June 22

Steve’s Grace is now available on Kindle

My latest novel, Steve’s Grace, is now available on Kindle!

Steve Grace isn’t a bad guy. But he’s not a good guy, either. He’s an accountant for a crooked company. He hates religious people. He cheats on his wife, but he thinks every husband does.

A trip to Las Vegas isn’t unusual, but this one goes far beyond anything he imagined. Haunted by shame and with his marriage in jeopardy, he wonders if he’s been too quick to dismiss God.

With the help of a therapist, Steve’s memories begin to return, and he realizes he did something truly unforgivable. Overcome with horror, he has a psychotic episode and loses all memory of the trip and the weeks since he got home.

A stay in the mental hospital brings his memories back. Confronted with the magnitude of his sin, he decides to give his life to God. He gives out sandwiches to the homeless, joins a church, and rescues a young prostitute. But is his newfound faith real, or is he still crazy?

June 10

Free Book and a Chance to Win an Amazon Gift Card!

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Benji’s Portal is free on Kindle from June 10 through June 14!  Download it today!

Want to win an Amazon gift card?  Just post a review of Benji’s Portal on Amazon between June 10 and July 10.  One reviewer will receive a $25 Amazon gift card, and three reviewers will receive a $10 gift card!

If you post a review, please be sure to send me your email address so I can contact the winners.  Reviews will be chosen at random.  Prizes limited to one per review, and will be sent by July 31.

Send your email address to dj (at) djmitchellauthor.com. Or use this contact form. (Be sure to give me your Amazon handle in the comments so I can match email addresses to the winning reviews.)





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March 27

Book Excerpt: An Easter Sermon

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Steve’s Grace by D. J. Mitchell.

“Christ is risen!” I begin.  “Imagine the sorrow his mother must have felt, going to the graveside to mourn her son, whom she watched die just three days before.  But instead of a grave and a memory, she finds an empty tomb and the question, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’  What a shock that must have been!”

So begins my Easter sermon.  I perform it for my family on Good Friday, two days before I will give it to the congregation.  They seem to love it. Cindy and Zephyr both proclaim it the best one yet, and even Susan seems impressed.

That doesn’t keep me from being nervous Easter morning.  I focus on each step of the service so I don’t obsess about the moment I will stand before the congregation and preach.

After the hymn, I read from the Gospel of Luke.

Then the moment comes.  I stand before the congregation, spread my hands and arms upward, and begin.

“Christ is risen!” I proclaim.

Then I pause.  The next line won’t come out.  I know what I’m supposed to say, but I can’t say it.

I’m not expecting what happens next.

“Christ is risen!” I repeat.  “He who was dead now lives.  Christ is risen in me!”

I continue in a softer voice.

“He is risen in every one of us who was once dead through sin, yet now we live through the Grace of God and the Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ!  We have been redeemed, that we may escape the death penalty for our sins and live in Grace!”

“Do we fall short of what God wants us to do?” I ask.  “Let’s be honest.  I fall short far too often.  How about you?”

I raise my hand.  About half the congregation raises theirs, too.

“Do we try to play God in our own lives, and the lives of other people?” I ask.  “I do.”

I raise my hand.  More hands go up.

“Are we sinners?” I ask.

I open my hands, inviting an answer as I repeat, “Are we?”

“Yes!” they reply.

“Yes,” I agree.  “But we found new life through Jesus Christ.  Amen?”

“Amen!” they reply.

“Did you ever have an experience when something strange was happening in your life and you couldn’t figure out why?  Then later, you looked back and realized it was God?”

I pause, and see heads nodding.

“That’s what happened to the disciples of Jesus,” I continue.  “They were walking on the road to Emmaus, and a man joined them and talked to them.  And it was only after they had walked for some time that they realized that man was Jesus.

“That’s a little odd, don’t you think?” I ask.  “They spent three years traveling with Jesus.  He was their teacher.  They saw Him after the Resurrection.  They saw the holes in His hands and feet.  Yet here is a man they don’t recognize, and it turns out to be Jesus?

