Author and retired U.S. Army officer James Scott speaks to Heidelberg High School students in Germany about the lessons he learned while writing and publishing his own book — and the importance of never giving up.

Author and retired U.S. Army officer James Scott speaks to Heidelberg High School students in Germany about the lessons he learned while writing and publishing his own book — and the importance of never giving up. (Jon R. Anderson / S&S)

HEIDELBERG, Germany — “Jack Slayton stood in the shadows of the Forrestal Building, nervously anticipating his clandestine meeting with the wife of the President of the United States. Slayton, a former member of the National Security Council staff, was no longer welcome at the White House.”

And so begins a 335-page novel first penned by James Scott almost 20 years ago.

Actually, that’s when Scott began his novel.

And if his fiction is filled with suspense and cloak-and-dagger intrigue, the real-life story of his book — only now rolling off the presses — is just as much a tale of can-do grit and never-give-up fortitude.

Scott’s tale begins where still-lingering questions over the Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal leave off.

A lieutenant colonel in the Army as the conspiracy unraveled in 1987, Scott had closely followed the controversy surrounding White House military aide Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North. North was behind a conspiracy to sell arms to the Iranians in order to leverage their influence in freeing U.S. hostages in Lebanon. Proceeds from the sales were illegally going to fund Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

“I was reading everything that came out on Iran-Contra and so much of it didn’t add up,” said Scott. “There were just so many contradictions.”

North, for example, under a guarantee of immunity, had admitted shredding all of his White House files on the scheme, yet — strangely — some files implicating him reappeared.

“So, I started to think what would make it all make sense,” said Scott. It wasn’t long before Scott’s made-up musings of a might-be conspiracy behind the conspiracy were taking form. Linking his own unanswered questions on the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, where he’d served with the 101st Airborne Division, Scott thought to himself, ‘Hey, this would make a great book!’”

Indeed, if truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, Scott’s hypothetical account of the hidden reasons behind the scandal is no less intriguing.

But ideas for books and finished manuscripts are two different things.

Scott, who grew up in Goodwill hand-me-downs and was raised largely by his grandmother, joined the Army as a private. Working hard for his degree and rising up through the Army ranks to field grade officer, he wasn’t one to be intimidated.

Slowly, over the ensuing years, Scott’s tale took shape as he crafted his book through his own retirement from the Army and into his new career as a teacher.

“Finally, my wife said, ‘You should just take a year off and finish the doggone thing,’” said Scott.

And so he did. By the end of 1990, he was typing the words “The End.” The title of his manuscript: “The Iran-Contradictions.”

“As it turned out, writing it was the easy part,” he said.

“I went the conventional route and found an agent to help me shop my book around,” said Scott. Three agents and several years later, however, Scott’s book still hadn’t been picked up by a publisher.

There had been plenty of encouragement, though. His manuscript had made its way to final selection rounds at two major publishing houses.

The book was great, editors said, just not quite what they were looking for.

“It was really disappointing to get that close,” he said, “but then I realized that I had played in the Super Bowl, but just didn’t win.”

Meanwhile, Scott was finding support from friends and strangers alike.

An American book club in Germany liked his manuscript so much, 11 supporters wrote a letter to TV talk show host book club promoter Oprah Winfrey singing its praises.

“You really do become discouraged after a while,” Scott said. “But it seemed like every time I was about to give up, something would happen or someone would come along to give me the encouragement I needed. It felt like either God wants this to be a success or he was playing a terrible joke on me.”

Perhaps one of his biggest boosts came from former Sen. and Secretary of Defense William Cohen. Scott had sent Cohen, who was also an Iran-Contra investigator, a copy of the manuscript to review. Cohen declared the novel a “page-turner” and congratulated Scott “on a job well done.”

“I knew it was a good book because people kept telling me it was,” said Scott. “So, I decided to just publish it myself.”

While he is quick to concede “there is a certain amount of snobbery in the publishing world about self-published books,” Scott said he finds inspiration from authors as wide-ranging as Stephen King to Mark Twain, among others, who got their start printing their own works.

In addition to setting up his own publishing corporation, Scott designed the book jacket and found a printer himself. He even taught himself the laborious layout process so he could set the typeface himself.

“It’s been “Author to Publisher in 500 Difficult Steps,” said Scott, laughing at the book he might write on writing a book. But there’s no denying the pride he feels.

“I did everything, so when I say this is my book, this really is my book,” he said.

“He’s inspirational,” said Debra Knudsen, a Heidelberg High School teacher who recently invited Scott to speak to her college prep classes. “He’s got a kind of strength-through-life story. He’s a role model.”

Scott is now in negotiations with retailers — Army and Air Force Exchange Service’s Bookmark among them — to distribute the initial 3,000 copies of “The Iran-Contradictions.”

“This has always been my dream. I made myself a promise not to get to be 80 years old and wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t taken my shot.

“So, we’ll see if I hit the target.”

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