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- Story Listed as: True Life For Adults
- Theme: Drama Stories / Human Interest Stories
- Subject: Novels
- Published: 05/30/2019
50 & CountingBorn 1947, M, from Oceanside, United States
50 & Counting
My Fifty-Year Journey Through Life As An Author (1966 – 2016)
I first put pen to paper with the idea I was going to tell a story while I was still in my senior year of high school. That was back in the spring of 1966. Here it is nearly fifty years later, and I’m still at it. So what has kept me going all these years? Mostly the fact that I’ve always looked upon my writing as the most professional thing I’ve ever done, even over jobs. And then there was the thrill, at least in the beginning, of coming up with ideas for stories. Later, writing became part of my DNA. Now it’s what I do like breathing and eating.
My motivation to start writing didn’t come like with many authors from a childhood love of reading, or a desire to tell stories to grownups, or other kids. Instead, it came from a moment of divine intervention. Of that, I’m absolutely positive.
It happened actually in January of that same year. I was in English class. We were reading poems. The teacher would pick on someone to stand up, read a poem then sit down, and we students would discuss it. That’s when we got to a poem, the name of which I don’t remember. Nor do I remember who the author was. All I do remember is that a sketch came along with the poem. It showed a young man sitting on a hilltop, overlooking the rural town where he lived, listening to the church bells ring, and thinking about the girl he was supposed to have married, but who had died before they could get married. Suddenly, I literally heard and felt a click in the back of my mind, and that’s when I said to myself, “Gee! That would make a great idea for a story!”
Now, you have to understand something. Up until that moment, I had no desire whatsoever to write anything. I was going to school with the idea that one day I might become an aeronautical engineer. But after that day, I started to think about the story, and think about it some more, and came up with characters, and what they were going to do and why, and where the story would take place. This usually happened while I took long walks along the town’s beach. Finally, by June of that year, I said, “The heck with it. I’m going to put this down on paper.” And so I started writing.
But did I know what I was doing? Not really. You see, I wasn’t born to be a writer. I didn’t grow up loving books, or sit around listening to others tell stories, or put on plays for the other kids in the neighborhood. I was a television addict. That’s where my main form or entertainment came from. There were comic books, of course, and movies, but I wasn’t a big reader. In fact, to get me to go to the library and chose a book of fiction to read, was like trying to pull teeth with a toothpick. I’d almost have to be dragged kicking and screaming. But then came 7th grade and everything changed.
All during my elementary school years, I would get a lot of Cs, Ds, and Fs, both on tests and report cards. I was a poor student. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to get my grades up—at least, not until my second year of attending sixth grade then things started to change. I finally began to catch on, and my grades started to pick up, but not my love for books or reading. That remained as dismal as ever—until, like I said, 7th grade. That’s when the English teach I had said that, unless we were working on an important project, or taking a test, she was going to give us a free hour each week to bring in anything we wanted to read. That was within reason, of course. No girly magazines or suggestive paperbacks, if you know what I mean.
The day of the first free reading period, I was passing between classes, descending a staircase in our school building when I heard something smack the floor and slide on the landing below me. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I looked down and saw a paperback lying on the tiles. Picking it up, I turned around to see who had dropped it, but no one seemed to claim it, or even acknowledge that it existed. So, with a shrug, I slipped it in with the rest of my books (in those days, we carried everything by hand) and continued onto class.
When I got to English class, instead of reading the classic comic book about Moby Dick I had brought with me, I pulled out the paperback I had found, and began to read that instead. That’s when the flood gates opened for me. The book turned out to be Fail Safe by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler. It’s the story of what happens when US strategic bombers carrying nuclear weapons get erroneous go codes to bomb their targets in Russia. The militaries on both sides have to work together to try and stop them by any means possible. One jet eventually gets through, at which point, the President of the United States has to make a decision in order to prevent WWIII. What he decides left my chin scraping the floor and my head buzzing. I couldn’t believe it!
Like I said, for some reason, that book opened up the flood gates for me, and from then on, I couldn’t seem to get enough reading material. I went from one book to another, especially if they had anything to do with aircraft or flying. You see, I was obsessed with anything that flew, from rocket ships, to even flying cars, and flying houses. My mind was always somewhere in the stratosphere.
But why that book?
My only explanation is the book was delivered to me, by God, or the universe, or whatever you want to call it. Somehow, whatever entity was in charge knew that book would tickle my fancy enough to start me reading other books like it. From there, I went on to, not only books about flying, but also end of the world books, and then to books about contemporary subjects like mysteries and/or love stories. I found myself reading one book after another, which turned out to be a good training ground for the first story I ever tried to write—a young adult novel about a doomed love affair.
I called it Blown’ In The Wind, after the Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary song. It was about a young man in college, who goes to Virginia Beach where he meets the girl of his dreams, but fate intervenes, and their romance is cut short by tragedy. This, of course, followed the scenario from the poem I told you about; but why Virginia Beach? Simple. I had fallen in love with Virginia Beach from the first time I saw it back in the 1950s when my father took us there for a vacation.
What I had fallen in love with was first, the big waves. We didn’t have big waves on the southern Connecticut shore where I had grown up. We had small lapping waves. Then there was the boardwalk area with its arcade, plus the gift shops all up and down the main boulevard, and the fact that Navy jets flew overhead all day long, and sometimes at night. Virginia Beach had become my personal vision of paradise.
And then there was Suzy, the female character in my story. Although she was entirely made up, she was also an amalgam of what I thought the perfect girlfriend should be like: long, straight blond hair, sleek, athletic body, and a sparkling personality. In fact, she had become so real to me, that not only did I literally fall in love with her, but I searched for her even in the real world. Suzy had become my soul mate.
All during the summer of 1966, I worked on the first draft of my story, writing it by hand (I didn’t know how to type). I finished it just as I was starting my first semester at the Academy Of Aeronautics across from La Guardia Airport in Queens, New York. For a part of that first semester, I stayed at my Grandmother’s house in the Bronx. Then she died, and I had to commute back and forth from my home in Norwalk, Connecticut to the Academy in Queens. But hey, back then, gas was only a quarter to fifty cents per gallon. Plus, I had an uncle who ran a gas station.
For the second semester, I rented a studio apartment in the basement of a house across from the airport. This was where I worked on my story again, rewriting what I had written all by hand, while making a whole bunch of new corrections. It seemed that even from the very beginning, I somehow understood that stories needed to be rewritten in order to make sense.
And then came the realization that I didn’t want to be in school any more. I had become sick and tired of all that impersonal technical information. My writing, or my story if you want, was bringing me way more emotional satisfaction than I was getting from my school work. So I decided that, since I had to go into the military anyway, I would apply for the Air Force, and quit after the semester ended.
A funny aside here.
When my mother found out I was quitting school and going into the Air Force, she would often say (whenever we’d have an argument), “I hope they send you to Alaska where it’s cold and you freeze!” So guess what? My first permanent assignment after basic training and tech school was on a remote airbase in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, where the average temperature in the winter was 35 below zero. But it did not stop me from continuing to write.
When I left my home in Connecticut to head for Alaska, I brought my manuscript with me, jammed in the bottom of my duffle bag. Up at the site, I pulled out my story, and began to rewrite it again. Like I said, somehow I knew good writing meant rewriting, but this was where it got a little comical.
