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.


LE PETIT TONNEAU, a sensational Bistro on the 1st floor of the Shousen Mitsui Building in Toranomon

Dinner at Le Petit Tonneau will bring back memories of your Paris dining experiences. 

The atmosphere is exciting and comfortable with the option to dine outdoors when the weather cooperates. It’s a venue attractive to groups on business or for social events.
The food is exquisite, the service is friendly, and deliveries to the table are timed well. Prices are reasonable, and your final bill is dependent on your choices from the restaurant’s well-stocked wine cellar.

We asked Chef Phillipe Batton to serve a course of his favorite dishes and pair them with his wine recommendations. The results were remarkable and somewhat artistic.

Our favorites from the evening were the Tuna Tartare, Foie Gras Chaud, and the house specialty Joue Boeuf. The evening finished well with desserts and an impressive cheese plate.
You won’t be disappointed by lunch or evening dinner at Le Petit Tonneau. We look forward to our next visit.


One Night Spent as a Typhoon Refugee at Narita Airport

While lying inside a donated sleeping bag on the floor of Narita Airport last night, I was caused to reflect on the similarities between two tragedies. The feeling of uncertainty and helplessness were evident after both the March 11, 2011 earthquake, its subsequent tsunami, and Tokyo’s recent reaction to the direct hit of Typhoon fifteen. The atmosphere was eerily nostalgic.

In both cases, transportation and communication systems were disrupted, causing immediate confusion, panic, and frustration. Highways were closed forcing jams and trapping people in their cars for hours, flights were canceled and rerouted, and phone lines and internet were diminished by over demand.
Taxis traveled all night to receive exorbitant fares on routes typically requiring less than two hours to complete. Available trains and buses were packed full while thousands lined up uncertain of future availability nor aware of how to actually book tickets. 
(Japanese customers accessed reservations online and used prepaid passes called Suica to board trains and buses. Tourists had to purchase tickets.)

Let’s consider the reactions of the Japanese Airport Authorities who faced the problems at Narita Airport. How did the airport authorities deal with the thirteen thousand stranded passengers whose communication options were limited with minimal choices to travel into Tokyo?  

(Please note, Narita International Airport is also known as the New Tokyo International Airport but is located in Chiba Prefecture approximately 60 kilometers east of Central Tokyo.)
The typhoon refugees at Narita Airport were provided sleeping bags, water, and some snacks. This was impressive as the items appeared to materialize out of thin air. Just as inspiring was the civil conduct of the vast majority of the people facing a night on the public facility’s floor while surrounded by thousands of strangers. 

People kindly shared available information about transportation and places where one might secure food. Conversations were mostly upbeat, and polite action seemed to be the default. People disposed of their trash and left washrooms as neat and clean as possible.

The problem at Narita was simply the lack of available data for foreign travelers who were not privy to Japanese announcements, signage, and online reports.

The essential direction regarding bus and train departures and the available taxi services was sadly lacking. Few tourists knew about the luggage courier services available at reasonable rates at the airport. The definition of disruption is "change without preparation," and it was actualized at Narita Airport.

I’m home and comfortable after riding overcrowded trains in the company of exhausted travelers and business commuters inconvenienced by our unexpected appearance. I’ve completed a much-needed shave and shower and am feeling gratified to have the opportunity to experience life as an expatriate in Kawasaki.

The Japanese often listen to criticism and make necessary adjustments over time. I’m sure the next time a typhoon requires thousands to sleep overnight at Narita Airport the essential announcements with key data will be shared in multiple languages.

Two other takeaways: I need to check weather reports before flying, and I’m not the only one who snores.


Birch Bay on a sunny day is a must-visit when traveling through Northern Washington

There are some hidden gems available for discovery in Northern Washington. On a sunny day in Birch Bay, we enjoyed a walk on the beach and went for dinner at the Bay Breeze Restaurant and Bar. It was time well spent.

We asked for a table by one of the big windows to enjoy views of the beach, the Pacific Ocean and distant mountains and islands.  The picture is especially spectacular in the evening when you can watch the sun slowly descend, and the horizon develops gorgeous shades of red, orange, and some purple hues.

We liked most of the seafood served including shrimp cocktails, an oyster shooter, calamari, and deep-fried shrimp. The steak sandwich, steak and shrimp combination, and shrimp and chips were delicious. 

The service was friendly and delivery well-timed. Be sure to make a reservation as the Bay Breeze was almost full by 6:00 p.m. and the tables by the windows are a premium.


