At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Friday, June 21, 2013

And Down the Stretch They Come!

I've always loved those words. It brings back memories of many Kentucky Derbies of years past. Being someone who used to live in Louisville, I tune in to the Derby every year and thrill to the sound of the race announcer as the thoroughbreds round the final corner and charge for the wire. Whether it was Seattle Slew in 1977 (the first time I watched the Derby on TV), or Swale's finish in 1984, or the time Grindstone won by a nostril hair (yes, it was that close) in 1996, those moments were preceded by the immortal call, delivered with all the grunt of someone lifting a VW with the entire Mormon Tabernacle Choir in the backseat, "...and down the stretch they come!"

Now those words apply to something else.

In the winter of 2010-11, hungry to do something else professionally and personally, I began shaping the story of a murder mystery series in my head. I had in mind a detective who had navigated through much storm and stress of life. I wanted someone who that a skeptic edge to his worldview. I wanted this detective to be truly unique, a prodigy with a photographic memory that bordered on the bizarre but who held a certain warmth buried deep in his heart. And this detective would be wheelchair-bound.

From those initial dreams, I managed to come up with an eight-book story arc that starts to come to fruition this autumn. This summer, Dunrobin Publishing and Mark Sutherland have been hard at work in the editing, layout, and final cover placement of my first novel in the Cameron Ballack mystery series, Litany of Secrets. It's been quite a journey learning how the publishing industry works. There are many great things about Dunrobin. Their focus on traditional values and high quality means that readers will get an excellent product. Dunrobin is a young company that establishes clear communication and honest proposals combined with personal attention. With those things aligned, it means you get a great view of how things work up front.

I'm pleased to say that the editing process and the layout work have gone smoothly and this project is going forward like a well-stoked locomotive. The final piece of the puzzle is the cover design, and here we found an absolute gold mine! This past school year, I had the pleasure of having a diligent, high-achieving, and creative student in my 7th period Ethics class. For one project, Ciarra drew some corresponding pictures for each of her entires. Now, I've had students get artsy before, but this was several cuts above anything else I've seen. No lie...these drawing made you want to have a seance, bring up the spirit of J.R.R. Tolkien and tell him, "Dude, whoever did the artwork for the Lord of the Rings just got surpassed." Ciarra is that talented. She has the ability to read something, hear a story, or watch a TV program or movie and re-imagine the scenery in her head, and then draw it with vibrant realism and emotion.

With that in mind, I asked Ciarra if she would be willing to try her hand at cover art for Litany of Secrets. Once she read a manuscript of the novel, she was locked in and had a vision for various scenes that told the story incredibly well. We have finalized the front cover and let me tell everyone, this is an amazing piece of work by an amazing student! When it goes public, you'll love it! Mark has married the front cover to the back cover and all systems are go as we move toward the book's release in the fall.

What's truly remarkable is what Ciarra is also doing this summer when she's not doing cover art. She is in a summer program at Washington University of St. Louis, working in the area of brain biomechanics, creating tissue mimics of the white matter in the brain. Yes, she loves art and she loves science. It's amazing to know someone who is precocious as that in different areas of education. To see how committed she is to excellence is very gratifying and humbling at the same time.

The journey to produce something lasting and memorable is never done in isolation. You have to have a great team of people helping you along as you seek to tell the story. Mark Sutherland of Dunrobin Publishing and Ciarra Peters of Westminster Christian Academy are truly the best imaginable for this grand project. When Litany of Secrets finally comes out, it's a tribute to their work even if it is my story.  Truly, no man is an island.

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