Pinocchio’s wish was to be a “real” little boy. Here I am wanting to be essentially a wooden puppet. God lets us choose the not-God. There’s a trick, of course, the not-God is not real. It cannot stand on its own, because only God is reality. Evil is not a real thing. It is the absence of a real thing.  So God isn’t really tricking us. God’s one limitation is his own nature. God can only be who God is. God is more “I am what I am” than Popeye the sailorman.  To choose not-God is to choose not-reality. That is a path to madness. Satan is powerful and intelligent, but he is quite mad, you know.

 

 

God is love. Hey, that sounds nice! God loves everybody! He loves us all completely! Wait . . . that means he loves everybody else as much as he does me. Whoa, that means he loved Hitler and Hitler’s soul as much as he loved Mother Teresa and Mother Teresa’s soul. That means when I pray one of my whiney, give me, give me, prayers, God is not going to do one daggum thing for me at the expense of another soul. Think about that. It’s a good thing God is big, because that right there is some complex stuff. It’s reassuring to think that God loves your soul and is working to save it, but let’s be honest here, it’s a bit unnerving to think that God is working just as hard for every other soul that has ever been, is, or ever will be. I get no favors at the expense of others. This is especially true in what we call “this life” (or what C.S. Lewis called The Shadowlands).

God is infinite. Well, yeah, we understand that! Or do we? Infinite doesn’t mean time keeps on rolling, rolling and God rolls with it. God exists without time. God experiences things in ways we do not, in ways we cannot. Things happen and have happened at the same “time” for God. Ugh, the language gets stretched thin trying to even explain it. So does my brain trying to imagine it.

 

Me. It is said that a newspaper sent an inquiry to G. K. Chesterton (among others) asking “What is wrong with the world today?”  The story goes that his response was, “I am”. So it is me. I am the reason God frightens me. My doubts. My selfishness. Yet, if God isn’t a paradox, God certainly seems to love one. In the end, it might well be Holy Dread that is my salvation.

 

Speaking of the bigness of God, the creation, or formation, scene from Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life. . .

 

The Book of Jotham

 

I have had the Book of Jotham on my list of books to read for sometime, but there are so many books and so few dollars that I had not gotten around to it. Then I became made aware that the author of the book, Arthur Powers, was going to read and review Tobit’s Dog for the Catholic Fiction website.

I like to review books I read, but try to avoid as best I can any sense of “tit for tat” reviewing. It works out however, that the review is evidently written, but not yet published. So I knew the time to strike on The Book of Jotham was now. My wife, Sherri, has our prime account on amazon, so she downloaded it for me under their borrowing plan onto her original kindle so I could read it (she’s all fancy Fire now!).

This is not a long book. I actually read it in less than three hours. To me, it isn’t really even a novel so much as a long, beautifully crafted prose poem. Do not let that scare you away from reading this book. It is a smooth, organic read. The narrative reminded me a bit of John Gardner’s Grendel, but without being the least bit derivative.

Often we will describe a book as “hard to put down”, in this case I would say it is “easy to keep up.” There is scant reliance on subtle manipulation of chapters as used by so many authors (myself included) to break the short story-like arc of each chapter that make a convenient place to stop reading for awhile. No cliff hanger chapters to seduce you into the next chapter and bind your interest. No, this is like being a leaf on a smooth, irresistible current of water.

I suffered from a bit of in-ordinate pride when I quickly realized that, in a sense, we are Jotham.   An observation to which author admits  in an afterword: yet, this is no simple allegory. The Book of Jotham works on too many levels for that. It also expresses the essence of the often talked about “personal relationship with Jesus Christ’ without losing sight of the veiled power of the divine. It is also a bittersweet hymn to those among us who are physically and mentally challenged.

Read this book. If you have amazon prime borrow it. That costs you nothing and puts a few bucks in the authors bank account. In my case, this is a book I will want to own in the paper and ink version (still the most beloved method of reading for me, with its full range of the senses). It may have to wait until my bank account has a few more of the monetary version of Star Trek’s expendable crew persons, or I may slip it onto a birthday or Christmas wish list, but I’m going to want a personal, old school version of it sooner rather than later.

Thinking upon this further, I think in the character of Jotham we can see elements of Karl Rahner’s Anonymous Christian notion.  I do not know if the author meant for that to be the case, but we can see how Jotham responds to grace with a spiritual instinct rather than an interior intellectual dialog.  There are obvious impediments to his intellectual capacity to  understand, but his heart knows.

