I can remember that night vividly. I was sitting at my now deceased grandparent’s kitchen table in Springfield, Missouri, at about two in the morning. It was quiet, my grandparents — if I remember correctly — were out of town, and I was house-sitting; my younger brother Jordan was in visiting from the University of Michigan. Why was I up so late on a Thursday? It was the night before “sudden death” — my college’s way of extending grace to the slackers, allowing us to turn our assignments in before the semester ended. And, not being the most dedicated student at the time, I was taking full advantage of that.
I was, among many other things, tasked with writing my own chapter of, or scene of — I’m not entirely sure — The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. After placing my last period on my work, I remember a certain feeling bubbling up inside of me: I had just created something (for the first time) that hadn’t existed before. It was a feeling I hadn’t experienced since the first home run I hit as a Little Leaguer, and I wanted more of it. However, I just didn’t know it at the time.
Fast forward six years. In the time between that night in 2008 and 2014, both of my grandparents passed away, I moved back to Michigan to work my first career at my father’s church, and dabbled in writing. Most of that writing, however, was done in the form of theological essays or responses to matters taking place in and around the church; but none of it as a creative outlet to satisfy the hunger I’d created that night around the kitchen table. When I attended my Grandfather’s funeral in 2014, the fires of passion I didn’t even know were burning, started to fan into flames.
The Kindling --
I consider myself to be a pretty simple man. I don’t need extravagance to be happy. Hell, I’d wear the same thing every day just to not have to make a choice. But, don’t mistake “simple” for “unmotivated.” When I set my mind to something, I like to see it through to completion. In the weeks after my grandfather’s funeral, and having the privilege of talking to his older brother, I woke up one morning and told my wife, “I want to write a book.” I grabbed my tools of the trade: a cigar, my legal pad, and my coffee and wrote, “Hello. I’m Raymond…” and thus The Askren Boys was born; it will be published September 1st of 2018.
After I wrote the first chapter I showed it to a few trusted people and told them, “Let me know what you think, even if it’s terrible, I won’t be upset. Don’t sugarcoat it, please.” I’ll never forget what one of them said to me, “Usually I’ll read something and think this person shouldn’t continue. But, I’ll say this, I never once thought that and am intrigued to read more.” That was the push I needed. So I kept writing.
Then, on my birthday 2015, I woke up for church and grabbed my cell phone off the night stand. For some reason I hopped on Twitter and started to scroll through the timeline. I saw a paid ad for Waldorf Publishing calling for co-authors who could assist to write books to be published. Let me say this now: I never take chances. I’m pretty calculated in my decision making and am insecure enough to not just put myself out there. But for some reason on this day, I was grabbing the bull by the horns.
I drafted an email to the address listed on the ad and explained that I’d just started in the writing “game,” that I have my own blog (it was called Stories and Stogies at the time) and that I would be more than willing to get my feet wet. I pressed “send” and then headed off to church. In the middle of service I got an email back saying they liked what they saw on my website and to give them a call. Nine days later I had my first publishing contract, working with a gentleman named Butch Rutt to help write his book High School Dropout: Stories of a Navy Pilot.
After a few months of working with Butch the owner of Waldorf called me and said, “I have the perfect guy I want you to work with. He’s from Detroit, just like you, and I think you guys will be perfect.” His name was Jon Dwoskin, and by April of 2016 I had my second book, The Think Big Movement: Grow Your Business Big. Very Big. Mind you, I had a full time job as a history teacher, was coaching three sports, working a once weekly cigar shop job, and had a newly minted marriage. But sometimes you can’t help but get wrapped up in things you love. With two books under way, I was no longer “getting my feet wet” in the writing game, I had jumped in the deep end with no life preserver. It was sink or swim, and I refused to sink.
As I was working on those two projects, fate intervened, again. Sitting at the cigar shop one day, and of course wearing my Detroit Tigers hat, a couple walked in and the guy told me he actually wrote for a sports blog that covered the Tigers. I told him that would be the dream and he told me to apply. So I did and quickly became a regular contributor on Detroit Sports Nation. I was teaching school during the day and writing at least 1,000 words a night, it was a great and exciting time.
On a trip home to Detroit I received another call from the owner of Waldorf Publishing. She told me that another co-writer had gone MIA and that she needed me to pick up a third contract. I told her I would do it on two conditions: first, I could not start this project until one of the others was done. And, second, if I was going to be taking on another project, I’d like her to listen to a pitch for one of my own books. While I was having fun getting to know the guys I was working with and thoroughly enjoying the writing aspect, I knew that I didn’t always want to write someone else’s book—I wanted to write my own. She obliged on both, and within a month I had two more contracts: one for Damaged Wings and the other on The Askren Boys -- my novel.
This wouldn’t be the last time she’d need to me to help her out either, and by the time the ball dropped and 2017 rolled in I had four book projects for Waldorf Publishing, Fighting Monsters: SWAT Life being the fourth, and my own novel releasing the following year. To say that I was going full steam ahead would be the most grotesque understatement ever.
I literally did not sleep during the month of February 2017; teaching all day, coaching basketball, then working on the last two projects (they were due by the end of February) until about two or three in the morning. It was a whirlwind but it was one hell of a ride. I finished all four projects on time, hit my word count goals (a total of nearly 250,000 words) and then began work on my novel. By July 31, 2017 I put the last period on the first draft of The Askren Boys, completing a five book barrage and introduction to the writing profession.
Why? That’s a question that I do get pretty often. “Why would you do that to yourself?” they’ll ask. Well, to be honest, because I wanted to. I have found something that I love to do and I’m chasing it ferociously like a lion chases a gazelle.
When I was growing up my passion was sports. I still love them, but at 30-something years old, I no longer play them. Regardless of how old I get, I’ll never lose the passion and drive that fueled me as a student-athlete. I’ve found a way to challenge myself, compete against myself, and enjoy what I’m doing.
I write, quite simply, because there’s nothing else I can do to satisfy the hunger and drive I feel within myself.
I write because it allows me to create something that has never existed until I start typing.
I write because it allows me to think and express my voice.
I write because the fires of passion burn within me to chase something bigger than myself.
Just like the prophet Jeremiah who said, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”
Sure, my message isn’t eternity altering, but like Jeremiah, I cannot keep it in any longer. I write because, well, it burns within my bones to do so. I have goals and dreams that have only begun to be realized, and until they are — I’ll keep chasing them.
That’s why I started my website, so I can share the journey with you. I want to share the process, the ups and the down, the victories and the defeats, because I believe that together people can go farther than they ever could individually.
So join me for the journey — I guarantee it’ll be a fun ride.