June 10

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

Benji's Portal Cover lg front

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.)





Category: Writing | LEAVE A COMMENT
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

This Thing of Darkness BookCoverNew

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

Cover Preview1

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.

August 31

The Ordinary World Story

BookCover

I live in one of the most prepared states in the country: Utah. The Mormon Church, as it is called by non-members like myself, has taught preparedness for decades. Most families here have a year’s worth of food in storage, an abundant supply of ammunition for their firearms, and a seventy-two hour kit in case of evacuation. Outsiders seem to find that strange. Evacuation? Why prepare for that? They have already forgotten about hurricanes that hit the Gulf and the East Coast, floods in the mid-west, wildfires in California and Texas, and any number of other natural disasters that displace tens of thousands of Americans each year. Since 9-11, the federal government has gotten on the preparedness bandwagon. Homeland Security advises us to be prepared, to have an emergency plan, to keep a supply of food on hand. But I wonder how many folks outside of Utah and the Mormon Church are listening? –“Zombies and Boy Scouts,” Ordinary World

Ordinary World was my first published novel. I was surprised how well it did, selling over 3,000 copies and garnering 73 reviews and an average of 4.4 stars on Amazon.

The idea for the book began several years before I started writing it. When I moved to Utah, and especially during the financial crisis of 2007, I adopted the local preoccupation with preparedness. I began stockpiling food and ammunition. I went to the annual Preparedness Fair in Cedar City. I listened to experts talk about the Spanish Flu Epidemic. I read military strategist John Robb’s analysis concluding how vulnerable our centralized system is to terrorism or acts of God.

I began to wonder, if any of these events actually happened, what would life look like for us? I mean, we have some medical supplies, lots of wheat, guns and ammo, sleeping bags and cots for refugees, and backup kitchen supplies. But how prepared are we really?

I first conceived Ordinary World as a fictional blog, posting the chapters in real time. I posted several chapters. The problem was, no one read it.

I thought the story was a good one: a family struggling to survive as the economy slowly melts down around them. I wanted people to read it. So I turned it into a novel.

This is the third winter since the collapse began. In the first, Gracie and I did pretty well because we were prepared. In the second, after Rita, Bernard, and Weylan joined us, we were helped by mild weather and supplies left over from before. This time, we have to face a winter relying on our own resources. It’s the first time that has been true. Coming as I do from old New England stock, the phrase “First Winter” strikes a chord of fear in my heart. The cultural memory of the hardships the first settlers faced is ingrained deeply within me. —“The First Winter,” Ordinary World.

I read it to my family as I wrote it. The characters Bill, Gracie, and Joe, became real to us. We cried when Sunflower the goat died, just as we cried when our real-life goat Christie died. I think my wife was as nervous in real life as Bill is in the book about whether Gracie would recover from her injuries. (She actually threatened me that I better not kill Gracie!) Ordinary World became a labor of love for my whole family!

When the time came to publish it, I chose Amazon’s CreateSpace as my platform. My history with query letters to publishers is dismal. And I really wanted people to be able to read it.

Even before publication, my family had encouraged me to think about an audio book. With the book’s success, I began to take the idea seriously. I was fortunate that narrator Scott Pollack became interested on the project. He did a fabulous job, and the audio book is available on Audible and Amazon.

(Sample the audiobook here:)

Fans have encouraged me to write a sequel. I’ve tried. But Ordinary World is in my opinion a great story with some of my best writing overall. I haven’t been able to come up with an idea for a sequel that measures up to the original. For the time being, Ordinary World stands alone.

We ran out of meat two weeks ago. When I say that, I mean we cooked our last stew bone. There is nothing left… Lack of protein and the lack of Vitamin C have combined to make us all feel weary and slow-witted. I’m not confident of my ability to make good decisions. And our family meetings suggest that no one else is, either. There’s a lot of “I don’t know” being spoken.

