Archive for the ‘Bookshelf’ Category

A Blatantly Self-Promotional Post

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

One sunny March afternoon in 1988, I came home from teaching at Minot State University and went into the cluttered room I called my study. I fired up my Kaypro computer and began writing the answer to a question I’d been pondering for a while.

For about ten months, my ladyfriend of the time and I had been discussing reincarnation and its implications. Among the things we wondered during those months was whether one could figure out a way to leave a message for whoever would have one’s soul in the next lifetime.* After we considered that question for a while, I inverted it and wondered: How would one react if he somehow received a message from the individual who’d had his soul in a previous lifetime?

The best way to answer the question, I thought, was with fiction. So I started with a man in the conference room of a bank. His name was . . . let’s see . . . Paul Weeres, and he was examining the contents of a safety deposit box, which included a message from the individual who’d had Paul’s soul in a past life. And the bank was . . . where? My road atlas was on a handy shelf, so I opened it pretty much at random and found myself looking at the map of Nebraska. Okay, where in Nebraska? Why not Kearney?

Why not indeed? So I placed Paul Weeres in Kearney, Nebraska, and went on from there, creating and inventing and drawing from history and conversations and events. I thought, as I started, that I would be writing a long short story, perhaps something around sixty or seventy pages. I got a good start on that first day and picked up the tale the next day and then the day after. Then things got more complex, as I suddenly found myself with another main character, Michael McSwain, whose life spanned the last third of the Nineteenth Century and the first third of the Twentieth Century. He was the author of the message Paul found.

And by the time I realized that the tale I was telling was not going to be concluded in seventy pages, I was invested in finding out what happened to Paul and Michael. I wrote three evenings a week through the end of that academic year, and when summer break began, I moved my computer to my air-conditioned office on campus and wrote every weekday.

Chapter followed chapter as characters created themselves and entered the story, complicating Paul’s life and Michael’s life and mine. I wrote on, slowing the pace as summer ended and the academic year and football season began. (I gave up a lot of things to find time to write, but the Minnesota Vikings? Sorry, Michael and Paul.) When football season ended, I resumed my earlier writing schedule and the chapters began to pile up. I began to see a place for the tale to stop.

That’s when I began to plan, to find places for characters to go and reasons for them to do so. Up to the late winter of 1988-89, I’d written things as they came to me, setting the machine in motion and letting it run. Now, for the first time, I began to chart who was where on what date, and after editing and revising and coaxing my characters along – some of them were remarkably headstrong and tried to take over the story – I found that stopping place in May of 1989.

By the time I got there, my story – now with the title Memory’s Gate – ran about 560 printed pages. If I had known when I first put Paul into that conference room that I was beginning a 560-page novel, I don’t think I would have had the courage to start. My ladyfriend, a good writer and a better editor than I’ll ever be, helped me through the project, and once it was finished, we each read the book again, noted a few small difficulties that I changed, and thought it was a pretty good read. And I put the book into a box.

Oh, I tried a few times to see if I could do anything with it: An agent looked at it once and said it wasn’t genre fiction, so it wasn’t marketable, and then she complained that I’d wasted her time. I sent it to a few publishers who didn’t say anything and to a few who sent me kind letters that nevertheless expressed no interest in the book. Never very good at marketing, I got discouraged, and the manuscript sat in its box. The 1990s came and went. Then I met the Texas Gal, and she read the book. And she wondered if I could submit it to places as a digital file instead of as a 560-page “thunk” in the mailbox.

Well, I no longer had my Kaypro. It had seemed expendable when I was using a Macintosh in 1999 (later supplanted by my first HP in 2000). So the huge floppy disks on which the book’s files resided were of no immediate use. And the Kaypro’s operating system was something called CPM, and although we dug a little, we found nobody who knew how to convert CPM-based files to files that could be used in Windows.

So, in one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me, the Texas Gal spent a good chunk of a Texas summer keystroking into MS Word all 560 or so pages of Memory’s Gate. I did some revising, as over the years I’d become aware of a few historical references and some other things that were not quite right, and I put together a promotional package and sent it out into the world a few times. Most of those publishers ignored me. One who liked the sample chapters and outline asked for the whole manuscript, and when I called the publishing house to make sure of the address, I learned he no longer worked there. I tried to find out where he went, but I couldn’t.

It’s been twenty-four years since I first came across Paul Weeres in that conference room, and in that time, the word of publishing has altered so much that I can’t even think of a metaphor to describe it. The marketing of digital manuscripts has opened doors to writers whose work in other generations might not have been seen by anyone other than their friends and acquaintances. And I walked through one of those doors this week.

Last autumn, the Texas Gal pointed me toward PubIt, the self-publishing arm of Barnes & Noble. I nodded, and began to go through Memory’s Gate one more time, checking references, time sequences and anything else I could think of that needed checking. I finished that over the weekend. In the past week, I’ve bought cover art, designed a cover, written blurbs about the book and about me, and earlier this week, I uploaded all of it.

Memory’s Gate is now on the digital bookshelf for whatever market it might find. (Those of you interested can find it here.) With that done, I’ve begun to sort through my current writing projects – and there are a few – to figure out which one of them will be the first to join Memory’s Gate on that shelf. I don’t think it’s going to take twenty-four years this time.

As for music to go along with this, well, there’s only one song that make sense today, so here’s a twangy country-rock interpretation of the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” from Herb Pedersen, pulled from his 1976 album, Southwest.


 
*I should note that many of those with a metaphysical bent theorize that all of a soul’s lifetimes are happening at the same time and that time does not actually exist as we perceive it. I have a difficult time wrapping my head around that theory, so I write as if lifetimes are consecutive, not concurrent.