BELMONT CRAGIN — Last year, Richard Baran was ready to quit.
At 75, the aspiring author had been “rejected by every agent, publisher and editor in the country for 50 years.”
Baran’s work got published only once, and that was the very first thing he ever got commissioned to write.
The director of a summer camp in northern Wisconsin asked him to write a review of the camp variety show that would be included in the newsletter sent home to parents.
“I fell in love with writing,” Baran says. “But I did no writing until I was 25 years old.”
And then he wrote satirical short stories about the dynamics of family life, tales pulled from his memories of growing up near Belmont and Central.
And experiences during his high school years spent at a Missouri military academy at the behest of his late grandfather, Joseph T. Baran, who once was the City of Chicago treasurer and the Cook County recorder of deeds.
And lessons from his days teaching high school, coaching football and raising his two daughters, among other things.
And unpublished novels — he wrote more than he might like to admit: a dozen or so.
“I guess I’d say I write about the concept of believing. Believing in one’s self, in your family, in your faith told through humor and drama and tragedy,” Baran says.
What sounded beautiful to him was, well, to publishers, not so much.
So last year, Baran told his better half, Carol, that he was done. You wouldn’t get one more written word outta him.
“I gave up. I said, ‘I’m not doing it anymore,” Baran says. “And then I took a long walk to clear my head.”
He stopped at St. Gertrude’s in Franklin Park. He joined the few people scattered around the sanctuary and “sat and talked with the Almighty, just me and him.”
When he returned home, Carol told him that Jeff Lovell — the one guy who tried to sell his last novel attempt, "The Jacket" — had called with good news: The book sold.
“’Don’t jerk me around,’ that’s what I told her,” Baran said. “And my better half said, ‘Call him.’”
And when Baran called to get the good news, he realized what had just happened.
Lovell — quite possibly by the grace of God — had helped him realize his life’s greatest dream at the very moment that he had stopped believing in himself.
It sounded like one of the stories in one of his failed books, too good to be true.
Just like how he ended up with his better half, Carol, his grade-school sweetheart. Oh how he had a “terrible crush” on her.
They lost touch after he left for military school and both went on to live very full lives separately — each of them got married, had kids and buried their spouses — until fate or God or something brought them back together.
It was like that — unexpected and beautiful. After a lifetime, finally, a small outfit in Texas, Total Recall Press, had agreed to publish "The Jacket,” a Christmas-themed story about a man recovering from the effects of a dysfunctional family with the help of a magical Army coat.
The Jacket was published in October — in plenty of time for Christmas.
On Dec. 18, Baran is booked to sign his first novel at Books-A-Million in the Loop. Total Recall Press already has plans to publish Baran’s second novel, a satirical murder mystery called “Where Have All The Goo-Goos Gone,” due out in April.
“Oh, I’m very excited. Especially for the book signing. And it’s Downtown, too,” Baran said. “So excited.”
He almost can’t believe it, but it’s true.