RAHS teacher publishes e-book

Sam Tanner (submitted photo)

Shot Across the River Styx

Tanner tackles far-reaching effects of depression, suicide

Roseville Area High School English and drama teacher Sam Tanner has written an "unmarketable" book. And he's OK with that.
Tanner, 34, will begin his eighth year of teaching at RAHS this fall with a newly-published e-book to his name. The e-book, entitled "Shot Across the River Styx," deals with the topic of suicide in a personal way.
"It's a strange combination of half fiction, half real life," Tanner explained of the e-book. "The book is a really kind of personal way of trying to articulate what it means to make the choice not to commit suicide, and the other side as well."
Not a 'downer'
"Shot Across the River Styx" started as an assignment in one of Tanner's creative writing classes as he pursued his doctorate in education from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in education. The story is written about Tanner's friend, Nick, who took his own life about ten years ago as a young man in his 20s, and Tanner's stepfather Jim's suicide two years ago.
"It was almost as though I was trying to conduct a funeral service of my own," he said. "I don't really know if I had processed the grief [even after 10 years]. It was very therapeutic for me."
Tanner, now a husband and father to an eight-month-old, says suicide is complex and difficult to understand, and can leave family and friends grieving for many years.
"[The book is a way of] honoring a friend of mine, making my own sense of his act [and] figuring out how to take something so destructive and create something optimistic out of it. I think that's part of what it is to be human."
After he had gotten the words out on the page, Tanner said he "shopped around" for book agents, but with no luck.
That may have been due to agents' hesitance about Tanner's approach.
Like all human experience, there were moments of humor and glimpses of joy in the grief and anger he and other survivors experienced. And Tanner followed his imagination in working out "what might have been" in passages of fantasy.
"The subject matter was kinda heavy, and I wrote about it in a light, humorous way," Tanner said. "The genre was a little memoir and magical realism...not very marketable in terms of what most agents are looking for."
Sticking to his vision
After reaching out to local authors for advice, Tanner learned that many book agents can require authors to modify their stories to sell more copies.
"I hadn't written it to make any money," he explained. "So a buddy of mine convinced me to publish it on my own as e-book."
Taking it even a step further, Tanner and his friend Ben Ptacek created a do-it-yourself online publishing company called The Daily Publishing. The two hope to launch the website this fall.
"We really seriously researched this. Our running joke is that we put so much work into a project that will probably sell 10 copies."
Tanner says he has two more books in the works to form a trilogy. The next book is about his mother, and the next will be about his teaching experience.
He says his students are aware of "Shot Across the River Styx," and in fact, a former student of his, Michael Swearingen, created the illustrations.
"It's funny ... as a teacher, you get so insulated at a high school that it becomes your audience," Tanner said. "I wanted to go outside of that."
Tanner says although he's "written a lot of weird things in the past," he wanted to get this project to a wider audience, "even though I couldn't as a marketable text."
Most of all, he hopes to inspire others to take on difficult struggles with the clarifying tool of writing it all down.
"And kids, please do try this at home," Tanner writes in the disclaimer before the beginning of the e-book. "Making sense of an enormous, complicated universe is a good thing to do."
"Shot Across the River Styx" is available on Amazon. For more information about Sam Tanner, visit www.samjtanner.com.
Johanna Holub can be reached at jholub@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813. Follow her on Twitter @jholubnews.
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