Life is strange, isn’t it? When I originally stopped writing for a living I really doubted I would ever return. Yet I find myself writing and collaborating with a publisher for the second time in my serial career after trying my hand at self-publishing. Clearly I’ve returned to a much different landscape than the one I left.
Funny how these second and third acts began. When my books originally went out of print, I retrieved all their rights because I wanted to leave them to my kids. (Why, I don’t know. It just seemed like a good idea at the time.) Then, once I had ’em and learned about the world of eBooks, I thought, why not? I’ll just publish them myself.
Well, now I can tell you why not. Then, I really didn’t know what I was getting into in terms of time, money, and energy. The paper copies of each book had to be scanned, which is not a particularly precise process. Back and forth, back and forth from book to scan to make certain all the words and punctuation were correct. Then, each book had to be formatted three different ways. One for Amazon, one for Barnes & Noble, and one for a distributor called Smashwords, which feeds all the other type e-readers.
Yep, you guessed it. After the books were formatted I again had to review each book in each of the three different formats. By then I was not only hating the books, but hating myself for getting into all this. But there was something exciting about it, too. I was working with talented web designers to set up a permanent site and my artist friend Michael Paul Smith on creating new book covers. Also, there was something exhilarating about taking charge of my own work and learning about a new world of publishing.
Once the books were in the marketplace they really didn’t sell very well, but at least they were there, still assessable to those who wanted them—or could find them. It ain’t easy for an individual to cut through the Internet’s noise, especially since I really didn’t have the fever to go full-scale self-promotion. On the other hand, I had all of them with their brand new covers on my Kindle–as well as the rights for my kids.
Sometimes you really do have to be in the right place at the right time. A good friend who has worked in all aspects of the writing world told me about Jason Pinter, who was taking a leap of faith and leaving his work in traditional publishing to create a primarily internet oriented publishing house called Polis Books. Jason was looking for writers with back-lists but also new books swirling in their heads. She suggested I email him and, within a very short period of time, Jason and I agreed to work together and created a fair contract for both of us. (Which included a reversion of rights back to me after a very reasonable amount of time. You know—for the kids.)
Ah, that new book. When I began to seriously dig in on TIES THAT BLIND I realized I wasn’t in Kansas anymore and needed a way to seamlessly bring Matt and the recurring characters into the now. While I had always tried to frame Matt’s and my other characters’ ages as vaguely as possible, there was no denying our society and culture had undergone technological and cultural revolutions I simply couldn’t ignore. That even Matt, despite all his resistance, couldn’t ignore. I had to incorporate the “time gap” without losing the basics of my people—especially Matt, who had always been less future oriented than most. This was the guy who wouldn’t own an answering machine.
On the other hand, revisiting a main character created a fairly long time ago is a strange do. It almost felt as if I were being reacquainted with a long lost friend or relative. But having thoroughly reviewed the previous three books, I felt that while Matt needed to change, and I had changed as a writer, the essence of who he had been, and the writer I had been, would remain intact. Even in our brave new post 9/11 world.
Thinking about these issues created part of my excitement about TIES THAT BLIND. The other part was that Jason encouraged me to write the book I wanted to write and not to concern myself with traditional mystery conventions. So I didn’t, and was finally able to write a book that places introspection and interpersonal relationships front and center while telling what I believe to be an exciting story at the same time. Apparently Jason felt the same since he decided to publish the book as both an eBook and a trade paperback.
Many years have passed but I’ll never forget the rush of excitement when STILL AMONG THE LIVING was first published—even though Kirkus’s pre-publishing review was less than kind. (I’ll admit to a serious degree of nasty satisfaction when STILL was chosen as a New York Times Notable). Even that lousy first review, my first taste of public judgment, couldn’t quell the pride I felt holding my author’s copy for the first time. Writing, overcoming self-doubt, more writing, holidays spent in my office staring at blank screens, then writing some more, had become tangible and something in which I was proud.
Well, I’m older now and less exuberant than back in the day. Nonetheless, the re-birth of my first three books is fulfilling. For myself, not for the kids. I feel great satisfaction in producing TIES THAT BLIND, a book I believe in, without fighting my publisher every inch of the way. And yes, it’s still a thrill to open a Fed-Ex box and hold onto my author’s copy.