Work Versus Reward

There’s an age-old saying, that you only get out what you put in. I would place a caveat on that. You only get out what you put in, if you’re prepared to wait.

When we look at the jaw-dropping amount of books being put out there every day, it can be disheartening to think of our pride and joy as just a drop in a boundless ocean. Take heart, though, because I would like to share a little something I’ve learned along the way.

Pretty much any market one may choose to enter, regardless of what that market might be, is no big secret. The internet today ensures that whatever the new thing may be, it will be common knowledge in weeks, if not days. This should not discourage us. A busy marketplace is a great place to be. Yes, there are scams. There are marketing tricks, dodgy goods, cheap knock-offs, plagiarism and all the other delights of the modern world.

But, there will always be a market for a quality product. The one drawback is the time it takes for others to become aware of the quality of our product.

The real satisfaction comes from trying to be more than just a tradesman. It’s when we strive to become a craftsman, an artisan, and, finally, an artist. Of course, we have to walk before we can run, so it’s important not to get bogged down. Struggling to get the first book to as high a standard as possible has a use by date, trust me. The really important thing is to keep our sights pointed upwards. Every book we write should be better than the last.

I was in a band once, many years ago, that did the club circuit; RSL’s, bowls clubs, boating clubs, and so on. I always remember the guitarist telling me that I should be content with my level of ability. We’re only part-timers, he argued. Why bother to be any more than we already are? As much as I respected that man, and I did; I decided he was wrong. Thus, I kept stretching, kept taking more and more ambitious jobs, pushing the boundaries.

Eventually, I was playing in an eleven piece funk and soul show, in front of audiences of over 1,000 people, on occasions. I loved it, every minute of it. As a player, I learned so much along that journey, that I can now play at a level I never dreamed I would achieve. That job could never have been mine, had I just accepted that guitarist’s advice all those years before.

Any work in a creative field is a matter of patience and a smattering of luck. I firmly believe an abundance of patience can overcome a lack of good luck, though. Patience, determination, and the knowledge that we can always be better than we are today.

If you are trying to finish your first book, or even considering the idea of starting one, please be assured of one solid fact. You can do it. Anyone can do it. The difference between the published author and the prospective author is the patience and determination to finish the job. The difference between the published author and the successful author,  is the patience to get the second book better than the first, and keep that trend going.

There are volumes of advice out there about selling your eBook. Much of it is valuable advice, and we should make sure we do whatever is necessary to get our work out there. However, we must continuously ask ourselves; do I want to be a writer, or a book salesman?

For some, the way forward is volume. Indeed, many eBook writers punch out books at a mind-boggling rate. How do they do that? My wife is a big reader. She tells me that much of what she reads is good as far as the story goes, but she is often frustrated due to the quality of the finished product. To get their head above the crowd, some feel they need a huge volume of work upon which to stand.

That is the way of many industries these days. Efficient production of a large volume of goods, at an acceptable standard. In every industry, though, there is a small enclave of people who put quality above all else. To be one of these people, we must reach higher with every book, not accept that we are ‘good enough’ and then punch out an ever-growing library of acceptable work. Such a philosophy belongs in the workplace, maybe. But, writing, like music, is an art form. Writers are not workers, they are artists. So, weave your story, craft it with real love and care. Edit it to the very highest level you can achieve, or get an editor to do it for you.

In times past, the publishing houses held the reins of the industry. To an extent, perhaps, they abused that power. However, they exerted a certain restraint on the quality of what was published. The limited space on bookshop shelves demanded that whatever was placed there was of the highest quality. Those restraints have been removed. It is now incumbent upon eBook writers to set the standards themselves.

Rob put me through the process that the publishers put him through, back in the days before eBooks. It was long, tedious and incredibly draining. But, it yielded bountiful fruit. Looking back on the earlier drafts of The Road Out is an embarrassing exercise. I genuinely cringe at the thought that I thought I was ready to publish the book as it was.

