Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On Being a Novelist . . .

   Even in high school, I dreamed of being a writer someday.  I actually started a book my sophomore year and scribbled frantically at it until I was a senior, filling three binders with the adventures of a World War One flying ace named Keith Roxton.  About six years after I graduated, I found the box with my notebooks in it, then pulled one out and read a couple of chapters - and put it back in the box. It was pretty bad!
  While I was in the Navy I wrote several short stories - nearly all horror stories in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft - that were decent.  I even got one of them published while I was in college.  I also started a fantasy novel and got about 50 pages of it written on my ship's UGC-6 teletype machine.  It was, frankly,  pretty terrible, although I do still have it in a folder at my desk.
   After I got out of college, life got busy.  I wrote articles on Indian Artifacts for a hobby magazine, and helped an old World War II veteran who was my neighbor pen his memoirs.  He gave me a nice mention in the acknowledgments of his finished book (PATTON'S ILL-FATED RAID by Harry Thompson; look it up sometime - it's an amazing story from a member of the Greatest Generation).  But after I started teaching full time in 1996, my writing simply stopped.  I never quit reading, and I never stopped dreaming of writing a book someday - but I gave up on trying for a long time.
    But the idea of finding Pontius Pilate's report on the trial of Jesus seemed like a fascinating idea for a novel.  One day in March of 2012, I sat down and started writing the prologue of THE TESTIMONIUM - and I didn't quit till I finished the novel over Thanksgiving break that same year.  Then came the marathon adventure of getting published.  I managed to dodge the huge bullet that was vanity publishing, despite the attempts by predatory presses like Tate and Westbow to sign me up.  I tried for a solid year to get an agent to represent my book - already on the way to being "books" at that point! - with no luck.  Then I found Electio Publishing's website, and thanks to Jesse and Chris, the wonderful duo that run the company, THE TESTIMONIUM finally hit the presses.  When I signed the contract, it really hit me that I was actually a novelist - although it didn't really feel real to me until I held the first copy in my hand on August 12, 2014.
   So what's it like to be a novelist?  Nothing has changed, really - and at the same time, everything has.  I walk into Hastings, and before I go rent a movie, I count the number of copies of THE TESTIMONIUM still on the shelf to see if I've sold any more. If one of the books is crooked, I straighten it.  If someone is perusing the shelf where my book is, I will shamelessly plug it!  Several times a day I look at the book's Amazon page to see if my sales rank has changed, or if I have gotten another review.  And every time I see that familiar brown cover with the bold red Latin letters, a small voice in the back of my head whispers: "Can you believe you did that?"
   There is one other thing.  Now that several hundred copies of the book have been sold, I know that, even as I type this, odds are someone, somewhere, is reading it.  And I wonder - what do they think? Do they like it?  Will they tell a friend about it?  Do they think I'm the next great American writer, or do they put my book in the Goodwill box as soon as they are done with it?  The best thing is when someone I've never met tells me how much they liked the book, but the worst thing is that I will never know how most of its readers felt about it at all.
  And there is one last thing I have to share: writing is VERY addictive.  Three books completed, a fourth in progress, and a fifth already forming in my head.  I may never be the next James Rollins or Stephen King or Tim LaHaye - but I sure intend to have some fun creating stories and sharing them!

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