Yesterday was an exciting day. I finished the rough draft of my new novel Retribution. For writers, this is really just the beginning. Ahead are weeks of the nitty-gritty work of editing, rewrites, and etc. The granular stuff.
I’ve said before, if I have a gift in writing it is my imagination. For the past two months I’ve had the privilege of living in war-torn Yemen and related to the characters, Bryan, Jabbar, Alam, Sheila, Michel, Ray, and others on a daily basis. This other world (just like Winston, Halem, and Sandra in Rock Harbor of Ristretto Rain) is so real to me, that there are times that I forget that I’m sitting on my deck in Anacortes.
The book is about a Physician Assistant (Bryan Rogers) who is working with the International Rescue Committee in Yemen. Disaster strikes when a Saudi jet bombs a school bus, killing 40 children. Bryan’s closes friend was Jabbar, the father of one of the young boys killed on the bus. In his period of extreme grief, Jabbar is recruited by Al-Qaeda to do a major terrorist attack against America, where the bomb was manufactured. Bryan, while dealing with the health care crisis on the ground, his hot and cold relationship with Doctors Without Boarders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) and a romantic relationship with a colleague, he must also try to thwart this attack on New York City, where he is from and his family lives.
This book will diverge into heart of the quagmire of war, peace, hate, and terrorism with a focus on the human component.
The way I write is that I create characters and their nature (how they think, act, and live) and then put those characters in a particular situation and allow them to interact. I don’t know how they are going to behave, but then I observe and record what I see. It is the same with language. If I am good, and I’m not always, I let the characters speak in their own language. That’s why they may use a vocabulary that I personally don’t. I try very hard not to be a “helicopter parent” to my character, where my words or reactions become theirs.
The Achilles heel of my writing, and you may have noticed here, is my dyslexia. This gives me a tremendous challenge in putting my story, the story I’ve lived, into a syntax of sentences that communicate that world. My brain does not see things that can be blatant to others. I can read this sentence 10 times and not see the error, “I went to the store with my friend to bye a cake.” Now of course I know the difference between bye and buy. But it is very difficult for me to see it. This problem has been a long-term embarrassment of this problem, ever since I was excelling in grade school but failing spelling tests.
This new phase of writing is what I call the coal-mining phase. After attending 6 different 5-week workshops on creative writing, led by very successful writers, I was happy to see that some of them have the same problem as me. Margaret Atwood was one of them.
But it is not all drudgery. In my next cycle I will also start to lay down color over the story I’ve written. I do like that part.
Years ago, when I first started writing books, I approached major publishers with my work. I had one publisher accept my book, Butterflies in the Belfry, but I didn’t like the terms and rejected the offer. The principle problem was they wanted to print it in hardback as a college text book and charge over $30 per book. My mother would not have purchased it at that price.
I became disillusioned with the publishing process. Most publishers were not interested in seeing my material because of my lack of notoriety. But in ways, I’m glad they didn’t ask to see my work. I am embarrassed by my first three books and it would be painful to go back and read them now. It is because I’ve worked hard to become a better writer. I did not come to writing via education, creative writing degrees, so I’ve had to humbly sit at the feet of such people to learn from them. I’ve done this through classes and reading hundreds of books with an eye to their technique.
I really want to work hard on Retribution and to make it superior to Ristretto Rain and I’ve had comments that that Ristretto Rain reached the level of being as good as the books by their favorite authors. But I have plenty of room to improve and find my voice. I am satisfied that I’ve sold over 500 copies, which is not bad for a small independent author. However, the royalties so far have been $5.75. More will come by the end of the year when things are tabulated. But the challenge to being a successful author is having people read and enjoy your work, but also having it to be sustainable, financially. It cost $2-3,000 to bring a book to the market, most of that going for a professional editor services. Unless you can recoup much of that money or your are rich, you cannot continue to write. I think most of the people who have followed this blog have purchased it and I am indebted to you. If you have not, please do. Read it. If you enjoy it, that’s enough. If you didn’t like it, write me a private message telling me why, and I will refund your purchase price and try to improve for me next book.
After avoiding the big publishers for 15 years, I want to go back with Retribution so it must be polished. In these times, it requires contracting with an agent first. The typical agent has 100 query letters per day. They choose one new book per month. So that means 1 in 3000 potential authors are contracted. I have a huge strike against me, and that’s my age. Being 65 and not having a book published by a major publisher greatly reduces their interest from the start. It is like a major league baseball team passing on a potential player simply because they are 35 years old. It is a business, and they look at long term potential of profits. If they know I’m dealing with cancer, they will have less of an interest, in the same way the hospital closed my clinic because they didn’t seen a potential in me anymore.