What if a 737 airliner full of passengers is unexpectedly transported across the galaxy to resurrect an extinct human race and their arrival ignites civil war among a race of sentient robots that could decide the fate of all humanity?
The first book in the Ahlemon Saga, The Last City, is a rousing space-themed swashbuckler and Casey McGinty’s first novel. “I have described it as Indiana Jones meets I Robot meets Lost In Space,” says Casey. “Over the course of the multi-book saga, it’s a good versus evil story with hope for the redemption of evil, inner demons, loneliness, and bigotry.”
Along the way readers meet a fascinating cast of characters, among them a vicious sentient robot, a recently retired Special Forces guy with a hero complex, a giant sea serpent with a personality to match his size, and a geeky but adventurous doctor trying to bring logic into the chaos. With a dry sense of humor, the plane’s captain struggles to lead his passengers through a roller-coaster adventure. (Hooked? Read the first chapter here.)
These characters didn’t come into the literary world easily. Their story was brought to life through years of labor, often difficult and filled with challenges.
This week, Casey McGinty tells his personal story of beginning, writing, re-writing, completing, and publishing his first novel.
The Making of The Last City
Seven and a half years – that’s the time between when I started writing The Last City and when I hit the “Publish” button, sending my first novel to Amazon. It took me nine months to draft the story, six years to become a writer whose writing I could enjoy, and another year to figure out how to create and publish a book.
There is one word that instantly comes to mind when I think about my writing journey so far – tenacity. I have developed a hate/love relationship with this word over the years it has taken me to get to this point. Tenaciously taking one more step when it would be easier to quit takes a great deal of discipline, blind faith, and courage. But the fruit is sweet. It was the only way for me to finish writing and self-publish my book.
There is one word that instantly comes to mind when I think about my writing journey so far – tenacity.
My creative writing started when I wrote my first song at fifteen. Songwriting ultimately led me to Nashville and a career in music publishing. My storytelling skills were honed through countless nights telling improvisational bedtime stories to my three children. The idea of writing a novel had crossed my mind, but it was like dreaming of climbing Mount Everest, and I always tucked the idea away as a bucket list project for the future, perhaps when I retired. At forty-seven, I started a songwriter club, partly to create a community for young songwriters to sharpen their skills and partly because I wanted to rekindle my own dimly burning songwriting flame. During that season, I read two books designed to encourage writers to write: Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg and Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott. I dabbled with some writing exercises and the seed for writing a larger story started to grow within me. Soon after their reading, I heard an inspiring New Year’s message where the speaker asked two questions. What are you dreaming? And, what are you doing about it? I was forty-nine.
I heard an inspiring New Year’s message where the speaker asked two questions. What are you dreaming? And, what are you doing about it? I was forty-nine.
On a plane trip a few weeks later, I started writing a story on a notepad. I wrote free hand so I wouldn’t edit. Just draft was my mantra. I wrote stream of consciousness, whatever came to mind, so every time I sat down to write was like reading an unfolding story. I couldn’t wait to get back to another writing session to see what would happen next. I had one rule – if the story I was writing wasn’t fun, I would go back to the last point that it felt fun and I would start writing in a new direction from there. Writing was a great joy to me.
Observing my newfound interest, my thoughtful wife sent me to a three day, guided writing retreat called Room To Write. It was held on the beautiful Scarritt-Bennett campus near Vanderbilt University. My accommodations were literally nothing more than a room to write – a twin bed and a writing desk and chair under a window, no TV or Wi-fi. It was perfect. For the first time in my life, I got to rub shoulders with other aspiring writers writing fiction, non-fiction, poetry, grants, etc. I shared ten pages of my new story with one of the retreat leaders, a college writing teacher. I knew my writing was unpolished and I really had only one question for her, “Is there something here that might indicate that I might have what it takes to be a fiction writer?” She responded affirmatively and encouraged me. I became a writing fiend and drafted ten thousand words that weekend. It was a turning point for me; I had discovered a new passion for the second half of my life.
I had one rule – if the story I was writing wasn’t fun, I would go back to the last point that it felt fun and I would start writing in a new direction from there. Writing was a great joy to me.
I also discovered two very special new friends that weekend. That writing teacher, Charlotte Rains Dixon, ultimately became my writing coach, working through the entire manuscript with me a couple years later. I also found Laura Valentine, the Executive Director of Penuel Ridge Retreat Center and a great encourager of my soul. In the ensuing years, I spent many three-day writing retreats at Penuel Ridge to work on my novel.
After Room To Write, I had to find time in my busy life to focus on writing. I started taking an occasional Friday off work and scheduling three-day weekend writing retreats at Scarrett-Bennett and then Penuel Ridge Retreat center. Writing a fiction novel is a time and mentally intensive endeavor. I needed these three-day retreats of undistracted time to immerse myself in the story and regain writing momentum. Every time I went into a retreat I was afraid that I wouldn’t have any new creative juice. And, every time, the creative juices would start flowing again, usually pretty quickly. I wrote from the time I woke up until I couldn’t keep my eyes open that night, pausing only for bathroom breaks, eating, or an occasional walk or nap. Every retreat was a time of refreshment and deep joy.
