Writing Roots

I've been writing stuff down my whole life, both fiction and nonfiction — some short, but over half dozen are manuscript length. I come from reading and writing roots.

My father, a former City Editor of one of Chicago's largest newspapers, was a published author of several crime novels based on his experience as a reporter (interestingly, the first reporter on the scene of the famous Saint Valentine's Day Massacre). As an avid golfer, chess and poker player, bread maker, sailor, and former Lieutenant Commander in the Navy and intelligence officer for a PBY squadron in the Philippines during World War II, he showed me the joy of all sorts of different nonfiction reading over those and many other topics and genre.

My mother was a double major (English and French) and avid reader of all sorts of fiction. She introduced me to all of the classics from Melville to Mitchner as well Homer and Milton. Her favorite relaxing reads, though, were suspense and murder mysteries. And how she would devour those!

Where my father taught me reading for information and investigative research, my mother showed me the joy of losing oneself in the pages of a well written novel. My brother Alan, who is nineteen years older than I, took his PhD in nineteenth century English literature and spent the first half of his career teaching at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD and the second half as head of the English department at Frostberg State College in Frostberg, MD.

So, what did I do? I got a B.S. in Physics in 1972, that's what! And then I headed off for grad school at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, NH. I wanted to follow my brother's career path by getting my doctorate and then doing research and teach at a small college. But that was not in the cards for me, and I droped out after my first semester.

When I started college in 1968, I began a life long study of karate, and so, with little else to do as a grad school dropout, I opened a karate school in Portsmouth, NH. I still teach to this day; always will. Oh, and for a "real" job, since 1982 I have been doing business software applications design and development.

But, I've been writing the whole time; can't seem to help myself. I have been able to take all of the experiences of my life and mold them into my own writing style. Actually, three writing styles as I do technical, non-fiction informational, and fiction. In my fiction work, I tend to the thriller sub-genre with a single protagonist wrestling with an emotional conflict created by their interaction with a job or an antagonist counterpart.

I got my real start in writing fiction In early 2006. I had a dream, and was jarred awake by a very compelling scene that revealed itself to me. The next day I sat down and wrote it out just as I had seen it in my mind. I was amazed. That night, more of the scene came to me. The next day I just let myself become absorbed into the story that was unfolding to me as I wrote. And I couldn't stop writing. The thoughts and images just kept coming at me. I had to go on...

It was interesting because here I was with the start of a romance novel. Well, sort of a romance novel because I really didn't know what I was writing until I got about 60 pages into it. It suddenly dawned on me that was exactly what I was doing; writing a romance novel.

And although I ended up terminating my work on Forced Choices at about 90 pages, it was a tremendously uplifting experience for me. I thought, gosh, how many people even end up writing 90 pages of anything let alone a novel. Oh, you hear people all the time saying that one of these days they're going to write that novel they've always been thinking of. But they never get around to it. And that's fine, because they're having too much fun reading other people's novels! But here I was with about a third of a novel written, and a pretty good idea where I was going with it.

Unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately! - even I could see it was pretty rough, disjointed, and had little real character development. But I didn't know how to do any of that so I just put it down and wrote a martial arts book on Cane Use For Health and Protection. I had just tested for and earned my Black Belt ranking in CaneMasters International, and I wanted to blend what I had learned from that with my own personal experience with the cane for health purposes. In fact, I use that book as the basis for introducing my own martial arts students in karate to the cane through my C&S Self Defense Association.

As I was writing the book on the cane, I kept thinking about Forced Choices and how much I had enjoyed that creative process of crafting a story and developing a character. Of course, I didn't know how to do either of those things, and I knew it. And my writing reflected that. As my brother, Alan, commented dryly after reading part of it, "Who cares?" Not real good for the ego. But true. I read it again with a more critical eye, and he was right. Pretty bad when the author doesn't care either!

But I was hooked on the idea of writing a story. I'm a great storyteller, so I decided that I just had to learn the rules of how you write that down. I took a road trip to the bookstore, bought about eighty dollars worth of books on creative writing theory and practice, propped my feet up and dug in.

Two years later, I had forty dog-eared books on creative writing theory and process, and had written well over 1000 pages of fiction and 300 pages of nonfiction - this in addition to the thousands of pages of other fiction and nonfiction work that I had done over the years. That's a lot of work. I put my time in.

