The Accidental Collaborator

I never intended to be a collaborator.

For the record, my plan was to be a wildly successful, insanely rich novelist. People were going to mention me in hushed, awestruck tones along with other “last name only” fiction writers. You know: Peretti, Dekker, Grisham, Koontz, King, Pence.

I broke into book publishing in 2001 by writing computer books. In 2003, my dream was fulfilled. I was a published—and soon to be famous—novelist. By 2005, (despite excellent reviews) my “career” had pretty much ground to a halt. In fact, in May of that year I hung up my keyboard and joined the prison ministry staff of a large Dallas mega-church, feeling that my grand experiment in full-time freelance writing was a failure.

God had other plans.

James H. Pence and Terry CaffeyJames H. Pence and Terry Caffey, ministering together in Moss Bluff, Louisiana.

In my last post, (Oct. 1, “You Never Know”), I told the story of how God took a single page from my out-of-print novel Blind Sight and used it to change the life of Terry Caffey, a man whose family was brutally murdered. God not only used that page to change Terry’s life; He also used it to change the entire direction of my writing.

In January of 2009, Terry asked me to help him write a book that would tell his story.

I hadn’t written or published in four years and, as I already mentioned, collaboration was not in my long-term plans. However, because I wanted to encourage Terry, I agreed to help him write a book proposal.

Because of the intense media interest in Terry’s story, Tyndale snapped up the proposal and put the book on an accelerated publication schedule. We signed a contract in March of ’09 and the book was set for a September release.

I had to write it in twelve weeks.

The accelerated writing schedule was probably a good thing because I didn’t have the time to give in to sheer panic. I’d never collaborated before, and I had no earthly idea how to go about it. But it was a door that God had opened, and so I trusted Him for the wisdom.

I dusted off my little digital voice recorder and began interviewing Terry. Then I worked at outlining the book, selecting the stories that would go into it, even using my fiction-writing skills to lay out a plot-line.

As I worked with Terry and wrote what would become Terror by Night, I began to notice something unexpected.

I was enjoying myself immensely.

I love telling stories, but I had no idea how much I would enjoy helping other people tell their stories.

And so now I happily call myself a collaborator. I spent most of 2011 writing a book about Nate Lytle, a young surfer who made a miraculous recovery from a massive traumatic brain injury. I also collaborated on a novella with bestselling author Stephen Arterburn. And I’ve got proposals in the works for two more collaborations, one fiction and the other nonfiction.

I never intended to be a collaborator.

But God led me through an unexpected door and down an unplanned path. And in doing so, He changed the direction of my writing ministry.

Has God placed some unexpected doors or unplanned paths before you? I hope that in 2012 you’ll take a chance and go through them.

You never know what God might do.

“A person plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps,” (Proverbs 16:9, NET Bible). 

10 Replies to “The Accidental Collaborator”

  1. I think it’s so cool when the Lord grabs hold of our plans, changes them, and uses us to do things we never dreamed of. Your God-ordained meeting with Terry enabled his story to be well told. How neat that you were part of that.

  2. There are times when I enjoy encouraging and helping others more than I enjoy doing my own thing. I’m on the alert to see if God has something similar in mind for me as He had for you. Thanks for sharing your journey. I let you know how it turns out for me!

  3. Awesome testimony, James! And, yes, that souds so like God, to lead you down a totally unexpected path.

    I’m currently on a writing journey of my own, that feels very unfamiliar & uncomfortable, yet somehow ordained and preplanned…

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. If this isn’t a lesson on saying “yes!” to God then I don’t know what is.
    I had a similar event occur in my life. The very first critique group I attended led me to collaborate on a book about how God showed up in the family of a double amputee from the Iraq War. At that time I thought I would only write fiction. Now I have some magazine articles published and I’m enjoying writing snapshot posts on my blog about the characters in the first Christmas.
    Yes, God is a great surpriser!

  5. I’ve read about the fact that the victim, Terry Caffey, found a page from a book that James Pence had written that gave him hope.The author, James Pence, then went into a collaboration with Terry to write of his experience. It is amazing how God uses the writings of others to lead into a direction that will bring peace to Terry and then a new line of work for James Pence. We all must be open to the leading the Lord brings in order to find fulfillment, peace and above all to do the will of God.

  6. I read hundreds of blog posts every week and soon forget about 99% of them, but I REMEMBER “You Never Know” and the way God used that one page of your book to touch Terry’s life when he had such desperate needs. Now I am so excited to read your follow-up post on this. Your story and God’s use of it, and you, and Terry leave me with goose-bumps (or as some call them, God-bumps). Our God is an awesome God. Bless you for letting him use you in this way.
    Linda Thomas

  7. Just getting to read this post now (’tis the season) but I’m so thankful I did. You had your plans. God had his plans for you.
    I am thrilled to see the direction your life took along the writing road!

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