Sacramento, California, United States
Thanks to an uncle who helped me with the comic strips, I started reading very early and never looked back.
At about the age of nine a neighbor lady offered to let me read from her collection of westerns. I read them all. The only title I remember was "Beans, Bannock and a Bed." by Bower. (Okay, enough b's there to start a hive!)
Then my teacher told me about our local public library. I quickly went through everything in the children's department; fairy tales, Boy Scout stuff; I remember a book about some kid's struggles to get a pair of gray flannel trousers. Boy, did that kid make me fall in love with gray flannel trousers!
Along in there somewhere, I fell into the capable hands of Dr. Dolittle and developed a lifelong fascination with languages. At first they were all so interesting I didn't know where to start –or stop. One week I was studying French, the next, Russian or Greek. I even got the owner of a snack bar to teach me a little Yiddish.
One evening, seeing that I'd pretty much read everything in the children's department, I chanced to stroll curiously through the "adult" section. And there I found Charlie Chan. Of course I knew him from the movies, but had no idea there were actually books about him. I went through all the Charlie Chans they had and then started on everything else in that section: Perry Mason, Philo Vance, Ellery Queen...and of course, Sherlock Holmes
That hooked me on mysteries. But over the years I still read everything: historical novels, adventure novels, war novels, sagas or whatever and continued to devour anything and everything, including plenty of non-fiction
All this time my interest in languages continued and I became pretty capable in French, German and Spanish and started reading books written in their authors' native tongues
Like any normal and mild-mannered doorman, dishwasher, barber, drill-press operator, politician or taxi driver, I suppose I always felt an urge to communicate in writing, and one day the little idea crept into my mind: I might actually become a writer myself. I decided that one of these days I was going to sit down and write a novel. It never occurred to me to consider what comes next. I innocently assumed that if I had the staying power to write a novel, some grateful publisher would send me a big check and cheerfully publish my book. I'd be vacationing on the Riviera when the book came out and everybody would be happy. Simple as that.
Of course, doubtless to the chagrin of publishers like Viking and Doubleday, the vagaries of my life: travel, financial problems, job changes and trying to keep out of trouble, all these and more gave me adequate excuse to postpone that novel. Besides, I had plenty of time, didn't I?
One day, noticing that the hands on the clock had imperceptibly begun to accelerate, I decided the time had come to get busy. I wrote a mystery novel. Irresistible. Naturally the excited editor was going to snap it right up, so while I waited for the check to arrive I packed my bags. Maybe I'd spend a year in Hong Kong and work on my Chinese… When my manuscript bounced back with a printed rejection slip, I was pretty crushed. But I didn't cave in that easily. Maybe some less experienced or less demanding editor would think it was all right. I put a lot of work into that thing. But after a few years of trying to get somebody – anybody - to look at it, I tossed it into the trashcan.
Eventually I wrote another novel. This was another mystery and also irresistible, but again no one read it. I still have it languishing in a drawer. After that I started thinking about the first mystery again. I thought it was a pretty good story and had a neat ending, so having nothing better in my mind at the moment, I wrote the whole book again from memory. I made a few changes but, all in all, it was the same book all over again. It was the same old story with the editors all over again too: I couldn't get anybody to read it. I could only assume my writing stank. Maybe it was time to give up
But after a while the pain ebbed as another little idea began working in my head. Little by little, I started writing again. Maybe I could be another "King" of horror. I got halfway through a horror novel but lost interest. That just isn't for me.
I got another couple of mysteries half-finished, but bogged down. Then, without even intending to do so, I started on another novel. I always thought of myself as a mystery writer. But this novel was about an average guy and his problems coping. It flowed out so quickly and easily that I realized I'd missed my calling. I wasn't a mystery writer. I was a Mainstream Author! But again, no interest. One publisher kept it for nine months and I was certain I'd struck pay dirt. I finally sent a timid little note of inquiry about its status, and eventually got a note stating: "Our records indicate we rejected this book three months ago." (If you haven't already heard, here's the news: writers get less respect than Rodney Dangerfield).
In the meantime, I wrote "The Little Mornings". This one had to be irresistible to any editor capable of reading above a third grade level. By now I had learned only to send out queries rather than complete manuscripts. I still got nothing but rejection, but the rejection cost less.
I started querying agents, but no matter what anyone tells you, agents are not talent scouts, and the agents who are nice to you are phonies.
It takes two things to become a published writer: Discipline and Perseverance. It took me an extra long time because I lacked discipline.
If you have Discipline and Perseverance, you're already over halfway there. Good luck!
Confessed Francophile. Don't want to hear anything negative about France or the French, even if it's true...
Published writer: Yes