When I was a teenager I discovered a book store in my hometown called EAT-A-BOOK.
It was located in a wonderful old house. New books and various gift items filled the lower level, but I always headed upstairs, to where each room was dedicated to a different genre of used books.
I still remember where the mystery novels were located—in a cramped, shelf-lined room in the northwest corner. While I’d love to boast that I learned to love fiction from the great American literary masters, that phase would actually come later.
Instead, I cut my literary teeth reading works by the fathers of the American crime novel—Hammett, Chandler, and Cain—as well as some of their successors—John D. MacDonald, Cornell Woolrich, Dorothy B. Hughes, Ross MacDonald, and many others.
I became a huge fan of the lesser known pulp novelists of the 50s and 60s, especially the thoroughly enjoyable Shell Scott novels by Richard Prather (for those of you who have read Killing Red—yes, the nightclub is named after him).
I read Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels over a summer vacation, stayed up way too late reading the old Alfred Hitchcock short story collections. All this for just 10 to 25 cents per book.
And I started thinking that maybe, someday, I might see my name on the spine of a book. Though, of course, I had no clue what it took to write a novel, let alone get one published.
By the time I became a student at the University of Iowa, my interest and focus had shifted to film—but not entirely. I wrote several days each week, though I did so without any thoughts of publication. Then I took a class that was taught by the great thriller author David Morrell, and once again I started thinking—maybe, someday.
I wrote short stories, got a few of them published, started writing for a newspaper. And a few years ago decided that if I was ever going to see my name on the spine of a book, the time was now. By then I understood that I had to learn more about the business of publishing, that it wasn’t enough to know the craft of writing.
I immersed myself in that world, met as many crime writers as I could, picked their brains whenever possible, found them to be an extraordinarily generous group. After a while, maybe, dropped out of the equation—leaving someday as the only option. But the more I learned about the business, the more I realized how difficult it was to break into, and how long the odds were. I wonder whether I would have permanently tabled my hopes of becoming a published author way back when, if as a teenager, I had known what I know now.
Today is June 2, 2009, and Killing Red, my first novel, is officially out and available at bookstores everywhere. As I write this, I’m looking at my name on the book’s spine. And while much of my thoughts are about moving forward, about my next book, and the promotion of this first one, I also find myself looking back, and thinking about all those times when I stood in a bookstore or squatted down to see what was hiding on the bottom shelf and I imagined someday finding my own book there (and moving it to eye level and turning it face out, of course).
And I realize now, there’s no one way to get here. The things I did, decisions I made, worked for me. This was my journey to becoming a published author. The more writers I’ve met, the more evident it has become that each of us has their own story. But if there’s one thing we all have in common, it’s that no matter how long it took, how distracted we became with the rest of our lives, or how difficult the path, we never gave up.
Anyone who seriously sets a goal of someday having strangers pay money to read their stories, buy their music, see their films, or hang their art on a wall faces a ridiculously difficult task. The first thing you must do is believe in yourself, sometimes irrationally so. There will be obstacles and naysayers, and if you don’t believe you can get there, no one else will, either. If you refuse to give up, continue working at your craft, and learn as much as you can about the business side of what you love to do, then maybe can become someday, and someday might become…Today.