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 firstname.lastname@example.org.