At the very least, it will help you kill some time.
When I was twelve years old, I decided I wanted to be a writer.
I told my father about it, and I remember the look on his face when I did. The reaction I expected was a smile, a word of encouragement, perhaps a gentle punch on the shoulder.
That is not what I got.
My dad is a big man, possessed of gravitas, solemnity, and an intensely intelligent gaze. He has little patience for nonsense, and if you ask him for his opinion you had better be prepared for a strong dose of honesty. Because that is exactly what you are going to get. I knew this when I made my pronouncement, but in my boyish foolishness, I expected the old man to share my enthusiasm.
He did not.
Rather, he shuffled his feet a bit and focused on me, eyes narrowing, mouth twisting to the side. He took a step closer, his big workman’s hands moving to his hips, head tilting a little. It was his trademark stance of reluctance, the mannerism which told me that whatever he said next, I was not going to like it.
“Writing is fine, son,” he said. “But most writers don’t make very much money. It’s a tough business to break into. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try, or that you shouldn’t write, but you might want to do something else to pay the bills while you’re at it.”
My father is a practical man. Always has been. Which is understandable, considering he supported six people on a single income.
I let the matter drop until I was sixteen and facing the prospect of my senior year of high school. Unlike many of my peers, I had no plans after graduation. No job waiting for me, no real prospects to speak of, and no chance my parents would put up with me mooching off them for very long. So one bright summer day, I sat down and weighed my options.
The first thing I considered was college. I knew in order to get into a proper university, one needed good grades and a high SAT score. I had not yet taken the SAT, and my grades, at least until the second half of my junior year, were not very good. I had been a lazy student for most of my scholastic career, doing the bare minimum necessary to get by.
Then, halfway through my junior year, I had an epiphany:
If I didn’t graduate on time, my dad was going to kill me.
So I started working harder, and in the space of about six weeks, went from being a C student to being on the honor roll. I practically floated when I showed my old man that first much-improved report card.
“I always knew you were smart, boy,” my father said, jabbing me in the chest with one thick finger. “Ever since seventh grade, your test scores have been in the stratosphere, but you always get Cs on your report card. Ain’t it amazing how much better your grades look when you get off your lazy ass and do your homework?”
I know. A beautiful father-son moment.
Anyway, despite my newfound diligence, the damage was done. Even if I could maintain my good grades all throughout my senior year, my GPA upon graduation would be, best case scenario, two point one.
Not exactly Ivy League material.
Compounding this difficulty was the fact that I had no money, no college fund, my father couldn’t afford to pay for my education, and my car was a piece of shit. Which meant I would have to start out at community college, find a part-time job, finance my education with student loans, and arrange transportation when my car broke down. Which it did, frequently.
College was out, at least for the time being.
Okay, I thought. If I don’t go to college, I have to get a job.
But that wasn’t such a great option either. I lived between two small towns in rural North Carolina—which is to say, I lived in the middle of nowhere—and there wasn’t much work to be had. I could apply at the grocery store in Waxhaw, or try to find something over in Monroe, but how would I get back and forth?
Car a piece of shit. No public transportation. Maybe I can talk dad into helping me buy a better car?
I looked at the condition of his old red pickup truck. Scratched paint, busted side view mirror, rust on the fenders, tires nearly bald. He couldn’t even afford a better vehicle for himself, much less for me. Not that I didn’t think he would do it; he most likely would have. But I didn’t want to create any more financial burdens for my father. The way I saw it, he had sacrificed enough for me and I was not about to ask him for anything else.
So what was I going to do?
I had not explored the military option yet, nor did I consider it at the time. It would be another seven months before I walked into the Navy recruiter’s office in Monroe and made a decision that would change my life forever. Before I would hold up my seventeen-year-old right hand, swear an oath, and feel the gravity of the situation begin to sink in.
What I did, rather, was climb into my 1985 Chevrolet Cavalier—blue, bald tires, crumpled left-front fender, hairline fracture in the windshield, broken spring in the driver’s seat that constantly poked me in the ass, suspicious stain in the back from the time I let my older brother borrow it to drive his girlfriend to work—and proceeded to one of my favorite places in the world.
The public library.
I found a book about publishing. It was written by a successful author whose name I forgot long ago. He laid it all out for me. Query letters, agents, publishing houses, editors, the contentious relationship between publishers and bookstores, the difficulties, the years of fruitless toil, the thousands of rejections, the heartache, the struggle to get noticed. And, finally, the sweet redemption of landing his first book deal.
For a lousy four-grand advance.
And a seven percent royalty.
After twenty years of trying.
I put the book back on the shelf, got in my car, and drove home. It would be fourteen years before I considered writing again.
So what changed, you ask? Why, after fourteen years, did I decide to take the plunge?
Kindle Direct Publishing. That’s why.
I learned about KDP after my wife bought me my first Kindle back in 2010, not too long after Amazon launched the KDP platform. I remember thinking to myself, so let me get this straight. No editors, no agents, no query letters, no publishing contracts, and no rejections. All I have to do is write the book, make a cover, and publish it.
What was I waiting for?
This decision was facilitated by a mini-crisis I was going through at the time. A crisis aptly titled, My Thirtieth Birthday. You see, my twenties just sort of flew by. I joined the Navy and did that for six years, got out, started college, found a job, finished college, fathered a child, and then one morning, out of nowhere, my twenties were over with.
And me standing around looking confused, vaguely pointing in the direction of those lost years mumbling, “What the hell happened here? I just turned twenty-one, like, three weeks ago. How am I thirty, now? Is this how all my birthdays are going to feel from now on?”
In response to this anxiety, and as a way to try to control the uncontrollable, I took stock of my life. I reviewed all that I had accomplished up to that point. I thought of what I had done, what I wanted to do before I died—a prospect that seemed much more visceral and close that it once had—and I made a list.
I won’t bore you with the whole list, lest I engender your pity and contempt. But at the top of it, with a big number one beside it, were three words:
Write a book.
KDP. Thirtieth birthday. Lifelong dream. The unavoidable imminence of death.
I remember thinking, let’s do this.
And I did.
Ten months later, I published No Easy Hope. Seven months after that, This Shattered Land went live. Then Warrior Within. The Passenger. And now, well on its way to completion, Fire in Winter.
At the time of this writing, the Surviving the Dead series has sold over 89,000 copies in just over two years.
Burn Them All is next.
Gladiator of Corsryn.
And that’s just the next couple of years.
What happens after that, I don’t know. But I’ll figure it out, and I will enjoy every single minute of it. Because all those years ago, despite his father’s warning, that kid was right. Writing is the best damn job a person can have.
If you are already a fan of the series contained herein, I want to say thank you. Seriously. From the bottom of my heart. Thank you. You are the reason I am able to do what I love and make a living at it.
If you are new to the series, thank you as well. I hope you have as much fun reading these books as I did writing them, and I hope you come along on future journeys.
If your name is Keary Taylor, and you are the wonderful young lady who did all the cover art for this series, thank you as well. A good cover helps an author get noticed, and without your efforts, I doubt this series would have found nearly as much success.
Last, but most importantly, thank you to my wife and family for supporting me and encouraging me to stop dreaming and make it happen. My life wouldn’t be worth much without you.
Now do me a favor. Stop reading this and turn the page.
James N. Cook