 

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00B1Z7VWI/ref=s9_simh_gw_p351_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=02B64ZPNS76WDFYA1BMT&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1688200382&pf_rd_i=507846

N.T. Wright

I have been much influenced in my theology by Rev. N. T. Wright. I don’t, of course, agree completely with him on all things (or I’d be an Anglican or he a Roman Catholic), but his understanding of union of Heaven and Earth as the ultimate reality (as opposed of the notion that somehow it’s all about just going to Heaven) clicked for me. It was a simpler, clearer version of the concepts in De Chardin’s work.

In any event, here is a blog with video you might like or at least consider.

 

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/yimcatholic/2014/06/n-t-wright-on-reality-gay-marriage-and-being-on-the-wrong-side-of-history.html

The Paper Route

It was my pleasure recently to get a copy of the art book “The Paper Route.”  It is by a local New Bern artist, Gerry King. I don’t know if I would have liked it as much as I do if it had not been art from/about/around New Bern, but I do know that I would have liked it to some degree. The art is just my kind of thing. I linked to it on the Tobit’s Dog facebook page, but just feel compelled to say more.

Reading and looking, I was struck by the familiarity despite, that at the time Mr. King was a paper boy, New Bern was a much more racially divided city than it is now. Part of the familiarity for me was that I lived in the historical section of New Bern from about the 6th through 12th grades. The revitalization of those old houses was just beginning. It is a beautiful area now, but somehow seems a little sterile compared to the old days. Things seemed more organic and the old houses bore a layered patina of their history back then. 

That comes across proudly and profoundly in Mr. King’s art. Rainy Day On Queen Street, for instance, evokes not just the visual memories, but fresh scents of a landscape washed clean by a shower, the sounds of water dripping off roof eaves and trees, the sound of tires hissing in the rain.

Liberty Street Back Yard, from my perspective  could just as easily have been Change Street Back Yard because it has the same rambling organic quality I remember from my middle school years. 

Then there is The Letter Writer, in the interest of full disclosure, I absolutely love art work that depicts paths, doors and windows, so I was bound to feel the emotional evocation of this piece. I’ve seen these images in my own life many times. The window  and an atmosphere like layers of time between the glass and the girl/woman beyond. Outstanding.

I could go on and on about each piece. There’s something about many New Bernians, and Ex-New Bernians, that when talking about the old city they’ll sometimes refer to it amongst themselves as “The Bern”. That description is a loaded one. For one New Bernian to say to another “The Bern” is like a code that unfolds more than a mere geographical location. It is a reference to place, time, people, weather, experiences we have somehow shared. The Paper Route captures it all. If someone said I had to describe the book in two words, well to fellow New Bernians, my response would be simply, “The Bern.”

Check out the website: http://artbygerryking.com/

The Last Ugly Person by Roger B. Thomas

I chanced upon the short story collection “The Last Ugly Person”  because the author wrote a favorable and insightful review of Tobit’s Dog. We traded some messages and emails that led to me sending him a copy of my earlier novel, Bogfoke, and him sending me a copy of his collection of short stories.

Short stories seem out of favor these days, and this collection proves that is too bad. This particular collection ranges from the prose-poem length “I Have Slaved For You” to the near novella length “Numaris.” Like C.S. Lewis or Charles Williams, they lean much on allegory.

The Last Ugly Person, from which the collection gets is name, is a particularly finely crafted story. I mean, it is jewel-like in its precision.  Of course, the problem with allegory is that it is very difficult to give many plot details for fear of revealing too much. I have mentioned Lewis and Williams, but there seemed also to be a bit of Steinbeck influencing this story. I was particularly reminded of Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday. It is entirely possible, however, that I am connecting my own reading history to something that had no influence on the author.

Numaris, was nearly as well crafted,and was a little more entertaining to me owing to what I think  are Tolkienian influences (and I love Tolkien). I should stress here, though, that each of these stories stand on their own well apart from any influences. It’s just that when constrained in reviewing them by their very nature, I feel compelled to try and praise them by “type”. Numaris could be an excellent novel, or series of novellas if the author could come up with suitable denouement without straining the veil of allegory. It was easily the most “fun” of the stories in the collection.

The Purging. A story that reminded me of a gritty, sand in your teeth, sweaty hat-band Western combined with Arthurian legend. Yeah, it was that strange and compelling. At first I wasn’t sure I liked it, due to the nature of its allegory and my own theological bent, but it grew on me while reading it, and even more so afterward as I reconsidered it. It won me over.

I Have Slaved For You, was a short, short story that reminded me of parable done as a prose poem. I’m a fan of prose poems.

All in all an excellent collection. I wish short story collections could make a comeback. This collection that is over a decade in release just underscores how much they are missed (at least by me). Roger Thomas has a forthcoming novel  from Ignatius Press, The Accidental Marriage.This collection has more than whet my appetite to check it out.