by Barbara Van Reed
“I think there are a lot of people who'd like to write a book and get published, and would like to know how to do it.” says Ken Amidon, who himself has just published his first novel. Ken, who lives in Northbridge, is now making the rounds of libraries and book clubs to talk about “Stray Threads,” a mystery/romance set in Maine, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania in 1977. His next personal appearance will be at the Oxford Public Library on February 7.
Ken’s career has been that of a freelance business writer for corporations and trade journals and he continues to do that. He has also written some short stories and memoir pieces, as well as a play adaptation. Writing a novel had been in his plans for ten years, but a plausible plot line eluded him. Finally he decided to set aside the time do it, following writer Ann Lamott’s advice to just “create the characters, and they will tell the story. It sounds silly, but that's what I did and it worked,” he said.
He patterned the protagonist Tim Roper after himself at age 27, and lets that character and the others tell their story. He wrote the book using the third-person voice or point of view, which he says forced him to write a lot of conversation, intended to show, not tell, how things happen. “The characters rule,” he says. “They drive everything. I stay out of their heads, and let them talk.”
In his library presentations Ken talks about the writing aspect, creating the characters, and the process of actually producing a finished work. His audience may grill him on one or both, again, he said, because they want to know how it’s done.
His writing process included two friends, neither of them a writer, who read the chapters three or four behind as he was writing them. They would tell him if the characters were true or not, and whether the story line compelled them to continue reading.
One of them, his neighbor, a bartender, actually became a character in the story. Others of his friends and family may recognize themselves in the book as well, he said.
Ken started writing just before Christmas in 2011 and finished the following March, averaging three or four hours of writing a day. That seems like a short time, but it wasn’t always straightforward. “Some days I would wake up and would have no idea what I would write.” The story evolved and changed too, as he went along. For example, he brought in a new character in chapter 13, introducing a parallel, unconnected story line that would eventually converge with the main story. Later he went back and inserted that character into chapter 3.
When he had written the ending, his reading neighbor, still three chapters behind, predicted the outcome. “My neighbor was right, it was predictable.” Ken changed the ending then, and thinks the book is better because of that.
The next step, editing, was painful, said Ken. “I had to cut a lot, had to have every action and conversation reveal something about a character or drive the plot. I ended up cutting out a lot of things.”
Publishing the book was the next challenge. Ken had joined the Worcester Writers Collaborative, a group which talks about book production, and he decided to self-publish as a result. “Going the traditional agent/publisher route requires two things: time and money. And who knows how long I’d be writing letters and getting rejections. I'd heard the horror stories.” He also didn’t want to pay to have it published by a “vanity press.”
Ken had initially thought he'd publish Stray Threads as an e-book, but after hearing about the print-on-demand option at the Collaborative, decided to explore that route. He used Create Space, an Amazon subsidiary, to produce the book as a paperback. The quality of the book is very good, he said. Stray Threads was published last November, just in time for Christmas gift giving. Amazon included it in its Black Friday special books sales program. He has sold some hundreds of copies already, primarily by word of mouth.
He’s had some good feedback from readers. The book has had 12 critical reviews; all but one gave it five stars. “I’m not looking to make a lot of money,” he says. “I just want to write something that people will like.”
He’s pleased to have learned about every aspect of writing and publishing a novel. He did everything himself, except for the cover illustration. That was done by artist Lindsay Ruane, also a Northbridge resident. “I told her what the story was about, and she just nailed it.”
Ken and his wife Suellen have been Northbridge residents for 22 years and have three adult sons. Ken grew up in Northboro and Worcester, went to high school in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Umass Amherst.
What’s next? Ken is well underway with a sequel, which will have the same cast of characters.
Meanwhile, he will continue to make the rounds of libraries and book stores, talking to readers and would-be writers. He’s scheduled to be in Westboro and Clinton later on this month. “People have heard about the book and are calling me,” he said.
Ken will be at the Oxford Public Library on Thursday, February 7 at 7:00 p.m. Stray Threads can be purchased online at amazon.com and at Booklovers' Gourmet in Webster.