A week ago, I joined almost forty other brothers in Christ from my church, including my pastor, on a trip to an island near Galveston, Texas. We had carpooled together in a half-dozen large trucks. After we arrived, we stayed in two houses built on stilts, both within sight of Crystal Beach.
We must have appeared unique: a group of dozens of males who were African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic and various mixtures of the same, ranging in age from teenagers to seventy-ish-year-olds. Many came to fish, others to relax but everyone wanted to socialize with each other.
Actually, that was the whole point. Our pastor wanted as many men as possible from the church to have opportunity to spend time together, away from the distractions of day-to-day life or the responsibilities of their varying roles in the ministry. It was a chance to get to know each other better, to share experiences and testimonies. We got to see a different side of each other outside of church. It was nice to just be wearing t-shirts, jeans, tennis shoes and baseball caps.
We shopped for groceries in small groups and purchased ingredients to make our own food. That not only ended up saving a lot of money (from not paying to eat out) but also made for some tasty meals. As an extra bonus, we did a lot of talking while preparing and eating those meals.
I woke up at 5:00 am every morning. The first morning, it wasn’t intentional. A group of the brothers got up early to take the ferry to the mainland to catch a boat and go fishing. I decided to go ahead and get up and I didn’t regret it. The pre-sunrise morning light was extraordinary over the gulf waters and beach. A couple of brothers joined me on the deck and we had wonderful spiritual discussions.
It was such a peaceful environment, with the mild morning air, beautiful colors in the sky and the sea breeze. It was kind, safe and reassuring. It felt like a smile from the Lord. It felt good to be up for the sunrise. Even though it was cloudy the last day we were there, the clouds and breeze were still magnificent enough to take pictures and video with my phone. I was glad we had enough of an internet connection to allow me to post those to social media. (I am still a computer geek after all.)
I had so many conversations with so many different brothers, at all hours of the day. It reminded me of the trust we have with each other. I learned so much and shared an equal amount. It was very cathartic.
Now, throughout this article, I’ve been calling these men my "brothers." That's not only because we are brothers in Christ -- changed by His Love, the gift of salvation and the presence of His Holy Spirit in our hearts -- but because they are as close as family to me. I do not have a biological brother, but I have many brothers in the Lord. There’s something special in that kind of bond. Just like in biological families, none of us are perfect, we make mistakes and sometimes have misunderstandings. But it is easy to forgive and move on. And in doing so, our Father in Heaven will forgive us.
Hebrews 10: 23 - 25 (KJV)
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
Our pastor reminded us that “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” is not only about attending church; it is also about maintaining fellowship outside of church.
When we left to return home, everyone seemed satisfied. We had taken a brief vacation from our regular lives and were returning a little stronger than before.
This group had meant to share each other’s company and friendship. But there was an unexpected benefit to us all: at the same time we had been fellowshipping with one another, we had shared the company and friendship of our Lord and Savior. In doing so, we experienced the Love of God.
There will be no blog entry this week. I’m going on a fishing trip with a men’s group from my church between now and Sunday.
I’ll have something new next week. See you then!
Like many people of my generation (born in the late 1960s and early 1970s), I was taken to a Christian church as a child by my parents. I learned a little bit about the Bible and was told general things about God, that He had a Son named “Jesus” and that there was a Holy Spirit. I was also taught that they were all One Being. By the time I was a teenager, I had even memorized one scripture that I considered my favorite:
John 3:16 (KJV) “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
At the time, we had attended a couple of different Southern Baptist churches. And along the way, I matured enough to go from having intellectual (or book-taught) knowledge of God to developing a belief in Him. I also believed that Jesus was the Son of God. I believed in the Holy Trinity.
But that’s about as far as it went. The churches I attended had plenty of nice people but there were serious issues with the way they were run. And while I didn’t fully understand what those problems were as an adolescent, I picked up enough to want to stop attending. However, since church attendance was mandatory for me and my sister when we were kids, I grew to resent church. I protested in what little, ineffectual ways I could. I may have been there physically but I chose not to sing and had little interest in being taught anything, especially the sermons.
Things changed when I turned eighteen. My parents now considered me an “adult” and gave me the choice of attending. By then, I was starting to understand the managerial problems at our church. The pastor had hired people to build a “mega-church” but in the process had incurred $2 million in debt. When the pastor asked his congregation to take out second mortgages on their homes to help cover that expense, I felt it was very wrong. And that’s when I left that church and gave up on “organized religion.”
