At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Monday, March 28, 2016

If I Might Interrupt (a.k.a. Easter and Atheism)

I know, this wrecks the whole flow of my top ten reasons to check out The Broken Cross, but it's something I felt I couldn't pass up. I do have a post in pocket to smooth out and put on the blog, but for now, something else.

Easter is behind us, although in all fairness Christians should live every day like it's Resurrection Sunday and not go around looking like they got baptized in vinegar. But I re-read contrasting essays this past week from back issues of The Wall Street Journal that I found thought-provoking. Granted they are from 2011, so keep that in mind.

First, actor and comedian Ricky Gervais (if you haven't watched him send poor Karl Pilkington around the world in An Idiot Abroad yet, I have to question what you are watching on Netflix) wrote an essay entitled A Holiday Message from Ricky Gervais: Why I Am a Good Christian. I've supplied the link so you can go read it need to reproduce it here. Gervais, a dedicated atheist, is a patron of the British Humanist Association, which seeks to promote a secular worldview, seek secular governmental principles, and raise awareness of human rights issues.

Then, atheist-turned-Christian-apologist Lee Strobel gave his counter-proposal in the WSJ called How Easter Killed My Faith in Atheism. If you are familiar with Strobel's work in The Case For Christ, there's a lot of condensed ground he goes over here. Strobel, a former investigative journalist, knows how to ask the tough questions.

Before you get into both essays (note how I assume you will read them), please know they come with caveats:

--Gervais begins his defense of his worldview by showing how he sticks to the Ten Commandments better than most Christians. I find it interesting how he begins and ends with law and sees know need for divine grace, but he is coming at it from an atheistic standpoint. My concern is that Gervais tends to have a very surfacy view of what the Commandments mean or how thorough they are; then again, the same complaint can be hurled at many evangelicals. As someone who has taught Ethics for the majority of his career in education, I know Gervais is missing a lot when he ticks off a 10 for 10 score in keeping the Decalogue faster than the rich young ruler who stood before Jesus.

--On Strobel's work, keep in mind he is rushing through a number of these points and you wish he'd get into more detail like he does in his books. Also, he makes reference to matters within Scripture itself to show what is recorded in defense of Christ's resurrection. That's within bounds; naturally, I'm betraying my point of view as a biblicist. However, what do you do with someone who does not accept the Biblical revelation as authoritative or accurate or necessary? You have to find some common ground for argumentation with those who do not accept Holy Scripture as a true metanarrative. (It's the reason why there are limitations in our postmodern world of today with C.S. Lewis' "Liar, Lunatic, Lord" argument that the Oxford Don didn't face in the 1950s)

That being said, read both essays. They are not as substantive on issues of faith and reason as, say, a two-hour debate between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig at Notre Dame, but in the midst of a rushed Monday, they'll do. And commit to having gracious conversations of this nature with those around you.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Getting Fast and Fat

The top ten reasons for buying a copy of my sequel novel, The Broken Cross, roll on after a brief hiatus. Clocking in at number 7 is...the food.

I like to bring a smattering of St. Louis culture into my stories by having the detectives grab a meal at a noticeable eating establishment in the greater St. Louis realm. In The Broken Cross, Detectives Ballack and Vaughan head north across the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers to get some juicy ecclesiastical gossip from Father Billy Doyle in Alton, Illinois. Because this bluff town on the river banks is known for one major item (aside from an underrated yet quality row of antique stores) and that is the "Best Bar in the Midwest, Maybe the World"... Fast Eddie's Bon Air.

It's hard to capture in one blog post what Fast Eddie's is like. I first went there in 1995 during my seminary days and today the prices are pretty much around the same area. The Big Elwood steak on a stick remains at $2.99 (at least, the last time Christy and I went there for lunch). The menu is cheap and filling, and the drinks are cold. Since the late Eddie Sholar purchased the joint in 1981, things took off and the results are legendary. Over 400 chairs to sit and over 4000 half barrels of beer per year means people have a great time.

No wonder, you might say once you read the latest Ballack installment, Fast Eddie's snags its rightful place in the pages of literature. Because it's definitely one of the top dives in the world.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

On Holy Ground

The #8 reason to check out my second novel, The Broken Cross, has to do with holy ground. No, that's not Providence, Rhode Island, although the Yale Bulldogs might say otherwise after their stunning 79-75 upset of Baylor just a few moments ago in Roger Williams' fair city.

