Victoria native pens first novel, 'Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes'
Jennifer Lee Preyss
June 15, 2012 at 1:15 a.m.
Updated June 16, 2012 at 1:16 a.m.
The Rev. Tom Tarver has been in Methodist ministry for about three decades.
But it wasn't until recently that the preacher found his calling.
The Victoria native released his first Christian novel, "Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes," in recent months, which for him, has redefined what it means to share the gospel - and that he doesn't necessarily have to do it from behind a pulpit.
"I started writing the story five years ago, and then I wrote and rewrote it about nine or 10 times. I've lost count how many times I've rewritten it," said Tarver, who goes by his literary name, T. Neal Tarver. "I'm still preaching. But now I tell people I'm a writer who preaches, not a preacher who writes."
Tarver graduated from Victoria High School in 1973, and was ordained in the Methodist tradition in 1983. He holds a masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary, and an undergraduate degree in New Testament theology from Oral Roberts University.
Tarver grew up in Victoria and attended St. Marks Methodist Church, now the Genesis Center, since he was about 5 years old.
"I used to say when it came to church, I had a drug problem. My parents drug me there," Tarver chuckled. "As I grew up, I understood the purpose of church."
He currently lives in Wisconsin, and belongs to Peace United Methodist in Kaukauna.
And even though his faith has taken him across borders and international seas - Tarver dedicated many years to education ministry in far eastern Russia - the satisfaction he receives penning stories about "real people" who are dealing with God's grace, is an entirely new outlet for the preacher.
"The book opens up conversations with people of various religious backgrounds, like atheists, who wouldn't have talked to me about God without the story," Tarver said, discussing "Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes" characters Nick and Wayne, who possess polar opposite understandings of God. "It extends my influence beyond something I could do in a local church, and opens up conversation with people who maybe wouldn't have come to the church."
Tarver said he started seriously writing the novel about five years ago, but the story of Nick and Wayne, one of a father-son reconciliation through a chance meeting at the hospital, has been developing in his mind for decades.
"As you read the book, you read the powerful love of God, and how far his hand extends to redemption. You read about how gracious God is and what God was doing in the background even though we couldn't see it," Tarver said.
The author admits that with so many years in the ministry, he could have easily ventured into Christian nonfiction to express similar themes in writing.
But there's something about fiction, he said, that seems to fit somewhat better.
"It was never something that I dreamed about, or longed to do until I started doing it," he said. "I used to incorporate fiction in my pastoral newsletters, using them to illustrate a point. I've always loved listening to stories. That's what attracted me as a writer, and what keeps me up at night."
Currently working on his second novel, Tarver said he's making a career of his writing passions. Through his writing, and themes of God's love and redemption, he aims to spread the message of "Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes" as far as he can take it.
"In the process of writing, I found out shortly after that I didn't know as much as I thought I did. But I'm a better writer than I was five years ago," Tarver said. "I've done my best to produce a good book, but I know this story is bigger than I could ever write it."