Guided by the Light

I need to back up. Over the years certain “experiences” had come to me regarding the other side. Sometimes they were dreams, sometimes random understandings, sometimes unusual sights that left me humbled and, almost as often, puzzled. I won’t go into detail except to say that they gave me an idea of what the other side was like. By the time I was eighteen I had learned by hard experience that my priesthood leaders were as baffled by these experiences as I was—nay, more so, as I knew the experiences tended to lift my spirits and bring joy, but to my leaders they seemed to portend trouble and suspicion; so, like young Joseph, perhaps, I learned not to bother my spiritual leaders with spiritual things.

When I scanned the papers, I saw that they were notes taken by a Jane Barfuss at a lecture given by a Betty Eadie, two women I had never heard of. Betty had evidently spoken at a library, and Jane had taken these single-spaced notes. The lecture seemed to be about Betty’s near death experience. At that point, I only had a passing interest in near death experiences, but something on the first page caught my eye, and I sat down and started reading. She spoke of inanimate objects in the spirit world being imbued with intelligence, of a stream cascading down a hill that created audible music as it bounced and splashed, with each random drop producing its own tone as it flew through the air, which perfectly harmonized with the greater, ever-evolving music of the larger stream.

I was astonished. I knew this was true, because I had seen similar things—but I had never heard another soul speak of it. My own efforts at sharing my experiences had produced, at best, quiet misgivings, but this woman was telling an entire audience at a public library about sacred things. I read on, throwing time to the wind, and learned of Betty’s death in a hospital after surgery, whereupon she went to heaven, where, in fact, she was embraced by the Creator of Heaven and Earth, Jesus Christ. Then, after what seemed like months, she was sent back. She had been dead for about two hours in our time.

After reading about each detail in her experience, I would stop and ponder, comparing it to my own limited experiences. When I finished, some two hours later, I had one desire: to help this woman put her experience in a book and publish it to the world. A few days earlier, I’d had a dream in which my father, who was still living at the time, said to me: “Every great thing accomplished in this world is done through passion.” Well, I had a passion to do this work, but there was a problem—I didn’t know who she was or where she lived. In the entire text there was no mention of her home. So, I knew what I had to do.

I took the notes upstairs to my room, closed the door, and knelt down by my bed. In a prayer full of desire, I told Heavenly Father that I had a passion to help this woman create a book from her experience. I told him that I thought the book would do much good, that it could help heal hearts and wounded spirits—but I didn’t know where she lived or how to contact her. I didn’t even know where the notes had come from that I had read that morning. (It turned out that they had come from our 12-year-old daughter, who had brought them home from Young Women’s the night before. Her advisor knew that I published books and thought they might be something I would be interested in. But even she didn’t know where the original notes had come from.) As I was praying, a thought came to me: Make a vow that I would not seek to have my name on the book or ask for any royalties. This would be easy, I thought, since I only wanted to be a part of the effort. I didn’t want any credit or money from it. I just wanted to be a part of this wonderful gift to the world. So I made the promise in very direct, simple terms. Then, before I could say another word, I saw an image in my mind of a library several miles away from our home. Instantly I knew that if I went there, I would discover where she lived. There were other libraries closer to us, but that was the library I was supposed to go to. I thanked Heavenly Father for this knowledge, when another understanding came to me, telling me that the book we would produce would be the best-selling book in the world. Also, that it would increase faith in Jesus Christ and cause millions around the world to be filled with his love. This knowledge was absolute and could not be shaken.

I ended my prayer, picked up the notes, and went in to the office, two hours late. Immediately I made copies of the notes and distributed them to everybody in the office, including the owners of the company, then I said I would be back soon, that I had to go to the library.

When I went to the Murray Library, I had no idea how I would learn anything about Betty Eadie. Maybe I would find something in the card catalog. Maybe a worker would know something about her. I walked through the large glass doors and almost ran into a large A-frame easel with a dozen atlases on it. The display caught my attention, and I thought, “Oh no, do I have to look through all these atlases?” All were atlas of the world, except one, in the upper right corner. That one was an atlas of the state of Washington. I thought, well, I might as well start with the most specific one, then go from there. I pulled it down, took it over to a counter, and opened it up to a random page. My eyes immediately fell on the word “Burien,” and I knew that’s where she lived. It seemed I had seen that word in the notes, though I couldn’t recall. But I was sure that I had found her town. I closed the atlas, put it back on the easel, and walked out. I hadn’t been there more than a minute, maybe less than thirty seconds.

