Saint Francis comes to life for a new generation in stunning new title from Phil Gallery and Sibyl MacKenzie

October 4, The Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi — As the world celebrates its favorite and most unifying saint, Francis of Assisi, Paraclete Press announces the release of the first title in its new San Damiano Books imprint, St. Francis and the Animals: A Mother Bird’s Story (October 4, 2019 • ISBN 978-1-61261-973-6 • $17.99 • Hardcover).

 Watch a video trailer about the book here! 

Phil Gallery’s inspired words from the perspective of Mother Bird, paired with Sibyl MacKenzie’s vibrant, beautiful illustrations, give readers young and old an entirely new angle on Brother Francis – the boy who grew up in Assisi, ventured out as a brave knight, turned aside when he heard God’s call, and became the gentle monk who loved the Creator and all of creation with his whole heart. The familiar stories take on an even more profound meaning when told from the perspective of Francis’s brothers and sisters, the birds – and one little bird in particular who takes flight for the first time thanks to the kindness of Brother Francis – showing how all the parts of God’s creation are connected.

Praise for St. Francis and the Animals: A Mother Bird’s Story
“This is an enchanting tale of St. Francis’ love of all creatures that shows how religious tales, in engaging prose and elegant illustrations, can guide us in the most important project of our lives: connecting with God, the Maker of all good things. This will become one of the favorite books of childhood!” –Fr. David B. Couturier, OFM Cap., Director of the Franciscan Institute, St. Bonaventure University

“This book is great! It is a wonderful depiction of the story of the life of Saint Francis as told with amazing drawings.”
Bob O’Connor, Author of A House Divided Against Itself

“These stunning illustrations and the engaging text describe how Francis related to a great variety of animals. This book is sure to spark valuable conversations.”
-Fr. Pat McCloskey, OFM, Franciscan Editor, St. Anthony Messenger

“Simply stunning! This is guaranteed to stir your heart with a rousing love for God, His Saints, His Creation, and all creatures—great and small. This tender story is magnificently illustrated and a very engaging expression of the life of the beloved Saint of Assisi. I highly recommend it for children and adults alike!”

Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, award-winning author of many books including Angels for Kids and My Confirmation Book

Phil Gallery is the author of four books in the award-winning “Can You Find” series that sold more than 140,000 copies. He lives in the hills of eastern West Virginia, where he and his wife Shari raised their four children.

Sibyl MacKenzie graduated from Columbia University with a degree in German Literature and has exhibited in galleries all over the US.

St. Francis and the Animals: A Mother Bird’s Story is the first book in Paraclete’s new San Damiano Books imprint for Franciscan spirituality. San Damiano Books will publish for children as well as adults, fiction and nonfiction, spirituality and practical theology, books by vowed Franciscans and laypeople/writers—all with a passion for the spirit of Saints Francis and Clare.

For interviews with author Phil Gallery or for review copies, please contact Director of Marketing Laura McKendree: email lauram@paracletepress.com, phone 800-451-5006 ext 316.

 

Announcing book two in “The Pope’s Cat” series from Jon Sweeney: Margaret’s Night in St. Peter’s – A Christmas Story!

For Immediate Release

For October 1, 2018 — Margaret the cat and her best friend, none other than the Pope himself, are back to entertain and teach young readers about the inside world of the Vatican, and everything that goes on at Christmastime at St. Peter’s Basilica: Margaret’s Night in St. Peter’s (A Christmas Story) (October 2018 / Paraclete Press / ISBN 978-1-61261-936-1 / trade paperback / color illustrations / $10.99) by Jon M. Sweeney, illustrated by Roy DeLeon.

Picking right up where they left left off, this disarming story about the antics of mischievous Margaret and her beloved friend the Pope takes readers to iconic sites at St. Peter’s – behind the Pieta, and even up at the altar – allowing children to take part in Margaret’s first experience of the miracle of Christmas.

