In 1968 I was a year out of high school when the President of the United States sent me a letter, "Greetings…" Six months later I was in Vietnam, plodding up jungle mountain trails, a fifty-pound pack on my back, an M-16 in my hands. I had a bad trip, as the Hippies say, and returned wounded, and determined to put it all into "the novel."
I started it in 74, finished around 85/86, and sent it outeverywhere. No one wanted it! I was devastated. Then I thought, am I a writer? Or am I simply someone who wanted to write one book and get something off his chest? I decided on the former, picked myself up, and continued writing. Seven years later I finished a historical, Calling Crow. It was published in 1995. The publisher wanted two more over the next two years, and I signed a contract and delivered them. I was a professional writer now, a paid novelist. But I still felt incomplete; my Nam novel hadn't sold.
In 1999, I managed to get Willie Morris (James Jones; a Friendship, My Dog Skip) to read Carl Melcher, and he liked it enough to send out under his own letterhead. The first house he sent it to rejected it. Willie wrote and told me he had some other small houses he was going to try. Then he had a heart attack and died. I deeply appreciate Willie's efforts on my behalf and I consider this episode a vindication. After all, if someone of Willie's stature thought my book worthy of publication, it was. But I was on my own again. Over the next three years I tried to find a publishing house for the book; no luck. Books about Vietnam wouldn't sell, they said. Out of frustration, I sold the electronic rights to an ebook startup. In 2001, they entered it in the Frankfurt eBook Awards. Carl Melcher was named a finalist, along with the work of Joyce Carol Oates and David McCullough. I had made it, right? Selling the book would be a slam-dunk now! Wrong. Three more fruitless years of sending out queries followed. I submitted the book to Booklocker.com and they created a fine POD book, professional in every respect. I rested. Then one day I stumbled across Colonel David Hackworth's (Steel My Soldiers' Hearts) website. I emailed "Hack," asking him if he would read my book, hoping for a blurb. He forwarded my email to his agent, who offered to read it. He did and asked for eight more copies. Within two weeks he had sold the book to St. Martin's.
Let's see, from the writing to the publishingthirty years! Was it worth the wait? You're damn right it was.