I’ve been Active Duty for 14 years, but I’ve spent about the last five trying to become a professional writer – and today I found out that my book, Gift of the Shaper, is a finalist for the 2018 Best Book Awards!

If you have some time, here’s the story of how it all came to be.

More info: amazon.com

That’s me on the right, getting kicked

You’re probably wondering how I got here. Well..

Deployments to remote regions are great for finding out who you are

It all started in 2008, when I was lucky enough to pick up a “volunteer-based” (read: special) deployment with my buddy Jeff (left) to Iraq. We deployed in support of the Army so we got to wear these cool 2-piece flight suits like you see in the picture.

We would talk about comics, mostly, but we also talked about all the sci-fi and fantasy books we loved, and it got me thinking: all of those things were so important to me, and I grew up loving them. Was there a way that I could be a part of it too?

Our outdoor “entertainment”

In 2013, I deployed again to a certain country in Africa where the internet was basically non-existent and the connection to the outside world was even less so. When your entertainment is limited to little more than shoddy benches and an outdoor XBOX, you know you have to do something to pass the time. It was here (literally, in the spot pictured) that I decided to stop playing candy crush on my iPad and start writing my own book.

I loved fantasy (I was reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time back then) so I figured, what the hell, I’ll try my hand at that.

Oh yeah, and there were monkeys

(Like seriously lots of monkeys)

But after two long years of writing, I finally had a first draft of the manuscript, and wouldn’t you know it: I had to deploy again – this time to a DIFFERENT country in Africa.

Here I am with a cool gun and an awful mustache

As was the custom, I grew a hideous mustache (left) and lifted a bunch of weights in terrifying places (below). In my spare time, I worked on my book, and did research on publishers or agents that would possibly represent a first-time author like myself. Lucky for me, I knew a couple people who knew a thing or two about how to get your manuscript published (and I also knew how to use google).

Terrifying place filled with spiders

One morning I woke up to throw some weights around and I almost ran into a huge web that was just kind of hanging out on the bench press. I almost gave up weightlifting on the spot. No idea how many victims it had claimed.

When you need to write, find a quiet spot

Of all the places that I went to get away from things, the one that meant the most to me was a little spot on our tiny camp (above) where it would just be me and my iPad, typing away at my book – and, after I finished the first book, its sequel. I worked tirelessly on my book, spending practically every spare minute I had trying to craft it into a finished story.

This next step is important, so pay attention!

After about 2 months there (it was a 6-month deployment) I was CERTAIN that I had a completed book (i.e. sent it to beta readers and finalized the draft), so I picked up the Writer’s Market book and went to work. I sent hundreds of emails to agents and publishers with rejection after rejection after rejection. But I didn’t let it stop me – I already had the book. That was the hard part, right?

Well, sort of. Oh, one thing about me is that – unfortunately – I am tenacious to a fault. If I want something, I’m going to go after it, no matter how insane that thing might be.

And getting a book published is insane. So I kept it up.

Fortunately, there was some really cool scenery

We got to see all sorts of places that France had conquered. Ah, colonialism.

But I FINALLY heard back from someone … and wouldn’t you know it, they wanted to publish my book!

My actual publishing agreement

OH MY GOD! Someone who was interested in publishing MY BOOK! THAT I WROTE! WITH REAL WORDS! I was freaking out. Man.

Since I was deployed at the time but they wanted to talk to me before I signed on with them, we actually ended up doing a Skype session together. Dan, one of the managing partners, looked at my mustache and my salmon polo shirt (we didn’t deploy in uniform for this particular deployment) and was like “Man, what kind of crazy stuff are you getting into?” I didn’t have the heart to tell him. But at the end of the day, we agreed that publishing my book would be a good thing for both of us.

OK, THIS is actually the part where I freaked out. Again

When I saw what would become my cover for the first time, it was like holding a newborn in your hands (I don’t have kids, but my brother does, and I trust him). It was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of featured posts here.

And it even has a MAP!

Any fantasy nerd will tell you that the best books always have maps

(Side note here: I actually got one of my friends, a former roommate and fellow Air Force vet, Mike Dains, to draw the map for me. I think it turned out pretty damn great).

The moment I got to hold a copy in my hands was unlike any other

The coolest thing was getting my proof in the mail – basically the “trial” copy that the publisher runs to suss out any print errors or anything. This was the same polo that I wore during my Skype call, so it’s a miracle they chose to sign a guy that wears salmon.

Any good deployment comes with a deployment dog. This is Diesel

Anyways, if you’ve stuck with me this far I really appreciate it.

Oh yeah. Proof. I get to use this seal now forever. How cool is that?

And, yes, I’m an Award-winning finalist technically, but it was too clunky to put in the title.

Our deployment kitten. We named him Meatball

I’ve had a hell of a lot of adventures over the last 14 years, and I really tried to pick out the highlights from my 11 deployments – but the thing that I’m most proud of is my book.

I would love to hear from you if you have any questions, too. I’m all over the place, but I’m pretty good about answering questions.

Thanks for listening!