“This beautiful book is a love letter to the church, to Christmas, to Rome, and to St. Peter’s Basilica—and not just for children!” –James Martin, SJ

“What could be more endearing than a charming and curious stray cat? It could only be the cat that’s been adopted by the pope and has free run of the Vatican at Christmastime: Margaret! This enchanting and beautifully illustrated storybook will tickle your fancy! I highly recommend it to children and adults alike!” –Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle

“Have you ever wished you could celebrate the wonder of Christmas within the beauty of the Vatican? Take a step inside St. Peter’s Basilica with the Pope’s special friend Margaret the cat and see the Church’s celebration of the Nativity with fresh eyes and a glowing heart. Jon Sweeney playfully invites us into another adventure featuring exquisite color illustrations by Roy DeLeon. Sensational!” –Lisa M. Hendey

About the author: Jon M. Sweeney’s popular history, The Pope Who Quit: A True Medieval Tale of Mystery, Death, and Salvation, has been optioned by HBO. He’s the author of two dozen other books including The Complete Francis of AssisiWhen Saint Francis Saved the Church, winner of a 2015 award in history from the Catholic Press Association, and The Enthusiast: How the Best Friend of Francis of Assisi Almost Destroyed What He Started. This is his second book for children.

About the illustrator: Roy DeLeon is an Oblate of St. Benedict, spiritual director, yoga instructor, graphic designer, and professional visual artist. He is also author of Praying with the Body.

For review copies or interviews, contact Director of Marketing Laura McKendree at lauram@paracletepress.com, or 800-451-5006 ext 316.

Celebrate 90 years of a life well-loved and well-lived with Jean Vanier’s “We Need Each Other”

Paraclete Press launches a month-long celebration honoring Jean Vanier’s 90th birthday with the release of We Need Each Other: Responding to God’s Call to Live Together (September 18, 2018 • ISBN 978-1-64060-096-6 • Hardcover • $19.99).

Vanier’s words in this book represent the culmination of 65 years of global ministry, and the definitive summary of his life’s work and deep beliefs. His message of reconciliation is something the world desperately needs in these dark times of spiritual and cultural division.


In Vanier’s own words:
 “Today we are living in a very stressed world. There is a lot of fear and even hatred for those who are different. Jesus came to preach peace and to break down the barriers that separate people. May this little book help each one of us become messengers of peace, of mercy, and of forgiveness.”

Paraclete will be celebrating Vanier’s life and message with a vibrant social media campaign throughout the month, including intimate video interviews revealing the heart of this “living saint,” reviews and online discussions of the book and its message, and video sharings from a book launch with Vanier himself at his home in France, October 7-8, 2018.


Jean Vanier
 was awarded the Templeton Prize in 2015. He is a philosopher, theologian, and man of letters with great heart and compassion. The first L’Arche Community was started in 1964 in Trosly-Breuil, a village in the north of Paris, when Vanier invited two people with intellectual disabilities to live with him in a small house. Today, L’Arche is made up of 151 communities spread over five continents.

“This is vintage Vanier.” —Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, author of The Holy Longing and Bruised and Wounded
“Jean Vanier is a living saint.” —James Martin, SJ, author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage
We Need Each Other is a treasure.” —John Pattison, Englewood Review of Books

To request a review copy or an interview, please contact Laura McKendree: email lauram@paracletepress.com, call 1-800-451-5006 ext 316.

Paraclete Press Announces the Launching of a New Publishing Imprint

 

 

October 2018 — In time for the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, Paraclete Press releases the first title in its new imprint for Franciscan spirituality. San Damiano Books will publish for children as well as adults, fiction and nonfiction, spirituality and practical theology, books by vowed Franciscans and laypeople/writers—all with a passion for the spirit of Saints Francis and Clare.

Coming October 4, 2018:


St. Francis and the Animals: A Mother Bird’s Story 
by Phil Gallery, illustrated by Sibyl MacKenzie
Format: 8.5×11, 32 pp. Hardcover / ISBN: 978-1-61261-973-6 / $17.99
Ship Date: 9/13/2018 / On Sale: 10/4/2018

 

“Stunning illustrations and engaging text. This book is sure to spark valuable conversations.” —Fr. Pat McCloskey, OFM, Franciscan Editor, St. Anthony Messenger

If the animal kingdom can understand the life and teachings of the world’s most famous saint, so can children, who will be delighted by this simple, beautiful book for the ages.

