Blog Hop


Photo courtesy of

I was recently approached by Head Muse and dear friend Kelly Belmonte about doing a “Blog Hop” which provides insight into my writing process. Her Blog Hop is located at the wonderful site All Nine Muses.  Kelly invited several others, including fellow Muse Holly Ordway, to contribute. Her excellent post is located at Hieropraxis.

By the way, both of these fantastic ladies have upcoming releases: Kelly’s new chapbook,  Spare Buttons, is available for pre-order through Finishing Line Press. Holly’s memoir of her spiritual conversion, Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms, is an expanded edition available October 7th. It is a fascinating narrative of her journey from atheism to Catholicism. Pre-order it here.


1. What am I working on?

Right now, I am juggling a few different projects. One is the C.S. Lewis and Leadership book which is derived from dissertation research. I struggled with various structural issues and then my friend and fellow Lewis scholar Charlie Starr suggested a good way to work everything in as I wanted. It is far from complete, but with some extra research and additional “seat time” in front of my computer, it will hopefully come along at a sufficient pace. I am also contributing a chapter to a book examining a new, emerging angle on C.S. Lewis. I cannot reveal too much about that yet, but it will be a great collaborative examination. Very excited for its release.

I’m also slowly nibbling on a collection of poetry. Poetry is very different than prose for me. I type academic prose, but I scribble poetry into journals. I can’t sit down and say, “I’m going to write a poem”. I have to wait around until something shows up. I know that is counterintuitive to everything you have read about writing through blocks, but I have to be patient with the Muse!  Sometimes, if I can listen to music and quiet my mind, lines begin to come.  But the most significant aspect is finding that center, the opportunity to unplug, to exhaustively exit the hamster wheel, and just breathe. It’s a beautiful thing.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I am the first person to apply leadership theory to an individual predominantly known as an author. Beforehand, dissertations dealing with the same topic discussed Abraham Lincoln, or Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, Jr. (all worthy recipients!). I prefer to set my own path. It creates more work for me, but it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to carve new philosophical pathways in leadership studies and Lewis studies. When I first began researching, I received some discouraging comments, such as, “But didn’t he write children’s books?” 

That type of criticism and discouragement serves to fuel my efforts. Just like a great story, everybody needs a little adversity to motivate them sometimes. I began a blog right after I graduated and just wrote what I felt. Honestly, I was a little shocked that people were reading what I wrote, because there are so many blogs, and frankly, lots of noise on the internet. You have to set yourself apart without sacrificing the essence of who you are. I like to be different (okay, weird) and explore uncharted territory in what I write. Most of the time, I am naturally drawn to that anyway because I have always been insatiably curious, but the work is intrinsically rewarding when you discover something new.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I think one of the most important things in art is to be honest with yourself. Write what you feel, not what may be popular or lucrative. As an instructor, my favorite class is Creative Writing. It is encouraging and nourishing to read and shape stories with my students. I urge them all of the time to write from the heart. I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t take their advice and do the same. I write it because it makes me happy. I write it because it is what my soul desires to share.  

4. How does my writing process work?

Funny you ask that. I wish I could tell you that I sit down for 30 minutes a day or an hour a day and work. Depending on my schedule (and my motivation *cough*), I may sit down for some time, but it seems to come in waves. There are some times where work responsibilities are heavier than others and I cannot devote the time. I struggle with balance. I incessantly edit while being consistently impatient – not a good combination. I struggle to edit but I enjoy editing. It’s a strange sensation. I used to type up a piece and post it immediately. However, now I tend to wait at least a day and revisit it with a very critical eye. When I sit on a piece and edit, I am always satisfied with the results, but it is the waiting that I truly struggle with in most cases. George Orwell recommended that writers compose a piece, then place it in a drawer for a year.  After a year, he/she can unearth it and begin alterations. After a year, I would probably forget and have a bunch of “in utero” projects that remain incomplete (similar to Tolkien).

My Muse is a rowdy, unpredictable gal. She tends to wake me up around 3-4 A.M. and attempt to persuade me to write down “a few verses”.

