Sunday 26 October 2014

Interview with C.A Wolcott, author of Call to Arms

I recently read A Call to Arms, debut novel by author C.A Wolcott. This is a supernatural, spiritual warfare, Christian fiction novel and one that has a unique take on both these genres. 

From the book description on the Amazon book page: 

The fate of an entire city hangs in the balance. 

The trumpet has sounded. A declaration of war. And the need for soldiers to answer the call is greater than ever. This deadly war is not between two nations of state and politics, but between opposing powers of hidden realms. 

When a small church youth group clashes with a satanic gang at Silex City Park, James Proctor is the first to answer the call to arms. But quickly he discovers this battle is far bigger than he can handle alone. 

Peter Saxon also hears the call but wants nothing to do with it…until the war gets personal. When he starts having visions of an epic medieval battle and is recruited by both sides, he realizes just how high the stakes truly are—and that neutrality in this war isn’t an option. Before he and those he loves are caught in the crossfire, he must choose a side. But which one? 

Now that I have read and reviewed his book, (my review can be found here) I wanted to explore more of this novel and the author as I was intrigued by the uniqueness of the spiritual warfare aspects described and the background of the author after reading of his bio at the end of the novel. What better way to do this, than through an interview?

I engaged C.A (Charles) for this interview, and here is what he has to say about himself and the complex world of the supernatural, Christian worldview of spiritual warfare.

Charles has much to say and this interview contains a lot of his testimony. It really does tie in well with the background to his novel. Please do not let the length of this interview deter you from reading it in its entirety. It is well worth it and you will be able to see the hand of God in his life. This is very encouraging, honours God and shows what a might God we serve. 

Having said that, here we go!

Charles, it is great to have you drop by and put an end to my curiosity concerning your novel and yourself! I am really looking forward to this.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background/testimony.

It’s hard to know really where to start when I describe where I come from. For those that know my story, I would be the last person on the list who would be “qualified” to write a fiction novel, especially one of the caliber of Call to Arms as you have described in your review. I was not an English nor a Creative Writing major. My degree is in Computer Science. I’m a math and science geek. I’m currently a substitute teacher at a local high school here in El Paso, Texas and I’m seeking to become a full time math teacher. Most people would expect me to be good at technical papers, not fiction. But when you give your life to Christ and tell him, “I don’t know what you want me to do, but I’m available. Use me as you want,” things tend to happen that surpass your wildest dreams. 

When I said I was not qualified to write a novel, I really meant it. Growing up, I had all sorts of both physical and mental difficulties. I did not have reading comprehension until I was 12 years old. I could tell you what was on each page, but I could not tell you why it was there. But when I turned 12, it was like God turned a switch on, and it came fast. I wasn’t much of a reader until after I had already started writing. I did read, but I wasn’t voracious. I also had moderate physical difficulties. I could not do two things at once, like sitting upright and eating. My joint and leg structure had specialists tell me, when I was six, I would never run, have difficulty walking, and not to expect any improvement. God brought me through all that. When I was 15, I started fencing and that sport did wonders for my development to now, I am at least decent at just about every sport I try. 

Spiritually, I was raised in a Christian home and when I was six years old, my parents took my family and I on our first mission trip. I’ll address more about that later. I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savoir when I was seven, and I have never turned back. I also have a gift of spiritual discernment. As I’ve become more aware of the gift, I have been seeking to learn how to use it, but there were many times growing up where I would say something completely out of the blue, and that something would be exactly what needed to be done. I have a gift of a child-like faith that isn’t childish, where when God speaks, I believe it without question. There would be times where I would share something very profound that blows everyone away and when they ask me where I got that, I would respond with “God just told me that the other day.” I could easily go on and on about this. 

Despite your physical and mental disabilities, God gave you a glimpse of what was to come. Wow! 

What inspired you to get into writing?

As I mentioned above, writing a novel was not on my agenda or dream to-do-lists. Yet, despite that as I think back, I was a writer. I was constantly writing stories as a kid. For school, when we were told to write a story, my teachers would think 1-3 pages. Mine would be 15-20. I often had a journal where I would often write and re-write the same adventure story. But even though I was long-winded as a writer, I wasn’t a good story teller then. My main character was always me, I had no character arcs, and ultimately it ended up being one action scene followed by another. You could say I was trying to live out a dream of being a sword-fighting hero through writing. 

Writing took a bit of a back seat when I started fencing. I no longer had a need to write about an epic sword fight. I was actually living it through the sport. But during the Summer and Autumn of 2005, the door to write opened again. I was part of an on-line forum with C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia as the theme. And in anticipation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe coming to film, I would give a depiction of what the final battle scene could look like. And that was a hit in the forum. Also, a friend of mine and co-worker at the time was working a potential story and he asked me to write some of the battle/action scenes. So at this point, I was starting to see that people were liking what I was writing, a big step from anything I had written in the past. 

The big turning point came in November, 2007. Another friend of mine had written the first draft of a fictional biography. He had taken his life testimony and wrote it in the context of a spiritual warfare, adventure novel. He also asked me for some feedback. So I read his draft and shortly afterwards, went over my comments with him. During this time, he suggested I try writing because he was so impressed with what I was telling him. 

So I decided, “What the heck?” I gave it a go. This time, I purposed to take myself out of the story, do it in 3rd person (all my previous stuff was 1st person and as I’ve learned, this is not a good idea for a new writer), and make sure I had good character and story arcs. I set out for a medieval/fantasy thriller as a means to test the waters. I created a few characters, came up with a few locations, and completely made up the story as I went. In three months, I had 280 pages for over 160,000 words. And it was a decent first draft. I then sat on it for a month and as I started to look at the editing process, God told me to set it aside and start thinking of another writing project. A project that would end up as Call to Arms. 