The guys in the barracks, especially the new ones, would see me sitting at the table in the little reading room with a stack of paper in front of me and ask the same question, “What are you doing, writing a book?” The normal answer would be to say, “No, just writing a letter home,” but not in my case. When I would say I was I was writing a book, they’d stop short and their eyes would bug out, and they’d exclaim, “No kidding!” Then they’d ask me what it was about, and if I had ever been published. Of course, I’d have to tell them it was the first thing I had ever tried writing.
Eventually, I finished my rewrite, at which point, I had to find someone to type it for me. I couldn’t ask the guys up there; they didn’t have the time or the tools, so I went looking for a typing service, which I found listed in a writer’s magazine. I don’t remember what it cost, but the end result in wordage came out to be somewhere around forty-three thousand words.
My next step was to try and find someone who would publish my not-so-grand-masterpiece. Like I said, I really didn’t know what I was doing. This included not knowing anything about publishers, which was why I made the rookie mistake of going with a vanity press. I’ve never told anyone about this. I still cringe mentally whenever I think back to how naïve I was.
If I recall right, the name of the outfit was Vantage Press. They had ads everywhere, both in and out of writers’ magazines. Being the unsophisticated author I was, I sent them a typed copy of my manuscript (I still had the carbon copy). And, of course, they said they’d publish it, as long as I sent them a certain amount of money up front. Hey, what did I know?
So began my first journey through the sometimes frustrating labyrinths of the publishing industry.
I was so happy when I got the reply from Vantage that said they would be pleased to publish my book. I couldn’t wait to tell everyone (no one else knew anything about publishing either). I even had one of the sergeants I worked with take a professional looking photo of me for the book jacket. In the mean time, I started on my second, not-so-grand-masterpiece.
It was a science fiction love story about two adults who work in the same office, and who ended up falling in love while the world was being kidnapped. Yep, you read that correctly. In my story, the Earth was slowly being surrounded by a red colored shell of some kind, and then whisked off into space for parts unknown. Of course, as you probably guessed, it was aliens doing the dastardly deed.
Yeah, you can laugh. I did recently when I looked over a copy of the story and saw how bad the writing was. But in my defense, it was only the second time I tried to write any kind of fiction. This one came out to be about twenty-five thousand words. At least, I didn’t try to have this one published. But I did come to a realization, as I was finishing this story, and coming to the end of my time up at the site in Alaska. At the rate I was paying Vantage Press monthly payments, it would take me at least another two or three years to even come close to the amount they wanted for publishing my book. So I did the next really, really foolish thing that I still feel bad about even to this day. I asked to be let out of my contract, but told them they could keep whatever monies I had already sent them.
Yeah, yeah, I know, I was a total jackass. But I was also only twenty-one at the time, and naïve about a whole lot of things. Meanwhile, the desire to write continued to burn inside of me, which carried over into my next assignment in the Air Force—Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas.
I had known about the Famous Writers School even before I went into the Air Force. Like Vantage Press, they advertised in the back of all kinds of magazines. But unlike Vantage, they were at least semi-legitimate. They even had headquarters in the town next to mine, Westport, Connecticut, and one of their founding board members was the TV writer and creator of The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling.
Thank God, it didn’t cost me anywhere near as much as Vantage to take their correspondence course, so I happily paid my money then began my lessons while I was stationed at Dyess. Over the next two and a half years, I worked on whatever assignments I was given, and even found an elderly woman in Abilene to type for me. Was I instantly turned into a published author? No! But it did afford me a glimpse into both the worlds of writing and editing.
Then I left the Air Force and returned to civilian life where, I not only continued to put pen to paper, but also made contacts with several other scribes, one of which would become my steady typist, at least for a while.
Joan Pond was about nineteen when she answered my request for a typist. I had tacked my request onto the bulletin board at the local library. She would remain my typist for a number of years. We even joined a couple of writing groups together, though she was more of a poet and less of a prose writer. But even before those two groups, I had joined one on my own. It was made up of two opposite types of writers. One group was made up of people who only liked to write long stuff like novels, or non-fiction. The other group was made up of those who only wrote short stories.
Now, if you weren’t familiar with the whole milieu of writing, you might think this was no problem, but it was, in a humorous sort of way. At least to me, it seemed funny. Whenever one side or the other would read aloud whatever they had written, the people who wrote books would tell the people who wrote short stories that their stuff seemed too short. And the people who wrote only short stories would tell the others that their stuff sounded too long.
I had to laugh, because I had no prejudice against either. I figured as long as what they read sounded okay, then it was fine with me. I learned a lesson from that experience. If you’re going to join a writing group, it probably would be best if what everyone else was writing was similar in content and/or length to whatever you were writing, especially if you were writing in a particular genre—like in my case. I liked stories that had something weird about them: science fiction, fantasy and/or horror, though it was okay with me if no one else was doing the same type of stories.
Another lesson I learned from that period in my writing career was that I was not a person to write in journals. I did try it a couple of times, but never seemed to get past the first week or two, though I did something else that could be considered close to writing in a journal. I would write down my observations in a spiral notebook, but only when I’d take one day trips into New York City from my house in Connecticut, or when I’d go somewhere on vacation. Mostly, these were just descriptions of what I saw, or what I was doing, or who I met. No deep philosophical musings, or anything like that; though on one trip into New York City, I did experience one of my more pleasurable moments as a writer. It came at a very early stage in my career.
It was back in the very early 1970s. I had taken a vacation day and gone into New York City, where I picked up some reading material at a store called The Science Fiction Shop, and then took a stroll through the city, while writing down my observations.
By early afternoon, I had found myself meandering through Central Park. When I reached a section where there was a small pond, I took off my backpack, and sat down. Leaning against a tree, I took out my little notebook and pen, and started writing down what I was seeing around me.
Suddenly, a group of school kids, probably first and second graders, arrived at the pond, which was filled with ducks and geese. The kids were accompanied by at least a couple of grownups, one of whom began to lecture them about water fowl. While I sat there and watched, I noticed one young girl towards the end of the group spot me sitting with my pen and pad in hand. She began to drift my way. When she got to where I was sitting, she asked, “Are you a writer?” I told her I was. And then she asked, “Would you write something for me?”
A moment of panic set in. I mean, what the heck was I supposed to write for this little girl? I thought and thought about it then came up with an idea. First I asked her what her name was. She told me Emily. So, putting pen to paper, I came up with this:
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you, Emily.
Then I tore out the page from my notebook, and handed it to her. Boy, you should have seen the look on her face! You would have thought I had given her the crown jewels of England. She took the sheet, and began waving it in the air while running back toward her classmates and exclaiming, “See what he wrote for me! See what he wrote for me!”
Being that it was so early in my career, I got hugely embarrassed. I can’t tell you exactly why, but I could practically feel my face turning all kinds of red. So very quickly, I packed up my notebook and pen, stood up, slipped on my backpack, and then began to walk away, but not before catching one more glimpse of Emily’s smile. Talk about making someone happy with your writing! To this day, decades later, I still find myself grinning a little every time I think back to that moment.
But it wasn’t the only time I was able to feel really good about something I wrote.
After the two writing groups I attended with Joan, I signed up for an adult education writing class, which was held at one of the local high schools, and was taught by a man who, believe it or not, was about 90 percent blind. That’s right; he was blind—well, almost blind. The deal was he and his wife had been writers of radio dramas back in the 50s and 60s. So he was used to hearing things read aloud. This made it great for us students when we’d read whatever little assignment he had given us. Some of these included doing just the beginnings of something, or a description of someone or something.
