Each year, thousands of first-time authors produce their own books, thanks to a growing array of online publishing options. Most of these authors tackle such a monumental project because of a passion for their subject matter. Recognizing this trend in publishing, ReadTheSpirit invited new author Chris Stepien to write about his inspiring pilgrimage into e-publishing.
My Long Walk with Yeshua
By CHRIS STEPIEN
Life had brought me to my knees.
I could have changed my name to Job. My business, health and extended family life suddenly seemed to be cursed. Turmoil, chronic illness and genuine life-and-death tests mounted around my wife and me. Plus, there was that little responsibility of parenting our two teenage sons as they confronted their own angst.
I prayed like our survival depended on it.
As a Catholic, my rosary was among the first things I grabbed. After all, the eight fingers and two thumbs on my hands could represent ten beads. I told Mary, the Blessed Mother, I’d pray at least one decade of the rosary each day, hoping to get a lot closer to her son. It worked.
Like many Catholics, I couldn’t name all 20 decades or Mysteries of the Rosary. Traditionally the Church had given us 15 of them, each one a biblical scene on which to prayerfully reflect in a way that leads toward a greater spiritual awareness. For example, contemplating the Mystery of Jesus’s Baptism in the Jordan leads us to be more open to the Holy Spirit in our own lives. About 10 years ago, Pope John Paul II added five more to bring the total to 20.
One of the oldest Joyful Mysteries is Finding of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52)—one of the hardest for me to contemplate. I’d ponder the 12-year-old boy Messiah, separated from His parents for three days—on His own near the massive, magnificent Temple in Jerusalem, following Passover. Slave traders, Roman soldiers, Temple guards, lepers, priests and street merchants surrounded Him.
Mary and Joseph must have panicked as they searched for Him. As a husband and father, I would have. Was young Jesus ever in jeopardy? Who did He meet? Where did He sleep? Sure, He astonished the scribes and scholars with His wisdom and knowledge, but what happened to Jesus when the old dudes went home?
Often, I prayed my daily decade while briskly walking for exercise. Every 20 days, that Temple scene came up and my mind exploded with images. As a former TV writer-producer-director, this story was rich with possibilities. I considered writing a screenplay. But I just didn’t know enough about the times, the culture.
The more I prayed and contemplated, the closer I got to this boy Jesus and his family. I wondered: What did He study in school? What was His house like? How did the Nazarene caravan prepare for the journey to Jerusalem? How long was the walk to the Temple? Did He see His teenage cousin, John the Baptist, on His Passover pilgrimage?
As my spiritual journey deepened, my health and family situation improved. The more I healed, the more I wanted to write about this boy Messiah’s adventure. Pretty soon I couldn’t resist the urge. But first, I needed to research His ancient lifestyle.
CHRIS STEPIEN: Biblical Resources at Our Fingertips
One of my old friends is an Emmy-award-winning actor and now a priest, the Rev. Joseph “Bernie” Marquis. He turned me on to a great resource, Jesus and His Times (Reader’s Digest Books). This well-respected perspective on first-century life includes a chapter on the Temple and what the boy Messiah would have seen. I poured over the 300-plus pages. The Web provided many more excellent resources, plus rapid search for additional materials as I needed them.
I wouldn’t presume to speak for Jesus, so everything I wrote for Him to say was a Scripture verse, organically woven into the dialogue. I’d simply Google a topic and find a myriad of passages to consider.
What format should my story take? A screenplay was too limiting. I needed more space to tell my story and develop Jesus’ character. I decided to pen a novel in a very visual style, easy to adapt for the screen.
I used Jesus’s Hebrew name, often rendered Yeshua in English, and wrote about things like His hobbies, favorite foods and friends. I thought: He should be real for readers. We know “Jesus wept” (John 11:35), but He must have smiled and laughed, too. The words poured out of me. The child I had come to know in contemplative prayer was inspiring—the same Messiah that had quenched my thirst for peace and calmed my fears.
I wrote whenever time permitted, usually during the day. When business clients canceled meetings, I’d laugh joyfully and write more. Was I crazy? I was putting business third, behind my family and this book. I’d pause to read each chapter to my wife, Ellen. She’d offer ideas and edits, and always say, “Keep writing.” I began in February 2012. In September, I completed and copyrighted a first draft, working all weekend at the end to finish. My copy of Jesus and His Times fell apart, encyclopedia volumes stacked up, and Web references swelled my MacBook.
Until the first draft was done, I wasn’t sure I’d finish. I had won Emmys at WXYZ-TV, Detroit, crafting and capturing words, images and sound, but I had never written a novel. My deadline experience helped me keep things moving. Every weekday I worked on the book, even if just for an hour. More than two-thirds of the way through some 82,000 words, I was still refining my premise for how Yeshua became separated from His parents.
I paused during the holidays. Another priest read my first draft, and in January 2013, encouraged me to publish it for Lent or Easter. I’d already reached out to several literary agents. There were no takers. But my test readers praised it. A colleague urged me to join the eBook revolution and self publish. I feverishly wrote 13 more drafts. Late night edits and inserts replaced my trips to the fridge. My neighbor, Gary Ciccarelli, an illustrator, donated his services and designed the cover.
Chris Stepien: Choosing E-Publishing
On March 4, I released my eNovel, Three Days: The Search for the Boy Messiah on Amazon.com at $4.99 a copy. The Facebook, Twitter and PR push began immediately, as I simultaneously pursued readers and traditional publishers. Three newspapers and a radio station interviewed me. Clergy and spiritual types responded encouragingly, and Facebook analytics say people are talking. Yet sales are slow. I need an endorsement to trigger a viral surge that rings the register or prompts a publisher’s offer. I did email the Vatican.
Several influential Christian gatekeepers, including at least one publisher, are now reading the book. Meanwhile, I’m snatching up all the low-hanging fruit I can, contacting archdioceses, Christian youth organizations, university Newman Centers, home-school associations and congregations. Writing the book was a love affair. PR and marketing are a grind.
“Print it,” many friends urge. If I spend ten grand to crank out some 1,000 basic paperbacks, I could sell more—and that may be the investment I need to risk. But with an eBook, I have the luxury to be patient. There’s no warehouse full of expensive stacks to unload. And with the recent success of The Bible series on the History Channel, I’m also tapping my Hollywood contacts.
Besides, I just got my first national review and it was better than I imagined. Each day brings another unexpected blessing on my long walk with Mary and her son, Yeshua.