I love the way two seemingly unsimilar past times, fencing and writing, merged and became the spring board for you becoming a writer in your own right! Not just a coincidence, I believe! 

What was the inspiration for writing Call to Arms?

As I wrote my medieval thriller, ideas for different story ideas kept popping into my head. I knew that I wanted a spiritual warfare novel to be my key story of all of them. I wanted that one to be my best work out of all of them. But I wanted more practice. I wanted to continue working this medieval thriller. I also wanted to do a story that would be a modern take on “What would happen if Zorro were to be needed to today?” I knew that my “brand” so to say would be adventure/sword fighting thrillers so I wanted to keep with that theme. I wanted more practice writing stories before I got to my spiritual warfare one. But after I had finished this first draft of my medieval story, God kept pointing me towards that spiritual warfare novel. So in April 2007, I started it. I wasn’t quite sure how to really get it going, but as I was in college at the time and I was walking to catch a bus to get to church, I got this image in my head. And it answered the question: “What would it look like to see someone in the spiritual realm be “born again”?” And I absolutely loved that image. I won’t spoil it here, but I took that image and I started working a story line around that image. 

In this process, I took some of the stories I had heard and stories I had witnessed in regards to spiritual warfare and dealing with demons from while I was in the mission field and used the ideas from that as key plot points. I also remember watching one of the Harry Potter movies as I was preparing this novel. And I thought to myself, “This movie praises the use of the occult and unaware children could easily start dabbling into it, not knowing what truly lies behind.” So I wanted a story that would address the real nature of the occult.

As you mention in your review, Peter, I have strong, Christian characters. I mentioned growing up on the mission field and I frequently worked with strong Christian teenagers. We called them “Junior Staff”, teens that were mature in their faith, had plenty of experience through previous mission trips (many were annual repeaters or more), and were showing signs of leadership capabilities. I had seen some of these teens in action, and so I wanted to show that teenagers today could execute that mature, walk-the-walk, stand strong in the faith relationship with Christ. Perhaps my favourite character in Call to Arms is Zack Saxon. He is a fearless kid, almost reckless. He came about when I watched a couple of boys, only 9 and 10, fearlessly and almost recklessly witnessing to a homeless man apart from the main group. 

All these factors came to play as I started writing. In just six weeks, I finished with 250 pages at 130K words. 

Totally agree with you about Zack! He is also one of my favourite characters!

What was your goal for your readers? What kind of responses were you expecting?

My initial goal for this book was to raise awareness about spiritual warfare. I had seen too much of the church in general effectively be clueless about the battle we are in, let alone what the stakes are. As a Christian author, I wanted a story that would be more than just a fiction version of a sermon. I did not want my story to pull readers out to where I would essentially “preach” to them. Every Christian fiction novel needs to have quality substance that does teach practically how to help the reader out in their walk with Christ, but that should be done through the story, not through the author directly to the reader. I wanted a story that would show what happens when we try to stay on the sidelines and wait for God and Satan to “duke it out”. I wanted a story that shows that children are targeted by Satan early, but also that a child does not have to wait to be an adult to engage in the battle. I wanted readers to see that this stuff is real, so I used a few true encounters I had endured to demonstrate that. I do believe I met my goals. 

I honestly did not know what kind of responses I should expect. I knew people liked reading my battle scenes but creating two complex story lines and weaving them together, I honestly did not know what to expect. What I got was far above and beyond what I imagined. All but universal praise for the story weaving, the character development, the action scenes, and the staying true to Biblical truths. I had a few people that did not care so much for the spiritual aspects but even then they were very impressed with the story structure and my writing ability. 

Charles, having read A Call to Arms, I can honestly say you have exceeded your goals in this book, and you have also educated the reader in the reality of spiritual warfare. I believe that Christian Fiction should educate and edify the body of Christ and you have achieved this very successfully. 

Now, describe your journey of becoming published. How did it help your relationship with Christ?

After I finished my first draft of Call to Arms, I let it sit for a while. I wanted to come back to it with a fresh mind. And as I came back to it, I realized I had material that was too dark and too descriptive for a young-adult reader, my target audience. I wanted to reach youth with this novel and as Charles Jackson, a friend of mine who wrote the endorsement, says: “It is a middle-school boy’s dream fantasy. “ But my first draft was truly what some authors like to call a vomit or barf draft. It was not good. It did not have good story structure. How I had crossed the two worlds was too unclear and not effective. Some scenes were a bit too unrealistic to follow. And other scenes went into material that my target audience should not be reading into the details I had revealed. And looking back, it was material no Christian publisher would have accepted. So I took a few characters I liked, a few key plot points I liked, and I scrapped the whole thing and started over again. 

But that is part of the journey of a first-time author. I persevered and my second draft had much better material and a stronger story. I also revised how I described my two worlds to what is there now. But it still wasn’t done yet. I then had to re-write the whole back third of the novel again because of reorganizing a few scenes. But it was getting stronger and stronger. 

At this point I was starting to explore how to get my work published. And I found a Christian publishing ‘pre-screening’ company called Writer’s Edge Service. Writer’s Edge Service will take the plot summary, first three chapters, and author info, and with detailed feedback, they will determine if a publisher would consider looking at a manuscript. After six revisions and editing phases, I submitted it to them and they loved it. My anonymous reviewer said “It was the best depiction of spiritual warfare for the everyday believer that I had ever read.” That’s part of what makes Call to Arms stand out from a lot of other spiritual warfare fiction novels. My characters, while spiritually mature, are believable and attainable for the average reader. The average reader can live their Christian walk similar to how my characters do. 

So with that review, I immediately had contact from several publishers. But they were self-publishers and all of them required some money, money that I as a college student did not have. I was tempted but I had to wait and see. Through this though, I found out about an American Christian Fiction Writers Conference and I did have enough time and money to go during my Spring Break that year. So I went and it was good. Small, but good. During an appointment I had with Rene Gutteridge, she told me I needed to look for a real publisher because my work was good enough to not need to look at self-publishing. But I still did not know much about the publishing industry and how to separate out what was what. 

Shortly after I got back from that conference, I received contact from Lighthouse Christian Publishing. I did not know they were self-publishing at the time and they charged a very low fee to cover initial costs: just $300. After praying about it, I decided to go for it. So I published this work under the title Battle Cry: Adventures in the Kingdom of Heaven. But after it was published, I soon saw two glaring issues. One, the cover was just a stencil sketch. I thought that was going to be used as a basis for a much better cover. The other issue was that they did not do the final editing job, the final fine tooth comb of spelling and grammar that I thought they were going to do. Both were due to my lack of understanding of the system. But that being said, my initial readers were able to get through all that and they could not believe what I had written. So I had quite a dilemma. I had an awesome story but with problems. And I wanted to write more. How could I continue to promote it, knowing the issues? God provided the answer shortly afterwards. 

I got the opportunity to attend the Colorado Christian Writers Conference in Estes Park, Colorado. I had to wait four years, from when I first heard of it until I got to go, because it was always held during Finals Week in college. But I finally got the chance to go and there my eyes were opened. The CCWC is one of the biggest and best writers’ conferences in the US and I learned more than I could comprehend during that week. It was also there where I got the chance to meet with Ramona Tucker of OakTara Publishing. I learned that very rarely will publishers look at the same work that was self-published. But Ramona saw something in my manuscript and she wanted me to submit it, with a better editing job, some content changes, and with a title change. And in the next month, I did that. I fixed the spelling/grammar issues, tweaked a few scenes partly in anticipation of the second book in the trilogy, and changed the title to Call to Arms. OakTara loved the book, gave me one of the coolest cover designs I’ve ever seen, and it was released on May 1st 2014, just in time for me to return to the Colorado Christian Writers Conference for the 3rd time, but this time it would be as a speaker and the topic: spiritual warfare. I have now finished my trilogy for The Battle Cry Saga and am waiting on OakTara for determining when the best time to release them. 

Seems to me that God was teaching you to be patient and to let Him pave the way for you to get Call to Arms published. You have certainly done that and now are reaping the benefits. 

Your author bio says you grew up as a missionary kid. Where did you serve? For how long? With whom? How did this experience influence this book?

As I mentioned above, I grew up on the mission field. My parents joined with International Family Missions (IFM) when I was six years old, in 1990. My family was more in the support side, where we worked behind the scenes and were not directly doing the ministry as much as the teams themselves. IFM had a vision: to teach families how to do ministry as a family unit and it was here that I got to see many children of all ages (and adults) live and walk their faith. Many mission organizations either took teenagers or empty-nester parents. Rarely were kids allowed to go and handicapped people were rarely allowed to go. Partly because many of those short term trips involved work projects to go along with their Gospel sharing. But IFM was different. We hardly did work projects. We just did “visits in Jesus’ name”. We focused our ministry to Juarez, Mexico because it was so close to the US border and because it had the 3rd world culture to get the groups out of their comfort zone. El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico are literally sister cities. The only thing that separates them is a river, which happens to be an international border. El Paso/Juarez is the largest international metropolitan area in the world. And because of the proximity, we could take our teams to El Paso (just a one day drive from the Denver, Colorado area where we were from), have them stay on the US side every night and for a week at a time, take them into Juarez daily to do ministry. 

The ministry we did was not work projects but consisted of evangelism, church visits, VBS Bible clubs, sport camps, feedings, and simply just spending time with the people. After we visited with one of the children’s homes, they told us: “Other groups paints our walls and build our fences, but you were the first group to just play with us.” My parents remained involved with IFM for 22 years total. In July 1999, we moved to south-east El Paso to manage the ministry base we used to house and facilitate these teams. We’d host a team of 35-40 people, comprised of mostly families, but we also took toddlers, the elderly, grandkids, grandparents, handicapped, the works. I was also one of the “handicapped” because of the challenges I had growing up. My parents quickly realized that God was going to use me when I was eight years old. I was in my own world while the team was doing ministry at the prison in Juarez. The men were inside with the men, while the women and children visited with the wives and kids visiting the men. Our director was speaking to a group of pastors that was interested in what we were doing and he asked me to get a “Worldless Book”, a felt booklet that contained five colors (gold, black, red, white, and green) and this booklet contained the Gospel message. I then shared the Gospel with this booklet to these pastors along with all the verses that went with it. And the pastors were totally amazed that a child (not knowing my story) could share the Gospel so simply. 

In this time of ministry, we saw God move in many different ways. We did a kite flying event with kids at another children’s home and God stopped the heavy winds so we could do it. In another event, we planned a massive feeding, but God sent the strongest windstorm in recorded history, which meant heavy dirt. Many people know about blizzard conditions with snow. We know the same conditions with dirt. But we had to close down because of this dirt storm. As a result, we found another orphanage that we had been trying to find for several years. And they were down to their last few carrots on food. We had enough for them for a week. We’ve seen food multiply numerous times, sometimes with leftovers, sometimes where the last apple or slice of meat went to the last person. We’ve seen miraculous healings. One woman we witnessed to in the market one year accepted Christ. Two years later she found us and told us that very day she was healed of cancer and was in the markets doing exactly what we had been doing: sharing Christ. 

