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Rebecca Luella Miller in a recent post on Speculative Faith (http://www.speculativefaith.com/) talked about building trust in those who read Christian fiction. Here is was my comment:
Trust? Great question.
Who do I trust?
Why am I reading your blog post?
Do I trust you, Rebecca?
If so, then why do I trust you?
First and foremost, I am a brother in Christ. I sense from your writings that you are a Christ follower. That gives us a common ground; a connection that the world cannot begin to understand. I can meet a fellow fan of, let’s say, Disney and find common ground. But, I do not TRUST that person. Just sharing a hobby or an interest does not make a person trustworthy. But, sharing a Savior? That’s totally different. For me, then the first step in establishing trustworthiness in my readers, for instance, is to make sure if they are believers they know I am a follower of Christ.
Now, I am being naive, I know. There are those who claim to be Christ followers but who are, as George Barna labels them (Seven Faith Tribes of America) “casual Christians”. These CCs are fickle and pick and choose that part of Christianity that fits their lifestyle. They are not fully sold out to Christ. They create “boutique” religions with just enough Christianity that it doesn’t require them to alter their lifestyle. How can you “trust” someone like that? What if they decide their relationship with me or you no longer fits their ever shifting view of Christianity and they leave us in a lurch when the fancy strikes them? So, unfortunately, there is a healthy dose of skepticism and cynicism in this process. As a writer, I am particularly prone to paranoia having dealt with rejections and workshop critiques and nasty agents and demanding editors. After all, you can say something bad about me, but don’t say something bad about my kids, er, my manuscript!
For instance, Rebecca, you and I had the same reaction to “Darkness Follows”. Loved reading the book. Couldn’t put it down. But, it was so dark and scary. Why, then, did I finish the book? How did I know to trust Mike Dellosso enough to complete the book even though it made me very uncomfortable. For one thing, Mike is a fellow author for my imprint. I have met the folks at Charisma House when I visited their headquarters and I know they are Christ followers. I know what their loves and their passions are in the publishing arena. If they trust Mike Dellosso’s writing, then I should trust it also. For another thing, I have read Mike’s blog. I was moved by his story of his battle with colon cancer and in that battle I saw a very brave man who had to rely on his family and his God to get him through this ordeal. Never did I sense bitterness or blame on his part for what he was going through at such a young age. Rather, he seemed to glorify God for the victory he has over his disease. That response makes me TRUST Mike Dellosso. And so, in spite of my reservations and in spite of the growing fear I felt as I finished “Darkness Follows” I TRUSTED Mike to be God honoring; to illuminate the darkness with the power of God’s light; to show the defeat of all things dark and evil; to celebrate the redemptive love of our Christ. And he delivered. My trust was well placed.
Which brings me back to those casual Christians I mentioned. I want them to trust me enough to pick up one of my books. My goal in writing my upcoming book series is to gain the reader’s trust through a well told story and compelling characters. And, in gaining their trust, I am hoping they will trust the truth of my story, the Story, the Truth that will shine through the machinations of my writing and cast light into their darkness. I hope to be honest with the reader; to use drama to illustrate truth and the evidence of the Christian worldview. In apologetics, I have learned that honesty often begets trust. When someone asks, “How can a good God allow children to suffer?” Instead of launching into a lecture, I agree with them. “You are right. It is a tough question to consider. I have difficulty understanding why this world is so full of suffering. But, I have been willing to ask that question openly and honestly of God and He has shown me some answers. Can I share them with you?”
Speculative fiction, as I am learning, is a new and exciting genre. I love science fiction and fantasy and the prospect of reading and writing stories from those genres that are steeped and soaked in a theistic worldview is so exciting to me. But, at the same time, we need to realize that speculative fiction has potential to cross boundaries and barriers between the world of the believer and the unbeliever and that is where, as you so astutely point out, we must build trust!
Today on Day 3, I want to review the strengths and weaknesses. Strong characters. Rapid paced action. Roller coaster ride. Hideous antagonists. Endangered children. I mentioned that all of these elements comprise the substance of “Darkness Follows” by Mike Dellosso.
It is hard for me to find concrete weaknesses in this book by Mike Dellosso. The apparent weaknesses for me were elements of the story that disturbed me personally. And, this is from an author who has a book coming out in October called “The 13th Demon” that was once deemed too dark and edgy for publication. So, to say that “Darkness Follows” bothered me says a lot.
