CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – Beckon by Tom Pawlik

With school ending and summer creeping in, CSFF squeezed in a blog tour for Beckon by award-winning author Tom Pawlik. The modest tour for this adult speculative thriller included thirty-seven posts from twenty-five bloggers.

Those who posted all three days of the tour are eligible for the CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award for May. Below are the links to the articles of each participant up for the award.

So now the power shifts into the hands of the readers, and it is time to vote (just a little Survivor lingo there, for your entertainment. 😉 ) You have until midnight (Pacific time), Sunday June 10 to review the posts and make your decision.

And while you’re voting, why not click over to “Change and the Books You Read” and vote in that opinion poll as well. You’re participation in both these is greatly appreciated.

Published in: on May 25, 2012 at 6:27 pm  Comments (1)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Beckon by Tom Pawlik, Day 3

An interesting set of posts this month for the CSFF Blog Tour featuring Tom Pawlik’s newest adult speculative suspense, Beckon. There’s been discussion about the characters, Alzheimer disease, immortality, abortion (here on my blog), body count, arachnophobia, reading at night (or not), spelunking, and more. Without a doubt, this book made an impression!

The Story. Jack Kendrick wants to find out what happened to his missing archaeologist father so that he can rehabilitate his legacy. He finds a clue pointing to his dad’s last known destination, an Indian reservation in Wyoming. He talks his best friend Rudy into a road trip and heads west. They learn helpful information from an Indian legend and follow a guide into a cave that leads to a system of tunnels where they encounter horror and death.

Elina Gutierrez is a suspended LAPD cop. When she learns that her cousin is missing, she determines to do whatever it takes to find him. She knows she shouldn’t, but she sets up a one-officer stakeout and follows a van transporting immigrant workers to supposed out-of-state jobs. But rather than going to Nevada as they’d been told, the van leads her into Wyoming.

George Wilcox is at his wit’s end because his beloved wife is dying a horrible death–first losing her memories and her very personality. When he’s contacted by someone in Wyoming promising him a cure, he eagerly–though not without some skepticism–packs Miriam into the car and drives north. To the town of Beckon.

Yes, all three of these story threads weave together in the little backwater town whose nearest neighbors are the N’watu, the people of legend. Something deadly is going on in Beckon. Or is it something miraculous?

Strengths. Author Tom Pawlik is an outstanding writer. His descriptions are vivid, his story concept unique. He’s organized the book into four distinct sections, from three different points of view and in reverse chronological order. It’s not your everyday kind of book!

Mr. Pawlik has also created believable characters, each with a specific need that drives them to act. This in turn creates tension and pushes the story forward. Add in danger and suspense and the story becomes gripping.

As I alluded to in my first-day tour post, the story raises significant questions–ones I believe to be key in our present-day culture. Central is the matter of the value of life. Are there any “throw away” people?

In my mind, this issue of necessity includes life in the womb. Are these little lives less important than the big lives of those outside the womb? Is it moral to sacrifice those little lives for the betterment of big lives?

Mr. Pawlik doesn’t just raise questions–he gives faces, and storylines, to people on both sides. Suddenly the clear-cut answers seem a little murkier.

At this point one of the characters who is a Christian steps up and does something that gives some answers for anyone thinking about the issues. Note, this character does not preach a sermon or even argue the points. She simply does something consistent with the Bible without saying that’s what she’s doing.

Which actually brings me to the next part of the review.

Weaknesses. In many ways, the act of nobility I referred to in the last section would have been perfect as part of the climax. But the story continued for some time after this pivotal event. From my perspective, the big question was answered–whose worldview would win out? The events after that point, then, didn’t carry the same significance, I didn’t think. They were a bit of fluff, if you can call horrific events “fluff.”

The other area of weakness is one I share as a writer–not presenting characters in a way that allows readers to connect with them. Of course Beckon is not a character-driven novel, and readers were pulled along by the tension, the suspense, the conflict between good and evil even if they didn’t feel particularly attached to the characters. It was a thrill ride, an adventure. At times all you could do was hold on tight and see where you ended up.

