Monday, March 23, 2015

CS Thompson, Author

From Texas USA, welcome Author CS Thompson. Currently residing in Tennessee, CS has a long list of accomplishments. He was an All-State shot putter in his high school and college years (Ohio University track team), while pursuing education in classical philosophy and eastern mysticism.  CS finished his degree at North Central College in psychology and then to Wheaton College Graduate School for a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology.  After graduating, he took a job as a counselor at Naperville Community Outreach and taught part time at North Central College.  A year later he was recruited by King College to move to Bristol, Tennessee to be the director of the school’s counseling center. 

Through personal experiences and life events, the Epistle of James became a focal point for CS.  Between 1995 and 2005 he wrote four applied theology books based on James, designed and taught two college courses based on James; Spiritual Formation and The Epistle of James and Introduction to Christian Counseling.  His interested in James eventually led him to write his first novel, The Bishop of Jerusalem.

Currently CS and his wife, Barb, enjoy their children and grandchildren, as well as travel to locations like, Tuscany, Italy, Washington, DC, and New Orleans that provide settings for his Natasha McMorales mystery novels.

What motivated you to write your first novel?
My first novel was The Bishop of Jerusalem.  It is a historical novel about the last five days in [the Apostle] James’ life.  Up to that point everything I had written was related to mental health and spiritual formation, and the last three books were all applications of the first chapter [in the Holy Bible] of James. These books formed the basis for a college class entitled “Spiritual Formation and the Epistle of James.”

So after years of operating in the marketplace with a moderate level of expertise on James, I came across an account of his death.  I was shocked because it is an intriguing story, but I had never heard it. I assumed most folks hadn’t heard it either.  It had to be written.  The first draft took 3 months.  It flew out of me.  I did quite a bit of research on the culture of Jerusalem in 62AD for the second draft and that took another year.

Are your characters based upon your own life scenarios? 
Yes.  One of my first books was From Mount Carmel to Mount Horeb: Elijah’s Journey Through Depression which came about because my depression after being cast aside by a church I was serving as a youth pastor seemed parallel to what I read about Elijah. I have been writing mystery novels since then.  I have 6 Why Mystery novels (each title begins with Why?”). The protagonist in the Why Mysteries is a woman detective named Nattie Moreland and she is a ‘caretaker’ from her dysfunctional family of origin.  The ‘caretaker’ adaptation is how she solves crimes, because she is so other focused, non-threatening, engaging, and self-effacing that people open up and tell her things they would not normally share.  She is not based on one of my clients, but rather several hundred of my clients.  She is my homage to caretaking women with whom I may have spent thousands of hours.

In Why Now? I tried writing in first person with a character named Jack who is introduced on a trip to St. Lucia with his wife.  He had several misadventures and I had each and every one of them first.  One misadventure was when Jack (and I) was told that he couldn’t enter the restaurant his wife most wanted to attend because he was wearing sandals without black socks.  Jack (and I) had to beg several newlyweds to buy a pair of black socks. 

Please share an excerpt from one of your novels...
Excerpt from  Martha’s Story,  chapter 27 of  Jasper Lilla and the Wolves of Banner Elk.  Martha is the first person to experience the wolves chronologically although it is not the first encounter the readers are exposed to.  Jasper and Riley go to Banner Elk to hear Martha’s story because Jasper is having a hard time coping with his encounters with the wolves.  This book has just been released...