We can hit the publish button whenever we fancy it, but that should not remove the responsibility we have as writers to produce a work worthy of our reader’s time.

Ask yourself this: when I am daydreaming about what my life will be after I publish my next book, am I seeing money in the bank? A new car, or maybe a new house?

I’ll tell you what I see. I see someone somewhere, with a copy of my book. There’s a tear in their eye, and a smile on their face. Something they read reached them, I made brief contact, and they felt what I wrote. The day that happens, I will count myself a writer.

All my years playing music, I had just one goal. To be a better musician than I was the day before.

I can’t think of a better goal with my writing, than to strive for the same thing.

 

Let The Story Write Itself

It didn’t take long to get back into the swing of fleshing out a new book. During the writing of The Road Out I managed to get another two ideas down. They were just rough outlines and little else. I liked one in particular, although the whole thing was a vague shape in the distance. Briefly, this series is going to be my first foray into science fiction, my favorite category for personal reading. This project will be done differently, though. I’m going to bring it out as a series of smaller volumes, about 20,000 words per volume. This allows me to put one out about every two months. At the same time, I can beaver away at the second volume of Highfields.

To get things going, I just started writing. Let my mind wander over the idea, see where it went. As the hours passed, the kernel of a good story revealed itself. The creative outpouring is by far the easiest bit, and I guess most writers find this. You let the story unfold itself, going back and adjusting the story line as you go. It’s important not to confuse your hats, I find. Don’t let the editor interrupt the writer. Structure can be very loose on the creative passes. All that can be fixed later; that’s what editing is for, after all. The editing part is mechanical; nuts and bolts, wiring and processors. The creative writing is the machine itself, the package that makes it what it is.

My time learning from Rob taught me the mechanics and technicalities of good writing. But, he taught me something more, something fundamental. To achieve a passage that is both well executed and is still a good read, we need to extract the most detail we can with the least amount of words possible. To achieve that, we must be able to not only see the scene in our mind, but ensure that it fits the situation and the characters. I find the best way to achieve that is to, as I said before, let the story write itself.

By writing a story arc, and then making the characters it needs, we aren’t giving our characters room to grow and develop as they otherwise would. By creating the characters, and then writing the story, we restrict it, as the characters cannot do anything outside their persona or they become unbelievable. If we grow our characters alongside the story, however, both elements can assist in the growth of each other. This is what I mean by letting the story write itself.

I love the way characters build themselves as we write the story. Starting with an age and gender, along with a rough plot niche we wish them to fill, we then build and build. The image comes into focus, gaining depth and complexity. The story line adds weight; pushing and pulling them around. Our character’s reaction to any given situation brings forth questions. Why did he say that? What happened in his life that gave him that viewpoint? Hang on, he wouldn’t do that. He’d do this, which means that doesn’t happen, this does. Now, the characters are pushing the story around.

Writing teaches us so much. About ourselves, about others, and about the world. To write a passage of fiction and then play with the mechanics until it rings true, we must think deeply about all the whys and hows. Meditating on those things brings us a deeper understanding of how the fiction we write reflects reality. All of us can write good stories, I believe. Storytelling is human nature. The good writer is the one who doesn’t let themselves interfere too much.

Herein lies a problem, though. We want to sell our books, right? If we follow the standard formula as laid out by our predecessors, we will sell books, right? A murder mystery ends with the hero solving the murder. He avoids getting killed along the way, maybe meets the love of his life and nicks the villain. However, life isn’t like that. But, readers don’t want life, they want an escape from life; entertainment. What if our story doesn’t want to go that way? Maybe our characters don’t steer it that way. Or, maybe the story doesn’t lean in that direction. Then, the writer gets too involved. It was a great story, but it had to be forced down the path of the formula. Or, at least, the writer convinced themselves it did. Now, it’s a good story, but not a great one.