I’ll never forget the very first assignment he gave us. Give an egg a personality in fifty words or less. That one was fun and so were many of the other assignments he gave us during that year. Most of the time, we’d have a word count to go with the assignment, but even if we went over it, he would never scold us. Sometimes, I was even able to come up with complete stories that had beginnings, middles and ends; one of which became one of my more precious and remembered little ditties from my three years of taking Doug’s classes.
It was called Tree. It was about a young boy who in the 1950s had a dead, hollowed out tree for a friend. He often used the tree to play make believe. He’d make believe he was various heroes from literature, fighting off bad guys. Other times, he’d have questions about life that he’d find answers to in Tree’s silent wisdom. And then he learned that his family had to move from their home in Pennsylvania to somewhere in California because of his father’s job. He didn’t want to leave Tree behind, but he had no choice. So when he asked Tree what he should do, and Tree didn’t answer him, he got mad. His response was to chop Tree down.
Many a listener found that ending to be a bit traumatic, to say the least, but also very memorable. In fact, several years later, when I ran into a couple of people who had been in one of my writing groups, they said that the one story of mine they remembered the most was Tree. Talk about feeling good. But that wasn’t the only story to come out of Doug’s classes that brought a moment of pleasure for me. Another one of my stories had a unique experience attached to it, but more about that later. First, I have to tell you a little bit about Harlan Ellison.
Harlan Ellison is a writer of speculative fiction. Don’t say science fiction; he might hit you over the head. That’s the way he is. Harlan is a five foot, six inch, Jewish, walking dynamo, who wouldn’t think twice about going nose to navel with God to prove a point. And Harlan has a cruise ship-load of opinions about all kinds of points.
I first encountered Harlan at a science fiction convention in New York City back in the early to mid 1970s. The minute he came on stage, I was blown away. Before that, any famous author I had seen speak came across to me about as interesting as watching water drip, but not Ellison. After hearing him talk and read one of his stories, I became hooked. And for the next three to four years, I inhaled everything Ellison—his short stories, both early and contemporary, nearly all his early books, all articles about and by him. In fact, anything that had Harlan Ellison attached to it became fodder for my imagination. It was probably the only time in my life as a writer I became obsessed with anyone or anything.
One of the things that stuck with me more than anything else about Harlan was the voice and/or tense he sometimes used in some of his early short stories. More than once, he wrote in what was called second person present tense. For some reason, this way of writing stuck in my head, and when one time in Doug’s adult education writing class, he suggested we try starting a story with some action instead of description, it was Harlan’s voice I heard in my head. So I started my story with the image of a blood stained knife going up and down like a Texas oil pump, as it was stabbed numerous times into a woman’s body. From there, I created what I sometimes call my most maligned story—An Audience Of One.
Over the years, that story has gone out to magazines and contests well over two hundred times and always came back except once, which was when it brought me one of my more prouder moments as an aspiring author.
I used to read all the writer’s magazines. In one there was a fiction column written by two guys who used to sit in their local McDonald’s, and hash out what they were going to say in their next article. Except this one time, they decided to try something different. They said to us readers that, instead of just talking about fiction in general, they’d like to go over a story, piece by piece, and tell us what was wrong as well as right about it. So they asked us readers to send them stories, and they would pick one to critique. Well, as you may have guessed, they picked mine—An Audience Of One.
But that was not what made me so proud, though it was really neat. What made me so happy was the fact that right after I sent them the story, I looked it over and saw a whole bunch of things I wanted to change, so that’s what I did. When my story finally appeared in the magazine, I discovered that 90 percent of what they suggested to change, I had already done on my own. Wow! Talk about feeling like a professional author!
To this day, I still find I like that story a lot, even though it has never been published anywhere except in their column, and only in its original form. I also smile when I think about the editor that once scolded me in his rejection slip for writing that story in second person present. Basically, he said that second person present was an archaic way to write, and I should have known better. Ask me if I gave a damn?
I also had a few other things happen to me during this period in my writing career that taught me something. First, I decided I needed to use a tape recorder to help me edit. What I would do was read whatever I was working on into the tape recorder then listen to it back. While doing this, I would make corrections on the hard copy, then read the section and/or chapter into the tape recorder with the corrected text and listen to that back again. This would go on sometimes for as much as twenty times. But remember, I didn’t know how to type, so each time my copy got so messed up with corrections I could barely read it, I’d have to re-write that section and/or chapter over again so I could make more corrections.
Another thing I learned was that no way could I go live in a cabin in the woods by myself and write. I needed people and/or activity around me, even though I was using a tape recorder to help me edit what I had written. That’s why I spent a lot of time sitting in my car either at a park or the beach editing my stories while life revolved all around me.
And another thing I found out about myself; writing fiction for adults was not the only type of writing I could enjoy.
People in my writing groups would often say to me, “You ought to write for children; your stuff sounds so young.” Most of the time, I ignored them until, that is, I hit a wall creatively. Many times, while trying to write short stories for adults, I would struggle with how the story should end, and even what steps the plot should take to get there. Then I hit upon a story idea where I knew exactly every beat of the plot, and what the ending was going to be. After that, it was like I had come to a fork in the road. Suddenly, I couldn’t think of any more ideas for adult stories, and that’s when I started to consider that maybe all those people were correct—maybe I should try writing for kids.
The first thing I did was read the children’s book, Island Of The Blue Dolphin. From there, I read a few other children’s books, though I don’t remember what they were. Then I started reading many of the children’s magazines. You know: Highlights, Cricket, Turtle, etc. I needed to know what kind of stories they were publishing. For some reason, I hadn’t thought about looking at kids’ books from the library yet. That would come later.
Okay, so now that I had some idea what their stories were like, I tried writing a few of my own. I remember mentioning to one of the secretaries in the office where I worked that I had finished three children’s stories. That’s when she told me her sister was an artist who always wanted to illustrate a children’s book. Having dealt with amateur artists in the past, I didn’t think much would come of it, but I contacted her sister anyway then gave her the three stories and told her to pick one, which she did.
Now this was somewhere around Halloween of whatever year it was. I went into the holidays thinking I would never hear from her again. I was wrong. Right after the new-year, I got a call from the sister telling me she had at least half the pictures for the story done. I couldn’t believe it! She had actually come through! Amazing! Of course, that meant I had to go looking for a local printer, if I wanted to have my story with her pictures printed up. Luckily, she did everything in black ink. Her pictures were done in a sort of cartoonish style, with a lot of black dots making up the main portions of her drawings.
Luck continued to follow our project. It just so happened that in the office where I worked was another secretary whose father ran a print shop. After receiving all the pictures, I got together with him to go over the project, figuring out the cost, how many to print, what text should go on what page, what stock to use—that kind of stuff.
Between me and the artist, we split the cost, but here’s where I ended up showing my ignorance again.
I saw our little endeavor only as a children’s picture book, which it was. What I didn’t see were its other possibilities—such as a coloring book? We had it printed on white paper stock, with a rough white cover stock. Like I said, all the pictures were done in black ink with large areas that could have been colored in, especially by a child with crayons. But I didn’t see that, so when more than one person asked me if the booklet came with crayons, I, of course, said no. It wasn’t until much, much later that I realized I had missed out on a lot of sales by not being proactive, and ordering a whole bunch of boxes of crayons to give away, one with each copy. Once again, what did I know? I was foolishly ignorant.
Oh, by the way, if you’re wondering what the booklet was about? The story was called Careless Martin. It was about a young boy who kept losing his toys, because he was careless about where he left them. Then when he lost his prize teddy bear, two squirrels found it and brought it to their nest. Eventually, it was recovered, but not before the boy’s mother had to intervene—with a broom, no less! Yikes! It was a lesson the boy had to learn, just like the lessons I had to continue to learn about writing for children. One of which was that there were places I could go to hear authors and editors talk about children’s literature. The most obvious of which was the library.
