A Brief History of Mother’s Day Drawings – 2020 Edition

There’s only one compulsory gift I give to my wife, and this is it. Thankfully, I only have to do it every 3-4 years, on Mother’s Day.

I don’t know why she likes it so much. If I was married to me, I’d be sick of my art by now, but so long as she continues to love these “couch drawings,” I’ll continue to do them.

If she had her way, I’d do one every year, but the trick for me is to wait long enough that we have gone through some significant changes and I can represent that change in some way through the drawing. Otherwise, what’s the point?

What follows is a brief history of Mother’s Day drawings, going all the way back to 2007, and concluding with this year’s latest.

For the curious, though the drawings have changed, the method for creating them has remained the same: a rough pencil drawing turned into a more fleshed out pencil drawing, followed by an ink drawing done using a lightbox on smooth Bristol board. I use Microns: 005, 01, 05, 08, and 1. That ink drawing is then scanned in, brought into Photoshop, cleaned up, and colored in three layers: flats, shadows, and highlights. I’m not really much of a colorist, really. I have one method and I stick to it.

* * *

2007:

MothersDay2007

Full disclosure: this drawing makes me cringe. Literally, the only thing I think I pulled off well was my own face. Everything else is garbage. My opinion.

Subsequent Mother’s Day drawings would stick to a “sitting on the couch” theme (my wife calls them “couch drawings”), but with this first one I didn’t have anything like that in mind. I just wanted to do a drawing of my family and I wanted it to be simple and I wanted it to say something.

2007 was a rough, rough year for my little family. Cami, our youngest, was just 2-years-old. Very shortly after she was born in 2005, we discovered she had some severe physical and mental disabilities that, honestly, still do not feel totally real.

In 2007, Erin, my wife, was not okay. It would be another three years before she could totally accept Cami’s differences and in the meantime she filled her days with doctor visits, physical therapy sessions, trips to specialists in San Francisco, battles with the school district, and just trying to remain positive and healthy in the face of the realization of her greatest fear. We just wanted to know what was wrong with Cami. We wanted a diagnosis because the limbo of not knowing is a true, ugly, tear-filled Hell. We never got that diagnosis, and it took a long time to come to terms with that. This drawing was made when we were still in the thick of the pain.

I drew us happy and smiling. I drew Erin and I protecting and encircling our two girls. Our world was small at the time, and intentionally so. The more we kept to ourselves and away from the reminders of how different and disabled Cami was (i.e. all other typical children and their parents), the happier we were.

Cami did this thing back then where if you asked her how big she was, she’d raise her arms up high. Elora, our oldest, was an adorable, typical four-year-old with one killer dimple. Erin, apparently, had anime eyes. I had a big, floppy wave of hair. A lot of that would change.

2011:

MothersDay2011

This is a bit more like it. The first “couch drawing” came just after we had finally become the family we were supposed to be as Violet’s arrival that year opened up the world in a way we didn’t expect. Suddenly, the family and Erin’s attentions weren’t all about Cami anymore. This was needed. The hyper focus on Cami and her needs left little opportunity for Erin to actually be a mother like she wanted to be. Violet, a bright, sparkly breath of fresh air, gave Erin a chance to step back from Cami and get reconnected to her as a mom and not just as her doctor or therapist or teacher or lawyer or any other of the thousands of roles she was asked to play for Cami’s sake.

I decided to depict both Erin and Cami, 6,  as extremely happy. Cami had just gotten her haircut and donated her hair to charity, so she had this crazy cute short cut. In her hand is a duck toy she played with constantly… whose name I can’t remember now. Cami is a champion fidgeter and always needs something to whip back or forth or she’s just not happy.

Erin is holding Violet, 3 mo., who was basically a lump of smiley humanity at that point. She didn’t give me much to work with. I generally try to depict us in the actual clothes we wore at the time, but for some reason I chose to have Erin wear the shoes she was wearing when I first met her back in 1998. Somehow, I still remembered what they looked like.

Elora, 8, was big into peace signs at the time, and a fashion style we not-so-lovingly referred to as “hobo chic”. The child had nice clothes, but she refused to wear them in nice combinations. Since I was the artist, I chose to put her in the most fashionable outfit she had, but it certainly wasn’t how she always looked. Now, I kind of wish I had given her something a little more accurate and ratty.

