Wednesday, January 17, 2018

How Stories About Mary Influenced The Awakening Series

Collyridians supposedly offered fresh-baked bread to Mary.
Last week I wrote about the inspiration for the fringe religious order that plagues my main character, Tara, throughout The Awakening Series.

Research and reading into traditional and controversial beliefs about the Virgin Mary also influenced The Awakening, though Tara's journey diverges widely from Mary's.

(For one thing, Tara's not religious, and the series is not a religious series. Also, so far as I know, there are no stories about an apocalyptic cult threatening Mary, which would have turned that part of the New Testament into a thriller, probably not the goal of its authors.)

Pure And Perfect?

In the Catholic Church in particular, Mary is viewed as "pure," "perfect," and "immaculate" because she's seen, paradoxically, as both a mother and a virgin. As a child, I assumed those beliefs stemmed from the New Testament, but there's relatively little there about Mary.

There was a lot to explore on those themes.

What if a young woman didn't see sex that way and had abstained for other reasons and found herself pregnant? What if she rejected people who tried to see her as "pure" and believed she'd give birth to a messiah?

Mother of God?

The Catholic Church granted Mary the title “Mother of God” about 430 years after Jesus was born.

The Church believed she deserved the title because she'd given birth to the human Jesus, whom the Church came to believe also was God.

This belief played into the next doctrine, that of Perpetual Virginity.

Perpetual Virgin?

Later, under a doctrine known as Perpetual Virginity, the Catholic Church decided that Mary not only was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus, but she remained a virgin throughout her entire life.

This doctrine surprised me when I learned about it. The logical reason for those who see Jesus as God to believe Mary was a virgin before Jesus' birth was to show that his "father" was not human but divine. (A point Tara's mentor, a former nun and professor makes.)

But this doctrine makes a clear equation between sex and being impure--and equates perfection for a woman with abstaining from sex.

Contrary Views

Not all early Christians believed Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born, however, let alone that she remained one forever.

The Ebionites, a Jewish-Christian sect that believed in a non-divine messiah, believed that Jesus was conceived the usual way, through sexual intercourse. Later, they changed position to say that Jesus was conceived through the Holy Spirit, but still believed that after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary engaged in sexual relations and had many children.


The Catholic Church rejected both views.

The Church declared heretical any belief that Mary had sexual intercourse ever, including after Jesus was born. (A heresy is a belief at odds with what Catholics must believe to be considered Catholics. Heretics are barred from the Church.)

The early Church felt so strongly about Mary remaining a virgin forever that it labeled those who held the belief that she had sexual intercourse after the birth of Jesus “Antidicomarianites”—opponents of Mary.

Collyridians, another group the Church declared heretics, went too far the other direction from the Church's standpoint. They worshipped her as divine. Most of what's known about them comes from a Bishop who denounced them. The group, mostly women, offered bread to Mary. 

(I borrowed from this lore when I envisioned a former chapel where Tara seeks sanctuary in Books 2 and 3, The Unbelievers and The Conflagration. The table in the main room features baskets of homemade bread.) 

Tara's Allies

From what I could tell, the early Church viewed these two groups as opposites--one group that saw Mary as, perhaps, too human in that she had sexual intercourse, and the other that saw her as divine. I found that intriguing, as it suggested a lot about how that religion saw women.

I also found these groups intriguing because, as with the two Andrews of Crete I wrote about last week, there was little information out there. That gave me a lot of room to take poetic license with how and whether to fit them into my story.

In case you haven't yet read the series, I won't go into detail on what role the Antidicomarianites and Collyridians play, other than to say that references to them did make life more challenging for Shiromi Arserio, the producer/narrator of the audiobook editions.

I hope you'll stop back next Wednesday for more on The Awakening Series. You can get bonus materials for The Awakening Series, including deleted scenes, here.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

What's Real And What's Not: Creating The Brotherhood of Andrew (Antagonist For The Awakening Series)

When I started The Awakening Series I had two “What Ifs” in mind:

  • What if a (non-religious) young woman today claimed she was pregnant but had never had sex? 
  • What if a traditional religious group became convinced she would give birth to a messiah, but then learned the young woman's child would be a girl?

While each of the four books in The Awakening Series features a specific individual character as the antagonist, the real antagonist for the entire series is that religious group, the Brotherhood of Andrew of Crete.

The fourth and final book, The Illumination.
The Brotherhood needed to be traditional and Christian Order so its members would believe in the story of the Virgin Mary and would be shocked at the idea of a potential female messiah.

