Monday, August 31, 2009

Review of The Knight by Steven James

Steven James has written another compelling thriller with The Knight. I'm again amazed at his ability to weave together such complex tapestry of facts and events without confusing the reader but keeping them guessing until the end.

I'd been warned that The Knight is a darker book than his previous ones, and half-expected that I might not be able to finish it. (My imagination is too active, and I have tossed out books by some best-selling authors because they are too sick.) However, James manages to write about a truly sick, sociopathic killer and some hideous crimes without making me feel personally soiled by the images. (Although, I must admit, the snakes freaked me out, but that's a personal issue.) Don't get me wrong--I was on the edge of my seat at times, and Giovanni (the murderer) made my skin crawl, especially when he was remembering his grandmother's murder. This is an engaging book.

I've enjoyed learning more about the characters, especially the relationship between Patrick and his stepdaughter, Tessa. The warmth, the humor, the fumbling attempts to do the right thing. As a mom of teens, I want to shout advice to poor Patrick, but the whole relationship is very believable--and very touching. This time, Patrick handles some tough issues, and I admire his resolutions. No, no spoilers--go read the book.

In fact, go out and get your copy--or order it by clicking on the Amazon link. This is a terrific thriller, a solid mystery, and a great story.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Knight by Steven James

The stakes have never been higher. FBI Agent Patrick Bowers is used to tracking the country's most dangerous killers, but now it looks like a killer is tracking him. When he realizes the murderer is using clues from a medieval manuscript as a blueprint for his crimes, Bowers faces a race against time to decipher who the next victim will be and to stop the final shocking murder--which he's beginning to believe might be his own.

A word of caution: This book is considered "gritty, chilling and intense." It contains graphic descriptions of disturbing crime scenes. While not for the faint of heart, the series has been described as "suspense thriller writing at its highest level" and is likely to keep you up all night.

Steven's Website:

Interview with Steven:

1. Tell us a little about the series.

Patrick Bowers, an FBI criminologist who uses cutting-edge 21st century investigative techniques, tracks a variety of killers, arsonists, cult leaders and criminal masterminds. The novels are suspenseful and filled with high-octane action. I’ve loved working on the series and hearing from the growing fan base about how they’ve grown close to the characters, especially Patrick’s stepdaughter, Tessa.

2. What do you enjoy about writing these books?

Well, I’m not sure my wife appreciates the long hours I have to put in! At least she’s been very supportive over the years. Peraonally, I enjoy the challenge of coming up with complex plots. Each book feels like putting together 125,000 word puzzle. It takes me nearly a year, but in the end, it’s worth it. I think.

3. Does any part of the story, character or subject disturb you? How do you work through that,if so?

When writing from the point-of-view of the sadistic serial killers, it can be a bit troubling. All right, more than “a bit.” For instance, last summer, the killer from The Knight began to give me nightmares and I had to put the book aside and finish writing a prayer book I’ve been working on. (It’s called A Heart Exposed, and will be released later this fall.)

4. What reaction do you hope readers get from this book?

Two things. First, as a Christian, I have a strong belief in the reality of both good and evil, in the dignity of life and the tragedy of death. So, when I present evil, I want it to be disturbing rather than alluring. I want to bring humanity to the characters so that when someone is killed, it matters. That’s the way it is in real life and I want my fiction to reflect that.

Second, I write with a moral question in mind that drives the story. Typically, it’s a moral dilemma like “What’s more important, truth or justice?” I would like readers to spend time thinking about these questions that ultimately matter. The novels present hope as real and available from God, and of course I would like my readers to discover that as well.

