Origin Stories

There is Life after Death, but Heaven is no Paradise.

A Discussion of my First Novel, Realms of Glory

Origins

There is life after death, but Heaven is no paradise.

I developed that elevator pitch sitting at a bar with my brother, Erik.  With strangers, it’s wise to avoid subjects like religion and politics.  When Erik and I get together, both are regular discussion topics.

My brother insulted the traditional vision of the Christian afterlife. Floating on a cloud and singing hymns for eternity? He found the idea boring and wanted no part of it. I proposed a Heaven that was imperfect-perhaps even dangerous.  As an author and screenwriter, he thought any book on the topic was a waste of time. Erik might have thought that the Christian afterlife was tedious, but he also believed that the general public would like to imagine Heaven as a place of peace.  Who would want to buy a book about war and discord in eternity? And even if they did, how could people ‘die’ when they were already dead?

We argued.  Since I’m trying to sell this completed novel, five years after that bar discussion, I hope I’m right.

Regardless of religious belief (or lack thereof), people would like to imagine there’s life after death.  How many folks have friends and family members whose lives were cut short by tragedy? Novels often take us where reality can’t.  My novel illustrates the extra chapters of life stories that were truncated by death.

It is a coming of age story that occurs after the protagonists have died.

The afterlife is not a boring church service. It is an adventure where we can interact with family, friends, historical figures, and strangers while exploring a new and dangerous world.  The bar stool argument with Erik gave me the pitch for my novel, now I needed a plot.

Three teenagers arrive in Heaven, but instead of paradise, they find a land teetering on the brink of revolution.

If that doesn’t have high market appeal, I don’t know what does.

As I began writing my novel, I realized that I couldn’t make it explicitly Christian.  An omnipotent, all-powerful God would destroy any force that rebelled.  Boring.  What about an omniscient, all-knowing God who knew rebellion was coming, let it happen anyway, and destroyed it with omnipotent power? Also boring, along with sadistic.  Neither was a book people would want to read.

Therefore, my afterlife was based on Christian tropes, but more like Olympus.  Heaven’s king is powerful, but has the capacity to lose. Without the chance of defeat, there’s no dramatic conflict.  To keep the story from reading like a Homeric epic, it’s told from the perspective of teenagers.

Writing this novel kept me sane during my doctoral research at the University of Pittsburgh. It was my creative outlet after hours of policy analysis and dry, academic research.  I finished the novel before I finished my dissertation.  While I frustrated my advisor occasionally with my creative pursuits, I believe that crafting this book ultimately improved my academic writing as well.  I hope she’ll buy a copy.

If you are still interested in reading this novel, and don’t think I’m crazy, this post continues with a brief preview of the book.  Without spoilers, of course!

Short Preview

Devon Newcastle, Madison Camrose, and Patrick Varberg are three teenagers from Pittsburgh on their way to the mall to pick up tuxedos for their senior prom.  They perish in a car crash.  They arrive in Heaven, but instead of the promised paradise, they find a tumultuous land teetering on the brink of revolution.  Heaven is more like Olympus than the Christian gospels, with technology beyond their wildest dreams. But behind the perfect façade, a dark plot is brewing, one that threatens to plunge the realms of Heaven & Earth into the fire of war.

No one can remember the last two months of life.  The teens enter separately and meet new friends when they arrive in Eden, Heaven’s capital.  While solving the mysteries of their deaths, they find each other.

The teens take different paths in their exploration of Heaven.  Devon, a football star on Earth, joins Heaven’s Realm Defense Force, striving for the prestigious title of 1st Corporal.  Madison enrolls at university, while Patrick experiences his first heartbreak and struggles to find himself.

Madison and Eva, her university roommate, are recruited by Deborah and Matthew, high-ranking officers in the Realm Police Agency.  The girls work to unravel the plot to overthrow Olen, Heaven’s king.  They soon discover that the conspiracy reaches the king’s inner circle.  Madison, Eva, Deborah, and Matthew work feverishly to stop the scheme before it’s too late.

Following an embarrassing defeat at the beginning of his training, Devon redeems himself commanding troops during an important exercise, impresses his superiors, and is invited to the Academy. While learning from legendary instructors like Saladin and Joshua Chamberlain, Devon meets Stephanie, one of his rivals for the position of 1st Corporal.  Stephanie is a ‘lifer’, someone whose entire existence has been in Heaven. Because she died as an infant, she has no memory of Earth.  Lifers are a notoriously entitled and arrogant lot, and normally don’t associate with anyone with nostalgia for what they see as a fallen planet.

A mysterious leader is recruiting humans and angels assigned to serve Heaven’s residents.  Many are frustrated with Olen’s near-universal salvation policy, and the message of purging Heaven of miscreants and hedonists resonates with the rebels.

Devon, Madison, and Patrick discover there is life after death.  But a fate worse than death awaits them all if the forces of darkness turn their newly-won Heaven into a Hell beyond their worst nightmares.

Next Steps

The cover and back cover of the book have been approved. As soon as the print copy of the novel is cleared, we’ll set a release date and begin promotion of the book.  Information will be posted on my author Facebook page (Rudolph W. Lurz), along with my Twitter page (@RudolphLurz).  Once we have an exact launch time, I’ll let you all know where you can buy the book in person or online.  The present estimate for release is late July/early August, 2017.

I might be crazy, but writing keeps me sane.  Completing this book has been one of the major achievements of my lifetime, and I feel blessed to have friends and family members who have supported me along every stage of this journey.

