So you want to be a writer…


If you want to be a writer, my advice is: don’t want to be a writer.


The overwhelming majority of us are destitute, conflicted, outcast, and inhabit a general state of unhappiness because dreams and reality aren’t the same thing. The idea of being a writer looks nothing like the reality. Only for an anointed few is this not the case.

I’m not going to bore you with sad  number-crunching; suffice it to say that there are about three million people trying to enter gates that will only allow a few hundred to enter at any given time. If you’ve ever been in a big city, then the idea of a traffic jam of these proportions should make you think twice, and then ten more times, about wanting to be a writer. Because we’re all trying to enter the same gate, and there’s not enough room for everyone. There’s bickering and thirst and sometimes murder in the long hot wait.

If you want to be a writer, then write poems and love songs for your partner, write short stories and epic novels that take decades to compose, infused with joy and hope and thousands of hours of research and plotting and honing. Rewrite everything as many times as you can until you have stomped the love out of each line and eroded the originality and voice which made them true in the first place.

Chase trends and listen to talking heads and bow down to the powers that seem to be, attend seminars and workshops while other people who want to be writers, and people who thought they wanted to be authors but who decided that being a critic is a better path, destroy your dream.

That’s the wanting to be a writer part. Don’t do it.

If you are a writer, though, then you have no choice. I applaud your belief and audacity and will cheer you on when things are glorious and your work is praised by the wise and mocked by fools. Writers write because they must; the money is the grand prize, but the reward for a writer comes also in the joy of the writing itself.  Mostly, that’s likely not going to happen, and at some point, writers must come to grips with that. Cold, hard, truth. Many iconic writers died in obscurity and poverty.

If you are a writer, then this truth doesn’t matter; you remain undaunted.  You will put your butt in a chair and crank out stories. You will research and you will write. You will rewrite. And rewrite again and again.. You cut the things that you were certain were brilliant. Slash pages and paragraphs. Of course, you have to write them before you can cut them.

I’m a writer, and I wouldn’t recommend being one. For those who can’t help themselves, take heed. It’s a long, brutal road.

There’s glory though, in being a writer, an artist, and that’s what keeps us writing and painting and playing music, in the face of the odds and in spite of the facts. That sensation of creating something which is true and makes another human being smile or laugh or cry or throw something at the wall… that’s writing. And for writers, that’s a beautiful reward.

That reward may not be what we yearned for, yet it is beautiful in its own right. Writers know that, and people who want to be writers learn by doing.


Marriage, Love, Loss and Redemption


“Happily ever after “is the perfect ending for a fairy tale. Anyone who has been married longer than the honeymoon knows this is utter nonsense. The work is just beginning. Many of us put on wedding rings,hearing the vows which include “sickness and health, for better or worse,” but glossing over those truths with false expectations which can undermine, even destroy unions meant to last. Lord knows I’m no expert on marriage, but I know quite a bit about screwing them up.

fairy tale

The chivalric love of the middle ages, that era of glorious unrequited love and a glimpse of a pale ankle which would send a knight into fits of passion has made its way to the twenty-first century; it’s not quite the same now, but the underpinnings are still there. The romantic notions of “love at first sight,” a “damsel in distress,” and “prince charming” won’t die easily. Despite the shift in gender roles and the feminist revolution, these archaic ideas continue to affect both men and women in different ways.


Many young girls are raised to find a man, get married, and have children, subverting her own needs and dreams to his. There is nothing inherently wrong with getting married and having children, obviously, but the subverting part gets dicey. Before women could vote, work, and be successful in their own right, this paradigm worked on its surface, because women had little choice and therefore small expectations; being trapped in a loveless marriage in a subservient role chaffed and burned, yet divorce was generally not an option. It is now, though, and as women have entered the workforce and become CEOs and Senators, we’ve seen divorce rates climb. It’s partly because of absurd expectations, and mixed messages in our culture.

Women are objectified one moment, placed on a pedestal the next, either the whore, the princess, or the mother. In childhood, young girls are barraged by Disney movies where Cinderella is saved by her prince, where Barbi dolls have enormous breasts and wear glitzy clothes to find Ken. In young adulthood and the teen years, music comes into the mix, with songs of maudlin co-dependence, or upbeat songs of empowerment which are generally about promiscuity rather than brains or will. Then there are the “chick flicks,” the same movie made a hundred times with the “meet-cute,” the initial awkwardness, the falling in love, the break-up and then the reunion, often with people clapping around them. Ugh.

chick flick

Boys are raised playing army and football, where aggression is rewarded and competition is fierce and the key to any sort of success. They hear the same songs, watch the same movies, and the message of strength, even dominance finds its way into their souls. No man or boy wants to be the “Beta.” Everyone wants to be the Alpha male, because that’s what the girls and women like, too. Be stronger, don’t cry, hit harder, run faster. And later, make more money. For in adulthood, this is how males measure their prowess.

