by VJ Miller, Sr.
Back in the 1980’s I came up with what I thought was a good Idea for a novel. A man with extraordinary powers that would fight crime in the city of Philadelphia. I chose Philly because I lived a half-hour away over the Ben Franklyn Bridge in New Jersey.
I had vivid memories of the city and what it was like at the time. So, it was quite easy to use it as a backdrop. There were no superheroes working out of Philly, thus I thought it would be unique in some way.
I typed it by hand on an old Remington typewriter for the first draft, then for some reason which escapes me now, I laid it aside to languish. ￼
In time I acquired a combination word processor/printer and began transcribing it to a floppy disk. It was the best there was at the time. Now, it seems so ancient a means of word processing.
When I was ready, I sent a printout of it to an Editor to read and give me her thoughts on the manuscript. She sent back a report in a few weeks. She felt the hero was very likable and approachable but was a little too good and needed more fleshing out. There of course were errors with sentence structure and run on sentences. It was the best $80 I could ever have spent.
I decided to make him a drunk. That’s nothing new in detective stories; it had been used so many times in literature. But a drunk with extraordinary abilities could be novel.
I really wasn’t ready for that. I’d been doing a lot of reading about writing, especially in the Writer’s Digest. Things like starting a story in the middle of a conflict which led me to craft a prologue in the front before the first chapter. More reading led me to understand I was giving to much away right up front. I needed to raise questions in the readers mind and give the answers later in the book. That convinced me to move the origin story until much later in the book.
The next improvement I owe to Nancy Kress who was writing a column for the Writer’s Digest. In the simplest form she said to Write Tight. Don’t be so in love with your words that you can’t delete the ones that are not needed.
All of this led to a flurry of re-writes before I was ready to publish.
I’d decided on a title: The Power of Mindforce – Birth of a Hero. I’d found a publisher Xlibris Corporation who was willing to put my novel in print form for only $300 on the new, at the time POD books. By this time, I had bought my first computer and could e-mail my file to them. I can’t remember how long it took but I had the first Comp book in my hand.
There was no money for marketing (there never is sometimes) so I was telling my friends and co-workers where they could buy the book. I made a few sales. Those who worked with me said they liked it but one person who knew of it was confused because the title led her to believe it was about ESP not a superhero. Had I blundered with the title? I did not think so, but i was wrong. When there were no future sales I began to wonder.
Making Another Change:
Sometimes it’s hard to take good advice, but I went back to review all I had read on the Writer’s Digest. Reluctantly it got through to me that I did have the wrong title for the book. But what should it be?
I tried all variations of the title but discarded them all. That’s when I began to concentrate on the Antagonist rather than the Protagonist. Since the villain of the story wore a mask to conceal his identity, why not use that Idea. Mask of the Crime Czar – the Wager became the new title more re-writes were needed as well.
The powers that be at, Xlibris would be glad to make the changes as long as I was willing to pony up some more cash. I was in a bind at the time and the necessary funds were not available. So, the book languished a little while longer.
Because it’s a POD book it can still be had through Xlibris and maybe Amazon too. But don’t buy it because there have been changes since.
As time slipped by, I acquired a copy of Photoshop and was learning that not only photos could be manipulated so could you draw pictures in it if you were good with a mouse or you got a pressure sensitive tablet. I’d been painting pictures in the past, why not in a computer. that’s when I came up with the current cover.
But there was still the problem with Xlibris. That’s when I discovered Amazon and the Kindle e-book reader. I was thrilled to learn that it wouldn’t cost me a nickel to set up the account. I’d just have to upload it to them with the new cover, jump through a few hoops and sit back and relax. Yeah. Right.
There still was not money for Marketing but what did I know. I made the decision to offer it as an e-book on kindle for a free download for five days. Over 300 people chose to get the free download; now all I had to do was sit back and watch the reviews flow in. Do you hear crickets?
No one gave it any kind of review.
Change of Scenery part 1:
At this time, I chose to move from New Jersey to Daytona Beach in Florida. This happened because the place that I had worked for the previous ten years, sold out to the competition who then closed us down, forcing me into an early retirement.
Again, the novel languished for a few years and there were no sales. I’d started my own website, this one, to write reviews and do some opinion pieces and maybe offer a little writing advise. I was even teaching art in a Workshop I hosted.
It occurred to me, if not maybe practical, since I was an artist, to draw some illustrations for Mask. It seemed like a good idea at the time, words and illos by VJ Miller, Sr. After all. I did do the cover. So, I got down and did several ink drawings, placed them throughout the book and uploaded it to Amazon for both Kindle and POD.
Do you hear crickets again?
All good things come to an end, and they did for me with a flourish. The Pandemic shut down my Workshop. since we couldn’t assemble in groups. Then I got sick. Not with COVID but because I contracted pneumonia and congestive heart-failure. I spent three weeks in the hospital and came out a lot the worse for wear.
Another move had me go to Tennessee to live with my niece and nephew. She is an RN, and he is a former EMT. Rehab is a bitch; I needed help just to get out of a chair, then trying to walk with a walker and then with a cane which I ditched in short order after I got my sense of balance back. But it would be another 18 months until I really felt like writing again or even doing fine art painting. Which brings us to…
I really don’t know why I am even bothering with this next chapter in the evolving of Mask. Maybe it’s because it was my first book, and I can’t let it go.
I’ve acquired a newer version of MS Word and delving into a better way to format the book. Gone are the illustrations, except for one just before the Prologue. I’ve completed the first phase of the re-editing. I’ve expanding some of the scenes and may do more in the next phase as things warrant. I’ve added more clarity to other parts trying to make it an edgier detective story. The novel is over 87k and may grow to even more.
My writing style does not allow me to be too wordy, descriptions of scenes and people are kept to a minimum, I want the reader to visualize it in their own mind, not tell them what they are seeing. For me, I believe all readers are very intelligent and my stories will be at a faster pace.
I’ve since started up with a new publisher, Draft2Digital. They are in contact with several e-book sellers worldwide. They have since purchased Smashwords who can really help a writer with the editing they need. All of D2D’s titles can be had in paperback through their other affiliate Books2Read
I’ve laid this all out not because I want you to take pity on me and buy my book, but it is a journey of one writer doing what he can to offer a better product. The choice is always yours.
I have a concept for the new cover for Mask, but it isn’t on paper yet. There will be further updates but stay tuned for more’
And please ask any questions that you might have in the comment section and I will reply ASAP