One thing I observed during this time, which I mentioned above, was that teenagers and even kids as young as 7-10 could display a true Christian faith with that innocent, child-like faith that is not childish. I’ve seen little kids share the truth with full grown men who had lost everything. I’ve seen teenagers take leadership where a number of adults would not. But these mature youth showed me that teenagers and younger could walk that kind of Christian life. And I wanted to demonstrate through my book one way that could look like. 

My parents and I separated from IFM in January 2012 to move on to another direction God was taking us. IFM itself had ceased to bring groups to Juarez, mostly because of a brutal war between drug cartels. That war has mostly ended but IFM is seeking the Lord on what to do from there. In the meantime, my parents have moved on and are currently waiting on the Lord to direct their steps. 

Those are amazing experiences and very unique to have while growing up. I can see how they have influenced the plot of Call to Arms. You have definitiely shown in this novel that teenagers and even those younger can take the leadership role. Again, the character of Zack comes to mind. James as well.

You say you experienced a number of encounters with the demonic. Tell us about one of them and how it played a role in your writing?

Spiritual warfare has always been a favorite topic of mine. In writing Call to Arms, I used some of my personal experiences in dealing with demons and I used some of the experiences I heard from those involved first-hand. My first draft did not use as many of these encounters as my later drafts did. My first draft was more about getting some of the principles down, but one very interesting thing about writing I have learned is this: when you write about a certain topic, you have a tendency of dealing with said topic. And while the majority of my experience in ministries was helping facilitate the teams from behind the scenes, I got to see a lot of stuff and hear about a lot of things going on. As I mentioned above, after writing my first draft, I had to scrap my entire story and re-write it. Between those drafts, I had the most significant encounter with the demonic I had personally been involved with. 

I was using my first draft as a witnessing tool for a co-worker of mine at the time. He had expressed a strong interest in spiritual discussions, though not always about Christianity. So I used my first draft as a means to get him to open up about the need for the Gospel. But in this encounter, I awoke a demonic stronghold that had laid dormant in him. It started with trying to get some written feedback from him about my novel. Because he did not have a printer, we had to do it via e-mail. But attempt after attempt after attempt, nothing came through. Then something did and it was not the feedback he was trying to send. It was messages from a demonic entity. Each one got more and more sinister, but I was seeing what was happening. I hammered him with the Gospel, recognizing what was going on and day by day, it got worse and worse. I knew he was aware of demonic activity and other “spiritual issues” so I very cautiously watched him, seeing if it was some sort of sick prank. It was not long afterwards that the demonic stronghold manifested itself through him and I started to engage with the demon directly through my co-worker. But I did not quit and I kept presenting the Gospel. I was the only believer in the store where we worked, so I had no physical backup. I also had Acts 19:13-17 in mind. That is the time where the seven sons of Sceva tried to drive out a demon and it went very poor for them. I used that passage of Scripture for one of my scenes that you pointed out in your review. I knew I was in a very tight situation, and the only help I could get was prayer support from a distance. During my final day at that job, I got the chance to give him the Gospel one last time, but in the end, he would not submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. 

I was shaken. Hard. I was sifted like wheat. But I held my ground. I was reduced to my foundations, and my foundations were on solid ground. This encounter did change my life but it made me stronger in my faith. It took about six months for me to be able to tell this story in detail and when I do, it usually takes about an hour to tell it. This is the short, short, short version. But I have an awesome T-shirt that was very appropriate for this encounter. I got the shirt at the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference. It says this: “Be careful what you say or you might just find yourself in my next novel.”

Most of us would never have such an experience! Most of us would reel in fright at such, but you show how the battle belongs to God and He is the Victor. I loved how you added that part of the verse from Acts in your plot! More realism and very clever! When I was reading A Call to Arms, one of my first thoughts was that these spiritual scenes could not just be from your imagination, I figured they were God inspired or that you would have had to at least experienced them. Now this does not surprise me from what you have experienced first hand. 

Monday 20 October 2014

Interview with Ariel R Johnson, Author of Dragon's Touch

I recently read Dragon's Touch, debut novel by A. R. Johnson. A Christian fantasy. I was really taken by this novel and this author, and I was very impressed when I discovered she was only 16 yrs old! 

Both these factors, tempted me to see what makes this author tick and to see what contributing factors have led to the sophistication and depth of plot and characterisation and the well developed world Ariel has created. It is not everyday that an avid reader like myself comes across one such author of such a young age. So, what better way to investigate this author than through an interview!

Just before we start this interview this is what Dragon's Touch is about, from the Amazon book page: 

"Dragons, mages, and estranged siblings collide in a struggle to control the Kingdom of Rioch." 

The Guild of Mages is determined to destroy the dragon race at all costs. Queen Christine, keeper of the peace and leader of the dragon riders, strives to maintain stability in Rioch. Amidst this struggle, Zharah is torn between the anti-dragon teachings of her childhood and her unwitting bonding with the dragon hatchling Elihan. She must cross the kingdom in search of her long lost brother and the answers to her future as a Dragon-Touched human. She finds both friends and enemies along the road, but above all she finds herself."

Okay Ariel, how about we start this interview with you telling us a little about yourself?

I have lived in several different countries and currently live in Taiwan and attend Morrison Academy. I adore classic literature, classic rock, and a lot of different sci-fi and fantasy movies and shows, like Doctor Who. 