This is a typical exchange:

Muse: Hey! Hey! Hey! I have this awesome verse for that poem about the old Celtic cross you saw. It’s vivid, it’s alliterative…

Me: [rolls over]

Muse: Ahem, are you listening? It’s fantastic and THEN I had this great idea for the poem about Shakespeare and the one about emotional bankruptcy. Aw, classic.

Me: Can you come back in like three hours?

Muse: No, you know how I keep my hours. This is prime time. Get up. I mean it. Go get your stinkin’ notebook and write this down. DO IT!

Me: Okay, hang on. *Snoring*

Muse: HEY! I said, Get up now!!

Because of her (sometimes intolerable) insistence, I wrote a poem for her once:  

“On Writing”

Oh gentle tyrant,

How you beckon during inconvenient moments

Diverting these hands from banal obligations

Or sweet repose.

True Muse or nocturnal nemesis?


And so I rise

Grasp the weathered notebook

And stare at the blank page.

Sigh, sighs,

Then syllables

Flow forth unfiltered.

A joyous slave to the verse

I obey

And in my toil I rejoice

To find myself again.


Be satisfied, and

Smile muse, as your coaxing is rewarded.

For you remain with this scribbling

Ever victorious.

What a Picture’s Worth: A Beloved Photo Returns to France after 70 Years


Just last week, on a drizzly Sunday morning, I stepped foot on Omaha Beach. Sand crunched beneath my sneakers as I surveyed the deceptively tranquil shoreline. As gulls circled politely overhead and low tide massaged the beach’s edge, I took inventory of the sad, tragic events that occurred seventy years prior. It was a sobering vision juxtaposed against our contemporary luxuries. How soon we forget and forsake those who dodge enemy bullets to defend our freedom.  The vestiges of German bunkers, now eroded stone, peered down from the incline’s precipice.


I couldn’t erase the images of D-Day from my mind, pictures of young Americans wading confidently with weapons and sacks to confront a ruthless enemy. Wounded and deceased bodies stretched across the sands as the ricochet of gunfire and screams reached a long, painful crescendo. Still they fought. They encroached enemy territory certain of victory and on the now becalmed shoreline, they would accept no less.

That quiet Sunday, there were no enemies, no artillery, no conflict. It’s just me and the picture I clasped in my hand.

____________________________________Paul 18_____________________________

                 Paul upon entering the service

In 1944, my grandfather Paul Ashley was drafted into the army and immediately reported for duty. He trained for several weeks, making new friends and learning survival skills as well as techniques of warfare. Before leaving out for training, he stopped by a local restaurant with another brother-in-arms. Both were in uniform. He spied, across the little shop, a lovely brunette chatting and laughing with her cousin. Paul didn’t know the name of this mysterious and beautiful woman, but a man who goes to war knows that time is of the essence. He couldn’t work up enough courage to approach her that day (a man can bravely face enemy fire, but not timid, pretty girls!). Instead he chose to admire her from afar, casually observing her as she was consumed in conversation. Later, he would write to the cousin (an acquaintance) and ask permission to send letters to her enchanting relative, a West Virginia native named Irene. “Which one?” Irene curiously asked. When she discovered that it was Paul, she was delighted and enthusiastically agreed. Thus began the correspondence that would lend encouragement through the dark trenches and unforgiving forests of WWII and eventually lead, happily, to a marriage and seven children.

 Mammaw and Pappaw

Engagement pictures, spring 1945

Several months after D-Day, Paul landed at Omaha Beach, the infamous site of Allied capture. The waters, he recalled, were still tinged pink, an ominous reminder of the events that preceded his arrival. His predominantly peaceful introduction to Europe was short-lived. He travelled to Belgium and Luxembourg to begin an arduous, bloody winter in the Ardennes Forest, participating in the Battle of the Bulge. His valor earned him several medals, along with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. He was wounded by shrapnel, which he removed himself with tweezers.On another occasion, he carried his superior officer to safety through relentless gunfire (the officer unfortunately succumbed to his injuries). On Christmas Day, as he was eating rations, Paul was surprised by a bomb landing nearby, a bomb that never detonated. He called it a “dud” (but I call it Providence). All this time, during the fearful uncertainties of battle, Paul would pull out a lone picture of his girl, that same beauty from the restaurant. He cherished her letters, her sweet notes of optimism. After his return, he always kept that photo in his wallet. That was where it was on the day he died in March 2004.


