From writing the book that led to the creation of Oprah’s Book Club to suffering a decades-long illness, Latter-day Saint author Curtis Taylor has had a unique journey as an author. It is one that will inspire others to keep going, and his books, now poised to become best-sellers in multiple markets, will do the same.
Taylor’s first brush of success came when he co-authored and published the international bestseller Embraced By The Light with Betty J. Eadie in 1992. Over the next few years, the book sold 15 million copies worldwide–including in countries where Christian books are banned such as China, Iran, and Vietnam. It became the first book ever endorsed on Oprah and led to the creation of Oprah’s Book Club. Taylor also co-founded his publishing company Aspen Books, which published a Pulitzer-prize winning author as well as other best-selling writers like Orson Scott Card, Dean Hughes, and several Church leaders.
Trouble, however, was brewing. A strange series of symptoms appeared that made both writing and managing a company difficult, including debilitating fatigue and memory loss. After years of misdiagnoses, Taylor finally learned he had contracted Lyme disease. The recovery process would take the better part of 20 years, and in that time a series of setbacks dealt blow after blow for Taylor and his family.
“It wasn’t just the illness that made me stop writing. Lyme disease can make you blank out so terribly that it makes ‘a stupor of thought’ seem like a brainstorm,” Taylor said. “But I was discouraged too. After being sick and living on savings for five years, we had to move in with my parents. We lost everything—our business, house, health, savings, and ultimately even some self-respect.
“We had just put three children on missions, at the same time, so I would say that we had some faith, but after losing so much of my temporal life, my faith and hope were challenged—not in God or the Church, but in my ability to accomplish anything. When you’re on the bed staring at the ceiling all day, for months, then for years, despair can creep in. Even with a loving family around you, loneliness and bitterness can begin to seep in. I prayed day and night for healing and relief—for some hope.”
It was a blessing of healing from an inspired bishop that gave Taylor much of his strength to continue. “I loved that blessing and did everything I could to have faith in it,” Taylor said. “After a while, I began to have a couple of good hours each day, and I decided to work on a story that I had come up with years before. I didn’t feel particularly energetic or creative, but I stuck to a regimen of writing each day, and soon hope began to replace the despair and loneliness. It took a year, but I finished the novel, which is called American Grace.”
Shortly after Taylor began writing again, a chance encounter led him to a doctor at Stanford University who was using an experimental drug for patients like Taylor. After beginning the new drug regimen, Taylor slowly started to feel better.
“It was almost as if I had to exercise enough faith to start writing again before the Lord would allow my bishop’s blessing of healing to be fulfilled,” Taylor said. “I had to arise from my sickbed and try. Then, as I continued in faith, the blessings came.”
It didn’t happen overnight. For years, Taylor kept writing his novels, all featuring Latter-day Saint characters. “It’s what I know. It’s who I am,” he said. “I believe we have something good and unique to offer, and I want to share it.” Still, the novels didn’t resonate with publishers. After each rejection, Taylor would put the manuscripts under his bed. Eventually, he decided to try and sell digital copies himself. That’s when the five-star reviews started pouring in and an old path became new.
“The reviews were coming from both members and nonmembers,” he said. “A reviewer in Los Angeles called one of my books ‘a Mormon classic that will cross over to the general market.’ I don’t know if he’s a member of the Church or not—but it doesn’t really matter; most of the reviewers seem to be nonmembers, and they all give the books strong reviews.”
With his recent success, Taylor restarted his old company, Aspen Books, and now is publishing his books in hard copy as well. Regarding his new release, The Counselor, McClatchy media critic Roger Hoskins states: “It’s a top-drawer murder mystery… a page turner…. It’s a remarkable tale about people you care and root for.”
Considering that the book sat under his bed for years, the praise seems almost ironic. “I had no idea,” Taylor says. “I had almost forgotten about it—and about its possible sequel.” His longest book to date– A Grand Conspiracy— is the sequel he finally wrote. It centers on the Kinkaid Cave in the Grand Canyon, a cave that supposedly harbored both Egyptian and Native American artifacts before being plundered. When new artifacts appear to have reformed Egyptian writings on them, lives are suddenly at risk, and complications multiply. The main villain is one that many readers will not forget.
The author recalls one of his most satisfying reviews has been for his novel American Grace which will be released early next year: “A woman who had owned and managed bookstores for years read the manuscript and asked if she could come to my house. I didn’t know what to expect, but when she started crying as she reviewed the book, I thought, Well, maybe we’ve got something here.”
Aspen is also publishing works by other authors, including a new release by Susan Easton Black on the relationship between Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Also, a new series of murder mysteries by acclaimed writer Donlu Thayer will make their debut in the spring. “There are some very talented writers in the Church,” Taylor said, “both in fiction and nonfiction, but many of them struggle to find a publisher who can take their books both to Latter-day Saints and the general market.”
“The consolidation of our local market by Deseret Book has created new challenges for many writers. Also, the near monopolization of the general market by Amazon has created a bottleneck where almost everything else has to go through them. We are working hard to open these markets back up to talented writers.
At the end of his journey, Taylor hopes his novels and those published by Aspen Book strengthen testimonies, provide hope, and entertain. “I know that God lives, that he loves us all, and that this gospel will not only inspire us, but will exalt us if we are faithful,” he said. My characters struggle and sin and make terrible mistakes, but they almost always find redemption—a spark of faith that leads to change. Like most of us, my characters grow, but sometimes only after learning the hard way. I hope all readers, but especially Latter-day Saints, gain some insight, some wisdom, by diving into the lives and loves and experiences of the characters. I certainly have.”
Below is a list of Aspen Books’ new titles. All are available on Amazon.
THE COUNSELOR, by #1 New York Times best-selling writer, Curtis Taylor.
Travis Call, a financial counselor and a counselor in a bishopric, faces life in prison when his wife’s body is found in a shallow grave. He pleads his innocence, but many don’t believe him. With his best friend, Ross Keller, he begins the search for the real killer, only to find that true evil may be closer than he suspects. The Counselor establishes a new series in Latter-Day Saint fiction. Paperback, 400 pages, $14.99.
A GRAND CONSPIRACY, also by Curtis Taylor.
The “Kincaid Cave,” hidden for over a hundred years in the Grand Canyon, may contain sacred writings and artifacts proving the truth of Travis Call’s cherished religion. And just as important, it may hold proof of a vast conspiracy committed to keeping those artifacts secret. Against the wishes of those who love him, Travis descends into the canyon to find evidence, not only of the artifacts, and not only of the conspiracy but also of the murder of a friend. Travis Call only wants answers, but he may find more evil and opposition than he ever expected in this quest for ultimate truth. Paperback, 531 pages, $15.99.
GRANDMA’S CHRISTMAS, by Ronald R. Taylor
Mary Abbott, of Hinkley, Utah, lost her mother as a young child, but then fate conspired to take her from her father and siblings as well. Based on true events, Grandma’s Christmas will melt the hearts of all who cherish the Christmas traditions of forgiveness and love. An endorsement on the jacket says: “A heart-warming tale taken from actual events and told with surprising emotional power. It broke me down more than once. This little book will bring tears of sweet joy and sorrow to anybody, even the most hardened.” Hardcover, 128 pages, $14.95.