By Greg Murphy 
BELLEVILLE – Saturday afternoons at Sweet Escape  on Front Street are bustling.
Trickling into the small, lively café, drawn by the sharp aroma of coffee, guests meet their friends for a time of comfort to escape from the demands of day-to-day life. It is an unusual mix of people, from artists to lawyers. Tucked away in a corner of the café, Stephen Alexander  takes the afternoon off sometimes to ponder his craft over a cup of dark-roast coffee.
He is the author of a self-published bestselling novel, The Book of Neophyte: The Awakening , an accomplishment achieved at the end of a long and difficult road. Currently, he is in the process of re-launching the book to accompany the release of the sequel, The Book of Neophyte: The Order Of The Golden Dawn. But the story won’t stop there. He plans on completing the Book of Neophyte saga in eight to 10 books, and has another five series in mind.
Alexander is a Belleville resident originally from the Toronto area. He lived here as a teenager, attending Moira Secondary School  and went on to study mechanical techniques at Loyalist College . In Toronto, he worked for the Toronto District School Board  as a construction and maintenance worker. At 31 years old, he juggles his time writing fiction in the evening and working for his family’s local roofing business .
The Book of Neophyte: The Awakening is a book about good and evil, said Alexander. It follows the story of 24-year-old Michael, who starts his adventure being held captive by a mysterious group called the Neophytes. Michael comes to an understanding of the way the world really works while uncovering a prophecy that threatens humankind.
The story was started as a comic book while Alexander worked for the school board in Toronto. He produced both the writing and the art, but soon realized his story was too big to portray between the covers of a comic book. He made the switch to writing it as a novel in 2011, well after he moved back to Belleville. At the time, Alexander worked long nighttime hours plowing snow for a now-defunct construction company. He always had the novel on his mind. He said it was like an itch he couldn’t scratch until he started writing it.
“When you’re excited about this, you can’t sleep. You can’t function properly. The gears are always turning nonstop. I slept like five hours a night – if that,” said Alexander.
He worked at night, or whenever he could, pumping out page after page of his story. Driven by the urge to share it with the world, Alexander finished it in just three months.
The next step was self-publication and promotion. He said publishers would have too much control over his story.
“You want your revenge story; you want your romance; you want enough blood and you want a little horror in there,” he said. “Where publishers are concerned, everything is controlled. A publisher would let me write those things on a very basic level. There are people controlling things on every level. That’s why I self-publish.”
It required emptying his savings account, but his plan paid off. He watched The Book of Neophyte: The Awakening slowly climb to No. 2 on the bestseller list of Diesel eBooks , which is an online store for eBooks. Diesel eBooks closed  at the end of March.
Almost all reviews at online bookseller Amazon.ca  and book-review site Goodreads.com  were positive. He also scored an interview on Fearless Fred’s hit radio show  on 102.1 The Edge, one of Toronto’s most listened to radio shows. Currently his book is on the shelves in Chapters and Indigo stores  across Canada, as well as at Amazon.com and other online bookstores.
Belleville itself has an influence in his story.
In the third book that Alexander plans to write, actual Belleville businesses and events like the Waterfront festival  will be used as settings for some of the book’s scenes. He also said he draws some inspiration from a “negative energy” that he said seems to be prevalent here.
Alexander said we live in a society of mistrust between the everyday citizen and the powers put in place to govern it.
“You start realizing things about the world and how the world operates. You start realizing there is something definitely wrong,” he said, sipping his coffee. “Like any kind of art, you have to be driven to it. I was really mad; there was a lot of anger. Where does it go? You have to put it somewhere.”
“I love this town, always have. Belleville is known for a few things (but) a lot of it is not exactly reputable. There seems to be a lot of negative mindsets. People just need to be picked up, see the town for what it is. There is a lot of good people here…I don’t believe there is such thing as a bad egg. Like I wrote in the book, there’s no soul not worth saving,” he said. “People give up easily here – people need hope.”
The novel reflects this.
“The book is about making change when everyone tells you you can’t. I got a lot of that personally as an author. If you want to see something done, tell me I can’t do it,” Alexander said.
Despite its bestselling success, Alexander said with a chuckle that his perfectionist nature took hold after the book was already published.
“I didn’t feel I had the best of everything. I’m an artist. Anybody that is an artist will know you’re never quite satisfied with your work. There’s always something to go back to and to polish.”
Having completed the second book, which is currently in the editing process, Alexander said the revamp of the first novel also makes it more closely knit to the second book.
“My biggest problem with waiting so long to publish the second book is that I lost a little momentum with the first. No problem. The relaunch is a way to start the series fresh so each book is designed the same and written in the same style as the next,” he said.
When it comes to artwork, Alexander has that covered too. He said he works tirelessly on everything from the writing to the marketing. And he pays mostly for it out of his own pocket.
To fund the relaunch, Alexander used indiegogo.com to start a crowdsourced funding campaign  whereby fans and supporters could make donations in return for free merchandise and a personalized thank you in the book’s credits. The crowdfunding campaign ran from Feb. 8 to March 11 this year and was intended to help Alexander pay for proofreading and editing, promotion and advertising, printing, a cinematic book trailer, and a book tour later this year. His goal was to raise $10,000. Unfortunately the campaign didn’t go as well as intended, having only made $1,302. But Alexander said he wouldn’t give up on the relaunch, despite the lack of finances.
“Like I said, you want to see something done, tell me I can’t do it.”
But writing isn’t the only outlet he uses to pour out his creativity. Alexander plans on directing his own comedy movie, called The All Nighter, and run for mayor one day. At the end of his life, Alexander says, he hopes to be remembered for his writing; storytelling is the legacy he plans to leave behind.
Being a writer can be difficult, but it’s all about believing in yourself and your creativity, he said.
“My message to writers is no guts, no glory. Anybody that’s writing, the biggest hump is getting over that people will see your work. You’re going to be judged, sometimes harshly. If you get more people that like your story, keep going.”