People of hope are men and women who see a need and find a way to respond to it; doing something encouraging for others. With so much discouraging and upsetting news bombarding us at every turn, it is easy to become distraught and overcome by despair. Living with despair is bad for our mental health. I can’t change the news, but I can counter it with stories about people who find ways to instill hope. The first one in my series about People of Hope is Dr. Roger Leslie.
I think of Dr. Roger Leslie as a sort of Mr. Rogers for adults, especially those with dreams of becoming authors. His unflappable good cheer, encouragement, and helpful insights have kept numerous authors from giving up their dreams of being successfully published. Discouragement is often more prevalent in the publishing world than bylines and checks. An editor may insist the author’s favorite phrase or scene won’t sell and has to go. The rare agent who actually responds to a query is more likely to say, “Not my genre,” than “Sure, I’ll work with you.” Writing for publication can be hard, discouraging work.
Life is a prism
Dr. Leslie instills hope and helps authors turn the situation around. “My philosophy is that life is a prism. Everyone is looking at the prism from a different facet. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, you might try seeing the world from a different facet and see how it changes your perspective.”
He’s had plenty of his own experience seeing things from a different perspective. He’s fond of talking about what he calls ‘fateful detours.’ For example, he knew from his early teens that he wanted to write novels. He grew up in Dearborn Heights, MI, until his family moved to Houston when he was fourteen. After high school, he was on track to become a published author, choosing his courses at the University of Houston accordingly. “But then one day a friend told me, ‘You can’t make a living as a writer.’ So, I changed my major to English Education and set out to teach, just long enough to launch my writing career.”
Change of Plans
Often our temporary plans prove more permanent than our long-range ones. He accepted a teaching position at a Houston area high school where, much to his surprise, he “fell in love with teaching. That really taught me so much about myself and people. Those kids were the biggest blessing in my life.”
He was apparently quite a blessing to them as well. In 1989, his fourth year teaching, he was named teacher of the year for the entire Galena school system. By then, he’d settled into a manageable routine of teaching by day and writing evenings and weekends, still hoping to become a successful enough writer to make that his career. He completed a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and did have some success publishing his work in various periodicals.
“But I always wanted to write books. I’ve always believed the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Nothing stands in the way.”
The Life-Changing Phone Call
He was in his classroom one day when he got the phone call that led him on a fateful detour away from that straight line. “The Department Chair told me the principle needed a librarian. He offered me the job, though I had no degree in library science and lacked the appropriate certification. “I went home that evening and had a conversation with God. ‘You’re not listening to me! I want to be a writer!’”
The principle countered Roger’s objections by pointing out he’d have more time to write since he’d no longer be reading student essays, the position would mean a pay increase, and he could arrange for emergency certification.
“I took the job.”
That job led to opportunities he could never have imagined. Dr. Maureen White and Dr. Patricia Wilson ran the Library Science program at the University of Houston’s Clear Lake Campus, where Roger enrolled. One of Dr. White’s assignments was to write reviews of children’s books. She loved his reviews and told him to pick out three which they submitted to Booklist, a publication of the American Library Association. “That led to assignments, pay, and a by-line every two weeks in the most prestigious magazine in the field.
It got even better. Dr. Wilson invited me to co-author a book for librarians. The first day we began working, we realized we had a series, not just one book to write. We pitched our idea to Libraries Unlimited and ended up with a three-book contract from one of the most prestigious publishers in the country. By going back to school and doing something I didn’t want to do, I also met publishers at the annual library conferences. These are what I call ‘fateful detours.’ Detours that seemed like delays actually catapulted me to where I needed to be.”
And More Opportunities
Roger is quick to share his experience, connections, and knowledge with others, partly because, as a teen and young adult, he learned how hard it is to go it alone. “I grew up gay in a Catholic midwestern environment. During that time, I had an epiphany. Because I’m an old soul, aware of spiritual and emotional things others don’t seem to notice, accepting being gay was my light come out of the closet. Accepting being gay meant going against everything I learned from the parochial school I attended and my family. I knew something didn’t fit, and I concluded I would just have to live my life alone, without love. But as I explored my own soul, I realized I needed to determine for myself what was right for me.”
In undergraduate school he met Jerry. Their friendship gradually evolved into their life-long commitment to each other. However, they didn’t find much support from anyone, even within the gay community. Back in the 1980s, many in the gay community thought their vision of having a lifelong marriage was cute but naïve. They had to venture out on their own. “That experience emphasized for me how important it is to support other people; because it’s so hard to go it alone.”
Look for the Light
Today Roger is living the life he wanted for himself and helping others do the same. He says on his website, “I feel grateful every day to live the life I dream. I am an author. All dreams flourish with outreach. As an author, speaker, coach, editor, and publisher, I love guiding people along their path to make their dreams come true, too.”
“I always look for the light.”
Having worked with him on one of my books and observed him in a variety of situations, I’ve observed that often he is the light that sheds hope and help to countless others.
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Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures is available wherever books are sold in paperback, eBook, and audio.
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