Happy Birthday to Joe; Lessons Learned from a Sparrow’s Journey

5 Jul
Sparrow in prison book cover

Still a Good Summer Read!

This week we celebrate a birthday, of sorts, as my baby, “Caged Sparrow” is officially one year old. I suspect that’s about 20 in book years, judging by how much of my energy went into raising it.

Although completing one book hardly qualifies me as an expert in anything, I would like to share a few lessons I’ve learned over the past few years, because I know my dream was just one in a sea of dreams still to be fulfilled in the world.

It’s been two and a half years since I walked away from my “day job,” a job that paid quite well, where I loved my co-workers and needed to invest only three more years to qualify for retirement benefits.

But I couldn’t shake the pull to write full time.

I tried to ignore it, working 8-hour days during the week and spending my nights and weekends juggling responsibilities as wife and mother. Stories and characters filled my head until I thought I might burst. Every once in a while I’d have to steal away to a quiet corner and dash off a few pages of one project or another. Rarely did I finish anything. I did create a collection of short stories, but had no idea how to market them.

My one annual indulgence was to escape every May to attend the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers’ Conference near Asheville, NC. Although I felt like a phony there, a pretend writer surrounded by real writers, I couldn’t stay away. Something about the creativity flowing through everyone I met wrapped around me like a lasso of possibility and just kept tugging.

This IS where I belong.

I drank in the writing seminars and workshops, basked in the warm writing talk at every meal, and left the conference on fire to keep writing, even though nobody wanted to read my short stories.

“Short stories just don’t sell,” said the experts.

Then “Caged Sparrow” fell into my lap in a most unconventional manner, during small talk in a lounge area at the writers’ conference with two women I’d never met. When I mentioned I liked to write people’s stories, the first, Linda Rondeau, became quite animated.

“I know someone with a story!” She then described this former undercover cop who had been framed and sent to prison among the very people he’d been putting in jail for nearly 20 years. As she finished telling me about Joe Tuttolomondo, the second woman, Diana Flegal, leaned over and said, “If you write it, I’ll take a look at it.”

She’s an agent! Who knew?

The rest is history. I started planning my departure from the typical work force almost immediately. Most of my co-workers expressed incredulous encouragement. I couldn’t blame them for the incredulous part, as I felt the same.

Am I really going to do this?
Why yes, I really am.

Today I’m barely making a living, editing documents and writing short stories to cover the cost of gas and groceries so I can write my own stories on the side. Both family cars will need to be replaced soon, the front porch is falling down, and there’s this barely perceptible drip, drip, drip coming from the pipes above the kitchen ceiling. But I’m not worried. As with everything else over the past two years, somehow, the Lord will ensure those issues are taken care of.

joe

Who could say no to someone filled with this much joy for the Lord?

I may go back to work at some point, but I haven’t regretted leaving for a minute, because Caged Sparrow is an actual book, available in book stores. And because Joe is so gosh darned tickled pink to have his story in print, it makes me giggle inside. And because I am a “real” writer and have been since I was 14. (To anyone who feels the same as I did during my early writers’ conference years, know that you’re a writer because you write, not because you sell.)

 

I will wrap up by telling you some of the advice I heard along my journey:

 

It’s irresponsible to quit your day job for a dream. To that I say, humbug. If it’s really your passion, you’ll find a way to make it work. I’d trade 12 “safe” years for two years of living on the edge while doing what I love. Oh, wait, that’s what I did.

Nobody reads memoirs. Humbug again. These are real stories about real people. Memoirs can inspire, uplift, encourage, and enable others to dream. Perhaps if we could get our young generations to read more memoirs, we’d need fewer animated cartoon heroes. Oh, and did I mention, at this year’s writing conference, it took first place in the 2016 Selah awards for best memoir, and overall director’s choice for best non-fiction book of the year! Not bad for something nobody wants to read.

Self-publishing is risky business. So is crossing the street. Sometimes, however, self-publishing is the only way to go. Although Ms Flegal did take on my book, she met up against a brick wall of “nobody reads memoirs” publishers, so I took it back. I’m glad I did, because Joe’s story needed to be told. Of course, if you’re planning to go this route, ensure your book is professionally edited, make sure you’re linking up with a reputable company, and get yourself a kick-butt cover designer, but then, by all means, go for it.

Without a publisher, you can probably hope to sell about 300 copies. To that I say, 1,300 copies later, wait, what?

If you’re going to autograph your books with a reference, make sure you memorize it. Okay, this I have to agree with. I chose the encouraging, hope-filled verse from Proverbs 16:9, which states, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps,” because it’s the story of my life. However, somewhere around the 30th copy I noticed I was referring people to Proverbs 19:6, which is NOT my life verse at all. In fact, it states, “Many curry favor with a ruler, and everyone is the friend of one who gives gifts.” No doubt, the recipients of those autographs are still confused. (NOTE: If you’re one of those lucky few, consider yours a special “error copy,” which will no doubt be worth something one day.)

So here I am, about to release my second book, “From the Remnants,” and still clutching my collection of short stories that some expert has told me won’t sell. Considering all the advice I’ve received recently, what do you think I’m going to do with these?

You are correct…which is why I’m now resuming work on “The Perfect Parent, Parables for the New Believer.”  Details coming soon.

——-

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God – Ecclesiastes 2:24

10 Responses to “Happy Birthday to Joe; Lessons Learned from a Sparrow’s Journey”

  1. Kathleen Grunden July 5, 2016 at 5:28 pm #

    I am SO glad you listened to the Lord. “Caged Sparrow” is wonderful. Looking forward to reading “From the Remnants”. God has blessed you with a very special gift.

  2. Allyn Bamberger July 6, 2016 at 10:51 am #

    I can hardly wait to read From the Remnants, Rose. Keep on pouring them out!

  3. Joe Tuttolomondo July 6, 2016 at 11:08 am #

    Rose,
    I wish I could put into words what it has meant to me to have known you and the adventure you under took with Caged Sparrow. When I think of what you gave up and the step into faith you took I am forever grateful to the Lord for you. You are a writer!!! With a wonderful gift from the Lord. You took a simple story and put it in such captivating words that so many have told me they could not put Caged Sparrow down once they read the first page. This isn’t just a story; but how it was written. There may (will) be ups and downs, but please stay with your dream and your gift. Remember with the Holy Spirt guiding you, you will excel .

    • Portrait Writer July 6, 2016 at 11:37 am #

      Aw, thanks Joe. We’ll just call it a divine pairing. Always indebted. Ever grateful.

  4. Aimee Eddy July 7, 2016 at 6:23 pm #

    You have inspired me to keep pushing forward with my memoir. Your post is encouraging and inspiring.

    • Portrait Writer July 7, 2016 at 8:07 pm #

      Way to go Aimee! From what little you talked about it at St David’s, I have a feeling it’s a story worth telling.

      • Aimee Eddy July 7, 2016 at 9:57 pm #

        If you have any more advice to give you are welcome to email me at aimeeegross@gmail.com. I could use all the support and advice I can get.

  5. Mary Magdalene August 16, 2016 at 11:41 pm #

    You are so genuine! Thank you for sharing your experience and advise.
    Mary Magdalene

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