Editor’s Note: Jon J. Kerr, a Lake Forest High School graduate, has written his first book. He didn’t do it overnight — as he explains here.
I didn’t think it would take five years to write a book.
That’s a long time in our culture. Consider this — five bad Adam Sandler films were made, Justin Bieber went from teen-heart throb to most hated celebrity on the planet and, according to Amazon, sports writer and radio host John Feinstein has written six books since 2010. Six!
So why did it take five years? Because writing is hard. It’s not cleaning-outhouses-for-a-living kind of hard, as my father did for a short stretch of time for his uncle in Iowa some 60 years ago. It’s more mind-game hard, like remembering to not ask for extra bread before a meal. Or, being a Cubs fan. It’s fighting with your own brain. In his book, “War of Art”, Steve Pressfield is talking about writers in this excerpt:
“Are you paralyzed by fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.”
Fear has no combatant to something author Ernest Hemingway once wrote, again speaking of writers: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
It took me three drafts, four editors, two proofreaders and tens of thousands of words before I had the final ready-to-publish truest sentences. But I finished. What I’ve learned to be most true about writing is very much like life — rewards are great for those who finish the race. And taking time for introspection, to forge a better understanding of why you started in the first place.
I am a Lake Forest High School graduate. I did not grow up on the North Shore. We moved to Lake Forest in the early 1980s when I was a teenager after my father, a naval officer, retired from the military and found a private sector job in the area. Words were always currency in our household. My parents were smart, educated people and encouraged us to be curious about the world, to form opinions and articulate what we thought. The most unassuming among my three siblings, in household debates, I was always better at listening. It helped refine my ear and interest in people.
My mother first introduced me to reading. I would get lost in Sports Illustrated magazine stories written by Frank Deford, Ron Fimrite or Gary Smith. Sports books by Roger Angell and David Halberstam expanded my world view as did books like Jay McInerney’s “Bright Lights, Big City.” While in high school, I read John Feinstein’s “Season on the Brink.” I had never read anything like it. Here was a contemporary — and lustfully controversial — figure, Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight, written about with remarkable grit and bravado. Feinstein’s barreling pace made each chapter turn over like a Tom Clancy novel. And when I read Buzz Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights while in college, I was sold. I knew I wanted to write a book someday and when I did, I vowed to write with Feinstein’s courage and Bissinger’s intrepidness.
When I started working on The Boys in Brown in my 40’s, I soon learned what I didn’t know in my 20’s — that endurance matters above all else.
I had no expectations when our family moved to Lake Forest. My peripatetic childhood rendered me somewhat numb to new schools, teachers and friends. Sports provided an emotional spark, and I was fortunate to be at a high school where teachers and coaches cared about students. Despite the fact I played sparingly in games, my varsity football coach, Tommy Myers, affirmed my hard work in practice by awarding me a varsity letter my senior year. This was a big deal to me, a teen.
There’s a lot of discussion in the culture today about the value of youth sports and the recognition of participation. I’m a big believer in how sports can help form the identity of young people. Within that context, the slightest of incidents can become seismic to a boy or girl. Proper mentorship is critical in shaping whether that incident is positive or negative. The experience I had as a 17-year-old imbued in me a belief that carries over into my writing, a catalyst for the narratives in The Boys in Brown.
Although the setting of the book is not Lake Forest or any North Shore school, it could be. The values of the people in the communities in this area are reflected through the book’s characters. They are fathers, husbands, students, athletes, volunteers, church goers, Midwesterners. There is something about this part of the country that makes these stories more cogent. Maybe it’s the harsh winters, but there’s a sturdy countenance in the faces of Midwesterners. And I leaned on that collective determination to complete what I started in 2010.
While the act of writing is a solitary task, the process of publishing is not. Collaboration is the industry’s currency. I did not publish The Boys in Brown through a traditional Big Six New York-based house, i.e., Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins or Random House. My attempts were rebuffed, told by various agents the story was too “regional” or “did not have broad-based appeal.” Disappointed then, I now thank those agents. If I had sold the book to a Macmillan, the book would be different. I would have been forced to give up some editorial control and in turn, the book would be less regional and have more broad-based appeal. By hiring my own team of editors and designers, publishing through my own imprint, Last Mile Publications, and using Amazon as a distribution platform, I remain true to myself. And most important, independent publishing allowed me to pursue and finish this project with one purposeful mission — serving my readership. I hope that intent comes across in the pages of The Boys in Brown.
Five years is a long time. My next book won’t take as long, I hope. Maybe I’ll write about a World Series championship Cubs team in this century. Projected publishing date: ???
For more information about Jon J. Kerr and the non-fiction book, The Boys in Brown, visit his website at www.jonjkerr.com.