My family probably hates this part of me, but I can’t do it. I can’t alter what is written for the sake of financial gain. Highfields doesn’t fit a genre. The events within it don’t follow a formula, they follow the characters and the story with no interference from me. At least, as little as I could put in. Oh sure, it was edited and carefully manicured to be the best presented book I could manage. But, once the story was written, it never changed. The characters never changed. Only the wording, sentence structure, and so on.

I write the creative story line at a fairly quick pace, over 1,000 words a day. It’s the same way I play music, and the same way I paint. It’s nearly an out-of-body experience, to borrow a concept. Let it flow out. Don’t think, feel. My old drum teacher called it relaxed concentration. While I’m writing like that, people can talk to me, but I don’t hear them. I guess it would be the same while I’m playing, but I genuinely wouldn’t hear them anyway. Ideas pour out, and if I stop to think, they’re gone and we get a train-wreck.

Being different can be hard. Indeed, it can be very hard.

But, if you’re not like anyone else, then nobody else is like you, are they?

An Unexpected Problem

So, it would seem there is an issue with The Road Out that I failed to foresee. It’s actually down to my own naivety, really. In this day and age, the internet has ensured that every way to scam and or exploit something is fully explored. Millions of less than honest people have access to avenues of distorting things, so that anything set up to assist people is exploited to the point that it becomes useless.

I was very pleased and proud to receive five of five-star reviews for The Road Out on Amazon.com in the first week, along with some awesome feedback to the effect that those reviews were both honest and well-deserved. That is the plain truth, with some who contacted me telling me it was the most fun read they had in ages, and asking when volume 2 will be ready. But, that in itself is useless, it seems. Anything I might say, or do, to promote my work will be seen as distorted. After all, I am trying to sell a book, therefore anything I say is both biased and dismissed as dishonest from the outset.

In the wider Kindle community, five star reviews are seen as having been planted by friends or family, and are regarded as such. Does this mean I should beg those reviewers to lower their score, if such an avenue exists? The situation sounds ludicrous, but it’s true. It is a sad reflection of what our world has become, in reality.We are a planet of untrustworthy liars and thieves, it would seem.

Policemen don’t rightfully fine people for speeding, they are just revenue raising for the government.

Politicians aren’t honestly trying to better something, they are rorting the system and stealing whatever isn’t nailed down, or stealing the nails if it is nailed down.

Real estate salesmen don’t have the right house for you, they have a dump that they’re trying to con you into buying.

The problem with this cynical view is that, all too often, it’s accurate. Marketing itself has become something so twisted and hateful that to market anything is to be dishonest by proxy.

My initial happiness at the reception of my book is still there. I know it’s done well. Others have assured me, and I have no reason to doubt them, that it is a quality read that will stand the test of time. I can’t help but feel somewhat downcast, though, that accomplishing something at this level first time out could actually hamper my success.

Amazon’s provision of an outlet for creative writers has certainly changed things. People who had no access to a readership are now able to get their work out there. The publishing industry is suffering just punishment for reaping huge rewards for throttling the production of creative works. However, the opening up of the marketplace has come at a cost. The fact that anyone can publish anything, in any condition, has led to suspicion and mistrust on an unprecedented level.

I was advised to put a decent price on The Road Out from the outset, as it was well worth the money. The difficulty with that policy is that its relative quality is unknown to the buyer. I am unsure what to do about this, it’s a quandary that requires some deep reflection.

I have been here before, you know. More than once. My engineering business, for example, suffered from this problem all the time. As we became established, and our capabilities grew, word spread rapidly and we were booked out for many months in advance nearly all the time.

Along with this, the workmanship demanded of us increased. We were reaching ever higher to achieve more. We started getting bigger projects, with our customer base going international, in the end. However, the fact that we were making unbelievable tooling was a problem in itself. The previous work was always under NDA contracts, so I couldn’t show prospective customers examples of my work very easily. They usually trusted me because they were referred to me by companies that used the tooling.

