Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Much Needed Vacation

I spent the weekend in Mt Pleasant, at a friends retreat in a little pioneer home. This was the same place where I went to be alone to work out some kinks on Remembering Isaac a couple of years ago . I took the family and some friends for a glorious weekend of peace and relaxation. There is something magical about laying in a hammock under the autumn sky. I love all the seasons, but Fall has always had a special place in my heart. The colors, the scents on the wind. There is something so amazingly wonderful about the sweet smell of willows in the fall. The colors, the sound of the wind, the clouds that blow across the sky, the sight and sound of geese and other birds flying south. I love it all. There is something special about Mt Pleasant. It is in the middle of Sanpete County. It is a place where time has a different meaning. I have always felt this way about this place.

My friends purchased this cabin 14 years ago, shortly after their son was murdered up Emigration Canyon. He had gone out to take pictures of the moon with his girlfriend. He was shot and killed instantly by a young man who wanted to see someone die. His girlfriend was shot several times, missing every vital organ, and then left for dead. She survived. This cabin has served for years as a place of refuge for the family who has suffered so intensely. Three years ago, another of their sons passed away from cancer. This has been very hard on my friends. Being down there at their cabin this weekend, I realized how much hope there is in this family. It is a place of peace and quiet reflection. I wish there were more places like this left in the world. It is a place where you can always hear the sound of the wind in the trees. There is always peace, always hope, always a haven for those who seek it there.

I came home with a cold. My voice is gone and so I had to cancel my signing yesterday and will likely cancel my signing tomorrow. I simply cannot talk without pain. I'll get better. Meanwhile, I had a very nice man stop by yesterday to pick up fifteen books to share with friends and family for Christmas. I met him last week in Bountiful at Costco. He purchased the third book in the store and talked me into selling him copies of book one and two in the parking lot since Costco is not currently carrying them. He explained that he had been reading the books to his wife and they had been touched . I have had the chance to speak to book clubs in the last few days too an have sold more than 100 books there, along with a bunch of pots. It seems like this series is gaining momentum, but not at all in the way I thought it would. People are talking and sharing and recommending the books to their friends and neighbors. It is multiplying as it rolls forward. It is so fun to receive your emails and letters, thanking me for the books. It is often very humbling to hear your stories about finding the love of God, wanting to become better, thinking more compassionately about those around you. Thanks for sharing.

Ten days ago, a big change came to my life. I was released from a calling in my church that I have held for more than six years. I am a Mormon, and like the Quakers, there is no paid ministry in my church. People take turns serving each other. For the past six years, I have served as a bishop in my congregation. It has been an intensely humbling experience over those years, one that has caused me to lean heavily on God for direction and guidance as I have made decisions that have effected many people's lives. Being released from this calling and having those responsibilities given to someone else has been another humbling experience. It has been bitter sweet, having learned to love people and knowing so much about their lives has been wonderful. I no longer have the obligation or responsibility to love my neighbors in the same way I did as bishop, but once you learn to love, I am not sure you can ever really refrain. I am grateful for the things I have learned along this journey--to look beyond the end of my own nose, to have a deeper faith, to find the beauty in every individual, to love and be loved, to join hands with other imperfect souls as we work together to become something better than we naturally are. I don't know if your life can ever be the same after something like that, and I am realizing that more and more each day. I have been a part of Niederbipp, and I hope I always will be.
So, for now, I'm signing off. I'm not sure what the future will bring, but I am ready for the ride and looking forward to it. Cheers to the journey!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Overcoming Fear

It seems strange than my whole story so far has been about overcoming fear. It took a lot of work to get me started really going on my series and even then it took me the better part of a decade to finish the first book. Once it got going, the others came much more quickly, but I realized today how fear has kept me from moving forward with making this series something bigger. I have spoken to more than 100 book clubs over the last 18 months, and at everyone of them, I speak about the scripture that finally got me over the hump--got me writing regularly until the book was complete.

2 Timothy 1:7"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind."

I am certain that God does not give us fear. It always comes from the Great Inhibitor, who uses fear to keep us from becoming what we are supposed to be--what we are supposed to do. It was 13 years ago that Isaac started talking to me, telling me the stories of love and grace and redemption. I knew I needed to write them down, but I was not a writer. They were beautiful, but inconvenient and I struggled for a long time with fear and uncertainty. I didnt know what I was supposed to do with them.

