Student self-publishes book on urban mission experiences

Cody Benjamin self-published a novel about his mission trip to Detroit. (Sarah Bader/ The Penn)

Cody Benjamin (junior, journalism) is the sports editor for The Penn and a recently published author for his novel “Skyline Teardrops.”

During the summer of 2013, Benjamin – through Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Campus Crusade for Christ – traveled to Detroit, where he met dozens of children and spent five weeks doing volunteer work.

Benjamin took on many different tasks, including work at a homeless shelter, helping to clean up the city and supervising children at a summer camp.

After returning from his trip, Benjamin found it difficult to relay his experience to other people.

“I wrote newspaper articles about it while I was there,” Benjamin said, “and every time someone would ask me after I went there, ‘How was it?,’ or ‘What did you learn there?,’ I felt like I could never describe it in just a quick manner. I just felt like I had so many thoughts and experiences from it that the only way to do that was to write it all out.”

So, he did.

“The book is just kind of a journal of all of my experiences from being there,” Benjamin said.

“A lot of people don’t get the chance to experience something like this,” Benjamin said. “I took a lot for granted. When I went, there was a lot of poverty and a lot of kids that didn’t have a lot of role models and stuff like that. I guess I just wanted to share a side that most college kids don’t see. It also had to do with faith, which is something that a lot of kids this age don’t talk about.”

In his early days of writing, Benjamin would often get an idea for a novel, start writing it and quit after 10 pages.

Benjamin’s process for writing “Skyline Teardrops” began in February. He started by listing chapters, information he wanted to include and writing in his free time. By the beginning of May, Benjamin had the cover designed and the novel ready to be published.

“Skyline Teardrops” was created through a self-publishing website for free. The 120-page novel can by purchased for $9.99 on lulu.com and can be purchased as an e-book for $4. He makes about a $5 profit for every book sold.

“But it’s not about the money,” Benjamin said, “I was more concerned with writing all of my experiences.”

“I was never able to explain them all quickly to someone who wanted to know,” he said, “The book is a chance to see all that I learned.”

The title “Skyline Teardrops” holds a special meaning that’s “buried in the book,” according to Benjamin.

“It’s a metaphor,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin did hint, however, that the meaning is inspired by one of the youths he worked with. Benjamin met the youth while volunteering at the weeklong summer camp and noticed he was one who was a little more challenging than the others.

“By the end of the week, he was really attached to me,” Benjamin said, “and he kind of saw me as a role model.”

Benjamin said when it was time for  him to return home, the youth tried getting him to stay by insisting there was more work for them to do.

“I was in tears on the way out of the summer camp,” Benjamin said.

As for his future, he’s anticipating graduation in May 2016. What comes after graduation is still undecided.

“I’m very open to different opportunities,” Benjamin said, “but I’d love to do something that allows me to both make a difference and use my passion for writing – whether through sports journalism, public relations or broadcast media.”