My biggest issue was that most of my competitors, while unable to replicate my work, were only too happy to tell people that they could, something which made my quotes look pretty dishonest. All too often I would lose the quote, only to then get the job of rectifying my competitors work to something approaching my own standard when they couldn’t finish it.

So, in the Amazon marketplace, it has become standard practice to make the first volume of a book series free, in the hope of drawing people in for the following volumes. This is actually counter-productive in the long-term. Any author producing something as a get-you-in is going to forsake quality and content for speed; get the first one done quick so you can move on to the paying work.

In this world, you don’t really get anything for nothing, so any satisfying conclusion is left for subsequent volumes which are worth writing, as they are paid for. Thus, a new level of mistrust is reached, and people are hesitant to read a free volume 1, as they soon learn it is just an avenue for getting them committed to paying up for the real story in subsequent volumes.

Time is the key to success with a quality product. Patience and persistence will eventually out. I learned this many years ago, as a musician. A band would advertise for a drummer and I would call the number. They would invariably ask, “How good are you?”. As stupid questions go, that one is pretty good, isn’t it? If I say I’m very good, they will think I’m an egotistical half-wit. If I undervalue myself, they would think I was honest and not worth the time. Caught in a conundrum from which there is no escape. So, I would usually respond with, “There’s only one way to find that out, mate. When can we audition?”

That’s the real answer to that question. Just let me put my money where my mouth is. In the end, I think that’s the way forward for me as a writer. Everyone who has read The Road Out has had nothing but praise for it. In prospective reader’s eyes, that could be because I’ve only sold the book to family and friends, but I know that’s not the case.

In the end, the truth will out. In the meantime, I ought to get on with volume 2.

Overcoming and Trying

We all know the feeling; that crushing, sometimes devastating sensation of worthlessness. It can leave a person with no motivation, no drive to achieve.

“Why try?” we ask ourselves. “What’s the point? I’ll only fail.” This thinking breeds on itself, a snowball effect that weighs us down. Heavier and heavier the load bears down on us.

Sometimes, those around us can unwittingly contribute to that sense of failure. This is not their fault, as they can’t read our minds and see our current malaise.

The Australian culture has long cherished the Tall Poppy Syndrome. If anyone starts striving to achieve more; to excel at anything, they are not encouraged.

Rather, they are “Cut down to size”. Oftentimes, this leads people to simply give up. Either that, or move to a country where they can pursue their dream without the constant dragging at their heels that is so endemic here. The loss of Australian talent to overseas is ongoing and nobody’s fault but our own.

Those who give up striving to achieve are left to carry on a “Normal” life as best they can, but the knowledge of what could have been can be a terrible burden.

The truth is, we are all capable of achieving many good things in our life.

Let me share a little irony with you.

When I completed high school, my parents were told I did not have a bright future. In those days, little to nothing was known about Asperger’s, or Low Spectrum Autism, as it is now known.

Therefore, I was simply a youth with attention and behavioral problems. A dreamer, unable to focus, lazy, and a master of the unfinished project.

My parents were told I had little to no artistic ability (I didn’t think the cover for The Road Out was that bad), no musical ability (not what most musicians I have worked with over the last 26 years have told me), no mechanical or craftsmanship ability (3 trades and a long list of engineering achievements says otherwise), and a poor understanding of English (the reviews on Amazon beg to differ).

Unfortunately, for the first ten years of my working life, I accepted their assessment. I was just a dumb kid with no special ability.

Low self-esteem has driven countless numbers of people down that same path. Bowed down by a system that insists we are naught but a number, people drift along and never realize their own potential. This causes discontent to boil under the surface, contributes to depression and puts yet more strain on marriages and families in general. Many drink, or take refuge in drug abuse, in an attempt to escape the feeling of inadequacy.

The sad part is, it needn’t be that way. The internet has brought with it an opening of previously closed industries. Nowhere is that more evident than in the creative arts.

