The Blessing of Story

Next Thursday is Thanksgiving, and in my family, that means counting off our blessings with kernels of corn. We toss them into a basket that we pass around the table, letting the pile collect as we listen to friends and family tell snippets of stories from the past year.

When my sister and I were young, my parents would have to remind us to reach beyond the immediate physical “stuff” around us—to give thanks for friendship instead of just our new dolls, to think about what it means to live in a free country instead of just what it means to go on a field trip to the zoo.

In later years, almost all of the blessings we named were the more abstract sort: family, health, a sense of belonging, the ability to dream about the future.

Give thanks

This year, I have my list ready, and near the top is this: I am thankful for story.

And not just because I enjoy being entertained by happy endings. In fact, I think stories can sometimes be the opposite of cheery escapism.

In the psalms where the people of God are crying out for help, one thing they often do is trace back through their history, reminding God and themselves of those times when He was faithful, against all odds, in spite of their fears and weaknesses and failures (see Psalm 106 and Psalm 136 for good examples of this).

When thanksgiving was hard and lament seemed more fitting, they told stories.

It’s true that the books we talk about here on the blog are fiction. In a strict sense, they never happened. But in another sense, they happen all the time. They are memoirs of our struggles and triumphs, our heartbreaks and joys, because they describe people like us dealing with very real emotions and problems. Fiction stories may have different plots and settings, but we love them, at least in part, because they are our stories. And often, these stories portray both good times and hard ones.

It reminds me of this quote from Sarah Loudin Thomas’s Miracle in a Dry Season:

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On the bountiful years, when you have to prioritize your blessings to know which ones to mention, when you can laugh from someplace deep inside of you, when all the people gathered around the Thanksgiving table are happy to see each other, God is good.

And during the hard years, when there have been more hospital visits than weddings, when you have been hurt and have hurt others badly enough that you don’t know how to fix things, when there is an empty chair at the table, God is still good.

Or, as Psalm 43 says, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

Welcome to the Bethany House family Thanksgiving table! Pull up a chair.

Table

If I were to pass you a few bits of corn, what blessings would you name with them?

Meet the Author: Davis Bunn

As promised last week, bestselling author Davis Bunn is joining us on the blog this week!

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With the recent release of his latest suspense novel, The Patmos Deception, Davis had a lot to say about his writing career, characters, and the theme of his book. Hope you enjoy chatting with him as much as I did!

Amy: If you had to explain to someone why you write fiction, what would you say?

Davis: I have been passionate about story since childhood. But I only began writing after coming to faith at age twenty-eight; I started writing two weeks later, and instantly knew this was more than just a desire, more than some sideline activity. This was a gift. I was too young in my faith-walk to even know what “spiritual calling” might mean. I know now.

Amy: Do you have a character you would most like to meet in real life?

Patmos DeceptionDavis: Carey Mathers (the lead in The Patmos Deception) is one of my all-time favorite characters. From the first moment you meet her you know this is a young lady in love with life. She has never had much time for the store-bought life—she was raised Texas poor but considers herself the richest lady alive. She is attractive, but in an intelligent and head-strong manner, something she inherited from her grandmother. Her intelligence is her gift, that and a questing mind. Some people find that off-putting, for Carey makes no bones about who she is. My wife came up with Carey, something that rarely happens, and that makes the lady more special still.

Amy: What are a few changes you’ve seen in the publishing industry from the time you started writing?

Davis: Perhaps the biggest is how so many of the major Christian publishers have been acquired by New York houses. I suppose this was inevitable, and there are some positive aspects to the transition. But it has most certainly made it harder for new authors, especially novelists, to establish themselves in the market. I so hope that changes in the years to come.

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Amy: Finish the following sentence, “After turning the last page in one of my books, I would be happy if the reader…”

Davis: I most hope the reader says, “Wow, that was a great read. And I’m left with a real sense of…”  I’ll let them finish that sentence. What they take away is less important than feeling that they were both richly entertained, and blessed in some way by a spiritual theme or message or inspirational thought.

In this particular story, I deal with the issue of pilgrimage. Patmos is one of the rare locations that every branch of Christianity both reveres and visits. Baptist, Mennonite, Quaker, Catholic, Orthodox, Syrian, Egyptian Coptic, all come here and set aside their differences and kneel in the cave where God imparted his final plan for mankind. The island holds a reverential feel, and this I hope is imparted in the story. The past is alive in a most remarkable fashion here, as though Patmos lives both now and two thousand years ago. This bond to the moment when John listened to God’s voice is what I hoped to share.

Thanks so much for joining us on the blog today, Davis! Readers, your turn: if you could meet any fictional character, who would it be?

November Bethany House Books

As you may have noticed from Sunday’s Prayer for Authors post, this November we have just one full-length novel releasing (though Jody Hedlund’s free ebook novella, Out of the Storm is also available—be sure to check it out!).

