Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Where Does The Summer Go?

   When I was a boy, I was very fond of the comic strip PEANUTS.  I had several books of the compiled daily strips, and one of my favorites was entitled SUMMERS FLY, WINTERS WALK, CHARLIE BROWN!  At the time I didn't really appreciate just how true that could be.  After all, when you are a kid, three months of summer vacation are FOREVER.  The days stretch out, packed with adventure and activity, and the milestones - family vacation time, fishing, riding your bicycle everywhere under the sun, Vacation Bible School if you are a church kid like I was, afternoons at the movies - by the time summer ends, you're almost ready for school to start so you can get some rest!

   Now, before anyone interjects, I fully recognize that most adults work all summer long, with only a brief week or two where they can pack in a vacation.  I am blessed beyond measure that, as a teacher, I can actually be off work from the last week of May through mid-August.  (Technically, though, I'm not really OFF work - just working harder at my other occupations!)  So I'm not at all ungrateful for having this time off every year, but at the same time - MAN! that time flies!  So as I sit down here to update my blog for the first time in a couple of weeks, I thought I would take stock of what I did with the time I had.

   Of course, as an author, book signings are the most effective way to get your name and your titles out there, so I tried to book as many of those events as I could into the summer months.  There simply is no substitute for personal appearances, where you can put a face with your name and personally invite people to buy your books.  And I did a LOT of that!  Looking back over my calendar ap, I did nine bookstore events, plus three artifact shows where I sold books from my table, and spoke at three different churches and sold books there as well.  That translated to 115 books that I personally sold this summer, not counting my online sales from Amazon and my website (I won't know about those until I get my summer royalty check this fall).  I'm still not where I wish I was - let's be honest, I'd LOVE to have sales like Stephen King or John Grisham - but hey, I'll take it!  (And, of course, if you are reading this, feel free to help me bump up those numbers by ordering my books at the link I'll provide at the end of this column!) Also, I have four more signing events coming up in August, so check the "Meet Lewis" page on my website to see if I'll be coming to your neck of the woods!

   Summer is also "me" time.  And for me, that always means arrowhead hunting!  My hunting pace has slowed to a crawl compared to previous years - partly because my local hunting conditions are so very sparse, and partly because I am spending so much time promoting my books.  I went on my first hunt of the summer on Memorial Day, up to the river, and found one of the most memorable artifacts I have ever picked up (I chronicled that hunt here back in May, if you are interested in reading about it).  I made a return trip to the river, a couple of weeks later, but we got rained out before we could find much of anything.  I also made two trips down to Limestone County, TX, my favorite hunting ground, and found nine points the first time and four the second, but then my trust old tub, the Water Turkey, began having engine trouble and has languished in the shop ever since.  As soon as they get the parts in, though, we'll be hitting the water again in quest of Indian relics.  I still have a couple of weeks left!

   Artifact shows are another enjoyable part of my summer routine.  For years my friend Ray and I have hosted a show of our own, however, this summer we just weren't able to put it together - I was too busy and he was too sick.  We will try to do it next year, I guess.  However, I did pack up four tables' worth of relics and head down to Temple, TX for the biggest arrowhead show in Texas, during the first weekend of June.  I took my wife along and we had a lovely time - I did some buying and selling of relics and also sold a big old pile of my books, and just thoroughly enjoyed walking around and staring at some of the finest Indian artifacts ever collected in North America. After the show we drove down to Austin the next morning and I did a book signing there, and then enjoyed a nice leisurely drive back.   There were also two shows this summer and spring in Midlothian, TX - an excellent little show hosted by my friend Harold Hughes.  In a way, I enjoy it more than Temple because I can actually get around and see ALL the tables, since there are only 35 of them, instead of spinning my wheels trying to take in 250 tables of relics at the huge Temple show.

