Rivers of Thought
Life, Leadership, Business & Technology
The Flames Burn Brightly! What started out as a single blog post has blossomed into three! There were so many amazing moments one post could not contain them all. Hopefully, you’ve been keeping up. If not, check out the other two posts The Flames Burn Brightly: The eBook and The Audiobook.
As we wrapped up the recording for the audiobook version of The Flames Shall Not Consume You, my mom’s book about tragically being trapped and burned in a fire and her journey to survival, my thoughts turned to the launch of these second editions. My original idea was to release them on September 5th in honor of mom’s birthday. It had become clear the ebook and the audiobook would not be ready at the same time. My Plan B was to release the ebook in September and the audiobook on January 4th, the anniversary of the fire itself.
Given it was August, I had time to plan a launch event around the audiobook. I immediately began to think in terms of making the event a fundraiser for Eskenazi Health’s Burn Center. This was the evolution of the Burn Center that had saved mom’s life in 1980. Since Amy and I had decided to donate the proceeds of the audiobook royalties to the Burn Center, it was only fitting to expand on that through the launch.
A conversation adds a great twist
Having hosted successful launch parties for my previous books, I had a pretty good idea of the steps needed. I started to gather estimates for a venue, catering, marketing, music…all the things that go into a good book launch event. Enter Amy Brown, you remember Amy, right? The CEO-turned-narrator of the book?
Amy had shared the story of the creation of the audiobook with her pastor, the pastor of the church my mom and dad had attended, and the church where I had met Amy. What if the church were to hold a launch event? Now THAT was an idea I had not considered. Mom would have loved it! Let’s do it! Amy also suggested that Jay Geshay would be interested in helping to coordinate the event. Jay is a lay leader at the church. I have known him almost as long as I have known Amy. Let’s do it!
We began to make preliminary plans…first order of business…a date! On or about January 4th, the anniversary of the fire, perhaps we would need to slide it a few days because of the holiday. Plenty of time to plan. The recording was complete. As soon as I received the final audio files I could send them to Audible for production. “In 2020, every author was publishing a new book. It took them two months to produce my previous audiobook.” I warned Amy and Jay. “We won’t know the exact date for a while.”
Some things just take longer
Just like I dramatically underestimated the amount of time it would take to record the book, I dramatically underestimated the time it would take to produce the final audio files. September turned to October, October turned to November. At that point, I called Amy and Jay to say we needed to push the date, no way would it be ready by January 4th, not with the holidays.
I started receiving the files from Mitch, listening to every heart-wrenching second again. Some of the files had issues (hey, that’s why you review them!). Mitch turned those around quickly. However, it was now mid-December and the files were not yet in Audible’s hands. I sent Amy and Jay a note to suggest we meet the first week in January and see where we are in the process. On December 23rd, I submitted the files to Audible, now I could only wait.
On December 28th I received an email from Audible. The book was completed and was on sale! After all the amazing moments of the last year, I had blinked–I had doubted. The book would have been ready for a January 4th launch!
Oh, ye of little faith….
Instead, I decided to use January 4th to start the promotion of the audiobook on social media. Amy, Jay, and I agreed the event itself would be on February 3rd.
With the social media campaign announcing the release of the audiobook in full swing, the buzz around the book began to grow. Because Amy and I are both heavily involved in the tech community in Indiana, tech leaders from across the state began to comment on and share the posts. As people began to listen to the audiobook, they posted some incredible feedback.
—- quotes from LinkedIn and Facebook…
I had the opportunity to read this book in December and was deeply moved by it. Highly recommended.
Powerful and exceptionally moving true story. Thrilled that Jeff decided to revive and share it with the world.
35 minutes into the book and I’m #spellbound! You were right Jeff Ton (he/him), I did need to bring tissues. Picture a grown man shedding tears on a treadmill listening to Amy bring your mom’s voice and story to life. The story and narration are as good as advertised! You can bet I’ll be listening on the way to the office and back, too. Bravo!!
