I hope this post finds you well and (hopefully) enjoying the early signs of an approaching spring! In this post, I wanted to offer some reflection on writing my first four books, which constitute my Faces of the War collection set during WWII. There will also be a special announcement at the end of this post regarding the collection.
Book One: Resistant
When I set out to write my first book in the fall of 2013, I had no idea it would lead to a collection. I figured it would be a standalone book. But as the early stages went on, I thought on the possibility more and more of expanding it. And that’s how I arrived at the idea of a collection, not a series — separate stories set during the same time period but focusing on different characters facing different struggles. The idea seemed solid, so I moved forward with it.
For the writing itself, the majority of it took place while I was long-term substituting for In-School Suspension at my high school. Needless to say, every day was quiet and long, which gave me plenty of time to work on my manuscript. Within about four months, I had finished my rough draft and was ready to have it edited. I reached out to a friend of mine who is a big reader and holds an English degree, and she agreed to edit it for me. At the time, I didn’t have a lot of money so I was (and still am) very gracious to her for helping me get my first project off the ground. From the birth of the manuscript to the release of my book, which was handled by a third-party company (for cover design and book distribution), the whole process took about six months. A little brief most might say, but it was a fun and enlightening ride.
Looking back on the whole experience, the one biggest thing I learned was to not be afraid to write. I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in the idea that people won’t like your work, or think your ideas don’t make sense…or that what you’re trying to do is just plain stupid. Nevermind all that. Writing quickly became something of a passion for me – something that was an outlet, an escape, a way to express myself. Since then, I’ve never cared what people think.
Book Two: Unguarded
Coming off the euphoria of having a published book to my (pen) name, I immediately set out planning and writing my second book. I wanted to approach WWII from a fresh angle, so I figured what was opposite of Book One? The answer was: instead of a French woman fighting on the ground, it was a British man fighting in the sky. All right – I now had my basic story premise. Now, what should the title be? I had worked up the idea of having a subliminal message within the titles of these books, which of course is not so subliminal now that I’m elaborating on it. When put in order, the first letters of each title spells RUIN, which is what is brought on by war and conflict. So what “U” word could go with an RAF pilot? I won’t delve any deeper so as to not spoil the story, but the process of developing the story based on the title was challenging and fun.
From the summer of 2014 through the fall and early winter up to late December, the manuscript was developed and edited (again by another English degree-possessing friend) in time for a January 2015 release. At this point in my life, I was married for almost a year, had been working a part-time job for about four months, and was already looking forward to writing the next book!
The one biggest thing I learned from this experience was how to self-publish in the truest sense of the term. On the first book, I used the services of a third-party company to help get my book off the ground. This time around, and on the subsequent projects, I went about the whole process myself via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and Createspace (for hard copy). Through quite a bit of research, trial and error, and some asking around, I figured out the process of KDP and Createspace relatively quickly. Heading into my third project, I knew I was prepared to tackle it – both on the writing side and the logistics side.
Book Three: Imminent
In the spring of 2015, I began working on my third WWII story. Part of this story spawned out of a book I read (as do a lot of tiny details of my stories) the previous year: Ortona Street Fight by Mark Zuehlke. It was a very vivid and engaging read for me, and it showed me a side of the Italian campaign that I hadn’t known up to that point. The rest of the story, though, was formed mostly from my own creation with bits of external inspiration thrown in here and there.
By the time the fall of 2015 rolled around, the manuscript was in pretty good shape with the help of a few editor friends. Thinking of a release date, I wanted to keep in line with the ‘one book per year’ idea if doable, so I aimed for January again. This time, it was earlier in the month than Book Two’s release. Christmas came and went, and I had the pre-order confirmed through Amazon KDP. The release date arrived and I was even more excited to see my newest creation on the virtual bookshelf of Amazon than I was for Book Two. I had done it – I had written three books.
Something valuable I learned with this project was the importance of balancing action and movement in the plot with character development. It’s still something I’m working on, but this is where it really started to pick up (with the early inklings of improvement being felt in Book Two). Establishing solid characters with believable and sensible backgrounds and motives helps make for a great story. I’m sure it will be one of those things that I look back on years from now and wish I could rewrite these stories with the writing talent I’ll have developed when I’m older. I knew the collection was drawing to a close with the final letter of RUIN on deck for Book Four. So I buckled down and tried to approach the genre and time period from an angle I had not yet explored.
Book Four: Needless
Shortly after releasing Book Three, I began work on the final installment of my collection (at least as far as the RUIN acronym goes). The spring of 2016 was a hectic one for me, especially with my wife and I (and our pets) moving into a new house. I had also been teaching online full time for about six months. Once the planning process got underway, though, my gears were churning out some interesting plot ideas.
I wanted this fourth story to be bold, different, and fresh, but also familiar to readers of the previous stories. This was a challenge, but it made the writing process that much more engaging and intriguing. How do I write this or that character differently from others who came before? How do I describe this place or those people without using the same phrases and descriptors as before? How do I keep my reader guessing? All valid questions that perpetually raced through my mind into the summer and fall of 2016. As time went on, the writing came fluidly and the ideas became more concrete. With my eyes set on Christmas as the final deadline for wrapping up the process, I pushed as hard as I could to finish the story and get it ready for yet another January release. This time, I chose January 5 – the due date of my wife’s and my first child. Though he didn’t come until five days later, it was still an exciting end to the process!
Something meaningful that I took away from this writing experience was the idea that I was writing something I enjoyed, yes, but that also my writing could be used to educate. Historical fiction can sometimes become a hairy genre in that facts are skewed and the liberties writers take with the fact-and-fiction balance are usually liberal. With that in mind, I told myself that from then on I would write as close to fact as possible so that my stories could be utilized as tools to educate, and to not only entertain.
I am so happy that I was able to embark on such a fun, enlightening, and at times exhilarating journey almost five years ago…not because I get to say that “I’m a writer” but because the journey has changed me. And because of that change, I am inspired to write more. It’s a type of process that develops you as a person, unleashing your mind to the world at large.
Since I completed this Faces of the War project in what has come to be an average of ‘four books in four years,’ I wanted to do something special for my current readers but also for ones who perhaps are looking at my work with growing interest. On this, the four-year anniversary of the release of Resistant, I am lowering the Kindle prices of my WWII books in all markets through Amazon. They should be changed within three days’ time of this posting.
As a ‘thank-you’ to everyone who has read my work, has encouraged me along the way, and in general has just been awesome, my work is even more available than it was before. I enjoy writing just as readers enjoy reading, and so I want to make my stories readable to more people. For the convenience of the majority of those reading this blog, I’m including the links to the US and UK markets below:
I am truly grateful to have such wonderful people in my life – even ones whom I have not met but with whom I’ve connected through my books. At the core of an author’s work is the people who make it worthwhile. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
In addition to this discount celebration, if you will, I am linking a guest post below from a colleague’s blog. It’s just a little something extra that was fun – you’ll see why when you read it. I not only enjoy writing but also networking and building relationships with others in the craft.
Until next time,