Category Archives: Writing

Exciting and Innovative Supernatural Thriller from Lorilyn Roberts

The City“The City” is the fourth novel in the Seventh Dimension series from Lorilyn Roberts. I enjoyed the first three, and found this latest book to be just as exciting.

It is a cliché to describe a book as a page-turner, but that was exactly my reaction to this fast-paced, supernatural thriller. And despite being formally classified as aimed at young adults – a demographic I left some decades ago – it will surely appeal to older generations as well.

The action begins quickly. Shale, the teenage heroine of the story, is berated by her schoolteacher for bringing her Christian faith into a classroom science debate. Abruptly some kind of strange UFO-like aircraft lands outside in the school football field. School officials claim it is connected to the military. But is it really?

More unexpected events occur. Shale’s estranged father summons her to Washington. He wants her to fly to Israel in search of some ancient scrolls. And then, before we know it, the whole world is engulfed in war.

In Israel Shale meets up with her beloved Daniel, and is thrilled to learn that he is now a follower of Yeshua (Jesus). But Daniel is still seeking for his father. Together they fly out to look for him.

In the previous book, Daniel witnessed the trial and crucifixion of Yeshua. This time he – with Shale – encounters something vastly more sinister. I will not reveal the dramatic ending, though if you are familiar with your Bible you know it already.

As in her previous books, Lorilyn Roberts describes all these events with a riveting intensity. Her characters are strong and believable. We live the drama with them.

And some good news. I had thought “The City” was the final book in this exciting and innovative series. It seems I was wrong. I look forward eagerly to the next.

Salt of the Earth – A Novel Idea

Ideas for novels come from many different sources. My novels tend to reflect current events, and so I get plenty of ideas from reading newspapers and magazines.

My novel “Festival in the Desert” – part of my Brother Half Angel series of thrillers – is about Islamist terrorists in the West African country of Mali and their attacks on a Christian mission hospital.

I am a fan of world music – pop music from countries around the globe – and the initial idea for the plot came from an article in a British world music magazine “Songlines.”

It was about Mali, pointing out that the country had some of the most interesting music anywhere in the world, thanks to great artists like Salif Keita, Amadou and Mariam, Ali Farka Toure, Toumani Diabate, Rokia Traore, Oumou Sangare, Tinariwen and many others.

But the article also pointed out that the musicians faced many threats to their livelihood, including Islamist terrorists, Tuareg (the north Mali desert people) separatists and drug runners. In other words, an irresistible combination for a novel.

Festival in the Desert - Smashwords cover Jan 2013While writing it, I discovered an interesting fact about Mali. In the far north of the country are some famous salt mines. For more than 600 years salt has been mined there, and camel trains transport giant slabs of salt on a three-week trek from the mines to the city of Timbuktu. All this activity helped make Timbuktu a great city and one of the centers of learning and culture in West Africa.

I used this information peripherally in my novel. But now I have just returned from a holiday in central Europe, and discovered that an interesting tourist attraction is the salt mine near Krakow. Until recently salt had been mined there since the 13th century.

Now more than a million tourists annually enter and view salt sculptures, giant underground caverns and four chapels. It is a magnificent sight.

But it got me thinking. Salt makes many appearances in the Bible. In the Old Testament it was added to all offerings. Lot’s wife was turned into salt. Jesus told believers they were the salt of the earth.

Salt! I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I think I have a new subject for a novel.

Buddhist Extremists and My Novels

Military Orders - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013So you haven’t heard of Dorje Shugden, the extremist Buddhist group now in the news for their opposition to the Dalai Lama. Well, that’s not my fault. For I made them the villains of my thriller “Military Orders.”

The title of a lengthy post this week on the Foreign Affairs website sums up the group – “Meet the Buddhists Who Hate the Dalai Lama More Than the Chinese Do.”

That’s what happens when you write novels that are based on current events. These events are apt to overtake your novels.

I have already written about how soccer riots in Egypt mirror events in my thriller “The Coptic Martyr of Cairo” and how the burning of churches in West Africa was foreshadowed by my novel “Festival in the Desert.”

