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#MyWheaton Alumni Blog

Posted March 15, 2017 by
Tags: The Arts Young Alumni The Liberal Arts Entrepreneurship Student Activities

Q: What inspired you to write and publish your first novel, The Weather Man

A: I started working on The Weather Man while at Wheaton College. It was in Dr. Roy Joseph's Writing for Media class that I discovered how much I loved writing. 

The class, first of all, was one I thought I couldn't even take because of a scheduling conflict. But Roy saw my passion for a creative portfolio class like this, and allowed me to take the class by meeting with him regularly in his office. 

A professor had never done something so kind for me. But I can guarantee you, he didn't let me skimp out on the work. For my big assignment, I wanted to write a short story. He challenged me to write a novella. He said it had to be 100 pages. I had one quarter to do this. I thought it was impossible. But he had made me promise I would at least "Try." 

In trying, I discovered just how much I loved writing stories, and wound up turning in a “short story” at 130 pages. Roy loved it, and encouraged me to turn it into a full book. It was essentially a collection of short stories from my own life, exaggerated in the vein of Big Fish, and tied together thematically. I called it Reckless Orange. With his encouragement along the way, I finished it the summer before senior year at 250 pages total. 

Overall, it was not a book to publish. Let's be real—it was my first book—written by a 20-year-old with an extremely limited worldview. But I learned so much, and grew so much, and developed a voice in writing. I sent the book off to a random list of literary agents I had found online, and one of them really took a liking to my writing style. Her name is Lacy Lynch. Though she didn't think she could do much with my first book, I had already started writing my first real novel, The Weather Man. After I had finished the first 100 pages or so, she signed me. I was so excited, but so naive to how long the journey would be from there. 

I rewrote The Weather Man six times. And five years later—poof, it's been published by a small publisher for emerging writers, Amazon White Glove. The video above is one I made for my Kickstarter, when I needed $10,000 bucks to finish the book. I made the video with my Wheaton friend Jon Seneff ’15, who is filmmaker out here in L.A. My Kickstarter ended up raising $19,000, with 1,000 books pre-sold. Other Wheaties contributed in big ways too. Abigail Mitchell ’12 designed the cover, Chentell Stiritz Shannon ’13 (Convivial Production) crafted handmade mugs to be sold, and friends from Wheaton supported me. 

And still, the book, and me, are just getting started. I've got a long way to go. And thinking back to Roy—since he sadly passed away a couple years ago—I hope the book honors his legacy. 

What do you do when you’re not writing and promoting your novel? 

Right after college I moved to Los Angeles to attend a screenwriting program called "Act One." After a year of that, I kept writing, and started working odd jobs, like being a production assistant on film sets, or driving for Uber. And after about a year or two or that I had built up my copywriting enough to start getting more serious advertising gigs. That's what I do now, other than the book. I write advertisements for start-ups and ad agencies around L.A. Some have been really fun companies that I'm proud to have gotten to work with. Most recently I've signed on as a creative director at a social app startup, so that's exciting. But nothing tops publishing The Weather Man for me, no matter how the book performs. It feels good to know I put everything I possibly could into it, and that it's out there for people to read. 

What has been one challenge within your current job(s) that you have overcome? 

Freelance writing work is great and pays when you have enough of it, but it's hard to maintain. You must constantly prove yourself over and over, do tons of free work, lots of last minute quick turnaround stuff, and slowly build up a wide client base. 

How did Wheaton’s liberal arts curriculum prepare you for the career/vocation you are pursuing today? 

Liberal arts gave me the freedom to explore what I really loved while still in college. Wheaton’s small classes and flexible professors who know and care about their students helped, too. When I entered college I had no idea what I wanted to do, and even though I loved storytelling, I didn't take writing seriously yet. I didn't know I could. I think it's ridiculous to expect an 18-year-old to know what he or she wants to do, or can do. We need that time in college to explore, rather than get locked into a certain track right away. Communication professors like Dr. Roy Joseph and Dr. Read Schuchardt gave me immense freedom to explore creative writing and creative thinking within the assignments given. Read let me start a t-shirt company for an assignment in his Iconography class, and he took time, even after I graduated, to give me pointers on writing The Weather Man. So anyway—classes were not rigid. I was allowed to push things in the direction of my passions, even encouraged to do so, and that was invaluable. English professors like Dr. Brett Foster and Dr. Roger Lundin encouraged me to write freely. They taught me the power of storytelling, and their passion for it had a profound effect on me. 

