Developing The Courier, a lesson from the school of hard knocks

I'd thought my novel was complete when I finished the first draft of The Courier. Some evasive reviews from judges of the first novel competitions I entered argued to the contrary. 

They directed me to contract support from professional developmental editors and copy editors. The time in the chair in front of my keyboard expanded, and the novel was ready for release about three years after I started Gregg Westwood's journey.

It's been an incredible experience both in the artistic sense and from a business perspective. There's an ocean of writing skills remaining for me to discover, but I've learned significant amounts of what not do when creating fiction. 

The marketing side of the self-publishing industry is new, exciting, and dynamic, with new opportunities offered through technology almost daily. It's been a fun run encouraging continued momentum and focus on the craft. The second novel in the Gregg Westwood series will be published next year.

I want to share two recent developments. The first is a review and the notice of selection to the Best of the Year list by BestThrillers.com. Within a day of the BestThriller.com publication, an interview combined with a book give-away was initiated by The Stars and Stripes Pacific Newspaper. 

These were overwhelmingly positive validations of my work. When I reflect on the rejections and set-backs necessary to produce the final version of The Courier and the road to self-publication; I can't help but feel gratified.

Here is the review by Bella G Wright, Editor, BestThrillers.com: 

The Bottom Line: One of the year’s best thrillers. 

In The Courier’s intense opening pages, four thugs are gunned down by an assassin in Bangkok, a businessman’s contract is brutally terminated in Tokyo, and a DEA agent saves an overdose victim in Charleston, West Virginia.

What’s the connection between these seemingly disparate tragedies? Debut novelist Gordon J. Campbell deftly answers that question over the next 300 pages, writing in bite-sized chapters that rarely fail to pack an emotional or physical punch.

The heart and soul of Campbell’s novel is 40-year-old Canadian Gregg Westwood, a devoted family man and medical sales rep based in Japan. Just as Gregg is double-crossed by his employer in Tokyo, he’s recruited by intelligence agents to deliver a package to Bangkok. As they see it, Gregg’s inexperience in espionage is his biggest asset.

But once there, the handoff doesn’t go as planned, and their new courier is in way over his head. Meanwhile, back in Japan, the life Gregg has so carefully constructed is suddenly at risk.

In what is shaping up to be an incredible year for first-time novelists, The Courier’s edge-of-your-seat plot is eclipsed only by Campbell’s lush landscapes. The claustrophobic density of Shinjuku and the stylish grit of Bangkok leap off the page, while the hominess of the U.S. Air Base invokes a sense of nostalgia that transcends our era. The Courier is a rather lean book, but Campbell has seemingly chosen just the right details to create an environment for Gregg’s inevitable transformation.

Following is the interview published by the Stars and Stripes Pacific:

Gordon Campbell has been working on military installations in the Pacific for a long time. He's now taken his experiences with him into storytelling in his first in series of novels, The Courier. Campbell describes the book as an espionage thriller with specific scenes depicting Yokota Air Base and Yokosuka Naval Base. The story is set in buildings and areas many stationed in Japan will be familiar with, and the protagonist, Gregg Westwood, an unassuming businessman, is hired by two intelligence agents as a courier unaware that the gig will lead him to an unknown world of violence and retribution.
Purchase your copy on Amazon or stay tuned to Stripes Pacific’s FB site. AFN for a chance to win a free copy.
Below learn more about the author and his journey to become a published novelist.
Q: Gordon, you mentioned you’ve worked overseas for two decades. What is your full-time job, and how long have you been in Japan?  
A: I’m the Regional Sales Manager for Rach Inc. We offer uniform and marketing solutions to US Government facilities in Asia and Europe. An example of our work would be the window graphics, logo mats, wall graphics, and uniforms used by the new Bayou Burgers, Po’Boys & Daquiris restaurant at Yokosuka’s Club Alliance.
*I spent nine months studying Japanese and working out at a Karate dojo in 1982 before returning to North America. A job was offered to me in Tokyo in 1985, and I thought it would be a two-year experience. I’m still living in Kawasaki.
Q: Which bases in Japan have you worked in/continue to work in?
A: I visit Yokota, Atsugi, Zama, Yokosuka, and The New Sanno regularly. We try to visit Sasebo, Iwakuni, Misawa, and the bases in Okinawa quarterly.
Q: How did you get into writing, and what made you decide to write a novel?
A: I’ve written and published short stories and essays and have been blogging for several years. Writing a novel has always been one of my dreams, and it finally became a priority. The Courier’s development and multiple rewrites spanned over three years.
Q: How many books have you written, and how many are published?
A: The Courier is my first novel, and the second part of the Gregg Westwood Series is under development. You can purchase The Courier on Amazon in both E-Book and printed format. We release an audio version in November.
Q: How did you choose your subject for this, and why did you set it in Yokosuka and Yokota?
A: I asked myself what would happen if a salesman without military training entered into a dangerous situation unfamiliar to anything in his world. Could he stand up, persevere, and protect his people?
Spoiler alert: The novel moves around Tokyo, Yokohama, Miura, Kawasaki, touches in Kyushu, and explodes through Bangkok. I’ve visited these places and feel the descriptions will come across as authentic. The Yokota Officers’ Club Samurai Lounge appealed to me as an excellent place to launch the story.
Q: How do you think (besides in the setting) do you think this resonates with the military community, and what do you want readers in the military to take away from it? What about the non-military community?
A: The reaction to the book will depend on reading tastes of both the military and non-military community. The Courier is a thriller novel with military, revenge, espionage, and conspiracy aspects. It might appeal to readers of Lee Child, Jack Carr, Ben Coes, and Mark Greaney.
Q: What were the challenges of getting a book published overseas? What advice do you have for other writers in the overseas military community?
A: There are incredible resources available to “indie authors” allowing the production of a professional quality product. A smart looking cover, excellent editors, and expert formatting technicians can be hired to groom your novel. I’d be sure to invest in these services before offering work to a first novel competition or exposing your art to professional and amateur critics.
Q: Besides working on bases in Asia, what is your military connection? Did you serve?
A: I was born in Canada and did not serve in the U.S. military. My friends, who are U.S. military veterans, offered a lot of support to add accuracy to the novel.
Q: What’s next in your writing career?
A: Book two in the Gregg Westwood Series will be released next year. It starts where The Courier left off.


