by Ronald R Johnson (www.ronaldrjohnson.com)
Lloyd C. Douglas self-published his first book-length work of fiction in 1905, but it took almost thirty years for him to become known as an author of fiction. Through all the intervening years, he produced a steady stream of non-fiction articles, books, and booklets, as well as writing morning and evening sermons each Sunday and speeches during the week. (Douglas always wrote out his sermons and speeches even though he delivered them as if they were extemporaneous.)
That first work of fiction was More Than a Prophet, and it was unlike anything else he ever published. The book abounded in dialogues between angelic beings, and it was more of a prose poem than a novel. (And yes, Douglas wrote poetry as well as prose.) He borrowed the money to self-publish it, but few people were interested in buying it and it took him years to pay back the money he borrowed. Since Douglas was the kind of man who always preferred to be on the giving rather than the receiving end of loans and gifts, the failure of More Than a Prophet was deeply humiliating to him. He is often quoted as saying that More Than a Prophet was “less than a profit.”
But while the book was gathering dust, Douglas was making a name for himself as a frequent contributor to the Lutheran Observer. His articles on biblical subjects were thought-provoking, down-to-earth, and eloquent. Mostly because of the reputation he had earned through his writing, Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, DC, made him their Senior Pastor in 1909, although he had only been an ordained minister for six years.
From DC he went to Champaign-Urbana and headed the religious side of the YMCA on the campus of the University of Illinois. While there, he wrote a weekly column in the campus newspaper, as well as some features in a monthly magazine. Next he moved to the University of Michigan, and as Senior Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor, he wrote articles for the North American Student, The Congregationalist, and other periodicals. He also self-published a new Advent booklet each Christmas season, exploring different aspects of the Christmas story.
In the summer of 1920 his writing career advanced considerably when he entered a writing contest sponsored by the Christian Century and was chosen as one of the semi-finalists. Although he won second place, the editor of the Century, Charles Clayton Morrison, liked Douglas’s writing and asked him to contribute another article. Douglas responded by sending not one but a series of articles on what we would now consider “church growth.” The series was provocative, and when it was finished, Christian Century Press published a book-length version of it under the title, Wanted: A Congregation. (The articles were non-fiction, but the book version presented the same material as a set of dialogues among a cast of characters.)
Not only did Douglas continue on as a frequent contributor to the Century throughout the 1920s, but he now became known as an author of non-fiction books about the ministry and/or about Christian faith: The Minister’s Everyday Life, These Sayings of Mine, and Those Disturbing Miracles. During these same years he submitted several articles to the Atlantic Monthly that were published without a by-line.
But Douglas had always wanted to write a novel, and in the late 1920s he did so. It was turned down by two publishing houses (one of which had published his non-fiction before), but was accepted by Willett, Clark, and Colby in 1929. Magnificent Obsession took a few years to catch on, but when it did, it made Douglas a household name, and his subsequent novels dominated the bestseller lists throughout the 1930s and 40s.
Headlines proclaimed him a novelist who didn’t start until he was 50 years old, but that’s inaccurate. He was always at his typewriter, from very early in life, tapping away. The volume of his published work is impressive, considering the fact that he was a full-time minister until after his second bestselling novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, was published. But what is most impressive is the fact that he didn’t quit, even though he felt the pain of More Than a Prophet every time he moved from one locale to another and had to carry all those boxes of unread books with him, storing them in the attic each time.
For a free PDF of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below: