A Gamble of Faith was a story that was spawned from two different things; a concept story and a tragic event in my life.
The concept behind the story was originally one I created for a freshman class I was taking in college back in 1990. In that story; a gangster who had just escaped being killed by a rival, runs into the devil at a diner. There, he is forced to play the devil in a game of 21 with the prize being his soul should he win. The story was received well by my professor and my classmates alike. I liked the story so much I attempted to film it as part of a project for a class. But in my attempt to transfer it to screen, I discovered it was lacking substance. With only three characters in the entire story there wasn’t much there to build on. Telling it was easy when spoken. Visually it didn’t work. So I abandoned script, not looking at it for close to nine years. Then in 1999 I picked it back up shortly after tragedy struck my family.
On a chilly night in February of that year my mother came home to find my father, Milton, dead from a heart attack in the kitchen. I was living across town at the time and had to rush home to console her. Though I had faced death in the family many times before, losing him was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It was completely unexpected and very confusing in that I always felt, better yet I should say believed, that he would ALWAYS be around. I remember thinking that the whole thing was some kind of surreal dream and that at any moment I would wake up and things would be the way they should be. But life went on, we buried him and no sooner was he buried did the anger inside me come to a boiling point. That anger went in one direction and I focused it on the only individual I could. The one who took him from us; God. Forget medical conditions or anything like that, I blamed God totally for this act.
I will admit I felt a bit guilty for doing that, since I knew that death was just a part of life. A moment in time everyone will eventually face. But grief doesn’t know rationality and blaming God was something that I couldn't help but do. I found myself asking that question, "Why God? Why did you take him? Why are you punishing me and my family?" I played it over and over in my mind and from my lips until one day I realized I wasn’t going to get an answer. It was something I had to accept and live with. And I wasn't the only one asking or saying that. Stepping back and seeing and hearing the rest of my family’s response to it, I realized that it wasn't a question to be guilty of asking. And though you know that there will be no answer to it, just being able to say it brought about a level of acceptance to the fact that he was gone. Still, being human, I wondered why it happened at all and I would say I was angrier that I couldn't get that answer from any source.
In the wake of things, I started cleaning up my files and found buried deep in a file cabinet “The Hood and The Devil” the original script based on that story I told almost a decade ago in college. I sat down and read it several times and when I was done I had this question gnawing at brain, "What would I say to God if he walked into a room and sat down across from me and asked me how I felt about my father passing?" At the time I was not sure why this particular story made me ask that question but it did.
Thinking back, it might have had something to do with the fact that the main character in the script “cheated” death by inches only to have his faith be tested by the devil. Could a person, in the wake of death, find the courage to carry on and change the person they are through simple faith and believing in themselves? I sat down and wrote out a series of questions and then tried to guess what God would say. I later applied some of those questions to the life of the thug in the story and discovered that they didn’t fit the characters persona. So I changed him to just an every day Joe and when I did that, I found there was a brand new story to tell with a greater amount of substance to go into it than before.
Now I never intended the story to be anything more than that; a story. A classic tale of good vs. evil set in the wake of one mans tragedy. The fact that everyone, at one point in their lives, faced loosing someone was something I knew people could relate to. And that feeling of betrayal when a person dies was defiantly something I knew people would understand. Couple that with the people around you that share that experience in their own way and Gamble was born. The risk I took was including God in the story. The idea was not to intrude on people's belief systems but rather include the one individual you would not think would show up; given the events in the story. I wasn’t trying to preach or force a point of view either. That was part of the reason God’s partner was finally included. That and he was very essential in throwing off the reader.
It took a year to turn the screenplay into a stage play. I got the idea in late 2000 after seeing a buddy of mine at the time, performing in a play he too wrote and directed. I first tried to go through the small production company that bankrolled his production. I had read on the playbill that they were looking for new stories to produce and I figured it was the best way to get my work out there. But after scheduling several meetings with the head of the company and constantly having to reschedule them at the last minute due to "conflicts" on their end, I became agitated and gave up.
But after talking to my buddy about the process and what he went through, I realized that all I needed was a good cast, a stage to rent out, some meager props and advertisement. All of these things I was familiar with from college and working on some independent film projects around the city. After having worked in the industry for ten years at that point, and coming off a run on the show Law and Order, I had connections in places where I could get the things I needed. What I didn't have a lot of, which was the key element, was money for the theater rental.
