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in which the author reveals his inspiration for the story – from Las Vegas theme-park-style casinos to the rise and fall of televangelism, from his brief career as a card-counter to the two ways his main characters fight evil.

FAITHSPEAK: Reading Between the Lines of Religious Language

in which Mark talks about the differences between faith and religion, why the distinction is important, and what’s really behind the religious words people use, often without knowing what they really mean.


in which Mark answers questions about the book’s enigmatic cover photo, what inspired the parallel storylines in the novel he wrote during the pandemic, and how his re-imagining of Chrisianity’s Second Coming – as well as its First – finally gives women their rightful place in those narratives.

BOLDLY GOING ON YOUR INNER VOYAGE: The Unauthorized Starfleet Daily Meditation Manual

in which the author takes us on a journey into the world of “daily meditationals,” Star Trek books that aren’t really about Star Trek, and tells us about the additions to his Starfleet Manual that make it more accessible than ever.

A DEEPER SONG: Reflections from The Prophet

…in which Mark’s conversation with IF Media goes “deeper” into Kahlil Gibran’s masterwork, including not only his thoughts about his reflections and “Prophet music,” but about Star Trek, Star Wars, George Lucas and, yes… reincarnation!


…in which Mark talks about the source and subjects of the “newly-discovered” chapters (counsels) deemed too controversial to include in Gibran’s best-selling book, originally published in 1923.


in which Mark describes the small, Anglo-Native American town where his novel takes place, how he did his research for the Army ammunition plant in the story, and what miracles are really made of.

IF Media: Let’s start with the obvious. What on earth inspired you to write a novel about an evangelist who takes over a Las Vegas casino?

Mark: I know – crazy, right? The first glimmerings of the idea came out of the late Eighties’ rise-and-fall of both the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart televangelist empires… how, in the attempt to make religion relevant and entertaining and even glitzy, the central message got lost and ultimately corrupted. And so did the leading figures behind those ministries, its “stars.”

To read an overview of Calvary Casino, simply click on the book cover at right!
     A second motivation came from all those family-friendly, Disneyland-esque casinos sprouting up all over Las Vegas about the same time, which caught my attention as a college-age card-counter… those new gambling meccas featuring pyramids and pirate ships, French landmarks and Caesars’ palaces. Since I was also a life-long student of philosophy and religion I thought, Hey – why not a Bible-themed casino complete with blackjack dealers and bar girls sporting angel’s wings, and gambling proceeds devoted to saving souls rather than corporate profits?

IFM: It’s a far cry from Bingo Night at St. Patrick’s, that’s for sure.

Mark: Which is why I could easily have written a kind of Monty-Python-style farce if I wanted to go for laughs. But the world of Calvary Casino is deadly serious. It also makes a good metaphor for how an entertainment-oriented, media-driven society like ours requires that serious issues be presented in a more palatable, popular form.

IFM: Speaking of “deadly,” I like how you’ve woven both a murder mystery and a bomb threat into the storyline.

Mark: I suppose that’s my own nod toward making a serious subject more palatable and entertaining.

IFM: Was Detective Levi Talbot – evangelist Jimmy’s older half-brother – always your primary character, or did you bring him in simply as a literary device to anchor the “police procedural” elements of the story?
To download a
PDF of the
Study Guide for Calvary Casino, simply click on the arrow!

Mark: No, the relationship between the Talbot brothers was always central. In a way, the story is really about their reconciliation… about uncovering the boyhood event that originally drove them apart and ultimately brings them back together. I just didn’t realize when I first began writing it, that the story would essentially become Levi’s. While Reverend Jimmy and the opening of his new casino launch the story and take us into the worlds of both contemporary evangelism and “gaming” – that’s how the gambling industry prefers to describe itself – Levi is the strong, central core around whom events are propelled toward their climax.

IFM: A few moments ago you mentioned that you were a card-counter – at blackjack, I’m presuming. Was that how you paid your way through college?

Mark: [laughs] I’m afraid I wasn’t that good. Well, on second thought, I was good enough for a mortgage banker friend of mine to propose staking me to a bankroll that would’ve allowed me to play with $25 chips instead of nickels, which was huge money at the time.

IFM: Did you take up his offer?

Mark: I was really freaked out by the thought of putting somebody else’s money at risk like that. Besides, casinos were starting to take counter-measures against me. Plus the fact that I was coming around to the belief that using other people’s money to make money was morally questionable.

IFM: Which happens to be what casinos do. And banks, of course.

Mark: And why things like the financial meltdown of 2008 happen. If it’s somebody else’s money you’re playing with, maybe you’re not so careful.

IFM: Shaky loans and financial manipulation come up in your storyline, too.

Mark: Especially the part about shaky loans. That’s why the bomb hidden in the casino isn’t necessarily the kind that goes boom.

IFM: So, tell us a little about one of your story’s other main characters, Meredith…

Mark: Every plot needs its love interest, right? – if not its blonde bombshell. [laughs] Especially a story set in Vegas. Except that Rev. Jimmy’s personal secretary, young and beautiful as she is, is far from the kind of worldly women who populate many other detective novels. In fact, there’s a certain air of innocence about Meredith that Jimmy’s especially protective of, despite the irony that he’s brought her to Sin City. And there’s the underlying mystery in her life that becomes pivotal in finding out the identity of the story’s main antagonist.

