I am Meg Moseley. Meg, a writer. Seeking the real God in the real world.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Best sellers, best givers

My husband and I took a one-day trip on his bike a couple of weeks ago. We stopped at a garage sale just down the road, and I bought a novel by a Famous Christian Author, or F.C.A. Lo, how the mighty have fallen. A best-seller for a quarter. I’ve never read any of this F.C.A.’s books, but I’ve read reviews. Some people love his writing. Some people hate it. I can’t evaluate his whole body of work by reading only one of his books, but it’s a start.

We hit a second garage sale a little farther into the hills. This one had a whole bookcase full of Reader’s Digest condensed books and a couple dozen hardcovers with fancy bindings that led me to believe they were part of a “classics and semi-classics you have to read before you die” kind of book club. One dollar each. I picked up Les Miserables, To Kill a Mockingbird, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, and one by Graham Greene, but its title escapes me at the moment. I put them in the bag on the back of the bike.

We rode farther into the mountains, and I started thinking about the Famous Christian Author’s book for a quarter and the classics in hardcover for a buck. The F.C.A.’s book isn’t a classic by any stretch of the imagination. It’s merely popular Christian fiction. Nobody will remember it in ten or fifteen years. Each classic cost a mere 75 cents more, at garage sale prices, but they won’t be so easily forgotten. What makes the difference? Craft? Theme? Some magic ingredient?

From there, with my thoughts floating gently along as they do when we’re riding, I pondered the cheesy merchandise that’s sold in typical Christian bookstores. Some of those stores stock more junk than books. You know what I’m talking about: plaques, T-shirts, jewelry, etc., all emblazoned with Bible verses or fish or crosses. What’s the motivation for selling those items? Do the people who design and produce it have an honest desire to get the name of Jesus out there, or do they only want to make money? Maybe it's a mixture. Business is business, after all. I hope to sell my novels one day, which means making a few bucks, but I also hope to give my stories to the Lord as love offerings.

By this time, we were riding through the rugged mountains of Rabun County. My great-great-grandmother was born there in 18-something. Every time we ride through that area, I imagine her and her husband eking out a living somewhere in those hills before they moved to the promised land of California. He was a minister; she died after lingering for years with injuries suffered when she was lassoed and dragged behind a horse by a drunken man to whom she had just given a drink of water. If that was one of her love offerings, it was a costly one.

We hit a construction zone where the road was being widened. On my right stood a tiny house that had once stood far back from the road. Now the road is nearly to its front porch. A long gash of red clay slashed through what had once been lawn, and the little old house stood there like an island of the past, holding out against the tides of progress that are washing against its shores.

In the yard stood a cross. I only caught a glimpse, but it looked like it might have been made of a chickenwire frame, five or six feet tall, with neat, square corners. The framework had been decorated with—what? I had only seconds to see it. Artificial flowers? I think so, but I’m not sure. There seemed to be little white lights, too, but they weren’t lit in the bright afternoon sun. I also caught a glimpse of blue and pink hydrangeas blooming around the house. Then we were past it, but the image was imprinted on my mind: a gash of orange dirt, the bright yellow equipment that had made the gash, orange construction-zone signs and cones, bright hydrangeas, and a fluffy pastel cross standing in the yard.

The cynical side of me sees the tackiness of it. The cheesiness. The other side of me pictures a sweet old man with arthritic hands, weaving the silk flowers onto the framework of a cross . . . why? I don’t know. Let's call it a love offering.

We rode on, through parts of the Nantahala Wilderness, through corners of North and South Carolina and back into Georgia. Everywhere, we saw amazing beauty. Huge vistas of green and blue mountains. Wild rivers. Bright wildflowers. Sunlit fields. Man-made beauty can’t compete with God-made beauty. It just can’t. But we were born to create.

My thoughts kept going back to the flowery cross and to the books in the trunk behind me, one example of popular Christian fiction and a handful of classics. I can’t see the hearts of any of those creators. I know what I like and what I don't like, and I can sometimes discern the quality of craft and take a wild guess about what is destined to be a classic and what is not, but I can't discern what is a cheap offering and what is a costly labor of love.

Maybe my hypothetical old guy with the arthritic hands has been recorded as one of the best givers in the annals of heaven, along with the widow and her mite. It's not my call. I can only keep working on my own offerings.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Deliver Us From Evelyn

With the blessing and permission of the author, here's the first chapter of Deliver Us From Evelyn by Chris Well. This is his second "quirky crime drama," as he describes it. I enjoyed his first one, Forgiving Solomon Long, and I'm looking forward to reading this one, too. Published by Harvest House Publishers, it's available in stores and on Amazon now.

