I looked through the files related to my novel The Road Out, and the earliest file I can find is the 7th of July 2013. If I had to guess, I would say the original short story was written around the 1st of July 2013. So, considering the book is on schedule for publication on the 1st of July this year, we might as well say my first novel has taken precisely two years to write.
I’m confident it won’t take me two years to write the next one. At least half of that time was spent making mistakes that, hopefully, I won’t be repeating. Also, much of the last six months has been spent learning from Rob. It looks to me like 12 months is a reasonable time frame to set for future books.
Writing this book has been a long road, (pardon the pun). I’ve gone from a blogger banging out his first short story, to a writer apprentice approaching his third year. I consider myself halfway to becoming a full-blown writer. Every trade I’ve ever learned has entailed an apprenticeship of four years, not two. So, another two years and I’ll be happy to say I’m a writer.
I cannot call The Road Out my work as a solo writer; Rob has spent countless hours tweaking, adjusting, correcting, and slapping me upside the head. The Road Out is my story, but not my book alone. The characters, the events, and all the action, though, are my creations.
Rob has taught me to present those creations in a way that makes the writer as invisible as possible. At the beginning of his tutelage, I would send him a chapter, he would re-write it, send it back, and then explain why he changed what he did. After about chapter ten, we switched that up. After that, I would re-write a chapter, and send it to Rob. He would re-write it and send it back, explaining his changes.
As we progressed, the time I took to re-write each chapter diminished. So did the amount of changes Rob made. Chapter 27 was a milestone, as that came back with no changes made at all; big day in the house that day, let me tell you. I have the process fairly internalized now, I know what works and what doesn’t, how to smooth a passage out, what to leave in and what to leave out.
Something I still struggle with is order of events. Maybe struggle is the wrong word. It doesn’t come naturally, yet. It’s an important mechanic, though. Ensuring our readers can picture events clearly as they unfold is a great way to make the journey more comfortable for them. The order of events is therefore what I am focusing on at the moment.
One thing I am happy about, and Rob has said this too, is that the characters are strong. Which is good for the first book in a series. It gives the writer something to develop. Something to evolve, if you will.
I am, by nature, an observer. In a social setting, I usually sit listening to others chat, rather than getting involved myself. What fascinates me is the effect we have on each other. People are shaped by others around them. A person who lives a secluded and isolated life tends to become more and more eccentric as time passes, I find. Having others around us changes our ways, due to both the positive and negative input we gain from them.
Nowhere is this more evident than in families. Which is natural, when you think about it. The problem with that is, in the close-knit confines of a family, things can get derailed from normal behaviour to outright lunacy pretty quickly. This happens when one parent may be suffering a mental illness while the partner tolerates their other half’s behaviour. Even more damaging is when both parents have mental issues.
In this environment, children usually grow up under the impression that their parents are normal. This is life and human behaviour as they understand it. This makes the majority of the world outside seem strange, even wrong. Reality becomes, for them, completely inverted. Thus the problems are worse for the children, especially when they leave the nest.
I have lived this inverted reality for most of my life. Both of my parents have severe mental problems. After I left home, it took until I hit about 45 years old to even realize the world was not full of weirdos, and that it was me with the problem. I now know I have low spectrum Autism (used to be called Asperger’s), and I am very happy to be aware of it. Know your enemy, and all that.
It’s therefore understandable that The Road Out has this thread running through it. Arthur Reagan’s family is dysfunctional due to mental illness, and the impact of this on Arthur is revealed as the story progresses. Back in the late ’60s, people with these problems were simply known by the populace as strange, or worse. Today, knowledge is growing and support is often there. As governments feel the impact of things like depression on the workforce, awareness becomes a priority, as do effective countermeasures.
In 1969, mental illness carried the stigma of “madness in the family”. People were ostracized from mainstream society. Public awareness of these issues was close to non-existent in Queensland at the time. Thus, the main characters become aware of the problems in the family with the passing of time. This process is catalyzed by a decision Arthur and Therese make to change their lives for what they perceive as the better. This decision brings about a series of very understandable events. As time goes on, those events turn into consequences of a catastrophic nature.
This is not an exorcism of personal demons, though. Arthur Reagan is not me. Arthur is a person I understand, someone I can empathize with. His situation and its ongoing events have been researched thoroughly. The outcomes are logical conclusions to draw from the factors present. Rob tells me that the book strikes him as very realistic, for a work of fiction. I like that idea. For me, I prefer something that captures not just the story, but the people in it, in a realistic and believable setting.
I think people will be both entertained and, hopefully, enlightened by The Road Out.
Come July 1st, I guess we’ll find out.