My life's ambition, part four... of faith, family, failure, and fiction...
Updated: Dec 28, 2019
There I was, a new century unfolding, and I deemed myself a total failure.
That had nothing to do with my writing ambitions, futile though they seemed after nearly two decades of getting not one book off the ground (except a world-ridiculed role-playing game… a subject for another day). When I led what I thought was a happy home, I had allowed my writing dreams to guide my education, ministry, and professional ambitions. But after my marriage collapsed, I rediscovered something I had taken for granted: that raising, providing for, and protecting my family underlined all my concepts of a successful life.
And I had failed.
I could see it no other way. As a Christian, God and faith came first, my family second, everyone else third. I came last. That’s the way it was supposed to be, and usually was. This was ever my daily goal. And yet I’d failed. Divorce and abandonment left no other interpretation.
I did not plunge into despair overnight. As my children first moved away, then entered their consuming teens, I had my faith to sustain me, friends and loved ones to encourage me, my work and hobbies to help occupy my mind and time. I clung to hopes that things would change and our ties would renew. I started playing the guitar, then writing songs, allowing my expressive side to live once more. But no healing came. Each year that crevasse grew older and wider, my friends and loved ones focused ever more on their own lives (and rightly so), my workload heightened, my burdens increased. The specter of Field of Dreams loomed ever larger.
How did I escape this sadness? In truth, I didn’t. Parental love, though lost, does not fade with time or distance; nor does unfulfilled longing. Indeed, only death quiets the faith and hope that sustains these flames, painful though they may be. These wounds ever haunt me, to the point where I wonder at times how to go on, or if I can. It seems impossible without God’s eternal, uplifting grace, though each day I reach a stronger affinity with Paul over the thorn God did not remove. For life goes ever on. We must adapt or die. God’s plan bid me wait for years on end. I committed myself to making sure I made all demands required of me, at times working two jobs, my workdays stretching to 14 hours or more. And when life couldn’t get worse, it did. My mom suffered strokes that led to dementia and death, a trial of years almost as heartbreaking as my silent separation from my children. A similar fate loomed for my father.
Through all that and more, my book plans lay on hold, lacking importance. Until November 2015, that is, when my employer of 32 years closed my newspaper office and erased my job.
I endured that announcement with relief, for as my boss apologized for what he had to do, I felt God’s presence and assurance. I could be at peace, for my time had come. I would take all I had learned and self-publish my books.
I did not revive my 20-year-old business plan (those of you who know not what I speak of should revisit my last blog). The rise of the internet, social media, and print on demand had changed the book publishing game, making my goal somewhat easier. My newspaper experience provided every skill needed to pull this off. I just had to pick a title I’d written over the last two decades (I had many to choose from) and find my way through the hard battle for product awareness and consumer desires.
It may surprise those who’ve read these blogs that The Prophet and the Dove was not my first choice. I considered it, to be sure, and one of my sisters urged it, but I worried that initial release would pigeonhole me as a Christian author, severely limiting my chance to reach nonbelievers. Since it kicked off the four-book Jonah Cycle, starting with that title also would delay my releasing broader-market novels – a key concern for a startup publisher.
Even with a polarizing word in its name, I felt a sweet little allegory penned for my daughters – God’s Furry Gifts, as it was first called – might have broader appeal. After all, attracting cat lovers would reach almost half the world. I also had high hopes for The Road to Renewal, a screwball comedy I’d written on faith, divorce, and sex. When a few nieces insisted GFG come first, I saw that as a sign from God and went along – although I felt the book needed illustrations to truly work.
You’ll find far more insight on all this in “The Interview,” a 2018 business-strategy article highlighting my website. These pull quotes provide a taste:
⚫️ "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."
⚫️ "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."
⚫️ "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."
⚫️ "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?"
That is not poetic hyperbole. My business plan put the hope of profitability several years into my future, when interested readers could select from a veritable fleet of my published works. Until then, I would draw from my savings, my retirement, and from whatever writing or communications jobs I could pick up.
That first year brought such disappointment. My renamed God’s Furry Angels didn’t get off the ground, waiting upon absent illustrations I deemed vital to its success. Every artist I approached either turned me down flat or failed to deliver anything useable. Apparently offering a couple thousand dollars or so for 20-some chapter-specific cartoons just didn’t motivate many people. My work efforts fared no better. As three prospective job offers fell away, I took a public relations post that did little more than teach me how not to do things. Worst of all, my father soon followed my mother into death. That struggle brought a sad finality to my life, taking out my last treasured support while seeming to close the door on my reconciliation. I could not explain why, and yet this rang true in my heart and haunted my dreams. I came to dread sleeping, which was naturally troubling as I could find no alternatives to that daily downtime.
Despite all this, the year 2016 also brought hope. A solution materialized for illustrating God’s Furry Angels, and another job opportunity came forward, one I could fulfill as an independent consultant. I spent the first half of 2017 establishing my PR capabilities while taking thousands of photos for my book, primarily of cats. When I felt comfortable with that inventory, I started plotting GFA’s design. I wanted a dream book my first time out – a hardcover landscape showpiece with beautiful color images augmenting my engaging text. Once I realized that would cost too much, I spent the last half of 2017 laying the book out again and again, striving for a distinctive, cost-effective solution.
Hopefully you’ve seen the end result – a square paperback with 67 black and white photos on glossy white paper, iconic and inexpensive, with an attractive cover and design. While I still hope for a future coffee-table book, this got the ball rolling, earning several five-star reviews in the process. Fast-forward through the value-added marketing effort that turned into A Year in the Lives of God’s Furry Angels, followed by The Road to Renewal, and you end up here, today, with the debut of The Prophet and the Dove. Hurray! Success on a personal scale, with sustained hopes for far more where it counts.
Now on to Book Two in The Jonah Cycle. Have a great day!