"God," by Frank Wu, for the book Greetings from Lake Wu, illustrating the story by Jay Lake. Published by Wheatland Press.

Many of the illustrations in this book are simply my visions of specific scenes from the stories.  "The Angle of My Dreams" and "Glass", f'rinstance, fall into this category.  These illos were pretty-straightforward, as Jay uses a lot of cool descriptions in his work.

Sometimes, though, it falls on an illustrator to do a piece which is more symbolic and personal.  This illo is all about a spiritual quest, a search for God, but not in a pathetic Star Trek V sort of way.  To further pommel the idea that this book is a collaboration between Jay and me, we thought it would be fun to have us both appear in the illustrations themselves.  Jay is the bartender in "Tall Spirits, Blocking the Night."  And I am the climber in this illustration.  Jay was actually really cool about this, because the character I play is actually Hungarian, and I'm Chinese.  And if the author says it's ok for a Chinese guy to have a name like Janos, then it's ok.  In the illo I'm ascending a beanstalk, attached to which are various Gods.  I have been sent by my village to pick a good one. 

I liked being in this particular image, because this part of the story is really about a spiritual quest.  One of the most important decisions a person can make in a lifetime is what religion he/she will be.  This is a decision that splits parents from their children, wives from their husbands.  A monumentally, life-changing decision that re-defines you to the core.  Each of us, one by one, need to climb that beanstalk and pick ourselves a god.  And hence the illustration is really symbolically about the fall of 1982. 

[At this point, as a disclaimer, I should say that I'm a Christian, but it's ok with me if you're not.  I'm not here to convert anyone or yell at anybody, just here to tell you where I'm coming from.  I said something very similar to this at a slide show at a convention and four or five people got up right then and there and walked out.  I lost a couple fans, but I'm at a point in my life where I just have to say what I believe, popular or not.  That said, if you don't wanna read any more of this intro, feel free to skip it and move on to Jay's nifty story.  And Jay, by the way, represents a different worldview than mine.  In addition to being a really cool guy, he is in his words "raving secular humanist."  But we can still be friends.] 

As I was saying, in the fall of 1982, after many years of soul-searching, I had decided that there was a God.  I came to that conclusion after the summer of 1977.  That was the summer my sister drowned.  She was fifteen at the time, and I was twelve.  It was, of course, the most wrenching, horrific experience of my life.  In response to that horror, I withdrew, and I did a ton of drawing and writing.  And some people thought it was pretty good.  And I figured that if something this good could come out of something that bad, there must be a God.  I'm not sure that's good theology, but it did lead me on a search for God.  One of my next stops was the World Almanac.  I figured that, in all these years, somebody must have found out who God was by now.  So I went religion shopping, and the Almanac had a handy chart that compared the major religions of the world.  I chose Christianity because it was the only one that really made sense to me.  Yes, it does seem like sin separates people from God and from each other.  It made sense to me for Christ to be the bridge that reunites us and God.  Yes, love God and love your neighbor.  That seemed to make sense. 

There's a question more interesting than Why did you become a Christian?  That's the question: Why did you stay a Christian?  The reason is that there have been so many desperate hopeless times in my life where God stepped in.  When I was in grad school, my mom died.  Quite suddenly.  One day months later, I was an emotion wreck.  I was in lab and everything was going wrong.  My test tubes shattered in the centrifuge and everything was going wrong.  I ran away from lab and went to the local church on campus and just sat in the pew and cried and cried.  It was a freezing cold day, and the church was huge and ornate but completely empty.  I had been there twenty minutes and not a single other person had been there.  And as I sat there crying, I really felt God's arms wrapping around me comforting me.  Then this amazing thing happened.  I had a voice in my head that said, Get up right now, go to the front of the church and someone you know is going to come in.  It wasn't the Voice of Charlton Heston or anything, just words forming in my head.  And my first thought was, No way.  But the voice repeated the message.  So I wiped my eyes, got up, went to the front of the church and right then a friend of mine from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship was walking in, a guy named Chris Franzen.  I said, "Chris, what are you doing here?" He said, "I don't know, I just thought I was supposed to stop by."  God had comforted me, then sent someone human to help out, too.  Chris was suffering from a really bad rash that just wouldn't go away, and we prayed together and both felt immensely better after that.  It was exhilarating in a way, going from deep despair to the highest joy as I saw God send someone to help in my darkest hour.  And that for me is what the Christian walk is about. 

So the illustration is about choosing Christianity from among other religions.  Some of the alternatives are fairly reasonable, others I believe less so.  Buddha is hidden under my chest.  Cultists abound.  L. Ron Hubbard is in the lower right.  Jim Jones (2d row, 4th face) - for those who also don't know that Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings - was a cult leader who in 1978 thought it would be a good idea to assassinate a U.S. congressman, and then have over 900 of his followers drink lethal doses of grape juice mixed with cyanide and sedatives.  John Edward (4th row, 3rd face) and Miss Cleo (2d row, 2d face) are more recent scam artists.  The goth girl (1d row, 2d face) is included because sometimes a lifestyle can be almost a religion.  Indeed, are we striving to be gother than thou?  William Shatner (1d row, 4th face) is included because some of us are like unto Gods unto ourselves.

So we have choices of whom we will serve.  I am not here to diss anybody's decision.  As Tom Petty sang, You believe what you wanna believe.  Just needed to tell you about my choice.  Thanks for listening.