One is a police officer who challenged himself to come up with something better than the bad movie he had just watched. One is a lawyer who wants to teach a new generation of youth about their cultural heritage. Another is a doctor trying to understand September 11. And one is a salesman who loves books and just wanted one with his name on it.
Their motivations may be different, but the end result is the same: In the last year or two, these four UTSA alumni have published their first novels. Though all are established in careers unrelated to fiction writing, each was compelled to put pen to paper and pursue that creative tangent of the American Dream: writing the Great American Novel.
"Many people who write have very different reasons for writing. I do think that for those who love to write, there is a unifying motivation," says Catherine Kasper, creative writing instructor and assistant professor in UTSA's Department of English, Classics and Philosophy.
"The reason art exists at all is because it is an essential, human activity," Kasper says. "Sharing our stories with others is personally enriching, as is being engaged in [any] artistic activity.
"Writing is a way of life, one that is difficult but rewarding."
Whether or not writing becomes a way of life for any of these first-time novelists remains to be seen. But, with the satisfaction of having written a book at all, they already feel they've reaped their reward.
Frank Jakobs '89 is a salesman first, a writer second. But the first job inspired the latter.
A native of Germany, Jakobs (B.B.A. in management) works for German skincare/medical products company Beiersdorf as the company's Southwest sales agency manager; his territory includes seven states plus Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. "Basically, what that means is I spend a lot of time in airplanes and hotels," says Jakobs.
"I always look around on the plane when I'm traveling to see what the people are reading," he says. "Most of these guys are traveling sales guys, like myself. But generally they're reading the Grisham stuff about lawyers, or they're reading the Crichton stuff about scientists or the Clancy stuff about the military or the CIA.
"I always wondered, wouldn't these guys be curious if the lead character or the hero of the story was someone a little bit more like them?"
Following the principle that first-time writers should write about what they know, Jakobs wrote The Rep, a 71,000-word story about salesman Jake Hanson, who gets his dream job with a large pharmaceutical company that's about to launch a new vitamin, only to learn that the salesman he's replacing was mysteriously murdered. (Jakobs acknowledges the story was loosely inspired by Grisham's The Firm.) Like Jakobs, Jake Hanson works in the medical products industry. Both are involved in martial arts (Jakobs is a fourth-degree black belt). Jakobs even decided that Jake Hanson should drive the same model Porsche that he did.
"Basically, you take a little of what you know, and then you make up the rest," he says. "I've never been chased through the hallways of the hotel I stayed at for a sales meeting by psychotic hit men, so that part's completely fabricated."
With no creative writing experience to speak of-"other than maybe an occasional 'I'm sorry' letter to an angry girlfriend"-Jakobs wrote the original draft of The Rep in four months. "And I would call it, at that point, garbage," he says. He rewrote it twice before submitting it to VirtualBookworm.com, a print-on-demand publisher, in 2002.
He chose a print-on-demand publisher to get the book published quickly and forego the hassle of soliciting agents and publishers. His goal for The Rep was very modest: "For the most part, I just like books. I think books are cool, and I just wanted to have a book."
But now Jakobs has written a second book, another suspense novel featuring Jake Hanson, who's gotten out of pharmaceutical sales and is running a chain of karate studios. In Paradise, Hanson again finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, this time encountering one of a trio of Saudi siblings involved in terrorist activities. The story is much more ambitious than The Rep, and Jakobs had to research a lot of the details in the book, especially regarding Saudi Arabia, where part of the story takes place.
Jakobs also has more ambitious publishing goals for Paradise and is querying agents and mainstream publishers. He wants readers to be able to pick it up at their local bookstore instead of having to order it online. One reason Jakobs has higher aspirations for Paradise is because he thinks it's a better book than his first. He says now that writing The Rep was more of a learning experience, but as his first book, it's still very special to him.
"If I ever walk into a Half Price Books and see it for $2 on the clearance rack, it'll make my day," he says. "It really will."