Over the course of the interview I talked about my writings, the Untold Podcast, and preaching with a creative flare. Head over here to check it out: http://www.3lcpublishing.com/2015/06/in-gods-image-author-podcaster-nathan-james-norman/
Interview on 3LC Publishing
3LC Publishing featured me in an interview for their "In God's Image" series.
Over the course of the interview I talked about my writings, the Untold Podcast, and preaching with a creative flare. Head over here to check it out: http://www.3lcpublishing.com/2015/06/in-gods-image-author-podcaster-nathan-james-norman/
This past year has been a living nightmare.
It was also an emotional hell. This is the backdrop of the "Snow and Ash" story appearing in The Crossover Alliance Anthology: Volume 1.
UPDATE: "Snow and Ash" has also been produced as an audio drama by Untold Podcast. Listen for free here.
***Spoilers beyond this point, grab a free copy before continuing***
Late last year my wife and I accepted the placement of a little foster child. We'll call her "Hummingbird" here.
She was placed in our care because we were considered a "pre-adoptive" family. When Hummingbird came into our home, we were told the adoption would be relatively short.
It wasn't. We just adopted our daughter this past week.
We loved Hummingbird from the moment she stepped foot into our home. She was about sixteen months old when we met her. Initially, the visits with her biological parents were difficult, but manageable. We were just getting to know our daughter, so her mood swings seemed normal.
But pretty soon, the agency moved her visits to a location which required a four hour commitment, twice a week. The visits were an hour and a half each, but my travel time became almost two and a half hours. I lost a full day worth of work every single week.
The trauma to my little girl was far worse though.
I would tell Hummingbird that we were going to a "visit" as we got into the car. She rebelled. She scream. She cried. Every single time.
Then I'd have to drive with her for a prolonged period of time for the "visit". I tried to make these experiences as easy as possible. I told her she would have fun, then I would pick her up and we'd go home again to see mommy, and Daisy & Duncan (our cats). The drop offs varied, but I often had to peel her off my leg to coax her to her biological parents.
Several times she managed to climb up my legs into my arms, and clung to my chest.
To her, I was her daddy. I was the man who was supposed to protect her from those who would harm her. I was supposed to shield her from pain and trauma.
But to the State of Michigan I was little more than an over-glorified babysitter.
I had no rights. I could not make decisions about who could see her and who could not. The State put me into a damnable position: Take her to these visits where she would be traumatized twice a week, or have her removed from the only mommy and daddy she's ever known.
Hummingbird was a self-confident, bold, joyful and happy little girl before these visits. When she was returned to me after an hour and a half, Hummingbird was scared, timid, clingy, sad and depressed. On the way home, I often pulled over into a parking lot so I could take her out of her car seat and let her hug me as she soaked my shoulder with tears and snot.
Twice a week.
Most people in my life cannot understand this horror. I hope they never do.
Over and over, family and friends would tell my wife and me, "God is on your side. This will all work out. She will be yours." But they did not sit in court hearing after court hearing. They did not see the court's obsession with reunification. They didn't talk to caseworker after caseworker about the possibility of Hummingbird going back to the biological parents' care. Or relative placement. They didn't live under the microscope of agency visit after visit in our own home. They've never been in a situation where they couldn't tell their traumatized daughter that they would never leave her. At any moment she could have been removed from our care.
And God... well God wasn't doing much for this little girl. I prayed over her every night. I pleaded with God in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ every day. I laid both of my hands on Hummingbird and blest her moments before each and every visit: "May Yahweh protect your heart, soul, mind, and strength. May He protect you where I cannot. May He fight for you where I am powerless. In Jesus' Name. Amen."
And people continued to say, "God wouldn't let her be put back into a situation like that. Don't worry."
But the reality is, God does allow people to go through horrible things. Even very frightened, very little girls.
I trusted that God was all powerful. And believed that he was in control. I believed he had a plan. But his plan might have very well been that Hummingbird be shown the grace and gospel of Jesus Christ, and then be placed back with her biological family to begin a long process of redemption for them. And God's plan might very well have involved terrible abuse of our little girl so she could be a harbinger of salvation.