It’s a wonder anybody stays married at all.

Women are taught by society to want a man who is strong and fierce, but who is also sensitive and compliant, who will shed a tear during Sense and Sensibility  and listen patiently to her problems, but who will also throat-punch the jerk who disrespects her. Men are taught to suppress their feelings, to be stoic and strong, and internalize their stress and problems. Couples enter into marriages with these presets programmed into us, and when things go south, wonder what the hell happened.

Marriage is hard work. The hardest work there is. People change and grow, and hopefully they can do this together; this is usually a choice, whether conscious or not, and when a couple doesn’t grow together, they will inevitably grow apart. When things get close and mean, when the walls are pressing in, it’s easy to look around and decide that there is an easier way, that you’d be better off where the grass is a deeper shade of green. This is the message our culture continually bombards us with, through music, movies, and social media, this facade of pretty lies. People break and lives are destroyed as a result.


The fairy tale was never real. But marriage can be glorious and fulfilling. I’ve been through the crud and the blood and the muck, and I’ve had seasons where I woke up in the morning with an elephant on my chest.For some people, there is no other way, and my heart breaks for them.  I’m glad that my wife and I didn’t break, though. That we’ve decided that we’re going to grow together rather than apart. And in making it through the terrible, we’ve learned some important things about ourselves and each other. We look at one another now and say “till the wheels come off.”

We’ve made a conscious effort to make each other better. With God’s help we’re going to make it. Partners, for better or worse, and that’s better than the fairy tale.

Southern Pride and Rebel Flags: Guest Blog with Kelli Freeman Smith


The controversy raging around the display of the Confederate flag breaks my heart. This symbol of southern pride, adopted from a war which pitted brother against brother and  usurped by the KKK, should not be a symbol at all. We southerners have many things to be proud of, and that flag isn’t one. Our heritage is richer than that, runs deeper and truer, and we should not allow ourselves to be defined by the stars and bars.

I was born and raised in the deep south, and I’ve lived there all my life. I grew up in a sleepy town on the Florida-Georgia line, where football players were rock stars and Friday nights in the fall were the highlight of the year. A town of Magnolia trees and live oaks draped in Spanish Moss, where pickup-trucks with mud on the tires lined the Baptist Church parking lots every Sunday morning. My southern drawl is sweet as honey-dew or ice-tea on a lazy afternoon in July. I say “ya’ll, bless your heart, and amen.” I love the poetry of Faulkner and Merle Haggard and the opening notes to Sweet Home Alabama.

The land I played on as a child and the woods I scraped my knees in with my cousins were farmed by my Grand Daddy. My mother worked the fields with her 8 brothers and sisters, and in tobacco season her hands were raw and her face was burned by the sun. Most of my family still lives on that land, and our family reunions are feasts of friendship and fresh vegetables and laughter. There is pride in that. In family, a thing which we southerners take very seriously. We take care of our own.


Driving through town, you’ll see American flags flying,whether it’s July 4, Memorial Day, or just a random morning, because patriotism runs deep here in the south. Throughout Americas wars, the South gave many of its sons to the United States. God, Family, and Country. This is much of what it means to be southern. There is also a sense of rugged individualism. My Daddy taught us, like his taught him, to work hard and to think for myself.

And then there’s the icky part. Slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow, and lingering racism. Unfortunately the Rebel Flag symbolizes those things, particularly to those who are not from the south, and in a more subtle way, those who are, as well. I wish it was not so.

Abraham sample cover

There is a great dichotomy between patriotism and embracing a symbol of sedition. A contradiction in reading the King James version of the Gospel, and then uttering the N word with the same mouth. A lack of gentility and hospitality in flying a flag which is inherently offensive to others. A celebration of the War of Northern Aggression which was actually a war to preserve slavery, a codified, immoral, abomination couched in terms of states rights. The right the states wanted, though, was the right to own people. That’s not something to be proud of.

My social media news feed is rife with posts with rebel flags, and people, some of them dear family members, who defend the idea of displaying the flag because it is a part of southern pride and heritage. Maybe they’ve forgotten or overlooked what it actually means. The more angry the rest of the country gets, the more entrenched these folks become, rather than questioning what they believe to be true.


Once again, brother is pitted against brother, and this flag is hurting the south again, tearing at families, destructive as Sherman’s march. Only now, we are burning ourselves to the ground. The war is over, the south lost, and it was a foolish war in the first place. Get over it and embrace what it truly means to be southern, not some romantic, idealized notion of a past that was never was. We have much to be proud of. Let’s celebrate that.