 

Francis of Assisi In His Own Words: The Essential Writings, 2nd edition 
by Jon M. Sweeney
Format: 5×7.5, 160 pp. Trade paper / ISBN: 978-1-64060-019-5 / $16.99
Ship Date: 10/2/18 / On Sale: 10/23/18

 

“A very good translation of [Francis’] original writings, in words that we can now appreciate.” —Richard Rohr, OFM

Sweeney has expanded his bestselling compilation to include six additional writings such as: “The Form of Life He Wished for Clare,” “The Sermon to the Birds,” and “The Source of True Joy.” An expanded introduction and notes add historical and theological context.

Authors under contract for 2019 include two more books for children; Wendy Murray with a new biography of St. Clare; multi-platinum recording artist John Michael Talbot reflecting on Francis of Assisi’s “Sermon on the Mount” by looking at one of the saint’s lesser-known writings, “The Admonitions”; and Amid Passing Things: Life, Prayer, and Relationship with God by new author Jeremiah Myriam Shryock, CFR.

Happy Birthday Saint Teresa of Calcutta!

Read and enjoy this excerpt from Suzanne Henley’s Bead by Bead: The Ancient Way of Praying Made New in honor of Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s birthday (August 26th).

Chapter 4:

Clearing Your Cache and Beginning to Pray

Regardless of how many years and how earnestly you have prayed, author John McQuiston reminds us, “Always We Begin Again.” Each attempt at prayer is a new one. There are no referees, no winning score, no out-of-bounds, no penalties. You must bring your whole self to it. Several years ago I heard Richard Rohr say, “I have prayed for years for one good humiliation a day, and then, I must watch my reaction to it. I have no other way of spotting both my denied shadow self and my idealized persona.” Prayer can be messy. It is not—and should not be, I believe—a tidy package. We must wade through the mud first. As Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, “no mud, no lotus.”

Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:5–6 to go into our closet to pray. Closets are of course our first choice as children when playing Hide and Seek, and that often describes prayer: Hide and Seek. And we are still children. However, I retreat at the image of the Holy Spirit in my closet—ancient dust balls roiling among the cluttered clogs and worn-out sandals, pants legs slapping about, a sweater or two slumped off hangers—and the two of us hunkering knee to knee amid the musty odor of tee shirts and jeans whining, “Put me in the laundry!” This closet with its housekeeping embarrassments of course is the untidy closet of my heart. And, as messy as it might be, this is exactly where we all must begin. One of the main points of prayer, it seems to me, is in fact to air our dirty laundry.

We can spend a lot of time and effort hiding from what we know to face in prayer—“That of which we are not aware, owns us,” James Hollis reminds us in Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life—but sometimes roles switch; the Spirit sometimes seems to hide, sometimes for months, even for years.

In 1989 Mother Teresa came to Memphis to speak. Two of my children were quite young and could have no idea at the time of the enormity of devotion and accomplishment of this tiny woman, but I wanted them to have a memory of her presence. For some lucky reason we were given aisle seats. We waited a long, very fidgety time. Suddenly there was a stir. Mother Teresa did not come out on a stage two hundred feet away but was actually walking up the aisle toward us. The packed coliseum was quiet with respect and awe as she approached. Then she was beside us, and my son Walker, in the carrying voice of an excited child, stood up and exclaimed to the hushed auditorium, “Look, Mom, she has on sandals! And they’re just like mine!”

We now know that Mother Teresa, as many of us do, experienced her own very dark night of the soul. According to her letters—which she never believed would be made public—the desolation and abandonment by God she felt lasted for fifty years, beginning almost from the moment she arrived in Calcutta to begin the work she believed Jesus had commanded her to do. Continuing her work, and always smiling (“a mask,” she called it), she wrote of the “torture,” “emptiness,” and “darkness” she lived with for the majority of her life. For a period she even stopped praying. We balk and flounder, searching for an adequate explanation for this gut-wrenching information—or dismiss it with a shrug of psychological shoulders. As unutterably painful as those years must have been for her, though, they tell each of us in our own dark nights of searing doubt and unbearable loneliness that we’re in good company. We all wear the same sandals.

Paraclete Fiction | “This Heavy Silence” | Preview

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August 2018 — Paraclete Fiction expands its acclaimed collection by bringing Nicole Mazzarella’s This Heavy Silence back to print.
 