   You can't talk about summer in Texas without mentioning the weather.  The past few summers around here have been relatively mild - most days in the 90's, with nights in the 70's - in other words, certainly warm and downright hot in the afternoons, but not miserable.  Well, this year we jumped back into the patterns of the previous decade.  So far we have had 21 hundred degree days, and one particularly brutal Sunday a week or two back it jumped up to 109.  Folks, that I is just plain HOT, no matter what part of the country you are from!  Needless to say, that thoroughly curtails any outdoor activity that does not involve getting in the water.

   Since we are full time caretakers for my mother-in-law, who is now 90, it's very hard for us to get away for more than a few days at a time.  But this past weekend we did combine a book signing in Houston with a chance to sneak down to Galveston for a couple of days, and had a wonderful time!  We got to visit with my sister, I sold a few books Saturday, and then Sunday was a glorious day of rest and leisure - walking on the beach, enjoying fresh Gulf seafood, touring a museum, and just relaxing without worrying about whose night it was to stay up with Dorothy, or having to listen to the incessant yapping of her beast Allie, the world's most annoying dog!  Few things are more therapeutic than the sound of the waves rolling in and the cry of seagulls over the water.

    What else did I do with summer?  I finished the musical I was working on, about Theodore Roosevelt - I have no idea if I will ever do anything with it, but I had fun writing it and felt a real sense of accomplishment when it was finished.  I began writing, with my friend Holly Rice, a screenplay based on my novel THE TESTIMONIUM - we're hoping to turn it into a feature film at some point!  I also resumed work on my long-delayed novel THE EMPEROR AND THE APOSTLE, and I will have it finished very soon - I plan to start working on the final chapter this afternoon.  Then there was the YouTube channel that we just launched, with Holly doing the filming.  What else?  We celebrated the Fourth of July with fireworks and a grass fire (which, I will note, was NOT started by our fireworks!), we had my wife's brother over for a visit and spent time with his family, we did a few minor projects around the house, and all the usual chores that go with adulthood.

   All in all, it's been a remarkably busy summer as well as a fun one.  In fact, looking back over this column, I am reminded of another comic strip I love, CALVIN AND HOBBES.  One of their jumbo anthologies was also about summer vacation, and its title pretty well could stand as a memorial to this marvelous, crazy hot, busy but relaxing season: THE DAYS ARE JUST PACKED!

   Now the crazy month of August lies ahead, with a couple of weeks to try and pack in as much activity as I can before resuming my classroom duties on the 22nd.  More book signings, hopefully a day or two on the lake with the Water Turkey, helping my wife unpack and set up her  new classroom - summer's not over yet, but the end is in sight!  Now, if you want to spice up what's left of your summer with a good book and help support your favorite blogger in the process, you can order my books directly off my website, or on Amazon if you prefer to get them there:



And please don't forget, if you have read my books, to swing by online and leave me a review on Amazon!  Good reviews mean a lot.  Thanks, as always, for reading this, and enjoy whatever it is you do with your upcoming month of August!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Opening Doors: How I Went From the Pulpit to YouTube!

    "You're going to have to decide - does God want you to be an author, or a pastor?"

     My wife had a point.  At this time a year ago, I had written several books, but was struggling to get them noticed outside of our local community and social circle.  They had all earned great reviews from readers, but just weren't selling much.  The problem was, I was wearing too many hats, doing too many things, and trying to do all of them well.  I was (and am) a full time teacher at a small Christian school, instructing in seven different subjects in the fall and six in the spring, plus a night class one night a week at the local community college.  Patty and I were also, with the help of our two daughters, providing 24 hour care for her aging mother, and trying to run a small goat ranch.  There was also my writing, doing book signings on Saturdays, and my occasional attempts to get out of the house and go down to the river and look for arrowheads, just to clear my head and have some relaxation.