5. What's next? The Bishop? The Queen? Checkmate?

The Bishop will release summer of 2010. We’re planning four more books after The Bishop: The Queen, The King, Checkmate, and then a prequel entitled Opening Moves, so I guess Patrick Bowers and his stepdaughter Tessa will be around for awhile! By the way, readers can find out more about the series at

Available August 2009 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bleeder by John Desjarlais

When classics professor Reed Stubblefield is disabled in a school shooting, he retreats to a rural Illinois cabin to recover and to write a book on Aristotle in peace. Oddly, in the chill of early March, the campgrounds and motels of tiny River Falls are filled with the ill and infirm -- all seeking the healing touch of the town’s new parish priest, reputed to be a stigmatic. Skeptical about religion since his wife’s death from leukemia, Reed is nevertheless drawn into a friendship with the cleric, Rev. Ray Boudreau, an amiable Aquinas scholar with a fine library -- who collapses and bleeds to death on Good Friday in front of horrified parishioners. A miracle? Or bloody murder? Once Reed becomes the prime suspect in the mysterious death, he seeks the truth with the help of an attractive local reporter and Aristotle’s logic before he is arrested or killed -- because not everyone in town wants this mystery solved...

Interview with John Desjarlais:

1. Why did you write this book?

I’d been writing historical novels and wanted to try a contemporary mystery since I’ve always enjoyed reading them. But I wanted it to explore ‘higher mysteries’ of faith, love, suffering, and healing.

2. What was hardest to write about this book?

There were many more challenges with a mystery than there were with my historicals. You’d think the research would be daunting for an historical novel – and it is. But for this mystery, I had to do all sorts of research into professional areas I knew little about: blood diseases like leukemia and other medical material, poisons, police interrogation and investigative procedure, Catholic liturgy and theology of suffering. Everything must be completely authentic. Then there was the challenge of plotting a coherent and credible whodunit by following most of the time-honored ‘rules’ for the genre that readers expect you to follow. Then there was the fact that the identity of the killer was kept secret from me for a long time. The characters I suspected at first didn’t do it. That was a surprise.

3. What did you enjoy writing the most?

The End. Seriously, the ending where everything pulls together. It’s a shocker.

4. What do you hope folks will get from this book?

A sense of hope – that there can be significance in suffering. This will be poignant for Christians who can identify closely with the Man of Sorrows who is acquainted with grief. Catholics in particular have a strong theology about this, in uniting their suffering to Christ’s own Passion. At the same time, I hope readers enjoy the story and the puzzle aspect of it.

5. What's next for you?

I’m at work on the sequel that features a minor character from the first book as the protagonist. Latina insurance agent Selena De La Cruz learns her name has been written in a Catholic church’s All Souls Day ‘Book of the Deceased’ along with several other names – dope dealers who are being killed one by one in the order they appear in the book. Selena must work against time, the suspicions of her own Latino community, and the prejudices of a small town to help police find the killer before her turn comes up. The story will have a rich backdrop of Aztec mythology and Mexican Catholicism, and I’m doing lots of research on drug gangs, DEA operations, and venomous snakes. Oh, and guns. And fixing up vintage cars (Selena drives a ’69 Dodge Charger; she got it from her brother Antonio who was killed in a motor pool accident in Germany while on duty there with the Army and – well, I could go on).

More about John at:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bookkeeping Basics for Freelance Writers by Brigitte A. Thompson

(Note: Brigitte kindly supplied this interview, which contains the synopsis as well as some great insights.)

Tell us what Bookkeeping Basics for Freelance Writers is about.

Writers have many important questions to ask about income and expenses, but no single source for answers. I created this book, Bookkeeping Basics for Freelance Writers, to be that source. It is an easy-to-understand guide to organizing a writer’s financial life.

This book addresses issues writers face daily such as how to deduct travel expenses, determine taxable writing income, and claim home office deductions. Navigating through the recordkeeping required for a small business owner can be difficult. This book is written exclusively for those of us who earn money by writing.

Readers will also find that each part of this book works together to assist in forming an overall business plan. The chapters take the writer through a comprehensive process that works as a building block towards a successful writing business.

Have you found that freelance writers require a different set of bookkeeping rules?

Many bookkeeping rules are universal such as the requirement to record income, but there are some areas of the tax law that are of more interest to freelance writers. This includes dealing with royalty payments, bartering, personal property and agent fees. My book addresses the universal tax rules as well as the infrequently discussed rules that apply specifically to freelance writers.

