When Kirby Lee Davis wrote his book God’s Furry Angels, he shared it with a few friends and family members, then stashed it in limbo for almost two decades. Only when his job of 32 years disappeared did Davis dust off this tale of feline frolics, for 2015’s falling ax forced the nebbish novelist to face his broken dreams, alien perceptions, and other lurking skeletons. It was, as he shares here, “an incredible blessing,” one that spurred him to write a parallel novel, A Year in the Lives of God’s Furry Angels, which he calls a “companion book” to God’s Furry Angels. That puts Davis in the unique position of publishing two different novels on the same subject at the same time, both illustrated with his photographs.
Q: Has anyone else ever done that?
A: Not to my knowledge. To be honest, I didn’t set out to do that either. When I decided to self-publish, I wanted to give readers something extra to go with God’s Furry Angels. It all fell under that "value-added" concept the business world has long touted. So as I built godsfurryangels.com, I wrote a bunch of new tales and tidbits around events in my book. This material read so well together, I decided to publish it as a companion book.
Q: And you tied it all together with a nod to the Beatles.
Q: You didn’t even approach a publisher with these books. Why?
"I was 56 years old when I started down this path, with no job, living off savings and my retirement funds, and some hard, hard family concerns above it all."
A: I had tried the agent and slush-pile routine many times in the past, and I didn’t want to go through that again. The Christian fiction market is so small, it presents few opportunities, and many such publishers focus on end-times or other such stuff.
Q: Christian fiction? You don’t market these works that way.
A: Because I don’t see them that way. They’re written for a much broader audience.
Q: Really? With “God” in the title?
A: Both books are spiritual, I’ll grant that, but they’re not religious. A few of the characters are Christian, but that’s not uncommon in secular books, shows, or movies. God’s Furry Angels does not proselytize any particular faith or religion, and A Year in the Life pretty much follows that path until Christmas rolls around. But both books do share how God works in our world, that He has a plan for all living things. I suspect readers understand that from the beginning. Having “God” in the titles speaks volumes.
Q: You don’t think a secular publisher would be interested?
A: Oh, I’d like to believe so, but I didn’t want to go through that grind. The book industry is not in the best of health right now, and I didn’t know if any publisher would take a risk on my book, at least not until I proved its market existed. And I didn’t feel I had time to wait on them. I was 56 years old when I started down this path, with no job, living off savings and my retirement funds, and some hard, hard family concerns above it all.
Q: Such as?
A: Well, my mother had recently died after a long battle with dementia, and my father would soon follow her.
Q: That is tough, especially with all the rest.
A: It was heartbreaking, so much so, and yet an incredible blessing in its own way. I spent two months away from home that year, helping my dad in various ways. My old job wouldn’t have allowed that. And in the end, he didn’t wither away as mom had under that horrible disease. He didn’t suffer that long. So that was good. He is with mom again. But with all that going on, and me trying to make ends meet between odd jobs while I pursued this, I didn’t feel I could afford the luxury of patiently waiting on a publisher or agent deal that might never happen. I’d tried that before, for years and years. And in truth, I felt I could tackle this myself. I was led into this. From the moment my bosses informed me of my office closing, I heard God tell me to have no fear,
that this was my time to go forward and do what I'd always sought, to publish the books I'd written. I’d studied this over the years, you see, and had some firm ideas on how to make it work. And self-publishing seems appropriate in this day and age, when more than half of all books sold never see a store shelf.
Q: God told you this.
A: Yes. It makes sense. My newspaper career had taught me all the skills needed to produce a book. I had won awards for my writing, my editing, my graphic designs, my layouts. I had the computer software to tackle the job. I had plenty of outside eyes proofing what I did while I went over my work again and again and again. And in my business reporting, I'd seen how our economic times had changed. In earlier days you needed a publisher’s vast resources to print, distribute, and market books to our nation, much less the world. You needed a corporate titan to get the word out and keep your costs down, to polish your product, make it look professional, be affordable. But in this age of social media and print-on-demand, most of those resources are at everyone’s fingertips. Publishers still provide advantages of reputation and perceived quality – they open certain doors – but since they stopped marketing most works long ago, an author with the time and willingness to beat the bushes should be able to find an audience. And there’s always the chance a mainstream publisher will see that and come calling.