Five Things I Learned while Writing THE COURIER

My first novel will be published in early September. We’ll be sharing it as a Kindle e-book, paperback, and eventually an audible presentation. This first-time author has high expectations for the project, and I look forward to feedback from people who enjoy the Thriller genre.
Anyone attempting to write and offer a book to the world might want to glance over the following five points discovered while hammering out The Courier:

-1-Writing is hard, and there are thousands of great authors working to sell their art. Literary agents rejected my novel because it wasn't ready to be shared. I consider the dismissals by the agents a positive. They assessed the manuscript as needing further rewrites and pointed me in the direction of the self-publishing industry.  TAKE AWAY: Prepare the best possible draft before sharing it with the agents and publishing companies.
-2-There are incredible resources available to assist writers with their craft. I found the grammar checking software Grammarly useful. It’s also worth listening to your draft while you review it and Natural Reader’s realistic sounding software is affordable and proved to be a powerful instrument to assist rewrites. The online talent agency called Reedsy will assist in finding editors, cover designers, website technicians, and other useful services. TAKE AWAY: Tools, instruments, and professional support are available to anyone capable of searching the Web.

-3- People judge a book by the cover. You can create your Novel Cover if you're a talented graphic artist or enjoy working with available templates. You can also shop around and might be surprised at the availability of Excellent cover designers offering professional work at reasonable prices. TAKE AWAY: Invest time or money in creating an excellent cover for your novel.

-4-Marketing is the second half of the battle. The Indie Novelist’s work only begins after the last draft is complete. Exposing your book to the correct audience is essential to successful marketing. I found books by Mark Dawson, David Gaughran, and the free booklets found on the Bookbub website extremely helpful.

When you sign up for Gordon J. Campbell's list, you receive a Top Secret Document based on the protagonist Gregg Westwood. (www.gordonjcampbell.com) 

TAKE AWAY: Build a mailing list by offering something interesting to people. Do your homework and run a systematic marketing campaign based on the tracks laid down by proven experts.

-5-Writing contests offer Excellent opportunities for feedback and possible exposure. There are several legitimate writing contests, and some provide a professional critique for an additional fee. Winners gain exposure and prize money. TAKE AWAY: You can test your product by entering first novel competitions.

Here’s a little bit about THE COURIER

An expatriate businessman, Gregg Westwood, leaves the Officers’ Club at an American Air Base in Japan unaware about the impression he’s made on two intelligence agents. They sized him up as someone with potential for strategic deployment, and more importantly, he's under the radar. 
Gregg's exploits start with what he thinks is a one-off assignment as a courier, and the straightforward task spirals out of control. He's forced to rise to the occasion and use every resource available to survive. Even his family is jeopardized, which forces him to return to Japan to settle scores.
The Courier is one man’s struggle to fight for survival in a world that he's not been trained for and where violence and retribution are the names of the game.


Yakitori Matsumoto in Ebisu, the Master, and his charcoal deliver

The Ebisu district is famous for restaurants and bars and are exceptionally well known for Excellent yakitori. 

The Yakitori Matsumoto is a notch above most of the restaurants in the area and it's worth a visit.

The first challenge is locating the restaurant. Hint, it is found next to an establishment 

serving French food. Your google navigator will take you within a few meters, but you'll 

need a minute to check signs around the destination point.

The restaurant is popular with local Japanese customers who appreciate the Chef's craft, and we found it full upon arrival with people lined up and waiting seats when we departed.

(We recommend making a reservation and sitting at the bar with a view of the Chef at work.  You might need to ask your concierge or a Japanese capable friend to make the call.)

The menu is displayed in Japanese, but the waitresses are helpful, and fresh foods are lined up in front of the grill for review and selection. We started with sweet corn shaved from the cob, eggplant, cabbage with miso sauce, and fresh sliced tomatoes.
The yakitori selections were numerous and all salted or spiced to perfection. We especially enjoyed the thigh with peppered skin and breast with salted skin. The tsukune minced chicken served with a raw egg was Excellent.

The Yakitori Matsumoto charges a premium for the dishes and beverages, but we feel the venue delivers value. It’s become our new "go-to" Japanese restaurant when clients or friends come in from out of town.

The Yakitori Matsumoto opens at 1700 and is a five-minute walk from the West Exit of JR Ebisu Station. (2-11-8 Ebisu-Nishi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo,  Telephone 03-3462-5009)