Heart Behind the Book
Right away, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
I was inspired by books such as “Peace like a River” by Leif Enger, and “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo, and I wanted to write a novel that had similarly strong yet understated redemptive elements within it.
I knew that my book needed to appeal to both faith-based and secular readers. I wanted to write great rip-roaring cinematic fiction and offer a story that would entertain readers mightily. Yet I also wanted to hold forth massive biblical undercurrents. I wanted my book to fill holes inside you that have been so long in the making you’ve stopped noticing they were there.
Titled Feast for Thieves, my novel is about an elite incorrigible paratrooper named Rowdy Slater who comes home from World War II to a small town in Texas. Rowdy robs a bank out of dire economic necessity, then turns his life around. The town sheriff knows Rowdy’s dark secret and forces him to make a deal: survive a full year as the town’s new preacher or go to jail for a long, long time.
The story is swept along by romance. Reverend Rowdy would be hard-pressed to admit it, but he’s falling in love with Bobbie Barker, the church’s willowy missionary. She’s smart and funny and has a penchant for quoting horrible poetry. Rowdy needs to stick close to her, because she’ll turn out to be exactly what he needs in the end.
Genre-wise, my novel is officially classified as historical fiction, but I’d call it more of a neo-Western crime thriller. One of my endorsers described it as a cross between Band of Brothers and True Grit. I might throw in a bit of the Mitford series by Jan Karon, for good measure.
Ultimately, it’s a primer on grace. It’s about a soldier coming home from a war and the journey he takes in his soul toward change. He encounters this gift from Providence, this feast of undeserved favor, and is invited to come and dine. The story contains layers of meaning. It makes you think and feel and contemplate life. You could read it once, set it aside for a year and then read it again, and see new nuances in the narrative.
The main character, Rowdy Slater, was inspired by a real life soldier featured in the Band of Brothers named Wayne “Skinny” Sisk.
Skinny Sisk was a muscled man of action, a highly-skilled elite paratrooper in real life, yet he was generally thought of as the most incorrigible man in the company. Those who knew him say he got in bar fights, drank too much, and visited brothels while on leave. After the war, Skinny came home, turned his life around, and eventually became a small town preacher. He died in 1999 in West Virginia.
Everything about Rowdy Slater’s life has been fictionalized, and none of the specifics of Skinny’s life were used in this novel.
Yet that one big story idea sat in my mind a long time while I was planning this novel, and that’s where this story starts—with that juxtaposition in view:
An elite incorrigible paratrooper becomes a minister.
Here’s a man used to solving problems with a rifle or his fists … What sort of wild-hearted minister might such a man make?