IFM: I’d say there’s at least two main antagonists in Calvary Casino

Mark: You could probably argue that. I mean, the very idea of a religiously-themed casino is antagonistic to what Las Vegas is all about, so it’s no surprise Calvary Casino has major enemies all over town. But a good story always seems to pit your protagonist against one really bad actor, and then things get personal. That’s also where the brothers’ past history becomes the key to the entire police investigation. And to both of their futures.

IFM: Is the fact that one of the brothers is Christian and the other Jewish – from two different mothers – an important element in the story?

Mark: That was a little of my own spiritual journey showing through, frankly. But the step-brother scenario also happens to highlight two different ways of dealing with evil in our world—

IFM: Which are…?

Mark: Well, there’s the approach where you shake your fist at all the evil around you, and you condemn all the “sinners” who, in your judgment, are evil, and you resolve to cleanse the world of them and often end up using their tactics in order to do so. Then there’s the approach where you recognize the difference between the so-called sin and the sinner and you try to understand them, not judge them… and even though you need to take drastic measures and cut out the cancer sometimes, you also try to find out where the disease came from in the first place and how to prevent it in the future.

IFM: And the brothers symbolize that?

Mark: Yes, but you can’t always tell which brother is taking which approach. Life isn’t always so black and white. And it’s not that this particular allegory within the larger story will be very obvious to most readers, anyway. Or was to me at first. It’s interesting – when I went back over my manuscript after the second or third draft, I found several more allegories and metaphors I never knew were in the story while I was writing it. Including a major one at the end that came as sort of a surprise.

IFM: These are the extra layers of meaning every reader will find in any good story, aren’t they? – depending on their own background and experiences.

Mark: I’d like to think so. And my hope, as an author, is that whatever a reader’s background, he or she will become engrossed in the fictional world I’ve created in Calvary Casino, and find it as thought-provoking – and sometimes surprising – as I did.


IF Media: You recorded a CD with songs adapted word-for-word from Kahlil Gibran’s book, The Prophet, back in 2008. Was that musical project the inspiration for your new book, A Deeper Song?

Mark: It goes back a lot further than 2008, actually. Both the inspiration and the music. I was a fan of The Prophet during my college days, just like a lot of us who grew up in the Sixties and Seventies. I had occasion to set a couple of the book’s chapters to music – “On Marriage” for the wedding of a fellow philosophy student, and “On Death” for the funeral of a friend’s mother. Things snowballed until I was sitting on a fair-sized collection of what I called my “Prophet music,” and I was performing selected songs at weddings and baby-namings and other events, as well as a concert or two…

IFM: And that’s when you decided to record an album…?

Mark: Not just yet. I wrote the first edition of my Starfleet Daily Meditation Manual in the 90s, and didn’t start recording the music until a decade later, once my kids had moved out. Couldn’t afford it until then! [laughs] Anyway, having done the Manual using quotations from Star Trek, I got to wondering whether I might do something similar based on passages from The Prophet. Actually, I’d wanted to do a similar book of daily meditations using quotations from Star Wars, too, but that’s another story.

IFM: Well, we’re not exactly on the clock here…

To read an overview of A Deeper Song, please click on the book cover above!

Mark: Alright, the short version, then. So happens I was working for one of George Lucas’ boyhood buddies at the time, Allen Grant, a homebuilder in the Modesto area where the two of them grew up. Allen, who competed in car rallies with the young Skywalker sitting in his co-pilot’s seat, originally hired me not for his construction business but to help him publicize his and Lucas’ new partnership – to create a winning Formula One racing team.

IFM: Lucasfilm Racing Team, wasn’t it? They had visions of going to the Indianapolis 500…?

Mark: Yeah. Only trouble was, their vision became a little too expensive. But I still have a few rally caps and car decals to show for it, featuring the team logo with the lettering I designed in the style of those Indiana Jones movie posters.

IFM: Which has what to do with the Star Wars meditation book?

Mark: Right. So Allen and I drive over to Skywalker Ranch a couple of times to meet with their top PR person, the better to coordinate our efforts. And I’m thinking I have a pretty good “in” when I make a proposal to do a new book inspired by Star Wars, similar to the one I’d done based on Star Trek.

IFM: And…?

Mark: And their legal department writes back a very nice letter on crisp Lucasfilm stationery, saying in so many words that they’ll sue the crap out of me if I publish anything of the kind. [laughs] Let’s just say they were being very, very protective of their copyright.

IFM: Which was not the case with the Trek attorneys, I take it? Or the Gibran estate, for that matter?

Mark: With Boldly Going on Your Inner Voyage, it was a case of benign neglect, an attitude which, it turns out, has always been good for the franchise. In the case of the Gibran National Committee, to whom Gibran bequeathed rights to The Prophet, their attorney in Lebanon formally gave me permission to use Gibran’s words after hearing samples of my music. It helped that proceeds of my CD sales are committed to my interfaith work – building understanding between faith traditions – a goal Gibran clearly supported during his lifetime.

IFM: But A Deeper Song isn’t really like your Starfleet Manual, or the book you’d wanted to write based on Star Wars.

Mark: It’s not written in the “daily meditational” format, no. That’s a very restrictive form, actually… finding a year’s worth of quotations, each of which sparks a reflection of exactly one page and not a word more, followed by an appropriate “affirmation” for the day. In the case of A Deeper Song, I’ve given myself a little more leeway, though I’ve still kept my reflections pretty concise.

IFM: And you’re working with 101 quotations, not 366.

