by Alton Gansky
Have you ever written for yourself? We are programmed to keep the reader in mind, to produce something that reaches the largest audience. That makes good business sense, but does it make artistic sense? In the Christian publishing world, we are “other focused.” We want to touch the hearts of others. Understandable. It’s even commendable. I make no complaint about that but I still must ask, Would you write something just for yourself? Something that satisfies your mind and soul? Something that is unlikely to draw a huge readership?
I’ve been at work on a nonfiction project that is unlikely to take the world by storm. (I know this blog is about novels, but bear with me.) Sometime ago, I wrote 30 Events That Shaped the Church for Baker Books (I love working with those people). The book and its predecessor 60 People Who Shaped the Church we designed for the casual reader, not history buffs, and I was asked to use as much fiction technique as possible to make the reading easier. For the 30 Events book I wrote a chapter on the Scopes “Monkey” Trial and fell in love with the topic. During my research I discovered that history has treated William Jennings Bryan, three-time candidate for president of the United States and former Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, badly and most unfairly. Bryan had been part of the prosecution team. Add to that, the tragedy of his death five days after the trial ended endeared the sixty-five-year-old to my heart. There was another tragedy: Scopes lawyers, Clarence Darrow being the most prominent, out maneuvered the prosecution in a way that meant Bryan could not address the jury with closing remarks. It was the primary reason Bryan was there.
Bryan was one of the country’s great orators and he was denied the opportunity to use his skill in the case. It was the only speech he had written that he could not deliver. Instead, in the five days of life he had left he arranged for the speech to be published. Since that time, Bryan’s reputation has taken a beating from those who know nothing of the trial or the man.
My project? I’m republishing that speech with comments to help twenty-first century readers understand the thinking of 1925 southern America and the first major clash between evolutionists and anti-evolutionists. I have been spending hours dissecting, analyzing and reflecting on the unspoken speech, adding comments so readers will see the full picture.
I can see you stifling yawns. That’s my point. I doubt there are many people who want to cozy up to such a book, yet, I’m writing it anyway. Why? First, I could be wrong (it’s happened several times) and there might be more people interested than I imagine. Second, it feeds my soul. I’m loving everything about the work. Perhaps it’s because I might do a little something to bolster an important man’s image and portray him in a proper, and truthful light (no he wasn’t perfect).
All of that to say, I have moments when I wonder if I’m misusing my time working on something that may only bring meaning to me and a handful of others. Maybe I am, but I don’t care. Sometimes it is more important to try and make a difference than make a profit.
Alton Gansky is the author of around 45 books, fiction and nonfiction. This is not his first strange idea.