Quin Hillyer has written about culture, politics, and faith for decades in numerous print and online publications. Now his debut novel, Mad Jones, Heretic synthesizes his varied interests and expertise to craft a unique tale filled with both humor and heartache, of lustful longing and the quest for God. Join us, for this, the first of three volumes in the Accidental Prophet series:

A grief-stricken modern-day Martin Luther posts religious theses on Gulf Coast church walls and attracts instant controversy, setting up a satirical tale of modern religion, media and politics.


Meet Mad Jones, a high school history teacher who, in the midst of unspeakable tragedy, literally nails religious theses to church doors. He does so with no expectation that they will be taken seriously, or even widely read – but, in this age of modern electronic communications and instant celebrity, young Madison Jones very quickly develops a large following and engenders significant levels of controversy. The media, quite typically, misunderstand and misrepresent his ultimate message; religious leaders debate his theses, at times with ulterior motives; and soon politicians are jumping in to comment from whichever standpoint best fits their partisan purposes.

Mad Jones, Heretic delivers sharp satire on modern religion, politics, and media, all at the same time, along with insightful representations of the vagaries of today’s celebrity culture and the lunacy of Internet comment threads. Controversies surrounding race and sexual morality enter in as well. Additionally, its setting at the end of the 20th Century, in the midst of the Y2K computer scare, provides the perfect vehicle to dissect millennialist themes as well.

Underlying all of this are some very serious theological reflections, woven naturally through a plot filled with sympathetic and memorable characters. Ultimately, true character – both good and bad – reveals itself, and both faith and human decency are tested once again. Grace and redemption, though, are always possible.


Excerpt of first two chapters:

“He alone ailed,…having fallen into a long fit of melancholy and vacancy amounting almost to amnesia.” —Walker Percy, The Last Gentleman


“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be made strong, in fact. But the process is like all other human births, painful and long and dangerous.” —Margery Allingham, The Tiger in the Smoke


Book One: Genesis


Chapter One


“Would you believe?…” began Maxwell Smart from the TV screen, and young Mad Jones began to laugh out loud from his hospital bed. Mad buzzed the nurse and asked for a legal pad. A half hour later, when the nurse finally entered his room to deliver a few odd sheets of loose-leaf paper, she found Mad curled into a fetal position, sobbing.

So much for discharge from the medical center tomorrow.

The nurse quietly set the papers on the small, round bedside table, and then found herself leaning over and kissing Mad on the forehead, as a middle-aged daughter would tenderly kiss a senile dad. Mad didn’t respond, and the nurse hurried back to her station, wondering why her face suddenly felt flushed.

It wasn’t until nearly an hour later that Mad sat up, reached for the loose-leaf and a soft purple Marks-A-Lot that rested atop a Bible, and scrawled:



                      By Mad Jones


Would you believe …


1. God is a flawed sonuvabitch, just like the humans he created.


*                                  *                                  *


In the stillest part of the night—1:43 a.m. according to the neon digital clock, above the door, which kept the room from ever reaching pitch black—Mad awoke, clammy and chilled, from a restless sleep troubled by dead people. His mind turned to the oft-told story of how his father met his mother in The Tombs…

Ben Jones, intermittently devout Episcopalian from the once-Catholic Spanish decrepit historic mosquito-filled town of Mobile, Alabama, was a graduate student in history at the Jefferson-haunted University of Virginia in May of 1970. At age 24, just two years after graduating magna cum laude (disappointed it wasn’t summa) also from U.Va., he had just handed in his master’s thesis on the overlooked virtues of the mostly ineffectual Articles of Confederation. He and a friend called Buzz had driven the two hours up to D.C. to celebrate Ben’s accomplishment. They had decided to start their night at The Tombs, an old-style basement tavern loosely affiliated with Georgetown University, and then to go wherever Jefferson’s spirit moved them.

Jefferson didn’t move them for hours. Lee kept them occupied instead.

Ben Jones, an Oxford-and-khaki stalwart, usually had no use for the beads and jeans his generation made popular. He dated Southern belles who maintained at least a semblance of refinement. But there at the bar at The Tombs that night was a beads-and-jean-clad, flaxen-haired lovely whose eyes alone out-smiled the Cheshire Cat. From the angle of his table, she was directly in Ben’s line of sight—and, despite himself, he couldn’t stop staring at her. It wasn’t that she was stunningly beautiful, but just refreshingly pretty—and her eyes danced. Four other guys surrounded her barstool.