But …

Part of me thinks the story would be that much stronger if the reader cared more deeply for these people. They seemed believable, surely. They had real wants, serious dilemmas, emotional and spiritual crises to go along with the physical disasters they faced. Readers should have loved them, cheered them on, cared deeply about their choices. If we had, this book would have raced to the top of the Best Book lists, I’m fairly confident.

Recommendation. I’m not inclined to read thriller type books, but after having read Vanish, Mr. Pawlik’s Christy Award winning debut novel, I knew I would read whatever he wrote. Beckon did not dissuade me from that position. Yes, there were horrific events, but there was also hope and help and sacrifice.

I highly recommend Beckon to adults who love the creepy, the bone-chilling, the fear-inspiring, and to readers who want to consider the issues of life and immortality. It’s a good story filled with tension and intrigue and packaged in a unique structure that enhances the reading experience.

Wrap. If you’d like to learn more about Tom Pawlik and his books, visit him at his blog, web site, on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.

Watch for the tour wrap on Friday right here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. You’ll have a chance to vote for the May Top Tour Blogger.

And finally, the required disclaimer: in conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, which, I might add, in no way influenced my evaluation of it.

Published in: on May 23, 2012 at 6:03 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour – Beckon by Tom Pawlik, Day 3  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Beckon by Tom Pawlik, Day 2

Stephen King lite? Creepy suspense thriller? A story in the tradition of Tuck Everlasting? These and more are the things CSFF Blog Tour participants are saying about Beckon by Tom Pawlik.

But those aren’t quite all the same, are they. So who is right? Is the book too violent or only mildly gruesome?

This book offers a perfect example of how an author and his readers are working in tandem. The author has the responsibility of “speaking” clearly, and the reader then hears what he wants to hear.

Not that the reader intentionally distorts the author’s ideas or vision for his story, but each reader brings his own reading history, his own personal history, and his own set of beliefs to every piece of literature.

As a Christian who believes discernment involves seeing how things in our culture measure against Scripture, I approach what I read with an eye to truth, including spiritual truth. Someone else can pick up the same story with the intent to lose himself for a few hours in the adrenaline pumping thrills of a fast-paced adventure. What each of us “gets out” of the story, then, is bound to be affected by the expectations we brought with us when we turned to page one.

Someone who thinks that Beckon is a mild form of heavy-duty fear-inducing stories most likely has read a good number of Stephen King books, with perhaps a dose of Dean Koontz thrown in for good measure.

On the other hand, another reader more accustom to fairytale style fantasy might find Beckon a dark story filled with tension and suspense that never lets up.

For someone like me who doesn’t enjoy being scared, and thus who rarely reads stories with a high element of fright connected to them, Beckon pushes the envelop of the tolerable.

The point is this. When readers look for recommendations about books, it’s important for them to learn the bent of the individuals passing along their opinions. That’s not to say reviewers can’t be fair. But what frightens one may not frighten another. What touches one may repulse another. What keeps one turning pages as fast as can be might bore another.

It’s the rare book that can bridge the gap of people’s expectations and experiences and find a wide range of readers.

I commented in yesterday’s post that I wouldn’t call Beckon a horror story but that it had horrific moments which I was willing to tolerate. Someone else who loves fast action might tolerate the slower moments that established character. A third someone not interested in faith elements might tolerate the scenes that explore death and the morality of life everlasting.

A book like Beckon seems to be one of those bridge books–one that readers with varied expectations can enjoy. But don’t take my word for it. Read what others on the tour are saying. You can find links to specific articles at the bottom of the Day 1 post.

Before you go, though, take a moment if you would, to participate in a poll about the change in reading habits in the last few years: “Change and the Books You Read.”

Thanks bunches.

Published in: on May 22, 2012 at 5:39 pm  Comments (4)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Beckon by Tom Pawlik, Day 1

I like books that make me think, and this month’s CSFF Blog Tour feature, Tom Pawlik’s recent release, Beckon, did just that. Yes, it was also a good story–especially entertaining for those who like a creepy thrills adventure. I wouldn’t say this book falls into the category of horror, but it has moments that are horrific.