Learning how to document expenses and how to track income will give writers the best chance at overall business success.

What are some tax deductions that freelance writers might not be aware of?

There are many tax deductions available to writers. Some expenses are common, such as the cost of purchasing a case of paper or paying for a computer software upgrade. Other costs incurred in the operation of your writing business may not jump out at you as expenses when they could be. For example, consider the following accounts.

Mileage: Trips made in your vehicle to pick up office supplies can be counted as a business deduction if you record the proper information to support it.

Meals: Treating your agent to a restaurant meal with the discussion focusing on your next book can also generate a tax deduction when properly documented.

Shipping: UPS charges and postage used to mail a query or review copy of your book can be a small expense, but it should still be tracked. Those small deductions add up and every penny spent as a qualified business expense will reduce the amount of income tax you owe.

Bookkeeping Basics for Freelance Writers devotes an entire chapter to expenses including a comprehensive listing of expenses and detailed information regarding what documentation is required to support each one.

I'm sure you've observed other freelance writers making accounting missteps that cost them time and money. What are some of the most common issues and how can we avoid them?

The most common misstep I’ve seen with writers is not taking themselves seriously as business owners. This can lead to financial pitfalls. Many writers have been honing their craft for years so it’s hard to identify an official starting date for their self-employment. Without this point to mark the beginning, it is easy to put off tracking income and expenses. This can be an unfortunate mistake.

The IRS will consider you to be in business when you are actively pursuing projects intended to generate income and expenses. This means they will expect you to file a tax return to report those transactions. Keeping track of your income and expenses from day one will enable you to pay the least amount of income taxes on the money you earn.

Many people find numbers, especially when related to bookkeeping and taxes, intimidating. Will this book make these things easier to understand"?

Yes, my book breaks down complicated number crunching into easy to follow steps. By reading the book, readers will understand why it's important to keep certain receipts and how those pieces of paper factor into the overall success of their writing business. Sometimes knowing the reasoning behind a task makes it easier to complete.

Writers can take advantage of some wonderful tax deductions, but only when they are aware of the possibility and know how to accurately document the expenses. My book explains it all in a reader friendly format.

What are some of the challenges readers face with regards to bookkeeping?

I found the most common challenge writers face revolves around what they can claim as income and what counts as a tax deduction. For example, if their first job is writing the school newsletter, is the money received really income? Do they need to do something with the Internal Revenue Service before they can be considered a business? How do they handle self- employment tax?

The second most common concern for the freelance writers is related to proper documentation. What receipts did they need to save? How should they be kept? What information needs to be recorded to prove the expense?

These are all great questions and they are addressed in the book.
Why is it important for writers to understand bookkeeping?

Writers are earning money and this money needs to be reported as income on their income tax return. If writers do not have any expenses to claim, their taxable income will be higher and they will owe more income tax.

Understanding what can be claimed as business expenses when you are a writer and how to properly document these expenses will help ensure the success of your business.

The most important thing you can do as a writer is to become organized. There are many books available on how to organize your writing, but this is the best book available about how to organize the financial side of your writing business.

Obviously, your book is a great place for writers to get information on bookkeeping. Are there are any other resources you recommend?

Yes, I recommend writers visit the IRS web site ( to research specific tax issues and the Small Business Administration ( for general business information.

I also recommend joining professional associations for writers such as American Society of Journalists and Authors (, The Authors Guild ( and National Writers Union ( There are many groups to choose from so consider the benefits of membership before joining.

I was interviewed recently by Freelance Success ( which offers an insightful newsletter for their members. There are also online groups for writers such as MomWriters ( offering networking opportunities as well as camaraderie.

How can we purchase your book?