Mark: Oh, I probably could’ve found a few hundred more inspirational quotes, if not from The Prophet then from Gibran’s many other writings. It’s just that the hundred-and-one I’ve selected pretty much includes all of The Prophet’s most famous lines – the ones readers have found most quotable over the decades since the book was first published in 1926. Or else the most enigmatic and sometimes confusing ones. [laughs]

IFM: And you’re trying to, what?—explain them?

Mark: A poet doesn’t need anyone to “explain” what they’ve written, just like artists use their oils or watercolors as a language that speaks for itself. What I’m doing is letting Gibran’s words work their magic on me, and draw something out of my own experience, my own spiritual wellspring. Each corresponding “reflection” may be an extension of what Almustafa – Gibran’s fictional prophet – is saying about the topic at hand. Or it may be something that spins off in an entirely new direction.

IFM: It helps that you also have a background as both a working artist and an author, as Gibran was, and your immersion in philosophy and interfaith work lends a more “universal” quality that’s evocative of Gibran’s writing.

Mark: Well, I’m not about to put myself in the same league as Gibran, either as an author or the kind of visionary artist he was. But I do share his vision of a humanity that, despite all its differences and self-inflicted wounds, is more like one global-sized family – along with his vision of a universal spirituality that runs deeper than the words we use.

To read a brief biography of Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, click HERE.

IFM: Is that the “deeper song” of your book’s title by any chance?

Mark: It’s one of several possible meanings within this beautiful, metaphorical passage that jumps off the final page of Gibran’s book. What it says to me is that the words of our prophets and religious traditions are only the outer surfaces of some deeper treasure, something that’s shared, something that ought to unite us rather than divide us.

IFM: Which also happens to be the central premise of your book, FaithSpeak.

Mark: Yes, and The Prophet is perhaps the one book that gave me the perspective I needed to write FaithSpeak. As we learn to read between the lines to hear what a poet is saying, so must we listen for the deeper meanings in our languages of faith – in our own, and especially in others.’ Being “literal” may be an asset in legal contracts and instruction manuals, but it misses the point in poetry and other matters of the heart. Or the spirit.

IFM: So which did you write first, A Deeper Song or FaithSpeak?

Mark: I began writing FaithSpeak around the same time as Boldly Going on Your Inner Voyage. Probably early 90s, when I also wrote a half dozen screenplays, two of which were optioned in Hollywood but never produced. For a while I was getting up before dawn to write like a crazy man, then I’d put in another six or eight hours doing graphics to help my wife keep a roof over our heads. It was really her income as a teacher that made my writing efforts possible, just like it was Mary Haskell, headmistress at a Boston girls’ school, who gave Kahlil Gibran the wherewithal to establish his own career as an artist-slash-author.

IFM: Mary Haskell—?

Mark: Gibran’s long-time friend, mentor, and financial backer.

IFM: I know, but Mary Haskell… Mark Haskett…?

Mark: Yeah. One of those wee-ooo coincidences, isn’t it? [laughs] Funny, I once performed what’s now known as my “Prophet Service” at a Center for Spiritual Living in Springfield, Oregon, and afterwards a woman came up to me to suggest that I might very well be Mary’s next incarnation. After all, my life’s purpose – this is what she thought – was all about promoting Gibran’s work, just as Mary’s was. I was getting out his words in a new form, for a new generation.
To hear samples
of Mark’s “Song of
The Prophet” CD,
please click on the
above image.

IFM: I guess if you believe in reincarnation…

Mark: No matter. Mary Haskell didn’t die until years after I was born. Which sort of rules out that theory. But it was at another Center for Spiritual Living, coincidentally, where “A Deeper Song” emerged as the central theme for my Sunday service and my concerts. I’d conscripted that passage from The Prophet as a benediction to follow my presentation this particular morning, and from then on the lines became a kind of focal point around which the reflections I was writing began to come together.

IFM: Add some first-class calligraphy and you’ve got a very attractive eBook, as well as a spiritually insightful one.

Mark: Gibran’s words were where it all began for me. Dressing them up in beautiful type is just my way of giving them the respect they so richly deserve.


IF Media: You’ve described FaithSpeak as your most important work. Why?

Mark: Well, let me first say that “important” is an adjective best left to readers and literary critics. But I do hope the book will have an impact on the way people think about faith and religion, both their own and others.’

IFM: And that includes all of us, because, as you argue in your opening chapters, everybody has a faith, and everybody has a religion.

Mark: Exactly. Even so-called non-believers and atheists. Most of us simply aren’t aware of what they are.

To read an overview of FaithSpeak, simply click on the book cover at right!

IFM: You spend the majority of Part One defending your use of the terms “faith” and “religion.” Can you summarize your argument for us?

Mark: James W. Fowler summarized it over three decades ago in his book, Stages of Faith. Along with Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, Fowler’s book was one of the most momentous “revelations” on my own spiritual journey. Based on his thesis and the work of other psychologists before him, I use the word “religion” to point to the collected rituals, stories and organizing principles all of us employ, consciously or not, to shape Who We Are. Our “faith,” on the other hand, is the collection of personal qualities that describe Who We Are at any point in time. Faith refers to the way we think, what motivates us, and most importantly, how we behave… what we do. The first is a process, the second a product.

IFM: And that distinction is important because…?

