Doxology: Brian Holers’s Debut Novel

Doxology, the debut novel from author Brian Holers, is available in both paperback and digital format now! Fathers, sons and brothers reconnect over tragedy in this blue-collar Southern tale of love, loss and the healing power of community and family. Doxology examines an impossibly difficult...

Brian Holers

How I got here

Now that my book is about to come out, I’ve been reflecting.  Thinking through life, where I’m going, where I’ve been.  How exactly I got here.

I’ve been out of college 22 years.  For the first six, I worked in a variety of nonprofit organizations, until I just lost interest.  Then I got laid off from a job and lived on unemployment for a few months.  This was 16 years ago.   That’s when I decided to get into the tree care business.  I didn’t know anything about running a business, about climbing, about chainsaws, about equipment, about advertising, about licensing, permitting, employees, payroll.  Nothing at all. Fortunately, I knew a bit about trees.  And apparently that was enough.

But I remember those first few years of self employment, how many times I looked around and thought,  what exactly are you doing?  I had a college degree, granted it was in psychology and classics, but I certainly didn’t need it to climb trees. I previously had the notion, as a younger person, that working in nonprofit was at least somehow making the world better.  To be distinguished from just going out there and trying to sell something to make a living.  This is what we all go through as we mature into adults—all the settling, letting go of ideals that never really made sense anyway, figuring out we live in a giant world and that we can’t change everything all at once.  And even if we could, we shouldn’t.  There’s a reason things are the way they are.

But as I ran a tree service those first few years, and matured my way to thirty, I remember thinking often, okay, fine.  At least this is fun compared to having a job.  If you’re going to be a working guy rather than some sort of professional, you should learn a skill.  In retrospect I guess it was just the way I do things, just me being hard on myself.   In fact, I was learning a skill.  Tree care, and all of the things associated with running such a business, is not easy.  But we often look for validation—at least if I learned to fix cars or build houses or put together sewage lines or whatever—I’d still be a working guy, but there’s a right and a wrong way to do things.  The tree business is the wild wild west.  There is almost no regulation in the industry.  Sure, cities like Seattle have regulations about trees you can’t cut down or ways trees that belong to the city can’t be pruned, but other than that, just about anybody can get in and do anything they want.  I am no exception.  After those few months of unemployment in 1995, I just decided I was a tree guy.  I got a business license, liability insurance, a bit of climbing equipment and a chainsaw.  I already had a truck.  Voila!  I owned a tree service.

What I finally began to figure out was those were exactly the things I liked about being a tree guy.  You make it up as you go.  Sure, there are a lot of wrong ways to prune trees, and a lot of bad reasons to cut them down.  But there’s nobody waiting to inspect your work, as is the case in many trades.  There’s not a lot of supervision.  It’s a raw market.  It’s just you and the customer.

This is also what draws me to fiction.  There are a million ways to do it, and any one of them can be effective.

I decided to publish the book six months ago.  I have literally been working ever since to get ready for market.  Literally.  Six months.  Granted, I have a day job, so I can spend maybe ten hours a week on my writing, generally after my son goes to bed at night and before I fall asleep at my desk.  But I’ve learned all these things I knew nothing about before.  People have been telling me for years I need to get a website.  All I could think was, what good is that going to do me?  What I need, I always thought, was for someone to publish my book, pay me fairly, advertise and help me get sales, send me on a book tour, and make it possible for me to make enough money so eventually I can write during the day.  But no, none of that happened, so when I found a self-publishing advisor, the first thing she told me was, you need to get a website. So I got somebody to make me a website, started writing essays for my blog as a means of getting my writing out there, and set out to turn my eighty-thousand word Microsoft Word document into a book, complete with cover, acknowledgements, international standard book number, and a means to get them printed.  Like I say, a lot of things to learn.  I haven’t looked at a word of fiction since March, when I finished the most recent edit of my second novel, which I hope to publish next year.