What inspired you to become an author and has it always been your desire to write? 

I started having an interest in writing when my dad became an author. I did not write much when I was younger, in fact I hated writing. But when I started beta-reading dad’s chapters as he was working on Fool's Errand (Chadash Chronicles), I started to get excited. I then realized I had stories I wanted to tell as well, and dad was always there to help and encourage me to write them down. 

Your first book is in the fantasy genre. What lead to this or influenced this choice? 

Dad writes fantasy, and he introduced me to Tolkien, Lewis, etc from when I was little. I was interested in fantasy novels from early on, and I wanted my first novel to be of the genre that was most natural to me. 

How much influence either directly or indirectly has your father, also an author, influenced your writing and or choice of genre? 

Very much so, I would not have started writing if my dad had not introduced me to it. He always encouraged me to read and to push the level of the stuff I was reading when I was younger, and I believe this, and seeing dad’s book starting to come together, led me to want to become a writer. 

For a teenager, and at 16 yrs of age at that, you write very well. Better than most of your peer group age. Have you always been this proficient with the English language? 

I am not sure about my writing proficiency, but I have been reading at college level since around second or third grade, so I imagine that had a great deal to do with it. 

How do come to terms with the fact that some reviewers, including myself, consider that your writing, plot and character development is sophisticated and more mature for your age? 

I am honestly glad to hear it, and it is very encouraging. I was extremely worried that it would be immature and that older audiences would not enjoy it, so hearing that it was well-done encourages me to continue writing. 

I loved Dragon's Touch. I found the plot well constructed and the characters very real, the fantasy world very enthralling and captivating and loved the spiritual themes. What resources did you use for this? 

I simply observed my friends and those around me for the characters. With the fantasy world, it honestly just appeared in my mind. I love creating fictional worlds in my free time, so this was fairly easy for me. Dad is also an avid world builder, and seeing the amount of time he put into detailing his worlds, and getting to help him with some of that, well…”monkey-see, monkey-do” as my dad says.

How much of Zharah is based on yourself? Who is your favourite character? 

She isn’t actually based that much on me, but sort of a combination of other people I know. She is some things that I wish I was, but not so much based on who I am now. It’s very difficult for me to pick just one favourite but I would say my top three are Elihan, Albin, and Daric (not in any particular order).

Yes, I have a soft spot for Daric, admire Albin and want to learn more about Elihan! 

What do your friends think of you being a published author? 

Some of my friends are extremely happy about it, and very encouraging about my writing. My two friends Brianna and Josiah, who are in my dedication, were the most influential in encouraging me to write this novel. 

How do you feel about being 16 and having published your first book? This is not common for someone in your age group. A great achievement by the way! 

It was very fun to write, but it is exciting and somewhat terrifying to know that my book is out somewhere where people can read it. When dad helped me do a Kindle Countdown promotion recently, and I saw the numbers rolling in, it was really weird. When dad sent me the screenshot showing Dragon’s Touch had hit #1 in one of its categories, I was blown away.

Yes, I have no doubt about that! Dragon's Touch comes up in some of the book recommendations on book pages I investigate, so yes, your book is definitely out there! Very encouraging for you!

What do you say to others in your age group that want to write and publish as you have done? 

I would encourage them to do so, and to follow their goals and dreams. If God puts it in your heart to write, dedicate yourself to learning how to do it the best you can and go for it. 

That is very wise and encouraging advice and I pray other aspiring writers take this on board. 

What kind of reaction are you hoping to receive from readers? 

I am hoping they enjoy the story, and that I can influence them to write like my favourite books did for me. Also, while the spiritual elements in this first book are fairly subtle, I hope they will spark an interest in someone to find out more about who God is.

I have no doubt that God will honour that, Ariel! 

What has surprised you the most about becoming a self-published author? 

I think what surprises me is that people are actually reading and enjoying my novel. I’m very surprised that I’ve gotten so many reads and it’s fantastic. 

What influenced you to make this Christian fantasy rather than conventional fantasy that most fantasy lovers read?

I think that the influence my faith has over my life led me to include some Christian themes. Dad also encouraged me that if I was going to write, that it was a great chance to tell others about God. I am not quite the open evangelist my dad is, but we all have to share what we can in our own way. 

Yes, I agree with you, and you have made a great start on this with Dragon's Touch! 

I guess this leads onto the next question. How has writing and being an author impacted your relationship with Jesus Christ? 

Writing has not really affected my faith as much as the other way around. My faith influenced my writing, but my writing did not affect my faith. 

Obviously becoming an author has been a huge accomplishment for you, but can you tell us what a major goal of yours is outside of the world of writing? 

I would love to be able to become an art teacher someday, and I love drama and would like to be in a play. I work with the drama club at school, and that is a lot of fun. It is a Christian school so this is another way to share faith in a fun and interesting way.

Yes, now that you have said that and reading Dragon's Touch, you definitely have a very creative side to you! 

So we know you like to write, but can you divulge to your fans out there what’s something that you like to do in your downtime, when you're not writing? 

I love to draw, and I love to read. I also like spending time with my friends and drinking tea and coffee, especially Java Chip Frappuccinos from Starbucks. 

Another Java lover! This is good! 

Your fans, I’m sure, want to know if there is more to come. Would you mind giving an exclusive glimpse for us of what is to come? 

I am considering writing a sequel to Dragon’s Touch, if I can find the time over summer. School is quite busy for me, and it is hard to balance school and writing, so I think it will be easier to write when I am on break. The sequel will be following up on the hints I dropped in Dragon’s Touch that dragon eggs can be force-hatched. That is all I can say right now (spoilers!), so fans will just have to see when it comes out.

