Monday, February 27, 2012

A Game of Shadows

What is it about Sherlock Holmes that is so enduring? I've been in love with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's beloved Sherlock and Watson since I was about ten years old. This past week I went to see the latest Sherlock movie, A Game of Shadows and I loved it. I would have liked more romance to balance out the action, but it was still great and I'm coming around to like Robert Downey, Jr. as a different type of Sherlock, I had trouble with that in the first one with Downey, but he seems to have captured Sherlock's intellect and shrewdness in this one and I like it. Jude Law is great as ever as Watson.

Professor Moriarity played by Jared Harris is an excellent villain.

Here's a link about Doyle's Biography A paragraph on this site reveals a lot and so much I didn't know: " The young medical student met a number of future authors who were also attending the university, such as for instance James Barrie and Robert Louis Stevenson. But the man who most impressed and influenced him, was without a doubt, one of his teachers, Dr. Joseph Bell. The good doctor was a master at observation, logic, deduction, and diagnosis. All these qualities were later to be found in the persona of the celebrated detective Sherlock Holmes."

Also, I think he solved a dilemma that many of us struggle with. I wish it was this easy for me. He had a serious bout with the flu that nearly killed him. "When his health improved, he came to realize how foolish he had been trying to combine a medical career with a literary one. "With a wild rush of joy," he decided to abandon his medical career. He added, "I remember in my delight taking the handkerchief which lay upon the coverlet in my enfeebled hand, and tossing it up to the ceiling in my exultation. I should at last be my own master."

I love a great mystery. Is this what makes the team of Sherlock and Watson so enduring and endearing? This team goes on and on . . . why is that? 

My very favorite Sherlock Holmes book and movie was and is, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Do you have a favorite? Are you a fan of a different type of mystery?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Where Do Artists Fit in the Church?

If you have the gift of teaching, evangelism, hospitality, or helps, there is a place for you in the Church. If you have administration skills, musical talent, or simply like to serve, there is a place for you in the Church. But if you are an artist, a writer, a poet, or an actor, you’re out of luck.

Makoto Fujimura, founder of International Arts Movement, believes that:

Christians often misunderstand the role of creativity. Few churches get involved in the arts, and as a result, many creative individuals feel separated and alienated from God and His body of believers.

That’s how I’ve been feeling lately — “separated and alienated.” Probably because the last few weeks, in our church, we’ve been talking about spiritual gifts and callings. The funny thing is: It’s not ignorance of my calling that alienates me; it’s awareness of my calling that alienates me.

I mean, where do artists fit in the Church?

The church needs people to man the nursery, host Bible studies, organize social events, plan outreach opportunities, visit the sick, counsel the hurting, and recycle bulletins. But… poets? Seriously. What practical purpose do poets serve in the local church?

It’s a conundrum. On the one hand, if God “calls” some members of His Body to write fiction, direct theater, sculpt, or paint abstracts, how do those callings practically relate to the local church? If they don’t, are we prepared to say that artists and actors are peripheral to the real mission of God on earth? And if they’re not — if artists actually serve an important role in the Body of Christ — why isn’t there more of a practical place for them?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Forgiving can be hard

Ever since I read Beth's post on forgiveness, I've wanted to write and share this testimony about my brother and what I learned about forgiving others.

The theme in all my books is reconciliation through forgiveness. Whether my manuscript is historical or contemporary, that is the theme. I suppose that is my brand. When readers pick up my books, that’s what they expect and that’s what they get. Sometimes the forgiving and reconciliation is with God and other times it may be person to person, but it’s there.

Forgiving others for wrongs they do is one of the most difficult things that many Christians have to do. When we or those we love have been deeply hurt, embarrassed, or humiliated by another, forgiving is the last thing on our minds. God’s forgiveness is unconditional, and quick to be given when we ask Him, so why then is it difficult for us to do the same?

I had this lesson brought home to me in a very real and meaningful way with my brother. Ever since he was a teenager, he’d been in trouble with the law. He was in and out of juvenile institutions until he reached adulthood. What happened to him in those places is too horrible to even describe now, but we didn’t know those things then.

