The Road to Authorship
My desire to become an author can be traced back as far as my first grade class. I always had an active imagination so when the assignment was to take an oak tag panel, a set of crayons and an idea and create an illustration with a story stapled to it, I took to it like a fly to…well, perhaps that’s not the best analogy. I quickly got lost in the story and by the time I was done, the teacher was already collecting our stories.
Sometime later in the semester during a PTA meeting, Ms. Ratner, my teacher took out my story and began talking in hushed tones with my parents. As a rambunctious first grader, you can just imagine the thoughts that went through my mind. I thought I was in trouble for something…again! It turned out that Ms. Ratner was quite impressed with my story, which was that of a family on a cruise ship, whose little child fell overboard and the suspenseful rescue that ensued.
I remember feeling quite relieved when I found out that I was not, in fact, in trouble, but that my teacher thought I had an exceptional talent for someone of my age. I never paid that much thought because all I cared about was the fact that I was not going to be grounded for anything…this time.
As school progressed over the years, I always enjoyed writing “spelling stories” (the ones you write with your weekly spelling words), the scripts for class plays, and even in my college years, scripts for homemade movies for my church youth group. These were just fun projects I did on the side, while I spent most of my time on playing baseball, football, doing the magnifying glass/ant activity that most boys do, and generally trying to stay out of trouble.
By the time I got to college, I knew that music was my passion in life. So much so that I spent 12 years in college and amassed all the student loan debt that comes from getting a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree from Juilliard, and a Doctorate from Johns Hopkins University.
After college and a nice stint with classical music which took me across the USA, Canada, Israel, Egypt, South Africa and Jordan as a cello soloist and principal cellist in several professional orchestras, I got married and soon learned that in order to have the family life and stability I valued more than anything, I needed to find a steady job. So for the next 12 years I worked in the I.T. (Information technology field.)
This turned out to be a great career move as I began around the height of the internet boom of the late 1990s. I missed my life as a professional musician, but the birth of my son far eclipsed anything else. So I traded one life for another. Happy to be home every evening to see my family (as opposed to working evenings playing concerts), I contented myself in the path The Good Lord had paved for me.
During these 12 years, I found myself returning to my love of story. I remember once seeing a movie and wondering why the ending hadn’t been written differently. Thanks to the internet, one is able to share their thoughts with many other strangers and even make friends with them. So as I proposed my own alternate endings, some of my new online friends encouraged me to write for this universe (Hint: It was a well-established SciFi franchise.)
To make a long story short, my stories sold to three anthologies published by Pocket Books and led me to the professional workshops run by the editor. It was there that I realized where my true passion was. It had always been there since the first grade. And it was there that I decided that writing was what I wanted to ultimately do with my life.
So I immersed myself in it. I spent all my spare money on books, books on writing, workshops, conferences, and wrote like crazy. For one of the Pocket Books anthologies, I submitted 23 stories in less than one year. These were new stories. I wrote about 1-2 stories per week and gave myself soft deadlines. Learning to write no matter how you feel was one of the best skills I’ve acquired as a professional writer.
By 2008, I learned that my entire I.T. department at FICO was going to be laid off. The job market was really suffering at that time, and my mother-in-law had just passed away with cancer. After losing my job, I spent all my time between looking for a new job praying, studying the Bible, and connecting with wonderful, positive people. Most importantly, I took advantage of this time to write, write, write. During this time, I completed another novel called Darkroom.
It was around this time that I realized a calling on my life. To write books that will entertain as well as any of the bestselling authors such as John Grisham, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, James Patterson, but at the same time, leave a memorable impression and provide people with a chance to challenge their thinking and to find hope.
My wife and I discussed it, and decided to make the sacrifices needed to allow me the opportunity to become a full-time writer. In faith, we sold our big, beautiful house and downsized into a rental property.
In 2010, my book Beyond Justice debuted and hit several bestseller lists, won several accolades including the International Book Awards. During that year, I submitted Darkroom to several major publishers. I had learned that rejection was par for the course and not to take it personally. After all, Dean Koontz’s first novel had been rejected about 75 times before it sold, so until I reached that many rejections on Darkroom or any other novel, I would not even begin to think anything strange or negative about it. It was probably around rejection #43 that something finally happened.
I can remember it well. There I was in my office praying after some time of reading the Bible. I usually don’t even have my computer on during this time, but for some reason, that day I did.
I heard the email notification chime and would have ignored it, since I was praying, but something inside me told me to go ahead, finish praying and check the email.
That email was my offer letter from Simon & Schuster/Howard Books for Darkroom.
While the road to my writing career seems long (8 years at the least, over 30 years at the most, depending on how you count) it’s really just beginning. If you were to ask me how I did it, I could list a few small ideas without being able to guarantee similar results. But one thing I know: All of my success, anything of any worth came not as a result of my own abilities but by divine providence and unmerited grace. The opportunities, the people who “just happened” to appear in my life and guide me, the publications, the ability to write books and stories people actually like? All by God’s grace.
I believe we each have a calling and path that has been designed for us. But we also have the freedom to choose or ignore whatever path we wish. Some of the paths I’ve mistakenly chosen were not nearly as bad as some have. And not all the paths I’ve chosen have yielded the greatest results. I believe the best path we can take is the one that has been written by the Author of the Universe, the One who declares the end from the beginning. Happy is he/she who discovers this path, this calling, and walks in it.
I know I have found mine.
And for that, I’m truly grateful.
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Joshua Graham's debut novel, Beyond Justice, won the 2011 International Book Awards and was a bestseller on BarnesandNoble.com and Amazon.com. Graham grew up in Brooklyn, New York where he lived for the better part of thirty years. He holds a Bachelor and Master's Degree from Juilliard and a Doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. He has performed as a soloist and principal cellist domestically and internationally. During his tenure in Maryland, he taught as a professor at Shepherd College (WV), Western Maryland College, and Columbia Union College (MD). Today he lives with his beautiful wife and children in Southern California. Under different pen names, his short fiction works have been published by Pocket Books and Dawn Treader Press.
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