hat started as a short story with one character turned into a 179-page, 38-chapter, multiple-character book.
In a span of five years, Art Robertson found time to jot down notes for his book, “The Dragonpillar.” Then he would put it away and not get back to it until a year later.
That trend continued until he was on vacation a couple of years ago and wrote about two-thirds of the book.
This fall, he finally was able to share the finished copy with family and friends, including his four granddaughters, whose names are used for the main characters.
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To his delight, his first book has received great reviews.
“It’s rewarding because I never considered myself a writer or an author, per se,” said Robertson, 63, former director of Seymour Parks and Recreation Department and a retired firefighter and battalion chief with the Seymour Fire Department.
“I had one lady read it, and she said, ‘I just love that story. One of my favorite stories of all time is ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ and I liked this as well as that,’” Robertson said.
He said he didn’t know what to say at that point.
“Mark Twain has got to be rolling over in his grave,” Robertson said, smiling. “That was way more than I ever expected.”
Inspired by granddaughter
As parks and recreation director from August 1976 to September 1986 and then working for the fire department for the next 25 years, Robertson did some technical writing. But he had never done creative writing.The idea for “Dragonpillar” came in April 2010 when Robertson was in Greenwood at a birthday party for his oldest granddaughter, Ava, who was 4 at the time.
His daughter-in-law, Jill, asked Ava to tell him what she saw at the zoo that day. With a mouth full of cake, she turned to her grandfather and said, “I saw a dragonpillar.”
“I was the only one that caught that. I started laughing and thought that was so cute,” he said. “I had never wanted to write a book, never even thought about writing a book. But at that moment, I thought, ‘I’m going to write a story about the dragonpillar.’”
On the way home to Seymour, Robertson shared the idea with his wife, Lisa. Her response was, “You’re going to do what? You’re not a writer. How are you going to do that?”
Once he returned home, Robertson took down some notes for his book. He was still working at the fire department at the time, and he got busy and didn’t write again until around Thanksgiving.
“I went back to it, and the notes and stuff I had jotted down, I was like, ‘This is really terrible. I’ve got to do better than this,’” he said. “If you’re trying to create something, you just don’t feel like creating something all of the time, so you kind of have to get in the mood.”
The narrative develops
April 2011 rolled around, and he started writing again. After taking some more time off, he picked up his pencil again around Thanksgiving.“I had a little more material, but I thought, ‘This is horrible again. What am I going to do?’” Robertson said.
He knew Ava was counting on him to write the book with her as one of the main characters. That winter, he started coming up with more story and chapter ideas. Off and on for the next couple of years, he found some time to write.
Then around Thanksgiving 2013, he had written about 15 chapters that he felt were solid. He learned about developing a timeline for his story, so he took three pieces of computer paper, taped them together, made a straight line and plugged in his chapters on the timeline. That helped him figure out how to develop the rest of his story.
But during this process, his other three granddaughters, Brooklyn, Ellee and Isabelle, came along, and his wife said they should be included in the story, too.
“I got to the point where I was almost ready to ask my kids, ‘Are you guys done now so I can finish my story?’” Robertson joked.
His cast of characters was complete, and all he had to do was incorporate them into the story.
“That was really the best thing because I had more characters, and I could play the kids off of the dialogue of each of them,” he said. “I think it made for a much more interesting, family-oriented story that way. I kind of felt like I was on the right track, finally. I kind of felt like, ‘OK, I know where I’m going with this.’”
In February 2014, Robertson and his wife went to Jamaica for vacation. He put several notepads, an old plastic pencil sharpener and a rubber eraser in his briefcase. While sitting in the shade of a palm tree at the hotel pool, he pulled out a notepad and a pencil and started writing.
Reviewed by family
With no distractions for that week, Robertson was able to write about two-thirds of his book.By November, he said he felt confident he had a good story and the book was about done.
In the story, brothers Brett and Bryan buy a farm that includes a meadow and a wooded area. Ava has a science project to complete, and she enlists the help of her younger sister and two younger cousins to come up with a plan to get them safely in and out of the area.