When I married, he was at my wedding, but not many months later, at age fifteen, he was once again in detention. When he was finally arrested as an adult on drug charges and sexual crimes, I gave up on him and turned my back.

Off and on for the next ten years he tried to rehabilitate, and we’d once again have contact, but I didn’t want him around my sons. His lifestyle led him in the wrong direction that completely alienated me from him. My mother and father were deeply hurt by his actions, but they never gave up on him and supported him whenever they could.

However, at one point I decided I’d had enough and wrote him out of my life. I no longer had a brother and never talked about or mentioned him to anyone. To me, he no longer existed. That went on for many, many years until the year our oldest son planned to be married. Two weeks before the wedding, my mother called to tell me that my brother had been arrested again. This time he’d taken a young boy and left town with my dad’s credit cards.
His name, crimes, and arrest were all over the front pages of the newspapers and on TV news reports. I was thankful my last name was now different and no one would connect him to me. No one did, but God knew.
Very early one morning, mother called to tell me that he’d been visited in prison by her pastor and that Johnny had made a confession of faith and asked forgiveness from the Lord. I told her that was impossible and didn’t want to talk about it.

Later, as I was praying and getting ready for my day, a feeling came over me that I cannot describe. It was as though I was suddenly completely alone. After seeking out our chaplain at school and telling him about my brother, he handed me his Bible, open to a verse in Matthew, and simply said, “Martha, you know what you have to do.”

I read the words of Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Tears filled my eyes and I sobbed to my Heavenly Father and asked his forgiveness for my actions, and then forgave my brother and let all the bitterness flow from me.

That feeling of being so alone disappeared and once again the arms of our Lord wrapped around me and assured me that no matter what my brother had done, he had been forgiven. I wrote a letter to him and told him what had happened. He was convicted as a pedophile and sentenced to sixty years in prison. Since that time we have corresponded regularly and since our parents’ deaths, I’ve been the one to support him and make sure he has what he needs while in prison.

The ironic thing is that my friends didn’t turn away from me in disgust when they learned about John, but surrounded me with love and compassion and admiration. My testimony in the months and years since then has touched many lives and became the basis for my writing theme of forgiveness and reconciliation. Johnny is still in prison, but he is also a son of our Lord Jesus Christ and my brother.

Some of you have shared difficult times in forgiving others, but the peace that comes is from God for having been obedient to His teachings and commands.

Which is more difficult for you, seeking forgiveness and saying you're sorry or that you were wrong or forgiving someone else for doing something to you or a loved one?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Facing Monsters

Well, my second book Enemies of the Cross was released last Tuesday. It continues the suspenseful story begun in The Strange Man and takes the series into some unexpected places, setting the stage for what will be an epic battle between good and evil. You should really go buy it :p

However, what should have been an exciting time—with the release of the book—was marred by personal tragedy. Just a couple days before the release, I discovered that my best friend had been involved with child pornography for many years. So much so, in fact, that he has been arrested and sentenced to spend the next ten years in a federal prison. As the grisly details surfaced on the news of what authorities found on his computer, I felt a deep black hole open up in my heart, devouring every good memory I had with my friend. We grew up together, he was the best man at my wedding, he stood by my wife’s side during her stay in the hospital after my first daughter was born. This man was a brother to me and now to discover this ...

I spent the first day I learned of his crimes crying, nearly to the point of vomiting. The next day I felt nothing but a cold emptiness as my entire outlook on so many years of friendship was painted in a new, disturbing light. I’m still processing it, and imagine I will be for many, many years to come (though I am doing better). I’m thankful to God that my own young children were not harmed by his actions, but I’m left in a weird sort of limbo—torn between being disgusted and oddly compassionate. Christ calls us to love our enemies, but He doesn’t deny that we will have enemies. People who are opposed to the things we stand for, or who could be a physical danger to us or those we love.