    Then there was the church.  I had said eight years ago that I didn't think I could do justice to a church as pastor and teach school at the same time, but I continued to do some pulpit supply and interim work.  Then a small church called me to preach one Sunday.  Then they asked me if I could come and preach one Sunday a month.  Then they asked if they could refer to me as their pastor "for official records and such."  And, sure enough, within a year, I was preaching there every single Sunday.  It was a good little country church with nice people, and we grew.  We moved into a new location.  We baptized new members.  We saw most of our youth grow up and graduate, and new children come in to the church with their parents. I started my writing career during this time, and published one book after another for three years straight.  We were busy, but not frantic.  It was pretty good for a while.

   But then Patty's Mom began to need more and more care.  Matt, one of our most active church members, who directed much of our visitation and outreach, died. We had some drama and folks left. My Dad's health began to slide. The church needed more of my time at a point when I was ill equipped to give it - but at the same time, I didn't want to walk away when there were so many needs to be met.  But was I really helping the church by staying on when I could not give them the time and attention that they needed?  Was I really serving God more effectively by preaching to the same 20 people every Sunday, or by writing faith-based books that had the potential to reach thousands if not millions with a message of hope and redemption?  After a lot of prayer and soul-searching, over Christmas I made up my mind. I would announce my departure in the spring, cutting my ties with my church and pouring as much effort as I could into my writing.

    When I told my wife, she said: "About time!  I've been afraid you were going to kill yourself by trying to do so much.  You really needed to let something go."

    I agreed, but I still worried if I was doing the right thing. So I prayed to God to show me if I was going the way He wanted.  And that is when the doors began to open!

     In January I was doing a book signing at Half Price Books in McKinney when an older gentleman named Dan stopped by my table.  In between my sales pitches, he began to talk to me.  He was a professional publicist and marketing expert, and we talked off and on for a half an hour.  He never did buy a book, but he complimented my novels, my cover art, and my willingness to engage people and plug my works.  As he left the store, he gave me a card and said:  "I would like to help you out, so drop me an email sometime."

    To be honest, I really figured that Dan was trying to sign me on as a client, and was a bit wary - but at the same time, one email couldn't hurt, right?  So I emailed him a couple days later, and got a friendly response.  At the end, he said: "Let me get February done, I'm stacked up right now, but then we can meet sometime for lunch. I like you, I like what you are trying to do, and I want to help you promote your books."

   So in March, we met for brunch at a sidewalk cafĂ© in McKinney.  I brought my wife, and Dan brought his sister.  Our conversation began something like this:
Dan:  "I want to get one thing out front.  I simply cannot take you on as a client right now; I have too many projects going at once."
Me:  "Good, because I wanted to get one thing out front, too:  I have absolutely no money to pay you!"

   We laughed, and then talked for an hour and a half.  Besides some incredibly solid marketing advice (some I had heard before, some I had not), Dan also made me an astonishing offer at the end of our time together: "When you get the cover art for your next book ready, send it to me - along with the covers for the other ones.  I am going to design you some nice, professional brochures and print you up a thousand of them. Actually, I think I'll print five thousand!"

    That blew my mind. FIVE THOUSAND professionally designed, colored brochures for free?  But, when we finished designing the cover of THE GNOSTIC LIBRARY, I sent it to him, along with the cover art and synopses for my other stories - and sure enough, a few weeks later I received a PDF file of these beautiful brochures!  Not only that, Dan also designed a website for me, set the whole thing up, and taught me how to add new appearances to the "Coming Events" page.  All of this, and the only thing I was ever asked to pay for was the website's annual hosting fee.

   Dan also asked me for a bio to go on the website, and I wrote one. It was kind of stiff and awkward, and he kindly said: "You really ought to get somebody else to write this for you; someone who knows you well."  My wife, of course, knows me better than anyone - the problem is, she knows me TOO well!  So I asked my close friend and beta reader Ellie to take a stab at it, and she wrote a wonderful bio which I sent to Dan.  He took one look and said: "This is spot on!"  So he used it on the brochures, and on the website.

   So by April, right after I announced my resignation to the church, I had a professionally designed website AND five thousand brochures to promote my books.  But God wasn't done yet!  Shortly after I left the church, I ran into a friend of mine, a local filmmaker named Holly Rice.  She told me: "I just finished reading THE TESTIMONIUM, and I think it would make a fantastic movie. Would you be willing to collaborate with me on a screenplay?"

