My agent retired and I am a 65-year-old man with a first novel. Given the state of publishing today, I was never going to find an agent.
Frank McNair – 28 August 2017
The Back Flap
Life on the Line is the ideal book for the sports novel enthusiast or the reluctant teenage reader. It is the gripping story of two middle school boys struggling to understand themselves and the world around them. Life on the Line gives teens and adults a front row seat to authentic gridiron action, the struggles and joys of adolescence, and the redemptive power of love and faith.
About the book
What is the book about?
The book is about two eighth-grade boys and the struggles they face as they overcome their differences (and deep mutual antipathy) to lead the Fighting Scot football team to an undefeated season. The book is nominally about football (hence the title: Life on the Line), but it encompasses coming-of-age, the effects of family circumstances on the boys, and – as the subtitle says: “Football, Rage, and Redemption.”
When did you start writing the book?
I began the book in a class at the Duke University Writer’s Workshop in the summer of 2007.
How long did it take you to write it?
It was almost 10 years from start to finish, with a lot of downtime in the interim. I got stuck about halfway through and started another novel (A Creeping Certainty), which I hope to finish in fewer than 10 years.
Where did you get the idea?
The writing prompt for the first scene was: “Write a scene where someone is struggling.” The page and a half I got from that prompt is in the first chapter of the final manuscript, pretty much as it came out of my head 10 years ago.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
I wrote the chapters individually as they occurred to me. When I began to sequence them and weave them into a cogent narrative, there were many continuity/consistency challenges that took some time to work out.
What came easily?
The book is about eighth grade boys in 1965 and I was an eighth grade boy in 1965, so that was pretty easy. I lived in the small town where the book is set, so I could draw on that experience. I played football for 20-or-so years, so that part was easy, evocative, and fun.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
I have borrowed liberally from my own experience and guess that there is a bit of me in all the characters. The protagonist’s life, especially, has some similarities to my life. But this is not an autobiographical book, and there is NO ONE in my life like the antagonist.
We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
I read widely, not just – or even primarily – fiction. Frederick Buechner and Ernest Hemingway inspire me with their clean, spare writing. Mary Oliver gets nature just right. I try to borrow from anyone whose writing moves me.
Do you have a target reader?
In our niche-conscious world, this book is targeted as young adult fiction. I chose this niche based on the dictum: If it has a young adult protagonist, then it is a young adult book. My hope is that this book will cross over like The Catcher in the Rye or Lord of the Flies.
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
My writing process is pretty simple. I sit down at the keyboard and ask: What is going to happen to my characters next? That might be maddening to some folks, but it works for me and I get to be surprised just like the reader.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
I do not outline. About halfway through, I do ask myself: (1) Given all the scenes we have here, what is missing? (2) What could flesh-out or inform what the characters have done so far? (3) Is there any part of the back story that I know but have not shared with the reader? I then try to fill in the holes in the narrative so the story makes sense.
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
I do both. When I sit down to begin, I re-read the chapter that will precede the work I am about to begin. That always leads to edits, and sometimes to a complete re-work of the chapter. So that’s how I edit-in-process.
Once I think the book is pretty much complete, I edit front-to-back.
Did you hire a professional editor?
I actually hired three editors, and benefited from each of them. The original manuscript was about 102,000 words. After I incorporated the first edit it dropped to 85,000 words. After the second edit, the book weighed in at 72,000 words. The third edit did not eliminate many words from the word count, but it did smooth out a bunch of rough edges.
These editors did me a great service. (And my readers a great favor!)
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
I listened to one CD the entire 10 years. It was “Chant” – Gregorian Chant by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo De Silos in Spain. I am a bit ADD and do not need my fingers tapping. I need to be soothed into the work.
Did you submit your work to Agents?
No. I have published three non-fiction works – all with agent representation and all with major business presses (AMACOM, Sourcebooks). My agent retired and I am a 65-year-old man with a first novel. Given the state of publishing today, I was never going to find an agent.
What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an Indie publisher?
I am a 65-year-old man with a first novel. Given the state of publishing today, I was never going to find an agent. I worked so long on the book that I wanted it out before I died. So I went Indie.
Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
It was looking at the hard realities of publishing. And it was realizing that Indie publishing is garnering more and more respect, and that I didn’t want to wait another 10 years.
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?
I had the cover professionally done and was part of the design process. My professional life had given me some experience in putting ink on paper. So, while I am not a designer, I am comfortable being part of the process.
The designer and I also worked hard to make the interior of the book look professional. We created our own page formats and didn’t just slam the text into a ready-made template.
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
I have a marketing plan and a publicist. I used publicists on all my business books, and went back to one who had done a superior job.
Newcomers beware: There are many people out there who will gladly take your money and let your book languish. Find someone who knows what they are doing, and then check references. DON’T expect sales of the book to fully fund your publicity efforts.
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
Do it because you love it. Do it for yourself. Don’t expect to make a lot of money. Don’t quit.
Where did you grow up?
I grew in Laurinburg, NC, a small, rural, agricultural county in the southeastern part of North Carolina. My family had lived there for over a hundred years by 1965 (the year in which the book is set).
Where do you live now?
Winston-Salem – a mid-sized city (275,000 +/-) in the heart of North Carolina. Winston-Salem is the home of, among other things, Wake Forest University.
What would you like readers to know about you?
I have loved to write since I was in Miss Liles’ third grade class and we were asked to write a poem. I cobbled together eight lines that I can still remember and recite. I’ve been hooked since I was eight.
What are you working on now?
I have a book in the works called A Creeping Certainty. It tracks two middle-aged men as they think about issues of faith and how deep belief in God informs their lives and gives them hope. (Most days.)
End of Interview: