This week we continue our interview with my future self: bestselling novelist James Andrew Wilson.
JAW: And then the miracle happened. The miracle that made you better.
James: Someday I'm going to write an autobiography, and nobody is going to believe what I'm about to tell you. But it's true. Every bit of it is true. I was paralyzed from the neck down. Never going to walk again. Then something happened that healed me and gave me back my hope.
JAW: It was a letter, wasn't it?
James: A text message, actually. Now I wasn't into texting like everybody else back then. Any time I received a text on my phone, I figured it was spam and deleted it. Since I couldn't move my hands, my wife kept busy checking emails and messages and that sort of thing. She saw the text message and showed me the phone. This is what it said:
YOU MUST GIVE IT UP
At the time, I figured it was a text from God, telling me to give up writing. We checked to see who the text came from. Surprise! It was from some guy called James Andrew Wilson.
JAW: From me? I don't like to text either.
James: (Laughs) See, this where things get a little nutty. You didn't send it, I didn't send it, but we both will send it. The future future James Andrew Wilson sent me a text telling me that I had to give it up.
Of course, at the time, I didn't know that it was a text from the future. I figured it was some sort of joke. Probably my brother, or Jake Chism, maybe Travis Thrasher. He's a nut, sometimes.
JAW: I can see any of those guys pulling something like that. So what did the text mean? What did you have to give up?
James: I said, "That's weird," and had my wife delete the message. Five minutes later another one came through. This time it said:
IF YOU WANT IT BACK
Again, it was from James Andrew Wilson. I was starting to get a little perturbed at this fellow. I had my wife send him a text message: Give up what if I want what back?
Then the reply:
GIVE UP EVERYTHING IF YOU WANT EVERYTHING BACK
Clearly this guy wasn't firing on all cylinders. I tried to forget about it. A stupid prank. Nothing was coming back. How could I give up everything?
JAW: What made you believe that the messages were true?
James: The guy kept sending me the messages! I finally shut off the phone. Then he sent me emails. I blocked him. Then letters in the mail. It just wouldn't stop. And it was the same message over and over: GIVE UP EVERYTHING IF YOU WANT EVERYTHING BACK.
Life was hard enough without this bozo taunting me with this false promise. It didn't even make sense. How could giving up everything give me everything? Real lame.
JAW: Wasn't it your son who said something that finally changed your mind?
James: Josiah was six at the time. He didn't know about the messages. We were putting him to bed, tucking him in. I was there in my wheelchair, watching my wife hug him. I felt sick. I just wanted to cry all the time.
I told him goodnight, and then I'll never forget what he said. He looked at me with his big blue eyes. Sweet, innocent voice. "You have to give everything up if you want it back, Daddy."
James: Yeah, just a little! I asked him where he heard that. He said the angel told him. I asked him what angel. The angel who lives on the roof, he said. He said it was the angel who pushed me off the roof.
James: I was going to put in a replacement request for a new guardian angel.
So my son tells me this crazy story, and I'm not sure what to think about it. The next day, another letter in the mail. It says, YOUR SON IS TELLING THE TRUTH.
Okay, I thought. If this is a prank, it is a really, really good one. So I realized it couldn't be my brother, or Jake, or Travis. Great guys, but they aren't this good.
JAW: It was real. The messages, the angel pushing you, all of it. What did you do?
James: Had a little panic attack. The publishing house was getting ready to print copies of my first novel. They expected it to be a huge success. I was one of the most anticipated debut authors that year.
I called up my agent and told her it had to stop. They couldn't take the book to print. They couldn't take any of the books to print. I have to give it up.
She politely told me that I was an imbecile. This would ruin my career, I was throwing away my lifelong dream based on some cryptic text messages.
I insisted. We got the publisher to stop the printing. I had to return the advance. Feelings were hurt all around. Relationships were destroyed. I had just dropped a nuclear bomb on my future as an author.
JAW: But then, the healing came.
James: I was out in the backyard, watching the sunset. I was crying. I couldn't move from the shoulders down. I was never going to be an author. What could I do? How was I going to support my family? How could I live like this?
JAW: The angel spoke to you.
James: I told you nobody would believe this.
I heard this booming voice come from the roof behind me. I mean, it was so powerful, I would have jumped five feet off the ground if I wasn't paralyzed.
The voice said, "Now you can have it back. Never take it for granted."
I felt something surge through my body. I could move my hands. My feet. My legs. I could walk again.
I turned around and looked up at the roof to try and see my angel but--
JAW: He was gone.
James: Actually, I saw him. He looked just like Charlton Heston.
James: Nah, I'm kidding. I didn't see a thing. But I was healed. My body was back to normal.
I knew that I could never publish any of the books I'd written. That was hard because I had five finished novels at that time. I'd poured my heart and soul into these things. I had to put them away and start over.
JAW: How did the publishing world respond to your miraculous return?
James: They all abandoned me, except for my agent. She might have thought I was insane, and rightly so, but she stayed with me. I called her and told her that I was healed. We discussed a new project, one I just knew I had to write.
JAW: That was going to be your debut novel, right?
James: That's right. I wrote No Memories Attached in three weeks. Ten hour days. It completely consumed me. I had to get it out.
JAW: No Memories Attached went on to become a worldwide bestseller, and won a Pulitzer.
James: Yeah. I was given everything. Just like the messages said. I gave it all up and then it all came back.
But you know, looking back, I see now that I wasn't yet ready to be published. I was still young and naive. A starry eyed kid with a crazy imagination.
JAW: I know how you felt.
James: (Laughs) Yeah I bet you do.
JAW:It's been almost seven years since the release of No Memories Attached, you've risen to the top of numerous bestseller lists, you're read all around the world, what does the future hold for James Andrew Wilson?
James: There's no way to know the future. I'm living proof of that. I had my life and my career planned and then I was pushed off the roof by an angel and paralyzed from the neck down. You just don't plan for that sort of thing.
So I take it one day, one moment at a time. I will continue to write. I have to. I've got the twitch.
I am starting to work a new novel. I can't say too much at this point, except that this is going to be the best thing I've ever written.
JAW: That's what you said about your last five books.
James: And it was true every time! But there's something special about this one. I mean, if I die and I'm only remembered for one book, it will be this one.
JAW: Can't you give us at least a hint?
James: Okay. Here you go. It's a story about the beginning, the end, and all that happens between. (Laughs) Don't worry, you'll know all about it in another seven years.
JAW: I can't wait. James, it's been a pleasure talking with you. Thanks for sharing your incredible story.
James: Likewise. And the story isn't over yet. In fact, for you, it's just beginning.