I read A LOT of books. Most of them are good. Some great. Few make me put them down every few pages just to feel everything I’ve read and really take it in. (Oh…and cry in the middle of a Chipotle’s while reading. No shame in my game.) There are such an incredible series of steps here to bring all of this to life in the 21st century for us. Grateful for the Holy Spirit bringing your mom through everything to gift us with this book. And grateful to you for bringing it to life again.
🙏🏼🙌🏼🙏🏼🙌🏼 so excited to listen to the story be told after reading it! Congrats Jeff Ton (he/him) what a beautiful way to honor your mom and her story.
I finished this book in two days (on Audible) – INCREDIBLE story of facing unimaginable pain physically and emotionally and finding your way through with grace, dignity, grit, and faith. The book is inspiring and instructional in so many ways. I find myself thinking about the book and the author Mary Ellen Ton nearly every day. The book has helped me appreciate all that I have and the personal connection to Jeff Ton (he/him) and the narrator Amy Brown is just icing on the cake!
The plan comes together
In addition to the promotion on typical social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, I leveraged my blog Rivers of Thought, and its mailing list (if you’d like to be on the mailing list, send me an email). I also sent personal invitations through email to dozens and dozens of colleagues and connections.
While all this was going on Jay, Amy, and I met several times to discuss the event itself, both from a logistical perspective and from the program perspective. Amy’s parents, John and Carol Brown
graciously agreed to arrange for catering and to cover the costs. Steven Potts, the Minister of Music of the church and pianist extraordinaire agreed to provide the music for the event. Jay would serve as the master of ceremonies. I would share some thoughts on the process of bringing the second edition to life. And, Amy would read some excerpts from the book.
As plans were coming together, I was able to connect with Bill Farkas, the VP of Major Gifts for the Eskenazi Health Foundation. Even though I warned him the proceeds probably would not amount to a “major gift” Bill was excited to attend and share some words about the Burn Center at the hospital.
We were all set…except…except for mother nature.
Mother Nature threatens
A major winter storm was forecasted to hit Indianapolis on February 2nd and 3rd. It was all over the news for days as January neared its close.
Do we cancel?
What about all of the invitations?
They could be wrong, they’ve forecasted huge amounts of snow before and we only received a dusting.
What if they were right?
No one would attend.
But, what if they were wrong?
But, what if they were right?
So, on February 1st with the temperature over 60 degrees, I made the decision to postpone. We decided to push it out two weeks to February 15th. Before I went on a walk in my shirt sleeves, I started posting about the change of date, sending countless personal re-invitations with the new date, and calling those I could call.
They were right. The ice started on February 2nd and the snow moved in on the morning of the 3rd. The snow gauge in our backyard registered 11 inches by the time the snow stopped. Planning was complete. The only thing to do now was to wait…oh and to shovel snow…lots of snow!
I wish I had the words – a funny thing for an author to say. The event was perfect. I lost track of the number of people who attended…old friends…new friends…business colleagues (who are also friends)…church members (many of them knew my mom)…family.
Steven’s music was the perfect backdrop to the conversations. We ran the program format three times over the two hours. Jay welcomed everyone, shared a personal reflection about mom or the book itself, and introduced Bill. Bill said a few words about Eskenazi. Jay then introduced me. I told a story or two about creating the second edition (most of which ended up in this blog series). I introduced Amy and she read a selection from the book. Jay would then lead a short Q&A session. Steven played during the breaks.
Each time Amy read, I was transported back to the recording studio, I was transported back forty years, I heard my breath catch, I felt my eyes swell. I don’t know how she did it. How did she read in front of all those people and not lose it? I do not think I could have done it.
The Flames Burn Brightly
What a journey it had been…from Rebeca’s Facebook message in January of 2021 to the evening of February 15, 2022…a journey I will never forget. I know mom would have been thrilled to know her book hit number one on Amazon. She would have loved Amy’s reading of her words. She would be humbled by the number of attendees at the launch.