The phone rang, and for a brief moment Martha almost regretted her decision. “It’s easy,” the Lexus salesman had told her. “You can control almost everything, even your iPhone, from the steering wheel.” Easy for my grandson, she remembered thinking. Just after the third ring went quiet, she found the phone button and pushed it with her thumb.
“Hello, Mary,” greeted Martha before her daughter could speak.
“Well . . . how is it?” asked Mary.
“How is what?” replied Martha, knowing full well what she was being asked.
“Your graduation present.” That’s what Mary called Martha’s new car. It was really a retirement present, but since she was retiring after thirty-five years as a school librarian, it was a graduation from school in a way. It was also the first and only extravagance Mary had ever seen her mother indulge herself with. Mary’s father had abandoned them when she was a child, leaving Martha with a newborn baby and a load of debt.
“It’s too fancy for me,” declared Martha. “I’m thinking of taking it back.” She wasn’t thinking of returning the Lexus at all. Although she was still disoriented with all the gadgets it was equipped with, the driving was exquisite. The seat fit her perfectly, the steering wheel moved effortlessly, and the gas pedal worked like it was an extension of her foot. She drove it off the lot and got it up to ninety-five miles an hour before getting scared. She had no idea how fast it would go, but clearly it would go faster than she would.
“You’re such a Martha,” said Mary.
“You’re no Mary,” came the familiar banter. It was a ritual they began just after Mary’s adolescence when they became as much friends as mother and daughter. Truly, each, in her own way, was more Martha than Mary. Both were independent, responsible, hardworking, and maternal.
“Where are you anyway?” asked Mary.
Martha looked around at the winding road with thick woods on either side. “I don’t know for sure,” she said. “Somewhere between Elk Park and Banner Elk.”
Mary laughed. “Well, have a good time, Mom. Don’t forget about your doctor’s appointment.”
“Yes, Mom,” said Martha as she hung up.
Accelerating through the next turn made her giggle, but then something caught her eye and made her jam on the brakes. Her tires squealed, and the rear end wobbled as she screeched to a stop.
Parked on the side of the road was an old red pickup truck with the rear passenger side up on a jack. A man lay face down next to the jack.
Martha pulled her car behind the pickup and jumped out. “Are you okay,” she said, rushing forward.
The man didn’t move as she knelt down next to him. She knew immediately that something was strange when she touched him. There was no warmth in his body, but he felt more like a stuffed animal than dead. Her hand recoiled. A sick feeling in her stomach swelled as she slowly retreated from the body, only then noticing the absence of exposed skin and the unnatural curve to the elbows.
A dummy, Martha told herself as she backed farther away without taking her eyes off the scene. Who would play such a cruel joke?
The answer she didn’t want came suddenly as a strong arm draped across her from behind, clamping her against someone who was much taller and much stronger than she. “Thanks for stopping, darlin’,” said a deep voice that made her shudder as she flailed.
He just laughed and tightened his grip, lifting her off her feet as if she were a rag doll.
She wasn’t strong enough to loosen his grip, so she dug at his forearm with her nails. His denim jacket repelled her efforts to claw at him as easily as his strength had repelled her attempts to wiggle free.
“Help me,” she screamed as he began lugging her into the woods.
She went quiet as her terror sank into something well beyond panic.
As he walked he carried her on his left hip, still using only his left arm to subdue her. Then he stopped suddenly and slung her to the ground. She was jolted as she landed on her tailbone.
“Why are you doing this?” she pleaded.
“I’m a lion,” he said, “and you’re a lamb.” He retrieved his cell phone from his back pocket. “It stinks for you, but that’s the way it is.” He placed his right foot on her left arm, pinning her to the ground while he typed something on his phone.
He’s talking; that’s good. Talk to him. Make him see you as a person. She wasn’t sure where in her memory that strategy came from, but she had no other options.
“I’m Martha. Martha Bonhoffer.”
He watched her talk, but his expression didn’t change. He pressed his foot harder on her arm.
“I have a daughter named Mary and a grandson named Frankie.”
He kept watching expressionlessly as he put his phone away.
“I’m a librarian.” Her voice trembled. “Actually I was a librarian, and now I’m retired.” She swallowed hard. “I’m a retired librarian.”
“You’re a lamb,” he said flatly. He bent down beside her head and tried to grab a handful of her hair.
She pushed at his hands, but he easily gathered her wrists and clamped them together in his huge right hand. Then he reached again for her hair. Once he had a firm grip on her hair, he let go of her wrists. Standing, he lifted her halfway up his thigh.
“Please don’t do this,” she blubbered as she struggled. “I was trying to help you. How could you do this to me? I was trying to help you.”
She was sobbing so hard that she could no longer see. He began dragging her along the ground. Her head banged against his knee when he stopped abruptly. He lowered her to a seated position and then went rigid. Martha wondered if he had heard something. She couldn’t see anything. Fear stopped her from crying out for help again. She wiped the tears from her face. That’s when she saw the wolf standing at the edge of the clearing directly in front of them—the biggest wolf she had ever seen. It was all white, and it just stared at them.
Once she could focus again, Martha noticed that the wolf’s eyes were fixated on the man standing behind and above her. The man slid his hands under her arms and lifted her up, holding her there between him and the wolf.
Coward, she thought.
She nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard a high-pitched growl directly behind them. The man swung her around so that the two wolves were now on either side of them. The first wolf was still standing in the same place at the edge of the clearing to her left, and the second was on her right. Martha felt the man’s grip tighten as a third and fourth wolf emerged from the underbrush in front of them. Pushing her forward, he began creeping backward.
Everything was happening in slow motion now. She noticed that none of the wolves were baring their teeth, which would be a sign of aggression. She also noticed that none of them were paying her any mind at all.
Standing perfectly still she gathered her arms around herself. Now there were six wolves—three sets of pairs, and the man was backing away from them.
Without so much as a glance at her, the wolves directly in front of her moved past her. Once they were beyond her, she began making her way toward the road.
“Hey,” her assailant called out to her. “Aren’t you going to help me?”
She looked back over her shoulder. The man was in the middle of the clearing, completely surrounded by what were now four pairs of wolves. The wolves were all in wider stances—heads bent forward, their back hair standing on end, all clear signs of aggression.
“I don’t know what to do,” he begged her.
He looked as pitiful as anyone Martha had ever seen. She felt sorry for him until she remembered. Then turning away, she said, “Tell them you’re a lion.”

