Michael G. West wrote a talking blues song and it goes a little something like this.
“I was born in 1947 / North of hell and south of heaven / About that time the sun went down / On San Francisco, my hometown . . . .”
One doesn’t need to know much about music to know songwriters often draw inspiration from their own lives.
“Talkin’ Disillusion Blues is about me. I grew up in California in a big military family,” Mr. West recalled. He attended Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., which is where he fell in love, hard, with poetry.
“It was a real turnaround for me,” he said of his first few years at college. “It was the first time I was really outside of a military context and it was just a rapid transition, having come from California.”
Like a conductor coordinating an orchestra with the beat of his baton, Mr. West, 66, talks with one hand always moving. And his conversations all travel back to poetry. After graduating from Williams he enrolled in the writing seminars at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Performing songs and reciting poetry didn’t pay the bills, though, so they became more of a hobby as he began a career as a corporate consultant. But he kept writing and about 15 years ago Mr. West wrote a draft of his first novel, Dutch Reckoning, a mystery thriller about a boy named Tommy Shakespear and the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft.
“I took the manuscript to about 50 agents and finally got one,” he said. “I got an agent. She lived in Chicago. She was a cool lady. I hustled a lot, went to all these conferences, mystery conferences, to meet people and make connections and build a basis for a career.”
Then an editor from Avon Publications called to tell Mr. West they wanted to do a three-book deal. “I was like, ‘Hey! Success!’ It was great,” Mr. West remembered.
“But the following week I found out the editor who offered the deal was let go. My deal went out the door. And shortly after that my agent died. I lost interest,” he admitted.
For a decade and a half, Mr. West continued his day job as a corporate consultant. He bought a yoga mat. He started meditating. He got divorced. “I had a lot on my mind,” he said.
Then he moved to Martha’s Vineyard and started another chapter of his life. “I had lived on and off the Island since 1970 but moved here in 2000 for good.”
In the spring of 2012 his friend, Steve Maxner, asked him to write some songs for a CD about ending the Monster Shark Tournament on Martha’s Vineyard, a cause Mr. West supported. Mr. West wrote some songs and attended the CD release party. This spawned an idea for another novel.
Enter XOC — The White Shark Murders. Mr. West wrote the manuscript and went to a conference in New York to pitch XOC — The White Shark Murders.
“Someone asked if I had written anything else and so I told them about my first novel and they were interested.”
A Dutch Reckoning rebirth began. Mr. West re-read the novel, edited it, proofed it, fixed it, made a lot of revisions, tightened it up, made more revisions, read it again, tightened it up again, and threw it into a digital format for Kindle. And then something wonderful happened.
“I learned about digital publishing.”
Mr. West published paperback copies of Dutch Reckoning in October of 2013 through Sepiessa Press. “That’s my publishing company.” He also hired a cover artist, Su Halfwerk, to design the front of his book.
“It’s all DIY. I’m bootstrapping. I’m going from the ground up. It’s from nowhere. It’s not a big layout. I am an independent publisher, that’s the scene now,” Mr. West said.
“I’m glad I did this,” he added. “Because art happens. When you’re writing a novel and you start crying because your characters are going through something, which has happened to me, you say, ‘What is this about?’ and it’s about being in the experience.”
Dutch Reckoning is available on Amazon in digital format for tablets and computers, as well as in print on the CreateSpace e-Store. XOC is available for sale on the CreateSpace e-Store: createspace.com/4518679. Both books are for sale at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore and Edgartown Books.