Today, 11 a.m.–noon, meet Yale law professor and bestselling author Stephen L. Carter (The Emperor of Ocean Park) at the HarperCollins booth (2038) as he signs galleys of his new thriller, The Church Builder (Zondervan, Oct.). But watch that signature: The Church Builder is the first book in a series of at least three Christian-themed thrillers to be written under his pseudonym, A.L. Shields. Carter says he created the pseudonym as a way of branding the series. “I knew it would take time—at least three books—to tell the story, so I decided to call it a series.”

In the book, he explains, protagonist Bethany Barclay is a smalltown lawyer who’s caught in a power struggle between the Wilderness and the Garden, organizations that have been competing for centuries. “This comes from the famous 17th-century essay by Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island and inventor of the concept of the separation between church and state. In it, the Garden was the place of faith, and the Wilderness was the faction who sees religion as superstition and wants to eradicate it.”

Aware of a long history of thrillers “where the religious faction are the bad guys and the religious folks are either conspiring or being conspired against,” Carter wanted to change that. “I wanted to write a story where the religious ones are the good guys and the conspirators are from the secular side. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but it’s sure a lot of fun to write about it in fiction!”

Carter points out that while he’s published 14 books, this is only his third BEA. “I’m looking forward to it because I really like meeting and talking to booksellers. Whenever I pass a bookstore, I have to go in and buy a book—it doesn’t matter if it’s an antiquarian bookstore, a big chain, an independent, or a specialty store. I know booksellers are struggling now, and it’s terrifying because it says something unsettling about the culture. I’ve written about the importance of physical books, what they symbolize. There’s a deep symbolic connection between books and the idea of democracy. So people who sell books are heroic.”