Bookkeeping Basics for Freelance Writers is available through and my publisher ( Any local bookstore can order my book by ISBN-10: 0963212389 or ISBN-13: 978-0963212382. List price is $17.95.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cling to Hope with Joy: Messages from Scripture by Janet Klasson

Cling to Hope with Joy: Messages from Scripture is a dialogue with the living God of Scripture. In these excerpts from the author's Scriptural prayer journal, the voice of God speaks to the reader's heart. Through words of love, hope, joy, encouragement, correction, and consolation the reader feels drawn into the heart of God, the Breath of Love. These powerful messages are intimate, profound, and prophetic. In these reflections, the Word becomes flesh once again and dwells among us. He is near and He brings a message for our time: Cling to hope with joy!

Janet Klasson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to the newsletter of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis. In over eleven years of practicing prayerful lectio divina, she has come to know in a personal way the Word made flesh. By being open to the still, small voice of the Spirit, she has been given a pearl of great price—a collection of reflections and teachings that have helped her navigate through the treacherous waters of this age. Through a series of excerpts from the Pelianito Journal, readers are invited to draw near to the Beloved, who is "as near to you as your own breath." Come and see.

All proceeds from the sale of this book go to Ephphatha House, a retreat center in the Archdiocese of Edmonton, Canada, which features a perpetual adoration chapel. Ephphatha House will be the main distributor for the book in Canada.

U.S. orders may be placed through U.S. $10.00/Canada $12.00. For more information or to contact the author, please visit

An Interview with Janet:

Why did you write this book?

“'I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you.' (Acts 3:6)

For several years, I have been practicing lectio divina and keeping a Scriptural prayer journal. In remaining open to the still, small voice of the Spirit, I have been given a pearl of great price—a beautiful dialogue with the living God of Scripture. Almost from the beginning, I felt that the messages in my journal were not for me alone. And since many of them were written during a time of personal trial, they translate very well into this age of uncertainty and global instability. Indeed, there is a providential timeliness to them. Some of the messages speak about a time of trial for the world, one which is seems now to be well underway. I feel our Lord's purpose in revealing such things is not to instill fear, or even to predict future events, but to build hope and trust in the God who is with us to the end of the age.

What was the best part of writing this?

The best part of writing this book was walking with our Lord on the road to Emmaus and having Scripture opened to me. Scripture tells us that the disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus recognized him in the breaking of the bread. In my experience, Scripture became the bread, broken through the reflections to reveal the Lord and to draw me into a deeper relationship with him. It is my great joy now to be able to share this bread, and through it I hope that many others will also come to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

What was hardest?

When you agree to follow Jesus, it shouldn't come as a surprise when he hands you a cross. The hardest part for me is making public something so deeply personal. My instinct is to hide my light under a bushel basket, to take no risks. But Jesus tells us to set our light on a lamp stand where it will give light to the whole house. He doesn't give us gifts for our own secret pleasure, but for the building up of his Body, the Church. In answering the call to publish my journal, I had to pray for the courage to answer, “Here I am, Lord, send me.”

What do you hope readers will get from this book?

Simply put—hope, that spring of living water whose source is the heart of Christ, the hope that no earthly trial can take away. When times are bad, people ask, “Where is God?” This book answers, “He is as near to you as your own breath. Cling to hope with joy.” That is the essence of the Good News.

What's next for you?

I am now working on getting more of my journal into print. This book is a very small sampling, bits and sips from the past eleven years. There is much more to share, many more pages of the beautiful words of love and encouragement that have helped me to navigate the treacherous waters of the age. I pray that God's will alone may be done in this project and in all things.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

the Window to My Soul by Tannia Ortiz-Lopes

The Window to my soul, My Walk with Jesus, is a remarkable and unique book of inspirational poetic prayers and meditations. The book is the author’s profession of her love for Jesus and of thanks to God for the many gifts and talents that He has given her. It also expresses her deep gratitude for God's sending His only begotten Son to die for her sins and allowing her and many more to find peace in Christ and an open door back to heaven. It is a total surrender to the teachings and guidance of the Holy Spirit during the study of the Scriptures. These poetic prayers and reflections are the author's way of pouring out her heart and soul while meditating on God's Word and the marvellous daily miracles in her life.

