Warning: This is not a young-adult novel. It contains violence, adult situations, language, and strong sexuality.
Below is a brief description and a sample chapter, followed by my comments and observations on my experience writing Godstruck!
ISBN-13: 978-0615637907 (MacRyan)
Keywords: Religion, Evil, USA, Fundamentalism, Salvation
Publication date: May 26th, 2012
BISAC: Fiction / Religious
Available from Amazon in paperback (6"x9") for less than $7
ebook for $0.99
Back-cover blurb:It might surprise many people to learn that the USA is, in its grass roots, just as fundamentalist a nation as is any Islamic republic. Passionate religious fervor drives at least fifty percent of the electorate and through it, faith is striving to push back hard-won freedoms on every front.
Belief is working to defeat or contain advances in so many areas, including scientific research and medicine.
What if, in this blinkered horse-race, the reins were lost and in the future, through one blunder after another, the USA became even more deeply invested in fundamentalism?
When blind and power-hungry people adorn themselves with the raiment of gods, it's ordinary, everyday people whose lives become Hell.
This is the story of someone, in the not-too-distant future, who fought that good fight.
"And it shall be, that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire...."
The inharmonious tones of the congregation died rapidly, absorbed by the thick air and the parched, ancient woodwork in the creaking, weather-beaten church.
The morning breeze had failed miserably, and a mean sun slouched in the pale, glaring sky. The blistering silence outside would have been complete were it not for the swish and sweep of brushwood piled high by two old men, sweating in their dirty habits.
The Preacher Joshua Brand stood erect in the pulpit and gripped the worn rim as though he feared its support would fail him. His fingers looked bony even to the miserable light examining them secretly through windows shrouded only, hardly, by ragged drapes.
Topped and tailed with thin hair and thinner lips, his starved, sallow face looked like he wore it inside out; deep, close-set eyes, hunched cheeks and a carved, hook nose did not belong together and could only have been corralled by the cruel, fire-hardened steel of his visage. It was a face which did not endear him to his flock, but The Preacher Joshua Brand cared not an iota for the opinion of sheep. He was a Manogod: woe betide anyone who doubted him and double-woe betide anyone who gainsaid him.
When he spoke, his voice growled like one of the stringy, wild dogs hunting, haunting the parish. "Children of My Fold!" it barked, "We are gathered together once more on this Happy Day of God to Exalt His Praises, to offer ourselves to His Mercy, and to re-avow our whole submission to His Divine Will."
The sheep knew only too well why they trudged to Church each Sabdy, but no one argued with The Preacher, regardless of what he said. Their corns were free, but he owned their ears, and Brand hadn't shown up that day for the good of anyone's health.
Most of those present were savoring what would come once their duty, once The Will, had been done. Meanwhile they sat (the unlucky and tardy stood) in that stifling purgatory under the baleful glare of God and the Man in Black, praying as one that their suffering would not last long.
"It is of good fortune that most of you do what you must to Walk with The Lord," Brand preached, some phrases composed to rock a baby, others to stone a sinner. "You try to lead a right life; your work is adequate on a good day; you freely volunteer tithes whenever they are demanded; you do not consort unseemly with your neighbors, keeping profane hours and walking Ways of Evil."
Only the fire in Brand's eyes stood between sheep and sleep. It seemed to flare brilliantly, two coals oxygenated by a Divine Wind which inflated his voice with bellows. He drew a breath, and when he spoke, it was like he'd taken the air from his flock's lungs. "But there be some here today who are not content with the life God himself has ordained for them. Some are God-forsaking Sinsons!" he yelled, and his mouth snapped shut like the trapdoor of Hell, leaving his staring eyes to roam the crowd, searching.
His face was beatific now. His lips, flecked with the Holy Spittle, glittered in the dusty light as he spoke again, every other word a loaded forbear each person feared was aimed at them. His delivery of their daily bread was hoarse-drawn, reined tightly over a gravel drive. Some words were tossed like sheaves of wheat, others like unsheathed knives.
"Isaiah 45 tells us that God created Evil. He gave the Host of Saitn dominion over it in all the Earth, but Saitn cannot be a host alone; he must have a hostess! He could not lay Adam low without Eve to offer the Fruit of the Loin, the Apple of Her Thighs. He could not topple The Baptist until he lost his head over the contemptible hide of Solaime."
Brand paused for a moment and then said quickly, "Neither could he bring down the great Joseph of Egypt until a slut debased him."
The congregation was heedful now. Each time The Preacher opened the curtain on a Bible text, he found there a rod to punish someone, somewhere, for their foul wickedness. His audience was wan in its attentiveness, each member listening anxiously as they sought to determine if he rustled the branches of their own family tree.