As for me, I look way cooler than I actually did at the time. The frayed pants and sweet shoes are very true to the too-long pants and wife-selected shoes I wore at the time, but I hate, hate, hate clothes shopping. I generally hate all my clothes about two seconds after buying them. So, in this drawing I’m wearing a shirt I have never actually owned. But I thought it would be cool if I did, so…

2014:

MothersDay2014

Everything was going so well that year. In the time between this and the previous drawing, I’d been promoted to Art Director at work, Erin had started doing work as an on camera talent at the same company, we bought a new house, Elora was elected as Student Body President, Cami found a place to call just her own at the Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch, and Violet was Violet. And there’s no getting Violet down. Erin and I even got the chance to vacation in Europe, a first visit for both of us. It was an incredible time.

I let Elora, 11, choose her own outfit for the drawing. It’s hard to tell, but her shirt depicts a dog riding a surfboard. It was her favorite. I have no idea why. She was also really into fluffy skirts and tutus at the time.

Cami, 9, experienced a serious growth spurt since the last drawing, and now her fidget toy of choice was a little Brobee (from Yo Gabba Gabba) doll. Her shirt shows off her newfound love of horses after her first year as a regular rider at Heart of the Horse.

I don’t know why I never thought to put our pets into the drawing before now, but I went for it this year. Oz, our dog on the couch, will never stop licking. He’s gross. On the floor, Batman the dog chases King George the cat–a daily occurrence.

Erin is wearing my favorite t-shirt of hers and a necklace with the first letter of each of our kids’ names on it. The necklace is tiny, but if you zoom in you can actually see it. Even though she was working part-time for the first time since Elora was born, she’d really come into her own as a mom and the pains and trials of yesteryear had developed into a strength. She’s an amazing woman.

Once again, save for the pants and shoes, I’m not actually wearing what I wore at the time. Also, I lost a lot of hair between the last drawing and this one, so I pushed my hairline back a bit and shortened it. I’ve also got a bit more going on in the chin–as in, I’m doubling it up a bit. Just a bit though.

Violet was a crazy person two years ago. Still is. She’s a spunky little thing and climbing around on the couch like a little gremlin absolutely fit her.

2016:

MothersDay2016

Hoo-boy. Shortly after the last drawing our world blew up. My wife and I both lost our jobs within 24 hours of each other and this captures us as we were rebuilding our careers and trying to stay afloat financially. It was a struggle that continued long past when the drawing was completed, and even continues to one degree or another today.

This couch is crowded, and that’s even after having taken the dog down from off it from last time. I’ve drawn us more closely together, like we’re circling the wagons a little bit. We endure our challenges and trials together.

Elora, 13, was quite the poised young woman then, and I needed to find some way to represent that, so I gave her a regal pose. She was only an inch shorter than Erin in 2016, and I think you can pretty much tell that just from this drawing. Once again, she picked out her own outfit.

Cami, 11, I chose to keep largely the same, save for a little weight gain. Cami looks like she’s five or six years old. She’s a bit perpetually frozen in time. Her shirt reads “Team Happy” and that’s the effect Cami has on people, and certainly on us. The previous Fall, she donated her hair again, so she’s back to the short hair.

Our pets, after several accidents, were no longer allowed on the couch, so they’re all stuck on the floor. Oz is particularly saddened by this.

Erin has returned to school that year to get her Master’s Degree in Communication. She’s our professional, so now she gets a dark, professional look (this drawing is darker overall, which I think fits with how beaten up we all feel at this point). At her feet is her book bag. Also, after having drawn it on the wrong side for the past two drawings, I finally got the part in her hair going the right way.

I’m dressed like an 8th Grade boy, which is accurate to how I dressed then as I fulfilled my role as a stay-at-home dad and worked on various projects. The hat I wear has the Tremendum Pictures logo on it, where I worked (mostly at home) at the time as a writer (among other things). My shirt is actually a real shirt, one of very few I enjoy wearing. I don’t really care that it says Batman, I just like the fit. My shoes, you’ll notice, are the same from last time. My wardrobe was deteriorating at time because of both my hate for clothes shopping and our financial challenges. Also, you can barely tell in the drawing, but my temples are now gray.

