I’d always liked to write, in school, my fiction essays got ‘A’s. I still have quite a few of them, from ‘My Volcano Island Journal’ to a three-page rhyme about Lancelot. I wrote something longer, either an Indiana Jones or Allan Quartermain book. I think I made up an Indian Jones version of Dungeons and Dragons, so it was probably Allan Quartermain, or maybe James Bond? Regardless, my dad pulled it out and passed it around the family, they laughed and I was utterly humiliated. I tore it up and never wrote again . . .
Most of my friends had moved to Atlanta, I didn’t because I had a great job and was making a lot of money. But to make that money I was working 70-80 hours a week. I was coming home and going to bed early so that I could wake up early and go to work, a viscous cycle. Working the weekends, I couldn’t even go out Friday or Saturday night, (when I did, I was so exhausted that it didn’t take much for me to get drunk and pass out prematurely.) It wasn’t what you could really call living.
One solace I had, besides watching reruns of the Power Rangers, was reading. Back then, you were members of book clubs, ‘Buy 1, get 5 free!’ One of the books I got was called ‘The Weekend Novelist’ by Robert J. Ray. I started using it, writing the opening “Sunlight peeked through the blinds, casting a pattern of stripes onto the form on the bed . . .” The next step was to write character sketches. For inspiration, (this was before the internet, like 1999), well, I had a pack of nudie playing cards that I used for marathon sessions of . . . playing solitaire (insert jokes here). I selected my favorites, shown above. The 4 of Hearts became Eric, the 9 of Hearts Adam, the 3 of Diamonds Nelson, the 4 of Clubs Dave, the 2 of Clubs Tony, and the King of Clubs Jorn. (The main character, Stephen, I modeled loosely off myself.) I wrote their physical descriptions and back stories, (which I incorporated into the story later as flashbacks).
Now that I had characters / actors, they needed a story / stage. As I was planning on doing, I had Stephen move to Atlanta, where he would meet everyone at his new job. I wanted this to be like ‘Melrose Place’, an over-the-top primetime soap opera, where calamity and copulation ensues. For good measure, I threw in a murder, and based the cop assigned to the case off a female actress of some notoriety back then.
I’d be remiss not to mention that, at that time, I wasn’t comfortable being gay, and the book started off being primarily ‘straight’, with only one gay sub-character. (This, of course, changed over the years.)
It really took off, scene after scene after scene and I finished the first draft in like 6-8 weeks, three hand-written spiral-bound notebooks full. For the next step, I purchased a word-processing typewriter, with an LCD screen and hard disk drive! Typing and editing took months instead of weeks. I think when I finished I had like 180 typed pages.
Just like the main character, I moved to Atlanta, started a new job, got a bunch of new friends, and had lots of wild and crazy fun.
Fourteen years later, I was unemployed, I had moved from the city to the mountains, and the isolation I once appreciated, (I could piss off my front porch), was now, well, isolating. I pretty much left my house once a week to attend graduate school, grabbing cigarettes and groceries on the way back. So I wrote because I was not only bored but also because it was a good creative outlet, and I needed a creative outlet, at least that's what my therapist said. It worked, writing was not only entertaining, and gave a sense of accomplishment, but also gave me this imaginary world with imaginary people to play with, the next best thing to having a real life!
After having expanded it to its now 240 pages, I shared it with a friend who offered encouragement and too-gracious praise, (ATL 1 is dedicated to her). I submitted it to a couple/few publishers and got rejected, rejected, rejected. I was about to throw in the towel when I had a chance meeting with a self-published author who encouraged me to, well, self-publish. She was my cheerleader during the editing of ATL 1 and the finishing and editing ATL 2, (ATL 2 is dedicated to her).
I entered ATL 1 into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards and made it through to the second round. For participating, I got free proof copies for a book using createspace. I felt that ATL 1 needed work, but that Duke 1 was ready, so I used the free proof copies for Duke 1. This was more of a “hey, I got these free proof copies, it might take years to find a publisher, so why not upload and get a free print copy for myself?” I was so impressed with the quality, and so unimpressed with the independent publishers I’d contacted, that I decided to go it alone. And now, Duke 1, 2, and 3 and ATL 1 and 2 are available with more to come!