I was recently honored to appear on the Mortification of Spin podcast and talk with my friend Aimee Byrd and frenemy Dr. Carl Trueman about my new historical novel, The Girl Empress. You can listen to the podcast at this link or through the iTunes store. I thoroughly recommend Mortification of Spin to you for all your theological podcast needs, provided you remember they are all lapsed Baptists in need of God’s grace. (That’s a little joke. Nice Presbys.)
If you are a frequent visitor to this blog, you probably know that I wrote a historical novel. If you are not a frequent visitor, I wrote a historical novel! In fact, I am working on a trilogy of novels that tell the story of Empress Maud of England as if it were her autobiography. The first one is titled The Girl Empress and is now available as a Kindle eBook for $2.99. You can read it with a Kindle device or using a free Kindle reader app. I know that many people prefer paper books. (I am one of those people.) A print version is in the works and I hope that it will be released in time for Thanksgiving. The timing simply depends on logistical matters. I hope that readers will enjoy the book. It is my first serious outing in the realm of fiction. You can visit the website for this series of novels, known as The Chronicle of Maud, and read more.
“Why did God make me a woman?”
That question surely crossed the mind of my ancestor, Empress Matilda. She was one of two legitimate children of King Henry I of England. When her brother was killed in a shipwreck, she was the last one standing: the only legitimate child who could succeed her father. If you think having a woman in charge now is controversial, just imagine what it was like in the 12th century! That was the time period in which Matilda lived, and somewhat predictably, the nobles of the kingdom – all of whom had sworn to make her queen upon her father’s death – threw their support behind her male cousin and crowned him king. This led to a bitter civil war in which Matilda surely wondered why God had decided to make her a female, or at the very least why He had killed off her brother.
For the past three years, I have been writing a series of novels based on Matilda’s life. The first one is about to be released as an eBook by Amazon. (Shameless plug…) It was never my intention that these books should join the feminist literary canon or be an exercise in man bashing. You will find within those pages examples of good and bad men, along with good and bad women. Nevertheless, Matilda’s sex is an unavoidable part of the plot. It affected nearly every aspect of her life. She must have been painfully aware of the fact that she was assigned the lot of the weaker sex.
All of this has caused me to reflect upon my own femaleness. Much like my ancestor, I live in a world in which I am constantly reminded of my place in both subtle and unsubtle ways. I am not referring to the way I am treated by society as a whole, for it is increasingly embracing the idea that gender doesn’t exist or can be assigned artificially, without regard for biological realities. I am talking about the Christian world: specifically, the evangelical Christian world. Continue reading
I love Jane Eyre. It’s one of the few novels that I have revisited after completing the final pages. Whether it is a landmark achievement in the history of feminism or a subtle attempt to reinforce Victorian marital ideals, I cannot say, though I am more inclined toward the former. In any case, what I find most interesting about Charlotte Brontë’s lone novel of note is its spiritual content. This is ironic, since many of the critics in her own day called it an affront to religion. Yet while it may have been an affront to bad religion, I do not think we can say that about religion in general.
There are important lessons to be drawn from the pages of Jane Eyre in regard to personal guilt, sexual morality, forgiveness, and cultural Christianity vs. true Christianity. It is not a book that simply condemns religion or trumpets it unthinkingly. There are four main villains in this work, if you don’t count the crazy woman in the attic, who in any case couldn’t really help herself. The first is Jane’s aunt, Mrs. Reed, whose religion is nominal at best. Then there is Mr. Brocklehurst, a fervently religious man who is all law and no gospel. Next, we have Blanche Ingraham, Jane’s romantic rival, who worships nothing but herself. The last villain is often not seen as a villain: St. John Rivers, the cleric who is hell-bent on saving souls but has walled off his own emotions to the point that he could hardly know much about Christ.
The heroes of Jane Eyre also have a variety of religious beliefs. The most obviously good person in the story is Jane’s childhood friend, Helen, who is raised up as a model of true Christianity, showing compassion to those around her while also treasuring the Bible. Jane herself has a strong moral core, no doubt influenced by her Christian upbringing. Even so, you are unlikely to hear her spouting complex doctrines. She is more interested to see how those around her, who nearly all espouse Christian beliefs, actually put those beliefs into practice. Then there is the anti-hero Mr. Rochester, who has committed numerous sins and yet acknowledges his sinfulness and longs for redemption. In this, the novel seems to suggest that he is more Christian than many of the “Christians”. Continue reading
These days, I tend to get the same question time after time. “What is your novel about?” People ask this question after they learn that I have written a novel. If they were to ask it before receiving that piece of information, I would consider them rather odd…or maybe psychic. In any case, it’s a natural sort of inquiry. They no doubt wish to know if I am the sort of person that writes Stephen King-esque horror novels (in which case they should avoid me), or one who writes teenage chick lit (in which case they should also avoid me), or even one that writes science fiction epics (which in my husband’s case would make me his ideal woman).
Alas, I write none of these things, and thank God for that! The only one I might attempt some day is the sci fi epic, and then only because my husband is already begging me. No, my domain is that of historical fiction, if indeed I can refer to it as “my domain”. It must be noted that it was never my life ambition to write novels, and I did not receive the level of academic and/or professional training that is common among many of those hoping to break into that industry. I am simply a person who wrote essays and academic papers, only to one day be seized by a particular story…and then wait a few years before doing anything about it.
