We just learned yesterday that the third book of the Stonegate seriex, A Fire in the West, had recieved a 5-Star review from Reader's Favorite reviewer, Ray Simmons. This means that all three books in the trilogy have earned the coveted 5-Star seal and can display it in advertising and promotions.
One thing to realize is that Reader's Favorite only posts 4-Star and 5-Star ratings. Lesser ratings are not displayed. Those books that do not merit at least four stars are not rated, and a private critique given to the author instead. A review of the Reader's Favorite site reveals that it is difficult to earn the highest rating for three books in a row. So Lucia Mudgway and I are pleased to get this recognition.
We are so pleased, that we are posting the entire review below:
A Fire in the West by Harry James Fox and Lucia Midgway is the third book in the Stonegate series. I read the first two and they are great. They are both award winning novels. If you haven’t read them, I strongly advise that you do so. It is a great pleasure for me to catch up with familiar characters who now feel like old friends to me. It is just as pleasurable to discover new characters, some of whom are the sons and daughters of old favorites. If you are determined to read this third book in the series first, rest assured that it is a complete standalone work and can be enjoyed without reading the first two books. You just won’t have the advantage and pleasure of knowing the exciting history that precedes the events of this book.
I was impressed by how much the writing and storytelling style has improved in A Fire in the West. Not that it was ever bad. If it was, I wouldn’t have bothered reading the previous two books. But it has improved in ways that I like. There is more emphasis on the details of frontier life and the intricacies of military planning and strategy. The plot is a little tighter than in the first two books, and the characters just a bit more developed. Again, those first two books are awesome, but Harry James Fox and Lucia Midgway haven’t let success make them complacent. Instead, if anything, they have stepped up their already great game.
We were honored when our second book in the Stonegate Series, The False Prophet won a silver medal from Literary Titan. Literary Titan said this about the award-winning books: "The Literary Titan Book Awards are awarded to books that have astounded and amazed us with unique writing styles, vivid worlds, complex characters, and original ideas. These books deserve extraordinary praise and we are proud to acknowledge the hard work, dedication, and imagination of these talented authors."
Guest Post by Lucia Mudgway
The question for every serious Christian writer should be…where does one draw the line between Christianity and Commercialism? Is the lure of money enough to make us want to throw in our values, integrity and love of Christ to produce a popular money making secular novel fit for an audience who want to digest and consume stories of lust, greed and the perverse side of our human condition glorified to create a best seller?
Of course for Christians, the answer has to be No. We cannot represent our faith and all it stands for by glorifying humanity in all its fallen states, unless we glorify God first, and show that our fallen human nature is something still precious to God…so precious that He gave His life for it.
Thus, as writers who are co-creators with Christ, according to Madeleine D’Engle, it is our God given responsibility to serve God and glorify Him in our work. We need to articulate the human condition in the concept that it truly is. The truth is we are all children of God and we need to be reminded that without the connection to our Father we end up living lives that feel empty, lost and somehow meaningless. Often this leads to a desire for the things that harm us as we search for truth in all the wrong places. We can easily be led astray and end up making bad life style choices such as choosing the wrong people in our lives, the wrong books to read, the wrong movies to watch, and the wrong inspirations in life towards money and power instead of humility and trust. I say wrong in the context that it is wrong for humans when that decision brings harm and a negative impact on the mind and body leading away from the spirituality we are all born with.
Although there are good books available written by Christian authors, it appears that there is an over-abundance of commercial literature written with the sole purpose of selling to popular mainstream audiences. It’s all about money. Show me the money! Quite often this kind of literature lacks spiritual depth and meaning to its work, but the secular world has been programmed to accept and desire literature that focuses on explicit sex, adultery, and other worldly issues that give society a superficial and shallow view of reality. This is often the recipe for selling popular books…the commercial recipe for attracting the reader who desires to read something that I can only describe as literary prostitution and vicarious sin. Unfortunately, many people today relate better to a soap opera or a racy fiction novel than something that is well written and faith- informed.
Throughout history, there has been nothing more exciting than a story that has depth and reveals biblical imagery and religious themes within its work. Our most interesting stories come from the Bible and still inspire the Christian heart to correspond with love to creating new stories from the memories of the old. However, the Christian writer often struggles to find an audience as large as a commercial writer today, and many books on the best sellers list are more often than not, stories that shy away from any kind of spiritual themes or religious beliefs.
It is indicative of our times just how far removed the human condition has become from our spiritual beginnings. I was not surprised to hear that a new movie “The Case for Christ” will only be appearing in a few cinemas in Australia and not all of them as is the case with other Hollywood movies which have popular street appeal and advertising. The advertisements for the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” were non-stop attracting large crowds of viewers, unlike the non-existent media attention for “The Case for Christ.”
