adaption, book excerpt, boys and men, darkness inside, featured, GK Johnson, Israel, literary

Excerpt: The Zealots Chapter 2: Shim’on

G.K. Johnson

Shim’on couldn’t remember the last time he had awakened without the heavy weight pressing down on him. He carried it like a bag of stones, dragging the weight through the streets, onto his fishing vessel, to the market, and back home every day.

The afternoon and evening hours, free of distractions and when he most needed sleep, were the worst. He could feel the pressure on his chest, crushing the life out of him, and bruising his heart and ribs. If it were a real sack of rocks, the bag would have been torn open by now and the stones inside strewn in his wake. But it wasn’t real and tangible, it only felt so, and he couldn’t shake the burden as much as he wished he could.

Shim’on lay in bed wishing he didn’t have to get up and go to the lake. In fact, he wished he hadn’t woken up at all. Yes, that’s exactly how he felt. He glanced over at his immah, who made the evening meal quietly attuned to her sons’ much-needed sleep. Shim’on watched immah’s movements. Maybe she wanted to keep her thoughts to herself.

He could never tell her his thoughts

The vision haunted him. Watching the Romans kill his abba happened over and over.

He knew the darkness inside him would scare her, and she was already scared enough. He knew abba’s Miriam needed him now, but she seemed to be grieving alone. Grief absorbed her not only because of the loss of her husband but also because of the depression and silence of her eldest son.

Shim’on sighed, the weight heavier than ever on his chest.

Looking back on that night, he cursed his cowardice. With his dagger, he could have at least tried to save his abba. Now Yitzchak was gone, and Shim’on felt crippled by the guilt and anger he carried. He was letting his immah down. He was letting Hanoch down. Even Yitzchak must be disappointed if he could see him now.

When Shim’on returned to their home that first night without Yitzchak, Hanoch had pushed him furiously. Deep in grief, Shim’on realized his brother couldn’t understand why he’d gone to Bin-yamin and Yeshua rather than to his own brother. Shim’on tried to explain, but Hanoch refused to accept his answer. His brother remained angry and hurt since that day, an invisible wall rising between them. Shim’on couldn’t blame him.

Reluctantly now, Shim’on pushed himself up from his mat and put on his leather sandals. His day as a fisherman was just beginning.

He performed netilat yadayim, pouring the water over his hands using a clay basin and cup. He nudged Hanoch awake from where he slept on an adjacent mat and waited as his brother readied himself. The young men ate a hasty meal before leaving.

Closing the door behind them, they began their short walk to the shore. Months ago, Yitzchak, Shim’on, and Hanoch had chattered loudly and happily as they made their way to the sea. Back then, Miriam laughingly teased that they were like the Shabbat shofar, letting the neighborhood know that night was falling.

Since Yitzchak’s death, the walk between brothers was made in silence

Reaching the shore, Shim’on strode down to the water’s edge and knelt. He scooped handfuls of the cold water to wash his face and wake himself up. Meanwhile, Hanoch commenced unfurling the sails.

Shim’on climbed back up the shore and into the boat, smoothing his hand over the boat’s cedar planking. The vessel was twenty-three-feet long and seven-feet wide and required a crew of five men to operate. It contained room for twelve to thirteen passengers, though they seldom had any though after Yitzchak’s death, Shim’on had hired another man for their crew.

With a flat bottom allowing it to be pulled ashore, the crew was able to unload a catch quickly and efficiently. He joined his brother and their hired men, Demas, Tertius, and Gaius, as they deftly prepared the nets and hoisted the sails to take them to the middle and deepest part of the lake.

“Ready?” Hanoch glanced towards Shim’on. He nodded.

“Ready.”

Hanoch and Tertius jumped from the boat and pushed it backward into the water, then pulled themselves over the railing.

The warm wind filled the sails and they moved from shore. Shim’on took a deep breath of fresh air and exhaled. This was truly the one place where the weight lay lightest on his shoulders. He still felt it of course, but the physical demands of fishing distracted him from the constant thoughts battling in his mind. Gusts caused the boat to dip while skipping over the choppy water kicked spray against his face. Light from the full moon above them glanced off the waves, surprisingly bright. His abba had loved it out here too, and Yitzchak always had a knack for knowing where the fish would be from day to day.

“Adonai told me to fish at the north end today boys,” he would say, or “Adonai is good, He sent me a dream that we will fill a net just off the shore.” His sons and the other fishermen had often teased Yitzchak about his heavenly directives but more often than not, Yitzchak was right, and they would bring in a good night’s catch.