So, for this month’s New Release Announcement, let me introduce you to…The Patmos Deception by Davis Bunn. Just this year, Davis was inducted into the Christy Hall of Fame, and later this month, he’ll be answering questions on the blog about his writing career.

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For more about Davis and his books, visit davisbunn.com.

His latest novel combines a romance with international intrigue, following three characters as they uncover the island of Patmos’s ancient secret.

Nick Hennessy, a young Texas journalist looking for his big break, finds himself in Europe—his assignment, to investigate the alarming disappearance of Grecian antiquities. Nick has the credentials—and cover ID—to unearth the truth. And he knows just the researcher to help him.…

Carey Mathers, fresh from her studies in forensic archeology, has accepted a job with the Athens Institute for Antiquities—a dream come true, since the Greek isle of Patmos, where the Apostle John received his vision of the Apocalypse, was a focus of her research.

Dimitri Rubinos, a native of the Greek islands, holds on to the family charter boat business by a thread. But his country’s economic chaos isn’t the only thing that has turned his world on its head.

Patmos Deception

But why read about the plot when you can read part of the book itself? The following excerpt is taken from the early chapters of The Patmos Deception:

Carey decided not to open her case and drag out her coat for fear of getting everything inside wet. She stood in the taxi line arguing with herself. She would have preferred to take a bus. Her thrifty nature disliked the extra expense, but the Institute’s location was just some address on a scrap of paper. She could read a little Greek, yet it was ancient Greek, and the spoken language was well beyond her. She would never be able to figure out the bus markings.

The taxi driver looked to be about eighty, with a three-day stubble and clothes that smelled of cigarette smoke. He stood by the taxi’s rear and stared mournfully at Carey’s suitcase. She got the message and lifted it into the trunk herself. She set her backpack on the rear seat and grimaced at the tobacco stench. The driver accepted her sheet of paper, squinted at the address written in Greek, said something, and shook his head. She pointed to the address and spoke one of her few Greek phrases, “I want to go there.”

The driver grunted a response, which launched a coughing fit that lasted through starting the engine and setting off.

As he drove around the square fronting the station, she noticed the beggars. They didn’t swarm like the ones she had seen in documentaries about Africa or the Indian sub-continent. These people held to a grim sense of place, sitting or squatting along the curb and the benches and the empty fountain. They lifted up packets of tissue or gum or single cigarettes. They were clumped together by race and culture. Africans formed a colorful mob, dressed in rainbow hues of mismatched jackets and trousers and mittens and scarves and caps. The Greeks were mostly old, with faces so seamed their eyes vanished in the folds. Then came the largest group of all, swarthy and dark-eyed and bleak. The taxi driver scowled through his side window as he waited for the light to change and pretended to spit. “Gyftos.”

She recognized the word for Gypsy, and at the same moment she noticed the pendant dangling from his rearview mirror. It was stamped with the political symbol for Golden Dawn, the neofascist organization that had pushed its way into parliament with the last elections. Carey huddled deeper into her seat, stared at the rain-swept world beyond her window, and grimly held on to her dream.

She was so glad to step out from the taxi that she didn’t even flinch at the cost. She paid the man, ignored his frown over the lack of a tip, and hauled her case from the trunk. She recognized the Institute immediately. The stone building matched the image on their website. The taxi had already driven away by the time she noticed the chains wrapped around the gates, locked in place.

The front drive passed through the stone pillars where she stood, swept through a front garden knee-high in weeds, and circled a dry fountain. Two of the Institute’s ground-floor windows were broken, revealing internal bars. A trio of papers in transparent folders, lashed to the front gates with plastic ties, flapped in the wind.

Carey stared through the gate at the broken windows and watched her dreams trickle away with the cold, wintry rain.

Interested? Read the first three chapters here.

One fun aspect of international thrillers is that they take you to places like Greece that you might not have visited in person. If you won a plane ticket that you could use to travel to any foreign country, where would you go?

Prayer for Authors: November 2014

Since it’s the first Sunday of the month, we’ll be continuing the Bethany House Fiction tradition of taking time to pray for authors who have new releases coming out this month. I’m Amy Green, the fiction publicist here, and I’m thankful for all of the readers who show their support for our authors in the way that matters most: by praying for them. To read more about the reasons behind this time of prayer, go to this post.

Authors with Books Releasing in November:

Davis Bunn

Verse of the Month: Feel free to use the text of this verse to guide your prayers for these authors, as well as other people in your life who you want to remember in prayer today.

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!” Psalm 95:1-2, ESV

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For protection against “invisible sins” – such as bitterness or pride or jealousy.
  • For small reminders of why stories and storytelling matter.
  • For chances to be thankful and express that attitude of thankfulness to others.

And one of the blessings we here at BHP will be counting this year is having such a wonderful group of readers who care about our authors enough to pray for them. We appreciate you!