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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Daring Greatly: An Introduction

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Maybe you’ve heard of this speech or read it before. It was delivered by Teddy Roosevelt in April, 1910 in France, and is often called “The Man in the Arena” speech. Powerful stuff. Until recently, when reading this speech, I’d focused mostly on the first sentence, the one which begins, “It is not the critic who counts…” and read these remarks as an attempt to dismiss criticism as unimportant because the critic is not the one in the fight.

But after reading Brene Brown’s remarkable book Daring Greatly last month, I’ve found much more in common with the end of this passage. And that’s what I want to focus on today. The second sentence begins with this phrase:

“the credit belongs to the [person] … who strives valiantly … who at the best knows … the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”

If he fails, he at least fails while daring greatly.

In Brown’s book, she applies the idea of “daring greatly” to a whole number of scenarios in life. But in the context of making something, producing a good or service, following a personal calling, this idea was powerful for me.

You may have heard that next week, I’m launching a Kickstarter campaign for my middle grade novel The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson, a frontier adventure book for young readers that’s part Tom and Huck, part Homer Price, and hopefully a real hoot.

I thought it might be interesting to share a bit of explanation about the process leading to this decision. So, over the next couple of days, I’ll be posting a bit about why this season in my life finds me daring greatly, how I got here, and what perils and questions are part of the process.

I hope in some way these posts will help to encourage you on your path of making things, whatever those things are. Maybe you’ll discover, like I have, that you’re more capable of daring greatly, of striking out in pursuit of something you’ve always dreamed of doing. Wouldn’t that be cool?

This is my story. Maybe in some measure, it’s yours.

Cover Reveal: The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson

Here it is – the cover for The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson, a middle grade frontier adventure novel that’s part Tom and Huck, part Homer Price, and hopefully a whole lot of fun! That insanely awesome cover painting is courtesy of Joe Sutphin. If you haven’t already, check out some of the other awesome books he’s illustrated, or follow him on Kickstarter. The equally-insanely talented designer Brannon McAllister pulled the whole thing together, and honestly, I’m gobsmacked by the beauty of it.

I hope really soon to share with you the story of how this cover came together. It’s a great story. But, for now, I hope you’ll enjoy seeing this little taste of the novel you’ll be able to pre-order really soon.

About that – your chance to pre-order The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson begins Tuesday, April 17, when our Kickstarter campaign launches. If you haven’t already, sign up for my newsletter to stay informed on the latest with Tumbleweed!

And here’s a fun video announcing the cover reveal I made last week:

Tumbleweed Is Coming…

The news is out. Tumbleweed is coming!

On April 17, I’ll be launching a Kickstarter campaign for my middle grade frontier adventure novel The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson. This is a project two years in the making, and it’s a story I can’t wait to share with you! If you haven’t already, sign up for my newsletter to stay in touch with all the latest on the project. (Ps – there was a link in that last sentence.)

But, you might be wondering a few things about it. So, here are some answers:

What’s the Book About?

Inspired by buddy adventure novels like Homer PriceThe Great Brain, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the story follows 12-year old Eugene Appleton, whose summer in the frontier town of Rattlesnake Junction, Colorado promises to be just as sleepy as the ones before, with his only excitement provided by the pulse-pounding Dead-Eye Dan adventure novels he devours. But Eugene’s life swerves into unexpected territory with the arrival of Tumbleweed Thompson, a gangly, red-haired drifter who spins yarns about whaling voyages in the Atlantic and ice fishing with the Inuits. It’s a novel about friendship, adventure, belonging, and finding out there’s a whole lot more out there than you first thought.

Why Kickstarter?

The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson is a novel about community, and this book has been supported at every stage of the process by a fabulous group of collaborators, from readers and friends to encouragers and editors. So, Kickstarter is the perfect way to push this book across the finish line. It will take a whole bunch of us, pulling together, to make this book happen. And that’s exactly how it should be.

The best way to explain Kickstarter is through two “P’s”:

Partner

Kickstarter is a way for people to partner together to make innovative ideas come to life. Entrepreneurs, artists, and other “makers” join with backers to fund creative ideas. Yes, it’s a crowd-sourcing funding platform. But, if you believe in the story of those who are making things, Kickstarter is more than that. It’s a way to create awesome partnerships around ideas you believe in!

Pre-Order

Kickstarter works by pre-ordering the product you want – in this case, my novel – and in the process, helping to fund the project. You choose the level you want, and receive whatever rewards are associated with that funding level. For this campaign, we’ve cooked up a bunch of cool rewards in addition to soft and hardcover books that hopefully will catch your eye. Also, Kickstarter is all-or-nothing, meaning the funding goal must be met, or the creator receives no funding. We’re all in this together!

Again, the best way to stay in touch with all things Tumbleweed is to sign up for my newsletter, or any of the usual social media.

For Those Who Make the Stories

Shh…

Listen …

Can you hear it?

Probably not. But it’s happening. Right now, all over the world, there are people making stories. They have “other jobs,” many of them – moms and dads, teachers and salesmen, and plenty of other obligations which occupy their day. But, for some inexplicable, beautiful reason, the beauty of a story untold has whispered to them, catching them in its thrall, and they’re up late, or up early, or both, following the golden thread of the narrative wherever it takes them.