Take it easy dear. Yours with love, Irene

And that is where I come in. In college, I interviewed my grandfather about his war experiences for a paper. He talked of his rations, of the French villages and German countryside, of the blending of armies united to fight an evil regime. After the interview, he showed me that photo, still in his wallet as the girl was still in his heart. After his death, I ran across the photo in an album. Remembering his deep attachment, I asked my grandmother if I could have it; she agreed. I was delighted to possess something that meant so much to him.

Now, here I am, seventy years after his arrival standing on the very beach upon which he first stepped into enemy territory, a sacred place where his brothers fought and died. I pull out that photo, the same smiling face now surrounded by worn edges, creases, and a small tear, and lift it to the breeze. This is where it started for my grandfather, but it is not, thankfully, where it ended. I envision the futures which vanished in the gun smoke, surrounded by the ghosts of progeny who never were, as so many young men took their last breath here. The pregnant silence, the soft wash of the shore is all I hear now. As I look across the sandy expanse, I am overwhelmed by their sacrifice and humbled by the opportunity to visit the very places he travelled throughout the war. How many nights did he recall the charm of those little French villages? Of brotherhood? Of undiminished hope, even as the cold German winter stung his face and numbed his limbs?


Window in Bayeux (Normandy)

I wish, as a child, I had paid more attention. I sincerely wish I had, before atrophy began stealing his memories, written down with more detail the places and events of his time at war. As the Greatest Generation shrinks, we must realize how impoverished we are in its absence. It is their strength, resilience, and resolve that we must carry with us. It is their legacy and as children and grandchildren, our inherited responsibility.

After a few moments, I place her back in my pocket. That beloved image – her ebony hair, warm smile, the handmade dress. She returned to France once again after seven long decades. As my grandfather did under very different circumstances, I pull it out to admire her, to think of all of the places she has travelled. I reflect on the sacrifices which purchased my freedom, which grant all of us new opportunities. That is why I carried her with me. I brought her back to remind myself of the miracle of life, which can be abbreviated with a single bomb or bullet. I brought her back to find a piece of myself in those tiny village corridors and in the echo of the ocean.

But most importantly, I brought her back to remind myself that freedom is never free.


GoFundMe Campaign for John Ashley

Hello readers!

If you read my post, “Why Hope is a Choice”, you are aware that my uncle was diagnosed with stage four melanoma. Currently, he is undergoing treatment at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Due to surgery which removed his infected mole and now his chemotherapy, he is not allowed to return to work. Please, PLEASE consider giving what you can to his GoFundMe program to help deter the costs of doctor visits and treatment while he is absent from work. Any amount you give with be GREATLY appreciated!





Over the next few days, we will changing servers at If you visit and the site isn’t up, please know that we will be back up within a few days. So very sorry for the inconvenience!

Thanks for reading!


Legendarium Interview with Illustrator/Artist Charles Vess

Taken from Legendarium – 6/16/2014

Legendarium’s Exclusive Interview with Artist and Illustrator Charles Vess!

 “…one of the things I really, really like about mythology and folklore is that they are really fun stories but also when you are reading them you are learning about another person’s mythology, another person’s folklore and you’re starting to understand a different group of people on the planet and you become more accepting of various peoples’ ideas”

Green Man Press is located in the back of a magnificent home-turned-business in an historic southern community. Like the beginning of a fantasy adventure, oneturns away from the obvious, a cavernous and welcoming entrance, and steers left down carefully-placed stones which slope downwards among shady trees and vines crawling up century-old brick. The wind whispers a greeting through the rustled leaves and guides you gently around to a hidden entrance- a curiously common door which leads to a whole new universe. Here is the place where worlds are sketched into existence by the talented hand of Charles Vess, whose enchanting studio can quickly draw one into the whimsical worlds of fantasy and mythology.

