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The 12th Coming of Less-Than-Glorious Fiction
National Review ^ | 04/02/04 | Carl E. Olson

Posted on 04/05/2004 10:06:24 AM PDT by jrherreid

The 12th Coming of Less-Than-Glorious Fiction
The latest Left Behind book.



By Carl E. Olson

After nine years, twelve volumes, forty million total copies, two movies, and an endless flood of apocalyptic merchandise, readers of the "Left Behind" series have reached the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately for them, episode #12, titled Glorious Appearing, is underwhelming and pedestrian, poor qualities for a novel about a Big Event.

Fans of Glorious Appearing: The End of Days, which hit stores on March 30, may be inclined to label my criticisms as the rude sniping of a former Rapture-believing Fundamentalist-turned-Papist. After all, I've written more than a few articles and one book about the many problems I see in premillennial dispensationalism, the "left-behind" theology propagated in the fictional series created by Fundamentalist pastor Tim LaHaye and authored by book-a-month manufacturer Jerry B. Jenkins. Having read many of the other "Left Behind" books, I readily admit that I expected Glorious Appearing to be bloated, stilted, and corny. As it turns out, that combination would have been a welcome relief from the 400 pages of repetitive, numbing bombast that assaulted my weary eyes. Nevertheless, I fully expect this latest episode (of what once was going to be just a trilogy) to top the charts and sell a quadrillion copies.

This apparent cynicism isn't a matter of theological triumphalism (I believe in the return of Jesus Christ) or literary snobbery. I've enjoyed books by Louis L'Amour, Robert Ludlum, and Wilbur Smith and have never mistaken them for literary giants, although they did have the commendable ability to tell a story, a talent not employed in the writing of Glorious Appearing. That is, unless you think a good story can consist of endless details about weaponry, vehicles, telecommunications, Palestinian geography, and premillennial dispensationalist theology, interrupted by the conversations of bland characters who elicit no sympathy whatsoever:

"I can't wait till Jesus gets here, but the clock moves slow when nothin's happening."

"Fair enough. I've got my Bible and my notes, if you're game."

"We're game. But, Pastor, have you looked up lately?"

Matters aren't helped by the antichrist, Nicolae Jetty Carpathia (described as "ol' Nick" by some of the good guys), who wears leather chaps, usually rides a horse, and wildly swings a sword while posing madly for the omnipresent camera crews who wisely avoid equestrian transportation. Although possessed by Satan, ostensibly a being of high intelligence, ol' Nick mercilessly mangles the English language as he tirelessly rallies his troops:

"These uprisings shall be crushed posthaste. As we speak, portions of our more than extravagantly outfitted fighting force will peel off to these locations to lay waste to the pretenders. They will regret their insolence only as long as they have breath, and then they will be trampled and made an example of."

Meanwhile, the depictions of the Second Coming and the numerous judgments, battles, and confrontations that follow are flat and unconvincing. Granted, the subject matter is more than a bit challenging and one cannot fault the obvious sincerity of the authors. Their problem as writers of fiction is perfectly summarized in Flannery O'Connor's essay, "Novelist and Believer":

Ever since there have been such things as novels, the world has been flooded with bad fiction for which the religious impulse has been responsible. The sorry religious novel comes about when the writer supposed that because of his belief, he is somehow dispensed from the obligation to penetrate concrete reality. He will think that the eyes of the Church or of the Bible or of his particular theology have already done the seeing for him and that his business is to rearrange this essential vision into satisfying patterns, getting himself as little dirty in the process as possible.

These literary flaws — which have marked the series from the very beginning — are hardly surprising since LaHaye has said repeatedly that the novels were not meant to simply entertain, but to proselytize and promote his particular views about the end times. A recent article on the "Left Behind" site, "Why Read Left Behind?", pragmatically explains, "A series like Left Behind can be a powerful tool to bring the gospel to those who are not yet Christ-followers. In every book, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have purposely included at least one significant conversion experience. As we have already pointed out, each book also contains an abundance of teaching, most of it by characters using and explaining passages from the Bible."

As a Catholic, I have every desire for people to become Christian and embrace the Gospel. But I see several serious problems with the "Left Behind books," of which I will just mention a couple.