“Maybe he was in disguise,” I suggest.

Some people chuckle.

“Or maybe,” I continue, “Jesus appeared in a guise they didn’t recognize at first as being Him.

“Has this ever happened to you?” I ask.  “Something in your life happens, and it seems so painful or wrong that it doesn’t even occur to you that it could be God working in your life?  But later you realize that’s exactly what it was?

“It happened to me,” I say.  “I was comfortable in an ungodly life, but God shook it up for me.  At the time, it didn’t occur to me that this could be God working in my life.  I mean, I got into a situation where I did some bad things and almost lost my family over it.  I should have gone to prison.  How could that be God?

“And it wasn’t,” I say.  “I did those things, not God.  Just like the man on the road to Emmaus who was not Jesus.  But he was.  They saw the Risen Christ in a stranger.  And I can look back now and see the hand of God even in that most despicable moment of my life.  That’s what it took for God to get my attention.  I had to fully live up to my capacity for sin in order to realize I needed God.  Because how can I ask for redemption if I don’t know I need it?

“I am a sinner,” I say.  “I was raised from the dead by Jesus Christ.  How many of you are willing to say that with me?”

“I am a sinner,” I repeat.  “I was raised from the dead by Jesus Christ.”

About half of the congregation says it with me.

“Let’s say it again,” I suggest.

This time, everyone joins in.

“Christ is risen!” I proclaim.  “His tomb is empty!”

Then, in a softer voice, I add, “And so is ours.

 

November 18

This Thing of Darkness – How I Dealt With Nightmares

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Richard showers first. I sit in a wooden chair by the window and enjoy a soft breeze that blows in off the sea a few blocks away. The mosquitoes aren’t bad tonight; the wind keeps them at bay. The smell of the ocean is mixed with night jasmine blooming somewhere nearby. This, I reflect, is a very pleasant moment. I’ve haven’t been noticing as many pleasant moments lately, and I resolve to enjoy this one for as long as it lasts.

Ten minutes later, Richard returns from the bathroom wearing a sarong, his hair wet.

“It’s all yours,” he says. “But I didn’t leave you any hot water.”

“Jerk,” I reply.

The joke is old and worn. We don’t have hot water. All our showers are cold. After a long day during the hot season, I love a cold shower. But on a cooler evening after the rain, I shiver at the thought.

I first arrived in Sri Lanka on December 6, 1993.  In honor of International Human Rights Day, Sarvodaya headquarters displayed a collection of children’s art .  The graphic images drawn by young children shocked me.  I had never before visited a place in which such gross human rights violations were a part of daily life.

My first stay took me through the uncertainty and fear of Chandrika’s death-defying election in 1994, the hope for peace that followed once the outgoing government agreed to step down without violence, the assassination by the LTTE of Chandrika’s opposing presidential candidate, and the collapse of the cease-fire in early 1995.  These events were dramatic, frightening, and impacting, but did not threaten me in any direct way.

In 1998, I returned to interview peace workers across the island.  On this trip, I traveled by bus to the eastern city of Batticaloa, which according to government sources was safely in government hands.  In reality, the government held most of the city, and they controlled the main roads in and out during daylight hours.  The rest was controlled by the LTTE rebels.  I saw things on that trip that would haunt me for years.  Soldiers herded Tamil travelers at gunpoint.  A pre-teen boy had lost both hands to a booby trap.  A woman showed me a medical report, in English, graphically detailing her husband’s torture at the hands of the government. A brave Sinhalese woman talked of risking her life in her efforts to support Tamil families who were caught between the two fighting forces.

I came back from that trip changed, acutely aware of the fragility of security.

The following year, I sat in the dark as a battle raged outside a compound near Padaviya in the northeast.  Artillery shells landed not far away, and I realized that people were dying out there and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

That’s when the nightmares started.  I returned home unable to work and afraid of social situations.  I exhibited all the classic symptoms of PTSD.

