A Change Of Course

I know, I know. It’s been awhile since I last blogged about my path to publication.

A lot has changed since I last wrote about the process. In my last post on this subject, I outlined why I had decided to make a run at getting my novel The Road Back From Broken traditionally published. I’ve long dreamed of writing and publishing a book. From the time I was a teenage sales clerk at a mall bookstore, my dream was always to see my book on the shelves.

Seven months after I started querying literary agents in pursuit of a traditional publishing deal, I’ve decided on a change of course. I am abandoning my initial strategy in favor of an entirely different path. After receiving ample feedback from literary agents, published authors, editors, and others wise to the ways of the traditional half of the publishing industry, it’s become clear that the goals I had when I set out to write Road can only be met by publishing the book myself.

Some people will assume that I’m impatient and that I gave up too soon, or that I am too stubborn to accept feedback, but the reality is, the traditional publishing market itself made the choice clear.

While I received more than my fair share of form letter rejections from agents (“After careful consideration, I have unfortunately come to the conclusion that this is not something I wish to pursue, and therefore, must pass”), I also received a number of rejections that revealed the reason I wasn’t getting requests. The gist of these substantive rejections was that the agents felt that my book, while very well-written, had no viable commercial market; or, put a different way, they didn’t think they’d be able to sell my book to a publisher’s acquisitions editor. In a way, I can’t really blame them. Why would an agent take a chance on a book like mine when they can take on clients who write in more popular genres/categories like romance, women’s fiction and young adult?

A few people suggested I rewrite Road to fit into one of those trendier, more popular categories. Others said it didn’t matter, because women don’t want to read about a male protagonist (one agent said that) and men don’t want to read about feelings and emotions (yes, an agent said that, too). I wrote a book that challenges certain widely-held stereotypes about military families, and I saw rejections that were based on the assumption that those stereotypes are, in fact, true.

The story I set out to tell in Road is not one I can tell if I gut the novel and rewrite it from the point of view of the twelve year-old son, or solely from the point of view of the male soldier’s wife. (For what it’s worth, Road’s sequel, What Fury Left Behind, will focus primarily on the wife’s point of view.) I didn’t write this book to make millions. I wrote this book to tell a story I think needs telling, a story that hasn’t really been told before, and not to fit into some publishing house editor’s preconceived notions about men, women and the military.

So I am going to publish Road and its sequel myself. In a way, that means (for now) I’m abandoning my longtime dream of seeing my book with a famous imprint sitting on the shelf at Barnes & Noble. But in another, more important way, I’m not abandoning that dream, but rather fulfilling it via other means, means that didn’t exist when I was a sixteen year-old clerk at the B. Dalton Bookseller at Southglenn Mall.

When I worked in a bookstore (circa 1990-93), there was no such thing as Amazon. The ubiquitous Barnes & Noble big-box stores that anchor modern malls didn’t exist (the first ones opened in the early ’90s). The concept of ebooks as we know it today didn’t exist either, which makes sense because email and the internet were alien to most people in 1992.

We live (and read, and write) in a very different world than existed ten or twenty years ago. B. Dalton Bookseller, the huge bookstore chain I worked for, no longer exists, and the venerable Southglenn Mall was torn down in 2006. The biggest retail booksellers in the world are Amazon and Barnes & Noble, which acquired my old employer in 1987. But they aren’t the only places people buy books. Readers can buy ebooks through a number of other outlets, including the iBookstore, Smashwords, Oyster, Scribd, and Lulu.com. Readers who want to read their books in paperback can buy them at a retail store or online, where small publishers and self-published authors can fulfill orders via print on demand, which eliminates the need to maintain an inventory of preprinted books.

Other things have changed since 1990. Back in the day, an agented author would sign with a publisher and receive a sizable advance, and the publisher would handle the rest of the process, including the marketing of the book. Now, even agented, traditionally published authors must do much of their own marketing. The size of the average advance is at an all-time low (adjusted for inflation). Simply put, traditional publishing isn’t what it used to be, as far as authors are concerned. It’s not the only way to get a book into a reader’s hands, and in many cases, it’s not the most lucrative.

When I saw how many “nicely-written but has no market” responses I got to my pitch, it became clear that the only way to get Road published via the traditional agent-publisher route was to rewrite Road to fit into other people’s concept of what the book should be. Some people told me to wait, to write something else, and maybe the traditional publishing markets would someday change to better accommodate Road. Others told me to try a small speciality publisher, but most of those have specific market niches and Road didn’t quite fit into any of them.