Writing, art and music have all been given a new lease on life, with the sharing of our works being put into our hands. This having been wrested from those who have squeezed a king’s ransom from, and choked the airways of, the previous outlets.

The industries can no longer dictate to the public what they will enjoy, and this has opened the doors to a host of new artists to discover themselves and be discovered.

And this is the point; those who are feeling worthless, crushed by unjust guilt and fear, have an opportunity to start afresh.

Remember when you used to paint? Or draw, or play, or write? Analyze yourself; why have you stopped?

Don’t have time? So what are you doing that burns all that time? Watching TV? Playing games? Checking you status or liking someones cat photo? What makes you think you’re not capable of stretching yourself? Is someone telling you that? If they are, why are you listening to them?

Please don’t tell yourself you have no talent. Don’t accept that for one second you have no capability to do something extraordinary. We all do. The problem is, the vast majority have had the will to try beaten out of them. Friends, family, work colleagues, employers; they all have reasons to prevent us from reaching out for something better. That little tolerant smile when you try to share your enthusiasm for a new hobby. The condescending comments and derogatory one liners. They are a defense mechanism that says, “I don’t want you trying. If you try, and succeed, what excuse do I have?”

Imagine a giant jar, within which you are trapped. Around you are thousands of similar jars, each with someone in it. Everyone has concluded there is no escape, that this is our future, because we have no choice. The truth is, there are several options, but they all require acceptance of the possibility of escape. Jump out, push against one side to topple the jar, either way would succeed. But, the majority just sit there, refusing to accept it would work, or that they are capable of doing it.

We don’t achieve, because we convince ourselves that failure is inevitable. We have low self-esteem, as do so many others. The world around us tries its best, in many cases, to distract us from achievement. That is something people on TV do, not you. You just need to sit and watch our shows, and buy the stuff the ads and the product placement tell you to buy, and be happy with who you are.

Don’t buy it. Because it simply isn’t true. Why have posters on your wall of someone who plays a guitar? Get a guitar and do what they do.

I’ll let you in on a little secret here. That smile those musicians have on their face when they’re on stage, it’s not because they’re rich. It’s not because there’s adoring fans cheering. I wear that smile every time I get with the boys in a dusty practice room with nobody else there but us. It’s a smile produced by the thrill of making good music, the enjoyment of the just rewards of years of hard work and practice.

Anyone can know that feeling. You can know that feeling. But, you have to try, and keep trying. Listen, learn, apply. You don’t need any more than some basic equipment and the device you’re using to read this. The web is littered with advice and guidance, from people eager to see you try, too.

Have you failed? Have you given up? That is not all bad news. Why?

Because to fail at something, or to give up at something, means that you must have initially tried, is that not so?

And if you have tried before, then there is nothing stopping you doing it again.

 

Some Great Progress Already

Well, I must confess I am a bit taken aback by the response to the release of The Road Out.

Copies started selling straight away, and there are now 4 reviews on amazon.com, and 1 review on amazon.com.au, all 5 stars and very complimentary.

It would seem that all the hard work is going to pay off in the end. I am still realistic enough to appreciate there is a lot of hard work ahead, though.

In reality, whereas writing the book was hard, the marketing side of things will be harder. If there is one thing I have plenty of experience in failing at, it’s sales. I just don’t have the mindset for it; it’s not me at all. However, having done all the hard work, it would be very remiss of me to let the book simply drop out of sight due to my reluctance to follow through.

So, this coming week will be spent researching the best avenues for promoting the book. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated, as this is all new to me. There are many avenues to explore, so it’s a question of finding the most effective vehicles to get the title out there.

There is one factor in having a book for sale that really doesn’t apply to many other products, though. The book is always there, always for sale, and always earning something.

One thing bodes well for the future, that’s for sure. The groundwork for the subsequent volumes of the series is already laid out in a complex web of possibilities.