I went back to the office and called information in Burien, Washington. (This was pre-internet days—August 1992.) I asked for a Betty Eadie and was given a number. Hallelujah, she did live in Burien—I mean, how many Betty Eadies could there be in Burien, Washington? I called the number and had a short, interesting conversation.

“Hello, I’m calling for Betty Eadie.”

“This is she.”

With bated breath: “I just read some notes about a lecture you gave at a library, and I…”

“Oh, I’m sorry. You have the wrong number. I think you want the other Betty Eadie. I get calls for her all the time. Actually, if you can wait, I can get her number for you.”

While she went to get the number for the correct Betty Eadie, I said a thousand thanks that this good woman had thought to write down the correct number. If she hadn’t, I didn’t know what I would have done. She came back and gave me the number, which I carefully wrote on my pad on my desk, then I thanked her profusely and hung up.

Then I called the right number.

She answered after two or three rings.


“Hi, my name is Curtis Taylor. I’m the managing editor of publishing company called Aspen Books, and I just read the notes Jane Barfuss wrote about your lecture at the library.”
She was silent.

“I’m calling because I want to help you put your experience into a book. I’ve written a few books, and if you need any help, I can assist you. I won’t ask for any royalties or even for my name to be on the cover. I just want to help. I just want to be a part of this project. I have a passion to do this work.”

She was silent a few more moments, then she said something like, “What took you so long?”


“I’ve been waiting for your call for nineteen years.” She didn’t sound pleased.

“Well, uh, I had to make copies of the notes for the other people at the publishing company, and then I had to find out where you lived, which was quite a wonderful experience, and then I called the wrong number, because as it turns out there’s another Betty Eadie in Burien, but she gave me your number, and then, right away, I called you. I promise.”

“I see.”

I explained again about the passion and great desire to be of help.

Still not sounding pleased, she said, “I just signed with another publisher.”

The world stopped. Dumbfounded, I found my voice and asked her who it was.

She gave me the name, and I became more dumbfounded. It was, remarkably—no, impossibly—the same man who had rejected my novel after paying for it. Of all the publishers in the world, why him? He had already admitted to making one mistake; could I possibly get him to make another and let me publish the book? I told Betty Eadie that I knew the man and would give him a call immediately.

I later learned why Betty was less than pleased. Some time after having her experience, she was told that she was to record it in a book and that a “young man” would call to help her. He would say, “I have a passion to do this work.” She actually heard him say it, so she would know what his voice sounded like in the future.

It turns out that my voice and this other man’s sound somewhat similar.

As with all great deceptions, the counterfeit came first.

I called the deceiver. He wasn’t in but would be back later that day. I got in the car and drove to his office, forty-five miles away.

I waited an hour. It turned out that he had been up my way. Whatever. I wanted answers. Did he have the rights to Betty Eadie’s story? He said he did. Did he want to give them to me? He said he did not. Did he want to sell them? He said he did not. He asked how my other book was going. I said it was doing fine, along with the other twenty or thirty I had published since, but I wanted to talk about Sister Eadie’s project. He said he couldn’t help me. I told him that if I could ever help him—with this book—I would gladly do so. I drove back to the office, where I called Betty and gave her the bad news—the man would not part with the rights.

Then I waited for a very strange three days, wherein I pondered the imponderables of agency and revelation. I still had the passion, but I didn’t have the rights to do anything with it. I tried to distract myself with my other work, which was going fine, but seemed rather run of the mill in comparison.

Three days later a phone call came. The other publisher was on the line. He’d been thinking about it. Would I like to assist in the project after all?

“Yes.” I managed not to yell it.

Very well, he said. (He often said very well, even when things were not very well, especially on my end of things.) Betty had written a short manuscript, which he had planned to incorporate into a selection of near death experiences, but now he was considering creating a separate book out of it, and would I be interested in interviewing her and enlarging the work with more details to make it a full-sized book?

“Yes,” Again in a moderate tone.

