I didn't want to write this book.
After speaking at a fund raiser for the Covenant Children’s Home in the early 1990’s, the director shared that since I was never a ward of the state, I could read my caseworker files and make copies if I wanted. I recall thinking: If I ever wrote a book, people would think I made this up!
That thought nagged me for several years. In mid-1994, during a prayer time, once again I begged God to take away the thought of writing a book. Instead, that day, God spoke to me in a phrase I knew was not my own: Begin.
With great reluctance, I began putting memories and time lines together. In 1998, as part of researching the facts, I sent copies to several adults from the Children’s Home with a tape recorder and this request: You were an adult, I was a kid. We may have different perceptions of the same events but please don’t let me make up events that didn’t happen. To my gratitude, the only correction was we didn’t have cows but their overwhelming responses were: Don’t you want to add this and that?
In 2002, I mailed queries to a number of prospective agents for representation. I received a number of thoughtful rejections that said: Interesting story, but this is not the way to tell it.
Deciding to find a new approach, I researched looking to find a writing coach to, among other changes; take some of the testosterone out of that version. I was able to connect to an experienced woman who initially asked me a pointed question: Does anyone who doesn’t know you and already like you, like this book? I had no idea.
Understanding market research, I took 20 large envelopes with the first 4 chapters and a postage paid reply envelope and a small survey, stood outside of a major book chain store and asked people if they would read and comment on a book in progress, then I would mail them a $30 gift certificate to that store upon receipt of their survey. After a couple of hours, 20 accepted even though not all actually responded. Many responded without giving their mailing address for the gift certificate just because they thought it interesting.
They all disliked the opening 4 chapters. That was painfully insightful.
My writing coach and I then wrestled and wrestled with an opening. Thinking we had one, I did the same in front of a different major book chain store. I had made some progress. More liked it but still not on track.
In this period, professionally the stock markets were dropping with post 9/11 fears, a recession, and the build-up to war in Iraq. My investment clients were nervous to panicked, I am holding hands begging clients not to sell and then-tragically- in January 2003 we hospitalized both of my neat in-laws within 3 weeks of each other with terminal cancer. My father-in-law died 6 weeks later in March of 2003 and my mother-in-law in the fall of 2003. 2002 and 2003 were brutal years in my world.
Eventually I resumed writing and the spring of 2004 found me happy with the first part of the book. Deciding to test this newest version, I then contacted a variety of high school English teachers who did not know me, asking them to read the first 13 chapters and critique it for a fee over their summer break.
One in particular wrote back enthusiastically asking if her 12th grade high school Advanced Placement English students could be a part of critiquing a book in progress. I was thrilled at what I would learn. She set things up but then asked if all of her 12th grade English students could participate-her brightest and her strugglers. I agreed without hesitation, put together 90 copies and gave each young adult a red pen to write all over. I then came in with my videographer to tape our classes together and collect their red-penned-copies. What a learning curve that was!
Selected genuine and unscripted comments from teens about Castaway Kid can be found at the link: Educators/Teens.
After digesting their responses and incorporating their suggestions, I began once again shopping for an agent in August of 2005. Once again I had a number of thoughtful declinations but the book, unagented, did end up in the hands of two publishers, both of whom declined. But one acquisitions editor who declined, handed it to an associate suggesting this was someone’s book, but which publisher? She apparently forwarded it to Focus on the Family and in December of 2005, I received a request from Focus for the manuscript as they apparently only had the proposal.
I would have never thought about them, but feeling maybe God was leading, I sent the manuscript. After a number of discussions, in the spring of 2006 we signed a contract. I used a literary attorney to assist in the negotiations and although Castaway Kid did not have a typical literary agent, it is hard not to believe that The Agent acted on behalf of Castaway Kid.
Castaway Kid is a book of hope.