You may recognize Vess from many publications over the years. In the 1980s, Vess worked at Marvel and illustrated such greats as Doctor Strange, The Warriors Three, and Spiderman. Later, he would depict the fantastic world of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, serving as an art director for the film version released in 2007. He has also created images for the worlds of George R.R. Martin (Storm of Swords), Charles de Lint (Circle of Cats, The Cats of Tanglewood Forest and Seven Wild Sisters), and Susanna Clark (The Ladies of Grace Adieu) among others.


Image Courtesy of

It is no surprise that Vess began by collecting comic books as a young boy. His mother had a pamphlet titled 100 Masterpieces of Art which first introduced him to great works of art, but it wasn’t until his first encounter with comic books that Vess would consider illustration and art as a career. Growing up in Lynchburg, Virginia, Vess and his brother accompanied their father during a monthly visit to the barber shop. There, Vess began reading and collecting comic books. He started with Tarzan of the Apes and Uncle Scrooge, but was completely smitten when Fantastic Four #4 was released: “I had never thought about this before, a human being drew those pages. If a human being drew those then there are other ones and I can draw them too”. Vess’ expansive interest covers comic book illustrators to fantasy artists such as John Bauer, Alphonse Mucha, Hannes Bok, and Edmund Dulac among others. Vess was enchanted by the artists and comics of his youth such as Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant, Walt Kelley’s Pogo, Alley Oop, and Flash Gordon.

From that moment, Vess was hooked, but unfortunately there were no art books (and no internet) to delve further into the talented illustrators he admired. His first art book, purchased his senior year of high school, chronicled the work of Aubrey Beardsley. Then while in college at Virginia Commonwealth University, Vess had access to art books for many prodigious artists including Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, and Arthur Rackham (the last being his personal favorite and most significant influence). Vess read an article featuring four comic book writers from the Richmond area and wanted desperately to meet them. He would eventually strike up a friendship with all four writers, especially one named Michael Kaluta. Kaluta was working in New York and asked if Vess would be his roommate. He needn’t ask twice:

I put everything I could into a station wagon. I drove to New York, loaded it in, and then I was hanging out with him and his friends and meeting editors and artists and things. Most of them were in the comic book field – Archie Goodwin and Walt …They would see me, they met me, and then they would start asking me if I wanted to do a story for them and I just sort of slipped in the back door.


Vess posing with several of his many accolades

But the back door is most certainly the best way to enter (remember our arrival?). Vess’s work was in high demand. He was attending comic book conventions, doing story art, and selling his artwork. He was making a living through art, although he comically remembers that he “did laundry in the bathtub” and “ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches”.

It was at one of these conventions that Vess serendipitously struck up a conversation with an emerging writer named Neil Gaiman. Vess and Gaiman shared an affection for the writings of Virginia fantasy writer James Branch Cabell. Gaiman was currently writing the Sandman series and asked if Vess would be interested in illustrating some issues, but Vess declined. He much preferred to draw folklore and mythology over modern horror: “I’ve always responded to [folklore and mythology]. It’s more natural, less hard-edge and technological. There are natural rhythms in forests that I like to draw…one of the things I really, really like about mythology and folklore is that they are really fun stories but also when you are reading them you are learning about another person’s mythology, another person’s folklore and you’re starting to understand a different group of people on the planet and you become more accepting of various peoples’ ideas”. Gaiman later created a Sandman storyline incorporating African folklore and the two agreed to work together for issue #75. This successful collaboration led to many others, including Blueberry and the much-acclaimed work Stardust. When asked about his impressions working with Gaimon, Vess replied:

It was great working with him. What you discover doing any kind of collaborative work is that the better the writer you are working with, the better the art you’re going to end up with, the more they pull things out of you that you never knew were inside your brain. Collaboration is a really interesting thing. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but when it does, it’s like sitting in a room with a bunch of friends and you are talking, and the words start bouncing around and all of you in that room come up with a joke that none of you had come up with by yourself. As long as you can check your ego in at the door and make the best thing you can, you become sort of a third voice that is the combination of both people. It’s really interesting.

