A local casting call is expected to go out in the next five weeks for production of “Premeditated: Planning Isn’t Perfect” in the Albany area.
ALBANY — Manswell Peterson ponders the question for the briefest of moments, looking around the crowded restaurant as if the answer lies somewhere among the patrons.
Then, with a startling suddenness, Peterson’s voice drops into a conspiratorial narration as he leans forward and describes a scenario that involves a private investigator two tables over who’s surreptitiously keeping track of the movements of a young couple and their baby at a nearby table.
He finishes the off-the-cuff riff with a flourish, setting up an intriguing plot that would draw the attention of Hollywood’s greatest storytellers, then smiles at his lunch guest as if to say, “That’s where it comes from.”
Peterson is perhaps best known in and around Albany as the somewhat mild-mannered chairman of Darton State College’s Criminal Justice department. But to thousands of readers who are part of an ever-widening fan base that stretches now to Dubai, London, Japan, Australia, Uzbekistan and Russia, Peterson is the author of nine books, the last three of which topped various charts on Amazon.com.
The author’s latest literary work, “One Last Cry: Ron’s Revenge,” which came out on Feb. 13, has already topped Amazon’s “Theatre” listing, reached No. 2 on the bookseller’s “Drama” chart, No. 3 on the “Arts and Entertainment” listing and No. 3 on the “Literature and Fiction” chart.
“This is not a list of independently produced books; this is everything Amazon carries, millions of books,” Peterson, a bit overwhelmed by the immediate success of “Ron’s Revenge,” said during a Valentine’s Day lunch with his wife, Latonya, and a guest. “In the Theatre category, I just knocked Whitney (Houston, who’s memorialized in Cissy Houston’s book “Remembering Whitney”) out of first. And I haven’t really pushed the book yet.
“These kinds of things are not supposed to happen.”
A literary career of any sorts was not supposed to happen for Peterson, who growing up split time between Albany and Atlanta, depending on the whim and financial circumstances of a mother who was “hooked on crack.” Peterson, his mother and his two sisters moved constantly to stay a step ahead of the latest landlord demanding payment.
“It was really hard making friends growing up because I never knew how long I’d be at any one place,” Peterson said. “Man, we were evicted one time when my mom couldn’t come up with $15. We were evicted another time for $10.”
Two days after he graduated early from Monroe High School in Albany, Peterson found himself on a plane bound for San Diego, where he would start Navy basic training. He was stationed initially in Adak, Alaska, and, after re-enlisting for what he thought would be his career, was assigned to the USS Carl Vinson, which was drydocked at the time.
Peterson was training for deployment to Iraq during Operation Dessert Storm, but he suffered a back injury that forced the Navy to give him his medical walking papers.
“I came back to Albany and basically just sat around for eight months, mad that my career had been taken away from me,” Peterson said. “But I got some consulting work as a security specialist with the Department of Defense for a period and then worked with the Albany Police Department before retiring.
“I got word that there was an opening for the department chair position in Darton’s Criminal Justice program (two years ago) and applied. It was my experience that got me the job.”
Few at Darton realized their new department head was a published author. He’d written a collection of “personal soap operas” that he put out on the Myspace social media site while working with the DOD in Atlanta. They became so popular, he collected them into a book, which he published in 2007 as “One Last Cry.”
“I learned very quickly that the company that published the book did not include editing services, so that first book was very poorly edited,” Peterson said. “Still, I sold more than 4,000 copies of that rough version, made enough money that I eventually paid to have the book edited properly and rereleased it last year as ‘One Last Cry: Revisited.’
“It was one of three straight books now that have gone to No. 1 on Amazon, which may be a first for an independently published author.”
Peterson got his first taste of the top of the Amazon charts with his “Tracks of My Tears,” which with “Last Cry: Revisited” was published last year through his OmegaMan Productions. The popularity of “Tears” pushed “Revisited” back into the top 10 on Amazon, giving Peterson the rare experience of having two books on the charts at the same time.
In between the releases of “One Last Cry” and “Ron’s Revenge,” Peterson penned a pair of “grown folks love stories,” releasing “Cougar Club” and “Cougar Club: Caribbean Getaway” under the pen name “Dark Chocolate Man.” He also published the dating guidebook “Am I a Priority in Your Life or An Option?” and the collection “Love Stories No. 1.”
As he pushes to get sales high enough to land on the New York Times bestseller list, which he says would be a first for an independently published author, Peterson has taken to wearing the hat of an auteur. He found out three days ago that OmegaMan’s first planned movie has gotten a green light. A local casting call is expected to go out in the next five weeks for production of “Premeditated: Planning Isn’t Perfect.”
“Things are just busting loose,” Peterson said as he called with an update on the project. “I just spent the last two hours hammering out the details, but it’s a done deal now. We’re planning to do as much of the movie locally as we can, keep Albany in the loop.
“It’s funny, but I hear from fans all over the country and all over the world, but so many folks here in Albany are not even aware that my work is out there. I’m sitting here today in the Golden Corral with people all around me who have no idea people in London and Australia and Uzbekistan are buying and reading my books. But I want to give back to this community, so I’ll do as much as I can here.”
Peterson said he’s also been contacted by movie and cable television representatives who are interested in optioning “One Last Cry” and “Tracks of My Tears” for movies or TV series.
As his fan base grows — and with overall sales approaching the magic 1 million mark, it’s definitely growing — Peterson knows he will likely leave higher education behind soon to devote all his time to his budding literary career. After all, the man says he has “27 books in my head” right now, and he expects to publish as many as seven in the next year.
“I’ll have the third part of the (‘One Last Cry’) trilogy out within 65 to 75 days,” he said. “My loyal fans — I call them ‘Team Manswell’ — are already calling for more. I don’t want to disappoint them.”
He’s far removed now from a youth spent moving from one low-income housing unit to the next, and as Peterson contemplates the unlikely success that fate has sent his way, he draws inspiration from animator Walt Disney, who was fired early in his career for not being creative enough.
“That’s where I get a lot of my inspiration; I want to prove the naysayers who always told me I couldn’t do things wrong,” Peterson said. “I’m driven by a passion for what I do; I want to make you cook dinner late or miss appointments as I take your mind off all life’s issues for two or three hours.
“As all this is unfolding, I think back to when I was about 9 years old and a guy from the neighborhood who happened to be in the Navy gave me a toy ship. He told me ships took people places, so I held onto that ship. I saw it as my ticket out of poverty. While I was aboard the Carl Vinson, I tossed that little ship as far as I could off the back of the ship. I could envision it washing ashore one day and inspiring some other kid just like me.”