Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Day Two: Randy Singer and The Justice Game, My Review

Now for my review of The Justice Game. I really enjoyed it and while I was glad of the outcome, it didn't happen the way I expected.

In 1988, a teenager opened fire with an assault weapon in the Christian school where Randy Singer’s children attended and his wife taught. Though none of Singer’s family was hurt, the shooter killed a teacher, Karen Farley, and injured others before his gun jammed and he was captured. Randy ended up representing the Farley family against the gun store. This was Randy’s introduction into the gun debate and his inspiration for The Justice Game.

An angry man who thinks he has been wronged by a news anchor’s exposé charges into a television station and murders the anchor with weapon he obtained illegally. Now the family is suing the gun manufacturer, saying they are liable for the woman’s death.

Enter the lawyers--Kelly Starling for the defendant and Jason Noble for the plaintiff. Both are bright and successful, but with pasts that can be exploited to turn the trial in different directions than either had anticipated. The stakes keep being raised and the tension mounts to life-threatening proportions before the end. Who will win the case? Can anyone emerge unscathed?

Not only is this an exceptionally written legal thriller, but the author constructed a means for the reader to interact with the story and even determine the outcome of the trial before the book was completed. At this link ( http://randysinger.net/justice-game-video ) you can see a video of the lawyer’s closing arguments and vote on the desired outcome. Months ago, Singer tallied the votes and used the majority’s verdict as the jury’s decision in the book’s case.

The subplots work to make the story even more complex and enjoyable. Particularly interesting to me was the detailed description of shadow juries and how they are used in trials. I had no idea people really did this. I highly recommend The Justice Game to suspense and legal thriller lovers, and especially to those who haven’t yet discovered Singer’s unique, gripping writing.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Randy Singer Blog Tour: The Justice Game

I'm happy to be a part of this blog tour. I've enjoyed Randy's books for many years, and this is one of his best. I'll be posting again later this week, but for now, here's what the author and book look like:

The Justice Game is unlike any novel I've read, and I've read my share of legal thrillers. Randy decided to write about a huge case with gun control being the main issue. But instead of controlling the verdict himself, as any author would, he polled his readers to see what they thought. Then he let the majority rule (how democratic of him!) and wrote in their verdict (which, I'm proud to say, I was part of).

Here are two videos: one of Randy talking about the book, and the other kind of like a book trailer, only not--it's like fake news footage of the inciting incident of the book--very realistic.


News Footage

And lastly for today, here is a great Q & A, in case you're curious, like me:

1. Randy, you bring a unique perspective to your writing because you are also an attorney and a pastor. How do you juggle these three things and still have a life?

It helps that I love doing all three. It also helps that, while they’re all very different, they draw on common skill sets. For example, principles of powerful story-telling are important for a pastor, lawyer and (obviously) writer. I’m a little ADHD and like being able to go from one thing to another. I tell people it’s like crop rotation—keeps things fresh. And, to be honest, writing is more like relaxation for me than a job. It gives me a break from the pressures of the other “real life” jobs and lets me go into a world where I get to control things! (Can we say “God complex” here?)

But none of that really answers your question. Three things help me juggle. One, I try to stay focused on the big stuff. It’s not that I do the little stuff second, I try not to do the little stuff at all. Second, I stay focused on what I can do well and let others worry about the stuff that is out of my control. In other words, I’m a master at delegation (think Tom Sawyer and the white picket fence). And third, I’ve learned to get comfortable with the fact that I will always have stuff in each of these areas that does not get done. As long as the ball is moving forward, I’ve got to be satisfied with that.

As for the part about having a life—I would have to object to that question on the grounds that it assumes facts not in evidence. :)

But seriously--I thank God that, in His grace, He allows me to do three separate things that I love doing so much. My prayer is that I might bring glory to Him in three different ways as I minister in each of these areas. (And yes, being a lawyer is a ministry.)

2. In all your novels, you often address a particular topic. How did you decide to address gun control in The Justice Game?

I like to write about moral issues that have no easy answer. On the issue of gun control, there are some pretty strong emotions on both sides. And people have typically trenched in—spouting off rehearsed arguments rather than trying to understand each other. But when you frame the issue in the context of a story, you can sometimes by-pass the automatic intellectual defenses and speak straight to the heart. I tried to create compelling characters on both sides of the story to help readers sort through the types of honest arguments that people of good faith make and then decide for themselves.

But on a larger scale, the issue of gun control is not really the focus of The Justice Game. The more important issues raised are these: (1) In America, can you “game” the criminal justice system? I have proposed a hypothetical system in The Justice Game that could do just that. (2) Can the main characters in the novel escape their past sins (and secrets) or will they let themselves remain captive to them? I once heard Rick Warren say that courage comes when you have nothing left to hide. That’s a concept I explore in The Justice Game.

3. As an attorney, you served as lead counsel in a school shooting case in Virginia. What happened and what impact did the case have?

