July 28, 2013

Writing as a lifelong passion


---- — Writing is addictive; there is no denying that.

If you’ve ever caught the writing bug, you know what I mean: An idea enters your mind, and you can’t dislodge until you write it down, put into a creative format that satisfies your personal guidelines and attracts the attention of others.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. I’d read all the time as a youngster, and that habit sparked my own interest in putting words on page and creating my own worlds of adventure where good battled evil in so many ways.

I wrote my first novel while in high school, another shortly after college while working in retail management and several short stories that helped me collect an abundance of rejection slips from magazines and journals along the way.

But life then took over, and I turned my attention to work and family. There seemed no time to enjoy this wonderful pastime I thought would one day carry me to the levels of Ernest Hemingway, John Updike and Raymond Carver as one of America’s great serious authors.

I found solace after leaving the retail industry and starting a career in teaching and a second in journalism. I landed a part-time job with the Press-Republican as a sports reporter in 1988, and I’ve been there ever since, following my dream as a writer, though far removed from the world of publishing giants.

Something happened seven, eight years ago. I can’t put my finger on what exactly, but I started to write creatively again. I began a novel based on a thought I had first considered maybe four decades earlier: What would humankind do if someone came up with the secret to longevity? What if people lived not for decades but for centuries? How could civilization balance a world’s population where people did not grow old and die?

Forty years ago, it was just a silly idea, something to consider but nothing I could base an entire book on. But today, with so many challenges facing our planet and our very survival, the idea became an obsession, and I had to write about it, about a world that had almost been decimated by climate change, by failed economies, by increasing hostilities worldwide. A world where people had overcome the massive global destruction and had entered a sort of utopia 200 years into the future where longevity had become commonplace.

“Innocence Lost” is not a story of the apocalypse. A million books cover that topic these days, books on humanity’s demise at the hands of zombies, cataclysmic storms, deadly viruses and malevolent aliens. My book looks beyond the horrific loss of half the planet’s population and at the recovery of humankind as the survivors strive for a better existence, with the greater question always in the background: Will we learn our lesson?

As most writers often say, the book wrote itself. I followed the course of the action, returning several times to revise the route my characters had put on the page, until the climax discovered itself, and I was looking at the need to turn this into two and then three complete books.

When I felt the book was ready, I began submitted queries to agents. I started with extreme enthusiasm: My book was unique, and agents would be fighting for the rights to handle my work. I soon realized that imminent stardom was not in the stars. I received rejection after rejection, and my excitement began to wane as I continued writing the second volume with little hope that the first would ever be anything more than a word-processed manuscript sitting atop a bookcase.

Late last autumn, I heard a fellow on the radio talking about a new way of publishing. I’d heard about self-publishing only too often, and I did not want to stoop to that level. My book was either good enough for mainstream publishing routes, or it wasn’t. But this fellow, who was a published author himself, spoke of a way to self-publish and then place the published work on Amazon and other sites for sale. It could all be done at no cost to the author or for relatively high costs for professional printing, editing and marketing.

I chose free.

My idea was simple: I’d publish “Innocence Lost,” someone would find it by accident and would pass it on to another person, who would do likewise until the book became “viral.”

That hasn’t happened, of course. I’ve sold a few copies to relatives (I’ve received great praise from those “unbiased” readers), and I proudly display a copy on my bookshelf at home. I check my page on Create Space every once in awhile to see if there’s been a sudden rush of copies, but I don’t come from a large family.

I’m nearly finished my second volume of this futuristic trilogy, and perhaps I will send queries out to agents knowing that this book is 10 times more exciting than the first. They’re bound to start fighting over the rights to handle my work. If not, I’ll self-publish, sell a few copies and enlarge my home library.

Oh, and I’ll continue doing what I’ve always loved to do, even if I’m not the next Hemingway, Updike or Carver.