Saturday, February 14, 2015

The long road to Here

For the last three years I have used these pages to make the case that we are meant to keep “becoming” during our October Years. Even at our age we are not a “finished” product. We still have things to accomplish. Why should we allow the calendar or a number that represents our age to keep us from pursuing our October dreams? So today, in this self-ascribed “writer’s blog,” I am focusing on one of the most “unfinished products” I know. This admittedly self-indulgent post is about me, and the dream I have followed to reach this place I call Here.

The idea came to me a couple nights ago as I revisited a few of the seventy-some blog entries I have posted on these pages. From beginning to end my survey had the feel of a travel diary. I hope you will bear with me for a few minutes as I retrace some of the highs and lows on this retirement journey of mine.

It was 2008, after spending three years writing five “finished” books, when I was first ready to share my stories. At the time they resided in five three-ring binders on my bookshelf. Except for a few close friends, no one had seen them. Then, with daughter Amy’s help, a website was created and I began serializing each of the stories. 

I remember the anxiety I felt as I posted the first story. The writing was rough and unpolished, the subject matter so unlikely. There I was, a rank amateur, going public with stories about seventy year-olds meeting at a high school reunion. How bizarre was that? What would people think? As it turned out I had no reason to be so uptight. After all, unless I told someone about the stories and how to find them, no one even knew they were there.

For the next two years I posted those serialized stories twice a week---until the possibility of turning them into e-books took hold. My first excursions on the internet to learn about e-book publishing were a bit depressing. The e-book revolution was just taking off, spawning dozens of would-be publishers, all of them wanting to cash in---hoping to sell their so-called expertise to wannabe writers for a very high price.
 I had decided long before that neither my stories or my budget warranted sinking big dollars into vanity publishing schemes or pricey e-book providers. Instead, my nationwide internet search led me all the way to the wilds of Oregon, thirty miles from home. I learned that Ray Hoy’s Corvallis-based Fictionworks, Inc would design and create the e-book files, then send them off to all the major e-book sellers. At no cost to me my stories would be available as e-books, even earning a modest royalty.
Just as remarkable, Ray and I finalized our deal over lunch---discussing my books and talking about the next night’s high school football game, when the two Corvallis high schools would play each other. His grandson was a starter for Crescent Valley High School. My grandson started for Corvallis High. The next night we both watched Corvallis win by a single point.
Literally overnight I was in the e-book business. That was something special. Still, unless I personally told my prospective audience where to look, no one would have known the books were available. That same truth applied to my first Print-on-Demand paperback---a handsome volume, badly in need of proofing, that I ordered in mid-2012. Finally I had one of my own stories sitting there on my shelf. But it was expensive. Having all my books, there were eight of them by then, on that bookshelf would cost more than I was willing to spend.
Then I stumbled on to Create Space---a low-cost, do-it-yourself approach to Print-on-Demand self-publishing that fits me like a glove. In a matter of three months all eight titles were there on my shelf, and available online in affordable paperback and Kindle versions. What was there not to like about that?
Just as that task was accomplished I was surprised to find a pair of very special desserts on my plate. First, Barbara Curtin of the Salem Statesman-Journal wrote a nice article about my efforts. Though I wish she had said more about the stories themselves, instead of her amazement at finding an old fossil like me who wrote love stories about other old fossils, I definitely appreciated her article. Then, just weeks later came the first round results of Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel contest. Though we were judged on only the first chapter of our story, it was seriously gratifying to receive my first professional reviews---flattering ones at that.
By mid-2014 there were eleven books on my Amazon Author’s page. I had spent eight months reading, editing, proofing, and rewriting each of them---creating what I was willing to accept as their final form. Finally, after posting the first chapter of each of those books on the Tanner Chronicles website, I was ready to start the next story.
Today, when I pause to retrace my own twisted path to Here, I wonder how many unpublished (in the generally accepted sense) writers there are out there. By all accounts tens of thousands of us are writing the stories we want to tell---often spending years to bring our characters and their story to life. Each of those tales, no matter the genre or style, represents an extraordinary investment of time and self.
It seems that writing, in all its many forms, has become a national passion. In this day of digital, independent publishing hundreds, even thousands, of new books become available on any given day---each one representing a significant expenditure of someone’s time and imagination. Creating a novel length story is a grueling, often frustrating endeavor. Feeding an always hungry blog site like this is a constant challenge. 

So what kind of return would justify such an investment? I suppose there are as many answers as there are would-be writers. Some are seeking fame and fortune---a viable career. I was willing to settle for a more modest payoff when, just a few weeks ago, Amazon’s Kindle Review Service provided my first full-book review of Best Friends and Promises. I’ll admit I was walking on air when I opened the reviewer’s email to find these nine words.

Your book is fantastic. I just posted my review.

Was it really “fantastic”? Perhaps not. Yet by the time I finished reading his full review I realized that a qualified reviewer had taken time to read my story and come away understanding what I was trying to say. With that validation I considered myself repaid in full, with interest. The more I thought about that the more I realized how rewarding this retirement journey of mine has been, and how glad I am to have chosen this path. 
Yet as surely as it had a beginning, it will have an ending---one that I can see from where I stand. There are three books in process, and an intriguing possibility for a fourth, along with a few blog ideas to flesh out and post before I end that. By then it will be time to turn down a different path, toward some new sort of “becoming.”

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