Ariel, that sounds wonderful and a great lead in to the proposed sequel, my appetite is more than whetted! I am glad you have stopped there with those spoilers!! 

Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans? 

I would like to thank them for being so supportive of my writing, and encouraging me to do so. I hope I can continue to write and provide them with something to read in the future! I don’t think I would write another novel if they weren’t so supportive of this one. 

Do you have any words that you’d like to leave us with? 

Asparagus. No, uhm, in all seriousness, just thank you for interviewing me on this blog, and thanks to my readers for being so supportive! 

It has been a pleasure Ariel, and as one of your readers, it has also been a pleasure supporting you in return for transporting us to the wonderful world of Rioch and entertaining us immensely! 

Ariel, I have enjoyed discussing your journey to published author and I now have a better understanding of Dragon's Touch and what makes you tick. It certainly has been a great journey you have been on. Thanks for letting myself and the visitors reading this, into your imagination and a behind the scenes look at the Kingdom of Rioch. 

I am sure it is not just myself who hopes that you create the sequel, I feel Dragon's Touch needs to continue and look forward to seeing this happen with anticipation. 

You certainly are very fortunate to have had such a great influence from your father. I have read his Chadash Chronicles and I am very impressed. 

You can keep in touch with Ariel via her dad’s book series email:

If you want to investigate Zharah, Elihan and the Kindgom of Rioch further, go here:

Sunday 12 October 2014

Call To Arms (The Battle Cry Saga) by C.A Wolcott

Call to Arms (The Battle Cry Saga)

The fate of an entire city hangs in the balance. 

The trumpet has sounded. A declaration of war. And the need for soldiers to answer the call is greater than ever. This deadly war is not between two nations of state and politics, but between opposing powers of hidden realms. 

When a small church youth group clashes with a satanic gang at Silex City Park, James Proctor is the first to answer the call to arms. But quickly he discovers this battle is far bigger than he can handle alone. 

Peter Saxon also hears the call but wants nothing to do with it…until the war gets personal. When he starts having visions of an epic medieval battle and is recruited by both sides, he realizes just how high the stakes truly are—and that neutrality in this war isn’t an option. Before he and those he loves are caught in the crossfire, he must choose a side. But which one? 

The Guru's Review: 

I first saw Call to Arms advertised in a Facebook Christian book group and three things stood out for me: 
  1. The plot concerned spiritual warfare, one of my favourite genres
  2. The author is a debut author and one of the purposes of my blog is to encourage new authors
  3. I had a feeling that there was something special about this book. 
Based on this, I contacted the author via Facebook and asked for a review copy which he granted. I was so impressed with this that I decided to buy my own copy and also due to the fact that the copy sent to me had some formatting issues that I found frustrating.

When I started the first chapter, I had the impression that there was a mistake, I had been given the wrong book. I was transported to a medieval fantasy world (The Kingdom of Elafros) and I wondered what this had to do with the book description. However, I was loving being in this world and continued reading. After a few chapters of exploring this medieval-like environment, I was transported to another world, that of the modern world of the suburb of Silex, and I then began to wonder if there was a tie-in to these two worlds. 

Herein lies the main strength and structural foundation of this novel. It is one very clever concept. The author is to be commended for this move. I won't spoil what this is or how the author ties in both worlds but believe you me, it makes for one  fast paced, action packed and totally absorbing story! It gets even better when it is revealed clue by clue, chapter by chapter, event by event how these two worlds are connected and collide. This concept enables Wolcott to develop the plot, action and suspense and above all the spiritual warfare aspects with flair and credibility. It also provides an excellent platform to entertain, but also educate the reader in the importance and power of prayer and of knowing and living out the Word of God, spiritual warfare, letting God be sovereign and being obedient to Him in all things, not just when under spiritual attack.  Once all this was revealed, it instantly reminded me of the expectations that I expect from Christian fiction:
  • it has entertained me immensely, 
  • it has encouraged my walk with God,
  • it has not deviated from known biblical doctrine, and it will not, I believe, lead a non believer astray or promote false doctrine, 
  • it honours God, 
  • it does not encourage worship of the created (eg angels) instead of the Creator (God).
Wolcott has ticked all these boxes for me. He really does portray the reality of spiritual warfare as realistically as possible, the effects of demonic possession/oppression and how easily those who have no relationship with Jesus Christ, including those who have grown up in a Christian family or who know the Gospel but have not acted on it, can be seduced into accepting what the occult has to offer and be brainwashed into accepting it as truth and as their reality. Wolcott's depiction of demons is very real and how they operate and even how they influence humans and ultimately possess them. This novel benefits from Wolcott's research into demonology and how he successfully translates biblical principles into the plot of this novel. This realism is balanced by some of the Christian characters having their own battle with their faith, dealing with fear and learning to trust God and let Him be sovereign, and to be prepared to lay down their life in taking a stand against the demonic forces that have targeted them. Hence the title of this novel, Call To Arms. 

This novel is very true to the Bible. It does encourage and uplift one's faith. It does portray that Christians need to be on guard against the schemes and methods satan and his minions use to tempt, entice and trap those who believe in Christ. It does make a statement that Christians need to know what these schemes and methods are. Ask any strategist and they will tell you, that in battle, you need to know who your enemy is and how they think.

