Overcoming the odds

Published 1:48 am Saturday, September 6, 2008

Claude Keenam has spent the past two years of his life writing a mystery novel, even though he can’t read the words on those printed pages.

Keenam, a former Methodist preacher and former ROTC teacher at Andalusia High School, suffers from macular degeneration and has gradually been going blind. But with the help of his wife, Nina, and some special technology, he has finished his first novel, titled The Secret in Deep Water Swamp.

“In 2005, after I retired from the ministry, I thought I should write a story about a Methodist amateur sleuth,” Claude said. “I thought I had a good story to tell and I’m planning to write two sequels.”

In the book, the main character of Rev. Alabaster Armstrong is a Methodist preacher who also solves crimes and mysteries. While driving a bus for his mission, the Sanctuary Mission, Armstrong comes upon a dead body. From that discovery comes a tale of foreign agents, espionage and a secret that lurks in Deep Water Swamp.

Claude began work on the novel in September 2006, writing a few chapters at a time on his computer at home. The computer features several functions that make it easier for him to work. A special tool magnifies the text on his monitor to make the text larger and easier to read, and special software reads the words aloud as he types.

In addition, Nina serves as Claude’s editor and aides in the writing of his novels. He has finished the manuscript for the sequel and has about 60,000 words completed for the third installment of the trilogy.

“The computer doesn’t say when you enter a period or other punctuation, so Nina helps me to make sure I put those in,” Claude said. “She’s my editor on periods and correct sentence structure and other things like that.”

The process from original manuscript to bound edition took several steps to complete. First, the Keenams sent their first draft to the publisher, who returned it with suggestions for how to fix errors and other format issues. The publisher then returned a mock paperback issue, once again with instructions for the Keenams to go over it with a fine-toothed comb and make any necessary revisions.

After the company’s reception of the second draft, the book was developed into its current professional presentation. Claude was allowed to give his input at all stages of the process, and no changes were made without his blessing.

“They won’t make any change unless you approve it first,” Claude said. “There were some times when my editor (at the publisher) didn’t know a word I’d used, like ‘feller.’ But I said for them to keep it in there and they did. They made some grammar changes and things, but they didn’t do anything to change the story from what I wanted.”

Claude’s book is published by the Christian company Tate Publishing, a firm which has more than 40,000 books in print. It is currently available for sale on the Internet at www.tatepublishing.com for the listed price of $22.99.

The book will also be available for $18 at a special book signing at the Andalusia Public Library Thurs., Sept. 11, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The official first publication date, when the novel will be picked up by bookstores and other Web sites, is Oct. 7. An audio CD version for the book is also planned for release sometime in the future.

Claude added that making money was not his reason for writing the book.

“If I make a profit, then that’s great, but it’s not what I’m trying to do,” Claude said. “Forty-five percent of the proceeds from this book are going to inner-city missions and waterfront missions in Alabama and Florida. That’s what we wanted to do.”