Mark: Because it forces us to pay attention not to what people call themselves or what tradition they may align themselves with, but on the kind of people they are. We can’t – or at least shouldn’t – form relationships or judge people on the basis of their identifying themselves as Christians or Muslims, Hindus or Humanists. What matters is how they act, the “content of one’s character,” as King put it. Like someone’s friendliness or suspicion of others, for example. Their tendency to demonstrate generosity or selfishness, loving-kindness or intolerance… distinctly personal qualities.

IFM: And that leads to your claim that a Buddhist, a Baptist and an atheist can share the same basic “faith,” while belonging to very different religious traditions.

Mark: It’s not a “claim.” It’s a fact we can observe in our lives every single day. It’s also a clue that what shapes our faith – Who We Are – isn’t only religion, or even primarily religion. We’re the products of the larger culture we live in and our experiences in life, especially our childhood. And once we realize the kind of person we are and how we’ve become that way, it becomes our responsibility to take the leading role in that ongoing faith-shaping process, hopefully toward a progressively better version of Who We Can Be, and thereby essentially “redeem” ourselves.

IFM: A word that makes a nice transition to what is by far largest portion of your book – the Lexicon.

Mark: Right. Because if we accept this new understanding of faith and religion – or we at least go along with it for the sake of argument [laughs] – we now have the obligation to reconsider religious terms like “redeem” or “redemption” for what they are: Parts of a language designed specifically for faith-shaping, with deeper meanings that are shared by other traditions, too, and can often be expressed in ordinary, secular terms. Although, to give religion its due, I also argue that there are things religious language is able to communicate that “secular” words just aren’t as good at.

IFM: So you’re not just “religion-bashing” here, as our fundamentalist friends might allege. Or “apologizing” for religion, as an atheist reader might see it.

Mark: No, and I’d hope that, before people on either end of the spectrum send in their comments, they read my own commentaries on “Fundamentalism” and “Atheist” – and remember that religion in the traditional sense can still play an important role in our lives. Not in the manner where religious authorities impose it on their followers as they’ve tried to do for thousands of years, but in the sense that we can all apply it on ourselves to refine and improve Who We Are.

IFM: Is that what motivates your interfaith work?

Mark: I guess it does help explain my ongoing involvement. I continue to believe that people all across the religious spectrum hold far more in common than not. Likewise those who identify as “religious” and those who don’t. In a sense, FaithSpeak is a handbook for finding common ground.

IFM: What you’ve called the Mother Tongue behind humanity’s religious dialects.

Mark: Look, words are only mental constructs for pointing at meanings. We too often make the mistake that words that sound and look different point to different things.

IFM: But your Lexicon isn’t merely for uncovering the shared meanings behind the words. Or re-defining the religious words we use.

Mark: Like I admit in Part One, some words in the Lexicon are basically excuses for me to talk about some of the wider issues in our religious and spiritual journeys, from this new point of view. But it’s not like I’m claiming to have “the last word,” either. More like starting a discussion. Or continuing a conversation that probably started in the reader’s mind long before he or she picked up my book. And if there’s ever a FaithSpeak Two, it’ll probably be inspired by my readers’ responses, and whether this new perspective has produced any positive results… in their personal lives or their communities. Maybe even in the wider world.

IFM: And that could be, well… important.

Mark: [laughs] Your word, not mine.


IF Media: I know the preface in Boldly Going on Your Inner Voyage addresses this issue. But tell us again why a book with “Starfleet Daily Meditation Manual” in its subtitle isn’t really a Star Trek book.

Mark: Well, it is and it isn’t. Like other “meditationals” – that’s what the publishing industry calls this format – each daily reading begins with a thought-provoking quotation, followed by a reflection or short essay based on that quote, then ends with an “affirmation” asking the reader to perform some action or make some new commitment. But instead of a well-known quote from, say, Thomas Jefferson or George Washington Carver, or maybe a verse from the Bible, all of the quotations come from the mouths of Star Trek’s cast of characters.

To read an overview of Boldly Going on Your Inner Voyage, please click on the book cover at right.

IFM: So it
is a Star Trek book.

I’d rather call it a year’s worth of personal reflections using the fictional “world” of Star Trek for its inspiration. Many of the very same lines have no doubt been spoken by other literary characters and actual people throughout history. And the same universal wisdom and spiritual insights in my meditations can probably be gleaned from any number of other sources, both secular and religious. Star Trek’s sci-fi setting simply offers an extremely rich environment for talking about moral issues and life’s most important questions – and about our future as human beings – in a dramatic way that’s not clouded by religious or political agendas. Just like the original Star Trek series attempted to do back in The Sixties.

IFM: Then the Manual isn’t a religious book, either…?

Mark: Hardly. And I’m hardly the first author to put it this way: “Spiritual, not religious.”

IFM: Which reminds me: “God” isn’t a word you’ll find very often in your book.

Mark: It appears only a few times, most notably in the quotation from Captain Decker about our tendency to “make God in our own image.” Wherever I might’ve been inclined to say “God,” the Manual substitutes the word “universe” or “The Universe” with capital letters.
     For one thing, I’m speculating that, in future centuries, people will find a term like this more useful, more… well, universal. For another, the god-names religious traditions use today are merely ways of pointing at whatever creative unity lies behind this amazingly diverse reality in which we’re all fellow explorers. Another reason why Star Trek is such a beautiful metaphor for the voyage we’re all on, why it provides an ideal context for reflecting on our personal and communal lives.