As the bus revs its engine and departs town, there’s a sinking feeling in my chest, an inexplicable sense of loss. Soon we are in the countryside, and I see why they keep the bus so well-maintained. There’s nothing out here. On either side of the one-lane paved highway, I see only empty grassland. Kebithigollewa really is the frontier. You wouldn’t want a bus to break down on this road.

Occasionally there are stretches of jungle, and even less occasionally abandoned homes. Each home has white Sinhalese letters hand-painted on its front.

“What do they say?” I ask Richard.

“Budu saranay,” he reads from the first one.

We’ve both been here long enough to know that it means “Blessings of the Buddha.”  I consider that for a moment, and realize, just as I see from his change of expression that Richard too has realized, that these are homes where someone has been killed.

I continued to work for peace in Sri Lanka for another eight years, and I sought help from therapists from time to time.

Ten years after the Padaviya trip, one therapist had me write about my experiences.  This helped so much, I wrote a story that sought to express what I saw and felt.  I showed it to a friend of mine, and he encouraged me to publish it.  He even designed the first cover for it.  That’s how This Thing of Darkness came into being.

Reader commentary of the first version convinced me that the story wasn’t finished.  It was a raw look at the emotional struggle of an unprepared man caught in a war, but the story and character development were weak.  Earlier this year, I rewrote the story and republished it.  It’s a much better story now.

This Thing of Darkness is a work of fiction based loosely on that 1999 trip to Padaviya.  Its goal is to convey the emotions I felt during my work there, from culture shock and fascination to horror and fear.  I hope it also conveys some understanding of what war looks like now that we no longer have two or more nations battling each other.  But above all, I sought to make this a good story, and I hope you enjoy it.

“I admire your courage, kid,” the priest says, as my tears begin to run dry. “You’ve got chutzpah, coming out to a place like this. You cry as much as you need to. Then we’ll go back to the others, and you can keep your dignity. You did okay.”

I nod. Then, in a shaky voice, I ask, “Chutzpah?”

McMurphy smiles.

“One of the hazards of working with a rabbi,” he says, “is that I’ve picked up a little Yiddish.”

September 9

Domino Theory Began as Something Else

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Danny had seen a run of bad luck lately.  Two years ago, he’d been gainfully employed, with an apartment and a decent car.  Yeah, he had a little drug problem, but he paid his dealer in cash with the money he earned from his job.  He’d never hurt anyone, never robbed or stolen.  He just liked to get high after work. Then he’d gotten a DUI one night on the way home from a bar.  They had to be kidding!  He’d only stopped in for a couple of drinks, get a little loose, try to pick up on a chick.  He hadn’t even done any drugs!  But the cops claimed he’d failed the field sobriety test.  Hell, he couldn’t walk a straight line dead sober.  Then he’d blown a .24 on the breathalyzer, well over the legal limit of .08.  So not only had he struck out with the woman, he’d gone to jail instead of home to bed. That had been a Friday night.  By the time he’d been arraigned on Tuesday he’d lost two days pay and his job.  Then, just like dominoes, one thing after another had fallen away. 

My second book, Domino Theory, began as something else.  In 1980, I began my first novel, a murder mystery featuring Danny McCabe, a drug addict who’d been clean and sober a few years.  Danny gets called for jury duty, and inadvertently gets involved with trying to clear the defendant, a drug addict who’s been framed.  That book is as yet unfinished, though I hope to finish it this year.

I started Domino Theory around 1990.  As usual, it began with a question: “What would happen if I was drunk and woke up next to a murder victim?”  The result was a mystery about a guy who’s been framed.  He has to dodge the cops and two hit men while finding out who set him up.

I originally planned for the main character to be the defendant from the first Danny McCabe book.  Over the next eight years, I got it plotted and about three quarters written.  Then I stopped.  After all, how can you publish a sequel to a book that isn’t finished?

Domino Theory languished for ten years.  I wasn’t very motivated to work on it because I wasn’t having much luck in the publishing department.

