In the Spirit of Leap Year

I’m just kidding. Leap year changes nothing. I do want to continue talking about the intricacies of what it takes to write a book- from my admittedly limited perspective. But isn’t that what makes us all unique? Our ability to personally interpret situations while comparing those ideations with others? Here’s a little taste of where my journey began, and how it relates to those who came before me. Enjoy.

 

 

It was a dark and stormy night. Well, maybe it was, but that was so long ago I honestly don’t remember. What I do know is that I was very young—think 10th grade—and I spent hours cranking out page after page of what I was certain was going to be the next bestseller. See, I made the mistake of reading that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she was just 21.[1] Twenty-one! Anything she can do, I can do better. Right? Wrong.

The words flowed, all in those quiet hours after dinner and before (sometimes after) bed. I engaged with the characters, spinning an epic yarn of mayhem and horror. When I finished the rough draft I quickly went about typing it up on my word processor. Don’t laugh. I may be dating myself, and some of you will run to Google to see what I’m talking about, but they were cutting edge back in the 19…

Anyway. The finished manuscript came in around 260 pages. A worthy effort all things considered. I then did what any reasonable individual would do. I began to show it off. My mother (as always) thought it was the greatest story ever told. My English teacher thought it was so great that she nominated me for the coveted Student of the Month award. I went up on stage in front of the entire student body and received a medal for my efforts. A medal! I was on cloud nine. Invincible and ready to take on New York.

Back in those days we didn’t have the internet. Didn’t have the luxury of resources you have at your fingertips now. I already made a monthly pilgrimage to the comic book shop in Binghamton, New York, and, knowing how much my father liked reading, it didn’t take much convincing to swing over to the Oakdale mall and hit Walden Books. Selecting a few science fiction and fantasy books, I hurried home and began crafting letters to several publishers.

How could they say no? I had just won an award. Clearly my book was meant to become the next big thing. Licking the stamps and then the envelopes, I hurried out to the mailbox and raised the red flag. I was declaring war on the publishing world and wouldn’t stop until I had conquered it all. Days went by. I began to feel like Ralphie from the Christmas Story. A week. A month. Two. I don’t remember when in the process I started losing hope, but the weight settling over me as the realization that my book wasn’t good enough dawned.

Doubt followed. What did I do wrong? What could I have done better? Without knowing it, I ran through the U.S. Army’s AAR process.[2] I was convinced that my book should have been accepted. It should have rocketed through the charts to reach that coveted bestseller list. It didn’t. The manuscript went into a drawer and was forgotten as life continued. I never abandoned the dream of being published, but the closer I got to graduation the more my thoughts turned to growing up.

I joined the Army the following summer, exactly two weeks before Iraq invaded Kuwait. Little did I know how pertinent that would become to a large portion of my life.[3]

The Army sent me to the lovely country of South Korea, where I spent twelve months on the 38th parallel defending against the North. Okay, to be fair, I was 18 and in a foreign country a long way from home. Would you think about buckling down or would you enjoy your newfound freedom? Thoughts of writing faded to a dull flicker…UNTIL… I was reass-igned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the 18th Airborne Corps. Cool right? Single and in the barracks, I sat down, got my pen and paper out, and began plotting.

The novel got away from me, reaching almost 600 handwritten pages before I placed those magic words on the last page. The End. It was much more of an accomplishment than my earlier expedition into the writing world. The product became the first two books of my Tomorrow’s Demise series and, ironically, the last of the books I had written to be published.[4] Looking back, those were fun days. Ones without concern or worry. Days filled with hopes and dreams and, despite being harshly discarded at the fragile age of 16, ones with a bright future. Every one of us has a dream. Some of those dreams are about writing a book. We who hold that dream crave to see our names in print. To see happy customers holding copies of our books or leaving rave reviews for the world to see. Validation. That’s what it all boils down to.

The purpose of this book isn’t to tell you the way to write a book. No, I wouldn’t be so presumptuous. Each of us will approach the process from our own particular angle. All I seek to do is show you how I tackled the writing process and my personal journey to success. Is it the success of a fully-funded, New York City Big Six author? Not even close, but I can’t complain. This book will detail all my mistakes and successes. In short, this book is the story of what worked for me as I stumbled through the process. Hopefully you find enough useful information in these non-gilded pages that your hope is renewed and your drive reestablished so you find the confidence to strike the first key in your story. Over a million books a year are now being published—thanks to the digital revolution. What’s your excuse for yours not being among them?

[1]     Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus was born from a challenge by the poet Lord Byron in May 1816 in the city of Geneva. Shelley originally envisioned Frankenstein as a short story.

[2]     The After Action Review (AAR) occurs after every training exercise. It is a simple process with unfailing steps: what was supposed to happen, what happened, what went right/wrong, and what can we do to improve.

[3]     Twelve years later I would find myself on a plane heading to Camp Wolf, Kuwait, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as part of the 101st Airborne Division.

[4]     Tomorrow’s Demise: The Extinction Campaign, Tomorrow’s Demise: Paths of Salvation.

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