Thursday, November 30, 2017


It was the late 1970s. My hair was a little thicker and my waist was decidedly not. I was the very model of a minor major uhhhhh...pick your label: geek, nerd, brainiac. I was the top of my class, active in speech and debate and drama, and my budding writing career was still in development.

I was also a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. I had felt God's call to the ministry back when I was a sophomore in high school and I fervently prayed for His leading as to how that would play out in my life. Meanwhile, I wanted to spread the good news of the gospel using whatever means at my disposal.

And CRA was born. A friend and I were discussing how to use our talents and abilities for the Lord. And we came up with CRA.  CRA would become a leading publisher and distributor of Christian literature, gospel tracts, study guides, and more. It would become the launching pad for Christian novels and comics, allowing us to write and create. I could picture the shelves of books and pamphlets in our garage, ready to be packed and shipped to a number of bookstores and churches.

But first, we needed to write something.

So my friend and I brainstormed ideas and concepts and formats, and, after several weeks, we came up with the idea and plot for our first book: The Coming of the Agents of CRA. Two Christian young men help a young woman stranded on the side of the road, only to become stranded themselves. Finding a house in which they can seek shelter and use a phone, the trio meet the mysterious owner who has a secret (cue dramatic, mystery music). Spoiler alert: because it was to be an evangelistic tool, the young men share the gospel with the woman and with the mysterious homeowner.

Concept and outline in hand, I sat down to do the actual writing. My senior year was wrapping up and college was looming, so I worked hard to hopefully get this great work published before I left town. Using whatever spare money we could gather together, we rented a post office box for an address, then paid a Christian printer in town to do the actual publishing. This printer had created gospel tracts and reprinted books, so we knew we were in sound, professional hands. The Coming of the Agents of CRA, the flagship publication of CRA, was ready for is public debut.

It was bad.

Okay, Coming was not that bad. But it lacked several things:
  • Proofreading, editing, revisions, rewrites. In short, everything a professional writer would pour into a book. While my submission was not quite a first draft, it was light years away from being a polished manuscript. I was in a hurry and it showed.
  • Length. On paper, Coming looked a lot longer than it was. It certainly felt longer as I was writing it. When I finished the manuscript, I remember the sigh of relief after spending so much time on the thing. But the finished product was, at best, about the length of a short story, and, at worst, the size of a magazine article.Unless the printer was going to use 100 point type, we weren't looking at a 300 page novel.
  • Publishing. I visualized a standard size paperback, maybe with a textured cover with a heavier weight. The typesetting would be professional, with left and right margins straight and even, and even if it was short, it would still look like a quality booklet.
    What we ended up with made my heart sink. I don't remember the exact measurements, but I think it was roughly 2.5 x 2.5 inches, printed on standard paper. The courier type looked fresh from a typewriter, and some of the pages looked uneven. It was as if a couple of high school kids handed a printer what little money they could scrape up and expected something that came from the presses of a New York publishing company (which is pretty much what happened).  And, by the way, I don't blame the printer--he is a lifelong friend who probably did the best he could with the little bit of cash we gave him. But looking at it now, I cringe a little.
  • Distribution plan. Our original plan was to send complimentary copies to local and nationally known pastors and organizations, in hopes that it would stir up further interest. Sadly, our distribution plan was limited by the amount of money to buy stamps and envelopes and pay monthly box rent. My friend did the bulk of the work in this, as I had moved to San Diego to attend college. We were hoping maybe Billy Graham or Jerry Falwell would have read Coming and endorsed it, maybe offer it in exchange for a love gift of whatever or more. But the only acknowledgement we received from the "big names" was a "welcome to our mailing list" newsletter. And I don't know if anyone actually got saved after reading it (although, maybe they did...if God could speak through a donkey, He could easily have used the message in Coming of the Agents of CRA.)
  • Internet. This isn't a 20-20 hindsight observation, it's more of a time warp situation. Nearly every issue mentioned above could have been solved in our modern computer age. I've written and designed flyers, bulletin inserts, and other literature pieces that look really nice (if I do say so myself). Knowing what I know now, I feel I could not only publish a good looking print edition of Coming, but we could even distribute it online.
    Alas, we were a few decades too early. 
So today I'm bald and working hard at losing the weight that I have gained. But as I think back over The Coming of the Agents of CRA, I realize just how much I've learned and grown as a writer, minister, speaker, and person. Every author has that first book or first story which they wish they could hide away. Every preacher has that first sermon. Every singer has an early demo tape. Every actor remembers their role as bellhop #2. As I near the publication of my upcoming book (please don't ask me when, it's not that near), I look back with a certain amused pride that I am, indeed a published author, with that first work that I have hidden away. And who knows? Maybe one day,  you'll see the revised, expanded edition of The Coming of the Agents of CRA. 

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