The thing is, I know Road has a market. It’s probably a small market, if I’m being honest with myself. There’s no doubt that market is substantially smaller than the market for, e.g., young adult or romance, but I don’t really care. I’m not in this for money alone and I’m not quitting my day job. The size of the market doesn’t matter to me as much as telling Road’s story, the story I wrote, to the people out there who want to read that story—to the people who have been erased by the wider publishing world that insists that they, in fact, don’t exist.

Maybe the agents are right and Manhattan’s big publishing houses aren’t interested in investing money in a book that may only sell a few thousand copies (or fewer). That’s fine. I’m lucky that I have the time and money to invest in publishing this book myself. If they aren’t willing to bet on Road, I am. I’m willing to wager that the market that the agents say does not exist actually does exist, even if only on a very small scale. And yes, that means it may cost me a couple thousand dollars to publish and market Road, money that I may never earn back. There’s a very good chance I’ll lose money on this book. That said, to me, every penny I spend is worth it if the story I’ve told is meaningful in the life of one reader.

So I’m happy to let you all know that The Road Back From Broken will be published this fall. My target date for release is October 20, 2015, and barring any unexpected technical hiccups, you will be able to buy Road in ebook and paperback on Amazon on that date.

Stay tuned to this blog for a look at Road’s cover, which I hope to be able to reveal later this month.

“The End” Is Only The Beginning

When I was sixteen, I got my first real job. My first introduction to the working world of W-2s, withholding and fifteen-minute breaks was as a retail sales clerk for the now-defunct B. Dalton Bookseller. For a teenager whose nose was always buried in a book, it was the perfect first job, even if it did pay only a nickel more than the minimum wage of $3.80 an hour.

I loved working at the bookstore, which was tucked into a busy corner of the old Southglenn Mall in Littleton, Colorado. Being surrounded by books, seeing the new ones come in and handling the stripping or return of older titles that didn’t sell—it was a great gig for a young bibliophile.

That same year, I started to write a book of my own—a long, aimlessly rambling monstrosity called The Four Horsemen that told the story of a Scottish soldier during Henry V’s invasion of France in 1415. For a year, I sat in the unfinished basement of our house in Littleton and banged it out until the demands of college applications and Advanced Placement exams forced me to abandon the effort.

Over the ensuing years, I made four more attempts to write a novel, always with the hope that maybe, just maybe, my book would end up gracing the bookstore shelves where a reader could stumble on it while browsing.

As the years went by, I held fast to that dream, despite my past failures.

On New Year’s Day 2014, I sat down and started to write, giving life to the rough-hewn idea that had been rattling around in my head for the better part of a year. Three months later, on the night of April 4th, I finished the first draft of the novel I would eventually call The Road Back From Broken. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment, in no small part because of the five previous times I’d failed to reach “The End” on other novels.

What I didn’t realize that night was that typing “The End” wasn’t the end of anything.

It was only the beginning.

And so it is with any writer who seeks to publish. Writing the book (poem, magazine article, etc.) is only the beginning when the intended end is getting that piece out there and read by paying readers.

My friend A.C. Dillon is on a journey of her own, but she chose to self-publish her novels Change of Season and Waiting for a Star to Fall. I’ve watched her journey with interest (and a little envy) as she readies her first novel for re-release and her second for its summer 2015 debut.

We hope that our little cross-posting blogging experiment “Behind the Book” will cast some light on our respective experiences, highlighting the differences and allowing us to commiserate on the similarities along the way.

Will you join us?

A Return to Blogging?

I’ve been a very, very bad blogger.

Now, I do have a very, very good excuse—I wrote a book during the time I wasn’t blogging—but nonetheless, I’ve been a bad blogger.

However, a very nice lady and fellow writer I met at the 2014 Florida Writers Conference invited me to participate in a Liebster Award blog hop (sort of like a blog chain letter, “tag, you’re it” sort of thing), so I figured this was a good chance to kick (re)start my blogging efforts.

While it sounds like a cutesy name for a dachshund or a new Volkswagen convertible, the Liebster is really a way for writers and bloggers to share ideas. To that end, Faydra Stratton asked me, Beth Salmon, Serena Schreiber and Bria Burton the following holiday-themed questions, which I will answer.

  1. What traditional Thanksgiving dish do you wish would never show up on your table again?

Ugh! I loathe sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top. Now don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love sweet potatoes, but I absolutely do not understand why those naturally sweet little tubers need to be topped with sticky blobs of factory-whipped sugar (which by the way do not resemble the old-fashioned confection made from the Althaea officinalis plant). I like my sweet potatoes roasted or mashed, with a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg sprinkled on top. Save your marshmallows for smores and keep them away from my sweet potatoes!

