Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chasing The Wind: Destiny, Prophecy, And Faith

"You had to live without love so that you would realize how precious it is."

Today I'm reviewing the novel Chasing The Wind, by Norma Beishir, written with considerable backup from Collin Beishir, who assisted with research. I've recently read the revised edition of the book, now released, which has been changed from third person point of view to first person, and the end result is an astonishing, powerful, and intimate story. The book follows a couple, Connor Mackenzie and Lynne Raven, as well as a number of other characters, telling an epic, sprawling tale of good versus evil through their eyes. The novel touches on archaeology, faith, destiny, and love throughout, intriguing the reader while taking them on a journey that touches down in places like Britain, Italy, Jerusalem, the Sinai, and New Zealand.

The Sinai


Lynne Raven is an archaeologist seeking physical proof of the Biblical Exodus in the Sinai. She's often far from her home and family in America, occasionally feeling the notion that time is catching up to her. Her work begins to be funded by Connor, who meets her by chance, finds her intriguing, and accompanies her to the dig site. He's a man of many secrets and difficult family relations with a sister, Sarah, and step-father, Edward. We find ourselves wondering at first if he's mentally stable. It's a question Connor himself wonders. He's a man who keeps himself at a distance, closed off from the world, the pain of his mother's death an overwhelming factor in his life. He also has, as we gradually see, an innate ability to heal with his own touch.

Subiaco, Italy

Gradually Connor and Lynne fall in love as they get to know each other, as Lynne gradually gets him to open up to her. Their courtship, such as it is, is filled with lightness and humour, Connor going out of his way to openly flirt with Lynne and win her over, and they marry. It doesn't take long before they're expecting a child, but circumstances quickly send them on the run. Violence follows them as the secrets of Connor's past and his family's connection to a man of pure evil catch up. They go into hiding in New Zealand, and Connor finds himself at a point where he must make a fateful decision about his future, and that of his wife and their baby son. It requires him to come to terms with the true nature of who he is and what he's meant to do.

The love between Lynne and Connor is the emotional core of the book, and it works wonderfully. There's such a sense of believability about the couple, a feeling of genuine connection and love. They're suited to each other, and as they deal with the chaos, heartache, and losses that the story throws at them, we find ourselves very sympathetic to them. And by extension, the way each character reacts to the events surrounding them feels true to their personalities. Lynne is a woman of faith with good family ties who accepts; Connor must go through the purging by fire, figuratively speaking, to accept what fate has in store for him.

New Zealand

The strong characterization extends to the various other characters that populate the book. If Connor and Lynne represent the good of the book, then their counterparts representing evil are more then a match. Nicholas Dante is a sinister presence in the book, a man of cruelty and evil who has a facade of respect, and yet is a man of no redeeming qualities. He orchestrates and pulls strings, seeking to control Connor for his own ends and his own beliefs. His hired enforcer is a memorable villain named Judas Caine, a brutal psychopath who has none of his employer's refinement. Caine is the sort of man who enjoys causing the most amount of pain he can, a sadistic hitman whose actions are, to say the least, profoundly disturbing. While I have, in the past, enjoyed villains with at least something sympathetic in their nature, I find these two-utterly unsympathetic and the very definition of pure evil- to be very compelling.

There are a number of other characters that I rather liked throughout the book. Phillip Darcy is a photojournalist who happens to count Lynne among his various ex-wives (his pet name for her is Duchess, a touch I rather like). He's a likeable rogue with a chaotic personal life, and he's rough around the edges. I liked his personality, his way of sparring with pretty much everyone. He comes into contact with Lynne and Connor in the Sinai, where events occur and strange discoveries are made that cause him to start asking some very serious questions. Caitlin Hammond and Jack Farlow are a pair of FBI agents looking into several missing children cases that tie into the larger story, and their investigation brings them into Connor's orbit. Their rapport and dialogue is well written, and has the same genuine feel to it that the rest of the book has. And Connor's sister Sarah is a revelation as a character. She starts the book off as cold, hostile, and perhaps coming across as emotionally unstable, and her journey through the novel brings her to a very different place.

The novel deals with weighty themes throughout. History plays out in its pages, as do the themes of good versus evil, the acceptance of destiny, and the struggle with coming to terms with faith. There are harrowing, horrific moments in the book that will have you shuddering (a speciality of Mr. Caine, you see). And there are moments that will make you laugh. Chasing The Wind tells an epic world spanning tale that manages to be a very intimate, personal story of the love between a man and a woman. It's a terrific, compelling book that you're going to love reading.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

An Author Interview: Norma Beishir On Chasing The Wind

I’m welcoming to the blog today my friend, fellow author, and partner in crime Norma Beishir, bestselling author of numerous novels, including Angels At Midnight, A Time For Legends, Chasing The Wind, and Final Hours. Thank you for coming.

You’ve been a writer within the industry, and more recently, an independent writer with your current works. Tell us about the challenges, and the freedoms, involved in writing Chasing The Wind.

I should have gone indie long before I did. Pride got in the way of making the best decision for me and for the novel. I had been a bestselling author--lead title, six-figure advances and all that. I knew there were people who would say, "Oh, she went indie because she couldn't cut it." I struggled for a long time, and Collin and I paid a high price for my refusal to do what needed to be done. Finally, when an agent who really loved my writing admitted she'd have a hard time getting any editor to accept the story's spiritual elements and advised me to go with a strictly sci-fi thriller instead, I had to decide what was more important to me: status in the publishing community or telling the story I wanted to tell.

The Sinai
You’ve finished a revised version of the book, which has been previously published, and spans the world from America and Britain to the Sinai and New Zealand. The revision shifts the narrative from third person to first person. What was your reason for doing this, and why do you enjoy this style?

This is one of the many advantages of self-publishing--that I can do this!

After publishing Chasing the Wind, I wrote a short novel titled Final Hours, which was written in first person. I loved telling the story in the character's voice! Still, I didn't think it would work for the series--until I read the novels of my good friend Beth Muscat, who writes in multiple first-person points of view. I decided this was the best way to go with the series, which meant Chasing the Wind would need a rewrite.

As I was reading the book, I was struck with the differences between your earlier books, where you could see the glamour and the jet-setting lifestyle played out, and the weighty themes you write about in CTW, such as faith versus science, evil and good, the march of history, law and order, and the notion of fate. Tell us how you approached these concepts in the writing and research.

This is the kind of novel I always wanted to write--but my publisher wasn't interested. In fact, none of the Big Six publishers wanted to let me go in that direction. Now I write what I really want to write, and I may not make as much money, but as a writer I'm much happier. I don't write every scene wondering how much the book will change by the time it's in print.

I've always been a square peg trying to fit publishing's round hole, and Chasing the Wind was no exception: too spiritual for the mainstream, too mainstream for the Christian market.

One of the things that I found intriguing is the profound sense of evil you create in the book, manifesting itself in two characters: Nicholas Dante and Judas Caine.  Where one can write villains with a certain degree of sympathy and humanity, you chose to create these two characters as pure malice and evil, and it really works. Tell us about the two of them, where they come from, and your approach in conveying just how sadistic they are.

To put it simply, they're the devil incarnate. As disciples of Satan, there is no good in them. They exist to destroy.

New Zealand

I've always loved the Omen movies (well, the first three anyway) and wanted to write something in that vein. While my protagonist would be an emissary of God, struggling with his own spiritual identity, he would have to face off against adversaries who had no such self-doubt. That makes his willingness to take a leap of faith even more imperative.

I think that your two leading characters, Connor and Lynne, are both characters on a journey- physical, emotional, and spiritual. I also like the way they banter with each other- it’s a touch of humor in a book that gets pretty dark. Tell us your point of view in creating them, in the bond between them, in the road they take.

They're both vulnerable. Connor tries to hide it, but his emotional scars run deep. He grew up believing his mother abandoned him. He had an underlying hatred of women. Lynne was the black sheep in her family, having faith but challenging everything anyway. She tries to act tough, but she wants what her three sisters have: love and marriage, children. They're more alike than they realize at first. They need each other to survive.