   So at the beginning of summer, we began to bounce scenes and scripts back and forth with each other.  Then one day we came up with the idea of creating a YouTube channel!  Next thing I know, I have Holly and a former student of mine, Austin Thomas, who is becoming something of a  YouTube rock star himself, following me up to the Sulphur River to film the first couple of episodes.  Today the YouTube channel is launched - and, might I add, our first video is pretty amazing, more due to Holly's skill with a camera than to any ability on my part.  In our first three days online, we have 51 subscribers and nearly 500 views!  Lots more episodes to come over the next few months, too, as we continue to work on our screenplay and film new episodes whenever we get the chance.

    In short, ever since I made my decision in December, one door after another has opened before me.  I don't really know where we are going to wind up, but God is good.  He is leading, and I continue to follow.  I am close to completing my sixth novel, I have book signing events every weekend through the end of August, and as I visit different churches, I find myself being invited to come and give my testimony and talk about my books and their message.  Feature film?  YouTube star?  Inspirational writer?  Maybe all these things, maybe none.  But wherever my journey takes me, I am grateful for all the people God has put in my path, who are helping me along the way - especially to Dan and Holly for their amazing talents, to my lovely wife, Patty, who has been such a tireless encourager, and to all those who buy and read my books.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!

  Now - check out my awesome website!


Thursday, July 5, 2018

From TR: The Musical - SECOND TERM BLUR

One thing that was so fun about creating this libretto is the subject himself!

               Theodore Roosevelt was never supposed to be President.  A crusading reformer as governor of New York, he had been nominated for the Vice Presidency in a move to politically neuter him!  But President McKinley's assassination elevated him to the White House, and he was so effective (and so popular!) that the GOP had no choice but to nominate him for a term of his own in 1904.  The Party's Old Guard didn't like him, but the Progressive wing of the party found in him a tireless champion.  Having voluntarily limited himself to two terms (the 22nd Amendment would not pass for another fifty years), Roosevelt knew he had to hit the ground running in his second term - and that is exactly what he did!

                       SECOND TERM BLUR


TR:  (Standing on a balcony, hand on the Bible, facing the Chief Justice)

I will faithfully execute the office of the Presidency of the United States, so help me God!

Are we done?  Thanks! For now I must needs walk where giants before me trod!

(turns to face audience)

My fellow Americans, it is a thrill to stand before you all today!

A second term, a term of my own – you gave me this thing for which I prayed.

Four years is an eternity if you spend it waiting for something that you dream of –

But it passes in an instant when the dream is real and you are doing what you love!

So forgive me on this fine March day if I cut my inaugural speech short –

So much to do, so little time!  You can read the papers for a full report!


(He turns and enters the White House, striding down the hall to the Oval Office)


Gentlemen of my cabinet, the clear cutting of our woodlands makes me nervous,

So I propose to Congress that we create a Federal Forestry service.

Let’s set aside a few million acres of our proud and ancient trees,

In National Forests, to be enjoyed by our grandchildren in future centuries.

Next, it’s been brought to my attention that Standard Oil is up to its old tricks;

Undercutting competition, bribing legislators, and making customers feel the prick!

So let’s shake the dust off of the good old Sherman Anti-Trust Act,

Slap them with an indictment, and watch J.D. Rockefeller react!

Nothing warms my heart more than to see the fat cats squirming

With their hands caught in the cookie jar, and public anger burning!
Remember, folks, that I have nothing against good, honest business –

But when companies turn all predatory, I’ll act with vengeful swiftness!

Railroads, bankers, oil men, all these industries serve their purpose –

They keep the country going and provide the public valuable service.

But why can’t these men just be content to earn a decent profit?

How can they gouge the hardworking poor and not see the evil of it?

