Today marks the fourth birthday of my second novel, The Second Cortez, a finalist in the 2018 Red City Review Book Awards for General Fiction. As I sit here sipping my coffee this Saturday morning, I contemplate the novel’s themes, its characters and pivotal scenes, but those I can blog about another day. Today I should relay those great memories that cascaded into my mind this morning: what came before, during, and after the publication of The Second Cortez, four years ago today.
The Red City Review award was an exciting development, and I regret entering the novel into only two contests. This stems from my years of unease with literary self-promotion. Anyway, another development unfolded in the Amazon Free Kindle Library, where during its first book promotion, The Second Cortez hit #1 in the literary fiction category and #24 worldwide. It also received a very positive review from Kirkus Reviews and glowing five-star reviews from both Red City Review and Readers’ Favorite.
Yet with this novel, what stays with me most wasn’t the destination, but the journey. My memories of the four primary stages of the novel’s development are great memories that I will always carry.
First came the travel research phase. This was just as exciting as the book promotion, but in a kinetic, physical sense. Two trips to Mexico proved unforgettable, especially one to the fascinating region of central Mexico. Within the United States, I followed my planned itinerary and path from the southern border near Lukeville, Arizona, through New Mexico, western Colorado and eastern Utah, up through western Wyoming, eastern Idaho, then through Montana to the Canadian border—and then back to Austin via a different route.
Whenever possible, I aimed to take each road and experience each venue as my protagonist. This plan resulted in one surprise. At my northernmost point, I was stuck in Glacier National Park for hours amidst stopped traffic, as a forest fire raged and a fleeing car ahead of us had overturned, blocking the westward road out of the park for many. Yet I never suffered a true setback. I explored eight states while interviewing many people, even old friends, taking endless notes, photos and videos. Once in the Rocky Mountain states, I feasted on elk steaks at every opportunity. One highlight was building a fire and pitching a tent at the elevated Curtis Canyon campsite (outside Jackson, Wyoming) while overlooking the National Elk Refuge and the Grand Teton mountains just beyond. Another evening, I camped beside a stream and near an red-orange cliff wall outside of Moab, Utah. Just as memorable were late nights in downtown Bozeman and Missoula, conversing with locals and tourists alike, some of whom made it into my novel as characters. All of this confirmed my long-held belief that travel research trips can rank among the most exciting experiences in a novelist’s life.
The second exciting leg of this journey involved writing through to the end of the first draft, about 93,000 words at that time. From the early morning through night, I’d aim to write at least eight hours a day, not counting breaks. At the end of each day, I recalled excitedly informing friends of the word count for that day. I sought to build a groundswell of enthusiasm, but in the end what spurred me on was not the augmenting word count. It was envisioning the plot, subplots and characters unfolding into a sort of reality.
The third phase of the journey involved revision and my work with editors. First, I was lucky, or blessed, to be able to work off and on for over a year with an outstanding developmental editor in Tiffany Yates Martin, of Foxprint Editorial. With decades in the profession, Tiffany has edited such authors as Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club, Lullaby), Pat Conroy (The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini), and Sarah Bird (Above the East China Sea). My first hero I encountered in this experience, Tiffany delivered strong editorial work on my project and helped The Second Cortez become significantly better after several drafts, and after making adjustments, the manuscript headed to the line editor and proofreader.
Next came the fourth stage: production, publication and marketing, by Enchanted Indie Press. Once again, depending on your spiritual beliefs, I was either lucky or blessed to work with a trio of heroes. First, Rafido, an artist based in the Alsace-Moselle region of eastern France, fashioned a great cover image for the novel. My excitement grew over what Rafido would produce, and I was more than pleased at the result. Over the years, I’ve received hundreds of compliments on Rafido’s rendering: my protagonist staring through misty twilight at the Veracruz Cathedral during a dream sequence.
Tosh McIntosh created a great cover design using Rafido’s cover art, and delivered exceptional layout work for both physical and e-book versions. Tosh’s work ethic, drive, keen eyes and attention to detail were truly something to behold. None of this is surprising when one considers Tosh is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, a decorated fighter pilot, and is still an aviator.
Last but not least in this trio of heroes is Lara Reznik, who like Tosh is an accomplished author. Lara has a knack for marketing fiction, and it showed with The Second Cortez. This was not my first time working with Lara, who marketed my debut novel, Water Lessons, published four years prior. Lara was key in getting both novels in the hands of so many readers. Even more than I, Lara loves New Mexico, and whereas I traveled to Santa Fe and Taos five times during my travel research, Lara lives in Taos part of each year and resided in Albuquerque for decades.
The Second Cortez is an exploration of loyalty to one’s family and home city, a study in seeking both revenge and justice, and an examination of the risks and rewards in intervening in unjust acts and atrocities. Just as much, it’s a tale of adventure. In turn, for the writer who was there for all four phases of the novel’s gestation, The Second Cortez sparks one thing above all: memories of adventure.