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Looking forward, pressing on, Grandma Moses, and more…

I remember being 12 years old, wondering about the far future – the distant year of 2000.

I did the mental math and thought “Wow, I’ll turn 32 that year.”

I wondered what I’d be doing at such a grownup age. Where would I live? What kind of job would I have? Would I be married and have kids by then?

The year I turned 12 was 1980. Seems like yesterday … and an entirely different lifetime. (Which are both true depending on how you look at it.)

It’s hard to believe the millennial milestone of 2000 A.D. is nearly 20 years behind us. My questions were, of course, answered and replaced by new ones. But there is a common thread connecting the dots in my personal timeline.

Writing and making art.

I’ve been drawing since I could hold a crayon. I learned to read from the same artform which taught me to draw: comic books.

By the time I was 12 I started writing and illustrating my own stories in spiral bound notebooks. This went on for awhile until I began to drift through my teenage years and then into my “adult” life.

I don’t know precisely why I steered away from an art career. I suspect there were many reasons. But even though I chose a profession more defined by science than art, the need to create just would not let me go.

I enlisted in the Navy for four years. Kept journals during that time, which have drawings in the margins, strange little poems, and other such scribblings.

After my enlistment, I went to college courtesy the GI Bill and money I’d saved. I would write short stories throughout my college years. Start on one novel after the next without ever finishing any of them.

After a while I began to submit my short work to various magazines. I gathered quite a few rejection slips, some however were more than simply form rejections.

Around the late 90s I was still getting rejected, but with little doses of encouragement such as:

“While we really liked this, it isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now…”

“Nice piece of contemporary fantasy, but we have to pass … We look forward to more submissions from you in the future.”

“I gave this to our senior editor, who made the markups. We decided not to publish, but your writing is really good.  You might try submitting to …”

And so on.

Then the year 2000 finally arrived. I was working as a pharmaceutical Chemist and engaged to a wonderful young woman who married me in August of that year.

A few years later our first child was born. I didn’t have much time for art or writing, but it’s not a switch you can turn off. I would paint when I could. Mostly just small projects for my wife or things for my son’s bedroom. Happy times.

In 2005 our second child was born. Around the same time I noticed the local paper was having a short fiction contest. In the middle of a very busy life, I made the decision to enter. First place was $250.

Call it a fleece set before God or whatever, but I went in with one purpose. So I prayed very specifically:

“God, I don’t need the money. I’ll give away anything I win. I just want to know if I’m any good. Should I give up, or do you want me to pursue this desire in my heart? Just let me place in the top three if I should keep writing.”

Shortly thereafter, while driving home from work, I saw in my mind’s eye a brass lock. I recognized it as the type I used to secure my Navy sea bag.  “What’s that for?” I asked out loud.

Immediately God spoke straight to my heart, “It’s for your story.” (If you’ve never experienced this, I encourage you to lean in and listen. If you have, then you know how loud an inaudible voice can be.)

I took that lock and ran with it.  Spent a whole lot of time writing my next three thousand words. The result was a story titled “A Key Turning”. I submitted my entry and waited.

About a month passed. Then one day after work my wife met me in our kitchen and handed me a note with a phone number. Nothing else.

“What’s this?” I asked.

She smiled. “Just tell them you’re returning their call.”

The guy answered by saying, “Albany Herald.” The name of the local newspaper.

Still a bit uncertain, I told him I was returning a call and gave him my name.

“Congratulations,” he said. “You won.”

Of course it clicked in my mind. But my heart still had one question; “What place?”

He laughed. “First. That was a really great story. Can I call you later for an interview?”

We set up a time, and he said, “Man, when I got to the last line I thought, ‘Now that’s gonna be hard to beat.’”

I finally had the validation I’d needed for so long.

I still have a few copies of that newspaper, along with the ‘fan’ mail that came in; a card from an old college professor, a letter from my former pastor, and some from friends in the church we attended.

The most amazing encouragement I got, however, was a simple verbal statement from my father-in-law, Jimmy.  After reading it he told me, “That’s what you need to be doing with your life.”

Still, there were bills to pay. And I gave the prize money away ─ all two hundred and fifty dollars!  So I couldn’t exactly quit the day job.

What I didn’t count on was the day job quitting me.

In the fall of that year, an announcement was made at work that five manufacturing facilities would be closing in about a year. Ours was one of them.

Within six months my family moved.

