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Writing a Book for Loved Ones

Posted 5 years 16 days ago ago by Randy Mains

Whenever I am doing book signings the most common statement I hear is, “You know I’ve always wanted to write a book.”  I look up from the book I’m signing at the person who said it, usually a pilot, and I say, “Well why don’t you then?”

And they often say, “Oh, yeah, well, I don’t really have the time.”

And I say, “I read about an aspiring author who got up an hour before waking the kids up for school and she wrote a page a day.  That’s Three-hundred sixty-five pages a year, there’s your book.”

They ponder what I said for a moment then say, “Yeah, well, I am not really that great a writer.”

“You’d be surprised.  Just write what you know.  Write it like you would want to read it, then polish, polish, polish.  Writing is re-writing you know?  Get the raw clay down on paper first then sculpt it, mold it, craft it, polish it until it sings.”

And they usually say, “Yeah, well, that’s easy for you because you have a degree in Journalism.”

And I answer, “I also flunked the first grade for not being able to read and I had to take dumbbell English my first semester in college because I couldn’t string a coherent sentence together.”


“Yep, and when I flunked the first grade, as you can imagine, my Mom was pretty upset but not as upset as my Dad was because he’d had high hopes that he and I would go into the second grade together.”

This usually causes them to pause and think, then look at me askance until I smile and tell them, “Well the part about me flunking the first grade and having to take dumbbell English is true anyway.”

Without doubt writing a book is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  It is also the most rewarding. Some of my books were easier to write than others.  The Golden Hour, for example, my first book was my hardest, probably because it’s a novel based on fact. I had to learn about plot, dialogue, characterization, rug-pullings, motivation, conflict, and resolution.  It took me 18-months to write.  

Dear Mom I’m Alive—Letters Home from Blackwidow 25 was my easiest book to write.  It took me 9 months.  My other two books, Journey to the Golden Hour and my most recent book, The Reluctant Activist, each took me a year to write.  

You can write a book too if you have the tenacity and the stick-to-itivness.  I once read an article in Writer’s Digest, probably the premier magazine for writers, where an author wrote, “Ninety-five percent of being a successful writer is putting your seat of your pants to a chair.”  

Think about it, what’s the worst that can happen if you give it a try?  You end up with a manuscript that can live for posterity, something for your family to remember you by.  That’s the logic I used when I sat down to write Dear Mom I’m Alive—Letters Home from Blackwidow 25.  If it never saw the light of day at least it would be something my family might treasure.

When I wrote Dear Mom I’m Alive, I was living and flying in the Sultanate of Oman in the Middle East.  I flew with twelve other helicopter pilots, all ex-British military who, when they got to know me after about six months and realized I wouldn’t have an acid flashback if they broached the subject, they asked me what it was really like to fly in Vietnam.  So, after reading a few books on Vietnam to put my head back into that space and, with the letters I had written back then to my Mom, I wrote Dear Mom I’m Alive—Letters Home from Blackwidow 25.

I knew while writing it that it would be very easy to pump myself up like Rambo.  That would have defeated the purpose of why I wanted to write the book in the first place by skewing the picture of what it was really like for me over there.  So I followed advice a professor had given in a writing class when I was in my senior year at San Diego State: “If you want to give an honest, non-fictional personal account, make a promise to yourself that you will not show your writing to a living soul.  That way the truth will shine through, foibles and all which will serve to make your personal story, real, believable, engaging.   When you’ve finished, break that promise you made to yourself and send it off to a publisher. That’s what I did and Avon Books ended up offering me a book contract.
It’s important to be able to sum up your story in one sentence, something called, ‘High concept.’  Some call it an ‘elevator pitch’ because you have about twenty-seconds to sell it.  Here is the high concept sentence I came up with for Dear Mom I’m Alive.  

Dear Mom I’m Alive is the story of a young, naïve, a-political but fiercely patriotic young man with a passion for flying, trying to make it through his one-year tour of duty as a combat helicopter pilot in Vietnam, with his humor and humanity intact.

There are excellent books published by Writer’s Digest that will tell you how to get published and how the pros go about doing it.  That is what I did.  Working from the Middle East, half a world away, using snail mail because there was no Internet back then, I sent off my manuscript proposal to publishers who dealt with the genre and I waited and waited and waited.

Every one of us has a unique story to tell, especially in this wild and wacky business.  If you have the desire and put your seat of your pants to a chair, I am confident you can do it too.  

Randy’s 7 books can be found at http://www.randymains.com/contact.html.

Randy Mains is an author, public speaker, and a CRM/AMRM consultant who works in the helicopter industry after a long career of aviation adventure. He currently serves as chief CRM/AMRM instructor for Oregon Aero. He may be contacted at [email protected]