Regardless of this, we as Christian writers need to become more like C. S. Lewis and keep believing that our stories are precious and valuable to a society that is becoming more and more morally bankrupt. We need to nourish the masses with words given to us by God when we write our stories…stories inspired by God Himself.
Thus the case for Christianity or Commercialism makes me more and more aware that there is a great need in this world for more Christian writers, more Christian thinkers and more Christian films so that we can bring Society back to where it rightly belongs, and where we find ultimate joy and fulfilment as human beings…in relationship with our Maker.
Sara began drawing when she was 3 years old but turned to writing when she was a teenager. She felt it gave her a lot more freedom in expressing her imagination. Ever since she was 14, Sara has delved deeply into creative writing. She writes young adult fantasy and science fiction. Her teen novels move at a fast pace and are filled with adventure. Sara lives happily with her musician husband and her five adorable guinea pigs. She is addicted to the library and always keeps a few books by her desk.
Sara’s first novel, Unisphere, is about 16-year-old Aileen who travels to a planet called Dymin. There, she discovers that the evil wizard Lyon is trying to take over the world. She’s the only one who can stop him, but the problem is that she doesn’t have any powers. Aileen begins training in martial arts, to try and awaken her magic, but the Leader of the training center is fed up with Aileen’s lack of magic. When Lyon tells her that the Leader is lying to her, Aileen decides to risk everything in order to find out the truth.
Sara has also published a book called Thunderstruck. It’s about 17-year-old Dekay, Leader of the Forces (a group of teen supervillains). Dekay unleashes the void of darkness and is overthrown by an evil being named Nightmare. Dekay finds herself lost. Her leadership is taken away, and her boyfriend and best friend switch their loyalty to Nightmare. Dekay wants to join the Heroes, but would they ever accept her after all the trouble she’s caused?
Philip--A character from the Stonegate novels.
Guest Post by Lucia Kaszparenko
A few years ago I decided to look around for some free-lance writing work. This came about because the words of my Creative Writing lecturer kept resonating in my mind…If you are serious about wanting to be a writer then you must write every day. Practicing my skill meant that writing every day was becoming second nature and my usual routine was to get up very early and start my day with a cup of coffee and some quick writing exercises.
My daughter had been writing for a free-lance website and encouraged me to check it out for some writing jobs. I thought that this was a good idea as it would inspire me to focus on my writing and develop my skills. So, one morning I sat down with my usual coffee and glanced through the jobs on offer.
I was immediately interested in one particular ad that required a ghost writer for a novel which was to be the second part of a trilogy. What interested me most about this project was that this was an opportunity for me to write fiction that came from a Christian perspective…a Christian worldview. As a Christian, I feel that my creative spark comes from above, from our Heavenly Father, and thus writing faith informed fiction is a fulfilling experience for me as I can express biblical themes and religious imagery in my work.
The work on offer was posted by Harry James Fox (Jim) who had already had the first book of the trilogy published… ‘The Stonegate Sword.’ I checked out this book and really enjoyed it. I felt that I would love to work together with Jim on the second book. Jim provided me with a map of Stonegate, the characters and the back story… and lots of inspiration to begin the work.
Writing ‘The False Prophet’ for Jim as his ghostwriter was an exciting journey. I found that we shared a creative spark together and worked well liaising through emails and discussing ideas. I feel that I could never have written this book without Jim’s support, and his idea for the trilogy. Jim contacted me recently to say that ‘The False Prophet’ had been published and I feel very honored to have been mentioned in the Preface.
The experience of writing for Jim has developed my confidence as a writer, so I cannot thank him enough for that. I would love to work with Jim again in the future as I believe that we can create more stories that embrace a Christian perspective and reach an audience who enjoy these.
So here I am again with my usual coffee, practicing my writing, and reflecting on the enriching experience I shared with Jim working on ‘The False Prophet.’
NOTE: Lucia did write a novella for me that was the basis of The False Prophet. I added a dozen chapters or so to turn it into a full-length novel, but the basic ideas, much of the narrative and dialogue, and the general outline of the plot were the result of her creative inspiration. I enjoyed the collaboration with her even more than I did in writing the first novel in the series, which I had to do by myself. HJF
Guest Post by Lucia Mudgway
When I was a young girl, around eight years old, my father said to me, You don’t need friends. All you need are books, books, books! They can be your friends. He had said this in the context of a situation at home in which I was upset because instead of spending one Saturday morning playing with my school friends outside, I was cooped up at home helping my mother clean those notorious Venetian blinds which surely are the best dust collectors ever created. As I looked out the window, I could see my friends playing and having fun as a tear trickled out of my eye.
