An Author's Journey with William Harris
Our continuing series on Chandra authors and their journey from writer to published author.
William Harris author of Sworld: The Chronicles of Malick
Chandra Press requested a short story of my journey to becoming a published author. I had trouble with the words short and journey. It was more like a protracted mountain climb, and like climbing a mountain, the first part was fun and enjoyable but near the end you're tired, struggling to breathe, and the fun part was over a while ago.
As a math and science guy, I’d always hated learning the rules of English grammar while growing up. If someone had asked me back then to write a book, I would've said, "No way in hell.”
But then isn’t now. Seven years ago I retired after a great career as an engineer. I was sitting at home watching the snow fall outside on my mountain with my dog snoozing in my lap. Off in another room, my wife was banging away on her laptop in pursuit of the next great cozy mystery. Walking in on me doing nothing—her words, not mine—she challenged me by suggesting I put my inventive skills to work writing a book. Challenge accepted.
Setting out to prove to myself I could do anything I put my mind to—even something as arduous as writing a book—I dove right in. Nothing was going to stop me. I was going to write a book so complicated and rich in detail that even Tolkien would be proud. Three weeks later, the trash bin on my computer was full of would-be starts. That’s when I remembered why I quit reading the Hobbit in junior-high school. Who were all these people with names I couldn't pronounce, in places I couldn't pronounce, doing things I couldn't pronounce? That was the moment I quit trying to create a literary masterpiece, emptied out my trash bin, and started over my way.
Whenever I’ve thought of a story in my life I do it by launching a movie I see in my mind’s eye. I began Sworld with a rough idea of the planet, the main character Malick, and the ending. That’s all I needed to hit the play button. After that is was just a matter of telling everyone else what I was watching. The biggest challenge was keeping up with the movie as it moved past, not letting the trivia of typing bog me down.
The process took five months of eight-hour writing days spread across one year. Then, finally Sworld was finished. I’d done it! I’d written a book. Yet the most amazing thing was that for the first time in my life I’d actually enjoyed writing. I gave the manuscript to my wife and asked her to edit it. She said the first two pages were flawless and congratulated me. I thanked her and left to play golf.
Upon my return, I found a book on grammar sitting on the counter. “Here,” she said, handing me the book. “I’m not going to rewrite your book. Read and then edit your book four or five times. When you finish, give it back to me.”
A year later I gave her my book. One year and many heated discussions later, Sworld was finally done, or so I thought. God I hate editing!
I sent the book off to a dozen agents and publishers. That's not exactly correct. I sent a 50- to 300-word abstract of Sworld to them, half of which never replied; half of which said my book didn't “fit”—whatever that meant. They also said I wasn’t to be discouraged because Stephan King and J. J. Rawlings had both been rejected early on—as if that was supposed to buck me up.
Truthfully, I didn't care—it wasn’t the publishing that was important to me, it was the chance to tell my stories that excited me. Buoyed by the rave reviews my family gave me, I self-published. The best analogy I can give for those unfamiliar with self-publishing is that it’s like taking a grain of sand to the beach early in the morning and gingerly placing it down with the rest of the sand, then waiting for all the beachgoers to notice your grain of sand and pick it up.
Fast-forward five years. The sequel to Sworld was finished; once again my family loved it. Yet I didn’t sell a copy, not even one.
By then, I’d finished my third novel. One day my wife came across a blurb from Chandra Press on the Internet. Unbeknownst to me, she answered it with a hook from the back of my second book. To my surprise I got an email from Erik Evans, founder and CEO of Chandra Press asking me to send him the first book—Sworld. He was the first person—outside of my family—that actually took the time to read my entire book! Not just a hook, a synopsis, or a summary.
Erik loved it, and we entered into a partnership. Five months later a new and much improved Sworld emerged. Chandra Press smoothed out the rough parts and made my original manuscript much cleaner, more understandable, and more palatable to the reader. I couldn't be happier with the result.
Seven years and a lifetime ago I started Sworld, miraculously, I just finished the third book in the Chronicle of Malick series. More importantly, I’m having more fun now than when I started out. And just like my readers, I never know what’s going to happen next.