Write about what you know. Thomas Brigger of Waynesville learned how important this tried-and-true advice is to crafting a good story as he set out to write his first novel more than 15 years ago.
“I’m the guy who never knew what he wanted to do when he grew up,” Brigger said. “I started as a construction worker and then worked my way up to corporate executive. Along the way, I traveled a lot.”
Brigger experienced life as he traveled to nearly every state in the country and he realized that Americans are more alike than they are different.
“I was always interested in how people acted and reacted to situations,” Brigger said.
He tried his hand at writing as a hobby years ago and ended up with a few short stories he sent on to his sister to read. He made the jump from the short story “hobby” to novel writing one night while sitting in a hotel in Cleveland.
“I had just finished a really bad novel,” Brigger said. “And I thought to myself – I can do this, and I can do better.”
He started writing his first book that night and coincidentally, the main character was a construction manager sent to southwest Virginia to begin a new project.
“I had been working on several construction projects myself in Virginia at the time,” Brigger said. “I was fascinated by the people, but I was also alarmed by the drug problem.”
Brigger finished his first draft and ended up putting it away and not looking at it again until a little over a year ago when he decided to review it and see if he could get it published.
“When I read the book again, it turned out I really liked what I had written all those years ago,” Brigger said. “I had truly never taken an objective look at my own writing.”
Brigger’s main character in his book “Beyond the Higher Ground,” which was published last December, is a man looking for a way to restart his life after the death of his wife, while dealing with the reoccurring demons of his childhood.
“Tucker Mason is a man who, like most people, has lived through a lot of adversity in his life,” Brigger said. “He is given this project to build a prison on the top of a mountain in Virginia and he sees it as a great opportunity.”
Brigger said “higher ground” is a metaphor for Mason’s life on the mountain, living among the people who call it home.
“About halfway through the construction project, Tucker discovers drugs are running through the prison,” Brigger said. “Then the plot begins to thicken.”
When Brigger revisited his book, which is fictional but includes some historical references, he shared it with his wife, made some edits and then worked on getting it published.
“I had no clue how to publish a book,” Brigger said. “I saw an advertisement online and found two publishers who were accepting work from new writers.”
The next thing he knew, Brigger had two contracts from two New York publishing houses. He read through both and chose the one he found the easiest to understand.
Brigger knew he’d need to figure out how to market his new book effectively, so he built a web page and said he ended up giving away quite a few copies.
“My wife was hospitalized, and I saw a lot of nurses reading the book,” Brigger said.
While researching “Beyond the Higher Ground,” Brigger said what surprised him the most was how sophisticated the illegal drug business has become.
“It’s a complex problem and I can see why it’s so difficult to control,” Brigger said. “If these people were in legitimate industry, they would be Fortune 500 companies.”
Brigger also said he was shocked at how few resources are available, particularly in rural areas, to fight the growing drug problem.
“These communities don’t have sophisticated narcotics divisions,” Brigger said. “It’s a sheriff and a few investigators and that’s it. This makes these areas fertile for drug dealers and the industry.”
Brigger continues to craft stories about issues affecting people right here in southwestern Ohio. He is currently working on his next novel as well as a collection of short stories.
“My guess is the drug problem is going to get worse because no one can really do anything to control it,” Brigger said. “The pandemic hasn’t helped and, in a way, has made things worse. More people are struggling with mental health and PTSD.”
“Beyond the Higher Ground” is available at bookstores and online at https://www.beyondthehigherground.com. Brigger self-published the audio version through Amazon.
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