I grew up in a missionary family, the second of four sons. My childhood homes were in Chiang Mai and Bangkok, Thailand; I attended elementary school there and then went to a boarding high school in Singapore. My father, Pastor Ken Smith, was the former child film star Darwood Kaye, who acted with Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, and Darla Hood in the Our Gang comedy series. My 2009 book, Finding Waldo, tells the fascinating story of how a budding actor instead became a missionary hospital chaplain in Asia. My mom is Jean Venden, cousin to well-known college pastors Lou and Morris Venden. My three brothers are all active as pastors in southern California.
After finishing college with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics, I taught at the junior high school level for several years before moving on to become a writer and editor for a publisher of religious and health-oriented seminar materials. I have to confess that it was my work on two monthly kids’ newsletters, Planet Earth and Bodywise, that helped me discover a knack for creative, sometimes zany approaches to finding reader hooks for students. We spent more time concocting puns and jokes than actually writing the features.
I then moved into public relations and authoring TV and radio scripts for an evangelical Christian audience, putting in nearly two decades as a scriptwriter for the It Is Written and Voice of Prophecy ministries. In my role of creating daily radio sermonettes, I co-authored such volumes as Your Most Radical Decision; Popcorn, the Pearly Gates, and Salvation; Rising Above Anger; Time of Terror, Time of Healing; To Be or Not to Be Perfect; The Music Wars; and Rock-Solid Living in a Run-Amok World.
My two most popular books turned out to be Watching the War and Heaven, both of which went into third printings and sold close to 30,000 copies. I also had a great time authoring the multi-book teen sports series, Bucky Stone Adventures, with cumulative sales of 60,000.
For just a brief three-year stint, I joined my three brothers in the field of ministry, pastoring a small English-speaking Korean congregation in Temple City, California. I still have fond memories of my time at Upper Room Fellowship – a church group that finds itself in the narrative of Vol. 1 of my Thailand trilogy of love stories: Love in a Distant Land. I then returned to my chosen field of mathematics, spending two years at a Christian school in Redlands, and now as a full-time member of the totally awesome mathematics department at San Bernardino Valley College.
Lisa and I have two grown daughters, Kami and Karli, who are both schoolteachers, and four grandkids: Kira and Katrina and the newly arrived twins, Audrey and Miles! 2011 was an expensive year for Grandma and Grandpa! I enjoy dabbling in music, and occasionally am invited to play the bass guitar or keyboards along with my nephews, who are musicians on praise teams. I otherwise spend leisure time creating new Powerpoint files for my math lectures, looking for cheap Dodger tickets on StubHub, and discussing politics during our daily two-mile walks every morning.