A story about a story-My self publishing experience part one. August 28, 2011
It seems like every day, at least once but usually several times, someone will ask, “John, when’s your next book coming out?” The question never fails to make me feel good. I know now that I have been able to not only write a book but to get it published, win a prestigious award (Ippy, best fiction, South), and to create a following. I started the John the plant man blog to have a platform for answering frequently asked landscaping questions as well as to tell stories. Yesterday I was helping a client to find a leak in his waterfall and while we worked he kept asking me question after question about the writing, publishing, and marketing of Requiem for a Redneck after which I had to tell him all about my upcoming book Redemption for a Redneck which is due to appear on the scene in November, 2011. I realized that I had started answering these questions enough times to warrant writing about the subject. Here’s the story of the book:
I can remember being a pretty good writer in high school. My mother was a talented writer. She would take time from her busy schedule of being a housewife/student/career person to type my papers and to comment on them. When corrections were needed she took the time to show me what was wrong and how to correct it. I never much liked the correcting and re writing so I paid attention and learned to write with fewer and fewer mistakes. The most important lesson I learned from this session came from this conversation:
“John, you need to take out this last paragraph.”
“But, Mom, I like that paragraph.”
She replied, “You need to take it out because it just goes too far. You’ve already made your point.”
She then gathered up the papers, handed them to me with a pen and said,
“The most important part of being a good writer is to know when to stop.”
Mom reinforced the lesson a number of times when, after hearing a speech or a sermon, she would smile sweetly and say something like
“That was a good sermon, but he passed up three perfect places to stop.”
Life went on and the age of fifty sneaked up on me. I could write short stories, essays and good letters but I had never even thought myself capable of writing a book. I was running a landscaping crew made up of people who were proud to call themselves rednecks. On rainy or frigid days when we couldn’t work on yards we would sit around a wood heater, drink beer, and tell stories. I always had some good stories to tell but the rednecks told me stories that, while commonplace to them, opened up a new world to me. I remember Doug Barton saying one time,
“John, you need to take notes and write this stuff down so that it doesn’t disappear. We cain’t write a book about it, but you can.”
And that was the first time I ever thought about writing a book. I started taking notes and throwing them in a box as the stories piled up. I also became more and more associated with the North Georgia rednecks and their way of life. I met a lot of people and I drank a lot of beer. I met and worked with a talented but problematic saw miller named Ottis. I met and enjoyed talking to a retired bank robber named Jerry. The stories piled up in the box but I didn’t do anything about it.
One day, while talking to a friend I told him that I wanted to write a book but didn’t know where to start. He replied,
“John, your life is a book. All you got to do is tell about it.”
I filed that thought away with my notes.
Somewhere around the year 2000 I traded some irrigation work for a fancy word processor. I discovered the back space button that allowed me to correct my mistakes as I wrote. The back space button is, in my opinion, one of the most wonderful developments of the digital age. I love it and wish sometimes that I had a back space button to use in conversations.
So I started writing, but I had one more obstacle to overcome. It took a while to get the concept but one day in 2001 I quit drinking. That one action made all the difference in my life as well as in my writing discipline. I recently read an article in Harper’s that said when you quit drinking, it is a fifteen year process, five years to deal with the problem and get used to it, five years to figure out who you want to be, and five more years to become that person. My experience shows that to be right on target, too. Now I am in the third five years and I can look back and see it clearly.
Living by myself and trying to find a new lifestyle, I began to dig through the box of notes in 2005. I started the book. I started it twenty times. Ottis had died a weird death and I thought I might work the story around him. Every time I told someone about this beautiful but complexly confused man people would listen, enjoy the story, and then get upset when I told them that Ottis was dead. I decided to fictionalize and start the book with the death of Ottis so that there would be no surprises in the end. I gave Ottis’ character the name of Harce in order to avoid any problems. I wrote a totally fictional story about the death of Harce and then proceeded to tell the rest of the story. It took two years.
Two things that I had admired and thought about influenced the writing of the book. The first was an interview I had seen with John Hartford on the Johnny Carson show. (John Hartford has passed on to his greater rewards and if you don’t know who he was, go to you tube and look him up. You’ll thank me).Hartford was telling Carson that he wanted to write a book and instead of the usual binding, he wanted to write it and paste the pages on a stick so that it would make a circle and so that the reader could start at any place and end up wherever he wanted. I liked that.
The second influence came from re reading The Great Gatsby and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I decided that I really liked the point of view in which an outsider becomes close enough to the story to tell about it but not close enough to belong in it. Nick Carraway in Gatsby, for instance, basically only told what he could observe and hear about a situation in which he really didn’t belong. I could identify with this because I was on the outside of the redneck community looking in. I invented John the plant man to be the narrator. I still really like that point of view and I am using it again in the second book.
In February of 2007, still trying to find out who I wanted to be, still trying to come up with a new and sustainable lifestyle, I joined the Rome Area Writers. My book was maybe half way done and I needed some support. I also knew that I needed both some direction and an editor. I found both and another interesting part of the story started.
I will continue this article next week. I need to do a bit more thinking about it. My plan is to take the story all the way through the self publishing process which will answer a lot of other questions that I am frequently asked. I will also tell you more about the physical production of Requiem for a Redneck and about the progress of the second book in the planned trilogy, Redemption for a Redneck I intend to go into what I learned about self publishing, marketing, and the unexpected profits gained from being a published author so be sure to bookmark this or, better yet, to subscribe to this blogsite.
While you are waiting for the next article in the series, I invite you to read a beautiful and funny excerpt from the Requiem. Louann is a totally fictional and delightful character who deals with life as it comes at her.. Click on the link to see what happens when Louann wins the lottery
If you are interested in self publishing, here are three of the blogsites that I follow. There are a multitude of good articles on the subject if you wish to browse around within these sites. I highly recommend them.
There’s the lovely, interesting, and well informed Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn
And then there’s the wild man, Dean Wesley Smith
I subscribe to The Book Designer and enjoy an article by Joel Friedlander almost every day.
As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?
Leave a comment or a question, it’s always appreciated.