  1. How do you keep writing during the holiday season?

I find it fairly easy to write during the holiday season because that’s when I actually get to take big chunks of time off work. I work two jobs: my day job that pays the mortgage, and my writing job, which feeds my soul but hasn’t earned me a single red cent (yet). During the holiday season, I actually get to have entire days that I can devote entirely to writing, when most of the year, writing is what I do during the evenings and on weekends.

  1. What does your main character want for Christmas? Why?

The main character of my novel, The Road Back From Broken (which I’ll begin querying after Christmas), is Jacob “Fitz” Fitzgerald. Fitz’s struggle with booze, post-traumatic stress and survivor’s guilt have estranged him from his family and the book focuses on the process by which he and his family begin to heal their broken connection. Fitz would like a Christmas where everything was the way it was before the IED went off in Kunar Province, Afghanistan: his medic friend isn’t dead, his body isn’t dotted with shrapnel scars, his sleep isn’t interrupted with nightmares and flashbacks, and his relationship with his wife and son doesn’t bear the awkward marks of the six months of strife and silence that followed his injury. None of these things are possible, of course. What he’d be happy with instead is a nice family dinner including chilaquiles and tamales (Fitz loves Mexican food), and a membership at the local rock-climbing gym.

  1. What prompted you to finally sit down and write a book?

Road represents my fifth attempt to write a novel. I tried a couple times during the last ten or twelve years to write a book but abandoned each attempt after I lost steam. I decided in 2013 that it was time to try again, and attended the 2013 Florida Writers Conference with the goal of making this next attempt my first success. My husband encouraged me to make a New Year’s resolution to start writing a book in 2014. I woke up on New Year’s Day and started my novel, and on April 4th finished my first draft.

  1. Where do you do most of your writing?

At home, sitting on our comfy green sofa, with my MacBook Pro in my lap. I did write portions of Road on my lunch hour at work and in airports using Google Docs on my iPhone. But 95% of the book got written on my MacBook while sitting on the sofa. Not very glamorous, I know.

  1. Is there any genre or type of book you’d love to write but are too intimidated to do so?

Historical fiction, which is an odd thing to admit considering I am a huge history buff. The thing is, I’m such a perfectionist in my writing, I’m leery of writing a book set in another era for fear I’d screw up the details of daily life and leave the book with a texture that’s not as authentic as it should be.

  1. Confess! What’s your bad habit in terms of writing? 

No surprise based on that last answer, I suppose, but one of my bad habits is too much detail. My first drafts are full of excessive details, textures, sights, smells, car models, street names, etc. some of which gets culled out in the editing phase. I also tend towards sentences that are too long and complex, so editing involves frequent use of a cleaver.

  1. What author or book speaks to you the most and why?

Two of the books that most influenced me as a writer are by Tim O’Brien: The Things They Carried (1990) and In the Lake of the Woods (1995). O’Brien humanizes the experience of war—in his case, the Vietnam War—by showing how it affects his characters on a really micro scale, and also how the experience of war trauma is processed by each character in the context of the lives they lived before going to war. I’ve tried to do this in my own writing, showing how “macro” historical events impact people who experience them on a very micro scale, each in their own unique way, and those impacts resonate for generations after the events in question.

  1. Imagine you’ve been asked to speak on a panel for writers. What’s the topic and what other authors do you want sharing the stage with you?

I would love to talk to other writers on the topic of writing about trauma and recovery (or non-recovery) from trauma. I’d like to be joined by writers who also write about trauma, including war trauma but also other kinds of trauma (arising from, e.g., abuse, assault, accidents, losing a child, etc.). My dream-team of co-panelists would have to include Tim O’Brien, Toni Morrison, Laurie Halse Andersen, the English novelist Pat Barker, the Canadian novelist/poet Anne Michaels, and the romance writer Jessica Scott, who weaves wonderful love stories about wounded souls after they come home from war. (I’ll readily admit that Jessica is one of my writing heroes.)

  1. What’s something you learned at FWA 2014 that has since affected your writing?

I was really bowled over by two sessions I attended—one on writing LGBTQIA characters and another on New Adult fiction—and I’m going to take a stab at writing a coming-of-age novel about a LGBTQIA protagonist. We’ll see how it goes!

Okay, so I think the schtik with this Liebster thing is I’m supposed to tag a couple of other bloggers. I don’t know a lot of other bloggers who are into the same things I am, but I do know a few, and a couple of them were willing to blog with me. But because all of us have day jobs and families, I’m going to cut them a break and ask only five questions. (Aren’t I nice?)