They encounter several challenges and have to find ways to overcome them. They learn some life lessons along the way, and the book has good messages for all ages, Robertson said.
At Christmastime with his family around, Robertson had his daughter-in-law, who is a teacher, read a few chapters.
“I said, ‘Because you’re a family member, don’t lie to me. If this really is horrible, just tell me, and I can finish it, and I’ll just run it off the printer, staple it together and give Ava a copy,’” he said.
As his daughter-in-law was reading, she was laughing at the story — in a good way.
“She got done, and she goes, ‘I wouldn’t change anything. I love it,’” Robertson said. “She said girls in general, not just necessarily her two girls, are going to eat this up, they are going to love this story, they can identify with all of this stuff.”
He spent the first few months of this year finishing the book, and by June he was ready to go through the self-publishing process.
He was at the Seymour Library and saw information about the Spilling Ink Writers Club. He went to a meeting and met several people who had self-published books, including Les and Kathi Linz and Emma VonDielingen.After receiving some valuable information from those people, Robertson’s next step was editing. He took his 230 handwritten pages to retired English teacher Brantley Blythe to proofread.
Next, he needed a cover for the book and asked Darnell Dukes to draw it. He gave her a picture of his four granddaughters to help with her drawing.
Then he needed a jacket design for the book, and Sommer Stein helped with that. It included a blurb he wrote for the back cover, explaining a little about the story.
Robertson then had to digitize his book, which involves formatting it for book form. He borrowed a computer from a friend and spent about two months downloading all of the book on a flash drive, and VonDielingen helped him do the formatting.
The next step was to have the book professionally edited, and then Robertson was able to order a proof book so he could see what the finished product would look like. After some more editing, the book was good to go.
On Sept. 2, VonDielingen helped Robertson place the book on Amazon.com as an e-book. A month later, he placed an order of 200 paperback copies of the book.
In October, Robertson was invited to Ava’s school to talk to third- and fourth-graders who were in the process of reading the book.
A little autobiographical
Robertson had always promised Ava she would be the first one to get a copy of the book, and he surprised her that day by presenting it to her.“In my wildest dreams, I never thought when I started this project that I would have the opportunity to talk to a bunch of young children that age and then have my granddaughter who was the whole inspiration of the book and the title for the book in the class,” he said.
The story is realistic fiction. Even though his granddaughters are the characters of the story, the story is not about their real life.
“A lot of the stuff in here, in one sense, is a little bit autobiographical in terms that I took things that happened to me and things that I did when I was that age,” Robertson said.
Most people are reading the book for entertainment, but Robertson said the story is complex and contains symbolism.
“If you pick up on a few of those parts or elements, it kind of clues you in as to how the story might turn out,” he said. “This story has layers to it. It’s not just purely for entertainment. I kind of tried to design it that way, and I think that’s probably why it took so long.”
Now, people are asking Robertson if there will be a sequel to “The Dragonpillar.” He said he is considering either doing that or writing a totally different type of book.
“I think any good story, you have to have a conflict, you have to have something that has to be resolved, something that has to be overcome,” he said. “Right now, I’m trying to figure out what that would be. There’s so much more you can do, but I’ve got to come up with what the next conflict would be. I have a good start in my mind.”
Name: Art Robertson
Education: Seymour High School (1970); Indiana State University (bachelor’s degree in parks and recreation management, 1975)
Occupation: Director of Seymour Parks and Recreation Department (1976-1986); firefighter and battalion chief with the Seymour Fire Department (1986-2011); owner of Robertson Painting (1971-present)
Family: Wife, Lisa Robertson; sons, Brett (Jill) Robertson and Bryan (Lee Ann) Robertson; granddaughters, Ava, 9, Brooklyn, 6, Ellee, 3, and Isabelle, 2
Art Robertson’s book, “The Dragonpillar,” is available for purchase on amazon.com as an e-version or a paperback or by calling 812-522-1418.