Tag Archives: publishing

Uncovering a Cover

Cover Art v2 (Flattened).jpgThis last week I received (and approved) the cover for my new novel, The Fire Trail, to be released by eLectio Publishing May 10. It always astonishes me when I open that email attachment. I am filled with anticipation, then wonder.

Covers cover things, in this case, the interior pages, the real book. I had signed off on the interior galley earlier, having changed a word here and there, having caught some inconsistencies. They say one never finishes writing a book; one merely abandons it. How true. I usually have a sinking feeling when I sign off on a book, for it is like sending one’s child into the great wide world. Twinges of regret will shadow my exuberance over the release, and I shall be nervous to open a copy once published. Like many authors, I am my most demanding critic and shall always see errors to be corrected and changes to be made.

And so as I gazed at the cover of The Fire Trail I asked myself if it was a good representation of the story and its themes, its characters and their arcs, the burning passion that I had seared onto the pages with my words and phrases. The cover shows the sun setting in the west beyond the Statue of Liberty, the orb of fire falling into a dark horizon, with votive candles flaming below.

I suppose it is a truth (possibly trite) universally acknowledged that humans have their own covers hiding their true selves. Does my outward manner reflect my soul or hide it? Is my book to be judged by its cover? Am I am open book, disingenuous, integrated, whole?

Our flesh, our clothing, and our behavior cover and protect us. We are born with bodies and live within them a lifetime. Body and soul are at once separate and united. And yet we have a yearning to reach out, to experience something other, transcendence beyond ourselves. Some of us make this journey with drugs. Some travel into prayer. Some are absorbed by the beauty and truth of music and art, some lost in work and some in play. In fact, being absorbed in anything, be it work, books, movies, or love of another, pulls us out of ourselves. The movement away from self is a relief, a rest, a relaxation. Self absorption is exhausting. This is why, I am told, that a good sleep is more about the rest of the mind than the body. We need a break from ourselves.

As I peer at these words through the windows of my eyes I know that I desire such escape from self. I am blessed to have found rest in God, in worship, in prayer and praise and sacrament. I’m also re-created through beauty, in music, and in nature when it is friendly not deadly. I have found rest too in books and movies that pull me into another world.

As I gaze at my new cover for The Fire Trail, I ask myself, do the images invite me inside? Just so, our outward demeanors sometimes belie rather than reflect our inward states. Sometimes they protect the inner person with layers of sophistication, sophistry, fads, political-correctness, the zeitgeist of today. Sometimes it is frightening to drop the mask, the public persona, to be open, honest, and loving.

The Fire Trail referenced in the title of my new novel is a firebreak in the Berkeley hills that many walkers and runners enjoy for the panoramic views of San Francisco, the bay and its bridges. It’s a path that safeguards civilization from the wilderness, that protects Berkeley and its university from the firestorms that rage through the dry brown grass of the East Bay hills in late summer.

The Fire Trail considers whether the sun is indeed setting over Western civilization, ushering in a new dark age. But the fire of the setting sun is also the fire of burning votives, those prayers that lighten the dark. And the fire of prayer is lit by the burning love of God.

And so today, this last Sunday in Eastertide, Rogation Sunday, we pray for our world. Rogation comes from the Latin rogare, to ask, and we petition God for peace in the world, and the freedom to pray. In prayer, we unite with God’s sacred heart of burning love.

One of the appearances of Christ after his resurrection was on the road to the town of Emmaus. The two disciples who walked with him did not recognize him as Jesus who was crucified and risen from the dead. It was only when Christ breaks bread (recalling the last supper and the Eucharistic body broken) and vanished from them that they knew who he was. They wondered at their own blindness, saying: “Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?”

It has been said that when we face the last judgment, we shall either burn with the love of God or be burned by it, for mankind cannot bear too much reality. He must cover himself with anything that will distance himself from real life, from truth and even beauty. C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce, a story about the irreconcilable distance between Heaven and Hell, describes the blades of grass in Heaven that will cut our tender feet if we are not made more real in our earthly journey, more full of the love of God.

And so we uncover our hearts and minds and souls, open them wide to God’s love – in history and in the present – so that we may infuse our culture with his law and liberty, peace and transcendence. Such experience of truth and beauty will make us more real, faith warriors able to protect our culture from the barbaric and deadly, so that that fiery setting sun will rise again, revealing a new day.

Thanksgiving for America

flagI’m pleased to announce that I have been offered a contract to publish my sixth novel, The Fire Trail. So I am particularly thankful to God as we approach this national day of Thanksgiving.

