Author Interview: Rick Coxen of The Great Promise (Part Three)

Previous Installments:
Book Review:  The Great Promise by Frederick G. and Frederick L. Coxen
Author Interview Part 1:  Rick Coxen
Author Interview Part 2:  Rick Coxen

Rick Coxen's initial curiosity about some keepsakes turned into a  several-year pilgrimage from discovery to transcription to the publishing of the World War I memoirs of his grandfather, Frederick G. Coxen.  In this interview segment, we discuss the process of transforming a 100-year-old journal into a work as compelling for the public as it is for his family.

Author Interview, Part 3: About the Book

Penny:  In The Great Promise, you talk about the process of going through your grandfather's effects when they came to you.  How long had you been reading the journal before you decided it had to be turned into a book?
Rick:  Six to eight months perhaps, it was a progressive decision. It wasn’t until I had transcribed the journal and read the 1945 letter that two and two added up to book.  Originally my main intention was to scan the pages of the book so that it could be shared with other family members. The scanning requirement was furthered when I tried to read his recordings.
      I realized that even if family had a digital copy of the journal they probably wouldn’t take the time to read it because it was so difficult. This is when I decided to transcribe the contents. When I finished the transcription the thought came to me that, like me, most wouldn’t know very much about World War One so the journal entries that described different battles would lose their importance. So I decided to read several books on the war and research it so I could write a short description of each battle so that the journal entries would make sense.
      After reading the 1945 letter the first thought that came to mind was I had the information within the journal to keep his promise so all I had to do was find living relatives of three chums one of which only had a nickname instead of a real first name. This endeavor consumed about three years (the tenacity trait).
      During this discovery process is when the idea of a book took shape. I thought that I had a great story line regarding the promise that could weave itself throughout the book and would support the most compelling part of the book – the journal.
      As I put the book together I began to realize what I had gained, which was to understand and get to know my grandfather. Since my father had passed only a short time before, what I had gained from the journal made me realize what I missed about knowing my father. The rest is history.
Penny: How did that initially affect you?
Rick: The thought of telling his story was exciting, especially the thought of finding living relatives of his chums in order to make good on his commitment.
Penny: Were there other items there that stirred your imagination?
Rick: Of course the 1945 letter and what he wrote about. I was also fascinated by the military documents that he kept, among them was his promotion decree to second lieutenant and two pencil drawings that someone did of him – sadly I don’t know the story behind them.

