The front yard of Living Waters Christian High School was bustling on this sunny, frigid December morning as Shawna pulled her car into the teacher’s lot and parked.  As she climbed out of her vehicle, she was again overcome with the urge to grab her umbrella.  Glancing at the sky, she saw not a single cloud.

But she knew that she was supposed to bring that umbrella, so she grabbed the bag with bagel and juice in her left hand, using the other to take the umbrella. She headed for the side entrance of the building.

She stopped as she noticed a note taped to it, saying, “Please use front entrance.”

Her eyebrows raised in an arch as she turned toward the front of the building.  As she passed students, some of them greeted her warmly.  Some of them were indifferent.  Some of them looked at the umbrella that she was carrying in her right hand and rolled their eyes, a few mumbling about how weird she was.

One of the students, a shy girl by the name of Justine Madeline, walked by, her dark hair pulled into a tight ponytail and two of her school books tucked into her arms.  “Hi, Justine,” commented Shawna.  “How are you, this morning?”

Justine looked at the ground as she passed.  “I’m okay.”

Shawna stopped for a moment as the girl continued on her way.  Something had caught her eye.  But now, she could not place it.  She turned to glance at Justine’s back, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary now.

Suddenly, the overwhelming desire to open that umbrella shoved itself toward the front of her mind and she followed that still, small voice just as the sprinklers turned on and began dousing everyone in the school yard with freezing water.

Screeches filled the front grounds as the students and some faculty lunged at the front door.  Shawna stood patiently at the bottom step, waiting for everyone else to enter first.  She glanced upward and whispered, “Thank you.”

She followed the last of the teachers, the math teacher, inside.  He glanced at her as she flicked the water off of her umbrella back out the door just before closing it.  “Why does it always seem like you know what’s going to happen before it does?” he asked her.

She smiled.  “I guess I’m just blessed, Mr. Garrett.”

She walked past him as he took off his blazer, heading toward the back of the building.  She passed the library, waiving at the students who were checking out books before class.  Then she walked past the teacher’s lounge, noting that it was empty.

Approaching the utility room, she noted that Mr. Harris, the assistant principal, was scolding two students.  Next to them were the controls to the sprinkler system.  That, and the fact that the two students were both bone dry, helped the pieces fall into place.

Shawna stopped when she noticed what appeared to be glowing numbers etch themselves on each of their heads.  One boy, whose head brandished the number five, was yelling, “My old man’s gonna kill me!”

The other one, with the number 3, yelled words that would make a sailor blush.

Mr. Harris, himself a Sunday School teacher, leveled a finger at the latter boy and said, “I’ll not hear anything like that from you again, Johnson.”

The two boys looked at Shawna and then Mr. Harris did, as well.  “I have it under control, Ms. Weston,” he said as he noticed her umbrella.  He cocked an eyebrow, shook his head, and turned back to the students.

With one last glance at the two students, just as the numbers—which the assistant principal obviously could not see—faded away, Shawna marched quickly to her room, the History class.  Setting the bagel and juice on her desk, she hung the umbrella from her coat rack.  Dropping to her knees in front of her chair, she prayed, Lord, what are you trying to tell me?


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Of Extended Universes in Fiction

Last night, I took my daughter to see Avengers:  Infinity War.  It was my second time seeing it and it seems to move as quickly the second time as it did the first time.  It hardly seemed like it should almost be one o’clock in the morning when we got out.

At every hero who dissolved into dust with the snap of Thanos’s finger, my daughter cried in dismay.  I ended up telling her the story was resolved in the comic version of the story in order for her to not be so upset over the deaths.

I always look forward to seeing a new super hero movie, as they tend to inspire me in my writing.  At the moment, Book Seven of the Adventure Chronicles is in the final stages of production.  I am writing the origin novel for Seigi, my super hero who was first featured in Metahumans vs. Robots.  The novel, tentatively titled “I Am Justice”, takes place before the events of the final book of the Adventure Chronicles series.  I’ll be writing Book Eight next, which will be a vampire story.

Yeah, I write unusual Christian fiction.

Seigi features Maori Kabayashi, who was introduced as a character in Book Six.  A former member of the villainous Waruiyatsu clan, she was trained to be a rare female warrior by her clan, mostly to kill Yoshi Funakoshi.  Somehow, she gained a conscience and fate led her to become Yoshi’s dear friend—and a powerful enemy of her former clan—instead.

Three stories about Seigi have been published, so far.  “Doumo Arigatou” was published in the above-mentioned Robots anthology.  “The Portal” was published in Metahumans vs. the Ultimate Evil.  Both of these were published by Canadian publisher, Lion’s Share Press.  “The Hunted” was published in GCD Publishing’s Malicious Mysteries.  Lion’s Share Press is preparing the publication of a vampire anthology and a cryptids anthology, both of which will feature stories with Seigi, as well.