Being as that’s not the type of book I enjoy, I tolerated those parts because there was enough going on that kept me engaged. But more about all that when I do my review later this week. For today I want to discuss an issue. I’m not saying it’s the issue Mr. Pawlik had in mind when he wrote the book, but it’s the issue that jumped out at me.

Unintentionally, to discuss this subject, I may give away plot elements, so consider this a Potential Spoilers Alert.

* * *

When I was growing up, my friends, parents, siblings, and, I’m sure, I as well, parroted an adage that held a lot of truth: two wrongs don’t make a right.

Intentionally or not, Beckon explores this pithy statement. If you can save someone’s life, is it still wrong to do wrong? Might it not be the case that my wrong can cancel out a greater wrong?

In tangent with this topic is the question, is one life more valuable than any other? Is someone who is without family and friends, who is adrift in the world, of less intrinsic value than a leader of a community, than an educated, productive, loved member of a family?

It’s so easy to say, of course, all life is equally valuable. But what if a homeless person had to die to save your wife? Your child? Is it so different from organ transplants if someone else’s “life energy” could provide healing and health to a dying loved one?

One step further, in my mind. Is it really true that all life is equally valuable if we use abortive tissue to develop cures for killer diseases?

Someone may argue that those babies were going to die anyway, so why shouldn’t their tissue be used for good, to save those who would die horrible deaths unless a cure is soon discovered for the disease from which they suffer. In fact, the use of those aborted babies’ tissue gives meaning to their deaths.

But using that same logic, why, then, don’t we “give meaning” to the homeless drifter and carve up his body, doling out his organs to keep “productive members of society” alive?

Society still gets irate at such a thought. Here in SoCal not long ago, a mentally ill homeless man was killed during a confrontation with law enforcement officers. What an uproar! And rightly so, if all life is equally valuable.

That man’s good should not be sacrificed for the sake of someone who happens to live in a house, drive a car, hold a job, and vote. A person is not better because he is better off. Rather, in God’s eyes, life is valuable. He created it. He formed each person in the womb.

It’s not OK for anyone to decide that the life in the womb is less valuable than the life outside the womb–that being too vulnerable to stand up for yourself, to live on your own, makes you less important.

Again, Western society seems to understand that. We go to great links to provide wheelchair access to public places and to give preferential parking to handicapped individuals. We celebrate remarkable feats such as a double limb amputee finishing a marathon or climbing a mountain or disabled individuals participating in the Paralympics. Their lives are valuable, our laws and outpouring of support seem to shout.

Why, then, do we tolerate taking a life to make someone else less burdened or embarrassed? Why do we fertilize eggs and then use the product–the person who results from that union–as nothing more than tissue to do with as we please?

Why aren’t those lives valuable, if, in fact, all life is of equal value?

And yes, Beckon made me think of this subject. What did others reading the story think about? You’ll need to take a look at the articles from the other tour participants (a check mark links to a tour article):

Published in: on May 21, 2012 at 3:30 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Stereotype That Keeps On Slamming Doors

Over and over I hear or see statements like, I don’t read Christian fiction because it is so ___. Fill in the blank — preachy, poorly written, predictable, unrealistic, sanitized.

I’m not going to pretend that all Christian fiction is well-crafted, with deep spiritual themes that demand real thinking while telling a captivating story.

But I think it’s fair to ask those who make negative declarations, especially categorical ones, about Christian fiction, What have you read lately?

Author friend Mike Duran began a discussion today on his site Decompose that has generated a number of slam-the-door-on-Christian-fiction comments. So I decided to provide short excerpts of a few of my favorite novels — YA or adult, mostly speculative, but not all — which fall under the Christian fiction umbrella, as evidence that readers would do well to prop the door open.

We must counter ignorance with facts, I think, or the same negative lines get repeated over and over. That’s a sure way of chasing off potential readers! After all, why should a reader pick up a Christian novel if a bunch of insiders agree Christian fiction is bad?

