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Monday, December 13, 2010


It seems like everything I wind up doing is, if not by divine providence, accidental. My tarantula book was an accident. It was to be nothing more than an article for my college creative writing course, but my instructor suggested that I try to get it published, so I did. To shorten a lengthy story, the first publisher I sent it to ended up eventually printing it after I managed to expand it five times the length. I received a flat fee of just $400, and no royalties. But it seemed plenty to me at the time; and I did it, I “broke into print,” and was thereby a “professional” writer. That was 1977.

Then, readers began to write to me, asking questions I couldn’t answer. Everything I knew about tarantulas was in that book. So the founding of the American Tarantula Society was a happenstance as a result of these letters and questions and my ignorance. I feebly tried to glean members by direct letter writing, but then somehow the local newspaper got wind of the club (how I don’t know) and interviewed me. The local article was picked up by wire services, which then led to every other form of media, and suddenly membership and publicity skyrocketed, turning the ATS into a regular part-time job without pay. But I enjoyed it, for the most part, until after three years of two hours per day minimum I got tired. And for a guy who nervously fought for a C grade in high school speech class to find himself on live television or in the middle of a gymnasium in front of hundreds of people is asking for a peptic ulcer. I never sought publicity, but I never said no. The 500 wonderful members in several countries sharing in the unique organization dedicated to the misunderstood tarantula was a lot of fun…but accidental.

After my retirement from the ATS, I continued with standard jobs and idealistic dreams until I found myself unemployed for six months. We have yet to know how we managed to survive that time. After trying to “sell myself” for so long and getting nothing in return but rejection, I began to lose my confidence and feelings of self-worth, and took it out on my family (especially my wife, Micki), and fell into a deep depression. Meanwhile Micki had for years been working voluntarily with Laubach Literacy, teaching adults how to read and write, and teaching volunteers how to teach. She discovered that Christian Literature International, at Canby, Oregon, had developed an adult literacy course with a Christian base, using its New Life Testament, the easiest version in print. So she phoned the director, Gleason Ledyard; and during the conversation he learned that I had written a book. He then wondered if I’d be interested in writing a 365-day devotional book in their 850-word vocabulary. I agreed to do it, and he sent the needed material for the work. But my depression was so severe, and our marriage so shaky, that I finally returned the material, telling Ledyard that we were having problems and that I just didn’t feel enough inspiration to write a devotional book, and, if he would, to pray for us. Well, they did pray for us.

When my six months of unemployment ended, I found myself trudging into a muddy daffodil field with a bunch of migrant workers to pick flowers for minimum wage. Picking flowers sounded nice to me, and I never dreamed the work would be so back-breaking. My lower back wreaked with pain, blisters broke on my fingers, and the poisonous daffodil juice seeped into the wounds. Mud oozed into my shoes, rain ran down my neck. And I had been there only a half day! Those around me took it in stride; it was simply a living to them. But as I sat totally exhausted on a box during the lunch break, I began thinking that after working hard the whole day I will have made only $25. My previous job had paid twice that amount. And it dawned on me that even a freelance writer couldn’t help but make at least $25 a day if he were to work diligently for eight hours. So I thereby made up my mind that, after finishing that grueling day’s work, I would quit and become a writer.

Of course this was irresponsible and impractical. At best, if I were to write something good and sell it right away, it would be months before seeing any money. It took a full year from the time I first wrote the tarantula book until it was finally purchased and I received the $400. Nevertheless I was elated. I felt reborn. I drove home without being able to wipe the big smile off my face. And my happiness and enthusiasm was so real and so evident, that, despite the craziness of the whole notion, Micki even joined in the joy. My self-esteem flowed back like a flood. My depression was gone. Our strong marriage was renewed. A new beginning had begun.

I immediately sat down and started typing what I thought might have the best chance of selling--another article on tarantulas. Well, it never did sell. I soon found that I wasn’t to be the one in charge of what was just beginning. And, in retrospect, I’m wondering if the real reason why I was so incredibly ecstatic is not because I was quitting a flower-picking job or launching into an insecure career, but because I had listened to a higher voice and submitted to it. Against all practical reason, I stepped out in faith.

Just two days after the step, a letter came from Gleason Ledyard! Rather than being disappointed at my failure to write the devotional book, he asked me if I would be interested in doing the entire Old Testament! Another two days passed and we heard from Bev Bowman of Seattle Area Literacy Tutors (S.A.L.T.) who happened to be a common friend of us and the Ledyards. She came up to visit, seventy miles from Seattle, and encouraged me in Ledyard’s behalf to accept the project, and then arranged for the Ledyards and us to spend a weekend at her home in Seattle to discuss the work. It turned out to be one of the most encouraging weekends of my life. Bev had told friends of the project, and they came to meet all of us; seventeen people came to encourage us. I had already done the first ten Psalms, and so Gleason and I sat down together and spent hours talking about the translation and readability involved. I had the job. This was in March of 1983. He asked me how much I wanted to be paid for the work. And, considering the labor involved as compared to the grueling field work, and the importance of the project’s completion, and the fact that I really wanted to do it, I said minimum wage. He agreed, of course, but after two months raised my monthly salary to $700 gross.

It took 2 ½ years for me to put the Old Testament into the 850-word vocabulary, and I found that it was very difficult for a family of three to live on $700/month, with no benefits. But Micki helped by babysitting at the YMCA and at a local church, and we managed to get by. And the work was difficult, having to wrestle with a desktop computer before the bugs were worked out of it. Rather than using a typewriter and paper, Gleason wanted me to typeset the work as I went, and to put in on floppy discs, so after checking its accuracy, he could go right to printing the text for the book and not have to retype it. He had me go down to Oregon initially and learn how to use the computer. His employee there began teaching me computer theory and such complicated things that finally I said, “Can’t you just show me how to do the work on this thing and leave it at that?” And so he settled for the basic nuts and bolts, and I learned quickly. Unfortunately, home computers were not only a new thing, but this was a Tandy computer from Radio Shack, not the best, and it would often malfunction. At least once, after working for hours, all of my work disappeared from the screen, and I would find it way off to the right somewhere. It was a frustrating way to write.

The nine translations I compared for this work were New International, New American Standard, New English, Good News, Moffatt, Amplified, Berkeley, Revised Standard, and King James. For reference I used Cruden's Complete Concordance, the American Heritage Dictionary, Soule's Dictionary of English Synonyms, the New Life Testament, the Interpreter's Commentary, the Preacher's Homiletic Commentary, and Ledyard's Phrase and Word List.

Also during those 2 ½ years, Micki suffered two miscarriages, terribly sad times for us. One miscarried child, a daughter, Micki held in the palm of her hand. Tiny Mary Bridget lay there with her arms crossed on her chest and her mouth open, and Micki, feeling so helpless, baptized her.

During this project, Micki took a trip to her hometown in southern California, visited some Mexican friends, and came back enthusiastic about Catholicism. She then began learning about this faith, much to my dismay, and made Catholic friends. I would argue severely with her, only knowing about Catholicism as taught by wary Protestants, while Micki would spend more and more time with friends who were hers but not mine. A new depression set in. I felt alienated. And my frequent arguing about religion affected my faith. I began to see Moses as a magician. The laws and rituals of Leviticus seemed trivial and endless. The steady warnings of the prophets were gloomy. The work became tiresome.

Gleason had once said to me in conversation, “I don’t know how any intelligent person could be a Catholic.” He and his wife Kathryn would come up to Everett occasionally to take us out to dinner, and it was not a comfortable visit when I told them across the table that Micki was converting to Catholicism. They looked at her like immigration agents discovering an illegal alien, and although they put up with us after that, things were not quite the same.

But through all this, I pressed on, and despite my crisis of faith, Micki has always been amazed at how the negativity never harmed the accuracy of this work, and how God continues to protect His word even so.

In a letter written to a friend in February of 1985, I wrote: “The Old Testament, as you say, is not so inspirational in comparison to the New. I still get depressed at times, and I suspect all human beings do; and when I’m down, the ‘blood and guts’ seem to stand prominent as I read it. But during the many good times, I realize that much (if not all) of the actual events of the Old Testament are comparable with the spiritual events in our lives today. As the New Testament says, the Old is an ‘ensample.’ Some parts of it are obviously wonderful: Moses’ leading the people out of Egypt to the Promised Land is an ensample of Christ leading the people out of sin to His kingdom. Joseph’s symbolic death and very real persecution followed by his acquired power in Egypt and the saving of his family is an ensample of Christ’s persecution, death and resurrection, and His going to make a way for us and to prepare a place for us--His suffering that we might be saved. And of course David’s Psalms are an ensample for us in how we should always share a relationship with God, even during our frustration, misery, anger, and fear…and during our joy. In reading straight through the Old Testament, I never grasped the many messages that I now do by trudging through it. Now the names are much better remembered, and when they turn up again after some chapters, I now can see why things happened to certain O.T. people and individuals that I never before understood. Times come when I simply don’t want to be encouraged or inspired, and the whole thing becomes a boring job. And I can dig up enough questions regarding things written in the Old Testament to baffle most modern preachers. I still get depressed and oftentimes even skeptical and full of doubt. But, by God’s grace, I know that it will all come out in the wash. Yet the process can sometimes be painful, I’ve found.”

The Holy Bible: New Life Version was published in 1986 by Christian Literature International, in several formats, including leather-bound. My name is not in it. Gleason told me initially that I wouldn’t want my name in it, because then people would be coming at me wanting to know my educational background for this work, and all I have is a two-year Associate of Arts and Sciences degree. Gleason pointed out that a theologian or other highly educated person would have a much more difficult time trying to put the Old Testament in an 850-word vocabulary because he would get too bogged down in the wording. So, Gleason told me that, if anyone were to ask, he would say that “a team” did the New Life translation.

Christian Literature International has now sold the rights of The Holy Bible: New Life Version to Barbour Publishing, and you can buy it through Amazon.
By the way, Micki joined the Catholic Church in 1984. I joined the Catholic Church in 1989.  Since then, depression has been very, very rare.
To read the New Life Version online, click here.

For the complete contents of the Butter Rum Cartoon, click here.


  1. I sold more than a few copies of your tarantula book between 1986-1990. Little did I know then, I would later be working with the author, today... What are the chances of a teenage kid working at a pet store in Midlothian, Illinois, meeting the author of a popular 'how-to' pet book residing from Washington, in Missouri, working at the same post office, 20 years later...?? That's pretty trippy... don'tcha think?? I will comment more on the rest of the story later this week.

    1. Hey, no fair! You never commented more on the rest of the story, and I still don't know who you are! Please tell me.

  2. I wish I had a vocabulary like yours. Because the only word I can use to describe you is.....AMAZING! And that only scratches the surface of many other adjectives that would probably better express my admiration and my love for you Dale.
    -Linda (sister)