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

RBDM: Table of Contents (Limited Time Only)

UPDATED: The blogs containing the chapters have been removed, as promised, so the links below will not work. I leave this post up to preserve the reason for the removal at the end of it, and also for those curious about the book itself. Hopefully, I’ll bring the whole thing to you again one day, bright and shiny and new.

ORIGINAL POST:Below is a table of contents for all the chapters. If you haven’t finished yet, you should be able to find where you left off and pick it back up. I’ll leave all the chapters up for another week or so, but after that I think it’s better to take them down, including this post. If you’ve been reading along, I’d love to hear from you. Even if it’s just a “hi.” I miss contact with the world!

RBDM TABLE OF CONTENTS

Prologue – Ready: The funeral is over and it’s time to go to the cemetery, but before we get there my mother has a striking revelation to share.

I.

Ch. 1 – Shooting: Eight years earlier, two men burst into my father’s store and immediately begin shooting.

Ch. 2 – The Call: Alone and dying, my father desperately dials 911 to get some help.

Ch. 3 – Bullets: While my brothers and I dance in the living room, oblivious, my mother receives a mysterious phone call telling her to get to the hospital immediately. 

Ch. 4 – M&M’s: At the hospital, Mom crumbles and I get a whole bag of M&M’s all to myself.

Ch. 5 – Educated Guesses: My father is in critical condition and no one–not even the doctors–know if he’s going to survive. But I do.

Ch. 6 – Playing the Part: While dad struggles in the hospital, I head back to school to enjoy all the attention thrown my way.

Ch. 7 – A Suspicious Peace: Dad returns home from the hospital and I become a bullet wound cleaning expert.

Ch. 8 – Superdad: Months later, Dad is unstoppable, coaching little league, attending Sixth Grade Camp with me, and running down a guy who steals from him.

II.

Ch. 9 – The Wrong Side of Town: On the night before 7th Grade begins, a FBI sting operation gone wrong in our neighborhood prompts Dad to grab his gun and head out on his own to track the criminals down. 

Ch. 10 – A Friend in Need: When helping one friend comes at the expense of my relationship with another, I’m at a loss for what to do.

Ch. 11 – Fight: A friend turned enemy wants nothing more than to beat me to a bloody pulp. A school yard confrontation leads to big changes.

Ch. 12 – Hollywood: A reality show comes calling and Dad leaps at the chance to reenact his shooting for national television.

Ch. 13 – Talking to a Dead Man: The shooting reenactment airs on television and my eyes are opened to what Dad really went through in a whole new way.

Ch. 14 – Edited for Television: Dad’s rush to the hospital is depicted, and he talks about the shooting and what he was really afraid of in his own words.

Ch. 15 – How It Ends: How Dad knew he was going die young. Plus: The reenactment concludes with my national (embarrassing) debut.

III.

Ch. 16 – The Nerd Herd: A move across town means a new school and new friends. 

Ch. 17 – Breaching Brute Protocol: High School begins and I’m determined to make a new start, but the four bullies picking on me at once have other ideas.

Ch. 18 – Good Intentions: Sick of all the misinformation out there about my church, I’m determined to go to a friend’s church and correct her pastor. My parents have other ideas.

Ch. 19 – Sitting On a Chair with Wheels: Is God real? Is my church true? I honestly don’t know and it’s tearing me up inside. A caustic confrontation leads to Dad trying to talk me down.

Ch. 20 – Flood: Holed up in a church building late at night, my friends and I have no idea our entire town is flooding, threatening to trap us.

Ch. 21 – The Last Time: I finally get the answers I’ve been searching for, just in time for Dad and I to make peace and go on a road trip together.

IV.

Ch. 22 – Speaking in Tongues: My life as a missionary begins, but there’s a catch: I have to speak Spanish. I hate Spanish.

Ch. 23 – Bad News: Ten months into my mission, I receive a phone call from my grandfather with news I do not want. 

