Cabbages and Kings

A diary by the authors of the Louis Kincaid series

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Location: Fort Lauderdale/Elk Rapids, Florida and Michigan, United States

We are the New York Times bestselling authors of the Louis Kincaid series and other stand alone thrillers. We have taught writing at major conferences for ten years.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Becoming

I was watching the movie "Dave" the other night. It is one of my favorites and there is this great scene where the ersatz prez Kevin Kline asks his veep, "How did you get started?"

Ben Kingsley answers that he started as a shoe saleman and things kind of snowballed from there.

It made me wonder: How did you "become" a novelist? It is a strange track to choose, fraught with disappointments and so subject to the whims of the vox populi. (In our case, how well we register on on the B&N computer). What we do is not that different from politics in a way. Our best politicians begin life as something else (shoe salesmen) and through passion, ambition or whatever, morph into something else. So it is with novelists, I believe. We start out as something else in our quests to make money, support our families, live up to whatever dream we subscribe to, or what our parents hoped we would be.

Then...

Something clicks. And you are willing to give up all that for something you believe in. Something that makes your heart beat faster. Something that makes you sleep better at night. Something that lets your soul grow. Even as you know that nothing may come of it in the end.

So...

What were you before you became?

What were you doing when the notion hit you? What were you collecting a paycheck for when you realized it wasn't enough? Now, I know that most of us are still working the "real" jobs, and that's okay. Necessary. But I really want to know: When did it happen for you?

When did you become a writer?

9 Comments:

Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

I hear a lot of people say "you're a born writer" or some variation on that.

I have no idea if that's how it really works or not. I think that it's like a disease you catch, once you've got it it's in the blood and it (probably) isn't fatal but you'll always have to live with it, make just a few adjustments to your life. All I know is that it was in my head from the time I was young that I wanted to be an author and that desire never went away. I tried to ignore it, to suppress it, to do things that were more sensible, but I guess I'm not very smart.

Or I really was meant to do this.

9:10 PM  
Anonymous J. Carson Black said...

Wow. I wrote and illustrated my own books when I was five or six years old. Crayons on the back of my dad's tests, which were mimeographed. I was always imitating writers in elementary school; I was always a writer. But I got shunted into singing because I had talent. And then I followed that lure, for a while, like a greyhound after a rabbit.

I was always a writer. I always thought like a writer. When I was a teenager, my parents took me on camping trips in the summer. Always, I wrote, and I drew.

I had a chance to have a career. I went to Austria and got several agents. I also had a husband, who lived in the states. I wasn't made for singing opera, although I had talent. I came back, and was inspired to write my first real book.

If you really are a writer, there is nothing that can stop you. You can not give it up. Once I sold my first book, I suffered numerous insults to mind and pocketbook, but I'm still here because I can't not be.

If you truly are a writer, you know it. And everyone around you figures it out, sooner or later, whether or not they think you're crazy or not.

9:51 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

I think I was born a writer, and then spent about forty-three years in denial.

Since second grade, my stories, essays, poems, etc, were the ones the teacher read in front of the class as good examples. In college I published some poetry and nonfiction, even won some awards. In my twenties I had some songs published in Nashville.

I wanted to be a writer, but was too lazy to put in the work.

At the age of forty-three, I decided I had to write a novel, at least one. I started reading a lot of fiction and a lot of books on writing, and discovered I didn't know squat. I finished one novel, then another, and now am on my third.

Are any of them publishable? I think my third one might have a chance, if I put in the work.

And I will.

That's the key, isn't it? Persistence. That's what I've always lacked, but no more. No more denial.

I'm a writer, and that's what I'll be till the day I die.

Maybe I'm stronger now, willing to be what I am and ignore the rest of the world's expectations. Screw 'em all. I'm going to write, because I have to.

When did I "become" a writer?

Today, Kris.

Today.

9:56 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Love that movie, too.

Okay, you asked for it. I was getting my B.Sc. in Microbiology & Public Health at Michigan State University. I'd always been into books and history and music and the arts, but thought I could get a job in the sciences. Between my Junior & Senior years, while living alone--girlfriend graduated (now wife), roommate on internship--I picked up a book of essays about Stephen King. One was by him, called something like, "The Making of a Brand Name," and it was about how he got his start. What struck me was that a writer wasn't somebody who necessarily went to school for writing. It was somebody who wrote things and submitted them to publishers. (It didn't hurt that the paperback rights to "Carrie" went for $400,000 in 1972).

So I promptly wrote a SF short story and was hooked. It was quite a few years before I got published in nonfiction (in TRAVERSE Magazine), and it snowballed. I worked in a clinical cytogenetics lab at Henry Ford Hospital for 18 years, hating it mostly, and when my nonfiction clientele got good-paying enough, I left the hospital to write fulltime. Nonfiction and novels, with my third book coming out in October, "The Devil's Pitchfork."

Dreams do, oddly enough, come true.

Best,
Mark Terry
www.mark-terry.com

10:19 AM  
Blogger Bryon Quertermous said...

I've fiddled with writing since I was about twelve but I never really took it seriously as a profession until I worked in New York for a major publisher. It was a double exposure thing.

Not only was I able to see the inner workings of publishing and the lifestyle and the culture but reading slush pile manuscripts all day gave me the confidence and boost I needed to finally start and finish my first novel.

Once that first book was complete is when I thought og myself as a WRITER. That's when I started pursuing it as a profession and seeking to really hone and develop my skills.

12:27 PM  
Blogger JD Rhoades said...

I started writing letters ot the editor fo my local paper in 1998. They liked them so much they offered me a weekly column. After a couple years of that, someone said "hey you ought to write a novel!" I wrote a few short stories, some published online at the now defunct mightywords.com site. I got a lot of the "good" rejections ('no thanks, but try us again") from print mags. Finally, I wrote a novel, but that sank like a stone. So for some reason, I wrote another. That one got published. So here I am.

2:05 PM  
Anonymous Carol Davis Luce said...

What a great question? Although the answer, for me, is not a simple one. There was no burning desire as a child to become a writer, in fact, I was an artist all my life, creating images on canvas, until midlife. Always a voracious reader of romance and suspense, I realized there wasn't many romance suspense novels on the market. Mary Higgins Clark came close to the genre, but she merely teased the reader with the romantic elements, which usually left me craving more. So, out of necessity, I checked out a book at the library called "How to Write a Novel," traded in my oil paints and canvases for a computer, and the rest is history.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Okay, Kris and Kelly, let's hear your story.

10:04 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Jude,

Our story? Let me refer you to David Montgomery's fun website Overnight Success Stories for that.
http://success.crimefictionblog.com/ David has collected some really terrific tales from a cross section of writers.

But the short answer here is much like others have already said: Both Kelly and I have been writing since we were kids in some form or another. I was a journalist for 25 years before finally quiting to write fiction. Kelly labored in the real world until just two years ago.

Like Sandra said, something you are just meant to do. I think writing is one of them.

Given my choice, I would have loved to have been a professional dancer or musician. God didn't bless me with either long enough legs or good enough ear. So here I am, a scribbler.

11:09 AM  

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