Currently, Vess continues to illustrate for fantastic children’s books such as Driftwood Days and  Anna Myers’ Tumblewood Baby. Vess himself has previously published some art collection through his Green Man Press ( Vess previously published a collection of adaptations featuring English and Scottish traditional ballads through Green Man. When asked about the origin of the name, Vess stated that he had just been sent a copy of Green Man: The Archetype of Our Oneness with the Earth which captures Green Man statues in various places around the world. He describes the Green Man as a “sort of a pre-Christian nature archetype, sometimes signifying man’s progress with nature, feelings with nature”. The book is out of print, but is now being republished by Titan Books. Titan will produce an artist’s edition in the original dimensions of the artwork which will include “all the mistakes and corrections and tea stains”.


Image Courtesy of

Vess is now adding “writer” to his extensive list of accomplishments. Just recently, he sold his whimsical tale of Santa Claus, Father Christmas, A Wonder Tale of the North for publication. The book is expected to hit stores shortly before the holiday season. Vess is also hard at work on several other projects. Queen of Summer’s Twilight is an 87,000-word manuscript of exclusively text while The Greenwood is approximately 67,000 words with a combination of text and images. He is also lending his talent to an adaptation of Appalachian Jack tales titled How Jack Made His Fortune.


Vess stands in front of a bookcase of stories all featuring his artwork

When asked what advice he would give to aspiring artists, Vess replied, “Use a big eraser, be stubborn, and draw from your heart”. He also suggests that new artists network by joining various societies and attending conventions. He has an excellent and enlightening discussion on creating art under the “Art Process” tab of his website ( Vess urges young artists to expand their horizons by saving pennies and booking tickets: “You want to do it? You do it. There’s always a way to get where you need to go”.


For more information, visit Green Man Press. Also, purchase Drawing Down the Moon: The Art of Charles Vess here.

Visit the Amazon page of Charles Vess to buy illustrated works.

Catch Charles Vess at the following events and conventions:

June 20-22

Heroes Convention, Charlotte, NC

America’s favorite comic convention since 1982, famous for its family-friendly, laid-back, comics-oriented atmosphere.  I’ll be in Artists Alley.

Aug. 3-4

Creative Writing Days, Virginia Highlands Festival

w/Lee Smith and Gwenda Bond.

A two-day workshop examining and developing your own writer’s voice under the tutelages of award-winning authors.  In this session, I will work with the writers to demonstrate how an illustrator can enhance text – and subtext – and draw the reader into the story.

Sept. 6-7

Narnia Fumetti 9

Narni, ITALY

Why Hope is a Choice

As I type this, in the early morning hours, the sun hasn’t dared to climb over the horizon yet. Darkness pervades out every window. To prevent eye strain, I have a bronze lamp which illuminates my office, casting shadows across my desk. When I step into the hallway, I realize that I am once again visiting the darkness. With each step, I am carried away from the safety of that single bulb, which burns confidently under a tempered-glass hood.

Things are obscure in the darkness. It is not about tripping over a pile of laundry or hearing the shrill squeak of the dog toy when my foot finds it (and it always seems to find it in the quiet hours of morning). Really, it is about the uncertainty. I cannot see things well. The path in front of me, the steps I take, are tenuous and unsure. In those moments, I swallow panic and combat increasing anxiety. I don’t know nor do I have control over the threats I encounter in the darkness. There are moments where I place hands on the hallway walls to cautiously guide my steps. I grapple in the inky blackness for the light switch. I know it is there within arm’s reach. When my hand finally locates it, the frowning switch is quickly thrown Heavenward.  A simple yet profound motion – pushing up, conquering gravity. And in a solitary moment, clarity prevails. Lights blaze and all that was hidden is finally revealed. There is great comfort in that truth.

