Tuesday, January 28, 2014

An Independent E-Book Author

I finally put the finishing touches on the book I’ve been writing for the past two plus years and it’s published, well, sort of published. It’s published as an e-book only at this point.  In my old way of thinking, a truly successful author is one who is published by a publishing company, but I decided to self-publish.  I had read numerous articles and attended a lecture called “to self-publish or not to self-publish”. The choices seemed to be: a)I could hire an agent and start the long uphill battle of trying to convince a publisher to take a chance on a first time author with no guarantee of any results, and when and if I did get picked up by a publisher, I could sign away my rights to my book and agree on a small percentage of its sales or b)I could publish my book for free after getting it formatted at a low cost, people around the world could download it on any device and I could retain all rights to my book and receive 60-80% of the sales. It was an easy decision.

I did have to change my definition of what I thought a “successful author” was. My friend and neighbor, Roger, has several books published by Oxford Press. I can’t help being impressed. A big publishing company like that has always been the “holy grail” to authors. But the internet has changed everything. I am part of a growing number of independent authors that collectively say to hell with the big publishers. That’s the way I’m currently spinning it in my mind anyway. Of course if I ever do get picked up by a big publishing company, I’ll probably change my tune and become a snob.

Writing a book is a monumental task. This is the second one I’ve written, but the first one that is in publishable form. My first book chronicles my experiences from high school through Vietnam. I wrote it as a member of a writing group in Bellingham, Washington. It was a cathartic experience, and I was proud of myself for having completed it, but it is not a very good book. When I retired in 2009, I figured I now had more time to spend writing, but didn't know what to write about. Just over two years ago, my life-long friend, Paul, told me our high school buddy was living in Phoenix. My wife and I live in southern Arizona so I called him and we agreed to get together. The last time I’d seen him was when I took part in his 1969 wedding.

Petie was a pilot already when I knew him in high school. He was more of a risk taker than my other friends. If he was along when a group of guys was going out on a weekend night, it was a sure thing that something exciting was going to happen.  We stayed in touch after high school for a while. I went into the Army and he went to college. When I was home on leave once, he fixed me up with a blind date and flew us in his private plane from St. Louis to Chicago for dinner.  I think I impressed the hell out of my date that night (or at least he did).

Petie is now in his 60s.  He had written down many of his life experiences and tried to get someone to transform them into readable form. He had made some friends in Hollywood and one of the DreamWorks screenwriters wrote a screen play about his early life. I have a copy of it and it’s terrible. It reads like Harold and Kumar go to Vietnam, very Hollywoodized. Petie immediately rejected it. When I was with him in Phoenix, he told me he had been reading my blog and liked the way I wrote. He asked if I'd like to take a crack at writing his stories. His offer was like a gift from heaven.

I don't think I'm a natural story teller, but I do have experience writing other people's stories, so I said “yes” and started writing the book. I had a real advantage writing Petie’s stories because I knew him so well. We grew up in the same small Missouri town and I knew his parents, his brother and sister. In 1966 we drove in his Corvair convertible to Florida for a wild spring break get away, but that’s another story for another book.  I've always liked and been fascinated by Petie.  He is a great story teller and has lived an exciting life. He likes talking about his exploits, but isn't braggadocios. In fact, he always seems  baffled by how he gets into and out of touchy situations. He’s able to laugh at himself, his good luck, and his stupidity. He has been hunted down and nearly killed by the Hawaiian mafia, he was jailed in Iran as a spy and witnessed an execution, thinking that he would be next. His stories go on and on. My old friend is a gold mine of exciting stories and he and I both enjoy our collaboration. 

I was most fascinated by his earlier exploits. Shortly after his wedding in ‘69, he, like so many of us young men at the time, was forced into doing something about the military draft that was breathing down his neck. He didn’t want to end up as a “ground-pounder” so he joined Air America and flew covert operations for the CIA in Vietnam. Traumatized by his war experiences, he found he could no longer fit into domestic life, so he accepted a job flying for an island hopping airline company in the Caribbean islands.

We agreed that I would write a fictionalized book about his early life. I was able to draw on my own experiences as well, especially for the Vietnam part. So we developed this character, PT Davis, not unlike Petie himself, with a little of me in the mix and I wrote, with his help and guidance, our first novel, Above the Labyrinth.
Here's the link to my book on Amazon.com.
Here's the link to my book on Smashwords.