The story takes a profound subject and breaks it down into “kid-sized pieces”, Brandell explained, by taking children’s questions and providing an answer beyond “God is everywhere.” He emphasized his goal is not to be a “spiritual advisor,” but rather someone who opens the door to others to explore theology and spirituality.
Although Brandell has always had a fascination with theology and spirituality since his youth thanks to his mother Rose, he realizes today’s generation of youth aren’t as engaged. He cited a 2018 Georgetown University study that found the median age for children leaving the church is 13 years old as one of his inspirations to write the book.
But, the idea for “Look With Your Spirit” didn’t come from research. The spark that ignited the literary flame came in an unexpected quiet moment many years ago.
“I was in my family room saying the Rosary and suddenly I had the thought ‘It would be a good idea to write a children’s book about spirit,’” he said. “It just showed up in the middle of my prayer.”
That solitary thought moved him enough to start working on the idea in between flights as a pilot, a career he’s had for 35 years. He described grabbing scraps of paper out of his flight back while in hotels to scribble down ideas for the book.
“I’d use the back of flight memos,” he said with a chuckle. “I had time in the hotels and used it.”
Eventually, the notes on scrap paper and legal pads came together into what Brandell believed was a completed manuscript. He submitted it to 16 publishers, only to face a common response for authors: rejection with no feedback.
“I was naive,” he admitted. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know at the time.”
After the rejections, he set the manuscript aside for almost 10 years. It stayed in his heart and mind, but Brandell didn’t pull it out of the drawer until he received an email about self-publishing.
Intrigued, he sent a copy of his manuscript in, got some feedback, and spent three days revising his work. Surprisingly, when the publisher told him the book should get published, Brandell held off. During the intensive three-day revision, he realized more changes needed to happen.
“I knew I could do much better,” he said. “I didn’t have a story and I needed one.”
Over the next four years, he stepped out of his comfort zone to collaborate with consultants to refine his work. He trimmed the manuscript from 2,200 words to 1,300. Then, he connected with an illustrator, Karen Garavalia, to bring his 34-page story to life with watercolor images.
What started as email exchanges to get image ideas across eventually led to online collaborative efforts using an unusual tool to get the team on the same page: Google photos.
“I’d try to explain what I saw in my mind and it wasn’t working,” Brandell said. “I’m not an artist. Finally, I’d hop onto Google Photos and share photos of what I imagined. We got to a point where we’d go online together to find the right images, which she’d use in the book.”
After many years, “Look With Your Spirit” had its release on Jan. 1, and the author knows his untraditional path to publication was the right one for him.
“I know I put in my best effort,” he said. “Seeing the final version is very satisfying. Don’t be afraid of the path, even if it’s different than others.”
As for what’s next, the local author already has some inspiration he’s working through in his mind.
“The ideas are endless,” he concluded with a smile. “We’ll see how this [book] goes, and then start with the next ones.”
HOW TO PURCHASE THE BOOK
You can order “Look With Your Spirit” online through Amazon and Barnes and Noble Hardcover: $21.95, Paperback: $11.99, E-book: $5.99 (Barnes and Noble only)