I do still love my friend, though I acknowledge that he has fallen into a pit of evil. Can he climb out of that pit? Only with years of therapy, perhaps—but, more importantly, the transformative power of Christ. Will he accept that, though? I don’t know. How will I respond? I don’t know that either. I confess I need some transformative power myself to overcome the conflicting feelings I have.

In some respects, Enemies of the Cross—finished long before any of this surfaced—proved to be darkly prophetic to my own life, and seems to only further prove the point of why I write horror. Why I need to write horror. I need to write about fictional monsters with claws and fangs and slime because I’ve seen—now first hand—that there are more terrible things in the real world. Incomprehensible things. I need that fictional world as a retreat, where the monsters are easy to identify and quickly vanquished by good and noble souls. Where righteousness can conquer over depravity, where hope always wins out in the end. I need that place, however fantastic it might be. Because, ultimately, I want to believe that those things aren’t just possible in fantasy, but in reality as well. God is still more powerful than all the wickedness of man and forces of hell. Christ is still in the business of righting wrongs and saving souls—even those souls we might not initially think are worthy of saving. I believe the world can still be a place where good conquers evil, where hope and faith are our only driftwood in the dark, tumultuous seas. I want to believe that... I must. Otherwise, what hope do we have?

So, I will face this the only way I know how. By lassoing the fears lurking in my heart and binding them to the page, where I will do battle with them once again.

I’m a writer. If the pen is mightier than the sword, then I have wars to wage.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Promote Your Writing Through Speaking!

