I always wanted to be a novelist.
From the first time my father handed me a book – a thick tome about a black stallion in the Arabian desert, the title of which has vanished on the winds of time – and told me to read it, it was my life’s goal to be a WRITER.
I put that word in caps because I didn’t just want to write books. I wanted to be famous, and rich, and so successful Stephen King would regularly call me for tips.
I had this vision in my head that I would live in an A-frame house in the Colorado mountains during winter, where I would hunker down over my typewriter pecking out my next bestseller while my beautiful wife brought me sandwiches and Diet Coke, and then in spring, take the manuscript to my publisher, drop it off, pick up a fat paycheck and catch a plane for Europe. My wife and I would travel, and eat at the world’s best restaurants where I’d be recognized and asked to sign autographs for my adoring fans. I’d return to the states just as the latest book hit No. 1 on the New York Times best seller list, and do a book tour that would take me from the East Coast to the West, before returning to Colorado and another winter of writing.
Oh, I was going to be a star. Excuse me. A STAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Then, life happened.
I got married my senior year in college at Kent State (more on that in later installments).
I got a job at the Dayton Journal Herald, now defunct, and then the Miami News, now defunct and then the Dallas Times Herald, now defunct. Yes, I was a serial newspaper killer.
Anyway, my wife and I had a baby, a girl we named Molly Lynn, who died two days later. We grieved, we cried and we tried to get on with life. (I’m haunted still by Molly’s death, and it is a thread weaved into each of my books.)
It was after Molly’s death that I decided I had to write the book I always wanted to write. A mystery. I loved mysteries. After reading the book my father gave me, I started a strict regimen of Sci-Fi novels. I devoured everything written by Arthur C. Clarke, and RayBradbury, and Robert Heinlein, and Ursula K. Le Guin. OK, there was the occasional foray into Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan, but for the most part it was Sci-Fi. I so loved Burroughs’ John Carter series, I thought it would be great to live on Mars … and write books.
But … I was reading an Esquire Magazine piece that stated some of the best writing being done by novelists was in the mystery genre. They recommended Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald and John. D. MacDonald.
It was MacDonald’s Travis McGee series that I first picked up. Travis lived on a houseboat, The Busted Flush, and did investigative jobs for hire. There was a color in each of the book titles. The Deep Blue Good-by. The Girl In the Plain Brown Wrapper. Nightmare in Pink. The Dreadful Lemon Sky. I devoured all 21 McGee novels like a starving man. Then chomped down Chandler, followed by Hammett, Macdonald (Ross), and Robert Parker. I was fascinated by the stories of world-weary detectives overcoming long odds to turn back evil.
That was the kind of book I wanted to write.
And so, I started a book that didn’t even have a title because Blade Runner was still off in the future.
I wanted an amateur hero, someone who loved movies with the same sort of passion as I have. I wanted him to live in Miami because that’s where I lived. I wanted him to have marital issues because, well, my wife and I were having trouble.
When Molly died, my wife blamed herself. Jane was a diabetic and diabetics often don’t carry babies to term. Molly was early. She was a breach baby. The doctor botched the delivery, crushing Molly’s head with forceps.
Jane was devastated. So much so that the only thing she cared about was having another baby. We did and he too was early. He too had issues. But he didn’t die, thank God. From then on, however, our son was her entire life, with little room for me.
Anyway, that’s why my hero, Noah Greene, has these particular issues.
I dove into the book with gusto, determined to make it a best seller, to rise to top of fame and fortune, even knowing that writers, even now, don’t make much money.
Twenty-five years later, I was still writing.
MORE ON THAT IN MY NEXT POST