I was going back through my old files and notes the other day and I found notes for Chosen that dates back as far as 2004. I started on the first draft of The Chosen in late 2003 while Mark Ruelius and I were working on what we thought would be our first novel, Reaper (very original, I know). It was supposed to be a sprawling sci-fi epic that would span multiple novels. We’d spent over a year just on background info, fleshing out the characters, coming up with the various worlds and aliens, and at that point we were about 30,000 words into a rough draft. I had just been through an ordeal with a church I had worked for followed very closely by the church I grew up in splitting, so I was in a pretty unhappy place as far as religion was concerned. I was frustrated, and as I usually do when I’m frustrated, I started writing. I didn’t have a plan or an outline. I just wrote. I kept on writing for three days, not once stopping to actually think about what I was writing or where it was going. All I knew was it was therapeutic for me and I was having fun, so I didn’t really care. At the end of those three days I had something resembling a very rough draft for a story.
I didn’t think Mark would like it. We’d had plenty of conversations about religion. At the time I was a minister so, given how closely we were working together, discussing the topic was inevitable. Mark was not a fan of religion in general due to what he’d described as “bad experiences” growing up. Given that the topic of Chosen was religion, I figured he’d scoff at me and tell me to get back to work on our real project. Imagine my surprise when the next day I got a message from him saying that not only did he love the concept, he thought we should abandon the book we’d spent well over a year working on and focus on writing Chosen instead.
For those first few years Chosen, like the previous project, was planned out and written entirely by way of e-mail and instant messaging. Mark and I had met in an online forum, originally, and through consequent conversations over instant message we’d discovered that we both wanted to be writers. We’d known each other online for a few years before we started writing together, and at the time neither of us has had regular access to a phone where we could talk privately. Yes kids, back in the day not all of us had cell phones with unlimited minutes, a web browser, and a freaking GPS system. After a while it become sort of a challenge to see if we could write a whole novel without having actually met in person or spoken on the phone. We thought it’d make a fun anecdote once the book was finished. It wasn’t until I broke my ankle in 2007 and had to spend two weeks in the hospital that Mark and I finally talked to each other on the phone. Once that dam had been broken we spoke every day for hours, not counting the random texts throughout the day. We’d grown very close, and helped each other through quite a few rough times. We weren’t just business and creative partners anymore; we’d become best friends, and in the last few years of Mark’s all-too-short life, like brothers.
The entire time, through life throwing us curve ball after curve ball, through medical problems, family problems, unemployment, & depression we worked on The Chosen and we kept each other going. “Carry on”, which you’ve seen mentioned in just about all of my novels, became our mantra, taken from the Kansas song Carry On My Wayward Son. It was a daily reminder to each other that we weren’t alone, that we had each other for support, and that we would get through all the crap that was going on and we’d realize our dream of becoming published authors. The Chosen had become more than just a fun side-project, it became a symbol of hope for us both that our lives could, and would, get better.
Mark didn’t get to see that dream realized. Mark had been battling diabetes since the year we “met.” On January 7th, 2010, he lost that battle.
I was devastated. We had just been discussing us meeting in person for the first time, and coming up with a game plan to make that happen. Instead that trip to see him was under the worst possible circumstances. I took a week off from work and my cousin and I drove up to PA from Memphis, TN to attend his memorial service. It was there that I finally got to meet all the people that I’d heard so much about for over a decade. I got to meet his very sweet older sister, Emily, whom Mark adored. I got to meet Mark’s childhood best friend, Josh, who is just as great a person as Mark always described him. I got to meet “the guys”, the group of friends that Mark regularly geeked out with over comics, nerdy TV series, and movies. One of those guys was Shawn Skvarna, the talented artist who has done the covers for all of my books, and with whom I’m creating a comic, Failsafe. Shawn and I have since become close friends ourselves, in much the same way that Mark and I had all those years ago.
Given the nature of our partnership, being as long distance as it was, Mark and I had actually talked about what we’d do if something ever happened to the other before the book was done. We’d promised each other that the surviving writer would finish the book and get it published, whatever it takes. Thankfully, when Mark passed the book itself was pretty much done. Mark had been in the process of doing his editing pass over the final few chapters that I’d worked on, and then we were going to get a friend to edit. It took me about a year after his death before I could even look at the manuscript. When I finally was able to face looking at the project again, my cousin, Cathy Holder, volunteered to edit it for me, with Shawn pitching in by agreeing to design the cover. The Chosen is a long book. Very long. Over 700 pages long, so when it came time to publish it was decided it’d be best to split the book into two parts so that the paperback versions wouldn’t be the size of a Buick and cost about as much. Cathy edited the first half and I published it last October. Now, after a few life issues caused a delay, the second, final part of that story that we started over ten years ago is finally available.
I can’t overstate how important this is to me. I’ve published three other books, not counting the first part of Chosen, but this has been the most important, because this is not just another book for you to read, but it’s a symbol of a dream accomplished and me keeping a promise I made to one of the most important people in my life. It may not become a best seller and skyrocket us to fame and fortune like we’d always hoped/dreamed, but it is a testament to the life we’ve lived and the tenacity we had to keep carrying on, no matter what was thrown at us. It’s a product of something that Mark and I did together. It’s the only completed work that Mark, who really was a brilliant writer, was able to do. It has been a cornerstone for almost my entire adult life.
When my own time comes and I look back on what I hope is a long career as a writer The Chosen: Rebirthing may not be the best book I’ve worked on/will work on, but it will always be the most special, the most important to me. I sincerely hope that you’ll read it and that you’ll share it with those that may be important to you. I hope that you come to see, as I did, just how talented and special a man Mark was. Most of all, I really hope you enjoy this product of our creative efforts.