I got my start as a writer with a game called “Ghosts in the Graveyard.” It is a variant on hide-and-seek that my sister and I played with the neighborhood kids when I was 8. The game had involved one child being a tour guide, walking the others around the “graveyard” and telling spooky stories at different locations until the ghost jumped out, shouted “Ghosts in the Graveyard!” and started chasing everyone.
When I was the tour guide, I told stories about how the trees in a certain area had, over time, grown in such a way that their tops were very sharp so that they could impale parachuting skydivers in revenge for centuries of logging of their kind by humans. I was often asked to be the tour guide, and the encouragement made me want to be a writer.
Making a connection with the audience is both rewarding and challenging, especially with humor. All at once, you have to come up with something that’s relevant to your audience, it needs to have unexpected combinations that will cause mental fire drills in the heads of the reader (laughter) and you need to make sure you don’t go too far and offend people.
I got inspired to write Orthodox humor by The Onion Dome, which during its heyday was the Saturday Night Live of Orthodox humor. It had a lot of fake news and fake pastoral advice (hold your nose while walking in front of restaurants during Lent) and was a hoot. The creator of the site, Alex Riggle, brought together an assortment of writers to create a new genre that was both obscure and hysterically funny to the Orthodox people who followed it.
My humor book, “Heaven Help the Single Christian” got started as an Onion Dome article. I was inspired by a young man who had met a girl on one side of the country at a church conference. They got along well. A few weeks later, he flew to the other side of the country to show up unannounced on her doorstep with a bouquet of flowers. This delightful story spread around the girl’s group of friends – my fiancé (now wife) being one of them – and the extreme measures that he was willing to take to find a girl who believes in God really resonated with me. My first thought was to laugh at him mercilessly for his romantic pilgrimage, but then it occurred to me that I’d done the same thing, twice, before I met my perfect girl, only my pilgrimages involved buses, not airplanes.
When I was in the midst of the struggle to find someone to marry, I thought that someone needed to write a good book on the topic, but I was far too angry to do it. After getting engaged, I had a new joy in my life, but the memories of being single were still strong enough for me to write something lighthearted but engaged in the reality of the topic, and the book came together quickly.
Promoting your first book is a challenge. The recommended way of starting is to get invited to conferences, give talks, sign your books, and sell them out of a box that you bring. I’m still trying to figure out how to do that. I’ve also made some zero-budget advertising videos and put them on the Internet in hopes that they’d go sort of viral, and I’m writing essays based on parts of the book for magazines.
I’m trying to break out of obscurity, but it’s also important to try remaining humble at the same time, making being a writer a unique spiritual task for a Christian. I want to provide material that speaks to the reality that Christians face in their daily lives while also providing appropriate advice. The writer’s task is a lonely one, but the help of other Christian writers is necessary, both to help improve your work, and to make sure that what you write helps people with their salvation.