SAN MARCOS — Becoming a successful writer isn’t something that is achieved overnight, just ask San Marcos author David Grant Urban.
Urban, 61, who recently won a few awards for his debut novel “A Line Intersected,” is a property inspector for insurance companies during the day, but a writer the rest of the time. His winning book took more than four years to write and get published.
“I see thousands of homes, sometimes of the rich and famous, mega-mansions you can’t believe. All confidential, of course, but it’s amazing what people will confide while touring a house. Great material for a novelist,” he laughed.
“A Line Intersected” is published by Fat Dog Books, a small independent publisher which was one of the first three publishers Urban approached. The novel recently placed as a Finalist at the 2018 American Fiction Awards and was awarded an Honorable Mention at the 2018 Beach Book Festival and the 2018 Hollywood Book Festival.
“It’s great to be recognized at any level,” he said. “All authors have a secret fear that maybe they are the sole fan of their work. Awards help to dispel that self-doubt. With so much talent out there, I’m thrilled to be making the cut at these book awards.”
Urban’s novel is a literary noir mystery set in San Diego and is the story of a man trying to find his wife’s killers and exact revenge.
“It was written partly as a reaction against the ‘super-hero’ thrillers so popular now,” he said. “My hero is not ex-military, cannot beat up six guys at once, has no inside contacts at the police/military intelligence branches, is not a firearms expert and has never even fired a gun. In fact, when he comes into possession of a handgun he dumps it into the sewer.”
“His only ally in his quest to find his wife’s murderers is a homeless old man who believes he is living in the 18th century.”
The novel is based loosely on the real-world experience of San Diegan Christopher Jon Burns, who was arrested and falsely accused of murdering his fiancée, Tiffany Schultz, Urban said. Schultz was the first victim of the infamous serial killer Cleophus Prince (the Clairemont Killer), who went on to kill another five women. Burns said being falsely accused was worse than a nightmare and it basically ruined his life, Urban explained.
The book features real locations in San Diego, and readers can visit them and sit where the hero sits.
“I use San Diego’s history of corruption as a backdrop and did quite a bit of research,” he said. “San Diegans will recognize the ‘Enron-by-the-Sea’ aspects. Incidentally, as part of the research, I discovered the source of that infamous moniker.”
“Mr. Broder told me he actually did not come up with the phrase, although people give him credit for it; it was a copyrighter who titled the article, ‘Sunny San Diego Finds Itself Being Viewed as a Kind of Enron-by-the-Sea.’”
Urban said Broder doesn’t remember the copywriter’s name, unfortunately, but the Enron-by-the-Sea label went international and embarrassed San Diego city leaders for years (this was the time of the pension scandal).
“There’s a heavy thematic element that explores good and evil, heartbreaking loss, the power of love to heal and examines society from its lowest members to the highest. Readers who like to be absorbed into a novel will enjoy the book immensely, I think,” he said.
Of course, getting published remains one of the most difficult things for a writer of any genre, and Urban agreed.
“The problem for writers these days is that not only is it difficult to be published, but almost all the necessary promotion falls on the writer’s shoulders as well,” he said.
“That fact discourages many writers and so they decide to just go ahead and self-publish,” he added. “But self-publishing can be a tricky thing. Traditional publishing means that a publisher, even a small one, likes and respects your work enough to make a fairly sizable commitment in terms of editing and polishing to put it out there. Self-published books too often lack that commitment and the result suffers.
“The self-published author does the best he or she can, but it’s just so hard to be impartial about your own work. With traditional publishing, especially with a smaller publisher, it’s nice to be part of a family of authors under the same imprint.”
Fortunately, there are some independent bookstores like Julia Dammier’s A Classic Tale in Ramona, and Maryelizabeth Yturralde’s Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego, which are supportive of new talent, he said.
Man, behind the pages
Urban said he always wanted to write but got serious about it after surviving cancer eight years ago.
“I promised myself if I got through the radiation and chemo I’d never waste another day, “he said. “I wanted the novel to be something a reader could linger over while savoring its texture and multiple layers.”
The self-taught Urban, who was born in El Cajon, said he learned the writing craft on his own. He thinks both his parents have great stories to tell. His dad, a retired educator, fought at Okinawa in World War II but never wrote about it. His mother told the funniest stories, Urban recalled, but also never wrote any down. She passed away from cancer in 1998.
“Someday I’ll write their stories for them,” he said.
In addition to writing, while working though night school at Webster University, Urban earned a business management degree.
Urban is also not one to get writer’s block and offers some suggestions: “The trick to avoiding writer’s block is to leave off each day at the beginning or middle of a scene. The next day you can pick it right up, you’ll be fired up to complete it and the juice will start flowing and carry you along.”
While he loves to write, it doesn’t come without difficulties, Urban said.
“Writing does take self-discipline. It’s intimidating starting a novel and knowing you have 400-plus pages to write. You need the discipline to stay at it,” he said. “The best way to get ideas is not to be constantly worrying over your novel. If you get stuck, relax. Do anything but write. Read the papers, watch the news. Have a good conversation with someone. The ideas will come to you at the most unexpected times. Just remember to always have a pen and paper around.”
Urban also likes to help other writers, be it with sage advice or by serving on the board of the San Diego Book Awards Association as vice present. His role, he said, is to get the word out to local authors, published or not, that the association wants to recognize and award local talent.
He’ll be at the upcoming San Diego Festival of Books on Aug. 25, signing books, and promoting the nonprofit San Diego Book Awards Association, which is dedicated to promoting San Diego authors with annual awards for both published and unpublished work.
Already at work on his next project, Urban said he has a novel about four young men who find adventure and tragedy on a motorcycle tour of the Southwest, titled “A Road Wanting Wear.”
“I’d like to get that published by early next year,” he said. “And there will be a sequel to “A Line Intersected,” titled “A Line Crossed.”
As for home life, Urban is married to Kim, a human resources director for a major aerospace firm, and he has twin daughters, Adrianne and Tiffany, from a previous relationship. When he’s not writing, he likes to fish.
But for Urban and his writing, he said the best part is being acknowledged for the work.
“I enjoy the admiration I get when I state I’m a published author,” he said. “That admiration, of course, fades quickly as people get to know me. But if there are strangers I can impress, I’m pretty happy.”
The ultimate success for Urban, he said, would be if in 50 years “someone was at bookstore and pulled down his book and said it looked interesting enough to read.”