In March 2006, the book was voted “Best Poetry Book” by

The book can be purchased directly from the publisher at, or from Amazon.

An Interview With Tannia:

Why did you write this book?

In 2003 I had a very vivid dream in which I was confronted with two realities: I was unprepared to die and the thought of this lack of preparation frightened me to my bones. In order to check my self-worth and seek some internal peace, I attended a silent spiritual retreat. Those who know me well always laugh at this, because I talk even on my sleep. The attendees were only allowed to speak during our evening meals. In one of those evenings, I shared two of my poems with another woman. She commented I should consider publishing them. The next day I asked my assigned spiritual director at the retreat house and she told me the same thing. The next week when I met with Fr. Bill, my permanent spiritual director, he shared the sentiment of those two persons. So I looked up at heaven and said: ''Ok, God. I got the message. You want me to publish them.'' On July 2004 my book, The Window to my Soul; My walk with Jesus was published by Tate Publishing.

What is your favorite part of it?

This question is hard to answer. The book is divided in four sections: A New Beginning, Walking a Mile with Job and then some... (Job 1-17), Reflections while walking with God and Jesus, and Through the Darkness. Each section is a reflection of my spiritual growth, my doubts, my victories, praises, and thanksgiving for God's blessings in my life. However, if I have to pick one poem, then I would choose: ''Who am I?'' This poem is the summary of my trials and triumphs. It is also the poem that most readers seem to identify themselves with. It is a poem that applies to all of us because it ponders over the never answered question, ''Who am I?''

What was hardest to write about it?

The hardest was the selection of the reflections and poems for the book and their edits. Some poems were very hard to reread and to write since they brought back those emotions that inspired them. Some of them were praises and joy for God's blessings in my life. Others had a darker tone since they echoed my uncertainty about God's will to my life. My calling was strong and my overwhelming respond to Jesus is still very vivid in my memory. I wondered in the wilderness for 40 years and then one day Jesus said: ''Enough! This one is coming back to the flock.'' He wanted to call my attention and he did in a very effective way. He used His tough love strategy and it worked! I am just glad that He never gave up on me.

What do you hope readers get from it?

It is my hope and desire that the reader gets a better better understanding of Jesus' unconditional love for each one of us. He is watching over us and waits patiently for us to come to His tender, loving arms to rest. All meditations, reflections, and poems are written in a very personal and intimate tone. The reader will be able to see through the window to my soul; my walk with Jesus. Most of the comments I have heard are: ''I was unable to put it down.'' ''I keep it at my night table and read it before I go to bed.'' ''Every time I read it, I get a new meaning to the reflection I read.'' I considered those comments from different readers very encouraging. Most of the readers who have been touched by my book are women. However, a couple of men have also commented on the depth of its message.

What's next for you?

I am currently working with the Spanish version of this book. This time, I chose the print-on-demand (POD) provider, Pleasant Word, to produce the book. I am very pleased with my choice. The Spanish title is El Espejo de mi Alma. This book will be published with my name and not the pen name of Mary Magdalene used for the English publication. In addition to writing inspirational poetry and meditations, I also write book reviews for and I recently joined the Thomas Nelson's book review blogers program.

However, my most ambitious project is the writing of a book in German regarding WWII. The book is based on eye witnesses account of Germans who survived the war and their experiences during that dark time in Germany's history. This book is scheduled for publication in 2012, if it is God's will.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Virtual Vice by Jason Kays

In Virtual Vice by Jason Kays, readers follow disillusioned entertainment attorney Ian McKenzie as his professional life takes a decided turn for the questionable when he is hired by the charismatic and dangerous Scott White to represent Scott’s interests in his cutting edge Internet startup, Metropoleis Multimedia. Unfortunately for Ian, Scott has more in common with Scarface’s Tony Montana than Apple’s Steve Jobs, and things go from questionable to deadly in no time flat. As Scott’s confidant and consigliore, Ian soon finds himself caught between the Feds, La Cosa Nostra, and the Cali Cartel in a fatal game of corporate winner-take-all.