Several of the local libraries in the lower part of Connecticut where I lived, brought in children’s authors to talk about their books. Then there was New York City. Being in close proximity, I could catch a train into the city (wouldn’t drive there if you paid me), and participate in a writing for children seminar. There was one place in particular, a college called the Bank Street College, which used to put on at least one or two seminars a year.
Of course, you’re also probably wondering if I was part of any writer’s group at the time. I hate to say it, but I don’t quite remember anymore. I do remember that I did join a group once I moved to California, but that was later. First, several things were going to happen to me, one of which would change my life as a writer forever.
The first incidence of which I speak was my introduction to the University Of Massachusetts at Amherst. This did not change my life, but it brought me a lot of pleasure. The main reason was I fell in love with the place from the first moment I saw it. UMASS was like a small city within itself. And although I had no desire whatsoever to attend a university, I found myself extremely comfortable there. In fact, I felt so attached to the place that, each spring for seven years in a row, I drove up from my house in Connecticut to attend a one day writing for children seminar.
If that sounds crazy, I’ll agree, but like I said, the place had attached itself to me heart, mind and soul. It also gave me the idea for one of my more favorite adult stories—one of which I wouldn’t attempt for many years.
And now you’re probably chomping at the bit to know what the story is, right? Well, I’m not going to tell you, at least not right now (BOOoooo!). That will come later. In the mean time, I would meet a kid whose hobby would change slightly one of the ways I looked at my writing.
He was an usher at one of the local movie theaters. I had asked a female friend to accompany me to the movie. She was the one who initiated the conversation; she asked the kid if the movie was any good? Sometime during the subsequent dialogue, the kid, who was only around seventeen or eighteen, revealed that he had a collection of ticket stubs from every movie he had ever gone to. That alone would have been impressive, but then he told me the amount of stubs he had—2500! What!? No way! That’s when I decided I had to interview this kid to learn more about his hobby.
This would be what I call another one of those direction-shifting moments in my life as a writer, because up until that moment, I had been interested in writing only fiction, but I interviewed the kid, saw his stack of ticket stubs then wrote up a profile piece, which I managed to get into one of the local free weekly newspapers. I didn’t get paid for it, but you can imagine how I felt seeing my writing in print.
After the kid with the ticket stubs, I interviewed an aspiring film director, who was still in college, and then a woman who was trying to start her own singles program. But what happened next was more life-changing than anything previous.
After I got out of the Air Force, and for a number of years, I had no problem finding people who could type for me. This was great, because it allowed me to concentrate on my writing, and not have to worry about taking a typing course. In fact, there was even a moment towards the middle of the 1980s when a friend of mine suggested that I get a computer; it would help me with my writing, he said.
Did I listen to him? Of course not. Instead, I replied, “That’s okay. I’d rather just concentrate on my writing, and let other people type for me.” Little did I know, that was about to change, but not because I made the decision on my own. No, fate, God, or whatever you want to call it, was about to step in and change slightly the direction in which I was going.
This actually began happening a year of so earlier. That’s when I found it had become harder and harder to get someone to type for me. Eventually, no one would answer the little classified ads I was placing in the newspapers. So I turned to the secretaries in the office where I worked, but even there, I ran into a problem. Because they were so busy doing office work, sometimes it would take them a couple of weeks or more to get back to me with whatever I had given them to type.
But that’s when fate stepped in.
Right at the beginning of 1987, I found myself getting laid off my mailroom job after twelve and a half years. But just before that, I had seen a sign in a storefront window that said learn how to type in fifteen hours. Hmmm, I thought. Fifteen hours should at least teach me where the keys were. But here’s where I once again discovered something about myself.
Like when I was an elementary school student, I was an extremely slow learner, and made a boat-load of mistakes. It was taking me a really long time to gain any kind of speed at all. Good thing I didn’t have a day job. It meant I could come all hours of the day and night, and practice using their machines, which included using audio tapes to help me learn.
That’s when I also came to the conclusion that my friend had been right. If ever I was going to try and type my own manuscripts, I would need a computer with a screen so I could easily make corrections, otherwise, I’d be in trouble. Eventually, I would get a computer, but only after I had to make another life-changing decision.
Follow my parents to Southern California to live.
I had been living at home. Yeah, yeah, I know, a man who’s almost 40 shouldn’t be living with his parents, but there were a couple of good reasons for that. The first was my relationship with my parents. We got along great! I never gave them any grief; they never gave me any grief. I was like the perfect tenant. But the second and most important reason had to do with my writing.
Even back when I first got out of the Air Force, I had been extremely serious about wanting to be a writer. I knew from what little experience I had, that it would take a lot of discipline. Well, the first mailroom job I got back in Connecticut showed me one thing—that if I moved in with a bunch of guys, it would turn out to be one constant party, and you can’t be very disciplined if you’re continually high or drunk. So I decided that maybe it was better if I stayed home, where I could come and go as I pleased, and I wasn’t constantly being interrupted by people partying 24/7.
Another reason I followed my parents out to California was that they were planning on selling the house we had lived in for something like thirty years, which meant I would have had to find another place to rest my head and body. So when they asked me if I wanted to come with them, I said, “Why not?”
One of the first things I did when I got to California was to take a course called, An Introduction Into PCs. It showed me how a personal computer was set up and what to do with it. The second thing I did, besides continuing to practice my typing skills, was interview someone for another profile piece.
She was a woman who had just opened up a bookstore for people with compulsive personality disorders: gamblers, alcoholics, drug addicts, etc. Her books were self-help books. Like my other profile pieces, I was able to get the article into one of the local newspapers. Meanwhile, I began to look around for a computer for myself—what was available, and what I could afford.
Eventually, I also ran into another woman who had been a deputy district attorney up in Orange County, but who had to quit because of health issues, and who then moved to Carlsbad, CA where she opened up a doll repair shop and sold antiques. Both situations were good practice for me writing wise, and typing wise, but what I lacked was a permanent job situation, especially one in which I could use what little writing skills I had developed. That would eventually come, but not for a long while yet.
In the mean time, a series of circumstances popped up that left me both frustrated and a little bit confused.
Where I came from in Connecticut, people worked nine to five jobs in corporate offices; at least, that was the reality I was familiar with. Yeah, I know, that wasn’t really the case. Obviously, there were tons of people who worked earlier and/or later. Plus there were people in the restaurant and other businesses who worked in shifts. But shifts weren’t something I knew too much about. And then I settled here in Northern San Diego County, and my eyes got opened to a different type of reality.
Instead of a lot of corporate offices, I discovered that the whole area was inundated with small manufacturing outfits. That meant, even if the building looked huge, it was really a warehouse with a few small office spaces up front, and the rest of the building set up for storage. This meant, there wasn’t a lot of need for a mailroom person. I also discovered that because my typing skills were still in their infancy, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities there either.
Now I know you’re going to mention the articles I wrote. Why couldn’t I have tried to do more of those? You’re right; I could have, if I hadn’t been so focused on fiction. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that, if I had tried to pursue more profile pieces, eventually, one of the local newspapers might have actually started handing me assignments. I probably wouldn’t have gotten a job out of it, but the whole process would have taught me something about being a freelance journalist. But it was fiction I really wanted to focus on, so I joined a local writing for children’s group, helmed by the local children’s librarian, while I signed up with a few temporary agencies, and suffered through several temporary jobs, while still trying to find something permanent.
