The Bennett eBook Extravaganza!

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My wedding anniversary is in March (the 23rd, to be exact), so I always like to do something a little special to celebrate. Last year, I did a Kindle Countdown promotion for The Partition of Africa. This year, I have TWO books, so I’m doing TWO promotions!

The Partition of Africa

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Both Bennett books are always free on Kindle Unlimited, but on March 15 and 16, The Partition of Africa will be free for EVERYONE! Make sure to grab your free download before the promotion ends:

Buy link for Kindle

 

 

The Marshall Plan

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The Marshall Plan will be part of a Kindle Countdown deal March 17-24. The price will drop down to 99 cents on the first day and gradually make its way up to the regular price of $3.99. Make sure to grab your discounted copy before time runs out.

Buy link for Kindle

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

No, you didn’t read that wrong. Yes, it’s only the second week of January. Yes, my Christmas tree will shortly be on its way up to my attic. (I’m running a little behind schedule this year.) Yes, I’ve started ridding myself on the extra inches the holiday calories were gracious enough to give to me. But in the old head computer, as Tom Haverford might say, the holiday season is already upon us again.

If you’ve been following me on social media, you know that since late October, I have been working diligently on the third and final installment in the Bennett series, This Dread Road. What you might not know is that it’s not the only project I’m working on right now. I’m also preparing to write a Christmas-themed novella entitled ‘Tis the Season.

That’s right, for the first time ever, I am actively working on two projects at once. And I’m . . . wait for it . . . shooting to publish BOTH of them by the end of the year.

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Finishing and publishing two separate works in one year will definitely be a challenge, but I think it’s doable. After all, I’m a good 62,000 words into This Dread Road, and since ‘Tis the Season will not be a full-length novel, it will not take as much time and energy. I hope.

Stay tuned in the coming months for more information about these projects. I can’t wait to share more details!

In the meantime, if you have a blog and would like to help me with the release of either (or both) of these books, there’s a very easy way for you to do that! Check out information for the cover reveal blast and full release-week blog tours for both books here:

This Dread Road

‘Tis the Season

Better Living through Communication

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor.” –Ecclesiastes 4:9

Every week night, my husband and I spend some time cleaning a specific room in our apartment. This is a fairly new system, one we adopted soon after I changed jobs at the end of June. Before, our housekeeping style ranged from erratic to nonexistent. Between him working between fifty and sixty hours a week, and me working four ten hour shifts with a two hour round trip commute, it was all we could do not to fall asleep over dinner. We cleaned what we could, when we could, usually as individuals. Keeping the never-ending cycles of laundry and dishes creeping along felt like the best we could do. The idea of sweeping the bedroom or dusting the bookshelves seemed pretty laughable.

Now, though, I work eight hour days at an office less than a mile away from our place. I’ve actually walked there and back a few times, but the typical Alabama summer we’ve been having put a stop to that practice rather quickly, at least for the time being. I liked my other job, but I LOVE this one. I really didn’t realize what a difference that would make in every other facet of my life. For the first time in our marriage, my husband and I are able to sit down and enjoy breakfast together every single day. My generalized anxiety disorder, which less than a year ago ruled over me like a ruthless tyrant, hasn’t reared its head in nearly seven weeks. I’ve been getting enough sleep, I’ve been eating better without really trying, I’ve been reading recreationally again. I’m even looking into going back to school next year.

So now that stress and exhaustion no longer call the shots for me, I find I have energy to do things I’ve been neglecting pretty much my entire adult life, like taking care of the space I live in. Suddenly, dust bunnies and disorganization bother me. So we put together a system, and for the first time approached housekeeping as a team.

It’s been amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish together. Tasks that have before taken an entire day for me to complete by myself take less than an hour when we work in tandem. This is not because I’m bad at cleaning, really, but because when it comes to housework, I’m not so great at prioritizing tasks. If I try to tackle a huge project myself, I have no direction. I try to do a little bit of everything that needs to be done and, in the end, finish nothing.