Violet, 5, was just OBSESSED with Star Wars that year, and particularly with Rey. The costume she’s wearing was real and she wore it all the time, and she had the light saber, too. Still does, in fact. Her enthusiasm was adorable. The Star Wars fever extended to Cami as well. They’re the only movies she would ask for and her new fidget toy is a little Stormtrooper.

2020:

MDay2020Smaller

It’s a good thing I drew this before the COVID-19 pandemic, otherwise we might all be wearing masks.

This is the drawing I gave Erin today. This is certainly the BUSIEST drawing I’ve ever done in this series. And for good reason. The last four years have been, hands down, the busiest time of our lives (which is weird to say on Day 57 of quarantine). We have been running far, far away from our lives before the job loss and into something much more rewarding, but also scary. It’s a scary time in more ways than one.

Right off the top, I know what you’re thinking: the color of the couch is different. Okay, so you probably didn’t notice, but we finally switched up our real life couch color, and this reflects that.

Elora is a 17 year old Senior now, class of COVID-19. She dyes her hair black as night these days, and her wardrobe has changed to match. Despite all that darkness, she’s actually a positive, acerbically witty, and athletic (Badminton) young woman who we are trying to convince to live with us as long as possible while she’s in college. Since no actual high school graduation looks to be in her future, she’ll have to settle with the cap I’ve given her here.

Cami, 15, is her usual cheery self. She has grown a bit in the last few years, and we’re not quite sure if she’s done. Now that she’s in high school, I’ve dressed her a little older and little more fashionable. Her see-saw between long hair and short hair continues, but truthfully the long hair is the most constant. Her fidget toy this time around is a silicon potholder, which has turned out to be the most durable and cheapest out of all such toys we’ve ever given her. So, she has a lot of them.

Erin did get that Master’s Degree and has been working as a college professor ever since, at one school or another. Her wardrobe is still professional, but it’s got a little bit more of a casual touch to it than last time, signaling how much comfortable she is with her profession and how much she’s settled in. She’s smarter now, too, with that fancy degree, so, glasses! Around her neck is special necklace with each of our names on one of the four sides. Not readable in this drawing, but she knows what it is. And her hair is now curly. Again, I think it’s reflective of her comfort level with herself and her new occupation; she feels free to play more. Erin is all about purses and shoes, and what you see here are her latest and most prized acquisitions.

I pretty much always dress in black these days because it’s slimming and dieting and I are enemies. My career has taken a much wilder path since 2016, doing a lot of my own things, creating and working in all kinds of media, now with Stellar Lense Productions for some of it, but also as a published author and writer and director of my own films. To reflect that autonomy, I wear no logos now. You’ll also notice I look just a little older as my baby face is finally starting to show some lines, and there’s not even a hint of hair anymore. Underneath that hat is nothing. Male pattern baldness for the win.

Violet is a 9 year old with style to spare, and she’s not afraid to show it. She is an incredibly sweet girl with so, so much energy, so it still didn’t feel right to have her sitting properly on the couch. Her best friend is our new dog, Baxter, who doesn’t understand boundaries.

Our other pets, amazingly, still live. Our little dogs are around a decade old. Oz pretty much lays around all day, but Batman still has the energy and youth of a puppy. I don’t understand it. King George, our cat, is striking his usual pose. He is 80% fur and doesn’t care what you think or do. The house is his.

* * *

I’m so grateful for my amazing wife and for this little family we’ve managed to create together. Giant, giant Happy Mother’s Day to all the women out there! You do a great work.

I get asked all the time what I charge for “couch drawings.” They’re labor intensive and  not cheap. I rarely draw anymore, to be honest, so I have no prices for you! I just don’t do this kind of work anymore. Sorry.

CONTRACT SIGNED: The Other Side of Fear Will Be Published This Year

I don’t understand how 15 years of heartache can be over just like that. When I signed the contract this morning, it was so simple. Almost anti-climactic. 15 years and with a few strokes of the keyboard and a click of the mouse, it was done.

To be fair, I spent about 8 of those 15 years completely ignoring this little book I’d written and all the disappointments that came with it. But. But, that’s all behind me now. Because Bullets and M&M’s aka Raised by a Dead Man aka A Suspicious Peace aka THE OTHER SIDE OF FEAR* will be finally be released this year by Cedar Fort Publishing.