I was brought up in a home full of books, and parents who encouraged me to read from an early age. A love of literature was something I grew up with, and as the years went by, I realised that although I had a need for friends, most friends came and went. Books became a far more permanent fixture in my life than any friendship. Maybe, my Dad was right in some way about books.
It was from this realisation about books having a real value in my life, that I discovered that I not only enjoyed reading books, but that I also wanted to write them. Thus, I have arrived at a place in my life where my journey is all about books.
During the course of my research this semester, into how poetry and literature can attest to a Christian world view, I have gained an insight into how poetry, even that of a non-believer, can still intersect with religious themes and biblical imagery. It became evident to me that literature, broadly speaking, and poetry especially, entails, wittingly or not, a search for the sacred. In her acclaimed book, Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle helps explain this by telling her readers that artists/writers work in God’s time, which is called Kairos time, as opposed to Chronos time which is clock time, such as minutes and seconds. Thus, working in Kairos time – which is qualitative, as opposed to Chronos time which is quantitative – inspires the artist to be guided by a force other than themselves, a spiritual force that guides one into a search for truth and something sacred. Many artists have felt that something transcendent overcomes them as they work on painting a picture or writing a poem. L’Engle points out that artists “become what we are called to be as human beings, co-creators with God, touching on the wonder of creation”.
I found examples of this search for the sacred in many poems written throughout the ages, especially by poets such as George Herbert and Yeats. I was especially surprised to see evidence of this yearning for transcendental meaning in the work of Allen Ginsberg, a secular poet of the counter-culture of the fifties Beat Generation, who in his masterpiece Howl revealed connections to religious themes, biblical imagery and prophetic speech. In the footnote to Howl, Ginsberg takes on the voice of the psalmist when he cries out, “Holy! Holy! Holy! …The world is holy! The soul is Holy! The skin is Holy!” I found it interesting to read that Ginsberg considered his own work divine, and that his decision to become a poet was inspired by a vision he had about William Blake whose work he admired.
Since the Age of Enlightenment, Christian writers, including poets, have tried to connect with an increasing secular audience. One of the most important, and most discussed and studied poems, written in post Enlightenment times, would surely be T.S.Eliot’s, The Wasteland. One of the significant features of Eliot’s classic poem is the vision it presents of our contemporary “life without God”. For Eliot, the experience is that of wandering through a wasteland. This insight is something that we can relate to in present secular times as we observe the consequences of life without God. For without God in the picture, we are all just wandering through the Wasteland, which according to Eliot is an empty desolate place full of despair and hopelessness.
T.S.Eliot describes The Wasteland as a terrible place, a godless world, full of spiritual dryness and unfulfilled hopes. For me personally, this reminds me that when we abandon God, life becomes a desolate and bleak place, just as Eliot describes it in Part V, What the Thunder Said.
The question is How do we escape from this Wasteland which is evident in a secular life which at times does not even acknowledge the existence of and the presence of God? The answer is clear. We need God to restore this world into a place where there is hope, and love and peace. How long will we witness wars and death, and rumours of wars around us creating more Wastelands? For Christians, any answer to such questions and our response to sin and suffering, is always informed by a wider, eschatological viewpoint. This viewpoint is based on the belief that Jesus will return again at the Second Coming and restore the world and mankind to the way in which God intended us to be in the first place before the fall of man through sin. This belief enables Christians to look beyond the temporal suffering and conflicts we encounter here and now. Through suffering there is an opportunity to live out, rehearse and proclaim that saving love of Jesus Christ. For Christians, Jesus empowers us to live as transformed beings who through the power of God’s grace and love and forgiveness are able to find our ultimate fulfillment in Him. Without God we are just wandering through the Wasteland.
I believe that Eliot’s poem, with its symbolism, as well as biblical themes and religious imagery, alerts us to the fact that we need God, and that without him, we are truly lost in the hopelessness of the Wasteland. This poem is certainly a great work of literature that uncovers so many truths and reveals the desolation of life in a sterile, spiritually bankrupt world. Written after WW1 when Europe was spiritually, intellectually and psychologically as well as morally exhausted, Eliot describes a place that shows us that: Here is no water but only rock.
What I discovered in researching this poem was how Eliot used complex symbols and intricate imagery to give us a labyrinth of messages and meanings for the turbulent times we live in. For example, he talks about the decay of Eastern Europe when he writes, Falling towers Jerusalem Athens Alexandria Vienna London Unreal.
We also hear about the horrifying music of damnation: Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.
With a quick succession of brilliant images, Eliot shows us that hope has been abandoned in the past and the present life in which he lived. He writes: In this decayed hole among the mountains In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel There is the empty chapel, only the wind’s home. It has no windows, and the door swings, Dry bones can harm no one.
