Hollister resident and first-time novelist Josh Oelrich dreams that one day his sci-fi fantasy stories will share space on bookshelves alongside the likes of J. K. Rowling (Harry Potter), James Dashner (The Maze Runner) or Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson) that he compares to his own book, Lithegol: The Prophecy (Volume 1), which made the Editors’ Pick for Best Books of 2018 on book-editing.com.
Oelrich, 47, put in the work—over 10 years—and now he hopes young readers will discover the first in a planned series of five books.
It tells of a boy with incredible abilities in a tale that Oelrich describes as a new adventure in the style of Arthurian legend starting in the year 2025.
Oelrich came to Hollister from Alaska via Idaho, where he met his wife, who was attending Brigham Young University. The couple decided to move to the area when Oelrich got a job in the fiber optic industry. They have lived in Hollister since 1999.
Oelrich makes a daily train commute to Fremont for work, which has been both a grind and a writing opportunity. His college major was English, and with several years’ experience in technical writing he said it wasn’t too difficult to make the leap into fiction.
“I really loved creative writing,” he said. “I love sci-fi and fantasy, so I started working on Lithegol (an anagram of ‘light is the giver of life’) about 10 years ago. I had these ideas about a character and started digging into it. I have a stack of notebooks on the character and the worlds around him.”
Even though Oelrich devoted a great deal of time to researching what these worlds would look like and what sort of technologies and weaponry would be included, he said he experienced a significant detour during the actual writing process.
“I finished the first draft of this novel about five years ago and it was about 400 pages,” he said. “I wasn’t pleased with it. I think I reached the point where I had kind of mastered the flow about half way through it. People who read it said it felt like there was a separate author who wrote the first half versus the second half.”
He began writing the second draft to target the young adult (YA) audience of 11- to 18-year-olds. He said the best decision he made was to work with a professional editor, whom he credits with helping him not only with grammar, but with developing his creative writing ability by addressing his writing habits.
“I realized I had some bad habits and it was a turning point in improving the quality of my writing,” he said.
Oelrich said the finished book came in at over 98,000 words, much too long for a debut novel for his target audience, making it almost impossible to attract a publisher. As he began fine-tuning the book, some of the people he had asked to read it told him the story didn’t really start until the third chapter.
“It took a little tweaking and I figured out how to write small flashbacks and some of my friends who are really well-read gave me some good feedback, so now it’s about 78,000 words,” he said. “The character is now a little older so I could target the younger adult audience and get away with more words, but also so my five-year plan works with what I have planned for the last book in the series.”
Much of the time it took Oelrich to write the first book included outlining the four future books, so he anticipates they will develop much faster. He said the second book will not be as challenging as the first because the worlds, including maps already exist on paper.
“I don’t know every little detail that will happen along the way, but I have a general idea,” he said. “I have an outline for book two and I’m starting to put that together. It’s similar in timespan to Harry Potter where each novel in that series takes place during a different year.”
He said he has shown the book to young readers and gotten positive comments, with one girl calling it “Percy Jackson-ish, but different.” He said even though he works, has long commutes, three kids and is active in local theater plays, he can write at night and get by on about five hours of sleep.
Oelrich had difficulties getting his book published with a traditional publisher or book agent. So, as many hopeful authors are doing today, he self-published Lithegol using Amazon’s Createspace services.
Paperback and Kindle versions of Lithegol can be found on Amazon, and he is using his acting skills to record an audio version.
In promoting the book Oelrich said he’s tried many avenues, from speaking at area schools to buying advertising on Facebook. When speaking to students he tries to give them a realistic idea of what writing involves.
“I met with six of the English classes at Rancho San Justo Middle School and introduced my books to them,” he said. “I incorporated key aspects of creative writing and how I came up with the plot, characters and dialogue. One boy said he wants to write. I told him you’ve got to love reading to become a writer. You can’t skip that part.”
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