They’re making stories. For us. For me!

I can think of a friend in the mid-South, wrestling a story of physics and God into concrete form. Another in western Canada, with picture books in his brain, another on the tip of Washington fighting for his time to write against a host of other obligations. Another in a house overlooking the Erie Canal in western New York. Another in a stone house in Pennsylvania, or a little cabin in the mountains. And on, and on, and on…

Why?

There are a lot of answers. Some of them sound weird, honestly. They make stories because they believe in the power of truth, beauty, and goodness, to captivate us. They make stories because they were called awake at night with a haunting image in their mind, or a phrase they can’t shake, but have to record, and it leads them to another phrase, and soon, a story is birthed.

Frankly, they make stories because they can’t imagine a life where they don’t make stories.

And here’s the point:

It’s a great comfort to me in this world of uncertainty, often fraught with chaos and disorder that all over the world, people are working to make stories, to wrestle the chaos into order, fight back their own personal voices and demons of uncertainty and vulnerability, and bring their stories into the world, so that one day, I might enjoy them.

For us. For me!

What a relief that there are stories being birthed, nurtured, and loved, and soon they’ll come to me, to my family, to enjoy.

So to those who make the stories, or to those who are thinking about making a story:

Courage, dear heart. Keep at it. We love you. You’re beautiful and your work matters. And we’re waiting to see what you can make.

Driving East

IMG_1522I’ve been fortunate the past ten years or so since I started teaching in Bloomfield, New York, my morning commute takes me essentially due east. So, for the first few months of the year and the last few months – those which bookend all those jet-black, western New York mornings after daylight savings time – I’m driving into the sunrise. While some days the road glare gets a bit hard to face, most days driving east into the sunrise provides me with the most breathtaking views, and a steady stream of daily encouragement, more than I’d have anticipated a commute could provide.

No matter what the stresses of the morning, how fraught with anxiety or frustration, or the highs and lows of the night before, I pull out onto Route 20 and point my car east, toward the sunrise, and everything changes. As the calendar has transformed the late summer into the heart of fall this past month, I’ve been witness to a myriad of wondrous sights. Some days the sun dances on tip-toes over the tops of the trees at the horizon line. Others, the distant Bristol hills are shrouded in a gauzy haze. On cloudy mornings, the pink-orange sunglow peeks abashed through a white bank of clouds. On foggy days, the mist floats wispy and tender up out of the roadside hollows. As I whizz past the corn fields, the sunrise illumines the stalks like rows and rows of yellow candles.

And it’s all lovely, so lovely, every day different. And I’m reminded, again, and again, that no matter how bleak or dark the night has been, the sun rises, and there’s beauty to behold. Watching the sunrise has the necessary effect of bypassing my conscious mind, which would often pile claim upon claim in support of the premise that disorder and brokenness are all there are. But as my eyes take in the beauty before me, I forget all of that.

Read More at Story Warren

Darts Into the Darkness

Up here in the frozen North, winter takes its toll on even the hardiest souls.

And here, in the middle of January, a week or so beyond Christmastide, it’s taking its toll on this hardy soul.

As much as I pay lip service to loving winter – the crust of snow over the backyard, the frosty mornings without and the toasty fires  within – there’s a large part of winter which just chips away at my soul like, well, like frostbite. You know, creeping up on fingers and toes until – yikes! It’s Donner Party time. So sleepy… Etc.

(The other day, I looked at my phone, and was told that sunrise was around 7:30 a.m. and sunset was around 4:30 p.m. That’s nine hours of daylight, by my count. And the remaining hours – I can’t even bring myself to say how many – that’s darkness!)

Darkness.

It’s enough to make a guy start quoting Johnny Cash lyrics, isn’t it? 

Because of this, or perhaps because of just the general nature of living, there are days, psychologically, where the interior can feel a lot like the exterior. The thought of bringing beauty into the world – writing a story, sketching a new idea for a painting or an illustration, even making a beautiful meal for friends or family – seems like an insurmountable amount of work.

Bringing beauty into the world. It’s an idea that on days like these, when the darkness on the news brings a heightened awareness of the encroachment of the darkness into seemingly every corner of the world, seems like more of an idea than an actual endeavor, a task which should be completed.

But it matters. Oh, how it matters.

Making things matters. Bringing beauty into the world matters.

Because every act of love, every act of creation, is shooting a dart into the darkness. And when we make art in all its forms – a poem, a painting, a comic, a novel, a meal, a scarf, a mug – we once again have a chance to fire a razor-sharp pointed weapon against the darkness. Because beauty is love. And love is power.

It’s the thing that Meg Murry realizes when she’s face to face with It on a desperate mission to rescue her father in A Wrinkle in Time. Love.

“That was what she had that It did not have. She had Mrs. Whatsit’s love, and her father’s, and mother’s, and the real Charles Wallace’s love, and the twins’, and Aunt Beast’s. And she had her love for them. But how could she use it? What was she meant to do?”

When we make something beautiful, truthful, and good, we incarnate the Truth and wield it like a weapon against the darkness. Bit by bit. Dart by dart.

So fire away.