Friday, June 23, 2017

The Troubles of Isaiah Campbell

This is super long, just to forewarn you!

My second book, The Struggles of Johnny Cannon, came out on October 13, 2015.

Two weeks later, I was in the emergency room because I thought I was dying. Over the course of the next year and a half, I watched my life as it had been on October 13, 2015, slowly but steadily come crumbling down around me. And today, I'm a better man for it.

Yeah, you guessed it, I've got a story to tell you.

But first, the backstory. 

If you didn't already know this about me, you should be aware as we enter this tale of life-altering events that I'm a man of faith. I'm a Christian, not in a "this is how I was raised and how I vote and God and guns" kind of way, but in a "I've come to believe that the truth I find in the Bible, and especially in the life and teachings of Jesus, is the foundational truth on which I'll base my life" kind of way. My faith is the core of who I am.

That's why I became a pastor. Well, that and the fact that, with a bible college degree, there's not a whole lot of other fields for which you are qualified. (Oh, yeah, did I not mention that? Yes, I went to a bible college to become a missionary at first, then a church planter, then a translator, then a musician, and eventually graduated with a ton of college credits (I'm proudest of the music and language training) and a diploma that declares I have a degree only in Bible)

Of course, I must admit that being a pastor has not ever been my dream. Writing books has always been my dream. And it was at that parenthetically mentioned bible college that I took a creative writing class in which my professor, Mrs. LaDonna Friesen, encouraged me to pursue my dream "because dreams come from God." And, wouldn't you know it, through her encouragement, I was able to sign with my dream literary agent, sell a book (then a couple more) to a Big 5 publisher, and see my dream of telling silly little story about an Alabama kid who takes on Castro, the Klan, and the CIA come true.

Meanwhile, in my pursuit of taking care of my family and doing the work that I trained to do, I took a position at a church as the Children's Pastor. And I must tell you, this position was a blessing-and-a-half financially, because it paid me pretty darn well. With that position and some freelance work, my wife was able to see her dream of staying home with our kids while they are still young come true. 

So there you have it. Two dreams coming true. Happily ever after, right?

Insert clever GIF here.

Yeah, so back to the breaking point two weeks after my second book came out.

I had scheduled some school visits to promote the book down in Florida, a trip that also included a Disney World vacation for me and my family. And so, there we were at Disney World, and I was pushing a stroller with my son in it, and all of a sudden, my chest decided my heart needed a great big hug. I nearly collapsed from the pain and the shortness of breath, dizzying pain that sent sparks through my eyes and made my brain feel like it was going to pop.

I was sure I was having a heart attack.

My wife got me into an emergency room as soon as possible and that's when we got news we weren't expecting.

I'd had a panic attack. In the happiest place on earth.

I'd never had a panic attack before, and I'm not afraid of large crowds, nor do I have any real phobias that create any kind of debilitating reaction in me, so this was completely unexpected.

As the doctor tried to help me sort through everything, she asked a good question. "What's your stress level?"

I just started laughing. "Let's see, a brand new book, an incredibly demanding job, a family of five that depends on my income? Yeah, I'm stressed."

She recommended therapy (which I began) and that I eliminate stress. Another doctor gave me some pills with the caveat that "this may hurt your creativity for a little while until you balance out." 

Within a week of starting the pills, I couldn't write. Like, at all. Not even a limerick. Of all the stressful thing in my life, writing was not what I'd hoped to eliminate.

Two months later, we found out my wife was pregnant. My chest began to tighten again. But I was happy beyond measure. I'd always wanted a big family, and four kids just seemed right for us.

But then, two months after that, we lost the baby in a miscarriage.

And so my writing was gone. My hope for another baby was gone. Thankfully I still had friends (though I didn't tell a lot of people about all that was happening, because I was raised in Texas and anything beyond "hello" is over-sharing), still had my church family, and still had a job that paid well enough to keep us in our Philadelphia apartment and pay our bills. Even though my dreams were gone, at least my life wasn't in shambles.

A couple months later, my wife and I went on an anniversary trip to Miami, where we also celebrated my birthday, and I decided to stop looking at what I'd lost and instead focus on a new beginning. I had one more book coming out in 2016 (AbrakaPOW), and after that, if I never wrote again, I'd had a good run. Maybe Pastor Isaiah was who I'd be for the rest of my life and Author Isaiah would be a fun memory to tell the grandkids.