Then came Ordinary World, which sold over 3,000 copies and got great reviews.  That modest success encouraged me to look at my unfinished novels with new eyes.  I thought Domino Theory had a great plot, but it was missing something.  Then it occurred to me to make it the prequel to my Dannny McCabe story.  After all, Danny is a recovering addict.  Why not tell the story of how he got into recovery?

As I began my rewrite, I was strongly influenced by Lawrence Block’s A Ticket to the Boneyard, which I consider the best of the (generally excellent) Matt Scudder series.  It portrays Scudder trying to get sober while facing a brutal opponent.  Despite his need to stay off the booze, Scudder gets drunk again several times.  As a recovering alcoholic and addict, I’ve always though Block portrays Scudder’s struggle well.

I wanted Domino Theory to convey the reality of the insanity a drug addict lives with in his addiction, the constant need, and the ridiculous justifications he believes.  The scenes where Danny struggles with his addiction are as real as I can make them, based on my own ten-year experience.

The misery isn’t as bad now as it was when I kicked.  I’ve been off the sh*t for three weeks.  Well, almost three weeks.  Two and a half, anyway.  My body doesn’t ache any more.  I’m starting to be able to sleep at night, if I drink enough.  Yeah, I drink more, but I’m off the dope.  I’m clean, and that’s something to be proud of. So what am I doing with a bag full of dope in my room?  I don’t want to use it.  Really, I don’t.  It was too hard to get off of it. But the sh*t is calling to me.  That goddamn heroin is calling my name. I drain the third Moosehead and reach for the fourth.  Two thirds gone now.  I’m pretty drunk, but not drunk enough to ignore the dope calling me.  I suck down half the bottle in one swallow. Damn it, I hate that sh*t!  F***ing heroin.  For months I couldn’t not do it.  Now I’m clean, and it still wants me back.  It’s like an evil woman that won’t let go of me, and I can’t say no. That’s the thing: I know I can’t say no.  I always go back to it.  I always have, and I always will.  Yeah, I’m clean right now, but that’s temporary.  I know it.  You know it.  The dope knows it.  It’s calling my name; it knows that sooner or later I’m going to give in.

I don’t know if anyone who hasn’t been there can really understand what goes on in the mind of an addict.  I know some whose friends and loved ones are addicts have stopped trying, and I don’t blame them.  Our actions are as incomprehensible as they are heartbreaking.

Domino Theory is an attempt to bridge that gap, while telling what I hope is an entertaining story.  Danny has no clue who framed him or why.  He knows he he has to get off the drugs to have any chance of staying alive.  With the help of some new friends in AA, he begins to unravel the mystery.  He stakes out drug dealers, tracks a mysterious woman to her home, and identifies several of the people involved.  But who is the mastermind blaming Danny for a string of murdered dealers, and can Danny stay clean long enough to find him before the hit men or the cops catch up with him?

If the internal dialog is too raw, if you can’t understand how anyone could be so crazy, at least take this from your reading experience: People like Danny and me, crazy as we are, do find recovery.  I’ve been clean and sober more than thirty years!  Domino Theory is a mystery, and a look deep into the frightening mind of an addict.  But it’s also a story of hope.

AA, Danny thought, not for the first time, really didn’t apply to him.  He might as well go out and get loaded, because AA wasn’t going to work.  What the heck?  He had plenty of dope.  He could hole up in a motel and stay stoned until they found him.  With enough heroin in his system, he wouldn’t even feel the bullet that killed him. “F***ing AA,” he muttered.  “It’s for pussies, not for people with real problems.”  He took a last hit off his cig and ground the butt into the pavement with his shoe. Then he remembered the guy from Newark who had stolen money from the mob and had to make amends for it.  And the girl, Jamie, who had come to puking her guts out on the floor of a jail cell. “Okay,” he acknowledged.  “They had problems.  So maybe AA does work.  But what am I supposed to do?” The answer came.  It was in Alicia’s voice, almost like she was there in his head responding to his question. “That’s freaky,” Danny said.  Because what the voice told him to do was pick up the phone and call someone in AA and ask them what he should do.

Domino Theory is available in paperback and eBook on Amazon and Kindle, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and from other online retailers.