Friday, December 26, 2014

The Road to Published – Part II: How to Survive A Rocket Attack



As I sit and write this, I am seated at the same exact table at my parent’s house where I started Lincoln’s Bodyguard 4 years ago. When I say it out loud, it seems like such a long time ago. But in reality it’s been a whirlwind. Of course, the current novel is the third I’ve written, so I’ve been hacking away at this writing gig for a lot longer than 4-years…a lot longer!

A Russian 107mm Rocket with the optional launching kit!


So where to begin? How about with a rocket, one of the lethal variety? The picture above is of a 107mm rocket, a nasty little bugger that wakes you up in the middle of the night with sirens scratching and makes you leave the comfort of a nice warm bed to find a concrete bunker.  You may be asking: what the hell does that have to do with writing, or even getting published? Well, it has everything and nothing to do with my writing—at the same time. After Nancy taunted me to start my first novel, I was in the enviable position of receiving orders for the first of my taxpayer-funded vacations to Afghanistan. It was on that very first tour that I finished that manuscript. And in typical rookie writer fashion, I expected the literary world would soon come crashing my door to see the masterpiece. I had no idea how the publishing world worked. I couldn’t even spell literary agent, let alone know what use I might have for one. In short, I had no idea how to get published. And that was where Nancy kicked again. She discovered that I needed a publisher (I told you I was publishing stupid), and that there was this intermediate broker who facilitated finding publishers, called a literary agent! I didn’t quite know what one was, but I knew I wanted one (in the end I got the best literary agent in the whole world, but that’s a whole different story).

So back to the rocket… Since I had no idea what to do after finishing my first novel, but suspecting that I had made the magical first and second steps in both STARTING and FINISHING a manuscript, I knew I needed to show it to someone who didn’t love me. That’s actually a great THIRD step along the publishing lines…seek out honest feedback. And once again Nancy, ever so more in-tune with the literary world than I, realized that the Antioch Writer’s Workshop took place right in our hometown of Yellow Springs. As luck would have it, they had scholarships available through a competitive process. And that is where the confidence drained…I would have to send a sample of my glorious writing (trust me, I use the term in mocking derision to the work I pecked out at the time—maybe even now!) I must have filled out that application twenty times, writing and re-writing to get it just perfect. Each time I re-read what I had written, it some how devolved and became even more amateurish in my mind. In fact, I had just given up my literary aspirations (not for the last time, I might add) and thrown the application in the burn bin when the first rocket struck.

I'm super biased as this is where I started...but I love this workshop!

A 107mm rocket attack is an interesting thing. And by interesting, that’s a relative term depending on how far away you happen to be standing when it lands. Sometimes you can hear them launch, and then if the night is just right (they almost always come at night), you can hear the whistling as they pass overhead. We used to say, if you hear the boom on landing, then you’re going to be okay! But that night was my very first rocket attack. Back then I was still naïve enough to run to the bunkers—now I’m more resigned that if it’s my time to go then it’s just my time. But run I did, just about the same time as the alarms sounded and more booms echoed across base. I made it into the bunker, and as luck would have it, I was the only one who reached that particular concrete monstrosity. Everyone else was smarter and chose the bunker across the camp, which did not have six inches of standing water. To understand what happened next, you have to realize that the bunkers are inverted concrete forms in the shape of a “U”, which we then cover in sand bags for extra protection. But they’re only about four feet tall. So in my enthusiasm to get inside, I forgot to duck. Yep, I clear knocked myself flat on my back, staring up at a dull concrete ceiling, laying in stale muddy water. And that was when I thought:

“Fuck it, I’m turning that application in!”

Make sure to DUCK! Or wear your helmet...or both!

Although I didn’t know for months that I had landed one of those scholarships to the very best writer’s workshop I have ever attended, I credit that rocket attack with yet another kick in the ass that will shortly land Lincoln’s Bodyguard on bookshelves in real live book stores.  

To be continued…




TJ Turner is a novelist, a historian, a research scientist, and a Federal Agent. He graduated from Cornell University and as a reserve military officer, he has served three tours in Afghanistan and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal in 2013.  His essay about his deployments to Afghanistan—The Power of Teddy Bears—was accepted and read on NPR’s This I Believe national essay series. Turner lives in central Ohio, with his wife, Nancy, and three children.

1 comment :

Sue Coletta said...

I can't wait to read what happened next!