This was the backdrop of "Snow and Ash" in The Crossover Alliance Anthology: Volume 1.
I, like Erik, did not want to become a father. Not like this anyway. I found myself having to bear the majority of these burdens and it was terrible.
In the story Erik declared himself an enemy of Christ. During my own torment, there were moments where I was furious with God for not intervening. For not putting a stop to this all at once. It felt like Jesus had become my enemy. And in modern literature, I noted, there are not too many people who see themselves as enemies of Christ. Typically, a person gets angry at God, then walks away and becomes a functioning atheist. But if I'm being very honest, there were moments where I felt if I lost Hummingbird, I would be angry at God for the rest of my life. And even though I knew he was stronger than me, I would be his enemy for the rest of my days. Hence, Erik opposed his people's conversion to Christianity.
Finally, the scene where Honey Bee is forcibly taken from Erik, was the scene that first appeared in my mind. It was how I felt twice a week. I could fight. I could pray. But in the end I was utterly powerless to help my daughter. When it came down to it, any number of thugs could take my daughter and there was nothing I could do.
And yet, in the story God was still in control. Even Honey Bee, though she was abused greatly, could see a higher purpose in the pain.
I wrote "Snow and Ash" at the Darcy Library of Beulah. It was downhill from the location of the visits for Hummingbird. I initially went to the local McDonalds to wait for the visits to be over, but I was harassed and stalked at that location, so I found this hidden away library.
I love this library. In fact, it is the best small-sized library I've ever seen.
I hope I never go there again, though. It would be too traumatic for me.
After prying my daughter from my leg and handing her trembling body over for the "visit," I would go down to the library, pull out a composition notebook, and write.
I also listened to the Beowulf Soundtrack composed by Alan Silvestri. It put me in the viking mood I needed to be in. But this too, is something I have no desire to revisit. I love this soundtrack, but it dredges up deep trauma for me.
One more thing. The author picture featured on the Crossover Alliance page for the book is a picture I took on June 3, 2014 at Douglas Park in Manistee, MI. I took this photo moments after parental visits were suspended. I knew my wife and I still had a long journey ahead of us. (And we did. It took six months of battling to adopt our daughter). But for Hummingbird, the trauma was over. As far as she would be aware, victory was accomplished on that day.
So while that place is called "Douglas Park" to me it will always be called "Yahweh Yireh," The Lord Provides. He rescued my little girl on that day.
Background on "Proverbs - A Fairy Tale" or Why I'm Not A Total Perv For Writing This Story
I'm not a total pervert for writing "Proverbs - A Fairy Tale" included in The Crossover Alliance Anthology.
One of the members of the judging panel for the anthology wrote this:
"This piece is seriously creepy! Gross! I also wondered if your church members read this knowing it was from you [. . .] would most likely hold an impromptu board meeting and have you sacked as Pastor . . . ."
If you haven't read the story yet, it is free for a limited time for your Kindle. Or free indefinitely from Smashwords. Ordering options are all here.
The origins of this story are rather interesting. (At least I think so).
Back in 2001, I took a Creative Writing class at SUNY Orange from a professor who liked to be called "Mike". At this point I had already written Untold, half of Untold Trials (which has never been published) and a plethora of short stories. So I entered this class, presented my stories by reading them out loud, and time and time again Mike savaged the stories. He often cited how religious they were, and how no one could relate to anything written in them.
Also he banned us from writing "Darth Vader riding on a white horse" stories. (I think he meant speculative fiction.)
Now, in retrospect, all of the stories I presented in this class were mediocre. In my defense, though, they were no worse than the stories other students presented.
As I sat in the class, I noted Mike would praise any stories with sexual content. The more graphic it was, the more praise ensued.
This was long before I was a pastor, but I had been in ministry leadership for a year at this point. And like any good preacher, I asked myself Who is my audience? and How can I communicate to them?
Simultaneous to all this, I had been studying the book of Proverbs. As I read through the book, I began to notice there was quite a bit of time in that book warning young men about adulteresses and adultery and fornication. Proverbs used some rather visual metaphors to highlight these warnings.