First, the "left-behind" theology is not the "Christian" or the "biblical" view of the end times, despite what LaHaye says, or what the media sometimes echoes. Premillennial dispensationalism and the belief in a Rapture event separate from the Second Coming is rejected, either explicitly or implicitly, by the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches, and nearly every major Protestant denomination. Dispensationalism, with its particular views about the nature of the Church and the role of Jews in end-times events, was created in the 1830s by former Anglican priest John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) and later systematized in the United States by C. I. Scofield (1843-1921) and Lewis Sperry Chafer (1871-1952). Hal Lindsey's 1970 best-selling The Late Great Planet Earth took popular dispensationalism into secular culture, a feat repeated by the "Left Behind" series.

As Evangelical scholar and Wheaton College graduate Ronald M. Henzel has decisively shown in his book, Darby, Dualism, and the Decline of Dispensationalism, Darby built his entire theology on a radical dualism between heaven and earth that was unprecedented in the history of orthodox Christian thought. As Henzel notes, no dispensationalist has ever "been able to offer a single point of continuity between Dispensationalism and any other school of theology." This would all be as meaningful and esoteric as learning to lip-sync songs by Grand Funk Railroad except that the influence of dispensationalist thought in North America has been tremendous. Throughout the 20th-century it had a powerful pull on cultural and political matters, especially shaping perceptions of the Middle East and attitudes towards the nation of Israel.

Secondly, LaHaye's bio states that he "conceived the idea of fictionalizing an account of the Rapture and the Tribulation," and in an interview with Pentecostal Evangel magazine he claimed that "Left Behind is the first fictional portrayal of events that are true to the literal interpretation of Bible prophecy." If by that he means novels that are based on dispensationalist beliefs, he is incorrect. End-time novels in the dispensationalist mold actually date back to the 1920s and 30s to books such as In the Twinkling of an Eye and The Mark of the Beast by Sydney Watson; others followed in subsequent decades.

More to the point is Salem Kirban's "Rapture novel" 666, published in 1970. The plot and characters are remarkably similar to those found in LaHaye's "original" "Left Behind" novel. Kirban's novel opens as a non-believing reporter experiences the Rapture (as an observer, not participant) while on an airplane flight. Upon returning home he finds that his Christian wife is (of course) missing; he reads her Bible, stumbles upon 1 Corinthians 15:52-53, and comes to believe in Jesus Christ. Soon he discovers that the Antichrist is a rogue Catholic leader. After managing to infiltrate the Antichrist's inner circle, he witnesses the forces of Russia and China descending upon Israel, only to see them destroyed by the returning Christ at the Battle of Armageddon. The publisher of Kirban's novel was Tyndale House, LaHaye and Jenkins's publishing house.

There are still two more "Left Behind" books to be published: a prequel and a sequel. Jerry Jenkins has a new Rapture novel of his own, titled Soon, and LaHaye is overseeing the creation of yet more end-times fiction, including recently published novels Babylon Rising, the military-oriented Apocalypse Dawn, and the politically inclined End of State?. Amid this dizzying array of apocalyptic fiction, one thing is for certain: The "Left Behind" books weren't the first Rapture novels, nor are they the last. Whether or not they are the most painful to read is still open for vigorous debate — but they certainly have a fighting chance.

Carl E. Olson is the author of Will Catholics Be Left Behind? A Catholic Critique of the Rapture and Today's Prophecy Preachers, selected by the Associated Press as one of 2003's notable religious titles. He is also co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax, being published this summer by Ignatius Press.

 

     


 

 
http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/olson200404020904.asp
     



TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial
KEYWORDS: bookreview; gloriousappearing; leftbehind; rapture; secondcoming; therapture

1 posted on 04/05/2004 10:06:25 AM PDT by jrherreid
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To: nickcarraway
Ping!
2 posted on 04/05/2004 10:07:41 AM PDT by jrherreid
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To: jrherreid
bump
3 posted on 04/05/2004 10:08:44 AM PDT by Tribune7 (Arlen Specter supports the International Crime Court having jurisdiction over US soldiers)
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To: jrherreid
Coincidentally, I ordered the first "Left Behind" from Amazon this morning (along with Dune: The Machine Crusade).
4 posted on 04/05/2004 10:09:45 AM PDT by The G Man (John Kerry? America just can't afford a 9/10 President in a 9/11 world. Vote Bush-Cheney '04.)
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To: All
Rank Location Receipts Donors/Avg Freepers/Avg Monthlies
40 Armed Forces - Europe 75.00
1
75.00


35.00
3

Thanks for donating to Free Republic!

