Last Days Thriller Fiction

Cover. DemonDog

 

The following is an excerpt from Demon Dog, Star Captain and other Apocalyptic tales, now available on Kindle:

 

 

Star Captain believes, as author Tim LaHaye has been saying for years now, that a terrifying Tribulation is drawing nigh. Star Captain has even charted out the exact time. He buying up Tang and rice in bulk and storing up ammo for self-preservation.

“Life as we know it is going to change,” he says.

LaHaye has been banking, quite nicely, on that very fact for years now. He and author Jerry Jenkins are the masterminds behind the wildly successful Left Behind books – over an estimated 65 million copies sold. The novels read like thrillers: People disappear at an alarming rate, buildings and homes get blown to Kingdom Come. Seven books in the series took a #1 spot on the New York Times Bestseller list. And, I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure LaHaye’s fiction was the underlying reason millions of evangelical teens in the 1980s were willing to kiss dating goodbye.

You know that Louisa May Alcott quote: She has read too many books and it has addled her brain? I am pretty sure Louisa May was talking about LaHaye’s Left Behind series, which managed to take issues of Eschatology and make them matters of water-cooler discussion. Evangelical students took to asking each other, “Are you pre-trib or post-trib?” as a way to determine whether the other was marrying material or not, kind of like Auburn and Alabama fans do before going on that first date.

Back before his last days, Jerry Falwell credited his buddy LaHaye with writing one of the most important evangelical books ever.

“In terms of its impact on Christianity, it’s probably greater than that of any other book in modern times, outside the Bible,” Falwell claimed.

And you thought the 1980s greatest contribution was disco balls.

Not everyone in the Evangelical community liked Last Days thriller fiction, however. Barbara Rossing is an ordained minister who teaches New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. Rossing mapped out her arguments against the fear tatics embedded in the Left Behind books in a book of her own, The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. Rossing maintains that LaHaye’s theology of a God on a seek-and-destroy mission, as presented in the novels, is not Biblical, and thus is very dangerous. “It leads to appalling ethics.”

It’s this sort of thriller theology, Rossing suggests, that causes pundits like Ann Coulter to conclude, “God said, ‘Earth is yours.’ Take it. Rape it. It’s yours.”

Why take care of this world as long as we think we’re going to get a new improved model soon?  “There is no justification for using up the earth on the grounds that we get to trade this one in for a new and bigger one,” Rossing warns.

Hers isn’t the only voice crying out from among the locust-infested Evangelical wilderness.  Many a pastor and professor are trying to undo the damage created by a thriller-seeking culture in search of a Bad-ass God with a loaded SKS rifle.

 

Book Karen

God is a Southern Boy

Cat

Several years ago following a book event at the library in Cannon Beach I was approached by a beautiful woman who told me a terrifying tale. It, like so many terrifying tales, involved depression and anxiety and brokenness and silence.

And years of unanswered questions.

Even still.

In the short time that we spoke that woman became a friend, as sometimes happens when authors and readers connect.

Cat and I first connected through the story of Karly Sheehan. 

Cat has a tender heart that always, always seeks out the hurting among us, whether that is ministering to abandoned and neglected children or abandoned and neglected elderly. Cat takes seriously the admonition to go and be the change you want to see in the world. When she turns her attention towards someone that person can’t help but be blessed.

You ever met someone and you go away feeling a heaviness in your spirit? A sense that you need to steer clear of that person because there is just something dark about them?

Yeah, Cat is nothing like that.

Light emanates from her.

I’ve met a few people like Cat in my lifetime.  People who have endured hard, hard things and yet have come out on the other side of all that brokenness with an unwavering faith that God is good and Jesus loves us and all that love ought to compel us to live a better story.

People like that are a true treasure. We ought to hold those people close to us. The world can be a very dark place without the friendship of such individuals. If you have a friend like that, you ought to drop them a note this week, tell them how much you cherish them and their faith, and how much their friendship means to you. We all need to hear good words these days.

