Years ago while traveling west, I stopped along the edge of the highway in the early morning hours and gazed down on a beautiful valley nestled in the Idaho Mountains. An Emerald green lake surrounded by tall pine trees and dense forest contrasted the golden meadow leading to the lake. I envisioned a log cabin and small barn, with horses grazing. I fell in love with that spot and it imprinted itself forever in my memory.
Flash forward: During that time I was working swing shifts for the Dayton Police Department and often had difficulty falling to sleep. I developed the habit of envisioning that unforgettable setting In Idaho and thought of the process of building a log cabin – one log at a time. I veered off my thoughts to consider every aspect of what it would take to survive in total wilderness alone. Long story short, I drifted off to sleep. Over many years, I managed to get the cabin build in my mind but continued to visit the scene anytime I wanted to fall sleep. I still do.
I have tried to write stories all my life – stacks of finished and unfinished manuscripts crowd my files and desktop. But undying praise from friends and loved ones does not lead to a published novel. With the mantra of ‘write what you know’ firmly embedded, most of my novel attempts were crime/fight crime/mystery stories, with hundreds of rejections from publishers to accompany them.
One night lying in bed thinking of my secret valley and the small farm I’d built in my head, I had difficulty thinking of something new to build or some new aspect of survival. Sleep wouldn’t come. “Write what you know”, flashed through my mind. I decided I needed to write a story about my secret place.
With only the setting as a starting point, I developed a protagonist totally different from me, but who possessed all my knowledge of having built this place over many years. I then set about (in my mind only) putting the character in life threatening situations and involving other characters to come up with a story. I quickly found that I could not get to sleep with these thoughts.
So I started to write the story. Coming up with a believable antagonist was the most difficult part. Thinking back on my police career and the criminals I’d dealt with didn’t help much (for a story in this isolated setting). Not much activity there for organized crime mobs, no national security issues to involve terrorists, not many serial killers roaming the woods of southern Idaho. Then the Outlaws motorcycle gang popped into my head. Having had some dealings with them in my police career I knew they were mobile, nationwide in scope, vicious, lawless, and colorful. Perfect bad guys.
But why would they bother with a hermit farmer? Well, he periodically had to get supplies from someplace. Why not have the gang murder the general store owner and the hero could then become involved. Unlike previous novel attempts, the story flowed with no outline (other than in my mind). I wrote the entire first draft in a few short weeks (and sleepless nights). Along the way, I threw in the murder victim’s daughter for a romance angle, and a couple of inept bikers for comic relief. In my experience with the local chapter of Outlaws, I knew, although they are vicious and lawless, they are not necessarily CEO material. I needed the ineptness to keep our hero and damsel in distress from being killed in the first chapter.
As with my other novels I instinctively knew it was not worthy of publication despite the praise from my family. I tweaked and rewrote it a little at a time. Then I joined a writers’ group and started subbing chapters for review. The Internet Writers Workshop provided unbiased criticism of my writing and succinct suggestions of how to make it better. Slap myself in the forehead. Why hadn’t I seen those flaws before? The manuscript slowly changed into a publishable novel. I learned how to write an acceptable query letter and started submitting the manuscript to publishers. Even though I knew OUTLAWS was a vast improvement over all my previous novels, I had little confidence is getting it published (thanks to all my previous rejections).
When I was asked to submit the entire manuscript to an eBook publishing house (Musa Publishing), I was thrilled beyond compare, and shocked with disbelief, when two weeks later, they offered me a contract to publish the book. It will be released on Amazon and Musa Publishing on May 18, 2012.
Dreams can become reality. If you count sheep to get to sleep -- write a story about sheep.