But I am also thankful for Thanksgiving itself. It is a time to be reminded to cultivate an attitude of gratitude in spite of a culture of pouting grievance. Once a year the nation recalls, with thanks, the exceptionalism of America. We look back to our history of religious liberty and the many streams of faith mapping our great land. We celebrate our history of free speech and the vitality of civil debate that built our great academic institutions. We are grateful for the remarkable centuries of relative peace ensured by the rule of law, its enforcement, and the courts that judge blindly without regard to race, gender, class, religion. No other nation can boast these things in this way.

But as we celebrate this Thanksgiving, it seems that our national and cultural firebreak, that border between civilization and the wilderness, has been breached as never before. The flames have jumped the path and are threatening our towns and very way of life.

Can we change course in time? I’m not sure. Can we put out the fires of intolerance and terror? Can we ensure those liberties we have enjoyed, for our children and our grandchildren and their children?

In many ways we have arrived at this point through our own success in creating a civilized world. Freedom carries within it its own seed of destruction. We have not worried about invasion and tyranny and submission to sharia law. In this sense we have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams, for America has created a culture of ease, believing the nation would live forever. So we have become frivolous in our worries: the use of fossil fuels or windmills, offense over a slur from an officer or a teacher, academic courses that challenge rather than validate our self-esteem. The delicacy of our concerns reminds me of T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: “Do I dare to eat a peach? I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.” We continue with our lives, walking on the beach, not paying attention to the tyrants who wish to conquer our shores.

Nine-eleven caused us to sit up and pay attention, as did other shootings and bombings since, and now we watch as Paris burns. We mourn, we light a candle. But Paris is far away and surely we will manage here as we always have. So we think.

Historian Niall Ferguson quoted Bryan Ward-Perkins in the London Times: “Romans before the fall were as certain as we are today that their world would continue for ever substantially unchanged. They were wrong. We would be wise not to repeat their complacency.” Mr. Ferguson concludes, “Poor poor Paris. Killed by complacency.”

Indeed. But we like complacency. We are not used to having to pay attention. We have others do that for us – our elected officials, our military, our great minds. After all, we don’t have to pay attention much to vote, do we? Or do we?

Eva Moskowitz, founder and chief executive officer of Success Academy Charter Schools, claims in the Journal that her astounding success in raising test scores in poor communities has been mainly due to a single principle: the students must pay attention. She gives educator Paul Fucaloro all the credit for inspiration and teacher training, explaining how “Every child had to sit up straight and show he was paying attention…students had to sit with hands clasped and look at whomever was speaking…” The teacher called on the students rather than asking for volunteers. If the student couldn’t focus, the teacher moved the student to the front of the class. “As Paul repeatedly preached to me,” Ms. Moskowitz writes, “it’s morally wrong to let a child choose whether to pay attention, because many will make the wrong choice and we can’t let them slip through the cracks…. it’s our job to teach them to focus.”

I recall my own public school years in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties. These expectations and procedures were firmly in place. We were expected to listen and be prepared to answer. We didn’t sit in circles but in rows so that some students were brought to the front for closer supervision. Our attitude was graded and was the first grade my parents looked at. I could get away with B’s and C’s in academic subjects, but if there was the slightest question as to my attitude, or my “citizenship,” there would be a serious discussion about the report card.

It appears today you must send your children to a charter or private school to ensure this kind of discipline, which means that the average public school graduate has not always learned to focus, to pay attention, to have a positive attitude toward learning, to become a good citizen. It may be that many of the teachers were products themselves of such schooling and find it harsh and lowering of self-esteem to establish such behavior boundaries.

So, like the bored student gazing out the classroom window or secretly playing a digital game on a cell phone, Americans gaze out the window into the clouds, wondering whether weather is too cold or too hot, too wet or too dry. We campaign for slow-food and decry genetically modified food. We chase Twitter trends and indulge in bestseller porn.

The Fire Trail pays attention to these themes and so I’m especially thankful this Thanksgiving. I’m thankful, for I love America. I want America to be around for my grandchildren and their children, a free America, a peaceful America, and a grateful America. I want an America that holds up the ideal of a civilized world. I want a world that pays attention to goodness, truth, beauty, and most of all, love.

The Fire Trail calls attention to these things, where these ideals came from, and how we can best preserve them. It calls on the students in the back row with the dazed bored look and moves them to the front row. It asks them questions and listens to the answers. It encourages civil debate.

I’m thankful to God most especially this Thanksgiving for the astounding joyous privilege of living in this country for another year. I give thanks for those brave men and women on the battlefields of culture or combat who have paid attention and continue to watch out for us. They rebuild our fire trail daily. They keep America safe.

Thomas Sowell recently quoted Winston Churchill, appointed prime minister during World War II: “All I hope is that it is not too late. I am very much afraid it is. We can only do our best.”

We can only do our best: Another ideal to be thankful for.