I love books.
I’m what is usually called a “voracious” reader. One of my earliest recollections of reading a book on my own was when I read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” in one day—one sitting to be more accurate. I was about 10 years old at the time. I still have that book, and I’ve read it many more times since then. I also have its companion, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. They’re beautiful illustrated editions, published in 1923, which are among the many books I’ve inherited from my grandmother and mother.
I wish I’d kept a life-list of all the books I’ve read; I’m sure it runs into the thousands. And I’d like to say that it’s been my life-long passion to be a writer. The truth is, I’ve never had just one goal in life. I’m easily attracted by shiny objects, only to lose interest when another catches my glance. But I’ve always written. I wrote for a while as a reporter and columnist at the student newspaper of Texas A&M University, "The Battalion". Not so long ago, I collaborated with my father, David Gene Middleton, on two novels, neither of which has been released upon the public as of yet. Maybe someday.
After books, or more precisely next to them, my passion is pugs. The dog. Mushed-in face, curly tail. Attitude. You know what I’m talking about. And they’re like potato chips—you can’t have one. I have four. And I’d have more if my sainted wife would let me. She won’t.
I didn’t always have four pugs. Until recently, I only had one. His name was Jem, and he was, far and away, the best friend I ever had. On Valentine’s Day, 2013, my world was shattered when Jem was killed in the street outside our house. He was three years old.
To cope with the loss, I began writing a memoir of my life with the little guy. On its own momentum, it evolved into the story of a life lived with pets, people—and problems. Within a few months, I had the makings of a book. A book that I wanted to share, something to leave behind for future family members and friends.
Next step: publishing. Look out world, here I come.
Enter Jane Ryder. We’d been good friends for about four years. When it comes to writing, she’s my biggest cheerleader—and gentlest critic. One conversation led to another and a project was launched. Editors edited, designers designed, and marketers marketed. I even created my own publishing imprint—Pious Pelican Press—complete with LLC and tax returns. (No employees; no one in their right mind would work for me.)
The result was Jem: Lessons in Living.
Before the Internet came along, there were two ways for an author to be published. The first, and more desirable, was for a traditional publishing house to recognize the merit of the author’s work and publish it for him. The other was for the underappreciated author to publish his own stuff—the method known as “vanity” publishing, presumably because the author was vain enough to think his writing worthwhile, even if real publishers couldn’t see it.
Now it’s called “self-publishing”, and thanks to the resources an author has at his disposal in this digital age, a self-published work need not be a second-rate substitute for the Real McCoy.
Jem: Lessons in Living is a work of art. I’m not a bit embarrassed to say that. A lot of hard work went into writing it, and a lot more hard work went into all that goes along with publishing. A bunch of talented people deserve credit: Jane Ryder, Liz Felix, Julie Miller, Beth Jusino, Morgana Gallaway, Peter Gelfan. I’ve probably overlooked more.
The path doesn’t end there. Publishing is a long and winding road that leads through the Never-Never-Land of the Internet. Like it or not, we live in a world of websites, networking, and social media. A writer may thumb his nose at such pedestrian pursuits, but a successful writer will need at the very least a passing acquaintance with them. If you want to get your stuff out there, you need to embrace Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Goodreads—dada, dada, dada.
Jem was published in February 2015. I’m still a neophyte in this brave new world. I’ve learned how to post to my own blog and Facebook page. I’ve sold a few books, given away many dozen more.
And I’ve made new friends, all over the world. Even a Luddite like me will admit that the world of 2017 is an amazing place, and getting more exciting every day.
The memoir of my beloved Jem is making little ripples in a big pond.
If you haven’t taken the plunge yet, jump on in. The water’s fine!
John Donald Middleton