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The Writer's Experience. . .Well, My Experience Anyway.

I don't remember when I didn't makeup stories. I wasn't a liar except for a few told during childhood, but I guess it could be argued that fiction writers are creative liars. We write the lies that people want to read, at least some do. We just let readers know upfront; this is fiction, a creative lie.

I think I was inspired to write from a very early age. After my mother died when I was a little boy, the one connection I had to my father was through his book Laughter in Hell about his true life experience as a POW in Japan during WWII. I didn't meet my dad until I was eighteen, but I knew that he had written a book. He narrated his experience to Stephen Marek who wrote it, and then his book (initially published in 1954) was the first book published about Japanese POWs. I kept the book and thumbed through it as a child, but the reading was too complicated for me then. I actually didn't read it cover to cover until after I met him. My experience with my dad is referenced in my blog post Standing in the Shadow of Courage.

The first time I actually remember writing anything was in the sixth grade after I played Bob Cratchit in a play adaptation of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The play was a total flop and we were booed by other schoolchildren from the first grade through the sixth. Nonetheless, it gave me an awareness of a script format, and with that knowledge, I decided that I would write my own play. I called it Who Ate the Tree, and it was a story (even in 1966) about saving the environment. I have no idea what happened to it and the content is lost in the deep recesses of my memory, so deep that I am not willing to dig for it.

I continued to write in high school, poetry mostly. What troubled teen, and many who are not so troubled, does not write poetry? I kept a journal as a teen, bla. . .bla. . .bla, daily musings. Those have also disappeared over many years of moving. Then in college, even though I didn't major or minor in anything remotely related to writing, I continued to write poetry and short stories. In college, I also began writing songs. There were guys who would sit on the front steps of the dormitory, who would play guitar, and sing. I asked them if they would teach me how to play the guitar, and ended up buying a cheap pawn shop guitar, learning cords, and learning that I could set poetry into melody. I wrote songs through much of my college years and for several years afterward. As well, I edited the college literary magazine in which students, including myself, would submit works of poetry, essays, and short stories.

After college and graduate school, I continued to write mostly music. I even moved to Nashville to see if I could break into the music business, but I was too insecure to have a good stage presence and my songwriting, except for one or two songs, didn't really fit the country formula. I lived in Nashville for fourteen years and during that time, I wrote a monthly feature for a regional magazine focused on addiction recovery. I wrote about my own childhood in those posts and about the effects of addiction on families. I had multiple ideas for novels during that time but found that I couldn't get more than three or four chapters done before I would hit writer's block and could not take the writing any further. Maybe it just wasn't time, yet. Those ideas (mostly science fiction) are still in my head and maybe I will write them one day.

I moved out of Nashville in 1997 and went home to the Ozarks where I got a job in a local hospital near where my grandmother lived so I could spend a few years with her and care for her before she passed on. I was pleasantly surprised when I moved back that things appeared to have progressed in the area. I had initially expected that I would be going back to the conservative hell of my childhood, but I discovered that there are enlightened people everywhere. I got involved with community theater and the hospital would frequently ask me to do radio spots or write articles for the local paper. I had pretty much given up on the idea of writing a novel. I simply expected that I didn't have it in me and that it would never happen. Yet, there was always a nagging in my heart to write.

Around 2010, I was joking around with a friend and playing a character of a burned-out old hippie woman who smoked, was irreverent, and basically didn't give a shit about what other people thought. We had a good laugh out of it, but something occurred to me. What if I were to give her a voice? What if I were to sit down and allow her to tell her story and write as though she was the one telling the story? I sat down at the computer with no intention of writing a novel. I figured that there might be some good jokes coming out of it, but something happened that I didn't expect. Not only did she tell her story, but she kept telling it and kept telling it. It didn't turn out the way I expected and it was as though I was watching the story unfold as I was writing it. It felt more like channeling a spirit than creative writing. In 2012, I went through a rough breakup, hit a snag in the writing at about the twelfth or fourteenth chapter, and decided that the same thing had happened that had always happened when I tried to write a novel. I was stuck. I kept the file and didn't touch it for about a year after that. When I finally did sit down at the computer again, she backed up, deleted a couple of chapters, and then she finished telling the story. It was not the kind of story that I had ever thought about writing and the comedy in it was minimal. The story she told was about family, about frustration and fear, and her experience of living through the tumultuous 1960s when she discovered that her paradigm did not match the reality of life.

