Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Mention in the Leeds News

Brilliant Disguises got mentioned in The Leeds News here.

I will be signing copies at Moody's Doris Stanley Memorial Library Thursday, Feb. 18 at 11 a.m.

Friday, February 5, 2010

About the Book

Advance praise for BRILLIANT DISGUISES

"With this stunning debut novel, William Thornton joins the ranks of the mystic Christian writers of the past, such as C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L'Engle. As a bonus, Brilliant Disguises is a great read, with enough plot twists to keep the reader up late, turning pages!"
- Cassandra King, author of The Sunday Wife

William Thornton makes his fiction debut with BRILLIANT DISGUISES, the tale of a man who poses so well as a Christian that he fools everyone - everyone, that is, except for himself and the One he cannot escape from. In the process, he seemingly works miracles but cannot satisfy the hunger inside himself to find out who he really is.

Thornton's novel concerns the life of Cameron Leon, a newly-hired worker for the Forster Foundation, a world-wide charitable organization led by a reclusive billionaire. To get the job, Cameron has to join a church. However, Cameron, still mourning the recent death of his brother Peter, decides he will only pretend to "get saved." In the process, he impersonates not only a Christian, but on occasion, his brother. Cameron continues to receive tearful phone calls from Peter's widow, Cecelia, who wants to hear her late husband's voice. Cameron, a born mimic like his brother, flawlessly impersonates him but feels the need for a personal kind of cleansing. Cameron discovers not only how many faces he has, but how many there are among the people around him. In the end, he finds he has been impersonating someone - or Someone - all along.

According to Thornton, BRILLIANT DISGUISES grew from a longing to see the inner life of a Christian in a fictional setting. But the only way to make such a familiar setting appear unfamiliar to Christian readers was to have the story told by someone posing as one. Thornton says, "Probably anyone who has attended an evangelical church, or any church for that matter, has a story of someone who volunteers for everything, is there for every service, has been a model of prayer and devotion for what seems like generations. It could be the Sunday School director or the lady who helps out in the kitchen or the organist. Then one Sunday, they come forward during the invitation and announce that they've never felt they were saved. I wondered how that could happen, and I figured it would help if we were dealing with a character who was a born mimic."

By turns comic and probing, dark and daring, BRILLIANT DISGUISES is about trying to hide behind the Light, and seeing things as they really are.


William Thornton is an award-winning writer who has been a newspaper reporter for the past 21 years. He teaches a Sunday School class and is a deacon in a Southern Baptist church. He also maintains a blog on Christian themes in religious fiction, non-fiction and popular culture. He lives in Alabama with his wife and daughter.

By William Thornton
with book discussion group guide and Bible study options
An Xlibris soft cover
Available at, Barnes and, and

Brilliant Disguises - The First Chapter

Here's the first chapter of my novel, "Brilliant Disguises."

Profession of Faith


When I think back on the interview, it doesn’t seem that it was me sitting there in that office as much as somebody else. I suppose that was the whole point.


I had a similar feeling at my brother’s funeral. It was the sensation that I was a spectator, that I had stepped outside myself into some impassive, Elysian plain of existence and no longer had any control over what I was doing. Or what was happening, I should say. It wasn’t really a conscious decision — just the accumulation of a manic heartbeat and senses on a trip wire waiting for whatever might reveal itself in the next instant. I have never really understood how or why events reveal themselves like this. Perhaps that too is the whole point.


I was sitting in an office, yawning, still feeling like I had the night before — a feeling that I needed to be clean. In reality, I needed a new job. I had an interview just after lunch. Dr. Benjamin Forster of the Forster Foundation had an opening on the public relations wing of his empire and I wanted to be part of it. It easily paid twice what I was making, and I had the keen ability not to see any possible reason why they wouldn’t hire me, given my qualifications. That is, provided I got a good night’s sleep, which I didn’t.