Together, it’s a whole different story. My husband’s strength lies in organization. He looks at a room and comes up with a goal for the cleaning session. For example, when we tackled our living room last week, the goal was to rearrange the room so we had enough floor space to work out at the same time. After we have our goal in mind, he figures out what we need to do and in what order and comes up with a plan. He relays that plan to me, and we discuss and tweak until it suits both of us, and then we individually complete various tasks until we reach the goal. It’s really been an exercise in the importance of communication, which I’ve determined in my rather short experience with marriage is the lynchpin of relationships, the point on which everything else hinges. My communication studies professor hammered this point home again and again, and at the time I thought she was exaggerating. I’ve never been so wrong. (Sorry, Dr. Hardig.)

But that’s another discussion for another day. Back to cleaning!

Last night, the designated target was our bedroom and my writing office, which is really more an adjacent alcove than a separate room. They’re both small rooms, so the original plan was for my husband to take care of the bedroom while I cleaned my office. Even so, I rushed into the bedroom before him and started pre-cleaning my side of the room. There were some clothes that had never quite made it to the laundry room, some cups that had never quite made it to the sink, some trash that had never quite made it to the garbage can, and honestly I was pretty embarrassed about how it looked.

“What are you doing?” my husband asked. “I thought you were going to work on the office.”

“I am, I just wanted to clean my side of the room first so you wouldn’t have to see how bad it is.”

He tilted his head to the side and gave me a quizzical look. “I’ve already seen what it looks like,” he finally said. “There’s no use in hiding it. Let’s just take care of it.”

It hit me as I nodded and walked away, leaving a few stray peppermint wrappers and an empty can of root beer behind me, that this was exactly what marriage is about. We see each other’s messes, the stuff we hide from the rest of the world. The stuff we like to pretend isn’t there at all. We see and acknowledge all of this, the messes and faults and mistakes, and we choose to love anyway.

There’s no need to pretend that nothing went wrong, because it did. There’s no need to be ashamed of a past mistake if you’re already in the process of fixing it. The change that matters – the internal one, the one prompting you to work on your faults and be a better person – has already happened, and that’s what counts.

And when the time comes to clean up the messes, improve the faults, reverse the mistakes, we do just that, and we do it together. No shame, no embarrassment, no anger. Just forgiveness. Just love.

P.S. For the record, we ended up completely rearranging the bedroom in addition to cleaning it, and now it looks like something one might find in a fancy loft apartment in Manhattan. We ended it with the classic Jim & Pam high-five. Marriage rocks.

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Finding God in Jurassic World

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**WARNING** If you have not yet seen Jurassic World and do not want the ending spoiled, stop reading! This will still be here when you get back from the theater.**

When I went to the movies with my husband this past Wednesday to see Jurassic World, I expected to enjoy a few hours of cinematic junk food. As a long-time fan of this film franchise, I thought I knew what was in store more than anyone: cheesy one-liners, suspenseful jump scenes, and some bloody dino-chomping action. I was pumped, and I wasn’t disappointed.

What I wasn’t expecting was that on our drive home, the movie would prompt an hours-long conversation about philosophy and Christian/alchemical symbolism with my husband. But life rarely follows our expectations, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

You might be thinking, “Really? Are we talking about the same movie?”

I know, I know. I doubt many people left the theaters from this summer blockbuster in the midst of deep philosophical musings. But I love to analyze. I’m the kind of person who will strap a poem to a chair and beat it with a rubber hose (metaphorically speaking, of course). If it can be overthought, I have overthought it. Trust me.

Lately, thanks to John Granger’s fantastic How Harry Cast His Spell, I’ve become obsessed with symbolism and its use in the art of storytelling. Humans have been telling stories since we first harnessed the use of language. Every culture from every age has participated in this rite, so it must be important to the human experience. Movies are only the latest incarnation of this universal human trait, and I think just as worthy of analysis as works of literature.

