September 14, 2016

Lithium Jesus

My friend Charles Monroe-Kane has published a memoir, Lithium Jesus, with the University of Wisconsin Press. Chuck and I were roommates our first year at Goshen College in 1987. We were an odd pair: I hadn't spent much time outside of East Africa and Chuck came from a poor Ohio family. Somehow, though, we hit it off and have remained friends for nearly thirty years.

This book tells the story of Chuck's struggle with mental illness, and his attempts to come to peace with himself via religion, drugs, sex, and other escapades. It's highly entertaining, by turns hilarious and heartbreaking. If you're paying attention, you might spot me flicker on and off the page at one point. I suggest you buy the book.

September 1, 2016

The Sins of Angels Ebook

The Sins of Angels is now available as an ebook from Amazon. The signed and unsigned hardcovers are still available from the PS Publishing website.

July 16, 2016

The Sins of Angels

My third novel, The Sins of Angels, is now available for preorder from PS Publishing. It’s a noirish paranormal thriller set in Cairo and the Western Desert, about a couple of hapless detectives who stumble upon a fallen angel. At this point, it’s available in a limited edition of one hundred signed hardbacks, and as an unsigned hardback. You can read the first chapter on my website.

The publisher asked me to write something about the genesis of the book, and I’m including that below.

In 1999, after three years in southern Sudan, my wife and I moved to Egypt. Soon after we arrived, I picked up E. M. Forster’s Alexandria: A History and a Guide, which has been called the best guidebook ever written. It deftly melds the mythology and history of the city with modern-day landmarks. In the opening pages, Forster gives a brief synopsis of the Gnostic cosmogony, discussing the demiurge and Sophia, the last of the fallen angels. Reading his overview, I had a vision of a fallen angel on a Cairo sidewalk, and knew I would write her story one day.

Seven years later, the notion of a literary and detective agent came to me, and dovetailed with the earlier vision of the fallen angel. In the meantime, I’d discovered the Nag Hammadi texts and had delved deeper into Gnosticism, and realized I could fruitfully bring that knowledge to bear on the tale of Sophia and my blundering detective, George Zacharias. The book was started in Beni Suef in Upper Egypt, completed in Madison, Wisconsin, and polished in Ventura, California.

One of the great pleasures I had while working on this book was the discovery of Gustav Davidson’s A Dictionary of Angels: Including the Fallen Angels, an immensely rich and comprehensively researched text. I knew little about angels and their hierarchies when I started out, and Davidson’s book provided the background I needed to create a solid structure. I’ll leave off with the following passage from Davidson’s alluring introduction:

“Without committing myself religiously I could conceive of the possibility of there being, in dimensions and worlds other than our own, powers and intelligences outside our present apprehension, and in this sense angels are not to be ruled out as a part of reality—always remembering that we create what we believe. Indeed, I am prepared to say that if enough of us believe in angels, then angels exist...”

May 29, 2016

Encounters in Africa

My father has led an extraordinary life. Born into an Amish family in Hartville, Ohio, he was the first in his community to go to college, where he met my mother. They joined Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions, and went to Tanzania, where my mother had been born, and then Sudan, where my father helped set up the Sudan Council of Churches. In 1974, they moved to Nairobi, where he worked first with the National Christian Council of Kenya (NCCK), then volunteered as regional representative for Mennonite Central Committee, and finally served as an adviser to the All Africa Council of Churches. He remains active in Nairobi and the region today.

He is perhaps the most modest person you'll meet, but has had an astonishing influence. While working in rural development with NCCK, he facilitated the creation of the first sand dams in Machakos, which have dramatically raised the water table in the region. The Nairobi Peace Initiative, which he helped set up, has had an enormous impact on the continent, and was instrumental in heading off Kenya's descent into civil war following the 2007 elections. At eighty, he is as active as ever, walking many miles a day and offering his services as mzee (elder).

Last year, my brother and I helped my dad get a collection of his occasional pieces into print. Encounters in Africa is the first volume, containing primarily lighter stuff: book reviews, anecdotes, travel pieces. A second volume, due out later this year, will include weightier material.

Recently, a Canadian Mennonite book group read Encounters in Africa. Their delightful reflections were published by The Mennonite under the title "An Evening with Harold." (The picture is of the author of the piece, not my father.)

March 16, 2016

The Winged Histories

Sofia's second novel, The Winged Histories, is now out. Her first, A Stranger in Olondria, won the British Fantasy Award and the World Fantasy Award. This book takes place in the same densely constructed world. It tells the stories of four women in wartime, and is possibly more gorgeous and heartbreaking than Stranger.

Here's Sofia's blog post about the novel, and here's an interview at the Los Angeles Times.