“But Brock,” I hear you thinking (I have superpowers). “You’ve already had a book published, and don’t you have a graphic novel coming out in July?

First of all, thank you for paying such close attention. That’s really flattering. Second, yes, this is not my first go-round with publishing, but this book is different. This book is my baby.

This book is the reason I started writing in the first place.

I can remember it distinctly: I was 28 years old, I’d just vomited a series of blogs about my dad, and I got the clear impression: write the book. I had never written a book before. Never written anything close to that length, but I knew I was supposed to do it anyway. Write my father’s story; make sure he is remembered and get it published. I was so clear about my mandate and never doubted the book’s publication despite the fact I was a first-time author and literally teaching myself how to write properly over the next 5 years it took to craft the tale. I was naive, but driven.

So, after that effort crashed and burned, I was left confused and a little aimless, but mostly confused. Why would I be inspired to write a book no one would ever see? “For your kids!” my kind friends would tell me. “They have no money!” I would shout back.

I’m kidding. If anything has changed between 2012 and now, it’s that I don’t really care about the money (shh. don’t tell the publisher), I just want to get the story out there for the same reason I felt compelled to write it in the first place:

I think it can help people. It has helped people already.

Cedar Fort is a fantastic publisher that’s been around for over 30 years. They are a big player in the Latter-Day Saint market, putting out around 150 books a year. Among them, they’ve put out memoir titles like More Than the Tattooed Mormon, Left Standing, and We Are All Paralyzed. They also have made great strides in mainstream publishing, even expanding their reach into multimedia to include movies, music, audiobooks, etc. Could we see The Other Side of Fear turned into an audiobook? It’s possible!

This is a big swing from my original ambition. Originally, I sought mainstream publication and acceptance of the book because I really, genuinely thought a good story well written is a good story well written, no matter where it comes from. But that’s not really how publishing works. They need to market, first and foremost, and there’s no place in the mainstream publishing world for a spiritual coming-of-age memoir with good parenting that doesn’t end with the author turning their back on their religion. There just isn’t. A hard lesson well learned.

If I had to guess, I’d say I had to wait this long to sign with Cedar Fort to shake my personal tree of knowledge properly and appreciate and be worthy of the market that’s been under my nose the entire time. There’s some amazing work being done in the faith world, and Cedar Fort publishes some of the best of it.

It’s a real full circle moment. I’ve got a connection to Cedar Fort I don’t think they’re even aware of. The first book they ever published was a collection of near death experiences called Beyond the Veil by Lee Nelson. My dad collected books like that, and my mom read that one as well. In fact, Mom was so inspired by the book she wrote Lee Nelson a letter all about my father’s 1989 shooting and how he would have died that night but for divine intervention.

Lee Nelson was so taken with my mom’s letter he asked for her permission to print it in the second volume of the series. And, lo and behold, there’s my mom in Beyond the Veil, Vol. 2, telling the story of my dad’s shooting 30 years before Cedar Fort publishes my version.

There’s so much to do next. Getting the right title and the right cover art designed is way up there on the list. Those two things alone can make or break a publication. There’s also more revisions to do on the manuscript now that Cedar Fort’s editors will have a crack at it (thankfully, I actually enjoy rewriting). Marketing plans will be crafted, a website will be updated/designed, and endorsements will be sought.

All of that is ahead. To those of you who took the time to read the chapters and offer your insight and stories of how it impacted you before I took it down off the web, I thank you. You’re a big part of why I had the confidence to risk putting this book out there…one more time. And here we are!

*It’s possible I’ll need to add another “aka” as Cedar Fort reserves the right to change the title yet again to something more palatable to the market. I’m certainly pulling for The Other Side of Fear, but if I’ve learned anything over the past 15 years it’s this: I know nothing. 

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

What I’m Listening to #intimeslikethese

I swear if I see one more commercial that starts with some somber woman intoning the words “In difficult times like these…” I think I might pop. This is a time in which we are all seeking comfort, but I don’t look for or need it from a Subaru advertisement. God help me if I ever do.

Where I actually find a lot of solace is in things like prayer and family. And music. Music is big for me. I have no actual talent in the creation or performance of music whatsoever, so the listening of it is something I do purely for pleasure, not for examination or study.

