A former Mountain Brook and Birmingham-area reporter will sign copies of his new novel at The Emmet O’Neal Library in March.
“Set Your Fields on Fire” is the new novel by William Thornton, a reporter with AL.com and The Birmingham News. The Emmet O’Neal Library is hosting a book signing Sunday, March 6 at 3 p.m. Copies of the book are $20.
Thornton reported on Mountain Brook for the News from 2008 to 2012, as well as other cities in the Birmingham metro area. He is now AL.com’s East Alabama reporter.
It was in October 2008 while financial markets were tanking worldwide, and investment banks were contemplating the end of the world, that Thornton happened to see an article in The Wall Street Journal about the business of churches.
It was the juxtaposition of those two events, he said, that resulted in the comic novel. But in spite of the serious subject matter Thornton’s book tackles, he wants his audience laughing.
“Like it or not, church is the mechanism God has chosen to present His message to the world,” Thornton said according to a news release. “And by church, we mean the people in it – people serving people, people visiting people, people praying for people, people caring about people. The common denominator in all of that is people, and let’s face it - people are funny.”
“Set Your Fields on Fire” deals with “mystery worshippers” - people who evaluate churches similar to mystery shoppers, who anonymously rate retail outlets. Mystery worshippers are consultants hired by churches to experience worship services in the way any visitor would and suggest ways to improve the atmosphere. Are the grounds kept well? Are the bathrooms in the sanctuary clean?
“Something about the concept struck me as funny from the beginning,” Thornton said. “Not that it’s a bad idea, but I wondered what kind of person could do the job. It made me think about what might happen if you got someone who was really into the job.”
The novel travels from Wall Street to the Gulf Coast and incorporates elements of the 2008 recession with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. Thornton, who is also a Sunday School teacher in a Southern Baptist church, said he wanted the novel to touch on the culture of the worship service and the people involved.
This summer, “Set Your Fields on Fire” took the grand prize in the Aspiring Authors Contest with the Parable Group and WestBow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson Publishers and Zondervan, the world’s largest Christian publisher. The manuscript was chosen from several hundred entries for publication, and has been picked up by HarperCollins for distribution.
“Set Your Fields on Fire” is currently available in softcover and e-book format on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million, and in stores soon. You can read the first chapter at Thornton’s blog, brilliantdisguises.blogspot.com.