He said if I would do that, he would offer me the worldwide rights to the book, except for the LDS rights, which was all he was interested in. I said he didn’t have to do that, that I would work on the book in my spare time and do it for nothing. He said, no, he would prepare a contract which would give me the worldwide rights if I would do everything at my own expense, including flying up to interview her. (A clever man, he was keeping the costs down again—in all conditions. No matter what.) Then he added a caveat: He wanted the book written for Latter-day Saint audiences, which was the market he was most familiar with. I said sure.
I called Betty and told her the good news—I could help her create a book, and we could market it to the world outside the LDS market. I also told my employers: if I could interview her and help write the book at our expense, we would have the greater share of the worldwide rights. They agreed to bear the cost.

Small Miracles and Hard Work

A few months after beginning his new company, the investor called a few friends who also had an interest in publishing, for some reason, and they formed a new company, called Worldwide Publishers, which acquired Aspen Books, which had hired Stan to be its general manager.

A few months later I got a phone call inviting me to come in for an interview with the president of the new company. They needed an editor. Janet went with me, not trusting the vital interview to myself. It was a short interview, matter of fact, all business, few pleasantries, and I, or rather, we, were excused. A few days later I heard back.
No thank you.

Our money was running out. The credit card was still in my wallet, but we only wanted to use that for sure things, like publishing books that other publishing companies had rejected. But I was really determined to finish school (I was in my thirties), so we prayed, and I wrote my papers every night, and we waited for a miracle.
And it came.

A couple of weeks later Stan called and invited me to start work the next Monday.
The president who had rejected me had read The Invisible Saint and changed his mind. Something about “talent” and random humor and goofy characters. I didn’t ask any questions, and every day after school, I commuted up to the publishing company in Murray and edited for six hours a day, whereupon I went home and wrote papers until midnight or dawn. I continued to do all this, gratefully, for the next two years. Composite English programs take a long time, even if you do take 21 hours a semester, or 24, which I completed in my last semester.

About that same time, I felt impressed to do something unusual: I felt a strong but peaceful desire to begin fasting one day a week. I didn’t know why. Like most Latter-day Saints, I fasted on the first Sunday of each month and donated the money saved to the Church to give to the poor as our bishop and stake president saw fit. But this was different; it was not for anyone or anything in particular, just to help bring me a little closer to the Lord. So, without telling my wife or anyone at the office, I left home each Thursday morning without eating and didn’t eat again until dinner. No great experiences came from it at the time, but I knew that it was the right thing to do.

These were long, mostly contented days, when our house payment was current, our credit card balance was zero, and our family was expanding.

At work, I was doing my best to entice strong authors to write for us, not for the guys uptown or down the road. I did this by being sincere. I called Orson Scott Card and sincerely begged him to write a Christmas story for our Christmas anthology by and for Latter-day Saints. I wrote a letter to Senator Jake Garn, who had circumnavigated the globe in the Space Shuttle, and explained how we and only we could help him tell the world what he had learned from his experience—and why he also believed in God. The Gulf War had just begun, and after three days of talking to instructors at BYU, I came upon a young assistant professor by the name of Daniel C. Peterson, who was both smart and entertaining, and I implored him to explain the Arabic – Jewish conflict in terms that average Latter-day Saints could understand. Then I gave him a time-table that made him catch his breath; we needed the book in a hurry, as the war was threatening to end sooner than later. All of these became successful books, and so did many others. And then one morning, soon after I had graduated, finally, from BYU, I was walking out the door to go to work when, for some reason, I turned and saw a small stack of papers on an end table in our living room. The six pages stapled at the top would change my life.

The older children were at school, and Janet had taken the younger children to the club where she worked out. So, I was alone. I was also late for work. But, again for some reason, I was concerned that somebody had left those six pages behind, so I went back to check them out.

Starting with Aspen Books

Starting with Aspen Books

Six years passed from my leaving Randall to when I was invited to join Aspen. During that time I wrote The Invisible Saint, which has a most peculiar history.

I left Randall for personal reasons. To protect the repentant guilty, chief among whom I was, I will not go into details. But I will add that I was most surprised when my former employer called and asked me to write a novel. I had left his employ with the understanding that my limited abilities were actually more limited than I had thought, so his call offering me an advance for a novel about a Latter-day Saint who goes invisible, both metaphorically and literally, baffled me. But, not being of independent means, I accepted the offer and went to work. It would be my first novel by myself; ergo, without Todd Hester and his towering creativity.