Move your locale up the leaderboard!

5 posted on 04/05/2004 10:10:27 AM PDT by Support Free Republic (I'd rather be sleeping. Let's get this over with so I can go back to sleep!)
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To: jrherreid; archy; Long Cut; Jeff Head; GeronL; river rat
This is going to be a fun thread! I picked up a "Left Behind" book once. Literally: I found it on the sidewalk. It amazed me how badly written a mega best seller can be! It told me, "go forward Matt, with your novel, you don't have to be Hemingway to write a best seller!"

If anyone wants to pick a bone with me over the comparative level of writing, click to this sample chapter from my novel. It stands alone pretty well as a short story, which is why I'm linking it. It's old, so it's been edited slightly in the printed novel.

"The Raid" from Enemies Foreign and Domestic


6 posted on 04/05/2004 10:16:56 AM PDT by Travis McGee (----- www.EnemiesForeignAndDomestic.com -----)
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Comment #7 Removed by Moderator

To: jrherreid
"These uprisings shall be crushed posthaste. As we speak, portions of our more than extravagantly outfitted fighting force will peel off to these locations to lay waste to the pretenders. They will regret their insolence only as long as they have breath, and then they will be trampled and made an example of."

This is from "The Onion," right?

8 posted on 04/05/2004 10:55:18 AM PDT by Tax-chick (See baby pictures on the Tax-chick page!)
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To: jrherreid
Premillennial dispensationalism and the belief in a Rapture event separate from the Second Coming is rejected, either explicitly or implicitly, by the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches, and nearly every major Protestant denomination.

Oh, really? Gee wiz, most Christians I know (not just those who are members of the same church) believe in a pre-tribulation rapture. I also believe that the scriptures back up the pre-trib angle.

But even if someone disagrees with this particular theology, the statement that "nearly every major Protestant denomination" rejects this view is quite false.

I bought the book on the release day. I have not had time to start reading yet, but am quite anxious to get started.

9 posted on 04/05/2004 11:18:16 AM PDT by TheBattman (Leadership = http://www.georgewbush.com/)
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To: TheBattman
I've read all twelve now and I must be honest and say that as the series progressed the books got worse. While I recognize that the books were never meant to be great literature, some passages where just silly. Theology aside, the books could have been so much better.
10 posted on 04/05/2004 11:23:07 AM PDT by BoomerBob
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To: uburoi2000
Funny you should mention that...I was just saying the same thing to my DH this weekend (we are Evangelicals). I've been pondering it for awhile now and have a few theories. My dream is to write Christian themed novels that don't suck. The older I get, the more I appreciate Catholicism. Truth and beauty seem to be able to coexist within it.
11 posted on 04/05/2004 11:26:55 AM PDT by meowmeow
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To: Tax-chick
This is from "The Onion," right?

I wish it were!

12 posted on 04/05/2004 11:38:14 AM PDT by jrherreid
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To: Tax-chick
This is from "The Onion," right?

Nah, I flipped through one of the early books in a bookstore, the writing actually IS that hideously bad.

13 posted on 04/05/2004 11:39:08 AM PDT by John H K
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To: Travis McGee
It amazed me how badly written a mega best seller can be!

Anyone who has read Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn knows that, too. What matters is the ability to tell a story - for some reason the ability to tell stories and the ability to write well don't often coexist in the same author. "Writers" tend to spout brilliantly crafted nonsense, and "storytellers" make grammatical and structural mistakes that would make a fifth grader blush.

People don't read anymore, anyway. In the late 60's, a bestselling paperback would sell twelve million copies - today a book that sells three million is considered miraculous. The television generation has killed writing.