Where Was God?


A twisted gunman burst into a church and murdered Christians in an act of hate and cowardice. My heart aches for the fallen, and weeps for my country which seems broken. Where was God when the bullets tore through believers in His house? How is it that darkness appears to be defeating light?

The struggle that I’ve been through the last few years, the problems that I’ve faced, pale in comparison to those of others. I’m not looking at imminent death. Still, it’s been a brutal road for me and my family, with poverty looming, the loss of a job, and emotional battles raging. I have found myself asking, more than I’d care to admit, where was God?

In my novels, this is a central theme, the ongoing erosion of faith in the face of evil and despair. For the Fox family, there are epic battles and catastrophic losses, and still William and Crystal are never truly destroyed. Their faith is stronger than my own has been, the sort of belief I long for and which I see in some of the strong Christians I know. I’m praying, learning, trying to guild myself with the Armor of God.

Often, the hardships we face make us question the beliefs we hold most dear. I believe that God uses times of tragedy, loss, and inexplicable pain to draw us closer to Him, to bring us to a better understanding of His nature. Jesus says in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

It’s easy to blame God when terrible things happen. I know, because I’m guilty of this arrogant, human act. The truth is, evil in this world is committed by man. God did not cause that crazed, racist nutcase to enter a church and kill people. That was a decision that kid came to all on his own, one of free will. Our actions have consequences, for good or for bad.

God is alive and at work, and I’ve seen miracles with my own eyes. I’ve witnessed it in my life, and the lives of those that I love. Too often, I forget, for my faith is not as strong as it should be. In a world of seven billion people, there are tragedies every day, and the news will focus on the ten worst things and beat it into our brains, giving the impression that the world itself is bleeding and slipping into madness, that evil and peril lurk around every corner. We hear the bad but not the good, and this creates a pervasive, ongoing illusion, a destructive one, a lens through which we view the world shaded by darkness, one that filters out truth and light.

For the ten stories of accidents, shootings, disasters, and fires (the media is obsessed with fire of all sorts, from bombs to brush fires) there are a hundred stories we never get to hear. Lives saved, random acts of kindness, hope restored, faith found, and illness cured.

Where was God? He never left. He didn’t move, I did. Sometimes I forget.

“For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Ephesians: 5:8



Chapter Twenty-Two

When faith is the bedrock upon which a life is built, the loss of it, when belief crumbles to dust, reduces a man to bitter, abject desolation. Malak died in the sand, and in the sand he was reborn.

Waves crashing, the sun blinding, and the ocean a pale welcome blue, he plucked a crab from his chest and pulled yellow seaweed from matted hair, pushing himself into a seated position. Coconut palms stretched toward the sea along a pristine white beach. At his back a steep mountain lush with green jungle rose toward the cloudless sky. He’d never been anyplace like this before.

“Is this heaven? My reward? It looks a little lonely,” he muttered.

A seagull landed a few feet away and twittered at him. The crab scuttled along the surf line with one oversized claw, and one tiny, ridiculous one. The big claw raised like a shield.

“What do you want from me?”

The breeze,balmy and sweet, ruffled his long hair.

“Remember our last talk? I quit. I’m not doing this anymore.”

The palms rustled and the waves broke upon the reef line and lapped the shore, a steady rhythm of foam and clear water, more than a whisper, less than a conversation. Peaceful, serene.

Malak was not in the mood. He thought about the family he’d lost, the screams of children still echoing in his heart. The demon he’d faced, a thing which he never known walked the earth until he’d felt its unholy power. To him it was days ago, though he had no idea how much time had elapsed between Baghdad and wherever this was. Whenever he was.
His existence was unfair, he decided. Every life he’d lived felt futile, as did life itself. The friends he’d seen die, the blood he’d spilled with a blade… there seemed to be no sense to any of it, within the context of a loving, living God. Especially given that reality.

While he had experienced great peace, the times of turmoil and war overshadowed this, and he saw that both he and mankind were no closer to figuring things out than they were centuries ago.

The crab skittered toward a hole in the sand, and the bird hopped over to the crab and skewered it.
The crab does not pity itself, even as it dies, any more than the bird gloats over the killing and the meal. Men are different. Perhaps emotions only make living harder. For the crab does not expect to live any more than the bird believes it will eat, and the fact that these desires conflict keeps neither awake at night. If the crab assumed he’d be protected, living the crab-life, surrounded by hungry birds, yet confident in his continued prosperity, he would get angry when that beak pierced his shell.