As I’m writing the novel, it is really hitting close to home that, like the MCU, I am creating an extended universe in my fiction.  It wasn’t just Adventure and Seigi that started this, however.  Lily’s Redemption took place in The Bluff, a large town that exists in the southern part of Missouri in my books and is based off of the real Poplar Bluff, MO.  The Bluff features as a location in the Adventure Chronicles.

I am writing a horror novel at the moment (I’ve been picking at it between my other books for the past decade).  One of the leads in the book is a fan of Thomas Bradford, also from Lily’s Redemption.  And the police officer who features in the horror novel is Mark Goodman, Buster’s father.  This links the Adventure Chronicles to Lily’s Redemption.

Some other super hero authors and I had discussed co-authoring a novel bringing our characters together but, as one of the authors who had come up with the idea has taken his character back to formula, it looks like this is unlikely at this point.

I have other plans to expand other secondary characters who have already appeared in my books.  Perhaps, somewhere down the line, I’ll be able to write a grand novel of epic proportions that matches something along the lines of the Avengers’ stories.  At the very least, Seigi will play a part in the final book in the Adventure Chronicles series.

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Legacy Blog #36: Martial Arts

My Beloved Daughter,

Before we get into the summer after my graduation, I’m going to go over another subject with you . . . something that hits close to home for both of us.  I know that it’s only been a recent thing that you and I have been practicing martial arts.  But, as you can tell from my writing, the interest has been there for years.

I mentioned in my entry about Strong, Arkansas, that the movie, American Ninja 2, had caused me to become obsessed with the ninja.  More than that, however, it caused me to become interested in the martial arts, in general.  After spending a weekend watching that movie over and over, I went to our little school library and checked out The Martial Arts by Susan Ribner and Dr. Richard Chin.  A treatise on the history of several styles of martial arts, it did not teach technique.  There were chapters on Kung Fu, Karate, Judo, and Aikido . . . to name a few.  There was a full chapter on the ninja, which I devoured eagerly.

Your Grandma Pat, pleased with the prospect of me doing something physically active, supported me taking lessons.  Unfortunately, the 400-person town, which didn’t even have a dedicated mail carrier, had no martial arts schools.  The nearest town, El Dorado, was an hour away and the idea of driving that far multiple times in a week was just not feasible.

My supportive mother did buy me a VHS tape called The Karate Daily Dozen Beginner’s Workout, which was taught by Danny Lane, a student of Chuck Norris.  Aside from a section on stretching, the video taught the jab, back-fist, reverse punch, low block, knife-hand block, high block, front kick, side kick, back kick, round kick, jump front kick, and jump side kick.  I practiced with it regularly for a week, until a well-meaning relative told me (mistakenly, if I now say so) that you “just can’t learn martial arts from a video.”  Discouraged, I put the tape away.

When we moved back to Van Buren, the bullying started up again.  Granted, it was never physical but I could have really used something to build my self-esteem.  I dropped gym after one day when the students ridiculed me for my slow running speed and inability to do a sit-up.  It didn’t help that they did this in front of the coach, who said nothing in my defense.  I ended up taking a less athletic alternative, Life Sports, that gave me my P.E. credit while learning to play Spades, Crochet, Golf, and Bowling . . . to name a few games.

To my surprise, I discovered, right after we had moved back there, that a man was teaching Karate in Van Buren!  The classes were held twice a week in the school cafeteria and they were very reasonable in price.  I spoke with the sensei over the phone and he seemed like a very kind man.  Grandma Pat ordered me a copy of the Century Martial Arts catalog and I had my gi all picked out.

Then I discovered that many of the same adolescents who had been ridiculing me were in that class.  I buckled and told your Grandma not to bother ordering the gi.

From that point on, I kept an academic interest in the martial arts but rarely a practical one.  While your mother and I were dating, I took a Tae Kwon Do class for a P.E. credit in college but, as I had so much on my plate—with planning for a wedding—I didn’t continue after the college class had ended.  Over the years, I’ve had people honor my writing by telling me that it felt as if I had a background in the fighting arts with my description of combat (not to toot my own horn, LOL).  But that couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

So now, I have you taking Muay Thai lessons.  Of course, you’re fourteen.  This just happens to be the age that I was when I first gained the interest in the martial arts.  I don’t ever want you to be bullied like I was . . . or worse.  We live in a dangerous world and I want you to always be safe.

As for me, you know that I just started Judo lessons.  At the ripe, old age of forty-three, I have just gotten my yellow belt.

But why Judo?  And why now?

I started going to the class to take your stepbrother.  During his time there, I watched the members of that class and grew to respect each of them.  Being a church-based ministry, the teammates are supportive of one-another and never put each other down.  So, when Jayson decided that he didn’t want to go anymore, I decided to give it a try.