By day, Chris is editor for Homecoming and contributing editor for CCM. He and his wife make their home in Tennessee.

Everyone from the Feds to the mob is scrambling to find the husband of heartless media mogul Evelyn Blake. But no one can decide which is worse—that he is missing, or that she is not ...


Sunday night. April 23.

On his last day of this life, the Right Fair Reverend Missionary Bob Mullins checked the party dip. Just stuck his finger right in there, pulled some glop free, stuck it in his mouth and sucked.

Hmm, good dip.

He wiped his saliva’d finger on his jacket, popped the top off a can of Pringles, shuffled a neat row of curved chips onto a Dixie brand paper platter.


Setting the can down, he stepped back from the secondhand coffee table in the middle of the shag-carpeted office, looked at what his party planning skills had wrought. And he saw that it was good.

He went to the stereo system across the room, selected a CD. Personally, he would have preferred something by the Rolling Stones, maybe Exile on Main Street or Beggars Banquet -- muscular, honky-tonk rock ’n’ roll you can get drunk or stoned to, depending on your mood. He could really go for the bluesy wail of “Tumbling Dice” right now.

But the music library here offered none of that. Besides, his marks -- that is, the members of his “flock” -- held certain expectations regarding what music was appropriate for a prayer meeting. Especially in a small armpit of a town like Belt Falls, Illinois.

(Who names a town “Belt Falls,” anyway?)

The ladies would be here soon. Then Missionary Bob could use his people skills, honed from his years of "ministry," to good effect. Would lead the group in a spontaneous (but carefully planned) evening following “the Lord’s leading” -- some Bible, some hymns, some ministry time. A carefully rehearsed prayer, a combination of wails and pleas, which experience had shown to be a very effective prelude to the passing of the offering plate.

Swept up by the rush of maudlin and spiritual emotion, the ladies would cough up plenty.

“Yea, but there are those who do not have it as comfortably as we do,” he found himself practicing, fiddling with chair placement in the circle, maneuvering pillows on the couch. “Poor children who do not have the food or clothing or shelter such as we take for granted.”

He double-checked the handy photos on the table. The orphanage in Mexico went by a lot of names. It would not do for the Right Fair Reverend Missionary Bob Mullins to get all weepy-eyed over JESUS AMA A LOS NINOS PEQUENOS and then whip out a photo showing a bunch of tiny brown faces smiling under a banner that said CHILDREN OF HER MERCY ORPHANAGE.

Following the fiasco in the last town, he’d played it cool once he got to Belt Falls. (Really, who brings a wagon train across the frontier, breaks ground on a settlement and says, “From henceforth, this shall be known as ‘Belt Falls’”?)

Ever since Andrea -- his partner, his companion, his ray of light -- had got Jesus, she'd stopped helping with the scams. Stopped helping him fleece the flock, so to speak. She laid it on thick enough, It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment, and all that.

He tried to smirk it off, tried that face that always brought her around, but it didn’t seem to work anymore. Whatever had got hold of her wasn’t letting go.

Missionary Bob would never admit it to anyone, least of all himself, that the dividing line between success and failure began and ended with Andrea. When she was working with him, the scams worked like butter.

But then she got religion and the whole machine went up in flames.

Not that Missionary Bob got the clue. He kept working his games, town to town, each new gambit failing, each new town harder to crack than the last.

Once he set up shop here in Belt Falls (don’t even get him started about the name of the town), he took his time getting to know the people. He found them to be a small, close-knit community, smugly going to their church services.

Smug, but not that pious -- it did not take much effort to plant sufficient evidence that the only pastor in town was a raving drug user, maybe even a dealer. Not enough evidence to get the man convicted -- even the hick sheriff saw it was a weak case -- but the hapless pastor had to make only one phone call to the wrong deacon asking for bail money before word of his unholy lifestyle rushed through the congregation like wildfire.

In the eyes of God and the law, he was probably an okay guy. But once a congregation chooses to believe the worst, a preacher may as well pack his bags and move on.

Missionary Bob had even heard tell of one particular church, somewhere in the Midwest, where the members had booted the pastor because he'd had the temerity to wear short pants to a church potluck.

Yep, hell -- if it existed -- would be packed to the lips with smug, busybody churchgoers who ran their preacher out of town because he had worn shorts to a church potluck. Or, as in this case, was the victim of circumstantial evidence planted on him by a traveling huckster.