Penny: Did he leave any clues to other aspects of his life?
Rick: A few news clippings, post cards and pictures – one picture appears on my other facebook page, Rick Coxen.
Penny: Did any of his letters to his wife and daughter survive?
Rick: Not to my knowledge. Sadly to say I believe that many of their personal documents, including photographs were lost. When my grandmother died my dad and uncle let my aunt have the house and the majority of its contents. When she was sick she must have given some items to my cousin and that is all we have. I don’t know if my cousin had anything else because he passed away.
      The documents I do have are my grandfather’s childhood Bible, my grandmother’s cookbooks, and a few postcards they sent from trips they took. Military documents he kept and few other misc letters. Not much considering the interesting life he led.
Penny: What sort of considerations went into your determining your treatment of the journal? Did you consult with professional historians and/or publishers?
Rick: I did talk with a professional ghost writer about helping me write the book. He seemed to grasp the essence of my project and he thought that we should try submitting it to a publisher. His suggestion, since I was an unknown author, was for me to try to gather a following so that a publisher would see that the investment would be worthwhile.
      I tried my best but I couldn’t attract a very impressive audience and besides, after further discussions he believed that my story should be the main theme and the journal secondary. I didn’t see it that way because through my research and involvement on different WWI forums that most were very intrigued with the journal entries. This made sense because of their interest in WWI. I posted some of the journal excerpts and developed a following on around 1,700 readers. I received similar response from other websites.
      With these differences and the confidence I was acquiring as a writer, I thought that it would be better if I wrote the story. I know what direction I wanted to take and I would add the personal passion that had to transfer to the reader.
      I did not confer with professional historians regarding the writing of the book. However, I did seek the help of very knowledgeable people on some of the forums I joined. I expect some of them were experts on WWI.
Penny: Excluding the search for the families of his three friends, Pudgie Taylor, Bobby Glue and George Bramwell, how much time did it take you to scan and transcribe his journal and then to edit and prepare it for publication?
Rick: Scanning took a couple of days. It was time consuming because I had to carefully handle the fragile one-hundred year old journal.  Transcribing the journal consumed about six to eight months. It was very difficult to interpret some of his handwriting. At times I had to seek the help of my wife. She was a third grade teacher and could read almost any form of handwriting. Even then there were some words that we had to guess at.
Regarding editing:
      First let me establish a timeline.
      Six – eight months to transcribe
      Two to three months reading and researching battles of WWI so that I could write a brief description of each battle recorded in the journal. At this point I still hadn’t decided write a book for publication. I was creating a manuscript for the Coxen family so they would understand the journal entries.
      Once I decided to write a book then the long tedious journey on researching the three friends came into play. Time: About two years
      I was writing the book during the research process so by the time I decided that I went as far as I could, the book was well on its way.       Since I decided to self-publish the editing was involved in the package I selected. To give you an idea of the time, I started the process of self-publishing in October of 2011 and I would estimate that the book might be ready for release in August 2012.
Penny: Did you submit the manuscript to anyone?
Rick: Yes. I submitted it to Create Space, the self-publishing company I decided to work with. The answer is No if we are talking about publishers.
Penny: What made you settle on self-publishing?
Rick: I was under the assumption that a publisher would not be interested in an unknown author. I believed so strongly in my story that I had to tell it. I believe and still do that people would want to read this story. That if I wrote it and a few people would read it and liked it, that word of mouth would sell books. So I decided to go the self-publish route and through exploring different ones decided on Create Space. Why? Because they were connected to Amazon, they had a package that was affordable and covered all aspects for preparing a book for publishing. I have to say I’ve been very satisfied with their support.
Penny: Would you do the same again?
Rick: I’m not sure. From those that have read the book I’ve received such positive reviews that perhaps a publisher would also see the potential. However, I also believe that the publishing world is changing and with social media avenues and hard work I think one could write a successful book – one that makes some money. One never knows how successful one can be without trying.
Penny: Do you plan on submitting it anywhere else?
Rick: No. I’m pretty tied in with Create Space and far enough along not to start over again. Maybe if there is a sequel.
Penny: What advice would you give to others who have precious family records that they feel would be of interest to an audience more broad than just relations?
Rick: First determine if the records have a story. I had to make this determination with my own book. The journal is historical and compelling but alone it doesn’t tell a story, it documents a period in history. It wasn’t until the 1945 letter that I could tie the journal into a story that would be interesting to a reader.
      In stating this I can see the use of family records as a basis for writing a fictional novel. In this case the records could support a story line. I would then tell them to be ready to spend a few years of their lives pouring their hearts into their creation. If they are will to do that and stick with it, then go for it.
Penny: For the audience, what is the final disposition of your grandfather's actual journal? Did you hand-deliver it? Have you had or sought the opportunity to retrace your grandfather's footsteps?
Rick: I’ll hang onto the journal for awhile so that I can place it into a plastic case and have it with me if I’m invited to partake in a book signing or release. People would be interested in what a one-hundred year old war journal looks like.
      In the end my brother and sister agree that the journal and other interesting war documents should be donated to a museum in London. It would proper to do so since he was an English soldier and his history is their history. I’m trying to get in touch with the Royal Artillery Museum for it would again be fitting for an artilleryman to rest his work in such a place.
      I would love to hand deliver the documents, along with my siblings as a proper release of a family treasure. Knowing where it will rest forever would be important. However, it would be a very emotional moment for me because along with the journal I will be leaving a very important segment in my life. I will find comfort knowing through my efforts I have brought my grandfather back to life while creating a new story in the chapters of my life.
      I would love to return to England and look up some relatives, especially the gentleman involved in the family tree. Along with this I would spend some time in the National Archives, and Royal Artillery Museum finding out more about the 40th battery, 43rd Brigade.
Next week: The importance of connecting your past with your future through Personal and Family History.

FTC disclaimer: An electronic copy of this book was provided by the author or their agent with the understanding I would provide a fair and honest review. I receive no other compensation for this content.

1 comment:

Frederick Coxen said...

Thank you Penny! I've decided to donate the documents to the Imperial War Museum. Last year I sent them a digital copy of the journal and they appreciated its historical value. I inquired the Artillery Museum but never received a response. When I asked my contact at the Imperial War Museum, he was excited and was willing to accept all of my grandfather's military records. He was also intrigued about my book and the story of the journal.