So here I am, ten miles or more from home, determined not to come back empty-handed. I’m carrying the 30-30, which is a bit big for rabbits, but which is the most flexible rifle I have. I can shoot anything up to the size of a deer with it. Including coyotes, should they decide to try to make a meal out of me. If I see a rabbit, I’m just going to have to hit him square in the head so there’s something left to bring home. But I haven’t seen a rabbit, not even in the distance.

I’m not going back empty-handed. In my pack, I have a down sleeping bag, a tent, and some supplies. I’m prepared to spend the night out here if I have to. Even two nights.–“Desperation,” Ordinary World

Ordinary World is available from CreateSpaceAmazon and Kindle, AudibleSmashwords, Barnes and Noble, and other online retailers.

August 16

Forgiveness

This is the second sermon given by fictional Pastor Jason in the forthcoming novel , Steve’s Grace.  I hope you enjoy it.

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.  They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.  Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:  Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:  Their feet are swift to shed blood:  Destruction and misery are in their ways:  And the way of peace have they not known:  There is no fear of God before their eyes…  For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;  Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:  Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;  To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. –Romans 3:10-24

“How many of you here,” he asks, “fall short of what they know they ought to do.”

He raises his hand, and almost everyone in the congregation raises theirs.  I do, and Cindy quickly follows.

“It is impossible to be human, and make all the right choices,” he says.  “That’s the nature of the free will we have been given.  Sometimes, we choose wrong.  And when we choose something other than what God wants us to do, that’s sin.  It is falling short of God’s desire for us, and our duty to serve Him.

“How many here have made a really, really bad choice at some time in their life?” he asks.

Several hands go up.  Mine is one of them.

“How many have made a really bad choice in their life but don’t want to admit it?” he asks, chuckling.  Another hand goes up, but most do not.  “That’s okay,” he says.  “You don’t have to admit it in public, or even to me.  But sooner or later, you have to admit your sin to yourself, and to God.

“Why do you have to admit it?  Because until you do, there can be no redemption.  If you don’t admit you did wrong, you can’t be forgiven.

“Think about it, people,” he says.  “If I steal your wallet, and I deny I did it, can you forgive me?  Of course not.  You’re not even sure who took it!

“Suppose I come to you and say, ‘Hey, Bob, I stole your wallet and I know it was wrong and I’m asking for your forgiveness.’  Now you have the option of forgiving me.  And it is an option.  You don’t have to forgive me.  Unless, of course, you happen to be a Christian, in which case Jesus tells us that we can only be forgiven for our sins if we forgive the sins of others.

“And that right there is the formula for being forgiven,” he says.  “You have to admit your sin and ask for God to forgive you.  And you have to forgive the sins of others.

“But what if you’ve done something really awful?  I know a man who committed murder.  Because of the circumstances, he was never arrested or tried by the law.  But he did it, and he knew it was wrong.  Now, the Bible says the penalty for murder is death.  If he asks God to forgive him, will God do it?

“Yes! Because Jesus gave his blood so that those who repent might be saved.

“And that man did ask for forgiveness, and he repented, and now he lives his life according to what he believes God wants him to do.  He helps people.  And he does it not so he can be a good person, but because he wasn’t a good person and he owes a debt to God that can never be repaid.

“Every one of us is a sinner,” he continues.  “Every one of us owes a debt for God’s forbearance.  Because God sent his only son Jesus to die for us.  What an amazing gift that is!  Jesus gave his life so that we can be redeemed from our sin.

“And it is a gift.  But when someone gives you the gift of life, don’t you feel just a little bit obligated to them?  Maybe grateful?  And wouldn’t you want to live your life in a way that expresses that gratitude?

“A wise man once said that mercy is not getting what you deserve, and grace is getting what you don’t deserve.  I look at my life today, and I am struck by the mercy and grace of God.  I am a sinner.  But I have not gotten what I deserve for my shortcomings, and I have gotten so much goodness in my life that I don’t deserve.

“We fall short, but God forgives us.  We do bad things and God forgives us.  We don’t do some of the good things we should do, and God forgives us.

“Can anyone relate to that?  If so, I want to suggest that when you leave church today, you find a way to express your gratitude to God.  Because, I don’t know about you, but my life is better today than I have any right to expect.

“Amen!”