Over the next several years, I would occasionally be invited to other churches and I actually visited a few. But I never felt like I belonged at those churches. I didn’t experience God’s presence, though I didn’t understand that at the time. What I did know was that it was disappointing. In truth, I did want to find a church home. I still believed in God and His Son, Jesus Christ. I was on a search and would not be satisfied until I found something “real.”
After I met Angel, the woman who would become my wife, a second time (our first meeting did not go so well, but that’s another story), one of the first things we discussed was spirituality. We soon found out that we both had attended churches and believed in God and Jesus. Even though neither of us had found true salvation yet, we had a common belief. That belief would help solidify our friendship and follow us throughout our dating period and engagement. We prayed together often. And when we said our wedding vows, we made them to God.
By the time our first anniversary came around, we had both given our lives to Jesus Christ and had found a nondenominational church home. Our faith grew through being taught how alive and present God, His Son, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are -- not only in this world but the entire universe. We were taught about sin and that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can live without it. It can be a daily struggle but with the Lord's help, sin can be overcome.
1 Corinthians 10: 13 (KJV) "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."
We came to understand that the Bible -- through the Holy Spirit, which is present in our very beings after we ask Jesus Christ to come into our hearts and become our Savior -- becomes a living thing: God’s Word
John 1: 1 - 5 (KJV) "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."
Studying and meditating on God’s Word, prayer, church attendance/participation and having a good relationship with one’s pastor and the ministerial staff all work together towards one goal: getting closer to God and His Son, Jesus Christ. It has taken me all my life to realize this. In the process, I have learned that God is the greatest intellect in the universe. He is also the greatest creative muse anyone could ever hope to have. I pray and ask Him to inspire me in everything I do -- and He does!
Perhaps equally important, He is the embodiment of fatherhood. In times of pain, loss or just great stress, I have turned to Him. I lean on Him when I’m alone or it’s the middle of the night and everyone’s asleep or I don’t know what to think (of a situation or problem) or pray for. And He is there. I can feel His presence comforting and reassuring me. And whether it’s right then or later, I receive an answer to whatever is hurting or troubling me.
There is much darkness in this world because of sin and unbelief, which tend to lead to one another. A whole generation or two have been actively taught that there is no God, devil, heaven or hell. Noted intellectuals and celebrity-like representatives of science treat belief in God as if it was the height of ignorance. Evolution is taught as fact when it is more theory than not. And people go to extreme measures, even killing themselves or others, thinking they are trying to "save the planet."
We can certainly do humane things to reduce or eliminate pollution and extend natural resources. These are common sense things that make life better for everyone. It's when people start using the issue of "the environment" to control other people (or nations) politically and financially or take it to extremes (the aforementioned suicides or murders) that problems occur.
To be clear, I am not in any way against science. It is a wonderful tool for exploring and understanding the world (and universe) around us. However, I am against the abuse of science. That is, when people try to use science to justify their beliefs that God does not exist and spirituality is somehow meaningless superstition.
Wars, genocide, mass and individual murder, terrorism. corruption, injustices -- all the evils visited upon the human race -- are manifested through sin, which starts in the human heart. As people turn away from God, they turn away from hope. And when people lose hope, things get worse. They may find a form of happiness but it doesn't last. People wonder why bad things are happening to them (and the world) but don’t find satisfactory answers. They may even blame God...but forget that they proclaimed they didn’t want Him.
It comes down to a personal choice: Do you want to believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from the Bible? And people have different reasons for not believing. Some have never felt His presence or love, even when attending churches. Many people have been hurt and/or betrayed by people claiming to be "Christians," those quick to claim the title but not live the life. It is understandable.
But God is the same today as He was in the Bible, thousands of years ago. He was the same when He created the universe. He has always had limitless compassion and more love than we can truly comprehend. He loves everyone but He hates sin. He knows each of us and wants to help us, to guide us in turning our lives around. But we have to believe in Him. We have to trust Him and His Son, Jesus Christ. But trust can be difficult when one has doubts or has been hurt before.
I will conclude this with the reason I believe in God: He is an active part of my life. Every waking moment, I know He is with me through His Holy Spirit. I can call on Him and He hears me. The Holy Spirit speaks to me. I commune with Him through prayer. He builds my faith, strengthens me, my marriage, my relationships with my family and friends. He inspires my creativity and fulfills my soul. I am a better person for not just believing, but having a relationship with Him. He is my heavenly Father. And I love Him for who He is.