Here is a smattering of evidence that such a conclusion is faulty (links are to longer excerpts so you can read more if you wish):

The Charlatan’s Boy by Jonathan Rogers — a YA fantasy stand-alone

I don’t remember one thing about the day I was born. It hasn’t been for lack of trying either. I’ve set for hours trying to go back as far as I could, but the earliest thing I remember is riding in the back of Floyd’s wagon and looking at myself in a looking glass.

I’ve run across folks claim they know everything about their birthday—where it happened, who they was with, what day it was. But if you really press them on it, turns out they don’t remember no more about it than I do. They only know what somebody told them.

I don’t care who you are—when it comes to knowing where you come from, you got to take somebody else’s word for it. That’s where things has always got ticklish for me. I only know one man who might be able to tell me where I come from, and that man is a liar and a fraud.

Vanish by Tom Pawlick — first in a series of adult supernatural suspense

It all began with a feeling. Just an eerie feeling.

Conner Hayden peered out his office window at the hazy downtown Chicago vista. Heat plumes radiated from tar-covered rooftops baking in the midafternoon sun. A late-summer heat wave had every AC unit in the city running at full capacity.

He narrowed his eyes. Every unit except the one on the building across the street. On that roof, a lone maintenance worker in blue coveralls crouched beside the bulky air conditioner with his toolbox open beside him.

Conner watched the man toil in the oppressive August heat. Something hadn’t felt right all day. Despite the relative seclusion of his thirty-ninth-floor office, Conner couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched.

It had begun early that morning when he stopped for gas. He could have sworn the guy at the next pump was staring at him. Conner saw his face for only an instant. But it looked strange somehow — dark, as if shrouded by a passing shadow. And his eyes . . .

For a moment, his eyes looked completely white.

Then the shadow passed and the guy turned away.

On The Edge Of The Dark Sea Of Darkness, Book One of the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson — Middle Grade/YA fantasy

Just outside the town of Glipwood, perched near the edge of the cliffs above the Dark Sea sat a little cottage where lived the Igiby family. The cottage was rather plain, except for how comfortable it was, and how nicely it had been built, and how neatly it was kept in spite of the three children who lived there, and except for the love that glowed from it like firelight from its windows at night.

As for the Igiby family? Well, except for the way they always sat late into the night beside the hearth telling stories, and when they sang in the garden while they gathered the harvest, and when the grandfather, Podo Helmer, sat on the porch blowing smoke rings, and except for all the good, warm things that filled their days there like cider in a mug on a winter night, they were quite miserable. Quite miserable indeed, in that land where walked the Fangs of Dang.

Back On Murder by J. Mark Bertrand — first in the Roland March Mystery series, adult mystery

I’m on the way out. They can all tell, which is why the crime scene technicians hardly acknowledge my presence, and my own colleagues do a double take whenever I speak. Like they’re surprised to find me still here.

But I am here, staring down into the waxy face of a man who, with a change of wardrobe, could pass for a martyred saint.

It’s all in the eyes. Rolling heavenward in agony, brows arched in acute pain. A pencil mustache clinging to the vaulted upper lip, blood seeping through the cracks between the teeth. The ink on his biceps. Blessed Virgins and barb-wired hearts and a haloed man with a cleft beard.

But instead of a volley of arrows or a vat of boiling oil, this one took a shotgun blast point-blank just under the rib cage, flaying his wife-beater and the chest cavity beneath. He fell backward onto the bed, arms out, bleeding out onto the dingy sheets.

Lorenz stands next to me, holding the victim’s wallet. He slips the license out and whistles. “Our boy here is Octavio Morales.”

He’s speaking to the room, not me personally, but I answer anyway. “The money guy?”

The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet — adult fantasy (this excerpt is from the Auralia Thread series summary leading up to this book)


The ale boy was once an errand runner, almost invisible as he served House Abascar. As he grew up—an orphan raised by House Abascar’s beer brewer and winemaker—his real name remained a secret, even from him.

But what he did know proved useful indeed. As he gathered the harvest fruits beyond Abascar’s walls, worked with brewers below ground, delivered drinks across the city, and served the king his favorite liquor, the ale boy learned the shortcuts and secrets of that oppressed kingdom.

