Thom Lemmons, a Sikeston High School graduate, spent Friday evening at the Barnes and Noble Cafe in Cape Girardeau signing his new Christian Booksellers Association best seller, "Jabez: A Novel." Lemmons' novel jumped to No. 3 on the April CBA list, compared to the No. 9 ranking on the March list.
"With the way Christian publishing has exploded in the last few years, it's really tough to get on those lists," Lemmons said. "It was a thrill to see my book there, even at No. 9. And when I saw it at No. 3, well . . . it feels really good."
"Jabez: A Novel" tells the story of the man behind the celebrated prayer. Previously, the prayer was the subject of the best-seller, "The Prayer of Jabez," by Bruce Wilkinson.
Lemmons said his book's success wasn't particularly expected. "Jabez: A Novel" is his ninth book. He said over the last few years, he's been trying to concentrate on honing his craft, trying to become a better writer with each project and not worrying too much about why he wasn't being booked on "Oprah."
Last summer when the editors of WaterBrook Press called and asked Lemmons to consider writing a novella about Jabez, he knew they were trying to ride the wave created by Wilkinson's book.
"And why not?" Lemmons asked. "'The Prayer of Jabez' has sold something like 12 million copies. I didn't enter the project thinking about best sellerhood. I just wanted to write a good book that I could believe in and that readers could enjoy."
It appears as though readers are enjoying Lemmons' novel since it is a best seller. Lemmons said he hopes if anything his readers get out of his book, it's that the story of Jabez is really the story of God's faithfulness and people in the Bible are really very much like people today.
Lemmons said he used hints in a few verses from Wilkinson's book to draw together the story of Jabez. Some of these hints include Jabez's mother naming him the Hebrew word for "pain," the fact that the pain theme resurfaces throughout the prayer and that Jabez was "more honorable than his brothers." Lemmons said he used historical and archaeological research into the socio-politico-religious circumstances of Judah during the likely period of the story, circa 1000 B.C. He also observed the human condition in general, he said.
The writing experience for Lemmons with this novel was different from any of the other books he's written. He explained usually, the writing process is somewhat painful, slow and stultifying. But with "Jabez: A Novel," Lemmons found himself eager to work on this book and found the ideas flowing more than he's ever experienced before.
"Not to sound mystical or pretentious, but I truly believe it was a work that God wanted to do through me. It's both gratifying and humbling to think of it this way," Lemmons said.
Lemmons grew up on a farm near Bell City, but said he considers himself a "Sikestonian by culture." He graduated from Abilene Christian University in Texas, where he serves as director of the university's press. He and his wife, Cheryl, reside in Texas with their three children.
"Biblical fiction has the added advantage of reminding us that the people God uses today - AKA, you and me - are pretty much like the people he used when the Bible was written," Lemmons said. "As a friend of mine once said, 'People in the Bible are just plain old folks who happened to be standing around when God wanted something done.'
"So these stories of faith become part of us, part of our story of faith. And the cycle continues."