The idea wasn’t mine, but I knew that I had to make it mine if I wanted any chance of success. A local newspaper, The Modesto Bee, had been publishing some of my humorous sketches, and they seemed to be well received, so I chose to write the prologue in a similar vein of humor. I sensed that the tongue-in-cheek humor wasn’t the tone the publisher wanted (wise and somber), but it worked for me, so I went with it. The prologue basically wrote itself in an afternoon, then I turned to remainder of the story. As the story darkened and deepened, so did the tone, and soon I was lost in a miasma of conflicting voices and helter-skelter plot twists. So, I took some time off. About a year. Which was good for me because the story seemed to write itself when I came back to it. Unfortunately, the year off was not so good for the publisher, who had gone bankrupt meanwhile.

One of the former owners started his own publishing company, and I felt an obligation to give him the finished novel. He read it, I suppose, and promptly rejected it. I suggested he reconsider; after all, I would apply the cash advance to his new company, so he wouldn’t owe me any royalties for a while. But further discussions gave me the impression he wouldn’t publish it unless I paid all costs of doing so myself (which is how his new company was doing things). Well, I thought that sounded a might generous on my account, so I bid him good day. My still faithful and patient wife and I had somehow just qualified for a credit card, so, extending her patience even further, she allowed me to max it out in publishing the book, which I did, with my future partner, Stan Zenk, who managed a book distribution company at the time. We paid for artwork, a quick edit, and ran to a printer and binder, who quickly emptied the card. When the book came out, It looked wonderful, magnificent, but nobody knew it existed. So Stan went to the stores, pleading and dickering and cajoling, and soon we had some orders. Then we had a few reorders.

There is a little known quirk in the publishing industry. Because stores can return books to the publisher within ninety (90) days for full credit, they don’t want to pay the publisher for ninety (90) days. So they don’t. In the meantime, we were selling more and more copies of our little book and were starting to hear anecdotes of people actually reading it, and in rare instances, enjoying it. So Stan kept selling, and I kept making payments on my credit card (Janet was teaching aerobics and I was slinging pizzas at Dominoes). When the glorious day came to be paid what our little company was due, the company for whom Stan worked full-time, and who was officially distributing the book, decided we could wait a little longer. Now, Stan and I were good friends, so things became a mite awkward, but we continued on, figuring the payday would come soon enough. And, as I recall, it did—in part. And eventually Stan and I both began to penetrate the fact that the big company he worked for was doing no better than the little company we were now giving life support to. Just as we weren’t getting paid by them, they weren’t getting paid by the stores. Or so they claimed. So, in one of the more difficult decisions of my life, I pulled the book from that company and gave it to you know who—the former owner of Randall Book who had rejected the novel, after having first paid an advance for it. Things were getting confusing.

Now, one of the great lessons this man had learned from his earlier bankruptcy was to keep costs down. At all costs. In all conditions. No matter what. And as a result he was able to pay his bills. It was a refreshing concept. About two weeks after he got the book, he called me:
“Hello, Curtis?”


“You know that book you asked me to distribute for you?”

“Oh, yes, the one you paid me for in advance.”

“Mmm, maybe I made a mistake. The fact is, we just got an order for twelve hundred more copies, from a single account.”

“Wow. That seems like a lot.”

“It is. Like I said, maybe I made a mistake.”

“You mean you should have published it?”

He was silent for a long moment. “Well, anyway, don’t expect your payment for ninety (90) days—you know how these things work.”

I was beginning to learn.

We hung up on good terms, for at least the next ninety days, whereupon he paid his bill—yes, a very refreshing concept—and he continued to pay his bill every thirty (30) days thereafter (an even more refreshing concept). In a few months Janet and I had paid off our credit card, and over the next year or so had made enough money to enable us to move back to Utah, where we bought a house. (The Invisible Saint eventually sold its first printing.) Of course, we had to go back to Utah so I could go back to school again. Which was the last time I did so, which was when I was put on academic probation, which motivated me to actually finish the darn thing. (Things had now been reversed: Instead of quitting school when I got a book published, I now went back to school, and stayed there until the eternal thing was done.)

I wasn’t the only one who changed companies. A successful investor wanted to start a new LDS publishing company, for some reason, and he hired Stan to manage it. That was the wisest decision he could have made, because Stan had also learned to keep costs down at all costs. In all conditions. No matter what. Plus, he was extremely talented. Plus, he still liked me. The new company was called Aspen Books.