IFM: So it’s kind of a self-help book, then…

Mark: That’s one of the genres where bookstores like Barnes & Noble would stock the print edition – in their Self-Help section.

IFM: I’m guessing “Spirituality” was the other…?

Mark: Yes, as well as “Recovery.” Hazelden is a major publisher of Twelve-Step books that featured the identical format: Quotation, meditation, affirmation. People in recovery from various addictions, or prison inmates – some of my most loyal readers, actually – or those of us who just want some fresh inspiration and new direction in our lives… all of these readers have found this format especially helpful. It’s a good way to start the day, to remember that each new dawn presents us with one more chance to improve ourselves. It’s also a good excuse to take a moment to stop and reflect when some personal problem or temptation comes up, maybe read a meditation or two about a specific topic that might shed some new light or suggest a helpful solution.

IFM: Speaking of which, your eBook’s index makes that process a little easier.

Mark: Way easier. You’ll find two clickable indices now. The first simply allows the reader to locate all the meditations inspired by any one of the nearly seventy characters I’ve quoted in the book. The second, much longer index allows readers to find meditations related to various topics… “Accepting Reality,” for example, or “Emotions,” “Inner Guidance,” “Pain,” or “Self-Worth.” There are close to a thousand entries, not only because multiple characters may’ve had something to say about the same topic, but the same meditation may speak to more than one issue, or several related issues. And rather than thumbing through physical pages to find a particular meditation, or having to enter a keyword into a search menu, you simply tap on the link and boom! – you’re there. At warp speed.

IFM: Nice. Sounds like the eBook format is perfect for the Manual, more so than many other books.

Mark: Shame on me for not doing this sooner!

IFM: So, moving on… The second edition of the Manual had a pretty good run in the 90s, rising to the third spot on your distributor’s best-seller list for several months. Aside from the added convenience of a digital version, what’s different in the eBook edition as compared to the original paperback?

Mark: Well, you’re probably aware the book went through two updates as new Star Trek series came along. When “Deep Space Nine” and then “Voyager” followed “The Next Generation,” I was forced to take out some of the earlier meditations to make room for new ones. The print editions would still feature 365 meditations – plus an extra day for leap years – but a few dozen new meditations would replace the same number of previous ones. Captain Kirk, Picard and Spock had the most lines, so their quotations were the ones I usually sacrificed so Quark and Janeway and Seven of Nine could get a word in.

IFM: But now you’ve brought back all those previous meditations in the appendix.

Mark: Not all of them. A few just felt repetitive or outdated, frankly. But yes, one of the great things about an eBook is that extra pages don’t cost the publisher anything! So in addition to the 366 daily meditations, there’s another year’s worth.

IFM: A year, that is, on the planet “Arroway,” which happens to circle its sun—

Mark: —in thirty-six days, true. I don’t want anyone to think they’re getting over seven hundred meditations in the new edition! Not that I couldn’t find that many quotable lines to use as inspiration for more. Especially with the three movies and TV series “prequels” released since my last paperback.

IFM: But you do have quite a few new entries from those recent releases?

Mark: That’s another reason the Manual was due – maybe overdue – for an update. The “early” Kirk and Spock, Captain Archer and his crew, even a villain or two provide the inspiration for three dozen new meditations.

IFM: And when the next Trek movie comes out, it’ll be that much easier to find a place in your eBook for all the new characters and their quotations.

Mark: No doubt. And I imagine the “year” on planet Arroway will get that much longer.

IFM: I guess we’ll all just have to wait for your scientific – or maybe spiritual – explanation for how that happens!


IF Media: First things first. Tell me about the book cover.

Funny you should ask. Long before I wrote Second Emma, I gave this captivating sculpture of the Virgin Mary’s face — cast from Michelangelo’s “Pieta” — to a racquetball buddy of mine who happens to be a devout Catholic. The piece had been hanging on my mother’s wall for decades before she died, and I figured it might be more meaningful to my friend than me. He kept it for a couple of weeks before finally deciding there was no place in his home where he could properly display it. So he put it in a Mary Kay cosmetics box packed with styrofoam popcorn and sent it back to me.

IFM: Mary Kay… that’s rather ironic.

Mark: What’s more ironic is that I’d actually begun to regret giving the sculpture away, and I was secretly relieved to have it back. Despite my being a far cry from Catholic, I was determined to find someplace to display it in my own home. Anyhow, when I cut through the strapping tape and opened the cardboard flaps, I froze… just stood there for a full minute, utterly transfixed. I don’t know why, but I had to grab my camera and capture the image for whatever symbolism or meaning it must’ve held for me.

IFM: Were you already writing the novel at the time?

Mark: I hadn’t even gotten the idea yet. But in the middle of my fifth draft of Second Emma in 2020, I began to sketch out some possible cover designs and those photos I’d taken sprang to mind. This particular one seemed somehow, well… [shrugs] enigmatically appropriate. I’ll let readers speculate on how it resonates with the book’s narrative… or doesn’t! [laughs]

To read an overview of Second Emma, please click on the book cover above.

IFM: You finished the novel in mid 2021. So I guess that means you were working on it all through the pandemic?

Mark: Yeah, along with the zillion other people who were writing books with all that free time on their hands. But the idea for it was actually percolating long before Covid. The #MeToo movement got me thinking years ago… not so much in terms of women’s sexual harassment in the workplace, but in the way women have been treated and ignored and oppressed throughout history. Especially by religion. I mean, imagine how human history might’ve been different if women were allowed to play an equal role in Jewish tradition, or in Islam or the early Church.

