Friday, August 17, 2018

HOW I STARTED TO WRITE AND KEPT WRITING

Writer's Desk After BIg-time Cleanup


I have always been a writer, beginning in fifth grade with a western novel:  Sun Up At Sundown, or was it Sundown at Sun Up?  I can never remember.
In high school and college I wrote for the school newspapers.  In college I also wrote a lot of creative papers and took a writing course.  The professor had published a somewhat scandalous novel, The Blind Bull, which made the course even more interesting.  He used to say, "I can teach you to write not badly, but not well."  Think about that for a while.
I enjoyed the course, but never wrote much afterward. Marriage, children, and volunteer work pushed writing into the future.  The next writing I did, well, it was writing computer programs for big IBM mainframes.  Remember them?

Flash back to over twenty years ago. I became, from time to time, disillusioned with high tech.  Programming for business could be a real hassle.  One evening I came home and ranted  to myself, "Why am I writing computer programs?  I should be writing novels. I like to read mysteries.  Writing a mystery should be easy, that's what I'll do.

Dumb and dumber, but that's what I did.  On a kludgy word processor.  Predating Word Perfect. 

My novel's title was The Password Is Death. I was stumbling around like a blind dog in a meat house. No idea what I was doing.  Did not understand motivation to say nothing of plotting.  The weird thing was, this all happened so long ago that agents responded to queries in writing.  Sometimes with advice.  I realized that the book had major flaws.  In an attempt to learn what I should be doing, I enrolled in a Writing Your Novel course at Harvard Extension.  Some excellent writers were in that course. I was inspired. Right after the course was over my husband had a business meeting in Singapore, and I went along for the ride which was, by the way, 22 hours long.
 The Password was Death, had some characters I wanted to hang around with because I liked them. On the return flight from Singapore, I read a tiny blurb in the airline magazine.  "The Fifth Annual Computer Security Conference will be held in May at Raffles Center in Singapore." Lights flashed.  Bells rang. Ye Gods, my characters could go to that meeting in Singapore! In my new novel.


In Singapore where The Shadow Warriors begins
 Yes, I found the  germ of my plot in the Singapore Airlines magazine.  Not that I knew the ending or what would happen but I did have people and settings and some ideas of action.  I used Goettingen, Germany, my husband's former hometown for the scenes in the  rest of the book. But everything began in Singapore.  I returned to Goettingen for on-site research.  Pub crawls, restaurants, library research, walking around the town and then walking some more. Ideas came like kamikazes. I think that was when I became a real writer.  I had been to Goettingen many times, but not with a writer's gaze. Research was fun and did it ever bring forth ideas. And I found other parts of the plot at my workplace in some technical journals with far out technology.  Ideas are everywhere.

This book became The Shadow Warriors.  I had no idea that this was also a computer game, and it was really dumb not to Google it.  Well, this was before Google, but not before Amazon. Always Google your book title, and check for books with identical names on Amazon. 

The Shadow Warriors went through many iterations and I found a writing group that helped enormously.I discovered writer's. conventions, writer's camps, other writers.

Then came my publishing fisasco.  Remember, this was before technology as we know it existed.  I found an internet publisher who was creating e-books and planning on doing POD, in its infancy then.  Suddenly, the company announced they weren't doing POD.  There was a palace revolt and 80% of the writers bolted for a newly formed company.  I waited too long.  Publisher went belly up.  Out in the cold with my nose pressed against the window.  Traditional publishers wanted nothing to do with a book with my kind of high tech plot.  Plus, it was  long.  Not long-long, but long. 120,000 words.  Too long.

I found out which POD printing company would have been used to publish the books in the now belly-up company.  They published mine. They published anyone. Then Amazon bought the company and all it's books and enabled The Shadow Warriors to make a second debut as an e-book.

Of course I got NO RESPECT back in those days for self-publishing.  You could almost hear people whispering behind your back.  Nonetheless, I made a little money and did some speaking gigs and began a second novel with the same characters.  Again too, long. I rewrote it with different characters, got rid of the backstory and went from 120,000 words for 86,000. A small e-book publisher picked it up and they also did POD and published it in all formats. World of Mirrors, suspense, not mystery, made  a little money. More speaking gigs. Now retired, I assumed I could write faster.  Did not happen. Still bumbling along.

I wrote another book I had to rewrite  and shorten. Is this sounding familiar? I'm trying to find a publisher for it now. I wrote my Burning Man book, Festival Madness, which  had to be approved by Burning Man organization. That's another story. After trying for twenty years, I got an agent, but she did not sell my next two books. We parted company amicably.  I'm in the middle of another novel with three unsold books, but I am working on this. In the meantime, I sold several short stories, some poems, and a memoir piece.
A novel of high tech and Burning Man


I hate doing PR. Remember, I was a dweeb.  But I like to write, to talk about writing, and, like most writers,  I love to read. Writing is a great occupation, but you will not likely support yourself as a writer. That's okay.  I love my friends in the writing community.  Looking around my ungodly messy office with piles of books and papers everywhere, and the cat asleep in the rocking chair, I know that I am happy.  And that counts for a lot. I started writing and never stopped. 

The writers below will tell you their own stories.  Everyone has a story.  Read on. 



Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1ke
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
A.J. Maguire  http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

7 comments:

Dr Bob Rich said...

Judith, if someone read this blog and hadn't read anything of yours before, they'd laugh and say, "This lady can write. Maybe I should check out her books."
And isn't that the point of these blog posts?
Have fun,
Bob

Rhobin Lee Courtright said...

Self publishing has come along way since your book, but you probably know that. Finding readers and PR is difficult but I agree the process of writing is worth it, at least to me, on a personal achievement basis. You have an amazing background!

Skyewriter said...

Seems like lots of us began writing stories when we were just kids. Also, like you, my first stab at a novel was a Regency because I loved Georgette Heyer and I had absolutely NO idea what I was doing. But we all start somewhere and grow from there.

Victoria Chatham said...

I once had a stop-over in Singapore on the way to New Zealand. My Dad was all excited to take me to the waterfront to see the 'go-downs' and all the junks - but whole area was in the process of being cleaned up to make a public water park and greenspace. The junks had been moved around to the west coast and I never did see them. Amazing that the in-flight magazine prompted a book, but I think writers get ideas from anywhere.

Beverley Bateman said...

Judith, I loved your journey through your writing career. And your research for your books. I love that you're happy writing. I think that's the most important thing.

Fiona McGier said...

Your story is a lot like mine. Funny thing, I've written 15 novels, but I've made more money selling short stories! Go figure!

I hope someday to be able to retire, and spend more time writing. Now I work 2 jobs, 13-hour days, and I scramble just to be able to find time to check my emails, let alone promote...let alone write!

Jean Wright said...

I've found the germ of a plot in a textbook from school. It's amazing how easy ideas are to come by, but how difficult they are to translate onto the page.