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When Sam's mother dies, he finds out the Tree of Life is hidden in the valley where he lives. He decides to find it and bring her back.
145 backers pledged $7,925 to help bring this project to life.

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Update and Introduction of Stretch Goals

Wow. In less than two days you guys helped me raise $3,500 on Kickstarter, and this story, The Day the Angels Fell, will be published. I am still kind of in shock at how fast it all happened.

But here's the deal - we still have 28 days in the Kickstarter campaign, and I'd love to keep this thing moving forward, get more books into more hands, and maybe do some really fun things along the way.

So I'm introducing some stretch goals. A stretch goal is basically an added incentive to raise more money, and all of the existing rewards you've donated money for stay intact. If we don't reach any of the stretch goals, the project will still go forward. The stretch goals I'm introducing will be things that benefit everyone who has contributed, at whatever level, either by making the book even better or by adding something fun. The stretch goals I'm introducing as of today are as follows:

$4,500 - If we can hit this total for the project then I'll add 8 - 12 illustrations in the book. I have someone in mind for this, but we haven't talked about it yet so I'll save that for later. But he's super talented and kind of edgy and I think he'd put together some unforgettable images.

$6,000 - If we can hit this total for the project then I'll record an audio version of the book and everyone who contributed will be able to download it for free.

$10,000 - If things go totally crazy and we can hit this level, then our family will go on a multi-city book tour, connecting with as many of you as possible and having a lot of fun telling more people about the book.

* * * * *

First, the story behind The Day the Angels Fell.

In January of 2013 I traveled to Istanbul to tell the story of a dying man. He was 50 years old and had Stage 4 Liver and Colon cancer. I sat with him for four hours every other day for about three weeks, and at the end of that time I wrote his life story. For 21 days I was either interviewing him, spending time with the kind family who was hosting me, or sitting alone in my room, working on his story.

Those were quiet evenings, and as I wrote the story of his impending death, I spent a lot of time considering my own mortality.

Fast forward three months, and I'm sitting around the dinner table with my wife and four children. I had been wanting to write a kids' story for many years, so on a whim I asked the kids that night what would make a good story. We started creating a main character together, and I asked them what crisis this main character might encounter.

"Maybe his mom dies," my son suggested.

"Yeah, his mom dies and then he's sad," my daughter said.

"Why does the mom always have to die?" my wife asked.

"Maybe his mom dies and he decides he's going to do anything he can to bring her back to life," I said, and we all sat there quietly, because recently a friend of ours had died, and we knew that feeling, that desperate longing to have someone you love back in your life.

So that's where this story comes from. A conversation I had with my children about life and death, why we're scared of it, and how it touches all of us. Why would I write a book about death for my kids? Well, as Madeleine L'Engle said, 

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

The Day the Angels Fell is the story of a boy named Sam and his friend Abra. They find out the Tree of Life is somewhere in the valley, and Sam will do anything to find it so that he can bring his mother back from the dead. But they're not the only ones looking for it.

Here is the first chapter of "The Day the Angels Fell":

Chapter 1

The Gift

I am old now. I still live on the same farm where I grew up, the same farm where my mother’s accident took place, the same farm that burned for days after the angels fell. My father rebuilt the farm after the fire, and it was foreign to me then, a new house trying to fill an old space. The trees he planted were all fragile and small, and the inside of the barns smelled like new wood and fresh paint.

But that was many years ago, and now the farm feels old again. The floorboards creak when I walk to the kitchen in the middle of the night for a warm glass of milk. The walls and the roof groan under the weight of summer storms. There is a large oak tree in the front yard again, and it reminds me of the lightning tree, the one that started it all. This house and I are two friends sitting together in our latter days.

I untie my tangled necktie and try again. I’ve never been good at ties, probably because I never wear them. But my last friend’s funeral is this week and I thought I should wear a tie. It seemed the right thing to do, but now that I’m standing in front of a mirror I’m having second thoughts, not just about the neck tie but even about going. She was my best friend, and although as children we would have done anything for each other, now I’m not sure I have the strength for one last funeral.

Someone knocks on the door so I untangle myself from the tie and ease my way down the stairs, leaning heavily on the handrail. Another knock, and I’m crossing the room to the door.

“Coming, coming,” I say. People are in such a hurry these days. Everyone wants everything to happen now, or yesterday. But when you’re my age, you get used to waiting, mostly because you’re always waiting on yourself.

“Hi there, Jerry,” I say through the screen, not making any move to open it.

“I won’t come in, Samuel, just wanted to apologize for my boy again.”

Jerry is a huge bear of a man with arms and hands and fingers so thick I sometimes wonder how he can use them for anything small like tying shoes or stirring his coffee. He’s always apologizing for his boy. I don’t know why – seems to me his boy just acts like a boy. And because Jerry is always calling him “boy,” I can’t remember the child’s name. I’m not sure anyone ever told me what “boy’s” name is.

