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Write On Ottawa: Surviving the flood

By Alejandro Bustos on April 6, 2015

Starting today, the eBook version of the The Flood by David Sachs will be on sale for $0.99 for a limited time.  For the paperback, use the U.S.-based amazon.com site, as it will be a few weeks before the paper version is available on amazon.ca.

The East Coast of the United States didn’t have a chance.  With hardly any time to react, tens of millions of people fled in panic to escape the savage tsunami that would soon destroy countless cities and towns.

In New York City, hundreds of refugees scramble onto a cruise ship in a mad rush, joining the paying guests on board in a desperate escape towards the ocean.  Soon after fleeing, the group of escapees is stranded at sea with no communications, wounded passengers and a dwindling stock of food and water.

This premise is the opening of The Flood, the debut novel by Chelsea, QC-based author David Sachs.  In an epic tale about survival, we witness how a ship filled with frightened and exhausted passengers cope with their tragic and uncertain predicament.

While I enjoyed this novel, stories about natural disasters are not a new idea.  Numerous movies, books and even TV shows have explored the theme of surviving a massive tragedy.  So what makes The Flood different?

“In The Flood, you never see the flood,” responds Sachs, who grew up in Ottawa.  “Not only is the entire catastrophe off-screen to the reader, none of the characters see it because they escape ahead of time.  So it’s not about the catastrophe at all, but about a large group of people living in isolation, not knowing what exists outside their little world, what chance there is for salvation.”

I would agree with Sachs’ description of the book.  Instead of focusing on the devastation that was caused by the tsunami, which could have led to a book filled with non-stop action and mayhem, we are instead presenting with a narrative that reminded me of the Lord of the Flies.

David Sachs

David Sachs

In other words, the story poses the question: What would you do to survive when pushed to the limit?  The characters in the novel answer this question in different ways: Some are kind, others take advantage of the chaos, while others crumble in fear.

Before going any further full disclosure: I met David more than 20 years ago via his younger brother Adam, who is one of my best friends.  I later bonded with the elder Sachs in 2001, when we both covered the Quebec City riots at the Summit of the Americas for different media organisations. In the following years I saw him occasionally with Adam.

Now back to the review: The idea for The Flood came to Sachs in a dream almost 10 years ago while in Greece on his honeymoon.  While he worked on the novel off-and-on for years, other writing projects kept him busy.  Among other work, Sachs was the editor of UMM Magazine, wrote for almost every newspaper in Canada, and had two screenplays optioned.  More recently, he won a Writer’s Digest award this past September for a story on Amazonian shamanism.

Given his writing experience he initially  sought out a publisher.  Like an increasing number of authors, however, he concluded that the more logical (and financially lucrative) choice was to self-publish.

As I began looking for an agent for The Flood, a friend of mine was having huge success self-publishing.  He convinced me that there was no economic rationale for an unknown writer to sign with a publisher,” says Sachs.  “I did eventually sign with an agent, Melissa McComas, but I convinced her that I could make it a bigger hit, and help her sell the rights, by myself, and she’s been totally supportive of it.”

But what about the stigma of self-publishing?

“The funny thing is the name ‘vanity press,’ because these days the only reason to sign with a traditional publisher is for your ego – to say that you’ve got a publisher, to see your books in stores,” replies Sachs.  “Rationally, self-publishing is better for you if you have a hit – your take-home dwarfs what a publisher will give you; and it’s better for you if you have a flop, because you can take your time to market it and try different things.”

Furthermore, in our changing world, readers often prefer self-published books.

“[W]hen someone finds a book they like on Amazon, they don’t know if it’s self-published or not and they don’t care.  They’re going to judge the book,” Sachs tells me.  “With the advent of eReaders, a lot more readers are reading much, much more, and many of them enjoy discovering new writers.  For people who read a lot, price matters, and self-published eBooks are much cheaper, so readers feel like they can take a risk on a new writer.”