Mom, your flames burn brightly in all our lives.
By now you’ve read the story (I hope) of the germination of the idea to release the second edition of my mom’s book, The Flames Shall Not Consume You. If you haven’t you can read it here: The Flames Burn Brightly – The eBook. It started with a message from a young woman from Peru asking about the availability of mom’s book and suggesting it be released in digital formats. That message exploded into a project to publish an ebook version that became an Amazon Best Seller. While that project was in full tilt, I started another project to produce an audiobook version.
The ebook project was filled with amazing moments! To quote me:
Call them serendipitous moments, call them gobsmacked moments, call them just a coincidental moment, or, as my old friend Melva calls them, divine coincidences…the project to publish the second edition of The Flames Shall Not Consume You has been full of such moments. I mean, who can’t see the handiwork of the universe in a young woman from [the country of] Peru reaching out inquiring about the book?
The audiobook project began with an epiphany on the Fourth of July holiday. An audiobook needs a narrator. Seems pretty obvious, right? But who? I had narrated my previous book and had a great time doing it. It didn’t seem right for me to do it. It had to be a woman’s voice. I considered using Audible’s royalty share program. I had used that program when the outstanding Ron Fox narrated my first book. This program enables an author to produce an audiobook using professional voice talent with no out-of-pocket expense. The author and the narrator agree to split the royalties, with no advance and no guarantees. Pretty sweet program (says the author).
I REALLY wanted it to be someone that I knew. I felt strongly it needed to be a woman in her 40’s…the same age that mom would have been when the fire occurred. As I sat watching the fireworks at our neighbors’ house, it suddenly came to me…why not Amy Brown? I’d known Amy since she was a kid. I was her Junior High School Sunday School teacher. Her parents were one of the first people that welcomed us into the church in the ’80s. My parents loved her parents. Amy is a woman of faith, my mother was a woman of faith. Amy is an incredible business person and champion of women in the workplace, especially in tech, my mother was a trailblazer for women, especially minister’s wives. I knew Amy’s mother, Carol, had an empathetic soul, my mother had an empathetic soul…and I was betting Amy did, too.
Then the doubts crept in. No way would she agree to do this. She is the CEO of a new tech start-up, she is a mother of young kids, she is a wife…when would she have time to do this? I barely knew her. Yes, I knew her as a teenager, but we had barely seen each other in 25 years. Aside from Sunday School and a youth group canoe trip, I bet all our conversations could be contained in less than an hour.
I argued with myself for a couple of days, finally, on July 8th, I sent her an email.
Subject: An “out of the blue” question for you
I am working on a project that I need some help on…and I thought of you.
As you may know, my mom published a couple of books about 40 years ago. Because of the era in which they were published, they were not available on digital platforms like e-books or audiobooks. I have worked with her original publisher to have the publishing rights released to me via her estate.
My plan is to publish second edition versions in e-book and audiobook format. The latter is where the question for you comes in. Would you consider being “my mom’s voice” and narrating her books for the audio version?
I know that is a huge block of time and believe me when I say if you can’t give up that much time or otherwise don’t feel like you want to do this, I will totally understand if you say no. …
…Of course, we would need to discuss compensation for your time. This could either be an hourly rate or a royalty share of the sales of the audiobook.
Within 45 minutes I had her answer.
First let me say that I am completely honored that you would ask me to do something so personal, so important. One of my first reactions when reading this email is a “why me?” sort of question—(with a tone of humility, not annoyance).
Second, it is true that my time is super super thin but this sounds like a project that would be very fulfilling for me. If we could work very collaboratively on scheduling and there would be ample flexibility I would certainly be open to doing this with you.
An idea on compensation. . .what if, instead of compensating me for my time, we instead devoted a % of the book to a charity or organization in honor of your mom? We could promote that?
