Who will want to read Wandering West? That was just about the first question to pop into my brain once I decided I had a story to tell. One of the slew of questions that followed–from the slew of questions that never stop–is the more pertinent one: who will actually read Wandering West? More to the point, who will even know the story exists to be read? Without promotion, the potential reader’s discovery of a book’s existence is akin to the hiker who stumbles onto the tree deep inside the forest where the wallet was last seen. Without having blazed a distinguishable trail to get there, the likelihood of finding that lost wallet is remote at best.
For me, by far, the most frustrating part about the entire process of writing, editing, publishing and marketing a book is the marketing–the capturing of an audience. Before I can target that audience, I first must have an idea who comprises it. So, who, exactly, will Wandering West appeal to? Well, my answer to that question is rather simple. I think it will appeal to a broad range of readers. I hope so anyway. After all, the book possesses many of the same ingredients that are found in other works with broad interest. It has elements of suspense and mystery, scandal and romance, humor and tragedy. If I do say so myself, Wandering West is funny in places, and it’s sad in places. It’s tense in places, and it’s thoughtful in places. It’s about life. According to the readers to whom I have spoken, it is fast-paced, a real page turner. Yes, I’m smiling like a proud pappa as I write that, but it’s true. That is what they tell me, to a person. I certainly intended to make it so. I get bored easily. No reader should get bored with something I write. At every turn, Jack Stiler is confronted emotionally, and oftentimes, in physical, life-threatening ways. Because he’s an older fellow, Jack suffers from a few of the more typical ailments of aging, so I think the older reader will identify with those things, and with Jack’s growing sense of mortality. At some point in life, the realization that a heart has only so many beats begins to gnaw at us all. As actively-paced and energetic as Wandering West may be, I also intended it to be poignant and thought-provoking. I think Jack’s empathy and introspection see to that.
So, my fingers and toes are crossed in the hope that Wandering West will attract quite an audience. The trick now is to make that potential audience aware that the book exists, that it’s now available to be read and enjoyed. I just need a well-trampled trail to show the reader the way. I hope you’ll help me get the word out. An author needs all the promotional help she or he can get. No one wants to get lost in a forest in search of a meandering and obscure trail, least of all, me.
My iPhone was on speaker, set at full volume. “What was that?” I asked, pretending not to hear.
“I said I finished your book–and I thought it was just wonderful!” the woman’s voice sounded, excitedly, again.
Ahh, what a glorious sound it was, too: I-finished-your-book-and-I-thought-it-was-just-wonderful! Yes, there was an exclamation point in there–I heard it. Exclamation point! Yes!
“And I loved the message,” she went on. “It was a strong message. A positive message.” I was wondering how this lovely woman had gotten my phone number, but I wasn’t about to ask her now. Keep the glorious sounds of music playing! “It’s all about persevering,” she was now explaining, gloriously as ever. “Just like your dedication page says in the front. Jack had everything and the kitchen sink thrown at him. The others, too. There was one conflict after another. It was a real page turner. I thoroughly enjoyed it. So much. Well, I know you’re busy, Gary–”
The dear woman’s melodious voice was beginning to wane a tad. The music mustn’t stop yet. It was way too early for that. “Yes,” I said, quickly, “Wandering West, as much as anything, is a story of redemption. Jack is constantly faced with the age old conflict of duty versus emotion as he strives for redemption. As he struggles to cope. As he searches for peace and contentment.”
“Like we all do,” she added. “That’s what makes it so special. Jack is any one of us. We could be him. Well, kinda. I’m not so sure I could handle what he did. But we do what we have to do, don’t we? Well, I better let you go, Gary–I know how busy you must be. Working on your next novel and all. I just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed Wandering West. And how much I look forward to the next one.”
“Thank you,” I said, wishing she wouldn’t hang up quite yet. I still didn’t know how she had gotten my cellphone number. Surely, there was one more song for her to sing. If only multitudes could hear this magnificent soprano.