We ought to plant good words like tulip bulbs, with the confidence that a glory awaits us on the other side of whatever darkness we may find ourselves enduring at the time.

We all need to seriously consider our roles as planters of grace.

Cat and I met up again this weekend. This time at an author’s luncheon at The Springs at Sherwood. Cat’s mother, Lois, and her friends pulled together a lovely event that included authors Philip Margolin, Shannon Kaiser and Brian Doyle. I can’t remember when I have laughed so much. Brian and Shannon were inspirational and hilarious.  Margolin, the smart one among us, shared how he spent decades researching his first historical fiction. His previous NYT bestsellers have been thriller crime fiction. (Here’s a hint for you Georgia friends, his next book was inspired by St. Simon’s Island).

 

Book Cakes

 

After the author luncheon, Cat and her charming husband Gordy surprised me with a gift – a painting inspired by MOTHER OF RAIN.

I knew Cat was at work on a painting.

I did not know the painting was inspired by my novel.

Before the unveiling of the painting, Cat shared with me her own creative processes. The pastels lines represent the face of Horseshoe Falls as the water runs down over the stone wall. There is a sun, chickens, a mother with a child, a mother in the bed, a mother gone mad, a picture of how Cat imagined Zeb to be, turned away from the mother and child figure.  There is the crucified Christ, and feathers free-falling.

And oh, so much more.

I hung the painting in my office for now, simply because I want to keep it close by where I can study upon it often.

There are few things more meaningful to me than the creative spirit of another.

Cat’s painting feels like a begat moment.

We usually think of the begets in Scripture as the most boring of reading, but that’s because we read them like we are reading a list of items we must remember at the grocers or for a test.

I have come to believe that the reason the begets are in the Scriptures is because God is a Southern Boy. He understands that we can’t know who we are until we grasp who our people were.

Adam and Eve were the only people fashioned from dirt. All the rest of us were begat from a long line of people who mattered, creative and chaotic souls.

It was while I was working on Mother of Rain that Cat and I had our first talk about suicide. Maizee’s story resonated with Cat because her father took his life. Self-murder is the term Cat uses.

He was a minister.

“A man who spent his life loving the world yet he died alone. We, his family, were his life, yet, not a one of us were with him. We all suffer from that loss and honor,” Cat says.

Suicide rates among clergy are difficult to track down. Some report that clergy has the 3rd highest suicide rates of any profession. Others dismiss a number altogether, saying that pastors of all professions have to keep their depression hidden, especially if that pastor is an evangelical.

Pastors by their very empathetic nature may be more prone to depression.  Says Cat: “My dad had an overabundance of empathy which made him an excellent pastor and father, although he was clinically disposed to depression. Sadly we did not get him the proper help he required.”

I never met Cat’s father, yet, because of Maizee’s story, I feel like I knew him.

We Christians go around all the time quoting pithy sayings about how God will never give us more than we can handle.

That is such a load of dookey.

Life is hard. Losing a child to cancer, the way Cat’s mother and father did when they lost her brother, can break a person.

Shoot, you don’t even have to lose your own child to be broken by death. I have lost several friends and my own mother to cancer. I have another friend who was just diagnosed this week with esophageal cancer. Sometimes the heaviness of all that feels too much. Sometimes I wonder if I might go mad like Maizee did.

Sometimes going mad seems like the most sane thing to do. Staying calm in the face of death, God’s own declared enemy, seems like the most inane thing to do.

That’s why when I wrote Maizee’s story I put so much emphasis on community. It is the community we surround ourselves with that is often our only hope when facing the hard things of life.

It’s not enough for our pastor to know that we believe in Jesus – he or she needs to see us living Jesus.

Or as my friend Hugh says, we need to be willing to sit in the dark with each other because that’s what Jesus would do.

Cat’s stories about her father remind me the very best pastors among us, the very best people among us, need us to sit in the dark with them sometimes.

People all around us need to be reminded of God goodness and the transformative love of Christ.