After a few more emails back and forth, we agreed to meet at the recording studio to do a one-hour session. This would give Amy a chance to experience the process. I wanted to give her an “out” if she tried it and decided it was not for her.
The First Recording Session
I don’t know if Amy was nervous, if she was she didn’t show it. I, on the other hand, had jello for knees. We were using 416 Wabash Recording Studio with Mitch Lohman as the engineer. I had worked with Mitch and 416 to record my previous book, so I knew what to expect. For Amy, it was all new. The recording studio is a part of 416 Wabash Event Center. When there isn’t an event, there is very little lighting. The style of the Event Center is kind of industrial. It always reminds me of Gotham City in the Michael Keaton Batman movies…dark…industrial…foreboding.
When you step into the studio, the first thing you see is the control board with thousands of dials, buttons, and sliders. To a former wanna-be rock star it is pretty cool! Behind the board is a couch. That would be my spot during the recording. Just past the board is a door as thick as a bank vault door, through that door is the sound booth. Mitch helped Amy get comfortable with the set up of the boom microphone, headphones, and teleprompter. We were all set.
Ready to begin…
I took my place on the couch and Mitch swung the sound booth door shut. From where I sat, I could not see Amy. Mitch and Amy could see each other through a window in the wall of the booth. After a few sound checks, Amy began. We started with the Acknowledgements section, challenging because of all the names mom mentions, but pretty straightforward. We were ready for Chapter 1.
Ladybug, Ladybug, Fly Away Home
January 4, 1980. A date as indelibly engraved on my mind as the day of my birth. It began like so many other days. The alarm went off at 5:45 a.m. I dragged my body to the shower to the music of WXTZ—the “old people’s radio station,” my rock-fan sons called it.
I was transported. Transported in place and time. Suddenly, I was back in 1980. I was listening to my mom tell the story. Tears welled up in my eyes and began to stream down my face. After a few minutes, Amy paused. She started again and paused. “I need a–I need a moment”, she said. Mitch stepped out of the studio to give her some time. I opened the door to the sound booth, tears in my eyes, and approached Amy. Her eyes were filled with tears as well. I could only croak, “Thank you” as we embraced. This would not be the last time tears were shed during that session and the sessions to come.
When we finished with the hour, the three of us paused in the studio.
“Amy, thank you so very much for this. Now that you see what it’s like, go home and think about it for a few days. Let me know if you’d like to do this.”
“Jeff, I don’t need to think about it, I’m doing this!”
Let’s Do This!
The next morning I sat down at my desk and found an email from Amy in my inbox.
Good evening Jeff,
I wanted to share this with you in person today but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to share it without getting choked up again…
When you asked me to do the audio-recording of your mom’s book in July, I was both honored and terrified. But here is why I knew this was something God wanted me to do….
I consider 2017 to be one of the most spiritually pivotal years of my life. That year, in January, I chose a special word to be my “beacon” or call for the year. Actually, the word chose me. The word was “fire.” And the scripture that was placed upon my heart when God gave me that word in 2017 was the scripture of the burning bush and particularly the line about the flames not consuming you.
Fast forward to your request, and it was as though God was calling me by name. Today being in that sound booth, I truly felt the presence of your mom and dad. It felt like holy ground. Thank you for inviting me into this sacred place.
INCREDIBLE! Another one of those “moments”.
Isaiah 43:1-2 “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”
Exodus 3:2 “And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.”
English Standard Version
In my return email, I told her the story of the cover design and my dad’s ashes. I had not told anyone that story except for Carmen and Brad.
As we progressed through the next several recording sessions, we shared more tears. Truth be told, I think Mitch might have shed a tear or two. It soon became obvious I had grossly underestimated the number of sessions it would take to complete the book. I assumed the book to be about the same length as my books, yet after four sessions we were not even halfway. With a great deal of apprehension, I checked the manuscript…over 63,000 words! Mom was a prolific writer, my books were only 35,000. Now, I really was apprehensive as I sent an email to Amy telling her how many more sessions were needed!