It’s great fun.  Aside from the throws, I’ve gotten to the point where I can “fireman’s carry” some of the guys around the mat and I can do the wheelbarrows.  I still can’t stand on my head (and I just don’t think that I’ll ever be able to do so) and I still kind of suck and ground-fighting.  But I’m getting better and losing weight.  And my teammates’ support means so much to me.

And, by the way, while that book that I checked out at the little school library—all those years ago—is long-since out of print, I was able to procure a used copy from Amazon.  You can read it any time you’d like.

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Why I’ll Always Wear a White Gi as a Judoka

Since I started learning Judo, I’ve been watching a number of tips videos on YouTube.  Most of these are from Brazilian Jiujutsu trainers.  The reason for BJJ videos instead of Judo videos is that our coach has a rule against us watching “teaching” videos (until we’ve reached green belt) and the only videos of Judo instructors that I’ve managed to find have been instructors teaching techniques.  I’m not a rule-breaker so I’m avoiding them.

I’ve found videos from men on tips for training over forty.  I’ve found videos from men who talk about making homemade grappling mats.  I’ve watched (a while ago) videos on how to properly tie my belt.  I also watch videos on diet tips and a channel on weight loss and exercise for older men (run by a man who looks like a more physically-fit George W. Bush).  Some of my favorite videos are on gis.

BJJ practitioners will usually have a number of uniforms in which they practice, or so it seems from all of the videos that I’ve watched.  They have many different brands and colors.  They seem to run from traditional white to blue and black.

But I will always wear white.

In Japanese Judo, a black gi stands for the “invisible student.”  This means that the student who wears it—in Japan—does not interact or train with the other students.  I guess this is a punishment, or it could be that the student doesn’t want to spar . . ..

A blue gi means that you have competed in a competition.  One competitor wears the blue gi so that the two of them can be told apart from a distance.

So, as our Judo club is traditional, I won’t be wearing a black gi (I like interacting with my fellow students) and I won’t be wearing blue (we are not a competitive club, being a church ministry . . . not that I have any interest in competing, anyway).  So, no matter what belt color I wear, I will always wear a white gi.

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Namido St. Louis

One of the greatest compliments that I get from my readers is that they think, based on my descriptions of combat, that I am a trained martial artist.  I’ve heard this multiple times.  I always kind of chuckle when I’m asked what style I studied.

The truth is that the extent of my martial arts training was a half-semester taekwondo class as a P.E. credit in college.  That and a Tae-Bo video.

My books were never intended to be a treatise on the martial arts.  The ADVENTURE CHRONICLES is my tribute to 80s martial arts movies.  My interest in the martial arts influenced these books, for sure.  But only from an academic level . . . not a practical one.

Fast forward to now.  I’m about to begin Judo lessons.

I stumbled across Namido St. Louis by accident when one of my friends, Chad Daugherty, posted on Facebook that his friend needed to raise money to buy new mats for his Judo school.  This was July 3.  I went to the friend’s page—one Samuel “Shmuly” Pilkinton—and added him as a friend, as well.  I then sent him a message asking him how much lessons were.

To my shock, he told me that they were free.  Even the belt tests are free.  All we had to buy was the gi.  And an athletic cup.  The lessons are a ministry and meet twice a week at the Sanctuary, a Pentecostal church in Hazelwood, MO.

Initially, this was just for my stepson.  I’ve been going to the lessons simply to take Jayson.  He’s really enjoyed the training and has already earned his yellow belt.  I struck up a friendship with the coach, who prefers to be called Shmuly, due to being an ethnic Jew who has become a Christian.  That’s the Jewish way of saying Samuel.  He’s a kind man and he, being Pentecostal (and, incidentally, Arminian) puts in some good-natured ribbing against Calvinism in class often, just to make me feel like part of the group.

A few weeks ago, the oldest student in the class, Drew, told me that he had initially taken his kids and just watched.  Then, because he was starting to feel the “pains of aging,” he started doing the non-Judo exercises.  Finally, he joined the class, too.  Now, he also is a yellow belt.  I found myself intrigued, as I’m older than Drew by a few years and haven’t really started feeling these pains of age of which he was speaking.  What I do have is Type 2 Diabetes and a weight problem.

My doctor has put my wife and me on a low-carb, high fat diet.  This has worked extremely well for her, as she has lost over seventy pounds.  I have lost some weight but it’s coming off at a much slower rate.  I’m only down about twenty pounds.  So I’ve decided to join the class.