We communicate that love best when we are creating things of beauty and wonder and thought-provoking glory.

It is when we create that we beget hope in world besieged by pain.

 

 

Cat 2

 

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Mother of Rain (Mercer University Press).

 

Book Karen

When You Are Not Okay

Bread Tie Challenge

 

 

I give this lecture every term where I ask a question of my students: “What will you set yourself on fire for?” I ask that question after lecturing about a produce farmer in Tunisia who set himself on fire over the injustices of a corrupt system that exploited everyday workers.

At first, few care about Mohammed Bouazizi, the produce farmer. Tunisia is a long ways from Ellensburg, Washington. Most of my students can’t find it on a map. Few even try.  Most think the idea of setting fire to one’s self to be absolutely insane. They don’t care that the produce farmer’s actions created the revolutionary uprisings across the Arab world.   They are often more worried about what grade they will make in First Amendment than they are about being a revolutionary.

I tell them that, too. Tell them that it is my intent to turn them all into revolutionaries by the end of the term. That’s my goal – to make them care about something beyond the grade they are earning.  I tell them that I don’t really want them to douse themselves with gasoline and strike a match. I just want them to care enough about something that they would go beyond themselves to make the world a better place.

“You know what they call a nurse who makes Cs versus a nurse who makes As?” I ask.  And they look at each other and shake their heads in confusion, until I answer my own question: “A nurse.”

“Nobody will ever ask you when you leave college what grade you made in First Amendment Class. They will, however, expect that you learn something in college. They will want to hire people who strive to make the world a better place. Revolutionaries for a better world. ”

So imagine my delight this past week when a former student reached out to me on Twitter saying he’d found that thing that just might make him light himself on fire.

It’s called the Bread Tie Challenge.

You know those little wiry things that twist around the end of a bread sack to keep the bread fresh?

Yeah. Those.

Donnie Santos, my former student, and his buddy, Dean Neilson, have lit up the campus at Central Washington University with the Bread-Tie Challenge: Take a simple bread tie and twist it around your finger and wear it throughout the month of October, or longer. And every time you look at that bread tie, Donnie and Dean would have you remember their friend Josh Martin.

Josh took his life on Oct 27th, three years ago. He was 19 years old.

Dean, Donnie and Josh grew up together. They played sports together. Donnie and Josh were roommates at the time of Josh’s suicide.  There were no warning signs that anything at all was wrong with Josh.

“I lived with Josh for a year-and-a-half and I never saw him depressed or anything,” Donnie says.

That fall day in Spokane, Washington was like any other. The boys had come home from classes at Spokane Falls Community College. They’d sat around talking before Donnie headed out the door early to baseball practice. All the boys were on the team.  Josh told Donnie he’d catch up with him at practice. He had some things he wanted to wrap up, but then Josh never showed for practice.

Donnie’s dad was a mentor to all the boys. He’d been their coach growing up. When Josh didn’t show up, Donnie just figured he’d fallen asleep. Donnie told his dad they  had been up late the night before studying for a test. Donnie’s dad asked for the keys to the apartment. He was going to go rouse Josh and get him to practice.

Donnie’s dad returned in a rush, grabbed the coach and headed back to the apartment. When Donnie heard the shriek of the sirens, he knew something was terribly wrong. He ran back to his apartment. His father came out of the front door, crying. He told Donnie that Josh was gone. He’d killed himself.

Disbelief washed over Donnie. He couldn’t wrap his brain around it. Neither could Dean. Nor anyone else who knew Josh. It just didn’t seem possible that the friend who had kept them all laughing, was gone. Dead. A victim of thoughts so dark he never ever expressed any of them to Dean or Donnie.

“It was something deep within him that he didn’t want anyone to know about,” Donnie said. “We had conversations about drugs, but never about depression. I don’t think he wanted the negative stigma that comes along with talking about depression and suicide.”

And that right there is the very thing Donnie and Dean are hoping to change. This notion that seeking help for depression or suicidal thoughts is a bad thing.

