Paul Maurice Martin’s new book, Original Faith: What Your Life Is Trying to Tell You, presents an experiential basis for faith and spiritual life without reference to doctrine. At age twenty three, the author had a spontaneous experience of the kind sought in the world’s spiritual and religious traditions of meditation and contemplative prayer. It set him on a new path that included earning a master’s in religious studies from the University of Chicago Divinity School, a master’s in counseling from the University of New Hampshire, and a twenty-three year career working in the public schools first as an English as a Second Language teacher and later as a school counselor.
Paul developed a devastating progressive illness at age thirty-seven. For eleven years he was forced to set writing aside to focus on medical research and treatment.
Finally too disabled for work, Paul took up his manuscript again, completing Original Faith while losing most of his ability to stand and walk. Mostly bedridden, Paul lives by the words of enduring faith that he has written.
You can learn more about book and author at www.originalfaith.com.
Paul will be stopping in throughout the day, so please post your questions and comments for him! Plus, one lucky commenter will be randomly selected to receive a copy of Original Faith
Interview by: Mary Jo Campbell
Please share with us how your studying in Chicago and your studying at St. Joseph’s Abbey inspired your faith and your writing.
I went for my master’s at the University of Chicago Divinity School to find out whether the ideas that had started to come to me for a book made sense. I’d never studied religion. For all I knew, if I studied the subject then I might find that my ideas were off-base. But I left UC feeling that I was taking a look at spirituality from a fresh and valid perspective.
While I found divinity school validating, my brief stay at St. Joseph’s – it was only a three-day retreat – was a much bigger influence on my life and writing. There I learned the centering prayer, a very simple form of meditation, from Fr. Basil Pennington. This practice eventually led directly to some of Original Faith’s key insights.
Many of us go through a period of non-belief or doubt or separation from the religion or practices we learned through our childhood. How can your book, Original Faith, help us to restore that secure feeling we once experienced?
Original Faith offers readers insights and practices that highlight faith as a fact of human experience – something that we can know directly and first hand. The book seeks to enrich the faith of believers while helping to bring nonbelievers to greater awareness of the faith dimension of their actual lived experience, which they may have rejected or minimized because of associating it with the beliefs they came to reject.
What do we have faith in? Original Faith, paraphrasing St. Paul, speaks in terms of “the One in whom we live and move and have our being.” Readers are free to think of the One as God or as all-nature or being itself. I’m not concerned with debate over the existence of God but with the quality of our experience of life and the constructiveness of our actions – as individuals, as nations, and as a species.
To know ourselves as faith-full with full certainty, regardless of what we may or may not have believed as children, is a powerfully secure feeling. It enhances our experience of life and our ability to take positive action in the world.
Can you tell us how your illness affected your faith?
I’m now in my sixteenth year of an incurable progressive disease that has me housebound and mostly bedridden. It began at age thirty seven, when I was already well grounded in my faith. Although its effects on my way and quality of life – and on my family’s – meant going through a great deal of grief, and, especially in relation to the health care system, anger, none of this challenged my faith or basic outlook on life.
So while the disease gave me a lot to deal with that was psychologically difficult, my faith and spiritual life are what allowed me to hang on and survive at first, and eventually learn that the direction in life that I’d undertaken in joy could be resumed with peace and integrity even in pain.
Can you tell us how your illness has helped or hindered your writing career?
The disease started when the manuscript for Original Faith was nearing completion. I set it aside for what I thought would be a few months while I recovered from a rare illness called “Myofascial Pain Syndrome,” which turned out to be a misdiagnosis. Instead of a road to recovery lasting a few months, I entered a world of rare disease research, extensive medical travel, mainstream and alternative medicine treatments, and continual battles with insurance companies. I was derailed from writing for over a decade.
Without the disease, I expect I would have been looking for a publisher in 1996. Instead, I didn’t finish the book and start looking at agents and publishers until 2004.
What advice can you offer non-fiction writers in their approach to sell their manuscript?
For nonfiction writers – and I’m told that by now it’s not much different for fiction – by far the most important factor connected with getting an agent or publisher is having a “marketing platform.” A marketing platform is a preexisting audience for your book that assures some level of sales volume, increasing the chances that your book will make money for the publisher. Without that, your manuscript won’t be considered by any reputable agent or any trade publisher, whether it’s one of the several multimedia conglomerates that now publish most of what we read under a wide variety of imprints, or one of the remaining independents.
What are some examples of marketing platforms?
Sometimes a platform is a position of prominence due to special knowledge and qualifications. For example, professors, writing teachers, journalists, and columnists have preexisting readerships or potential readerships as well as expertise in their fields. But the key is to have some degree of public prominence.
For example, a great deal of nonfiction generally and religion & spirituality in particular is published today not just by major celebrities but by minor public notables – former Miss Americas, relatives of celebrities, business people who do regular public speaking… What it is that publishers and therefore the agents who approach them with manuscripts are looking for in an author is a person well-positioned to sell books.
Religion, Christianity, Spirituality, etc. seem to be a genre on the rise. How were you able to distinguish your book from the masses and land an agent?
Yes, religion and spirituality have been on the rise for some years. It’s a “saturated market” – which only makes the marketing platform issue that much more critical. My experiences are a good illustration.
“If you are submitting a nonfiction book proposal without a marketing platform, you are wasting your time.” When I read this in Literary Market Place in 2004, early in my search for an agent or publisher, I not only lacked a platform but the ability to get one. By this time I’d lost the ability to drive, couldn’t walk further than about twenty yards, and was deteriorating faster than ever.
I didn’t believe it – about the absolute necessity of a platform. I didn’t know then that the proverbial “slush pile” no longer exists – that if editors and marketers take a break, they’re brainstorming marketing strategies for authors they know can move books, not searching for unrecognized talent.
I naively imagined that I had enough going for me to make up for the lack of a platform. I held two master’s degrees in fields directly related to my subject, one from one of the nation’s leading divinity schools – this made me far more qualified than most people I saw publishing in my subject area. Powerful and distinctive life experiences with direct bearing on my subject matter inform my writing. Finally, the quality of my work had exceeded my best expectations. Original Faith may have the most significant endorsements of any book you’ve never heard of. And I knew that I had the willingness to do my homework on the publishing front.
So I did. I researched book proposal writing. I carefully identified agents and publishers that worked with books similar to the one I’d written. I tailored proposals and submissions to specific agent and publisher requirements. Since I was housebound but not yet bedridden, I was often putting in more that full-time days at such activities.
It took me two years to compile and work through the list of every appropriate publisher I could find and a myriad of equally appropriate agents. I got nowhere beyond a few acknowledgments that my proposal sounded interesting and lots of “good luck” or “best wishes” with placing my manuscript.
Since being able to connect with your readers is so important, how do you connect with them while being housebound?
I really don’t. The book is reaching just the tiniest fraction of its potential readership. Self publishing is a whole other topic, but long story short is that there are lots of sharks in the waters. Although I managed to avoid these and finally chose to have Original Faith published by my sister’s small LLC – we paid the production costs ourselves – there’s no publicity, no bookstore distribution, and no marketing behind it. That would take resources of time, money, and energy that we don’t have. So what I’ve got is a book that’s been written, produced, and endorsed up to trade standards but is selling minimal copies.
Doing it yourself rarely succeeds, despite the hype generated by a self-publishing industry that earns profits not through selling books but by charging wannabe authors for worthless marketing programs. When it does succeed, it requires having the kind of available time and resources that it would take to start up a small business.
What else do you have in the works?
Original Faith is what I really wanted to say. If I’d stayed healthy, I’m sure I would have written more – but OF would still have been my main project. I expect that my writing would have focused primarily on finding additional ways to reach different audiences with the same message. I did recently add a free eBook to my site, and I have a large volume of poetry related to OF that was written concurrently with it.
I feel I’m approaching a crossroads where I’ll decide either to continue doing what little I can to foster awareness of Original Faith or use my remaining productive time to add a bit of material to the text for a second edition, but with no plans to release it. I understand that I have no way to reach the audience I originally intended or contribute to contemporary discourse about religion and spirituality.
But I’ve also learned that the same faith that unleashes our capacity for joy and creativity provides the strength and integrity to more than bear up under any kind or degree of loss. Personally, I no longer have any real worries or concerns and feel good about the life I’ve lived. We are called just to make the attempt – to do our best to participate in the labor of creation. With that, there can be no regrets. Beyond that, our faith resides with infinitely more than our own efforts.
Be sure to post your comments before midnight tonight, for a chance to win a copy of Original Faith! (U.S. Shipping addresses only.)