Thinking Out Loud

August 31, 2012

Reviewing: The Reason by William Sirls

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:47 am

This is actually the third blog post here devoted to this book, with this one constituting my actual review. I attach a lot of significance to this book’s release as it combines elements used by a number of authors in the past five years in a single volume.

I’ll mention some similarities to The Shack in a moment, but one similarity that exists outside the pages itself is the fact that neither The Shack nor The Reason were ever intended to be seen by a larger audience. Wm. Paul Young wrote the former for his kids with the initial “print” run being a dozen copies. Photocopies really. William Sirls wrote the latter and submitted it to Westbow, a self-publishing division of Thomas Nelson, Inc (TNI) to be available in print on demand, until it was read by a TNI receptionist who had an eye for good writing.

Sirls is an unlikely author. As covered here earlier, “…Sirls, who began writing a novel in 2004, shelved his story after he made the decision to turn himself in to authorities and spend 29 months in federal prison, convicted of wire fraud and money laundering. While in prison, Sirls began to understand what it meant to have a true relationship with God. Inspired by his developing faith, Sirls picked up his original manuscript and began creating a spiritual backbone to his novel.

Like The Noticer by Andy Andrews, and So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore by Jake Colsen (pseud.),  William Sirls’ book contains a character who seems to have unusually deep insights into people and events both past, present and future. Is he more than what he appears to be?

Like the currently popular Rooms, The Book of Days, and The Chair by James Rubart, The Reason contains a continually advancing plot, a good mix of male and female protagonists — nice to see more fiction men can enjoy — and supernatural occurrences.

Like The Shack, this book, The Reason contains a crisis or if you will, a “great sadness.” Or several. Not to mention several characters in a crisis of faith.

And like all of these, The Reason uses a fair amount of “Socratic dialogue” to give the complete work a didactic or teaching value without compromising considerations of plot and characterization. There is enough character balance that the tough questions of life are addressed in a manner that isn’t preachy or ‘churchy’ resulting in a book that could be given — or should be given — to people outside the faith family.

The ultimate message of believing faith in The Reason probably answers as many questions as it creates new ones. I certainly couldn’t stop reading this book, and I suspect it will be among the top ten Christian titles heading into the fall season.

An advance copy of The Reason was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Thomas Nelson/Graf-Martin

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August 10, 2012

Book Marketing to Reviewers Omits Interesting Detail

I haven’t done much reading this summer, so this week I decided to request a fiction title — The Reason by William Sirls — from Thomas Nelson on my blog account for Thinking Out Loud. Here’s the publisher’s description:

When Facing the Impossible, Can You Only Believe?

Storm clouds gather over a small Michigan town. As thunder shakes the sky, the lights inside St. Thomas church flicker . . . and then go out.

All is black until a thick bolt of lightning slices the sky, striking the church’s large wooden cross—leaving it ablaze and splintered in two.

When the storm ends—the search for answers begins.

James Lindy, the church’s blind minister, wonders how his small congregation can repair the cross and keep their faith in the midst of adversity. And he hears the words “only believe.”

Macey Lewis, the town’s brilliant young oncologist, is drawn to Alex, a young boy who’s recently been diagnosed with an aggressive leukemia. She puts her hope in modern medicine—yet is challenged to “only believe.”

And Alex’s single mom, who has given everything she can to her boy—is pleading with God to know the reason this is happening . . . to save her son. But she only hears silence and wonders how she can possibly “only believe.”

The Reason is a milestone debut novel, opening with a blast and never letting up as it introduces us to everyday characters who are wrestling with the questions: where is God when bad things happen? And does God ignore the prayers of the faithful? The answer each character receives will astound readers while offering an unforgettable call to hope, to change, to . . . only believe.

So far, so good. But then, on a hunch, I decided to check Ingram — a book trade site to which I have access  — to see the page count, and turned up this interesting tidbit in the Publisher’s Weekly review:

Sirls conceived this, his first novel, before he was imprisoned for wire fraud and money laundering. After his release, he attempted to self-publish a much altered version, and an advance copy landed on a desk at Thomas Nelson, who signed the author to a multibook contract.

Imprisoned? Now seriously, how can I not mention that when I go to review the book?

Actually, Thomas Nelson isn’t hiding this detail — though blog reviewers may have to seek to find it — as this press release indicates:

…Sirls, who began writing a novel in 2004, shelved his story after he made the decision to turn himself in to authorities and spend 29 months in federal prison, convicted of wire fraud and money laundering. While in prison, Sirls began to understand what it meant to have a true relationship with God. Inspired by his developing faith, Sirls picked up his original manuscript and began creating a spiritual backbone to his novel.

With encouragement from family members, Sirls decided to self-publish through WestBow Press, the self-publishing division of Thomas Nelson. “I was looking for three things in a publisher—good editing, strong cover design and the ability to distribute,” said Sirls. “WestBow, through the leadership of Alan Bower, exceeded all my initial expectations.” WestBow and the author distributed 100 galley copies to readers who read and praised the book, and passed it along to others who did the same. All told, nearly 200 glowing reader reviews have been collected from that initial distribution. One of those advance copies landed on Thomas Nelson’s reception desk.

“Our receptionist at Thomas Nelson is a voracious but particular fiction reader,” said Allen Arnold, Sr. VP and Publisher, Thomas Nelson Fiction. “When Marjo read it and loved it, we knew there was something to look into.”

Just weeks shy of the novel’s going to press at WestBow, Thomas Nelson approached William Sirls about signing a multi-book contract with its Fiction division instead.

“William’s path to publishing is certainly not common, but we’re always in search of the best possible storytellers and think readers are going to love this novel. We’re excited to have William on our roster,” said Arnold.

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