But I didn't want the Order to be part of an actual, specific branch of Christianity. 

As the antagonist, the Order would do things that from my main character’s perspective (and probably the reader's perspective) were evil. I didn’t want to associate that with a real religion or suggest any actual religious group was wrong or evil.
That’s why throughout the books, Brotherhood members refer to concepts that come from many different religious traditions. 
I also wanted The Brotherhood to have a saint around which to coalesce because that would make their beliefs more concrete.
My criteria for the saint included:

(1) being devoted to the Virgin Mary so that the saint was logically connected to The Brotherhood’s apparent mission of looking for signs of a new messiah

(2) dying as a martyr, as that foreshadowed danger and raised the stakes of the story

(3) having lived 600-800 years after Jesus Christ was reportedly born so that beliefs about Jesus were in flux and so the saint could not possibly have personally known Jesus or Mary

(4) not being well known so that I could take a lot of dramatic license in creating whatever back story I needed 

I found two saints who met these criteria and who conveniently shared a name – St. Andrew.

Interestingly, both were associated with Crete.
I liked having a saint from that part of the world because I planned to set some of the story in nearby Armenia, a place I’d traveled to and found fascinating because of its history as having become the first country to name Christianity as its official religion.
The martyr Andrew of Crete was executed around 767 A.D. (or C.E. for Common Era, as is more commonly used now in academia) because he defended the honoring of icons – religious images – of Jesus.

He also had a monastery dedicated to him, the Koca Mustafa Pasha Mosque in Istanbul. (That has an interesting history in itself which I’ll write about in a future post.)
While I didn’t find any particular connection between the martyr Andrew of Crete and the Virgin Mary, the other St. Andrew of Crete was known for composing and singing hymns to her. That St. Andrew was ordained a deacon at the Hagia Sophia (a location I also used in the series). In 692 he was made an archbishop on the island of Crete.

I combined these two St. Andrews into Brother Andrew, a saint to whom my fictional Brotherhood of Andrew of Crete is devoted. I added that Brother Andrew had visions about future women like the Virgin Mary and handed down a prophecy about such women and the danger to the world if events surrounding the prophecy went wrong.

Not all of this back story about Brother Andrew ended up in any of the books in the series, but I feel knowing it made my storytelling more layered.

If you’d like to know more about the two St. Andrews, you can check out the websites below.

(Fair warning if you're writing a paper on one of the Andrews and came across this article: Because I was writing fiction, I didn't make sure all my sources were well-researched and documented. I only needed enough to provide a jumping off point for my story.)


Catholic Online 

OCA (Orthodox Church in America)

Catholic News Agency

Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias

Orthodox Christian

As the story grew and changed with each book, I made tweaks to the structure of The Brotherhood, to who was in charge, and to how much each member knew about its goals. I did that both to keep it a formidable adversary and to leave room for the people within it to grow and change.

If you haven't yet finished (or started) The Awakening Series now's a great time to check it out, as the series is now complete and is available in ebook, audiobook, and paperback editions. Also, as I write this, the ebook editions of Book 1, The Awakening, are all free. 

Or read the entire series in the box set/omnibus edition.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Choose The Top Fantasy and Science Fiction Cover of 2017

We're not supposed to judge a book by its cover.

All the same, I'm really pleased that the cover for The Illumination, the fourth and final book in my Awakening supernatural thriller series, was included in Kobo Writing Life's 10 Finalists for the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy covers of 2017. (Thank you to cover designer Chrissy from Damonza!)

This poll also reminded me of a book I've been waiting for: Map of Shadows by J. F. Penn. I love Penn's London Crime Thriller series, and I'm excited to branch out into reading her other fiction. I also plan to check out the 8 other authors whose book covers are in the Top 10.

You only have until 5 p.m. Eastern Time on December 7 so hurry and vote for your favorite cover today!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Celebrate The Finale Of The Awakening Series - Chicago September 21, 2017

Please join me to celebrate releasing The Illumination, the finale of The Awakening series, and embracing life as a full-time author. We'll have an appetizer buffet, an Awakening trivia quiz, and a drawing.

Prizes include an Amazon gift card and a chance to have a character named after you in my new Q.C. Davis mystery series.

All four Awakening books will be available for sale.

Where:  Sopraffina Market Cafe, 10 N. Dearborn Street, Chicago, Illinois

Date:   Thursday, September 21, 2017

Time:     5-7 p.m.

Drop in any time and feel free to bring a friend!