Recently, I was listening to an interview of a Christian speculative fiction author. A blogtalk radio “station” out of Canada with a listening audience in the hundreds of thousands had granted this author an hour long interview to talk about his book. As I listened, I was appalled. Was this man a communicator? Didn’t he write a novel? How was it he was such an inarticulate speaker?
I began to listen to other podcast interviews and online interviews and I discovered something. As authors, we are the masters of the WRITTEN word, but often we are abysmal with the SPOKEN word. That author I mentioned above? That was me, Bruce Hennigan, in an interview for my first self published novel.
My journey since then has been totally unanticipated. I am an apologist, or one who is trained to defend the truth of the Christian worldview and since that interview, I have become part of a local organization producing seminars and mini-retreats on how to defend the Christian faith in an increasingly hostile culture. I sat down and asked myself, “Why has God chosen to make me an apologist AND a novelist? What do the two have to do with each other?”
Well, God has shown me an answer. And it is simply this. One way we as authors can promote our WRITTEN word is by becoming SPEAKERS and communicating, with clarity, the message that underlies our novels. From a strictly utilitarian point of view, speaking in public can afford us the opportunity to promote our works. So, how is this accomplished? Let me give you four suggestions:
I enrolled in the Certified Apologetic Instructor program from my denominations North American Mission Board under the direction of one of the most awesome speakers and generally all around wonderful brother in Christ, Mike Licona. As part of this intensive training program, Mike required us to attend the Dynamic Communications Workshop (Now known as the SCORRE Conference). Now, I have been a public speaking since high school. I am producer, director, playwright, and actor in church based drama. I have spoken at dozens of writer’s conferences on writing plays as well as dozens of regional and national drama festivals. Why would I have to attend a communications workshop?
While DCW isn’t the only workshop out there, I can tell you unequivocally that it changed my life. Really! It changed my life! This Christian based program showed me where I was going wrong and taught me invaluable skills in communication. I cannot recommend this program highly enough. Yes, it is expensive. Yes, it is intensive. But, as authors, we must master the skill of selling ourselves in interviews and podcasts and videocasts. If we stumble and mumble and “UMM” our way through an interview, who in their right mind would want to read what we write!
I had to humble myself and realize I can always be taught something and let the wonderful people at DCW teach me how to promote my novels; how to take my “commodity” of writing and turn it into a “product” that people will want to purchase.
But, Bruce, I am NOT a public speaker. What do I know? I’m not an apologist!
Stop, just a doggone minute! You are too an expert. You didn’t just pull the words out of thin air for your novel -- well maybe you did. But, you did research for you novel, right? There is a definite message there; a genre; a “hook”. It might be historical information. It might be technical information. But, there is information there. And, you’ve written about it which makes you an expert. So, talk about it!
An old adage goes, “write about what you know”. As novelists we KNOW about something. If we can write about it, we can talk about it. If nothing else, we can talk about the process of being published authors. Think of all the aspects of the writing life we have had to become experts on. Marketing, publicity, social media, editing, research skills, etc. We have something we can bring to an audience. And, in that process, we promote our novels!
Now, this is not for everyone. Not all of us are comfortable in front of an audience. But, we should at least be articulate enough to pull off an interview or a podcast. Find that subject or subjects you can speak comfortably about and then PLUG your novel!
I was so touched by Mike Dellosso’s accounts of his struggle with colon cancer. The man is a hero in my book. As a physician, I work with dying patients all the time. We will all face that medical crisis that might end our lives. And, how we face death is determined by our character; our faith; our strength. It also takes guts to speak about our weaknesses; our battles; our losses. But, it also gives us an opportunity to speak about our triumphs! And, as a Christian, I have found that EVERY triumph is ultimately due to the supernatural intervention of my God.
Years ago, I battled depression. After two years of struggling through counseling and changing my life completely, God led me to develop some tools to keep me from getting depressed again. My pastor approached me about writing a book on the subject. Out of my pain, “Conquering Depression” was picked up and published by B&H Publishing in 2001. For the next three years, Mark Sutton and I offered a three hour seminar on “Conquering Depression”. We required that every participant (or, at least, every couple) purchase a copy of our book and that was included in the price for the seminar, a reasonable $25 per person. We spoke about who we were and we sold lots of books. The downside was the constant need to expose my very soul to my audience; to reveal my inner most secrets and struggles. But, God ultimately received the credit!
Every good novelists writes out of some corner of pain and suffering. Everyone of us bleeds onto the page because of the circumstances of our lives. Find that angle. Be willing to talk about it. Help others struggling with the same issues in life. And, in the process, you can promote your books!
We may end up speaking on something totally unrelated to the subject of our novel. But, people will check out our books because of WHO WE ARE!
I was invited recently to speak to our state’s Evangelism Conference on apologetics. I chose to speak on the six most commonly asked questions from skeptics. I was anticipating about a dozen for each of my two sessions. I was shocked when over 100 showed up!
I provided a business card with my web address and contact information. And, I told the attendees they could download the pdf version of my notes and resources from my author website under the “Apologetics” tab. I mentioned in passing that I was an author. I even told them that my book, “The 13th Demon” was “apologetic fiction” and an exciting, scary read they could give to their skeptical friends. In one presentation, I guaranteed a possible 100 hits on my website during the next week. The presentation went well, thanks to my DCW training, and out of this presentation I received a dozen more invitations to speak!
This week, I am speaking to a seminary class in Orlando, Florida. The week after, I am speaking to our church congregation on apologetics. That following weekend, I will be speaking at our state drama festival. At each one of these venues, I will be passing out contact information and directing listeners to my website. I am hoping for a snowball effect. In fact, I want this to be so successful, I will have to turn down invitations. Although these presentations have very little to do with my novel, they still afford me the opportunity to promote my writing. Don’t know where to start? Ask your agent.
But, as exciting as this all sounds, my one goal is to glorify God through all that I do. God, and God alone is providing for my writing and speaking career. As Mike Dellosso so eloquently put it last week in this blog:
If you expect to reach just one person through your writing then success is within your grasp. If you expect to glorify God with the best you have to offer then success is within your grasp.
So, consider adding a speaker career to your writing career. Start by polishing those communication skills and start turning your “commodity” of writing into your “product”!

Friday, February 10, 2012

An Author's Juggling Act

Right now, I'm trying to finish the third book in my McKenna's Daughters series. I was mostly on track to meet my March 1 deadline.