The day after my birthday, I walked into my office at the church and started reading my birthday card. I was immediately called into the executive pastor's office for a meeting.

My employment was terminated, effective immediately. I needed to clear out my desk and be gone ASAP. No, there was no moral failure. No, I hadn't done anything wrong. I just wasn't the right person for the job, and so I was no longer employed.

Pastor Isaiah died on June 2, 2016. And, with one quick meeting, my family was without income. My wife and I drove home, stunned, realizing that we couldn't afford to live in our apartment anymore. We contacted our landlord and a friend and agreed to move out within a couple of weeks. All of our things to storage. Our bodies to live with friends and family.

Homelessness is an odd state to be in, particularly when you have a book release coming in a few months and you're still going to schools and bookstores to promote your last one.

Promoting books is an odd thing to do when you no longer have the ability to write creatively. Even more odd when you know that you've already gotten and spent your advance money to keep your family afloat and, most likely, you'll never see another cent of profit from these books you're pushing into the hands of happy little readers.

Yeah, this story sucks. I'm sorry. But, thankfully, it gets better.

I tried to force my creative spirit to return over the next few months, but it didn't play nice with me, partially because those pills never did level things out. Finally, with advisement, I weaned off of them, but the creativity was slow in returning. I was desperate to sell something, anything, to get an income, so I peppered my agent with idea after idea, most of them terrible and hackneyed. She was patient with me. I was impatient with myself. Patience and homelessness don't work well together, especially when you've got a family.

We were homeless through Christmas. We spent the holidays in my brother's house.

Some time around then, my wife got pregnant again. (Apologies to my brother, I promise we washed the sheets) But this pregnancy was complicated and difficult. We had to spend time in the ER from the very beginning. Finally, we found a specialist in western PA who could help my wife best. In March, through some miracles that go beyond explanation but I attribute to the blessing of God, we were able to rent a house and moved our family closer to the doctor. I got a job substitute teaching and a second job working in a restaurant. Somehow, we started making it again.

And, somehow, I started to find myself again. I started doing cognitive behavioral therapy (which I'd forgone in favor of pills before). I started reading for fulfillment and self-growth. I started journaling. Oh, and praying. That became a vital part of my daily routine again too.

And then, like a dying ember that finds fresh kindling, my creativity began to come back to life. I started writing again. Short stories, then longer stories. And now the first draft a novel is being born on my desk, a book about spies and adventure and heroism and an all-girl-school and finding life anew.

And, in just a couple months, my second son will be born.

We're still impoverished (literally). We're still struggling. My income right now is less than $2,000 a month. We still have to pray that God will provide for our bills and our food and any emergencies that might pop up.

But I'm nowhere near as stressed today as I was in 2015. Because I have the two most valuable invisible currencies in abundance.

Dreams and Faith.

This is the first time I'm sharing the fullness of this story publicly, but I'm doing it for a reason. I'm doing it so that, as God provides for my family, He will get all the glory and credit for doing what only He can. Taking a boy like me and doing something amazing for me and through me, for the world.

I didn't write this blog post to solicit help, but rather to be honest with you about my life. I want you to see that, even in this difficult time, the positive messages I spread on twitter and facebook are genuine and I believe them. I believe in God's love, I believe that we can all make a difference, I believe in the power of art and stories to change the world, and I believe you and I can be heroes if we just try. Whether or not the church I'd worked for was right in terminating my employment is no reflection on my faith in God or in the Church, because I'm still passionate in my faith and in my love for the community of Christ.

But more than that, I want you to see the audacity of hope (thanks, Obama), because it was the lack of hope that nearly killed me even though I had a book and a job and a vacation in Disney World back in 2015. But it is the presence of hope today that enables me to find joy and gladness, even though I have no "reason," no new book contracts, no real job, no nothing. But I have hope. I have dreams. I have faith.

And in that, I have more than enough to be happy.

Excelsior!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Love: The Greatest Weapon Against Terrorism

If you've ever been jealous of politicians who get to debate their views endlessly on C-Span, you need only do one thing: Post a simple statement on Facebook.

The other day, I posted this status:

The greatest weapon against terrorism is love.

It didn't take long before that status had gotten the attention of someone with whom I've debated more than a healthy amount on the social network regarding politics and principles and platforms. And, although he only asked a simple question, "Care to elaborate on that?", I knew it was asked with the readiness to pounce and debate.

