Spirit Mission's Winding Path to Publication

I started writing what would become Spirit Mission in the summer of 1991. I was a brand-new second lieutenant, had just reported to flight school and was digesting my West Point experience.

Flight School lasted about a year and my scribblings persisted throughout. I had a decent start on the manuscript by the time the Army sent me to Germany for my first assignment as a scout helicopter pilot in late 1992.

My friends and I, so recently graduated from the minimum security prison lifestyle of West Point, were spellbound by Europe. We worked hard at being army officers. And we worked just as hard at experiencing Europe. I was distracted from my mission of writing a novel.

That started a decades-long pattern of working on the manuscript off and on as life, circumstances, and inspiration allowed. 

I left the Army after nine years of active duty service in the summer of 2000. A helicopter pilot with a philosophy degree, I had zero marketable skills. So, I headed back to Atlanta for business school. This kicked off a bunch of moves: Minneapolis after graduation, Charlotte for a bit, back to Germany as an expat, back to Atlanta, then Florida for a couple years. Then, finally, back to Atlanta in 2012.

Truthfully, not a lot of good writing took place during all that, but the project stayed alive in my head. I thought about it a lot, even if I lacked the discipline or circumstance to write it down.

On our last move back to Atlanta in the summer of 2012, I found an old hard copy of the manuscript as Anna and I were unpacking. (The electronic version had long since been lost.) It was down to less than a hundred pages of dusty, moldy dot matrix printer pages. (Remember the dot matrix printer?) I sat down in the middle of the boxes and read it. 

It was terrible. 

But it got the itch going again. I decided at that moment that I would finish the thing.

After that I just tried to do a page a day. Maybe a couple more on the weekend. Some days I was lucky to get a sentence. Some days it flowed. Two years later, I had my first draft. 

And it was a disastrous one thousand pages long. I'm serious... It was a fat lazy cow of a manuscript. 

The next phase was all about editing. I ripped out as much as I could, trying to get down to the essence of the story. After almost a year of surgery, I had it distilled to what I thought was a good fighting weight, so I started to recruit beta readers.

I hated the beta reading part of the process for two reasons. First, we are all so busy in life these days. I felt like an asshole trying to assign fellow adults a book report assignment. But I was lucky to have a core group of folks that were not only gracious with their time, but also have terrific literary taste and were willing to shoot me straight with feedback.

Second, it was really tough to “put it out there.” Though I had been working on the thing for over two decades at that point, no one knew about it. That is a safe place to be. Sharing what I had written was harder than I expected.

My beta readers were terrific, and I got great feedback. And I don’t mean feedback like, “your book is great.” I mean, I got really pointed feedback about what worked, what didn’t and what sucked. 

All of that feedback resulted in over a year of re-writing until, finally, I got the manuscript tuned up to the point I felt like I could publish it. 

And, yep, I was going to self-publish. It appealed to the entrepreneurial, power-to-the-people side of me. Besides, I didn’t know where to begin to get it traditionally published. And, after 25 years of labor pains, I was ready to release Spirit Mission into the universe. I was very fortunate that the manuscript found its way through happenstance to an agent who took an interest and asked to represent me. 

My agent turned out to be a one-man Delta Force in the publishing world. Quick, precise, and strategic. His name was Ed Victor, and he passed in the summer of 2017. There will never be another like him.

After a lot of rejections, we landed at Henry Holt and Company, one of the oldest publishing houses in the country. I can’t say I loved the traditional publishing process. In fact, there was a lot about it I didn’t like at all. But Henry Holt was great. The best part was that they paired me with a terrific editor, Michael Signorelli.

Michael went through the manuscript in detail and worked with me to improve it. Spirit Mission is a much better work because of him.

Fast forward to 2022 - I reverted the rights for Spirit Mission back from the publisher and self-published the second edition in March. (I’ll spare you my thoughts on the traditional publishing industry. Shoot me an email if you are questioning which way to go) You can easily spot the second edition…It is the one with the cool black cover.

It is gratifying to have it out there in the universe. The occasional message I receive from someone that found Spirit Mission and thought it was a worthwhile read means the world to me - particularly from veterans and academy grads. I’m still shocked every time someone tells me they read my book…even more so that they liked it.

I am so grateful.

Beat Navy!


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