Penning the pages
Brownsburg’s John Michael Stafford uses theological knowledge, military background to write Christian books
By Stephanie Dolan
Writers have a special ability to tap into readers’ imaginations and transport them to another time or place. Brownsburg’s John Michael Stafford acts as one of these literary travel agents.
Having previously published a thriller, “Between the Walls of Time,” Stafford, who goes by Michael, has recently released a new book, “Oblivion’s Reach,” part of a Christian fiction three-book series.
Co-authored with Don Gladden, the book has turned out to be the beginning of a trilogy that has become a kind of prequel to the famous 1990s “Left Behind” series.
The partnership started at a 50th class reunion for Washington University in St. Louis where Stafford played basketball and football.
“A couple of months later he called and said he had a small book he’d like me to look at,” Stafford said. “It was terrible, but he’s a beautiful guy. I called him and said I would not rewrite his book, that I wasn’t interested in Christian fiction.”
It turned out Stafford ultimately couldn’t say no to the challenge, flushing out the main characters and creating new ones, landing on his fourth and fifth drafts by last September.
“I’d built the main character’s identity,” he said. “I built out how people lose their faith, how many of us agonize over that loss of faith and maybe some of us get it back and some don’t.”
He also broadened Gladden’s ideas about angels living among people on Earth.”
“Oblivion’s Reach” is an expanded version of a book called “Jones’ Corner,” written a decade ago. The readers who saw it enjoyed the book, but Gladden’s first work didn’t get traction for widespread distribution or recognition.
“I always thought there was more to the story than what I had,” Gladden said. “When I ran across Mike again, I was just getting ready to rewrite ‘Jones’ Corner.’”
The partnership with Stafford turned into a successful collaboration.
“We both did the rewrite,” he said. “He had some ideas, and I had some ideas, and we would bounce them off of each other. We both added to the story.”
They didn’t intend for the book to come out as a prequel to the “Left Behind” series.
“After other people looked at it and evaluated it, we saw that it was the perfect set up to the ‘Left Behind’ series,” Stafford said.
Stafford was drafted into the Vietnam War in 1969 and became a U.S. Army Ranger. His combat experience lent a true sense of reality to the story, Gladden said.
“I didn’t serve at that time and didn’t have that under my belt so to speak,” Gladden said. “His background really brought a lot to the story.”
What Stafford learned in combat has been priceless for the work he does today.
“I got to see all kinds of people,” he said. “Ernest Hemingway said write what you know. He knew women, war and fishing. That’s what he wrote about. What does Michel Stafford know? I know war.”
After getting discharged from the Army, Stafford worked as an investment banker for 20 years and also installed basketball goals and owned a party rental business.
Meanwhile he never gave up wanting to be an author.
Stafford recommends everyone should continue to make contacts and learn new information. After all, it took him seven years to find a publisher for his first book, “Between the Walls of Time,” before landing Koechel Peterson Associates in Minneapolis as an agent. That house also published the works of Billy Graham, Joyce Meyers, Max Lucado and Jerry Jenkins who wrote the “Left Behind” series.
“Do something you like. If you don’t like it, make a change,” Stafford said. “The most satisfying thing that happened to me in my lifetime was becoming successful at something I love to do and have a talent for.”
His agents David Koechel and John Peterson believe in Stafford’s talent.
“He’s a very talented writer,” Koechel said. “I think the story, ‘Oblivion’s Reach,’ is extremely interesting. We’re impressed with the work and expect him to do great things.”
Koechel and Peterson have published in the Christian book industry for more than 30 years, Peterson said. Other titles include “The Late, Great Planet Earth” and four-color Bibles.
“Michael Stafford’s book is the most unique viewpoint as it relates to the study of end times,” Peterson said. “’Oblivion’s Reach’ really delves into the realm of the fallen angels and the war that they’ve not only made against God but against God’s creation, man. That’s what makes it so unique. He talks about the angels and their game plan.”
Stafford’s extraordinary grasp of theology makes the book unique, Peterson said.
“It’s not just another ‘Left Behind’-type book,” he said. “It has a uniqueness and merit of its own that if it finds its audience will do as well as ‘Left Behind’ because of the time we’re living in.”
A grasp of the material is important, but that only means so much until the combination of imagination and a talent for writing come together.
In another of Stafford’s works, Lt. Col. Fred Spaulding, a decorated Army Ranger, wrote the forward for the revised version of “Between the Walls of Time” about a man who forms a major third party in America called The Front.
“They are the unbought,” Stafford said. “It’s not about the money, and they can’t be influenced. We live in a society that’s all about the money.”
He believes the story is a good read for anyone today.
“A good writer sucks you in so you want to read the next page and keeps you wanting to read the next page after that,” Peterson said. “I think that Michael Stafford has accomplished that.”
Stafford wants his book to be on the shelves by next spring in major retailers across the country. Right now, readers can find it on his website.
“I’m headed in the right direction,” he said. “These are first class mysteries. I learned to write, and I’ve perfected my craft to a degree now that there is a big organization called Goodreads.com.”
Search for “Oblivion’s Reach” on the site, and nearly 1,300 people in a week tried to purchase the book.
“That’s not John Grisham, but it’s good,” said Stafford. “We’re getting ready to market the hell out of these two books.”
Getting to know John Michael Stafford
Website: johnmichaelstafford.com. Purchase his two books “Oblivion’s Reach” and “Between the Walls of Time.”
Town of residence: Brownsburg
Family: Wife, Susan
Do you have a bucket list trip? I’d love to see the great pyramids and the Fertile Crescent, but I don’t like to fly anymore. I’ve been in a plane that went down, and I’ve been on one that hit the ground. Plus I was in a war. I’m not a big flyer. There’s not a lot of places I don’t want to go.
I want to see Walden Pond. I want to go see where Seabiscuit is buried.
Who is your favorite author? The guy who wrote “Lonesome Dove,” Larry McMurtry, and Michael Connelly. I’ve read a lot of books. I’m a big fan of Wilbur Smith and Laura Hillenbrand. She wrote “Seabiscuit.”
What do you do to relax? I walk my dog. I golf. I ride my bicycle. Susie and I take trips.
Who or what inspires you? I want to get to that place with myself where I’m satisfied with what I’ve done. I had a lot of goals that I did not reach in life. The reason I didn’t reach them was because I didn’t try hard enough. If I could ever tell kids one thing it would be you have to work for what you get. Talent does not guarantee success. It slowed me down, but I’m really happy where I am at this stage of life. I’m about to be fulfilled. That’s a great feeling for anyone.