I recently came to the conclusion that the song No Hard Feelings by The Avett Brothers (see below to listen) is perhaps the most beautiful song released in the last couple decades or so. (Argue with me if you want, but that just means you haven’t heard it.)  It’s a song that didn’t strike me immediately on first listen, but my appreciation of it has grown and grown over the years. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with the lyrical content, which (to me) is about the relief waiting for us in the next life when old hurts and regrets are wiped away and we are reunited with our loved ones and our Savior, with whom we will “shake hands laughing.” It’s just gorgeous.

My cousin Carly added the song to her “Being Held” playlist, the idea of which I quite like. There is a need to reach beyond this virus and all the turmoil it’s causing in our hearts and in our streets and in our hospitals. I think we’d all like to “be held” right now. And, as a person of faith, I’d like God to do the holding. Metaphorically speaking, I believe He is, and a playlist that reminds me He is there and always present is a good thing.

So, here’s my “Being Held” playlist. All of these songs are either about God or make me think of Him. They may not have been intended as such, but that’s what they are to me. And, when it comes to music, I think what it means to me is the most important thing.

Maybe you’ll find a few gems in here that will help you, too.

(Note: If you build this for yourself, I recommend not hitting shuffle. I sequenced this sucker!)

  1. Slow Your Breath Down – Future of Forestry. A good reminder, especially #intimeslikethese.

2. No Hard Feelings – The Avett Brothers. Chills every time it reaches the climax.

3. This Road – Jars of Clay. You’re gonna see a lot of Jars of Clay on this list. This song is like a warm blanket.

4. Before You Were Young – Travis. Not hard to imagine who is singing this song.

5. Open Arms – Elbow. Makes me tear up. This is what I want God to say when I return home.

6. Hymn – Jars of Clay. “So melt my pride that I may in your house but live…”

7. Division – Moby. No lyrics, just a vibe.

8. Help Me – Johnny Cash. This is speaking to God from a desperate place. A prayer given by a man at the end of his life who has said a lot of them.

9. I Don’t Mind – Phantom Planet. Whatever the Lord needs to inflict upon me, I’ll take it because I know it’s worth it. I don’t mind.

10. Oh My God – Jars of Clay. Now, in almost every instance I view exclaiming “Oh my God” as using the Lord’s name in vain. This is Jars of Clay crafting an entire song around the idea that there actually is a circumstance in which using that phrase is appropriate. What they come up with is absolutely devastating. This lays me flat every time, and it’s in my personal Top 3 favorite songs.

11. I’ve Been High – R.E.M. This always, always lifts me up.

12. Let Your Heart Hold Fast – Fort Atlantic. “For this soon shall pass like the high tide takes the sand…”

13. Morning Light – The Hunts. This song, sadly, is not available on YouTube, and is even difficult to find commercially. It’s worth tracking down though, believe me. A sweet song about turning the “darkest night into the morning light.” (A huge theme in a lot of my writing.)

14. Worlds Apart (Live) – Jars of Clay. A plea to God to “take my world apart,” which is a good thing to do when your world is bad. (Find the live version off their “Furthermore” album, if you can.)

15. Outro – M83. I think it’s a synth, but I wish the organs in our churches sound like this.

16. Bathed in Sunlight – Fort Atlantic. Wouldn’t we all like to be? Even I, who prefers dark rooms to the outdoors, want that sunlight.

17. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing – Jars of Clay. Probably my favorite hymn, and this is the best rendition of it.

18. Til Kingdom Come – Coldplay. Coldplay actually did a straight up, no-holds-barred Christian song, and I feel like people forgot about it. More overt than anything U2 ever put out.

19. On the Nature of Daylight – Max Richter. No lyrics, but the feeling this song evokes is extraordinary. I find myself thinking in cycles, life and death, that sort of thing. I think about God.

That’s it, those are the songs I’m drawing the most comfort from right now. Anything you would add to it? What are you listening to that’s bringing you to a better place?

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Is the Hunt for Publication Already Over?

