by Dietrich Kalteis
Who is the first person who encouraged you to be a writer?
I realized the magic of words as soon as I learned to read. It was Dr. Seuss and the Grimms and when I got a bit older I read every Hardy Boys’ story cover to cover. And I guess I wanted to write like Franklin W. Dixon. Books transported me to other places and times: Last of the Mohicans, Call of the Wild, Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island and lots more. Then later it became Steinbeck, Keroauc, Salinger and Kesey; and once I got a taste for crime novels it became Leonard, Higgins and McBain.
I took a few stabs at writing some fiction over the years; the first time when I was in my teens. I wrote a draft of a novel in longhand, but there were the usual youthful distractions, and I eventually gave up on it. But, I knew then it was something that I wanted to do – someday. And a dozen years later, I got around to writing a few short stories and even drafted another novel, but I balled up most of the pages and tossed them in the bin as soon after I wrote them. Still, I kept thinking that someday I’d write. And here and there I’d try my hand at a short story. I submitted a couple of the early ones and when one was accepted that encouraged me to keep writing more. It wasn’t necessarily crime fiction back then, that just kind of happened over time. One thing I didn’t realize then was that I was slowly finding my voice as I kept cranking out words and tossing pages in the bin, but the desire was there, and so I stuck to it.
So back to the question, who was the first person to encourage me to be a write? Occasionally I’d get a nice note from an editor at the various publications that I submitted my short stories to, and once I got some suggestions from a lit agent who liked a couple sample chapters I submitted. All of that and the desire to write kept me going, but it was really my wife who made the biggest difference. She convinced me to really get into it, something I had been talking about for a very long time by this point. So, I dove in and started writing full time, every day, morning till night. And after a while, I thought one of the short stories I cranked out was pretty good. And when I reread it the next day, I didn’t ball it up and toss it in the bin. I submitted it and it was accepted, and I got another nice note from an editor. It didn’t hit me then, but I had stumbled on my voice, and that same short story also sparked the idea for my first novel; so, I started writing a few scenes of what would become Ride the Lightning. When I had a polished draft, I submitted it to the same New York agent who had sent those words of encouragement, and I also sent the manuscript to a publisher in Toronto who had a couple of mystery authors whose work I really liked, and I hoped my stuff might be a good fit. I never heard back from the agent, but a few weeks later I got a letter of acceptance from Jack David, the publisher at ECW Press. After doing a spit-take, I reread his note a couple times, then I called to my wife in the other room …