All Parents are Terrible

Parents are terrible. You know this incontrovertible fact if you’ve ever read any published memoir about growing up. There’s one universal theme to all of them: the parents should be arrested and the key thrown away for the cruelty they inflicted on their progeny, the writer. If you were a space alien and the only thing you knew about the parenting practices of earthlings was what you read in books like The Glass Castle and Running With Scissors, you’d be justifiably horrified and immediately set about liberating the youth of the world through abduction (wait a minute, you don’t think…?). In fact, for a lot of coming-of-age memoirs, that literally is what the book is about: all-time, world class, terrible parenting. It’s the very best revenge anyone ever devised against all the therapy they had to shell out for later: immortalizing the parental misdeeds in print.

I suppose there’s a universality to that experience, and it certainly makes for good copy, but it’s pretty far from my own experience and, at the very least, the experiences of most people who belong to the same Church I do* (aka the culture I’m most familiar with). I tend to think there are more decent parents out there than bad, and I’ll hold up my own as a good, if imperfect, example.

*I say this having conducted no studies and done no polls, so I’m speaking mostly from experience and observation. The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church teachings provide a solid foundation for highly functional families. Any parents who draw from that deep, deep well are bound to get it more right than wrong.

Which brings up a good question: If I’ve written an entire book (tentative title: The Other Side of Fear) about my own growing up and my parents are a big part of it, how is the story I’m telling in any way interesting or exciting?

I guess it’s not. Save for a handful of chapters, my parents and I largely get along.

So, boring book.

I’m being a little facetious. Once you throw in the shootings, the murder, the bullies, the helicopters circling our house at 1am, the flooded city, the thief my dad runs down, the missionary tales, and everything else, you don’t really need to ladle bad parenting on top to have an interesting and exciting story. But bad parenting? No, that’s not really one of the ingredients I’m cooking with. My story is about growing up through through difficult things with good parents.

People clamor for good, clean, positive stories, but they flock to conflict and the controversial. These types of stories are not mutually exclusive, but they can be difficult to bring together, depending on the market and the audience, and, most importantly, the writer. Those who traffic in positivity can be afraid to let the real world in for fear they’re not being positive or uplifting enough. Their stories, consequently, can be, yeah, super boring. Meanwhile, those who focus mostly on conflict and controversy can easily choke out anything positive, or simply dismiss such notions altogether for fear of “watering down” or because their worldview doesn’t allow for it in the first place. I’m talking extremes here. The pendulum doesn’t only swing one way or the other, but I would argue that the mainstream creative world encourages a more cynical form of storytelling than not, and for good reason: it sells. At least, that’s the current thinking.

And I think it’s that kind of thinking that leads mainstream publishing towards bad parenting and cynical, isn’t-life-horrible? narratives, and away from any kind of positive, uplifting, religious narrative, even when done in a way that’s inclusive (another topic for another time).

I am not a fan of extreme positivity or extreme cynicism. Speaking of religion, I think good stories are like a religious life well-lived: accepting of the reality of the actual world we occupy while acknowledging the hope and reality that is above this world. It’s only when you combine the two things together that you get a story that is truly true and resonates and moves and uplifts and entertains and enlightens and encourages. You get your conflict and your controversy, and you slam it up against hope and positivity, and you end up with something that is dynamic. That isn’t so one-note and serves a defensible purpose.

My parents are both very human in the telling. They have flaws and foibles and quirks and maybe do not-so-great things because they are not perfect, godly beings. But, if I’ve done my job correctly, it all makes them more endearing than anything. There to prove them real and relatable, not to take them down. I can’t present them as real people if I only speak of them positively. And being real is the only way to get at the truth.

***

In other news…I’ve done a lot of the homework publisher Cedar Fort assigned me to get the book ready for publication. Writing my bio, submitting my author photo, etc. One of the big tasks that will take months to complete is reaching out to people for “endorsements.” These are the blurbs you read on the backs of books from people with some reputation whose praise you can trust. It’s a huge favor to ask someone of influence to read your book and appraise it, so I was a bit nervous to go out and ask. I hate asking for favors.

But, I’ve already gotten three “Yes” responses back! I can’t wait to share with you who they are (they’re very, very cool), but that feels premature right now and there’s always the chance they could read the manuscript, not like it, decline to offer their endorsement, and ask for monetary compensation for time wasted (wait…that’s not a thing, right?). But still, they’re willing to take a shot. Which is awesome.

Photo by Sebastian Voortman from Pexels

 

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

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