Wolcott's demons are depicted as very powerful and very devious, not dissimilar to the supernatural world of them either. The many instances of mind games, persuasion and physical battles support this very well. One principle of warfare that struck me as very significant was when one of the main characters, while being brought up in a Christian home, had not committed his life to Christ and when using the name of Jesus to rid himself of the demon's influence, found he was still defeated, all because the power of Jesus' name and the authority to use it, is only transferred to the person once they accept Him as Lord and Saviour. Maybe this could be Lesson 1 in Spiritual Warfare 101!!

I love it in spiritual warfare novels when the angels visit to fight or Jesus visits. In this novel we have both. We have the Nunci (in the Kindgodm of Elafros they are personal servants to the King of Elafros, but are angelic messengers and warriors), and we have Jesus visit one of the main characters in the modern world. I found this account of this character's encounter with Jesus absolutely beautiful and touched my heart deeply. I was just so glad that I was not on the train reading (the majority of my reading time is on the train to and from work) for others to see me crying while reading this encounter. It is written superbly, giving full respect, honour, glory and majesty to Jesus as He should be depicted in any novel. Very memorable piece of writing and successfully shows Jesus as the victor over sin and death and Lord of all. 

Having Jesus visit out of the desperate cry of one of his lost who realises his need for the Saviour, I pray will give any reader, believer or non believer, Christian dabbling in sin or the occult, knowingly or unknowingly, or anyone who feels they are in a hopeless situation without hope or at the end of themselves can take the step as this character did, cry out to Jesus, and see that their salvation is at hand and that their deliverance is nigh. Not just for the bible or in entertaining media, but in real life, in supernatural real life. 

While some readers might criticise Wolcott for depicting the Christian teenagers of such young an age with such a strong, mature and well developed faith, more advanced for their years, this did not worry me at all as I have come across such youth in my time and even mixed with some in my own youth. Again, I pray that this inclusion of mature faith in ones so young can be an encouragement and inspiration to any reader however young at age, heart, mind or spirit that such faith, and living out the Word of God, can and is very achievable and freely available if only they would be a doer of the Word and not just a hearer. Wolcott shows a realistic balance in the spiritual battles/warfare of both the young and older Christian characters, even of their Pastor, in their faith and dealing with being confronted with the "in your face" demonic attacks. Again, I take this as an encouragement for the believer to be realistic in this fight, we cannot do this in our own strength, when we have doubt, misgivings, are discouraged or feeling weak on all levels, we have our Commander-In-Chief (Jesus, as described in this book) and his Nunci (Angels) to fight for us, encourage us and give us strength in this battle, knowing it is won by His Spirit, and not by any might or power. 

The added bonus of depicting the Christians in this way, is that it adds another level of realism/believability to the plot, the reader who is Christian will find it easier to relate to this rather than some super spiritual Christian who is harder to relate to, either in real life or in any novel. 

There are many fight scenes in this novel, the usual fisticuffs etc that we are all used to and which is done well by the author, but in the Kingdom of Elafros, most of the fighting is based on fencing and Wolcott writes this extremely well. I wondered why he would be so expert at writing and describing these fight scenes, and a visit to his Facebook page reveal that he participates in this sport. There is nothing like writing about something that you know first hand or have experienced! This adds credibility to the fight scenes and adds to the richness of this medieval-like world of Elafros and to this whole subject of spiritual warfare. 

Once the attack on the Christian Church and its members revs up, the action and pace of this novel never ceases. Until to this point, it already was a cannot put down novel, but when this full attack happens, this is nothing compared to the former pace and it would be advisable for the reader to be alone with no disturbances in order to fully appreciate the second half of this novel. Wolcott very nicely ties all the loose ends up and the reader is left breathless and exhausted at the end. What a great way to end  a novel such as this? Whets the appetite for the next book in a very intense manner.

This is one well developed and crafted novel and a great debut by this author. He is one to not dismiss, any discerning reader who loves this genre needs sit up and pay attention to this new author. 

Highly Recommended.

Sunday 5 October 2014

Angel War by Philip Dodd

Angel War by Philip Dodd

From an early age, Azel, the Prince of the White Castle of the Angels of Light, plans what he calls his great rebellion against the Father. After his self transformation into a four legged, scaled beast, he names himself the Dragon. At the head of his rebel angel army and his dragon flocks, he brings war to the angel lands. His intention is to dethrone the Father and rule in his place. Khem, the Child of the White Mountain, vows upon his Silver Sword to be his slayer. The lonely, perilous path of the dragonslayer, he takes. At its end, he stands alone, to challenge the Father's foe to combat.

The Guru's Review:

I have read a few novels that describe the war in heaven concerning the fall of
Lucifer (satan) and a third of the angels, but none like this one. Angel War is very unique from its plot, to its description of the angels, their order, their role and even the inclusion of spaceships and other technology.

I understand this is Dodd's first novel and it took him 26 years to write, having started it in 1986 when he was 34 and finished it in 2012 at age 60. Go here for more on Phillip's journey to published author. I can see where his degree in English Literature has benefitted his writing and story development. He writes well, even as he describes it in the aforementioned interview with Donovan M Neal:
I write simple, straightforward prose. I try to make it flow with no snag in its path and to sound close to poetry when I can.