It’s been a process of preparation for me.  First of all, they do many exercises that scare me.  I haven’t done a push-up in twenty years.  Sit-ups have never been something that I’ve been particularly good at doing and a boy who just took his orange belt test had to answer the academic questions while standing on his head.  Shmuly suggested that I begin walking and doing push-ups.  The former is something that is not too bad.  We live on a block that is on an incline.  To walk around the block, I have to ascend a rather steep hill that shoots my heart rate through the roof.  For the push-ups, I’ve started with the ones where I pivot on my knees, rather than my feet.  They almost seem too easy, though, so I’m going to have to bite the bullet and just force myself to do some of the traditional ones . . . at least as many as I can.

My cousin bought me my gi as an early Christmas present.  I got a size seven, which wasn’t the largest one that they had, but it’s pretty darned big.  The jacket almost seems too big.  The pants, however, are not big enough.  I can’t even bring the ties together in the front and there is NO WAY that I could fit a cup in there.

So I’ve bought a pair of black sweatpants to wear until I’ve lost enough weight to fit into the proper pants.  I okayed this with Shmuly first, of course.  I’m waiting for my wife to order my cup from Amazon, as no store in this are carries one that’s big enough for me.  In the waist.

To lost weight, I’m going to try something that I saw on a YouTube video.  I’m going to have two boiled eggs and a slice of cheese for breakfast, a piece of fruit or a simple protein for lunch, and a sensible dinner.  I’ll do this for a week and measure to see if it really helps.  I’ve heard people swear by it.

So, to begin with, I am 42-years-old, weigh 291 pounds, and have a 48-inch waist.  I had blood work done on Tuesday and the doctor told me that, unless my A1C is really high, he is going to wean me off of Metformin.  If it was high, they were supposed to call me by Friday.  They did not, so maybe that’s a good sign there.  Let’s see how this goes as I join a Judo class as the oldest student.

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Legacy Blog #35: The Car Wreck

My Beloved Daughter,

Before we dive into the summer of 1993, we’re going to go back to another defining point in the life of our family.  My senior year, I resolved to get perfect attendance for the first time ever.  But it was not to be.

I was in Mrs. Hager’s typing class when Dana Lofton came in and told me that my uncle was coming to pick me up from school.  There had been an accident.  Uncle Junior told me that your Uncle Kenny had been in a car wreck and was unconscious in a hospital in Northern Arkansas.  Your Grandparents and I were going down there.

Someone had anonymously reported the wreck.  Kenny had slammed into the wall of an overpass, too stoned from marijuana to be able to function.  The crash had left only room in the car for his body.  It was a miracle that he survived it at all.  The doctor at the good-for-nothing hospital that he had been taken to first couldn’t figure out why he was unconscious and actually shook him to try to awaken him.  When he was finally transferred to a Veteran’s hospital in Memphis, they realized that he had a broken neck.  That idiot doctor could have killed him by shaking him without even having x-rays done.  She probably did contribute to the brain damage.

It took months of recovery.  His head was put in a halo so that he couldn’t move it while his neck healed.  At first, he would wake up but not be able to talk.  He knew we were there and would weep when we would leave.  On the plus side, the nurse who took such good care of him in that hospital was African American and Kenny seemed to overcome the racism that he had picked up from your Grandma Pat’s first husband.

It was during this time that I met Kenny’s cousin.  I’ll call him D.  D was Kenny’s biological father’s nephew so, thankfully, was no relation to you or me.  He would brag about being “Kenny Jr.” in such a boisterous way, one might believe him.  But, as he truly wanted to “be” Kenny, he went so far as to betray your uncle in such a way as to destroy a part of his life while he was still in the coma.  I won’t go into it here but, if you ever want to know what D did, just ask me verbally.

The halo was still on after I graduated.  Kenny, estranged from his wife because of the very thing that caused him to need her the most, was forced to live with your GG.  The summer after I graduated, I bought your cousins, Sarah and Kody, a Super NES.  I left it at GG’s apartment, where your Uncle Kenny played it with them.

Their mother sold it.

Kenny never quite got back to normal.  Though still strong as an ox, his speech is slow and slurred from the brain damage.  He walks with a pronounced limp from damage to his leg.  His personality changed so much.  We love your uncle.  We always will.  But we miss seeing the old, confident Kenny.

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FULL CIRCLE is Released . . . and Earns an Award!

This past weekend, I attended the Burg Con in Harrisburg, IL.  It was great fun, with me being on a Q&A panel for self-publishers, led by the always boisterous Brian K. Morris.  Also included were comic-creator Sean Dulaney, “Mike and the Ninja” creator Brian Rhodes, and Indavo creator (and my cover artist) Nathan Bonner.

The day of the event was the official release date of FULL CIRCLE, the sixth volume of the Adventure Chronicles series.  The ebook is available for 99 cents for the next two weeks.

On top of all that, the book has already won its first award.  Check out Peter Younghusband’s review here.

I’m hoping to get back to editing some friends’ work now.  Also, I hope to get back to updating this blog more frequently.

Until next time, God Bless.

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