Konrad R.K. Ludwig , Artist of the Month, September 2012
Konrad R.K. Ludwig
Konrad R.K. Ludwig is a former non-commissioned officer of the United States Army, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. After serving four and a half years as an Infantrym…an, he was medically discharged to injuries sustained in combat, and is now perusing a career in writing. His latest work, Stryker, is a first-hand account of Bull Company’s involvement with the Sadr City Uprising of 2008. It is expected to be released in September of 2012.
What gave you the initial idea for the book?
As a first-hand account of what happened during the Siege of Sadr City, the concept and motivation for writing Stryker was entirely personal. In the beginning, the first-draft manuscript wasn’t even a book, so much as it was a thick packet of confessionals and defining memories as I tried to process what had happened. It wasn’t until about a year into the project that I touched base with a number of my old Army buddies and realized that what I was doing mattered to a lot more people than just me. It was at that point that I really knuckled down to turn my ramblings into a book and made it my mission to tell our story to the world.
Is there anything you’d like to share about your writing process?
At first I thought that writing non-fiction was going to be pretty easy, since I wouldn’t have to think up a whole book’s worth of events. It turned out that Stryker required just as much outlining and organization as any other work. The real challenge with non-fiction wasn’t coming up with content to fill-in a story, but how to carve my story out of a solid brick of causally linked events. In order to do that, I needed to know exactly what my story was about. The first step in that process was to start in the middle. I knew from personal experience what the emotional climax was going to be. What I didn’t know was “why.”
By the time I finished writing that first scene, I had answered every question on the books. My narrative told me what mattered to me on an emotional level, and the specifics of the event told me how to get there from a structural standpoint. Once I had those two figured out, the rest of the outline really fell into place.
Other than outlining, the only major process I had was disciplined writing. I read a great article called “Finishing Your Novel” by Timothy Hallinan, where he basically lays out the fact that you can’t expect to finish a book if you only write on the “good days.” More importantly, he pointed out that some days you feel like you’re loading bricks and other days you feel like you’re on fire–and either way your reader won’t be able to tell the difference. The take-away quote for me was “the enemy isn’t a badly written page; it’s an empty page.”
So every day I woke up at 06:30 to hammer out a morning routine of riding my bike to the local coffee shop, eating a sandwich, drinking a huge blended white chocolate mocha, and writing for a minimum of two hours and two-thousand words. On a good day I’d crush the word count in about an hour, and stick around until the time was up. On bad days I’d be three hours into the day and barely half-way to the finish line. Sometimes I’d stay in that seat until they closed.
What was really amazing was that I kept statistics on every session. That’s how I discovered my total speed had nothing to do with how much I felt like I was “on fire” or “loading bricks.” Most importantly, I’d go back and read my work from a week prior and I honestly couldn’t see the difference between them in quality. The only real change I could notice was that every day I cranked out more and more of my book, getting better at writing every day. That’s how the first-draft of Stryker went from less than 20,000 words to almost 150,000 in four months.
Could you tell us about the process of getting your book published?
A lot of people think that the publishing industry is burning to the ground. From all my research I managed to piece together that first-time writers can expect at-or-less than $10,000 for an advance with less than $1 per book (only after the advance is paid off). The truth is that today’s industry has never been more favorable for an author. Ebooks and print-on-demand technology have rendered the conventional publishing model obsolete. They outsourced editing. They outsourced typesetting. They outsourced marketing and publicity. They outsourced everything. The only thing a big-house really does now is gift you their reputation and a tiny wad of cash–and for that you lose your rights, your power, and your control.
I realized early-on that wasn’t for me. For a book like Stryker, editorial control means everything. The message, the meaning, and the integrity of my narrative is critical to the core message of my book. The last thing I wanted to do was query a hundred agents so they could query a few dozen editors and I could have my whole book kicked back for a re-write because they didn’t like what I was saying.
I’ve spent the last two years researching the publishing industry. In the end I realized that the best option was to build my own company and do it myself. Thus, Stryker will be the debut title for the newly created Roland-Kjos Publishing–and we’re putting together one hell of a team. Come August, we will be publishing the second edition of Anthony Farina’s book, Angels in Sadr City, which is another successful book about the battle. By next year, we should be fully operational, and we’re already looking at other projects to build a diverse field of titles.
Our goal with Roland-Kjos Publishing is to bring the industry back to the basics, and provide authors with a small crew that will overhaul their manuscript and turn it into a professional publication with a legitimate reputation. Most importantly, we’re here to bridge the gap between the conventional model and the do-it-yourself press. We’re here to let writers get back to writing, and help them get the best return on the effort they’ve put into their work.
To thank you for sharing your thoughts and your work with us, we would like to have you select a cause for Chapman Writers to highlight and support this month. Which do you recommend?
The Circle of Friends for American Veterans (http://www.vetsvision.org/index.shtml) is currently working hard to get homeless veterans off the street and push for congressional oversight to a lot of programs that have been ineffective and misguided when dealing with veterans in need.
Co-founder of Roland-Kjos Publishing and key member of the Stryker team, Christina N. King, has worked closely with author Sgt. Konrad R.K. Ludwig Ret. through each stage of the project. King is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in English Literature from Chapman University and received her Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University Long Beach, with a major in Comparative World Literature and a minor in Music. King’s passions are developmental editing and literary consultation. In addition to a thorough background in literary analysis, she has extensive experience editing both academic and creative works. She also serves as the Content Executive for Page_Break Magazine, an online literary journal she co-founded.
When asked about her participation in the Stryker project, King noted, “Stryker has been a great experience for me. For the first time I was able to read, analyze and discuss a book academically with its author and see my comments come to life in new, improved, and even unrecognizable versions. In working on this project, I have found the practical application for my education and my calling in life.”
King also offered her analysis of Stryker from her perspective as the manuscript’s editor:
“Though the author would never like to admit it, the story of Stryker follows the literary paradigm of the hero’s journey. A young idealistic boy leaves home to do one of the most heroic things he can think of, joining the army during war time, and soon realizes that he has entered a world where decisions regarding his life are greatly out of his control. In this aspect, Stryker is every soldier’s story. The first half of the book brings the reader along on the road to battle, including acclimation into military life. Simultaneously, the protagonist and the reader are immersed in the process of acquiring the skills necessary for not only physical but also metaphysical and emotional survival on the battlefield. The second half of the book chronicles not only the troop surges and Battle of Sadr City, but also the living conditions, meditations, and confessions of a boy who became a man behind enemy lines. Within Stryker, the young narrator-protagonist provides his reader with in-the-moment representation of the story as it happened, his analysis of the events as they happened, as well as big-picture commentary and reflections on the war three years later. The conclusion includes a return to the native land and an examination of the effects of PTSD. If Stryker was fiction, I would call it a sentimental novel, as it intentionally blends reason and emotion to enact a change of perspective in the reader. In this way, it is the most compelling non-fiction narrative of the Iraq War to date.”
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