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Naval Air Facility Atsugi civilian Brian Naranjo wrote two novels in two years after almost a decade of dragging his feet. The experience has been invaluable, Naranjo said, and he now aims to write a new book every 18 months.
Naval Air Facility Atsugi civilian Brian Naranjo wrote two novels in two years after almost a decade of dragging his feet. The experience has been invaluable, Naranjo said, and he now aims to write a new book every 18 months. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
Naval Air Facility Atsugi civilian Brian Naranjo wrote two novels in two years after almost a decade of dragging his feet. The experience has been invaluable, Naranjo said, and he now aims to write a new book every 18 months.
Naval Air Facility Atsugi civilian Brian Naranjo wrote two novels in two years after almost a decade of dragging his feet. The experience has been invaluable, Naranjo said, and he now aims to write a new book every 18 months. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
The red pen is a novelist's best friend. Naranjo shows a piece of the process of writing his new book "The Tamale List," which he said already is getting nibbles from publishing agencies.
The red pen is a novelist's best friend. Naranjo shows a piece of the process of writing his new book "The Tamale List," which he said already is getting nibbles from publishing agencies. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan — If Brian Naranjo learned one thing about writing a first novel, it’s don’t obsess over it.

The Naval Air Facility Atsugi civilian hammered out “Childish Things” — a 223-page Navy coming-of-age story — in 20 days in January and early February 2005. He’s now learned enough about the process to make writing his second novel a little easier on his family.

“Childish Things” entailed sealing himself off from his family and screaming things like “No noise!”

“For years I was always starting sentences ‘When I finish writing my book …’ and I just got sick of hearing myself say that,” Naranjo said. “So I just opened the computer and started typing — and once I started, I couldn’t stop. I was obsessed. I stopped eating and sleeping. I was a jerk.

“My wife told me never to do that again.”

After all that came an onslaught of rejection letters. “Childish Things” is a semi-autobiographical story of a directionless teen named Kevin and his time before and after Navy boot camp, as he hangs out with his sick, but raucous, cousin Eugene. (Naranjo was active duty in the Navy for years before taking his current job as Atsugi’s public affairs officer.)

The book was rejected 300 times — and mostly by people who hadn’t read a word of the manuscript, Naranjo said.

“Everything I read said the chances of getting published are terrible,” Naranjo said. “I was encouraged by those who were moved by the story but started thinking, ‘What good is it if no one gets to read it?’”

Naranjo self-published “Childish Things” in March 2006 through an online publishing house and has sold 500 copies so far; it’s on the shelves at Atsugi’s Navy Exchange and available online. Sales have brought in just $2,000 but self-publishing was a million-dollar experience, he said.

“I’ve matured a lot since then,” Naranjo said. “I don’t want to do that again.”

Book two — written over the holidays — went more smoothly, Naranjo said.

He wrote “The Tamale List” in 60 days, took some vacation time to work on it and unstuck himself from the desk on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, he said. “No noise!” was replaced by “Brooke (his wife), you got a minute to read this?”

The title combines Naranjo’s Mexican heritage and love of cooking. Naranjo’s personal tamale list means if you do something nice for him, he may show up at your door, “covered in flour carrying something wrapped in foil that smells awesome,” he said.

The novel follows the first Mexican family that moves into an all-white neighborhood. Although community members may live on “Hacienda Court” and make regular stops at Taco Bell, they harbor doubts about their new neighbors. There’s still a thread of Navy in the book, as one of the main characters is a Navy veteran and named after Atsugi’s NEX manager, Naranjo said.

Though he just finished it last month, a trial run of 30 e-mails yielded 12 agencies that wanted sample pages of Naranjo’s book. Last week, Naranjo was asked to send his entire manuscript and synopsis to a publishing agency.

“Things are looking good,” Naranjo said. “I’ve read that rejections happen fairly quickly, but the approval process takes a while, so I’m fairly encouraged.”

Even if Naranjo doesn’t top the “bestseller list,” he said, he’ll feel successful as long as he doesn’t “leave anything out of the writing.”

And though Naranjo can churn books out fast — he since has vowed to write a novel every 18 months — writing is no easy task, he said.

“It’s the mental equivalent of climbing Mount Fuji,” Naranjo said. “You have to reach farther inside yourself than you’ve ever thought possible. If you don’t give it everything, then you won’t like what you end up with.”

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