Oh yeah. They can at least read the lyrics. Right here. And then click onto the order tab in the book section of this website. Good idea. Great idea! Exclamation point!
Why did I write Wandering West? What inspired me? Or, to censor an old friend’s recent admonition, “What the heck were you thinking, putting yourself through such a gut-wrenching, thankless–self flagellating–process, and for what?” When the subject of my having written a book comes up, these are the immediate and inevitable questions I get. I generally stammer a bit, clear my throat and try my best to explain that writing–gulp–simply, is in my bones. I am compelled to express my life’s observations through writing fiction, as sometimes daunting and generally inefficient as that may be. Most people who know me aren’t aware that I have always been something of a writer. In my twenties, I wrote several novels, acquired a literary agent and endeavored to make writing fiction a career. After all, didn’t Faulkner get his writing career off the ground in his twenties? Didn’t Hemingway? Didn’t all writers worth anything? Ahh, to be so naive again. To put it bluntly, as an author, I was not yet ready for prime time. In my case, I hadn’t lived enough to develop the depth that my characters needed to write the type stories that inspired me. Besides, by my late twenties, I had a family to care for, and yes, better things to do than coop myself up in front of an IBM Selectric all day. Yes, I know. I’m dating myself now.
Life, as they say, got in the way, until recently. At the time, I was in one of my contemplative moods, something I am afflicted with all too often, I’m afraid. I was reflecting on my life, how I had gottten to this point. I was savoring the occasional minor victory and pining over the all-too familiar traumatic defeat. Where was I headed, now that I could actually glimpse–however blurry the view–old age on the horizon? It was, after all, in the not-distant-enough future. It dawned on me that any ordinary person, placed in an extraordinary circumstance, confronted with the realization of growing older, would have a story to tell. I had this image of an older guy wandering toward the sunset–the sunset of his life, if you will. The title, Wandering West, then popped into my head. I knew immediately that I would write this aging man’s story, or at least give a stab at it to see how it developed. Once I fleshed out Jack Stiler’s character, at least in my mind, the story took on a life of its own. That’s generally how I have always written. I develop characters and let them tell the story. In the beginning, this is nothing more than a vague concept, a feeling or a mood more than anything. I have no elaborate outline, detailing this and that. I can’t work that way. I’m as surprised as anyone when I get to point D from point C in the story. For me, that’s what keeps it fresh and alive. As a writer, I get hooked the way I hope the reader does. In the case of Wandering West, I completed the story in three to four months, a rather quick pace in light of my previous writings. I think this one was champing at the bit to get out. If you’ve already read Wandering West, pardon the pun. If not, get to it! Click on the purchase button in the book section of this website. And thanks!
Carefully, with the aid of the walker, I stepped out of the narrow shower, towel dried my sagging shell of a body, and then, steeling myself against the lingering pain, I moved to sit at the edge of the bed. I had been able to dress myself since yesterday morning, almost twenty-four hours ago, after my last shower. I opened the drawer to the nightstand beside the bed and took out the last fresh pair of Jockey underwear. Gingerly, as if lassoing a steer, I reached down in a tossing motion to loop the left leg hole of the garment over the left foot. Once I had the foot corralled above the ankle, I was able to reach down far enough to dip my right foot inside the right leg hole. With a grunt, I worked the underwear up to my saggy waist. The simple act of dressing to this point still had me breathing heavily, as if I had run in an all-out sprint to the nurse’s station and back. I rested for a minute and then managed to dress in the khaki slacks that had been laid out on the bed beside me. Fortunately, I had brought Topsiders to wear home. I had also sprinkled talcum powder inside the shoes. My feet easily slipped in.