“I heard he was throwing smoke bombs up on your porch this morning.”

“Oh, that. Well,” I began, but Jerry interrupts me.

“I won’t hear of it,” Jerry says. “In fact, when I find him he’ll be coming here in person to apologize.”

“That’s really not necessary,” I begin again, but Jerry interrupts me.

“No. That boy will apologize.”

I sigh.

“Anything else, Jerry? How are the fields this summer?”

“Green, Samuel. Mighty green.”

“Good, good,” I mumble, then turn and walk away because I’m too old to waste my time having conversations that don’t interest me.

“Oh, and I’m sorry about your friend,” Jerry calls to me as I begin the slow ascent up the stairs. His words hit me like a physical object, make me stop on the third step and lean against the wall. They bring a fresh wave of grief to the surface, and I’m glad he can’t see my face.

“Thank you,” I say, hoping he will leave now.

“The missus says she was a good, close friend of yours for many years. I’m very sorry.”

“Thank you,” I say again, then start climbing the stairs. One foot, then the other. I wish people would mind their own business. I have no interest, at my age, in collecting the sympathy of strangers. Or near strangers. In fact, I can do without sympathy at all, no matter the source.

I still imagine myself to be self-sufficient, and in order to maintain that illusion I keep a small garden at the end of the lane. Sometimes, while I’m weeding, I’ll stop and look across the street at where the old church used to be. After the fire they left the lot vacant and rebuilt the small brick building on a lot in town, but the old foundation is still there somewhere, under the dirt and the plants and the trees that came up over the years.

If I’m honest though, I have to admit that during some gradual phase in my life I became too old to work the farm myself. There was a period of time, not long ago, when my farm fell into disrepair, and I thought it would be the end of me as well, because I couldn’t bear to watch so many memories collapse in on themselves. Then the family that moved into Abra’s old farm, Jerry and his Missus and his “Boy,” asked if they could rent my fields and barns. I said yes because I had no good reason to say no. Now they take care of everything and I live quietly in the old farmhouse, puttering in my garden or sitting on the large front porch, trying to remember all the things that happened the summer my mother died.

Jerry’s son looks to be about eleven or twelve, my age when it happened. I wonder what he would do if his mother died. I think he is scared of me, and I don’t blame him. I don’t shave very often and my hair is usually unruly. My clothes are old and worn. I know that I smell of old age – I remember that scent from when my father started walking with a cane.

Sometimes Jerry’s son will hide among the fruit trees that line the long lane and spy on me, but I don’t mind. I pretend not to see him, and he seems to have fun with it, climbing up to the highest branch and peering through an old tube, as if it is a telescope. Sometimes though, when he gets to the top, I find myself holding my breath, waiting for him to fall. Everything falls in the end, you know. Everything that climbs high tumbles down to the ground.

I stare at the mirror again after climbing the steps and I wonder where all the time has gone. I pick up the necktie and try again, and my old fingers just can’t quite get it right. I remember as a very young boy my mother would sometimes put a tie on me, her delicate hands weaving the smooth fabric in a magical way.

“There,” she would say, smiling, patting the knot of the tie, and looking rather pleased with herself. “Now you look like a young man.”

The boy reminds me of me when I was his age. He runs around the farm with sticks and pretends they are swords and magic staffs. Those days seem so long ago – now I move slowly, carrying only a cane that is nothing more than a cane. I don’t know if I have the power anymore to turn this cane into anything exciting, anything like a sword pulled from a stone or a gun that could kill an Amarok. Sometimes I feel like I have forgotten how to pretend.

I give up on the tie and sit with relief at the desk by the window that looks out over the front yard and the garden and the old oak tree. It’s rather eery how the farm has returned to almost the same condition that it was in the summer my mother died, the summer of the fire. Sometimes when I look down the lane I expect to see her walking back up from the mailbox, or for my dad to wander in from the barns, dirty and ready for dinner.

After many years of wondering if I could get the story of that summer exactly right, I have decided to simply write it as I remember it. There’s no one else left who was there when it happened, no one to compare stories with, no one to agree or disagree with my own version. As I think through the story, I wonder if it’s even possible that everything happened as my memory tells me it did. It all seems rather incredible.

But one thing I’m sure of: after everything that happened that summer, life seemed fragile, like an egg rolling toward the edge of the table. It seemed like anyone I knew could die at any moment, and that feeling frightened me. But now that I’m old, and everyone I know has died, my own life feels almost unbreakable, like it will never give up.

Which reminds me of something that Mr. Tennin told me, in his thin, wispy voice, right at the end.

“Samuel,” he whispered. “Always remember this.”

I leaned in closer as the fire roared and crackled on the far side of the river.

“Death,” he said, pausing, “is a gift.”

I stare at the obituary sitting at the corner of my desk, the one that I cut out of the paper yesterday: such a small amount of writing meant to tell the story of someone’s entire life. I lift it up and it’s light, almost see-through, and for a moment life seems fragile again, and temporary.

