Writing exercise results in Carney's novel

Friday, November 28, 2008
John I. Carney recently completed his first novel, "Soapstone." (T-G Photo by Sadie Fowler)

This year's Election Day will no doubt be memorable for many people for many years to come. But for John Carney, Times-Gazette city editor, that day will serve as monumental in more ways than one.

It's also the day he received the first proof of his self-published book, "Soapstone," a novel inspired by his short-term mission trips to Africa.

In the novel, Jeff Doerman, the main character (partially based on Carney) wants to help, but he and his teammates from Tennessee undergo a transformation more profound than do the people with whom they are working.

Carney wrote the novel during National Novel Writing Month a year ago, a writing exercise in which participants try to write 50,000 words -- about 1,600 words day -- during the month of November.

"You don't have a lot of time to second-guess yourself," he said of the writing exercise. "You really have to crank it out, which is the point of the exercise."

During the exercise, Carney had no plans to publish what would become his first published novel.

"When I finished I thought, 'Maybe I can clean this up and do something with it,'" Carney said.

Carney, who said the exercise forces creativity out of the writer, had participated in National Novel Writing Month numerous times in the past, but Soapstone was his first work to actually be published.

"I've come to respect John's abilities as a wordsmith through working with him at the newspaper for the past six months, and with the publication of his first novel, my respect for him has grown even greater," said Times-Gazette editor John Philleo. "Not only does it take an incredible amount of creativity and mastery of language to complete a novel, but it takes a tremendous amount of personal dedication and perseverance as well -- two qualities that John has exhibited time and time again.

"The fact that he wrote it in one month makes it a truly remarkable feat. We're all very proud of his accomplishment."

Upon the conclusion of the writing exercise last year, Carney said he looked back and tried to fine-tune his first draft, in the case that he did work toward having it published.

Shortly thereafter, as National Novel Writing Month organizers were gearing up for the 2008 writing exercise, Carney learned they had cut a deal with CreateSpace, a publish-on-demand company owned by Amazon.com, where participants of the exercise could have their works published and receive a free proof copy. This deal included those who had participated in National Novel Writing Month in 2007.

The benefit of publish-on-demand companies, unlike older vanity publishers, is that authors can have as many or as few copies of a novel printed as they like. In fact, copies of a novel can be ordered one at a time.

"People can actually go to their web site and order a copy, so the author doesn't have to make any big investment," Carney said.

Carney, who is also a certified United Methodist lay speaker, said he chose to write about the missions trip during the writing exercise because it is a topic that is close to his heart. He said, in previous writing exercises, his best work has come about when he has written about something personal.

Because Carney had not planned to publish "Soapstone" initially, he did not have any particular audience clearly in mind while writing.

"I was writing to please myself," he said. "I didn't have a clear audience in mind, but it would be really nice for it to serve as a tipping point for someone who may be thinking about going on a mission trip."

"Soapstone" is available for purchase at createspace.com/3358275 or Amazon.com. The cost is $11.95.