Over that past month I’ve been submitting The Other Side of Fear like crazy, and I think I might be done. I’ve sent either a query, sample chapters, or the full manuscript (or some combination of all three) out to 17 literary agents and 2 publishing houses. I’ve heard back from two agents so far. Both rejected the book, though one of them did forgo the traditional form letter to send me a nice, brief personal note about how much she admires the project but doesn’t feel she’s a good fit for it. Fair enough.

That doesn’t answer the question implied in the first sentence of this blog. Namely, why am considering quitting the hunt? I’ll get to that.

If you’re like me 11 years ago, you stumbled on that word “query” above. It’s short for “query letter,” and it’s the most basic document an author sends out when submitting. It’s a pitch, both of your book and, a little bit, yourself. It’s maybe the most difficult three or four paragraphs an author will ever write because it has to do so much in such a small amount of space. Agents and publishers receive hundreds, sometimes thousands of query letters every year, and there’s lots of ways to do them incorrectly. You both want to follow the expected format and convey the right information, and also stand out from the pack. It’s not easy. It really is a horrible piece of writing I loathe and hope to never write again.

When I first started this process, it was helpful to me to see what other authors had written as their query letters. In the spirt of that, here’s what I’ve been sending out (though I will modify it here and there, depending on who I’m sending it to):

 

Dear Mr. Agentman,

After my father is shot twelve times in an armed robbery and survives, I begin a journey of self-discovery and questioning of my faith that brings an unwanted, angry tension to our relationship. Eight years later, Dad is brutally gunned down again—this time with fatal results—and my world goes spinning.

There’s only one word to describe your dad getting shot a dozen times: cool. I was twelve. The cost of terrible violence was more than just unknown to me—it was negligible. I never doubted Dad would live. He could put footballs into orbit, just like Superman. Only good things came from the shooting: my sixth grade popularity profile went way up and, bonus, my family got on national television. William Shatner said Dad’s name! That was the peak. The comedown was finding out Dad was human after all—fallible. He saw the world simply. Matters of faith were matters of fact to him. It frustrated us both that I so desperately sought a deeper, seemingly elusive understanding of things. Then, when I was nineteen, Dad was killed in another shooting and I started an investigation into who he really was and what he was all about. I’ve never been as distraught or learned so much in such a short period of time as I did during the week that followed.

My book, THE OTHER SIDE OF FEAR: A COMING-OF-AGE STORY BETWEEN TWO SHOOTINGS, is an uplifting personal memoir about forgiveness, the challenges of faith, and how losing a parent can, in fact, be a very good thing.

If you are interested, I’d love to send you the completed 88,000 word manuscript. I’m a former Art Director, the writer and illustrator of the YA novel “Paper Bag Mask”, the creator of the comic “The SuperFogeys”, and the award-winning filmmaker behind the short film “The Shift”, now streaming at VidAngel.com. I live with my wife and three daughters in California. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Brock Heasley

 

It’s not terrible, is it? It doesn’t seem like much now, but man did a lot of work and revision go into it. And every time I hit “send” on an email and put it out into the digital ether? A heart-stopping moment. Every time. (That’s also about when I would second guess literally every single word in the email, but let’s not get into those neurotic weeds.)

I would be very happy to never send that letter again, and the thing is…I kind of think I’m never going to. Because, yesterday, I got another email back from one of the people I’d submitted to. It was a brief email. I knew immediately it was another rejection. The brief ones always are, and I’ve gotten so many I’m just numb to them. I feel no anticipation whatsoever, no thought at all that the letter back with be anything other than a rejection, so what’s to get worked up about?

Like I said, it was a short letter.

But (and you’re ahead of me here by this point), it wasn’t a rejection at all. It was an offer of publication. One of the two publishing houses I’d submitted to got back to me and they “love” the book and would like to publish it. It was that simple. A short email, giving me one of the greatest bits of news I’d heard in quite some time.

I spent a year getting to this point the last time I shopped this book, all those years ago. This time, it only took a month. I didn’t see that coming.

Now, there is a big difference between this time and last time. Normally, publishing houses are not places authors have access to. You need an agent to even approach the larger publishers, but for smaller and more niche publishers you just need a great, marketable story. The two houses I submitted to were chosen carefully. Both of them cater to the exact audience I think would really come out and support this book, and both of them have a long history of success.

The one who wants to publish the book? The very first submission I made this year.