This is from the author’s note at the beginning of the book:

On December 16, 1988, a fifteen-year-old student named Nicholas Elliot took a Cobray semiautomatic handgun to Atlantic Shores Christian School and opened fire. He shot and killed a teacher named Karen Farley and wounded an assistant principal, then burst into a trailer where a Bible class was meeting. When he attempted to open fire on the students huddled in the back corner of the trailer, the gun jammed. The Bible teacher, Hutch Matteson, tackled Elliot and prevented the kind of tragedy that hit Columbine High School in Colorado several years later.

Atlantic Shores was the school where my wife taught. It was the school my kids attended (though they were not there that day).

And when I learned that Elliot had purchased the gun illegally from a gun store in Isle of Wight County through a transaction referred to as a “straw purchase transaction,” I represented the family of Karen Farley in an unprecedented lawsuit against the gun store.

The verdict shocked everyone.

In terms of the impact this real case had on my writing—it made the writing of the book both harder and easier. Harder because we lost a friend in the Atlantic Shores shooting and it was difficult to relive the emotions of the shooting and subsequent case. Easier because authors should write what they know best. I didn’t have to imagine what the feelings of the attorneys would be as they tried this case of national importance on an issue with such raw emotions. I had walked in those shoes. From that perspective, this book might be the most realistic book I’ve written.

4. You had your readers determine the verdict in the court case at the center of the book. Why did you decide to go this route?

Two reasons. First, I thought it would be fun to create an interactive experience for readers. We put together a fake newscast with snippets of the closing arguments—just enough to inform readers about the case and let them vote. Second, I was trying to be balanced on this issue of gun control. What better way to demonstrate balance than to let the readers decide the verdict? Oh yeah, and third (if it’s not too late to add a third), the book ends up being about much more than just the verdict in the gun case. I knew that the ending would work out fine whichever way the verdict came out.

5. This spring marked ten years since the shooting at Columbine. How do you think that tragedy impacted today’s gun laws?

I think Columbine had a greater impact on school security than it did on our nation’s gun laws. I can’t trace a single national change in gun laws to the tragedy at Columbine. Even here in Virginia following the shootings at Virginia Tech, there was little that resulted from that tragedy in terms of additional gun control. In each case, the argument can be made that no matter what gun laws you have in place, the criminals will still be able to get their hands on guns. Restrictive laws only make it harder for law abiding citizens.

6. This is an issue that people feel very strongly about, one way or the other. Why do you think it is such an emotional issue for people?

Guns are powerful symbols of individual freedom and the right to protect oneself. Gun enthusiasts tend to be distrustful of government (for good reason) and see the right to bear arms as a bastion (pardon the pun) against governmental intrusions on individual rights. They also believe that it is ultimately up to them, not the government, to keep themselves secure in their own home. Take away their guns, and you’ve taken away their ability to defend themselves. On the other side, many people who believe in gun control have seen or been a part of needless tragedies where easy access to guns has proven deadly. Years ago, high school students might get in a fist fight and one or the other would end up with a bloody nose. Now, gangs use guns to settle scores—resulting in pointless homicides. Gun control advocates would argue that a gun should be at least as hard to get as a driver’s license.

Protecting your home, self-defense, the slaughter of young men in the inner city—these are emotional issues, all centered around the gun control debate.

7. How has the church typically viewed the issue of gun control versus gun rights?

Which church? White evangelical churches tend to be pro-gun. They typically emphasize the individual rights of citizens to protect themselves and safeguard themselves from a tyrannical government. African-American churches, especially those in the inner city, are typically in favor of more restrictions on firearms. This is because their families feel the brunt of gun violence.

8. What do you see happening in the national gun debate going forward?

Not much movement on either side. President Obama has been the best thing for gun store owners since the invention of the revolver. Fear that Obama might push for greater restrictions on gun usage has generated record sales in most stores. But the fact of the matter is that President Obama hasn’t shown much stomach for a fight on this issue. On the judicial side, the Supreme Court recently recognized that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms for individuals, not just militias as some gun control advocates had previously claimed. (There is some dispute over whether this just applies to the federal government or also the states). But the Court also said that the right was subject to reasonable regulation and control. You could hear the “Hallelujahs!” from attorneys everywhere since this virtually guaranteed a case-by-case fight over what regulations might be reasonable. So in summary, I think we’ve reached a stalemate on the gun control debate with the exception of these legal skirmishes over the details of attempts by cities and states to regulate the right to bear arms.

9. Since we’ve been discussing a heavy topic, we need something lighthearted to close out this interview. What’s your best lawyer joke?

It’s not actually my best, but it’s pretty quick.

They’ve started using lawyers instead of rats in laboratory experiments for three reasons: (1) there are more of them; (2) the scientists would sometimes get attached to the rats; and (3) there were some things the lab rats just wouldn’t do.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Enclave: CSFF Day 2

For more answers from Karen herself (like what I copied for you yesterday), visit her blog. But you may not want to go there if you haven't read the book. It contains minor spoilers as to part of the plot.

