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Holst Enjoys the Journey, Finds Fun in Writing First Novel

Published: January 15, 2010

Corey Holst always thought it would be fun to be a writer, so he sat down and wrote a book. Ok, so it wasn’t quite that easy.

“My creativity and imagination has always been a little out there,” said Holst, who is now in his 24th year on campus, the last 20 in the Theater Arts Department, where he is in charge of the scene shop and builds scenery for all the productions. “I was always good in English, but I’m not the kid who wrote in the margins and came up with little stories.”

While it is fairly normal for faculty members to produce a book, generally in the area of their expertise, it is a little unusual for a guy who spends much of his time literally behind the scenes.

Holst’s novel, Defender of the Realm, is a historical-based action/adventure story centered in 12th century England, inspired in part by a CSULB production of “The Lion in Winter” done years ago. “The Lion in Winter” is the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who had been arrested for trying to kick her husband off the throne to replace him with her son. She is captured in the act and imprisoned in the Tower of London for 16 years.

“That story always got me curious about that time period, but after seeing this play to think of them not as stuff of legend, but as a family that had some major dysfunctional problems was really intriguing to me,” said Holst, “and I’ve always been interested in the Middle Ages to begin with.

“One day here at work, for some reason the last page of the book popped into my head and I knew how the story I wanted to write ended. I started seeing these conversations in my mind and I backtracked from the end of the story and that got me going.”

Holst began writing the story on his computer at work during his lunch breaks, but soon realized those short periods of time wouldn’t suffice, so he went out and bought his first laptop. Then, on a summer vacation he started laying out what he said was basically the entire roadmap of the book.

“I started flushing it out a little bit and putting in more conversation,” he said. “As I kept going and doing more research and was jumping around I realized it was finally time to go to the beginning and it was like ‘All right, it’s starting for real now. No more fudging it.’ I had the entire outline of the entire book and what happened chapter by chapter and what the characters needed to do. I knew what their whole arch was and I just had to fill in between.”

The fun of writing his book took Holst about three and a half years, finishing it just before Christmas 2008 and publishing it in Spring 2009.

“The first year or so I was just kind of doodling around with it,” he said. “During the writing process, I learned so much, not only about writing, but about the characters in the book. When I initially started the book my main character was somebody else, but as I started writing it I thought this other guy was way more interesting, but to change the lead, I would have to change a lot of things. I had to change who the lead character was and what year the book was set in. There were some days when I was kind of stuck and just had to plain force myself to write and after an hour I may only have one paragraph. I may come back the next day and use what I had written the previous day as a springboard and it usually kicked in enough creative juice that, even though I may throw a good chunk of it out, it got me going.

Corey Holst
Photo by David J. Nelson
Corey Holst

“I felt that I had a really good story and I felt that it was really exciting,” added Holst. “I would read chapters to my family and friends and they would say ‘where’s more?’; The feedback I get from people is that they read through it really fast and they called it a page-turner. Several friends said they couldn’t put it down.”

Of course, Holst, like many others before him, found out that it’s probably easier to write a book than to get it published.

“I had leads on a couple of agents and things like that and I tried getting their attention, but nobody responded,” he said. “I looked up publishers online and there is no end of self-publishing companies and it’s like for $500 we’ll give you one hardcover book and three paperbacks, which for me wasn’t really an option.”

Then he stumbled upon Amazon.com’s publishing arm called Createspace and checked into it, expecting more of the same.

“But it wasn’t like that,” Holst happily discovered. “If they approve it, then it becomes available online and anybody can buy it. They also give you a private Web site that’s just assigned to you. Technically it’s self-published, but I Iike the fact that now anybody in the world can buy my book.”

Find Holst’s Defender of the Realm on Amazon or at CoreyHolst.com.