Thursday, March 15, 2012

the day I gave up writing forever!

from the website:

Murray Pura earned his Master of Divinity degree from Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia and his ThM degree in theology and interdisciplinary studies from Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. For more than twenty-five years, in addition to his writing, he has pastored churches in Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Alberta. Murray’s writings have been shortlisted for the Dartmouth Book Award, the John Spencer Hill Literary Award, the Paraclete Fiction Award, and Toronto's Kobzar Literary Award. Murray pastors and writes in southern Alberta near the Rocky Mountains. He and his wife Linda have a son and a daughter.

Favorite Verse: Psalm 27:1a – “Light, space, zest – that’s God!”

The Day I Gave Up Writing: by Murray Pura

My first novel was published in 1988. It received some decent critical attention and was short-listed for a couple of notable awards. Over the next ten years I also published several dozen short stories. It looked to me as if everything was beginning to come together for my life as a Christian who wrote books.

Then everything dried up. The novel went out of print. Publishers who said they would put out a second edition reneged on their promises. I had a second novel that was looking for a home but no one was opening the door for the book or me.

Meanwhile I had two toddlers and was trying to pastor a church while my wife nursed as an RN and the pressure of trying to find time to write books and stories no one seemed to want got to be too much. One morning I hatched a plan while my wife was at the hospital, the kids were playing, and I was sitting in the basement office in our house – be done with it! Be done with writing and submitting manuscripts and bearing editors’ rejections and broken promises! End the suffering quickly and effortlessly! Crumple all plot notes, delete all links, trash all computer files, get rid of anything and everything that had to do with creative writing.

So I did. I erased a number of links to publishers and editors, moved files to the virtual wastebasket, deleted emails that had to do with my “dried up as a wine skin in the smoke” writing career, and placed everything that was on paper – and this was more than ten years ago so there was more paper correspondence then –straight into the fireplace. It took several hours but soon I was happy to see my bridges back into a life of writing had all been burned – except for setting a match to the mounds of paper in the fireplace and permanently removing the contents of my computer trash can (I rubbed my hands with glee at the header in the trash menu that read: DELETE FOREVER).

I can honestly say I felt like a new man. No more worries about badgering editors regarding the manuscripts I’d sent them. No more hours spent pounding away at the keyboard when I was already dead tired from fathering and pastoring. No more looking in the mail for an acceptance letter or scanning emails for names like Zondervan, Baker, Barbour, or Harvest House. No more longing for royalty checks that had at least four or five figures instead of two. I felt like dancing. Imagine all the extra time I’d have again just to live and pray and play and – read! It was a good feeling. The cross of trying to be a Christian author no longer had to be borne.

The first glitch in my plan was the early return of my RN wife to the house. I knew she would never agree to my torching of ten years of plots and book ideas and semi-promising correspondence. So I didn’t tell her. I just drew thick metal curtains over the mouth of the fireplace so an interior crammed with white sheets of paper could not be seen. And waited for nightfall when she would be fast asleep in the bedroom, door tightly closed.

The second glitch was worse and, in a way, I am still not over it. I went to the mailbox in the afternoon sun. We were living in the Rockies, literally right in them in a mountain town, and I crunched my way light-heartedly over a snow-packed back lane to get to what we called a superbox. Here boxes for dozens of residences were located. I opened our box, tugged out our envelopes, and headed home, dreaming of matches, and combustible paper, and the removal of a 16 ton weight from my back and mind. All remained well until I sorted through the mail. One letter jumped out at me.

Ah, you will think it was the publishing offer from Alfred A. Knopf & Sons, or Harper & Row, or an announcement from the Pulitzer Prize Committee. But my story did not take that twist. Instead, what jumped out at me was a letter with the massive seal of the US government on it – it practically covered the face of the envelope –and an address that included words like US Consulate, Istanbul, Turkey. And I thought: Oh, great! Now what have I done?