He can be all of that and more for whoever is seeking Him, whether openly or just within their heart. He can send someone "real" to anyone and lead them to somewhere the living Gospel is being preached. And they can finally find hope.
Thanks for reading this.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been a dreamer. As a kid, I dreamed of being a cartoonist, someday working for Marvel or DC Comics. As a teen, I dreamed of being a journalist then a musician, even recording a solo studio album. In my early twenties, I thought I might make it big in a rock and blues band. Nearing my thirties, I dreamed of reducing or eliminating weight-related prejudice in the world. In my forties, I decided to start writing novels in hopes of someday being published. And now, that dream is coming true.
To realize a dream, you have to believe it can come true. You have to have hope. You have to understand that you have value as a person. I was fortunate when I was growing up, since my parents, especially my mother, taught me to believe in myself. She repeatedly assured me that I could do anything I set my mind to. My father's life proved it to me. He was also very inspiring. I am well aware that many people are not fed such encouragement. This can lead to a lot of self-doubt, anxiety and potentially overwhelming fear of failure. Those feelings cause some people to delay or even sabotage their own dreams.
The little bit of advice I would offer to anyone who was not encouraged by their parent(s) or faced neglect or abuse in their formative years is this: There is still hope. God believes in you or He would not have made you. He let each and every one of us be born into this world, as challenging and cruel as it can be at times, for a purpose. He can help all of us achieve something special and meaningful. He just wants us to trust Him.
The song I included above tells the story of how I wished to fall in love. I knew I wanted to get married and have a family someday. That dream began when I was ten years old. I wrote “(There’s Always Time For) Dreams & Wishes” in 1990, after I’d experienced my heartbreaking first love. But I wasn’t discouraged. I knew if I fell in love once, I could fall in love again. I wanted to find someone who would share that love and make a commitment with me.
A year after I wrote that song, I met the woman who would become my wife. We had to fight for our love, being an interracial couple in Central Texas during the 1990s. But we persevered and did marry in 1995. Even so, it took the Lord to solidify that matrimony and give it a lasting foundation. My wife and I gave our lives to Jesus Christ and invited His Holy Spirit into our hearts -- and our marriage. This year, we celebrated twenty-three years of that union. We have three wonderful children, two sons and a daughter. They are the realization of my dream and I will be forever grateful to the Lord for them.
Time and reality taught me that some dreams are more realistic than others. As a kid and teen, I might have been interested in Star Trek and science fiction but I knew I was never going to be an engineer like the USS Enterprise’s Mr. Scott or a military captain like James T. Kirk. My medical issues made military service impossible and I did not have a passion for number-crunching or other related skills. I was more about creating stories: comics, news stories or songs.
And by the time I attended college, even my dream of being a journalist was shattered. I saw for myself that, even in 1991, what made the “news” was too often determined by political and business reasoning than the idealistic pursuit of the truth. And that's what I had always thought journalism was about, it drove my passion. Still, I never quite gave up my journalism skills, I just found different ways to use them. I contributed articles and design skills to an e-zine for years and then hosted or co-hosted podcasts and conducted interviews.
Dreams have a way of hanging on, even against tough circumstances. They only die if you let them.
Something I have come to understand recently is that all dreams have a price. It will always take time and effort. Sometimes you have to start over to reach what you want. Sometimes the cost is in relationships. It depends on the dream and the individual. To achieve my dream of being a novelist, I had to hand over my talent to God and His Son, Jesus Christ. It was never really “my” talent anyway, only what the Lord imbued me with.
When I sought the Lord through earnest and daily prayer, asking Him to inspire me, that is what changed my course and started me down this path. It started with the Mindfire novel in 2013. I knew my characters and the various comic book plots I had created over the years, but it was the Lord who organized everything and helped me focus. By the time I finished the editing in 2016, it had transformed from an interesting but admittedly so-so first draft to a powerful novel. Mindfire had something to say. And it stood on its own as something new and unique. However it might be received once published next year, I am proud of it.
I repeated the process with Jordan’s World. Only with this novel, I was starting from scratch. I had to lean on the Lord even more, every step of the way. And He blessed. Jordan's World has a different message than Mindfire but it points to the same God. And the two Jordan sequels will be handled the same way.
So, what am I trying to say here? You can dream, but be careful. Ask yourself what your dream will demand of you -- your time, your relationships with those close to you, your money -- or will the cost be to your soul, who you are as a person? Will it change you for the better or worse? How will you balance your dream with real life?