Ch. 24 – Faithless Prayers: While waiting for confirmation that I what I know in my gut is true, I pray.

Ch. 25 – Worse Than Death: How my father died and the devastating first few moments after I found out. 

Ch. 26 – To The Lord: The Mission President and his wife come to visit and console me. I’ve got a big decision to make about what to do next.

Ch. 27 – Being a Human Being: It’s the morning after and I want nothing more than to do the missionary work I’m supposed to do. But are my motives less than pure?

Ch. 28 – In the Absence of Kneeling Dragons: I return home from my mission many months early to a very different world.

Ch. 29 – The Shoulders: The house has been overrun with mourners, and I doubt very much all of them are there for the right reasons.

Ch. 30 – Speaker for the Dead: Mom has asked me to speak at Dad’s funeral, but I have no idea what to say. A forgotten recording reveals Dad’s feelings about the shooting in his own words and confuses me further as I wrestle with his contradictions.

Ch. 31 – The Eyes of a Dead Man: The day of the funeral has arrived and it’s my turn to speak.

Ch. 32 – Grounded: It’s Thanksgiving Day and I’m home. Should I stay home and not return to the mission?

Ch. 33 – Life After Death: It’s been a long week. Two moments stand out in particular, putting everything else into perspective.

Epilogue: Decades have passed. What happened to me? To my family? What’s the takeaway?

Why take it all down? Because:

I’m just going to do it. At the encouragement of my wife and a few of you, I’m changing the name of the book to The Other Side of Fear and I’m shopping it out…again. After 7 years.

RBDM CH 33E copy

The funny thing is that The Other Side of Fear is SUCH a better title and I don’t know why I never thought of it. That’s really what the book is about: what is on the other side of the worst thing thing you can imagine happening? This is such a theme in my life (and I’m sure many others). I have faced down my worst fears many times–literally the worst things I could think of–and you know what’s on other side of that? Peace. Quite honestly, it’s peace. The worst thing is never so bad as you imagine it to be, and you can never anticipate the ways you will grow and learn and change from those awful happenings. Calamity is how God operates on us. It’s how He fixes us into who we should be (but only if we allow it). And that’s a good thing. That’s what’s on the other side of fear: good things.

Maybe the syncing up of all this with the coronavirus is nothing, but it feels oddly right and clarifying. I’ve been in the house for two solid weeks now, and despite the occasional passing panic when I give into the temptation, I don’t really have any trouble centering myself. There’s a great freedom in knowing the universe will you up at any given moment and that you can take that beating and emerge victorious.

So, into the world this book goes once more. Maybe it will find a home, or maybe it won’t and I’ll get beat up again. Whatever happens, I’ve certainly got enough time on my hands to find out.

Never Give Up (Unless You Should)