About Jason: Jason M. Kays is an intellectual property attorney with fifteen years experience in both information technology and entertainment law. Kays is an accomplished jazz trumpet player and his passion has always been music, technology, and convergence of the two in today's digital age. This is his first novel.

Read an excerpt:

The return of the Talking Head

The day of the Talking Head’s return to the compound for broadcast of the Metropoleis Messianic Minute was a tense affair for the Board members and Netcast crew alike. In fact, “Iron” Mark Rimer was insistent that all MIII executives be off-premise the day Clarice Westwater was on location for the weekly live Netcast. Westwater pulled up to the compound at break-neck speed in a 1955 sapphire blue Series 62 Cadillac convertible. A huge spiraling conical plume of dust marked her wake. Accompanying Westwater were two particularly striking fellow female flight attendants: one driving the car, the other serving as personal assistant, and tightly clasping the Talking Head’s Hermès agenda and portfolio. A third woman, a 5’11” tall striking Eurasian make-up artist sporting a Versace dress that left little to the imagination, shared the back seat with Clarice’s personal assistant. The Talking Head deigned to carry nothing more than the “pooch purse” containing her beloved dog, Bitsie.

Clarice’s entourage followed her lock step at a brisk pace into the Ministry’s broadcast studio. Westwater led the ensemble, with her handlers fanning out behind her as she walked, forming a quadrangle. This formation permitted the Talking Head’s minions to deflect any riffraff that might attempt to approach their leader from the rear or flank, such as the gawking and dazed johns stumbling from the dimly lit whorehouse into the blinding Arizona sun. The johns and the few sex workers milling about came to a standstill and stared at the procession, as it made its way towards Mark Rimer’s welcoming outstretched hand.

The CTO warmly greeted the Talking Head and walked her into the studio. The crew, accustomed to Westwater’s enormous ego, flamboyance, and eccentric excesses, found themselves staring at this latest display of pomp and circumstance. Those that didn’t check themselves and avert their gaze in time out of deference to MIII’s royalty were treated to Clarice’s icy, reproachful stare. Rimer found himself shifting position, using his body to shield the Talking Head from the invasive gaping of the “little people”, as she commonly referred to MIII staffers. Clarice asked Rimer to take her directly to her dressing room. Once she was seated, her make-up artist hurriedly began assembling her face, while the self-appointed diva barked orders to anyone within earshot for coffee and bottled water in her distinctive South-East U.K. accent.

Usurpation with a smile

Primped, preened, and primed for her adoring unwashed masses, the Talking Head summoned Pastor Petey for a pre-show huddle. No shrinking violet himself, Petey had been humbled by the Netcast’s drop in ratings and revenue since Westwater’s departure, not to mention the torrent of bad press. The Talking Head directed the good pastor to sit in a chair across from her. Her demeanor was as cool and detached as her eyes were inflamed and focused. Much like a fighter pilot’s targeting system locking in on its military objective, Westwater’s piercing eyes fixed themselves on the pastor’s pallid, weary face. She said nothing for a good thirty seconds, simply staring at her new subordinate. Although it was an affront to every fiber in his person, the pastor knew he was outranked by her. Clarice’s brilliant blue eyes seemed to take on an ethereal quality in contrast to her blood red Vera Wang dress. Pastor Petey likened the penetrating force of Westwater’s countenance to a horrific memory from childhood of watching a neighbor boy slip near a commercial chipping machine, and his skin being stripped from hand to elbow in mere seconds. The de-gloving of skin from bone, surgically and instantaneously carried out by that machine was not unlike the ability of Clarice Westwater’s brutalizing stare to cleave psyche, soul, and flesh. These past few years with Scott White had caused the pastor to question the existence of his God – any god. Sitting across from Westwater, Pastor Petey may have doubted the existence of God, but he was convinced of the existence of the Devil.