In the mean time, I found my writing skills stepping up another notch. In the past, I used to have to struggle to come up with ideas for stories. But suddenly, I found some ideas just kind of popping into my head, especially after hearing or seeing someone say or do something. For instance, one of my children’s stories, which actually won first place in two contests, came about because of something my aunt once told me.
She said she found the mobile home she was living in because of what happened when the members of her church let go a whole bunch of balloons with spiritual messages inside. Everyone’s balloon went off together in one direction, while my aunt’s balloon sailed off by itself in a different direction. Hopping into her car, she followed the balloon until it landed in a tree right next to a mobile home with a For Sale sign in front of it. That’s where she ended up living for the next ten to fifteen years.
Another little set of stories came out of my father’s absent-mindedness. He’d forget where he’d leave stuff. You might find the TV remote in the refrigerator, or the station guide in the garbage. One of my stories even had the father figure leave behind his young son inside a store. That too was based on something I had heard.
Now, I have to stop a moment and tell you about another aspect of my writing, which I haven’t mentioned yet—my movie reviews. Back in the early 1980s, the people I worked with knew I went to see all the movies, so they’d ask me what I saw and which one of them was any good? This was where the problem would arise. As soon as they asked, my mind would go blank, and I wouldn’t be able to remember what movies I had seen that weekend. Boy, would I feel embarrassed! I’d have to look in the newspapers to remind me of what movies I had seen.
In order to keep from getting embarrassed, I started to write down little descriptions of the movies I went to see, telling what they were about and what type of audience I thought might enjoy them—old or young, action orientated or not. I even remembered what the first movie was I did a review for—1984’s The Terminator.
These reviews continued for something like the next twenty years, right up until the beginning of 2004, the year both my parents got sick and died. I don’t do the movie reviews any longer, though toward the end, I did include a ratings schedule that allowed people to determine if they wanted to spend their hard-earned money or not.
Now we get back to the children’s literature.
Like I said, I joined a writer’s group that met at the local library. I also began collecting armloads of children’s picture books off the shelves and would sit in my car and read them aloud to myself. But the biggest change for me came in July of 1990. That’s when I finally got a job that would allow me to use some of my typing and writing skills, as well as my burgeoning knowledge of computers.
Try J Advertising was the in-house advertising agency for Toyota Carlsbad. When the owner saw my resume, she decided that maybe I could be of some use to her organization. The funny part was I didn’t know anything about advertising, nothing about graphics, and barely anything about computers. I really lucked out. It just so happened that at the time I got hired, I was taking a PageMaker course. That was a program that allowed you to set up pages with graphics and text. So when Toyota Carlsbad needed some help with a form they wanted revised, or maybe a really small ad for one of the newspapers, Judy would come to me and say something like, “Here’s a form Toyota needs revising. See what you can do.” I was more than happy to accommodate her requests.
In the mean time, I kept up my interests with the children’s stories, but then something happened that expanded my horizons even further.
While I was increasing my knowledge of automotive advertising, as well as computer graphics, I would sometimes find myself having conversations with colleagues and others in which they’d describe their college experiences. I’d find that some of the things they experienced paralleled what I had experienced during my four years in the Air Force, especially during my year in Alaska. That’s when I decided to write down some of my Alaskan observations.
So in the beginning of 1992, I began jotting down some of what I had experienced up at the site. It became a booklet of anecdotes. I titled it: Tales From Alaska, or Fighting Off The Cold, The Insanity, and Your Roommate.
One of the things I was most proud of was how I deliberately carried you from one anecdote into the other so you wouldn’t want to stop reading. Then unlike the children’s story I self-published, I did not try to sell this booklet. Instead, I just kind of gave away copies to anyone who might be interested. Besides being a fun project, I used my increased graphic skills to help me design my own cover for the booklet.
And then there was the year 1994; a year I consider to be of much more importance when it comes to my writing.
That was the year I wrote what I call the first of my long stories.
Up until then, most of my fictional pieces were really short—anywhere from five hundred to around two thousand words. But then I got an idea for a story about someone being trapped inside a bar or restaurant and unable to leave. What would prevent them from leaving? I thought of two scenarios: either aliens or God.
For some reason, the alien angle wasn’t working for me. So why would God not want someone to leave? Simple. The person did something to make God angry, and now God wanted to use him as a symbol so other people wouldn’t do the same. But even then, looking at it from an adult’s point of view wasn’t working for me either. Then right in the middle of a writing for children’s conference I was attending here in San Diego, I thought that if it wasn’t working from an adult’s point of view, how about from the point of view of a child? And that’s when the gears sort of fell into place. Right after the conference ended, I ran out to my car and began to write down the first two or three paragraphs of the story.
My story was to be about a young girl whose mother had just started working as a fry cook at the local diner in the town they had just moved to. Even though the girl had been clued in by her mother, she had to see it for herself. When she sees old man Moody sitting frozen and unable to move in his booth she almost freaks. That’s when Gus, the owner of the diner, tells her the story of Mr. Moody, and how he came to be caught in some kind of invisible force field put there by God.
When the girl asks Gus why he told her the story, Gus tells her that he knew she would become the next messenger for God, just as Gus had been for the last forty years. This was mind-blowing enough, until the girl hears a voice that lets her know her friend from school has been shoplifting, and now it’s up to her to try and get through to her friend.
The story was an interesting challenge, especially the part where the two girls had to sit down while one tries to explain to the other why it was wrong what she had been doing, and what the consequences might be if she continued.
Like I said, that was to be the first of what I considered my long short stories. The next one would come a year or so later when I finally decided to try the story that had been inspired by my trips to the University of Massachusetts—the one I had mentioned earlier.
Like I said, I had become really comfortable with the University of Massachusetts. In fact so comfortable, I felt as if I had been there before—maybe in a past life? That’s when my mind went “Boing!” Suddenly, I thought, here’s an idea for a story!
Suppose you had some Stephen King type of author who’s been invited to a university to give a series of lectures, or participate in a writing conference. As soon as he gets there, he realizes he’s been there before, but in a past life. And in this past life, he was involved in an unreported murder. So now, when he tries to report it, someone tries to kill him.
From the moment I came up with the idea, I knew it could be a great idea for a book or movie, but I also knew I wasn’t skilled enough to try and write a book or movie. But the idea wouldn’t let me go, so I let it simmer inside my brain for years and years. Finally, after deciding that the story should be told through the eyes of the town’s police chief, and not the author, I timidly went about trying to write it.
I spent about a year and a half working on it, mainly because I wrote way more than I needed. Plus, in the process, I found I had to combine more than one chapter to say what I needed to say. Then, as I was approaching the year and a half mark, I went back to read my story from the beginning. That’s when I realized I already had ten perfect chapters and all I needed to finish it was an epilogue.
As you can probably guess, it didn’t turn out to be an entire book, but it did make for a great story, with a title I also had from the moment I thought up the plot: Resurrection Of A Murder. That never changed over the years.
But what did change were some of my older stories. That’s because, starting in and around 1994, I found myself pulling some of my old stories out of my files and reworking them. You’d be surprised by what you see after five, ten, or fifteen years. You’re looking at a story with fresh eyes; you see all the flaws you want to change, which is why you should never throw away any of your old stories, even those you never finished. You’d be surprised by the rewards some of your old stories could bring to you. For instance, I don’t remember what the story was, but after revising it, I entered it into a contest and won third place. Not a grand slam, but I wouldn’t have gotten that far had I not revised the story.