It has everything to do with the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, known to locals as the New Cathedral (to distinguish it from the "Old" Cathedral, which is the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France down by the Gateway Arch). Begun in 1907 and completed in 1914, the Cathedral is unique in its construction. The Romanesque Revival interior contrasts with the Neo-Byzantine exterior. The twin towers on either side of the central dome hearkens architectural wonks to the glory of Hagia Sophia in medieval Constantinople. Four chapels in the four interior corners offer space to pray (including the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin, which figures prominently into Detective Cameron Ballack's case) and the central dome towers 227 feet above the floor.

But it is the mosaic tesserae collection that is the Cathedral's highlight. Begun in 1912 and completed in 1988, the mosaics are made of 41.5 million glass pieces in over 7000 shades of color. The spread of stained glass covers 83,000 square feet and is the largest collection of individual mosaic pieces in the world.

If you're ever in St. Louis, you really need to stop by the Cathedral and take in the wonder, whether you are a follower of any faith or none. It's a breathtaking monument to divine beauty and human creativity...

...and not to mention the perfect place for a most unholy crime of murder. But then we're getting ahead of ourselves and I might ruin your dinner by giving the details.

Speaking of dinner, food makes the list on reason number 7. Until next time...

[Note: The Cathedral's web site, if you're interested, is]

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

All Over the Lou

We continue the top ten reasons to check out The Broken Cross with reason #9...

I thought about calling this post "A Full Court Press" but thought that'd be misleading given that we're getting into the NCAA basketball tournament. The title is due to how my second novel appears compared to the first. In Litany of Secrets, the duo of Detectives Cameron Ballack and Tori Vaughan are neck-deep in a murderous chess match of wills that takes place on a small seminary campus in rural Missouri. While I'd like to say I did this for the sake of heightening the tension of one locale (which in some part it was), I mostly constructed the story that way so I could learn on the fly how to write a novel. One element of the triad of plot, character, and setting had to be simplified yet magnified, so setting was my choice.

While I believe The Broken Cross weaves more elements of characters along with a faster pace, it was a harder book to write. This is primarily because the action goes all over the St. Louis area. From a courtroom battle in Clayton (the county seat of St. Louis County, by the way) to Ballack receiving his SID badge in St. Charles; from grisly assessments at the Cathedral Basilica to a secretary's hideout in Webster Groves; from an attorney's office off Tesson Ferry Road to the greasy spoon of Alton, IL's own Fast Eddie's Bon-Air; from the Drury Plaza at the Arch to the Gaelic football pitch at St. Vincent's Park in Normandy; from Chesterfield to Creve Coeur and back into the city again...our detective hero doesn't keep his wheelchair in one location for very long.

Because of this, much work gets done on the go. Phone conversations are hurried, and travel east up more time than it would compared to the bucolic enclave of St. Basil's Seminary. But I believe it's worth it, because the story takes place in real locations, in real time, and my readers deserve to soak up every moment of life in St. Louis, whether battling traffic on Interstate 44 or quietly touring the Cathedral Basilica.

Would we all could dwell at the Cathedral, but have patience. The archdiocesan seat is the subject of reason #8 to come...

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

More People, More Problems

No, the title does not mean that this is about politics...although I did vote today in the Missouri primary. So concerned was I about the direction of those running for President that I came extremely close to writing in Tony Blair's name on my ballot. Even though Blair himself was Prime Minister, not President. Of Britain. Not America. So he's ineligible to run. But still a lot better than much of the imperialistic hot air running through the zeitgeist.

I'm actually beginning a new series. My second novel in the Cameron Ballack Mysteries, The Broken Cross, has been out since last fall, and to help you spread the word even further, we're doing a top ten list of reasons why this is an engaging read. So we begin with #10: More People, More Problems.

Readers who recall the intimacy of my first novel, Litany of Secrets, will feel a quick jolt after the first murder of The Broken Cross, when Detectives Cameron Ballack and Tori Vaughan find themselves both on a more complicated case and among a party of four. Joining forces with the Special Investigative Division of Metro St. Louis (admittedly a fabricated subset of the police force of my own making...FYI) is a step up in promotion, but meshing personalities on said case with two other detectives is another matter. And when Ballack himself--the only sleuth not walking around on two legs--is given the opportunity to head up the murder investigation, it merely quickens the initial jealousy welling up within his new partners.

