By Rachel Permann
Patterns. They can be helpful, comfortable, boring, or destructive. Sometimes, you don’t know what you’re missing until you step outside your patterns and try something new. Such was the case with Rev. Paul Graves, retired elder in the Pacific Northwest Conference, and his adventurous cat, Sox.
Graves has written a children’s book “Sox Looks for Home” based on his feline’s search for home. It’s his first children’s book. Many people have the pipedream to write a book, but so few people do. Here is a short Q&A with insight into his process and obstacles. As Sox’s journey inspired Graves, he hopes to inspire readers.
Q: When asked if he had doubts:
A: I had some doubts. All of the columns and sermons [I’ve written] over five-plus decades had been aimed at teens and adults. So, I tried to re-engage my own inner child, and tried to write things that would interest that long-ago part of me. I also tested the story on 4 children in the 6-11 age-range and took their observations seriously. They improved a number of places in the story.
Q: What was the connector between your cat’s adventure and the writing of the book – the spark?
A: As it happens with me a good deal, the spark came from a question asked of me. It came from a staff member at the animal hospital we take Sox to. After each of his runaways, I’d check with the animal hospital staff in case someone found Sox and brought him there. After the third run, and he was under ‘house arrest’ in our home, one of the staff asked, “Paul, you’re a writer. Why don’t you write this story? It’s pretty unique.” That planted the seed. Some months later, I began to write the story.
Q: How did your faith influence the book?
A: Subtly, very subtly. I simply wanted to tell Sox’s runaway story from what I imagined was his furry and frightened perspective. Perhaps I succeeded there to some degree. What I didn’t realize until tweaking and re-writing portions of the story was that I had unconsciously written a spiritual journey of sorts. I realized in a deeper way that the search for home is not restricted to human beings. I’ve heard many stories from people about their own animals’ journeys to find home again. Two story twists might make Sox’s story a bit different: 1) The last page of the story still has him wondering where home is. He’s imagining being in our home, that there is some degree of wanderlust in his mind. 2) Each time we make the effort to search for him and bring him home, he seems to mellow a bit, warming to the idea that our home isn’t such a bad place to be.
Q: How long did it take between idea and finished product?
A: I started writing in April, 2020, connected with the incredible illustrator, Julie Coyle in August, 2020, and will now receive my first shipment of books this next Monday or Tuesday. In one sense, it’s been a long project. But it’s been so much fun to do something I’d never done before.
Q: What are some tips and tricks you can offer?
A: Like many older adults who have a passion for some creative outlet but perhaps never take the first step, this adventure would have never happened if I hadn’t decided to sit down at the computer and type the working title that clarified my vision: “Sox Looks for Home.” Maybe receiving the title was my first step. I also focused on deciding who my audience would be. That seems pretty basic, regardless of the artistic medium a person wants to use. It also helped that I was writing from a visceral, personal life experience.
Q: How did you decide on a publisher?
A: That was easy. We have maybe 3-5 small publishing companies in the Sandpoint area. I chose Keokee Books because they put out quality books and a bi-annual magazine called “Sandpoint Magazine.” Plus, I know the publisher and knew he would guide me well. And he did.
Rachel Permann serves on the staff of the Pacific Northwest Conference. Rev. Paul Graves serves as the chair for the Council on Older Adult Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.