Mike Wazowski
One of the best and most underrated Pixar movies is Monsters University. Though it’s often damned for leaving no cinematic college cliche stone unturned, it’s filled with solid jokes (“I can’t go back to jail!”) and features a subtle, devastating lesson that would be daring even if it wasn’t in a kids movie. But it is in a kids’ movie. And it’s amazing.
SPOILERS if you haven’t seen M.U.: Mike Wazowski is a young monster whose dream is to be, like his heroes, a scarer. The problem is that he is not scary. He’s funny and cute. Doesn’t matter that he’s the smartest and hardest working in class, he’s just never going to be able to achieve his dream because he’s not built for it. The point of this movie–the actual lesson at the end of all of Mike’s striving and years of dreaming–is that he has to give up his dream and move onto something else.
Now, I’m a dad so I feel like I can say this with confidence: giving up your dream is the literal opposite point of 98% of every other piece of kids’ entertainment out there. Usually, our kids are taught to NEVER give up. Keep going. Keep striving. Live your dream because dreams come true if you want it bad enough and put in the work.
We are told to dream big and never give up.
I’ve thought a lot about giving up . I think more than failure, I’m afraid of being like Mike Wazowski and being guilty of kidding myself. I’m afraid of people looking at me like, “Man, if only somebody would tell him it’s not gonna happen.” I’m afraid of failing and never stopping.
I know all the inspirational quotes about how the most successful people have also failed the most–Thomas Edison’s perspiration and all that. I’m not talking about sweaty Tommy Edison. I’m talking about all the other guys who also thought candles were old news that you don’t know about because lights belong in bulbs, not pineapples (or whatever they tried). I’m talking about all the guys (and gals) whose failures led to nothing.
* * *
I had no idea I enjoyed writing until I wrote my first blog at 28 years old. Five years later I wrote a memoir called Raised By a Dead Man: A Coming-of-Age Story Between Two Shootings about my relationship with my father and the two armed robberies at his store. I sent dozens of letters out to agents over a period of 9 months, received many, many rejections, and finally was fortunate enough to sign with a literary agent who believed in me. She was everything I wanted in an agent: attentive, smart, and had connections to all the best publishing houses. Mine was only the second book she ever pulled off the slush pile and chose to represent. Mine was also the first book she never sold. Raised By a Dead Man went to the top–to gatekeeping editors in big, fancy New York offices who repped Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and sucked down $500 scotch all day (I assume)–and they all rejected it. Some thought the writing not good enough (and they weren’t wrong–I’m much better now), but others raved about it. The big problem? They didn’t know how to sell it.
My agent, still believing in me, asked if I had any other ideas. I told her about another memoir I wanted to do, The Impossible Girl, a romance I pitched as a Romeo and Juliet story between a Mormon and a Protestant. She thought that sounded amazing and encouraged me to write it because it sounded more marketable. If I could sell it, then Raised would be more viable coming from an established author. I spent three long years writing the book and promptly handed it off to my agent once I felt it was worthy. She read it, was enthusiastic about my growth as a writer, and found the story fascinating. Also, it wasn’t quite what she was expecting. She had no idea how to sell it and didn’t see how it could possibly fit in any market, national or religious. I understood and set off to NOT write a wholly unique story no one wants to sell. Forget memoirs, I was gonna write a novel.
So, I wrote Paper Bag Mask, a YA  heist story that’s a bit like The Breakfast Club by way of Ocean’s 11. Seemed like the kind of story that would be pretty accessible and fun. When I brought it to my agent, she had to pass simply because she does not represent YA. I understood, we parted ways amicably, and I headed back to the trenches of emailing and querying potential agents. By then, 9 years had passed since I first decided to be an author.
14 months ago, the rejections began pouring in again. A couple of times, I got really close! There were agents who were incredibly enthusiastic about what I had done and the unique way I’d done it (three sections of the book feature sequential art)! But still I received no after no after no. Over 200 of them by the time I was ready to give it all up. Over 200 rejections on top of the (now) 10 years of rejection I’d already received.
I had to face facts: was I kidding myself? How long do you hold onto a dream before you realize it’s just not going to happen?
* * *
The most nuanced part of the lesson in Monsters University is this: our dreams should be focused on the things we can do. While it’s true that it’s possible to get really good at something (or luck into something) that you’re terrible at, it’s also true that we all have to face this one reality: we cannot be good at everything. It’s just not possible. So, if you can’t be good at everything, then you’ve got to get to terms with this other truth: the thing you want to be good at may not be the thing you CAN be good at. Anyone who has ever seen an episode of American Idol should be able to acknowledge this, but somehow people who can’t not sound like my garbage disposal keep coming back to audition anyway.
And, like the good-for-television-but-not-good-for-my-ears “singers” on American Idol, it’s possible there are people in your life who secretly think you should give up, but are afraid to tell you. Or, your own insecurity invents those people and you doubt yourself. Or, they are actually people in your life who tell you you’re terrible. Or, like me, failure after failure after failure has you doubting yourself. However you’re arriving at the secret suspicion that maybe you should stop dreaming so gosh darn big, the question comes down to the same thing: should you give up?
I don’t know. How could I? But you know who I think does know?
You.
The difference between failures that serve as track being laid down on the path of success and fooling yourself is in how honest with yourself you can be. It’s in your gut, in your soul. I believe we all know who who are and what are our capabilities. I’m not saying you know straight off, but it is discoverable. And when we make that discovery, that’s when either we back off that dream we’ve been holding onto, or we go all in. But knowing the either/or on that is entirely up to your capacity for self-awareness and truth. It’s not up to other people to confirm or deny it for us*, it’s up to us to discover and commit. One way or the other.
*Though they will try and they should not be dismissed out of hand–critique and feedback is part of the process of discovery.
How honest are you with yourself? And I don’t mean that in the way you’re prone to thinking about honesty, which is are you honest enough to know if you well and truly suck?  That’s only one side of it. The other side is being honest enough to say, “No, actually, I’m really good at this.” I don’t know about you, but that’s almost harder. It’s taken me a long time to get to a place where I’m comfortable enough to say with confidence, “I’m good at this, the world be damned.
I’ve know for awhile now I was going to be a writer. I didn’t know that was who I was until well after college, but it is who I am. I may have hard times and times of doubt and people telling me I suck, but deep in my gut, that’s what I know. I know that I not only love writing, but that I can do it. It’s not arrogance, it’s not fooling myself, it just is.
Paper Bag Mask will be published this Fall by Pen Name Publishing. Those 10 years–all that striving and failure–brought me to this major, major milestone. There will be more. My path to success is not complete, but I cannot help but be grateful and acknowledge that all my failures led to this successThere are many things I’m not good at, but:
I’m good at this. The world be damned.