IFM: Or if a woman had been one of the twelve disciples… or maybe the Messiah…?

Mark: [nodding] There’s a conversation in Second Emma where Rabbi Emma tells Matthew — the journalist from the Jerusalem Post — about a full-page newspaper ad that appeared in her hometown newspaper just before Christmas. It featured the headline, “It’s a Boy!” in obvious reference to the birth of Jesus. But in her own mind, Emma substitutes the words, “It’s a Girl!” and that’s what kickstarts her journey. Inspired by that same display ad — which ran in my own local newspaper, by the way — I began to write a draft of the novel when the first lockdown went into effect, in longhand, while sitting on the bench swing in my backyard. I literally didn’t know where the story would go when I started. But at least I was getting some much-needed fresh air in the process.

IFM: And some fresh ideas about the origins of Christianity…

Mark: Not that fresh, actually. The book involved a lot of historical and Biblical research, the main findings of which I’d already known about, though some of the details were new to me. For example, scholars have known for decades, if not centuries, that the various stories about Jesus were told and retold and often embellished to support a theology that only came into focus hundreds of years after his death. Unfortunately, women were left out of that process almost entirely. Second Emma is my humble attempt to tell an entirely plausible version of Christianity’s foundational stories where two women — one in the past and one in the present — are featured in leading roles, each with her own strong voice.

IFM: Speaking of voices, there’s a rumor going around were considering using a pen name when the book was published… a women’s name.

Mark: Funny you should ask… again. I mean, yes, I felt a little out of my depth as a male author, writing this particular story featuring two strong women protagonists. There have been at least a couple of other novels that explore a greater women’s presence in Jesus’ life, one focusing on a sister, another about a woman who would become his fictional wife. Both were imaginatively written by women authors. And I questioned, first of all, whether I could pull off a similar novel, even though mine is quite different by adding a present-day storyline to the original… and second, whether using a women’s name might give my novel more credibility among female readers.

IFM: By essentially deceiving them…

Mark: Well, yeah. Which is why the idea was DOA. But here’s the funny thing. If you look at the by-line on all my other books — Mark S Haskett — and you take out both the ‘k’ and the second ‘s,’ you come up with Marsha Kett. I used that name on the first draft of my cover, if only to float the idea in my own mind.

IFM: Interesting… so if we ever do see a book by Marsha Kett, we’ll know it’s your female nom de plume.

Mark: Let’s just say I’ve come to see that particular exercise in self-identification as an acknowledgement of the yin in the yin-yang that is me. And when I did the final drafts of the book, I was trying to channel Marsha, not Mark!

IFM: So it wasn’t really an attempt at deception after all.

Mark: Look, if a male author — or a male anything — can’t make an effort to see things from a woman’s perspective now and then, we’re all doomed! [laughs] Seriously, if we can’t consider other people’s viewpoints on the issues we face today… not only other genders but those of different cultures, countries, religions, whatever… I don’t think we can ever achieve lasting peace. Or become fully human, for that matter.

IFM: Which is one of the book’s major themes, I’m thinking.

Mark: Well, certainly in terms of honoring and elevating women’s roles and contributions. That, and pleading for Arabs and Israelis to walk in each others’ sandals for awhile, along with Christians and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists and all the rest. I mean, if a Messiah were picking disciples today, I’m pretty sure the candidates wouldn’t be restricted to one tiny region of the planet, not to mention the male sex.

IFM: Plenty of people might agree, but we’re talking about a religion with more adherents than any other on that planet. Who are you to rewrite what they consider to be historical fact, or to re-imagine a scenario for their Second Coming that takes off in a whole new direction?

Mark: For one thing, the “historical facts” are very much in dispute even among Christians, who will probably be the primary audience for the novel… along with, I hope, readers of other faiths and even atheists who might be curious. And the truth is, for tens of millions, the historical claims of Christianity aren’t that essential to the deeper message. As for the Second Coming, many if not most followers no longer regard it as some pre-scripted, one-time future event. Perhaps a better way to think about it would be as a continuing Coming-to-Be based on what we all do in response to Christianity’s deeper message… a message shared by most other religions, by the way. And by most people, religious or not.

IFM: Amen to that, brother.

Mark: And let’s not forget… sister.


IF Media: Sadly, the brutal war in Israel and Gaza was just breaking out as The Lost Counsels was going to press…

And the irony is, war is one of the topics Kahlil Gibran and his fictional prophet, Almustafa, neglected to address in his original book.

IF Media: Which, just for the record, was published in 1923, exactly a hundred years ago as we speak.

Right. But it’s not like The Prophet hasn’t stood the test of time. The book is as quotable and beloved as ever, though not the best-seller it was when I grew up in the 1960s. That’s when the war in Viet Nam was the big issue, along with racial equality and women’s rights—

To read an overview of The Lost Counsels, simply click on the book cover at right!

IF Media: —Which makes it sound like not much has changed.

Well, these are the country’s toughest ongoing issues, right? And it’s those same issues, along with more contemporary ones, that seemed ripe for Gibran to take on. And it’s always puzzled me why he didn’t, at least not directly. But then I got to thinking that maybe he did write about them, and these counsels were either censored by his publisher, or Mary convinced him they were too—

IFM: —We’re taking about Mary Haskell again, right? His friend and long-time mentor…?