If Mike wanted sexually perverse stories, I would give him a sexually perverse story. And I would do it by weaving these metaphors from Proverbs into an adultery story about a man's descent into darkness.
Armed with my paternal grandfather's Catholic Bible (complete with baptismal names and their meanings) I gave both my protagonist and antagonist names which meant "dark" or "darkness".
Side Note: Why in the world would anyone give their son or daughter the name "darkness" during his or her baptism?!
The day of presentation came. I passed out the story. I read the story out loud.
After a long moment of silence, the first comment came from another classmate: "Dude, that was the most disgusting thing I have ever read."
The rest of the class agreed and reiterated the comment.
Then Mike chimed in, frustrated, "It's kind of a fairy tale, though."
Another classmate responded to him, "Man, what kind of fairy tales are you reading? This is gross."
As the class began to once again reiterate how disgusting and perverse the story was, I smiled again and said, "Good." I pulled out a stack of papers, "Here's the Bible verses the story was based on."
As the single sheets of paper were passed around no one spoke a word. Everyone was in shock. Even Mike. After everyone had enough time to read the verses I broke the silence, "The story is supposed to be disgusting. It is an image of what adultery really is. I'm glad you all found it ugly. This story is what adultery is like."
I got a B - on the piece.
This early version of the story was titled "Daily Bread and Proverbs 6:26." But Mike was right, this was a fairy tale. A dark fairy tale. So I changed the title to "Proverbs - A Fairy Tale" to reflect the genre.
I updated and expanded the story a number of times. It was overhauled and re-written from the ground up in 2006 for my final Creative Writing class at SUNY New Paltz. There, the professor said the story lacked a sex scene. But he liked it, and if memory serves correct, he gave it an A. (Maybe an A-).
After this, I put the story away.
There was no audience for it. It was too sexually charged for the Christian market (which often understands "Christian" to mean either "safe" or "family friendly"). And it was too pregnant with Christian imagery and themes for the general market.
Then Mark Carver incited David N. Alderman to put out an anthology of short stories for The Crossover Alliance.
This story came to mind immediately.
With some minor updates thanks to David Alderman and Jess Hanna, "Proverbs - A Fairy Tale" finally found its audience.
In all honesty, I am a little concerned about potential backlash from the publication of this story. I've no doubt that there are certain churches and ministries (and publishers?!) who will have nothing to do with me because of this story.
But at the end of the day, if this story has given an accurate image of adultery in the spiritual realm, and can sink into the minds those considering adultery, then it's worth it.
Also, it's biblical. I included the original Proverbs sheet (1984 NIV verses!) I handed out to the class thirteen years ago. When you read it, I think you'll agree . . . the Bible was my outline for this story.
If the Bible doesn't shy away from portraying the ugliness of sin, then neither will I.
Get The Crossover Alliance Anthology: Volume 1 here.
Directly from Amazon here.
Last night The Crossover Alliance Anthology was #4 in Christian Fiction Anthology on Amazon (not terribly impressive), and #39 in Christian Science Fiction!
This is a great start to our small, little independent project.
If you can, please consider helping us get into the top ten on Amazon by purchasing the Kindle edition of the book. It's only $0.99 .
Also, help us promote the book via social media by sharing this post, the kindle link, or The Crossover Alliance page.
Here's the direct link to the Kindle edition.
Why help out with this project?
1. All funds are going toward promoting Edgy Christian Speculative Fiction
2. The involved authors will have their other works promoted
3. It will go a long way toward impressing my wife (she's not easily impressed)
4. It will promote Christian storytelling
5. There's nine great stories
6. If this anthology is successful, it will open the door to more stories by more authors in more mediums!
If Kindle isn't your thing, or you want to check out the entire book for free before supporting it (via smashwords), you can find all ordering options here (including paperback version).
Please help us get to the top ten on Amazon!
The day has finally come!
The first Crossover Alliance Anthology is now available!
Here's the rundown of stories:
Snow and Ash by Nathan James Norman
Doors of Babel by David N. Alderman
Broken by Travis Morrill
If it Causes You to Sin by Jess Hanna
Blood Ace by Allan and Aaron Reini
Sanguinem Inimicum by Mark Carver
Spellbound by Jess Hanna
Proverbs - A Fairy Tale by Nathan James Norman
The Spigot by David N. Alderman
In the days ahead I will share my thoughts on my own stories, as well as this entire project.
