Long ago (1979) and far away (New Jersey, where I was then living) I began writing a novel, a sequel to James Hilton’s Lost Horizon. I was wild about Hilton’s book, re-reading it often, feeling in my bones that this is a book about something real. But Lost Horizon was written in 1932, before the atomic bomb and before the invasion by Communist China in 1950 and again, more devastatingly, in 1959. I couldn’t stand the thought of the lamasery at Shangri-la in Red hands. I tried to think, how could it survive behind the lines, so to speak.
Without much thought, I titled my novel Messenger, and finished it in a couple of months. But in those days I knew nothing of the publishing business, had no idea how to get myself publsihed or even considered, and had no confidence that my work might really meet response. So I put it aside.
Years later, I pulled it out again after a friend read the yellowed manuscript and liked it. I re-read it and re-wrote it, and in the next couple of years re-wrote it two more times.
In the meantime a friend and I had founded Hampton Roads Publishing Company, and we published Messenger in 1994. It had a very modest sales record, although it did win first prize in some kind of literary contest. (Can’t remember the organization or the prize: It was a long time ago. If I find it I will mention it here, as it’s the only prize I’ve ever won in my life, if you don’t count the “autographed” photo of the Lone Ranger that I won in the 1950s, along with every other kid who entered that contest.) Its original printing of 3,000 never has sold out.
Then a very strange thing happened. An agent from New Zealand found the book and asked me if he could represent it to the media. I said sure, and in a short time he came back with an offer from German television. They wanted to do a show (changing some elements of the story, naturally, but what the hell) and all they needed to know was that we had the international rights. What I thought was going to be a routine contact with the agent for the Hilton literary estate turned into a legal dispute. We felt we were in no financial position to defend a lawsuit, even one we ultimately would win, so we wound up signing an agreement forfeiting the right to sell the book once existing inventory ran out. There went my chance to have it appear on German television, which might have jump-started sales, and there went my chance to have the story out in the world.
I have always regretted that we signed the agreement rather than fighting for my rights. We might have lost, but might have won, and the only thing we would have risked is money that we didn’t have.
It occurs to me that I can’t sell the book, but I can give it away, and that’s what I propose to do. I’ll put it on this blog, and you’re welcome to download it for yourself. After all this time I still believe it is an important message that may help some people.