The interviewer was Prescott — Charlie to his friends, though he didn’t make me feel like one — who identified himself as Forster’s adjutant but never quite defined what that position meant. I noticed hanging in a closet behind his desk a few suits that had just been dry cleaned, swathed in sheets of shining cellophane. I wondered if picking these up for his boss was part of the job description.

Prescott did not dress the part of what I would consider an adjutant. That is, unless the job description included no sense of fashion. The man wore a suit that accentuated his overly rounded belly, topping his ensemble off with a vulgar-looking belt buckle so shiny it must have been made of chrome. This made him look like the human equivalent of a Mack truck angling for respectability. He was a very tall man, which may have explained his ill-fitting clothes, but I would have presumed a man working for Forster would be more image conscious. I immediately wondered if I should have dressed down. On his desk, positioned for any visitor to be overwhelmed by it, was a large framed picture of a woman I learned later was Prescott’s wife, though it was natural to infer so from its prominence. On a wall near his desk were two classical Greek drama masks, with a happy face and a frowning one. Though they were meant to remind me of Sophocles and Euripides, I found myself thinking of the beginning of Three Stooges movies. How strange, the connections our minds can make.

Sitting there, waiting as Prescott looked over my resume, I realized I was wearing the same black suit that I had worn for Peter’s funeral. It still had flecks of dried dirt on the pants’ legs.


"Mr. Leon. Am I pronouncing that right?" he asked.

"Yes. Just like it’s spelled."

"Splendid." He used the word rather self-consciously, as though he wanted me to be impressed by it. "Everything seems to be in order here."

"Oh, good." I thought it might be better to act pleasantly surprised at his observation. Then I wondered if that might not sound too vain. No, I silently corrected myself, vain would be second-guessing a two-word response to a compliment during a job interview.

Prescott stood up. He must have been about six five, and the desk made him seem even more absurdly tall. His belt bucket hit the desk top, making a sound like a bullet ricochet in an Old West movie. "There’s just one question I have to ask you, Mr. Leon."


He looked mildly embarrassed. "I have to say that we’ve had your resume for more than a month and we’ve been very impressed with everything."


"I should let you know that very few people get this far. You wouldn’t believe how many apply for this position that either don’t have what it takes or wash out when we get to this point."

"I see." Or I was trying to. We hadn’t actually gotten to a point that I could see, at least one where someone would wash out.

"Do you feel comfortable? Can I get you anything?"

"I’m fine. Do I look uncomfortable?"

"Well, you do look a little tired at least. Troubled, maybe?"

My eyebrows arched involuntarily, and though I denied anything was wrong, Prescott could probably tell I was lying.

"I wouldn’t want you to feel ill at ease, especially in light of what I’m about to say." Prescott cleared his throat, came around to the other side of the desk and sat down. He looked embarrassed at first, then relaxed into something knowing and fatherly. "But there is one thing that isn’t covered in the resume." I had braced myself for what I thought he might say. I expected a short primer on the strange habits of my potential boss. Forster was largely known through his voice — he did a series of radio spots providing little homilies on how life could be lived more richly. They smacked of easy answers to difficult questions, bromides worn bare like borrowed clothes, but delivered in his sincere, booming, believing voice. He always wrapped with the same exhortation, almost ridiculous in its enthusiasm — "Have an exceptional day!" One didn’t really know what he looked like, but you guessed at some majestic, unassailable sincerity. What little else was known about him was tantalizing. Legend had it that Forster thought nothing of calling employees in the dead of night and asking the most outlandish tasks of them to be completed within hours.

But then, I’m used to that already, considering last night, I thought.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Mr. Leon…Cameron… can I call you Cameron?"

"Yes. Please."

"Cameron, have you ever been born again?"

It was at this point that whatever illusions of control I had over myself left me, for reasons I’m still not quite sure about. "Excuse me?"

"Born again." He repeated the two words slowly, in a grave voice but with an inappropriate smile.

"I’m not sure I follow," I said. I remember squinting and leaning forward in my chair, probably because I felt like I needed to do … something.

"Are you a Christian?"


I wanted to be sure. "A Christian?"


There is probably a moment in every job interview where the applicant realizes the secret agenda at the heart of the querying. The prospective boss relays through gesture or statement what the position entails, or what is expected of the would-be employee, or what kind of man the employer is, and the interviewee immediately tailors his gifts, his experience, his very life with neat scissor snips until a workable, passable garment emerges for inspection.

A more intelligent person than myself would probably have said something different from the next thing that came out of my mouth. "You mean, like, with that Jesus guy, right?"

"Yes!" he exclaimed, as a game show host might for a contestant who suddenly recalls the answer to a question. "That same guy. I presume you’ve heard of Christianity?"

As ridiculous as my question had been, he responded with an off-putting level of ernestness and an annoying acceptance of my flippancy at face value. I had expected him to be suitably offended, thus pleasing me. But he didn’t. And so we did this strange dance, with me alternating between the kind of self-interested lying to get a job that applicants routinely indulge in, punctuated by glib, sarcastic responses to questions I was sure were none of his business.

"Yes, yes, of course. Born again?" I said.

"I’m sorry. We’re sort of fundamentalist around here. It’s second nature to say it like that. It’s something, a term you might say we use to identify ourselves to ourselves."

"Sort of like a code word, you mean? Or a secret handshake?"

"Hadn’t thought of it quite that way, Cameron. What do you say?"

"I’m not quite sure what to say, really. If you mean God, I mean, I saw ‘The Da Vinci Code.’ Twice." This was actually a lie. The second time I had wandered into the wrong theatre. It took a few minutes for me to realize it because I didn’t remember Tom Hanks’ hair being that long.

"Well, that’s a start, I suppose," Prescott said, in all earnestness. "I take it you do believe in God."

"Was that a prerequisite for the job?"

"You see, I told you not many people make it through this part of the process. I’ve seen people leave here…"

"I don’t see…"

Prescott held up his hand, nodding his head as if pleading for patience. "This is a foundation, Cameron, a multi-million dollar operation. A lot of money and effort goes into what we do, and we don’t want to waste the opportunity. But you must also realize this is a ministry. Mr. Forster believes heavily in a sense of mission. And that means that the job you’ve applied for carries, in a very real sense, some of the spirit of that …Spirit, if you take my meaning."

"I do," I said. I was lying again, but I suppose I wanted the job badly enough at that point and sensed it was ascending beyond my grasp.

"I would assume then, Mr. Leon…"

I didn’t like the way he lapsed back into the formal. "Cam, please…"

"Sorry, Cam. I would assume then that you’re not a Christian? Do you belong to a church?"

"Um, I gave some money to the United Way. Once."

"Do you remember how much it was?" Clearly, he wasn’t taking the bait.

I thought for a minute. Then I realized I had pledged to send money but never actually made out the check. I stayed quiet for a second until he gave up on getting an answer.

"You’re not a Christian."

"I did once get a Bible trivia question right when I watching ‘Jeopardy!’" I couldn’t quite remember what it was.

"You’re not a Christian," he repeated.

"Well, no, not as you define it."

"How do you define it, Cameron?"

"Well didn’t Jesus say, ‘Live and let live?’ That’s always been my motto."

Prescott never gave me the pleasure. "No, actually He never said anything like that."

I cleared my throat. "Why do you ask?"

Prescott began talking with his hands, gesturing like an after-dinner speaker. "I’ll be frank. Cameron, our benefactor, I’m sure you’re aware, is a very driven, very opinionated man. He feels strongly that if our work is to succeed, everyone must be of one mind, and one body."

"One body?"

"The body of Christ, I mean."


I should tell you that some of my responses to his questions were because of my lack of sleep. But I didn’t feign much of my ignorance. I don’t want you think of me as a ignorant man. I suppose what follows will convince you one way or another. Let me just say that the one remove of reality I was grappling with at that moment, the darkened glass I was looking through, if you will, kept me from associating what his words were with actual meanings. And as far as that moment was concerned, I didn’t truly know my own body, let alone Christ’s.