You can get the digital version for free from Smashwords. Or you can throw some modest funds toward the organization and purchase a physical copy (under $7) from Amazon!
Head over to The Crossover Alliance for all purchasing options!
The Crossover Alliance is releasing a short story anthology next month.
Spearheaded by David N. Alderman, the Crossover Alliance is a community built around readers and writers of edgy Christian speculative fiction.
I have two stories in the upcoming anthology. One is an absolutely disgusting piece I wrote years ago. It is both disturbing and intensely biblical. Up until now, there was simply no place appropriate to publish it. The second story is the single most beautiful narrative I have ever written.
So, there is ugliness and beauty.
Sounds a lot like real life, right?
You can check out the book trailer below, and find more information about the upcoming book over at the Crossover's website.
"Walking High" 2007 Film
In 2007 I had the privilege to work with my good friend Frank Lozano on the 168 Film Project.
I knew Frank before this film, but in the intensity of this week - consisting of writing, re-writing, arguing about the re-writes, filming, shooting, editing and producing - I really got to know him. And in the crucible of this stress we began a friendship that I highly value.
Over the years I've been incredibly impressed with Frank's level of creativity and artistic skill. This has only been overshadowed by his constant dedication to Christ. I am humbled as I've seen my friend grow over the years in his walk. Which makes him one of my favorite kinds of artists - talented and humble.
Here's the description Frank wrote:
The documentary "Walking High" is about Tomorrow's Aeronautical Museum, the youth flight school at Compton's Woodley Airport that helps kids stay out of gangs. This was also my entry in the 168 Film Project for the year 2007 and my directorial debut. Hosted by Nathan James Norman nathanjamesnorman.com, music by Mark LeVang marklevangmusic.com and title song LIVE by Mandie Pinto-Czarnecki mandiepinto.com
Take a look at this short from seven years ago!
WALKING HIGH from Frank Lozano on Vimeo.
(I feel like I haven't aged in ten years. I'm thrilled this film proves otherwise!)
Reflections on "Easter in Genesis"
This sermon wrecked me.
It ripped me apart, broke me in half and had me in tears during most of the prep work.
And I needed it.
You can listen to it at the Orchard Church.
You can also listen to a slightly better produced version on the Untold Podcast.
(Video is hopefully coming soon!)
*Spoilers after this*
The text was from Genesis 22. Yes. I preached "The Sacrifice of Isaac" on Easter Sunday. I'm going to share some insights from the first-person sermon, but I also want to share some personal things first.
Two weeks ago, I was furious at God. I seethed at him. From about my birthday, and through last week's sermon. I was so angry at him I didn't want to preach. I didn't want to step foot in church. I most certainly didn't even want to pray to him.
One day I will be at liberty to share the source of my anger. All I can say for now, is my anger stemmed from circumstances involving my family and my children. In this circumstance, I am absolutely powerless. There is nothing, nothing, nothing I can do to protect those who need to be protected. I have never felt so powerless in my life.
And God did nothing.
He has not intervened. He has not put a stop to it.
So I was furious. Fuming. Beyond rage.
And then I came to Genesis 22. We're preaching through Genesis this year at the Orchard Church. I had intended to take a break from the text for Holy Week. But months ago when I saw this text, I thought it would be perfect to relate this story to the story of the sacrifice and resurrection.
I knew it would be challenging to do a first-person sermon based on this text, but I knew if I could pull it off, the sermon would be incredibly emotional. So back in December I committed myself to the text.
But now I was angry with God. I'm not using hyperbole when I say I was (and still am) absolutely powerless in this situation. The only person who can help is God Almighty. And it's one thing to trust him with my own suffering. It's an entirely different thing to trust him with the suffering of someone else.
I started working on this text. Almost immediately I realized it was about my dilemma. I resented God for it.
