Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Road to Published – Part I: A Swift Kick in the Ass

Over the past few weeks I’ve been so busy tackling edits on my current manuscript, researching the next one, and even trying to sneak in writing time, that I’ve completely abandoned trying to keep up with the blog posts. Life is a circus, and I have no idea where all my monkeys are—literally.

But as of today, my final edits for Lincoln’s Bodyguard are in. They’re actually incorporated into the final manuscript! That’s an awesome feeling, but it also leaves me uneasy, knowing all the other things that I have to get back to while I no longer have the pending publication as an excuse. So I figured I would start by writing some posts answering the most common question I get when people find out I write, and that my first novel is due out in April. After I get past the standard questions about my manuscript, it seems most folks want to know how I got to this point—how did I get a book in front of a publisher?

Out in April 2015 from Oceanview Publishing! 

There are two types of people asking this question. First, there are those who are genuinely curious and appear to believe that getting published is impossible. Then there are those who have their own book idea brewing (which they may or may not have started) and think that getting published is umpossible. Notice the trend here, besides my inability to spell? Well, as that old annoying saying goes, I have good news and bad.


First the good: If I can get published, ANYONE can! And I truly mean that. I never trained as a writer—I’m an engineer (see the note above about my spelling). And engineers are notoriously poor writers, maybe only worse than cops. Then to pile it on and make things worse, I’m also a federal agent. So now I’ve got two strikes against me. But here’s what I’ve learned: The most important thing to getting published is to START. The second most important thing is to FINISH! I know that’s not much advice, no epiphany to lead you to the publishing gods.  But it’s true. And an important thing to keep in mind is that you don’t have to know the ending in order to start, you just have to be curious enough to start the story (Authentic Curiosity). In fact, Lincoln’s Bodyguard started with nothing more than a title, something I heard Terry Gross say on NPR’s Fresh Air. The inspiration can come from anywhere.

Now the bad: I have no idea how to get published. I know, that sounds umpossible. I have a book about to be launched, so I should know how to get it done. Here’s the catch. I know how I got published (or will be shortly), but in general I still have no idea how it all works. Everyone’s path from story inception to seeing the book on the shelf is just so different. I love asking my author friends how it happened for them. Each has different twists along the way—different choices they made to land on Amazon or the shelves of their favorite local independent bookstore. And most of us have at least one book in the bottom of a desk drawer (or on an encrypted hard drive), which will never see the light of day. That was our first book (or the first and second in my case), which taught us that we could start AND finish a novel.

So what’s the takeaway from my good and bad news? Easy—anyone can do it and we all do it differently! (I may have to caveat that more carefully or you’ll start to think this isn’t a blog about writing). Getting back to the original question then—how I came upon publishing a novel—the only thing I can do is to share my story. Hopefully that will be enough to fulfill most people’s questions on the subject, and if I’m really lucky, push one or two of you over to edge to actually starting on your own publishing journey.

In the beginning…there was a sharp kick from my wife, Nancy. It wasn’t so much a kick as it was a taunting. Actually, it may not have even been a taunting, it was more like a minor dismissive statement in passing that made me start this crazy writing business. You see, after finishing up grad school and writing a 300+ page dissertation on Surface Roughening in AA7050 T7451 Thick Rolled Aluminum Plate, I felt out of balance. It was pure technical writing, devoid of any creative flourish. When I tried to put in some creativity, my academic advisor quickly tore it from the pages and stomped on it with the vigor that only comes from one trained as an NFL lineman (he actually played 6 years in the NFL…no joke!) So I had been thinking up this crazy idea, and even contemplating the start of a novel when I casually floated the idea to Nancy. I think I may have done it in a subtle manner, not because I was trying to slip it past her, but because I wanted an out if she laughed at me. I was looking for her reaction, and what I got was not quite what I hoped for, or feared.

“Can you pass the ketchup? I’m thinking of writing a novel.”

“We’re out of ketchup. We only have mustard. You can’t write a novel. That’s hard.”

That was it. No laughing on her part, which may have actually dissuaded me through sheer embarrassment. I don’t even recall her changing her tone of voice. She just dismissed the suggestion casually and left no room for re-attack—nothing I could grab hold of to further float my crazy notion of becoming a writer. If she had ignored the statement and not addressed it, I might have been too embarrassed to ever put it out there again. Maybe she had heard and chose to ignore it? But this was the worst, and most beautiful, response I could ever imagine, though it didn’t feel like it at the time. It fueled me forward like nothing else. I was going to write a novel, and I was going to show her that I could do it. What other option did I have in order to preserve my manly dignity? After all, we were out of ketchup.

To think what would have been if we only had ketchup...
And now twelve years after that first conversation I’m left wondering…did she do it on purpose? Occasionally she drops a hint like she tells me that I can’t do something just to modify my behavior (though she still won’t let me do the wash). Maybe she did, and her genius was in the perfect response at the right time, landing directly in my derrière. Whatever the truth is, sometimes a kick in the ass is a step forward!


To be continued…


1 comment :

Sue Coletta said...

Smart man. And I'm guessing an even smarter wife.