A few excerpts from the Foreign Affairs post sum up its tone:

Dorje Shugden is an obscure trickster spirit, believed to have originated in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in the 17th century. And though the spirit’s followers in the Western world probably number only a few thousand, they’ve been surprisingly successful at generating attention for themselves and their campaign to discredit the Dalai Lama. 

…Besides protesting the Dalai Lama during his trips to the United States and Europe, Shugden followers produce websites filled with anti-Dalai Lama material and write and distribute pamphlets, articles, and books denouncing the Dalai Lama. Consider, for example, “The False Dalai Lama: The Worst Dictator in the Modern World,” published in October 2013.

The book describes its purpose as helping people to “understand the deceptive nature” of the Dalai Lama, who stands accused of “destroying pure Buddhism in this world.” If that weren’t enough, it depicts the Tibetan spiritual leader as a “Muslim” who is firmly in the grip of a “fascination with war and Nazism.”

One might think, given Beijing’s well-known hostility toward the Tibetan spiritual leader, that the book is a work of calumny sponsored by the ruling Chinese Communist Party. But its publishers are, in fact, enthusiastic Buddhists. Specifically, the International Shugden Community, a California-based organization representing a small religious sect whose members worship Dorje Shugden, and whose website claims its mission is “exposing the dark side of the Dalai Lama.”

My thriller “Military Orders“ has a somewhat fantastical plot about a plan by a Christian church to “hijack” the next selection of a Dalai Lama – after the current incumbent dies – and install in his place a secret Christian. During my research for the book I learned about Dorje Shugden, and they seemed to fit my plot perfectly – opposed to the Dalai Lama, but also no friends of Christians. They made excellent villains.

Expect them to appear in the news again, especially once the current Dalai Lama dies.

And this time you will have heard of them.

Care Needed When Christian Novelists Write About Other Religions

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about a program I am involved with, to help inmates of a Florida prison develop their writing skills. I donate copies of my novels, and the prisoners critique them.

As I noted, the reviews can be brutally honest. And it has set me thinking about how we Christians portray other religions in our novels.

Military Orders - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013My thriller “Military Orders” has a somewhat fantastical plot about a plan by a Christian church to “hijack” the next selection of a Dalai Lama – after the current incumbent dies – and install in his place a secret Christian. Of necessity it includes a lot of information on Tibetan Buddhism, for which I did a considerable amount of research.

I believed – and believe – that it is a resolutely Christian novel, faithful to Scripture and to Christian doctrine.

But one of the inmates, Keith, disagreed –

This book is intended for people who are interested in the Dalai Lama and think that Buddhism is the true religion.

I did not enjoy this book because of the way it portrayed the one and only God and Christians. Like it was God’s plan to protect the Dalai Lama. Are you serious?

And the church was going to bribe a Christian family to give up their child and make believe he was the Dalai Lama. First of all, if a Christian family gives up their child for money, they ain’t really believers. And what did you mean that the child was “christened?”

And here is a three-star Amazon review –

This books comes from a concept that I wouldn’t say is necessarily Christian, but the ending leaves it open to what might happen in a world where a ‘”reborn” Dalai Lama was found as a child. Since I don’t believe in being born again and again, it didn’t hold my interest as much as a book would with more intrigue or twists and turns.

Hot Rock DreamingI’ve looked again at what I wrote, and I truly believe the reviewers have it wrong. I think my novel has a strong Christian message. I wasn’t out to knock Buddhism – with which I once had an involvement – but I believe that the book clearly shows Christianity to be the true religion.

I would note that in a previous mystery, “Hot Rock Dreaming,” also with a strong Christian message, one of the main characters was a woman who practised shamanism, and that was a strong theme of the novel. That book was a finalist in the Australian Christian Book of the Year awards.

So it’s win some, lose some. But certainly Christians need to consider carefully how they depict other religions.

Captive Audience for My Books

Authors love good reviews for their books. But more important are honest reviews, and recently I’ve been getting a lot of these.

