“The car ran past the STOP sign like it wasn’t there, a streak of red dust in the morning sun.” This is the opening line to my book, Stars in the Texas Sky, and this is the sentence which started everything else, an unexpected flash of insight that became a life-altering event.
In late 2009 I hooked up with a few local writers. We’d meet, talk, discuss Important Issues, share our work—and every week we’d have a moment of flash fiction. There’d be a prompt—and off we’d go. When the bell rang after 15 minutes, we’d read our work, usually laugh, and then file it away in the “Something I Wrote” drawer.
But in early 2010 a writing buddy brought this sentence. As soon as she finished speaking the entire novel laid itself out before me. I saw the puzzled eyes of the protagonist, young Henry Valentine, his small town, the wide gently rolling hills of East Texas, his friends, his school, his love for baseball—and the encounter with someone who’d change his life.
I wrote a thousand words that writing session, typing as fast as I could. In the following months I worked on the story, thinking about what might happen, sketching out ideas, and trying to balance writing with a full life with my own job, my family, and my other interests, including supporting two children in college.
Then, during NaNoWriMo of 2010, I completed the book—all 85,000 words. It was a first draft, and it needed tweaking, but the story simply poured out. People walked into the story, introduced themselves, and started talking and interacting. I just listened and wrote.
Sure I’d completed several novels—like the old joke about the lady who loved waffles so much she had a trunk full, I had 6 or 7 completed novels in my archives, but destined never to be read by anyone else but me, proof that I had the goal of being a writer but perhaps not the skill.
This one was different. I didn’t wrestle with the story. I wrestled with details and story-balance. But it didn’t seem I was creating as much as writing a vivid longform article for a news magazine.
Over the next 18 months I edited, removing characters and scenes, researching endless niggling things, building a world for Henry with maps and calendars, making sure that the story felt as if it belonged entirely in 1952 rather than a pleasant retrospective from 2012. And finally in June of 2012 I announced I Was Done.
So there it is, the novel, complete, proofed, printed, and ready for shipment. I’ve been pleased with the responses, both in sales and review, and am overall quite happy with it. It is the novel I wanted to write.
The life-altering part? Well, writing is hard, and I think marketing is harder. But I’m hooked. Sure I have to keep my day job, to which I’m fully committed. But in my spare time I’m writing and thinking about what happens next. I’ve got three more novels sketched out, each with a significant theme or idea, and there is a host of people waiting to walk on the stage, ready to introduce themselves to Henry Valentine.
Oh, by now he’s not holding the STOP sign. He’s gone on to other exploits. In fact, in one of them he has an encounter with—no, wait. You’ll just have to read the sequel.
Stars in the Texas Sky
Paperback: 302 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1st edition (July 1, 2012)
File Size: 395 KB
Print Length: 304 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1477458786
Publisher: Lillies of the Field LLC (July 1, 2012)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Author page at Amazon
Stephen J. Matlock was born and raised in the 50s in Southern California where he experienced warm beaches and sunny skies. He has tried his hand at many occupations, including running a restaurant, working in construction and demolition, standing in front of people telling them how to do things, and writing technical documentation for people who want their computers to obey them. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, and has seen his children fly away to build their own lives, although they do return regularly for food and advice. He is working on his next novel, set in contemporary Seattle.