Pursuing a dream isn’t always easy – especially when you’re already committed to a full-time career. But that wasn’t enough to stop Kevin McCullough from writing and publishing “Treehouse,” a mystery-thriller novel.
“[Writing a novel] was something deep inside I knew I could do if I would really commit myself to it,” McCullough said. “The hardest part is getting in the habit. That to me is the biggest hurdle.”
After coming home from a long day of work at the Trout Lake DNR Station forestry department, McCullough dedicated time to his passion for writing.
“It was a long process for me ... the actual writing time was two years, but life can get in the way once in a while,” McCullough said. “Like exercise or anything, it’s hard to get into the habit. And once you stop, you fall out of it pretty quickly so there were some long spots where I didn’t write.”
In order to get back on track, McCullough took a few months off of work with the DNR to focus on writing “Treehouse.”
“I was probably between a quarter or halfway done with it, but I really got a lot done in that time,” he said. “And then writing after work at night I finished it up.”
With most of the book set in the fictional northern Wisconsin town of Broadaxe, rookie cop Henry Sauter finds himself facing the murder of a young child who was hung beneath a treehouse.
Though the murder was pinned on the victims’s older brother, Sauter is never completely satisfied with the answer.
“[The murder] is brushed under the table, he thought. The story fast forwards a couple of decades and he’s a detective now in a different part of the state,” McCullough said, giving an outline of the plot. “Kids end up dying again 20 years later under the same treehouse in these woods.”
The brother, who was labeled a sociopath, had been committed to a mental institution. Twenty years later, the murders coincided with the brother’s release.
“It’s a whole group of friends whose children are dying. It’s all interwoven with the past,” McCullough said.
Living in the Northwoods provided much of the McCullough’s inspiration for describing the scenery in “Treehouse.”
“I was satisfied with how I set the scenes, the descriptions of the scenes and the character development,” McCullough said. “That’s the feedback I had from people – that they were put in the scene.”
McCullough relied heavily on 3 by 5 note cards to organize his train of thought into one cohesive 428-page novel.
“I’d take the characters that I needed to tell the story and I would outline them on 3 by 5 cards – their ages, their backgrounds, that kind of thing. And I would outline every chapter of the book on cards,” he said.
These character outlines came in handy, particularly with the time leap within the book.
“With the book jumping 20 years and keeping the [characters’] correct ages and whatnot, I pulled those out if I ever had a question in my head.”
Even with the story meticulously outlined prior to writing it, aspects of the book changed over time.
“With this book, as I went, things evolved. I strayed from the original outline so it seemed that the story kind of started telling itself,” McCullough said.
At some point of the process, McCullough decided to write under the pseudonym K.R. Mack.
“It’s just an abbreviation of my name. I did it because some of the other story ideas I have outlined are in different genres, so I’m hoping to write those under my own name or another pseudonym.”
This way, he explained, those who read “Treehouse” won’t be confused if they pick up a future novel by the same author that falls in a completely different genre.
The publishing process
Unfortunately, there was another hurdle for McCullough in his endeavor – getting his novel published.
“I didn’t do a word count,” he said. “That’s something that people don’t realize is that publishers are word count-oriented. If you submit a manuscript, they want it to be between 80 and 120,000 words for most fictional novels.”
Because McCullough’s book checked in at 157,000 words, his submitted work wasn’t even considered by many of the publishers. So, as a result, McCullough took matters into his own hands.
“A couple of [publishers] encouraged me to go this route with the eBook and on-demand printing under my own publishing imprint. It afforded me pretty much total control over what happened to it after a certain point.”
Publishing under his own imprint, Miasma, allowed McCullough to copyright the novel’s content, design and front cover image as his own original work.
“Sometime in the future – no dates have been set – I’m going to do a book signing at the Presque Isle Library and at a restaurant in Marenisco, Wild River. It’s kind of a restaurant-art store.”
One way to find McCullough’s novel is by visiting www.amazon.com and searching “Treehouse K.R. Mack,” which takes you directly to the homepage for the book. The homepage includes a preview, reviews and the option of downloading “Treehouse” to a Kindle, iPhone or personal computer for $2.99.
For the more traditional style of reading, the paperback form of “Treehouse” is available at createspace.com/4031094 for $15, plus shipping.
But “Treehouse” isn’t the end of the line for McCullough as an author. He’s starting his second book, another mystery-thriller about “mountain climbers running into a murder mystery.”
And again his work ethic will play an important role in this second novel.
“Once you start actually writing, you cross your fingers that you don’t get writer’s block and just try to get something done every night,” McCullough said.
Sarah Hirsch may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.