They still have their day jobs, but at night, or in pre-dawn hours, four local businessmen in professions ranging from photography to lawyering settle down for a creative spell. Just in time for Christmas, their latest – in some cases, inaugural – books are on the shelves at local bookstores or on the Web.
Bruner heading down South
Scott Bruner, executive vice president of Mississippi Association of Realtors’ commercial division, has been very productive in the last five years. Besides producing commentaries about “thinking, talking and dressing southern” with cheeky and sometimes mildly irreverent humor on Public Radio in Mississippi and National Public Radio, he and his wife have, well, birthed three children – a four-year old and a pair of 19-month old twins, he said.
“I’ve added some parenting stories in lately,” Bruner said, with a laugh, on a phone interview from Orlando, where he attended a national conference and squeezed in a book signing.
In his spare time, Bruner compiled a collection of essays and commentaries from his public radio gigs to write, “Due South: Dispatches from Down Home.”
Published by Random House in July, his publisher is “quite pleased” with a sales tally of 17,000 books and counting. Last month, Bruner’s book sales got a “healthy bump” when it received favorable mention in Southern Living. Barnes & Noble in Birmingham placed it on its holiday gift-giving list. Bruner is working on the second of a two-book deal, due next year.
‘I could write a book like this’
Like many writers, several publishers rejected Rick Guy’s first writing effort, but the second novel made the cut. “Kuklos,” the Greek word for circle and the original name of the Ku Klux Klan, should arrive in local bookstores in time for holiday gift giving, he said.
“I’ve always written fiction but never really thought about doing it for publication until I had to buy a copy of ‘The Firm’ for a photo illustration for the paper,” said Guy, a photographer for The Clarion-Ledger. “Since I had the book, I decided I might as well read it. I kept thinking, ‘I could write a book like this.’ I had grown up reading the likes of Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, Thomas Harris, Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton and others. Grisham’s writing was, for lack of a better explanation, less complicated, which is in no way a put down.”
With renewed enthusiasm, Guy sat down to write “Kuklos,” which took almost two years to complete before it was picked up by Graystone Publishing, a local publisher of nonfiction books.
Development – with a literary twist
Phil Hardwick’s first book, “Two Hours of Real Estate: One Minute At A Time,” an advice book for the real estate industry, published in 1993 by Quail Ridge Press of Brandon, was easy, he said.
“I simply called Barney McKee, the publisher, and told him about the concept,” Hardwick said. “At the time I was director of the Millsaps College Real Estate Institute and had a daily syndicated radio segment called ‘The Real Estate Minute.’ Most of the items in the book were based on the radio show.”
The Mississippi Mystery Series was a community development project that has turned into a book series, Hardwick said.
“In the summer of 1996, Chip Estes, the incoming president of the Flora Chamber of Commerce, and I were discussing unique ways to market communities,” Hardwick said. “He asked if I would write a fictional book and set it in Flora. The idea was that a person would read the book and want to see the places mentioned therein. He contacted a local printer and they formed a partnership to act as publisher. As I recall, only 300 copies were printed, but they were sold out in less than 90 days without any marketing.”
During an appearance at a book signing at the Flora library, the director of the Canton Chamber of Commerce asked Hardwick if he would write a fictional book set in Canton, he said.
“One thing led to another and the Mississippi Mystery Series was born,” he said. “It quickly grew larger than Chip Estes could handle, so I again approached Quail Ridge Press about becoming the publisher of future books in what was becoming a series. He agreed enthusiastically and there are now seven books in the series.”
Except for “Found in Flora,” the first novel in the series, all books feature recurring character Jack Boulder who travels around the state – Jackson, Canton, New Albany, Vicksburg, Columbia and Corinth – solving mysteries, Hardwick said.
“He is aided by his high-powered lawyer-girlfriend,” he said. “’Jack’ lives in a new condo in downtown Jackson overlooking Smith Park. The books are considered short novels, or novellas, and run about 120 pages. The series is really taking off even though marketing has been done only in the communities where the books are set.”
Hegwood on a roll
Marty Hegwood is on a roll. His first murder mystery novel, “Big Easy Backroad,” starring fictional private investigator Jack Delmas from Bay St. Louis, has been so successful that it is the first of a series.
Released in July, “Big Easy Backroad” is in its third hardback printing; the paperback version will be released next June. In July, St. Martin’s Press of New York will release the second novel in the series, set in Biloxi on Point Cadet, he said.
“Writing a novel is an exercise in self discipline and persistence,” said Hegwood, who works in the secretary of state’s office. “Getting published is a matter of refusing to quit. I got seventy rejection letters. I read somewhere that James Lee Burke, one of the best writers in any genre, garnered 99 rejections for his first novel.”
To meet his deadlines, Hegwood scheduled writing time by often going to bed at 8:30 p.m. so he could be showered and ready to type – or keystroke – by 4:30 a.m. After more than two hours immersed in Jack Delmas’ world, Hegwood would head to the office.
“If you’re not willing to put in the time, you’ll never get published,” he said. “Writing is a craft. But it is also a business. You have to learn from those who are already in the business. You have to find out what works for you and make it a priority.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.