The Why of Writing a Second Novel - Escape to the Wild
Escape to the Wild
Ages 10 and Up.
Available on Amazon, mid October, 2022.
Influences: Wendell Berry, Wilson Rawls, J.R.R. Tolkien, Gary Paulsen, Alexandre Dumas, Ma and Pa Kettle.
The process of writing a book is difficult to explain. I've heard author's use analogies such as "giving birth" to a book. This "bears" some truth. Being pregnant for nine months is difficult, or so I see. When the baby is born, there is much joy. And yet...the work, difficult as it has been for nine months, is really just beginning. There are many blessings and sorrows that follow. It is charming. It is chaos. It is sweet. It is stressful. Let's be honest, babies are louder on the outside versus the inside. And then, when life seems to settle down, guess what? Another baby is on the way.
If you can overlook the weirdness of where this analogy is leading, then carry on. This is where I am at right now. I wrote my first book and "gave birth" to it in March. It was a joyous and terrifying experience. Since then? My wife gave birth to our fifth child, little Benedict. He's a lovely boy. Just...fussy as heck. The term "survival mode" doesn't really cut it. Sometime we wonder if we are surviving at all.
This summer I threw up my arms in despair and, with my wife's blessing, sat down to pen my second novel. To do so, I had to go to Tim Hortons every day for two hours. Our house was too chaotic. And from this place of refuge, with a large double-double in hand, I threw myself into a new story. I corrected many mistakes from my first book, and probably found new and creative ways to mess up with this new one. Well, the second "baby" is ready.
What is it about? It is a continuation of Disconnected: The Broken Path, and yet it can be read as a stand alone. Ben Montana, my fireball main character, gets kidnapped. You see, he saw things he shouldn't have in the first book. Mainly that the great internet shutdown was deliberate (darn modern governments). Well, Ben escapes (thank you Alexandre Dumas), and slugs it out alone in the wild. His solo survival only lasts so long. Soon, he stumbles into a past generation. At least the occupants there seem to live in the past. They are akin to the old Ma and Pa Kettle show. Kids everywhere. Names forgotten. Cramped quarters. Chaos. And yet, they are filled with much love and happiness. Ben is perplexed.
Eventually Ben must fight off his kidnappers, while also coming to grips with living as an old soul in a modern world. Themes of learning from the past, death, anger and forgiveness run throughout.
I enjoyed writing Escape to the Wild (spoiler alert: I kill off Elvis in the book). It was hard. Man, I can't even explain how hard it is to write a composed novel. Yet it is ready to be enjoyed by the masses.
So now what? I can't help but think of our latest son, Benedict. He's our fifth. It is painfully obvious that the more children one has, the less excited people get about each one. Oh, I mean, of course they're thrilled and all. Yet, it's just not the same buzz. Harsh. Yet...truth.
I was told early on by authors that the second book of a series only retains half of the readers from the first book. This is just how it is. It's a fast-paced and fickle world. People don't have time or patience to wait for another book. They move on. There are hundreds, or thousands, of authors waiting to take one's place. It is a cruel, unfair, yet predictable world. Only a few make it. Quality and ability do not determine success. Sometimes it is pure tenacity that determines success. Sometimes it is just blind luck.
In my opinion, Escape to the Wild is a much better book than Disconnected. Yet history and sales-trends tell me it should be only half as successful. Maybe. Maybe not. Did I write it to be successful? Sure I did. But I also wrote it because I need to write. I need to create, make connections, entertain, and, if all goes well, help others to think about events, actions, and virtues in a different way. Or even to think about them for the first time. My mission has always been, then, to be there for the younger reader. They are picked on. They are often forced to be brainwashed. Many are given little chance to succeed. In some small way, I just want to give them something wholesome, entertaining, and even inspiring.
I hope Escape to the Wild is just that. If so, all glory to God. If not, well, I promise to do better next time.
One step at a time. One baby at a time.
* * *
Two days later Ben was out by the river, fishing with John-Paul and John-John. Little three-year-old John-Darr also tagged along.
The boys had caught a few trout an hour earlier, but as the heat of the sun beat down, the fish stopped biting. They decided to come back in the evening when the fishing would be better.
Not wanting to leave the river just yet, John-John suggested they catch crayfish instead. And so the boys rolled up their pant legs and waded out in a shallow area of the river where rocks rested and slimy weeds grew. Turning over rocks and grabbing at the crayfish soon mesmerized the boys. Laughing, they snatched at the little creatures, counting aloud who was in the lead for the most catches. Boys are never happy unless they are in a competition.
