Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Sunflower in Peru

...a couple years ago, I received a gift from my brother-in-law. "Grace," by Richard Paul Evans.

Being a far cry from the genre I'm accustomed to reading, I trusted in my brother-in-law's taste, turned the cover, and entered R.P.E's world of hope. It took less than twenty pages to suck me in.

With a "voice" as subtle as an evening breeze over the Gulf, Evans touched on the subject of child abuse, as dwelt with through the eyes of children themselves. Driven to tears and questioning my own masculinity, I closed the book and went to Google, wanting to find out more on Richard Paul Evans.

That's how I discoverd the entire story behind the writer from Utah.

The story of how an "unknown" from Salt Lake City penned a story named "The Christmas Box," printed a handful of copies at the local Kinkos, and handed them out to immediate family over the Holidays.

That's how the magic began.

He started receiving phone calls from strangers who had somehow gotten ahold of his story. People he'd never spoken to before, spilling tears of thanks over the distance of a threaded phone line.

Richard decided to try his luck at the local Utah publishing houses...and struck out.

Following in the same words of hope he so perfectly described in "The Christmas Box," he self-published 9,000 copies of his story, burning through his family's savings.

Through a local distributing company, he managed to sell 3,000 copies in less than a month.

Orders started coming in to every book store in and around the Salt Lake City area. A short time later, a second printing was needed.

"The Christmas Box" became only the second self-published novel to ever make the New York Times best seller list, debuting at #2.

In less than a year, one of the top literary agents at that time asked for a copy, cried her way through it, and signed him without hesitation.

Soon after, the same publishing companies who wouldn't spare him a moment of their time, were banging down his door for the rights to sell his book.

Following an auction lasting over the span of several days, Simon & Schuster won the rights for the hard back editions with a winning bid of over four million dollars.

Since then, Richard Paul Evans has written 9 books, each one finding it's way to the top of every best seller list.

I recently finished reading "The Sunflower," the true story of an orphanage in Peru. Another tear-jerker. A journey into the dramatic lives of homeless children in the third world nations of South America. Of families sending their own kids into the streets to fend for themselves when the cupboards go empty. Of how the majority of homeless children roaming the streets in Cuzco, Peru are boys, with the girls getting kidnapped for slavery purposes. Of black-market tours for American pediphiles to journey into South America in order to fullfill their fantasies with an overabundance of runaways and high availability of sexual slaves. And of a single American doctor, desperately trying to make a difference.

Peru is a place where an Anaconda as wide as the trunk of a mature willow, can slither with the speed of a grown adult, and the strength to crush anything in it's path. It's where simply dipping one's fingertips into any waterway could result in losing them to a hungry school of piranhas, or an eighteen foot croc. It's a place where, during the printing of "The Sunflower," and exhibition team of scientists were investigating local claims of a spider large enough to have been spotted carrying off several chickens in it's front fangs.

Welcome to Cuzco, Peru, where more than a million orphans under the age of sixteen run in fear of a danger far worse than anything the jungles can throw at them. Us.

Welcome to the world of Richard Paul Evans. An inspired writer who did it his way. And he's got a hundred million fans around the world to vouch for him.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tom Smallwood

True Story...

Following in his father's footsteps, Tom Smallwood made his living as a Michigan autoworker, assembling seatbelts for General Motors. It wasn't glamorous. It was however, a steady income, something his wife and 1-year old daughter were grateful for.

Then in 2008, a few days before Christmas, the axe fell. Tom had never been laid off before. Had never experienced that feeling of emptiness. Of having to ask, "what now?"

At some point that evening, while sitting down with his wife, discussing finances and a future clouded in doubt, Tom recognized a leather bag partially hidden behind several rows of shoes on the closet floor. It was a ball bag. And inside, his bowling ball.

For many of us, the sport of bowling is an enjoyable way of spending an evening with the family. Knocking down some pins, sharing a few laughs, maybe get lucky and throw a strike or two. As a youngster growing up in central Michigan, bowling stood for something far more important to Tom Smallwood.