Mapping out the bones of volume 2, I am spoilt for choice as to where to take the various sub-plots of all the characters of the series. Naturally, sifting the feedback received, from a few who have read it and contacted me about it, is helping to identify the most popular characters.

The parts seen through the eyes of Arthur’s son Jimmy have proven very popular. They’re scattered throughout the book to give a light relief in places. It’s something Rob pointed out as a real strength in the story, the fact that Jimmy actually thinks like an 8-year-old boy. The old Aboriginal tracker, Mintie, is also a favorite; as is Arthur’s friend and mentor Ziggy, the little German engineer.

A couple of American readers who kindly contacted me to share their thoughts both said they enjoyed the learning experience the book gave them. Highfields is set in a time period and a place rarely covered in any solid form. Yet, it was a time of great upheaval, in a place almost lost in time. Culturally stuck in the 1950’s, yet with a youth in full contact with a dynamic and rapidly changing outside world.

The older generations, however, wanted no part with the changing world around them. They dug in hard and, supported by an ultra-conservative ruling political party, resisted all struggle for change with a dogged determination that exasperated many in Queensland.

Rules and regulations of the period were behind the times and, in some cases, downright archaic. Women did not have equal pay rights, Indigenous Australians had only voted for the first time in 1966, and married women were still banned from working in the Queensland public sector.

The other thing that stuck out to these readers was depictions of the well-watered and verdant countryside of South-East Queensland. Quite at odds with how many, even here in Australia, view the bush. Most see it as being vast swathes of dusty outback plains.

Many have commented on the story being very easy to read, and expressed their surprise at how fast they read it, for a 312 page book.

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my writing career, and I humbly acknowledge the help I have received from so many over the past two years.

The Road Out Published!

Yes, all the boxes ticked, the forms filled out and the processes processed.

People have been hitting me up for links, but that’s a bit of an issue, I think. Because it depends which country you’re in as to which Amazon store to get it from.

Obviously, I have to get a link set up here somehow, and get the marketing stuff rolling, etc. But, for tonight, I’m just going to sit back and relax.

In the meantime, if you would like to find out what life was like in rural South East Queensland in the late 1960’s, just search Amazon for William Drayman, and it comes straight up.

First copy was sold within an hour, to one of my American friends, cheers Gavin!

Now, I’m off to relax, and feel smug.

Don’t worry, it won’t last long.

The Road Out Cover – Finally!

After a long slog learning Corel Painter 2015, relearning how to paint, and a lot of trial and error, the cover for The Road Out is done.

So, here it is:

Highfields Cover Final

It’s not going to stop the presses, but I’m very happy with the outcome.

Our publish date has been pushed back by a bout of illness on both sides of the Pacific, but we shall be publishing on Friday the 3rd of July.

Just two more sleeps until this two-year project is brought to a close.

I have had enough, my wife and kids have had enough, Rob is staying outwardly positive, but he’s had enough, too. Even the dog is avoiding me.

In years past, I have worked 12 hour night shifts six days a week for months on end, working on construction projects. When we had the engineering business, I remember bouts of falling asleep with a welding torch in my hand at 4am. Some engineering jobs I did went for 18 months.

But I have never been involved in anything more emotionally and physically exhausting than this book.

I can’t take a casual approach to anything in my life, really. I have never been satisfied with anything less than the very best I can do.

Low Spectrum Autism (as Asperger’s is now called) is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I am blessed with the ability to drive myself to learn to do something until I fall over trying. On the other hand, myself and those around me are cursed with a life of endless trials and constant failures.

On the world stage, I’m not a genius. I’m not even that great at what I do, by those standards. In reality, though, I am satisfied that I am doing the very best I can do at whatever I aim to do.

I aim to be a writer, and earn an income for my family by doing so.

Will this endeavor succeed, when my past and present is littered with the wreckage of my previous efforts?

That’s not for me to say.

