Longtime builder Craig Van Langen has a story to tell.
They say life is what happens while you’re making other plans. That was certainly true for Craig Van Langen. This son of a home builder planned not to go into the construction industry, so he went to the University of Iowa and studied business and communications.
He’s now in his 27th year in the construction industry in Des Moines.
But he’s also a published author. And he wasn’t really expecting that either. It sounds like the beginning of an interesting story.
How it all got started
“After I graduated from Iowa, I took a job working for my dad,” Craig says. “He was really busy and needed the help right then. But it was going to be a temporary thing. That was in 1988.”
That’s another funny thing about life. It doesn’t always follow your schedule. “I don’t know what I thought I was going to do. I’d worked for my dad in high school, and I wanted to do something else.”
Fast-forward about a decade. Craig is becoming a partner in Van Langen Homes, working side by side with his father for several more years before his dad, Lyle, decides to retire and Craig is taking over the family business.
So our hero is called to a role he never intended to fill in his life.
A conflict to be resolved
Craig spent another decade running Van Langen Homes, raising children, and enjoying his family. Occasionally he would remember that once upon a time, long ago, he had thought of doing something else.
But his life was good, his business was good, and so he pushed that thought to the back of his mind. Until the plot thickened.
“I bought my dad out in 2000, and the downturn in the industry hit in 2010,” he explains. “Pretty soon I knew I’d had enough. I just didn’t want to fight that battle anymore.”
Van Langen Homes closed its doors, and Craig went to work for someone else. “After 20 years as their customer, I took a job with Contractor Services of Iowa,” he says. “It’s a great company. They were always great to work with, and they’re great to work for.”
All these unexpected plot twists made for a bumpy ride for a few years. And those bumps shook out some long-buried ideas for Craig. “I’d always enjoyed writing and always wanted to write a book,” he says. “So when I decided to close the business, I started writing.”
A story idea that had been half-formed in his mind over the years began to take shape, and a writer friend invited him to join a local writers’ group for encouragement and advice. “I began writing as half therapy and half bucket list project, but if I’d known how much work it was going to be, I’m not sure I would have started,” he says.
With the support of his writers’ group and the editorial assistance of writer Nate Granzow, Craig finished his novel. Nate’s brother Kevin, an artist, created the cover art. “Nate and Kevin had published already, and they understood self-publishing. They advised me to self-publish through Amazon because they knew the process, and they were right. They really helped me through everything,” he says.
The novel, Chase Time, is set in Urbandale, Craig’s hometown. It’s the story of a teenage boy who finds himself caught up in a rescue mission that takes him “halfway around the world, trying to stay one step ahead of secretive government agents and powerful villains.”
“I didn’t necessarily start out writing a young adult book,” Craig explains. “But I have teenage kids, and I didn’t want to put anything in it I’d be embarrassed to have them read.”
And they were bound to read it—Craig named characters after his children, relatives, and friends. “I joked that I named the good characters after people I know and the villains’ names I made up. That way I didn’t make any enemies,” he laughs.
What happens next?
Chase Time was released in October 2014, and Craig has received a lot of positive feedback. Although it’s classified as a young adult novel, he’s heard from teens and grandparents and everyone in between. “People from 8 to 80 seem to like it,” he says. “I’ve had several friends say they always thought about writing a book. And of course everyone has an idea for me now.”
Although Craig has a couple of ideas of his own, he’s in no hurry to write the next book. “My favorite part of this whole process is the satisfaction of knowing I did it,” he says. “I can cross that off my bucket list.”
But life doesn’t always go according to plan, and “happily ever after” is usually just the beginning of the real story. It has been for Craig.