I’m a member of an online writers’ initiative, the John 3:16 Marketing Network. One of the best things the group has done – in my opinion – is setting up a writing ministry to prisoners. We donate copies of our novels to a Florida prison, for the inmates to read and critique as part of a writing program. As you might imagine, the reviews are sometimes brutally blunt.

Maria Kannon - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013I have just received the latest batch of half-a-dozen reviews for three of my thrillers. Here is Charles on “The Maria Kannon,” a novel about attacks on a church in Japan:

Overall, the book was an enjoyable read….I would read Roth’s other works.

And Lian, who signed his review “A brother in Christ,” on the same book:

All in all a good read for an evening or weekend. I enjoyed it.

And Keith:

I believe the main point came at the end of the book, how a Christian should forgive and love instead of seeking revenge. I enjoyed the book. It had a good story and action. Also it didn’t drag with many pointless details. It just kept flowing.

Military Orders - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013But Keith was less impressed with “Military Orders,” which features a missionary who becomes involved in a Christian scheme to find the next Dalai Lama:

I did not enjoy this book because of the way it portrayed the one and only God and Christians. Like it was God’s plan to protect the Dalai Lama. Are you serious?…And that Professor Rafa [the book’s hero] is a coward not a hero. Two times he ran to save his life and left the kid with the kidnapper. And just to save his life he offered information on another child that the kidnapper knew nothing about. He risked the life of another child and his family just to save his own. Selfish coward!

Finally – gulp – here is Napier, reviewing “Brother Half Angel,” which is about attacks on an underground Christian seminary in China:

Brother Half Angel - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013The story itself left me well short. The disconnect between Ling and the feelings of those in service with him went on and on ad nauseum. I felt the Westlokes were weakly defined and came across as nagging and henpecked. Jenny’s incessant whining made me want to shut the book. The conflict of good against evil was shallow….The awesome theme and motivation I feel was left flat by a weak plot with no resolution.

I told you these reviews were brutally honest.

But Napier does at least end his critique positively:

I would be interested in reading other “Brother Half Angel” stories. A hero for the faith is always worth reading about.

Amen to that.

Rescuing Persecuted Christians – A New Novel from Lela Gilbert

Lela Gilbert is a prolific writer, with a particular focus (like myself) on the persecuted church, and also on Israel. Among her books are the excellent Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians (with Paul Marshall and Nina Shea) and Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner.

She also writes articles for a variety of publications, including the Jerusalem Post and the Weekly Standard.

Her latest book is a thriller, The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight, which tells the story of a team of commandoes working to help persecuted Christians. This resonated with me, as my Brother Half Angel series of thrillers have a vaguely similar theme. Lela kindly agreed to answer some questions about the book.

You have authored or co-authored many non-fiction books. Why did you now decide to write a novel?

Some people prefer fiction to non-fiction for their spare-time reading. But even in non-fiction, it is always effective to interweave stories of real people – to put a “face” on a situation, to embody it. I thought it might be effective to build a novel around people that readers could relate to, and to help them see the terrifying reality of Sharia law, mob violence and religiously-inspired cruelty.

Please tell me a little about it.

I wrote three novels and two children’s books in the early 90s and found them much easier and more enjoyable to write than non-fiction. But, of course, unless they are huge sellers they are not very profitable. So they are kind of a leisure-time pursuit in my view – at least at this point of my life. But in this case, I thought it was worth the time and trouble to bring to life the real story of Christian persecution in Nigeria. Sadly,  it’s worse now than it was when I wrote it.

It has a theme of Christian persecution. Is it purely fiction, or are parts of it factual?

Just about every story in Angel’s Flight is based either on a real news story or on a military operation that actually took place, although not necessarily there. And of course the reality of Boko Haram is well-known now, more dangerous than ever.

As for religious persecution – I co-authored a major book on this subject called Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, which came out in 2012. And my best known book, Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Visitor also looks at Jewish and Christian persecution in Muslim lands. So it’s a subject that’s never far from my attention or my heart. In fact, I just returned from Kurdistan, where I was able to visit some of the Christian refugees there who fled ISIS.