Look for (metered) street parking on Dearborn or one block west on Clark Street or valet ($15). Sopraffina is also close to Red, Blue, and Brown Line L stops and about 6 blocks from Union Station.

If you can make it, please RSVP to

Hope to see you there!

P.S. Can't make it but want to check out The Illumination and other Awakening books anyway? Visit

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Illumination, Book 4 in The Awakening Series (and my 100th post)

More than the other books in The Awakening Series, writing the fourth and final book, The Illumination, required pulling together many threads. It was like a giant puzzle as well as a novel.

That made it fun. And challenging.

It was also exciting because at last Tara Spencer comes face-to-face with the forces that caused her supernatural pregnancy. She learns the truth about her child's origin—and her own—and everything rests upon what she decides to do about it.

Completing and launching the book also made me sad because I’ve spent so many years thinking and writing about Tara and the people around her.

Some, like Thomas Stranyero, began as minor characters and turned into pivotal actors in the drama. Others didn’t make it to the end. But all of them became real people to me.

All of this makes it fitting that this is my 100th blog post. I didn't plan it that way, but if I had, that's what I would have wanted.

If you haven’t yet read The Illumination , you can find it in paperback or ebook editions (Kindle, Nook, Kobo (Canada), Kobo (U.S.), iBook, or GooglePlay formats).

The audiobook is coming soon.

If you have read the series, thanks so much! Reader reviews, emails, and comments are what kept me going throughout, especially when I was also managing a law practice.


P.S. Haven’t had enough of Tara? You can get bonus materials from the series, including deleted scenes and my handwritten notes as I was plotting The Illumination here.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Did The Virgin Mary Influence The Supreme Court?

In 2014, three corporations argued to the United States Supreme Court that paying premiums for health insurance made them a cause of abortions. Everyone - the Court, the government, and the corporations - agreed that the insurance didn't cover abortions. But it did, as the Affordable Care Act required, cover IUDs and emergency contraception.

The shareholders of the corporations believed those methods of birth control were the same as abortions and argued requiring them to provide this insurance violated their religious freedom.

The Supreme Court agreed.

The five justices in the majority were Catholic. The corporations' religious objections mirrored those of the Roman Catholic Church.

How The Virgin Mary Influenced The United States Supreme Court looks at whether Catholic views about the perfect woman, sex, and birth control influenced the Court's decision. The Kindle edition, which is free 4/6/17 through 4/8/17 (and always free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers), talks about:

  • What the gospels say about the Virgin Mary (not much);
  • The Catholic Church’s view of the “perfect” and “pure” woman as both virgin and mother; 
  • The amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief filed by the 67 Roman Catholic theologians and ethicists; 
  • The reasoning of the justices who wrote the majority opinion and the principal dissent in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

How much did the Catholic view of women and the Virgin Mary really influence the Court?

Download the Kindle edition today and see for yourself.

P.S. Don't have a Kindle? Order the paperback edition here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Still Loving Books In The Digital Age

My hallway being taken over by books.
I've always loved books. But I have to admit, now that there are now so many television series that tell season-long stories, it sometimes cuts into my reading time. (Recent favorites: Agents of Shield and Jessica Jones.) I enjoy watching a good series almost as much as I do reading books.

Why only almost? It has to do both with loving to read words on a page (or an ereader) and with how loud the world seems to have become.

A cheap vacation

Reading a good story, watching a TV series, or sitting in the dark in a theater to see a movie or play all can pull me into a different world for hours. But books add a layer by, ironically, doing less. Reading requires engaging my own imagination in a way that a movie or series doesn't. I picture how the characters look, hear the sounds, and smell the scents the author describes. Because I'm so absorbed in imagining, it feels like I'm getting a cheap mini-vacation from life.


Reading a book also demands complete attention. I can and do listen to audiobooks and podcasts while doing other things. I really like that. Good audio can make you look forward to routine tasks like sorting laundry. But it also means that we're all dividing our attention more and more. In contrast, when I read a good book, I focus on it. For the first five minutes, especially with a new book, that can be a challenge. But after that, everything else leaves my mind. I truly relax. I notice I sleep much better if I read 45 minutes to an hour before I go to bed. It seems to clear out the day's concerns, almost like a long meditation.


So many things compete for our attention these days and they're all loud. TV commercials, video clips (and more commercials) on the Internet, and cars honking is if that will make traffic jams magically disappear. Books, whether on paper or on my Kindle, don't yell. They don't shriek. They don't even whisper. They are silent. And I love that.

What about you? What do you love about reading?