I would totally agree with this. His narrative reads well and flows well. An evenly consistent pace. This is one of the strengths of this novel. Another strength is his fascination with Revelation Chapter 6 which forms the basis of this novel,
My book, Angel War, was inspired by Chapter Six of the Book of Revelation, which speaks of the war in heaven, fought between Michael and his angels and the dragon and his angels. The Bible only says that the war happened, but not why, so I decided to write my own version of the events of the war and its aftermath. My story is essentially the biography of Azel, the Prince of the White Castle of the Angels of Light, the one who begins the war in heaven and who later becomes known on Earth as Lucifer, the Devil, Satan. 
When I first read Chapter Six of the Book of Revelation, when I was a fifteen year old schoolboy,  I was astounded by the idea of there being a war in heaven, which led me to an interest in angels in The Bible, literature, painting and sculpture, and finally to begin to write, in 1986, when I was thirty four, what became Angel War.  My book could be called a work of fantasy fiction, rooted in The Bible. I think it would appeal to Bible readers and those who like to read fantasy fiction.

Dodd has used poetic licence and his imagination extensively in this novel, creating a wondrous world of the angels and of the Father and their lands (Heaven). Very descriptive and hierarchical than any I have read before.

From this point on, I must state that I do not want this review to be one where I tear Dodd's novel apart and I loathe being critical in any review, but if I am going to write a review it is of no benefit if I am not honest.  I state in this review blog that I expect from Christian fiction that,
  • it has not deviated from known biblical doctrine, and it will not, I believe, lead a non believer astray or promote false doctrine, 
  • it honours God, 
It is from here on in, that I feel Dodd's use of poetic licence in some his plot and character developments has deviated from biblical doctrine, promotes false doctrine and does not honour God. For me, using poetic licence is best used in Christian fiction where the bible is silent or leaves gaps and this fills in these gaps without compromising biblical doctrine, honors God and keeps the Christian reader within this biblical boundary. 

I have an issue with the Angels being married and producing offspring! Even more so having the Father and his Son, Elu (Jesus) married! As far as my reading and understanding of the Bible, there is no mention or implication of marriage and marital relations with or by angels in Heaven or by God Himself or Jesus.  I refer to the following bible verse, 

Matthew 22:30For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven. (HCSB)

Having the angels marry and bearing offspring to me is deviating from biblical doctrine and promoting false doctrine. 

Another aspect that I struggled with is the inclusion of spaceships for the angels to travel the vast distances of Heaven and to other planets including Earth. Yes, Dodd's angels have wings and can fly, but this seems to be only for shorter distances. Even the Father has His own spaceship called the Wheel! These spaceships are also used in the war that Azel (satan) starts. To me, the inclusion of this technology, while adding a science fiction element to this fantasy setting, does not fit. It is very out of place and lessens the credibility of the world of Heaven Dodd has created. 

From my perspective and understanding, God made us humans as finite beings, and as far as travel is concerned, we are limited in our ways of getting around. We can walk and run. We created artificial means such as cars, trains, boats, aircraft to cover longer distances, including space travel. I believe that angels in the supernatural world can travel vast distances, even to other planets, by the power given to them from God to be translated to whatever place He has sent them. This is within His power and sovereignty. Having Him need to use a spaceship to travel is restricting Him to boundaries and limitations similar to the finite being He made us, and one we know He does not have. To me, Dodd's depiction of this aspect of the Father does not make Him Omnipotent or Sovereign. I find this disappointing and does not honour God.

I struggled also with the Father giving the angels the ability to create other living beings, such as Azel's mother, Queen Merim, creating different cats, and Azel creating different types of dragons. As Christians, we grow up in Christianity (from whatever age we accept Christ) with the notion and seeing it in the Bible that God is the Creator and the angels, and all other living entities are the Created, and excluding the angels, the latter can only reproduce after own kind. I firmly believe that God is the Creator only and not His created. Having his Created create, takes away from His Sovereignty. 

The character of Azel, as he was created by The Father (God) and also after his self transformation into a four legged, scaled beast, is very well thought out and developed. This is one character that is self assured, self centred, self absorbed, and boastful in his thoughts and theology (which is very different from that of the Father's) and has no issue believing and acting that he is superior to all of the Father's creation and even of the Father Himself. The latter he has no respect for and regards Him as the Old Fool!

From this angle, he has portrayed the arrogance and pride of Azel just as strong as it seems satan (the serpent as he is called up and until 1 Chronicles 21:1, where the Bible states his name as satan) had and this needed to be done well to add credibility to Azel's motive and actions in this novel. Dodd has achieved this very successfully.

I have a few other issues where I was disappointed in Dodd's theology in this novel and how he has portrayed the Father. At the end of the war, the Father says,
Death and war now exist because of him, my son, Prince Azel, to my sorrow. He could have been one of my favourite sons. I gave him his gift, his seat, his castle, his angel house. I do not know why my son was born the way he was or why he rebelled against me.

This passage paints the Father as not Omniscient. I believe God knew that satan was going to rebel against him and his reasons why. Just like Jesus knew Judas would betray Him. This passage does not honour God or portray Him as He is as the God of the Bible. In the bible, it says that God knew us before we were born. I am sure he would have known his angels before He created them too. Again, this passage and the previous one places God on a lesser level that the God of the Bible being Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent.

Dodd also shows the Father as not being forgiving when He learns that the Dragon and his minions are not dead after the war,
Never forgive. Never forgive. Not until all of them who served my betrayer has been found and punished. Never forgive, he said, in a deep hard tone.
Upturn every stone, search down every hole, until you are certain that the last of them have perished, by my wrath, in my fire. Never forgive. Never forgive.

I find this passage very disturbing. This is something a human would say in response to being hurt and betrayed. We know of unforgiveness as part of our fallen, sinful nature and not part of our original nature before the sin of Adam and Eve, but I don't believe God is capable of this flaw. He is perfect, unforgiveness would not be found in His character. To suggest otherwise, as in this passage, again, does not honour Him and to me, undermines who He is. Even Jesus forgave us for our sins and encouraged us to forgive others.