* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where religious conspiracy novels are more than mere entertainment, they're a way of life. Our good friend Mel Stefaniuk has studied the sterling example of Dan Brown and reached the only possible conclusion.

As Your Life Coach, I Strongly Suggest You Give Up On Your Dreams And Write A Religious Conspiracy Novel

By: Mel Stefaniuk

Oh boy. You’re interested in becoming a musician, huh? All right. I think you’d better sit down, we need to have a little chat.

I’m sure it seems cool to be a musician. You get to write songs about motorcycles and jukeboxes, call beers “brewskis” and have sex with a lot of women. It’s the ultimate life of no regrets. I mean, look at those debauched rock stars we see living the high life: Mick Jagger doing the “Harlem Shuffle,” Jimmy Buffet appearing barefoot on album covers, or even Kid Rock wearing those outlandish fedoras. Who wouldn’t want to live the life these freewheeling superstars have?

Well, it’s pointless to try. It’s just not a practical career choice in this modern world full of illegal downloading, music-less MTV and a Rolling Stone magazine no longer being edited by Joe Levy. Imagine if Bruce Willis released his album The Return of Bruno in this day & age…it’d be a flop! And if Bruno’s return couldn’t even get people to buy music, what chance do you think you’d have?

That’s why I’m going to tell you what I tell all my clients foolishly trying to do what they’re passionate about: you’ve got to write a religious conspiracy novel.

It’s not hard. Look at the shelf behind me — see those books? Yeah. I wrote all of them. The Magdalene Continuum, Apostle Protocol, A Conspiracy of Arks and Citizen Christ were all big hits, each one featuring a new religious conspiracy for veteran linguistics expert Donald Crane to solve.

Are they good? Not particularly. Did I make enough money off of them to buy a pontoon boat and start my own fledgling life coaching business? Yes. Religious conspiracy novels made my dreams come true and they can make yours come true too.

Don’t think you can’t do it. Anyone can create a religious conspiracy novel. Have you been to a bookstore recently? As soon as you open the front door you’re crushed under an avalanche of novels that have pictures of angel statues crying blood on the front cover. Look, here are the covers to all my books: each one just has a different species of snake wrapped around a cross!

Coming up with a cover image that blends religious iconography with an inanimate bleeding object or a mysterious animal is the toughest part of the job and even that’s not difficult. I can think of some stuff right off the top of my head: what about a close-up of a lion’s eye with the reflection of the Vatican in it, or maybe a cherub bleeding onto an ancient parchment and his blood is forming the image of a monk assassin holding a gun. Wait, that one’s pretty good, I call dibs on it.

You don’t have any writing experience? It doesn’t matter. Ninety percent of any religious conspiracy novel consists of fifty percent banal investigations of tombs/crypts/churches and fifty percent ridiculously implausible revelations. Here, let me read you an excerpt from Citizen Christ:

* * * * * * *

Donald slowly crept along the edge of the room, lightly tapping his gloved knuckle against the ancient wooden walls. Donk. Donk. Donk. Thonk. A grin grew across his face as he knocked against that part of the wall again. Thonk. He silently motioned for the priest to bring him a high-powered pneumatic drill, which he then proceeded to use to quickly and violently punch a massive hole into the church’s wall.

“Looks like this holy place just got a lot more holey,” Donald joked to the priest as he pointed to the hole in the wall to explain the joke.

After he finished laughing, Donald grabbed a lit torch that happened to be sitting on a pew and carefully made his way through the hole. A cold chill filled the room on the other side and the distinct smell of religious history wafted through the air. He swung the torch to the far corner of the room and there in the darkness, he could make out the shape of an old wooden bed. The same wooden bed that was mentioned in the missing pages of the Bible he had found in the diamond mines under Jerusalem. Dried blood coated the bed, soaked so deep into the wood that it would never be wiped off. Jesus’ blood. This was it. This is where they held him captive while his twin brother was being crucified.