I opened it. It was a letter from a person on the consulate staff, a US citizen. He told me what a difference a story I had written had meant to him. It was a long ago story in a long ago magazine but somehow he had gotten his hands on it, read it through several times, and realized that God was, somehow, speaking to him through it. He’d thought about it, prayed about it, and realized an embassy career was not for him. He was going to be a pastor, the best pastor he could be, and love God, love people, and love the human race with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Then came the curve ball. It seemed to come from this young man but I knew, by its sheer power and velocity, who it had really come from, who had really pitched it. Thank you for what God has done through you, the young man wrote. I pray he will continue to use your writing to bless, challenge, encourage, and refresh. The Lord be with you and in all the stories you put on paper.

I was out. I sat stunned in my chair, one part of my mind trying to calculate when the letter had been written and posted, how long it had been in transit across the Atlantic, how it could have arrived at our mailbox on this very day above all other days. But it didn’t matter, in the end. There it was. I had no arguments left. I pulled the sheaves of paper out of the fireplace and tidied them. Brought my files out of the virtual wastebasket and never clicked on DELETE FOREVER.

Published or unpublished, famous or infamous, for richer or poorer, I was a writer, a Christian who told stories, a man selected by God to be an author whether I liked it or not, through thick and thin, dark or light, good times and bad times. Whatever else I might do in my lifetime, I was a writer, a God writer, and that was now settled, period, end of sentence, world without end, amen.

So what happened next? Well, I hugged and kissed my children, loved my wife, served the people in the church God had called me to, and kept writing. A couple of years later my first novel was republished. Then, because the short stories were somewhat popular, a volume of them was put together and launched. Followed by a second volume. Then a man who liked the stories told Harper One San Francisco I would be a good candidate to write commentary in a study Bible they were putting out. Then the man who republished my first novel and my two books of short stories told a man in the USA about me and he soon became my literary agent. And because of him, and my work with Harper One, and a zealous editor at Zondervan, two inspirational books called Rooted and Streams were published. And because an editor at another publishing house liked Rooted I was invited to submit a proposal for a book in the same vein and in a few months a contract was offered.

Then, due to a challenge by my agent to write a piece of popular fiction set in America, a contract from Barbour popped up a year after finishing the book that met my agent’s challenge. Another editor from another firm had seen the manuscript and, too late to pick up on what Barbour had picked up on, waited for my next manuscript, pounced on it, and I had an offer from Harvest House in Oregon six weeks later. Then another offer.And another offer.And another offer.

My head spun on its axis. In 2010 I had left my church in the hands of another and committed myself to doing more writing, with not a single contract on the horizon, other than having two volumes coming out with Zondervan. Then came the contracts from Barbour and Harvest House and Baker. A trickle became a flood. In 2012, three or four books I’ve written will be published. In 2013, it will be five or six.When people ask what I do now, I tell them the truth: I’m a full time writer. I couldn’t do what publishers and editors are asking me to do without being anything less.

I kid you not. God, after pitching me out at home plate with a letter from Istanbul, set me up with bases loaded a little over a decade later and gave me a Grand Slam. I’m still astonished at the turnaround in my fortunes. It did not happen overnight. But happen it did.

So this is my roundabout way of telling you that if you feel it in you to be a writer, and you really can’t get away from wanting to create and publish what you create, if it’s in your heart and mind and soul and you know God is in it somehow or other, then go ahead and make the time and write. Write and never give up. Never. Never. Never. Never.


Len Hjalmarson said...

Wow! So good to hear this. I sat down with my publisher in Chicago in January and agreed in principle to a second book. No fiction yet - but one day it will happen.

murray said...

I hope so, bro. We sure need more of it - good stuff, you know? After the next book would they let you try a fiction work?

Anonymous said...

I can't believe I haven't seen this post before! I'm so glad I read it tonight. God does things in the most exciting ways. I made my husband listen as I read this story out loud to him. We were both so moved. YAY GOD!

EMP said...

"Published or unpublished, famous or infamous, for richer or poorer, I was a writer, a Christian who told stories, a man selected by God to be an author whether I liked it or not, through thick and thin, dark or light, good times and bad times. Whatever else I might do in my lifetime, I was a writer, a God writer, and that was now settled, period, end of sentence, world without end, amen."


Thanks, Murray. It's 4 a.m. in Alberta, almost a year after you posted this, and these are the very words I needed to sustain me this very day.

Bless you as you keep writing (I have loved the last five books of yours I've had the privilege of reading...)