It takes confidence to follow a dream. What have you placed your confidence in? If it's only yourself, that's very risky and could exact a high price. Only God and His Son, Jesus Christ, can provide the inspiration, confidence and security to achieve lasting happiness. They can do anything, so the fulfillment of a dream is hardly a challenge. And when you place Them first in your life, they may give you a new dream that was better than what you originally wanted.
Matthew 7: 8 - 15 (KJV) “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
Matthew 7: 24 - 27 (KJV): “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it."
Writing can fulfill many purposes. Obviously, people create fictional stories and relay facts in books but that only shows you the end product. It’s what goes on “behind the scenes” during the writing process that can truly be fascinating. “The pen is mightier than the sword” has a degree of truth to it. Writing can be a weapon, if one chooses to use it that way. Or it can heal the deepest wounds.
I was born with amblyopia, a medical condition better known as “lazy eye.” Left untreated, it can lead to blindness. My parents had me undergo multiple corrective surgeries and physical therapy from shortly after birth through the age of twelve to strengthen that eye. Until that was remedied, I had poor depth perception, which made me terrible at sports. I experienced a lot of bullying from other kids, especially boys, particularly when I made any attempt to play sports.
Not wanting to be insulted or hurt, I isolated myself from most kids. I even taught myself not to react emotionally. My parents had taught me that fighting was bad and not to fight. So instead, I controlled my emotions as best I could. Between the ages of six to perhaps ten, I would come home from school and watch cartoons like most kids but I challenged myself to not laugh or get excited. Even with Saturday morning cartoons, which I really enjoyed, I made myself not react. I showed my emotions with my family and closest friends; otherwise, I was quiet, usually just observing situations. I wasn’t even aware that I had become a quiet student. No one prompted me to do any of this. I instigated it myself, probably to protect myself from even potentially being hurt.
Not surprisingly, I developed a lifelong disdain for sports of any kind (with a mild exception being soccer). Time and the Lord have lessened this feeling but I have no illusions about ever becoming a sports enthusiast.
Back on topic, I started reading and enjoying superhero comic books when I was eight years old. By the time I was ten, I had actually become something of a critic, knowing what I liked and disliked. One friend remarked “if you don’t like them, why don’t you make your own comics?” And at that time, in my little kid brain, I decided that was a great idea! I wrote and drew a comic book with original characters that formed a superhero team and fought supervillains. Then they began having relationships. In time, they even got married and started having kids.
In a unique way, I started living vicariously through my comic book characters and their experiences -- their triumphs, their tragedies and everything in-between. I started calling my comics my “therapy.” And in a sense, it was. By the same principle, if I was going through something challenging in my own life, some version of it would often find its way into my comics.
When I gave my life to Christ in January 1996, I had been married for a little under a year and was a new father. It gave me a new perspective. By 2007, my wife and I put together the “Due East” Christian webcomic about a multi-racial family trying to come back together and heal after a separation and divorce. While I had never experienced divorce, I knew plenty of friends and even a few family members who had. I understood some sense of how damaging it was, especially to the children. Because of the sensitive nature of the story, my wife and I had to lean on the Lord through prayer to tackle such a topic. We also sought His help with how to share our faith through a webcomic.
In 2013, I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and make my first 50,000 word rough draft in less than a month. Through prayer and persistence, I took many of the characters from my first superhero team comic and some of the early stories and re-tooled them to work together to create Mindfire (coming Summer 2019 from Ambassador International). Along the way, a lot of elements of my personality and even my life ended up in that novel. It was exciting, terrifying and cathartic, all at the same time.
I think this is true in everything I write. Whether intentional or not, I imbue each novel with bits of myself. And in doing so, it is also a healing and release, opening my words up to intrigue as well as criticism.
But now, I don’t write just for myself. I try to reach people with a message of hope in the salvation and deliverance that Christ freely offers. I want to share the Healing only He can bring. I know what the Lord has done in my life. Now I want to pass it forward.
Maybe I’m strange but I’ve never minded working on multiple stories at the same time. That may have started with my years developing comic and webcomic stories, always planning ahead. Since becoming a novelist, I find that some of it is necessary.
Unless you intend to only write standalone short stories or books, an author must have some idea where they are going with their works. Is there room for a sequel? Should this be a trilogy? A series? Just how much story is there for this set of characters and any new supporting characters you may introduce later?
Between 1980 and 2000, I developed many (homemade) comics series, limited series, annuals and special editions, just like Marvel and DC Comics. I just never sold them. They were hand-drawn and lettered on copier paper and made into twenty (or more) page issues, stapled together and collected in a folders then boxes. I would look back through them from time to time to maintain consistency in the characters’ look, story and development.
