More than four years ago—was it five, was it six?—I wrote a short story late one night.
There was nothing of consequence about it, except the voice. It was urgent, and close. It spoke in words you’d hear any day of the week, using grammar that was less than standard. Its metaphors were colloquial, whispers intimate.
Palm meets knife, knife meets the hollow under Simon’s ear, pressing just hard enough to get his attention.
That night, forgotten for all but the words I wrote, was the beginning of What Boys Are Made Of. It was beginning of the Saint Flaherty series.
Though I’d later go on to discard most of that first chapter, the voice stuck, rough at first but growing clearer. It was, I soon discovered, the voice of Art Weber, once-soldier, current semi-driver, full-time coach to a boy-wonder in the fighting cage: Simon Flaherty.
A boy who, five pages in, accidentally kills his opponent. Not on purpose, but accidents happen when it’s knife versus baseball bat. Simon did what Art told him to, and paid the price.
His coach didn’t.
Art ain’t got principles, but he does have priorities.
I liked Art’s voice, his callous attitude, but a couple thousand words into the telling I realized that this story needed another narrator, someone who could see that something was wrong with a sixteen-year-old accidentally becoming a murderer.
And so Erin Livingston arrived, with her cracked hands and unsmiling demeanor, the sort of woman who hides her fears behind brusk words. Though she too has seen violence up-close and personally, she understands the enormity of what Simon’s done. She knows from experience that life will never be the same again for her ward.
Just because this ain’t the kind of town to bother about another body don’t change what’s going on in his head. Blood on his hands, blood on his heart.
How does she know? How do these people live in a town where no one cares about a corpse turning up? Why doesn’t Art think it’s a big deal, why does Erin understand what it’s like to feel your soul is forever stained?
The answer arrived in bits and pieces, gleaned from pictures of Iraq and Dresden and Cambodia. There was a civil war not too many years ago, five, make it five. It flattened the town because of the factories to the north. Rubble still lines the streets, and any who wish to leave must go through the woods in a convoy, because the hills are no longer benign. Bandits prey on lone cars, landmines await any who venture off the path—the trappings of a jungle combat in a part of Ohio that so often resembles one.
This is how books are written, or how I write books. This is how characters are made, or how I make characters. This is how Book 1 came to be.
There are other voices: Taylor, the waiter who can’t seem to get a clue, and Grace, who arrives as a breath of fresh air a third of the way through. And of course Simon himself. Simon who spent the entire first draft speaking in past tense in a desperate attempt to avoid thinking about what he’s done. Simon who is quiet around strangers and has an accent so heavy you can slice it.
Simon the teenager. Simon the murderer. Simon the guilty.
He took a while to perfect, this kid whose body grew too fast, leaving him looking like a man long before he had any idea what manhood entails. He can’t lie, so he scowls, he can’t read, so he fights. Can’t escape his nightmares, so he trains until he can’t think anymore.
I used to wonder how those old men could drink so much and still keep things straight. Older I get, the less I wonder.
This is no safety in this Appalachian town, least of all inside my characters’ heads. There can be no safety as long as you’re at war with yourself. It’s a difficult enough journey on its own.
Now throw in a man named Jeff Petrowski and watch as it all goes to hell. Because Erin has a secret and Art needs to catch on and Simon’s afraid of everything, everything in the world–most of all himself.
Hell in the best of ways. This is how I write books.
It’s been a long journey, from rough draft to publication. A year ago, What Boys Are Made Of was still called Dogfight, still 48,000 words too long. Six months ago my alpha reader Ro Mae Allen had helped me trim the by-then-called A Better Man to the proper length, but it still wasn’t ready to go. It had no cover, it had no credentials. Publishing is not a short journey.
Yet it is a relentless one. With the help of Jennifer Zaczek of Cypress Editing, both the punctuation and the title polished into something sleeker, cleaner. The blurb gelled, and so did the end goal.
Before I knew it, a few clicks of the keyboard announced the publication date: March 15th, 2016. Publishing was happening.
And here it is.
It’s been an amazing journey, and at this point, I couldn’t be more thrilled to be holding my own printed copy of my debut novel. The only thing that could possibly top it?
Having all of you read it as well.
Saint Flaherty Book 1: What Boys Are Made Of is for sale through all major online distributors. If the page isn’t up yet, it will be soon!
**I make the same amount of money on every listing, so please feel free to choose whichever format you prefer to read.**
Barnes and Noble
Thank you so much for being here on this incredible day. I truly hope you enjoy my debut novel and are looking forward to its sequel as much as I am!