Maybe he figured this out from the expression on my face.

"I’m telling you, Cameron, that if you want this job, you need to go home and seriously think about your salvation."

I don’t think the look on my face changed.

Prescott rolled his eyes, like a man giving up at a game of charades. "I mean, you should go home, pray about this, and ask Jesus to come into your heart."

"I thought you said something about being born again. Now you’re talking about my heart?"

"It’s a figure of speech."

"Another code word?"

"It has very definite meaning."

"I would think so. I think I remember a song about somebody not being born is busy dying, or something like that. I don’t remember if it said anything about the heart. You want my heart born in Jesus, or Jesus born in my heart, or something… I’m still not getting it. I don’t have any medical training, either in cardiology or obstetrics. I thought my resume covered that."

Prescott shook his head, still not taking the bait, still not giving up on me. "You’re sure you’ve never heard of any of this?"

I yawned, and my hand went up to cover my mouth. My eyes went down to the floor. It seemed like a gesture of shame, even though I wasn’t sure what I needed to be ashamed about. "He who would distinguish the true from the false must have an adequate idea of what is true and false," I said, finally.

"Who said that?" he asked, knowing I had to be quoting somebody.


"Very good. Interesting that that you’re able to quote Spinoza but seemingly unacquainted with Christendom." So he could give as good as he got. That kept me from thinking too long on whether, after his prying, I really wanted this job after all.


I thought he might be about to ask me to leave. I finally said, "How do I do that? This born again thing."

"I don’t want to pressure you…"

"Oh, no. Not at all."

"I mean, I realize you want this job and everything."

"Well, I do, but I’m not sure what you want me to do."

"Come again?"

"You say you don’t want to pressure me, but you tell me I should pray about this. Is there something about me that you think is …evil?" I shifted in my chair because I was curious just how much this man knew about me, how much he could read from my face.

"No, not at all," he said.

"Well, you said something about me looking troubled."

"Right, right. No, look, I don’t think there’s anything evil about you, Cameron. I wouldn’t still be interested in you for the job if I did."

"But you still think I should…"

"I just know you’re a man."

"Yeah, even though I didn’t mention that on my resume either."

He forged on. "As a man, we’re all prone to the weaknesses of men. We struggle with ourselves. Within ourselves. We have things we aren’t proud of, things we can’t quite cope with. We all know there’s someone inside us, someone we know closer than anyone else, that we never can quite become. But in time we see all too clearly what we really are."

"I thought this was a public relations job…"

"It’s a big step, I know, but you’ll never regret it."

"You mean getting the job?"

He shook his head. "Cameron, like I said. Go home and think about it. Pray about it." He gestured again, as though he expected me to get up from my seat. Actually, he looked as uncomfortable as I probably felt.

"You’re just giving me a day on this?"

"How much time do you need?"

I looked at my watch for some unknown reason. "Today’s Friday, right? Alright, let me have the weekend."

"Fair enough. Three days is plenty of time."

I remember standing to shake his hand, though I don’t remember particularly wanting to. The whole thing was vaguely insulting. I still wasn’t sure where or what he expected me to do. It was obvious that what he wanted me to do was important to him at least, though I wasn’t sure why. He had given me vague instructions with an indeterminate goal and expected me to satisfy his requirements well enough to get the job he was supposedly offering me.


One of the great things about living in a democracy is that you can assemble a personal philosophy from the enduring ideas of the world, like someone pulling items from the shelves of a grocery. It’s not even necessary to understand the ideas or know what the words mean. They’re just words. They’re just ideas. And the people and circumstances behind them are just brand names, like Coke and Pepsi. If these ideas fail, you can be comforted by knowing they weren’t your ideas in the first place. And your own misinterpretation or willful ignorance is allowed under the Constitution. Mr. Leo Tolstoy, for example, told us that when we commit an act, any act, we are convinced we are doing it of our own free will, but examining it among the mass of mankind, we become convinced of that act’s inevitability. The more alone we are, the more unrestricted our possibilities might be. The more we are connected to others, the less free we are.