When the ale boy met Auralia, a mysterious and artistic young woman from the wilderness, they formed a friendship that would change the world. Auralia’s artistry shone with colors no one had ever seen, and when she revealed her masterpiece within House Abascar, the kingdom erupted in turmoil that ended in a calamitous collapse. Auralia vanished, as did her enchanting colors. And hundreds of people died.

Brokenhearted but brave, the ale boy sought out survivors in Abascar’s ruins and helped them find their way to a refuge in the Cliffs of Barnashum.There, led by their new king, Cal-raven, the people endured a harsh winter and an attack from the Cent Regus beastmen.

The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs — YA fantasy

The day was gray and cold, mildly damp. Perfect for magic.

Strange clouds overhead teased the senses with a fragrance of storm, wind, and lightning, and the faint, clean smell of ozone. Invisible energy sparkled like morning dew on blades of grass.

Standing alone in an empty field on the back end of their new acreage, Hadyn Barlow only saw the clouds. By definition, you can’t see what’s invisible, and as for smelling magic? Well, let’s just say, unlikely. Hadyn saw what was obvious for late November, rural Missouri: leafless trees, dead grass, winter coming on strong. Most of all he saw (and despised) the humongous briar patch in front of him, feeling anew each and every blister and callus earned hacking through its branches.

Blaggard’s Moon by George Bryan Polivka (maybe the best of them all) — adult fantasy

“On a post. In a pond.”

Delaney said the words aloud, not because anyone could hear him but because the words needed saying. He wished his small declaration could create a bit of sympathy from a crewmate, or a native, or even one of the cutthroats who had left him here. But he was alone.

It wasn’t the post to which he’d been abandoned that troubled him, though it was troubling enough. The post was worn and unsteady, about eight inches across at the top where his behind was perched, and it jutted eight feet or so up from the still water below him. His shins hugged its pocked and ragged sides; his feet were knotted at the ankles behind him for balance. Delaney was a sailor, and this was not much different than dock posts in port where he’d sat many times to take his lunch. He was young enough not to be troubled with a little pain in the backside, old enough to have felt his share of it. No, the post wasn’t the problem.

The pond from which the post jutted was not terribly troublesome either. It was a lagoon, really, less than a hundred yards across, no more than fifty yards to shore in any direction. He could swim that distance easily. He peered down through the water, past its smooth, still surface, and eyed the silver-green flash of scales, lit bright by the noonday sun.

The piranha, now, they were somewhat vexing.

Lost Mission by Athol Dickson — adult magic realism (sadly I can’t copy any of the excerpt of this one, so you’ll have to click on the link to get a flavor of the book.

Mind you, this sampling doesn’t include a single author of women’s fiction. In that genre I’d recommend Julie Carobini, Kathryn Cushman, Kathleen Popa, Sharon Souza, Debbie Thomas, and that’s right off the top of my head.

I’m just saying, good Christian fiction is available.

When readers listen to those who don’t (or who no longer) read the genre, they are insuring that publishers will not aim for a larger audience — because when they do, insiders will say, Those genres don’t sell. And they’ll be right because those not informed about the latest books and newest authors are telling potential readers how horrible Christian fiction is. Who wants to buy books when the buzz about them is so negative?

How about, let’s at least keep an open mind, so when someone like me or Tim George who reviews for Fiction Addict or any of the CSFF Tour bloggers gives a contrasting opinion to the “Christian fiction is bad” mantra, we might consider that it’s possible there are some worthwhile books published by Christian houses.

June CSFF Tour Wrap

Poll Run-off added July 3: Please vote in the new poll for one of our top three finishers. It’s a tight race, so every vote counts! You have until midnight (Pacific time) Wednesday.

– – –
Original Post:

I hope regular visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction take the time to read some of the other blog posts about the CSFF Blog Tour June feature, Vanish by Tom Pawlik (Tyndale). We had over 30 blog sites participate and over 50 posts discussing the book.

One blogger referred to CSFF as a large virtual book club. I love it! That’s really what we are. We discuss books. Particular books—the ones in the genre we prefer.