Oh, one piece of advice here. Be careful; revising an old story can sometimes be harder than starting from scratch. There will be parts of the story that don’t want to appear the same as they did the first time. They will fight you all the way until you finally realize you need to change them drastically, or toss them out all together.
But I didn’t spend all my time revising old stories. I also came up with new ones, like what I consider was one of the most amazing of my long short stories. It turned out to be a coming of age piece that takes place in 1953, and came about because of a trip I made to the dentist.
You know how the dentist gives you a new toothbrush and floss to take with you when you leave his or her office? Well, this one morning, I was brushing my teeth with the new brush I had received the day before. It was a soft bristle brush. While I was swiping it back and forth across my teeth and gums, I thought this feels s-o-o-o good! Too bad it couldn’t last forever. That’s when the first sentence of my story popped into my head: My toothbrush is 50 years old today.
From there, I went on to describe the toothbrush, and told how the four young boys in the story got their brushes. Each brush was imbued with magical powers—powers that could give its user whatever his or her heart desired, but only if they followed the rules that came with each brush, otherwise disaster could ensue.
Like I said, the story was a coming of age tale, similar in tone to the movie Stand By Me, but without the body. But for me, the amazing part was how fast I was allowed to write it. I say allowed, because none of my stories before or since have written themselves so quickly, and with so little corrections needed. I still believe the universe, or God, or whatever you want to call it, wanted me to write that story.
I was part of a Christian writers group at the time, and even they didn’t need to give me very many suggestions for corrections. The only objection any of them had was the fact that I had given the toothbrushes their own power to affect the four boys, and not have the power come from God. Hey, what can I say? It was a fantasy!
Also during my brief time with the group, I tried re-working the very first story I had ever written—Blown’ In The Wind. I thought I might give it a religious slant, but after four or five chapters, I realized that wasn’t going to work. So, I put the manuscript aside and continued to focus on more children’s stories, while also continuing to revise some of my old manuscripts.
And then I asked an acquaintance for whom I was typing (yep, I had found myself typing for someone else, believe it or not) if anything strange had ever happened to him. What he told me was the inspiration for my next long short story—Angel To The Rescue.
Once again, the story, which was about a young man and his guardian angel saving lives and properties, took about a year and a half to write. One reason was, because after I had been working on it for about three months, I had to scrap ninety percent of what I had written, and start all over again; that’s because I had the order of events backwards. What was important was what happened to the character after the miracle, and not before it. I know that sounds confusing, so let me explain.
What the person had told me was that at about the age of two, he was playing with some toys, when a part of one of the toys broke off and lodged in his throat. He began to choke to death. That’s when he said his grandfather, who was babysitting at the time, swore he saw the child get picked up by some invisible person or entity, and then watched as that same invisible person gave my friend, the two-year-old child, the Heimlich maneuver. The grandfather went on for years telling that story.
My friend also said that when he was much older, he was climbing a tree in his back yard, when suddenly, he slipped and fell. He should have dropped like the proverbial rock, but instead, he found himself tumbling in slow motion to the ground some twenty feet or more below. Yep, you read that right; he tumbled in slow motion! Obviously, he had an invisible guardian angel looking out for him. I thought, wow, what an idea for a story!
So I began by trying to come up with incidences that would lead up to him being saved, but like I said, that didn’t work. Eventually, I realized what was more important for the story was what happened to him after he was saved. So I started the story with the character being a young man who has a vision given to him by his guardian angel, that will start the ball rolling for him to play guardian angel himself. This will lead to him saving both numerous lives and properties. And then there will be the big event—trying to prevent 9/11, but will he be able to convince the authorities that he is correct, and not some nut job who needs to be put away?
The incident I conjured up to use in the story to convince the authorities was based on something that happened in real life. All I will say is Thank God! I wasn’t there in person to witness it. I only heard about it the next day from my friends who were. You’ll have to read the story to see what it was. In the mean time, I continued with one more writers group, this one also had to do with writing for children, and then everything came to a halt—not my writing, but my association with writers groups.
That’s because I was about to start on a four year long journey with my computer and my imagination to keep me company along the way.
The journey began when I decided to finally try and write the story that also had been simmering inside my head for several decades. The idea was inspired by four short stories I read way back in the very early 1970s. These were stories about a teenage traveling minstrel called Alaric who had the supernatural ability to teleport. For those of you who are not sure what that means, think Star Trek and the transporter. But in the case of Alaric, all he had to do was think about somewhere he was familiar with, or somewhere he could see, and he could instantly teleport himself there. He didn’t need any type of machinery to do it; he was born with the ability.
Like I said, there were four short stories which appeared in the magazine, Fantasy & Science Fiction over a four year period. Then afterwards, the stories were collected into a book called Born To Exile. That’s when I read the stories again and decided that maybe one day, I’d like to try and write my own story, in which the main character would have this same ability, but in a modern day setting.
Except, like with my murder mystery, there were many problems to be solved first, such as, what age should my protagonist be? What profession should he have? I didn’t know anything about music. How big of a time frame in which the story should take place? The only thing I was sure of was that I wanted my protagonist to be adopted and that his last name should be Hispanic. I had reasons for that, which I will explain shortly.
In the mean time, one of the things I liked a lot about the Alaric stories was the innocence of the character. Even though he slept with women, he never used his teleportation power to acquire riches. Mostly, he used his ability to either save his own life or that of someone else’s. I wanted to somehow keep that sense of innocence in my story, even though it would take place in modern times.
And then at the beginning of 2007, I came to a realization that would finally allow me to attempt the story, but to do so, I first had to give up one idea—he could not remain innocent. I finally came to the realization that no one in today’s world, having that kind of ability, would remain untainted; he’d want to steal something. And so I sat down and tried to write the story of a 7-year-old David Sanchez and his ability to teleport—a story that would eventually grow way beyond what I had originally planned. But first, let me tell you the reason for my choice of his last name.
When my story begins, it’s the late 1970s or early to mid 80s. By then, many ethnic groups have already left their enclaves and scattered to the four winds—all, that is, except Hispanics. Many have remained within enclaves, whether it’s in the inner city or the suburbs. My thought process was that if someone of Hispanic origins lived in one of the poorer sections of an inner city, and wanted to illegally adopt a foundling, they might run into less resistance than if they lived out in the suburbs where there might be more questions asked, and more paperwork to contend with. Besides, it worked great for my story.
So, at the beginning, not only does my main character discover he can teleport, but he also learns that he was adopted. So now, some of the questions become: who were his real parents? How did he get his ability? And are there others like him? He will eventually discover the answers to these and other questions, but by the time my story was over, and after spending a year and a half working on what became a small book, I discovered I had left a major plot point unanswered. That meant in order to answer it with any kind of satisfaction, I would have to write a sequel. But guess what? I didn’t tie up my loose end with the sequel either, so I had to write another sequel to the first sequel and another sequel after that one. All in all, I ended up with four sequels to the first book, which was titled: Robbin’ In The Hood.
By now, four years had passed since I started Robbin’ In The Hood. During that period, I had not joined another writing group, mainly because, I had come to a point in my career where I felt I pretty much knew what I was doing. I didn’t want anyone telling me in which direction they thought my stories should go. I wanted to make my own choices, which included making my own mistakes. Plus, by now, an interesting development had come into play here. It was called self-publishing and it involved the internet, and particularly Amazon.com.