"Everywhere in God's Holy Word, we see it is Woe-man who is The Temptress, yet man pays the Wages of Sin. So shall it be today, for there is a Wayward in Zonabasar! This village harbors a she-child brought low by Saitn because she will not Walk with God!
She must be punished, and God's Servant shall see it so, but we can't forget the Part of Man! Without this part, Saitn could produce no Sinsons. Without the wielding of the Staff of Life, there would be no chaff from God's Thrashing House."
Brand's burning eyes had begun to scorch the offending member. Not shifting, not blinking, he went on, "The Part of Man grew in this little Ministry of Saitn; it swelled and stretched until it divided an Innocent from God, spoiling her eternity! This Sinson must now be Cleansed by Holy Fire!"
The boy in the front row became suddenly aware that he was the subject of Brand's Sermonstration. His name was Raka Mamzer. Born under a gibbous moon, an accident of birth had rendered him sluggish of mind. Until that moment, he had no inkling that he was today's lesson. Divine neglect left Raka with a loser's hand, and no wit to know it. He fumbled along, ignorant of what he was and why people laughed at him, nor even sure that they did.
His paparod had his mamalukah stoned to death when he saw how deformed of face the newbabe was. That awful thing with the red face and dull, almond eyes was no offspring of his, and he'd rightfully abandoned mother and child.
No one knew how Raka had covered the ground between birth and his twelfth year. He had concept neither of time of day nor day of week, yet ill-health and foul weather combined couldn't keep him from his spot on the early bench in Church. He was a lot more faithful to his God than his God would ever be to him.
He spent nearly all his time, day and night, in the corn fields. One day, he'd been sleeping, trying to rid himself of a woeful tiredness which seemed to have chosen to plague him of late, when the whoring vixen came to him. Jesse-Belle had gazed fixedly into those curious blue eyes and told him it was time to lose his childage; she would show him how to manage.
Though she'd been ripe since her buds appeared two springs before, no man had dared dally with Jesse-Belle, for the Wages of Sin is Death. There were few women ripe in the village, and fewer still who were not Cloven. None but Jesse-Belle had such qualities of youth and fitness that she could be rightly Cloven to The Lord.
Friendless, she led a lonely life, spying on the couplings of her brother and his spouse, with whom she claimed home. She wasn't satisfied, but most other women were ugly as goats and all men were sheep in the fields. She'd shucked too many cold, unyielding ears of corn; there was no Harmony there. She'd grown closer to Raka because he wasn't afraid to be seen with her. They said he was slow, but after watching her gasping, grasping brother and his grim-faced wife hammering desperate, furtive Harmony into each other, slow was what she wanted. Raka was charming in his tame way, and gentler than the men of Zonabasar; she would not have minded cleaving to him were the choice hers to make, but she was a mere girl, less than Woe-man even, and she had no choices.Raka had never heard such sweet choirs as were in Jesse-Belle's voice that day; the serenade parading from her crucial lips was a mystery. Neither had he seen the Accursed Thing which she showed him, soft, furry, and moist as a newly-hatched chick, but he knew that life, the most wonderful miracle of all, did come from that Holy accursed abode.
This is why women, though Sinsons all, hold the special place. The Holiman Jo-Nathan Peresh had so preached at Church one day. Holiman Peresh, not even a Bishepherd was sitting in his rightful place below Brand, since Brand was a Preacher. Peresh was not worthy to preach when a Preacher or a Bishepherd was visiting.
Even God can't create life without a womb to take it from, but Jesse-Belle's lilting, musical supplications were not being offered to any God. Instead, they fell upon Raka.
"In the beginning," she hummed, "Was The Word, and The Word was God, and The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. Here is flesh, Raka! Here is God! Here is His gift to all kind man."
Jesse-Belle's word offered flesh: a sweet, warm, succulent, young, innocent, tantalizing, clean, moist, Holiest of Holies. Her legs and lips were parted; on a smooth hip rested one hand, on a soft thigh, the other.
Her shoulders were square, forcing precocious breasts to a tension, shivering with each heartbeat, stretching out to him with each nervous breath. Her tummy, tight and flat with youth, promised delightful resilience. Her eyes were as bright as church candles, glinting a challenge in the hot afternoon sun. She was naked, and she was not ashamed.
Jaw agape, eyes feasting, Raka finally managed to whisper, "You're uncovered, Miss Jesse-Belle!"
Jesse-Belle's laugh tinkled deliciously. "Yes, Raka! Now you must be so, or God will be angry with us. You must not refuse His gift!"
She'd lain with him that day and shown him what to do, first with his fingers, then with his Part of Man. It was a taste of Heaven. Afterwards, as they lay like panting dogs in the hot corn, the ears grew eyes; they were the impassioned eyes of God.
