Well, friends, my second book finally got published. Usually, I don’t post too many personal things on my blog, but this time, I figured that I would post about my second book, which is in a way my first successfully published work.
My first book was self-published, and its quality as a finished product (not in terms of content but the paper, design, etc.) was not satisfactory. Yet even then, in my country the book managed to get on the short list of the national book award. I didn’t get the award, but I thought it was pretty good to make the short list. In my first book, I explored several themes such as the relationship between language and religion, marginalized voices and faith, and I speculated about the birth of Islam by imagining what kind of psychology could have given birth to this amazing faith and challenge.
My second book is a fantasy novel written for teenagers around 14–16 years old. It is my “first” book in the sense that the book got published like any other traditionally published work, and as a print product it came out really well. I had a contract, the book was edited, and the publisher did the rest. In case you want to read it, I have to disappoint you: it is written in a language you have probably never even heard of. Did I ever mention that my first language is Azerbaijani, also known as Azeri? It is the official language of the Republic of Azerbaijan, a tiny nation squeezed in between Russia and Iran.
I published the book, named Adventures of Shahin and Shahla, in Azerbaijan, where I grew up and became an adult in the shadows of the collapsed Soviet Union. A few friends of mine asked whether I was going to translate the book into English. I said no, at least not now. I’m not Nabokov, who spoke English perhaps better than many native English speakers and translated some of his works into Russian (from English). You need to read his novel, Lolita, to see how exquisite his prose is. To translate my book would take too much time, and I’m not sure if I have the necessary skills to make a beautiful translation I’d be satisfied with.
My novel is about two young teenagers, a girl and a boy, and their special friends (a cat and a flower) who can also speak human language. Long story short, the two friends discover that they can literally go into computers and travel into other machines through the internet. Other computers may be a window into other people’s lives. You get the idea. But the story develops as the characters grow, face challenges, and wrestle with their dilemmas. From computers, the friends move on to exploring the natural world (of animals, mountains, forests, etc.), and from there they step into exploring human society and relationships. The story ends when they begin to seek an inner world of their own to understand the meaning of human life. I incorporated into the novel some of the motifs from the folk traditions of Azerbaijan and the Bible in order to emphasize the perennial questions about existence and meaning without boring young minds. It is a genre book with a clear plot and all its classical ups and downs, but I also wanted to play with words, language, and write a book that shows the awareness and beauty of a language’s potential. To that end, I invented words, used poetry, and exploited some features of the Azeri language.
I wrote the novel within four to five months by waking up every day at 5:30 am and writing for two, sometimes three hours. It is approximately 78,000 words. Before that, I prepared the plot with all its details on a spreadsheet and used a visual map to visualize the connections between the characters, details, events, and changes in plot. I wanted to write a book that could be read on two levels: a young mind would read and understand one thing; an older adult would read and understand something else. To the plot and its visualization, I devoted two months. All together it took me six or seven months to edit and finish the novel before submission. Needless to say, I was excited, and the whole process confirmed my long-held belief that I’m a writer to my core who loves to experiment with words, languages, and ideas.
I’m writing this because I want to encourage all writer-ministers. If you want to write but somehow can’t overcome your own self-doubt, I encourage you to take that first step and begin writing because that’s the only way you will overcome it. No theory, no rationalization, and no self-help will do what forcing yourself to write and trying to publish will do for you. Perhaps your first manuscript will be rejected. Perhaps you will find out your writing is not as sharp as you want it to be. Still, start writing. Start small, write and edit, show it to your trustworthy friends, write a blog, and get used to showing your writing to the world. Write. Write gibberish — but write.
My self-doubt did not disappear with writing this book. In fact, I still remember the tell-tale signs of my self-doubt. When I was pacing the room, thinking about the plot, my palms sweated. I had my contract in the drawer, the synopsis of the novel on the table that the publisher and I had agreed upon, and the date that I would turn in the book. That pushed me forward. So self-doubt is part of the process, but that is why your writing is part of your growing. If I can publish a book in another country in which people or publishers don’t have as many opportunities as you have here in the US with all its institutions and freely available information, then you can publish your book too — as long as you are willing to put in the hard work.
So do your work and respond to God’s call by writing. If you are a minister who feels the urge to write a novel or to make writing a way of living, giving up will only worsen your life. You don’t know how many lives you can change with your writing or how many other doors the Lord will open for you. If you have questions, need more encouragement, or you want to do an exploration of the Bible to see how much it supports your writing aspirations, email me, and I will encourage you. But above all, don’t let your dream of doing ministry through writing die. That’s what God calls you to do.