Q: Is that your dream?
A: Actually, I’m enjoying what I’m doing now. One of the biggest gripes I’ve heard from authors over the years was their lack of control over their covers, the layout, the print type, that sort of thing. That’s not an issue here.
Q: Everything’s gone your way?
A: I wouldn’t say that. God’s Furry Angels was delayed a year as I struggled to hire an illustrator. Several people considered working with me, but none stuck with it. Probably due to money; I probably didn’t offer enough.
Q: A publisher’s resources –
A: Would have solved that, yes. Had the publisher agreed with me to illustrate the book in the first place, which might never have happened. Illustrations raise costs so much, and decisions made by committee often end up rather general and generic.
Q: Illustrated novels are quite rare.
"With all that going on, and me trying to make ends meet between odd jobs while I pursued this, I didn’t feel I could afford the luxury of patiently waiting on a publisher or agent deal that might never happen."
A: But I always loved them, and I thought having fun cartoons or drawings might be the perfect way to reach wary readers or grab hesitant buyers. This problem actually created an opportunity for me, for as that one-year delay rolled over and no artist seemed interested, I started wondering if a photographer might be able to supply what I wanted. So I called a few I knew, and they all turned me down. One shutterbug threw it back in my face: “You say you’re a photographer,” he said, “why don’t you do it yourself?” And that’s when that proverbial light bulb lit up my head. So I spent several months shooting thousands of photographs until I had what I wanted… and then it got even more difficult.
Q: How so?
A: Well, I wanted to publish God’s Furry Angels as a color landscape hardcover. Few self-publishing firms handle such things, and when they do, it’s very, very difficult to keep such books affordable. I ended up laying out my novel four times before I hit a format I could get out at a price I thought choosy, tire-kicking readers might pay. Of course, I was only thinking of print at that time, but the dream of a color hardcover fell by the wayside, at least for now. I might come back to that coffee-table edition when God’s Furry Angels finds its market.
Q: You’re optimistic about that?
A: Of course! Why wouldn’t I be?
Q: You expect people will line up to buy a coming-of-age book about cats? From a cat’s viewpoint, no less?
A: You know, I run into such cynicism all the time. Once certain people hear the premise, they immediately pigeonhole God’s Furry Angels as a children’s book, something not worthy of serious thought. Some of my own family members even told me this. Such stereotyping doesn't deter me, since I believe in the book, and I’ve had many adults share how much they love it. You can read the early reviews to see what impact this book’s already had. But I don’t understand that preconceived negativity. People enjoy reading science-fiction tales through an extraterrestrial’s eyes, and fantasy books about ghosts and goblins and such stuff. How can those viewpoints be more accessible or believable than the thoughts of a cat or a bird or a worm? To me, they’re just as alien to this life we know.
Q: A Christian believing in alien life? Is that common?
A: It should be.
"Cats are perfect subjects for a book. They’re curious, stubborn, giving, selfish, impulsive, aggressive, cautious, loving, protective, predators – probably more like humans than any other creature on this planet."
"Let’s set aside the question of whether God Himself would be considered an alien... "
Q: How so?
A: One definition of alien life would be life occurring outside the earth, or originating off our planet. The Bible tells us how God created the heavens and the earth. Let’s set aside the question of whether God Himself would be considered an alien – for He’s not human, after all, and He didn’t originate on earth – and let’s ponder instead whether He’s planted life, much less intelligent life, in other places around the cosmos. Now the Bible tells us of angels and demons, i.e., one or more species God created that are almost certainly not human. And they’re in the heavens, potentially even outside the earth. Could they not by definition be examples of alien life – and intelligent life at that?
Q: Surely the cats you write of were not created off or outside the earth.
A: Only God could tell us that – not that it matters. To me, a cat’s thoughts, culture, attitudes, viewpoint, they would be just as alien to us as all those other examples would be. Flip that coin and you get my other argument: that cats are perfect subjects for a book. They’re curious, stubborn, giving, selfish, impulsive, aggressive, cautious, loving, protective, predators – probably more like humans than any other creature on this planet. Readers should be able to identify with them so very well!