Before I share the thoughts I had on the movie, I want to be clear: I don’t think any of the symbolism I discuss here were intentionally included in the film. In fact if I had the screenwriters on speed-dial and I called them up to discuss these things, I’m pretty sure they’d call me a lunatic before the restraining order was fully processed. But whether or not the messages I picked up on were placed in the movie with a loving, gracious hand or were shoved there hastily by accident, this remains the same: it got me thinking. And I think that’s all that really matters.

So, let’s get down to it. What exactly about this movie was so thought-provoking?

1. Man vs. Nature

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The first film in this frachise, Jurassic Park, largely looks at nature as a massive coil of chaos, completely untameable by the human hand. This point is reiterated over and over by the cynical yet loveable Dr. Ian Malcolm, a mathematician obsessed with Chaos Theory.

By contrast, Jurassic World has Owen Grady, whose job seems impossible based on what we know from the other films: he trains velocripators. That’s right, velociraptors. The same breed of dinosaur that terrorized every human being around in the previous three films. What Owen does certainly isn’t easy, and as shown in the film not always effective. But with hard work, discipline, and mutual respect, he is able to exert a certain amount of control over the untameable beast, which is more than anyone else can say. The fact that he names them and refers to himself as the “Alpha Male” outright leads me to think of him as Adam (Genesis 2:20).

This point may seem small and insignificant, but it stuck with me. For the first time in the franchise, humans are shown to be on a different plain than the beasts hunting them. Not that the other films showed complete and utter disregard for human life, but you do find yourselves walking away from them shaking your head and saying, “Those silly people had it coming.”

With this installment, not so much. The entire film shows Grady, Claire’s nephews Zach and Gray, and eventually Claire herself using human intelligence and wit to save themselves and others from the wages of their sins. Whoops, sorry. I meant the Indominous Rex.

2. Living Things Deserve Respect

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I was sure that like its predecessors, Jurassic World would have a strong anti-business agenda. I was relieved and very much surprised when I realized it did not carry a blanket censure against business. Instead, it warned against bad business. Business carried out in unethical, unresponsible ways.

As the corporate-minded director of the park, Claire sees everything as a percentage, a slot on a spreadsheet. She refers to the dinosaurs as ‘assets,’ not ‘animals.’ People are not simply people to her, either – they are sponsors, visitors, or employees. Along with the park’s owner and the lead scientist responsible for the park’s existence, she seeks to generate revenue by any means possible. They want to steadily create attractions that are bigger, louder, scarier. They want more teeth. Their problem is that they did not pause to consider the bite.

When Dr. Woo created the Indominous Rex using DNA strands from cuttlefish and tree frogs, he did not consider that this would allow the dinosaur to self-camoflauge and regulate body temperature. When he included genes from the T-Rex and the velociraptor, he did not consider or warn the others to prepare for the aggressive bloodthirsty beast he had given over to their care. When Claire and other executives raised the Indominous Rex in isolation, they did not consider that predators view unfamiliar animals as a threat. They did not consider that, should the Indominous Rex ever escape captivity, every living thing would have a target painted on its chest. They did not consider this, because they did not consider anything that would happen should their plan go awry. They had no failsafe, no backup plan, no way out.

All of this boils down to one thing: hubris and lack of respect for others. When someone reduces people and other living creatures to mere numbers on the periphery of existence, they are never prepared when things go wrong. The system built on such an attitude is so fragile, the slightest deviation can wreak havoc.

3. The Wages of Sin

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The Indominous Rex has no redeeming qualities. It is a genetically engineered killing machine from beginning to end. Unlike its fellows, it has never had a proper place in the food chain. It kills for sport and destroys the environment around it. As I watched the movie, I grew to view the Indominous Rex as the incarnation of Death. It is, after all, the result of multiple mistakes – or, if you will, sins.