Looking back usually offers a better perspective. I remember dozens of times when I recieved a tiny glimpse of where I was headed, like the twinkle of a distant star in black sky that offered me some direction and hope. I know my journals of full of recordings of those glimpses, but at the time, dealing with fear and bills and uncertainty, the little hope it offered me served only to keep me slowly trudging forward. I hate fear. I'm sometimes angry at myself for buying into it...for not allowing faith and love to overcome those dark emotions that have inhibited me.

Two years ago, when I was finishing my first book, I remember hearing reports on NPR about the sad state of the publishing market in the economic downturn. At the time, I was also reading a lot of books about finding an agent and all of them said how difficult it was--like climbing Everest in the winter in the middle of a blizzard without a sherpa--or in other words--impossible. I decided I didnt want to waste my time. I had had a dream where people were flipping through my book, watching the self-propelled movie, laughing at the doodles and sketches and loving the story. I decided to self-publish, rather than even try to find an agent.

To date, I have sold 15,000 copies of my books. It is a nice place to be. I think I have broken even and I still have some books left over and I hear from nice people every day who are sharing with me how my books have affected them in positive ways. That is more than I hoped for--way more. There was a time, shortly after I bought my first 1,500 books that I thought I would be giving them away as wedding gifts for the rest of my life. Luckily, it has not been that way. My wife still loves me, and though the new kitchen we sacrificed to buy books instead is still only a dream, that dream is getting closer to becoming a reality. I am so grateful for a wife who puts up with my crazy ideas.

So, after all those hurdles over the last 13 years, you would have thought that I could have overcome my fears, but the sad reality is that I have not. For the last year, I have known I need to write a query letter and begin the long and painful process of dealing with rejections as they pour in one after another. These books are my babies, and no one likes to be told they have an ugly baby, right?

This last week has been disappointing with sales at Costco. I normally would have been loving this experience, as I did last year, regulary selling 60-100 books everytime I did a book signing. It was really quite amazing. I went to Costco with the same hopes this week, but the reality was different. Costco only ordered the third book, claiming they had too much inventory with Christmas to deal with books one and two. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to try to sell people the third book in a series when they haven't read the first two? It is like trying to sell a big wheel to a newlywed couple, trying to convince them they will love having it sometime down the road. Needless to say, it has been a painful week. I have left each of the signings overwhelmed with the idiocy of the situation. It has been humbling, but it has also been incredibly motivating. Leaving early from my signings each day, I came home and began researching agents and working on my query letter. In one week, out of a feeling of despiration, I have accomplished more towards finding an agent than I had in the last year combined.

Tuesday night, after speaking to a book club, I went out to the studio to clear my mind and think while I glazed a bunch of pots. There is magic that happens in that studio. For me, it is a sacred space, the place where I go for answers. I hope you all have a place like that. As I worked, a memory came to me from probably more than two years ago. A strange memory. I was downtown, sitting at the counter at Siegfried's German Delacatessen, and a bus drove by. There, on the side of the bus was the cover of a book being advertised. I remembered the title for some reason, but not the author. I came inside after midnight and googled the book, got on the author's website, and searched the whole thing over for a hint of his agent. I found nothing. This author is a New York Times Best Selling Author, lives in Virginia, has written a bunch of books and is very busy. But on a whim, I emailed him and asked him for his agents name, figuring he would never respond. To my great surprise, he did respond, sending me the name of his agent the next morning. I looked it up the next day and found, from her description, that there may not be a better fit for my book. Finding that gave me a lot of motivation to move. I finished my query letter yesterday, and today, sent out my first two query letters to an agent in California and one in New York. I have no idea what will come of this, but I did something! Ding-dangit, I did something that has scared me stupid for tha past two years. I put my baby out there to be called every possible name, but I did something and boy, does that feel good.

And tonight, before I go to bed, I am finally ready to start my next book. I have no idea how long this one will take to write, and I have no promises to make, but I have a great idea for a story that won't leave me alone and I know I have to move with it. I am excited about it and all that I hope to learn from this next journey. For now though, it feels great to have overcome one more fear. And tomorrow is a new day. I can't wait for it!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Becoming Isaac hits Costco this Week- (in Utah)

That's right. Sometime this week, Becoming Isaac will begin to appear in Utah Costco stores from St. George to Ogden. I am excited about this. I am trying to stay positive, knowing how difficult it will likely be to sell only the third book. (Costco has decided not to carry the first and second books at this time, which will likely mean never again unless the people rebel and flood the front desk with requests). I know it is a great blessing to have one book at Costco so I won't say anything more. Here is my schedule of for signings this month.