About three and a half years ago, my mother was contacted about an unusual spot on her annual mammogram. With knees on the carpet, I pleaded with God. Please don’t let her have cancer. After a biopsy, the doctor confirmed that carcinoma cells were present (although they were not spreading). Shocked and scared, I came to God a second time, fingers nervously tracing the carpet as I talked to Him. Please can we avoid a mastectomy?  A couple of weeks later, her oncologist reported that the cells, although sitting still within the quiet ductal walls like sentries awaiting a signal, could mobilize at any moment. “It is best if we just remove it,” she said. A third time, I approached God. This time I was tired, emotionally drained, and, quite frankly, irritated. I asked and I didn’t receive. The floor’s harsh fabric was beginning to aggravate my knees. My cheeks were flush with anger, with disappointment. In the span of just a few weeks, my life had completely changed. “We’ll start looking at you in a few years,” her oncologist said to me. I cowered under the shadow, the pervading silhouette of fear. I prayed and cried. Every day presented an opportunity to be strong. Can I survive this day without dwelling on it? Should I feel guilty if I choose distraction? Some nights, I collapsed into bed at night victorious, and others I stiffly crawled to the covers discouraged and conquered. But the next morning, I had another chance.

And then, after about a month, I decided that I would not allow her diagnosis to impact the rest of our lives. I had to believe that she would come through this and that this time of terrible uncertainty would one day be in my rear-view mirror. I could continue to limp, back sloped in defeat and head hanging, through the rest of my life cringing over words such as mammogram. Or I could carry on with optimism. I had to make a conscious choice. I had to choose hope. I had to believe all of those truths from Sunday School, that all of the colorful cut-outs prancing on flannel boards – David fighting Goliath, Jonah praying inside the whale’s dark belly, Noah constructing an incredible boat for impending floods, even Jesus conquering death on a cross – were plagued with doubt and uncertainty at times. They all made a choice. They all faced what seemed to be an unassailable enemy. They could have easily predicted the odds and found them slim, but hope was a fire not too easily extinguished. I had to believe that my Mom would conquer this. I knew she was strong enough. I had to remind myself that God is bigger than cancer, God is stronger than fear, and that light will always overcome darkness.

The doctor explained that once in the lymph nodes, the cancer can travel throughout the body. It is like the interstate in the voluminous network of our bodies. Once there, it can be carried to infect other areas. I hit my knees one more time in earnest pleading. Please God please, keep the cancer out of the lymph nodes. Just a couple of weeks later, when the mastectomy was performed, the lymph nodes were clear. God be praised!

But now for my family, the ominous clouds of uncertainty gather above our heads once again. Just recently, my uncle Johnny was diagnosed with stage four melanoma. He has always been a kind, gentle soul. An unusual mole appeared on his thigh about six years ago. Recently, after his family insisted, he had it checked out. Just yesterday, after a complete PET and CT scan, it was discovered that the cancer has spread to the immediate area. He will begin aggressive treatment soon. He needs our support and prayers during this difficult time. He has a loving wife, a daughter and son who dote on him, and family and friends who are willing to do whatever is necessary to give him the medical attention he needs. Friends, I ask that you join us in prayer. It is hard to articulate the fear we are experiencing right now, but we huddle on the carpet together and remain vigilant that our prayers will be heard and answered. We KNOW he can defeat this. We ask that you pray for strength and endurance and peace of mind as he fights. We will keep pushing up, remaining optimistic, and praying for healing.

The sun awaits to meet the horizon outside my office window, but birds are beginning to sing. They serenade the arrival of light, the presence of hope. The morning is upon us.

Crystal’s Poetry Featured on Neon Ink!

Photo Courtesy of

Several months ago, I was arrested by a photo of a young Syrian boy lying helplessly on a makeshift hospital cot. The image was one of many sobering pictures that continue to be produced from the Syrian conflict. After seeing this photo, I was prompted to write a poem titled “Bildungsroman” which means “coming of age”.

A few weeks ago, I submitted it to Neon Ink, an online literary magazine and was ecstatic to hear that it was accepted! Follow the link to read it:

Thanks for hanging with me these last few months as I work on projects. Great news is on the horizon very soon. Stay tuned!

