Monday, October 5, 2020

"Author, author!" They Shouted (In My Dreams)

 Q: Tell us about the first story/stories you ever wrote. First book, published or no.

 

- from Susan

 

Only someone a lot younger than me would pose an open-ended question like that, since my “first” was back in the dark ages before fire was tamed. Let’s not go there except to say, yes, I have been writing stories, poems, and even a family newspaper (The Wolff Weekly) since I learned how to form letters and words. The Weekly was a cheerful carbon-paper, illustrated edition for 4 readers or almost readers, properly organized by bannersheds, and ledes. Considering that the Wolff household was rarely less than chaotic, the Weekly was often a fiction story, alas. Nevertheless, I was in the third grade and had big dreams.

 

I wrote a lot of feature articles for local newspapers here in northern California in the early 70s, stories about artists, and descendants of locally important historical figures like ship captains, and World War II shipbuilders. Not fiction, but storytelling at ten cents a word. I loved it.

 

My first fiction manuscript was about halfway through the laborious process of typing and retyping and ordering White Out by the carton when I realized my vanity in thinking I could write about a 1) detective and 2) a Latinx detective at that, given that I knew one San Francisco policeman and that was the sum total of my awareness. Reams of paper wasted. Lesson at least partly learned. 

 

I did know some cool entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley in the mid 1970s and got a perfectly good crime fiction idea over dinner at a neighbor’s one night. Problem was 1) I knew nothing about biotech and 2) nobody else other than these pioneers did either. About 70 pages in, it was well-researched – more dinner parties – but since it was still almost incomprehensible to me, I dropped it even though the co-founder of Genentech was that neighbor and he really, really thought it would be a bestseller. He admitted he never read crime fiction.

 

Skip way past that. The manuscript for my first completed book was on more familiar turf – art markets, non-profit fundraising, and settings I knew and loved. It wasn’t smooth, but after a lot of re-writes and much good advice, it became MURDER IN THE ABSTRACT.

 

We writers have an itch that comes on early, and we scratch it every way we can, rebuffing rejection, overcoming our own shortcomings, and pushing on. Very few of us get rich, not many earn a real living, and we have learned to be proud of being called “mid list authors” rather than invisible. It’s a life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

Like you say, Susan, "It's a life." Hard to get up in that Grisham world. But as long as someone's reading I think we're doing okay.

James Ziskin said...

Great post, Susan! Glad you kept at it.

Jim

Frank Zafiro said...

Dark ages. Fire-taming.

Priceless, Susan.

Susan C Shea said...

Thanks, guys. We all have stories, don't we?

Catriona McPherson said...

I would subscribe to the Wolff Weekly.

RANCHARTIST said...

I love how you pass over the thirty years or so as a professional immersed in the world you learned so you could write about it!

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Mid-list today, but tomorrow …

Susan C Shea said...

Catriona, alas, it lived for a short time - probably five weeks before my carbon papers wore out and I ran out of breaking news such as CAT BRINGS IN DEAD MOUSE.