Fanfare for the Common Man

  • Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I wrote a book. It only took me 35 years to finish one. That’s not too bad.
I realized I was good at starting novels. Coming up with the plot, characters, internal conflict – a book is nothing without some internal conflict – and the first 10 or so pages as a teaser was something I was really good at. Finishing them is where I had the problems.
I was stuck on the premise a real book had to be somewhere in the ballpark of 120,000 words and about 425 pages in length. Anything shorter in my mind wasn’t a real book.
Your books should be no longer than 70,000 words, said my writer friend Eric Jerome Dickey. He’d written almost two dozen of these novel things.
I thought: 70,000 words? I’m just getting started.
The novel I’d been writing at the time, LOOT, pegged in at a little more than 146,000 words.
“You wrote the phone book,” Eric said. “That’s Stephen King territory.”
I thought he was crazy, until he said, “You’re thinking in 8.5x11 terms. Don’t do that. Book pages, hardback and trade paperbacks, are only 6x9 inches in size.”
So, I did the math on the second book I’d been working on, a love story called “The Lunch Box.” It topped out at a little more than 101,000 words. When converted to trade paperback’s 6x9-inch format, it topped out at 509 pages.
No wonder I could never finish these things. I really was writing the phone book.
Eric said there was no better time for un-agented writers to pen a novel than now.†
I’d been holding out for the phone call offering the six-figure book deal. Ronda Rich, a former colleague, had walked into a writer’s convention in Atlanta wearing a short skirt and stilettos and inked herself a six-figure book deal. I figure if she could do it so could I – the book deal, not the short skirt and stilettos. I wear a size 14 shoe. I don’t think they make stilettos that big.
I’d seen the horror stories of self-pubbing first hand.
I remember one of my first book interviews was with a 20-year old young man who had written a history on the Civil War on South Carolina. I remember meeting him at the used bookstore on Main Street here in town as he was preparing for a book signing and release party on his book.
We sat down to talk and I started flipping through the first few pages of his book.
On page 9, I found a typo.
A bad one.
I showed him.
And I watched his shoulders sag in defeat.
“I just bought 500 copies of this stupid thing and there’s a typo?” he cried. “Don’t they edit these things?”
Apparently not.
I watched him leave the bookstore pulling his 500 books behind him in a Red Rider wagon. I never saw him again.
So I have a book, a romance novel, and it’s called Locked Hearts. Not something you would expect out of me, but I wrote it.
I’ve got a dozen more, all romances, and another dozen after that in other genres. I held my first book in my hands and I liked the heft and feel of it.
In my life I have pitched in front of 10,000 screaming baseball fans and played in a real-live rock band.
Nothing compares to this, seeing your name above the title. Nothing at all.

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