Now, this is not a weakness of the book, per se. It is well written, fast paced with excellent character development. So, this seeming weakness may not be a weakness in the eyes of most readers. In fact, if the theistic worldview that runs a trace through the story were absent, this book would be right up there with the most powerful secular thrillers. That being said, it might be considered a weakness that this book is so disturbing. There are several gruesome murders. Symon is a cold hearted killer with no remorse. I read a post where Mike talked about getting complaints that he killed a groundhog in the story. All I can say is if that one death disturbed the reader more than the deaths of innocent human beings, then that person needs to reread the book!
And, as I mentioned, the endangerment of children concerned me. It is a personal bias on my part. I can’t watch shows like “Criminal Minds” when children are abducted and harmed. Some readers may find this too disturbing to read this book.
And, the one pivotal event in Sam Travis’ life is a very disturbing event for his family. I don’t want to divulge any details but I can see where it would be troubling for some readers.
So, if you regard these things as weaknesses then you would fall into the category of a reader who shouldn’t read a book with the title “Darkness Follows” because that is exactly what happens. The book begins in shadows in the distant past with Samuel Whiting and his experiences at Gettysburg and it moves into the shadows of Sam Travis’ family secrets and ends up in a confrontation between a father his daughter’s abductor and none of it is pretty.
But, having said what I did about weaknesses, if you stick with this story, you will find a very satisfying and redemptive ending. I do not want to spoil it, for that would be horrific of me, indeed. Mike Dellosso has soaked this story in the love of a father for his daughter; the love of a wife for her husband; the love of a daughter for her father; and a love for the Father for each of us. It is this thread of love, unbroken by the illness of Sam Travis; undaunted by Eva’s “imaginary friend”; and unspoken by Sam in his love for his family that pulls you through the darkness that falls.
Certainly, the story is rapid paced; a roller coaster ride of ups and downs; moments of quiet horror and explosive violence; and the backdrop of the horrors of the battle of Gettysburg. As I said, I could not put the book down. I read it voraciously and wished I had taken some more time to enjoy the story. But, I had to know why Sam was suddenly fascinated with his old rifle. I had to know why Sam was writing journal entries from a dead Union soldier. I had to find out why Symon was bent on abducting Eva; I had to find out who Eva’s imaginary friend was; I had to see if Molly would grow so frustrated with her husband, she would abandon him. I had to know about Sam’s past and what it was that happened so many years ago that fractured his family.
In summary, the weaknesses are in the eye of the reader. It may disturb some readers. But, beware! Once you get to the end of the second chapter, you will NOT be able to put it down! “Darkness Falls” is one enthralling read!
Currier & Ives Print of the Battle of Gettysburg
On Day 2 of my review of "Darkness Follows" I will talk about the plot. Pay attention to the image above. For a pivotal part of the plot involves events that took place during the Battle of Gettysburg.
“Darkness Follows” is more than just a title. It is the nature of the book. For, as you delve deeper into the story, darkness follows you and the story gets darker and darker and darker! Today, let me cover the plot and the storyline.
The first chapter begins right in the middle of the action right after a prologue that takes place during the battle of Gettysburg. Within a few pages, we are thrust into the strangely tilting world of Sam Travis. We learn of his recent injury that has impaired his thinking. We learn of the attack on his house by someone firing a gun although there is no evidence of the bullet. Immediately we see how deeply he is loved by his wife, Molly and his daughter, Eva and we learn very soon that Eva’s “invisible friend” is telling her to love and pray for her father. So, right off we realize that bad things are about to happen.
It doesn’t take long for Sam to find his old hunting rifle and try to shoot a critter in the backyard. We learn he hasn’t touched the gun in years and there is a very good reason for that. As the story unfolds, it is this incident from the past that burns with suspense in the background. The reader begins to realize that we may know what he did, but there is just enough blurring to his memories that we hope we are wrong!
Enter Symon, a hideous, amnesiac killer who takes out anyone standing in his way with a cold and numbing efficiency that chills the reader’s blood. And, right off we learn he has one goal in mind, to kidnap Eva. As I said on day one, this turn of events disturbed me greatly. I do not like stories in which children are endangered, hurt, or killed. This is not a statement against the quality of Mike’s writing or the direction of his story, for both are powerful. It is a personal bias. But, at this point, I was so hooked by Sam’s story and his apparent black out spells during which he recounted the events of a Union soldier’s experience at Gettysburg, that I could not possible put the book down. I had to KNOW what was going to happen. This is the power of Mike’s narrative. I literally could not put the book down until I reached the ending, gasping for breath; shocked and thrilled; and yes, a bit relieved although to his credit, Mike did not give us a tidy, saccharin ending. In fact, the final pages are so cryptic that I wonder if there is more to this story than is completely revealed and if we will read about the forces behind Symon in future books. I certainly hope so!