Mazzarella’s novel captured the literary world’s attention when it was first published back in 2005, by breaking the norms of Christian fiction with a heroine’s controversial choices, edgy themes and language. In 2006 the top fiction award from Christianity Today, and a subsequent Christy Award, confirmed Library Journal’s “highly recommended” accolades.
 
Now Paraclete is pleased to reintroduce readers to Mazzarella’s mesmerizing portrait of betrayal, forgiveness, and the mysteries of grace. In This Heavy Silence, discover the world of Dottie Connell — strong, resilient, and deeply loyal, she farms three hundred acres in rural Ohio alone, having sacrificed love and family for land she does not own. A sudden, inexplicable event leaves the daughter of her childhood friend in her care. Pressured by her community to allow her former fiancé to raise the child, Dottie must face the past she has worked fifteen years to forget. 
 
“Nuanced characterization, finely wrought scene-setting, subtlety in addressing questions of faith, repentance, and forgiveness.” —Christianity Today Book Awards 2006, Winner in Debut Fiction
Part One: 1962
Chapter 1

Thousands of seasons of deciduous rot in the sandstone ridges of this Ohio valley yielded wheat fields that brought farmers begging to buy Brubaker land. My great-grandfather convinced a Brubaker to sell him three hundred acres, not revealing to anyone he had discovered a spring-fed patch of land. Land that would never go dry. So while our land never rivaled the Brubaker’s in size, my great-grandfather made a name for the Connells. And names could last for generations.

In winter, this valley belonged to no one. Snow covered the fields and then drifted over our fences. I wrapped my scarf around my head and stepped into my boots on the black rubber mat by the door. The snow from last night’s milking puddled between a row of boots that promised seasons to come: my mid-calf green rubber boots for spring, the tan suede hiking boots with yellow laces for summer.

Quickly lacing my boots, I worried Zela’s daughter would wake before I returned from milking, or, worse, that Zela would arrive and find her alone. Zela had never left her only child in my care. Most women assumed I had no instinct at all if I didn’t have the sense to marry and give birth to my own children.

Reaching for my thermos on the kitchen counter, I noticed a neatly stacked pile of cloth next to the telephone. I flicked on the light. Zela’s aprons. Starched and pressed. This was the second time Zela had left her aprons at my house. Yet she knew I would never use them. Cooking could not stain my work clothes any more than transmission oil, so I never bothered.

In November when she first left these aprons, I folded them over a hanger and kept them near the door, hoping to prompt her to explain why she hadn’t simply tucked them in a drawer or donated them to her church’s rummage sale. Only a month later, she slipped in the side door quietly. By the time I came into the hallway, her coat bulged slightly from the aprons tucked inside. Her silence encouraged my silence. If I noticed her taking them, she didn’t want me to mention it.

“What does he say to make you stop wearing aprons, and then make you start wearing them again?” I asked. Zela rubbed her hands on her legs as if she already wore an apron that could absorb the nervousness in her palms. I knew she wouldn’t answer. Our friendship was based on old secrets, not new ones.

A look inside “Give Love and Receive the Kingdom”

From the greatest living expert on the history of English spirituality comes the most expansive collection of her work ever published. Benedicta Ward’s Give Love and Receive the Kingdom is designed to both inspire and educate. Read the Introduction, and prepare to be inspired.

These papers were all written for different times and occasions, and I am grateful to the editors at Paraclete Press and SLG Press for the suggestion of reprinting them under one cover. Reading them together is for me like looking through windows of different coloured glass at many people, times, and places; my task is that of a window-cleaner, making it possible for others both to see through clearly and pass over to find pasture, as I do among such friends. The message of these writers is certainly not one of ease and comfortableness, but of faith, hope, and love. Only after wrestling with God, like Jacob in the dark, and being like him permanently wounded, can anyone go towards the brother one has hated and say, “I see your face as the face of God” (Gen. 33:10). They all used their own life experience, starting where they were, to express the impact on them of the Gospel through self-knowledge and God-knowledge, by submission and repentance, coming closer always to the reality of God in Christ. They spoke out of lives lived within and on behalf of a world as torn and agonizing and filled with doubt as our own.

