For Buck Ream, fiction writing is the perfect antidote to a long-term debilitating illness.
Diagnosed about five years ago with antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, a rare blood disorder that eventually leads to muscle failure, the former optician turned to writing to combat its emotional effects.
"Not being able to work any longer, I needed to feel that I still had purpose in life and writing fit the bill," Ream, of Brainerd, said in an interview this week. "Fiction was just my bag."
He ventured into fiction with a series of short stories, most of which have been accepted for publication by on-line repositories such as The First Line and Short Story Writers Showcase.
But this week Ream celebrated the arrival of his first novel, "Dark Secrets," an occult thriller with northern Minnesota settings.
"I guess I just write what trips my trigger," Ream said with a laugh. "Sometimes it's warm and fuzzy and sometimes it's cold and hair-raising."
"Dark Secrets" arises from the hair-raising variety, complete with witches covens -- secreted away in the Virginia-area iron range -- ancient covenants, family intrigue and the coming of the antichrist.
From Ream's perspective, conditioned by his fears of an eventual life in a wheelchair, life plays host to a dark side, including his imaginary covens' ancient desires to undermine the rest of us in this classic tale of good versus evil.
"They (witches) all believe they are going to conceive the antichrist and the dark evil will rule the world," said Ream, who extensively researched the occult before starting his manuscript nearly three years ago.
His northern Minnesota settings were prompted by the author's fictional device that suggests "iron (as in iron ore from the range) has special properties that magnify the power of the covens' witchcraft," Ream said. "But good prevails in the end."
Ream floated his finished manuscript to dozens of agents and publishers but turned to an on-demand company after receiving about 50 rejection notices, he said.
"Dark Secrets" was published in late June by iuniverse.com, one of the many Web-based concerns that have emerged in recent years as a blend of old-fashioned self-publishing and vanity press.
Known as "on-demand" publishers, the companies bring a book into print -- usually for a small author-paid fee -- and supply the market with product as books are sold by distributors and retailers.
Ream, for example, paid iuniverse.com $159 for the setup and an initial press run, but his out-of-pocket expenses are kept at a minimum because the publisher does not maintain a large inventory.
In traditional self-publishing or vanity press arrangements, the author underwrites all the costs, often in the thousands of dollars, including a large inventory of unsold books.
In the on-demand arrangements, the author is required to market the work, but receives assistance from the publisher's relationships with book distributors and retailers.
Ream receives about 20 percent of the book's retail price on each sale, he said, with iuniverse and the retailer sharing in the rest.
"The bottom line is that I'm getting published and that is lending a certain amount of credence I need to get established as a writer," Ream said. "I would love to see 'Dark Secrets' go gangbusters in the market and if I make a little money on it and get myself noticed by a traditional publisher, that is fantastic.
"But if I don't, I will have no trouble at all going with iuniverse again," he said.
Ream already is at work on his next novel, an international thriller about the outbreak of World War III, set against the backdrop of Richard Nixon's presidential resignation.
"I just use my imagination and fit the facts around it," Ream said. "I've got to have enough fact in there to make it believable."
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