Better than a Byline

Better than a Byline

Susan and Rob Mitchell (left) with Ken and Janet Walker

Susan and Rob Mitchell (left) with Ken and Janet Walker

By Ken Walker –

If you have never read the amazing inspirational story of Castaway Kid, I highly recommend you pick up a copy.

It is the memoir of Rob Mitchell, a stockbroker in Greensboro, North Carolina who grew up in an orphanage after his mentally unstable mother placed him there at the age of 3. Having tried—and failed—to blow his brains out, Rob’s father was living as a human vegetable in a mental institution in Georgia. Rob used to get his hopes up for a better life on summer visits to his wealthy paternal grandmother in Atlanta, yet she would never offer him a permanent home.

Those are the kind of circumstances that lead many into despair, alcoholism or chaotic lives marked by aimlessness and self-destruction. The story of how Rob avoided that fate is worth reading.

A Quiet Success

castaway kidWith the book out for seven years now, sales activity has subsided. The last time I checked, U.S. sales had surpassed 125,000 copies and had been translated into four other languages, with negotiations in process for a fifth. A quiet success if there ever was one.

I have a personal tie to the book, since I helped revise the first draft. Yet that version didn’t quite fly. Rob hired another write to help make additional revisions, which helped him land a deal with Tyndale House Publishers.

If I were to name a leading disappointment in my freelancing career, it was my failure to get this book to its final version. However, Rob said he wasn’t disappointed, since he felt I played a key role in advancing the manuscript to publication stage—a process that lasted more than five years since our first meeting.

The Consolation Prize

If there is one thing I learned from this process, it is that sometimes we writers place too high a premium on bylines, whether in a magazine, online article or book cover.

Because if there is a consolation prize that came from this project, it is the friendship I forged with Rob.

Were he not so busy starting a new business, I could envision him writing a second memoir about the ways he has seen God move in recent years.

Luke was diagnosed with leukemia. The most notable is the case of his son, Luke. After finishing college and starting seminary studies, Luke was diagnosed with leukemia. That led to a 40-month-long regimen of intensive chemotherapy and other treatments, which forced him to move back home in his mid-20s.

His sister posted regular updates on the Caring Bridge web site. More than once I read them and wondered whether Luke would survive the ordeal. Though they were hopeful, I sensed his loved ones felt the same way.

Several years ago on a visit, Rob shared an especially touching story about his son moaning with agonizing pain one night until the Holy Spirit moved. When Rob finished praying, Luke had fallen asleep.

Sales vs. Friendship

When you live nearly 300 miles apart, personal meetings are infrequent. Still, Rob and I stay touch 12 years after our first meeting via e-mails and occasional phone calls. Knowing the background of Luke’s experience, when we received an invitation to his wedding (held July 5), I immediately told my wife, “I want to go.”

Although weddings are typically joyous occasions, familial or other ties govern the level of one’s excitement. In this case, mine was at fever pitch. At one point, I stopped to talk briefly with Rob, who was quite busy that day. During our chat, he said, “Words can’t express what I’m feeling. Whenever I try to put it into words, I just start crying.”

Naturally, I didn’t feel as deep a level of emotion as Rob, but I was thrilled to be part of the occasion. When it comes to book sales vs. friendship, the latter wins—hands down.


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