The thing is “the genre we prefer” is really three genres force-fed into one. Fantasy is a world (literally—and pun intended 😉 ) apart from science fiction, which is a completely different animal from supernatural suspense (horror). Nevertheless, we band together and feature them all. Sci fi writers Brandon Barr and Steve Trower, for example pitch in and post about YA fantasy or adult supernatural suspense.

And the amazing thing is, we discover there are books that we would not have thought to pick up except for the tour, but that spellbindingly engage us. In other words, the tour, though it is genre specific, expands our reading selection.

Having said all that, let me introduce you to the bloggers who are eligible for this month’s CSFF Top Tour Blogger award:

And now, you have the opportunity to vote on the one blogger you think most deserving of the award:

    I almost forgot to mention – you have one week to vote.
Published in: on June 25, 2009 at 12:11 pm  Comments (5)  
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CSFF Blog Tour, Day 3 – Themes in Vanish

Today is the final day in the CSFF Blog Tour for Tom Pawlik‘s debut novel, Vanish. Check out what the other bloggers are saying by clicking on the post links (check marks) next to the list of participants below my interview with Tom.

As far as I’m concerned, this is my most important post of my three tour-related articles. While I find a discussion of writing techniques and the enjoyment factor and the viability of Christian horror (supernatural suspense) interesting topics, and even necessary, I continue to believe that WHAT a book has to say is the most significant factor, even in fiction.

And happily, Tom has important things he wants to say, as he stated earlier this week in an interview with blog tour participant Grace Bridges:

I don’t think of myself as writing a parable, but I do want to communicate spiritual truths through the story.

    * * * * * SPOILER ALERT * * * * *

So what are the spiritual truths that Tom is communicating in Vanish? There are a number, but the ones that jumped out at me are ones I don’t hear a lot of people talking about these days.

When was the last time you heard a sermon about hell? Or judgment? Or life after death? In eras gone by, these topics were regulars from the pulpit. Today, not so much.

And yet Truth hasn’t changed. There is life after death. There will be judgment. And hell is an actual place prepared for those who turn their backs on God.

These are the themes I saw as central to Vanish, and I have to say, About time. For far too long, we Christians have sat on our hands as false teaching has seeped in our midst—the kind of teaching that says God loves his creation so much he would never do anything so opposed to love as assign anyone to eternal punishment. After all, God is not a wrathful tyrant sitting up in heaven waiting to torture as many people as he can, for surely a god who would assign people to hell would be that kind of god.

Like all false teaching, there is an element of truth in this line of thinking. God is a God of love. No, that’s actually incomplete. God is Love. He is not a tyrant. He does not delight in torturing people.

But to think of God as ONLY love is also to limit Him. He reveals Himself to be a jealous God. Jealous! Not something we normally think of in association with God. He is also just. Jesus makes it abundantly clear that there will in fact be a day of judgment in which people who rejected God will be held accountable. Such accountability includes punishment.

In a number of parables, Jesus concluded with lines like this:

Then the king said to the servants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 22:13)

So what does all this have to do with Vanish? In today’s culture, story has again asserted itself as a significant purveyor of truth. While I still believe we need good sermons about the reality of the afterlife, judgment, and hell, I also think stories like Tom’s go a long way to showing the reality.

The final question is, how faithful to Truth is this story? I’ve actually changed my mind since yesterday.

First, this story, unlike C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, is about people who are yet alive. In the imagined world of Vanish, the characters are conscious only of their spiritual existence, though they see it as if it were their physical world. As far as I know, there’s nothing in Scripture about the spiritual condition of a person in a coma. Consequently, however Tom wants to portray that state, as long as the story doesn’t fall victim to some other lie, should be admissible speculation.

From my reading, I’d conclude Tom is interested in revealing Truth, not diluting it.

Second, I thought to object to the activity of the demons. One of the false beliefs about Satan, as I pointed out in “Satan’s Favorite Lies,” is that he is the king of hell. He is not. Hell is the place God has for his eternal punishment, and not his personal fiefdom away from God’s authority.

