Billy Conder wasn’t quite sure what to expect when he asked his friends to read his first attempt into the literary world.
Their feedback is evident with his first book.
Conder will hold a book signing of “Stealing Yesterday” from 10 a.m. until noon on Saturday, Jan. 8, at the Metropolis Public Library. Copies will be available at the library.
Conder actually had the idea for “Stealing Yesterday” for about 10 years before he started putting it to paper.
It was his wife, Dawn, who “pushed me to write,” he said. “I told her I had a couple of ideas, and she pushed me to writing. I eventually made her a deal that I would write a short story of it.”
It took about a month to write the 18,000-word short story, which he sent out “to 10 of my friends who I thought would actually read it to see what kind feedback I would get,” Conder said. “Surprisingly, I got some pretty good feedback. Out of the 10, eight or nine actually read it. I told Dawn that since everybody liked the storyline, I was going to finish it because everybody kept asking questions.”
Along the way, he “ bounced all my ideas off” Dawn and their daughter Courtney Ryan. And seven months later, when “Stealing Yesterday” was complete, Courtney noticed something familiar.
“Courtney has read all the Nicholas Sparks’ books, and she told me the ending was kind of like ‘The Notebook,’ ” said Conder, who has never read any Sparks’ books but watched “The Notebook” to see how he could change his ending. It took two months, but “I like this ending better.”
Conder, of Metropolis, works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a lock operator. He spent six years at Brookport’s Lock 52 and has been at Smithland Dam for nearly 16.
“I guess I’ll retire from there and still keep writing on the side until I run out of ideas,” he said.
He graduated from Joppa High School in 1990 at 17 and went straight into the Navy. He wasn’t much of a writer or a reader then.
“I didn’t even care for reading in high school,” he said. “My reading came when I was in the Navy, stuck out at sea for six months. Thirty years ago, we didn’t have iPods and computers and all that. Basically, people would bring VHS tapes with them.”
But Conder worked the night shift — a 12-hour, 7-day work week until they pulled into a port — so he couldn’t join his shipmates on their movie nights. Instead, “I turned to books and read everything I could get my hands on while we were at sea. When I came home, I grabbed every book I could and take it to sea. I went back to school and got with my English teacher, and he recommended some books.”
He became a fan of “a lot of different stuff” from Stephen King to thriller mysteries by Tammy Hogue or Karin Slaughter to fantasies by Erin Morgenstern — influences, he’s finding, that are showing up in his own writing as he’s done romantic fiction and is working on historical fiction and fantasy.
A Gulf War veteran during Desert Storm, Conder served in the Navy for four years working on SH-60B helicopters. Homeported in Mayport, Florida, he went half way around the world twice on the USS Normandy and the USS McInerney.
“I did get to see and do quite a few things, which inspired some of the stuff in the book,” he said.
“Stealing Yesterday” “is a ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ type book” about Robert, a Navy war veteran “who gets put in a nursing home by his daughter because she doesn’t have time for him. He befriends a nurse and starts telling her his story of how he missed out on his one true love and he’s trying to keep her from making the same mistakes. Through her, it’s his way of fixing his past,” Conder said. “Through his whole life, he’s been chasing this regret where he didn’t get to make the connection with this woman. I feel like the older you get, most people have that ‘I wish I could done something different’ in their past. I wanted to connect with people with that level. That’s where I got the idea for the title, ‘Stealing Yesterday,’ because you can’t get back yesterday, no matter what you do or how hard you try.”
Through Robert, Conder shares his own Navy experiences.
“In this book, the stories Robert relates to one of the other residents are actually my stories of what happened back in 1991 up in the North Atlantic at the Arctic Circle when we were doing boarding ops,” Conder said. “The rest is fiction.”
Conder self-published “Stealing Yesterday” under his full name, William Conder, through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing.
“There are so many options out there now to self publish. Twenty, 30 years ago, I probably wouldn’t’ve been able to do it,” he said. “Amazon’s an amazing way to be able to go about it. They handle all the shipping, printing. They take a fee out when they sell the books, but they don’t charge you to publish it. It’s easy access to order it.”
Conder published “Stealing Yesterday” at the end September And after getting his first copies, “I’m excited for the next two,” he said.
After 10 years of “being pushed,” Conder has found his muse unleashed.
“Dawn and Courtney really pushed me hard on doing it. I’m glad now,” he said. “It’s been interesting putting yourself in your characters in the book.”
He’s currently working on his second book, “Operation Betty” and is gathering the notes for his third.
“Operation Betty” is historical fiction with a touch of romance set at the end of World War II. His third will be fantasy.
“I’m all over the place,” he admitted “I don’t stick to one genre — whatever ideas I have, that’s what I write.”
He keeps those ideas and other notes on his phone and a notebook. As “most of my ideas come at night,” the notebook has a permanent place by the bed. Conder tries to get 30 pages of notes before he starts writing.
“The way I write is more of the dialogue first. After I do that, I go back and fill stuff in,” he said. “I thought that was weird, but I’ve come across other authors who do that, too. I see mine more as like scenes in a movie in my head. It didn’t come to me straight through — I wrote it all, then went back and broke it all up, edited and sorted everything out to see where I wanted to put them in the book. Toward the end (of ‘Stealing Yesterday’), I had to juggle three different scenes to where they would tie together right.”
He’s finding himself working in the same fashion for the book’s covers — seeing the product and making it come together. He’s settled on the one for “Operation Betty,” which came out just as he imagined
“I’m excited to get to the third one. I’ve got so many possibilities and options for that book,” Conder said.
He may also have a fourth lingering in the background.
“About six years ago, I had actually started trying to write a different book. I said, ‘I can’t do this,’ so I quit,” he said. “I probably need to go back and finish that one.”
Conder went back to JHS on Nov. 5 to see one of his first book readers, Beth Adkins, whom he went to school with and is now an instructional aide at the school. She asked him to speak to the JHS writing class.
“I’m trying to let the kids know it doesn’t matter where you come from or what you’ve done. There were three kids in there who were really interested in writing and asked a lot of questions. I hope they’re inspired to push their writing and do something with it,” he said.
He hopes adults get the same inspiration.
“I hope that even if there’s a couple people out there who see what I’ve done, it will inspire them. If you have any kind of ideas, go for it and write it,” Conder said. “If I can do it, anybody can do it. Just follow your dreams. In my book, my theme is ‘follow your heart — don’t let anything go unsaid, don’t have any regrets.’ ”