For K.J. Stevens, his writing is not about making tons of money or becoming a commercial success. Sure, those rare perks would be welcomed, but his motivation is much more basic.
"I need to write," said this 39-year-old husband and father of two whose day job keeps him occupied in the sales department at Omni Metalcraft in Alpena. "Ever since I was a little kid, I've needed to write and get things down on paper. It helps me figure things out."
A writer for the past 20-plus years, Stevens recently published his sixth book. Called "Cutting Teeth," the 171-page volume provides personal insights into being down in the trenches of an every day existence marked by working to make ends meet, finding meaning in family and putting personal wants or dreams on deferment.
"'Cutting Teeth' is me busting my chops at working and being a husband and a father, and the guilty thoughts about being selfish and wanting to do my own thing," Stevens said.
The book is divided into two distinct sections. First comes a section of four short stories which represent four stages of growing up from boyhood to adult. The second section, what Stevens calls "The Reality," contains entries from his journal spanning several year's worth of observations.
When he first pitched the idea for his latest book to a literary agent, Stevens was told it needed to be either fiction or nonfiction, and that he couldn't successfully do both at the same time. He considered the advice which came from a friend of a friend for a few weeks and then ultimately decided he didn't really care about selling his writing.
"I don't care about selling," he said. "I just want to write."
He also realized that what he is aiming for cannot be categorized, pigeon-holed or made to fit into a specific section at a book store. He knew that if he cared about selling or what agents, publishers and others wanted, then he would have stopped writing long ago.
So instead, Stevens chose to do it his way. What resonates in the reading of his work is a sense of honesty concerning his love for the simple moments of loving a wife and kids and of living in Northeast Michigan, as well as a willingness to not sugarcoat the daily struggles.
Stevens already has a following among family and friends scattered across the country, including in St. Paul, Minn., where he lived for a number of years. He has found Facebook to be a helpful tool in getting the word out about his writing, and he's already received his fair share of positive response on the new book and his other writing efforts through that venue.
"Facebook has been great," he said. "It's a good way to get your writing or your art out there."
As he has for his previous books, Stevens chose to self-publish through Lulu.com, which enables him to maintain total control of his finished product. The book is currently available at Blue Phoenix Books in Alpena as well as online at barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com for $12.50 in paperback and $3 as a Kindle edition. It is also available at Horizon Books in Traverse City.
Stevens currently is at work on a new novel, while continuing to also write non-fiction. His other books include "A Better Place," "Infidelity," "Dead Bunnies," "Landscaping" and "Pilgrim's Bay."
He said he knows of successful writers who are glad they have reached a high level of success where they can now write what they want instead of being driven by what the public consumer or their publisher wants. Steven has taken a different route, one that has enabled him to stay true to himself.
"I've been writing probably to 20 to 30 years now," he said. "I'm happy I skipped over the success part and just get to enjoy the writing."