He stood and straightened his dress jacket. Felt a bulge in his left pocket, was surprised to discover a coaster with the face of Jesus on it.

He looked around the office, befuddled. When had he picked this up?

You don’t have to lift anything here, he reminded himself. You’ve pretty much lifted the whole office already.

Missionary Bob, in what used to be the hapless pastor’s office, heard steps echoing from the foyer, somebody clomping up the stairs. My, my, thought the Right Fair Reverend Missionary Bob Mullins, these ladies do need to lose some weight, don’t they? Whoever this was, she was pounding the stairs to wake the devil.

He stopped fidgeting with pillows and stood up straight, getting into character. Thinking of his plan, his mission, remembering the correct accent and speech patterns of a Right Fair Reverend Missionary, an accent as specific and undeniable as the drawl of New Orleans or the wicked blue-blood of Boston.

There was an insistent pounding on the door, a battering, really, if he had stopped to think about it. But he was too wrapped up in the character of a Right Fair Reverend Missionary. He slapped on a toothy grin and opened the door. “Welcome, child, to -- ”

It was a man. A. Large. Man. A grizzled bear towering over him, bloated flannel shirt cascading out of pants where they were almost tucked, tractor cap on his head declaring EAT ROADKILL. The grizzly bear pressed his flannelled beer belly against the Right Fair Reverend Missionary, leaned down from on high and belched, “I’m Darla Mae’s husband.”

The Right Fair Reverent Missionary Bob Mullins broke character and cursed.

The rest of the confrontation was like a dream, a nightmare of slow motion, the bear smacking him, a freight train to the skull, tossing Missionary Bob across the room. Hitting the coffee table as he went down, elbow in the dip. The grizzly roaring, storming in, Missionary Bob on the floor, scrambling backward, away, fleeing in the only direction he could, farther into the room. The angry husband kicking the table over, party snacks flying, dip spattering across the bookcase.

As Missionary Bob kicked to his feet, always moving backward, until the wall stopped his escape, one question kept flashing through his mind: Is this about the fake antique Cross of James or is this about the adultery?

Either way, his back against the wall, this grizzly man bearing down on him, Missionary Bob was out of options. The giant man, his eyes red, had barrel fists clenched and ready to swing, like jackhammers.

There was a noise behind the grizzly, at the open door. “Missionary Bob?”

One of the ladies.

The enraged husband turned at the voice. Missionary Bob took his one and only chance, grabbed the stone head of Moliere, clubbed the grizzly across the side of the head. The man stumbled backward and fell.

Missionary Bob, fueled by anger and fear and blind, stupid adrenalin, kept clubbing, again and again. The man on the floor now, blood streaming from his head. Missionary Bob clubbing him with the bust again and again. On his knees, on top of the man, clubbing him again and again and again.

Finally, adrenalin loosening its grip, Missionary Bob became aware that the man was not moving. Clutching air in hot, painful gasps, he dropped the bust to the carpet.

Felt something wet on the side of his face, wiped it with his sleeve, saw blood smeared on fabric. Not his own blood.

Gasping, wheezing, he looked up and saw the witnesses, ladies pooling in the doorway, staring agape at the Goliath on the floor, downed by the David with his stone.

© 2006 Chris Well

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Smuckers and the toe

I had some half-baked, pseudo-intellectual ramblings taking shape in my mind this week, gearing themselves up to become a blog post, but then I went grocery shopping and a two-pound jar of Smucker's strawberry jam interfered with my toe and with my mental processes, such as they are, and all I can think about is that painful digit, which is now swollen and approximately the same color as the jam. (How's that for a run-on sentence?)

Yeah, one of the grocery bags ripped, and the jar fell on the joint of my toe. Please, no wisecracks about toe jam.

I don't think it's actually broken. Still, the timing is ironic. Just yesterday, I was proof-reading one of my completed novels and rather enjoying the scene wherein our hero breaks his big toe. If I'd done the shopping yesterday, I might have had all kinds of new sensory details to add to that scene, unless I'd had a different bagger who'd had more sense than to pack so much weight into one flimsy bag. But I've already sent the manuscript off to my agent, so my first-hand (first-foot?) experience is a day too late.

And that's the way it goes. Another glamorous day in the life of a writer. Tomorrow will be better. I'll be posting a sample chapter from Christopher Well's Deliver Us from Evelyn, his new novel from Harvest House. Looks like another good book from Chris.