Graham Garrison

Graham Garrison ( is the author of Hero’s Tribute, from Kregel Publications. He is currently the managing editor for three magazines published by a health care communications company and is also a writer/editor for two other publications. He’s written for almost a half dozen newspapers and two dozen magazines, including America’s Civil War, Boating World, Georgia Physician and Repertoire. He lives in Johns Creek, Ga., with his wife Katie, sons Nicholas and Nolan, and Baxter the Beagle. He and his family worship at Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church. He is a Florida Gator by birth, but a Georgia Bulldog by the grace of God.

Embrace the Red

The manuscript for my first novel, Hero’s Tribute, was returned to me stained in red. I’d just received the first round of edits from the publisher, and as I thumbed through the pages, I noticed that the chapter I’d enjoyed writing the most had a note posted at the top. The chapter contained a few thousand words, basically a description of the small town of Talking Creek: its high school football team, tie-ins to the Civil War, and small liberal arts university. The editors wanted to know if I could shorten the chapter by a thousand words or so. In essence, I’d have to butcher it.

Within ten minutes I made the quota.

It felt like ripping off a Band-Aid really fast, but I didn’t mind. I’m so used to the red pen in what I do as a magazine editor—cutting and slashing other people’s stories—that I don’t hesitate to use it on myself. I spend my regular work hours editing features, departments, and columns on the health-care industry, rewriting articles from business professionals, and rewriting press releases from manufacturers and distributors.

I’m in charge of the production for three magazines, about thirty-seven issues each year, all told. In addition, I handle the social media content for two of these magazines, which includes blogs, posts, and releases three to five times a week. On top of that, I do some freelance editing and writing for two sales magazines: one geared toward veterinary medical distributors and the other is for print reps.

Things don’t really ease up at home, either. My wife, Katie, and I have two boys: a three-year-old with an active imagination and two legs that don’t stop running, and a nine-month-old who’s a couple days away from learning to crawl. I have soccer practices to attend (who knew three-year-olds could play organized sports), lawns to mow, hedges to trim, diapers to change, bills to pay, diapers to change again, a beagle to chase around the house … Every day is exhausting. But somewhere in those hours I find time to write. Ironically, I’m writing more now than I ever have.

Part of the ability to write among seeming chaos comes from my newspaper background. While at the University of Georgia, I worked three years at the college paper, the Red & Black (maybe that’s why I don’t fear the red), where deadlines were drilled into me. I got a tip from one of the top professors at the J-school, a former VP at the Associated Press, that the more I put my byline in the newspaper, the more he’d pay attention to me in class. Granted, some of the articles and columns I wrote were terrible, but the experience of covering a beat and writing nearly every day proved invaluable.

I was able to set my clips on the table and compare them to the full-time reporters to see what I was doing right and where I needed to improve. My first job out of college was at a suburban newspaper where I churned out at least two articles a day between commuting a thirty-mile circuit from high school sporting events back to the office. I also dabbled in pagination to help the copy desk. When I eventually transitioned to magazines, I felt like I was going from a sprint to a trot. A whole two weeks to finish an article? And book publishing feels absolutely glacial compared to newspapers.

But the main benefit of the newspaper pace was writing every day. Tons of people want to write a book. I think they struggle in finding the time and the inspiration.

I wrote Hero’s Tribute at night and on lunch breaks over a six-month period, but this was before kids, a house, and a publisher’s deadline. For the sequel, I signed the contract a few weeks after I signed the paperwork to bring my second son home from the hospital. Work responsibilities had increased too, so time management was critical. I carved out a half hour before

work (thus beating school traffic), at lunch (thus eating less fast food), and even a little bit at home (although by bath and pajama time, my wife and I were both exhausted).

I tracked the progress with a series of outlines. The first outline was two columns and 12-point type. It grew to three columns, shrunk to 10-point type then 8-point type, and by the time summer came around, I’d put together a 75,000-word manuscript through twelve outline drafts.

Epiphanies are epiphanies because they don’t happen every day. I discovered in Hero’s Tribute, and especially with the sequel, that if I committed to a block of time or a word count each day, the ideas went from a trickle to a steady stream. Steven Pressfield, author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and Gates of Fire, calls this “feeding the muse.” It’s true; the more committed I was to the process, the more the story developed.

I didn’t need to write a chapter, pause, close out production of a magazine, and then come back to the story. Don’t get me wrong, epiphanies do help. I didn’t get the big plot twist for Hero’s Tribute until about halfway through writing, and I can remember clearly where I was when it happened, but it would have never occurred if I hadn’t first put 30,000 words down on paper.

By far the most I’ve learned has been through the editing process. I know most writers dread getting back their manuscripts drenched in red ink and suggested revisions, but I looked forward to it, mostly so I could see what the book editors wanted out of the story. My mistakes and subsequent corrections helped me gain an overall view of putting a manuscript together. There’s a sense of comfort knowing someone is watching your characters and plot for consistencies. It’s also helped to look at a manuscript in a big-picture kind of way. I find myself doing that with my casual reading more—writing descriptions of the characters and plot twists to identify pacing and compare it to my own.

Book publishing is still pretty new to me, so I’ve used the release of Hero’s Tribute and the draft of the sequel as a learning process. Book promotion, for one, was a foreign concept before last year. Building an audience is as important as building a story. But as with my full-time job as an editor, the revisions turn out to be as much fun as the first few drafts.


Hero's Tribute