I’m jazzed to introduce you to Don DeArmon, author of Keep Going. Don attended one of my classes on book writing and later became a client — one of those rare ones who love and respect the written word and writing process. Frustrated as he was at times, he never backed off of the need to revise, only to revise his revisions. He was in for the long haul, and his hard work paid off. Kudos, Don!
Beth: Let’s begin at the beginning. Tell folks about your book.
Don: At its core, Keep Going is about two hitchhiking trips I took as a teenager: one as a 16-year-old in 1971, where my traveling companion, Erich Caron, and I really circumnavigated the U.S. and western Canada in a trip of about 2 months, and then a second trip a year later when we hitchhiked all the way to Alaska and back. By the time I was a senior in high school, I had hitchhiked about 20,000 miles.
But, of course, as I started writing about my travels in earnest over 40 years later, I realized in addition to being an adventure story, Keep Going is really a story of growing up. And now, looking back, I can see my various character traits that were starting to develop and take hold, and now I understand how much of the way I am as a middle-aged man really has its origins in those summers we spent hitchhiking.
Beth: Your book covers a lot of ground — literally and figuratively — which presents its own writing challenge. How did you pick and choose which adventures to include?
Don: The two trips became the basic outline of my story, although I had to decide whether to include both or focus on just one. As I wrote, I realized I didn’t just want the narrative to be a laborious retelling of the trips (although as a reader of lots of travel writing, neither did I want to skimp on interesting details). I also figured out that I needed to include a fair amount of context about what life was like in 1971 and 1972, which also included growing up in the 1960s, and as I did so, I was able to write a better book by offering present-day perspective. Once I had slapped it all down, then came the challenge of organizing it in digestible and interesting segments. And I thought that maps, some old photos (though my selection was limited), and even sketches would help tell the story.
Beth: Where did the editing process come into play?
Don: Like perhaps most first-time authors, I was hoping that one or more literary friends or family members would step forward to help me edit my book, provide useful feedback, and refine the finished product. What I quickly discovered is that those who even took the time to read part or all of my manuscript provided only general feedback. Fortunately, I was able to hook up (so to speak) with you. I had taken a workshop of yours, so I knew you knew your stuff.
You helped me think through my project and organize the ideas I was trying to get across. You also provided specific editing recommendations, big and small. For example, your idea of including a quick summary of a hitchhiking day, with statistics about number of rides and miles traveled (and perhaps even number of police!), really helped give form to the day-to-day narrative. I didn’t agree with every suggestion, but you made me think through my writing in a way I hadn’t done previously, even though I thought my manuscript was already perfect!
The second major role you played was as a coach and cheerleader, especially as I navigated the publication process for the first time. You took away my apprehensions about self-publishing and pointed me to professional design services. I was also initially daunted by the cost, but the decision was crucial, and I was able to publish a professional-looking book on a reasonable schedule so I could start my marketing process. I would highly recommend professional editing and coaching services to every budding first-time author. Yours in particular, of course!
Beth: How has this book changed you? How do you want it to change others?
Don: Publishing Keep Going has provided a sustained opportunity to be nostalgic about growing up, but to better appreciate the maturation process — both the one I went through and the one my kids have gone through. Despite being the parent of four adult children, it has made me do some deep thinking about my parents — who are both long gone now — and the way they parented, and what an enormous difference that made in my life. There is a very short anecdote in the book where I meet up with my mother after my first summer, and the story makes me cry 100% of the time I read it. It sums up all the challenges and joys of parenting; it’s the best passage in the entire book.
Maybe Keep Going will help other old-timers like myself, in addition to waxing nostalgic about the 1970s, think a little more deeply about their own lives, and how their fortunes have tumbled out of that turbulent time that everyone seems to think now was so relaxed and safe and carefree, although it was none of those things. I particularly hope that millenials will come away with a sense of possibility — with a willingness to take on that challenge they have been mulling, to step away from their helicopter parents and make their own decisions and choose the course of their own lives. Especially if they think it will be difficult.
Beth: Any advice for writers?
Don: Yeah, write. I’ve read about the self-discipline of authors like James Michener, Stephen King, or John McPhee, who would sit down every day at the same time with a specific goal to write so many words or so many hours. I remember Carl Sandburg advising: “Butt in chair, write” as the answer to a writer’s question: How do I become a successful author? I can’t say I’m quite as disciplined as them, but having published my first book now, I understand the value of persistence and discipline. With one book under my belt and some understanding of the entire process — from idea to manuscript to publication — I find myself thinking: “Hey, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” Of course, it was very hard. But (somewhat) like holding your child for the first time, there is nothing like that feeling of satisfaction when you have the first copy of your labor of love in your hands. Now that I know I can do it, I’ve got about five more book ideas stirring! As a wise person once said: Keep going!
Beth: Where can readers get your book?
Don: The book and Kindle version of Keep Going are available through Amazon, and feel free to ask your independent bookstore: Where’s that book about hitchhiking I’ve been hearing so much about? Check out dondearmon.com for announcements of my upcoming presentations about hitchhiking, both in the 1970s and in 2016. You’ll also see links to articles about my various travel adventures, and you can read short excerpts from Keep Going that are guaranteed to send you back about 45 years.