As for the humor, most human beings respond with humor even under the most dire circumstances. It's our nature. I can't imagine writing any novel without a big dollop of humor.

I was surprised reading the way one of your supporting characters changes through the events of the book. Connor’s sister Sarah starts off in a very set way, seemingly emotionally distant and cold. As the book goes on, we ultimately see her in a very different way. What do you think about Sarah? Was it deliberately done that way, or did she gradually change things as you went along?

Sarah grew up without her mother, ignored by her father and brother. She craved love, but made some bad choices. Deep down, she never really stopped loving her brother. When she realized he was in danger, she couldn't walk away. She was terrified, but found the courage to act. Like Connor, she had grown up very cynical, but when God spoke to her, she was desperate, with nowhere else to turn.

Chasing The Wind ties into your companion book currently underway, An Army Of Angels. Give us some information on the book, on the characters and the storylines you have in mind for the follow-up.

I can't give too much away! I will say that the male protagonist, Alex, also discovers an unbelievable fact of his existence--one that, in his mind, isolates him from society. Finding love, he finds a new life. When he loses his wife, Robyn, he goes over the edge. The result can only be defined as a miracle.  

Last question: you’ve told me about an idea you have in mind for a future work, which I think is brilliant and will really get under the reader’s skin. Any hints for the readers?

I can't go into any detail since it hasn't been written yet, but like Final Hours, it involves characters having to face certain death and how they choose to respond to it.

I know I look forward to it! Thanks for taking part today!

The revised edition of Chasing The Wind will be available at Amazon within a few days; you can look for it after the weekend. I'll be reviewing the book for my next blog. You can find her author's page and books right here at 

In addition, Norma has three solo blogs to check out and follow:

Windchaser's Journey
Sam's Story
Beishir Books

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Governor Mittens And The Philosopher's Spin Doctor

"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, and then misapplying the wrong remedies." ~ Groucho Marx

Ah, yes, the American marathon of Republican debates and primaries rolls on endlessly towards the eventual convention. South Carolina is past, and with it, events have insured that the nomination will still be months away from being locked up. Two more notable drop-outs since last time: Jon Huntsman (I know, no one really noticed him in the race in the first place) and Rick Perry have gone. Apparently Dubya 2.0 ran out of campaign funds before he ran out of ego. He's gone back to Texas, and he's not in a good mood. If you're a death row inmate down in those parts, don't be counting on clemency.

South Carolina saw Newt Gingrich win the day, deflating the lead enjoyed by Governor Mittens. Apparently down in South Carolina, they don't seem to much care about Newt's.... deplorable lack of personal ethics and responsibility....

Anyway, the editorial cartoonists continue to draw inspiration from the endless campaign while Republicans tear each other apart in debates and attack ads. And in the White House, the re-election campaign is busy taking notes, readying themselves to take on whoever's left standing.

Will it be Mitt? Will it be Newt? Will the bizarre happen and somehow Ron Paul or Rick Santorum do the impossible? I know, I know, let's not be silly...

Despite faltering in South Carolina, Governor Mittens still has time on his hands. He can still win the nomination that he seems to so desperately want, despite not being wanted by the party faithful. They've been busy hoping Ronald Reagan will rise from the grave to lead them back to the promised land.

If only he doesn't get tripped up by his own taxes....

Governor Mittens likes to act as if he's in touch with the common man, but really... the common person does not have a past in corporate plundering, off shore accounts in the Caymans, and does not make ten thousand dollar bets on trivial things. Really, Mittens, you might as well stop trying.

And from the start, the rest of the nominees have been trying to make him look bad. Newt's busiest at that right now, what with Dubya 2.0 faltering and giving up. Perry never did recover from that cataclysmic Oops, after all. His blundering during debates will haunt old Ricky til the end of his days....

Which of course brings us to Newt. He casts himself as an outsider, though he's been in government or lobbying for most of his life. He casts himself strongly with Ronald Reagan. I wonder if Reagan would appreciate that. And he campaigns as a family values candidate.

This, from the same guy who cheated on and abandoned his first wife, while she was stricken with cancer. Then did the same with his second wife, stricken with MS. Memo to the third Mrs. Gingrich: you'd better stay healthy. You contract something like a slight cold, and he'll be dropping you for the next trophy wife.

