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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ray Blackston

Continuing with our Top Ten Series featuring my favorite authors:

#6: Ray Blackston

A few years ago, a friend handed me a novel and told me that I needed to read it. She's a member of my local writer's group that meets in a coffee shop once a month and we've gotten to know each other pretty well, so she knew I like movies and novels that are more character-driven than plot-driven and she knew that I enjoy love stories. The book she handed me was called Flabbergasted by Ray Blackston.

The novel is about a single man named Jay Jarvis who decides to go looking for love in Christian singles' groups. He meets some rather quirky people along the way and they eventually become good friends. But early on, Jay has his sights set on Allie. Problem is, she's already decided to become a missionary in Ecuador.

My friend was right about me needing to read this particular book. I devoured it and I thoroughly enjoyed reading a novel about the pursuit of love from a male protagonist's point of view. Helen Fielding started the chick-lit craze with her Bridget Jones's Diary series. Then along came books by Nick Hornby (About a Boy and Fever Pitch are just a couple of his titles), and Kyle Smith (of Love Monkey fame) in a new genre called lad-lit. Ray Blackston's Flabbergasted fit perfectly into this category.

Unfortunately, lad-lit was already on the down-trend by 2004 because men just don't buy these types of books. I'm the exception to the rule and I'm completely fine with that. But it does bum me out a little because poor sales means less contracts for such books in the future. But for now, I'm gobbling up all the books I can find in this genre and enjoying them.

Blackston wrote a sequel to Flabbergasted called A Delirious Summer about many of the same group of friends from the first book who decide to go to Ecuador to help rebuild huts after a fire. It's another great read about Christian singles who struggle to figure out their place in the world.

Blackston concluded the series with Lost in Rooville in which several of the same characters take a trip to Australia. Jay and his best friend Steve are planning to pop the question to their girlfriends and I just love the dialogue between them as the talk about how they are going to do it.

Jay becomes a new man as this series progresses after realizing that life takes on so much more meaning when a person lives to help other people. His struggle to find love was real. His struggle to become the type of man who is worthy of being married was real. His struggle to overcome his fear of leaving everything he knows behind is real. And I found myself challenged many times as I followed him on his journey.

Most recently, Blackston wrote a stand-alone novel called A Pagan's Nightmare and it looks hilarious. It's about a man named Larry Hutch, a novelist who isn't a Christian. He's witting a novel about a "reverse rapture" in which Christians are left behind--along with a few unbelievers. Given that Blackston is writing for a Christian audience, I admire his willingness to take a poke at one of our sacred cows.

I haven't had a chance to read this book yet, but I hope to soon. I picked up an advance copy at the International Christian Retail Show in Denver this past summer and I had a chance to meet and talk to Ray briefly while I was there. His first three books were with the same publishing house (Revell) that published my singles book, Single Servings.

I love many things about Blackston's books--his understanding of human nature, his understanding of the Christian singles seen, and his willingness to challenge the church on occasion. But most of all, I love the characters he creates. I actually feel like I know them and I suspect that any novelist would be happy to hear that.


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