The Second Time Around
The months leading up to the release of my first book, A Murder Country (Knox Robinson Publishing—September 2014), seemed to be full of the tensest and most nerve-wracking days of my life. Hundreds of thoughts and concerns circled my mind in an endless loop: What would people think of the book? Would it sell? Would I be a disappointment to my publisher, so much so that they’d regret ever signing me on? And, probably most important: What would my friends and family now think of me after reading my book? It’s no stretch to say that A Murder Country is a very dark story. There’s death, murder, religion (not always shown in the most rosy of lights). It’s a tough and serious book, I’ll admit it. I remember talking to my wife a week or so before the release date and saying, “I kinda wish this wasn’t happening.” That’s how terrifying the whole process was. But she kissed my cheek, gave me a hug, and reassured me a smile and a simple sentence: “It’s too late now.” And, with that, I faced the release of my book into the world.
I was fortunate with A Murder Country. It was the Finalist in the Georgia Author of the Year Awards—First Novel. It received positive reviews from readers and writers alike. And it allowed me a foot in the very heavy door of the writing world. And I wanted to strike while the iron was hot, for fear that my luck would cool off. So, right after A Murder Country was released, I began work on another book. I had no idea if the themes of the first book would carry over to the second, if it would be similar or completely different from A Murder Country. I just wrote without worry . . . until I reached the half-way point. It was then that I fully realized how this would be my second book. The fear of the “Sophomore Slump” rang through my head and I found myself too afraid to keep writing. I took a week off (which was unusual, as I had never taken a break from a project once it was started, but I couldn’t get past this worry of whether or not it would be horribly received, whether I would be one of the many “One Hit Wonders” we hear about). But, after that week’s break, I returned to the story with a new mindset: it didn’t matter how it would be received. What mattered was what had mattered in everything (long or short) I’d ever written—the characters and the story that I was telling. I ended up finishing the book within the next few weeks. Then I set down for the long editing process.
I was beginning to do the research for publishers and submission guidelines as my wife (my first reader and first editor) finished going through this new book. And then, out of the blue, I was contacted by Knox Robinson Publishing. They asked if I had anything else I could send for them to consider. One of my initial fears subsided: A Murder Country wasn’t awful, or at least not so much so that my publisher hated it enough to never work with me again. They wanted something else. And there, on my computer, fresh from my fingertips was this book, The Valley, a microcosm of lost love and hopes, a story of interconnectivity, of simple people facing tremendous pain and tragedy, constantly looking for the light at the end of it all. I couldn’t quite place my finger on what The Valley is. It is a story of people, I guess. It is the story of perseverance and hoping that things will eventually get better. That there will be a happy ending for each of us. Yet it isn’t until now, when I look back at the book and its themes and characters that I realize how The Valley is ultimately about those emotions I felt and the fears I had over the past three years. How I achieved my dream of being published and then had to truly consider that terrifying question: “What now?”
The characters in The Valley are me, each one of them. I once said in an interview that writing is therapy for me. This book is no different. Ultimately, in some strange way, with The Valley I was creating a story more personal than anything I’ve ever written before or after. And there’s a strange comfort in that. I realize that people may love or hate The Valley, but I can’t do anything about it. Like my wife told me once, “It’s too late now.” And so it is. I hope that people enjoy it, but, more than anything, I’m proud of it; I was able to create something of me in each of the characters. They speak my worries, my hopes and dreams, and, yes, my fears. And I think they speak for more people than just myself. I think they speak for all of us.