This week, I've seen the cover for book two, Mary's Blessing that will release in May, and I love it. But we did have to deal with a few tweaks.

Today, I received the galley proofs for Mary's Blessing, which I need to read through very carefully, checking for any errors. This is due back to my publisher by February 22. Can you see the possible problem looming before me?

Don't get me wrong. I love what I do. God created me to be a writer. I feel blessed by God to be able to write books that readers enjoy. Books that hold hope and redemption, along with an interesting story and usually a romance. But this life is a juggling act with many parts. In addition to the writing and editing side of the equation, I'm also working on the marketing and promotion for the last couple of books.

The only way I can handle all this is by depending on God as my source of strength, creativity, and stamina. He gives me everything that I need to accomplish what is set before me.

Problems arise when I think I can do it all in my own power. I can't.

Do you have things in your life that seems to overwhelm you as you keep juggling the parts?

How do you deal with this? Please leave a comment to share with us.

--Lena Nelson Dooley, author of Maggie's Journey and Mary's Blessing and the Will Rogers Award Winning Love Finds You in Golden, New Mexico

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Looking for Success

I recently read a blog post by a fellow author about when a writer should quit.
It’s a tough question and, I’ll admit, one I’ve entertained. Yes, there are
times when I’ve wanted to quit, when I’ve wanted to throw in the proverbial pen
and never write another word.

Regardless of popular opinion and common assumption, writing ain’t easy. It’s a road
travelled alone, a road full of potholes and obstacles and plenty of dead ends.
There are few, if any, signs to point you in the right direction and no one
really knows what the destination is.

And if you’re like 90% of writers, even if you do get published, you’ll still be
working a full-time job and struggling to make ends meet.

A writer’s life is full of second-guessing and self-deprecation.

I suppose after all that, after the countless rejections, false starts, bogus
ideas, and shattered expectations, the reason someone quits is because he
hasn’t succeeded. But what is success? How’s that for an existential question?

Success depends on those expectations. If you expect to get published you will most
likely fail. If you get published and expect to be a best-selling author you
will most likely fail. If you become a best-selling author and expect to write
full-time, setting your own schedule and enjoying the good life, you will most
likely fail. And when you fail over and over again, you will most likely quit.

But if you expect to gain some intrinsic joy from writing, to write for writing’s
sake, then success is within your grasp. If you expect to reach just one person through your writing then success is within your grasp. If you expect to glorify God with the best you have to offer then success is within your grasp.

And who cares about the other stuff. You travel the road because the road is there
and you enjoy walking it. And that’s success enough.

Oh, and by the way, my newest thriller, Frantic, just released yesterday. Check it out.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Still Enough to Listen

I’ve written a number of fiction books, but the one non-fiction book I wrote was harder to write than any of them. Our move to Texas was difficult, especially for my daughter. Her first year in high school was so challenging we decided to move her to a private Christian school. I’d fret over things I had no control over, so I started reading devotionals. None of them quite fit what we were going through, so I began writing my own. I continued writing them off-and-on for years. It takes me much less time to write a fiction book but this was non-fiction, something new for me, and it was personal, not fictional characters in a make believe world that I could control. Every time my girl fell into trouble I’d start writing them, when she was doing okay I’d stop and go back to my fiction. Both gave me strength in different ways.
Years later when I was submitting a fiction manuscript to my agent she asked, “This is a great story, but when are you going to finish those devotionals?” My answer, “I’ll be done with them when my daughter’s done.”
When I got the final galleys and saw the formatting I was thrilled. Each page flowed beautifully and was easy on the eyes. But that wasn’t the only reason for my joy, my girl was done. She was in college, living in her own apartment, working and doing much better.
When I signed the contract I remembered feeling a bit scared and exposed. A part of us would be out there for hundreds of people to read about. But then a sense of peace flowed over me thinking...but I need to share this because I wish I would have had these devotionals when I needed them. It was then I was still enough to hear God’s voice and heard Him say, “You did. You wrote them.”

Question: Do you find yourself in the books you write?