I gave her the out. She could stop, no hard feelings, I would totally understand. This was a huge commitment in the first place…now it was twice what I initially told her. Her response? No way am I stopping! What if we made each session 90 minutes or even two hours?
Can I say INCREDIBLE one more time!
Doe a Deer
We continued to share the experience of bringing mom’s words to life…
…when the book told the story of the nurses encouraging mom to sing to help her endure the pain of the dressing changes, the only song mom could think of was “Doe, a deer, a female deer”. When Amy read the passage, she paused and asked quietly, “Do you want me to sing it?” And then she did! (and it was beautiful).
…when mom confessed to swearing at her mother, “Bull–”, Amy again paused and asked, “Do you want me to say the whole thing? “Bullshit!”
…when mom’s vocabulary stumped us all and Mitch had to Google pronunciation after pronunciation.
…when Amy would stumble over a phrase and have to repeat it…and repeat it…and repeat it…and we all laughed! Trust me when I say, it is easy to get tongue-tied when you’ve been talking for two hours straight!
…when I learned Amy was doing the narration cold…no rehearsal…because she wanted to experience the emotion as the story unfolded. Uh, amazing! I don’t know if you have ever tried to read out loud, in front of an audience (even an audience of two), and have it recorded but it is very difficult to make it sound like you aren’t reading, it is even more difficult to put the emotion in your voice and the emphasis in the right place when you don’t know what is coming next. I am a professional speaker and narrated my second book and I certainly rehearsed. I am in AWE.
…when Amy got to the chapter about, well, about my mom and dad’s sex life after the fire. I was VERY glad I could not see her at that moment. I was 50 shades of…red!
As we neared the end of the book, Amy arrived carrying three boxes. She gave one to Mitch and one to me. Nestled in paper inside each box was a stone…a red stone…carved to look like a flame. “I wanted each of us to have one to remember this experience.” Mitch proudly added his to the curio shelf in the studio. Mine is sitting on the desk in my office. I see it every day. I think of Amy, I think of Mitch, and I think of mom.
You would think the story would end with the last audio wave of the recording…but this story was to continue…
The Flames Burn Brightly, a story I hinted at in some of my previous posts. This is the story of bringing the second edition of my mom’s book, The Flames Shall Not Consume You to life!
Since first writing about my mother’s passing in 2013, I occasionally hear from people whose lives she impacted. The notes come via comments here on Rivers of Thought, emails, or even Facebook Messenger. Most of them had never met my mother, yet her stories changed their lives in some way. Mom was an author. She was a speaker. Her words and her story were powerful.
Whenever anyone reaches out, I am moved. I want to learn more about the person. I love to know how mom or mom’s words moved them. Through my mom, my network has expanded to include some incredible people.
A year ago, I received a note from a young woman from Peru…the country, not the city in Indiana.
The Adventure Begins
Hmmm, digital. To the best of my knowledge, mom’s books had never been released in ebook or audiobook format. Those mediums have been around much longer than you’d think, but in 1980 when mom’s books were published they were not mainstream. Where to start? I had no manuscript, I had no publishing rights.
I wrote to David C. Cook Publishing, the original publisher of mom’s books. Several weeks later I received a letter from their legal department. To paraphrase, it said, in part, those books were published long ago. There is no information in our records pertaining to the books. Therefore, to the extent David C. Cook Publishing has any rights to those works, we pass those rights to the estate of Mary Ellen Ton.
Hmmm…no records…wasn’t the definitive answer I was looking for when it comes to publishing rights…but what the heck, I can always claim ignorance and beg forgiveness. Let’s rock and roll! Almost a year later, while cleaning out some old files of my mom’s I found a letter from David C. Cook to mom, transferring all rights back to her…heck, I had permission before I even asked (I’m not so much a rebel as I thought).