Sometimes, I would get burned out on one series and deliberately switch to working on a different one for a while. Or I would deliberately make a crossover story, mixing-and-matching elements and characters from different series. This would inspire me to try new things and give me new ideas for existing series and characters. I would later experiment with this, coordinating between not only mine but others' webcomics in what would become the award-winning "Off Hours" webcomic. It was a series I developed with two other writer friends that ran from 2007 to 2010 and involved 26 comic creators from four different countries.
In 2013, “Mindfire” was created as a standalone novel. It was also a test to see if I could actually complete a 50000+ word book. And I did. My next project was “Jordan’s World.” I created the Jordan as a series, specifically a trilogy. By the time I finished the first book, I had the title for the second and some idea where I wanted it to go. As I wrote the second book, I went through several titles for the third until finally reaching a satisfactory one. Once I finished the first draft of the second Jordan book, I had a good idea what I wanted to do in the third.
Along the way, I was inspired to try writing Christian steampunk. I developed an idea and characters, somehow already knowing it would become a trilogy.
Once that my (and my wife’s) personal editing on the second Jordan book was nearing completion, I was feeling that old ambivalence towards the third book. I wasn’t quite burned out but was getting there. So, I switched gears and threw myself into the first steampunk book for a solid week and that really helped accomplish two things: I got to delve into a new set of characters and story elements, building a new world, if you will. And at the same time, it gave me just enough of a break and diversion to inspire me anew for the third Jordan book.
What’s more, I instinctively know I can switch back and forth between these two books at any time and not lose focus on either. In fact, I’ve been developing an idea for another book! Quite frankly, it’s exciting.
One might ask “how do you keep track of all these characters and story elements? Wouldn’t that get confusing?” I make a point to keep detailed notes about my stories and can refer back to them at any time. Also, once I’ve begun writing a story, I can use it as reference. These things tend to build on one another. Another thing I’m grateful for is having a photographic memory. It’s not as pinpoint as it was in my late teens and twenties but it still allows me to visualize a scene or remember something I’ve written or said before and work from it.
Every author has their own way of storytelling. I realize mine is somewhat complex but it’s surprisingly fun and what ultimately matters is how it comes across to you, the reader. I endeavor to make stories that are worthy of your time and attention -- or at least will entertain you. Time will tell.
Both Mindfire and Jordan’s World have females in their early twenties as the main protagonists. Prior to this, several of my webcomics had similar leads. Some may wonder, how can a male effectively write the perspective of a female character? Personally, I think anyone can write any perspective, if they can both imagine it and have some point of reference and experience regarding that perspective.
In my case, I spent most of my childhood around my mother and older sister. My father was the traditional “breadwinner” and was away a lot due to his profession. We spent time together whenever possible but didn’t develop a truly close bond until I was in my early twenties. Even outside the home, some of my closest friends were females and I learned from their experiences. In many ways, I related to them better than males.
Males had been my childhood bullies, particularly those involved in sports. That’s why I chose creative pursuits such as making my own comics, which doubled as my therapy. Later, I would use music in a similar fashion, to vent my deepest feelings and express my hopes and wishes. I didn't have to be involved in sports or join a team, I could use what talent I possessed all by myself.
Writing allowed me the opportunity to take ideas and experiences and make them relatable to a wider audience, to share my characters’ triumphs and failures, loves and losses. For a large part of my life, I understood the female perspective better than the male one, so that's what I wrote in my comics. Sometimes, that's what I represented in my songs as well.
That said, I never thought of myself as female; I never wanted to be anything or anyone other than who I am. Interestingly enough, it was my mother who instilled a strong sense of self-worth and confidence in me. She wanted me to be emotionally strong enough to face whatever challenges life had to offer. And she succeeded. I have accomplished many of the goals that I set for myself.
But I could not have gotten to where I am now, either creatively (art/music/writing), professionally (in the I.T. field) and personally (as a husband and father) without the Lord’s intervention. He is the one who made me see my need for a Savior. Before then, I could do many things on my own -- except be truly content. Before giving my life to Him, I may have always pursued dreams but just as often, I would get in my own way. It was frustrating, even maddening, to be so close to what should have been "True Happiness," only to have it snatched away by a mistake or mishandling of a situation. And it would be my fault, whether I accepted that or not.
