Paul Martin, author of “Original Faith”: Book Blog Tour & Giveaway


PaulMartin_headshotPaul 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. 

OriginalFaith_coverFinally 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.)

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14 Comments

Filed under Author Interviews, Believe, books, Give Aways, Inspiration

14 responses to “Paul Martin, author of “Original Faith”: Book Blog Tour & Giveaway

  1. Paul,

    Your story is so inspiring. I’m sure when so many of us want to complain about our writing careers we’ll think of you forging ahead despite all the challenges.

  2. Jodi – I appreciate that. It really is something the way that having a dread disease puts what you once thought of as “problems” in perspective!

    Without the disease, I absolutely would have gone out and gotten a platform – clearly the best route. Going on for my Ph.D. and a position in higher ed would probably have made the most sense for me.

    Mary Jo – A couple issues from my comments thread on my post that links to here:

    Blogging as a marketing platform: My best guess is that at its most effective, it’s an adjunct to other activities that bring attention to a book – for example, public speaking. My sense is that for a blog to be an effective platform by itself, it would have to get really exceptional traffic.

    Writing and marketing: someone on my thread felt that writers shouldn’t have to be marketers – I agree! But my impression is that today this is expected/required of pretty much all writers – trade published as well as self published.

  3. It takes more than doggedness determination and tenacity to put a book through from manuscript to print. I respect all authors for that and especially so for Paul, who has succeeded in publishing Original Faith in particularly difficult trying conditions.
    I am fortunate to have attained a copy of his book and it has always given me renewed hope for life whenever I read his writings.

    Going on this blog tour has been a wonderful experience for me too, as a reader. Thank you, Mary Jo Campbell, and Paul, for giving me the privilege to tour along.

  4. Liz

    Thanks for a great interview. I’m interested, Paul, in the centering prayer. Do you write about it in more detail in your book? And, could you share some more information about it here? Your approach to the book sounds wonderful and full of heart. I look forward to learning and reading more.

  5. Hi Liz – The centering prayer is truly simple in the best senses of that word. It is in my book – also in the free eBook downloadable from my site.

    Basically it’s just a matter of sitting down and repeating a word to yourself at each exhalation – love, peace, God, “Om…” – and focusing on only the sound, not thinking about the meaning. You return to the word again and again to disrupt the normally constant background chatter that goes on in your mind.

    So the idea is to find out what your mind does when you’re not keeping it busy. Some people just find it relaxing, some find it transformative and some seem to get nothing out of it. I had to practice it for several months and was about to give up before things started happening, and from then on it was truly a life changing experience.

    Health aide day and have to lie down for a few hours… I’ll check back late this afternoon and off and on throughout the evening…

    • Thank you, Paul. Great explanation of your “centering prayer.” Will try it tonight! Too much chatter in my head : )

      • Sarah Joyce Bryant

        I agree, Mary Jo, this is a wonderful explanation. I will have to try this. Have not had much luck with meditation and quieting my mind but this seems simple to do. Thanks, Paul, for mentioning that you almost gave up before things started to happen. I usually just give up, but I will be more patient this time around.

  6. Sarah Joyce Bryant

    Wow! This could not be better timing. It is exactly what I needed to read today. I am struggling with a yet unidentified debilitating illness and had another huge disappointment at the doctor today. You have really helped me to put this experience in perspective.

    I am really inspired by your courage to continue to finish your manuscript and share it with those of us who really need to read what you have to say. I have not been particularly religious since growing up in a cult but have been searching for some form of spirituality. Your book sounds exactly like what I have been looking for.

    What was most impactful for me was when you said “Original Faith is what I really wanted to say.” This is how I feel about the memoir I am working on even if it is not the big success I hope it will be. It is difficult to continue to write and follow this dream of mine when in so much pain, but you have shown me to never give up and keep moving forward regardless. Thank you!

    My question: What is the most effective way that we, as authors and readers, can help to promote and get the word out about books such as yours?

    M.J. – Thank you once again for such a fantastic interview!

  7. “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.”

    That’s wonderful; when we can be still and release fear and internalize this, it changes everything.

    Thanks for your inspiring story and words, and the practical advice on getting published. I want to get published and this whole thing about “marketing platform” and book proposals and agents came as bit of a surprise to me, but that’s what it is. A readable book, it seems, is a necessary but small part of getting published.

    k

  8. Thank you for your story, your honesty and your work. I’m very intrigued by the title of your book and your answers to Mary Jo’s questions. I’ve practiced centering prayer in the past and currently refer to my morning practice as meditation. Having learned from a Catholic perspective, do you see a difference? I’ve found that Christians seem to see a distinct difference but the language you use suggests that you don’t.

    My best,
    Jenni

  9. Mary Jo and Sarah – Just make sure you have low expectations at first! At first it’s really hard to keep thoughts away. I think all I could take in the beginning was like two or three minutes…

    Sarah – On undiagnosed conditions, even tough to figure ones, it’s usually just two or three years till you get a diagnosis if you just keep working at it. People like me, who never get one after doing everything humanly possible – the full court press for eleven years with me and my sister doing tons of research – are very unusual situations.

    On helping to get the word out on a book that’s little known, as a reader probably the most helpful thing you can do is to pass on info about it to people you think might like it, which is easy to do with an email giving the writer’s URL.

    There’s also a site called Goodreads – I’m on there, but hardly anyone knows. So joining that and doing whatever you can to discuss a book you like might be useful.

    As an author – get a platform. Figure out some way to get a preexisting group of people who might want to get your book. Taking myself as an example, if I could get out of the house I’d read my poetry and excerpts from my book anyplace they’d let me.

    Given that I was a school counselor, I might have tried to see if I could figure out a way to give workshops that somehow included the topic of spiritual concerns. And since I already have an MA in religious studies, I’d have gone back for my Ph.D. and tried to find a position in higher ed. If you teach at the college level, that’s a platform.

    Kaushik – You write, “I want to get published and this whole thing about ‘marketing platform’ and book proposals and agents came as bit of a surprise to me…”

    Makes me really happy that you read this…

    Jenni – Good question, and no! I see no difference. In fact, I’ve read some books in this area that completely confirmed to my satisfaction that it’s only that different religious traditions use the language of their tradition to describe and interpret a type of experience that transcends sectarian divisions.

  10. I hope to read your book one day. I self-published a book too, years ago. Have you considered entering yours in one of those Poet/Writer’s contests for self-published work? It’s worth a try.

    I so enjoy your insight and wit we’re privy to on your blog and trust you will continue to post as long as you are able and challenge us all.

    • Pauline – Good idea… Unfortunately my idea list hugely outruns my implementation time and that gets progressively worse.

      I’ve very much enjoyed your company on the blogs too. And I’d probably cut back to sporadic or weekly posting rather than completely stop.

      And about you getting the book, I have to say, I can’t tell you how many times you’ve made comments on my threads that keep making me want to say, “You should get the book!”, lol! Your questions have often had an uncanny way of zeroing in on things I address in detail there. The questions that occur to you often turn out to be questions that occurred to me as needing to be addressed while I was writing.

  11. Pingback: Interview with Paul Martin, author of Original Faith, on the Spiritual Journey « Mommy Mystic

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