BIG NEWS! Publishing Contract Signed!

Hey, it’s my author photo! (Yes, I like hats.)

Hey everybody, just wanted to share a quick bit of good news with you all… I just signed on the dotted line to have my first novel debut this Fall! It’s called Paper Bag Mask and I like to describe it as Ocean’s 11 with a heavy dose of John Hughes High School Movie (The Breakfast ClubFerris Bueller’s Day Off, etc.) You know I’ve been striving towards publication for several years now, and if you enjoy my writing (i.e. twisty plots, quirky characters, emotional resonance, fair bit of humor) I think you’ll find a lot to love in Paper Bag Mask.

The best part? I got away with injecting three sequential art sections into the narrative and the publisher is all for it! Trust me, they fit and they’re the best way to tell that particular part of the story. I can’t wait for you guys to see some of it! More soon…

How to Be a Jerk to a Person of Faith

“Grow up and end your magical thinking.” – Someone, some post every two weeks on my Facebook feed.

Disagreement is in the digital DNA and fiber optic bones of the internet. I’m fairly certain the original, Graham-Bellian creation myth of the internet’s inception involved Al Gore sending his friend Mr. Lee Jones a simple text message: “Tommy–come over here–I want to tell you all the ways you’re wrong.”

I mean, forget shouting fire in a movie theater. You want to really see people go nuts? Type “gun control” on Facebook.

You know all this because you are currently reading this on the internet and have ventured beyond the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic boards. You’re open to being challenged. Maybe you’re the kind of person who, when you hold up your phone or dare to crack open your laptop, you pretty much expect to be hit with a point of view that’s different from your own. Diametrically opposed, even. And you’re okay with that.

Mostly.

Sometimes, it’s hard. Sometimes, people aren’t expressing opinions so much as just being bigots, prejudicial, myopic, close-minded, or just downright jerks. When is an opinion not an opinion? When they’re being a jerk about it. When their opinion comes with a heaping helping of insult big enough to overwhelm whatever savory flavors their otherwise (I’m sure) cogent musings had to offer, the jerks no longer get to have their thoughts taken seriously. They’ve rendered them stupid.

Or you have. Or I have. It’s not like “jerk” is some subspecies. They are us.