After the Lord saved me, I was able to relate better to my brothers in Christ and then men in general. Having the Holy Spirit to soothe and heal past hurts allowed me to see the world differently. And that made me a better writer, as I could impart more realistic male characters and provide a balance to my storytelling.
I do admit that I enjoy writing female protagonists and strong female characters. In recent years, there has been a lot of progress towards providing rewarding portrayals of female characters, ones who defy stereotypes or define their standout roles well, whether in print, on a screen or a stage.
It’s not necessary to overcompensate and under-portray the male characters. All you need is a balance. If the lead is female, then that’s fine. And vice-versa for males. What matters is good storytelling.
Will I end up writing male lead protagonists in the future? I’m sure I will, I just don’t know when. I’d like to think I’m up for the challenge!
Every writer has a unique style that reflects their personality and experiences. I have a fairly laid back personality, generally-speaking, but I am very passionate with my creativity. That’s true for every aspect of it, including writing, art and music. Focusing on writing only, I asked myself what has my style been? I looked to past examples to gauge my answer.
I began writing with comic books as a child and continued that into adulthood. Even though I improvised the writing at first (which occasionally forced me to "retcon" or use "retroactive continuity" to write myself out of a dead-end plot), I began to plan out my comic stories in advance. By the time my wife and I started the “Due East” webcomic, we were scripting each page. That worked much better, letting us map the direction of the story.
One of the advantages of creating comics is that the art does the describing for you. If you can draw the scenery the way you see it in your head, at least well enough for the average reader to recognize each element, then all you have to focus on is dialogue and how you want your characters and story to develop. It’s still writing but it’s not novelization. I had to learn that skill when I made the jump from comics to writing books.
Still, there are commonalities in the writing style between my comics and my novelizations. I generally like a fairly brisk pace when possible, though I do recognize that all characters need a chance to slow down, relax and breathe a little. I like action and adventure but that’s meaningless without well-developed characters. I’m a hopeless romantic, so there will always be elements of that within my stories. And I do have a sense of humor, ranging from dry to silly. I love parody but it’s rare to find opportunities to work that into your average story. And lastly, I can be very intense at times. This is definitely reflected in almost all of my stories. At some point, maybe more than once over the course of a tale, things will get intense. It may not last for long but it will occur and it will serve a distinct purpose.
And now, I think it’s time for some examples from my comics:
From 2007 to 2008, my wife and I co-wrote a Christian slice-of-life webcomic called "Due East." It was about a multiracial family (Caucasian and Asian husband/father, African-American wife/mother with two daughters together) who experience divorce and the splitting up of the family. But the parents stay in touch because of their children and eventually fall back in love. The story is about their attempts to heal their family. Their youngest daughter's best friend happens to be Christian.
A pivotal plot twist occurs during a strong thunderstorm. The younger, 16-year old daughter, Brielle, is at home when the storm hits and she is faced with a life-or-death situation.
You can see the page at this link.
From 2012 until 2015, I created a science-fantasy webcomic called "Super Chibi Girl" (or "SCG" for short). The name was a play on manga- and anime-style titles but the comic itself was mostly serious and I drew it in a semi-realistic style.
But by 2014, I realized that it would take most of a decade to draw the whole story and knew I didn't have time or patience for that. So I started novelizing the story.
SCG was a story about a mixed-race (Caucasian father, African-American mother) 24-year old college graduate, Allison Fe'oma. She was an aspiring journalist who got caught up in a civil conflict that broke out on Earth between extraterrestrials from a world named "B'wahii." She is mortally wounded but one of the "good" aliens saves her by exposing her to a sentient energy source (called "The Blue") that has a symbiotic relationship with Jeff's people, the B'wahii. After Allison is exposed to the energies, she becomes part-alien in addition to being biracial. She ends up marrying Jeff and they have a daughter, Dawn, who is half-human and half-B'wahii.
Here is a sample from one of the later novelized chapters of SCG:
White Dagger had never beheld The Blue this closely before. He had certainly never been inside The Blue. Yet here he stood, bathed in the glowing azure and white light of what had been his enemy for most of his life. He felt The Blue’s presence all around him, like a living thing -- and indeed it was -- but White Dagger had never attributed such qualities to it. To him, it was a game piece on a strategy board, a faceless enemy to overcome. And now, he needed its help in order to save his world.
“All you have to do is talk to The Blue. It will hear and understand you,” Jeff said.
Dawn stood next to her father, Jeff. She was still edgy being this close to White Dagger. But today, there was more at stake than her feelings towards the man who had once maimed her. Two worlds and many lives were hanging in the balance of what this group of people did next. So she said nothing and held her feelings in. Despite that, her tail swished behind her like a restless cat.
