Say, can my teenage daughter read your book?

My novel has officially been released for a week now, and one of the most fascinating and enjoyable parts is hearing all the different reactions to the story. Aspects of the story emerge which I’d never considered while writing it, such as quotes and character quirks and even whole themes. One of those I’m most thrilled about has been arriving in my inbox as a question:

“Is this something my teenage daughter could read?”

After all, two of the main characters are teens: Anniston is 13, quirky and precocious, though somewhat of a loner because of the lies and turmoil brewing in her family. Her best friend, Jed, is a teenage boy from the wrong side of the tracks, but with a heart of gold.

While I defer to the parents to ultimately make that decision, my personal answer is unequivocally


A small part of me might have been hesitant about this, initially. After all, the book, set in 1980, is a modern-day allegory of the rape and subsequent murders which occurred between King David’s children, in II Samuel 13. Though not graphically or gratuitously depicted in any way within my novel, it is obvious that these things do occur within the story.


…consider that Scholastic targets 11-13 year olds for the Hunger Games series.

…consider the frightening statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice about the horrors teens are experiencing in their daily lives.

…consider even more statistics, of which teens are largely impacted, from RAINN, one of the most highly respected organizations focusing on the prevention of seal assault and abuse.

…consider the number of teens in our schools and churches you probably already know who are dealing with things like cutting, domestic violence, sexual abuse.

Now, think about where these teens can find hope.

How Sweet the Sound is a novel written to give readers hope.

Hope that God is in the midst of pain.

Hope that the wounded can recover.

Hope that someone will believe in us when we can’t believe in ourselves.

Hope that beauty comes from within, no matter how scarred and ruined we may feel.

And hope that love wins.

So yeah, I’d say your teenage daughter can read this book.

I dare say, considering all the other forms of media vying for her attention, that she should.


“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young…” I Timothy 4:12




“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young…” I Timothy 4:12


How Sweet the Sound character preview: Jed Manon

A rebel.

Maybe he has a cause.

Maybe he doesn’t.

Maybe his role in the story is to find one.

Unannounced and unexpected, Jed Manon arrives bigger than life in Bay Spring, bringing with him secrets of his own.

Will he and Anniston face the dangers lurking in Jed’s life, a life markedly different from her own?

Together, what will they learn about trust?


Even, and perhaps, love?


How Sweet the Sound: A Novel

Available for preorder now at your favorite online, national, or local bookstore.

Arrives on bookshelves March 1, 2014


Boy rolling a cigarette. Kentucky, 1964. William Gedney Photographs and Writings Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library.

Boy rolling a cigarette. Kentucky, 1964. William Gedney Photographs and Writings Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library.

one thing in the middle of all the big

I am ashamed.

I also want to switch churches.

The first problem I’ll explain below.

The second one is only a half-truth, because I do love my home church. For one thing, most of my best friends go there. For another, it’s unapologetically Bible-based, God-fearing, and truth-speaking. For another, it’s a lot closer to home than the church I want to switch to.

About 850 miles closer.

See, we went on vacation last week to a little town on the coast of Florida . . . the sort of rare town left on the Gulf these days that maintains a sense of history, a sacredness of nature, one Piggly Wiggly, no fast food joints, and no high rises.

Like many Southern towns, there’s a church on every corner. The Baptists, the Episcopalians, the Catholics, the Methodists–each of them own a corner spot on main street.

But they’re small.

Real small.

And because of their smallness, they’re rather charming, and, well, curious-looking.




On the first (and only) Sunday of our vacation, I dragged my mom along with me to the Methodist Church–the oldest church in town. My intent: to sit in the back row, sneak in a few iPhone pictures, write some notes on the hairstyles, dialects, clothing, and face contours of parishioners for character studies for a future novel, and sneak back out.

But ooooooohhhhhh noooooo.

God, and the pastor–a charismatic young Grecian named Themistocles (“Themo” for short) from Maryland (you can’t make these things up)–spotted my mom and I the instant we walked through the creaky wooden threshold. Seeing as how the head count was 62 the week before (this, of course, posted on an old attendance/hymn board in the front of the sanctuary), I suppose we stuck out like a couple of sore Yankees. He ran over, shook our hands, and introduced himself. Once everyone had taken a seat, we were asked–along with a couple of other mortified first-timers–to stand and tell everyone our names, where we were from, and a little about ourselves. (Have I mentioned spontaneous public speaking gives me panic attacks?)

Themistocles praised God for “all the visitors God spoke to, to come worship with them that day.” Then he began to pray over each person in that sanctuary, laying hands on the hurting, asking others to surround and lay hands on the broken, commissioning a team going to serve in Nicaragua that week, and calling everyone by name.

I sank in my pew, ashamed that I’d come there to scope out “what kind of people went to a church like that.”

Red-faced and avoiding Themo’s intense gaze, I flipped through the program, and noticed the prayer needs of the sick, the hurting, the healed, the newly married, and the newborns were listed by name on the back.

Then Themo began to preach.

Oh, how he preached!

He preached for 30 solid minutes on Romans. About grace and hope. About sanctification and edification. About justification and condemnation. About faith and forbearance. About kindness and patience. Good and evil. He even mentioned the word predestination–Lord have mercy!

Most of all, Themo talked about how the Kingdom of God is busting out all over, and that we are the ones–you and I–to usher it in.

Then he asked the youth of the church to come forward and receive communion.


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He asked the youth to come forward first.

The coming generation.

The ones many of us think should take communion last–if at all.

The teens and pre-teens walked forward, knelt in a semicircle before the communion table, ate the bread, and drank the wine.

And then, we who were used to going first were last.




We sang the doxology in harmonies without a choir to help us.

And I realized how much I miss singing that sacred prayer at the end of the offering.




An elderly woman played the organ, and we sang Amazing Grace.

A young man (who happened to look like Chris Martin) and another played acoustic guitars, and a teenager played the bass, and we sang…


Your love never fails

it never gives up

never gives up on me . . .

. . . this one thing remains . . .

. . . and on and on and on and on it goes
yes it overwhelms and satisfies my soul
and I’ll never ever have to be afraid
’cause this one thing remains

this One thing



Big church, big music, big theology, big exegesis, big feminism, big programming, big movements, big projects, big cheap grace, and yes, even big discipleship.

What does all the big mean, if we’re missing this One thing . . .

. . . this One thing that remains in the hearts of 62 parishioners as it has in the tens of generations of hearts before them, embraced by the chippy clapboard walls of a church most postmodernists would dismiss . . .

. . . but where, on a Sunday morning in June, this One thing was bigger than I’ve felt in a hundred Sundays of big church put together.

One thing.












The Lord has promised good to me.

His word my hope secures.

He will my shield and portion be,

As long as life endures.


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