Way before I even started writing Robbin’ In The Hood, I knew about self-publishing. But many in the publishing industry, and authors as well, felt as if self-publishing was like a virus that had to be avoided at all costs. It could also be exorbitantly expensive, depending on which outfit, and/or program you chose. Then I started learning about Kindle Direct Publishing and an outfit called CreateSpace, both of which were divisions of Amazon.com.
The first story I sent to be placed on Amazon was Robbin’ In The Hood. All I got to say is the moment I received my first hard copy proof, I got teary-eyed. That’s because for the first time, it wasn’t just me putting together something which I then brought to Kinko’s to have them make into saddle-stitched copies so I could hand them out, or try to place them into local bookstores on consignment. This was an actual professionally bound book, with a soft but shiny cover and an actual flat spine! God, did that feel good! Especially knowing I wasn’t going to get the response I often got earlier in my career when I tried my hand at self-publishing some of my long short stories on my own.
Like I said, these I had made up at Kinko’s in the form of chapbooks. Then I approached local bookstores to see if they’d take a few copies on consignment, but that’s when I encountered a phenomenon which will make no sense to many of you, and didn’t to me for many years until recently.
Normally, when you walk into a bookstore, the people working there will approach you with smiles on their faces and ask if they can help you find something. But I swear, whenever I would approach someone in a bookstore with copies of my little chapbooks, whether they were in my hand, or in my backpack, the people in the bookstores would suddenly look at me like I was some kind of child molester. I know that doesn’t make sense, but I saw it happen numerous times, and in different places. It was almost as if the aura surrounding me had suddenly made a 180 degree turn and now I was someone threatening. I swear I even detected more than one person backing up slightly, almost as if they didn’t want to be anywhere near me.
This was usually when I’d have to explain really quickly why I was there, but even then, you’d swear they had never heard the word consignment. They’d continue to look at me like I was some kind of monster until finally, some of them would accept the copies I had with me. Like I said, this happened numerous times. I didn’t understand it back then, but I do now, and I’ll try to explain it, but even then, it’s going to sound really weird to many of you.
It has to do with my belief in spiritual guides. No, I’m not even a little bit Native American, if you’re wondering. I’m pure WOP (Italian) and proud of it, but I do believe in guidance from above, especially in my case. I have come to believe that the “guys upstairs” wanted me to concentrate on the writing, and not worry about publicity or monies. That’s why they made it hard for me sometimes to get my stuff out to the public.
But then I discovered Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace, which for me worked great! I could put my stuff out there, and not have to pay someone hundreds and hundreds of dollars to have my book printed, or to have my covers designed. I could do everything myself for free, which lead me to first place Robbin’ In The Hood on Amazon as a book and the rest of the episodes as Kindle shorts for people to download.
But then I ran into a minor or a major problem, depending on how you look at it. After the four episodes to Robbin’ In The Hood, I hit a kind of wall creatively. I had started on a fifth episode, in which much was going to change for the main character. But three or four chapters into my story, I realized it wasn’t going in the direction I wanted. There was a problem with the steps I had set up so far. So I put the story aside, and decided on a different path.
This is where experience sometimes comes in handy. After a while you, as an author, will discover you can’t force a story. You either have to give up on it, or put it aside. That’s what I had decided to do. I’ll go back to that episode eventually, especially now that I know where I went wrong, but first, I decided to work on something I tried unsuccessfully to work on back in the early 2000s—Blown’ In The Wind. Except now, I knew that the town couldn’t be called Virginia Beach any longer. I had seen a map of Virginia Beach and realized the way I had set up the houses and the main road through the town wasn’t the way they actually were. So I decided to change the name of the town, and the name of the story to Return To Beach Haven. This would allow me to describe things and places any way I wanted.
This is something all you potential scribes will have to learn. If you’re trying to describe a place that actually exists, you have to get it exactly right, otherwise, you’ll get all kinds of nasty comments from people saying you got it wrong. But if you change the name of the location, you can describe it anyway you want, even if it’s based on a real place. The same goes with real people. If you change their names and their descriptions somewhat, most people won’t even know who you’re talking about, but they will have fun trying to guess who that character might represent in real life.
So, at this point, I pulled out my original carbon copy of Blown’ In The Wind and started to rewrite it, while making all kind of changes. Was I satisfied with the results?
What came out of the next seven to eight months worth of work, was a well-executed, tightly told, little romantic tale, somewhat the same, but much different in its execution than the original. I even added a whole new section later to the story, which leads me to describe what happened next during the year 2014.
2014 became an amazing year for me, writing wise. I have never been so prolific in all my years of writing. I began popping out stories faster than babies in a maternity ward. It was as if my brain had gone into overdrive. I was able to come up with beginnings, middles and ends faster than I ever have before, and with a lot of the stories coming directly from things that have happened to me, or were inspired by incidences from my life. It was absolutely mind-blowing! What a year!
Then came 2015 and things slowed down a bit, but that was okay, because it allowed me to finally produce the writing memoir you’ve been reading. I’ve wanted to do this for at least a couple of years, but every time I tried, I never got more than a chapter or two into it before the whole thing would fall apart. For some reason, this time it worked!
Another reason 2015 has been significant for me is because finally people have been finding me on Amazon. It really started after I signed up for Amazon Prime. Suddenly I noticed a lot of downloads, but mostly for one story in particular—Magic. I don’t know exactly what I did right with that story (the cover and/or the description), but it has attracted a lot of attention.
If you’re curious, it’s about a witch who inserts herself into a family, as well as the small town in which they live. Obviously a lot of people have found my description of it intriguing enough to want to take a look. Hope you do the same.
And now I give you my tips and observations.
Tips & Observations—1
I’ve learned a lot about writing over the years. Yeah, I know, some people reading this memoir are going to disagree, but believe me, I have. Some of the things I learned are observations I made on my own, but many more are tips that come from numerous other authors and/or editors.
One of the observations I made recently was the realization that what I am is a “Workshop Writer.” What that means is I don’t write like most people. I’m not trying to push an agenda, or write the same type of material as other authors. I write like someone in a writer’s group, or a workshop who’s been given an assignment—maybe to describe something or someone, usually in a certain amount of words. Except in my case, I don’t give myself a word count. Usually, I start with an image, or a remembrance of something that happened to me; such as, the time I tried sampling a hard drug and nearly ended up in the hospital.
Or how about the time I heard a disembodied voice telling me things were about to happen that I wasn’t going to expect? The next morning I got paid; that afternoon I got laid off. Had no idea that was coming!
Once I have the first sentence or two, I then try taking the idea to its final conclusion, hoping that it makes sense, and won’t leave me feeling embarrassed if someone happens to read my story.
So, having told you a little about how I write, here is my first tip—in the beginning, join a writer’s group. They will help you discover what your weaknesses and strengths are, but mostly your weaknesses. And this is the hard part—sitting there and hearing someone tear apart what you have written, be it a short story, or a chapter from your novel. Yeah, I know, it hurts like hell, and you’ll want to tell them to go screw themselves, but you shouldn’t. They’re doing you a favor. Your job is to listen to them and take what they say with a grain of salt. Then over the next few days, look over what you have written, and decide if they were correct or not. Sometimes they are; sometimes they aren’t. It will take time, but eventually, you’ll be able to decide for yourself which of their criticisms to take seriously.
In the mean time . . . .