There are many written sources to draw upon in understanding the inner life of our predecessors in these islands. They were human beings like ourselves, and in exploring their journeys we can be refreshed and encouraged in our own. A search for their backgrounds could begin with the records of the evangelisation of the sixth-century Germanic settlers in Britain who came from different places: there were the existing British Christians, the missionaries sent by Gregory I from Rome, and contacts with Christian Gaul, as well as missionaries and preachers from Ireland and Iona. In effect, the message they brought came originally from Rome, coloured by the different ethos of each group, and they intermingled freely, creating eventually a homogeneous Christian nation out of disparate tribes and peoples.

The chief sources for knowing about them at this early stage are the works of the Venerable Bede (635–736), the greatest scholar of his age and the only Englishman to have been accorded the title of Doctor of the Church. He made it his life’s work to offer the new Christians the traditions of Mediterranean Christianity, linking them with the world of the New Testament and the Fathers of the Church, not just as a part of the past, but as life here and now for a new and living people of God.

The basis of Anglo-Saxon spirituality was thus formed by love and not by force. Augustine began by praying and fasting in a small church with the queen and her court, establishing a lasting link between church and state which was dependent on unity of prayer and reality of conduct. This link is seen clearly in the conclusion of the Synod of Whitby where a major division was healed not by reasoned argument or political force but by trust in the resurrection: “King Oswiu said, ‘Since Peter is the doorkeeper I will not contradict him, lest when I come to the gates of heaven there may be no-one to open them.’”1

In a rough world, existing ways of life were not so much destroyed as transformed: a love of the glory of gold became a love for the beauty of holiness. Awareness of the terrors of both nature and super nature around them, as well as of sin within, led to a strong emphasis on penance, personal as well as corporate, which coloured devotion and affirmed the centrality of the Cross and the Last Judgement. Love of a lord was transferred to love of the high King of Heaven, and love of kin could be the basis of care for members of the Church. This instinctive need for companionship was transferred also to the saints, who were known as always present and always available in prayers, miracles, and visions.

Bede preserved for us details of this lived Christianity in stories which show the ideals which inspired the new Christians. This was done orally by preaching but also by using the new technology of writing. Augustine had brought with him to a non-literate society a silver cross and an icon of Christ, but also a book which would change the ways of communication forever. He offered these to King Ethelbert and his thanes as tokens of “a new and better kingdom.”2 His approach was in line with the policies of Pope Gregory the Great who sent him, in that he was prepared to build on the existing ideals and customs of the English and transfigure rather than destroy. A serious, practical, and lasting spirituality was the result, based on the Scriptures and the liturgy of the Church, which is illustrated by the cover of this book, which shows the picture of Christ in majesty. It is taken from the Codex Amiatinus, the oldest copy of the Latin Vulgate, which was made at Wearmouth Jarrow in Bede’s time, thus presenting the Bible as the main window into the light which shone through the lives of our friends.

The sense of living in the ante-chamber of heaven, with the shadow of judgement as well as the promise of mercy always present, coloured all aspects of later medieval devotion, but the eleventh century saw a turning point towards a more personal interior approach. The key figure in this was the theologian-monk Anselm of Bec, who ended his life as archbishop of Canterbury (1033–1109). He made a break with the long tradition of prayer which flowed mainly through the channels of the psalms by creating out of them a new kind of poetic material for the use of anyone who wanted to pray. His Prayers and Meditations arose out of his own private prayer, and he sent copies of them to those of his friends who asked for them, together with simple and practical advice about how they could be used. Naturally his prayers were shaped by his monastic background and interests, but from the first they were popular with men and women living a busy Christian life in society for whom the monastic life of prayer was an ideal with which they longed to be associated. Anselm’s secretary and biographer, Eadmer, wrote of these prayers:

With what fear, with what hope and love he addressed himself to God and his saints and taught others to do the same. If the reader will only study them reverently, I hope that his heart will be touched and that he will feel the benefit of them and rejoice in them and for them.