So government must be the watchdog, protector, and defender of the public –

And the President must always speak justice from this magnificent bully pulpit!


Alice:  Speaking justice was what my father did, even when too few would listen –

Later generations who never knew him had no idea what they were missin’!

That second term was full of problems, and one tragic loss to boot –

Secretary John Hay finally died, and Dad replaced him with Elihu Root.

Things were also getting much tenser on the international scene –

The Far East had erupted in the bloodiest war that region had ever seen!

The Russian fleet got caught by surprise in a Japanese sneak attack –

And the Tsar sent his Baltic ships around the world on a voyage to strike back.

The Japanese were waiting for them at the Battle of Tsushima Straits –

And the Russian fleet went down in total defeat on that infamous date!

Then the war ground down to a bloody stalemate, neither side could win –

That was the point at which they asked “President Teddy” to step in!


TR: (seated at a conference table with the Japanese and Russian emissaries)

Gentlemen, thank you for agreeing to meet me here in Portsmouth, Maine –

I think that we can agree that this awful war has caused you both sufficient pain!

So since you have both asked me in good faith if I would arbitrate,

I ask you now to sit together, and put aside your mutual hate.

What does Japan seek to gain? On the sea you have the upper hand,

But Russia’s armies are hard to beat, and you’ve reached a stalemate on the land.


Sec. Root: The two adversaries wrangled and argued for a several days more;

Each hoping to gain enough to claim they’d got what they were fighting for!

But when all was said and done and the negotiations were completed,

The Treaty of Portsmouth was signed, and the Russians were defeated!

The Tsar was forced to reform his monarchy and give the people more power –

But President Roosevelt now became the hero of the hour!

When the peace conference ended, the whole world was surprised

That the Nobel Committee gave Roosevelt its coveted Peace Prize!


TR: That was certainly a great honor, but I dared not stop to relax –

Time was ticking , ticking, ticking and I still had more proposed acts!

My friend Upton Sinclair had gone undercover at great risk to expose

Just how dreadful our food industry had become, and now the public knows

The nastiness of slaughterhouses and unsanitary meat packing –

What better time to give our food supply the cleanliness it’s lacking!

Not to mention patent medicines, bottled up by snake oil salesmen

Although snake oil would be healthier for those who were seriously ailing!

All manner of trash and poison, sugar water and addictive drugs

Were packed up and sold without control, like they were Persian rugs!

So off to Congress I’ll now send my latest presentation –

To create a brand new Federal Food and Drug Administration!

And I’ll sign a law to protect our country’s sacred antiquities

From looters and commercial dealers who are stealing with great ease.

More national parks and monuments!  More beautiful places set aside

For future generations to behold with great wonder and pride!
I cannot rest upon my laurels, nor waste too much time on debate –

Next week will be time to admit Oklahoma as America’s forty-sixth state!

I need to regulate railroads better, and create Employer’s Liability laws

Four years will be gone in a flash!  I simply can’t afford to pause!

Once the mid-term elections have come and gone, I know what will happen –

Congress will sit on its arse and wait, unless I give them a good slapping!
They know my time is limited, they think all action can be deferred –

To counter that what I have to do is make my second term a blur!


Sec. Root:  Mister President, ‘tis nine o’clock! Your cabinet is drooping!

Don’t you think we should adjourn, and spend tomorrow regrouping?

You can’t do everything in a single day, no matter how hard you try –

And the finished product will surely be better if it’s not all done on the fly!


TR:  What say you, you old layabout?  You’re already getting tired?

Fine then, but be here at six AM or the lot of you are fired!

As for me I think I’ll change and practice some Japanese judo –

Anyone want to wrestle me now, and earn Presidential kudos?

What? No?  Fine then, I’ll practice all alone, and try not to make noise;

But wait! Perhaps my sons will wrestle me!  Let me call them!  BOYS!!!!


(Ted Jr, Quentin, Archie, and Kermit emerge from the residence and tackle their father, who rolls around on the floor with them, shouting “Bully!!”)