But whatever control I had over myself returned during that interview just long enough for me to ask Prescott, "They would be able to tell me what I needed to know in church, right?"

He gave me, for the first time, a skeptical eye. "It depends which church you go to."

"Tell me," I said, "Which church does Mr. Forster attend?"


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Point Omega by Don DeLillo

In the time it takes you to read this post, an infinite amount of action passes seemingly without your noticing. The chest rises and falls with each breath. Blood courses through the body. Eyes blink. The body shifts, nervous energy makes the foot rock back and forth, the head moves, as do the eyes. And that's just for the individual. Time that is irrecoverable, used up like waste paper, looking for purpose and meaning.

Since the achievement of "Underworld" in 1997, Don DeLillo has focused more of his energy on a series of novella-like creations, and this theme of time - its passage, consumption, wastage, etc. - dominates them all. "Point Omega" can be taken as an anti-war message, a parable on the multiple meanings of existence, on the ability of mankind to make meaning for itself, but what spoke to me was its obsession with time.

"Point Omega" begins with a man in a gallery taking in "24 hour Psycho," a screening of Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" at two frames per minute, meaning that one viewing of the film would take an entire day. At that speed, the imperceptibly moving image begins to have more meanings than just those a low-budget slasher film made by a genius. "The less there was to see, the harder he looked, the more he saw," the narrator tells us. It's interesting that DeLillo chose "Psycho," even though there is an exhibition of the film at the Museum of Modern Art. David Thomson's book, "The Moment of 'Psycho,'" shows that the film is a veritable funhouse of meaning and imagery. "Psycho" is concerned with murders created by a monster, and what they mean - crimes of passion, not profit.

Most of the action of the book has to do with film, though. The documentarian Finley wants to make a movie about Richard Elster, a "wise man" academic like Ravelstein called in by the Bush Administration in the run-up to the Iraq War in order to give the enterprise some intellectual heft. Elster, naturally, seems haunted by this (naturally, because rarely is a character in a DeLillo novel ever not "haunted" by something) and a need to escape into the desert. Finley's wish is to do, not a "Fog of War" film examination, but a relentless interview with just the face on the screen, offering explanations. Later on, after Finley has had time to emotionally bond with Elster's daughter Jessie, she disappears into the desert and Elster must cope with the loss.

"Point Omega," like "The Body Artist," "Cosmopolis" and "Falling Man," at times resembles not so much a narrative as a series of declarative character statements in the guise of narrative. Given DeLillo's politics, Elster is an enigmatic figure who must bear the pain of his complicity in the war. "There were times when no map existed to match the reality we were trying to create," he tells Finley. But the events are cold. Elster may bond emotionally with Jessie, but we see little evidence of it. All of these people seem exhausted by events.

Or by time, perhaps? "Time is enormous," Elster says, later restating that "every lost moment is the life." In a few sentences of dubious logic, he makes clearer, perhaps, the author's intent: "Cities were built to measure time, to remove time from nature. There's an endless counting down... when you strip away all the surfaces, when you see into it, what's left is terror. This is the thing that literature was meant to cure. The epic poem, the bedtime story."

The book's cover gives us the infinite image, the eight turned sideways, an endless loop that circles back to itself. And that is the dubious logic - because the city built to remove time from nature only restates time and nature in all its terror. Buildings fade and fall. Cities age, rot, are rebuilt only to rot again. Meaning, like time, is elusive. The disappearance of Jessie, and the lack of resolution, may disappoint a reader looking for an explanation, but DeLillo isn't interested in explanations, because in his view, life isn't. And that lack of explanation is deadly, just as deadly as a war that a man may plan from the safety of an office thousands of miles away, unaware of where his ideas will take others. "The omega point has narrowed, here and now, to the point of a knife as it enters the body. All the man's grand themes funneled down to local grief, one body, out there somewhere, or not."

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