I hope you enjoyed this discussion of the book and its origins, and I look forward to sharing more as we inch closer to the release date.  Feel free to contact me on Facebook or Twitter if you’d like to learn more!

 

[RWL]

Objective-Based Failures

Humans were not made to chase numbers and die.

Author. Scholar. Wild Rover.

That’s how I introduce myself to the world on social media. I wish I could do the same when I meet strangers at dinner parties.

It’s a situation I often encounter. My wife is a surgeon. Doctors get together at least once a month at various house parties and social gatherings. Professionals who spend 70 hours a week together are obligated to converse with the same people during precious days off.

It’s supposed to help doctors develop closer relationships with their peers and build a sense of community. What happens most often is they talk about the same subjects they discuss in the hospital, wearing khakis instead of scrubs. As the spouse of a surgeon, I’m also obligated to attend. Discussion topics are often either too technical for me to understand or too graphic for the social setting. Given the choice, I prefer attempting to decipher medical jargon and acronyms. While I’m eating chili at a cookout, I’d rather not hear about exploding, pus-filled cysts or messy colonoscopies.

Sooner or later, I’m approached for conversation.  When describing who I am, “Author, Scholar, Wild Rover” isn’t an acceptable response.

Doctors are objective-based professionals, usually more interested in results than rhetoric. They are not alone in this characterization. Many people stick to a standardized script when meeting new acquaintances.

Who are you? What do you do? Where do you do it?

As a teacher, I wish the field of education were not so similarly objective-obsessed. Every year, student progress and teacher performance are based on high-stakes, multiple-choice exams. This format is often attributed to Frederick J. Kelly, who designed the assessments to increase efficiency in education.  He later argued for more individually-tailored assessment methods, noting that the multiple-choice format was “too crude to be used, and should be discarded”.

Rather than inspire students to create innovation, our system of education attempts to mechanize them to correctly choose the best option out of 4-5 choices. Sir Ken Robinson notes that such a system was designed to train workers in an Industrial Age economy, preparing new factory employees for the assembly line. Such methods have no place in the Information Age of the 21st century.

My brother felt strongly enough about opposing this system that he waged a solo, 3-day protest, marching in New York and Washington DC. I applauded his passion, but it is going to take more than one man with a sign to knock down the factory model of education. It requires a united front of teachers, students, and parents demanding tangible changes.

Life has more than four choices.  Instead of teaching students to fill bubbles, we should motivate them to expand their minds as free-thinkers. It is the natural state of children to be inquisitive and creative. The present education system, which seeks to reduce students and teachers to measurable numbers, stifles that creative spirit. It should be no surprise that students rebel against such an unnatural obligation. Student anxiety crescendos as these assessments approach, and on the date of the test itself, many kids become physically ill.  The sounds of vomiting echo through the halls of schools. I hear it when I serve as a hall monitor during these tests. If students don’t make it to the restroom, and throw up in their classrooms, an “irregularity” must be reported to the State.

There is nothing regular about a system of education that literally makes kids vomit.

Societal expectations of meeting arbitrary, external objectives do not cease after graduation.  Millions drive 90 minutes or more every day in heavy traffic to jobs they hate, move papers from one pile to another, and receive a number from their boss on a performance evaluation which objectively rates their value as an employee. That value as an employee is often construed to mean value as a human being.  The stress of reaching a satisfactory level is a magnified, real-world replay of the anxiety faced by students in classrooms during standardized tests.

Adults facing workplace anxiety aren’t limited to vomiting in the restroom. Use of antidepressants has skyrocketed over 400% since the late 1980s.  Almost 30% of companies surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recorded a workplace violence incident that occurred within the previous 5 years. Americans spend a third of their lives in cubicles next to coworkers teetering on the brink of mental breakdowns. How did we get here? How do we fix the human psyche of the modern age?

Germans have a single word to describe this phenomenon: Leistungsdrück. Literally translated, it means, “Achievement pressure”. This pressure follows us from kindergarten to retirement.  When we’re not thinking about our own leistungsdrück, we’re asking others how they’re doing with theirs.  What do you do? How is that going? What’s your test score in life?

Maybe in a few years, we’ll perfect the formula so we can boil it down to a single question and number.

“What are you?”

“I’m a 76. You?”

“54. But I’m hoping to get to the magic satisfactory number of 70 soon.”

“Good luck!”

Humans were not made to chase numbers and die. That isn’t an existence I find acceptable. We were made to chase our passions.

Charles Bukowski wrote, “If it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it.”

That’s how I feel about what I’m doing with my life. My name is Rudolph Lurz. I write, I teach, and I travel. I’m trying to change how education operates. I’m interested in communicating with others and exchanging ideas.

I recently completed my first novel. It’s a dystopian story of three teenagers who arrive in an Afterlife teetering on the brink of revolution. The tagline of my book, Realms of Glory, states, “There is life after death, but Heaven is no Paradise”. It is being published this summer. Stay tuned to my blog and social media pages for more information.

I write about life, death, and everything in between.  I’ll post here about my books, short stories, and academic articles. If you’re interested, you can be one of the 12 people in the world who will read my 205-page dissertation about state government policy formation.  I successfully defended it in April, and will be publishing that beast in December when I graduate with my doctorate in Administrative & Policy Studies.

I hope you’ll follow me, read my stuff, and comment with your own ideas, thoughts, and snide remarks. Let’s talk about things that matter.

Today is the first Lurzday Thursday.  Welcome to my page.

RW Lurz

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Twitter- @RudolphLurz