Alumni Spotlight: Author Eric Haan (class of '97) releases first book
Eric Haan, Denver Lutheran class of '97, has recently published his first novel, Jake the Dragon Talker. It is a fantasy book for middle-grade readers.
BY Hannah Buchholz
Eric Haan, Denver Lutheran class of 1997, has recently published his first book, Jake the Dragon Talker. He has also written the second book in the series and has additional plans to write more! The Drakenaarde series is a fantasy series for middle-grade readers. In this Spotlight, Eric also shares how the Lord has led him since graduating high school.
Can you share a little about what you've been up to since graduating from Lutheran High School in '97?
God has taken me on lots of amazing adventures since graduating from Lutheran in '97! I was almost done with my business degree at Valparaiso University when I finally stopped resisting God's call to be a teacher. I realized almost all my volunteering had something to do with kids, and that was what God was pulling me towards.
I finished my degree, then stayed at Valpo and earned a master's degree in elementary education while teaching in an underprivileged school in south Chicago. After those two years, I taught 5th grade for six years in Bend, Oregon. That's where I got married and where my two children were born.
Then, I was called to be the principal at Bethlehem Lutheran School in Kennewick, Washington. I had a great time leading the school for eight years, then felt the need to take a break and do something else. I ended up teaching at Bethlehem - 5th grade again - for another year.
Then, I decided I'd try being a police officer. I applied and got accepted, and my first day at the Police Academy was my 40th birthday. I enjoyed the academy, but after about six weeks on patrol, I realized I was going to have to make some pretty major shifts in how I saw the world and dealt with trauma, and I decided I could be more useful doing other things.
I taught for a year at a public middle school in Kennewick, and when the pandemic closed schools, I started my own residential painting company. I painted lots of houses – inside and out, a few murals, fences, and doors, and had a great time for a few years before Bethlehem found itself in need of a principal again, and the congregation called me back. I heard God's call again and accepted, and I've been back for two years.
What inspired you to start the Drakenaarde series? What is the premise of the book? What is your plan for the series?
I took a children’s literature course, which had me writing short stories and sharing them with a published author for feedback. Jake the Dragon Talker started as a short story, but I quickly realized there was much more story than would fit the requirements. So, over far too many years, I would add to it and just tool around with it. There were long periods where nothing at all happened, but the story stayed in my mind.
I finally got serious about making it a “real book” and put a good deal of effort into learning the craft and completing the manuscript, then trying to find an agent and get traditionally published before writing anything more. A few years of that left me feeling pretty discouraged.
Then I decided, this is 2023 – there are lots of ways to get my work out there! I determined to publish it independently and immediately started learning about everything involved in self-publishing. Along with that decision, the creativity gates opened back up for me, and I wrote the second book. It took much less time than the fifteen years the first book took. Ha!
This time I wasn’t thinking about fitting a market or how I would pitch my book to look appealing to potential agents. I was just writing for the pure enjoyment of it.
The premise of Jake can be is pretty simple. He's a neurodivergent boy who thrives on a strict routine where everything has its place and all must be clean and sanitary. He is thrust into a medieval world where wizards and dragons exist, soap is only for royalty, and there are no clocks, and then he has to figure out how to survive. Through this process, he learns a lot more about himself than he ever thought he would. Plus, dragons and wizards!
The plan for the series is to have each successive book center on a different character, while telling a larger story of how these young people adventure and develop across two different worlds. I want to showcase young people using what they have to meet challenges and grow – all the positive themes you’d hope to find in middle grade literature, from a Christian worldview, even though it’s not expressly Christian.
What do you find most rewarding about being the principal at Bethlehem Lutheran Elementary School?
Being a principal is distinctly different than being a teacher. A teacher has an opportunity to build a special bond with a group of students over a year, and there’s really nothing like that. However, a principal has the chance to build relationships and watch young people grow an amazing amount over several years. There are 8th graders at Bethlehem I first met when they were babies!
So, the short answer is the students. And the joy and privilege I have to watch them grow and be part of their journey.
Do you have any teachers from Denver Lutheran you'd like to shout out?
I was blessed far more than I realized at the time to have some real legendary men and women of God as my teachers at Lutheran. So many of them made such a huge impact on me through not only their teaching but the dedication they showed to their vocation and to their students.
In my office at school, I have a drawing I made of five particular teachers, but my list is longer than those five. I know I will leave some off the list, but some of the ones I remember most are Jan Hoener, Jason Block, Ron Brandhorst, Glen Kirch, “Doc” Lyle Schaefer, Warren Kettner, Dick Aufdemberge, Marvin Achterburg, Paul Von Rentzel, Rod Sloan, and Craig Parrott.
I praise God for putting these beautiful people in my life. They are saints. Some of them are enjoying their eternal reward. Some I’ve lost touch with or don’t connect with often. But when I think about my time in high school and who I am now, these people all made a lasting and wonderful impact on me.
What advice do you have for today's high schoolers?
This is easy because I have two high schoolers of my own – a senior and a sophomore. I tell them all the time to have a lot of fun because this time of your life IS fun! But don’t have fun at the expense of others. Be yourself – that’s what people truly admire. Be the person God made you to be. Use the gifts He gave you; in doing so you bring Him glory. Finally, don’t worry too much about the next step. God has a good plan for you, and it doesn’t necessarily hinge on picking one college, one major, or one job. God will never leave you, and He will use each experience you have (even the not-so-fun ones) to prepare you for the next.
P.S. Be thankful for your parents. Mine sent me to Lutheran High – it wasn’t easy for them financially, but they sacrificed for my siblings and me, and in doing so, they gave us a great gift.
Thanks so much, Eric, for sharing your story and advice. If you want to grab a copy of his new book, you can do so here.
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