You feature a group of commandoes rescuing persecuted Christians. Do you think Christians turn the other cheek too much? Should we perhaps – somehow – have groups of Christian military personnel who are able to help Christians in distress?

I think ‘turning the other cheek’ is often misapplied to violent circumstances which are entirely unrelated to the person-to-person conflicts Jesus was talking about. There is an entire Christian teaching on Just War Theory that deals with the defence of those who cannot defend themselves. Meanwhile, pacifism has become a symptom of a very self-absorbed – even narcissistic  – form of Christianity in which little or nothing is deemed worth sacrificing or dying for.

And, in fact, some of the Christian villages and towns in Syria and Iraq are starting to form their own armed militias to keep ISIS and other brutal terrorist groups from murdering or otherwise devastating their families and communities. They have to provide their own arms, but they are being trained by “official” militias such as the Kurdish Peshmerga.

As for the idea of paramilitary groups, I guess a lot of us have grown increasingly frustrated while waiting for powerful governments to stop pontificating and take action. I got the idea of David Levine’s commando squad from a couple of rescue efforts I read about that were put together by wealthy business owners who fielded their own contracted warriors to liberate their personnel who were being held hostage.

Your co-author Jack Buckner is a retired military specialist. What particular contributions did he make to the book?

I have no idea about military weaponry, operations or culture. Jack was on the ground as a US Army Special Operator for decades and he knows how soldiers talk, think and act  when they are on the job. He sketched out the way things would have to happen, filled in the blanks on guns and grenades and mines and the like, and I wove it into the rest of the story. There’s a smattering of words scattered throughout the text that may raise a few conservative Christian eyebrows, but we decided to let it be real – for the most part.

What has been the reception so far to the book?

Most readers say that they can’t put it down – it’s very absorbing and engaging to them. I’m always happy when my friends like my work, but I’ve been especially pleased when total strangers write glowing reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. I hope Angel’s Flight sells well, but not only because of profitability. I am convinced that fiction is a great way to inform people about how things really are, and how difficult life is in some very dark parts of the world. And if it works out, we can write more similar stories.

Lela, thank you very much.

* The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

A Royal Partnership – Building Your Relationship With God

I became a Christian only at the age of 44. In addition, there were other big changes happening in my life at that time. I had recently moved with my family to Australia, from Tokyo, where I had been living for the previous 17 years. And I was in the process of trying to set myself up as a freelance author, with the writing of a book for non-specialists on how to analyze a company’s financial accounts.

As a new Christian I was attending a small Bible study group, run by a couple from my church – former missionaries in Africa – who had taken it upon themselves to mentor me. We studied the Bible and talked about the Christian life. And they encouraged me in my prayers.

I noted that when they prayed they always included some prayers for my financial accounting book.

What a waste of time, I used to think. Sure, we pray to God about the big matters of life and death, or for healing from illness, or for guidance with affairs of the heart. But, I reckoned, God isn’t going to involve Himself in a book on financial accounting.

That was my thinking for several months, and then something happened. One day I had a strong feeling inside me that I should pray hard for the book I was writing. Even as a new Christian I recognized that somehow this feeling probably came from God.

I did pray. At that time I was using a particular accounting text as one of the guides for my writing. And the very next time I consulted that book I found a whole series of passages that I had never noticed before – though I am sure I had read the entire text carefully – that directly addressed several confusing issues with which I had been struggling.

And at that moment I realized that God was intimately concerned with my book on financial accounting. In addition, I came to learn, He is interested in all other aspects of my life too.

Of course, knowing this is one thing, and adjusting your life accordingly is another, and even now, 20 years later, I know that I am still far from following Him as well as I should, or as well as I would wish.

That is where the book “Royal Partners” comes in. It is all about building a relationship with God.

The author, Larry Fox, is an engineer, and this is a practical book, based very much on scripture. The sub-title sums up the theme: “Learning to Work with God.”