14 posted on 04/05/2004 11:44:42 AM PDT by Mr. Jeeves
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To: Mr. Jeeves
Very true. In my constellation, I put storytelling first and foremost, and then try very hard to write the story as well as I possibly can.
15 posted on 04/05/2004 12:00:51 PM PDT by Travis McGee (----- www.EnemiesForeignAndDomestic.com -----)
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To: Travis McGee; jrherreid; archy; Long Cut; GeronL; river rat
I've read the first nine volumes of the Left Behind Series. For me it got to where it was drgging way too much...almost purposely to drag it out to get more volumes and so I stopped. I know how it ends anyway...hehehe.

Still, the success is amazing and worth studying. It was a relative unknown until several volumes in and then it picked up and the resulting promotions and awareness kicked started all preceding volumes.

I also believe that it is not a very well written story...but I hate judging literary capabilities given my own novice status. At the same time, I did buy most of them and read them.

Like with Travis, it has given me hope for my own series:


THE DRAGON'S FURY SERIES OF NOVELS

A techno-thriller series about America and the next World War

We shall see.

16 posted on 04/05/2004 12:41:50 PM PDT by Jeff Head
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To: Travis McGee; archy; Jeff Head
Haven't read 'em, don't intend to. Why in the WORLD would anyone pay good $$$ to be (poorly) preached to? One can, if one wishes, go to church whilst the preacher is drunk for that.

I read to learn, to have my imagination stimulated, to have flights of fancy in adventures I will probably never experience, and to watch my favorite characters triumph.

If I want a Bible study, I'll sign up for one.

The authors of this scribbling even admit that entertaining and challenging the reader is completely secondary to them, after the preaching. What an insult to a reader.

17 posted on 04/05/2004 12:56:14 PM PDT by Long Cut (Hell of a thing, killin' a man. You take away all he's got, and all he's ever gonna have)
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To: TheBattman
But even if someone disagrees with this particular theology, the statement that "nearly every major Protestant denomination" rejects this view is quite false.

So which "major Protestant denominations" do go in for the whole Rapture thing?

It is not a comment on the veracity of the Theological position (though as a Catholicly-minded Anglican I have no time for the actual Theology personally), but rather a statement of verifiable fact. Most major Protestant denominations do not believe in it; just about everybody I have met who does believe in it is a member of an independent Church of some form or other.
18 posted on 04/05/2004 12:57:19 PM PDT by tjwmason (A voice from Merry England.)
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To: Long Cut
Well I did read several of them. Here's why.

I read them to see what their writing style was like to try and determine if that was a source for their success...to see if I agreed with their interpretation because I am a Christian who has an interest in what people think about the 2nd coming...and to study their success while I was writing my own series.

I determined that their story, while perhaps not a literary masterpiece by any stretch of the imaginiation, fed a desire by Christians in general, and evangelical Christians specifically, regarding fictional novels/tales/renderings of the tribulation and second coming. When those groups became fully engaged in the tale...it was a big enough audience to cause it to spread to other segnebts and for the larger publishing and retail outlets to want to get in on a piece of the action IMHO.

The way it spread is a good case study for people wanting to self-publish their own works with what may otherwise be considered non-politically correct material by the major publishing houses.

Anyhow...as with Travis...it let me know that you surely don't have to be a Dickenson or genius author to be successful. That gives me hope for the ultimate greater success of my novel series and building on its moderate success to date.

Jeff

19 posted on 04/05/2004 1:10:18 PM PDT by Jeff Head
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To: Tax-chick
Yes, it is crap writing...but it's true to life, at least that portion involving evil tyrants. I won't swear I haven't actually read this in a news story. Heck, I think Baghdad Bob may have actually said it.
20 posted on 04/05/2004 1:11:31 PM PDT by RichInOC ("...No! No! I never said that, Rich! That is a Zionist lie! Saddam shall rise again!")
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To: jrherreid
bump for later
21 posted on 04/05/2004 1:17:11 PM PDT by Richard Kimball
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To: jrherreid
The "Left Behind" books weren't the first Rapture novels, nor are they the last.

God willing, I'll follow up to this post in about three years.
22 posted on 04/05/2004 1:20:40 PM PDT by tang-soo
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To: TheBattman
I came to the Lord through reading Hal Lindseys book "The 1980's, Countdown to Armageddon" in 1980. I became a member of an assemblies of God Church in which I stayed for 18 years. I was also a pre-tribulationist.

