Thursday, July 7, 2011

Walther rings up strong sales for self-pubbed debut

You've likely never heard of Rodney Walther. You won't find his book in Barnes & Noble or your local independent bookstore. But his debut novel, Broken Laces, is flying off virtual shelves at an impressive pace for a self-published book. Walther is averaging 1,300 paper and/or ebook sales a month, a rate that will see him surpass 10,000 sold by the end of the summer.

At various times the book has topped Amazon's ranking lists in Sports Fiction, Baseball, and Death and Grief, according to Walther's web site. Yes, you read that right. Death and Grief. This isn't your typical baseball novel. It has drawn comparisons to works by Jodi Picoult and Nicholas Sparks, and Walther isn't running from the "chick lit" tag. In fact, he says women seem to be the primary buyers of the book.

The story is a first-person account of Jack Kennedy's attempt to put his life together following the death of his wife in a car accident that both he and his young son Kellen witness. A self-centered workaholic, Jack has a poor relationship with his son, having left his upbringing largely in the hands of his mother. Eventually they connect through baseball when Jack reluctantly agrees to coach Little League, though the sport nearly drives them further apart when Jack shows little patience for Kellen's poor play.

Kellen is a much easier character to sympathize with than his father. Jack, who starred on the diamond as a prep until a freak on-field incident left his pitching hand deformed, is a brooding, selfish jerk who makes little effort to understand his son. He's enough of an asshole that I had trouble hitching my emotional wagon to him for this ride.

Of course, he predictably comes around in the end, perhaps a little too much to be believable. By the final chapters all traces of his jerkwad inner self have been eradicated. He realizes his own father loves him, wins the girl, gets on with his son (who finally learns how to play baseball), and lives happily ever after (well, minus his late wife). Things rarely work themselves out so neatly in real life, but at least the drama on the baseball field was spared a Hollywood finish.

Still, for a first novel, particularly one which did not benefit from a large publishing house's editorial team, Broken Laces is a solid effort. Walther portrays Jack and Kellen's anguish in the early going as they struggle through the grieving process. Jack's journey is further complicated by his having to learn how to be a parent, from simple things like preparing breakfast and buying school supplies to the more complex like disciplining his son and expressing his love.

Walther's second book, which is yet to be completed, will deal with more darkness and family trauma. The lead character there is a serially abused wife. If he can pull that one off, perhaps he'll line up a two-movie deal with the Lifetime network. Given his success at selling Broken Laces, it's not completely out of the question.

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