Anselm saw no rift between Christian thought and Christian devotion. As well as being a good pastor, a man of prayer, and an affectionate friend, Anselm was an outstanding scholar, with one of the keenest minds of all time, and he applied his intellect to the lifelong task of thinking about and living for God. Every part of his fine mental equipment was stretched to its limit, seeking and desiring God in practise as well as in thought. At the end of the Proslogion he wrote:

My God,
I pray that I may so know you and love you
that I may rejoice in you
and if I may not do so fully in this life,
let me go steadily on
to the day when I come to that fullness.

It is clear from this quotation, which comes from the last part of his most brilliant philosophical work in which he first proposed what was later called “the ontological argument” for the existence of God, that Anselm knew very well that God is not known by the intellect on its own but by the heart and mind together. His own discovery about prayer was what he passed on to others as “faith seeking understanding.” In his advice about praying, he insisted that the first necessity was to want to pray and be ready to give up some part at least of concern with oneself in order to be “free a while for God.” In a quiet place, alone, Anselm offered the person praying words that he himself had prayed, arising out of, but not confined to, the Scriptures used in personal and intimate dialogue with Jesus.

It is possible to find the same approach in Julian of Norwich (1342– 1413.) Julian composed two books, one a long version of the other, called Revelations of Divine Love, expressing the flowering of English prose as well as containing the first sustained theology to be written in English. She lived as an anchoress in a cell built onto the wall of the church of St. Julian in Norwich. In the twentieth century, she became well known and indeed popular, but she was very little known in her own times and all but lost sight of at the Reformation. Her works were recovered and edited only at the end of the nineteenth century, as if they had been preserved especially for our times. Her theology was based on a background of immense global suffering and despair. The time and opportunity for a peaceful life was challenged in the most basic manner possible by universal attacks of a fatal plague, called the Black Death, which struck at everyone and recurred; it was almost impossible to assuage.

There are so many deeds which in our eyes are evilly done and
lead to such great harms that it seems impossible to us that any
good result should ever come from them.5

She was well aware of the sinful state of all: “I saw and understood that we may not in this life keep us from sin as completely as we shall in heaven.” But she was sure that here and now we should not despair: “Neither on the one hand should we fall low in despair, nor on the other be over reckless as if we did not care but we should simply acknowledge that we may not stand for the twinkling of an eye except by the grace of God and we should reverently cleave to God in him only trusting.”

With this dark background of fatal illness and continuous warfare the poet Langland (1332–1400) presented a vision of realistic but loving hope similar to that encountered in Julian:

I dreamt a marvellous dream;
I was in a wilderness I could not tell where . . .
and between the tower and the gulf
I saw a smooth field full of folk,
high and low together. (Piers Plowman)

The tower of truth and the gulf of sorrow: and between them a field full of folk. This vision is concerned with the folk between these two extremes, and in some ways, it is a true vision of Christian life in any time or place. There is always a dynamic unity between the content of a faith (the “tower of truth”) and the way it is lived out (“the gulf of sorrow”) not by a special elite but by the “folk” themselves. Spirituality cannot be seen as a pure intellectual stream of consciousness flowing from age to age among articulate people only; it is always the lens of the gospel placed over each age, each place, each person.

This unity of understanding within the changing settings of the disasters and challenges of life can be seen in Bede, Cuthbert, and Anselm. Alongside them are the hermits of the twelfth century, and the fourteenth-century writers Julian of Norwich and Langland. Andrewes, Taylor, and Frank in the seventeenth century show how the same approach to inner pilgrimage continued in changing social contexts, a stream of ever-moving pilgrims going towards the life of heaven.

We are all engaged in this pilgrimage with them, and there is refreshment in such companionship. We are all Bunyan’s Christian, and as well as being his Mr. Despair, we are also his Faithful-unto-Death. We with him will cross over in the loving company of friends, where for us as for him “all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.” Between the tower of truth and the gulf of sorrow our predecessors stood, as we do, within a field full of folk with only one rule: “Give love and receive the kingdom!”

Benedicta Ward, Oxford, 2018

International Cat Day with Margaret, “The Pope’s Cat”

Today is International Cat Day 🐈, when people around the world are expressing love for felines and concerns about caring for them wherever they are found. Our cat-loving publisher and author Jon M. Sweeney is in the house. In honor of this day, two readers will win signed copies of Jon’s best-selling book, The Pope’s Cat — all you have to do is enter by 5 pm today!

