Christopher Michael Holms, a Norwalk police officer, initially wanted to tell his sons about his grandfather in a letter.
But Holms, 39, said his letter about Alfred Holms, whom he describes as the most important mentor in his life, grew longer and longer until it resulted in his first book, "The Inheritance of Greatness."
"We have a lot of grown boys in our society, a lot of grown boys, and I don't want that," Holms said. "This book represents the guidance of what it is to be a man."
Holms' book is set in Fairfield, where he grew up, in the early 1800s, and traces the boyhood of Thomas Carver, the 14-year-old main character who's based upon Holms, and his interactions with adults in his life.
His family expects him to enter the priesthood and he tries to meet their expectations. His feelings, however, change as he enters manhood. After another incident with neighborhood bullies, Thomas' grandfather takes him through Fairfield, Saugatuck and Norwalk where he meets his grandfather's friends. Together, they help Thomas understand that his anger stems from his fears about trying to please everyone but himself
While Holms' grandfather was the principal mentor in his life, Holms said his wrestling coach in high school and two martial arts instructors also served as mentors and their qualities are represented through characters in the book.
"I learned more from those two people about what it was to lead an honorable, respectful life than just about anybody I had come in contact with, before or since," Holms said of Nancy and Jerry Simon, who he said taught him martial arts at the Fred Villari's Studio of Self Defense in Fairfield.
Holms said he also found mentors among his grandfather's friends.
He said his grandfather brought him out into the world, into an environment that he was unfamiliar with, when he was struggling to be "all these things people want him to be." He said it's through an insecure environment and struggles that a boy becomes a man.
Holms said he believes integrity and communication skills are the most important qualities in a mentor and indicated that mentors also are important in setting and attaining goals. "If we don't have the right mentors along the way, we settle, and if we settle, we become complacent," he said. "One of the worst things a person can have is to have regrets. That's the worst thing a person can have."
"We all have them, but hopefully we can give you guys the chance to not have them," he said to some young people in the audience.
Holms said it wasn't difficult to set his book in the early 1800s because, while technology has changed, the problems young people encounter -- including peer pressure and bullying -- are the same now as they were then.
Holms also touched on the process of writing in his talk. He said writers can sometimes be touched by a "muse" and write for hours and that he once spent six hours writing, until 9 o'clock at night, and had no idea that much time had passed. "Anytime I write for an extended period of time and get lost in the writing ... everything is gone being in that moment, being in that precious moment," he said.
Mark Grace, 72, of East Rocks Road in Norwalk, said he believed writers have a gift in that they can read a lot and then formulate what they've read into an idea for a book. He said he knew Sheila Burnford, who wrote "The Incredible Journey," and that she had "this ability to make up this idea, put it on paper and it became a world-famous book."
"She had that incredible talent," Grace said.
Holms said, "But she tapped into it as well. Many of us had it but it was lost along the way."
Holms said he read a book called "The Artist's Way" and that Julia Cameron, the author, believes everyone is an artist but their "creative soul" can become crushed in school by comments from peers, staff, teachers and other parents.
"So the people who loved to dream in school, a daydreamer, we put that away because it's not right," he said.
He said "The Artist's Way" teaches people how to reclaim that part of their personality and that one method, "Morning Pages," calls on them to write first thing in the morning without thinking about what they're writing and then put those pages away for a while without reading them.
"If you know you have this artist in you ... you have to let that creativity out of you, and sometimes, it's just writing those three pages in the morning without thinking," he said.
Holms said people wonder how many pages a writer is supposed to write every day, and he said one, with a caveat. "If you write that first page, the muse might keep going," he said.
Holms also spoke of the importance of reading to a writer, saying Stephen King once said, "If you don't have enough time to read, you don't have enough time to write."
Holms also touched on the difference between facts and truth during his talk.
The well-known fable, "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," may not be factual, but it teaches an important truth, Holms said, and he questioned whether people remember stories because they're factual or because they teach truths.
"Nursery rhymes are not based on facts, but they teach a truth. They teach something that is true, that sticks with our psyche... . That's why parables are so powerful -- because they're truthful," he said.
Holms said literature was important to him and that ancient Rome, Greek and Norse mythology are big parts of his book. He said Rebecca, one of the characters, asks Thomas why it snows, and he answers her with a myth about snow.
"As humans, we need truth, and truth isn't always fact, isn't always real," he said.
Grace, who was among the first to arrive for Holms' talk, said he likes to go to book signings "because I'm very interested in people who are authors, and I like listening to them talk and I admire their abilities."
"I'm retired so I have all the time in the world to read, and I learn so much," Grace said.
Courtenay Austin, a Norwalk senior who attends St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fairfield with Holms, said she wasn't aware he had written a book until she saw an announcement about it in the newspaper.
She said she came to Tuesday night's talk to support her friend. "Anybody that's worked that hard on something I think should get support from their church, friends in their church," she said.
Holms, father of Alexander, 8, and Andrew, 6, said he is nearly finished writing his second book, which is in the genre of fantasy. He said it took about two years to write "The Inheritance of Greatness" and that he revised his work multiple times and set it aside for six months before returning to it.