My life's ambition, part two...
There I was, not even 30 years old, yet stuck in a life crisis.
Let’s reset the stage for those who didn’t read the last blog (although I would recommend doing so). At age 4 or 5, or perhaps 6, or 7 – somewhere in there – I wrote my first book. Therein lay my dreams, my future: to establish myself as an author. Every yearning in my heart confirmed this.
At this young age I also accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. As I matured in this world and my understanding of the Bible, this faith came to define my life. Without it, I had no stories worth telling.
But as my education advanced, I reached a dead end in both my resources and imagination. Each time I tried to express my beliefs through my prose, I failed. My efforts meandered and stumbled to mindless, boring ends, my creative ideas proving faint copies of classics… limp echoes of other’s wisdom. I prayed for understanding, studied scripture, and looked for examples to follow, only to find myself little changed from where I started.
In simple truth, I had no idea what I was doing.
Now, as God’s timing flows, my United Methodist church chose this time to hold a weekend missionary conference. Listening to multiple presentations about ministry and serving the needy, I realized this work could provide the experiences I required. Such first-hand knowledge would surely help me put into words the challenges and rewards in our faith.
I faced one obstacle: volunteers on such trips had to pay their own way, and I had no available cash. Beyond that, my demanding newspaper job and growing family needs consumed any and all spare time I had to augment my income, much less make such a trip.
Pondering my options, I wondered if some area nonprofits might help cover my costs. Discussing this with my minister, he agreed to sign letters of appeal I’d penned proposing this venture to several area foundations. I hoped his endorsement would validate the request… but no, missionary work was not the kind of proposal these nonprofits supported. My appeals fell on deaf ears.
But this failure opened the door to another opportunity, as God’s planning often does in the face of my stubborn independence. Impressed by my letter and background, my minister shared his mutual love of science fiction and creative writing. When I confided my problems at planting my faith in my prose, he let me borrow works that accomplished just this goal: the Space Trilogy novels by C.S. Lewis and the Pendragon Cycle (then only three books) by Stephen R. Lawhead.
Absorbing these works changed everything. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet demonstrated how a Christian message could thrive within H.G. Wells-styled science fiction. Perelandra provided numerous examples of how to honestly present both sides when debating faith. That Hideous Strength extended that, examining magic, the supernatural, technology, and other timely concerns from a Christian perspective. Lawhead’s Taliesin, Merlin, and Arthur enhanced these lessons while injecting warfare, sexuality, and other difficult topics, all mastered in some of the most enchanting, poetic prose I have ever read.
Reading Lewis and Lawhead started me down the path I walk today. These works taught me not just how to present my faith and witness, but to do so from contrasting viewpoints, using worldly perceptions and aspects. These authors also demonstrated how to inject originality and life into well-covered situations and topics. I emerged from these lessons with a new purpose – to focus not on make-believe fantasy, but real life. A clear subject came almost instantly to mind – the Old Testament story of Jonah.
Having studied that era, I never understood how Jonah’s grand adventure remained relegated to a children’s tale. I determined then and there to present that epic in a historical context, just as Lawhead had done with the Arthurian legends. I wanted readers to see themselves within that world-changing journey, and give the challenge it posed all the respect and awe it deserved.
For two years I researched that time period, combing through countless books, compiling thousands of mimeographed excerpts and documents. I quarried library archives to read translated Assyrian tablets and markers, study Mesopotamian cultures, plot ancient world travel options, and grasp food, water, clothing, and other life-sustaining issues. I also mixed in numerous Bible analyses, never losing touch with the tale’s message. Through all that, my plans grew from one book to four, then five…
Edited and polished, after numerous proofreaders combed over my work, I finally reached the submission stage. And that, dear friends, I’ll take up in my next blog… which you’ll see any day now. I promise!