I took another Chemistry job, this time at a nuclear power plant. I kept writing, but getting settled and other issues were more pressing. Not to mention I still had to pay bills, and have always wanted to take care of my family. The greatest desire of my heart is to be a good provider.

But I never could shake the ever constant urge to create. So I picked up all the way back where I’d started. Comic books. I made two for my boys, letting them help me with the inking, colors, and storyline of the second one. It was a fun, fulfilling experience.

Even so, I knew there was a novel inside me that needed to come out. Plus, I finally knew the story I had to tell.

One of my favorite people in the Bible is Noah. I also believe he’s one of the most misunderstood. I wanted to take him out of the nursery and depict him for the courageous and complex man that he was. So I wrote “The Grace Finder Saga” and shopped it around.

More rejection.  This was around 2007-2008, and I was getting feedback like:

“Historical Christian Fiction is a hard market right now.”

“Only well known Christian authors, like Francine Rivers, can sell in this genre.”

Or the dreaded: “While I found the premise intriguing, the story just isn’t cinematic enough for today’s readers.”

After a while I gave up.  I was over forty and this dream just wasn’t going to come true.

Then two things happened that changed my life forever.

First, the movie “Noah” featuring Russell Crowe was released. I went to see it on the big screen.

And was sorely disappointed. (Spoiler Alert if you still haven’t seen it!)

I’ll keep my critique to a minimum. Suffice it to say that this version of Noah, as a man focused on the wrath and judgment of God to the point where he is willing to go after an infant (his own grandchild no less) intending to murder the baby with a knife, COMPLETELY MISSED the character of this compassionate, brave, and humble man. (Didn’t matter to me that he had a change of heart at the end. That whole approach just ruined it for me.)

No way was I not going to see my book published after watching that.

The second thing that happened was the death of my father-in-law. Jimmy was 69 when he passed away in late 2016.  I knew there were things he’d wanted to do. Probably lots he’d planned to see and accomplish. He worked hard his whole life, enjoyed only a few years of retirement, then died before he even saw seventy. It just wasn’t fair.

I dusted off my manuscript and gave it a good polish. Then decided to publish it myself, without waiting for anyone else to reject it or give me permission.

I looked into self publishing, learned the minimum I needed to know, then sent it out into the world.

It released to the sound of crickets.

But I resolved to never give up. Jimmy was too young to die (really, aren’t we all?).  I determined I could no longer afford to wait for my dreams to come true. I would, with the blessings and help of an Almighty God, MAKE them come true.

I took a marketing course, bought several books on the subject of self publishing, joined Facebook groups, listened to podcasts, and kept on writing!

That first book went live on Amazon by the end of 2016. So, on the surface it appears I’ve only been writing for a bit over 2 years. Which is more than a bit misleading.

I’ve been making up stories since I was a boy.  But it took me almost forty years to make my first novel available for the reading public. Why did it take me so long?

There’s lots of answers to that, many of them even good and reasonable. I’m just glad I finally did get my first book out there. But I almost didn’t go for it.

For a long time I let the circumstances of life, the powers that be (big publishing houses), and my own fear of failure hold me back.

Please don’t let that be the case for you.

If you have a creative endeavor you’ve been wanting to try, then go for it. Or maybe it’s a business idea, or a place you’ve always wanted to visit. Maybe there’s an old friend you want to see. Or a skill you want to learn.  Go. For. It.

And resist the temptation to use age as an excuse.  Folk artist Grandma Moses started painting at 78 and produced over 1500 canvasses during the next 30 years – an average of 50 paintings a year. (In 2006 her painting ‘Sugaring Off’ sold for $1.2 million.) Read the Wikipedia article about this inspiring woman here. And yeah, even she died too young at 101 years.

Oh, and about that first book of mine which launched to crickets. The series has surged in the past six months, earning more in that short time than it did during its first twenty months. That’s due to me learning to better market and find the right readers: which by definition are awesome, incredible people who leave reviews and tell other folks, adding to my progress in ways I could never accomplish alone.

In closing, I acknowledge the fact I may always need a “day job”. I also intend to keep writing. And looking forward to the day when I earn as much from my books as I do working for a company. Whether I make it to the top of that particular mountain or not, I’m still going to try.  And celebrate little victories along the way.

So tell me about it. What dreams are you getting ready to launch? Any bucket list items you’re gearing up to tackle this year? I’d love to hear about it, so drop me a line.

Peace,

John Stacy Worth