Becoming A Published Author – Chapter 23

Becoming A Published Author
Agony and Ecstasy of Writing a Book
By Evan and Lois Swensen
Chapter Twenty-Three
Nice Niche
Bonnye Mathews

In 1974 a trip to Anchorage to teach an instructor’s training class made me realize that I wanted to live in Alaska. It took me until 2005 to realize that dream. An avid researcher, I began to search for the roots of the first people of the Americas, expecting those roots to be Alaskan. It took little time in the books and periodicals at the library to discover an archaeological issue as to who, when, and where those people took root in the Americas. Years of research made the issue clear. There is the Clovis First view (no one in the Americas before 12,000 years ago) and the Pre-Clovis view (people in the Americas as far back as 20,000 to more than a million years ago). About the same time, research showed that Neanderthals, a people typified as ape-like, stooped over, incapable of speech as we know it—a word used to cast aspersions on others when their intelligence is called into question—those Neanderthals were quite bright and as capable as we, only without the technology. Those same Neanderthals were light-skinned, blue-eyed, red-haired. I discovered that we carry Neanderthal DNA. I was hooked on the issue and early man and chose to speculate, carving out an unoccupied niche for my work, a novel series on the Pre-Clovis peopling of the Americas. Non-fiction was already taken—by the experts.

I was born in Richmond, Virginia, where I taught English. My favorite childhood memories were in Georgia when my military family lived at Hunter AFB. Available to young people next to base housing was a great pine forest where opportunities to play abounded. Often alone in the forest, I learned to be acutely aware of surroundings: to see the slightest movement, to smell snakes and lizards, to hear the slightest sound, to walk soundlessly. I wondered about previous times in the places where I walked, asking questions such as what was it like a thousand or more years ago—even further back? I imagined those times.

My “grown-up” years consisted of teaching and doing personnel work (personnel management evaluations and organizational audits). I was poisoned and spent a long time in recovery. At that time, I wrote non-fiction. That gave me a false impression of how easy it was to become published. I went to the Writers Market, found the companies that seemed to have an interest in what I planned to write, and sent a single-paged Tip Sheet outlining my proposal. McFarland, from my original ten, responded and became my non-fiction publisher. I learned that getting published was easy. I recovered from poisoning to the point that I can work again. My “grown-up” years gave me insight that I’d missed along the way with respect to people, ripping away the sheltered life I’d lived and exposing me to greed, blind ambition, lie telling, cowardice. It also exposed me to life-critical situations: earthquakes and the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, where I came close to losing my life in the quicksand along the Toutle River.

All parts of my life have worked together to weave the fabric of The Winds of Change. I began, like so many others searching for an agent and/or publisher. The search returned negatives for a wide variety of reasons. It was frustrating. Finally, I remembered hearing about Publication Consultants at an Alaska Writers Guild meeting. I contacted Even Swensen. After all the negatives, I was bowled over when Evan Swensen told me that I had ruined his day. He’d taken my manuscript out of order—something he never does—and began to read and couldn’t put it down. I was offered a standard royalty contract and was delighted. My Story was rough, to put it nicely. Poisoning had not been kind to my executive function. I had to scramble. A heavy edit took care of the problems, and I learned to write better and clean up my mistakes. Ki’ti’s Story, 75,000 BC, came out in August 2012. I learned in February 2013 that Ki’ti’s Story, 75,000 BC, had won the first-place award for fiction. Wow! Manak-na’s Story, 75,000 BC, launched in June 2013.

Finding Publication Consultants is a delightful entré into the world of writing novels for me. They are an easy drive from home. Evan and the staff of Publication Consultants are so very helpful. This is publishing at its best when you can interact with your publisher not only on getting the book out there but also in local efforts: the Alaska Writers Guild, participating in a young writers’ conference and being part of the vast smaller [not an oxymoron] world that is Alaska. It’s local even though the distance may be great. I could not have found a better person to share publishing my book. Even Swensen is patient and kind. He is also savvy, making it clear that a writer is also an entrepreneur (I wish there was a better word for that).

As I see it, “I’ve found my niche, and it’s a nice one. I’m a workaholic. This is my retirement in Alaska at last, the place I love, where the creation of land is still incredibly obvious. I can write these stories until I die.”

Evan, who lives in Anchorage, has 9 children, 25 grandchildren, and 6 great grandchildren. As a pilot, he has logged more than 4,000 hours of flight time in Alaska, in both wheel and float planes. He is a serious recreation hunter and fisherman, equally comfortable casting a flyrod or using bait, or lures. He has been published in many national magazines and is the author of four books.