Back in 2006, I traveled to the Dominican Republic with Tom Larson, the founder and then-President of Healing Waters International. (I wrote a 5-day travelogue for Relevant, which you might be interested in reading: Day One. Two. Three. Four. Five.) I’ve written about Tom on my blog before, and you can click here to read a little about it and see a silly Denver Post photo of him and his wife, Dana.
Anyway, Tom and I hit it off immediately on the trip. Both of us had a background in advertising and copywriting, among other traits, and we became good friends. I haven’t traveled with him again, but I’ve spent time with him at his home in Denver, shared several meals with him and his family, and kept in touch. Tom “retired” from the administrative aspect of his Healing Waters work a year ago — he’ll admit he was in way over his head, a copywriter trying to run a multinational non-profit — in order to write more and advocate on behalf of the organization.
He has spent much of his time since working on his personal memoir of the last several years. I’ve read several chapters of the manuscript, and it is an intensely compelling read. His road is not a typical one, unless you consider the transition from pot-head advertising professional to Christian missionary to founder of an international clean-water organization to be a well-trodden path. Tom has had a crazy and inspiring life, fueled as much by human failures as by a deep passion for God and ministry.
The parts of the book I have read are deeply honest about these failures, about how Tom stumbled into the mission work and the founding of Healing Waters, and about how God used him despite his flaws. When I read him, it feels very much like reading Anne Lamott, had Anne been a missionary in the Dominican Republic. Funny, dry, profound, and peppered with words you don’t normally find in books about God. Also there’s the title of the book: For Love of God and Beer.
Tom and I have been in touch as he’s tried to market the manuscript, and despite the strength of his writing, it’s been difficult to get the attention of the few publishing houses he’s spoken to. Christian publishers aren’t interested in books about God that have cuss words in them — despite Tom’s authentic faith. Those are hard to sell in Christian bookstores. The “beer” in the title doesn’t help either.
But the flat-out religiousness of Tom’s journey is kinda scary for the mainstream publishers, too. Tom feels strongly, though, that to edit or censor the writing is to tell an inauthentic story, and I agree. Nevertheless, both of us are convinced that there’s a market for this kind of book — there’s always a market for great writing (proof: Anne Lamott) — and he’s come up with an interesting idea to discover that market.
He created a website, and has built it around the prologue for his book and a survey. The survey will hopefully help him accomplish a couple of things: 1) It will discover how people feel about his style of writing, and whether or not they are interested in reading more. And 2) it will help him gauge how many people are offended by the beer part and the cussing parts and whether or not that would discourage them from buying his book. A good sample of people taking the survey and answering honestly provides some ammunition to give publishers. The whole survey is anonymous, by the way.
Because I like Tom and I believe very strongly in his writing, I’m doing my part to help. I’d like you to join me. Here’s what you can do:
• After you’ve read the prologue, take the survey. (Warning: it also contains a small amount of strong language, along with a bunch of questions about beer… for those of you who are Southern Baptists.)
• Spread the word. Invite your friends to read the For Love of God and Beer prologue and answer the survey questions as well. Link to it on Facebook, and Twitter, and your own blog.
I’ll greatly appreciate it. So will Tom Larson.
Good writing needs to find an audience. You can help make that happen.