I opened this blog with a quote that’s become all-too-familiar to me: Grow up and end your magical thinking. Roughly translated, it means: Stop believing in God you big baby who can’t handle the real world.

What is wrong with this? Well, my problem isn’t that someone doesn’t believe in God or thinks I shouldn’t. I may disagree with both of those positions, but I respect another’s right to feel, believe, and think differently than I do. In fact, having people with points of view different from my own is something I value (which is why I’m seeing so much of this in my Facebook feed in the first place–I cultivate diversity in my friendships, both IRL and online) You don’t believe in God? Okay, cool. That is completely irrelevant to me as to whether or not we can be friends or have association. What is important to me is this:

Are you a jerk?

Where “Grow up and end your magical thinking” goes wrong for me is that in its expression of an understandable, legitimate opinion (however much I disagree, denying the existence of God is a point of view that is not incomprehensible to me) it wades into the murky waters of insult by way of condescension and casual dismissiveness.

Grow up” suggests a certain amount of childishness; a clinging to apron strips because of an insecurity about the world and one’s place in it that can only be mollified by the idea of an all-powerful bearded dude who sits on a cloud made of tissues he uses to wipe away ignorant tears. “Grow up” equates God with an imaginary friend, and the believer with the toddler who bops around the living room talking to Clarence, the combo lion-poodle who knows how to rock a tea party. How is “Grow up” anything other than insulting? And why in the world would anyone of faith listen to someone for whom that is their baseline approach? Who could even get a fair shake in a conversation with a person who insists on infantilizing them for the great crime of thinking the universe is a little bigger than what they can see right in front of them?

“Magical thinking” suggests a wrongheadedness in one’s thought processes and perspective on the world. It is a cry in favor of science, obviously, but it also denigrates a worldview that essentially boils down to: current science doesn’t have an answer for everything.* Religion is an argument against arrogance. Reducing religion to “magical thinking” is a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of faith, just like “grow up” is a misunderstanding of its function. Most of the religious people I know don’t actually believe in the existence of magic. To equate someone’s sincere, reasoned beliefs with fantasy is… say it with me now… jerky. It is being a jerk.** And if you are being a jerk then I know–I know automatically–that you are the one speaking from a place of insecurity about the world and your place in it.

A confident person doesn’t feel the need to be a jerk. A confident person does not mock the thoughts and beliefs of others because a confident person is not easily threatened. Being a jerk is, always, a reactionary position; a defensive posture. A jerk wants you to know he thinks you’re stupid, and, if he can, make you feel stupid. You can’t destabilize a confident person because a confident person does not entertain the bad math that says they can only be sure if others are not. They are willing to embrace or at least hear out opposing views and learn from them because they understand the value of such views inspiring and challenging them. An insecure person is a destabilized person before they even get to you. They have already been threatened by someone or some idea or thought or action and then you come along with your opinions and your faith and your whatever and you bring it all back, all the bad they’re trying to hide. It comes back, right to the fore.

Basically: people aren’t mean for no reason. That’s simplistic, but it’s true. The jerk hits back because they’ve already been hit. They need to say, for example, “Grow up and end your magical thinking” because in some way it will make them feel better and whole again. They think it will, anyway.

I think I know a better way.

*Science may not have an answer for everything, but even as a person of faith I do believe that the answer to everything is science. There’s not really any such thing as magic. There is only the principles and the order of the universe, some of which we’ve discovered. God is a person who understands those principles and orders to a greater degree than we are currently capable, and He does his best to help us operate within them for the best result. That’s what we call religion.

**None of which is to say the reverse cannot be–and just as often is–true. People of faith can be jerks, too. They can look down on those who don’t share their faith and it’s just as bad. It’s just not the angle this particular blog is coming from.

A Big Change for the Heasley Family

We almost moved to Maryland.

My connection to the company was solid and the job was right up my alley. Well, my old alley. It was an in-house Art Director position; the kind of work I’d left behind about three years ago. I submitted my application. I interviewed for it. I got a second interview and my friend already working at the company was enthusiastic. We started shopping for houses and my kids started imagining living in a place with actual snow on the ground (we told them it wouldn’t be that fun, but Violet refused to believe us). It was time to move across the country, a thing we’d never done before.

After Erin got her Master’s Degree, we were faced with the reality of what a part-time professor at a Community College can make (you honestly wouldn’t believe it) and the fact that the well paying, full-time professor positions are in short supply. We needed to explore options, and not just mine. Erin applied for other opportunities, too. One very close to home was looking really, really good. Until it didn’t and disappeared like a puff of smoke from the cigar of one of those derby-hatted cartoon bankers who is evil and you know that because… cigar.

So, yes, I put myself on the job market. After three years of working in film/video and doing freelance jobs, it was time to introduce a little more stability into our lives. Stability has always been the watchword around our house. As long as we could pay the mortgage and the bills and feed our kids and clothe them, it didn’t really matter to either me or Erin how much money we made. Never, not once, has getting rich been a goal (or even, just like, buying a boat). The goal is to do what we are supposed to do: care well for our family, be where Heavenly Father wants us to be, and do what He wants us to do. That’s how we’ve always conducted our life together, through good times and bad. It has served us well.

So, needless to say, we were stressing. A bit. And while all of this was going on, our friend Chris kept promising we’d have that lunch together that kept getting put off.

Waaaaay back in July, Erin and I were reminiscing about all the traveling we used to do back when travel was a thing we could afford, and we thought about Chris and his business of putting luxury vacation packages together and we hit upon an idea that was both ridiculous and too good to not at least pitch to Chris. Maybe he’d laugh at us, but it couldn’t hurt to at least propose it to him. Finally, in December, when we were trying to figure out what to do about Maryland, the lunch happened.

We told Chris our idea: send us on your vacations. Put us up in your five-star hotels, schedule our safaris and zip-lining adventures through jungles, make reservations for us in the best restaurants–do that and we’ll film it all and give you promotional travel vlogs you can use for marketing. And then Erin said, “And we’ll do it for free!”

And I said, “No, wait–wait a minute. It’s a lot of work for me after we get home to edit and put it all together and–”

And that’s when Chris cut me off and said, “I think it’s a great idea. Yes, I need that!”

And I said, “Y-you do? We really thought you were gonna laugh at us for trying to get a free vacation.”

“No,” Chris said. “And I’d like to take it even further. I’d like you to become my partners in Travel is SWELL, and I’d like Erin to train and become a Travel Designer with me and help me sell custom travel packages to people.”

We were floored. We went into the meeting expecting nothing and came out of the meeting with a spring in our step and promised ownership in a business. (And the chance to go to Machu Picchu. I’ve always wanted to go to Machu Picchu. I was pretty sure I’d now found the means to go to Machu Picchu.) We went home, shell-shocked, and immediately set to praying. And talking. And praying some more. Pros and cons were discussed, friends and relatives were consulted, options weighed.

This wasn’t quite the stability we were looking for. Travel is nice–travel is AWESOME (one might even say SWELL)–and we’d certainly be experiencing a lot of it as we went out to get firsthand knowledge of the places we’d be sending people to and filming our videos, but awesome travel is not a good enough reason to not take care of your family properly. Erin would be working on commission and I’d garner some payments for the video work, but nothing was guaranteed. It was another leap for a family that, evidence to the contrary during the previous three years, was more than a little risk-averse. And then we ran the numbers. And then we made a decision.

Three weeks later, we signed papers making us officially partners in Travel is SWELL.

This week, Erin completed her training.

And that, really, is why we’re finally telling you about it. Things have changed for us in a dramatic way and we’re excited to tell people, but we didn’t want to do it until we were ready. Erin is looking for clients. We hope you’ll contact her if you or anyone you know is looking to dream about their next vacation. She can help you in a big, big way.

