Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Savvy Demon's Preview to Novel Living

The cover artist experimented with a number
of different colors for the background
before we decided on red for the final cover.

Those of you who like my author page on Facebook may have already seen this, but my new novel, The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living has a release date: Monday, September 16. Even blog visitors may have noticed that the book has now earned its own page ‘round these here parts which just goes to show you how serious and impending this all is.

I’m excited about this book. Super excited. Writing this book has been my best experience as an author so far I think (with the possible exception of The Book of the Harvest, where I also really felt like the Holy Spirit was involved). There were comic scenes that were a blast to write, that had me laughing out loud even on the third edit/rewrite. There were tragic scenes that hurt to write, where I was brought to the verge of tears by what was happening to these characters that I’ve come to care so much about.

If your experience reading this is half as fulfilling as the experiencing I had writing it, I don’t think you’ll be happy with the finished product.

But, more than that, I really felt like this was a book that I was specifically led to write. My short story, The Book of the Harvest, felt like that too. The ideas for both books just hit me with such sudden force, out of the blue, and whereas some authors might credit a muse or simply chalk it up to inspiration, these books are written to glorify God and I believe that the Holy Spirit gave me the ideas. It’s not something I feel for every book. Understand that I strive to make God the focal point of everything I do, but I didn’t feel any special spiritual inspiration for Emaline’s Gift. God has still used that book for His glory—how amazing that He uses any of our meager abilities for His glory!—and I praise and thank Him for that, but I didn’t feel the divine push to put that story down like I did with The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living.

Bible = God-breathed, using human authors to create a
final product that is completely without error.
My books = sometimes the ideas are directly planted by
the Holy Spirit and then I try my best not to screw it up.
Let me be very clear that I don’t think that crediting the Holy Spirit for this story means it is above criticism. I certainly don’t think it would be blasphemous to dislike it! God still chose to use me, after all, as the medium—which means that His brilliant idea gets filtered through all my weaknesses and failings as an author. So credit God if you like it; blame me if you don’t!

Savvy Demon’s Guide opens in a little New Jersey dive where a demon named Melchior is getting drunk out of his mind. In fact, let me give you a little taste of those opening paragraphs:

To think it all happened because a demon got drunk.

It's crazy because, really, he seems
so trustworthy.
Demons aren’t allowed to drink alcohol, of course. It’s distinctly against the rules. But it should come as no surprise that, as a whole, they’re really a notoriously disobedient bunch. It’s lack of effective discipline, sure, but that’s just the problem, isn’t it? Effective discipline. When you’ve got a group of underlings that already find themselves damned for all eternity, what precisely are you going to hold over their heads? Seriously, are you going to beat them? Whip them? Spank them? How’s that going to work against eternal torment? Gonna send them to bed without their supper? They’re spiritual beings. They don’t need to eat or sleep. How’re you going to discipline these guys?

Seriously, if you have any ideas, I know a certain Prince of Darkness who would love to know. He’d probably offer quite a bit of money, fame and power for the info, too. Of course, just bear in mind that he’s also the Father of Lies when you’re negotiating the price, so...well, I’m just saying it might do well to have a notary public standing by to witness things.

Me again! And hopefully this all gives you a good idea of the tone of the book and the rather sarcastic narrator. The reason our fallen angel has turned to drink is because he’s just so darn bored. He is the sole demon assigned to Compton Baptist Church and their pastor which you’d think would be great—except the people never do anything! Oh, their lives are full of religious activity, of course, like attending church, Sunday school, Bible studies and all the rest. They listen to Christian music and read Christian books. But Melchior doesn’t care about any of that. The people can go to church every night of the week for all he cares.

The world  might be unreached but that pew couldn't
possibly be any warmer!
But the impact on their community and their world? It’s practically non-existent.

So Melchior’s bored. If they’re doing nothing to build the Kingdom of God, all he has to do is sit back and watch. Hence the alcohol. He’s been living like this for so long that he wants to make a big statement to express his displeasure. The obvious option is to go and tell off Satan but that happens all the time with little effect. But Melchior gets another idea...

So it is that Doug Pinkerton, the pastor of Compton Baptist Church, opens his front door at 2 am on a Wednesday morning to find a demon standing there. And that demon’s going there to tell him everything that he and his church have been doing wrong. It’s a win/win: he gets to vent and complain about his job for one—but, also, if the pastor listens, he should be significantly less bored in the future!

Melchior fades into the background at this point of the story, as the pastor and his wife Joan realize that the demon was pretty much correct in all his theology. Sure, it’s a little embarrassing for a pastor to be schooled on godly living by a fallen angel, but it’s also humbling. The bulk of the book is about Doug’s efforts to take a step back and focus on what it really means to deny himself, pick up his cross and follow Jesus Christ wherever He leads. Compton, New Jersey will never be the same again.

And this is where the book takes place (but
mostly in New Jersey).
We’ve been meeting a handful of the characters on my Facebook page each week as we countdown to the book’s release, but this is a pretty long book (I like to think of it as epic!) in which we experience a number of individual redemption stories as godly men and women are faithful in making disciples and reaching out to their world. We meet Adam and Mindy, new Compton residents who are convicted by the fact that they’ve been living life like everyone else six days a week and want to change. We meet Mat Pinkerton, Doug and Joan’s son who leads a popular semi-Christian rock band and decides he wants to glorify God through his music instead of glorifying himself. And how does an old North Korean named Hwan Jung, whom we meet while he’s interred at a concentration camp and scheduled for prompt execution, come into play? I suppose you’ll have to check out the book to get the full story!