Misrani atones for his sins by dying while trying to take out the monster he helped create. It is worth noting that he dies not at the hands of the Indominous Rex itself, like the complacent guard at the beginning, nor by the pterodactyl attack like the gunner beside him, but in a fiery explosion. Fire has long been used as a symbol of purification or sanctification. Even the Bible discusses fire as “refining” (Malachi 3:3, Zechariah 13:9, 1 Peter 1:7). As far as I can tell, Misrani’s death is his redemption.

Similarly, Claire puts her life on the line in the film’s climactic scene. Putting aside all regard for herself, she releases the T-Rex and risks life and limb by leading it to the Indominous Rex with a flare (note: also fire).

Dr. Woo, on the other hand, does not take responsibility for his actions. Instead, he blames Misrani for everything and leaves with InGen with the unhatched embryos. He is clearly not happy with his lot when last we see him, but since there is plenty of room left for a sequel I think he may get another chance at redemption.

4. Natural Order

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I don’t think it’s coincidence that the genetic base for this monster is the T-Rex. While the T-Rex doesn’t exactly win a soft spot in our hearts in any of the films, I think it’s safe to say we all consider it the king of dinosaurs. Isn’t that why we named it tyrannical king?

As mentioned before, the Indominous Rex does not have a place in the food chain. She was created to generate revenue, to usher more bodies into the park, to shock and awe. But in doing so, she supplants the natural pecking order. She supplants the creature on whose genetic code she is based.

I didn’t think about this at all until the final scene, when the T-Rex surveys the abandoned park. When he gives a triumphant roar, there was the sense of rightness, of justice that rose inside me. I hadn’t felt that since I revisited The Return of the King and read of the rightful king being restored to the throne. It felt…right. I know I can’t have been alone there.

To me, this hearkens to the modern Church, and to our culture in general. We are obsessed with creating spectacles, rather than substance. We rely on clickbait headlines and soundbites rather than studied articles and deep discussions. We may triumph in this way for a time, but it is not sustainable. Substance always outlasts spectacle.

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I have many more thoughts on this film, but I’ll stop babbling and ask you: What did you think?

O

The Partition of Africa – Dreamcast!

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First thing’s first – I highly doubt The Partition of Africa will be made into a movie any time soon, if ever, so don’t think I’m delusional! But it’s fun to think about which actors you’d like to play which characters, isn’t it? I love to do that with books I enjoy reading, so I thought I’d give it a try with my own this time, and it did not disappoint.

Hattie Greene

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While she may be a little too old to pass for nineteen or twenty, Emma Roberts has a sweet face and demeanor. There’s also something wholesome and pure about her which I think would be necessary for anyone portraying Hattie.

Claire James

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If I had a time machine at my disposal, I would say without a doubt that Amy Adams would play Claire in this fantasy of mine, but she’s just a little too old. A more than adequate pick is Molly Quinn.

Cameron Wolcott

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Colin Hanks fits the vision of Cameron I had perfectly, minus the glasses. The fact that his dad is Tom Hanks (my all-time favorite actor) may have helped his case, too.

Samson Campbell

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This one’s tough! While Samson’s physical character was based heavily on Gerard Butler, I can also see Robert Downey Jr. doing a great job playing the caddish professor.

Sidney Campbell

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I can’t think of anyone better to play Sidney than Cameron Diaz!

Piper McClure

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I like the idea of Jennifer Lawrence for Piper. She’s a very talented actress who could pull off just about any role!

Trevor Pennington

Michael Cera

I like Michael Cera for Trevor. I loved his work in Juno, and I think he’s great at being awkward – and let’s face it, Trevor is good for awkward.

Tobias Reue

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Stanley Tucci is far from meek, mild, or cowardly, but he’s a skilled actor who has played far stranger parts. I think he’d be a great Toby!

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Who would you pick to act in a movie version of The Partition of Africa? Tell me in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter!