Three Writing Buddies Hatch a Novel Plan | Three Writing Buddies Hatch a Novel Plan

Writing pals Rob Cline, Lennox Randon, and Dennis Green meet at New Bo Books in Cedar Rapids. (Photo by Bryan Cline)

When the idea of becoming a novelist first occurred to me in elementary school, I believed two things. First, it was clear to me that a creative fellow like myself could easily string together the right words in the right order until they added up to a delightful and important novel. Second, once this delightful and important novel existed, it was only to be expected that a publisher would snap it up and send it out into the world.

I didn’t know much about publishing at the time, but I did know this: a writer must avoid the scourge of self-publishing. Vanity publishing. The paying of some scoundrel to publish one’s book. One must hold out for the noble publishing houses to recognize one’s worth. There might be some rejection along the way, but that was nothing compared to the ignominy of self-publishing.

I was thinking of all of this other day while I was self-publishing my novel, Murder by the Slice.

In the mid-1990s—long before self-publishing moved from anathema to option—I started a humorous mystery novel about a pizza delivery driver who finds one of his customers dead. It was grounded in my own experience as a pizza delivery driver, and it seemed like an easy starter novel for an aspiring author like me.

Then I realized the book should probably have a plot. Also, I couldn’t really think of one.

So the project was shelved. It was occasionally unshelved, but no progress was made and over the years I became many things other than a novelist.

Jump to 2010 and enter my friend Lennox Randon.

Randon (as everyone calls him) had a book project of his own. He also had—still has—stomach cancer. And he had a plan. He and I would make a commitment to each other to work on our books, and we would meet every week to discuss our new pages. Together, we would push through until we had finished novels.

I demurred. He persisted. He played the damn cancer card.

We started meeting. We invited Dennis Green to join us. We untangled each other’s plots and sentences and character conundrums. Mostly, however, we just encouraged each other to keep going.

And here we are. Randon has just published Friends Dogs Bullets Lovers—an action novel featuring a pair of friends (and their dogs) who end up in Witness Protection and don’t adapt well to the quiet life—and I have just published Murder by the Slice. (Dennis’s book, Traveler, should be coming soon.)

Meanwhile, the publishing world has changed dramatically since I was an elementary school kid. Now, it’s a viable, inexpensive option for writers who want to get their work out there without waiting for an agent and a publisher to sign on. And it’s sometimes a route to a more traditional publishing deal.

Would I still like to see a publisher’s name on the spine of my book? Absolutely. And I plan to work hard to make that happen someday. In the meantime, I’m happy that people have a chance to read the book right now. For Randon, waiting around isn’t an option, so self-publishing means he immediately gets to see his work purchased and enjoyed by readers.

When I asked him why writing a book was important to him, he cited a number of reasons, some of which, like my early ambitions, dated back to childhood. But cancer was the goad that got him writing in earnest.

“After I thought I had survived cancer,” he wrote to me recently, “I decided I’d better get serious. When [my wife] Jenny told me about your novel attempt, I knew I could get it done with someone else taking the journey with me. Once the cancer returned, I decided I had to get it done to leave something for [his daughter] Lark to remember me by, and to make it more personal for her and [his wife] Lileah, and sort of as my legacy. Imminent death magnified my sense of urgency. I decided I would get it done and . . . feel an actual book in my hands no matter what.”

It has been my honor to be part of that journey, and I am so grateful to Randon for helping me pursue my own goals as he worked toward his.

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