The waitress was clearing away Buzz’ and Ben’s appetizer plates when Miss Flaxen Hair walked over, sat down at their table uninvited, looked directly at Ben, and said: “Your stare could embarrass the Queen of Sheba. Now I know what an amoeba feels like under a microscope. Do I have spinach in my teeth, or what?”

To which Ben responded: “Huh?”

With such suave sophistication, the story went, did Ben Jones win the heart of his ladylove. Her name was Mel, which actually was an acronym for Mary Elizabeth Lee. She was of the Virginia Lees, though not descended directly from Robert E., but rather from a cousin. Her great-granddaddy had married a committed Catholic and converted to the One True Faith, and each succeeding Lee son had dated only within the faith. Her mother was so devout, she was saved from the convent only by a night of wholly unanticipated passion with a Lee boy. In hopes that the resulting daughter would prove worthier and holier than she, the mother named her after both the Blessed Virgin and Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. But Daddy Lee, whose blood carried the memory of Lighthorse Harry, called the girl Mel and took her foxhunting and adventuring throughout the Shenandoah.

Mel was now finishing her sophomore year at the School of Nursing at Georgetown, which pleased her mother because the Jesuits ran the place and pleased her father because it was both a historic and a patriotic American institution and also because it meant his tall, slender Little Girl remained just a couple of hours from home. Mel’s mom was a Pax-above-all, turn-the-other-cheek type of Catholic, so Mel hated the war in ’Nam; but because Mel was a Lee, she admired and honored the American soldiers. Mel believed in peace, love, and The Beatles, never touched illegal drugs, drank only brandy or single-malt scotch on the rocks, and idolized Hemingway and Katherine Hepburn. She quite openly lusted after Redskin quarterback Sonny Jurgensen (whom she had never met), and the only times she ever cried were when Lassie or Flipper got in danger on TV.

And she liked to flirt with some of the Jesuits, just to see them blush and squirm.

Mel remained at Ben’s table for five solid hours, until the tavern’s closing time. (In the meantime, Buzz had time to begin and end three woulda-been-lifelong relationships with other girls at The Tombs, and even managed to escort one across the street to the top of the spooky cliffside stairway that would become famous two years later in The Exorcist—but all he got for his trouble was a girl getting nauseous from a combination of beer and vertigo.) When Ben and Mel finally parted after he walked her back to campus, Ben said, “You know, I already love you madly.”

And that was that.

In essence, it was already settled.

Twenty-five months later, just after Mel graduated from Georgetown and three months before Ben’s breakneck academic schedule earned him a Ph.D. in history (dissertation: “The Unacknowledged Roots of James Madison’s Political Philosophy”), Ben and Mel married in Old Richmond and honeymooned on the Isle of Wight. After their first meeting, not a day went by without him telling her, by phone or post or personal greeting, that he loved her madly.

At U.Va., a proud Daddy Lee arranged to have Ben admitted into the prestigious, mysterious, philanthropic Crazy Eights Society; at Georgetown, Mel prevailed upon her favorite Jesuit, a sprightly young 70-year-old named Joe Durkin, to arrange a professorship for Ben at the Jesuit-run Spring Hill College in Ben’s hometown of Mobile. Spring Hill’s chairman of the history department had been a seminarian with Father Durkin 50 years before and considered any young man recommended by Joe Durkin to be a golden find.

So Ben and Mel, now three months pregnant with a Wight-conceived bundle, moved down to Mobile just in time for fall classes at Spring Hill. Mel was disappointed to find that Mobile had no foxhunting clubs, but she enthusiastically took up fishing and wrote anti-war letters to the editor of the Mobile Press-Register. She also quickly made room for Bear Bryant in her pantheon of heroes.

On March 3 of 1973, as Ben nervously and proudly paced the hospital hallways, Mel gave one last mighty push and expelled from her womb a healthy eight-pound baby boy. Ten seconds later, before Mel ever knew what hit her, she died instantly from the most sudden and massive hemorrhage her obstetrician had ever witnessed…

Twenty-five years later, in the room of the psychiatric ward to which Mad had admitted himself two days earlier, Mad suddenly yelled out at a frightening decibel level: “I was born of a hemorrhage and now I’ve died of a hemorrhage!!!”

