This year, 2019, my 18th book will be released.
When my first novel, Predators of Darkness, was published in 2007, I didn’t know if a second novel would emerge, simply because of how drained I was from writing the first one. But a few months afterwards, the characters began talking to one another in my mind (yeah, sounds crazy, right?) and I discovered their story wasn’t complete. A couple of years later, Beyond the Darkness was finished and published.
The truth needs to be revealed. None of these novels would have been written had it not been for my wife, Christal. Even though I had written my first novel when I was 11 years old, and had piddled with short stories into my early teens, I stopped writing due to my church’s view on fantasy when I was a kid (a blog for another day). I abandoned my passion due to listening to the narrow-minded views that proclaimed fantasy was evil. Yes, evil.
When I first met and started dating Christal at Berea College in 1993, we stopped at the college bookstore to browse at the books. We came to a table with some discounted novels and found a three-in-one novel set by Dean R. Koontz. I’d never heard of him, but she expressed that he was her favorite novelist. As a surprise, I later returned to the bookstore without her. I bought the book and planned to give it to her as a gift.
I returned to my dorm room and read the inside flap of the cover, wondering why Koontz was her favorite author. I turned to the opening chapter of The Servants of Twilight and decided to read maybe a few chapters. I found his writing style intriguing in that he allowed the reader to get inside each character’s mind. The story almost had a soap opera feel to it because each chapter flipped back and forth between the characters until their paths eventually collided. Needless to say, the event that occurred at the end of Chapter Four hooked and compelled me to read the entire novel. I understood why Koontz was her favorite author. Now he was MY favorite author.
I sheepishly told Christal that I had bought the book for her but … I needed to finish the first novel before giving it to her. She laughed. But, you see, it was her introduction to Koontz that caused my zeal to write to come out of hiding. I don’t know that I would’ve read the book otherwise.
We married before the end of the semester and during the summer I began rewriting the book I had written as a child. Since I no longer had a physical copy of the first draft from years before, I relied on memory. Even though I had abandoned writing, the story had never faded. I entertained for years about the characters and the storyline. But until you sit down and write it, the book doesn’t exist. A book cannot write itself onto the page, no matter how loudly the characters shout.
After writing a few chapters in a notebook, I handed the rough manuscript to Christal. She read it, and when I asked how it was, she simply shook her head and basically said, “No. This doesn’t work for me.”
While the words stung, I held faith in her feedback that I needed to rework and revise my writing. It was dull, bland, and needed life breathed into it. By this time in our marriage, we were accumulating quite a good library of books. Back then, Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble had several large tables of hardback books from major publishers with renowned authors priced at a dollar each. We bought crates of books, and she devoured them. I’ve never seen anyone read as quickly, but since she was well-read, this was why her opinion of my writing mattered the most. She could compare my WIP to dozens of other authors and hundreds of books she’d read.
After she’d finish a book, I’d begin reading it, carefully taking mental notes of how different authors crafted their books. I read more and more books by Koontz and chose him early on as my mentor. However, his style didn’t work for my fantasy book, so I shelved it.
I began working on a different novel and its pace moved quickly. Still a novice, I had no idea how to get my books to a publisher. Christal found a Writer’s Digest magazine at the Gadsden Mall Bookstore, and that’s where we both learned about agents and submissions guidelines. I entered short story contests and actually placed as a runner-up in one contest.
Early in my writing career, I was bombarded by ideas that flowed effortlessly. Filled with zeal, I wrote short stories and submitted to various magazines and entered more contests. I received feedback from some well-known editors with their rejections. I took their advice to heart. After all, they were editors of great magazines, so their advice was golden.
In 1995, Sunrise Hosiery, where I worked, had been bought out by Fruit of the Loom. Drastic changes to our production rates caused our pay to be cut. In September, Christal and I decided it was time to return to college so we chose Morehead State University because it was closer to her family. We moved in with her parents with our two little children and remained there until we got an apartment in Morehead.
While in their house, I used an old dresser in their cramped storage room at the side of the house for an office. As a challenge to myself, I wrote a novel in thirty days, more so to make my writing a habitual process. I later discarded the manuscript, which wasn’t a total loss because I had gained a mental discipline to churn out pages almost every day. It was during this move to Kentucky that the first lines of Predators of Darkness came to me (I’ll detail this later in yet, another blog). These fateful words evolved into a series of five books (with several more coming in the future). Somehow, all the reading and writing I had done began to shape my prose, allowing my craft to be honed and my distinctive style and voice were emerging.
When Christal read the first few chapters, she pointed to the scenes I’d written that jumped out to her the most. She encouraged me to keep writing and said that she was seeing great improvement in my writing, which thrilled me.
Writing is a process that, like fine wine, takes a lot of time for the quality to reach its richness and flavor. Some days, the words gush out with little effort. On other rare days, it’s a snail’s pace, filled with anguish. A lot of people don’t understand the depth of commitment that’s involved in writing a novel. Folks shrug it off and say that they need to write a novel, like it’s something done over a weekend, equivalent to trimming hedges or cutting grass. Producing top quality writing isn’t easy. In fact, it can be frustrating. To fine tune one’s writing requires a LOT of isolation, and even then, errors are missed. Thankfully, I have an incredible Beta reader.
Through all of my growth as a novelist, Christal has always encouraged me. She’s convinced me not to quit writing many times when I’m at my lowest moments. Believe me, I’ve faced low moments with self-doubt, as most writers do.
But for twenty-six years, she’s been by my side. She believes in me, my writing, and the future success of my different novel series. She rallies me to keep writing.
My dedication to her in my first novel sums it up: “For my wife, Christal, who reignited my desire to write. Without her, this book would not have been written. And you? You would not be reading this.”
It’s the truth. Without her supporting and encouraging me, my books wouldn’t have been written. Those who’ve found me after reading one of my novels wouldn’t know of my existence. We’d probably have never met otherwise, chatted, etc.
I’ve been truly blessed having Christal as my wife and my best friend for past twenty-six years. Words can never express my gratitude for all she’s done and her constant encouragement. There’s no greater feeling than having someone believe in you and your writing.
Now, if I can find one million readers who fall in love with my words like she’s fallen in love with me.
Blessings to you and yours!
Until next time …