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Home > Book Story Craft Challenges Readers to Pursue True Calling

Book Story Craft Challenges Readers to Pursue True Calling

May 25th, 2010

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722

Read book excerpts and find out more about John R. Erickson.

In his new book Story Craft, Mr. John Erickson, author of the popular Hank the Cowdog series, shares his many, hard-earned lessons of a writing life forged from perseverance, faith, and creative integrity. Produced in concert with Patrick Henry College, the handsome brown volume details the unusual path the aspiring author took through Harvard University and New York City, only to find himself back in Texas writing about the comic side of ranch life through the eyes of a curious dog named “Hank.”

The book distills the empowering creative principles of faith and fortitude, and unwraps many practical lessons of fiction writing gained through long, often painful experience. With an introduction by PHC Provost Dr. Gene Edward Veith, and a foreword by Nancy Pearcey, author of Total Truth, Story Craft offers a frank, practical guide to the craft of writing that every aspiring author would do well to consider.  And, as Dr. Veith noted in his introduction, “The lessons of this book…apply to every kind of calling, from running a business to having a family.”

To receive your copy of Story Craft with a donation of $15 to Patrick Henry College, click here.

Ties to PHC

Beginning with a trip John Erickson made to speak at the College in 2008, PHC came to play an important role in bringing Story Craft to publication. After many years of writing and working on his Texas ranch with his wife Kris, Mr. Erickson enjoyed a satisfying and solitary life of letters far from the cultural bedlam churning mainstream America. In his happy isolation, he had no knowledge of, and little interest in learning about, an upstart Christian classical liberal arts college near Washington, D.C. In recent decades, he says, he had become “deeply disappointed with the direction many universities have taken,” and “had no interest in spending time on (even a Christian) college campus or talking with college students.”

That changed when his good friend and PHC Trustee George Clay “nagged and bullied” Erickson into visiting the College. With some reluctance, the skeptical author traveled to northern Virginia, where he spoke in chapel of the virtues of glorifying God with one’s creative gifts, conducted a hilarious Hank the Cowdog reading, interacted closely with students, and left Purcellville “with the impression that there was at least one first-rate college left in America.”

Publishing Internship Created

PHC students Betsy Sayre (L) and Nikki Georgacakis, two people instrumental in the production of Story Craft

The seeds of a delightful friendship had been sown. The following summer, Erickson invited ten Patrick Henry students to his Texas ranch for a week-long writing camp. There, students rose early to help with ranch work, prepared their own food, and gathered in the evenings to create their own music after spending several hours each day talking about writing.

“I had no idea if I could tolerate ten post-adolescent creatures for a week, or if they could tolerate me,” states Mr. Erickson wryly. “I thought it turned out very well, and my impression is that many of the students agreed.”

Like many PHC students, one attendee, senior Nikki Georgacakis, grew up reading the adventures of Hank the Cowdog and his ranch buddies. For her, the ranch visit turned into an unusual summer job. After reading the manuscript of Story Craft, she spent the rest of the summer helping Erickson transform it into a book, teaching herself page layout in Adobe InDesign and helping to edit, organize, and compile the resulting attractive volume. In the words of Mr. Erickson, she “compressed about two years-worth of publishing education into one summer . . . and I have no doubt that the world is going to be a better place for it.”

“I just really loved the content of the book,” explains Georgacakis, who is majoring in Government: International Relations.

Junior Betsy Sayre has also earned internship credit by helping to market and sell Story Craft. She first saw Mr. Erickson deliver one of his Hank talks at a homeschool conference in Pennsylvania, where she grew up. As part of her internship, Sayre not only works to sell and promote Story Craft, but helps the author schedule similar speaking engagements.

“If people can’t hear [John Erickson] speak, they need to buy Story Craft,” Sayre insists. “He has so much practical experience, but also an amazing education, which most people don’t realize. He recognizes that it’s not so much his academic education that has shaped him, but his life. That’s what has made him such a good writer.”

Great Art is Heroic

Mr. John Erickson sings the coyote blues during a "Hank" talk at Patrick Henry College in 2009

Story Craft is essentially the story of how the best-selling Hank the Cowdog series came into being, and how it grew into something of a publishing phenomenon, becoming a best-seller through Erickson’s dogged determination and unconventional marketing prowess. Having spent decades writing and studying to become a “man of letters in the grand tradition of Melville, Twain, Dickens, Hemingway, and Faulkner,” the idea of “Hank” happened upon Mr. Erickson as something of a surprise, tapping into his roots as a former Texas ranch hand and fictionalizing his encounters with some of those same, rangy cow dogs. Once he had accepted that God had hired him to “work for the dog,” he recalls, he embarked on a topsy-turvy adventure of self-publishing, writing what he knew and loved while frequenting county fairs, rodeos, and livestock auctions to sell books from the back of his truck.

Among the many treasures of the 150-page Story Craft is its second part, entitled "Faith, Culture, and the Craft of Writing." Drawn from his decades of struggling to break into the publishing world with his so-called “great” literature, it recounts Erickson's decision to breathe life into a likeable mutt, present him with moral dilemmas, and market the product on his own. In the process, Mr. Erickson learned first-hand how bankrupt the secular entertainment world had become, and why. In a few succinct words, he outlines how much the world hungers for tales of beauty and justice.

“Young writers should be speaking out against stories that are formless, chaotic, selfish, and disgusting,” he writes in Story Craft. “Their mission should be to do what artists deserving of the title have always done: bring light into the world, find order in chaos, and provide nourishment, hope, and meaning to people who need it.

“Art that can do that is heroic,” he concludes one chapter. “Art that can’t is a fraud.”

Every Christian writer or aspiring writer will benefit from Story Craft, as will any mother who wishes to encourage her children to write better. To receive your own copy with a donation of $15 to Patrick Henry College, click here.

Now you can read excerpts from this exciting book online! Click here for a sneak peek, or to find out more about John Erickson.