The Story Behind Whisper of the Seventh Thunder
Part 1 of 2.
People ask me all the time where I get my ideas. I have two answers. One is for writers, and I usually give it at my writing workshops in context to seizing a teachable moment.
The other is less precise, and much longer.
Story ideas come from somewhere we cannot completely understand. Some intersection of our interests, our fears, our desires, our questions and – this is the mysterious part – something outside of ourselves. Perhaps a calling, maybe a warning, but always a gentle push toward something we might not consider on our own, or even fully understand.
Whisper was like that for me.
Sometimes we pass this off as growth. In the case of Whisper, I’m convinced it was something more.
The core idea of this book came to me in 1978, in the middle of the night. I bolted upright with the clarity of it, then quickly went back to sleep peacefully.
The story emerged nearly 30 years later in the form of a novel, and the space between those two milestones continues to confound and intrigue me.
I actually didn’t write my original idea, and for a couple of reasons.
The first was that I felt the idea was beyond me at the time. That I wasn’t ready for it.
I’d written a bunch of stuff that was, quite deservedly, unpublished, and knew that to tackle a story on this scale required more skill than I possessed, or perhaps that I would ever possess. Also, given the scope, I felt I needed to have already established some equity in the market as a writer, and while that didn’t quite happen to my satisfaction, about 25 years later I knew that after publishing four fairly successful novels it was now or never.
The other reason was that the original idea scared the hell out of me.
I was in my mid-20s at the time, and like many young adults I was exploring my own religious sensibilities and options. I’d been brought up in a church-going home by a well-meaning alcoholic mother and an equally-well meaning Iowa farm boy with a temper and social issues, which created a confusing landscape of spiritual mentoring and modeling.
I was pretty much on my own to figure out who I was and what I believed in that regard. My sister was much better at it – she’s the finest Christian I know – but I continue to struggle with it to this day.
Even though I wasn’t much of a Bible reader, the Book of Revelation fascinated me from the beginning. More accurately, it frightened me, and more than a little.
If you don’t have any beliefs about God or the Bible, then Revelation is a distant or perhaps non-existent book of prophecy that reads like a fairy tale and has been inspiration for more than a few scary movies.
But if you do believe in the veracity of the Bible, this is like your parents telling you that the airplane is going to crash with you in it – this conversation is happening while you’re in the air, by the way – and if you have faith God will save you from the burning wreckage
The analogies and images from Revelations are not far removed from that metaphoric scenario.
At about the time the initial story came to me – I’m sure this is not a coincidence – I discovered the writings of Hal Lindsey (The Late Great Planet Earth), who had written several bestsellers that sought to explore and present the prophecies of the Book of Revelation in context to modern times. Lindsey went so far as to interpret the cryptic descriptions related by the author (St. John – though which St. John remains in dispute – who received these revelations from a visiting angel while confined to a cave on the Island of Patmos off the coast of Ephesus, near what we called Turkey today).
Lindsey gave the visceral meat of 20th century visualization to images that, he claimed, John had no meaningful reference for, therefore no other way to describe them than the cryptic, fantastic, ancient verbiage we read today. What John saw as massive flying locust with stingers of death in their tails could be, according to Lindsey, military helicopters spitting lead from a rapid-fire machine gun. Certain kings and prophets and emissaries of Satan were assigned roles in today’s global political landscape, including our own Presidents, and the whole thing suddenly seemed very real, and very terrifying.
In the midst of being enthralled and terrified and challenged by all of this, an idea came to me in the form of a question: what if I novelized the book of Revelation? What if I did in fiction what Lindsey did in a non-fiction way and assigned present-day interpretation to John’s apocalyptic visions as described in Revelations, and then weaved a credible story around them, complete with political and social relevance?
The idea gripped me like a religious Epiphany. And so I began to study Revelations, as well as other books on the subject.
My mother and sister thought I had found the Lord, but actually I was trying to research a potential bestseller.
And that’s when I got really scared.
In my study of Revelation I came across two verses of Scripture that would change everything, and would be the basis for a hesitance to the write this story that would last nearly 30 years.
I knew I needed a hook, a McGuffin around which to wrap this story. In searching Revelations for such an idea, those two verses rose up and slapped me into a confused stupor that would became the journey of the writing of this story, both from a literary and personal perspective.
The McGuffin, the hook I had been looking for, was the possible interpretation of Revelations Chapter 10, verse 4, in the midst of a description of what John saw as visions foretold by the voice of what he described as seven thunders. He had already seen and written about visions from seven trumpets and seven bowls, and the seven thunders were the apocalyptic conclusion:
And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.”
To this day no human being has the slightest clue what that vision might have been.
The significance of that stopped me in my tracks for many years.
What could possibly be the rationale behind this Biblical instruction?
The possibilities consumed me, literary and otherwise. I concluded that since Revelations was, in fact, a description of the end of times, that it was the prophesized Armageddon itself, it could be nothing other than the key to knowing when it would happen.
Revelation 10:4 was an apocalyptic timetable. The gateway to eternity.
Or so I chose to believe.
Why else would it be forbidden to commit to print? For us to know and understand? The actual events themselves had been described in detail, albeit from John’s two millennia-old, very human social perspective. John wasn’t told the meaning of anything he saw, he simply wrote down what he saw in these visions, describing it in his own words.
The answer held incredible dramatic potential.
I should state here that my intention and interest was always from a literary experience, rather than a spiritual one. While respectful of the latter, even hopeful for it, it was never my purpose to preach or to evangelize, simply to write a fascinating story that capture the heart and soul of a reader to the same degree the entire landscape of Revelations had captured mine.
I was, and am, the last person who should be writing a book about religion, the Bible or anything close to sheparding folks toward the light. Whisper of the Seventh Thunder is a secular thriller, not a religious book, in the same way that The DaVinci Code is not remotely a “Christian novel.” Nothing wrong with those, it’s just the wrong place in the bookstore to file Whisper.
Given that context, about which I was clear even back then, I began to dig deeper. I started concocting political scenarios on a global scale that would fit with what John had written, and might, in fact, be harbingers of a coming apocalyptic confrontation should things get out of hand.
And in that process I stumbled upon the real deal-changer.
It was another passage from Revelation, this one from the final page of the entire Bible, Chapter 22, verses 18 and 19:
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
In other words, I’m goin’ straight to hell if I mess with this stuff.
Tomorrow: Part 2 of “Why It Took Me 28 Years to Write My “Latest” Novel”.
Check out the book’s website HERE (this article is one of several features you’ll find there.)
And of course, you can buy it on Amazon HERE, or ask your favorite bookseller to order you a copy. Always appreciated.
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