It was at that moment that the predictable, preventable, and entirely ferocious slip happened. How many tragedies in life are easy to foresee? In this case, the older boys were so busy looking under rocks they forgot all about John-Darr. And John-Darr, being three, had neglected to stay near the shore like he was told. It was all so predictable. John-Darr waded out into the water, desperate to grab a flower petal floating in the river. But he took one step too far, slipping down into a strong, cold current of flowing mountain water. In an instant the water carried him away, so fast that he was unable to utter even a cry of surprise. Down and away he sped, the water easing its way with a gentle firmness.
Meanwhile, John-John and John-Paul were arguing over a catch. “I scared him right to ya, so we should split that one,” argued John-John.
“Tell ya what? If Ma calls me the wrong name first, it’s mine. If she does it to ya, it’s yers,” came John-Paul’s reasonable response.
Ben, however, suddenly had that strange feeling. Like he needed to listen. His skin tingled, his ears perked in high alert. Lifting his head and scanning the water, he saw, floating some twenty yards away, the legs of a little boy.
Sickening. It was nothing short of sickening.
Fighting off his stomach’s urge to launch his breakfast onto the ground, Ben tore out of the water and down the bank of the river before he could even think to shout in surprise. He raced over rocks and stumps, towards where he had last seen John-Darr, desperate to get a glimpse of the boy. Occasionally an arm or leg would show as the water carried the boy farther downstream. But for the most part, the little boy was submerged. Still Ben ran forward, chasing the boy, or what was left of him, along the path of the river.
At last Ben reached an area near where John-Darr floated along. He plunged into the river, desperate to catch hold of the drowning boy. The water moved Ben along with surprising rapidity, and the waves made him lose sight of the boy. The moving water was disorienting, splashing in Ben’s eyes and mouth. Choking and flailing, he rode the path of the river, lashing in all directions, hoping to strike hold of John-Darr. Ben’s clothes were weighing him down, making it difficult to stay afloat, let alone search for the boy. In fact, Ben felt he was sinking, and that it would be an enormous task just to get to shore and save himself.
But no, Ben kept kicking to stay afloat, fighting for a fleeting glimpse of John-Darr. Before long Ben was swallowing water. With dwindling strength Ben gave one last thrust, hoping against hope to overcome the inevitable conclusion of death. Where was that angel now when he needed him? When John-Darr needed him? Where was John-Darr?
With a final thrust of his body, Ben shot closer to the shore. As he did, his arm bumped into something soft but firm. Like fabric and cold skin.
Tugging with all his remaining strength, Ben grabbed the object and kicked, pulled, and willed his way to shore. It was like tying a rope around a skyscraper and trying to pull it along. Every inch took years off his life. But there was no quitting, no thought of quitting. Ben pulled, screamed, kicked, and pulled and screamed some more. And then, hoping against hope, willing against reality, he did it. Reaching the shore, he flung himself and the bundle onto the river’s bank. Gasping for air. Fighting for life.
Ben shook off his unsteadiness and went to work, pumping John-Darr’s stomach in one final battle for this boy’s life.
“One-and-two-and-three-and-four-and-five-and…” counted Ben, pushing his firm hands into John-Darr’s body. He went all the way to thirty, then blew two hard breaths into the boy’s limp mouth.
Again. “One-and-two-and-three-and-four-and-five-and…” This time Ben was even more desperate. Desperate to save John-Darr by being desperate to stay in control. Two more breaths. Then more pumping.
And still, no response.
By now John-Paul had joined Ben, while John-John raced back to the house to get his parents.
“Ben! Help him!” shouted John-Paul, with shock freezing his senses.
“Let me count!” snapped Ben. This was no time for emotion to get in the way. He was on his fourth go-around. The end was near, if not already past.
I wish I could switch with you, thought Ben, fighting grief as he worked on John-Darr.
With this simple prayer on his mind, he worked. Against all odds, he worked. Fighting fear and dread, he worked. And in the end, when all was lost, and death a certainty, the angel of life came, bringing a saving breath.
John-Darr gave a choke and then, turning to his side, unleashed a torrent of water. Coughing, wheezing, choking. It all came out, and finally air came in.
The little boy gave the most beautiful sound Ben ever heard. John-Darr started crying. Shrieks of fear and pain. Yells for his ma and pa. Tears of life, pain, and joy. He was saved.
“Ben!” shouted John-Paul, shaking with exhaustion. “Ya saved him! Ya did it! Oh John-Darr!”
Ben gave a hint of a relieved smile, then rolled over and, with the sun beating down on his overwhelmed body, passed out.