Some people know they want to write a novel, so they go searching for a story to tell or create one on their own. That was not my experience. It all started back around the time I graduated from college (the first time). I developed an interest in family history and decided that I would attempt to trace my bloodline back as far as I could in any and all directions. I was rather fortunate in this enterprise, for a few relatives had made a start at gathering records in years past. This allowed me to quickly discover some of my heritage, though in the cases where I had less information at the start, the task was that much more difficult. Nevertheless I progressed to the point where I was able to identify approximately 2,000 of my ancestors.
Early on I realized that a few of these lines were particularly interesting. When you reach a certain point in history, the record keeping is just not as good. Births, marriages, and deaths were somewhat forgotten unless the people in question were very rich. For this reason, I have had difficulty tracing many lines back past the 16th century. Lucky for me, some of my ancestors were rather important people, and as a result, I was able to follow the line not 100 years, nor even 500 years, but well over 1,000 years into the past.
One day, I was sitting in my dorm room in London (for I was a student at King’s College at that time) and came across a rather interesting name: Empress Matilda. She was clearly a member of the English royal line, but I was quite confused as to why she should be called “empress”, as that is not a normal title for British monarchs. (Technically, Queen Victoria did have herself styled Empress of India.) I quickly went to that source of all questionable wisdom – Wikipedia – and what I read there ended up changing my life. Continue reading
Many of you may be familiar with the new movie titled The Shack, which is based upon William Paul Young’s novel of the same name. Depending on what circles you run in, you may have heard this described as a great Christian film, or alternatively as a terrible piece of heresy. The extreme popularity of Young’s novel (20 million copies and counting) has caused many Christian leaders to address the theology contained therein, and they have found several topics of concern. However, those who defend the novel typically fall back on the fact that it is, after all, a piece of fiction and not a theological textbook. Some have even argued that Young’s true beliefs are rather ambiguous.
Well, with the release of the film now upon us, Mr. Young has done us all a favor and released a non-fiction book (though given its contents, some may still wish to classify it as fiction). This one is called Lies We Believe About God, and it has rocketed to the top of the bestseller lists. Within its pages, the author gives us a series of statements that are often made by people in the Church and tells us why he believes each one of them is wrong. Tim Challies has already written an excellent article looking at several of the more troublesome claims made in the book, but for my purposes I wanted to examine just one of the statements that Young says is a lie: “God is in control.”
Now, if you hold to anything like orthodox Christianity, the fact that this is described as a “lie” ought to set off alarm bells in your head. However, you might be thinking, “We need to actually hear his explanation before we make a judgment one way or the other.” I fully agree with you, which is why I got my hands on a copy of the book and read the chapter in question. Continue reading
Never before have I hawked another person’s book on this site, but I am about to make an exception. I commend to you the latest release by Aimee Byrd entitled No Little Women, a book that addresses a very real problem in our churches today: the dearth of good literature and good teaching aimed at the fairer sex.
Why am I taking the time to promote this book, for which it must be stated that I receive absolutely none of the proceeds? First, because the subject matter is very important. After 2,000 years of trying, the Church as a whole still struggles to discern how to deal with women. Most of the literature out there about women in the Church has to do with their roles, whether that be as wives, mothers, or congregants. Much of the literature aimed at women is rather shallow doctrinally, trumpets internal “feelings” over the truth of God’s Word, and even manages to slip in the occasional heresy or two. There are too few books out there that challenge women to up their game theologically, to be good analytical readers, and to think twice about which sources of “truth” they devour. Continue reading
Yes, it’s true: I wrote a novel. In fact, it is the first in a series of three novels that tell the life story of Empress Maud of England, also known as Mathilda. The series title is The Chronicle of Maud and the title of the first book is Fracture. Not only was she a fascinating woman, but she was also my ancestor twenty-some generations removed. I have submitted the book to the Kindle Scout program, where users can nominate it to be published by Amazon’s own label. I invite you to head on over to the Kindle Scout page for The Chronicle of Maud: Fracture and read more about the book. If you have an account with Amazon.com, you can click the “Nominate Me” button just below the initial summary. I also encourage you to visit the official website, where you can learn all about Empress Maud’s life and times and read the first two chapters of the first book. I have been working on this project for a long time and am happy for it to finally see the light of day. Thank you to those readers who have expressed their support for this project! I am excited to bring some attention to the life of this incredible woman.
“History takes a long time for us to reach.”
That rather obvious statement was made by a former president of the United States, George W. Bush, when reflecting upon his legacy. While some sneered that his B.A. in history from Yale University meant little, this was not the only time that Bush proved he had learned a little something about the topic. He told Brian Williams in 2006, “There’s no such thing as short-term history, as far as I’m concerned.” He also famously said, “History. We don’t know. We’ll all be dead.” (In Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward)
While it is possible to view these quotes as simple explanations of a basic fact of human existence – time adds upon time adds upon time – or as an attempt to avoid responsibility, Bush was actually getting at something profoundly true. While we may view history as that most unchanging of all things, forever frozen in place, experience suggests otherwise. Continue reading
I had a nice post prepared for today that was going to deal with a controversial issue in the religious world, but I have decided to put it aside and instead address a controversy that is currently brewing in the world of international relations. One might even say it takes place in the fantasy world.
Let me first state a well known fact: China and Japan do not get along. Subjects of disagreement between them include the fact that one is Communist and the other is a Western-style democracy, one is a major U.S. ally and the other more of a U.S. competitor, both are economic powers going after some of the same markets, a controversial chain of islands is claimed by both of them, they each have capable and expanding military forces, and one of them has a bunch of cute pandas while the other does not. (Ok, that last one isn’t really a source of tension.) Yet, all of these factors tend to take a backseat to a list of historical grievances that have proved to be infinitely hard to forget. Continue reading