Either way, I’m satisfied I’ve done my best.

The End in Sight

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.

Off The cutting Room Floor

It is inevitable that some parts from The Road Out aren’t going to make the journey all the way to publication. It’s a fairly large book, and brevity is necessary to keep the pace steady and the flow correct.

I agonized for some days over one particular piece, and finally made the decision to cut it tonight.

Throughout The Road Out, there are cameos from Arthur and Tess Reagan’s son Jimmy. Why did I do this? I’m not really sure, to be honest. I guess I had Jimmy in mind as a sort of comic relief, although his adventures do come to the fore later in the book.

I guess I wanted to share my own experiences, to a certain extent. Jimmy is of an age with me, older by just two years. He is a dreamer, with an overactive imagination. Those polite terms, while popular today, were a condemnation in my younger years. Kids like us were seen as weird, weak, lazy, stupid or worse. We were a prime target for bullies, as Jimmy discovers in this first volume of the Highfields Saga.

We would escape into a dream world, often getting disciplined for not paying attention in class. School is a place I would rather forget.

Anyway, I thought some might find the removed section interesting. This, therefore, is the first sample of the lighter side of The Road Out, the first volume in the Highfields Saga.

I hope you enjoy it.

—–

Jimmy thought the tube frame of his billy cart looked terrific. Ziggy and Dad had done a great job. He was busy screwing on the panels while his Dad drilled the holes for the screws. Jimmy would wait until the whole thing had a good coat of red paint on it before he fitted the steering rope to the front axle. His Dad had taken the wheels Jimmy borrowed from Susie’s toy pram and put them back on for her. She wouldn’t let Jimmy near it, even to re-fit the wheels. She was pushing her luck, she was. Kept on poking her tongue out at him when Mum wasn’t looking and dobbing him in for doing stuff he didn’t do.
Well, maybe he did do the stuff she dobbed him in for, but that didn’t mean she had to be a dobber. Sisters were horrible things, Jimmy thought. He couldn’t understand why they existed at all. They didn’t serve any useful purpose. They wouldn’t get dirty, hated cap guns and toy soldiers, played with stupid dolls and dobbed you in all the time.

What’s worse is they grew into Mums. Jimmy was lost as to why grown men would marry them and turn them into Mums. He couldn’t see the attraction at all. Something funny happened to boys when they grew into men. Their brains stopped working properly. They started wanting to kiss women and turn them into Mums. That was something which didn’t work out that great for the boys those Mums had.

They’d been discussing it at school recently, and Fat Bum Walters said it was called Pew Berty, whatever that was. Apparently boys started growing hair under their arms and wanted to kiss girls all the time; it sounded awful. Brain reckoned it was an American invention, which is why so many American movies had kissing in them. Edgie wanted to know how a girls lips could possibly taste anywhere near as good as a chocolate biscuit. This prompted Spud Noggin to dare Edgie into kissing Four Eyes Simpson, or hand over double lunch cut. Edgie just handed over two sandwiches and stormed off.

Mums were useful, that much was true. They made the food and the beds, kept the fridge full of chocolate biscuits and so on. They even kept your stupid sister amused so you didn’t have to keep belting her to get rid of her. Mums came with rules though, which they spent all their spare time reminding you about. At least Dad would just tell you off, smack your backside, and you were good to go. Not mums, though, oh no. They would go on and on about tidying rooms, putting clothes in the laundry basket and getting in the bath. It never stopped.

Even when you actually did whatever it was they were going on about, they kept going on about it. Yapping on about what would happen next time, what would your Father say, and so on. Why did they need to keep rabbiting on about it? If the job was done, there was no need for any further discussion on the subject. Just shut up, grab a chocolate biscuit from the fridge and get on with your life.