This experience has been a microcosm of my life.  Somehow, it all comes together.  I suppose some people have more of a plan.  More of an idea what exactly they’ll be doing in their work and their life, months and years down the road.  Or if they have secure jobs, what they expect to be doing in the spring or summer or fall.  But in truth, I’ve never had that.  It just hasn’t worked out that way.  Even when times were good, when I had a bunch of employees and debt and payroll twice a month, I rarely had work scheduled more than a week at a time.  It’s just the way I’ve done things.  Eventually, I got used to it.  I’m still that way, now that I’m back in the tree business.  I don’t have any employees or any debt right now, so I don’t have to sell near as much work, which is a good thing as the economy sucks.  But one thing is for sure.  I am familiar with uncertainty.  And in ways I couldn’t have predicted, this has prepared me to write fiction.

Times are definitely not easy. We all find ways to manage ourselves, seek out things to look forward to day to day, week to week, year to year.  I’m a big baseball player.  I play baseball and softball from May through September, and practice some over the winter and spring.  But it’s over now, and so is the summer.  Here in Seattle, we have half a year of cold, damp grayness to look forward to.  I know good and well it has its own beauty, in fact there is much I like about the winters here.  But thinking about it from this end, when it is about to start, is kind of depressing.  I can definitely be a melancholy person.  A lot of people meet me in person and find me energetic, engaging, a fountain of personality.  Which, lets be frank, in Seattle, if you look at people and talk to them at the same time, you stand out. We’re not an effervescent bunch.  But like a lot of people, I try to keep myself steady, continually look for ways to keep on par.  When what I am, in fact, is an ecstatic person, then a low person.  Blues, writing, baseball, a number of things can make me feel joyful.  Conversely, all life’s many hardships try to drag me down.

It’s not good for me when the melancholy sets in.  Or as an old man I used to know said, “when you got the haints.”  I’m always looking for ways to keep the haints off (haints being an alternate pronunciation of haunts, or ghosts, bad spirits).  It’s not good for me.  All I can think about is what I should have done.  Why didn’t I get a master’s degree? Why didn’t I learn a profession?  Why didn’t I go to law school?  Five years and all I have is one book?

                But I am extremely grateful to say that, even at low moments, I know my book is good.  That it tells a great story.  That the prose, in places, is just beautiful.  Some parts, I don’t feel like I wrote them, I just sat at my desk and there were the words in my head.  Fine.  This is what I have in this life.  As a writer, I have talent.  I have worked hard lately, yes, but only for the last few years.  I hardly wrote a word until I was 37 years old.  I just didn’t.  I thought about it, talked about it.  When I finally got around to doing something about it, I wanted to work hard at it.  I’ve never wanted to work this hard at anything else.  I’ve worked at my business, sure, but that hasn’t been so much about passion as it has been about doing whatever it took to remain self employed.  Most everything I’ve ever done, I’ve done enough to get by.  I made good grades in school, but didn’t exactly push myself.  I worked six years in nonprofit and never really cared for it, mostly I did it because it was a low pressure situation.  I’m not even that passionate of a tree guy—I do what I gotta do, but I don’t study and go to trainings or talk to school kids about how great trees are.  I’m not a great friend like my wife is.  I enjoy baseball and work some at it, but I still struggle to hit at the most recreational level.  I’m not a good artist like my son.  People say I’m funny and they like to hear my stories, but really only for a few minutes.  I think I listen and ask questions about other people, but maybe I’m not even any good at that.

But I do know how to work hard, and nothing has ever been easy for me.  For better or for worse, writing is why God put me here.  And even that is hard for me.  I am passionate about politics and cultural issues, but I uptake things very slowly.  If I want to even have a prayer of understanding any history or expository writing, I have to read it several times and even then I can’t necessarily explain what I’ve read right away.

But fiction is the one thing I’m pretty good at.  Or that I feel I’m pretty good at.  I guess when this book goes out, we’ll see.  The market will let me know.  I enjoy writing more than anything else I have done, and I work hard at it.  Still, it’s easy to wonder if you’re just on the wrong track altogether.  A guy I know has been writing a novel for eight years.  The plot is very sophisticated.  It is set in Eastern Europe.  My stuff is very simple.  Some say it’s deceptively simple, that there is a depth of feeling and emotion that rides beneath the surface. I guess that’s true.  I use a great deal of imagery.  But whatever it is, it’s what I have, and I’m grateful.  I talked and thought about this for a long time.  Finally, with much help from the people who love me, I made the chance to write.  Life keeps moving, and I’m certainly not getting any younger.  So, I’m ready to share what I have.