How do you enter? Easy! Post a comment on this blog or on the Paraclete Press Facebook page about how much you love Margaret, the Pope’s cat, or any other cat in your life, and you will be entered to win. Photos also welcomed!
This contest will be closely monitored by our #1 feline judge at Paraclete Press, Margaret. The winner will be announced tonight!
Paws up — who wants to win? Good luck! And have a purrrr-fectly lovely National Cat Day!

Fade to Gray: 5 Days ‘Til Samuel

 

Take a minute with this article by John Gray about the backstory to his book “God Needed A Puppy” coming out next Tuesday! You’ll be gad you did.

In six days (now five) a beautiful puppy named Samuel will be in book stores all over the country. How he got there is really something.

You see, two years ago today I was with my wife at a pet store shopping for bowls, beds and toys suitable for a new dog. A tiny German shepherd puppy was exactly five weeks old and almost ready to come home with us. We met him a day after he was born and visited him once a week so he’d know our scent and faces when he came home with us. We named him Samuel. There was something regal and almost biblical about that name I thought.

For those who read this column frequently or visit my Facebook page you know what happened next. He did come home, melted our hearts and then six months later broke our hearts when he went down for his morning nap and never woke up. The doctors said it was just one of those horrible, fluke things; one in a million. He died in early January of 2017 and I felt like a gunshot victim who refused to go and get treatment, carrying the bullet and pain around with me.

Then one Sunday evening I sat at the very computer I’m typing this column on now and started writing a story. I learned when I was a kid that if something was really bothering me it helped to write about it; kind of like getting the poison out. So I wrote a story about a man who loses his dog and is asking God for some explanation.

The next day I went back to the story and decided it shouldn’t be a man asking God for answers but a child who loses his dog.

The third day I took all the humans out of the story and replaced them with a fox and an owl and suddenly this was no longer about me or my pain at all. I looked at the computer screen and realized I’d almost written a children’s story by accident. I say “almost” because I didn’t have an ending so I asked God to give me one and went to sleep.

I woke up on the fourth day and had my ending. Whether it came from the cinnamon bagel with butter I ate that morning or the almighty is open for debate but I had my ending.

Oh, and my title, “God Needed A Puppy.” So what to do with my little story?

I tried sending it to publishers and agents and nobody wanted it. A few were nice and said they liked it but they didn’t want it. One person told me to consider taking God out of the story (or at least the title) and I told her without God there wasn’t a story but thanks for the advice.

When a nice woman I didn’t know painted beautiful pictures to match my words I decided to just publish it myself. The plan was to sell a couple thousand copies and donate any money I made to pet shelters. Then something amazing happened, people loved the book and purchased 14,000 of them.

By November of 2017 I’d done all I could do with it. The publishing world said no, we sold what we could sell and lots of animal shelters got nice big checks. Mission accomplished. Yet something nagged at me. What if there could be more? Something told me to try one last time.

So late one night I emailed my story to five more literary agents only this time I focused only on those who represent Christian authors. If God was the problem maybe he was also the solution. Less than two days later I had my agent and three months after that I had a book deal with Paraclete Press. And now six days from today a puppy named Samuel will be in book stores all over the country in a gorgeous hardcover version.

After signing a deal with my publisher I “googled” Paraclete Press and learned they are based in Cape Cod not two miles from a hotel I’ve stayed at with my family many times. I could only laugh because from top to bottom this improbable story has had so many coincidences or what my illustrator Shanna would call “God’s hand guiding it.”

For example — the portrait of Samuel on the book cover was painted by her the day he died. She didn’t know me, she just heard he died and started painting him; a stranger from five states away. Random acts of love, like Shanna’s, have made this book a reality.

I don’t know what happens next with “God Needed A Puppy.” I do know it has helped lots of kids and pets already and that’s enough. Still I’d love to sell more and help even more. I hope Samuel is proud of me. And I hope when I die and meet my maker God says to me, “Thanks for keeping me in the title John. Thanks for putting me first.” Then I’ll say, “You’re welcome Lord, now do you mind getting me my puppy?”

John Gray is a news anchor on WXXA-Fox TV 23 and ABC’S WTEN News Channel 10. His column is published every Wednesday. Email him at johngray@fox23news.com.