After his military career was cut short due to injury, Ray Douglas returned to the civilian world with a singular focus: get his IT degree. But in order to do so he must take a core composition class. PTSD makes school a challenge as it keeps him on edge and too many years of emotional suppression leave him at arm’s length from everyone, including his fellow students and professor. When Ray’s professor challenges him to scrap his regimented, impersonal writing style and to start writing about things that really matter, Ray struggles to figure out what that even means anymore.
Brian Duncan is used to being given short shrift. Young and handsome, most don’t peg him as a college professor. He’s passionate about his work and his students and goes the extra mile to make connections that others don’t. His first meetings with Ray aren’t exactly auspicious, but as the two get to know one another, he begins to see a different side of the world-weary veteran. With Brian’s help, Ray comes to realize that writing could offer him more than he ever imagined. And if he is willing to take the risk, he might be able to find a happily ever after with Brian as well.
Rough Draft was an enjoyable read with an intriguing protagonist. Two thirds of the book had a crisp clean pace and, while things fell apart toward the end, it didn’t diminish from the overall plot. Ray is a wonderfully dimensional character that you can’t help but root for. He seems cold and distant at first but we quickly discover that he’s merely exhausted by all that life has handed him. He’s smart and passionate and clearly a far deeper man than he chooses to display to the outside world. The author leads us to believe he likely has PTSD, but this is really never explored in any detail, which was frustrating. I would have rather the author delve more deeply into the subject because in failing to do so, it isn’t treated with the respect it deserves.
Brian suffers from a lack of depth. We’re told very little about his background and he never seems like more than the rough draft of a fully formed character. Which is a shame because it hinders the believability of the romance between he and Ray. That said, there were scenes that worked and most of those involved Brian pushing Ray out of his self imposed prison. The romance between Ray and Brian, such as it is, comes very late in the book and doesn’t really pan out due to Brian’s lack of dimension and a somewhat rushed ending. Despite this, the first three-fourths of the book really work on a lot of levels.
My major gripe with Rough Draft is how quickly Ray evolves from barely functioning to fully productive. This is the only part of the book that felt anything but realistic. It seemingly comes from nowhere and never does Ray backslide or seem to struggle once he makes the decision to start writing. There isn’t even much working through of his problems. They almost seem to resolve themselves. This is where the books goes from tight knit and enjoyable to somewhat disappointing. Obviously as readers we want Ray to succeed, but enjoying that success is made difficult due to a lack of realism. Additionally Ray’s family is rather demonized through the book and ultimately we discover a lot of this was Ray’s perception rather than the reality of the situation. Which of course can happen in real life, but Ray’s feelings are never really explained. It’s just another one of those things that gets magically fixed in the last third of the book.
Overall Rough Draft was enjoyable and it has plenty of great parts that balance out a less than stellar ending. Ray is a thoroughly relatable character and it’s a pleasure to be a part of his journey. We never really get a fuller picture about Brian and their romance moves too quickly, but they do work well together during the classroom scenes. Despite the fact the book falls apart towards the end, the majority of Rough Draft is still worth your time if you love stories about discovering a second chance at life.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.