The author makes it clear that God desires – even demands – such a relationship:

The Gospel of Matthew quotes a very disturbing statement Jesus made.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

That would have to be the absolute worst time to discover you were wrong! These people will think they served God and did His work, but they missed a critical point: their relationship with God was more important than what they did for Him. Jesus made it clear the problem was that He had no relationship with them: “I never knew you.” As a result, their works were dead — performed on their own without God’s involvement. Our works must be expressions or the result of our relationship with God; otherwise we might do all the right things for all the wrong reasons and our works would be considered dead.

He even seems to understand my own struggles:

As with everything else in life, there is a learning curve. Except this one lasts our entire life. We should never be content with our current spiritual condition or relationship with God. I’m convinced that we could never even imagine what God wants to do with us in this life. It’s simply beyond our ability to imagine because our perspective is still based on our earthly experience. We dare not limit ourselves to what we think or understand. Instead, we must commit ourselves completely to God, whatever He says, whatever He does, whatever He asks of us. Keep leaning forward and trust Him to do the absolute best thing. Our Father is Almighty God. Whatever He does is extraordinary and He wants us to participate in what He is doing. So get ready to learn.

And over some 200 pages the author teaches us how to develop a solid relationship, of the kind that God desires.

This is an excellent book that I highly recommend. It includes personal application questions at the end of each chapter, and is highly suitable for either individual or group study. It is difficult to imagine any serious Christian NOT benefiting hugely from all this guidance.

The book is available at Amazon, and you can read more about the author at his website.

Captive Reviews Shine a New Light

My first three novels were commercially published, but they received few reviews and have sold poorly, despite one being an Australian Christian Book of the Year finalist. So I decided I would self-publish my subsequent novels and promote them myself. I now have a total of 10 novels on the market.

Like every self-published author I am quite obsessive about getting reviews, especially on Amazon, as I know that these can make a difference to sales. I even have a spreadsheet on my computer and once a month I neurotically enter the number of Amazon reviews for each of my titles and the average rating (which is a pretty depressing thing to do, as your early reviews, mainly from friends and relatives, are glowing, whereas subsequent reviews inevitably include one-star and two-star dogs that gradually bring your averages down).

But now I suddenly find myself with a new stream of reviews that are among the most important and touching I have ever received. They put everything I have been doing in a new perspective. Amazon is no longer as important.

Maria Kannon - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013I am part of a group of Christian writers, the John 3:16 Marketing Network, whose 300+ members work to help promote one another’s writings. Though based in America, we are pretty international, with a globally diverse membership, including some here in Australia.

Recently the coordinator Lorilyn Roberts announced a new initiative, together with a Florida prison chaplain, Steve Fox, to take members’ books into prison to be read by the inmates, who would then write reviews, as part of a writing and job skills program.

I have recently received the first reviews of two of my thrillers, and they have thrilled me.

Here is Keith, reviewing “The Maria Kannon”:

I enjoyed the book, it had a good story and action. Also it didn’t drag with many pointless details, it just kept flowing.

And Lian (who describes himself as a Brother in Christ):

The main theme was that Christians should always act out of love, never vengeance. And at times some Christians must step up and do what is necessary to stop evil people from continuing evil….All in all a good read for an evening or weekend. I enjoyed it.

Of course, not all the reviews are positive. Here’s Robert:

The author has tried to twin the Japanese way of life and the Korean way of life into one simple life form, and it cannot be done. It is two wholly different life forms involved entirely upon God who in my opinion was not spoken of in a good manner….I have been to Japan myself and I have seen very little in the book to remind me of the Japanese people. I did not enjoy this book…

Coptic Martyr3But then, here’s William, reviewing “The Coptic Martyr of Cairo”:

The author seems to want to get across the importance of the persecution of the Christians around the world….This book was enjoyable. I had to rethink the way I see my faith according to a large view of what it is to be Christian.

Helping prisoners. Seeing people rethink their faith. Just what we as Christians should be doing. Thank you Keith and Lian and William and even Robert. Suddenly the mighty Amazon is no longer so important, as I view my writing endeavours in an altogether different light.