However, Eliot finally gives us a glimpse of hope towards the end of the poem when he writes: Only a cock stood on the rooftree Co co rico co co rico? In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust Bringing rain. The cock appears to symbolize the betrayal of Jesus when Peter denied Him. Then suddenly the Wasteland has a rebirth by the appearance of rain from a flash of lightning. There is some very powerful symbolism and imagery taking place here which reminds us that only Jesus and His presence in our lives can create a rebirth of the Wasteland.
The poem ends hinting that Jesus will set the land in order: I sat upon the shore Fishing with the arid plain behind me Shall I at least set my lands in order? There are layered meanings here, as the fisherman pictured here could be the mythological Fisher King. However, it is more likely than not the fisherman is symbolic for Jesus and His end plan of restoring His lands.
And so it has been through the magic and power of books written by past writers that I have been able to research poetry and in particular this poem this semester. My father’s words seem to have had a ring of truth about them after all. When we look back on life we realize that we may have many acquaintances, but very few real friends. Books, however, can be a much more permanent fixture in our lives. Books can impart knowledge and truths that are essential to providing us with knowledge, meaning and personal growth. It is through poems such as the Wasteland that we are able to see the world as it was in Eliot’s time. And we can see that today many people feel the despair that Eliot felt as he surveyed a world ripped apart by war and moral decadence.
We are still wandering through the Wasteland. In many war-torn countries today innocent lives are lost on a daily basis and hope for peace remains as elusive as the rain in Eliot’s poem. The lack of world peace and the accompanying decline of morality has had a huge negative impact on our lives wherever we live. But most important of all, is the insight which this poem reveals under all its complex layers, that unless we turn back to God, and live lives that include and thus glorify Him, we will continue to be lost and wandering in the empty desolation of the Wasteland.
In a post-apocalyptic world where millions have died due to an incurable viral infection, people have resorted to scapegoating, murder, and ignorance. Civilization has lost most of its technology and returned to a more medieval way of life, traveling by horseback, fighting with swords, and living from day to day. However, when the False Prophet, Martin Abaddon, begins to condemn Christianity and the threats on Christian lives end in murder, a new hero must rise to the front and attempt to save humanity from complete destruction and corruption. Donald of Fisher, also known as Donald of Goldstone, quickly becomes that hero. He is fearless, honest, and has a pure heart. With his charisma and experience, he begins to rally more and more people to join his cause and band together to fight the False Prophet. While it has been many years since so many people have joined together for a common cause, Don’s argument for humanity is moving, genuine, and extremely time-sensitive. If Don is able to reclaim a lost love along the way, it might renew everyone’s faith in humanity.
Harry James Fox’s The False Prophet is a tale not unlike that of Tolkein, with many nuanced plot points and characters from all sorts of backgrounds. While the post-apocalyptic plot point plays only a small role, it does prompt the reader to question how much current societies depend on their technology and what people would become if these technologies were to disappear. The reader is also prompted to consider larger problems that society faces in the modern world such as racism, sexism, and prejudice. While the story is not altogether a new idea, it still preaches a good moral and is an exciting follow up to the first book in the series, The Stonegate Sword.
The world of Stonegate is placed in the future, a century or so after a collapse of Western civilization and a desperate struggle to rebuild. The story does not focus on the collapse, itself, but on a sort of Medieval society that emerged from the ashes of the old.
Rebuilding was complicated by the fact that much of our infrastructure is fragile and dependent of highly-skilled technicians to keep it all operating. If they became unable to function, the engines would soon stop, and be very difficult to restart.
A century after the collapse, the population is a small fraction of what it is today. Much modern technology has been lost, or remains only as rusted curios and third-hand memories. Even the English language has changed. Scholars, called lore-men, still read and speak English, but the speech has drifted toward a sort of creole English, very much simplified, called the Common Tongue.
Place names have drifted a bit. Some of the old names remain, but not all. Some of the changes have shortened the names, garbled them, or replaced them with another name entirely. Stonegate is an example of the latter.
Lore-men remember that Stonegate was once called Fort Collins, and that it had once hosted a university, a place of higher learning. The university tradition lives on in a famous lore-house which preserves much of the old knowledge and many books that survived the fires of the book-burning.
The origin of the name "Stonegate" is disputed. A popular legend, almost certainly false, holds that in the early days, mere years after the time of troubles, survivors started building the city walls, and used stone facing on the wooden gates of the city. Others say the name refers to the pass to the west, which provided a gate through the mountains, which came to be called the "Western Wall." But whatever the reason, the old name is largely forgotten.
One feature that makes Stonegate somewhat unusual is that the inhabitants were able to preserve some old artillery pieces and, equally important, preserved the practical knowledge of how to load, fire, and maintain them. These are called the "town guns" and enabled the people of Stonegate to remain secure against bands of lawless marauders that looted and destroyed so much in the early days after the disaster.