Tips & Observations—2
Tip two comes more from me than others. Don’t throw away any of your old stories and/or poems and articles. File them away. This way, ten or fifteen years down the road, if you still think you like that original germ of an idea, then pull the story or article out of your files, and look it over. You might be able to see where you went wrong the first time, and now be able to finish what you wrote to your satisfaction. The new version might even be publishable. You never know. Even if when you look back at the original, and you still don’t see where you could go with it, part of that piece might cause you to think of a different plan of attack.
And remember, everything you write, whether it works or not, is good practice. In fact, that’s what you should tell people—you’re working on your writing, not your book, or story, or article, but your writing. That way, if something does go wrong with the piece you’re working on, they won’t know unless you tell them. All they’ll see is how diligent you are—you’re always working on your writing.
I also feel it really helps to have someone in your corner cheering you on, which is another reason to join a writer’s group. Nothing can be more demoralizing than having someone, a spouse or otherwise, constantly suggest that you’re wasting your time, even if they don’t say it, but you can see it in their eyes, or body language.
This is where I have to thank a friend of mine who has lived in Stamford, Connecticut for decades. Linda was always on my side, even when she disliked many of my endings. She even gave me my nickname of Tony; because she said that, when I started trying to write stories for children, Tom or Thomas sounded too formal. Tony sounded more young and peppy. Thanks Linda.
Another thing to remember here is, no matter what you write, even if it’s only your signature, someone is going to want to change it. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the business. You won’t be able to please everyone. Even if what you have written is perfect, someone somewhere is going to want to make changes, which is another reason for you as a writer to try and keep a stiff upper lip when it comes to criticism, even from an editor.
I’ve read so many accounts by authors who’ve said that an editor, to whom their book had been sent either by them or an agent, suggested all kinds of changes—changes that they, being the author, felt would alter the story too much. So, after some serious contemplation, they decided to forgo the editor’s suggestions, and send their manuscript just as they had written it to another publishing house. And guess what happened? That’s right. Not only was it published as they wrote it, but the book went on to become a huge bestseller, which just goes to show, not even the so-called experts are always correct.
And then there’s the question . . . .
Tips & Observations—3
. . . Should I or should I not outline my story first before I try writing it? Unfortunately, there is no correct answer. Sorry about that folks. Every author has his or her own way of doing things. Some outline extensively before they try and write their story. They’ll mark down every twist and turn in the plot, as well as every character, and what they’re going to do and why. Some authors have only a vague idea where their story is going, while others, like myself, just start writing, and hope they’ll make it to the end. These authors usually like to be surprised by what happens in their stories.
And then, of course, there’s the other most often asked question: where do you get your ideas? Readers are always asking authors that question. And the answer is from everywhere: newspaper articles, overheard conversations, things the author has seen or experienced, places they have visited, the books they have read, both as an adult and when they were children, and from their own everyday lives.
Recently, I have discovered that a number of female romance writers have written books in which the town where the story takes place is really the town in which they live, but disguised as somewhere else. Even some of the characters in their stories are combinations of real people they know.
So when should I start writing, you may ask? Whenever you feel like it. Many authors knew they wanted to be writers from when they were little children. Others didn’t come to the profession until much later in life. It all comes down to when the need to put words on paper arises inside of you. And here’s where the internet comes in handy. There are numerous places where you can see and hear authors talk about their individual lives as writers, and/or the books they’re working on at that moment. All you need to do is go to your browser and type in “author interviews,” and numerous places and/or names will pop up. Some of these interviews are from conferences the authors attended; others are just short ten minutes to an hour interviews in which they talk about how they became an author, and where the idea for their particular book or story came from. They might also talk about how and when they promoted their book.
Which leads me to . . .
Tips & Observations—4
The fact that, unless you’re already a big name author in the publishing business— someone like Stephen King or James Patterson—or some well-known celebrity who has written a book, the major publishing companies (and even the minor ones) may not want to pay to send you on a publicity tour to promote your book. But even as an unknown entity, with no track record, or status to back you up, there are a myriad of ways you can do it yourself.
The quickest and easiest is through social media. Do you tweet? Are you on face book? Do you have a blog or a website? I would start some time before your book comes out to let people know it’s coming and when. Don’t forget to include a description of your book. You might also include a brief biography of yourself, so that people who don’t know you will be made aware of you.
One thing to remember here is non-fiction is usually easier to promote than fiction, especially if your book has something to do with the profession you’re in. For instance, do you teach Yoga? Then the information in your book will probably be more useful to practitioners of Yoga than a fictional piece about someone who teaches Yoga and solves crimes on the side.
Oh, yeah, here is something to also think about. If you’re putting together an e-book, your publication doesn’t have to be a huge tome with a hard cover and more than two hundred pages. A fifty page soft-cover booklet might sell just as well, if the information it contains is precise and to the point. But don’t think a novel will be any harder to promote either. It all depends on to whom you are trying to promote your book.
Have you written a mystery about a firefighter who is trying to discover the identity of the person who killed his sister? Then probably, other firefighters might be interested in learning about your book. Is your story about a witch who runs a bakery or sells used clothes. Then let the area bakeshops or consignment shops know about your book. Is your book a police procedural? The area police departments probably have members who might enjoy reading it. The same goes for stories about lawyers or, realtors, or any other profession.
There are also a myriad of organizations that oversee different professions, such as the National Female Cattle Ropers Association. I don’t know if that one really exists, but if your story is a romance about a female who ropes cattle as a hobby or professionally then their association might be interested in learning that your book exists.
And then there’s always the area newspapers, bookstores, and/or libraries . . .
Tips & Observations—5
Don’t worry if you don’t know how to write a press release. Send a letter to your local newspaper, and let them know your book is coming, or has been published. They might decide to interview you. The same goes for contacting a locally-owned bookstore, or your town’s library. Of course, with a bookstore or library, they might want you to participate in a book signing. This might include giving a short talk about you and your book. I know to some of you this seems like a terrifying idea, so just sitting at a table and signing copies of your book might suffice.
By the way, if you’re planning on approaching the big chain bookstores, you will probably have to contact the publicity department of their headquarters before you can do a signing.
Another way to promote yourself and your book might be to share a table with someone at a street event. Also don’t forget writing conventions. They might have a table where you can display your book.
And then, of course, there are the area writing groups and/or associations, especially the ones who focus on the same type of story you have written.
And if worse comes to worse, you can always give away copies of your book to the people at your spiritual place of worship, or your place of employment, as long as there are no scenes of hard sex and violence—unless, that is, you work in a biker bar. Then they’d probably eat that stuff up.
I almost forgot. Here’s another little observation I’ve made over the years when it comes to what to read. Most published authors will tell you to read both in and out of your sphere of interest. But here’s another little tidbit about a place where you can while-away hours reading stuff for free. It’s a site on the net called “fan fiction.” It’s where you can read about characters from your favorite TV shows, or movies, or books, even comics, and computer games.
The first time I stumbled upon the site “fan fiction,” I was totally blown away by the sheer number of people from around the world who have contributed their own little stories. Like I said, these are usually made up of characters from TV shows, or movies, or book series. Their authors have placed the characters in their own made-up settings that are either similar to the source material, or totally different. It’s amazing to think that there are so many closet writers in the world! I mean who would think that the secretary in your office, or the guy behind the counter at the doughnut shop, or the mechanic who fixes your car, is going home at night and making up scenarios about some character they fell in love with from a book, or movie, or TV show? What a way to be introduced to other writers.
Well, I hope you enjoyed my brief little overview of my fifty years in the writing business, and found some of my tips insightful. If you want to ask me any questions about writing, or the writing life, you can reach me at:
I’ll be more than happy to try and answer whatever I can.