It’s Christmas Eve and festive lights are guiding people home. Jake Graystone (44), however, is about to make the worst decision of his life. Bored by his job, and unable to provide for his wife and two sons, a chance meeting with a poker-playing friend in a local bar changes his life. Pete Marley (44) and Jake have known each other since school days. While Jake’s life has plateaued, Pete is wealthy and has everything. Three months before Christmas, he teaches Jake the art of poker – the chance to make money and have what he has. In the dimly lit bar, he whispers the secret of the cards.
Jake is now drawn into a world of gambling. Poker becomes his new life, as Sally (39), his long-suffering wife realises she is losing the man she loves. Jake’s poker addiction grows, along with his ability to read the playing cards and people. He soon becomes unbeatable. Jake cannot keep his secret forever, however, and when his wife finds out, there is a volcanic argument on Christmas Eve. Jake walks out on his family, gets into his car and heads north to Casino City with barely a thought for the people he is leaving behind.
In Casino City, prosperity comes with every deal of the cards. Jake is soon playing in high stakes tournaments. He has a special gift, not only for the game but also for reading his opponents. Days and nights are spent at the casino. It becomes Jake’s world of bright lights and easy money. In all the madness, he confides in a friendly Pit Boss. Father Jim (55) is a former priest who now works on the tables. An improbable friendship allows Jake to share his troubles with him.
Life is good for Jake until he is challenged to take part in the biggest stake game in town set up by the Mob. The scene is set. Winner takes all. As Jake takes his seat he is joined at the table by a tall and hauntingly thin man known as the Undertaker. Cards are dealt and in a crunch heads-up with the final turn of a card, Jake loses everything.
Now indebted to the Mob, Jake goes on the run. He is soon homeless. His first nights are spent hiding in an old Pentecostal Church, then on the streets, always watching out for the shadow of the Undertaker. There he meets Christine (27), who has been living rough since her dad died when she was ten. They form a strong friendship that melts away the hubris of his heart.
One night, Christine is walking with Jake down an icy street. The lights of a speeding limo come into view as Jake is frozen in its path. The Undertaker is in the driving seat. Without warning, Christine pushes Jake out of the way. Jake is devastated.
As the Christmas snow falls again, he stumbles into a diner frequented by truckers. Jake looks up to see Matt (30) a huge, black truck driver sat opposite him. They begin to talk. Matt says he is going south towards his town, his last call on Christmas Eve. He tells Jake that he will take him home. They walk out of the Diner together to his Coca Cola lorry. On the journey, Matt talks to Jake and Jake begins to come to his senses.
When Matt drops Jake off near his house, Matt and his truck disappear into the night.
Jake wraps a red rug around his shoulders and lugs a sack of presents, given by Matt, over his shoulder. It is now time for Jake, looking like a bedraggled Santa, to shuffle through the snow to the place he once lived.
It’s Christmas Eve and festive lights are guiding people home.
What will Jake find when he returns?
KING OF HEARTS AND THE WORLD OF PARABLES
I’m going to put my cards on the table – an appropriate turn of phrase in relation to a novel partly about poker. I am a huge fan of the parable genre. I’m especially a fan of the way it’s used by Jesus of Nazareth. In his own times, the parable was known as a mashal Hebrew. In Jesus’ hands, it became a down-to-earth story that illustrated a heavenly truth. Put another way, his parables were small stories with really big ideas.
It takes a lot of skill to execute this form of storytelling. We perhaps see that skill at its most impressive in the story of the son who rebels against his father and takes his inheritance even while his dad is still alive (Luke chapter 15). He squanders his dad’s hard-earned cash on loose living and then has an awakening in a pigpen. Returning in a penniless and pitiful state, he finds his father waiting, his arms open wide, ready to welcome his son back.
That’s what I call a down-to-earth fiction. A short, thoroughly human, and deeply relatable story. An unforgettable tale about homecoming.
So, what’s the big idea here? It’s that God is like the perfect dad in the story. He’s not a mean-minded, kill-joy deity who loves to punish us when we break his laws. That was the prevailing attitude of his listeners, the Teachers of the Law. These champions of organised religion had turned the Jewish faith into a legalistic code. In the process, they had misrepresented God. God is a loving Father not a cruel lawyer. Jesus rectifies this misconception in his brilliant story.
If you want to learn more about this, read my book The Father You’ve Been Waiting For, or any of the books I’ve written. They all deal in one way or another with this misconception. They all seek to deconstruct the remote and angry deity of so much organized religion, and they all – whether fiction or nonfiction – seek to reintroduce the kind and inclusive heart of the Father who loves us like no earthly father ever did – even the father of the Prodigal Son.
This brings me to my Christmas novel, King of Hearts.
Let me tell you how the writing process all began.
In 2011, I was running a charity I had founded called The Father’s House trust, dedicated to bringing an end to the global pandemic of fatherlessness. During that time, I began to ask myself a question. “If Jesus was physically present on the earth today, would he tell the same story in the same way?” The answer I came up with was “no.” In 2019, it would not be the son who ran from home, but the father. And that thought pulled the whole story after it.
In my novel, it is the dad, Jake, who leaves home.
He is the one who walks out.
He is the one who heads to Casino City, to a world of greed, crime, prostitution and shame.
My plot, in many ways, follows the story arc of this great parable. But there are major twists. Not just in the beginning (where we learn that it is the father who runs away) but at the end (you’ll have to read it to find out how!).
So then, this is the origin story of King of Hearts. It started with a fascinating question about the finest parable ever told that led to an even more fascinating, and indeed disturbing, answer.
But that’s what great stories do.
They pose questions in Act 1 that get answered in Act 3.
I hope you’ll find the answer and the resolution in King of Hearts as moving and subversive as many of my reviewers and readers already have!
Thank you, Mark Stibbe and Love Books Group Tours.
About the author
Mark started writing when he was very young, publishing his first book – an anthology of poetry entitled The Drawing out of Days – when he was just 17. Since then, he has been a prolific author and professional writer, with over 50 books published, and countless articles in broadsheet newspapers, journals and magazines. One of his most successful recent books has been Home at Last, offering a faith-based journey of recovery for those who were deeply affected by the trauma of being sent away to boarding school. He has also ghost written over thirty books, of many different genres.
In 2013, Mark migrated from writing nonfiction to fiction and this resulted in the co-authored historical spy thriller The Fate of Kings and now his debut, single-authored novel, King of Hearts, a raw but redemptive Christmas tale in the tradition of A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. In early 2020, as the official storyteller for the award-winning Arokah Puzzle Game, he and Steve Brazier, the inventor of the puzzle, will publish the first in a series of Sci Fi Fantasy novels based around Arokah and starring Khali, an autistic, mixed-race hero. These are aimed at the 9-13 age group.
Mark runs BookLab with his wife Cherith, a company dedicated to equipping aspiring writers to become great authors. He is a frequent and much in-demand speaker at workshops for writers and conferences in which the subjects of his books are featured. He has often been interviewed on BBC (Radio and TV), Channel 4 and other media, and writes articles for The Times. Having been brought up by an adoptive father who dined fortnightly with CS Lewis, his whole life has been devoted to books and to writing. He lives in Kent with his wife Cherith and their Black Labrador, Bella.
Website : https://www.advice4authors.com/
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