Health scare spurs St. Louis author to complete first novel

“The Protectors” by Trey Dowell; e-book, 330 pages, Simon & Schuster/Simon 451, $4.99 

By Sarah Weinman, Special to the Jewish Light

Imagine finishing your first novel, landing an agent and then finding an editor at a major publishing house in the span of 13 months.  For most new authors, this short time frame is an improbable, if not impossible, dream.  

Local Jewish author Trey Dowell, 46, found himself in such a position last year. Final approval of his novel hinged on recommended revisions made by his publisher. For Dowell, the revisions became “the worst thing that ever happened to me,” as he phrased it then. That is, until he had a heart attack.

A native St. Louisan and resident of Maryland Heights, Dowell attended Congregation B’nai Amoona when he was younger.  After he and his fiancée are married, he plans to join United Hebrew Congregation, her family’s temple.

His career path led him to a sales position in computer software and hardware, which he left in 2008 to pursue writing full time.

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“I had savings and wanted to try writing for a career,” Dowell says. “Everyone I knew thought I was crazy, because the recession just hit.”

Dowell discovered his enjoyment of and talent for writing rather late in life. At age 34, he wrote his first short story, about a golem protecting Jews in a concentration camp.  He submitted it to a short-story contest and won, igniting his career as a writer.

In May 2012, Dowell finished his first novel, “The Protectors,” a thriller with a science-fiction twist. It’s described as “a dark twist on the classic superhero story as fallen hero Scott McAlister embarks on a globe-hopping chase to stop his former teammate – and ex-lover – gone rogue.”

In late 2012, Dowell found a literary agent and after working on her recommended revisions, sent the novel to multiple publishers in February 2013.

After months of waiting, Dowell and his agent received rejections.  

“They were good ones, if that makes sense,” says Dowell, explaining that editors said they loved the writing and thought he could be a commercial success but didn’t know whether they could market the book.

“At first, you’re jazzed because there’s lots of praise in these rejections, but then you realize they’re still rejections,” he says.

Finally, in June 2013, an editor at Simon & Schuster’s Simon 451 imprint e-mailed Dowell: He’d read the entire manuscript in one night and loved it. 

However, it wasn’t quite a done deal. After the editor accepted the book, he pitched it to the chief editor, who wanted to see revisions before an offer would be made.

Dowell had a one-time opportunity to incorporate a list of revisions and comments, including changing the structure and rewriting character relationships. 

“I had no idea how to do that,” he says. “I said to myself, ‘This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.’ ” 

Two weeks later he experienced terrible pain in his chest and left arm. At the hospital, doctors ran tests and found that he had had a heart attack. They found six blockages and informed Dowell he needed open-heart surgery.

After he underwent a quadruple bypass, he called his agent from the hospital and told her he couldn’t do the remaining revisions in only two weeks.  

“I thought my dream was over,” he says.  

However, Simon & Schuster agreed to an extension, and when Dowell was well enough, he worked on the book for two months. The heart attack, he says, gave him much-needed perspective on rewriting the book. 

“Rejection didn’t scare me, and that fearlessness gave me the guts to dive into it and see what could happen,” he says. 

Last January, Dowell’s editor came to him with an offer.  Simon 451 would release “The Protectors” as an e-book. Major publishers like Simon & Schuster have begun releasing first novels as e-books, because the financial commitment is much smaller. If sales do well, a paper edition will follow.

Dowell says Judaism plays an integral role in his writing.

“Being Jewish imparts a true sense of hope – a belief that faith triumphs over adversity and love overcomes cynicism,” he says. “Those characteristics are part of every protagonist I’ll ever create in fiction.”

Dowell, who is working on a sequel and is planning his wedding, sums up his professional and personal lives in one sentence: “I’m a sucker for happy endings.” 

“The Protectors” was released Oct. 7 and is available at, Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks and Google Play, among other online booksellers.