Getting a thriller novel published is a bit like a mystery plot as it unfolds with answers to clues—you have to be determined and persevere. For Bill Brewer, director of exercise science at Rochester Institute of Technology, it was an unfolding process that he undertook while recovering from colon cancer not too long ago, and it was a life-affirming accomplishment he can soon cross off his bucket list.
Brewer is in the process of getting Tears of the Assassin published through an online organization. He will share his own story of recovery, and how it tied to this personal writing project, at the Relay for Life event on Saturday, April 9, at the Gordon Field House at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Many novels begin with a backstory. In July 2013, Brewer went in for a routine colonoscopy. Doctors found a tumor and within several weeks he was in the hospital for surgery to have it removed. Discovered early, he did not need chemotherapy and began four-weeks of convalescence.
“They said you can’t even answer your email. Can you imagine? Four weeks without email? I can’t go four hours without email,” said Brewer, laughing. His colleagues in RIT’s College of Health Science and Technology pitched in and started his classes that fall.
“I was a pretty active guy, but I was unable to be very active during this recovery. And my wife says, ‘You better do something,’” he said. So he turned to his long-held passion of wanting to write a novel, pulled together some disparate story ideas and started typing. More than 100,000 words later, he had the body of a story and aspirations to have it published.
“If you are going to publish something, you have to publish something that sells. The largest sellers of fiction books are romances, and I just wasn’t there. I’d have to totally change my name to something else,” he said, laughing. “Thrillers have a certain pattern to them, and they have a clear protagonist and some big problem, often personal problems too, keeping them human, and a clear villain, someone in direct conflict with the protagonist.”
In books, readers travel along with the protagonist trying to resolve a conflict. It was similar for Brewer in real life, when he looked to family and friends as he recovered—and as his sounding board for the fledgling novel. When he sought to have it published, he took the traditional path and sent a plot summary to large and small publishing houses, receiving few responses. He also called upon a professional editor who guided him through the formal structuring of a novel, and he participated at the International Thriller Writers Association conference in New York.
“They have what they call Pitch Fest. It’s like speed dating with agents,” he said. “There are about 50 of them spread over several hotel conference rooms. And there are like 300 of us, aspiring authors. You get basically 15 seconds to give them your one sentence pitch; your whole book in one sentence, and if they like that, they give you another minute to talk. I tell you, it took me nearly as long to write those two pitches as it took to write my entire novel.”
The result was another set of rejection letters from publishers and agents he met at the conference, but some new ideas and a revised draft. But it was a chance Google entry while he was looking up a publisher’s contact information that caught his eye and helped him start a new chapter.
“Up popped Ink Shares. This online publishing house allows readers to determine which books get published. You build your readership, sell pre-orders and then they publish your book,” Brewer said. If writers can get 750 pre-orders, Ink Shares will help with design, editing and distribution. Brewer currently has a significant pool of interested buyers closing in on having enough to have Tears of the Assassin published. Brewer is publishing under the pseudonym William Scheile, his grandmother’s maiden name, and as way to honor her influence and inspiration in his life.
Cancer sometimes takes control of an individual’s life, but Brewer took it back in a very interesting way, he said. “I sometimes think, ‘Oh, you had cancer, you survived it and you decided to write a dreadful novel,’” he said, laughing. “Frankly, I think I live a pretty committed life to education, to purpose, to health to meaning. Through my work at RIT, I’m trying to impart in the next generation a sense of how important their health is. When I woke up from the operation, and I asked myself, ‘Are you spending your life right?’ I answered yes! My kids, my family, my wife, my dog, everything is good—well, what then? I thought to myself, I still wish I could write a novel, and I said, ‘All right buddy, this is the time to do it.’”
His protagonist, David Diegert, is an antithesis to his life, Brewer said. The story is of a young man, just out of the Army with a dishonorable discharge and with limited education, who finds himself working as a hired assassin for a corrupt businessman bent on destroying the U.S. economy, and who has just kidnapped Diegert’s mother.
“I am not that kind of a person, and I would never want to be, it is just that sort of creative flip,” said Brewer. “I think he represents the ideal of bravery in the face of challenge.”
Brewer didn’t have to stretch too far to write his own story of bravery and challenge.
Note: Relay For Life, a fundraising effort through the American Cancer Society, takes place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, April 9, in RIT’s Gordon Field House and Activities Center. Bill Brewer, director of exercise science in RIT’s College of Health Science and Technology, will speak at the opening ceremony at 7:15 p.m.