Tuesday October 5--Murray Costco Noon-6

Wednesday October 6--UVSC Bookstore, 11-1

Thursday October 7 --Sandy Costco Noon-6

Friday October 8 --Salt Lake Costco Noon - 2

Tuesday October 12--Bountiful Costco Noon-2

Wednesday October 13--Orem Costco Noon-2

Thursday October 14 --Ogden Costco Noon-2

Friday October 15 --Murray Costco Noon-6

Tuesday October 19--Salt Lake Costco Noon-6

Friday October 22--Bountiful Costco Noon-6

Tuesday October 26 Ogden Costco Noon-6

Thursday October 28--NOt sure yet where I will be.

As you might imagine, this means I will not be making as many pots this month, but I am grateful for the opportunity to sell my books.

I am tired. I am grateful. Before I say anything else, I have to send out a big thank you to all of you who came to my open house last weekend. In total, I sold nearly a thousand books and lots of pots. It was by far the best open house I have ever had--ever. Thanks for coming and bringing your friends. It made me feel like both an artist and a writer. Thank you.

I was hoping to be able to take a small break after the open house and recover some of the lost sleep I missed prior to the open house. I really don't know what happend to this summer. Between writing and editing and the arts festivals, I hardly had time to catch my breath, but the day after the open house, I recieved my schedule for book signings and realized I had no time to relax. I need a new kiln and then on Monday, as I was welding said kiln, a huge order came in from one of my galleries in Georgia, wanting it delivered asap. So it has been a busy week. I used a thousand pounds of clay and filled the kiln for a bisque firing that will take place tomorrow. I hoped to spend some time writing query letters to find an agent. I did a little research and became even more confused than I was before, so after several months of saying I am going to do it, I still have yet to write even one query letter that I have sent. Oh, I have written plenty, but they are crap, all CRAP. I think I am making progress and then I go back and read it and I see how bad it is. It's weird that I can write a thirteen hundred page trilogy, and I cant write a stinking one page query letter that is supposed to get me in the door. If any of you have any suggestions, please let me know. I am humbled and ready to listen to anything at this point. While I am asking for suggestions, I want to solicit another if I may be so bold. As part of the query process, I am supposed to tell my future agent what my book is comparable to. I know that there are many of you out there who have read my book and thousands more and would have an idea of how to compare it. I would very much appreciate your suggestions.

I have just begun hearing from the earliest readers of Becoming Isaac. I am excited by the comments. I love hearing from readers. Your comments make me think. They make me grateful that I finally listened to the voices in my head and put these books together. I hope they will continue to touch you as you read them again. I am constantly humbled by the things I hear from you. Thank you. With all the sincerity of my heart, thank you. Thank you for the positive reviews you have given me on Amazon. com and Good Reads. Thanks for telling your friends. Thanks for loving Niederbipp and sharing it with everyone you know. Thanks for being part of my Niederbipp.

Because Costco will not be carrying Remembering Isaac or Discovering Isaac in the near future, and because I continue to receive emails and phone calls from people near and far wondering where thy might find my books, I will tell you that the best place to find them is at I sell the books on Amazon under the name Abendmahl Press, and all books sold through Abendmahl come signed and new. I also have a box set available there. (It comes in a box) ;)

Anyway, I am going to bed thankful. I have no idea where I am going from here, but I am in it for the long haul and looking forward to seeing what it on the other side of the mountain, even if it is only the other side of the mountain, or a hundred more mountains just like it. I will sleep when I am dead. Cheers to the journey. Ben
Added October 9-- After very poor sales at Costco this week, I have cut back on signing times and will likely cancel signings after next week. If you planned to come to a book signing, it might be wise to email me to make sure I will be going. Because Costco is only carrying the third book, I am finding it difficult to convince anyone to start the series with book three. This apparently makes sense to everyone except the buyers at the top. (I am having to send people to Barnes and Noble or Amazon to begin the series.) Sorry about the inconvenience. If I didnt have to worry about feeding my kids, I might continue to hang out at Costco all day to make just a handful of sales, but as it is, I still need to make a living :). As always, you are welcome to come to the studio and pick up books or pots. You can phone me at 801-883-0146.