But as I worked through the emotionality of Abraham, as I experienced his horror, his pain, and his utter powerlessness I was completely broke. From Tuesday on I wept. Often. I closed my office door working on this sermon and weeping. My notes are stained with tear marks. I closed the blinds in my office I wept so often.
And then I practiced the script.
At one point during practice on Friday, I came to the point when Abraham realized he was sacrificing the ram in Isaac's place and I wept on stage. I wept for five minutes straight. It's important to note, I was not emotional because God had intervened. He hadn't. (Not yet anyway). Nor was I given a prophetic vision of the future where everything turns out okay. No. My emotins poured out because like Abraham, God had placed me in an impossible situation, and the only thing I could do is trust him.
I'm no longer angry at God. Not right now anyway.The situation is still dire. Nothing has changed. Except... except my heart. My inner being.
The big idea of the text is: You should trust God when life is impossible because he has provided a ram. Because he has provided Jesus Christ. I don't think I changed because I heard that... or even chose to believe it. I think my heart has changed because the Holy Spirit used the living Word of God to change it with this timeless truth.
The onstage tears weren't a performance. They exposed my heart.
One of the reasons I love preaching first-person sermons is that it forces me to engage the text using my imagination. What did God's voice sound like? Why did Abraham haul wood on a three day journey? What did the Angel of Yahweh look like? How did Abraham bind Isaac? How did Isaac respond?
Here's a few of the "Easter Eggs" from the sermon:
In the end, I hope lives were transformed through the preaching of the Word.
Review Printed On a Comic!
I purchased the trade paperback version of the Valiant Entertainment title, Unity, last week at my local (and awesome) comic book store.
As I opened up the book, the words "Geeks of Doom" caught my eye on the back cover. To my surprise, the publisher quoted my review I wrote for the Geeks of Doom!
I'm thrilled Valiant thought well enough of my review to reprint a part of it on such a great title!
You can read my original review here!
Gutsy, high-conflict, page-turning storytelling... If you want a great jumping on point, this is it." - Geeks of Doom
Review: Wind Follower
Summary: The brutal pale-skinned Angleni have made a truce with the peoples in the land of the three tribes. Their arrival has left the three tribes battle-worn and willing to do almost anything to avoid conflict. The Angleni's hateful desires are not satisfied with the truce, though. And their lusts and religion are prophecied to one day take over the whole land.
None of this is on the minds of young Loic, a general's son, and Satha, a woman from a poorer clan whom Loic chases after. But in the midst of their growing relationship, forces far more powerful and deceptive than the Angleni sweep the couple into a physical and spiritual struggle that threatens to change everything.
Review: Wind Follower by Carole McDonnell is an absolute masterpiece of literary fantasy fiction.
The author has built a world filled with people groups, supernatural entities, clans, theology and intrigue that is at once alien while still feeling very familiar.
More than the world, though, McDonnell's characters drive the story and give it a heart. One of our protagonists, Loic, is a passionate, yet tender-hearted young man. He says whatever is in his heart, which at times is commendable, but often is embarrassing. Satha, our other protagonist, in many ways complements Loic's zeal, but carries a deeper wisdom than her suitor.
This book isn't for everyone, though.
Human sexuality drives a good portion of the story. Thankfully, fantasy tropes help the story talk about the male sex drive in rather frank ways without being too specific. But in Wind Follower we see the beautiful, the ugly and even the pathetic aspects of the sexual drive.
This isn't always easy to read. By no means. There was one point that upset me to my core, and I didn't return to the book for two weeks. Now, I'm not a sheltered reader. I did my undergraduate work in Creative Writing at SUNY New Paltz. I've read stories featuring depravities and injustices. But what makes McDonnell's story so compelling, and even devastating at times, is her deep characterizations. I couldn't help but feel the pain of her characters as they endured the wickedness of others. But McDonnell, unlike many other writers of great literature, does not leave us in the dregs of human ugliness, but she also shows the beauty of real life.
I am also indebted to the author for showing how a group of people can follow a theology brought to them by a hateful people. In this case the message matters more than the messenger. And the truth is the truth, no matter what kind of people know it.
Wind Follower is literary fantasy in all its splendor.
Rating: 5/5 (I Loved It!)
Find it here on Amazon.