Looking for a Sign, Finding a Nudge

One of my favorite quotes is “The unexamined life is not worth living,” usually attributed to Socrates. I probably read that in some assignment in college or even high school. As a youth, I likely found it sort of depressing and fatalistic.

Years later, I rediscovered the quote and found it comforting. Why? Because I have had a tendency most of my adult life to question the direction of my life. I thought of this as a weakness, a symptom of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and indecisiveness.

I think most of us start looking at where we have been and where we are going at midlife if not sooner. That examination can be brought about by unhappiness or discontent with the direction our lives are taking, or just our first recognition that we really are mortal. One of my earliest deep self-examinations led to a risky job change and a move.

I thought the move and job change would fix things and this examination thing would be done. It was not to be. Examinations, I think, will be with me until the end of my days. They have led me toward major changes in my life many times.

Through the voice of an older Jake Rivers in Go Down Looking, I tried to explain. It didn’t come with thunder and lightning or as an immediate epiphany. It took hard work, lots of mentoring, lots of reading, lots of listening, and a lot of blind alleys, disappointments and confusion. Mostly it took commitment. Lights finally began to come on. And I knew I was being guided.

Several people who read the book have asked me “how” Jake was being guided.  I will be writing more about that in future articles. For now, I want to relate how one of my recent examinations led to a specific event.

Writing novels is not easy, but can be very fulfilling. Getting folks to buy and read novels is much more difficult. Trial and error has me convinced that nobody really knows how an unknown author markets mainstream or family saga fiction. There are many books and articles on how to market non-fiction, but I have never seen any proven methods for marketing fiction (at least the type that I write).

For example, I love signings at launch parties, book clubs, and at almost all other venues, but bookstores are another matter. I am grateful when a bookstore hosts me, but the process can be grueling and is usually disappointing. One source says that the average number of books sold at such events is six—another says fifteen (yes, that includes best-sellers). And the paperwork is atrocious.

At a recent bookstore signing, I was assaulted for hours with nerve-wracking sounds that I assume might have been music. However, I did sell a few books and was grateful when friends came some distance to connect and pick up a few copies of my books.

The paperwork, loading and unloading, and a day spent watching people shop for videos rather than books, however, can bring questions to one’s mind. Like, “What the heck am I doing and why am I doing it?”

This wasn’t the first time I had asked myself this, but the event sort of brought the question front and center again.

Trying to answer the question was anything but illuminating and invigorating. Was it time to hang it up and make another change?  Writing has been fun and rewarding, but maybe it has run its course.

On the other hand, I have told a lot of stories that I thought needed to be told and many readers have connected their lives to those of the Rivers. I have made hundreds of connections and good friends with readers all over Texas and in many other states as a result of writing the novels.

Still, maybe I am done, finished. There is a certain virtue in knowing when it is time to move on to something else. But could I do this without thinking of it as giving up?

I did learn something from those previous live examinations. I learned to ask for help. This time, I was bold enough to ask God to send a sign—maybe whisper in my ear—give me a nudge in the right direction. Some would say that is both a brash and a weak request and shows a lack of faith. Maybe, but I believe my request was answered.

The Monday morning after the less than stellar signing experience, I used my riding time on my horse Shooter for contemplation and requests for guidance on my next move. When I passed wife Jan’s quilt house, she had a message for me. She said the caller was one of the most pleasant strangers she had ever spoken to.

The lady who called said that her mother was approaching her ninety-fifth birthday. Her mom had kept a notice of my book signing event in her eyeglass case in the hope that someone would take her. Family emergencies prevented that, however.

I returned the call at once. Gela, the lady Jan had spoken to, told me about her mother’s request and asked about getting all six of my books for her mom’s birthday. Gela offered to pick up the books, but I wanted to deliver them.

Let me correct that. I felt the need to deliver them. Gela said she would fix me a sandwich if I came to her mother’s home. It’s not all that unusual for me to deliver books, especially to the homebound, but I felt a definite need to meet Kathleen at ninety-five. I could not explain, even to myself, how much I was looking forward to it. I was not to be disappointed. I will explain why next week.

An early review on Amazon for Go Down Looking, now available for your Kindles and Nooks.  Download cards are also available on “The Rivers Series of books are some of the best pieces of Texas fiction I’ve read since Elmer Kelton died.” George Aubrey. 

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