By CHERIL VERNON
Palestine native Craig Harris can add the title “published ‘indie’ author” to his list of achievements.
Harris has penned a mystery-thriller novel, “The Dead Peasants File,” available in digital e-book format.
‘Indie’ publishing refers to the new wave of digital book publishing where authors are taking their work directly to the readers.
“I’ve always wanted to write a fiction novel. I’ve written news stories as a journalist, several student discipleship books, newspaper columns, and even an inspirational book, but never fiction. As I worked on this novel, I realized I had a unique and compelling story, so I worked hard to make it happen,” Harris said.
A 1979 graduate of Palestine High School, Harris went to Texas A&M University and earned a journalism degree. He worked as a photographer and reporter at KLTV in Tyler. He left in 1991 to become the youth minister at Westwood Baptist Church.
“I married my sweetheart, Jodi, and we have two children, David and Savannah. Now, I work in technology at Palestine ISD and pastor two country churches. Between all of this and writing the ‘Instant Message’ column for the Herald-Press, I stay pretty busy,” Harris said.
“The Dead Peasants File” is about a huge retail company that buys corporate-owned life insurance on its workers and then makes sure it cashes in on some of them. In other words, it kills its workers to get their insurance, Harris said.
“Corporations in America really do buy this type of insurance. People call it ‘dead peasants insurance.’ If the worker dies, the company, not the family, collects the benefit. I thought it would make a great plot device when I read about it several years ago,” Harris said. “In the book, the protagonists discover a list of names on a computer file called ‘dead peasants,’ and they find out the people on the list have all died. When they look into it, they make themselves targets and the chase is on. It is set in Missouri, but they escape to Colorado when the company sends hit men after them.”
The company fictionalized in the book also tattoos a small bar code on its workers’ foreheads.
“I thought that gave it an interesting ‘mark of the beast’ element that would make people think. My implication is that only an evil, godless company would put a mark like that on its workers. When we meet the owner of the company, we see just how true that is,” Harris said.
It’s a classic tale of good versus evil, Harris said.
“The characters are in peril and you struggle with them to escape. It also deals with a damsel in distress and her husband trying to save her and keep their marriage intact at the same time. It’s full of action, but it is appropriate for all ages,” Harris said. “Since one of the main characters is a pastor, it exposes my world view and interweaves expressions of faith. It is a David-versus-Goliath story with an inspirational and —hopefully — satisfying ending.”
Harris began writing this story more than seven years ago.
“It has changed over the years into what I think is a solid, exciting story. I very much enjoyed the process. I would get chill bumps when my characters were in imminent danger, and I wanted to cry when they were hurt. I had a lot to learn about good writing, though; point of view, character development and pacing,” Harris said. “Good writing takes a lot of work and I’m still honing my skills. It has been frustrating at times. I secured an agent five years ago who almost got me published, but it didn’t happen. However, getting that close kept me going. Last year, I started on the final revision. I made a major change in the plot and I’m really happy with how it turned out. I think it’s better now than when I had the agent.”
Until May, “The Dead Peasants” can only be downloaded for Kindle or Kindle apps, from Amazon.com.
“They have exclusive rights to it for 90 days. It’s $2.99 to download, which is a pretty good deal if you think about it. The easiest way to find it is to go to Amazon.com and type it in. Or you can go to www.thedeadpeasantsfile.com,” Harris said.
Harris has already started another fiction novel based on his days as a television reporter. The protagonist falls for the sheriff’s daughter only to discover that the sheriff is dangerous and corrupt.
For Harris, ‘indie’ publishing has opened up a whole new world to him.
“I think paper books will become rarer as people download novels to their tablets. That’s the way the industry is going. You can store a thousand books on a tablet and buy them for so much cheaper. For me, publishing the traditional route was too time consuming. My book was sitting in the computer and no one was enjoying it. My characters needed someone to read them into life,” Harris said. “When the first person bought and read it, then wrote me and said, ‘I loved it. I couldn’t put it down. What else have you written?’ it was all worth it. I felt like a success. It’s all just icing now.”
Harris said the new publishing route levels the playing field for writers trying to break in.
“However, I’m seeing how hard it is to get your name out there and sell your books. It never was easy and it still isn’t. My brother, Kevin, interviewed me on KVNE radio a couple of weeks ago and I hope to receive more media coverage. But my best hope may be word of mouth and social networking,” Harris said. “I sold the first few books by exposing it on Facebook and Twitter. I hope people who read it will give it a good review on Amazon and also tell their friends.”
In ‘indie’ publishing, the author has to do all of the formatting, uploading and is responsible for contracting out for editing and creating book covers.
“A woman in Dallas made the cover for me. It cost a couple hundred dollars, but I knew I had to have a good cover to sell the book. I’m very pleased with how it looks. It shows several elements in the story, and I hope piques people’s interest to consider the novel,” Harris said. “I also want to thank my friend Cheril Vernon at the Herald-Press for telling me about publishing on Amazon and encouraging me to do this.”
After seeing how easy it was to publish with Amazon, Harris formatted the first year of his “Instant Message” columns and put them up in a digital format.
“I’m hoping people who don’t get the Herald-Press will find ‘Instant Message’ and be encouraged by it, or people who like the columns and would like to have them on their tablets,” Harris said. “The idea of ‘Instant Message’ is a solid Bible study that takes three minutes or less to read. I know how busy we all are and wanted to write something short and encouraging, hoping more people would read it if they see it isn’t very long.”
Harris plans to make the second and third years of his “Instant Message” columns available in the future.
For more information, go to www.Amazon.com or visit www.instantmessagelive.com.