What advice or encouraging words do you have to share with current or prospective Wheaton students today? 

"And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good." -Steinbeck. 

Try things. If you aren't making any mistakes, you aren't trying enough things, and you probably aren't learning much of anything. If you're not changing, you're not growing.

Sam Hayes ’12 graduated from Wheaton with a degree in communication (media studies) and a minor in English. Photo captions (from top): A video created by Sam and Jon Seneff ’15 to support a Kickstarter for The Weather Man; Sam doing “guerrilla marketing” for The Weather Man by putting up realistic government signs warning of the weather that Adam's emotions create—stories about the campaign have been featured in the Chicago Tribune, LAist, and LA Magazine. Sam says, “More guerrilla marketing to come shortly.” See one sentence excerpts of The Weather Man and one-minute passage reading videos on Sam’s Instagram channel, @storiesbysam. 

To connect with alumni in various careers and vocations nationwide, join Wheaton in Network, a Vocation and Alumni Engagement program that allows alumni and parents to make themselves available to advise or mentor Wheaton students and recent grads. Students and alumni are able to contact advisers or mentors to learn from their experiences.

I chose to go to Wheaton because when I visited campus I noticed something different–music. Trumpets on Blanchard lawn, guitars in the quad, pianos in every dorm lobby, and a whole Conservatory devoted to music. I’m not a musician but it’s music that made me see Wheaton as more than the typical academic institution–it stood out as a place full of life.

And ‘living fully’ is the value I got out of Wheaton. Wheaton taught me about holistic and earnest personal development of my mind, body, and soul. I wasn’t a top student or a Pierce Chapel rockstar at Wheaton (unlike my French House housemates), but I did take full advantage of everything I could and joined College Union, Student Government, ROTC, intramurals, The Wheaton Record, snow crew, and many other clubs / groups on campus. I also formed some cohorts of best friends that I still meet with annually eight years later. I’m proud to have started the Roller Disco and to have co-led a few rings of healthy mischief, as well as to have engaged with brilliant professors like Dr. Sandra Joireman and Dr. Jacobson. 

Wheaton campus life and my experience as an international relations major interning in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2007 inspired me to join the Peace Corps which in turn inspired me to co-found the social enterprise I run today, Jibu. (Jibu means the answer or solution in Swahili. Like the English word "answer," in the imperative it can also mean "respond.")

Wheaton catalyzed the journey that led to Jibu’s vision and holistic approach to equip African entrepreneurs, via an eye-to-eye partnership model, to launch and own safe drinking water businesses. Building a sustainable solution to the global emerging markets’ most pressing problems requires looking at a bigger picture–including human capital development, economic viability, relationships, and technology. Consistent with what I first began learning as a Wheatie, Jibu drives holistic, people-centered development.

Today, Jibu has launched over 140 locally-owned safe drinking water businesses that employ more than 450 people and serve safe drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people across three countries. Our vision is to empower many more entrepreneurs globally to build permanent, financially sustainable solutions to meet basic needs, including providing safe drinking water. There have been many steps along the way since I graduated in 2009, but Wheaton set the trajectory for the path I have taken and, ultimately, to the impact Jibu has made.

Galen Welsch ’09 graduated from Wheaton with a degree in international relations. He currently works as co-founder of social enterprise Jibu, and was recently nominated as a member of Forbes’ 30 Under 30. Photo captions (top to bottom): Jibu water is transported to underserved populations; members of the Jibu team celebrate their finished product.

To connect with alumni in various careers and vocations nationwide, join Wheaton in Network, a Vocation and Alumni Engagement program that allows alumni and parents to make themselves available to advise or mentor Wheaton students and recent grads. Students and alumni are able to contact advisers or mentors to learn from their experiences.

