Maybe it’s my age (a little shy of 61), or maybe it’s because my youngest kid (hi, McKenna!) will be 21 in a couple of weeks. Maybe it’s the sense of overwhelming dread and mortality we’ve all been marinating in for the past year. Whatever the reason, I’m feeling introspective, and thought I’d take a ramble on back through my sort of, sometimes, writing life.
Before I started writing, I had to start reading, and that happened my first week in junior high, when I found I, Robot and Martian Chronicles on the top shelf of my school library’s small science fiction section. By eighth grade I had read all the books in that section (including, if I remember correctly, about 87 Andre Norton novels) and had graduated to my local public library. I had also decided to try my hand at writing, starting with poetry.
In ninth grade I wrote a 25 page collection of poetry, and starting branching out with short stories. In my senior year, my English teacher (hi, Mr. Belden!), who I’m still friends with on Facebook, created a special class for me, where I could spend one period per day in the library writing stories and receive credit for it. By the end of high school I had won a couple of Scholastic Writing Awards with those short stories, and it was pretty much decided. I was a writer, at least in my own mind, and I was going to keep on writing.
I kept writing through my late teens, both poetry and short stories, but I submitted only sporadically. This has been a running theme throughout my life. I hate the entire process of submitting, and I downright suck at it.
I spent the first couple years of my twenties in the U.S. Army, which you wouldn’t think would be conducive to writing. Luckily, Fort Carson, Colorado, where I was stationed, had a post newspaper with a circulation of 30,000, and when I arrived there they were in need of a cartoonist and journalist. I spent those two years happily drawing cartoons and illustrations, and writing movie reviews and feature stories. The paper’s civilian editors were damn good, and they taught me a lot.
Fast forward a bunch of years, where I was still writing but not submitting much at all. I started working for a small Cleveland ad agency as a graphic designer in 1983, got married in 1989 (hi, Carrie!), and my son Eric was born in 1993. That’s when I began writing for kids, something I love and still do to this day. In 1999 one of my children’s stories was a top ten finisher in Writer’s Digest’s annual writing contest. I felt like I was on to something.
I submitted a picture book manuscript to the 2000 contest and the jury, led by the amazing author Kelly Milner Halls, chose it as the grand prize winner. I won some cash, and more importantly, a trip to NYC to meet with three editors of my choice. Weirdly, by the time the trip happened I had already sold the manuscript, to Smallfellow Books in Los Angeles. That’s when I discovered just how much of a crap shoot publishing is, because through a series of misadventures by little book, titled Up Ned’s Nose, was not, and still hasn’t been, published. I chronicled the story in more detail here: (https://davewritesanddraws.com/2020/01/16/so-close-and-yet-the-two-decade-journey-of-a-single-manuscript/).
I kept writing, mostly for kids but some fantasy and horror for adults as well, submitting off and on. In 2006 everyone’s favorite dentist office magazine, Highlights for Children, published my short story Tough As Daisy. This was, and still is, one of my favorite things that’s ever happened to me. I’ve since sold them another story, but it hasn’t appeared in print yet.
My publication credits during this time are a mixed and varied bag. I sold short stories to several horror anthologies. I wrote a bunch of song lyrics, even though I can’t play or sing a lick, and had several recorded by local musicians. I wrote ASL test passages, and greeting card sentiments.
In 2013 CBAY Books, a small publisher in Texas, held a writing contest, and by coincidence I had just finished my first longer work for kids, a 15,000 word chapter book. My book, Trapped In Lunch Lady Land, won the contest by a comfortable margin, and the prize was a publishing contract. I was beyond excited. Funny thing, though, the editor thought it would work much better as a 30,000 word middle grade novel, and I had roughly two months to double my word count. Turns out she was right. Lunch Lady Land was published in 2014. I had a book signing at my local Barnes & Noble, and I did a bunch of school visits, which might be the most fun I’ve ever had.
Meanwhile, I was now creative director at that same ad agency (38 years next month) and besides doing graphic design, I was taking on more and more of the writing work. I’ve now written hundreds of tv and radio scripts, reams of ad copy, and countless blog posts for a variety of clients. I’m surprised at how much I enjoy this new and different creative outlet.
In the fall of 2019 I started this blog, and that took up a fair amount of my free time. By the time the pandemic reared its ugly head, I had not been writing much fiction, but that all changed. Suddenly, since we couldn’t go anywhere or do anything, I realized that if I didn’t do something to occupy my time, I would make myself, and my wife as well, crazy. I discovered the joys of writing to submission calls, and started writing short stories again. More importantly, I started submitting with a vengeance, not just the new stuff, but older stuff as well. I’m even tracking my submissions, with dates and everything. Yes, I know that’s how you’re supposed to do it. No, I never really did before.
I also started a RedBubble shop, Fan-Tasm, which features artwork inspired by iconic books and authors. A perfect marriage of my favorite things.
I have a story due to appear sometime soon on an extreme horror website. I’m a little worried about people reading that one, it’s a doozy. I’m participating in the Two Sides of the Story anthology, teamed up with a wonderful writer from Canada (hi, Renée!). At last count I had more than two dozen short stories, kid’s stories, picture books, and a chapter book out on submission.
I have no more excuses keeping me from writing it, so the YA novel I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years is finally going to happen. I hope. It terrifies me a little, because I’m going to write it in first person, and my main character is a 17 year old girl. No idea if I can pull that off, but I think it want to try.
My writing life has been sporadic, in fits and starts, with just a few successes along the way. But I figure, as long as I keep writing, I’m a writer. That’s good enough for me.