Down the hall, the night-shift nurse—a different one from the evening before, 50ish and plumper—was startled awake by the scream and rushed to Mad’s room to see what was up. She too found Mad in a fetal position, this time sucking his thumb. Gently, she asked if he was okay. No response. She asked if he wanted anything. No response. Tears forming in her eyes, she leaned over him. “What can I do for you?” No response.

Even in such a pathetic state, there was something about this young man. She briefly envisioned herself crawling onto the hospital bed with Mad, spooning him from behind as he continued to squeeze his eyes tight and suck his thumb. But she didn’t. Instead, full of compassion but with legs oddly wobbling, the nurse pulled away and shuffled back to her station.

Mad awoke six hours later, grabbed his purple marker and the paper and, regularly consulting the Bible, he spent the next half hour writing—this time in the small, neat handwriting that was his norm:

2. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.” Genesis 1:27


3. “I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.” Exodus 20:5

“For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.” Deuteronomy 4:24


4. “For thus saith the Lord God of Israel unto me: ‘Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath, and cause all the nations, to whom I send thee, to drink it.’ And they shall drink, and be moved, and be mad, because of the sword that I will send among them.’” Jeremiah 25:15-16


5. God is arrogant, and mad with power, as when he tortures Job. God says: “Who then is able to stand before me? Who hath prevented me, that I should repay him? Whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine.” Job 41:10-11


Mad looked over what he had written. He thought he might be making headway towards some important ideas, but he really didn’t know what, and his mind was too disturbed right now, his heart too pained, for him to really care much where this was leading. All he knew was that after he wrote each thesis, he knew approximately where to look in the Bible, through some trial and error, to make the next thesis follow at least a semi-logical pattern. And that somehow the logic of writing helped mask the pain of grief. After some disjointed thoughts, he continued:

6. Christ said: “And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” Matthew 18:34-35


 7. It therefore follows that when God created man in God’s image, or “likeness” (Genesis 5:1), it was a spiritual and emotional likeness—an interior image—intended, not a physical likeness (which is abundantly made clear throughout the Bible). So we see that God is jealous and wrathful and unfair (as He was to Job), and arrogant and prone to going mad with His own power, and that He punishes mankind overly harshly, even unto torture, when man acts imperfectly, even though it was He, God, who created man as an imperfect being because man is in God’s own image—which, of necessity, means that God Himself is imperfect. QED.


Mad was proud of himself now, although he wasn’t sure why. He was on a roll, and didn’t even need the Bible’s help to make the next points that insinuated themselves into his adrenalized brain. Rocking back and forth with nervous energy, he continued:

8. As God is imperfect, therefore He is inconsistent—yea, even mercurial.

9. As God is mercurial, therefore His mercy, at least here on earth, is dependent on God’s mood swings, or, i.e., contingent rather than unconditional.

10. As God’s mercy is contingent, and as God is imperfect, so therefore may His mercy be contingent on something other than man’s own merit, but rather, at times, on circumstances beyond the ken of man.

11. God’s mercy is therefore entirely unpredictable and unreliable, at least within man’s temporal existence.

Finally, seized by a sudden anger that flared up inside him with near-dangerous (and unaccustomed) intensity, Mad wrote in increasingly large print:

12.  For all intents and purposes, then, 

to man’s way of knowing, 

God Is A Jerk.


                              *                                  *                                  *


Ben never openly wept for Mel. But his eyes were at least moist every time he held his son in the next few days. He named the boy after his dissertation subject, James Madison, and after his wife’s family. Thus, for all anyone else knew, did Madison Lee Jones come to be. But there was another reason, too, for the name. Ben could look at his son, call him Mad (short for Madison) Lee, and remember his wife every time. “I love you, Mad Lee,” he would say to his infant, over and over—and in so doing, repeat what he had always told Mel: that he loved her “madly.” And it was true, he did love Mad Lee madly, as he loved Mel, but he also loved his son sadly and wistfully and, as the years wore on, somewhat fearfully, as if young Mad Lee were a phantom who might disappear at any moment if Ben tried to hold on to him too tightly.

Ben became a popular professor at Spring Hill—dapper, brilliant, wry, and kind. His students even found it amusing that he gave off a faint air of distraction, as if he were aware he had forgotten something that he was supposed to remember by the string around his finger, only there was no string and, even if there was, he would have forgotten to notice it anyway.

Child care at first was no problem: Mel’s mother and Daddy Lee moved down to Mobile and doted on Madison. But when Mrs. Lee ate herself right into a fatal heart attack just 18 months later, Daddy Lee moved back to Virginia to gallivant around the Shenandoah, chasing pretty divorcees. Ben’s own parents had both died abnormally young, of rather mysterious sudden ailments, and Ben had no other relatives to call on.