This is not the only relationship that experiences strain. A new promotion means a new boss above Lieutenant Scotty Bosco, who is Ballack's boss on the "normal" St. Charles County cases. The imposing yet circumspect Commander Stu Krieger has difficulty making heads or tails of the brilliant yet sarcastic Ballack, causing the tension between them to crack like popcorn for many pages.

That's one major difference--more people. Of course that only makes sense when the story goes from being all under one roof (like in Litany of Secrets) to the helter-skelter all over St. Louis in The Broken Cross. But that's got to wait for #9 on the list in a couple days.

If you haven't ordered The Broken Cross yet, you can do so here.

Friday, March 4, 2016

March Madness and Spooky Connections

My apologies for those hoping for another political post, but with last night's debacle in Detroit--in which I couldn't decide if it was merely the worst Fox News Channel-moderated debate of all time or, due to the rudeness of the carping crowd, we were in a bar watching WWE Summerslam--I would rather provide lighter fare today.

Thirteen years ago, I discovered some fascinating connections as I looked at two incidents in sports history. As one who majored in history during his college days, I know there are a number of freak coincidences in the days of the past. Some people cherish pointing to the oddities between the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy (although a number of those are false comparisons or dubious claims). But with March Madness--yes, the NCAA men's basketball championship tournament--now upon us soon, I believe that the all-timer in the art of Herodotus resides in hoops history, in a comparison between the efforts of two NCAA basketball championship teams: the 1986 University of Louisville Cardinals and the 2003 Syracuse University Orange. Here's what I found years ago that I share with you now:

1. Both teams won the NCAA men's basketball championship in those respective years. Louisville beat Duke, 72-69, in 1986; Syracuse beat Kansas, 81-78, in 2003. Each defeated a team one seed higher than they were (1986: Duke was a 1-seed, Louisville 2; in 2003, Kansas was a 2-seed, Syracuse 3).

2. Both teams' scoring totals in their respective championship games were divisible by nine. Louisville in 1986 scored 72, which divided by nine equals 8. In 2003, Syracuse scored a perfect square of 81, which divided by nine equals 9.

3. Both teams' winning margin in each championship game was three points.

4. In the semifinals of each respective Final Four, both teams defeated their opponents by eleven points. In 1986, Louisville toppled LSU, 88-77. In 2003, Syracuse defeated Texas, 95-84.

5. The scoring totals for both vanquished semifinal opponents in each Final Four was divisible by seven. LSU's 77 points in 1986, if divided by seven, equals 11, while Texas' 2003 semifinal total of 84, when divided by seven, is 12.

6. In 1986, the Final Four was held in Dallas, which meant that Louisville won their semifinal game by beating a team from Louisiana (LSU) in the state of Texas. In a reverse twist in 2003,  the Final Four was held in New Orleans, so Syracuse won their semifinal by beating a team from Texas in the state of Louisiana.

7. In each instance, the Most Outstanding Player for each title-winning team was a freshman! In 1986, Pervis Ellison garnered the honors for the Cardinals, while frosh Carmelo Anthony snagged MOP laurels for the Orange in 2003.

8. The 1986 championship was coach Denny Crum's sixth Final Four trip and his second national championship. The 2003 title was, at the time, coach Jim Boeheim's third Final Four and his only national title. Crum's six Final Fours to two national titles and Boeheim's three Final Fours to one national championship (at the time of those years) are both 3:1 mathematical ratios.

9. In 1986, Louisville's win over Duke meant they finished with an overall record of 32-7; in 2003, Syracuse's title win over Kansas elevated their final record to 30-5. In both cases, each team's won-loss differential was +25.

10. Finally, and perhaps most spooky of all: Both the 1986 Louisville Cardinals and the 2003 Syracuse Orange were coming off mediocre seasons from the year before. Both teams not only played in the second-tier National Invitation Tournament the year before their respective NCAA championship runs; they each also got to the NIT Final Four in New York City; and they each were defeated in the semifinals and then lost in the third-place consolation game...and each of their NIT consolation game opponents began with the letter "T" and ended with the letter "E"!

     1985 NIT consolation game: Louisville loses to Tennessee by a score of 100-84.
     2002 NIT consolation game: Syracuse falls to Temple by a 65-64 count.

The only conclusion one can draw from all this?

It was truly meant to happen.

What's that about things being written in the stars....?