My beard was still soft and moist from the shower. With the walker, I pulled myself back onto my feet and shuffled my way to the sink and mirror a short distance away. I could stand and balance myself without the aid of walls, furniture, or the walking device now. I folded and then leaned the walker against the wall beside me. My toiletries were packed in the black shaving kit next to the sink. I took out the shaving cream and applied a mound to my fingertips. While waiting for hot water to flow from the faucet, I studied the image in the mirror. The puffy face of middle age had given way to a thinner look, the bone structure of a younger man ironically displayed behind the droopy cheeks. What once had been a beard of dark reddish stubble was now completely white, and what once had been a smooth, lightly tanned neck was now a ruddy accordion of wrinkles. Tiny veins wiggled just under the skin of my nose and chin. The ravages of a full life were already telling. Even my best feature, the blue eyes, were washed out and cloudy where they peered out from heavy lids. How strange, it seemed, that something so gradual as the physical transformation from aging would so abruptly manifest itself as it lately had. It was as though the subconscious could no longer hold back the facts that had been so apparent to everyone else.
My face came alive with the menthol of the shaving cream. The new sharp, double-bladed razor felt good raking across my jaw for the first time in days. I was thinking how nice it would be to get back home when the nurse walked into the room. She was a tall, big-boned woman with strong yet gentle hands. I had seen her for the first time just an hour or so ago, when she massaged away a cramp in my right foot. I dreaded her reappearance. She had worked hard to strike up a conversation.
“Am I pronouncing your name right?” she asked, picking up the hospital gown I had tossed on the tile floor before showering. “Mr. St—is it a long ‘I’ sound or a short ‘I’?”
“Long,” I said. “Like you see with your eye.”
“Mr. Stiler,” she said, dropping the gown onto the bed. “Right?”
“Right. Jack Stiler.” I finished shaving the left side of my face and started on my right.
She nodded with a smile. “I’m Hilda. I think I told you that earlier. Hilda Heinsohn. It’s German. My family’s from New Braunfels. They were some of the first settlers to come here from Germany. From the old country.”
I smiled back through the mirror and then guided the double blades beneath the right side of my nose. “Where’s Mark?”
Hilda began gathering my personal belongings in a plastic bag she had discovered in the tiny closet. “He ran down to grab your paperwork from the front desk. And to get a wheelchair so you can leave. You did arrange for a ride home this morning, right? You told me that earlier, didn’t you?”
“They should be getting here before too long.” I rinsed stubble down the sink drain, rinsed the razor under running water, and placed it inside the shaving kit. After rinsing the excess shaving cream off my face and neck, I located my blue knit shirt hanging across the towel bar and slipped it on. I rummaged through the shaving kit until I found my brush. Before giving up on the unruly, thinning gray hair, I attempted several times to comb it in place. “I don’t need a wheelchair,” I then said, and I shuffled back to sit on the bed, leaving the folded walker behind.
“Look at you,” Hilda said as if she were admiring the first steps of a child. “But you know it’s policy, Mr. Stiler.”
“Oh I know. Fine.”
“Stiler,” she said, thinking. “That rings a bell.”
“Are you the one they’ve been talking about in the paper and on the news lately?” “Well—”
“You’re the one they’ve been calling the Wall Street cowboy, aren’t you?”
I had to chuckle at the thought. “Wall Street cowboy might be a stretch.”
“But you’re him, aren’t you, Mr. Stiler?”
“Well, some people on Wall Street used to say I was too much of a cowboy, and some people around here say I’m too much of a Wall Streeter.” I chuckled again. “Actually, I’m not much of either.”
“Wow,” the nurse said, “I’ve been trying to keep up with all the things that have been happening. You’ve had quite an interesting few months recently, haven’t you?”
“You’d have to know a good chunk of my life to put the past few months into context,” I said.
“That’s always the case, isn’t it?” When I didn’t answer, she added, “Well, sit tight, Mr. Stiler. May be awhile before Mark gets back with the chair and your ride gets here.”
I watched Hilda walk out of the room as I moved into the vinyl recliner with the flowery pattern next to the bed. I settled into the chair, leaning it back as far as it would go, and closed my eyes. It felt good to be out of bed yet off my feet. Hilda was right. The past few months had been interesting indeed.