Having discovered his talent for the sport at an early age, Tom made a name for himself locally, winning several tournaments and a decent collection of trophies to show for it. He'd always dreamed of going pro. However, as time passes and needs arise, he eventually made the decision that so many of us find ourselves facing at some point in our lives. Giving up the dream for what he called, "the guaranteed-income."

But what happens when the guarantee runs out?

Tom applied for several jobs around the area. Never received a response. As days grew to weeks, and weeks to months, frustration mounted.

During his free time, in between those circled help wanted ads and the constant strain of a necktie and a practiced smile, Tom found himself at the bowling alley, rekindling better times. And with each failed attempt on the job market, his bowling average improved.

It was during one of those overcast, somber afternoons, when Tom Smallwood recalled that dream of his. The one from his childhood.

A goal was set. If he wasn't employed by May, he'd try out for the Pro Bowlers Association.

May arrived. His telephone remained silent.

Tom entered the PBA's tour trials. A tournament of sorts, where upwards of 120 hopefuls bowled nine games a day for five days, with the PBA accepting only the top scores for their league tour. Nine games a day. To the many contenders, the tournament became more of a gauntlet. A test of wills.

And when it ended, Tom found himself in third place. He'd qualified for a spot on the tour and a minimum paycheck at each event for a year.

The laid off autoworker had fulfilled his dream.

...but the dream didn't end there.

Witchita, Kansas. The PBA World Championship.

From the first frame, Tom knew he was on a roll. Knocking off one opponent after another, he found himself standing alone in the finals against the reining player of the year.

It was on this day, on National T.V., when a little known, ex-auto worker, needing a strike and 7 pins to win, threw back to back strikes, and won the PBA Championship and a $50,000 check.

Like a modern day fairy tale.

About a month later, Tom's telephone finally rang. General Motors was offering him his job back.

He said, "Thanks...but no thanks."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My Little Girl...

...following yet another long night doing something I'm not fond of...
making a heap of cash for someone else, while earning enough morsels to keep a roof over our heads, and holding off the bill-collectors, I arrived home hours after bedtime and found this letter sitting upon my desk.
It says..."I Love You Dad. Goodnight.
I really miss you. I prayed about you geting on a different shift.
I try to pray every night I juist forgit sometimes.
From Abby to Dad :)"
I plopped into my chair, teared up, and remembered why I'd have to get out of bed the following morning and do it all over again.
The flailing economy drove a nasty right hook into my family's well-being a short time ago, causing me to miss out on many events, and the kids left scratching their heads in frustration.
My absence in their lives began as an irritable sting roughly 18 months ago, but has since matured to an open wound.
While I'm off attempting to secure the family's future by doing something I've come to realize a long time ago that I wasn't placed on this planet to do, my little girl sends prayers to Heaven just to have me all to herself once in a while.
Sometimes we think they're ignored. Sometimes we think it's a pointless act. A waste of time. No one's even listening up there.
I received an email from my publisher...
Barring any setbacks, my first novel now has a late 2010 target date. The story I titled "Broken" so many moons ago, will soon be in print.
At night, before my little girl crawls into bed, she whispers a prayer.
Call me crazy, but I think someone's listening...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Week that Was...


Received two emails which encouraged a positive outlook on an upcoming week cast under gray skies and frozen temps.

The first was from John Sandford, the best-selling writer of Lucas Davenport's "Prey" series, along with a cast of others. I'd written him a few days earlier in regards to how one of his characters, BCA Detective Virgil Flowers, reminds me so much of Owen Wilson, (itty bitty cowboy from "Night at the Museum,") that I can no longer read his work without picturing Owen's face in every scene involving Virgil.

Sandford's response was, "Fascinating deduction. I can see the resemblance."

He then went on to inform me that Davenport's character was actually created after NBA coaching legend, Pat Riley, who's dapper attire, mixed with that gangster-like persona, sparked an idea, which manifested into one of the best Homicide Detectives between here and Wonderland.

Considering how I've read nearly everything he's penned, reading that message was an honor.

Next email...a publishing house, (actually two working together,) interested in my manuscript, was asking me to revise a few sections, and return it to them to look over.

Only a lifelong dream...okay.

And on a sidenote...the Colts and Saints arrived in Miami to prepare for the Super Bowl. The Colts were favored, but them Saints...riding that emotional rollercoaster of Southern Hope...that would be something.


My Oldest Son revealed to me that he was interested in going to Tampa University down in the Gulf Coast.

I glanced out the window. Glared at the somber gray skies, like a frigid net holding us all in place to wallow in our own gloom. Checked out the temperature...14 degrees, and said, "Can I go too?"

Stayed up until 3 am revising the manuscript. Slept on it. Re-read it in the morning. Liked it enough. Exhaled a deep breath...hit SEND.


In an attempt at sparking fire under the asses of a depressed work crew, one of the top henchmen at my German place of employment, Heinrich Anus Gugenshplat, made his presence felt by stopping at each workcenter in order to verbally put us in our place, which was already lower than the top layer of frozen soil under the ice outside.

"Nein! Nein! Nein!" Stop...cough...entwine hands behind back before continuing..."Meir! Meir! Meir!"

To us here in the states, we're guessing the guy's a bit emotional over his horse's ninth birthday. But in the Mother Land, this stands for No! No! No! and More! More! More!

He then adds fuel to the spark by sending down The PitBull, whose nothing more than a senseless, overgrown hothead, handed the title of manager, for no better reason than to use his 6 foot five inch frame to instill fear into us mere mortals, thus "scaring the company into a more productive outcome." Just what the economy needs...

But I'm stuck on something old Heinrich blurted out during his tantrum. "Nein." Which still means "No!" in German...but one more than eight to me. And I think to myself...Drew Brees, the quarterback of the Saints...his uniform number is 9. Hmm...


Big storm rolling in.

I find myself on page 127 of John Sandford's "Rough Country," starring none other than Virgil Flowers, (Owen Wilson,) when I come across the line, " can get So Close...But"

I stop reading. Think of my blog title, and wonder..."has Sandford been reading my...duhh. What are the chances? Keep reading and forget about it."

Then I check my email. Find one from the publisher...they like what they're seeing and want to talk...


Contract signed. "Broken" has been accepted. A typical first time writer contract, with little at stake, but high royalties...just in case. A publishing house in Michigan will print it, one closer to home will distribute it...and who knows.

Feeling downright giddy, I march into work and am immediately bullrushed by the PitBull. Picture the mindset of a toddler, biting/stomping/hair pulling/belching and so on, in the body of a disgruntled linebacker...The PitBull.

"You need to seriously think about your performance this week," he barks into my face before allowing me a chance to mentally switch gears from Misery.

With very little hesitation, I fire back with, "And you should take comfort in the fact that the measure of a man isn't determined by one's people skills!"

I wasn't sure just then if I'd heard that one somewhere and was quoting it, or had managed to pull it out of my skeletal closet on a moment's notice. Either way, I felt every bit as tall as the slobbering fiend standing before me.

Caught off-guard, PitBull huffed, he puffed, but no matter how hard he tried, he simply couldn't fire off anything remotely close to what I'd just thrown at him. Blushing in anger, he stomped off...and my bliss returned.

The snow became a blizzard, and I thought...hmm, sign my first contract on the day of The Storm of the Century. There's a joke in there somewhere. I'm sure of it.


Digging out.


Super Bowl...Saints win.

"Nein! Nein! Nein!"

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Minister...

...stop me if you've already heard this one

A minister walks into a motel in hopes of purchasing a room for the night.

He walks up to the counter, greets the young man on duty, pays for his room, and is given a key.

He accepts the key, studies it for a moment in his hand, then slowly turns back to the young man standing behind the counter.

Clearly disturbed, the minister leans toward the lad and mumbles, "Is the pornography channel in this room disabled?"

With his brow furrowed, a look of disgust on his face, the hotel clerk leans away from the minister, crosses his arms, and says, "No. We only have normal porn at this motel. And you're sick, Mister."