Pretty sweet logo, huh? Designed by yours truly.

Now, if you know us and I were you, I’d have some questions. So, let’s switch formats. Here we go:

What the heck is a Travel Designer?

Great question. I didn’t know either. A Travel Designer is a lot more than a Travel Agent. Erin’s approach is to talk to the client about the experiences they’ve already had that they enjoyed, what kind of experiences they’d like to have, and where they might like to go. Want to go somewhere where the water is crystal clear blue and you’ll be treated like a queen as you laze about on the sand? Then Barbados might be for you. Want to eat like a king and take a deep dive into history? Hello, Rome and all these cool excursions and sites you might not even know exist. Simply put, a Travel Agent will get you to where you want to go, but a Travel Designer will not only get you there but make sure you have the time of your life. There’s even a questionnaire you get to fill out so Erin can best help you. It’s fun!

What about filmmaking? Writing? Comics? Is all that over with now?

Nope! I’m still in post-production on my newest short (in fact, we just shot some new scenes this past weekend), and I’m exploring other film opportunities that I can’t talk about just yet. I’m also actively shopping around a YA novel, Paper Bag Mask, and The SuperFogeys continues at superfogeys.com. That’s the beauty of working with Travel is SWELL: we get to stay here and, though our time is even more at a premium, things largely get to continue as they were.

For Erin, too?

Yep! For Erin, too. She’s staying on as a professor at Clovis Community, even taking on an additional class this semester for a total of three sections. She’ll teach and then, in her off hours, create travel packages for clients.

Sounds like you’re gonna be pretty busy. Wait… you guys still have kids, right?

Yeah. Three of them. They’re cool with not moving to Maryland, so it’s all good. We also create packages for families and groups, so they’re gonna get the opportunity to explore this world of ours as well. After a decade of never going farther than Los Angeles, that’s pretty exciting. Plus, I like to think we do a pretty good job carving out family time. There’s not a whole lot more important than that.

How much does Erin and Travel is SWELL charge for services?

In most cases, nothing! Some packages will require a small service charge, but that’s not common. Travel Designers are paid commissions by the vendors you book with, not by you. I know! I had no idea either until we got into this.

Why should I use a Travel Designer at all? Expedia exists.

Hey, Expedia is great! If all you want to do is get to and from somewhere, I say go for it. But if you want to explore hotels, food, rentals, excursions, and some really cool places to visit that you might not otherwise know about, then working with a Travel Designer is not only a great idea, it’s really the best idea. You know what I hate about vacations? Figuring out how to get from place-to-place. A Travel Designer takes care of all of that for you. Plus, we have access to online portals and vendors mere mortals can only dream of. We can hook you up.

Is Travel is SWELL only for luxury travelers? 

Not exclusively, but we’re definitely all about the package. We’re for people who really want to explore and experience something amazing, not so much for those who just want the cheapest flight to Florida and a rental car. But hey, if you want to know if we can help you with what you have in mind, all you gotta do is ask.

Sounds pretty cool. I’m going on vacation in the next year. How can I check out what you have to offer? 

That’s easy, just go to travelisswell.com, or email Erin directly at eheasley@travelisswell.com and tell her what you’re thinking. She’ll help you explore.

Eh. I’m not really into travel.

That’s more of a statement than a question, but I’ll address it. Over the past few years, a lot of people have asked how they could help us out. A referral would be great! If you’re not much a traveler, tell your friends.

This gonna be a thing now? You gonna sell me this hard on this blog in the future? Because if so then I’m ou–

Whoa, whoa, whoa. That’s not what I’m about. Just trying to share and take this one–ONE–opportunity to try to drum up a little business. This is a big, important change for my family and we’re just trying to get a leg up in the world. The blog will go back to normal after this.

Okay, cool.

We’re cool?

Yeah.

You know I think the world of you.

Yeah… I know…

Be sure and check out travelisswell.com ASAP!

There you go again!

Sorry.