Dani Glassberg felt terrified yet exhilarated. She knew she was viewing something historic. No, not just viewing, she was participating in this! She was just as needed as any other person present. She had lived all of her life as human, only to find out in the last year that she was half-B’wahii...half-alien. And when she had used the B’wahii abilities of her birthright, it had changed her appearance and brought to the surface some of the hidden B’wahii traits she held within her DNA. Her strawberry-blond hair had become dark blue, her skin had taken on a blue-ish tint and her irises had become white like the B’wahii. Since then, she had struggled with things she had previously taken for granted.
Now to show a little of my romantic side, here's a very different page from Due East at this link.
And here's some humor in Due East, just for fun, at this link.
Sometimes I'll mix the elements for dramatic effect or it's just what the story calls for. The following Due East page glides from humor to tragedy in the same page. Friends Brielle and Carolyn are joking around as they enter Carolyn's home but are blindsided to discover Carolyn's mom dead from a drug overdose.
I'm not afraid to take chances on what I believe will be a good story. Things may get intense, bordering on controversial. But I also balance every idea or line of dialogue against my faith and values. Does the idea make sense? Is the character a Christian? And even if they're not, will what I'm trying to convey be edifying to the reader? Will it magnify the Lord? I have to consider all of that.
Fortunately my wife, Angel, gives me incredibly valuable feedback and insight. She will tell me when she thinks something I wrote does not work, but she does it with love. She is a huge support and I deeply value her input.
Summing everything up, I try to write stories that reflect who I am and what I hold dear. I weave the type of tales that I would like to read. They need a good pace, proper character development and a story that makes sense and leads somewhere. I hope that comes across.
So maybe you're wondering who is this "Allen Steadham" guy? Where'd he come from? Why did he start writing? Or perhaps why does he write Christian speculative fiction (i.e. science-fantasy, science fiction, fantasy, etc.)? I'd be happy to tell you.
It seems like I've always been writing. By the age of nine (in 1979), this Texas boy had become a big fan of comic books, mainly Marvel and DC superhero stuff. And I decided to make my own, hand-drawn comics, original superhero stories. As an ambitious ten-year-old, I even mailed a comic page submission to Marvel Comics. In return, I received the sweetest rejection letter possible, as I'm sure they could tell my age by the quality of the art.
That experience didn't discourage me, it actually inspired me to try and get better! I continued making those comics for years, even after I became involved with the woman I would marry. This crazy guy asked her to edit his comics (and she did)!
But in January 1996, I reached a crossroads in my life. One Saturday, I became extremely ill as a result of dehydration stemming from the flu. My wife, Angel, took me to a minor emergency clinic and they determined that I had lost half the (non-blood) fluids in my body. Every time the medical staff tried to give me fluids intravenously, my veins would collapse. This happened four times within a fairly short time. It forced me to contemplate the possibility of dying that day, which was terrifying!
Even though I had become disillusioned about attending church and "organized religion" in general when I turned 18, I had not stopped believing in God or Jesus Christ. In fact, I thought I was a Christian. But my life did not reflect that. I did not have a good understanding of the Bible nor of who Jesus really is, what He could do in my life.
I was a very different person then, a living contradiction: I was sensitive and cared deeply about my friends and family but I was vengeful, holding long grudges and a vicious rage in my heart. I was more scared of myself than anyone in the world. I aspired to be a journalist and wrote imaginative comics and had started teaching myself to play the electric bass guitar and keyboards but I had a wicked imagination. I cursed, smoked marijuana and when I did drink alcohol, it was Irish whiskey. I took tremendous risks to marry the woman I love, who is African-American, but we were too emotionally volatile for our marriage to succeed. Everything was heading for a disaster, even before I got sick.
However, Angel met a witness for Jesus at her workplace. They spoke with my wife (and later with me) about "living free from sin," salvation through God and His Son, Jesus Christ. She also told my wife about the church she attended and its pastor. Angel went to that church a few times and decided to give her life to Christ, shortly before our oldest son was born.
Over the next few months, I saw a real (and positive) change in the way Angel behaved towards me and the way she took care of our son. She would periodically ask if I wanted to visit a church service or Bible study. And I would always politely decline. I wanted her to be happy but I didn't want to change.