I did what so many had done before me which was take a credit card and pay for the rental of the theater. I made sure that I priced the tickets so that I could make both a small profit and pay the bills. Then I began rehearsals in the summer of 2002 for a fall release of the show.
The show opened at the Producers Club in New York City in October of 2002. Promotions for the show mostly went out to family and friends, encouraging them to bring a friend. When I first did the play it was on a double billing with the show Duppy which was the name of the show my friend Ron Haynie wrote, directed and starred in. The show did moderately well for its first two nights. While I was content that the first two shows went well, I was excited when I discovered that a pastor of a church, who was in the audience, requested that I perform the show at his church as a fundraiser.
That was the beginning of a two year run where the cast and myself performed the show for several churches around New York City as a fundraiser for them. In that time the show saw several cast changes happen followed by a revision to the show's opening sequence. That came after several audience members commented on the slow start of the show and felt it could get a bigger boost.
The show did get its share of critics. While many loved the show for its message and its uplifting tone, there were some who felt the portrayal of God was not a positive one. The fact that I had him playing poker and placing bets left a bad taste with many people. A line in the shows final sequence between God and the devil caused a bit of controversy regarding its meaning as well. I did my best to reiterate that it was a work of fiction and that it was never meant to offend but I learned that when people a married to a belief, there isn’t much you can say to sway them. So I took the punches and chalked it up as a learning experience on how to deal with critics.
There was one suggestion, however, I did get vocal about and that was the use of special effects in the show. There were some who felt I should have used special effects to highlight the devils coming and going. There was even the suggestion of adding some form of pyrotechnics and creating some sort of huge battle sequence between them. Though it was in big demand that I do that, I stuck to my guns and refused. I explained that special effects had no place in a story like this. One of the appeals of the show was the fact that the events of the story were actually happening. The audience gets pulled into the drama. The moment smoke and fire erupts, the audience becomes detached from the drama and start to focus on the next visual surprise. They would completely miss the subtleties of the actual story and that’s where the twists and turns are. I always remind people that up until the shocking revelation, no one knows what is really happening. Special effects would certainly give it away.
Gamble, as a play, did moderately well. I was content with the success of it and hadn’t really planned to much more with it until 2004. After one performance, several audience members who had seen the show multiple times, came to me and wanted to know if there was a novel version of the play which they could read and pass on to friends who missed the show. The question caught me off guard as that I had never thought about writing a book. They pointed out that there were things in the story that they would have liked to know more about and that a book would be the best way to address them. When I thought about it from that stand point, I agreed.
I spend the next three months transposing the script into a novel. It gave me the chance to add certain bits of information that I couldn’t put on stage due to both time and money. Characters like Eddie, the best friend who dies of a deadly disease, were able to have a voice and help push the story along and give new insight to the characters involved.
When the book was done and edited, I was going to shop the manuscript around to publishing houses. But I was swayed from doing that when I was told about self publishing. A college classmate of mine had self published his book and was finding success. He told me that I could control everything from how the book looked to the revenues all on my own without the worry of someone screwing me over. It did sound intriguing and safe so I took his advice.
He then put me on to a company called IUniverse, which specialized in working with self published authors in terms of getting them started with printing, covers and publishing. I went to their website and started the process of getting A Gamble of Faith published.
A Gamble of Faith was released in May 2004 and debuted at the Harlem Book Fair. The 137 page novel was graced with the cover that was originally on the playbill for the show which was done by Demetrius Bullock who also starred in the show. The book was subsequently sold at the remaining performances until the play closed in May of 2006.
Though the novel sold well at the shows, it did not sell too well in book stores. Lack of marketing caused it to be over looked by readers. As I moved forward in trying to understand how to make things better sale wise for the book, I learned a great deal more about self publishing and just what that meant to be self-published.
- Marc L Abbott
- I am a self published author from Brooklyn, New York. I have been publishing my work since 2004 and currently have four titles on the market in print and ebook format. I write horror and fantasy fiction as well as books for young adult. I am also a playwright with stage productions in and around New York City. Visit my website at www.hobbcatpublishing.com