After reading those first books on creative writing that I had bought in 2006 as well as half a dozen more, another dream came to me in mid year; another scene so compelling that I had to go down to my computer at two o'clock in the morning and write it out. It was only a half page, but that half page became almost 500 pages of Currency of Money.

And no, I'm not kidding about the dream, and anyone who knows me will tell you how really uncanny things like that happen to me.

Anyway, I just sat bolt upright with this vision. I had the protagonist's name, and the general concept of what that scene represented. I saw it play out right in front of me; it was so vivid. I remember it like it was just yesterday. I got up and wrote just a few notes down on a piece of paper and went back to bed. But I was up early and on the computer writing the first draft of that scene.

It was an amazing time for me as I wrote Currency of Money over the next four months. I was not only unemployed and spending six hours a day on the job search, but I was also writing a complex computer program that does all sorts of calculations and graphing of foreign currency prices, and I read about a dozen books on creative writing as well as many, many novels from different genre. Did I mention that I was busy...

Then in August of 2006 I got a job. And I got really busy...

The type of work that I do, writing web based business software applications, requires such a high degree of focus and concentration that I'm pretty wiped out at the end of the day. So, work on Currency of Money ground to a halt, though I had a completed 390 page manuscript.

I knew there was a lot of re-writing and editing that needed to be done, but you just can't do that type of thing and take a really objective view when you're so distracted on other fronts. And being single... well, there's only me to do all the rest of the stuff that we call "life", so time was not only scarce, but so was the ability to focus.

As Thanksgiving of 2007 approached and I was nearing the end of my current job at the end of the year, I dug back into the book. Though I was working and spending time looking for a new job, it was a more relaxed pace, and so I was able to really make a lot of progress from Thanksgiving through to the mid part of January 2008.

My brother Alan and I had been in contact about the book all along - even during the time I wasn't really working on it because it was still on hold in the back of my mind. But from mid December 2007 through mid January 2008 we were really banging away at it. By mid January, I had done three major rewrites and culled about thirty pages out based on suggestions Alan had made on one of the compete copies that I had mailed him.

In January of 2008, I flew down to Towson, MD on Wednesday the 23rd so we could work side by side on it. We literally spent three full days and nights going through it. I nicknamed him Chainsaw because he hacked out over 60 pages himself in just those three days. I went on to do more, and the book ended up at 323 pages.

But that was just pulling the weeds so we could see the garden that had been buried in those parts. It was amazing!

And you know, most of the stuff he pulled out or commented on I couldn't see. As a writer, you get so close to your work that you sometimes just can't see the weeds for what they are.

And, man! - it's like someone pulling a tooth out of your jawbone with a rusty pipe wrench every time the red pen strikes out a paragraph! When Alan would really got going, I had to go out into the kitchen, pour another glass of wine, and just get out of the way and let the master do his thing! I couldn't take the carving up of my soul.

It was okay once the blood had been washed away and I could see the healthy stuff underneath. But I couldn't watch the operation! No way!

But then another dream came to me in mid Feburary of 2008. Again, I had to get up and write a few paragraphs of the scene that had brought me out of my sleep. And so, while continuing to work on Currency of Money, I began what would become my third novel, Too Late For Later.

By mid June of 2008 when I went down to see my brother again, I had 270 pages of Too Late For Later completed with a proposed outline for an additional 14 scenes to complete the book. I went down to have him do a structural edit on it similar to the work we did on Currency of Money. It was a great time, but I was stunned at the outcome of the editing process. When I had come down to have him work on Currency of Money just six months before, he had hacked out over 60 pages.

But the Chainsaw didn't even get fired up! The red pen never came out. No marks were made, and only a suggestion to tighten up things in a couple of places where I had done a little too much descriptive narration or had repeated myself.

And it was at that point that I knew I had found my style and my voice. From there, it has just been a matter of continually perfecting my craft, having fun, and watching the world around me - ready for that next idea to wake me in the middle of the night.

Writing is such a complex discipline - so soul barring - that you just don't see all of the fine grain stuff right off; you really do have to have an impartial expert go through your work and evaluate it - sometimes caustically. But that's what it takes to unearth what's good below all the clutter.