“Josh had a great family. He had a great girlfriend. But I think he was just over life. He couldn’t take dealing with the depression any more. He didn’t want anyone to look down on him for having these thoughts. Maybe he thought it would be easier to go away than to ask for help,” Donnie says.

“It was one of the biggest shocks you can imagine,” Dean says. “I had no idea he was depressed. Josh was always happy. He didn’t seem depressed. He seemed like the regular happy Josh.”

Focused on school and sports, the three athletes did not abuse alcohol or drugs.

“We were a close triangle of friends,” Dean says. “I thought we could talk about anything.  But it seemed like Josh never had anything bad going on. This is why we are doing this. We want to make it possible for others to talk.”

If only Josh had told Donnie, told Dean, about his struggles. Maybe they could have gotten him the help he needed. They think about that a lot. How they might have helped, if only they had known.

But you can be roommates with a person, close friends with them, best friends with them, and still not know that they suffer from depression, that they are having suicidal thoughts.

Donnie and Dean think that’s because there is so much negative stigma dumped on people who suffer from depression. Perhaps Josh thought he would be a burden to others  if he told them what he was really thinking.

So he didn’t. He kept the dark thoughts all to himself. Carried that burden alone until he could no longer carry it.

After Josh’s death, Dean started having panic attacks. He didn’t know what it was at first.  He thought he might be having a heart attack. Turned out to be anxiety due to post-traumatic stress disorder. You don’t have to be a  front-line soldier to suffer from PTSD.  Trauma happens every day to people all around us.

The anxiety got so bad that Dean couldn’t leave his apartment. That led to depression and pretty soon, Dean himself was struggling with dark thoughts. His mother, wise woman that she is, suggested that Dean see a counselor.

Talking helped enormously, Dean said.  “It healed me.”

Through counseling Dean learned that most people struggle with depression at some point in their lives.

“It is not unnatural to be depressed,” he said. “It’s okay to tell someone that you are not okay.”

Did you hear that? It is okay not to be okay.

The most important thing is to tell somebody that you aren’t okay. Don’t be afraid to talk about those dark thoughts. Don’t hide them. Ask for help. People love you. They will be heartbroken if you leave this life and them behind. Just tell somebody how scared, how lonely, how sad, how frustrated, how confused you really are.

Tell somebody who really loves you that you are not okay and that you need help.

That’s what Donnie and Dean would tell Josh if only they had the second chance.

Donnie and Dean don’t really need a bread-tie to remind them about the importance of suicide prevention awareness. They have a brotherly tie that forever keeps their hearts tethered to Josh’s. But if you would like to participate in the Bread Tie Challenge go to this link. And share it with others.

Needless to say, I am quite proud of Donnie and Dean. Revolutionaries in their own right. 

 

Karen Zacharias is author of Mother of Rain (Mercer Univ. Press).

Book Karen

Intercourse You!

 

Words

 

I met this lady on the plane coming back from Minneapolis. I knew I liked her the minute she turned to a guy in his 30s and said, “I see you giving me that old lady look.”

He had been of course.

Giving her that old lady look.

He was annoyed because a mix-up in the seat assignment was backing up the line in the aisle. I chuckled as she called him out for his age discrimination.  Lucky for me, the mix-up meant that she was now my new seatmate. I told her how she had amused me with her remark to the annoyed fellow. She said something about if he was fortunate enough to live long enough, he’d be old one day too.

She is 85. A doctor.

You know what that means, don’t you?

This was a woman who had earned the respect of many because she had the wherewithal to earn a medical degree during a time when few women were enrolled in med school. She was not intimidated in the least by someone younger making wrong-headed assumptions about her. People had been making wrong-headed assumptions about her for a long time. She’d stared down much more formidable men than a wimpy hipster in a hurry to find his seat next to the toilet in the back of the plane.

