Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Writing a first novel is no less difficult than it ever was. But today, anyone with $7 and a friend with some skills in graphic arts can publish their first manuscript. Modern printing technology has made the publishing world a much more egalitarian place.
Just ask Steamboat Springs authors Dick Boersma and Dave Combs.
Combs’ first novel, “Wave Dance,” is set in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Its protagonist, Eric Larson, is a boat captain who heroically rescues two sea kayakers in a storm only to find himself in conflict with wildlife smugglers. Combs writes under the pen name D.C. Douglas.
Combs, who knows firsthand how to ride out a storm off the coast of Alaska, has a talent for using his prose to create suspense that will take hold of his readers. The climax of his novel is a bloody fight that will widen readers’ eyes, but the book also is a love story.
Boersma, a longtime local psychotherapist who writes under the pen name Ambrose Richardson, understands better than most the relationships and emotions that motivate people to act. He wraps up his crime mysteries in a keen sense of place. And his local readers will be tickled by the obvious references to Routt County. Boersma’s protagonist in both books is a psychologist named Whittier Brand who finds himself in conflict with murderous bad guys and doomsday profits. And Boersma isn’t afraid to take on sex scenes in his psychological crime novels.
Boersma was sitting in his living room one night in early 2010 reading a book by one of his favorite novelists, Faye Kellerman, when the thought popped into his mind: “You know what? I could do that.”
He picked up his laptop, began writing and five months later, the first copy of the murder mystery — or “psychmystery,” as he calls it — “Crossing the Borderline” was in his hands. It literally cost him $7 including shipping, and is professionally produced.
Boersma’s novels (his second is “Brutal Devotion”) are being printed on demand. Other than ordering extra copies for upcoming book-signing events, he doesn’t need to purchase books from CreateSpace, an on-demand printer catering to self-publishing authors, until he has orders.
It used to be that aspiring novelists had to mail off manuscripts to agents and publishers and wait.
“I’m number 413,000 down on the best-seller list at CreateSpace and I’m not at the bottom, so that tells you how many people are publishing books this way,” Boersma said.
Combs took a slightly different route with “Wave Dance.” He sent his manuscript to Xlibris and ordered 365 copies. Each soft-cover book designed to sell for $20 costs him $10. He’s already sold 250 to friends and acquaintances.
He thought of submitting his manuscript to a traditional publisher but was too impatient.
“Writing a book has always been at the top of my bucket list,” Combs said. “I’m 58 years old. I didn’t want to wait two years to see my book. The people at Xlibris support me with marketing. They’re very professional, and they really like my book.”
Combs, a longtime homebuilder in Steamboat, also was an Alaska State Park ranger and owned a commercial salmon fishing business in Bristol Bay.
Both writers have chosen to write from a first-person point of view, which results in many sentences that begin with the personal pronoun “I.” In some ways, that approach limits the structure of their novels. Writers who use the third person get to play God and write from inside the heads of all of their characters, both heroes and villains.
First-person novelists give up some of the flexibility that allows them to weave different story lines together.
If it’s true that first-time novelists should write about what they know best, both Boersma and Combs have followed that advice to the letter.
Combs, who plans at least two more novels in the Eric Larson series, writes with authenticity about the boats and ships that ply the coastal waters of Alaska. And after many years of observing what makes the human animal tick, Boersma knows exactly who his characters are.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com