Ever since the publication of Soundkeeper, I have been asked about writing. Readers want to know how long I’ve been writing, how to write a book, where I get my ideas from, and many other questions about writing. I claim no expertise whatsoever, but this is the path I followed.
I started writing in junior high school. I signed on to the school newspaper staff because I knew I would have access to typewriters. Writers used typewriters and we did not have one at home, so this seemed like a good idea at the time. The problem with being a writer for a newspaper, even a school newspaper, is that you have to write about what they want you to write about. The faculty advisors were not at all interested in my attempts to imitate Louis L’Amour or create the next Hardy Boys series. My tenure lasted only one semester.
I have always been an avid reader, and I think that this is an attribute that has served me well as a writer. One of the most miserable times in my reading/writing life was when I was writing my first book, Fallen Heroes. I stopped reading. I was afraid that I would be unduly influenced by whatever book I happened to be reading while I was writing my book. It took another writer to save me from myself.
I met Ella Long through her husband Ben Long, the famed artist whose frescos are in several churches in North Carolina and throughout the world. I had the good fortune of being used as a model (imagine that!) for a fresco Ben was painting for the new police station. We worked together for many hours, and Ben would tell a war story and I would counter with a cop story. Ben is a former Marine and was a combat artist in Viet Nam. We discovered mutual ground in our funny and tragic memories. When he learned that I had written the beginning of novel but no one had ever read any of it, he introduced me to his wife who was a writer and was teaching literature. Ella told me that I had to read to be a writer, and not to worry about being unduly influenced by other authors. She also told me to get a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, which is the best book on writing that I’ve ever read. If you want to be a writer, you should read it.
From Anne Lamott I discovered that writing was not about diagramming sentences, punctuation, or dangling participles. My ignorance of these things had intimidated me for a long time and kept me from ever sharing any of my work. Anne Lamott, and others, set me free. I found that it was alright to start writing a book without knowing how it was going to end. I learned that I should not sit down to write a book, but that creating one good paragraph or one great sentence should be my daily goal.
Bob Inman was a television news anchor in Charlotte for years. Now an accomplished novelist, screenwriter and playwright, he had just finished a book signing for his first book, Home Fires Burning, at a Hallmark store in a shopping center where I was doing some moonlighting. He gave me the best writing advice I've ever been given and I’ve seen this advice repeated in many books on writing. He told me to write every day, and to try and write at the same time every day. He told me that I had to treat my characters as trusted friends and that when one of them did something that I did not expect them to, that I was on the right track. Oh how right he was!
To be continued…