So, Amber & Michele, this is what I want to know:

  • Describe your worst holiday disaster. It can be anything: a cooking misfire, a travel debacle, a perfect gift that went horribly awry. The funnier the better.
  • If you could be someone else, somewhere else, at some other time in history, who would you want to be?
  • Is there a kind of book or story you want to read but can’t find? (Think of a MSWL/manuscript wish-list but for readers, not agents or writers.)
  • How has technology helped or hindered your writing efforts?
  • What aspect of writing do you struggle with the most?

Short story: “Medic”


Coates heard the call moments before being momentarily deafened by the thunderous crack of a rifle being fired by a private who fell into the sand behind him and knocked him to his knees. As he was struggling to his feet, a mortar exploded ahead of him, spewing sand and shrapnel in all directions. He heard a clink as something hit the top of his helmet. He did not have to look behind him to know that the private was dead, as he could see out of the corner of his eye that his M1 lay on its side in the sand, a smear of blood on its stock.

“Medic!” the voice screamed again. “Mehhh-dic!”

Coates wiped the sweat from his upper lip and lunged forward, raising his arm to shield his face from another spray of sand thrown by a bursting mortar shell.

“Medic, God-dammit!”

He took several long strides, stepping over a corporal laid face-down on the bloody strand, his motionless shoulders draped with a garland of .30-cal ammunition and a deck of playing cards, still in their box, laying nearby. Coates pushed his helmet back and lunged forward.


Coates saw the first sergeant writhing in the sand, clutching an empty, shredded left sleeve with his right hand as blood pulsed between his fingers. “It’s okay, Top,” he said as he dropped to his knees and gently put his left hand over the sergeant’s. He reached into his medical kit with his right hand and—without looking—retrieved a tourniquet and forceps.

“Mother fucker!” the sergeant spat, his lips curled in anger and his eyes wide with fear as he watched the blood dribble between his fingers and down his forearm.

Coates worked to staunch the bleeding, tying the tourniquet tight around what remained of the first sergeant’s upper left arm, as the old non-com grimaced and bit down on one of the chin straps dangling from his helmet. Once the tourniquet was applied and the bleeding had stopped, he turned and reached back into his bag.

“How you doin’, Top?” he asked as he fumbled for a morphine syrette.

The gray-headed sergeant wriggled in the sand and grunted, “I’m alrigh—”

As Coates turned back to him holding the syrette’s plastic cap between his teeth, a bullet passed through the first sergeant’s throat, just below his Adam’s apple, puncturing his windpipe. The old sergeant wheezed. Clutching at his throat with his one remaining hand, his lips moved but no words came out. Just then, as Coates reached for the sergeant’s neck, another burst of machine gun fire crackled down the beach with a fwip, fwip sound. The medic heard a thud and felt a spray of crimson in his face. Top was dead, his temple shattered by a German round.

Coates put the cap back on the syrette and tucked it into his pocket. He looked at the tourniquet still tied around the sergeant’s stub, then shook his head and clambered over two more broken bodies to continue advancing up the beach.

That night, after the first elements of the American landing force penetrated the German beach defenses and pushed beyond the beachhead, Coates collapsed in exhaustion outside of the battalion aid station. All around him, the roar of trucks and half-tracks was punctuated by the sounds of nearby fighting: the pattering sound of a distant machine gun, the crackle of rifle fire and the faint punch of mortars being spat from tubes followed by an explosive thunk as they found their mark. He heard the moans of men in the hospital tents behind him and the unmistakable sound of a bone saw.

His head pounded and, despite his utter exhaustion, he could not sleep.

Screams. Shouting. The crackle of an MG-42 sweeping the beach.


Mortars exploding. The distinctive pa-ching of an M1 clip as it is ejected from the breach.


He could see what looked like lightning behind the trees in the distance, but without the thunder.

Coates reached for his chest pocket, groped for a cigarette, then realized he had none. He had smoked most of them before boarding the landing craft and given the rest away to injured men. He felt something, then paused for several long moments.


He pulled the syrette from his pocket, pulled the cap off with his teeth, broke the metal seal and removed the wire pin. He rolled up his sleeve, felt for a vein, then slipped the needle under his skin at a shallow angle, squeezing the collapsible metal tube until—

A euphoric rush of lightness swept over him as he watched the light show along the horizon to the east.

The rush reminded him of the afternoons spent swinging from an old tire hanging from the oak tree, and of the weightlessness felt as its arc swept him down to earth into his sister’s arms.