Short version of my story: I worked in IT for 20 years, got laid off, then took a chance I could indy publish three zombie books I’d penned in an effort to support my family. So far, I’m somewhere between eating cat food and partaking from the dollar menu at McDonald’s, but I’m close to moving up to a Value Meal.
Long version: I often joke that my writing career began back in grade school, when my friends and I would spend much of our free time imagining worlds inside the Dungeons and Dragons universe. I have binders full of notes, maps, and backstory for all the campaigns I ran as a dungeonmaster. Essentially it was my job to immerse my friends in the fictional worlds I created, and then watch as they interacted with those worlds to find the treasure, beat the bad guy, or solve the mystery. I would draw maps, create languages, and study the numerous tomes that came with that game.
My high school years were a mix of Dungeons and Dragons and girls — and never in the same room! In college I moved on to other things, especially reading. I remember one Christmas holiday I came home and read Stephen King’s The Stand day after day, almost without a break. I was also exposed to a book called Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart, which would have a profound effect on my apocalyptic writing interests decades later. My college career culminated in a Master’s Degree of Geography. My first “big” effort at writing was my Master’s thesis–on Missouri state boundaries. It was the first time I had “a book” to my name. Hardbound cover and all.
My degree got me working with digital satellite imagery for a few years, then I worked in IT in Colorado for half a decade, and then I worked for another ten as the online manager for a military history magazine called Armchair General (now defunct). That sums up my twenty year career before I started to write!
My first attempt at fiction writing was a short story I penned in the autumn of 2014 after my 104-year-old grandmother passed away. It was about 6000 words and the story was about an elderly woman a lot like my grandmother who finds out her live-in nurse has been infected by some kind of virus. She and the nurse have a cat n’ mouse cane-spinningly exciting chase in and around her house and we learn whether our friendly grandmother has it in her to escape the threat. After I wrote it, I liked it so much I decided to make that chapter one in a book about her. I added her great-grandson as a co-protagonist, and then I pushed them out her front door into the world of the Zombie Apocalypse. I enjoyed that so much, I wrote a second and third books about them.
At no point did I seriously think they were “legitimate” books. I wrote them mostly for my own entertainment, as I wanted an outlet for my over-active mind that wasn’t video-game related. Prior to writing I would often spend my evenings unwinding with hours of video games, then get done and wonder what I did with my time…I spent those extra hours over that first year writing three books, each about 90,000 words.
A few things prompted me to indy publish them, but mainly it was because I lost my job. With the prospect of lost income in mind, I used a short severance period to finish up my books and get them ready to self-publish on Amazon. I spent months tweaking and re-tweaking the books, and each iteration I felt my writing had improved and my editing got better. I was upping my game as a wordsmith, and, uh, stuff. Between August and December 2015 I improved them enough I didn’t feel I would be totally embarrassed if I made them public.
Book 1 came out Dec 15, 2015. Book 2 January 2016. Book 3 February 2016.
While they weren’t overnight successes, they did start to make money for me, which came as a complete shock. Did you know there are 6000 books a day going into Amazon? The competition is intense and sheer numbers alone can swamp even the best novels in the world. Somehow my triad rose high enough to get some notice, which gave me hope I might be able to make a career out of writing.
After book 3 went live, I realized almost too late that there was a demand for a fourth book. After writing 3 books in a year I had no idea how long it would take me to write book 4, so I gave myself a little over two months. Most of March 2016 I worked on writing book 4, and most of April–up to the last 5 minutes I could still make changes before it went live–I edited the story to make it the best it could be for my new readers. By the time the book went live on April 28 I had almost 450 pre-orders! Not enough to invest in solid-gold toilets yet, but enough to pay the mortgage and put food on my family’s table.
Today I’m banging on the keys furiously, racing to produce new adventures for Liam, Victoria, and Grandma Marty. Book 5 drops on June 23, 2016. I have sketched out Books 6 and 7, and I have an idea for a trilogy of books set a hundred years in the future in the same world. I’m starting…ever so slightly…to think this author career might have a chance.
Below are some of the adventures I’ve taken. I’m interested in history when I travel, but I’m always curious to see what’s over the next hill. When I’m not at my desk writing I’m usually outside biking, training for ultramarathons, or taking a family outing to see something new.