Correct. I mean, maybe she persuaded him to leave certain topics out of the manuscript he submitted to his publisher because they were too controversial. But the possibility that he did write about them at the time has intrigued me for years.

IFM: Except that he didn’t write them. Not that we know of, anyway.

Which is why I finally decided to imagine what Gibran would’ve said – what his namesake prophet would have said – using the same sort of Shakespearean vocabulary and the same poetic cadences in The Prophet.

IFM: Intriguing… but why you? What makes you qualified to speak on his behalf?

[laughs] I get that question all the time. Not just about this book. I mean, what qualifies me to write about the religious and spiritual topics in my other books, you know, since I have no doctoral degree or fancy title after my name? Well, maybe it’s because I read a lot on these subjects. I rub elbows with people from various traditions as part of my interfaith work and community involvement. I ask questions And I’ve been an admirer of The Prophet ever since high school.
     And, hey—why not me? Even now, after Gibran’s book has passed into the public domain, no one else has delved very deeply into the world of The Prophet, or the City of Orphalese, or Almustafa’s life story. At least, not yet.

IFM: So are Almustafa’s views in The Lost Counsels really just your own personal opinions, dressed up in Gibran-esque poetry?

Yes and no. I mean, the words I’ve put into Almustafa’s mouth probably do reflect what I would say on these topics if anyone asked. But these same views came out of the spiritual journey I embarked on largely because of the influence The Prophet had on me in the first place, in my youth. So it’s hard to separate the two.

IFM: What about the fact that Gibran was a poor, Lebanese-Arab immigrant—

Poverty and immigration are two more topics not included in the original Prophet, by the way.

IFM: —but you grew up in a relatively comfortable, white, middle-class environment?

Doesn’t mean anything. Look, Gibran eventually achieved world-wide acclaim and considerable wealth, and I’ve achieved neither, despite having lived three decades longer than he did. [laughs]

IFM: Maybe there’s still time for you. So are there any topics you were reluctant to address in The Lost Counsels that might be too controversial even for you to write about today?

There are a couple’ issues I just couldn’t imagine a way for Almustafa to address from within his story setting. Like artificial intelligence, obviously. Or social media, which I personally think has done more harm than good, wasting zillions of hours and emotional energy… especially for young people who haven’t been taught to use it critically. Even worse, it gives almost anyone a global platform for spreading dis-information that the facts might never have a chance to prove wrong before damage is done.

IFM: Then again, you do have a counsel “On Truth and Falsehood,”

Where Almustafa introduces a different metric for judging what’s true or false than we normally use. It’s the kind of literary tactic Gibran often employed to make his readers look at a certain issue from a completely different angle. And, now that I think of it, the same metric applies to social media: Does it produce more good in the world, or has it made things worse?

IFM: Any other topics you might’ve addressed in the book, even if only indirectly?

Well, there’s probably a lot more Almustafa could have said in the counsel “On Male and Female,” in terms of the whole LGBTQ-plus issue. Problem is, that subject simply wouldn’t have come up either in the book’s setting either. But I think the reader can fill in the blanks for himself, or herself… or theirselves.
     But here’s the thing: I think it’s possible that a few more lost counsels might turn up among Mary Haskell’s personal papers sometime in the future. As I alluded to earlier, today’s print-on-demand industry makes it easier than ever to publish an updated edition of almost any book. Which in this case might include a few more, shall we say, “newly-discovered” counsels. But for now, these sixteen are the only unpublished counsels we know of.

IFM: I suppose only time will tell if they’re as well-received as the twenty-six published a century ago.


To read a brief biography of Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, click HERE.

IF Media: A story featuring some kind of “miracle man” with healing powers isn’t exactly new. But I see you’ve given it a “novel” twist, you’ll pardon the pun.

A couple of twists, actually. First, Gabriel can’t help it. Just brushing up against someone on a bus, or accidentally knocking into a wheelchair-bound vet… any physical contact will get the job done. And the problem is – the second twist – is that Gabriel doesn’t want the job.

To read an overview of Greater Miracles, please click on the book cover at right.

IFM: Why would anybody not want miraculous powers?

Mark: Because, for one thing, once our protagonist has been discovered, people won’t leave him alone. Ever since Gabriel was given his so-called gift, he’s simply unable to live anything approaching a normal life, which he wants back desperately. Instead, he’s always on guard, and almost always on the run.

IFM: Until a trucker who helps Gabriel escape his most recent “discovery” drops him off in a little half-Anglo, half-Native American town in southern Oregon.

Mark: In the broader scheme of things, it’s just one more temporary stop in his vagabond existence. But it’s where my novel spends most of its time.

To download a PDF of the Study Guide for Greater Miracles, simply click on the arrow!

IFM: Because Gabriel thinks he’s found the solution to his, uh, “problem.”

Mark: Right – in the form of Lane D’Arcy, a woman with more than just a physical disability, who for some unknown reason doesn’t respond to his miraculous touch. Which, for him, is kind of a miracle in itself. Lane lives on a secluded ranch, she seems to like having him around…

IFM: … And then things get complicated.

Mark: That’s life, isn’t it? As John Lennon put it, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” And besides, we can’t keep running away from who we are forever.

IFM: One of the themes in your novel, I’m presuming.

Mark: A minor one. The main theme has to do with what we think a “miracle” is in the first place. Gabriel’s powers are the kind most of us traditionally associate with the word – the thing that happens in the Bible or in religious lore, or maybe in superhero comics. I’ll let readers decide for themselves what the real miracle is, or miracles are, in the book. Or in our own lives.