Living through Super-Typhoon Hagibis

The house seems eerily quiet now that rain has stopped pounding on our skylight, and the winds of the Super-Typhoon Hagibis ceased testing our home’s foundations. My wife and daughter have gone to bed. Both were physically and mentally exhausted after preparing for the worst and waiting out the storm.

Our family made preparations as the storm moved directly towards Tokyo. We stocked our fridge with food and drinking water and filled the bathtub and storage containers with extra water. (Sometimes water supplies are cut off or are contaminated.) We bought additional batteries, refilled first aid kits, and topped-up the car’s gasoline tank.

There were the usual runs on the food markets, convenience stores, and gasoline stations leading up to the storm, and while the typhoon mounted in intensity.
We monitored NHK weather reports as the television broadcast the storm's progress and warned of floods and landslides. Super-Typhoon Hagibis brought winds estimated as high as 160 miles per hour and excessive precipitation.

Rain splashed down for twelve-hours and measured as much as seven inches in some areas. The deluge created a real threat of flooding by the Tama River, which separates Tokyo from Kawasaki. Its banks are a mere block from our home, and floodwaters could reach our back-door in minutes when the river overflowed.  The Tama River’s capacity reached dangerous levels well before the rains stopped.

Alarms sounded accompanied by notifications on our cell phones seemingly every half hour. They announced areas in Eastern Japan subject to mandatory and suggested evacuations.
When our Regional Government designated our community at a high risk of flooding, we stayed in place. This decision wasn't cavalier nor arrogant.

We didn't want to get caught in a traffic jam and possibly be stranded as floodwaters surrounded the vehicle. The angry winds made travel by foot dangerous, and the higher ground was a few miles away. It would be a severe hike in the pouring rain.

My family elected to ride out the storm and potential flood on the upper floors of our home. We moved valuable items and essential devices to the top floor of the house. Our cat's litter box was relocated to the second floor. (One way or another, Oliver was going with us.)

We moved all the supplies to our home's highest point, and it became a waiting game. The concept was not without excitement. Amid the bombardment by wind and rain from the typhoon, a 4.5 earthquake hit Chiba and decimated homes in some parts of the city. We also saw footage of dwellings destroyed by Tornados in the same region.  (God has a strange sense of humor.)

Hagibis, which means “velocity” in the Tagalog language of the Philippines, has moved north. While enjoying the silence, I’m feeling grateful. We didn't suffer power outages or find our water cut off, unlike less fortunate people living in the path of the Super-Typhoon number 19. Lives and property were lost in communities around us.

Indeed, my family was stressed, inconvenienced, and experienced a lesson in humility; but we did not suffer. We dodged a bullet, and we will finish the weekend in a somewhat typical fashion. It will start by moving things back to their original places on our first floor that remains dry and safe.

Tomorrow will be sunny and hot in Kawasaki, with temperatures projected as high as 29 degrees Celsius. It will also be Thanksgiving in our native country of Canada, and there's something especially gratifying about the timing of this holiday.