Dwight L. Moody by Kevin Belmonte: A Book Review

Dwight L. Moody by Kevin Belmonte: A Book Review


Photo courtesy of

History has a way of obscuring our spiritual heroes. This is achieved either by what is known as hagiography, the practice of white-washing and deifying individuals or by displaying them solemnly in a museum of mediocrity, reducing them to forgettable and difficultly-pronounced names inventoried in religious texts. We are told from an early age the importance of these figures, of the significant impact of their spiritual contributions, and the burden of sacrifice he or she made for the cause of Christ. But a thorough exploration of the character reveals that these elevated figures of our faith were actually as dirty and ragged as we all are, seeking Truth and hope in an ever fallen world, desiring to light just a few candles to chase darkness from their tiny corner of the universe.  In many ways, we forget to place flesh on the statues of our former leaders and view them as one views that hardened clay – uncompromising, unaltered, and resolute. But they, at one time, had a beating heart, blood rushing through their veins, and lungs which welcome the air. They fell in love, they had errors in judgment, and experienced life in all its wonder and complexities. The necessary existence of good and bad mingled into our very nature – that is what a good biography shows us.

Kevin Belmonte has done just that. He portrays D.L. Moody as an orphaned, yet ambitious young man who transformed himself from an underprivileged and impoverished boy to a rousing minister and religious philanthropist.  Moody would later travel the world speaking Christ’s gospel, filling pews and the roll books of Heaven, while creating a spiritual legacy in the Moody Bible Institute.

Belmonte is our trusty, erudite guide as we follow Moody from his humble beginnings in Northfield, Massachusetts. There were several Moody children, and the family was perpetually in debt. The premature death of his father, coupled with many years of financial struggle, only increased Moody’s personal desire to succeed. Moody wished to be self-sufficient and help his overworked mother, who was at home raising several children on her own. Despite his early-acquired burdens, Moody was known as a rowdy boy, with an indomitable sense of humor. It was not unusual for Moody to play pranks on some poor, unsuspecting neighbor.

With his headstrong desire to succeed, Moody heads to Boston in 1854 and quickly makes a name for himself in his uncle’s shoe store. At the behest of his uncle, he begins to attend church services. Moody illustrates his business acumen and soon graduates to new responsibilities in the store. Additionally, Moody fostered a deep religious conviction, which climaxed one day when he accepted Christ in the back of his uncle’s shoe store. From selling soles to winning souls, Moody had no idea that this one decision would greatly impact the trajectory of his life and the lives (and eternities) of so many others.

Image courtesy of

Belmonte then walks us alongside Moody in his journeys through the slums of Chicago, called “Little Hell” where young men came in droves to hear Moody speak. In the meantime, Moody meets and marries Emma Revell and starts a family while he carries his Bible through the bloody battlefields of the Civil War and across the wide ocean to pulpits throughout Europe. Moody paired with Ira Sankey to have many successful sermons across Europe and also create what was known as the Moody-Sankey Hymn-Book, combining ministry and artistry. Moody was seen as a different type of minister – one who seemed saturated of simply humility, who preached with a strong conviction and yet without a firm theological education. His speech was “colloquial…but with no eloquence”, his demeanor calm. And yet, as Lord Shaftesbury puts it, “Are we not right in believing—time will show—that God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise? Moody will do more in an hour than Canon Liddon in a century” (77).

D.L. Moody and John Farwell

Image courtesy of

Once Moody and Sankey returned to the United States, they toured major cities with revivals of great popularity. New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. Again, Moody’s simplicity reigned. His brand of “common sense” arguments and essentially “mere Christianity” filled pews while sparking theological debates in the press. The Tribune wrote:

It was not…to the cultured classes that Christ Himself preached, but to the working-people, the publicans, fishermen, tax-gatherers; and He used the words and illustrations which would appeal to them forcibly.  If Messrs. Moody and Sankey, or any other teachers, bring Him directly home to men’s convictions, and lead them to amend their lives for His sake, let us thank God for the preacher, and let his tastes and grammar take care of themselves (83)

Many great men, including presidents, were in attendance. His New York meetings took place on what now is Madison Square Garden. Moody and Sankey refused any payment for these meetings, electing to spend the money on various charities. His casual style of speaking, explanations, and illustrations made difficult Biblical concepts more palatable. People were attracted to his warm personality. After his wanderlust subsided, Moody and his family settled in Northfield, Massachusetts, on his old homestead. Immediately, Moody began plans for a girls’ school and with the financial assistance of friends, began to purchase surrounding plots to build the campus and thus began the Northfield Seminary and not long after, Mount Hermon, a school for boys. The school aimed to provide generous scholarships for many of the underprivileged students (much like Moody when he was a boy) as well as hone skills through a work-study program.

