Becoming A Published Author
Agony and Ecstasy of Writing a Book
By Evan and Lois Swensen
What Possessed Me?
To me, writing a book was something someone else did, someone with patience, imagination, and great insight. While growing up, most of these qualities escaped me. My first brush with any journalistic endeavor came from the encouragement my mother showed me. Mom thought that taking a writing class at a local California community college would be just the ticket.
I dropped my writing class after one semester and went back to reading Mad magazine. This class did spark an interest in a higher level of reading choices. Hemingway, Faulkner, Tom Wolf, Jack Kerouac, Hunter Thompson, and others. These authors had such true and deep imaginations. I seemed to gravitate toward the storytellers, the writers of great life experiences, sometimes a great notion. Ah! Yes, a story to tell. My first stories came in small ripples, while visiting Europe and Asia. To see first hand the many different cultures, their stories, the people, their glances, telling a lifestyle. These brief encounters weren’t enough, not yet anyway; they were adding up to something. What? All would be revealed!
I traveled to many countries, and as my many experiences added up, I needed to move, so far not much more than letters home to my friends and family. The funny thing was that I wasn’t even thinking about writing a book while traveling—not at first. Before I knew it, my story presented itself, my partner and I were arrested for smuggling hash into a foreign country. Even then, I didn’t think about book ideas, just letters home, and sad ones at that. Unknowingly a book had taken seed inside of me. This book grew experience by experience, day by day, month by month, slowly growing in my subconscious, filling me from the inside trying to find its way out—and I didn’t even know it.
The next thing I know, an opportunity begins, with my seed of experience finding a way to express itself. Now things get interesting; I’m being arrested at the border and ending up in prison in Greece! Upon this incarceration in a Greece court, our release was unsure; we went to a total of three appearances, with more time added to our sentences at each appearance until we were facing twenty-five years of hard time. I was only twenty-three years old, so this was a lifetime of hell behind bars staring me in the face. My experiences grew exponentially. Day after day, I was met by the new and unknown; how long would this last? I couldn’t survive twenty-five years in this “hell hole.”
So, would I ever see my friends and family again? My folks were growing older, and everyone who mattered to me was ten thousand miles away. Here I sat in a rundown two-hundred-year-old prison on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean. Holy crap, what did I get myself into? After days, weeks, months, it started to sink in; I would be here a long while. I seemed to enter a numb stage that was thankfully interrupted by a barrage of letters and packages from home. I began making friends with all the Americans and some of the foreigners. At least there were people to talk to, people who shared my situation. Plans were being made by most of the prisoners conceiving escape; it was on everyone’s mind all the time! There seemed to be endless creative ways to take the “midnight express” over the wall! It consumed some inmates twenty-four, seven, three hundred and sixty-five days a year.
I started again; I would write a few things down, make plans, and tell stories. What could be? What was? It was my way to express myself, to confirm my existence; I was still here, still alive. So in the depths of this hell, I had found a little hope and made it grow! Soon I came to grips with it all, accepting my fate. I was learning the language, how to read music, and play the flute. I was bringing my meager life into focus.
I began to forgive myself and take things day to day, meet life head-on, on my terms. I would survive all this; I grew stronger inside, maturing again a little at a time. I took responsibility for my actions and tried to stop punishing myself; the Greeks did it for me. Finally, a little luck and positive thought brought us to a low-security work farm at the far end of the island. Now our dreams of escape might just become a reality. With so much time on our hands, we could make serious plans and change our lives for the better.
Enter, now some serious thoughts concerning the infamous “midnight express!” Right around midnight on a chilly moonless night, we launched our fate in a small boat, riding the tide and navigating by the seat of our pants toward freedom. Our lives nearly capsized for good, but with faith and perseverance, we survived the worst the sea was offering that night. Toward the conclusion of our seafaring, I thought my friend Tom was dead, and after a lengthy courtroom battle, I proved my innocence (or should I say Tom proved my innocence). My friend had resurrected himself just in time to save my l life and my story.
God certainly works in mysterious ways! So after our escape and our eventual return home, we took a little R&R in Amsterdam. I realized that the notion of writing was still very much a nonexistent part of my life. Yet, for some reason, I knew the spark was still there, somewhere in me. Some forty years passed, and I moved to Alaska. My brother was sick, and I came to Anchorage to be with him. I felt it might be my last time to spend precious time together. My brother and I were always close. He was my big brother and my best friend. He always had my back and I had his. Donnie passed away three months later. I was with him at the end. I scattered his ashes in a beautiful river on a warm summer day.
The more people I told my story to, the more encouragement I got to write my story, maybe even a book! I would need a publisher and an editor. Once this was solved, I began to write, and a little over a year later, I was finished. Today, my book Locked up Abroad is in its second printing. To this day, I have a hard time considering myself an author; I can’t type worth a darn. So I end up writing most of my manuscripts the old-fashioned way, to pen it! I’ll learn to type soon enough, but will I have another book in me? Maybe it will take some new adventure that will enable me to grow another book idea?