I mean, really. That's low. That's beyond sleazy. This is the same guy who railed against Clinton in the 90s (I'm not defending Bubba Bill... I always thought he was a lecherous sleaze too) and yet does this? And he has the hypocritical gall to act as if he has any moral high ground?

Newt Gingrich represents a new sub species of humanity: homo sapiens politicus opportunus Gingrichus sleazius.

Note to self: have that turned into a T-shirt.

And so there are four candidates left, fighting it out for the nomination. Huntsman finally went, more loudly then he made his presence known in the first place. Perry went out grumbling and growling. Santorum is still there. And so is Ron Paul (aka the Crazy Old Man of the Grand Old Party). Who will drop out next? The Florida primary is up next, and the state has, well, to put it charitably, something of a really skewed history with elections.

Postscript: in the White House, President Obama can't believe how lucky he is to have such crazy nutcases to possibly run against. In tearing each other to shreds, they've been doing all his dirty work for him.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

How To Totally Screw Up Your Life With One Colossal Blunder

Okay, so maybe you had a bad week. Maybe you got passed over for that promotion. Perhaps your significant other broke up with you. There might be a relative staying with you that you really do not care for at all (I can think of two of mine that would qualify). Well, my friends, it could be worse.

Your name could be Francesco Schettino, for instance.

It's been a few days now since the cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground just off the island of Giglio in the Tuscan area of Italy. The story has caught the attention of the world's media, of course. Not because of a high death toll; of the thousands on board, most are safe and alive, and only a handful died or remain missing. Realistically, more people die in a day's worth of sectarian violence in Kabul or Nigeria. No, the attention is because of the strange nature of the accident, the location it happened in, and the contrasting tales emerging out of it. That, and this year is the centennial of the Titanic disaster. Some troubling parallels between the two are being made, and with good reason.

 Captain Francesco Schettino (who's probably having the worst week of his life... it's rather difficult to top this) is facing some serious charges, including manslaughter and abandoning his ship, after a wee bit of a mishap. It turns out that he didn't seem to understand the notion that it's a really bad idea to bring something that big so close into shore, and, well... you can see the rest.

The general rules of the sea have it that ships are supposed to pass by the area several kilometres offshore. Instead, Schettino deviated from course, apparently to send out a hail to a local, knocked the ship into a submerged rock or reef (which he claims his charts didn't show, a surprise to any other mariner and all of the locals, who knew well that it was out there). The ship listed, keeled over, and capsized. Of course, by then, Schettino was well off the ship, having had, it seems, scarpered early on in the evacuation for a lifeboat (he claims he fell into a lifeboat, and couldn't bring himself to get back on board. He claims a lot, even that his maneuver saved thousands of lives). This is a very bad thing for ship's captains, who in such an instance are supposed to stay calm, keep good order, and ensure that all surviving passengers are off the ship and accounted for before even thinking of leaving.

By all accounts, many of his officers and crew followed their captain's less then sterling example, though there were exceptions. The passengers themselves got off either in lifeboats or by swimming ashore, or were taken off by arriving Coast Guard units or locals. It's bloody fortunate, in a way, that the incident happened so close to shore; too much time spent in the water this time of year is certain death.

The population of the island itself is small, just some 1500 souls, so you can imagine they were quickly overcome with four thousand harried survivors arriving on shore, but it seems they responded as people do in these cases: with the utmost speed, hospitality, and organization, helping out, doing all they could. Now they get to play host to the world's media. From what I've seen, the island looks like a nice spot. It's just not the sort of way the locals would have liked to get the world's attention, is it?

Schettino himself has claimed the title of the most hated man in Italy for his foolishness, incompetence, and cowardice, and odds are he won't be the only one facing charges. Costa and its parent company Carnival Cruise Lines are hanging him out to dry, casting the blame for this debacle on him. And from his inconsistent stories, it's pretty clear the captain panicked, did pretty much everything wrong that he could have, and one single bad decision has now ruined the rest of his life forever. I'll say this: when he screws up, he does a thorough job of it.

I do think the cruise ship industry, however, shoulders some of the blame. Some of the commentary since this all started points out how these gigantic monstrosities are being built more as floating lavish hotels, complete with social directors to take care of every bit of the passenger's vacations. The industry builds these things without real consideration of how safe these things are (shades of Titanic all over again). Their prime consideration is how much money they can make out of the ships. Most of the crew are there for the entertainment of or the taking care of passengers, and seafaring skills are irrelevant. The cruise lines pay their people little and house them poorly onboard, compared to the amount of work they do (one of the many reasons I'd find cruise ships to be a horrible vacation idea).

From the reports, it seems there was little organization and no sign that the passengers had been given instructions on safety procedures (which is supposed to happen soon after a ship is launched). And serious questions are being raised about the stability, engineering, and crews of these behemoths. These ships don't maneuver particularly well with rough seas, and unlike decades ago- or in the Navy, Coast Guard, and merchent ships elsewhere today- seem to have officers and crew who aren't at all mariners. They rely far too much on automation and computers to do the work for them. And when you have a fool and a daredevil in command, you have a recipe for disaster.

There are, of course, superstitions about the sea, old traditions. One involves the christening of a ship with a bottle of champagne. I've heard that when the Concordia was christened, the bottle didn't break. An omen of things to come, perhaps? For some reason, I find myself picturing the inevitable movie (James Cameron is probably already planning it), with Kevin R. McNally playing yet another crusty old sea dog, muttering under his breath through the whole film. "Bad luck, the bottle not breaking. Bad luck, the captain being a coward and a drunkard. Bad luck, going into shore like that in a panic..."

Not that Italy has to be entirely ashamed of its seafaring captains. Where Schettino has been raked over the coals for his cowardice, Coast Guard Captain Gregorio De Falco is being lauded for his decisiveness, his work in managing the evacuation, and his verbal blasting the hell out of the wayward captain. The transcripts that have been released speak volumes, and I certainly wouldn't want to get Captain De Falco mad at me. I would, however, like to shake his hand and buy him a beer. Italians are proud of him, and in fact, a rather derogatory term he used against Schettino during that taped conversation is now being printed on T-shirts: vada a bordo, cazzo. Translated, it means "get on board, you cock!" I told you it was derogatory! (Note to self: never name an Italian character cazzo. Second note to childless aunts and uncles among my readers who like teasing their siblings: teach your nephews and nieces that word just to annoy their parents)

The story continues to unfold as of this writing. Schettino has singlehandedly destroyed his own life through his own foolishness. Lives have been lost. The status of the ship has yet to be determined, as dive teams work to search for the remaining missing, and the salvage teams stand by to work. An environmental headache may ensue, given that fuel is still on board, and the area it's in happens to be a national park. And last and certainly least, the cruise ship industry stands to lose a lot of money this year because of the bad publicity. There are people who think cruise ships are an ideal vacation. I would consider them cruel and unusual punishment, particularly being at the mercy of an overly cheerful social director who has every second of my vacation planned out. I'd much rather be climbing a rock face or hiking in some grand scenic vista, thank you very much.

As you might expect, editorial cartoonists around the world have had a field day with this one...

I'll leave you then with this thought: one of the columnists in a paper I read noted that if this had happened further off shore, if the ship had sunk outright, and quickly, you would have had a disaster on the scale of a 9/11. As writers, we can take inspiration for ideas in current events, and as such, I've had something of an idea for the opening of a novel. In my writings, concerned as they are with terrorism, espionage, and the bad side of life, a cruise ships represents a rather tempting target for a terrorist group. Everything about it- maximum casualties, considerable vulnerabilities, and softness as a target- practically cries out as a terrorist opportunity. I've got an anarchist group as antagonists idea down the line, and somehow having them go after a cruise ship as the opening salvo in a book sounds like a hell of an idea....

Obviously the cruise ship industry would not approve.

Postscript: to the Schettino family: you may want to consider changing your last name. Word has it that the dictionaries plan to have a picture of Francesco Schettino right next to the words gutless coward and incompetence.