Moody then sets his sights on creating a school in Chicago, the famous Moody Bible Institute, to train young people in the gospel. With his entrepreneurial spirit, Moody then established the Bible Institute Colportage Association to publish religious works at affordable prices.

Belmonte walks us up the slopes of the Mount of Olives, where Moody, during a visit to Jerusalem, delivers a stirring speech on Easter morning.  Moody, always the enterprising fellow, even rents out theaters during the World’s Fair in Chicago, offering free concerts with sermons to convert people to Christianity. Because of his dogged efforts, Moody’s concerts allow over two million people to hear the message of Christ. His life is the ultimate testimony that God can transform lives through the most difficult and hopeless of circumstances.

Belmonte, like his subject, has exceeding talent in encouraging enthusiasm for his topic, while communicating in an enlightening and entertaining way. I own several of Belmonte’s books and each work illustrates Belmonte’s prodigious writing talent and research abilities. I urge you to add this fascinating biography to your collection of cherished works. Belmonte, and the titanic figure that is Dwight L. Moody, will not leave you disappointed.



Own ALL of the Lewis and Women Series Now!

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Inkings Fellowship Weekend in Montreat!

All images courtesy of Crystal Hurd

is a small, obscure pub located on the side street in Oxford, England. The sign, an image bearing a rosy-cheeked infant perched securely upon the back of an eagle in flight, swings in the afternoon breeze as several men gather in the rabbit room to discuss and share their latest writings. In this intimate environment, this womb of creativity, some of the greatest works of the twentieth century were conceived, shared within a small group of friends, collaboratively shaped and refined until the public would read and adore them, which would solidify their fame and thus immortalize these brilliant authors.

This crucial setting coupled with warm company is perhaps an integral aspect of the personal happiness and literary success of members of this wonderful gathering. The assembling together (of which Paul tells us not to forsake) creates lasting friendships, cherished memories, and can serve as the catalyst for creativity.

It is in this same spirit that the Inklings Fellowship “Weekend in Montreat” meets every year in the emerald hills of North Carolina. There, in a spot that could rival Rivendell, admirers and fans of the Inklings meet to discuss, share, and converse like the heroes of faith and literature did decades ago in that tiny, smoke-filled, pint-populated room full of laughter, respect, and great ideas.

The Inklings Fellowship is coordinated by two delightful, erudite Inkling scholars: Dr. Hal Poe is the Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture at Union University and author of C.S. Lewis Remembered and The Inklings of Oxford while Dr. Don King is a literature professor at Montreat College and the author of C.S. Lewis, Poet: The Legacy of His Poetic Impulse, Hunting the Unicorn: A Critical Biography of Ruth Pitter, and Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman, and Plain to the Inward Eye: Selected Essays on C.S. Lewis. In addition, Nigel Goodwin, founder of the Genesis Arts Trust, will be speaking and leading the “Inklings Evening” filled with poetry, readings, and song.  Ryan Pemberton, a former resident at the Kilns (Lewis’s home) and Ben Mitchell, internationally recognized ethicist, author, and Professor of Moral Theology at Union University will both speak on the conference theme: “The Hope in Our Calling”.

Also, the conference will celebrate the 60th anniversary of The Fellowship of the Ring. Join us April 11-13 as we celebrate the collaborative spirit and friendly conversation of the Inklings at Montreat College.

I strongly urge you to attend. This is a wonderful event! I will be serving on a panel discussion on Tolkien and Film. Don’t miss it.  🙂

For more information, visit the Inklings Fellowship website: