Daring Greatly, Part One: Into the Mist

Note: In the days leading up to the Kickstarter campaign for my middle grade frontier adventure novel The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson, I’m sharing my story of how I ended up here. You can read yesterday’s introductory post here, and find out more about the Kickstarter campaign here. 

I’m not sure when the story really begins, but probably the best place to start would be a bluegrass concert at a small church in suburban Nashville five years ago this fall. I was in town for a conference, and at dinner that Thursday night, I’d struck up a conversation with a kindred spirit (there were a lot of those at that conference, as I recall) named Chris. He was an English teacher from Chattanooga, a songwriter, and a self-described “old soul” with a kind face and a willingness to gush along with me over The Great Gatsby and Huckleberry Finn.

Two kids, bookish, thirty-something. In a lot of ways, Chris was just like me. But, there was one key difference. Chris had just released his second album, this one a collection of six songs which he financed himself, released himself, and was marketing himself through a grueling series of “house-concert” tours which saw Chris traverse the nation in his Honda. He was all in.

When I heard more of Chris’ story as we kept in contact over the months that followed, I came to understand just how seriously he was taking this pursuit. He seemed to exist in a third space, somewhere between the world of the casual dabbler and the corporate mainstream artist. It was a space I didn’t really know existed, or at least, didn’t have a face to associate with.

This third space, I soon learned, was the space of the indie artist. But Chris wasn’t the only one. Soon, I met others, like recording artists Eric Peters and Randall Goodgame, author Sam Smith, and potter Eddy Eefaw. Some were, like me, writing books, others making pottery. Some were graphic designers, others illustrators. Some were making it their sole revenue stream. Others had “day jobs.” The one thing they had in common was their passion for their craft and a desire to connect with people, to incarnate their values and ship their art. And, at some point, they’ve felt a sense of calling so keen it’s led them to step inside the arena, to dare greatly by moving forward on a path fraught with risk and take their work out to the larger world, assuming all the psychological and financial risks associated with it.

A bit of background: prior to meeting Chris, I’d gone the “non-indie” route. For the better part of a decade I’d chased publication through traditional models to no avail. It was some gnarly combination of bad luck, bad timing, and – I’ll be honest – bad writing that left me feeling cold to the whole process. Nothing will erode your sense of vision and self-worth faster than rejection from the almighty Gate-Keepers. They’re necessary to the process, but man, can they vacuum the wind out of your sails in a hurry. I’ve no willingness to begrudge anyone their choices, but for me, that path had become a dead end.

And that’s where the tension arose. Like Chris, I had a passion for my craft and a passion for my audience. I wanted to share stories with readers who hungered for truth, goodness, and beauty. And I knew, or at least had a strong suspicion, that I was good enough, that I had the chops to make a go at it.

But what next?

Fast forward to about a year ago. I’ve got a finished novel, a wild and woolly middle grade yarn about two boys growing up in frontier America. The feedback has been good. Folks are even asking when the novel’s going to be published. And I’m feeling this itch, strengthened by my continued interactions with those indie artists who have dared greatly, that the time for action is approaching. 

There’s a line from a song in the brilliant musical drama Sing Street: “You’re never going to go if you never go now/you’re never going to know if you don’t find out.”

And that’s where I was. I had to find out. Everything was packed for the journey, but like Bilbo, I had to allow my Tookish side to win the debate in order to set out on the open road. So, last June, I made the first arrangements for the journey. And the past 10 months have meant moving further into liminal space

Have you done any reading about the concept of liminal space? It’s a “place-between-places,” when the lines have been cut and the boat is heading out into open waters. What makes liminal space so uncertain is losing sight of the land, any reference point. It’s by its nature uncertain and frightening. But it can also be exciting. Remember, Bilbo left home, but he got to see mountains. And wear really cool armor.

I don’t know the outcome of this journey. But as a believer in a God who has revealed Himself to me through the grace of faithful friends and family, I move forward in strict confidence that I will not be left or forsaken. My little coracle is sailing out into open waters. My baggage is tucked safely inside. I have everything I need with me. 

It’s time to dare greatly.

In Part Two I want to focus a bit on my story of living with the aftermath of making this decision to walk into the arena. It’s a bit like waking up on Mars. I’ll explain more tomorrow. 

I hope you’ll join me.


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