But, I am a writer, and what writers do is write. And so I wrote a rather lengthy response to his question.  And he has yet to respond to this essay I wrote.

And, since I believe our writing is meant to be shared, I decided to post my elaboration on the statement here.

First, to clear any misconceptions, I’m not saying that Love is the ONLY weapon against terrorism. Hugs wouldn’t have stopped the terrorists in London, for instance, nor would a kind word keep suicide bombers at bay.

But the individual attacks of terrorists are symptoms of the problem, not the problem itself.

The motivation of terrorism is hatred and the goal of terrorism is fear. If we react to terrorism with the motivation of hatred and the goal of vengeance, we’re merely continuing the problem. In fact, unbeknownst to ourselves, we’re actually entering into a relationship of reciprocity that BENEFITS the terrorists by generating more hatred from which they can fuel further attacks.

But there is a better way.

Leave vengeance in God’s hands and, instead, follow the gentle, albeit counterintuitive, voice of scripture.

We utilize the wisdom of Proverbs 25:21-22: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the Lord will reward you.”

We embrace the teaching of Jesus in Luke 6: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you ... Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

We echo the voice of Paul in Romans when he told us to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” and Peter when he said to “not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

And we have the promise of John’s letter that “perfect love drives out fear.”

With love, the entire goal of the terrorists is thwarted.

It doesn’t make sense to us, emotionally.
We want to strike back.
We want to feel secure and strong and like we can take care of ourselves.

But that is, at its very core, our problem. We want to believe a lie. We want to believe that our strength and our wisdom and our efforts can provide for us and protect us. But they can’t. Only God, the God who is love, can do those things for us. And when we surrender to Him and allow Him to be our defense and our mighty warrior, when we instead act in love and hope, that’s when we see a reward that’s bigger than even the goal of destroying terrorism. We’ve built His kingdom. A kingdom that is safe and secure from all harm.

Hence, Love is the greatest weapon WE CAN USE against Terrorism.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Johnny Cannon Cover Contest

Are you an artist? A designer? An illustrator?

Do you aspire for any of those titles?

Do you wish you could get an example of your work seen by publishers, editors, and literary agents?

Do you love kids books?

Would you like signed copies of two novels?

If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, then this is the contest for you!

I released a new short story on May 29, Johnny Cannon Goes to Washington. And when you read that story, you might notice that it's a little...well...ahem...naked.

In other words, that short story needs a cover!

And that's where you come in.

From today (June 1) through June 30, I'll be accepting submissions for the Johnny Cannon Cover Contest. The winner (chosen subjectively by myself and a few other, highly trusted judges), will have their cover attached to the short story, seen by publishers, editors, and literary agents, and will receive signed copies of the two Johnny Cannon books currently out from Simon & Schuster: The Troubles of Johnny Cannon and The Struggles of Johnny Cannon.

So, how do you enter and (more importantly) how do you win?

Easy:

1. Read the short story and use it as inspiration to create a Johnny Cannon cover that will knock my socks off. Use the covers from the novels as further inspiration (Troubles and Struggles), but be creative and make this a reflection of this story and your art. Don't try to copy Sam Bosma (for oh so many reasons), be YOU!

2. Make sure the image is the right size (a 1:5 ratio, preferably 3000 pixels by 4500 pixels) and that the file is a .jpg. Name the file "[YOUR NAME] Johnny Cannon Cover.jpg"

3. E-mail the file by June 30 to isaiah@isaiahcampbell.com with this subject line: 
SUBMISSION - Johnny Cannon Cover Contest
Make sure your name and mailing address are in the body of the email.

4. The winner of the contest will be chosen and contacted by July 7 and announced publicly on July 10. After that, the winner will receive signed copies of the two Johnny Cannon books and the winning cover will become the cover for the short story in all future distributions. That means that YOUR COVER will be seen by publishers, editors, and agents!

(Please Note: By entering this competition, you agree to allow your cover design to be used freely, with proper credit given, by Isaiah Campbell for the short story, Johnny Cannon Goes to Washington, and any promotions for this contest and any future contests, as well as promotion for Isaiah Campbell and Johnny Cannon.)

So...What are you waiting for?!?!? Get to designing!

Excelsior!

Isaiah Campbell

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Rolling Hunter of Guernsey: It Begins


I don’t know what the Nazis were expecting when they landed on Guernsey, but I’ll bet you a ripe tomato it wasn’t this.

