My apologies for not posting anything recently. I've been busy with the promotion of The Black Stiletto: Stars & Stripes and getting work started on the fifth and final book in the series.
I was recently the headliner author at the "Midwest Mystery Showcase" in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and was given the topic, "What I Learned About Writing By Writing," for the keynote speech (more or less) to the group. This is what I said, and I've broken it up into parts to last through a few blog entries.
When someone asks me what they need to do to be a writer, I usually say, "Read a lot. And then just write."
Much of anyone's career will depend on luck. Opportunities will come your way in the form of doors that appear in front of you. Mostly they are unexpected. You can choose to keep going on the path you were on, or you can decide to open the door and see what's on the other side. I've tended to check out the door. For example, I've managed to finagle my way onto a few editors' short lists of tie-in writers, so I've had bread-and-butter work writing novelizations and such. That was luck. My entire career has been a series of doors I never expected to walk through.
You see, I never set out to be a writer. I was a theatre major in college; my focus was directing. I also had muscial talent and enjoyed composing music for theatre and playing piano. I believe that a degree in theatre actually prepares you for many life lessons. Theatre teaches you how to communicate, how to analyze stories and characters, how to develop a sense of rhythm and tempo in storytelling, and how dramatic structure works. If you're a director, theatre teaches you project management: how to manage your time, lead a team, work with people, and complete a major project within a deadline. After I received my Bachelor's in Directing, I moved to New York City and spent nearly a decade directing and composing in the off- and off-off and way-off-Broadway scene. This was the late 70s, early 80s.
My entry into writing was unorthodox. I had a day job and was spending my evenings and weekends doing theatre. I got the idea to write an encylopedic tome on the history of James Bond--something that at the time didn't exist. Okay, I was a big fan, and I wanted to do it as a labor of love. A friend introduced me to an editor he knew at a publishing house in New York, and she told me I needed to write a proposal for the book. I did that and, much to my surprise, I got the contract to write the book! No agent. No previous publishing experience. I did obtain an agent after I'd received the contract for the Companion, but she retired from the business soon after its publication
At any rate, a door opened, and it took my career on a sharp left turn.
The James Bond Bedside Companion was published in 1984. It took three years of my life. I traveled to England and met members of Ian Fleming's family, several of his colleagues, and the people who ran his literary estate. I had to obtain permissions for all kinds of photos, documents, and quotations. I spent money far and away above the advance I'd received. Halfway through the writing, the first publisher went out of business and sold their properties to another one--a process that took an agonizing year. It was a hair-pulling, sometimes very frustrating, experience--but ultimately a very gratifying one.
WHAT I LEARNED: Be patient. There will be setbacks in publishing. Also don't be afraid of taking advantage of contacts. Network. Be organized. Know what you want and go after it with conviction. Stay the course and don't get discouraged. If I had given up at any time during those three years, my life would indeed be very different today.
Continued in Part Two