I hope that this story challenges and convicts you like it does me. I feel the pull of the world too often and it’s very easy to get distracted and to lose sight of the entire reason that we’re here: to make disciples of all nations, to make an impact on this world for Christ. It’s easy for me to feel good about going to church and reading devotionals, when all the knowledge in the world doesn’t mean much if I never put it into practice!

Pictured: discipleship.
According to virtually every study I’ve seen, Christians in the United States live just like the rest of the country in almost every category. I have also become very convicted in the past couple of the years about the need for making disciples, to emulate the example of Christ and the early church and actually invest in people and live life and minister together the way that Jesus did. (In fact, I’ve also been working on a nonfiction book about just that, and I hope to devote more time to it once Savvy Demon’s Guide is released.)

When Jesus’ disciples truly followed in His footsteps and continued the task of making disciples and reaching their community, they were said to have “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). It’s far too easy for me to simply fade into a sort of malaise and live with the world instead of turning it upside down for Christ. Based on what I’ve seen and read, I don’t think this problem is unique to me.

These are the themes I had in mind while writing this book. Over thirty years ago, Christian songwriter Keith Green sang, “The world is sleeping in the dark that the church just can’t fight ‘cause it’s asleep in the light! How can you be so dead when you’ve been so well-fed? Jesus rose from the grave and you can’t even get out of bed.”

While it would be an oversimplification and generalization to say that this problem is rampant everywhere, Christian nominalism absolutely continues to be a problem. This isn’t about whether pew-warming Christians are going to heaven or not. That’s between them and God and salvation is based on grace. But I know that I deeply regret the time I’ve wasted when I should be doing all I can to reach out to the people around me who are going to hell. This book springs from that.

And quite a bit of story. We're talking a bit more story than
Deathly Hallows but less than Order of the Phoenix.
Of course, even apart from the themes and the “message,” I’d like to think it’s a darn good story!

Before we stop this little preview of my new novel, I want to address one decision I made that may well be controversial. Like I said, this book contains a number of redemption stories. It features people who are not living godly lives when we meet them who make the decision to follow Christ seriously in the course of the story (of course, not everyone makes that decision...). As such, we do find many of our characters lost in darkness before they surrender themselves to the Light. I decided to allow them that darkness, to give my characters permission to act and speak in a manner consistent with the worldly lifestyles they are living.

Different characters behave differently, but sometimes they are very inappropriate. Sometimes they are vulgar. Sometimes they swear. They live in the real world, and the truth is that their actions and speech absolutely reflects my experience with people both in and out of the church.

To be completely fair, Hey Jude  is extremely catchy.
Given the serio-comic tone of the book, and the strong personality of the Narrator, I felt that it worked well to let the characters speak how they would and let the Narrator censor them. As far as he’s concerned, he’s doing the readers a favor. Let me give you an example. At one point, Melchior tells the Pinkertons that he’s seen more passion from the crowd singing along to Hey Jude at a Beatles concert than singing praises to
God Almighty at their church:

“The truly batsh— crazy thing is that I know it’s all true but I’m still more inclined to believe in the power of the na-na-na based on its followers. Whatever that means.”

And that’s what the censorship looks like. The naughty words are there but the Narrator doesn’t spell them out. Of course, sometimes they behave in offensive manners as well.

I realize that some people will still not want to read the book because of this decision and I respect your choice, of course. Naturally, since most Christians in the United States, statistically speaking, behave identically to the rest of the world when it comes to stuff like watching R-rated movies or HBO shows, this won’t be a problem for many potential readers.

At the end of the day, I simply felt like allowing the offensive material in the book was the right choice. I felt like we needed to be exposed to the darkness—which is sometimes exaggerated, as the book veers into satire quite often—to fully experience the redemption to come. I hope that the idea of Christians never sharing their faith or making a single disciple offends you more than curse words. And, to be completely honest, my theatre background has taught me that sometimes it’s beneficial to make your audience a bit uncomfortable. Since we should be uncomfortable with any spiritual complacency that we may struggle with, I felt that some uncomfortable content would be appropriate. Even though it’s inappropriate.

My commitment to not let my characters swear may waver if
I'm ever tapped to take over Beetle Bailey. Sarge has a mouth on him.
I do not believe that Christian authors need to use swear words to make their work realistic. I honestly don’t. I’ve never used profanity in any of my prior books and—although I make no hard promises—I do not expect to use it again. But I prayed about it and I worked it through and I think it was the right decision for
this particular book. I still wrote this to glorify God and I believe He will use it for His glory. But I also want to be upfront about the content of this book because I’m not trying to hoodwink the reader into reading it. I want you to have the information you need to make an upfront decision.

I see a need for this novel. I think it’s very timely and I can’t wait to see how God uses it. If nothing else, He’s using it in my life! I hope I’ve given you some idea of how excited I am for this novel and I hope a bit of that excitement was contagious. As always, thanks for swinging by and don’t forget: The Savvy Demon’s Guide to Godly Living comes out on Monday, September 16!


  1. looking forward to it myself. Can't wait to get my copy.

  2. Replies
    1. I've been working on this for fifteen months. I probably shouldn't have announced it as early as I did (back in December)...but it's not coming out until it's ready! September 16 is the day!

  3. Want to read this one...probably NEED to read this one.