They dropped bombs on our harbor before they came, but all they took out were the boats the farmers were loading to send goods to England. The King had pulled his soldiers off our island long before. Took our kids too. Took my daughters to where it was safe.

They left me here, though. Preserve the future and abandon the present seemed to be the official strategy for the Channel Islands.

When the Nazis finally marched down our streets, we didn’t fight them. We didn’t cheer them, either, but we didn’t fight. Wouldn’t have been prudent. They had guns. We didn’t.

All we had was tomatoes.

And that’s when I got this bird-brained idea.

I went to my oldest daughter’s bedroom and fetched her roller skates. Went to my youngest’s and took one of her baby-doll’s dresses. Then I went out to the barn and loaded up a burlap sack with the rottenest tomatoes I had. Cut eye holes in the dress and pulled it over my head, strapped the skates to my boots. I figured it was like Nan and Su were with me.

Then I took off back to Main Street.

I rolled along the alleyway, watching through the gaps in the buildings as the Nazis marched in strict columns down the cobblestone street. I wheeled up through the shadow next to the movie-house and waited until the second-to-last row of soldiers was passing by. Then I wound up and pitched the juiciest missile I could at the shorter solider closest to me.

Hit him right in the face.

By the time he and the others reacted, I was already speeding away.

I got around to the tavern where I could see them all running toward the theater. I lobbed another tomato at a soldier’s back. It popped between his shoulder blades and made the uniform look how all Nazi uniform’s ought to look.

That really drove them crazy.

As I sped down the alley, looking for my next perch, I nearly ran right into old Farmer Locke. He grabbed me by the elbow and pulled me into a shed. Didn’t say a word, just took three of the tomatoes from me and went on his way.

The last place I wanted to get my shots in was at the church. I crept up along side of it and took aim at the Nazi in command. I wound up to make my throw, but one of the soldiers must have seen me moving. He and four others started heading my way.

If this was how I was going to go, then I was going to get one last shot in.

The Nazi-in-Command’s hat flew off his head and tomato juice covered his face.

The tomato was still in my hand.

Old Farmer Locke stepped out of the shadows next to the bakery and lobbed another tomato at the soldiers. Every one of those Nazis ran to grab him and get a hit in. As he sank beneath their blows, he yelled so I could hear, “Now Grendel and I are called together, and I’ve come.”

I felt my face grow pale, but I ran away as fast as I could. All the way back home, where I fished out a book I hadn’t read in years. The book Farmer Locke had quoted.

Beowulf.

“They have seen my strength for themselves,
Have watched me rise from the darkness of war,
Dripping with my enemies' blood. I drove
Five great giants into chains, chased
All of that race from the earth. I swam
In the blackness of night, hunting monsters
Out of the ocean, and killing them one
By one; death was my errand and the fate
They had earned. Now Grendel and I are called
Together, and I've come.”

A sat, shivering, on the floor of my room, realizing that Farmer Locke had seen something in the tomatoes I hadn’t. I thought I was being a nuisance, letting my anger fly in the moment of my rage.

Farmer Locke saw something else. He saw behind the doll-dress mask, the undersized skates, and the rotten tomatoes. He saw in me what I hadn’t.

He saw a Monster Hunter.

And, as I looked in the mirror, I saw it, too.


This was the start of my adventure.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The magic of AbrakaPOW

The release week for AbrakaPOW was AMAZING!
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AbrakaPOW is here!

Hi isaiah15.lexisaunh@blogger.com,

AbrakaPOW came out on Tuesday, Nov 8, and WHAT AN AMAZING WEEK it has been! If you are one of the many who picked up a copy last week, thank you! And if you haven't gotten your copy yet, no worries! You can pick it up on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or through your favorite local bookstore (my preferred option, to be sure!). And don't forget to go review it on Goodreads or Amazon once you've read it.

I had so much fun this last week presenting to students in Ohio and Pennsylvania and being one of the authors at the Lititz Kid-Lit Book Festival.

Presenting to students is one of my passions, and with AbrakaPOW, I get to use magic to teach storytelling and history. What a dream come true!


The crowd at Lititz was amazing and super engaged.


I love these two optical illusions which help me show how magic tricks work. Are you sure about what you are seeing? Is it a rabbit or a duck? Good or evil?