A year or so after reading Hal's book, I read a book called something like "Soon Coming World Changing Events as Foretold by God Almighty." This book converted me to mid-tribulationism, which I have been ever since. I was at an assemblies of God church for over 15 years as a "mid-tribulationist." Well, a teacher whom I still have a close relationship with, gave me a white paper he had written on the rapture. I was very excited because I really wanted to believe in Pre- as opposed to Mid- or Post-. Who wouldn't. I was shocked by the preposterous "proofs" he used for support for pre-tribulationism. His document actually convinced me of the falicy of that position even without reading any rebuttals by the other side.

The one that blew me away the most was his using Revelation 4 as the "rapture" when Revelation 7 is far more obvious as an example of people being taken up. But I digress into specifics.

Not ONE of the proofs I've ever seen for pre-tribulationism has been convincing for me. Oh, and about ten years after I read Hal Lindseys book, I read another of his books called "A Walk Through the Holy Land." In it there is a picture of the Upper room. As soon as I saw the picture and noticed the odd "ghostly" shapes in the picture, I recognised it as the result of a common photographic effect where you use a flash coupled with a slow shutter speed and reasonable ambient light to get "partial smearing" of subjects.

Interesting that the shapes looked, if you wanted to stretch, sort of like angels wings and a cross held up. Well, in his caption he said that photo experts had analyzed the photo and could not explain the apparitions. That was a bald faced lie - which is what is going on a lot in religious circles these days, especially regarding eschetology.

We Christians tend to be very gullible when it comes to religious stuff that supports our existing world view of Christianity. I remember hearing in the early seventies that the stones for the new jeruselem where being hewn from rock in Oklahoma and they would begin building the temple "very soon."

Yeah, whatever.

I must stick to the Bible as my source. I am currently teaching a high school Bible study on the book of Revelation. The discussions and questions are amazing. This is the most animated the class has ever been and the different perspectives on the seventy weeks of Daniel, Jesus wrestling with Jacob and Jesus' walking with Adam and all the other stuff is intriguing.

23 posted on 04/05/2004 1:35:35 PM PDT by RobRoy (Science is about "how." Christianity is about "why.")
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To: tjwmason
>>So which "major Protestant denominations" do go in for the whole Rapture thing?<<

I used to attend an Assembly of God church. They most definitely did.

I didn't leave because of this particular issue though. It was a lot of stuff, not least of which the fact that the only "prophetic message" ever uttered in the congregation that wasnt vague enough to have no accurate interpretation turned out to be pattently false! And these messages went on pretty much weekly. Not that I am anti Assembly of God. I just felt creepy when that stuff happened anyway. Many of my friends still go there and it's just fine.
24 posted on 04/05/2004 1:42:00 PM PDT by RobRoy (Science is about "how." Christianity is about "why.")
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To: RichInOC
So you're saying that this is sort of like Saddam's declaration, "How can I urinate when my people are in bondage?"

I can understand people's enjoying a fictionalization of their personal theological preoccupation, and I read Barbara Cartland romances, so I'm no stranger to bad writing ... but the confluence of the two in these books just doesn't appeal to me.
25 posted on 04/05/2004 1:46:18 PM PDT by Tax-chick (See baby pictures on the Tax-chick page!)
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To: jrherreid
BUMP
26 posted on 04/05/2004 2:38:35 PM PDT by nickcarraway
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To: RobRoy
Just some scripture verses to ponder - maybe they are supportive of Pre-trib, maybe not....

I Thessalonians 1:10

And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.


Romans 1:18-3:20 has many mentions of the wrath to come as well as who it is meant for. It strikes me as difficult to believe that the coming wrath (which points clearly to the tribulation period) is meant for believers to experience - particularly the wrath mentioned in the I Thessolonians verse above as well as Romans 5:9, Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 3:36, et al.

The only other definition I can see for Wrath in the New Testament is the coming wrath related to the eternal burning in the lake of fire.

For every arguement against the pre-tribbers, I also have seen just as convincing arguements against mid-trib or post-trib.