A few years before I finished the novel, I had met friends who had retired to the Ozarks from New York, Frank and Su Sherry. Frank was an author and had written multiple novels, mostly about pirates. Su had been a part of his writing process throughout the course of their marriage and she had written her own memoir My Three Lost Girls about growing up in an orphanage. I would have asked Frank to review my novel and tell me what he thought, but he had developed fairly severe dementia. Instead, I asked Su to read it. She came back to me with the affirmation that the story was good and that I needed to get it published. Then, she set about teaching me how to prepare it for publication. At the time, as well, I had known that Marideth Sisco had just finished working on the Oscar-nominated film Winter's Bone, based on a novel by Daniel Woodrell and starring Jennifer Lawrence. I had met Merideth, and asked if she would read and review the book. To my surprise, she did and gave it a glowing recommendation. After that, I thought, I might actually be onto something here.

The next thing I knew I was learning about the publishing industry and it has been a long and difficult journey indeed. When I was recently asked what advice I would give to young writers, I said, "The writing is the easy part and that is not easy." In the ensuing years after that first novel, I began to learn about the truly difficult part of writing; marketing and publishing. I withdrew the novel Confessions from the Pumpkin Patch from the first publisher because they didn't publish it in eBook format. Then I discovered that I could self-publish on Amazon. So, I kept it in self-publication for several years while I continued to work on the next novel. I entered the book in a writing competition in 2015, and again to my astonishment, it won a New Apple Awards medal for general fiction. Then, I was just beginning, but after continued affirmation of my writing, the only thing I could think of was to write another novel.

There had been a character in Confessions from the Pumpkin Patch who had kind of intrigued me, and I thought, What would he say if I let him tell his own story? That character was Pastor Ronald Dennison. I did the same thing that I had done with the first novel and simply let him tell the story. There were no snags with writing this novel, no writer's block, and the story just told itself. The snags came later when I realized, after trusting the wrong people to edit my work, that there were major flaws in the writing, not with the story, but with grammar, punctuation, and occasional spelling mistakes. This was when I took the second novel The Calling Dream off the market. I then had it published by a New York publisher and it was well edited, but after about a year, I found myself dissatisfied with how they were handling the book. I then took the book back from them and went with Fresh Ink Group publishing. Although Fresh Ink Group did a wonderful job, there were all kinds of problems with the formatting when I transitioned from the other publisher. Included with that were at least eight crashes of my PDF service which dumped corrections that I had made while going through the book. I finally got a good PDF program and, after nine proofs, we were ready to publish the second edition of the book. During this time, Fresh Ink Group also allowed me to make some alterations here and there and add an epilogue to the book. The result, I think, is a much better version of the book.

While I was going through all of this, I continued to work on writing the third novel which is based on a character who showed up during the writing of The Calling Dream. I guess, therefore, this has turned into a series of sorts. It is what I call The Soul Encounters. Basically, a soul encounter is when we meet someone who has a profound and perhaps life-changing effect on us. That could be someone we meet briefly at a party who shares a concept that we had never considered before. It could be a chance encounter. It could be a relationship that lasts a little while, but when we walk away from that relationship, we find that we are not the same person. We all have soul encounters almost every day. Most of the time, that is simply the recognition of connection with another person, but sometimes it amounts to a shift in consciousness and the development of awareness that we never had before. Sometimes, it is experienced more in the heart than in the mind and we feel a deep connection with someone who may never cross our path again. So, basing the writing on soul encounters, the protagonist of a different novel is therefore generated out of the current novel that is being written. That protagonist shows up as a cameo character in the current novel and there may be one or two chapters devoted to that character, or maybe only a couple of paragraphs. The protagonist of the current novel gives his, her, or their perception of the encounter and when the next novel is written, that protagonist gets to tell his, her, or their version of the encounter. So, unlike a traditional series that follows the same characters through several different stories, each of my novels is a separate story that stands on its own but interacts with characters in one of the other novels.

After I realized that The Calling Dream was not up to par in terms of mistakes, it caused me to take a look at the other books, and then I found that those were also not ready for prime time. I, therefore, took those books off the market to revise and correct errors which are sometimes as simple as a misplaced comma. When they are ready, they will be published as second editions of the same book, and the story of my writing continues and will likely continue for as long as I can sit before a keyboard and allow the words to flow. I don't know that I would ever become a famous writer, but if that never happens, I pray, at least, that my work will not only be entertaining, but uplifting and encouraging to those who happen to read these stories.

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