As promised, here is my review:

I was so enamored with this novel that I had to e-mail the author before I even finished it and tell her how excellent it was. Among other things, I told her how I’d be surprised if this didn’t turn out to be her best selling novel yet. I’m thankful that I found Arena all those years ago and turned into a Hancock fan.

Lacey McHenry, new research assistant at the Kendall-Jakes Longevity Institute, runs into trouble shortly after she’s hired. Not only have all the frogs in the tank escaped, but a strange man attacks her in the lab. When she tries to investigate, the powers that be cover up any evidence of the break-in and accident. What are they hiding?

Though geneticist Cameron Reinhardt is clumsy, aloof, and forgetful, Lacey feels he’s the only one she can trust to help her sort things out. They sort of team up and work together to find the truth and expose those who are up to some pretty nefarious deeds.

I rooted for the good guys, hated the bad guys, felt empathy and hate and frustration, and my heart beat faster quite frequently. Readers will experience a variety of emotions, keeping them safely encompassed in Hancock’s fictional world.

Speaking of the world, Hancock didn’t create a fantastical world for this book--it’s our own. However, the characters experiment, play God, encounter the occult, and discover some very disturbing and fantastical things/beings along the way.

I only wish I could say more about the plot and themes, but I would be giving too much away for those who haven’t succumbed to the curiosity they must be feeling about this novel. :)

Monday, July 20, 2009

CSFF July Tour: The Enclave, by Karen Hancock

I'm excited about this book! It was fantastic. My review tomorrow, but for now, here's info about the novel from the author herself from her blog on Wordpress--link at bottom of page (I left out the spoilers):

How did you develop the initial story idea/plot line for The Enclave?

Way back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, long before I began developing The Enclave, Biosphere II was a hot topic around Tucson, one I followed with great interest. It was (and is) a giant greenhouse designed to be a completely self-sustained world, cut off from any dependence upon earth, including air and water. Inside, 8 volunteers spent two years of their lives, from 1991 to 1993, seeing if they could survive without opening the hatch. (For the record, they could not.)

Unfortunately, what was initially presented to the public as a reputable scientific experiment was later revealed to be the outworking of theories of the cult leader who was behind it all. Members of the experimental team were also members of a world wide cult of “Synergists”. One of my long time friends was the veterinarian contracted by the group to advise them on care for the livestock they took into the Biosphere with them. She provided a number of intriguing anecdotes that confirmed the cult rumors. The whole thing fascinated me and I knew I wanted to write a story some day based upon it.

In considering what sort of world within our world I could create for The Enclave, it seemed to me that the Biosphere story would be a perfect model. My intent in this book was to explore the ways that different organizations and communities draw people in and keep them in bondage to their creeds, which are in opposition to the ways of God.

Because our perceived reality is often a composition of layers of deceit, I wanted to echo this in the story.

Book Link
Karen's Website
Karen's blog

And here are the links to my fellow participants' sites:
Brandon Barr
Jennifer Bogart
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
Emmalyn Edwards
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Beth Goddard
Todd Michael Greene
Heather R. Hunt
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Mike Lynch
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Elizabeth Williams

Monday, July 06, 2009

CFBA presents: Fatal Illusions, by Adam Blumer

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Fatal Illusions

Kregel Publications (March 5, 2009)


Adam Blumer


Adam Blumer lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with his wife, Kim, and his daughters, Laura and Julia.

He works full-time as a freelance writer and editor. A print journalism graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC), he served in editorial roles for fourteen years at Northland Baptist Bible College (Dunbar, WI) and Awana Clubs International Headquarters (Streamwood, IL).

He has published numerous short stories and articles. Fatal Illusions released by Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI) is his first novel.


An amateur magician, an unassuming family . . . a fatal illusion Haydon Owens wants to be the next Houdini. He has been practicing his craft and has already made four women disappear. All it took was a bit of rope and his two bare hands.

The Thayer family has come to the north woods of Newberry, Michigan, looking for refuge, a peaceful sanctuary from a shattered past. But they are not alone. Little do they know that they are about to become part of Haydon's next act. Time is running out and already the killer has spotted his next victim. Who will escape alive?

If you would like to read the first chapter of Fatal Illusions, go HERE

“Fatal Illusions is an engaging, fast-paced read with a captivating storyline that grabs you from page one and doesn't let go. Highly recommended!”--Mark Mynheir, homicide detective and author of The Night Watchman

“An awesome ride!”--Rosey Dow, Christy Award winning author of Reaping the Whirlwind

“Adam Blumer tells a fast-paced story that weaves together a serial killer, a physically wounded pastor and his spiritually wounded wife. The twists and turns will keep readers guessing.”--Rick Acker, author of Blood Brothers