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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Book I Didn’t Want to Write

by Alton Gansky

A little less than a decade ago my phone rang. On the other end was an editor I knew. He had a book idea for me, something that always makes me a little nervous. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always giddy when an editor reaches out to me instead of me try my best to get the editor’s attention, so I appreciated the call. My nervousness was rooted in my belief that it is close to impossible for me to write a book based on someone else’s idea. I was proven wrong several times in the years that followed, especially when publishers contacted me to co-write a book.
At that time, however, I had plenty to do and had more ideas bouncing around in my head than I could write in a lifetime. Still, I owed the man a good listen.
“What’s your idea?” I asked.
“I think you’re just the guy to do it,” he said.
Hmm. Was he being evasive? “I appreciate your confidence. What’s your idea?”
“I have an idea for a novel.”
Hmm again. “I thought you acquired nonfiction.”
“I do, but this idea came to me and I immediately thought of you.”
I drummed my fingers on my desk. “Interesting. Tell me what you have in mind.”
“I want to send a contemporary police forensic specialist back in time to look at the Passion Week of Christ.”
“You want me to write a time travel book?”
“Not really, but in a way, yes.”
“Um, I write suspense and supernatural suspense. I like science fiction but there isn’t much of a market in the CBA for such things.” (Remember, this is about eight years ago when CBA writers were starting to call science fiction speculative fiction to avoid the SF stigma.)
“I don’t see it as a science fiction book.”
“It’s a non science fiction time travel book?” Now I was puzzled.
“Yes. I know you’re the guy who can pull it off.”
I like it when someone shows confidence in me. However, it was a confidence I didn’t share. “How does our man travel back in time?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why does he travel back in time?”
“I don’t know.”
Says I: “What does he do when he gets back there?”
“I don’t know. When can I have a proposal?”
I moved from curiosity to befuddlement. “I don’t think I’m the guy for this.” What I was thinking was: No one is the right guy for this.
“It’s perfect for you. When can I have a proposal?
I resisted some more. He persisted even more, ending each line of his dialogue with, “When can I have the proposal.”
“I don’t know, my friend. I have no idea how to make it work. I’m not sure I can pull it off.”
Once again he told me I was wonderful and the only guy in the universe who could make it work. Then he—you guessed it—asked for a proposal. I gave in. “Okay, I’ll try to whip up a synopsis and a first chapter. If I can get that to work, then I’ll do the book for you.”
Of course, I had no belief that I could make the concept work, but I am motivated by guilt (I used to be a Baptist pastor) and I gave my word, mostly so I could hang up the phone.
A short time later, I had a few ideas, a sample chapter and a workable synopsis. I sent it off, and a short time later a contract arrived. Crime Scene Jerusalem had been conceived—against my will. I began my work and before I knew it, I was in love with the idea, the story, and its characters. Oh sure, I suffered from many a brain cramp trying to get things to work out in a believable way, but things began to come together.
Now that I’ve written over forty books, mostly novels and a goodly number of nonfiction titles, I occasionally look at the shelf where I keep my author copies. I’ve noticed that my eyes tend to linger on the book I tried a dozen times to reject. It has become the book I most want readers to read.
After the book appeared I received an e-mail from someone who was in the holy land on government business. The way he phrased things made me think that he was an American working for one of those three initial agencies. He said he couldn’t tell me why he was there, but that he was visiting landmarks mentioned in Crime Scene Jerusalem. He ended the e-mail by telling me of his salvation experience while visiting one of the areas I mentioned in the book. He had my book in hand. This was the book I did my best to walk away from.
That’s the thing about being a writer. We never know what a book will do or whose life it might change. I am as thankful as I can be for an insistent editor with an idea.
I’ve just re-released Crime Scene Jerusalem as an e-book on Kindle and the physical book will be out soon. Reviewing the work reminded me how much I came to love the work. Of all my novels, it is the one I most want people to read.
Let’s face it. This is a strange business.

Alton Gansky is the author of 44 books. He is also the director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference held each May in North Carolina.


  1. I love it when God pulls a good trick on us like that. That's why I believe we're literary missionaries. Cool story, Al!

  2. What a fantastic story. Good for you, Al. Amazing.

  3. Alton,

    A great post. I'm intrigued by the premise of this book and its background.

    All I can say is that that sort of thing happens all the time to all types of people. I've been a practicing artist for nearly 40 years and it invariably happens that the paintings I'm the least enthused about are the ones that sell the fastest. I can't recount salvation stories as you did, but I have countless happy clients who were thrilled to have a painting I couldn't wait to get rid of!

    It just goes to show that we never know.

    Nor can we anticipate.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  4. I got Crime Scene Jerusalem when it first came out. Loved it! It's still on my book shelf. Most books end up in boxes or donated to the library book sale.

  5. Thanks for the great comments, guys.


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