Tuesday, January 21, 2014


      In 2005, I decided to try my hand at professional writing. Once of my students, Dennis Mace, had told me that he and many of his classmates enjoyed essays I'd written about my teacher, my classmates, and myself. So, my busy little fingers went to work on my keyboard and I began to write. And edit. And write. And edit...
      I was living in Unionville, Iowa at this time. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this place (and why on earth would you be?), it is a village of about 100 people, including dogs, babies, and chickens. It features only two real streets – Front Street and Back Street – and most of its inhabitants make their livings by working at local factories, digging in the ground, or both. And one of them aspired to be a writer.
      I had relocated there from Omaha, Nebraska, where I had run a martial arts school for many years. I thought that Unionville would be a fine place to raise my children. I had lived in both Fairfield and Ottumwa (cities in southeast Iowa) and I knew the area very well. My wife at the time was originally from Unionville.
      I had started teaching a small kung-fu class in the nearby town of Centerville and I had worked for the Wapello County Sheriff's Department.
      I was told that writing my book was a waste of time. Thousands of aspiring authors send in their manuscripts to various publishers every day; how could I possibly hope to have my book published? The odds were stacked against me. “Stop wasting your time”, the critics said. “You'll only be very disappointed in the end.”
      But I wasn't about to throw in the towel. No. Way.
      After I'd about finished the manuscript, I reasoned that I needed to find a literary agent to help me find my way through the quagmire of the publishing industry and I was very excited to find such a man. A 6th grade black belt in Kenpo, John (not his real name) had put up a shingle as a literary agent and he was familiar with several publishing houses that specialized in martial arts books.
      John was a great help to me and taught me a great deal about professional writing. He liked my manuscript and sent sample copies to several publishers. I waited with bated breath for their replies... but none were forthcoming. The weeks passed slowly. One promising editor who worked for North Atlantic Books was mildly interested but just as my hopes had begun to rise, John called to say that the editor had gone to work for another publisher. “It happens a lot with editors”, he said.
      Then, just when I'd about given up hope, John quit working as a literary agent. “It just doesn't bring in the money fast enough”, he said. So there I agent, no publisher interested in my work. But I wouldn't give up. Nope. BUT...I was dead in the water.
      A couple of days later I had to drive into Centerville to buy a few groceries. My head had been spinning, trying to think of solutions to the problem of getting my book published but no answers were forthcoming. So, like most people do when they've tried everything else first, I prayed. I've always liked to think that the Almighty and I have developed a very close, personal relationship, especially after the tragic death of my youngest son, Christopher. In fact, you could say we're on a first-name basis; He calls me whatever He wants and I call him “Almighty God.”
      I prayed aloud and told our God that I really needed some encouragement. If writing was something that He intended for me to do, I needed a sign. And since I'm not much good at picking up subtle signals, I asked that the sign be reasonably clear.
On my way home I was still thinking about possible solutions to my problem. I'd all but forgotten about my prayer. I arrived home, carried the groceries inside the house and skipped back out the door to get the day's mail. And there...there it was. His sign!
      I saw a letter from the Tuttle Publishing Company. Tuttle is one of the largest publishing houses in the U.S. and they specialize in titles having to do with various aspects of Eastern life and thought. Any martial arts writer worth his salt would give his eye teeth to be published by such a renowned firm!
      I tore the letter open and anxiously read the brief letter that had been written by one of the main editors. They were interested in my book! They wanted to see the full manuscript!!! And I looked up and thanked God for the “not so subtle” sign... Yes, He wanted me to write. That was clear.
      Days passed and turned into weeks but there was no word from Tuttle. I didn't understand this. If God wanted me to write, why wasn't anything happening? I was confused and very tired. I had spun a very strong cocoon for myself and I stayed deep inside it.
      The telephone rang while I was watching television one evening. I answered and a voice asked, “Is this Phillip Starr?”
      Now, insurance salesmen are about the only people who call me by my real first name and I generally dislike having to deal with them and their sales pitches. Even so, I replied, “Yes, it is.”
Mr. Starr, my name is Richard Grossinger. I'm the owner of North Atlantic Books and I was just cleaning out a few things from the office of our former martial arts editor, Mr. Sykes.”
My heart was beginning to skip beats... God has certainly not forgotten me!
      “And I found a post-a-note taped to a manuscript that you had written. I assumed the telephone number on the note was yours. I read the manuscript and...well, I'd like to publish your book.”
      My heart came to a dead stop. I was light headed, almost giddy with joy. “Uh...Yes!!! Yes, that would be wonderful”, I replied in a sudden moment of clarity.
      And the rest is history. “The Making Of A Butterfly” would be published in 2006 and followed, at the time of this writing, by four more titles (with more being generated). Oddly enough, the name of the book and the saying that was first penned by Richard Bach, which I inserted into one of the first pages of the book (from his novel, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”(...if you've never read it, get a copy today!) was most appropriate to my entrance into the world of professional writing...

What the caterpillar sees as the end of the world,
the Master sees as a butterfly.”

      I had broken free of my cocoon and opened my wings.

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