Why is the Apostle James intriguing to you? 
Had you asked me what my go-to Bible books were, I’d have told you John up until about 1990.  That’s when I came to King University as the Director of Counseling.  I was asked to speak during chapel a couple of times a year and I tended to pick my topic by going about my normal counseling duties until something occurred in the therapy room and a light bulb would go off in my head telling me that what my client and I just said to each other is what the campus needed to hear as well.  After several years of this I noticed that it was almost always James, and not John, that I used as my text.  It was then that I realized that my go-to Bible book for my work, my calling, was James.  That is when I began writing The James Prescription.    

Do you reference Scripture and Bible events in your novels?
My Spiritual Formation books and the James novel are all loaded with scripture.  As a matter of fact in the original version of The Bishop of Jerusalem, the last line of each chapter is a line from the first chapter of James.  You could simply read the last line of each chapter and you would have read the first chapter of James.  My editor said it was too cute and so we changed it, but you can still see the remnant of it.

In the Why Mysteries, Nattie is not a Christian, but she is a seeker of truth and I have her meet Bible believing people of all sorts.  Her step-father is a religious zealot who leads Bible discussions at lunch every Sunday. Although Nattie tends to fly under the radar in these discussions, her
creative under-achieving brother, Kevin, always eggs Nattie’s step-father on.  So in my novels the Bible is more of a background and is included in such a way as to not be a stumbling block to someone mildly hostile to Christianity.  I go so far as to let Kevin have a little fun at his fundamentalist step-father’s expense.

In the Jasper Lilla Chronicles there are no overt Biblical references but the over-arching theme is about the futility of ignoring one’s calling.  

You have great book covers. Do you design your own covers? Do you believe book covers determine marketing and book sales?
Thank you very much.  The Bishop was designed by Crossroads publishing.  The other Spiritual Formation books are all CreateSpace templates.  Why Natasha? was designed around a photo I took in Italy by a local marketing company.  Why Him?, Why Me?, and Why Bristol were done by that same company, but I designed Why Bristol?.  Why Knox? is actually a painting by Kent Paulette.  He allowed me to use it as a cover. It was implemented by Cam Collins who also manages my website.  Why Now? and Jasper Lilla were both designed by me and implemented by Cam. You can’t sell a book that goes unnoticed and I think covers are what get books noticed. 

What are your views of world events and the impact it has on American culture? 
I think American culture can be a bit oblivious to world events.  We don’t usually notice or get upset by atrocities in the world until our movie stars get upset about them and that is not so good.  We are certainly upset by ISIS but we aren’t letting that affect us much, and that is good (maybe).

As a world traveler, where in the world is your favorite place to visit?
The people of Uganda were the friendliest people I have ever been around, but the place I’d go back to over and over is Tuscany because of the beauty of the countryside, the food, the wine, and because Florence is a moderate-sized city with history and sites that are only second to Rome, Paris, or London (all of which have the crowds and filth of a major city).

What are you currently writing?
Currently I’m writing the sequel to Jasper Lilla and the Wolves of Banner Elk.  The working title is Escape From Asheville, but I’m not at all happy with that title because I’m not yet settled on Asheville being the featured place.  This is a trilogy with the 3rd title, Back to Boone.  I’m 17,000 words into book 2 and I have the last line of book 3 in my head.

What are you currently reading?
My wife and I are reading 7 Men by Eric Metaxas.  I’m reading Getting Past Your Past by Francine Shipiro for work and The Rook by Steven James for fun. 

Who is your favorite author?
My favorite author is Aaron Sorkin.  He writes for television and movies.  When my writing gets flat and I want to be inspired by touching characters that intertwine around both sides of an issue I watch “West Wing.”  Sorkin can make me cry more than any other author.

Do you have advice for novice writers?
I suppose the common advice is often, “If you want to be a writer you must write.”  That is good advice, but I’ll add this, “If you want to write you must be a writer.”  I know that sounds like double talk, but here’s why I say it: what makes a writer is thinking of yourself as a writer, which you cannot do without actually writing.  But just writing isn’t enough. Thinking of yourself as a writer means that you are a writer even when you are not writing.  If ‘writer’ is part of your identity then the writer part of your mind is ALWAYS nearby.  No matter what you are doing, whether you are writing or doing anything else, your writing can be enhanced.  At any moment a writer can/will be inspired for a plot twist or the turn of a phrase or even the perfect name for a character not yet thought of.

Describe your bucket list…
Other than seeing the Cubs win the World Series and to lose 40 pounds, my bucket list is to stay married to my wife, keep doing the work God called me to do, continue enjoying writing, and watching all my grandchildren blossom into the adults God envisioned when He made them.

Connect with CS…
http://csthompsonbooks.com/


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