The Catholic Press Association has given two national awards to an Ahwatukee author’s novel about a fictional table built by Jesus’ grandfather that is handed down over centuries until a man encounters it during a spiritual crisis and emotional loss.
Dennis Lambert’s “The Table” won first place for Best Book by a Small Publisher and third place for Best Novel for a story that can be described as historical-inspirational fiction.
The award comes as Lambert is putting the finishing touches on his second book, called “The Space Between Good and Evil.”
That story focuses on a guard at one of the most deplorable Nazi concentration camps who is reunited with his former pastor, now one of his prisoners. Encouraged by the priest he once admired, he realizes the good he can do while assigned there.
The Catholic Press Association awards recognize excellence in four areas of Catholic media – print, film, books and student publications.
Within Catholic media circles, they are the highest recognition given to work done in the U.S. and Canada.
A deacon at Corpus Christi Parish in Ahwatukee, Lambert has worn many hats over the years and author is his latest. He and his wife, Debbie, are in Ahwatukee’s Lil’ Debbie Band, which has been performing for 17 years.
A retired pharmaceutical sales and marketing executive, he also is a poet and marathon runner.
Enroute Books and Media published “The Table,” which Lambert spent four years writing as he tried to fit his novel ambitions amid myriad other activities.
Various authors and professors have praised the novel as an inspirational and suspenseful piece of storytelling, with one critic calling it “a gripping and beautiful story that displays the peculiarity of God’s plan and how He can bring all things together for good.”
The book stems from Lambert’s reflections on the Roman centurion who wanted Jesus to heal a beloved servant but felt unworthy to have him enter his house. Instead, he told Jesus he believed he could heal him without coming inside.
“It is a great testimony of faith,” said Lambert, explaining that he began wondering what happened to the centurion after that encounter. From there, his story traces a series of events where the table exerts a miraculous influence as it finds its way into the hands of a despairing rock musician.
Even before he retired after 29 years in the pharmaceutical industry, the Lake Forest College graduate also began a two-year study at the Phoenix Catholic Diocese’s Kino Catechetical Institute, because he wanted “to dedicate more time to writing and to serving the Church.”
Lambert said he has long had a passion for writing “but never thought that I could write an entire novel.”
He had written unpublished poetry – including an annual family Christmas poem since 1983 – and some short stories, including three Christmas-related stories about a “quirky but lovable elf named Pritchard” that he now hopes to publish.
Like his novel, the Pritchard the Elf stories contain “teaching and moral components.”
“After getting favorable feedback on those stories, an idea for a novel popped into my head as I was flying back from a business trip,” Lambert said, adding:
“I took out my computer right then and there and began to write the first chapter. As I got deeper and deeper into writing the story, I began to think, why not? Why couldn’t I write a complete novel? Why not at least try? My commitment then became to finish the story. Whether it ever got published or not, I vowed to myself to at least finish it.”
He credits his first novel’s publication to his innate perseverance and the fact that “my years in sales have greatly thickened my skin and prepared me for the boatload of rejection that comes with submitting a book for either representation by an agent and or for direct acceptance from a publisher.”
For aspiring novelists, he offers several tips.
“Ensure that you have work properly edited and the pitch that you give is all it can be,” he said. “Agents and publishers get inundated with thousands upon thousands queries, and if you don’t hook them right away and/or if there are grammatical errors, they will quickly pass your submission and will be on to the next.
“Secondly and perhaps most importantly, you need to be persistent and have thick skin. The more queries you put out, the more nos you will get, but the more queries you put out, the better the chance that you will get finally get a yes.”