Tim Grahl describes his first novel, The Threshing as The Matrix meets The Hunger Games. For any fans of either book or movie, that would be incentive enough. However, when I have a precious time and focus available to immerse myself into someone else’s world, sci-fi would not be my first choice.
Yet, I devoured this book in the first 24 hours of my COVID-19 quarantine — and not just because it was a great read.
The Threshing begins with twelve-year-old Jessie breaking into someone’s home to steal credits. Within the first few pages, you realize the dystopian society she lives in is full of oppression, misery and scarcity.
To survive the devastation in their land, everyone is living in “the grid”, a virtual world where people mine credits for food rations and hone simulated skills. Jessie’s gifted enough to have the gumption to hack into the system and live in reality. When she’s caught stealing, the mayor gives her an ultimatum: to represent her faction in The Threshing.
All she knows about The Threshing is that it has two rules:
- If you win, you survive
- 2. If you lose, everyone you love slowly starves to death.
She has no idea how much her giftedness is will be put to the test.
Tim wove a tight story and kept it moving through every scene.
I consciously had to slow down amid suspense to visualize the scene. He offers just enough description to imagine the scene, and it was a little startling to realize I’d entered a scene of beds lined up with cords handing down from above, plugged into the back of people’s necks. The characters kept me guessing on who would be reliable and who would turn out to be the villain. By the end of the book, I felt that familiar sad satisfaction of reading a well-written story and sorry that it ended.
So if sci-fi isn’t my thing, what compelled this book to rise to the top of my list?
To me, this book represents far more than can’t-put-the-book-down calibre.
I first stumbled across Tim Grahl as the Book Launch guy, while I was writing the first draft of my non-fiction book. He’d been helping authors like Daniel Pink (Drive, To Sell is Human), Charles Duhigg (The Power of Habit) and Hugh Howey (Wool series) launch their books to bestseller lists. I connected with his methodical approach but was far from launching my book, so I saved Tim’s emails for another time.
Then he started talking about his new book, Running Down a Dream. His opening chapter sample hooked me into buying a copy. With raw, honest vulnerability, he told the journey of building his dream business. It made me feel like he had somehow peaked into my soul as a fledgling entrepreneur. At times, reading it felt like that guilty trance when you can’t look away from someone’s private journal or a car accident.
Writer Deanne Welsh described it this way: “This book is a look into the soul of a writer as he traverses the creative dessert and battles towards the meaning and freedom he craves. It is a deeply personal field guide for writers and creatives. Tim unflinchingly bares the naked truth behind all creations and shares the practical to-do list to take you from here to there.”
Plenty of resources had helped me write my messy first draft. Now that I had a full manuscript, I felt lost.
I needed a tried and true process to work through the stages of editing. Was there anything that could help me shape something worth reading from the “vomit on a page” first draft to the “polish up punctuation and grammar” sixth draft? Was there an approach that could help me objectively know what words to cut, rearrange and rewrite? How could I share my message as and as compelling as he had?
Since I had been entranced by Running Down a Dream, I started looking up content Tim might have shared about his own editing process. It didn’t take long before I discovered the writer’s goldmine I had been looking for: The StoryGrid.
After ten-years of establishing a successful business and authoring two how-to books, Tim’s itch to create something new had prompted him to face a secret desire.
He wanted to write a novel.
The idea of writing a novel terrified him for a couple of reasons.
First, although he was proficient in the blogging and book world, he had never written a novel before. Figuring how to tell a story worth reading felt a daunting mission.
Second, he had just spent years teaching authors that they needed to be known primarily for one genre, or their readers would become confused. In a world of noisy competition, confusing and ambiguity repels and clarity attracts. Basically, he’d be starting from scratch building a following for this novel, and he’d be risking his established business in writing it.
He approached Shawn Coyne, a top editor with 25 years of experience in traditional publishing houses. Shawn had developed editing methodology called the StoryGrid that he used to understand what makes a story work. Tim asked if Shawn would coach Tim on how to write a compelling story — for free. They would turn it into a podcast, so more people could find out about StoryGrid.
The plan was to run it for a few months. But Shawn and Tim had no idea how hungry serious struggling authors were for camaraderie and methodology that would help them become better writers. Fans grew as Shawn taught Tim topics such as how to working through writers’ resistance to how to create believable characters, to how to determine the core scenes needed in his genre.
Three and a half later, The Threshing was finally ready to be published. The podcast was still going strong with 120 episodes and the fans keep multiplying.
So why was I so eager to read this sci-fi novel?
Because it represents the vulnerability and perseverance it takes to pursue a dream.
Your secret dream has so much more potential than the possibility of helping you become happy and fulfilled.
You know that dream in your heart that won’t go away?
What if God has entrusted it to you?
It’s a catalyst for personal growth and an inspiration of hope for someone else. In the resistance, the falling, the learning you’ll persist through along the way, you won’t come out the same. Every time you’re real about the struggle and every time you pick yourself up again, someone will be inspired to take their own courageous step.
The success of a dream isn’t that it turns out exactly how you imagined or in the timing you aimed form. No, the success is in how you keep showing up for it and in the opportunities you recognize along the way.
So in this pandemic frenzy, maybe your life feels turned upside down. Maybe your dream feels like it’s on hold, or maybe it’s an opportunity to make space for a new variation of your dream that you would never have tried otherwise.