The conventional wisdom routinely dispensed to anyone thinking about becoming an author is “write what you know.”
Marriottsville resident Rodney Hempel took that advice to heart recently — not once, but twice.
Hempel, 70, wrote two short books with Christian themes last summer that were released Jan. 14 by Elm Hill, the self-publishing division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing.
“Take A Bite Out of Jesus: Healing Bread That Strengthens Us,” which was written first, is 48 pages and “First Adam vs. Last Adam: America’s Tale of Two Kingdoms” is 44 pages.
“When Rod came to us in August, we saw a tie-in to current events” with his second book, said Pete Nikolai, director of publishing services for HarperCollins Christian Publishing.
“We need to have a different perspective,” Nikolai said. “We need to be more considerate in our lives, not just in politics.”
“First Adam vs. Last Adam” focuses on what Hempel describes as the dual citizenship of many Americans — to their country and to God’s kingdom — and delves into the intent of the nation’s Founding Fathers in forming a government.
Hempel writes that the current inability of our political leaders to find workable solutions to our country’s problems is troubling for many Americans.
“Take A Bite Out of Jesus” discusses God’s promise of everlasting life in a spiritual body, no matter what a person’s physical disabilities are on Earth.
A book signing will be held from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Cured/18th and 21st in Columbia. Attendees, who are not required to preregister, will receive free copies of both books.
“I anticipate that at least 100 people will come and join us for brunch,” the author said, noting the books are available online in hardcover, softcover and as e-books.
Hempel’s journey started three decades ago when he was confronted by a health issue that would eventually bring his career to a premature end.
“When you come to the end of your own power to influence things — in health or in business — you begin to look elsewhere for solutions,” he said.
Hempel’s wife, Rachelle, had given him religious-themed books on tape to listen to when he was traveling on business for his job as a mechanical engineer.
“I found incredible truth in them and also realized my life had a secular focus when it needed a spiritual focus,” said the Missouri native, noting he didn’t have a religious upbringing. “My pursuit of truth became a driving force.”
Soon after, Hempel’s health began to fail. He was diagnosed with diabetes at age 40 and that led to a heart attack at 50 that forced him to leave a job he loved and take early retirement, he said.
Hempel became a practicing Pentecostal in 1990 at Hope Assembly of God, which changed its name Jan. 1 from Ellicott City Assembly of God. (His wife attends a different church.)
He said his knowledge of Christianity flows from his long record of involvement at his church.
“I’ve been teaching adult Bible study for 23 years and have taught every book of the Bible,” Hempel said, adding that four pastors have taken his classes.
When Hempel was confronted with a new health crisis last year, he decided to write about his trials through the lens of religion. The project put to good use the extra time he had on his hands since he wasn’t able to play golf, a sport he’s enjoyed since he was 14.
After having knee replacement surgery in April, he developed a staph infection and began writing about Bible passages on his phone as he prayed for healing during five long nights in the hospital.
That was just the beginning.
Hempel had three more surgeries on his right knee, culminating in successful replacement surgery in December. He was recently released from physical therapy and expects his new knee to be fully operational in a few weeks.
That period of physical inactivity was productive in a different way, he said.
“I wrote these books to share my faith and to try to improve the lives of others who don’t grasp that God has made a way for us to deal with a fading body,” he said.
After he wrapped up “Take A Bite Out of Jesus” in June and “First Adam vs. Last Adam” in August, he formed Rocketbooks LLC in October to market his books.
The theme of Hempel’s second book was sparked in part by a marked rise in divisiveness in national politics in recent years.
“The Founding Fathers focused upon a Creator who endowed certain inalienable rights that government must protect,” he said.
Hempel observed that both of his books “deal with critical issues, but don’t have to be read together.”
Steve Mason, a retired deputy assistant director for the Secret Service who attends Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City, met Hempel in a golf league 15 years ago and shares his interest in religion and other topics.
“I like Bible history and Rod knows the Bible,” said Mason, who’s read “Take A Bite Out of Jesus” and plans to read his friend’s second book soon.
Hempel relied on his personal relationship with God to overcome his obstacles, Mason said.
“He’s telling people to try it, though he doesn’t say they have to follow his path necessarily,” he said. “Rod has an energetic command of language and he’s quite the convincer.”
Nikolai said Elm Hill ensures self-published books conform to editorial standards and are “a theological fit” for the Christian bookstores where they’ll be marketed.
The short length of Hempel’s two books is part of a trend that “takes away anyone’s excuse for not having time to read,” Nikolai said.
“Rod takes his own personal experiences to bring out stories you can learn from or relate to, and he does a good job of keeping it interesting,” he said. “Some things you can prove empirically and some things you can’t, but he’s saying if you apply these beliefs you can find benefit.
“It’s every writer’s dream to catch on and have impact.”
Hempel is hoping those who read one or both of his books will consider how trusting in God’s will might change their lives for the better.
“My message is simple,” the author said. “God’s plan is sufficient for us.”