Despite the frustrated glances I endured in those first months of writing, my Sheri and two daughters eventually came to the realization that I had to see this novel through to the end. I spent over ten months adding, deleting, rewriting, developing, and well, many of you know what it's like to write a novel.
I clearly recall walking into a Barnes & Noble when I felt I was a chapter away of finishing THE GAZE. At that point, I had yet to come up with a title for what I was writing. I walked into the bookstore to try to figure out how these authors came up with a title for their novel. Upon seeing the glossy jackets, the intricate artwork, the sheer volume of the book du jour on promotional tables, I felt as though I couldn't breathe. When I got back in my car, I wondered why I was even entertaining writing a novel that in most likelihood, no one would ever read.
I already had near 200,000 words and I saw no choice but to finish it, if only to satisfy my own curiosity. And so, I kept at it, all the way into November and December. Reading and reading, changing, plugging things in, removing things. I remember how strange it was to delete a whole chapter only to end up with twenty pages more than what I had before the deletion. I remember so many nights that I wrote and wrote until my alarm went off telling me I had to go to work.
Eventually, I had the draft. The first few attempts at interesting an agent into working with me failed and failed miserably. I got a lot of the "we only work with published authors" bit.
Enter the incomparable John W. Huffman, author of Wayward Wind and Above All, two of my all time favorite books. I came across John on Facebook, while reading Tiger Woman. One thing that jumped out at me was his own labeling, Independent Author.
I asked John about it and he was gracious in his reply, guiding me into CreateSpace. I honestly figured that at the very least, I could keep the promise I made to my dad one Christmas, and hand him a book with my name on the spine. Once again, I didn't see beyond that and my lack of confidence infuriated Sheri, who constantly told me the story of this Samantha Reddick, and her struggles and triumphs was good.
"Of course, you're going to tell me it's good," I'd tell her. "You have to be supportive to your husband. It's in the contract."
It was difficult to ignore her eyes rolling skyward, her lips muttering a prayer for patience.
Writing a description of the novel became a major challenge. I had no clue as to how to reduce 255,000 plus words into two little paragraphs. I turned to John for help, and he was incredibly patient with my attempts. His emails started coming in. "Not working, try again.", "You almost have it, but you're not making me want to buy it.", "Too much.", and so it went.
Eventually, I was able to generate something acceptable to John. We developed a friendship by this point and he offered me a blurb for the cover, which meant he'd read my novel.
I remember shaking so badly I couldn't type a reply. I mean, here's this author, award winning author of books that I held dear to my heart, willing to read my novel, the one no one would want to read. Out of respect, I sent him the file. By then he'd read an excerpt and encouraged me by observing it had a pretty good presentation, which made it a little easier to hit that send button.
That night seemed interminable. When I did sleep, this is what I dreamt:
I was getting a coffee at a Starbucks. I placed my order and stood to wait when I noticed eight women at a table reading THE GAZE. Suddenly one of them stood, vociferously proclaimed the book to be garbage, and all eight proceeded to rip the books to shreds.
I jolted in bed, gasping for air, scaring the bejesus out of Sheri. After washing my face and changing my shirt, I looked at her and in a desolate voice said, "I wrote junk."
She only shook her head and said nothing. She tells me now that she realized nothing she said would be something I believed. She knew I'd have to hear it from someone else.
I made my way down to the computer to write an apology to John for putting him in this position of reading garbage. When I opened my email, there was a message from him. I'm happy to say that the contents of that email changed my life forever. When an accomplished author tells you that they envy the way you write, you can't read much else after that. I read the message a good ten times, unable to believe what I was reading. Still, with shaky confidence, I went on to call myself an author, and launch my novel the first of March of this year.
I was reluctant to accept the praise of friends and family. I loved it, but really, what were they supposed to say? Then suddenly, people I've never met got their hands on it. They took a chance and gave up their time to open the same pages those women at the dreamworld Starbucks shredded, and many have filled my pages with reviews I never expected. Two other authors, Chris Fifield-Winn (Kafe Castro) and Lanie Malone (Awakening the Nightmare) took the time to blog amazing reviews on THE GAZE. Other readers even filled my inbox with heartfelt accounts of how they connected to this story, reducing me to tears.
I'll be shipping the 177th copy of my novel tomorrow. I've only kept track of the print copies because I'm still old fashioned that way. In the grand scale of things 177 is a small number, but to me, is a measure of success I never even dared to consider when I released it.
Just recently, Bert Carson, author of Fourth and Forever made me feel like I could walk through fire when he blogged about my novel. I consider his blog my first Grand Award. I've printed it and framed it, along with the first email from John W. Huffman.
When doubt creeps in as I pound at the keyboard, I look to my left and these gentlemen's words infuse me with the confidence I still don't always have.
I'll smile at the frames, shake my head in disbelief and think aloud, "Not bad, for a book that almost never was. Now, how can I write this better..."
Javier A. Robayo