After what seemed like an eternity of silence, the pastor tired of the manipulation, and decided to launch in with forced cordiality: “Clarice, great to have you back on board. I admit there have been a few awkward moments between us, but I always have appreciated your contribution to the Ministry’s work, in general, and to the Metropoleis Messianic Minute, in particular. I just felt awful about . . .”

Westwater abruptly stopped Petey in mid-sentence by raising an alabaster hand with index finger extended heavenward. She spoke briefly and pointedly, instructing God’s servant thus: “Ahhh Petey, so good once again to be in your company! We both know that if Scott felt he had a choice, I wouldn’t be here. But he doesn’t have a choice, does he? The Ministry, and MIII along with it, is up against the ropes. Not only that, but news of MIII’s tailspin has been splashed all over the business section of the world’s most prominent newspapers. This can’t be good for investor goodwill; forget new investors, you’ll be lucky to hold onto the present shareholders. So, let’s cut the crap, Pastor.”

As if on cue, Clarice Westwater’s assistant handed her a portfolio containing the grim financials for Metropoleis Messianic Minute’s last two business quarters. The Talking Head was flanked by her personal assistant and driver, while her stylist continued to fine-tune her boss’ formidable head of hair. Clarice rattled off figures, as her bookends watched the pastor squirm uneasily in his chair. Then she continued, “We can sit here and argue the numbers, but it’s a moot issue: the Netcast is flat-lining. Hooker Nun’s lips weren’t able to bring it back from the dead, so I’ve been brought in for a mouth-to-mouth. Never send a whore to do a courtesan’s work.”

Pastor Petey bristled at the slur targeting his love interest, but let it go. Westwater concluded, “I don’t count necrophilia among my fancies; so the faster I’m able to get a pulse and make my exit, the better. No doubt we are like-minded here. If there’s a way to resuscitate the show, I’ll find it; in the interim, you and your trollop need to step aside. You still have a place in the Netcast, but it’s limited to doing what you do best – preaching from that dog-eared book of yours. I’ll be both hosting and scripting the shows. ‘Sister Lorelei’ had best return to what she excels at – blow jobs – and leave grifting to the professionals.

“As for the live audience – using your prostitutes and johns? If you creative geniuses ever bothered to leave the confines of this loony bin, you would see how this, more than anything else, has made a mockery of the show and turned it into a sitcom among the majority of your viewers. Since when have comedians received tithing, particularly when the comedy is unintended? No one is going to pony up donations for something they can see for free on network television. The studio audience goes. The Netcast’s audience – and its bad press – have grown exponentially, not because it’s good, but because it’s so bad. A big audience is never a bad thing, but it becomes irrelevant when a broadcast has no sponsors and its ability to attract donors has atrophied. My publicist has already sent out email circulars announcing my return to the parishioners. From here on out, I’m Christ’s Commandant; you follow my lead. For heaven’s sake, have make-up do something with that ever-present shine on your forehead before we greet our pious masses. That’s all for now, Pastor.”

Pastor Pete Huckalby was furious at this upbraiding, but knew better than to take on the Talking Head. Petey saw Clarice Westwater as a true paradox: both victim and victimizer. In his line of work, he often counseled battered women to leave their spouses. While each case was unique, there was a common pattern and shared traits. Westwater was different. Scott White had deposited her at death’s door numerous times and, more often than not, she had endured the ordeal without going to the police, family or friends. She would appear defeated and vulnerable in the aftermath of this violence. Yet, she always quickly reverted to her cold, calculating, unfeeling self, then proceeded to dish out the abuse verbally, psychologically, and emotionally to all, but her closest confidants – and that was a very small group, indeed. The Talking Head was so inherently manipulative, parasitical, and self-serving that it was difficult to have compassion for the woman.

“Lights, cameras, Jesus!”

After a visit to wardrobe and make-up to address that cranial glare, Pastor Petey joined his imperious co-host on the sound stage – littered, once again, with the Talking Head’s opulent rococo and Greco-Roman props. The set was saturated with rich embroideries, gilt, and tassels. Gold, purple, forest-green, and blood red predominated. Even Westwater’s pug, Bitsie, managed a disapproving countenance, lording over the scurrying grips and stagehands from atop her leopard skin recamier. Petey loathed the brainless purebred, but Bitsie’s return had been a precondition set by Clarice.