Thinking along those lines, I questioned the demons’ pursuit of Conner, Mitch, Helen and the others. But a look at Scripture, shows that demons are all about destruction. In the New Testament they threw people into fires, caused a herd of pigs to rush to their destruction, made a man cut himself and become so violent people tried to chain him up but couldn’t. In the Old Testament, a demon enraged King Saul so he tried to kill David, and so on. Throughout the Bible, demons consistently aimed to bring destruction.

Plus we know from the Bible that Satan is the enemy of our souls. Why, then, in fiction wouldn’t demon portrayals be pursuing near-death people? Chomping at the bit, so to speak, thinking these individuals were about to seal their own fate for eternity. And, in fact, desirous of helping them on their way.

It’s a chilling picture, and dark, as a number of tour bloggers commented, but that doesn’t make it any less true. And it’s a truth we have stopped teaching very often, one our culture no longer believes. Maybe a book like Vanish or it’s sequel Valley of the Shadow will help readers come to grips with these spiritual realities.

Published in: on June 24, 2009 at 11:51 am  Comments (6)  
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CSFF Blog Tour, Day 2 – A Review of Vanish

Vanish coverVanish, the June CSFF Blog Tour feature written by Tom Pawlik, is an adult supernatural suspense novel. Those of you who hang around here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction are probably rolling your eyes. (I need to come up with some short, snappy way of referring to this little blog. ACWoF just doesn’t do anything for me) Why the eye roll? others may wonder. Because I’ve said often enough, supernatural suspense is not my genre of choice. Yet I end up reading far more of it than I care to because it’s lumped in with fantasy in the “speculative” category.

Except, this time, I am happy my involvement in CSFF spurred me to read Vanish.

The Story. I can’t tell you much. 8) Even giving you the genre feels like I’m spoiling the story. This is one you need to experience sans spoilers. If you haven’t read Vanish yet and plan to take a peek at other CSFF posts, STOP READING IMMEDIATELY if you see a spoiler alert. Too much information will indeed ruin this story. I say this knowing full well that tomorrow I plan to discuss something important that Vanish has made me think about, and of necessity I’ll give spoilers. You are warned!

So what can I tell you? The main character Conner Hayden experiences the strange sensation that he’s being watched, until one evening when he sees an odd storm cloud, then passes out … or goes to sleep. He doesn’t really know. But when he awakens, everyone he knows is gone. No cars on the road. No one answering the phone. Only static on the radio. No TV reception. Stores are empty.

The story, then, is about Conner trying to figure out What Has Happened, and about how What Has Happened affects him.

Strengths. Intrigue! Intrigue! Intrigue! And Suspense in equal measure. Yes, Tom really has written a story that will have you guessing and wondering and worrying and fearing. And maybe in the end, hoping.

I hesitate to say this, but I think this book could be classified accurately as Christian horror. I have to think that one of Tom’s intentions was to scare people. And notice, I put this down as a strength. Hmmm.

At the same time, this is not a blood-bath kind of book. The real fear is generated by the unknown. I think Tom did an outstanding job feeding just a bit of information at a time, gradually increasing the fear factor.

Weaknesses. I didn’t feel a strong connection with Conner at first. So when things started to happen, I didn’t care deeply. Later I came to care, but I think the story would have more impact if I cared more deeply. If the sequel, Valley of the Shadow (which couldn’t have a more distinct cover from Vanish), is the story I think it is, then I’ll already have a connection to the character.

There’s also a theological issue that comes into play. It’s one of those tough things to sort through when writing Christian speculative fiction. How much must we pay attention to theology if we are using our imagination? I’ve said before, when we write about what is real, even if it is real in the spiritual world or in Biblical history, we are obligated to stay within the bounds of that which has been revealed. Within those bounds, I think we can speculate. (For example, a story about angels must be true to what the Bible says about angels, but a lot has been left unsaid, so I think we can speculate as long as we aren’t contradicting what the Bible says).

As I think about Vanish, I’d say there is a theological problem towards the end, but I didn’t find it off-putting or utterly misleading. Am I splitting hairs to say this is a problem? Maybe.