That’s when Ben devised a unique plan for the daytime care of little Mad Lee. He wanted to ensure that Mad wouldn’t suffer from lack of female influence, so he advertised on the Spring Hill campus for nannies to look after the boy from 9:45 to 5:15 every weekday. He set up a rotating system of up to five student-nannies per semester, with the following special criteria in addition to the girls’ being responsible and good with kids: 1) They could not be students in his classes, and must pledge never to take his classes (to protect against him being tempted to show them favoritism), and 2) they must have their own transportation (to protect against him being tempted romantically in the course of giving them rides home). Ben paid the girls minimum wage plus free soft drinks, and he expected them to love Mad Lee madly and read to him and play with him and show him what girls liked in their men.

And if they wanted to bring along their boyfriends to play ballgames with the growing boy, that was fine as long as the boyfriends never went inside the house at the same time as the girls (to protect against carnal knowledge). Thus did Mad grow up with a father who returned home from campus promptly by 5:15 each day and, if light permitted, threw and hit the baseball with him to the point of joyous exhaustion. After ball each night, Ben put together a nutritious but exceedingly simple bachelor’s dinner, during which he told Mad stories from the only sources he knew intimately: the history books. By age 9, Mad knew more of Presidents Jefferson and Madison—and of William the Conqueror and Martin Luther and Joan of Arc—than most high school graduates. That was Mad’s childhood: baseball and history lessons with a kindly but semi-clueless dad, and doting female day-sitters at home (all day before he was school age, or after school once he was old enough for classes). And every summer he would visit Daddy Lee in the Shenandoah for a month and help him gallivant after chic-naughty-cultured wannabe step-grandmoms whom Daddy Lee kept in endless and rapidly revolving supply.

At school Mad seemed effortlessly clever, effortlessly blonde-haired, blue-eyed popular, effortlessly good at baseball (and at most other sports when he tried them), and studiously wry and laconic. He was the kind of boy whom all his schoolmates admired, the kind so easily accepted that he developed no sharp edges. Giving no offense, he made no enemies. Making no enemies, he was the kind of boy whose friendship everyone else coveted, and whose favor everybody else, in their own minds, assumed they had earned. He was not his own tabula rasa, but everyone else’s—and in his effortlessly popular way, Mad let everyone else imagine him to be whomever they wanted him to be.

Teachers, too, seemed to admire him—although two of the more observant of them, one in kindergarten and one in third grade, mentioned to Ben that Mad skated along with so little apparent effort that he seemed to lack some emotional depth. The few setbacks Mad did experience, the teachers noted, he seemed to ignore with an odd detachment.

“That’s my boy!” Ben would answer them, proudly. “Won’t let anything get him down. Sounds like a winner to me!”

And then Ben would wander off, distractedly, as if the conversation were over.

The boy grew tall for his age, and by 11, he respectfully told Ben he didn’t need sitters after school any more—to which Ben, again distractedly, replied that he’d cut Mad loose on Mad’s 13th birthday.

“But Dad, I’m tired of having these college chicks tell me I’m ‘such a cute little boy,’” Mad said—to which Ben responded with a seemingly pointless story culled from the history books about a French dauphin with a retinue of comely governesses.


                              *                                  *                                  *


In his hospital room, Mad buzzed the nurse—yet a third one, just come for the beginning of her shift—and pleasantly asked for a whole pad of paper and a ballpoint pen to replace his purple marker.

“Really, I’m not gonna stab myself with a pen,” he said to her, winking. “I just want to write you a love letter, that’s all.”

The nurse, fighting off a strange tingling sensation near her navel, crossed off the “Possibly Suicidal” notation that some doctor had written on Mad’s chart and complied with his requests before scurrying back to the nurses’ station.

Mad re-copied, word for word, his 12 so-called “theses” (still with extra size and emphasis on “God is a jerk!”), and then added in his usual neat handwriting:


  1. Because God is a jerk, mankind cannot count on God for comfort during this life.


  1. Therefore, men and women must rely on other men and women for comfort on earth. (For what it’s worth, safe sex can be heap big comfort.)


And then Mad lay back down and thought about a particular day when he was just beginning seventh grade…



Click here to buy your copy of Mad Jones, Heretic and continue reading this unique adventure.