The Talking Head seated herself in a regal high-back chair, with her pug to her right. Both on and off-stage, Pastor Petey dressed with the conservative minimalism of a Quaker. His somber attire clashed dramatically with the Talking Head’s choice of wardrobe. Her outfit screamed “secular humanist”. Clarice was seldom satisfied with the imported haute-couture offerings of New York’s textile district. When her income allowed, she purchased directly from the various fashion houses in Europe. To mark her return, she was sporting a lavish Jean Paul Gaultier formal, dark green gown with plunging front and back. The empire waist accentuated her saline bosom. Clarice’s left shoulder was left bare by a drop strap, while ostrich feathers embellished the gown’s right shoulder, extending upwards, over the shoulder, and cascading down the back of the dress.

A technician cued the Netcast’s theme music, as Petey moved stage center to announce the return of Clarice Westwater from her (wholly fictitious) humanitarian crusade in Africa. The Talking Head’s reworking of the Netcast began with its theme music. The saccharine refrains of puddin’ pop alto saxophonist Kenny G. had been replaced with the sternum-vibrating Gangsta Rap beat of artiste Fifty Cent. The Talking Head intentionally hadn’t forewarned her co-host about the switch to throw him off his game. She succeeded in her endeavor. Historically, the Metropoleis Messianic Minute opened with a darkened stage and Pastor Petey in a soft blue spotlight, head bowed in piety, arms crossed prosaically, holding the Good Book snug against his crisp white starched shirt. Unbeknownst to the pastor, Clarice had replaced the aging audio equipment with six eight-foot-tall studio monitors and a bank of subwoofers, fueled by a rack of Crown power amplifiers, putting out 50,000 watts of libidinous lyricism. Fifty Cent’s “Candy Shop” hit the studio like a neutron bomb, following Scott White’s voice-over introduction of the show’s topics. Six back-up dancers – three male, three female – emerged from either side of the stage. The dancers, their lithe, near naked bodies well-greased, began to gyrate to the music. The wall of sound sucker-punched Pastor Petey, knocking him back on his heels. He lost his grip on his dog-eared Bible, dropping to his knees to catch the book before it hit the floor. While rising to his feet, Petey noticed the scantily clad dancers and dropped the Bible again.

The synchronized pelvic thrusts of the dancers slowed in rhythm as the music faded. The dancers struck rigid, statuesque poses behind the pastor: three female dancers to his right, three males to his left. The soft blue spotlight morphed to red, then purple, as Petey cleared his throat and head to speak. He was furious over the audio ambush and the change in show format. His face turned a deep crimson with rage at the mere thought of having to lavish praise upon the Talking Head, much less enact his new role as her footman. There were no doubts about her malicious intent: he could clearly see the mischievous grimace cross Westwater’s face as she watched Petey struggle to steady himself.

After regaining his composure, the pastor spoke into Camera #2 through clenched jaws, trying to conceal his anger, while feigning enthusiasm about the Talking Head’s return. He briefly summarized her manufactured mission to Africa, heaped praise on her for her bravery and selflessness, then welcomed her back to the MIII Ministry fold. From center stage, Pastor Petey pivoted towards the seated Clarice, hands clasped in prayer, as he exclaimed, “Back from doing her fearless and fearsome work in Hell’s abyss, the MIII Ministry’s Dove of Divine Providence – Clarice Westwater!” With that, there was an encore of Fifty Cent’s hit song, and the spotlight swung stage right to reveal the Talking Head seated regally upon her throne. At the Netcast’s opening, the loud music had terrified Bitsie, causing the dog to seek refuge under the stage manager’s chair. Bitsie, like Pastor Petey, had, by now, adjusted somewhat to the aural assault, and returned to her mistress’ side.