To each there own. Will a pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib theology in and of itself prevent one from coming to Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ?



27 posted on 04/05/2004 3:51:14 PM PDT by TheBattman (Leadership = http://www.georgewbush.com/)
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To: Tax-chick
You have no chance to survive make your time.
28 posted on 04/05/2004 3:51:57 PM PDT by Oztrich Boy ("Despise not the jester. Often he is the only one speaking the truth")
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To: Oztrich Boy
What happen?
29 posted on 04/05/2004 4:16:31 PM PDT by jrherreid
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To: Oztrich Boy
You first!
30 posted on 04/05/2004 4:16:40 PM PDT by Tax-chick (See baby pictures on the Tax-chick page!)
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To: TheBattman
>>Romans 1:18-3:20 has many mentions of the wrath to come as well as who it is meant for. It strikes me as difficult to believe that the coming wrath (which points clearly to the tribulation period) is meant for believers to experience - particularly the wrath mentioned in the I Thessolonians verse above as well as Romans 5:9, Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 3:36, et al. <<

Keep in mind that Mid-tribulationists see the wrath of God as the SECOND half of the so-called tribulation period and seventieth week of Daniel. I have sort of pseudo-named the first half as the "wrath of satan" on Christrians and Israel.
31 posted on 04/05/2004 4:29:24 PM PDT by RobRoy (Science is about "how." Christianity is about "why.")
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To: Oztrich Boy
We got signal.
32 posted on 04/05/2004 4:32:55 PM PDT by justanotherday
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To: jrherreid
poor qualities for a novel about a Big Event.

THE big event

33 posted on 04/05/2004 7:31:50 PM PDT by GeronL (Hey, I am on the internet. I have a right (cough, cough) to write stupid things.)
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To: Travis McGee
You and Jeff Head are awesome writers. I can only dream of being that good. 'Left Behind' is only a best seller because the christian media has been boosting it.
34 posted on 04/05/2004 7:36:17 PM PDT by GeronL (Hey, I am on the internet. I have a right (cough, cough) to write stupid things.)
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To: GeronL
I'd suggest hanging out at FrugalSquirrels.com, they have a terrific section for new writers. That's the place to cut your teeth.
35 posted on 04/05/2004 8:36:34 PM PDT by Travis McGee (----- www.EnemiesForeignAndDomestic.com -----)
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To: Travis McGee
Gotta try it!
36 posted on 04/05/2004 8:40:49 PM PDT by GeronL (Hey, I am on the internet. I have a right (cough, cough) to write stupid things.)
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To: Travis McGee
Survivalist???
37 posted on 04/05/2004 8:46:46 PM PDT by GeronL (Hey, I am on the internet. I have a right (cough, cough) to write stupid things.)
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To: jrherreid
When I first heard about the Left Behind series, I thought it was an Al Gore biography.
38 posted on 04/05/2004 9:18:34 PM PDT by rock58seg (Character and integrity do count. BUSH/CHENEY 04)
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To: Travis McGee
Matt:

This Proddie agrees that not one of the Left Behind novelettes will NOT be on my bookshelves. Ever. I would prefer Harlequin Penny Dreadfuls. :-) All that drivel does is amuse my athiest relatives to death. :) Your book looks good though. What is the turn around time (and please FRmail me the link to order: having a blonde day) :)

39 posted on 04/05/2004 9:22:59 PM PDT by CARepubGal
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To: GeronL
Almost any fiction that has SHTF dangerous shootemup parts will fit in at Frugals. It's a pretty wide open place.
40 posted on 04/06/2004 7:58:55 AM PDT by Travis McGee (----- www.EnemiesForeignAndDomestic.com -----)
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To: meowmeow
Someone recommended the first book to me. While it may not have been an award winner, it WAS enough to get my curiosity going and come back to Christ after many years. Scripture reading and classes are now a major part of my lifestyle. I rather tend to think that this was the goal behind the books.
41 posted on 04/06/2004 8:08:20 AM PDT by freeangel (freeangel)
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To: Travis McGee
OK!
42 posted on 04/06/2004 9:33:35 AM PDT by GeronL (Hey, I am on the internet. I have a right (cough, cough) to write stupid things.)
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