About two years in, I hit a wall. I felt that I had a good story and good characters, but the writing was not acceptable…and I didn’t know how to fix it.
At home between retreats, I would get up early or stay up late to write whenever I could. My retreat momentum would last about a month and then I would have to schedule another retreat to jump-start the writing again. I did this for several years, rewriting, refining the characters, and reorganizing the story. About two years in, I hit a wall. I felt that I had a good story and good characters, but the writing was not acceptable…and I didn’t know how to fix it. So, I looked into a fiction-writing program at a local university, where my friend Charlotte Rains Dixon had been a teacher. I really didn’t want to drive an hour to night school two days a week, go through the general studies, and be assigned to a group mentorship program. So, I called Charlotte and asked if I could pay her to walk through my manuscript with me, one-on-one. She agreed. It was some of the best money I have ever spent. I would send her a chapter, she would make notations, and we would discuss it over a phone call. After reviewing a few chapters, Charlotte indentified four things in my writing that, if I fixed, would take my writing to a new level. It was like having a veil removed from my eyes. I had new hope that I could actually become a writer whose writing I could enjoy.
It was like having a veil removed from my eyes. I had new hope that I could actually become a writer whose writing I could enjoy.
We had worked through most of the manuscript when I hit another wall. I was beset with debilitating anxiety and my creative energy shut down completely. Therapy and recovery consumed my daily living and a year passed before I even looked at my manuscript. I eased my way back in, doing some miscellaneous writing exercises, and finally scheduling a writing retreat to re-engage with my novel. The pace was slower, but steady; I was determined to re-write and re-write until I could read each chapter and say, “That’s good; I really like that.” In this season I held my writing close, not sharing it with anyone. I knew that I was vulnerable to criticism, that it could potentially shut me down, and I needed to isolate in order to finish the book. I was writing for me. I wanted to complete a novel I enjoyed and felt good about from beginning to end.
When that day finally came, I had to either set the book on the shelf and start writing the next one or face my fear and move into the next stage of finalizing, producing, and selling my book. I had to let go of the success fantasy and fear of failure and make the journey simply about learning to be a good writer, regardless of the criticisms or emotional potholes I might encounter. I called a friend who was a literary agent and asked if she would take a look at my manuscript. A couple of her staff read it and she conveyed to me that the writing was actually pretty good and the plot was interesting. That was all I needed to hear; a little affirmation goes a long way with me. Her agency didn’t pick-up the book because it was outside their market scope, but her input motivated me to go the self-publishing route.
I had to let go of the success fantasy and fear of failure and make the journey simply about learning to be a good writer, regardless of the criticisms or emotional potholes I might encounter.
I tweaked on the manuscript for another year before I started the publishing process. This delay wasn’t solely about my perfectionism; it was about my reluctance to be the business guy and my insecurity about having to learn the book publishing process from scratch. This became another turning point for me; I had to adjust my perspective in order to press ahead. Writing my novel was a very personal creative expression. So, I decided to treat the book cover as another personal creative expression. And, the typesetting. And, the website. And, the author pages. And, the marketing plan. That perspective adjustment shifted the production process from drudgery to an enjoyable, holistic extension of my creative journey.
The day that I hit the “Publish” button, releasing my first novel The Last City to Amazon and the world, was not what I had envisioned. You would think that elation would be my descriptor of the moment. Or accomplishment. Or even relief. In fact, I had an anxiety attack.
The day that I hit the “Publish” button, releasing my first novel The Last City to Amazon and the world, was not what I had envisioned. You would think that elation would be my descriptor of the moment. Or accomplishment. Or even relief. In fact, I had an anxiety attack. I had to ask my wife to read me Oh The Places You Will Go by Dr. Seuss, hoping it might settle me down so I could sleep. I was like a little boy, and she was very sweet, and it worked.
Here are a few key lessons I’ve noted from my writing journey so far:
• It’s never too late to pursue a dream.
• Little steps taken over time add up to big journeys.
• It’s amazing what you can accomplish in your spare time when you’re intentional and focused.
• We all need encouragers and caring guides to help us through the doubts and insecurities that would cause us to quit along the way.
It struck me that we don’t do enough things
simply for joy.
As I was finishing my manuscript, I ran into a very unexpected inner struggle that I had to work through in order to move ahead, and it’s an important piece of my journey to share. It was around shame…shame that I wasn’t writing a book that had deep spiritual meaning or life changing impact. I was afraid that my circle of friends would be disappointed with me for writing a story with no overt inspirational or spiritually redemptive agenda. I have ideas for that kind of writing, but I continually felt compelled to write and release this fiction story first. I finally made peace with this inner struggle when I accepted that my novel was an expression of the little boy in me, longing for adventure, longing for fun, longing to express my own imagination, and longing for a healthy escape from the seriousness of life. It struck me that we don’t do enough things simply for joy. So, this book is really a storybook for grown-ups and I make no apologies for it. It’s designed to be easy to read and bring a few moments of enjoyment and lightness to your day. That’s what I found in my writing of The Last City and I hope that it provides the same joy to my readers.
Embrace your own adventure!