The story of Eva’s friendship with her “imaginary friend” was consistent and moving and it represents the redemptive element of this story. Certainly her love for her father and Molly’s devotion to her ailing husband provide the background for the unconditional love that is at the center of the theistic worldview.
In summary, a rapid paced plot with many turns and twists with characters you can’t wait to learn more about. A very, very good book! Disturbing, dark, violent in places, but ultimately redemptive.
On the third day, I’ll summarize the strengths and weakness of the book.
I don’t know how or when it happened, but sometime during my internship year my fellow physicians saddled me with the nickname “Groundhog”. Maybe it had to do with my strange behavior. But, then, all interns exhibited strange behavior born of sleepless nights, high levels of continual stress, and the molding and breaking of a human being with an M.D. into a doctor.
Speaking of groundhogs and strange behavior, it is time to review “Darkness Follows” by Mike Dellosso. This novel had a little bit of everything. Strange behavior, mysterious historical figures, conspiracies, cold blooded murders, an endangered child, and, yes, groundhogs. And, as odd as this combination seems, it fit nicely together in a book that moved at such a rapid pace, I could not read it fast enough!
I will break down my review of “Darkness Follows” into three days. On day one, let me talk about the characters. I love character driven fiction. One of my favorite writers, Michael Crichton, was unsurpassed in writing fast driven, engaging plots but to say his characters were two dimensional was a compliment! Mike Dellosso, on the other hand, has created believable, complex characters with great chemistry. The main character, Sam Travis is an enigma wrapped up in a mystery at first. But, it is the dissection of the tragedy that plagues him from his past that defines his struggle with recent brain damage. As the reader struggles to understand the strange behavior that befalls Sam, we learn more and more about a tragic event in the past that defines who he has become. Sam awakens one morning to the sound of voices and gunfire and a bullet crashes through the window in his living room, shattering it into a million shards of glass. His wife and the policeman who arrives are having trouble believing his story of gunfire and begin to wonder if the brain damage he has suffered has now moved into acting out bizarre and dangerous behavior.
Sam also struggles with doubts about his own sanity when he awakens from naps and finds the writings of a Union soldier with the name Samuel recounting the events of the battle at Gettysburg. The writing is in Sam’s own handwriting and he does not remember penning those words. When he spies the groundhog in his back yard and digs his old rifle out of the closet, the reader realizes we are in for a rough roller coaster ride of suspense. I found myself talking to the book, telling Sam to put the gun away, to ignore the letters, to stop listening to the voices that are telling him carry out a horrific and terrible deed. Mike Dellosso has indeed created a character I began to care about very much and I wanted to grab him by the shoulders, shake some sense into him and help him avoid the dangerous trap into which he is falling. But, as he relives a distant memory from his past; a defining moment in his life we learn of his troubled brother whose behavior became so bizarre he was locked in the basement in a cage made of two by fours, thus the disturbing images on the cover. But, I do not want to spill any more information and ruin the reader’s enjoyment of the unfolding suspense. Sam is truly a complex and believable character and I found myself rooting for his redemption.
His wife, Molly is a wonderful creation by the author. She conveys the real conflict between her desperate desire to help and encourage her husband with the real need of protecting their daughter. As Sam’s behavior grows more erratic and she finds the dead groundhog, the tension in her mind and heart is so real, you can feel it emanating from the page.
And, the daughter, Eva is a delight. Precocious, lovable, and devoted to her “imaginary” friend Joshua tries her best to plead with her father to listen to God. Her admonitions of love are almost heart breaking as she also tries to keep her father from his descent into darkness.
And, that is just the beginning of the story for soon we meet a very dark man, Symon, with an easy smile, a reassuring demeanor and a quick trigger finger. Soon, the bodies begin to pile up and this man is just as puzzled about his behavior as we are. Who is he? What is his role in Sam’s strange behavior? And, most disturbingly, why does he want to abduct the little girl?
Now, I must admit here that at this moment in the narrative, I became very disturbed. But, Mike Dellosso had created characters I simply could not turn my back on. I cared about them. I wanted to know why they were acting this way. I wanted to see Molly and Eva triumph over evil with their love for Sam. I couldn’t possibly abandon them in the midst of this heinous story for darkness indeed was falling. And, tomorrow, I will tell you why!
In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.