Contributing a special guest post, retired military captain Dale A. Dye shares his experiences with novel-writing:

As anyone who has a made a serious stab at it knows, the novel-writing dodge can be what my agrarian grandparents called a tough row to hoe. And the row is particularly weed-choked if the novelist is writing a series of books in what publishers pigeonhole as action-adventure thrillers. I know whereof I speak as a guy who chronicles the thrilling action-adventures of retired Marine Gunner Shake Davis in a series of books that have met with some critical success over the past few years. Unless you have the chops of thriller novelists like W.E.B. Griffin, Vince Flynn, Lee Child, Jon Land or Tom Clancy (rest his military-nerd soul), you will not get rich or invited to free dinners where you are called on to hold forth on your methods and mentality.

So why do it? I can’t speak for my fellow thriller novelists but I’m willing to bet we all have a common cause. We write these things, we create the world and continue to get our characters into and out of one sticky-wicket after another because it’s fun and even therapeutic for those of us who lived fairly active lives or wished we did. In my case – and likely the case with some of my fellow literary travelers – it’s also a chance to expunge or at least explain a few of our demons. Until I started writing stories that actually got published, I didn’t really understand the extent of the specters that haunted me from some real-world adventures over two decades of military service. When I began to craft novels that related some of those stories and created my avatar in Shake Davis, I experienced a kind of psychological lift that had a lot more to it than just seeing my name displayed on the spine of a real book.

And so I began to live with Shake Davis and made myself a passport that allowed free travel from my world to his at will. I also learned a lot about novel writing and the weird way I engage in that lonely pursuit. I’m a very visual guy and what I do is close my eyes, let a scene unspool in vivid, living color, and then do my best to describe the movie I’ve just seen on the inside of my eyelids. There’s not much cerebral navel-gazing in my method. I write from A to Z in a kind of low-impact PT session. I write with my body as much as my brain. In the course of composing a single novel, I’ve been known to completely wear the letters off a keyboard home row. I also talk to myself quite a bit, sounding out the dialogue and tasting the words. When I’m shouting or screaming in this effort, I’ve been known to frighten small children and set dogs to howling for blocks around the neighborhood.

I learned a lot along the way including that as with a resounding, healthy fart, some things are better out than in. Writing didn’t cure me of war nerves but it did rid me of some very lethal demons that would have eventually eaten my soul. A good series of stories well-told is its own reward for a writer. Getting them published, read and followed by loyal readers is the bonus that keeps us pounding on the keyboard.

Read an excerpt from Contra File here.

Related Articles