And, of course, bringing the magic is my all time favorite thing. This magic trick helps me tell the story of the POW escape in Texas. It's a lot of fun to do!

Besides getting to meet so many amazing new friends, I also got to see AbrakaPOW really find an audience, and that has made me happiest of all. I hope you have a chance to read AbrakaPOW!

By the way, if you are a teacher or librarian and you think your students would enjoy a presentation chock full of magic, history, story-telling, humor, and some weird guy who thinks comic books are a high form of art, let me know! I'd love to come visit you.

Excelsior!

Isaiah Campbell

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

AbrakaPOW!

Hey everyone!

As you hopefully know by now, AbrakaPOW is AVAILABLE wherever books are sold. So you can run to your local bookstore (look it up on IndieBound to make sure they have it!) or the nearest Barnes & Noble (order it online if you want to save the trip), get it on Amazon, or buy the ebook on Google Play or iBooks. Once you've read it, please go review it on Goodreads and Amazon! To find out more about the book, check out my interview on BookPage and watch the promo video on my YouTube. And don't forget to contact me on twitter or by email and let me know what you think!

Have a great day everyone!

Excelsior!


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

It's My Privilege

This article was originally posted on the Children's Book Council Diversity Blog in 2015.

“I remember the day that I became colored,” Zora Neale Hurston wrote in How it Feels to be Colored Me. In that essay, she related how she’d never thought much about her own skin color until she turned fourteen and moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where she encountered discrimination that transformed her from “Zora of Orange County” to “the little colored girl.”

I first read that essay when I was in college, and it blew my mind out of my ears and onto the pile of pizza boxes in the corner of my dorm room. I’d never imagined that experience for anyone. What was it like to have your identity redefined into a category you never knew existed? What was it like to go from just being a girl to being “just a girl”? To go from being one of the guys to being “one of those guys”? To realize that, no matter your achievements or accomplishments, people would first notice the color of your skin?

Years later, I would understand that the very fact I’d only just then been exposed to those feelings was, in itself, a similarly defining revelation. Having the freedom to live without such discrimination and restriction is the essence of Privilege, as is being blissfully unaware of what the heck Privilege is and how it affects life (you might recognize that state of being from its proliferation on Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, and Facebook).

When I decided to write The Troubles of Johnny Cannon, I hoped to open the eyes of middle-school readers to the reality I didn’t see until I was an adult. I had been thinking about the “default protagonist” in literature, i.e. the Straight-White-Male character that we often imagine until a rogue character description informs us otherwise. And when that darn character description tells us the character is not straight, or not white, or not male, we expect the story to be about what it’s like to not be the default character.

In other words, Diverse Characters often teach the reader what it’s like to be different, while Straight-White Characters get to go on any adventure they want and happily ignore their own state of being.

And so, like Kristoff when he almost told Olaf what happens to snowmen in summer, I felt compelled to clue the little white guy in on how the world really works.

When Johnny’s story begins, he has it pretty bad. He lives in poverty. He’s in a single parent home. His father is disabled. He doesn’t fit in at school, doesn’t know how to talk to his dream girl, and can’t stay out of trouble to save his life (hence the name of the book, right?).  If you told Johnny that he was privileged, he’d laugh in your face. “If I’m privileged,” he’d probably say, “then whoever ain’t privileged is better off dead and buried.”

But everything changes when he is forced to befriend his African American neighbor, Willie Parkins, and realizes there’s a difference between privilege and prosperity.

As a minister’s son with both parents, Willie ought to be better off than Johnny, but he’s not, and it doesn’t make sense. Johnny is as poor as Job’s turkey, but he can go into any place of business even if he can’t afford anything. Johnny has to hunt for his food, but at least the community trusts him with a gun.  Johnny gets into fights at school, but when they’re over he doesn’t have to hear about how violent his kind of people are.

The unexplainable disparity between them helps Johnny finally see the world he’s in for what it is. Like it or not, this is a world in which the cards are stacked in favor of Straight-White-Male characters.

And so, in the midst of all his other troubles, Johnny encounters one he can’t fix, and that’s kind of the point. The story isn’t about turning Johnny into a Civil Rights Messiah, swooping in and making the world better for minorities. That would be counterproductive. Instead, the point of the story is to help Johnny, and hopefully the reader, learn empathy. In middle-school.

Empathetic middle-school students. What will the world think of next?

Special thanks to the Children's Book Council for the opportunity to write a guest blog.