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8 Responses to How I got here

  1. Diane Lankenau says:

    I am very freakin proud! The journey that you and I are taking pretty much simultaneously is uncanny!

    • Sandy says:

      As a pastor’s wife- this topic is near to my heart!First of all, I have to say that I do not belevie that the Church is at fault!! The Bible is very clear, that it is to be us PARENTS that are to be training our children in righteousness!!! Sunday School & Youth Group were started many, many years later & really were started for the non-churched kids! Those statistics are sad, but I think they are a lot due to the fact that parents have been relying on the church to teach their children about Christ- instead of taking an active role themselves (& actually living what they belevie)!A couple things our church does that I LOVE are when children turn 4, they join their parents in big church- children younger than that are certainly welcome, but there is nursery & children’s church provided for children under 4. Although I do understand how difficult it can be for some kids to sit so long (we are all about wiggles at our house), we belevie that having children in the service, plants seeds in their little hearts! We also have just started a curriculum (our pastors & elders & teachers have created) that lasts 7 years & walks everyone through the Bible all Sunday School classes of various ages as well as the sermon are focused on the SAME topic are memorizing the same verse, etc. In this way, children (along with their parents) will go through an in depth study of the whole Bible twice.Sorry, this is getting way too long! Great question!Jessica

  2. Connie Edlin says:

    I really enjoyed your bio and I plan to order your book once it’s available. six days and counting.

  3. Thank you for sharing your journey…I feel very connected to how you process through your writing. It’s kind of ironic that when you ARE published, you will have continued to be a “tree guy”, utilizing the paper they have provided for you (ok, that was poor humor). ;o)

  4. Jody Gross says:

    My namesake, the lead character in Doxology, bears a striking resemblance to yourself, as described in this blog entry. Does that mean I’m Karen? I remain your most ardent fan, friend and wife. . . all my love to you Brian.

    • Jenny says:

      Your father is in the wind, touhrgh the sun or the stars or moon. He changes you forever; you are a part of your Mom and Dad. Knowingly or not, he still changes the way you think, you do stuff. Right? You may think…what would my father say in this, how would he react…etc He is still around, in your heart.

    • Homem says:

      Well if we are talking about lost kids that don’t have godly pnreats as a missionary (now SAHM and wife to a missionary) with Child Evangelism Fellowship I must say you (the church) must go to the kids. It’s not good enough to teach sunday school classes of kids About Jesus. You MUST share the Gospel with them! Most of our churches teach Bible stories to children which obviously I have no issues with but I bet the reason these kids end up leaving is because they never became Christians! As someone who taught kids sunday school for a long time I can tell you most of the curriculum DOES NOT share the gospel or it does once every 5 weeks or something like that. That isn’t good enough! You can’t expect kids to stay in church if they never accepted Christ as their personal Savior. For kids outside of the church? Go to where they are. Schools (yes you can do it, visit community centers, parks, wherever kids are and tell them why Jesus came.Kids should know Bible Stories but if they don’t know the Gospel then they can’t be saved and won’t stay in church.

    • Ranjith says:

      This is actually snotehmig we have been addressing at our church in the past few months. We have been incorporating more activities for our youth, such as on a specific Sunday night, the youth conducts our entire service; our music director has incorporated some of the new Contemporary Christian music into our services, which the youth absolutely love. We have also brought a young youth minister in which has been such a blessing!Honestly, I think one of the main reasons the statistics are what they are is because a lot of churches are too set in older ways not so much catering to the older members, but pacifying them by not incorporating newer ideas and technology into the service, etc. It is absolutely critical that we do all we can to make our young people feel a part of the church because they are the future of the church, and they need all the guidance they can get in this harsh and cruel world!!

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