In 1968, I was a year out of high school when the President of the United States sent me a letter, “Greetings…”
Six months later I was in Vietnam, plodding up jungle mountain trails, a fifty-pound pack on my back, an M-16 in my hands. I had a bad trip, as the Hippies say, and returned wounded, and determined to put it all into “the novel.”
I started in 72, finished around 85/86, and sent it out — everywhere. No one wanted it! I was devastated. Then I thought, am I a writer? Or am I simply someone who wanted to write one book and get something off his chest? I decided on the former, picked myself up, and continued writing.
Seven years later, I finished a historical novel, Calling Crow. It was published in 1995. The publisher wanted two more over the next two years, and I signed a contract and delivered them. I was a professional writer now, a paid novelist. But I still felt incomplete; my Nam novel hadn’t sold.
In 1999, I managed to get Willie Morris (My Dog Skip) to read Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam, and he liked it enough to send it out under his own letterhead. He received one rejection, then he had a heart attack and died; I was on my own again.
Over the next three years, I tried; no luck. Books about Vietnam wouldn’t sell, they said. Out of frustration, I sold the erights to an ebook startup. In 2001, they entered it in the Frankfurt eBook Awards. Carl Melcher was named a finalist, along with the work of Joyce Carol Oates and David McCullough. I had made it, right? Selling the book would be a slam-dunk now! Wrong.
Three more fruitless years of sending out queries followed. Then, I submitted the book to Booklocker.com and they created a fine print on demand (POD) book, professional in every respect.
I rested, and one day I stumbled across Colonel David Hackworth’s (Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts) website. I emailed “Hack,” asking him if he’d read the book, hoping for a blurb. He forwarded my email to his agent, who offered to read it. He did and asked for eight more copies. Within two weeks he had sold it to St. Martin’s.
Let’s see, from the writing to the publishing — eighteen years. Was it worth the wait? You’re darn Write it was. Never give up!
Paul Clayton’s novel, Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam, will be published in hardcover by Thomas Dunne, St. Martin’s Press, in July of this year. His historical series (Calling Crow, Flight of the Crow, and Calling Crow Nation) is available on the web.