Brothers at Odds, The Zealots by G.K. Johnson

GK Johnson’s debut novel, The Zealots, will arrive in January 2021. Will Shim’on’s guilt find acquittal or will it drive him to wrong? Will Hanoch accept Shim’on’s excuses and explanations regarding the night of his father’s death, or will he seek revenge?

Subscribe today to get your own Advance Readers Copy of The Zealots for review; on sale, January 1, 2021!



Book Blurbs, book excerpt, breath of joy, Bridges, Kathy Joy, literary, op-ed, Pennsylvania author, poetic, simply summer

The Ordinary Normal Is Still Here

Everyone’s talking about the “New Normal”.

It’s important, though, to remember the former elements of “normal” are still with us, if we will only take a minute to notice.

Take fireflies for instance. What a wonder a single firefly still is to me!

Click to watch
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There’s a quote that’s traveled with me for a long time. It’ on my fridge:


Normal Day,
Do not let me pass you by in search of some Rare and Perfect Tomorrow.

Mary Jean Iron

This power-packed memento has been a mainstay through all of life’s seasons. With every move, every new fridge, this little saying has traveled with me as a reminder of the splendor in little moments.

The little ordinary moments are ever-present while we sigh and long for:
Brighter tomorrows, better sleep, happier children, perfectly manicured lawns, stronger connections, brighter lighting, exotic destinations, more flawless skin, shinier memories…

Here’s the thing. When we are off chasing after a happier reality, the one we’re IN is quietly passing us by.

A page from Breath of Joy: Simply Summer

I’m not asking you to embrace The Summer of Covid, but I am suggesting you uncover the good stuff inside this interval.

Your “normal” will look different than mine.

Here’s mine.
The texture of my kiddo’s voice on the phone; it doesn’t matter what we’re talking about – the sound of her voice is life-affirming.

The smell of towels that have been line-dried in fresh air and sunshine.

Summer kids riding by my window on their bikes and skateboards.

Dandelions gone to seed.

  • Waking to sunlight,
  • That first sip of coffee,
  • curbside pickup,
    • the hypnotic hum of a lawnmower,
    • Old Glory rippling in the breeze.
    • a real letter in the mail,
      • silence,
      • my music jam,
      • fireflies in the whisper of dusk.

Not everything is a joy-bringer; some things are a slog through scary passages.
But still – not everything is skewed into some narrow margin of “the New Normal”.
We can still count on the ordinary, normal things.
And those will sustain us.

Kathy Joy, Author of the Breath of Joy calendarial gift books

Kathy Joy writes for The Daily Jab, for Books for Bonding Hearts, and for her own blog, Coffee with Kathy. You can transition directly from ordinary to extraordinary with her Breath of Joy seasonal coffee table books. Find out more! Sign up here for inspiring posts from this author!

Learn about Kathy Joy’s inspirational gift books on this site.


Subscribe here.
analysis, book excerpt, Bridges, inspirational, op-ed, Welcome to the Shivoo

Rooted in the True Story

Excerpt from the book, Welcome to the Shivoo!

“Weeding a bed of iris rhizomes in late summer taught me something about the Creator’s winnowing tactics.

“I had left the irises all spring and summer. Their roots became infiltrated with grass roots.  It seemed daunting trying to pull out the grass that year. Every time I yanked at a few long pieces in irritation, the bed hollered, “I need your focused attention, please!”

So, in the fall, I decided to pull out all those evil pencil grasses choking my bed of prized spring flowers. 

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“It was difficult work digging up the entire bed and chopping apart or wrestling out the clumps of rhizomes.

“Hidden within each clump were grass roots that clung to the rhizomes as if they were the same thing, mimicking the iris rhizomes. The grass roots, though they looked succulent and almost identical to the hairs of the root, were not part of the root at all. They didn’t belong, they were fakers. They would never produce blossoms for me.

Even healthy, good grass is just “weedy” when woven into beds of blooming irises.

“When I tugged at each hair of the rhizome, they clung to the root because they belonged. When I tugged at a grass root, it would slide out of the other hairs, because it was not connected by anything other than dirt. This hard work made me think about the work the Lord does in pulling out the wild grasses in my life. He has to do this work even in the lives of very mature and colorful groups of people.

“Learning to thank the Gardener of our souls early on for the means in which He manhandles our lives helps us to recognize what keeps us healthy and blooming. Hardship means to bring us maturity and glory.

“Living a creative life is the closest sort of metaphor to living a life of faith that I can think of. Music infuses grace as a spirit-transforming wonder like a blessing. There are so many risks taken being creative and also living by faith. Yet there is hope! Inspiration. And, many self-adjustments.  So many prayers. So much involvement and intervention of God. So much personal growth.

“Being creative in a godly sense means turning out something of positive purpose from very little.”

Pages 54-55, Chapter 3, Welcome to the Shivoo! (Bartnick)

  • Q: What is creativity in writing?
  • A: You give someone a disaster, and they find a human spirit pulling a wagon with a child in it.
  • Q: What is creativity in writing?
  • A: You give someone a maniac, and they put a history onto her like a sack of stones so that you find the salt of sympathetic tears, empathy weeping, dashed upon her oily hair. You learn God’s mercy, and maybe redemption. Learning to experience mercy can be an artistic leap for anybody. Page 56, Welcome to the Shivoo! (Bartnick)

How are you working to winnow out a good result from a bad situation? Below the ground, we all find good roots and tangly, weedy roots. Telling the full story in a memoir is surprisingly more compelling than just telling the flowery stuff.

Find out more!
Book One, Reviewed by
Christian News Journal, June 10, 2020 here.

Book Two is reviewed by Midwest Reviews as “Exceptionally well written” on August 20, 2020, in the General Fiction section here and “is unreservedly recommended for both highschool and community library collections.”
https://www.amazon.com/Simply-Summer-Breath-Joy-Kathy/dp/0997897686/
Learn more about singing the Psalms!

Dust and Sparkles in this children’s Trilogy of faith
Check out our children’s picture book selection.
Author tools and hacks, book excerpt, featured, improvisation, Laura Bartnick, op-ed

EMBRACING IMPERFECTIONS IN OUR STORY

By Laura Bartnick

“Improvisation. That’s why we call creativity art, isn’t it?

I’m an author and also an author coach. Part of what I do is help an author grow personally in order to deepen the author’s storyline or character drawn inside the pages of their manuscript.

We writers embrace imperfections in our written characters’ thought patterns or behaviors so that the story can twist and turn just as much as real life does.

Like jazz, the development of a good story means the endings are kept strategically hidden in misunderstandings, physical barriers, or something in the past. I’ve discovered a group, Teaching Tolerance, which has developed a test for discovering anyone’s own historical or cultural bias, implicit bias. You can see here how you might use a character’s natural bias to direct his or her communications or meditation or self-talk.

Proverbs 20:5 alludes that the purposes of a heart run like deep waters, but someone with insight can draw them out. What is your character’s point of view?

Can a writer love the antagonist?A writer should learn to love the enemy of the protagonist. Did Jesus love Judas Iscariot? How could He?

Learning about your antagonist’s unique place of belonging or setting helps you shape his or her believable thoughts, recognizable appearances or dialogue with the accompanying accents and activities that would be true to the character.

From an unlikely source or through an accident that turns out well, insight emerges. Imperfections make your characters relatable. They string you along. When you love them through their story, you emulate God’s love for our imperfect selves born into an imperfect world.

Even settings can wrestle for hope.

Developing a setting can help hide or reveal your plot or your characters. The light we cast onto the flaws of our story characters is an act of kindness, though sometimes it is severe mercy.

Did Hagar run to the desert to escape, only to be visited by the God of her hated mistress, Sarah? “I see you,” God said. “Eat. Drink,” and, “Go back to your hated mistress. I have a plan for you. Your own son will make a great nation because I have ordained it.” “Me?” Hagar said. “Yes, Hagar, I see your need and your mistreatment. Yes, you,” God said. So, Hagar dragged herself back to Abraham and Sarah. In faith. And, God blessed her walk of faith.

When you draw on your own experience with fear or temptations, or from experiences of those close to you, you will understand that it is not impossible for the antagonist to be redeemed. If you determine to defeat the antagonist when thwarting the antagonist’s purposes, you must feel that grief. It was written that Jesus loved the rich, young ruler who turned away.

Imagine a master chef who creates a gourmet menu for a special entourage. She selects the best cuts of meat, the freshest organic grains to grind, the salad and herbs from her garden, and the cream from her cow. Someone sells her a tropical fruit, unknown to her, promising it will provide the hit. She shreds the fruit and tops the salad with it, only to discover that the fruit is poison.

“But everything I used was of the finest quality,” she argues to the police.

“Everything except that shred of poison you added.”

Use a shock point to hook the reader into how or why the poison was added, and by whom.

Empathetically draw the audience into the truth but do not dilute consequences. Make them meaningful.

A writer can find the image of God originally shaped in the arch-type enemy. This, a starting point for where a character departs, helps the writer make choices for the character. A writer can have the character diverge from her image of origin and from her calling by refusing to be rescued. When you know your bad character’s history and psyche, you will draw her story accurately.”

This excerpt is from Chapter 3, pages 65-67, Welcome to the Shivoo! (Bartnick)

Laura Bartnick
Laura Bartnick is the author of Welcome to the Shivoo! a creative and inspirational guide to entering into the Creator’s great party.