Caleb and I married shortly after I graduated from Wheaton and spent the next eight years traveling wherever the Army took us. We had tossed around the idea of getting out of the military but had not come to a consensus before Caleb left on what would be his final deployment. While serving with 1st Group Special Forces in Afghanistan, he started reading about farming. He called home midway through his deployment and told me that he thought we should consider farming, specifically raising pastured meat and eggs. I was surprised to say the least, but I tried to have an open mind and entertain the possibility. 

After further research, prayer, and lots of conversations, we chose to get out of the Army and pursue what was becoming our shared dream. We spent the following two years learning from internationally acclaimed farmer, author and speaker Joel Salatin and his son Daniel of Polyface Farms in Swoope, Virginia. One year ago we struck out on our own and are now in Caleb’s hometown of Jackson, Tennessee. Today, we are proud to serve our community by providing chicken, beef, pork, lamb, and eggs that are both healthy and beneficial to the environment.

One of the greatest joys of farm life has been the ability and freedom to work together as a family. This is an obvious contrast to our experience in the military, where we had little to no interaction with Caleb’s work. Our kids have loved the transition to farming and the excitement of raising all kinds of critters! We also believe that the farm provides a wonderful platform for them to learn hard work, entrepreneurship, patience, and faithfulness; and that’s just a start.  

While we are grateful for the decision we made three years ago, our move to the farm has not been an easy one. One of the biggest challenges that we face is the financial reality of starting a business, especially one with significant upfront costs. We have been stretched to trust the Lord in new ways and to rely on Him for everything from the life of our animals to providing customers to purchase our products. The Lord has been patient with us as we learn to trust Him more each day.

Another major challenge has been educating our consumers. In a culture that celebrates and reinforces the concept that cheaper is better, it is an uphill battle to get people to ask the “why’s” about their food choices. “Why is my burger so cheap?” “What does the term ‘natural’ really mean?” And so on. There is a direct correlation between the decreasing price of food and the increased cost of healthcare. Food matters. And the way we grow that food matters. If we began to ask more questions about where our food comes from and the life it lived before it landed on our plate, I believe that we would make vastly different choices.      

Amidst the challenges and successes, we are keenly aware of the road that has led us here and all the tools that the Lord has used to prepare us for this season.  Our time at Wheaton is at the top of that list, and we share a sense of gratitude for our time there.  We believe that Wheaton does a wonderful job at teaching students to think outside the box. Whether it was Caleb’s training with ROTC or my semester abroad with Human Needs and Global Resources ( HNGR), we both felt challenged to go beyond our natural capacity, to improvise, think on our feet, make connections with people, and see it all through the lens of the Gospel. In starting our own business, we rely heavily on those skills and perspective.

Both Caleb and I look back at our time at Wheaton with an almost idyllic fondness, forgetting all the sleepless nights studying and the frigid Chicago winters. But it is the people–the friendships, the teachers, and the coaches–that stick out. It is the group of believers, joining together in pursuit of Jesus. It is the common bond of the Spirit that allows for open dialogue in an academic setting. For us, Wheaton represents a time in our life when we felt safe to ask questions, wrestle, seek guidance, and in the end, be reassured that God is in fact good and faithful and His Word is true.

Capt. Caleb ’05 and Betsy Johnson Curlin ’06 are co-owners of Marmilu Farms in Jackson, Tennessee, where they reside with their four children. Caleb graduated with a B.A. in Communication, and Betsy graduated with a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies ( biblical and theological studies / Christian formation and ministry). Photo captions (from top): Margo driving her sisters around the farm; Caleb with a newborn lamb; the Curlin’s second-born, Micah, out for a walk at sunset.

To connect with alumni in various careers and vocations nationwide, join Wheaton in Network, a Vocation and Alumni Engagement program that allows alumni and parents to make themselves available to advise or mentor Wheaton students and recent grads. Students and young alumni are able to contact advisors or mentors to learn from their experiences.