The Truth Behind the Book of the Year
Halfway through the writing of “Long Way Gone,” I discovered I’d written myself into what looked like a dead end. Or a black hole. It’d happened years before so I tried to press in and listen for the story to bubble up. Crickets. I’ve heard it called writer’s block. It’s the second time in my career I’d come to a stand-still with no way around. The first time ended badly. That memory echoed.
In desperation, I got up out of my chair, grabbed my Bible and walked out onto the pool deck where I began circling, reading the Psalms out loud. When I tired of this, I set down my Bible, raised my hands and continued circling. Christy thought I was losing it. “Honey do you have a plan B?”
No, I’ve never had a plan B.
I don’t know how many times I walked around our pool but the words I kept repeating were, “Lord, Your word is true. More true than my circumstances. My circumstances don’t dictate my reality or Yours. Your Word reveals it. Help…Please help.”
This continued everyday. For three weeks...
On normal days, I write anywhere from 500-1000 words. I used to set lofty goals of 2500 but discovered I prefer quality over quantity so while I can write more, I’d rather write less better. Somewhere in my fourth week, with a worried wife inside, I had an idea. Just a glimmer. I thought, “What have I got to lose?” So, I walked inside sat down and started writing.
An hour in, I had to stop typing because I couldn’t see the screen. Tears make things blurry. The solution, the work-around, had been there all along. Hidden. It was as if The Lord had led me by the hand around a blind corner. “See?”
Ten thousand words later, I closed my laptop. It’s the most I’ve ever written in a single day. My fingers sounded like hummingbird wings.
Readers say a lot of praise-worthy stuff when it comes to my stories. Truth is, I probably sweat and pray my stories more than anything else. Somewhere in my many laps around the pool, I landed on Psalm 45. It was true then. It’s true now. I pray that my pen is used to tell His story and that I am somehow able to make His Great Name known to the nations — so that He might receive praise.
The Christy Awards graciously declared Long Way Gone their "2017 Book of the Year.” When my editor called to tell me, I scratched my head and I thought, “Look what God did.” I certainly did not. I had nothing. Saw no daylight. But then He pulled back a curtain and shared with me the beauty of the love of the father for the son and how, no matter what any of us do, no matter what sin and shame we wrap ourselves in, there is no place on planet earth where the Blood of Jesus can’t reach us. Nothing disqualifies us. No gone is too far gone. He’s still standing on the porch, eyes staring down the road. All we need do is turn around. Put one foot in front of the other. He’s already made a way. And when he sees us, He comes flying off the porch as if shot out of a canon and smothers our face in kisses. That picture just shreds me. Every time. The God of the Universe kissing my face, the son of squalor, who betrayed Him, rejected Him and said, “You’re dead to me.” When I see this in my mind’s eye, I come undone.
After the soul-deep pain and doubt I’d experienced in writing “Long Way Gone,” I took a short break and then set about writing a story I’d been thinking of for some time. It’s the story of a Vietnam veteran with a 45-yr secret. Circumstances surface which bring him out of hiding and force him to wrestle with whether or not to reveal the truth. Problem is, if he does, somebody dies. And if he doesn’t, somebody dies. It’s a tough place.
I thought that writing it would be easier given the sweat-equity I’d earned in Long Way Gone. That maybe I’d pushed through the blockage. That the words would flow.
They did not.
What I experienced was twice as bad. Twice as dark. Twice as quiet. I had no words.
To make matters worse, we had moved into a new house — with no pool.
Then The Lord led me to Psalm 84 and, “blessed is the man who’s strength is in You, who’s heart is set on pilgrimage.” So, I set down my computer and lifted my arms. “Lord my circumstances don’t dictate You, Your reality or Your love for me. Your Word reveals it. I got nothing. Help. Please help.”
Then He pulled back the curtain and I cried like a baby.
“Send Down the Rain” releases May of 2018.
Let me end with this — with pulling back my own curtain and allowing you to hear what really matters. My conversations with the Lord: Lord, God in Heaven, I don’t know what you’ll do with me or my stories, but I’m available. Selfishly, I’d like to ask that the writing of the next not be as tough as the last two. I could use a little boost. Either way, I’ll still be here. Longing for You. Crying out to You. From strength to strength — I will appear before You in Zion. You tell us that if You are lifted up that You will draw all men to Yourself. I pray my stories lift You up. I pray You increase and I decrease. And I pray that somehow, through whatever way I am able to string words together, that I might make Your Great Name known to the nations — so that You alone might receive glory and honor. I ask this in the matchless and undefeated name of Jesus.