I’m purposefully not telling you the name of the publisher. You might know it, you might not, but I’ll only feel comfortable sharing it once the dotted line is signed. There’s still a lot to figure out. There is the matter of what the contract looks like, of course, but also all those agents and the other publishing house I haven’t heard back from. It is customary to give notice of an offer to give everyone a chance to put the submission on the top of the pile and determine whether they’d like to pursue it or not. After a short period, I’ll close the window and make a decision.

In the meantime, I’m excited to talk to the interested publisher and find out more about what they see for The Other Side of Fear and what our agreement looks like. That’s the next step for them. The next step for everyone else is just to wait and see what happens.

But, barring some massive issue I don’t see coming, The Other Side of Fear will be published. How about that?

Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

How We Did Prom While in Quarantine

I just had to share this. Thanks to COVID-19 and sheltering, my daughter’s Prom was cancelled along with every other Senior’s Prom in the country. Sensing a need, John Krasinski, through the power of his excellent new YouTube show, Some Good News, provided a virtual Prom with performers like Billie Eilish and the Jonas Brothers. It was pretty freakin’ fantastic.

Here’s a little video I put together of what the experience looked like in our house. (And credit where it’s due: my wife is pretty much responsible for all of this. I hung the lights. That’s it.)

What’s not included in that video is the 2 hours of dancing we did after the show was over. We just didn’t want the night to end.

Huge thanks to our friend Megan who made the corsage at a moment’s notice with whatever she could find around the house and some succulents from our friend Kristie’s yard, and to Katie, Elora’s friend, who lent her the dress (and then just gave it to her when she saw how well it fit)!

The next day, Krasinski put some clips from our experience into Some Good News Episode 4! We show up at 16:15 and 17:53. It was an honor to be included. This show is putting some real positivity out into the world, proving that good news can be incredibly entertaining.

It was an awesome night and far, far more memorable than any traditional Prom would have been. We’ll never forget it.

(Also, given the millions of people who witnessed it, I think this means my daughter has officially been crowned the Prom Queen of the World.)

 

The Hunt for Publication

It takes a certain kind of guts to dive into waters full of teeth-baring sharks with a taste for blood. To dive back in for a second time after you’ve already been chewed up and spit out? Well, that’s just  masochism. You probably don’t have me figured for a masochist, but I do love to prove people wrong.

I’ve written about this before, but to recap: I full-on signed with a pretty terrific literary agent to represent Raised by a Dead Man, got the book in front of the very best editors at the very best publishing houses, and got so, so rejected.

Okay, I exaggerate. A little. I got some really lovely notes from some of those editors, a few of them even speaking with some passion for the story and the way I’d written it, noting things like the balance between humor and seriousness, the honest take on faith, and the self-deprecating voice. To have the book understood and appreciated at that level was its own reward, for sure. The negatives leveled against it had mostly to do with trying to figure out how to place the book within the marketplace, and the quality of writing being not quite what it should be.*

*This was all eight years ago. Having now given the book a full rewrite as a better and more experienced writer, I have to say I kind of get the criticisms about the writing. It wasn’t quite there.

So, to try again–to really start over at square one since my literary agent has long since moved on–is a daunting, punishing task. And I’m honestly just sidestepping the emotion of it all this time around. I have, as they say, become acquainted with grief.  Rejection and I are old friends by now. He stops by now and again, I let him in, he sits on my couch and downs a cold root beer, and then I see him on his way and promise my wife I’ll never let him in again. But, of course, I do.

Thankfully, I have my wife’s encouragement this time. She’s never stopped believing in this book, even when I did. If angels are real (and they totally are), they should take lessons from her. She’s a college professor; I bet it would be a pretty good class.

So, the hunt for publication has begun once again. The way it works is, you send out what are called “query” letters to potential agents, along with sample chapters and whatever else their guidelines ask for. The letter is designed to interest them in you and your book and make you both sound like the hottest thing since sliced bread was a hot new thing. (Egyptian times? I dunno.) It’s a piece of advertising, really, written by the author, i.e. a person who isn’t used to writing that sort of self-aggrandizing thing. Thankfully, I’ve gotten more comfortable with that part of the job in the intervening years.