Though after I while, I thought to myself "What's the harm in going to a Bible study? She's been really good to me and I love her. This is a way I can show her that." So, I agreed to attend one. On the day of the Bible study, I started feeling very sick. Angel asked what I wanted to do. I asked her to take my temperature. I told her if I had no fever, I would still go...but if I had a fever, I'd have to stay home. She took my temperature and, even though I know I had a fever, the thermometer indicated the opposite.
I went to the Bible study. But once I got there, I felt so unwell that I couldn't eat any of the delicious food they served us beforehand. And once the pastor started the study, my back began to hurt...a lot. I pressed on, telling myself I was doing this for Angel, but it intensified throughout the night.
Something extraordinary happened in the midst of my growing pain: it forced me to concentrate on every word the pastor said. I had to look past any preconceived ideas and past doctrine. Doing so, I truly heard the gospel of Jesus Christ that night. The pastor spoke about how God and the devil war over people's souls. It was fascinating, illuminating and backed up by scripture.
By the end of the evening, I asked the pastor if I could come to his church that Sunday and give my life to Christ. He welcomed me to do so, but things would take a detour before then.
That evening, I had a terrible coughing fit which woke me in the middle of the night. I hacked and wheezed so hard that it threw something out in my back. Somehow, I managed to get some sleep.
I was still hurting the next morning and I asked Angel to take me to the emergency room. She agreed and then called the pastor to tell him what was going on and ask for his prayers. He asked us to stop by his house on the way to the hospital, so we did. He gave us $40.00 out of his own pocket and said he would be praying for us. We were very poor at that time and were grateful for his generosity. When we finished at the hospital, the insurance co-pay was $25.00 and the prescription for pain medication had a co-pay of $15.00 -- a total of exactly $40.00! We were amazed.
Unfortunately, the flu kept me at home that weekend but by Monday, I had recovered enough to return to work. Or so I thought. That Friday night, I was delirious and felt horrible again. Angel called the pastor and I believe that the combination of his and her prayers are what stabilized me enough to make it through that evening.
The next afternoon, I was at the minor emergency clinic, laying on a table and not knowing whether I was going to survive the day. I took a hard, honest look at my life and I didn't like what I saw. I knew that if I died right then, I would not go to Heaven. The Bible study lesson about God and the devil warring over souls returned to my mind. I contemplated Hell for the first time. I seriously considered how frightening it would be to spend eternity there. Desperate, I reached out with my thoughts and begged "God, if You save my life today, I'll go to church tomorrow and give my life to You!"
Just then, my fifth vein collapsed but the nurse told me that the IV had infused one liter of fluid into me beforehand (I needed two). She told me that I could either drink one liter of orange juice and see if I could keep it down. Or they could go for a vein in my ankle next. I said "give me the orange juice." I drank it and I kept it down. So, after a little while, they let me leave.
The next day, I kept my promise to God and gave my life to His Son, Jesus Christ. And He changed me. The old me died and I was spiritually born again. That was January 22, 1996.
Since then, I have not cursed, smoke or drank alcohol. The Lord took that vengeful spirit out of me and I can forgive. I am still growing as a Christian but the Lord helped me become a better husband and father. And I decided that I want to use my creativity for the Lord. Within months, my wife and I were both participating in music with the church. And within a year, we were asked to join a band, First Light, which we are still members of to this day.
I continued making comics but they were no longer superhero comics. I wanted to make a Christian comic with my wife as the co-writer and editor. We eventually made Due East and it became an award-winning (Best Spiritual Comic 2008, Most Profound Comic 2008) slice-of-life webcomic.
In 2013, I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo). I took many of the characters and a few story elements from my very first comic, updated them and gave it a Christian theme. Over the next three weeks, the first draft of Mindfire came together. It would take another two years to edit it but I self-published it on Amazon in 2016.
When I finished Mindfire (which I considered a fond farewell to my very first characters), I wanted to start from scratch on my next novel. Initially, I considered it a fantasy novel but as it progressed, I understood that the sci-fi elements actually made it a science-fantasy novel instead. And my wife edited the manuscript with me. Now, "Jordan's World" will be my first novel with my new publisher, Ambassador International, and I'm very proud of that. "Mindfire" will also be published by Ambassador International. Both will be available by Summer 2019.
Who knows what will happen from here? But this is who I am now and what I want to do. I hope you enjoy this journey along with me!
Please feel free to comment. Thanks for reading this.
About the author
Allen Steadham is a nondenominational Christian, happily interracially married since 1995. Father of two sons and a daughter. He and his wife have been in the same Christian band since 1997. He plays electric bass, she plays strings, they both sing. It's all good.
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