I know what Mr. Tennin said can be hard to believe, especially when staring Death in the face. Death seems so horrible and huge, and when it comes for someone early, the last thing it feels like is a gift. Death, a gift? I would have shouted at someone had they said that to me at my mother’s funeral. But I’ve been on this earth for many years now, and I’ve seen many things, and I finally believe that Mr. Tennin was right.

Death, like life, is a gift.

This is how I remember that summer.

Risks and challenges

For those of you not familiar with Kickstarter, one of the main challenges is that if I don't raise the entire $3,500, I don't get any of the money and none of the rewards get fulfilled. So I think the main challenge ahead is making sure I can raise the entire amount.

Some of you are probably wondering what the money is for. Well, self-publishing a book, and doing it right, isn't cheap. I'll use the money to pay an editor, a cover-designer, someone to digitally format the book into e-formats, and a little bit for upfront marketing costs. I've self-published seven books, so I know what it takes to put together a good-looking, quality product.

Another challenge is that the timeline is tight if I want to have this book in your hands by Christmas, but I've already written it and had it edited, so all that's left is to do a final copy-edit for errors, finalize a few details, and work out the publishing and the cover design. I'm confident that I can make that happen.

This campaign ends on November 18th. In the mean time, I'll submit my current draft for copy-editing and begin working with the cover designer. Once the project is fully funded and the campaign is complete, I'll begin the publication process. That will take a few weeks. My goal would be to ship the books by December 15th and begin scheduling the other rewards at that time. I'll then release the book to a wider audience early next year.

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    Three signed paperback copies of the book. Maybe you’re a blogger and want to give away some copies to your readers…maybe you’re a parent and want each of your kids to have a copy of the book…maybe you just want to help me spread the word by giving the book to some of your friends. Maybe you want to read the book three times, each time with a fresh copy. Whatever the case, your name will also be included in the acknowledgments section of the book.

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    Limited edition, numbered (?/100) hardcover copy. A maximum of 100 of these will be printed and will never be printed with this particular book cover/format again. Your name will be included in the acknowledgments of all versions of the book. Also includes two invitations per book to a book launch party somewhere in Lancaster county (date TBD) with appetizers, a short reading, and a Q&A time about the creation of the book. Plus some great live music!

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    In addition to a signed, paperback copy of "The Day the Angels Fell," I’ll also send you a paperback copy of each of these four nonfiction books I’ve written: Refuse to Drown, How To Use a Runaway Truck Ramp, Dying Out Loud, and My Amish Roots.

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    Two-hour coaching session with me on writing or self-publishing (phone, Skype, or in person in Lancaster, PA). Includes one limited-edition, signed hardcover copy of "The Day the Angels Fell" and two invitations to the book launch party. (Normally $149)

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    Writing Class – Join me for a four-week writing class focused on writing your story and exploring your publishing options. Will include at least one session on How To Self-Publish. Classes held on Tuesday evenings in February at 7:00pm at my house in Lancaster city. Class size limited to eight people – as more sign up, additional classes will be scheduled. Includes one limited-edition, signed hardcover copy of "The Day the Angels Fell" and two invitations to the book launch party.

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    Let’s have a book release party at your place (within 100 miles of Lancaster)! I'll bring the books, you bring the friends. This includes 10 paperback copies of the book (additional paperback copies for $10) and I’ll come to your house or church or library do a reading. Includes one limited-edition, signed hardcover copy of "The Day the Angels Fell" and two invitations to the book launch party.

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    I’ll coach you through the self-publishing process, helping you get your existing final draft into paperback form and listed for sale. (Includes references to professional editors, proofreaders, cover designers and digital formatters). Includes one limited-edition, signed hardcover copy of "The Day the Angels Fell" and two invitations to the book launch party.

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    I’ll coach you through writing your book with two, one-hour coaching sessions per month for six months plus editorial feedback along the way and through the final manuscript. (Does not include copy-editing, cover design, or digital formatting for ebooks, although I can give you recommendations for those). Includes one limited-edition, signed hardcover copy of "The Day the Angels Fell" and two invitations to the book launch party. ($1,700 value)

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    I’ll coach you through writing your book with two, one-hour coaching sessions per month for six months plus editorial feedback along the way and through the final manuscript PLUS I’ll hire a professional cover designer, a copy-editor and we’ll get your book into ebook form as well as paperback. Includes one limited-edition, signed hardcover copy of "The Day the Angels Fell" and two invitations to the book launch party. ($3,300 value.)

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    I’ll do 4-6 hours of interviews and then write a 40- to 50-page (8,000 word) story for you about you or your family or your family history and create a small paperback book that your family will cherish forever. Includes one limited-edition, signed hardcover copy of "The Day the Angels Fell" and two invitations to the book launch party. Did I mention this is what I do for a living? ($4,200 value.)

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Funding period

- (30 days)