Raka managed to gasp a curiously strangled "No!" which was lost on The Church. His struggles to escape the impassive, unforgiving crowd were a futile Genesis to Revelation; his own piety had trapped him front and center. It was easy work for three burly Habs in drab brown robes, to see him and seize him.
"The Sinson condemns himself!" The Preacher Brand called with glee. "God has revealed the Truth I have spoken. Praise be!"
"Praise be!" the congregation chanted joyously, every one of them offering a hurried prayer of thanks and contrition, overwhelmed that God had spared them in his mercy.
"Take him to be Cleansed by Fire!" The Preacher commanded.
"By fire!" the congregation roared, and there was a stampede.
The Cleansing meant food, and only the quick were the fed. Raka's protests were of interest only to himself. Did not the Apostle James say: For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of The Lord? God had spoken. No one could escape His Judgment.
Happy to be free from the sweltering Church, the mob renewed their frenzied shouting as the prisoner, struggling weakly, was swept to the Chaffire. Stripped naked, the prisoner was secured to The Holy Pyre with twine, more brush piled at his feet.
The Preacher stepped forward, book in hand. He read from the First Epistle of Saint Peter to encourage rectitude in members of His Church: "That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of Gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. Praise be!"
Brand handed the huge book to his assistant and produced a knife honed to a razor's edge. With a movement so swift it was miraculous, he grasped Raka's hangings and sliced them clean away from him. "It is profitable for thee that thy member should perish," he proclaimed, "and not that thy whole body be cast into hell, where the worm dieth not, and the fire be not quenched."
He strutted rapidly away and tossed the soft pipe organs, a bloody mess, high over the crowd where the dogs could stalk them. The first, performing full of show, swallowed his pride tastelessly not even leaving odor for the others. Meanwhile, Brand had dropped a flaming torch onto the bone-dry brush and a furnace roar drowned Raka's bottled cries, the flames licking him easily. He was unconscious before his legs began to blacken and dead when they were.
So whence Godstruck!?
I wrote the first draft of this a very long time ago, so I can’t remember where the initial idea came from. Obviously I wanted to write something about the danger of religious fundamentalism and about the pitfalls inherent in giving a free pass to any group simply because its members claim that they have the imprimatur of some god or other upon their beliefs and actions.
Personally, I don’t care what religion people follow as long as it's hurting no one and they're not sacrificing animals. I only object when they try to force others to believe as they do. No one has the right to force their beliefs upon others when those beliefs come without any foundation in any kind of objective evidence, especially when those beliefs come from primitive and scientifically ignorant scribes with nothing but an ax to grind, and most especially when the past record of that belief system has been one of abuse and misery for all-too-many people.
But we know all of this from the past - or we should; unfortunately, far too many have not learned the lesson of how bad things were under a theocracy regardless of what religious bent that theocracy had. They may see it now in other nations but they forget that this same evil held sway right here at home, too; however, I saw no benefit in setting the story in the past: it was too limiting and would offer little of the warning I wanted to convey. It was far better to set this story in a potential future - a future which even now is a genuine possibility if we do not guard against it.
The intention of Godstruck!, then was to show how readily things can fall apart; how easily freedoms can be lost, and how rapidly our society can revert to the dark ages when a religion which has no roots whatsoever in rationality or objective evidence is allowed free rein and so reigns.
All-too-many of us sit watching TV, smug in our self-congratulatory enlightenment when we hear of some religious evil in some other country: a schoolgirl shot in the head for the "crime" of wanting an education, women treated like possessions or second class citizens, death sentences handed out for the purportedly apostastic act of merely writing a novel, children raised in ignorance of the wonder, beauty, utility and necessity of science.
It’s been so long since religion held real governmental power in the west that we've comfortably forgotten the evils that Judaism and Christianity perpetrated historically. The Bible itself records the appalling slaughter in which the ancient Hebrews routinely indulged over land in the Middle East. We should not take Bible stories as gospel (!), but those stories weren't fantasized out of nothing. Those behaviors in the Old Testament make a mockery of any claim for their god's supposed long-suffering attitude or abiding love.
Much more recently, history records the sweep of Islam around the Mediterranean rim and the shameful conduct of Christians in crusades, witch hunts, and inquisitions. It’s frighteningly easy to delude oneself that such things couldn’t possibly happen today, but the truth is that they could be here tomorrow. That blind confidence is what people had before World War 2 took off, and look what happened there when the religion of Aryanism came to power.