He paused in his work and looked around at all the machines and tools in the workshop. He started to imagine a world where boys were manufactured, instead of needing men to kiss women and make them into Mums. Come to think of it, such a world wouldn’t need Mums, would it? All the jobs could be done by robots. And if you didn’t need Mums, it followed that you didn’t need sisters. He grinned at that thought. A world without sisters or Mums.

Maybe men’s brains wouldn’t go all funny and Pew Berty if there weren’t any females around. They wouldn’t need to get all serious and grown up any more. They could play with their sons all day. There wouldn’t be any sisters to take Dad’s attention away, either. He loved that idea. A world full of men and boys all playing together and women weren’t allowed. It sounded terrific!
They’d have to let him keep his Mum, though. He loved his Mum. But, that was different.

His sister could go, though.

The Grind

In a bygone era, I used to restore classic cars. As a vehicle builder, I had the requisite skills for the task, and became quite competent at turning out ground-up restorations that satisfied my customers. As far as job satisfaction goes, it was very rewarding. In the area of financial return? Well, not so much.

The problem was the time required to do the job well. True restoration involves stripping the vehicle to a bare body-shell, removing and replacing rusted or damaged panel work and then slowly re-manufacturing the entire project using new or reconditioned parts. It involved long hours of painstaking labor, attention to detail, and a truckload of patience.

There came a point in every job where I would despise the task. The quitting point, as it were. That is where I learned tenacity; the dogged determination to continue. This despite the task drifting far past the original completion date, the customer visibly straining at the leash to take delivery. To rush the job would require compromising the quality, and that affected my name as a quality restorer. Therefore, I would have to burn the midnight oil, put my head down, and soldier on. I used to call this part “The Grind.” It was a reference to the amount of time I spent with an angle grinder, sander, or polisher of some sort in my hands. It amuses me no end that computer gamers call the labor involved in earning upgrade rewards in their games by the same name. However, I don’t think your average gamer would last very long laying on his back on a hot Queensland summer day in a full dust suit grinding rust off the underneath of a car.

I am grateful those days are behind me. At least, the days of back-breaking, ear damaging, lung destroying labor on cars are behind me. The grind, though, is still here.

The Road Out continues to consume long hours of re-reads, re-writes, and proofreading. Some nights the words literally swim on the monitor, frustration giving way to feelings of inadequacy; all the hallmarks of the perfectionism that has tormented me all my life. The thing that keeps me motivated is, without doubt, Rob’s encouragement.

He assures me the story is good, with a fairly gentle tale carrying a menace of something looming in the near future. This is perfect, because that is exactly what happens. At the two-thirds completed point, we are approaching the part where the main characters have the story resolve into true focus for them. They get to learn how a fairly innocuous,  though life changing, decision can reap consequences of a magnitude completely out of scale to anything they imagined or intended. And, although Rob is a professional writer, he hasn’t guessed what the big consequence is. He is only receiving one chapter at a time, to help him identify plot problems. It is very beneficial to me to hear that he is full of expectation, but grasping at straws in regard to what actually happens.

This alleviates the self-doubt that I experience, when the words won’t come. I look at the original wording and cannot apply the principles to correct it immediately. I get frustrated at myself, because I should have learned by now. But, I soldier on. Move onto the next chapter, get some stuff done there. I come back to the self-same part the next night, and lo and behold, it comes into focus.

I have learned to work on four or five chapters at a time, constantly going over them, tweaking, adjusting, and rearranging. The point at which I email a chapter to Rob arrives when I go through a chapter and can find nothing. As we progress, Rob is finding less and less to correct. Ergo, I am learning.

I have no great expectations for this first volume, no dreams of riches and fame. I’ve been down that road with music. Even though I progressed to the point of playing in front of over a thousand people, recorded an album, and can now play pretty much anything given the time to learn it, all that matters is the enjoyment of accomplishing the task.

What I do dream of is the day I can tell my wife to hand her notice in. That may be years away. It may depend on my tenth book, rather than my first.

One thing I am determined to do, and I am firm in that determination to do, is this; I will never give up.