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Guest Post: Odyssey of the Abecedarian by Steve Dullum

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If you’re reading this, then you may be wondering how I ended up with a novel for sale. And if you happen to be writing a novel of your own, you might be where I was not long ago, wondering how all those other self-published authors seemingly have it all figured out. Of course, it’s highly possible you’re not wondering that at all. In fact, it’s probably likely, in which case I’m afraid reading any further may cause you to fall asleep at your computer out of sheer boredom. If that’s the case, proceed at your own risk, and may I suggest putting a pillow in front of your keyboard so your head has a soft place to land. It can be embarrassing walking around with imprints of letters and numbers in your forehead, and I would feel a certain sense of personal responsibility if that were to happen.

Success can be defined many different ways, and it means different things to different people. The first definition of “successful author” that pops into my head would be someone who has sold substantial copies of their work, has earned at least a modest sum of money from those sales, and has obtained even a minuscule level of notoriety beyond their friends and family and coworkers. Since none of those criteria have yet to apply to me, please do not consider the following narrative a success roadmap worthy of following. I was always curious how other self-published writers managed to get their work out there, so my intention here is to tell you how I went about it, and provide a little insight into one writer’s creative process. I’ll pause here and wait while you go get that pillow.

Okay good, you’re back. I like to think of where I’m at now, with a completed novel for sale and a website and a blog and a few social media tools for promotion, as the very beginning of what I hope will someday become more than just a hobby. If you’re a writer like me, or if you have another passion that you fantasize will one day allow you to quit your day job, then you have to start somewhere, and it’s never too late to begin. It’s a tough go of it no matter what your dream is, and the outlook for success can be grim, but if you have the determination and the patience, well, who knows? A little talent and luck doesn’t hurt, either. Without dreams, what’s the point? Everyone starts at the bottom, so at least we’re all in good company.

You can’t be a writer if you don’t read. At least that’s what they say. I’m not quite sure who “they” are, but I tend to agree with them. What makes any work of art great is subjective, but if you want to be good at something, anything, a safe bet is to learn from those whose work you admire. I didn’t start writing until my thirties, but I did develop a love of reading early on, specifically, at age nine. I read my first Hardy Boys book and was hooked. I still recall cold winter nights curled up on the sofa, engrossed in the exciting adventures of the sleuthing brothers. I read a mish-mash of stuff as I got older, including science fiction, James Bond novels, and adventure stories of men getting mauled by grizzly bears…you know, “guy stuff.”

I remember reading The Amityville Horror in eighth grade and it scared the crap out of me. Then during the summer after graduating from high school, I was browsing our small town’s used book store, and I asked the proprietor if he had any suggestions. He thought for a moment, then pulled a paperback off the rack. “I’ve heard this one is pretty good,” he said. The book he handed me was Watchers, by Dean R. Koontz. The cover looked creepy and the description sounded interesting, so I took a chance on it. I’m glad I did. Twenty-five years later and I still remember the opening scene.

I was drawn to Koontz’s writing style, and after Watchers I read Midnight, then Twilight Eyes, then Strangers, then Lightning, and kept on reading. Now here I am in my forties and I still feel the same thrill when I pull a new Koontz book off the shelf. I’m also a fan of Stephen King, who I believe is mislabeled as a horror writer (as is Dean Koontz). Certainly he’s written his share, and to this day I have not read a scarier novel than Salem’s Lot, but he’s so much more than a horror writer. Shawshank Redemption, anyone? The Stand is my all-time favorite novel, and while frightening at times, it’s more about loyalty and courage and good prevailing over evil. It’s just such an epic and badass post-apocalyptic novel, and it lingers in your mind long after you’ve finished the final page.

There are numerous other writers I really admire, and many of them write in genres other than suspense or horror. Some only write non-fiction. The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe is another of my favorite books. But it was Koontz who really turned me on to reading and steered me in the direction of suspense as my genre of choice for reading and writing. His books have an almost dreamlike quality to them, and no other writer pulls me into a story like he does.

And thus one night after work a number of years ago, I sat down at my computer, opened a blank Word document, and started writing, just to see if I could. I had no plot, no outline, no nothing, just an empty page and an opening sentence that went something like, “Glen Parfrey got out of bed that morning and walked across his bedroom to the bathroom.” I sat and stared at that less-than-stellar opening sentence for a long while and wondered if I should just quit before I wasted any more time. I suspect that’s the way many writers get their start. Needless to say, I am very grateful for the Delete and Backspace keys.

Part Two coming soon.

Steve Dullum

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