She had fought discrimination most of her adult life. She is not surprised to be fighting age-discrimination now. It is true that it takes a moment upon rising for her legs to cooperate. But, I can attest that after a 3-hour plane ride, there is nothing wrong with her mind. She’s far more articulate than most 40-year-olds. Well-read and knowledgeable about a multitude of subjects, from politics to religion to medicine. She was returning home after a 3-week visit with college friends. A few days at home and she was off again to see grandchildren in California. Whatever slowing down age has down to her is more than made up for by the speed of a jet plane.

When she discovered I was a wordsmith, she wanted to know what is it with this F-word. Why do people of my generation and younger use it so much?

“I have come to believe they have no idea what the word means. They are always using it in the most inappropriate of ways.”

How could I respond? How would you respond?

Of course she was right. Most of the time fuck is used totally inappropriately and out-of-context.

By definition the word means “to have sexual intercourse with.”

Imagine if every time the word fuck is used we started replacing it with the true meaning of the word – intercourse.

The title of Adam Mansback’s wildly  bestselling book would be: Go the Intercourse to Sleep. 

Bleachers full of parents would be yelling Intercourse You! at the referee who made the bad call during the football game on Friday night.

The teenager who failed to study for his test, pounds the desk and says in frustration: “Intercourse.” 

The Starbucks client whose drink is made wrong, twice: “Intercourse it.” 

The lawyer who loses the case she assured her client she would win: “That Intercoursing jury.” 

All of Jay-Z’s lyrics: “Intercoursing cops. Intercoursing ho. Intercoursing dope. Intercoursing money.” 

The chick whose boyfriend cheated on her: “He’s such an intercoursing idiot.”  Although, it should be noted in such a situation, fucking would be used rightly.

I can’t think of any other word in the English language that is abused so widely and so commonly as fuck. Can you?

As Twain said: The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

 

Karen Zacharias is author of Mother of Rain (Mercer Univ. Press).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Karen

Terrorism: A Branding Problem

Branding

 

 

The terrorist group that calls itself ISIS appears to be somewhat tech savvy. Every time they saw the head off another innocent human being they make sure to capture it all on their iPhones or Droids or whatever camera it is they use before uploading the gruesome video to YouTube, Reddit, Twitter, or whatever they call their version of Social Media.

Technology, as any Wall Street marketing firm will confirm, is absolutely essential to getting one’s message out. But what many terrorists apparently fail to understand is that the message matters more than the technology one uses to deliver it. In the world of marketing, ISIS has a branding problem. All these beheadings of innocent people – people who are humanitarians for the love of all things holy – has conflated whatever message they hoped to deliver to the American public.

What is it about these terrorists? They don’t seem to understand that the American public has the attention span of a flea. We jump from one war to the next in a matter of seconds. So while you have our attention – make your point clear. And make it in a way that entertains or charms us. Don’t waste our time with your barbarism.

We may watch your first beheading but you can be darn sure we aren’t watching the third or fourth one.  The minute you show up online, we hit the click button. Terrorist groups would be better off hiring some big-wig New York ad agency to help develop a more appealing brand. These beheadings have become a terrorist trend so passé any Okie can carry one out.

Perhaps these terrorists underestimate the American public’s tolerance for violence. This generation of Americans grew up on Chucky. We might seek out horror on Halloween but we don’t hanker for it day in and day out, unless, of course, it is a book by Stephen King. We can’t get enough of him. But then that’s because we all know down deep King is a good guy. He’s the English teacher we all wish we had.

See, that’s the real problem with all these terrorist groups. They’ve lost track of their own story. They don’t even know why they are doing what they do. They’ve got so caught up in the process they’ve totally forgotten their own narrative.

Wall Street will tell you that’s the kiss of death for any terrorist hoping to get a message across. People have to know who you are and what your backstory is before they will listen to what you have to say. Being labeled a terrorist can absolutely wreck havoc on one’s brand and completely obliterate whatever message one intended to spread.

And it doesn’t take much to turn a brand sour. Just ask Ray Rice about how quickly it can all go south when the American public discovers how violent you really can be.

 

 

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Mother of Rain (Mercer Univ. Press).

Book Karen