IFM: And that explains your book’s title, Greater Miracles

Mark: Yes, although that wasn’t the original title.

IFM: Which was…?

Mark: Funny story. For several years the manuscript had the working title, “Lesser Miracles,” after a term in the New Testament where Jesus’ followers were empowered or instructed to go out and perform their own signs and wonders. Maybe not the show-stoppers a Son of God might perform, but the little, everyday ones that tend to restore your faith in life and your fellow human beings. Anyhow, as I’m working on my final draft, some really creepy B-movie comes out with that title, which I really didn’t want my novel to be associated with. So Greater Miracles it is.

IFM: Okay then, sticking with the religious theme—

Mark: I’d avoid labeling this a religious book. If Greater Miracles were a movie, there are a couple of scenes that might earn it at least an “R” rating. And, like I’ve said elsewhere, I prefer to describe my writing as “spiritual, not religious.”

IFM: But you do get into religion.

Mark: All of my books do. It’s a major component of our lives, even if you’re not the kind of person other people think of as “religious.”

IFM: Which is a topic for discussion in your book, FaithSpeak.

Mark: Yeah, but let’s save my non-fiction writing career for some other time. Suffice it to say that a good, old-fashioned work of pure fiction can sometimes reveal a lot more about truth and the meaning of life than a sacred text or sermon, or a seminar on how to be a good Catholic or Jew or whatever.

IFM: Okay, staying on topic then… Most of your story takes place in the little burg of Chiloquin, Oregon. Is that a real place?

Mark: Chill-oh-keen, by the way. Not kwin, like “The Mighty Quinn.” At least that’s how the name is spoken according to one of the elder Native Americans who lives there. And yes, it’s a real town, with a struggling economy and mixed population that includes members of the Maqlaq tribe – pronounced less like “mac-lack” than those slippers some of us grew up with. Think muk-luks.

IFM: So why Chiloquin?

Mark: Well, it’s a town just off Highway 97 my wife and kids and I would always drive by on our annual vacations to central Oregon. One day I decided to pull off and see what was there. The fact that my “miracle man” storyline was rumbling around in my brain at the time turned out to be serendipitous.

IFM: Is it pretty much as you describe it, physically and demographically?

Mark: The town itself is. I’ve taken a few liberties with some of the surrounding geography and the Army ammunition plant that plays a major role in the story. The plant isn’t really located just outside of town there, although it does symbolize the heavy hand our federal government has played in the region, at least with the local tribes.
     There’s a Vietnam-era ammo plant about ten miles from my home in Central California, however, which served as my inspiration for the one in Chiloquin. I was given several tours of the facility and allowed to take photos for a national company that was contracted by the Army to convert it to civilian use. I did the brochure for them, not realizing at the time I was actually doing research for a future novel!

IFM: Then again, everything we do is research for our future lives, whether we’re writers or teachers. Or interviewers.

Mark: Well said.

IFM: What else inspired you about Chiloquin, or at least the general area?

Mark: That so many possible themes and subplots come together there. Native and Anglo culture clash… well, not necessarily “clash,” but differences in lifestyles and values. The idea of an ammunition factory in an otherwise pastoral setting, as if to remind us that we all participate in a war economy, even if we try to distance ourselves from that reality. Plus the fact that life’s biggest issues often play out in small, intimate settings.

IFM: There’s a scene in the book where Gabriel gets into an argument with a church pastor in another small town, over the New Testament story Christians know as the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes…

Mark: Let’s not go there, if you don’t mind. That little episode pretty much summarizes what I see as the biggest mistake we all make when thinking about miracles. I could tell you what I think, but I’d rather let the story say it for me.

IFM: Fair enough. So let’s talk about the nice little surprise that comes right after that scene…

Mark: Uh, let’s not go there either, since I’d rather not make this interview like one of those movie trailers where you basically see all the high points and now there’s no reason to go and pay for a ticket.

IFM: Or now that you’ve read the book, you don’t need to see the movie.

Mark: Now there’s a thought. Of all the published and unpublished manuscripts I’ve written – including a half dozen screenplays, two of which were optioned… out of all those works, this is the one I’d most like to see turned into a feature film. Even with all the other subplots complicating things, it’s basically a beautiful little story about two people coming to own who they are. And I’d love to hear if my readers agree with me.

IFM: And I feel like we could end this little interview right there… except that I’d really like to ask you about the book’s ending.

Mark: Okay. Which one?

IFM: Well, that’s right. There’s the climax that takes place at the ammo plant, and the immediate aftermath concerning Lane. Then there’s the final chapter that compresses the two years in Gabriel’s life following the events in Chiloquin, culminating in what I can only describe as a bittersweet scene where Gabriel unexpectedly crosses paths with Lane one more time. And she doesn’t recognize him.

Mark: That whole sequence came to me in a sort of waking dream, literally in the middle of the night. I had to get out of bed so I wouldn’t wake up my wife, go into another room while this scene played out in my mind almost like I was watching a movie. And I, well… this is going to make me look kind of pathetic… I cried at the end.

IFM: Ah, but it’s not really the end, is it?

Mark: No, frankly, it could easily be the beginning of a sequel or two. But whether any of us will get to see what comes next in Gabriel’s life – me included – is another question I’d like my readers to weigh in on.

IFM: Well, here’s hoping they do.


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