An excellent question — one I haven’t been able to fully answer. Yet.
Hey, be patient! These things take time!
Well, first and foremost, I’m a writer. Always have been, always will be. According to my parents, I’ve been writing since I knew what a pencil was for — even before I knew what the squiggles meant.
I am undeniably one of those “poor damaged souls” Harlan Ellison wrote about, “who must write, who haven’t any more choice in the matter than whether or not they breathe.”
As I got into junior high school, I found out about poetry. And Shakespeare. They happened about the same time. When I was in the eighth grade I brazenly wrote an essay on “The Symbolism in Macbeth.” Fat lot a thirteen-year-old would know about that! Unfortunately, my teacher was delighted with it. (Well, you know what they say: if you can’t blind ’em with brilliance, baffle ’em with . . .) That was in the dark ages, before the days of scanners and photocopiers. The teacher wanted a copy of my wonderful essay. Guess who had to recopy the thing by hand — all nine pages. Served me right: little show-off!
Much later, I found out about international travel and discovered I have gypsy blood. The government contractor I worked for sent teams to certain foreign countries for several weeks at a time. I loved it! Getting to know the other team members, learning my way around strange cities, picking up a smattering of the local language, fumbling with strange currencies. When my employer discontinued the travel I discontinued my employment.
A true writer is also an avid reader — it’s really the only way to learn the craft. One of my favorite authors was the late Jack D. Hunter. In 1964 he wrote a book called The Blue Max, about a German ace pilot during World War I. Hunter found an agent who reluctantly agreed to represent the book, but didn’t think it would do well. Eight publishers agreed with the agent and declined it. The ninth publisher took it on as sort of a loss leader, in hopes that Hunter’s next book would do better.
Almost immediately, The Blue Max hit the New York Times bestseller list. And within a week of publication, Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century Fox purchased the movie option. The movie starred George Peppard. Hunter was an overnight celebrity, and went on to write 16 more novels, most of them bestsellers.
I read The Blue Max when I was in college. I remember thinking it was a good book and that I would read it again sometime. Twenty-odd years later I found it in a used bookstore. Obviously I didn’t understand it the first time, because the second time it hit me like a ton of bricks! Took me days to pull out of the mental and emotional shellshock.
I wrote to the author, knowing I would receive Form Letter 13-A in reply. Instead, I got a wonderful email from him, and we followed it with a two-hour telephone conversation.
How could I know a simple fan letter would change my life? We became good friends; I started doing administrative work for him; then I became his webmaster and his editor. Just being around him was a learning experience. And when he was diagnosed with cancer, I became his 24/7 caregiver. I still miss him. But he will always be a part of my life, and his influence on my life and my writing is impossible to quantify.
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