Q: There’s certainly a large potential audience of cat lovers out there.
A: And many cat haters. Again, probably because cats are so much like us.
Q: Has that been your biggest problem – reaching that audience?
A: The biggest handicap is just getting the word out – and that often runs aground on that age-old stigma against self-published titles, especially among publications and reviewers. That bias may be well-earned, considering how many amateurish books have poured out of the print-on-demand marketplace. But a lot of quality efforts have emerged as well, worthy of consideration. One has to earn respect in this field, but I believe I can overcome that bias on a book-by-book or individual basis. I intend to.
Q: So a bookstore manager, librarian, newspaper reviewer, etc., they shouldn’t just dismiss you off-hand because you went outside the system and bought your way into the published world?
A: You say that as if it’s a bad thing, an ego move. Look – it's vital for the owner of any successful business to have skin in the game, right? And publishing books like this is a small business venture. The novels themselves may be art-works per se, but one goal in doing this is to make money, pure and simple. Sure, I want to reach people with these books – surprise them, charm them, make them laugh and think – but I also hope and pray to make a living doing this, and that means making money. I believe in this enough to sink my savings, my retirement, my very life, into making this work. It's a risk, I know. But it's been my dream and goal from as far back as I can remember. And if I don't believe in it, in myself, then how can I ask anyone else to?
Q: So it’s a business. What’s your business plan?
A: To publish one or two books a year, with all the marketing elbow grease I can supply, for as long as I can sustain this effort. I have several finished novels that I think can sell, and that others have read and liked.
Q: What’s the next one?
A: A slapstick comedy of errors on divorce. One that ends in tragedy and reflection. Poignant to the extreme.
Q: Interesting. How did that come about?
A: You haven’t asked me that yet about the current books.
Q: OK, I’ll bite. Where did the idea for God’s Furry Angels come from?
A: It was 20 years ago today, more or less, when I took my two young ones to see a new animated film. Can't remember what it was, to be honest with you, just that it left a bitter taste. We liked its premise, but I couldn't help wondering why Disney or Dreamworks or whoever it was, why they couldn't make a film like that without all the innuendo or flatulence jokes or other such things that I didn't think should be in supposedly family films. Why they couldn't make a movie like that from a Christian perspective. That's when my youngest
"I believe in this enough to sink my savings, my retirement, my very life, into making this work. It's a risk, I know. But it's been my dream and goal from as far back as I can remember. And if I don't believe in it, in myself, then how can I ask anyone else to?"
asked why I didn't write one myself. Indeed, she wanted to hear it now. Both of them were direct that way; got that from me, I guess. So right then, as I drove them home, I made up this story. They loved it but insisted I write it down, so over the next month or so I typed out God’s Furry Gifts. It was pretty much the book you see today, but for the name change.
Q: Why that?
A: For impact. The idea of furry angels appealed to me; I had never thought of that possibility before. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. You want your title to mystify and amuse your readers, spur their curiosity and interest. I thought this one did.
Q: So it is a children’s book?
A: No! Don’t adults go to see animated films?
Q: I wouldn’t know.
A: Then you’re missing out. And so are all those who turn away from God’s Furry Angels just because it has a cat on the cover.
Q: Is that why you designed that alternative back cover? So that bookstores could display its photo montage instead of the admittedly cute cat on the front?
A: No, I just liked using both, better than I did devoting the back to a brief sales pitch on what was admittedly a difficult book to describe. God’s Furry Angels bridges so many genres, from humor and action/adventure to relationships and fantasy and others in-between. But I did like the idea of bookstores having two different looks to present.
Q: You took a different tactic with A Year in the Life.
A: I liked that book having a wrap-around cover. It follows the theme of the original novel yet sets itself apart. And that one's more of a traditional book, with its photos used as chapter headers, more or less. God's Furry Angels employs its many images – 61 in all – to reach out and engage its audience. A Year in the Life focuses on the prose. But in all other ways it's quite experimental.
Q: They make an interesting couple.
A: I’m glad you think so! Now tell others that!