We’re now two days away from the electronic release of Being Called Chaplain: How I Lost My Name and (Eventually) Found My Faith. In another post (which I am still trying to recover from the internet abyss), I explained how I ended up publishing with Harrelson Press and how smoothly everything was going, right up until the last minute. This is the rest of that story. My editor, Merianna, and I set a timeline for publication. We wanted to release the ebook in January and the print version in March. Merianna suggested Epiphany as a good and theologically interesting date for the ebook launch. She began formatting the book for 6×8 pages and quickly realized that, even after my initial edits, it was still way too long. Even when she changed to 6×9 formatting, we were looking at a book the length of a historical epic or late entry in the Harry Potter series — far too lengthy for the spiritual memoir genre for which we were aiming. Mere days before Epiphany, she emailed me the sad news that there was just no way we could print the complete book in this form. I was devastated.
In my email response to her, Merianna could hear my frustration and disappointment. She called to talk me out of it, if she could. She told me that we could release the unedited version as a series of ebooks, and a much shorter version in print. But I hated the thought of not seeing the whole story in print. I knew that there were people who would buy only one version or the other, so I didn’t want them to be so vastly different. And yes, I also dreamed of holding the book in my hands, every precious word of it.
As we talked, I remembered something my writers’ group had said to me once or twice as I was sharing the book with them, a chapter at a time over nearly three years. They felt that there were two distinct themes in the book. The primary story was certainly that of a first-year chaplain trying hammer out her theology. But there was also a lot of space dedicated to her (me) trying to find her identity. She wanted to be married but wasn’t, wanted to have children but didn’t, struggled with whether or how she fit in her own family of origin, didn’t feel comfortable in her own skin because of her weight, and the fact that all these prayers weren’t answered in the way she wanted certainly contributed to her crisis of faith. She was also doing the difficult dance of trying to date in her thirties as an ordained minister, a calling which seemed to be either a complete turn-off or a bizarre fetish for many of the men she met. This resulted in some pretty hilarious dating stories that my writers’ group got to hear, along with some poignant moments of questioning why I couldn’t have what seemed to come so easily to everyone else. My fellow writers had said that all of this material — which they also loved because of its honesty and relatability — could almost be another book in itself. Now it will be.
I told Merianna my idea of trying to dissect most of those stories from the book and save them for later, and she thought it was inspired. I didn’t get much sleep that weekend, but when Epiphany morning came, I had cut Being Called Chaplain from 110,000 words down to around 80,000, a perfectly acceptable length for a spiritual memoir. In addition, I already had about a third of my next book! We started making plans to launch another book around this time next year, and my head was spinning. It started to sink in that not only am I about to become a published author, but I now know that there will be more than one book with my name on the cover! After I emailed the re-edited manuscript to Merianna, I did a little dancing around in my pajamas and jumping up and down in my living room yelling, “Two books! TWO books!! Oh my God, thank you thank you thank you thank you!!!”
There is still enough overlap to tie the two stories together. My first book contains a few moments of my longing for a family of my own and asking God why I don’t have it, as well as a few hints about my dating life. And my second book will have some crossover to this one, as my work at the hospital informs everything else in my life, including my search for a mate. As I have expressed in previous posts such as this one, this one, and this one (which Rachel Held Evans tweeted was “freakin’ brilliant!”), carrying the stresses of a job like this one without a life partner can be tough, but trying to find a partner for me has been so absurdly difficult I sometimes have to laugh (otherwise I’d never stop crying). Since I’ve gotten great response when I write about these things on the blog, I’m confident I can turn them into a book that will find readers. I hope you’ll be one of them!
But for now, I’m very happy to be the author of Being Called Chaplain, which can be on your Kindle very, very soon! The countdown to release day continues tomorrow.