* * * * * * *

You know what Dan Brown did before he started writing religious conspiracy novels? He was a musician. That’s right, like you, Dan unsuccessfully tried to follow his terribly misguided dreams. He released three albums in the early nineties, writing should-have-been-hits such as “976-LOVE,” a synth-and-sax-filled pop ode to telephone sex. You know where that song debuted on the Billboard charts? Negative four. It actually went into the negatives because four people paid to not have to buy it.

Sure, the fact that he was awful at it might be the reason he failed as a musician, but it still doesn’t change the fact that Dan didn’t find success until he wrote a religious conspiracy novel. Do you really want to toil away unsuccessfully at something you’re passionate about or would you rather just skip to the part where you make gazillions of dollars writing fluff disguised as spiritual gobbledygook?

It’s time to give up on your implausible ambitions and time to put on a turtleneck sweater and sport coat. You’ve got a lot of awkward back cover photos to pose for.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are always quick to offer an apology. Not as quick as new contributor Mel Stefaniuk, though. NOTE: We'd like to take this opportunity to recommend you check out the weekly ruminations about the joys of living abroad by our copy editor David Jaggard, in his column "David Jaggard on Paris Update." Just click on the link with that name under our blogroll on the right-hand side of this page.

An Apology For My Concussion-Induced Behavior

By: Mel Stefaniuk

I know I’m not usually quick to admit a mistake but I really feel as if I owe you all an apology for my behavior at last week’s pitch meeting. U-571 2: U-572 was not a good idea, I realize that now, and the belligerent and violent way I continued to defend it was inappropriate. I had been in an accident the previous night — the “B” from a Barnes & Noble sign fell on my head when I was leaving the store — and as we all realize now, I was clearly suffering from a severe concussion.

Mark, you were the first one I turned on. You started snickering when I explained the new U-571 would be about a “hot-ass speedboat that dishes out its own brand of nautical justice” and I was out of line when I started slapping the top of your head as if it were a drum in retaliation. As musically sound as the rhythm I got from your head may have been, and I’ve been told by others in the room that the beat was reminiscent of Face Value-era Phil Collins, there’s just no excuse I can give that could ever justify my actions. You were right: not only is making a sequel to an obscure submarine movie an awful idea, inexplicably changing the water vessel in question from a sub to a speedboat is mindbogglingly stupid.

Judy…oh Judy, to you I’m not sure what I can do to make up for what I said. Let me simply address every one of those ridiculous remarks I made directly:

1. Your brake lines haven’t been cut.
2. I’m not really going to give you a cake with dynamite candles for your birthday.
3. It wouldn’t be physically possible for me to actually drop a volcano onto your house.
4. There’s no such demon as Hazmalak, and even if there was, I wouldn’t know how to summon him.
5. You don’t smell like Rowdy Roddy Piper after a wrestling match.

Rick: all I can say is that those clothes are never going to be clean again so burn them. IMMEDIATELY. Then you must seal those ashes in a metal canister and bury them as deep into sanctified ground as humanly possible. After that, all we can do is pray that they’re never discovered.

And Walter, you’re the one I owe the biggest apology to. You were the only one who listened patiently as I ranted and raved about a speedboat becoming sentient and opening a detective agency and yet I still hoisted you up from your chair and flung you through the window of that 17th floor office. It wasn’t so wrong that it was right like I later stated to the police when arrested, it was just plain wrong. If and when you wake up from your coma I hope we can look back at this incident and laugh, unless the sense of humor part of your brain really has been permanently damaged like the neurologist has implied it was.

So that’s it, all my cards are on the table and now I can only sit here and let time heal all the wounds that I have opened. I’m a changed man from this experience — I am far humbler and I no longer walk under excessively large store signs — and I hope you all can accept the new me and we can work together once again. I’ve recently started kicking around the idea for a little movie called Dockin’ It!: Amistad 2 and who knows, maybe someday you’ll allow me back onto your hollowed grounds to pitch it.