Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
Dear Boy is my first book. I’ve always wanted to be an author–since I was about 7 years old. I remember very clearly having the thought that I wanted to write a “whole book” when I grew up. I never dreamed about much else, and so I was surprised when, in my late twenties, I suddenly discovered that I was pastoral. For the last 8 years, I’ve been an associate pastor of a church in North Liberty, IA. I love feeling helpful and useful to those who are searching for God on a spiritual journey. There’s nothing like seeing life transformation and change in others–it makes me feel alive and excited about what I do. I am married and have 3 daughters (13, 10, and 5), and so our lives our pretty busy. We read a lot of books at our house, and in the margins of our lives, I’m often refinishing furniture, painting walls, or doing natural-foods experiments on my kitchen counter (kombucha, anyone?).
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
I was in the middle of graduate school, entirely engrossed with other writing projects in the summer of 2008, when I got the call that a brother I adored had been in a car accident and died. He was recently married, a new father, who’d made the inebriated decision to hop into a car with a drunk driver. Within minutes, they flew and rolled off a curve in a country road. His death was so complicated for me–in part because we had been unofficially estranged due to family dynamics and a mother who was mentally ill our whole lives. In the months after he died, I had an urgent need to excavate the pieces of our past in order make sense out of what had happened to us–to our family–and to say all the things (if only in literary form) that I wasn’t able to say to him before he died. Dear Boy started as a fragmented collection of letters written in the most daunting season of my life, and slowly filled out into a narrative that told our story (and the story of our family) in a way that both broke and mended places in my heart.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
Most of my writing these days goes into writing emails and sermons. Sermon writing is just essay writing in disguise, so I love that I get to write something for a group of real, live listeners who are eagerly thinking about how God fits into their lives.
What authors, or books have influenced you?
I love C.S. Lewis–everything he’s ever written. I read pretty widely (more non-fiction than fiction) and seemingly randomly, but I love reading about social issues, spirituality, and psychology, and memoir. I love everything by Malcom Gladwell and Barbara Ehrenreich; and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; and recently I was completely riveted by Sheryl WuDunn and Nicolas Kristof’s A Path Appears.
What are you working on now?
Right now? I’ve got a sermon to write for a Sunday coming up. I’ve also been toying with the idea of writing something book-length that explores church from a non-religious person’s point of view. Even though I’m an “insider,” I’ve plenty of critiques to offer of American Westernized Christianity. There’s a lot of bad and ugly mixed in with the good and I’d like to explore and sort that out through personal essays.
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
E-books sell better than print books these days. Kindle Direct Promotion is a great way to market your book and there are a lot of sites that will allow you to list your promotions for free. Also, paid marketing on FB has generated a lot of sales for me.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Promote your books. Don’t rely on your publishers to do everything. Gone are the days where there are even good budgets for such promotion. Make friends with local independent bookstores, do readings, have book signings. Have a social media presence a la Facebook and Twitter. If you’re a blogger, promote your blog and on your blog promote your work. Do as much cross promotion as you can. Think about promoting your voice as a brand or a company rather than just a single book.
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
Recently I heard someone say that all the work you do to promote your first book is really an investment in your second and third books. You may not see huge sales; people may not know you or your work well yet, but you are developing name recognition for the future when you have something else that you believe in and want to share with readers.
What are you reading now?
Oh my. I read too many books at once. I’m reading Sherry Simpson’s The Dominion of Bears: Living With Wildlife in Alaska. This recently one the John Burroughs Medal for writing about the natural world. Sherry Simpson makes me care about bears and Alaska and things I’d never considered before reading her body of work. I’m also reading Tim Keller’s Center Church–which is about making the idea of “church” relevant to your specific town or city. My 10-yr-old and I have just started Lemony Snicket’s 11th book in A Series of Unfortunate Events and I’m almost done reading Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary to my 5-year-old.
What’s next for you as a writer?
I’m not sure, but I hope to get back to more consistent blogging in the next year or two, and write a bunch more sermons.
What is your favorite book of all time?
This is an impossible and unfair question! So, I’ll just say the first thing that pops into my head: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.