I’m a little older, a little wiser this time around. For all the rejection I’ve received over my creative life, I’ve also experienced the incredible highs of acceptance. Some that are well known, some I can’t talk about yet. I pretty much roll with it either way and keep my expectations in check at this point. It’s healthier that way. I know that not trying is the only actual failure, and trying only to have failed is a step in the right direction (though maybe not towards the destination you thought you were heading).

As of this writing, The Other Side of Fear has been submitted to 7 new literary agents and has already received its first rejection! That deserves an exclamation point, believe me. Rejection is inevitable, and the first one means things are moving again. I’m excited.

I’ve also submitted the book to two smaller publishers. That’s a change from what I did eight years ago. Back then, I shot for the moon and only the moon. I still would like to hit the moon, but I don’t see failure in reaching the lower atmosphere anymore. I think TOSOF (as I needfully acronym it whenever I can) could find a good home at a smaller publisher. Or, at least, I want to be open that.

That’s what this is really about to me: being open to what the book needs to do and be. Because, years ago, I thought I knew. I thought I knew for sure. And I was wrong. But there’s one thing I’m still sure about: this books needs to exist and it needs to be out there.

I got an email on Sunday from Jean-David, a man in France I do not know who stumbled upon my comics a few weeks ago and then from there found the book chapters on this blog. He read them quickly, and then wrote me. Here’s part of what he said (quoted with permission):

I had read like the first three parts and was finding them beautifully written, with an earnest power of conviction and a show of faith that felt sincere yet non-ostentatious… I wanted to read this book to the end… [The rest of the book] lived up to the beginning. Again, it’s beautifully written, brave and bold but not overbearing, honest and true; it knows what to tell and how to tell it.

Jean-David then went on to tell me about a personal experience he’d had with losing some close friends, how reading the book helped him process some of the difficult thoughts and feelings he’s been dealing with ever since, and that the widow left behind by one of his friends happens to be able to read English. He asked my permission to share the book with her. Which I, of course, granted.

And that is why I’m trying again. Because I think there’s not only room in the world for a book like this, but there’s an actual need for it. I didn’t make up this story, it was given to me. And I feel a sense of responsibility about that. Jean-David is not alone in reinforcing that responsibility. There have been other, more private messages. People who have connected profoundly with my dad (and, I guess, me) and his story of simple faith, forgiveness, and steadfastness in times of trial.

One of the reasons this book failed to find publication the first time around is because it straddles the line between being a book for the faith crowd and being a book that can also appeal to the Barnes & Noble crowd. You’d think that would be a plus, but it turned out it wasn’t. The list of books put out by a publishing house is largely determined by what the marketing team thinks can sell, not by what an editor or publisher with vision wants to put out. Raised by a Dead Man occupied some nether space between audiences, so they didn’t know what do with it. With the rewrite and renaming to The Other Side of Fear*, I have admittedly tried to offer a bit of a corrective. Is it enough? I don’t know. I suppose I will find out.

*When I first wrote the book, I actually called it Bullets and M&M’s. Then, since no one liked that title, I changed it to Raised by a Dead Man. No one liked that title either, but by then they felt too sorry for me to say so. (Jerks.) For a little while, I called it A Suspicious Peace, but that was a title you literally have to couple with a yawn to get through, so it died a quick death. The book is now called The Other Side of Fear and consensus, finally, seems to be on my side. In total, that’s a 15 year journey. Maybe it was all for finally settling on the proper title so it can be properly appealing. Pretty long away around if you ask me.

Maybe you’d like to find out with me. I think I’d like to make this a more open process than I did the last time around. I want to write about the highs and lows of the road to publication for what I’m hoping will be my third book.* Some things I will not be able to share (like the specific responses of agents and editors) out of a sense of propriety on my part, but where I can or have permission (like with Jean-David), I will.

*My first other books are a YA novel called Paper Bag Mask and SuperFogeys Vol. 1: Inaction Heroes, a graphic novel. The stories of how those came about you can find elsewhere.

It’s a heckuva process. It took me a full year to secure a literary agent for Raised By a Dead Man. Will The Other Side of Fear take as long? Gosh, I hope not, but I’ve also made peace with the idea it may not find an agent at all. I figure that’s a much healthier place to be in, right? Let’s see how this goes, together.

Photo by Laura College on Unsplash