“What’s the point? Clearly, there isn’t one. When I believe, you destroy. You are God. I can’t deny that you exist. Not after the things I’ve seen. But you are not what you should be. You’re a cheat in the marketplace, full of sunshine promises and whitewashed smiles, who then vanishes when it turns out you sold a lie, a cracked jar. You have no integrity. That you exist does not make me love you.”

He knew that these words were the worst sort of blasphemy, and it his lips burned a bit with the speaking of them and his guts tightened up, his body rebelling against his mind.

He walked along the beach, letting the water slide over bare feet, feeling the sand between his toes and the warm sun on his neck. He walked for perhaps an hour or two, and wound up where he started, circling back to his first footprints. The bird cocked its head at him and laughed in the way that birds sometimes do.

He was on an island.

Malak plopped down in the sand and watched the sun slide below the ocean, streaks of pink and yellow and purple painted upon the vast sky, and the face of the waters shimmering orange against the dancing white of the breakers and the deepening blue of the sea. The day dying, the night born.

He did not move, watching the first stars appear, punching through both light and darkness, becoming a wondrous myriad of diamonds strung melting into the sea. All the while, the waves hushed and frothed, luminescent and soothing.
He decided he would explore the interior in the morning, and that if he wanted to quit living and dying for both God and man, this would be the perfect place to do it.

That is exactly what he did.

He would come to call the island “The Rock,” and although he couldn’t know it then, it would become a place of solitude and wonder and joy. It would be a refuge, the only place he was born again more than once; often as he was dying, he prayed he would wake up there. It didn’t happen often enough for his liking, but when it did, he’d feel the sun on his face and the thirst in his soul and hear the music of the ocean and he would smile.

It took time to figure this out. Malak was hard-headed, and immortality proved no solution to being stubborn.
Water was a problem, and it was only through dumb luck that he figured out that coconuts held life-giving water within their hard shells. During a storm, a green one fell next to him, and he heard the liquid inside. After wasting the precious liquid on the first few attempts, he learned how to remove the outer husk and pierce the shell within, drinking heartily. He also learned to drink from plants after a hard rain, and started collecting his coconut shells to gather water during the rainy season. Despite being stubborn, Malak was smart and tough and adaptable

He ate fish every day, because the flesh contained water. At first he speared them, and as time went on, he learned to dig alcoves reinforced by coral and lava rock, letting the tide bring the fish in, where they would be stranded after it receded. He added nets formed with vines from the jungle to make this more effective. There were abundant fruit trees on the island, as well, and when it did not rain enough, these saved his life more than once. The island provided.

He was gifted and cursed with what would later be known as a didactic memory. He forgot nothing. He could recall the taste of food he’d eaten in the Ludus or Lisdenfrane on any given day at a specific meal, along with the ribald or Godly conversations which ensued. The more alone Malak was, the more he retreated into the past, finding comfort and solace with friends long dead. Hearing their cries, at the end. That was the thing.

As good as his memory was, these conversations were all one-sided, more akin to eavesdropping. He could not speak to his comrades any more than they could talk to him on this deserted island. The moments were what they were, unaltered and done, and even though Malak wished to speak into the past, he could not. What was done was done.
He exhausted these memories, and that soul-shrinking loneliness came back. It was a poverty of the soul.

He needed to get off the island because he was going insane. Also, he was bored. He’d been there for more rainy seasons than he could count. At least twenty years. He had every cause to believe that the easiest way off the island was to die.
At dawn, after a long night of dead conversation, he set out into the ocean.

He swam beyond the breakers, the waves smashing into the coral below, his blood blooming in the clear water, warm in the way that Lisdenfrane was not, wild and teeming with life and death.

The first time, he made it beyond the reef. He swam until he was exhausted, swept by the current out into the open ocean. He choked on salt water and sputtered and stroked. Things stung and nibbled at his extremities. The moon rose high and bright and he was far from land and man. He rolled onto his back while a thunderstorm crashed a few miles away, lightning arcing from horizon to horizon, white and ragged, waves building, his body carried up and down, as alone as any man can ever be.

“Here I am! Kill me! You don’t care, so let’s get it over with!” He gulped a cresting wave, the water stinging his eyes.
The first shark took his right leg above the knee with one bite. It felt like a hard shove, followed by tingling and pain and ironic, gulping laughter. The next shark chomped him in the torso and took him down for a while, a plunge into the dark, where his ears hurt and his lungs burned and his guts were on fire below the sea, and Malak decided that there were better ways to die.

He felt the same sun, heard familiar lazy waves, and saw the same damn bird making angry tracks in the sand when he opened his eyes again.


He experimented with ways to kill himself for a season. Drowning, starvation, fire, and the ever faithful sharks. None of it worked. He wound up back on the beach.

And so began the conversation that mattered. The one he was meant to have.