Anyone who has ever written an essay, poem, or even a short story, including every journalist, dreams of writing a novel and having it published. George Vercessi is not just dreaming. He's done it — three times.
His latest, "Alma's World," is being devoured by readers, particularly in this area of the country. It serves as the setting for this mystery which evolves around the fine art of antiquing in New Market, MD, and Romney, WV.
"My wife and I were actually antiquing up in New Market one day when I accidentally scratched my arm while inspecting an old dresser drawer. Within a short time I had a rash spreading up the arm and it was swelling. We put some ointment on it and it disappeared. But, it gave me a great idea for a mystery novel," Vercessi explained.
As explained on the back cover, "Molley Moore is at the center of the action, which erupts when her husband, Jack, scratches his arm while inspecting an old dresser in New Market. With Jack's health failing, Molley turns for help to her former lover, Navy commander Duke Sampson. Together they trace the dresser to .... Romney ... and the late Alma Wilkins."
From that scenario a host of characters become entwined in the mystery of Jack's casual, but now lethal scratch, "As Molley probes Alma's seemingly innocuous world" where "she opens old wounds" that leave the reader "wondering just who the real villains are."
Originally from the Bronx in New York City, Vercessi started his writing career about 10 years ago following a 27-year career in the U.S. Navy. "After graduating from LaSalle College in Philadelphia, I decided I'd join the Navy for a three year stint. That was just before Vietnam and it turned into a career," he said.
Just prior to retiring as a captain, Vercessi's served as Chief of Information for NATO, Southern European Command. He also taught English at the U.S. Navy Academy in Annapolis from 1976 to 1979.
In 1964, as a Navy lieutenant, he was assigned to a rescue mission that made a run up a Vietnamese river to rescue some Americans. He was also aboard an aircraft carrier in the Tonkin Gulf. Many of these experiences served him well for his first two novels "We the People" and "Seal-Test."
The first is a fast paced drama in which his hero, a Navy commander, finds himself confronting Washington's power elite. The second is a story of revenge and manipulation of a "weak and flawed president." Vercessi served as a public information officer to the Navy Seals at one point in his career, he acknowledged.
HE HAS WRITTEN four books in all. The other is entitled, "An Author's Guide to Publishing On The Internet." It is a how-to book that guides aspiring authors through the maze of the publishing dilemma. It also serves as his text in presenting seminars to those that would wade into the shark pool of publishers, agents, and hordes of competition.
"The whole publishing industry has, and is changing radically," Vercessi insists. "Publishing companies who we used to be very familiar with are being consumed and it's coming down to just a few giants.
"Readership is also dropping due to television and the cost of doing business is rising. Publishers are using agents as gatekeepers. The average writer in America is lucky to make $12,000 to $15,000 per year on book sales. And that is gross. All promotion and other expenses have to be extracted. In the end its usually break even."
The exception to that scenario is if the work is picked up for films or television. "That's when you can make a lot of money," Vercessi exclaimed. "But, that can also be very tentative."
He speaks from experience. Vercessi developed and co-produced the MGM/Showtime film, "The Silver Strand," a story of Navy Seal training starring Nicolette Sheridan and Gil Bellows. "It was originally sold to Paramount. Then, they went broke and it sat on the shelf. Finally, it was picked up by MGM. But it took a lot of haggling for us to get paid and recognized."
ALL OF THIS HAS LED Vercessi to become a recognized authority of "Print On Demand," and publishing on the Internet. "There are basically three formats for getting your work published outside the traditional publishing world," he said.
"There is the electronic format where readers can download your work from the Internet through your own web page. There is having books produced by print on demand. And, finally there is working with the dot com publishers such as Borders and Amazon," he explained. Down loading and printing can be coupled by only revealing part of the book on the Internet and encouraging readers to buy it for the whole story.
Vercessi's uses the print on demand methodology primarily. "Under this arrangement you pay to have the books printed and then recoup your costs as they are sold. You also have to do your on promotion and be willing to give up significant blocks of time to attend book signing and other events," he said.
Sky Beaven, another local author from Franconia, attests to the fact that, "He is very good about doing his own promotion. And, he is a very well informed person about both writing and promotion which he shares in our writing group."
THAT EXPERTISE IN promotion was evident on a recent Saturday and Sunday at a local store in Alexandria when Nancy Carson of Alexandria purchased a copy of his latest work. "I like to support writers. Especially those who are supporting their own books," she revealed.
"You have to engage potential buyers. You can't just sit there and wait for them to come to you," Vercessi said. "But you also have to be somewhat cautious when doing that.
"One of my first experiences was at Borders in Pentagon City. I was there with my book, greeting people as they came in. Some of the women didn't take too kindly to it. They thought I was some kind of pervert. The next day I had a big sign made which read, "Meet The Author" and had it posted over my spot."
He has learned not to make assumptions about potential customers. "In trying to be friendly one day I asked this lady when she was due. She looked at me very indignantly and said, "I'm not pregnant. She didn't buy a book either," he admitted.
Usually, people are very enthusiastic. At a signing in Romney, WV, recently there were more customers than he had books. "I took 100 copies of Alma's World and still ran out," Vercessi said. Maybe it was because they knew he is trying to get it picked up for a movie, either big screen or television.
"I've sent it to Ashley Judd's agent to review. I'd like her to play the lead. She would be perfect," he enthused.
A long time friend, admirer, and former neighbor, when he lived in Arlington's River House, Harry Hatry, said, "I really enjoyed his first two books. I bought enough copies of this one for the whole family."
Hatry also confided, "We both enjoy good food. I try to get him to eat chili with me at the Hard Times Cafe, but, he isn't as big a fan of it as I am."
ANOTHER 20-YEAR colleague and old Navy buddy, Bernard Katz of Reston, finds Vercessi novels to be "real page turners. He shifts gears amazingly. His approach is very cinematic. You feel like you can actually see the characters and the settings."
His second career as a writer and his leadership in on-demand publishing have inspired others such as long time friend David Cullen of Vienna, who serves with Vercessi on the Board of the Navy Public Affairs Association. "His career in writing has inspired me to recently my open my own public relations firm," he said.
Perhaps the best summation of George Vercessi is stated in the dedication of Alma's World. "This book is dedicated to my greatest fans; my mother, Connie Vercessi, may she rest in peace, her two sisters, Frances Kazazian and Mary Rizzo and my wife Barbara. With equal esteem, to my late father, Peter Vercessi, whose strength of character, deep sense of moral purpose, and endless reminiscing led me to a career in the U.S. Navy, for which I will be eternally grateful."
His elderly aunts live rent-free in a home he owns near the one he and his wife Barbara occupy in Alexandria, so that he can care for them. He is active in writers' groups, where he willingly shares his expertise to other published and budding writers. He lectures on electronic and print-on-demand publishing. And, to top it off, he is already working on novel number five. That's George's World.