Remember that Germany was largely Catholic, yet none of that religious dedication checked Hitler's rise to power or the mind-bendingly appalling crimes conducted under his regime. Guilty believers routinely lie that Hitler was an atheist, but he was not; not even close. He was a Catholic who wrote in Mein Kampf that he was, in ridding the world of "the Jews", doing god's work. That shows how deranged he was, given that the god he worshiped and to which he referred was the god of the Hebrews! It also demonstrates how very easy, once you lose the bedrock of rationality, it is to slip into worshiping gods and elide from that to self-worship, and to self-justification which the Nazis embraced boldly and confidently. If lessons cannot be learned from this then there really is little hope for us all.
As far as the novel's protagonist is concerned I don’t recall where the name Jay Ballard came from. When I was younger and I became interested in writing commercially, I used to make a note of cool names that I heard or dreamed up. Some of these were later used in novels, including that one. The rest of the names in Godstruck! are essentially Biblical, reflecting the culture change brought about by the resurgence of fundamentalism in the story.
Some of the events and actions in that novel may seem rather extreme, but they're really not, given religion's track-record of abuse, brutality, and torture which continues largely unabated to this day, and has recently been widely highlighted by the Catholic church's child-rape scandals and its lack of spine, to say nothing of its lack of contrition, in dealing with them.
Having begun with my premise, I was forced to decide how Jay could deal with the religious horror in which he lived. It was obvious that someone as un-empowered as he was would never be able to overturn the whole thing, and that he could make no impression at all in the little backwater where he lived. He needed to leave there and perhaps assault some center of power to start the revolution, but why would he? Where would he find the impetus, or the courage?
I needed to have him motivated and to get him out of there; a motorbike seemed to be the best way because it gave him an out in at least two ways: it was the physical means by which he would leave, and it had also the novelty to fully imbue him with his growing conviction that society was seriously and ignorantly drifting ever further from reality.
The bike also satisfied two more necessities: that of getting Jay into so much trouble that he was left with no alternative but to run, and that of providing for an ending which would make a real impression on the people without being contrived or too 'Hollywood'.
Yes, the bike was problematical in that it wasn't likely to have lasted in running order for the length of time that had passed, and the gasoline might well have evaporated in those years, but I noted that the tires were made of a special material, and it was obvious that the climate norm was that of being frighteningly dry. The gasoline was well-sealed, so I hoped that readers would forgive me a bit of sleight of hand (as opposed to slight of audience!) in order to augment and facilitate the drama. Let's face it (and thereby efface it!): it’s nothing worse than Hollywood routinely gets away with!
Unlike the writers of the Biblical book of Genesis, I'm not someone who feels that the protagonist must have a partner (and certainly not that the partner must be of another gender!), but again it's expected in stories (perhaps too often!), and it did work for this one because it facilitated advancing the story during the road trip (not that the roads were much to speak of!), as opposed to Jay doing nothing but internal monologues which would really get us nowhere since he had nothing new to reveal after all we'd learned of him in the first few of chapters!
The road trip allowed another perspective on the antagonist's personal 'brand' of evil, and gave an overview of how out of control and pervasive the evil was. It also tied Jay to his destination and linked him back to his origin.
The doctor appeared in order to explain how the world got into the position it was in. There are, of course, many routes to this end, so the one I added was not definitive. Actually, the original draft of the novel stopped right there when Jay met the doctor. It sat for years unfinished. For some reason I couldn’t get it going again. It was only when I started thinking of publishing my stuff by myself that I returned to it. It was unacceptable to me to have a novel in a nearly complete state and not finish it, so I knuckled down and wrote my way through it in the month or so before I published it online.
I can't pretend that I'm overly thrilled with the very last page or so, but I didn’t want to have some out-of-place, high-tech ending or something improbably Hollywood. The story needed 'simple' and 'uplifting' and the ending is at least that. As far as the rest of the new writing goes, between the doctor and that last page, I'm very pleased with what I wrote. As for the rest of the writing, it was weird to go back into that after so long away from it and to try to get my head around it once again, but it was heartening to see how well (again in my immodest opinion) I’d written so much of it, so the editing process wasn't a nightmare at all.
It felt really good to find that I could get back on board and write well, keeping it within the tone of the original work, and have the characters do what I wanted them to do in a natural way. That ending (or more accurately, the lack of one!) had bothered me for a long time; that is, it had been a sticking point and I could not figure out exactly what I wanted to do. In the end it went in a way I hadn't envisaged until I wrote it, and that end feels right. It feels like those two, and it feels like what they would do.
Is this a great book? I think it's fine. I don’t think it’s spectacular. I don’t think it’s lousy. I do think it’s as good as any other typical novel out there. I think it brings an interesting perspective to religious fiction, and so is well-worth reading. I enjoyed it! But the bottom line is that only time and a potential audience will decide the truth of what it really is! Thanks for reading about it!