One of my favorite books is The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, yet many Christians clack their tongue at such a work that seems to suggest man gets a second chance at heaven after he dies. Well, I don’t think that’s what Lewis was saying in The Great Divorce. My theological criticism of Vanish may be as empty for the same reason.

You can be the judge tomorrow, because that issue will be in the forefront of my post.

Recommendation. For those who love suspense and especially supernatural suspense, this is a must read. For anyone who likes a captivating story, I highly recommend Vanish.

Don’t forget to check out the other bloggers (listed below my interview with Tom) posting about this book. I particularly recommend Phyllis Wheeler’s review and possibly the best ever introduction by someone who hasn’t yet read the book posted by Fred Warren.

Published in: on June 23, 2009 at 12:27 pm  Comments (9)  
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Author Interview – Tom Pawlik

Tom who? you might be saying. Rightfully so. Tom Pawlik is a fairly new author. His debut novel Vanish won the 2006 Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest and was subsequently published in 2008 by Tyndale House Publishers.

It just so happens that the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring Vanish this month, though Tom’s second novel Valley of the Shadow just came out. Much better, as far as I’m concerned, to introduce readers to the beginning of a series instead of jumping into the middle. Readers would definitely miss out if they didn’t experience Vanish first.

All that being said, I was able to ask Tom a few questions about his writing.

RLM: How did you conceive of the premise for Vanish and its follow up, Valley of the Shadow?

    TP: The basic premise grew out of a dream I had several years back. I’m not sure about other authors, but I get a lot of weird ideas from dreams. Then I spent the next couple of years developing the story line before submitting it to the CWG [Christian Writers’ Guild] contest.

RLM: You are among friends, Tom. 😉 I know of more than one speculative fiction writer who got the idea for their story from a dream. In fact, I’m included in that group! 😀 But I’m curious about your involvement in the CWG/Tyndale First Novel contest. What do you think set Vanish apart from the other entries?

    TP: I don’t believe any of the other finalists were in the Speculative genre. I had convinced myself there was no way I was going to win because Tyndale doesn’t typically publish this type of book. Thankfully, they liked it well enough to pick it as the winner.

RLM: Tell us about the editing process. Did your editors at Tyndale ask you to make any major changes, and if so, how hard was that?

    TP: I had always heard how tough the editing process is, but my experience with Tyndale was actually a very pleasant one. We started with a conference call in which they go through a list of items they liked as well as some suggested changes. I had originally written Mitch’s father as a Presbyterian minister and they suggested changing his occupation to avoid that cliche. In the end, I was glad they did because I would have never thought to make him a congressman. And now that change has opened a door for some other, future ideas.

RLM: When you wrote about Conner, Mitch, and Helen’s plight, what kind of reaction were you hoping to generate in the reader?

    TP: I wanted each of the three main characters to be flawed but likable. Even though they each had some dark secret lurking in their pasts, I tried to make them sympathetic characters.

RLM: Sympathetic characters in mortal (or immortal) danger. I wondered if you were hoping to generate fear as much as curiosity or surprise or excitement, but I suppose that’s best left to the reader to discover.

Describe your journey as a novelist. What got you started writing, who influenced you, what are your aspirations?

    TP: Being a novelist has been a life-long dream of mine. After 14 years of pursuing the career through the conventional routes, I had nearly given up until I came across the CWG website and saw the contest. I was absolutely thrilled to win and get my first publishing contract. I was a huge fantasy and sci-fi fan through my youth (and still am). Obviously, Tolkien and Lewis have both influenced me tremendously. I also enjoyed Gordon R. Dickson’s writing, Asimov, Bradbury and others. My goal is to be the premier Christian sci-fi/fantasy author of the twenty-first century. How’s that for an aspiration!

RLM: Hey, another similarity between us! 😀

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions, Tom. It’s great to get to know another Christian speculative fiction author.

As visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction might guess, I’m not alone on this blog tour. Take some time this week to see what these other bloggers are saying about Vanish (and as I find them, I’ll put √’s with the permanent links to their posts):

Published in: on June 22, 2009 at 11:06 am  Comments (11)  
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