A Novel Approach
Dan Martin's Journey Back

by Dan Martin

#84, 25 December 2006

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"One day it dawned on me that I had to leave and I had to do it quickly because they knew where I was and how to find me. I don't know how I knew but it didn't matter. So I packed my bags and I turned off all the lights and I left."

That's how Journey Back, my first novel begins, and that paragraph, along with the next three and a half pages, came pouring out in one inexplicable fell swoop seven years ago in a writing workshop, as if it were being channeled by the collective unconscious of the universe. If the remaining hundred and seventy pages had flowed half as easily it probably would have taken me three weeks instead of nearly three years to finish the book.

Instead the words trickled and sputtered out of me like a slow leak from a soft tire, and I was always on the verge of giving up, because what did I know about writing a novel? The longest thing I'd ever written in my life had been a fifty page appellate brief, and that was easy; all I had to do was research some cases, add a little half-baked legal analysis and a few self-serving arguments, and I was all set.

But this was different; I had to make it all up myself. And the harder I tried the more stuck I'd become, like sitting and straining you know where. Except every once in awhile when I'd somehow manage to find my way back to that elusive creative place. A little wine helped sometimes; I thought of it as kind of like lubricating my mind. Until finally, on September 13, 2002, I finished the story, and the rest I thought would be easy, because to me it had always been about the story. Lots of people had read and liked it along the way, and sure they were mostly friends and family and people I'd met in writing classes and workshops. But if they liked it why wouldn't the rest of the world? I figured all I had to do was find a publisher who I assumed would be just as anxious to get my book out there as I was. And how hard could that be?

Very hard, as it turned out.

The first step everyone said was to get an agent, so that's what I set out to do. I found a list of agents in a book and tried to write the perfect query letter, which I copied from another book, explaining how and why my novel was new and different and exciting, which it most certainly is, and I expected them all to be lining up to represent me.

Unfortunately it didn't turn out that way.

Several expressed interest, but after mulling it over for awhile, they each politely declined, except for one woman who was willing to take me on, but she wanted me to pay expenses, so I turned her down, because I had read in that first book that no reputable agent would ever ask an author to pay expenses, and it wasn't until much later that I found out that that information had come from the big agencies in New York, which didn't want competition from the small agencies which couldn't afford to represent first time novelists unless some of their up front expenses were paid.

And I also found out later that what I thought was the best thing about my book, the fact that it's original and unique, with a plot that doesn't follow any of the usual formulas, and has no easily identifiable good guys or bad guys, but instead is populated by characters who are flawed and blemished and full of weaknesses and doubts about themselves and life and the right way to live, kind of like real people, I found out that that wasn't a good thing at all, but rather a big problem, because what the publishers and therefore the agents were looking for, was a book that would fit neatly into one genre or another, especially one of the hot ones at the time, which as I recall were gothic horror and chick lit, because that way Barnes & Noble and Borders would have a ready made place on their shelves for it. And my novel was nothing like any of those genres, or really any genre at all.

So after a while I gave up.

That is, I gave up trying to get my book published by a big publishing house, and I decided to shoot a little lower, to look for a small house that was in the market for a fresh, if not so young talent, to break new ground, maybe even clear some new space on the bookstore shelves.

I'd love to be able to report that it all went according to plan, but of course if it had you wouldn't be hearing about me for the first time on this website; you'd have seen me on Oprah or the Larry King Show, or else read about me in the New York Times Book Review, in the "New and Noteworthy" section.

Oh, I did find a publisher, a small one with a tight budget, and in January, 2004 I signed a contract. They had a great editor named Connie Tucker, and their design department did a terrific job on the cover. But there were problems, long production delays, and a distribution policy that made it very difficult to get Journey Back into book stores, and they provided almost no promotional support.

But I had a little money I'd made settling a patent case, and a woman I met at a writing workshop who worked in the publishing industry said I should hire a publicist to put together a press kit and get the word out, and maybe my book would take off.

So I did that. I found someone in New York who had represented a number of successful authors and had a good reputation, and she and her staff were very enthusiastic about my book and confident that they could get me some significant reviews, which everyone including my publisher agreed was the key to a book's success. And I did get some good reviews. For example, NPR commentator Nancy Aronie called Journey Back, "… a brilliant book that reads like a movie…"

But not enough to land me a spot on Oprah, though I'm still hopeful, hopeful that the world is ready for a psychological thriller, (that's the genre I finally chose when they said I absolutely had to pick one) that tells the story of an emotionally troubled character, a writer, struggling to deal with his real and imagined demons, and explores with insight and occasional humor, the relationship between creativity, mental illness, and altered states of consciousness.

Journey Back is available on amazon.com and bn.com, at a few bookstores, or from my website at Journey Back The Novel, where you can also find links to other websites about human consciousness as well as a short story called "Minding Everyone's Business."

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