Mom wrote two books that were published by David C. Cook. While I wanted the rights to both books, I was particularly interested in The Flames Shall Not Consume You since my new Peruvian friend mentioned it specifically. My mother was nearly killed in a tragic fire back in 1980. She suffered burns over 50% of her body and a broken back. The book is the story of her journey through the fire, its aftermath, her wrestling match with God, and ultimately, her transformation.
But now…the manuscript. I could type it all in from a copy of the book. That would only take, like, forEVER. I started Googling transcription services that could help. I found a bunch but I was nervous about using an unknown service. Then it struck me. Why not reach out to my editor Lori Paximadis. She may have a service she recommends. As it turned out, Lori provides that service herself! She bought a copy of both of mom’s books from eBay, ripped the spine off of them, ran them through an OCR scanner to convert them to text files, and then corrected all the OCR misreads.
Once she had the manuscripts in a usable format, she reviewed them and recommended minor changes to bring them to modern editing standards. I reviewed each of her recommendations and accepted most of them. One item got past both of us…and the original editors. It’s like nails on a chalkboard every time I hear it now. To anyone that spots it or hears it, let me know, you will win a fabulous prize!
While Lori was working her magic on the manuscripts, I reached out to my graphics designer, the amazing Jennifer Vogel. Jennifer (or JVo as we call her) and I have been working together now for about four years. PowerPoints, social media, webinars, webcasts, and book covers…she brings my words to life through imagery. There was no one else I would entrust with bringing my mom’s book cover back to life.
I think you will agree, she did a beautiful job!
Call them serendipitous moments, call them gobsmacked moments, call them just a coincidental moment, or, as my old friend Melva calls them, divine coincidences…the project to publish the second edition of The Flames Shall Not Consume You has been full of such moments. I mean, who can’t see the handiwork of the universe in a young woman from Peru reaching out inquiring about the book?
Another one of those moments occurred just weeks before the publication of the ebook when I received the cover images from JVo. I wrote about this moment in part two of my series A Journey Through the Land of Serendip. Rather than making you click through to read the story, I will share it here…but you SHOULD click through and read the full series after you finish this post!
A Serendipitous Moment
In the summer of ‘21, Carmen (my wife), Brad (one of my sons), and I traveled to Greenlake, Wisconsin to scatter dad’s ashes in the same place we had spread mom’s back in ‘14. As we spread his ashes, some fell on the surface of the lake. As the waves rolled in, the ashes began to spread. To me, they looked like wisps of smoke. The next morning, I was reviewing the cover designs Jennifer had sent. Her design of flowers, flames, and smoke is a beautiful reimagination of the original cover.
I saw it immediately…wisps of smoke…wisps of smoke…the ashes spreading across the surface of the lake. I immediately pulled up the photo of the water I had taken the day before. The wisps of ashes on the lake were a perfect overlay of the wisps of smoke in Jennifer’s image. Chills ran down my spine, and tears ran down my cheeks.
Climbing the List
With the book cover in hand (well, not physically in hand, more like with the book cover in cloud), I finalized the ebook version for release on Amazon. My goal was to release the second edition on September 5, 2021 on what would have been mom’s 88th birthday. My dream was to sell enough copies for the book to hit the Amazon Best Seller List, my fantasy was to have it hit number one. I began to publicize the launch to family, friends, acquaintances, Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections, Twitter and Instagram followers, and my newsletter subscribers. My message of “Buy an advance copy, help make my mom a best-selling author” was spread across every channel I could find.
It worked!! The Flames Shall Not Consume You was the number one new release in five different categories…but it was better than that…it hit number one bestseller (not just new releases) in the Survival category!!! NUMBER ONE! Mary Ellen Ton was a best-selling author!!
But! The story doesn’t end here! Wait until you hear the story of bringing mom’s words to LIFE. The project to create the audiobook is filled with more of those amazing moments! Until next time…
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