Becoming a writer
In this feature exclusive to BookPage.com, each month, four authors are asked a question about the craft of writing to give readers an insight into how their favorite writers think and work. For September's author forum, BookPage brought together Jeff Abbott, Heather Graham, Alex Kava and J.D. Rhoades to ask: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I rocked Show and Tell in first grade. When other kids brought in lizards and paintings, I announced I’d spent the weekend in Montana fighting aliens alongside cowboys. After the third week of hearing my extraordinary adventures, my teacher called my parents and suggested they get me a Big Chief tablet and a Husky pencil. I started writing down my big fat lies. And wow, on paper I could say so much more than I could in the three minutes allotted for Show and Tell. I was six; my mother still has all those stories. And my grandmother told me the people who wrote the books that I loved, and that she shared with me, had started off spinning oversized yarns, just like me. I knew then I wanted to write books.
Jeff Abbott writes suspense from his home in Austin.
Like most people, I went through wanting to do many things for a living. I have wanted to be a veterinarian, royalty (knew that was a lost cause early on!) marine biologist, dolphin trainer, salvage diver . . . when I reached high school and college, it was becoming anything in the theater, preferably an actress in award winning musicals. I made it as far as a traveling company associated with USF, dinner theater in Florida (almost an oxymoron at the time!) a stint as a singing tap dancing waitress who sold ribs, and a "pointer" for a number of training tapes. Oh, yes, and there were the "Trim-Twist" commercials. Anyway, by the time I had three of the five children, it cost me far too much to go to work, and I stayed home with the children, but we had been accustomed to two incomes, and I was (and still am) an absolutely horrible housekeeper. I had always loved books. Reading. Something I still find to be the catalyst for most people, whether they're writing hardcore horror, inspirational romance, technical thrillers, occult, historical, and so on. I never thought I could write better books than what I was reading—I wanted to write books that could do to others the wonderful things so many book did for me. Entrance, scare, fascinate—and long to know more or see more. I didn't know a soul who wrote, and so I bought a book called Writer's Digest, and blindly began sending off manuscripts and short stories. The short stories were usually horror, and went out to Black Cat, Twilight Zone and other such venues, and the books were going off to Dell, Bantam and other houses. I was very lucky when I had a book picked up by Dell, though my first sale was a short horror story. I quickly ascertained that books could provide an income, and I was again, blessed, to get in at a time when houses were buying short romances with a rabid hunger.
Heather Graham writes romantic suspense, as well as historical romance under the name Shannon Drake.
In sixth grade Mrs. Powers read to us after lunch, books like Charlie the Lonesome Cougar and Harriet the Spy. I didn't know I wanted to be a writer, yet, but I loved how words could trigger the imagination and evoke such incredible emotion. By thirteen I was writing “stories” on the backs of outdated Co-op Grain calendars. They were spiral-bound and 52 pages and because they had been discarded no one cared what I did with them, as they might with a brand new notebook. But no one I knew made a living making up stories and writing them down. So it wasn't until 25 years later that I decided to sit down and give it a try. My first attempt received 116 rejections. That manuscript has never been published but it taught me something very important—I really did want to be a writer.
Alex Kava writes a series starring FBI profiler Maggie O'Dell.
Unlike a lot of writers, writing novels wasn’t my childhood dream. I’d always been a voracious reader, but most of my writing had been short satirical pieces, with a few stories thrown in. A snarky letter to the editor led to a gig writing a weekly humorous political column for my local paper. After a couple of years, my editor said “you know, you’re a pretty good writer, why don’t you try a novel?” I looked at some of the dreck that was on the market and thought, “Hey, how hard can it be?” Isn’t naïveté a wonderful thing? I discovered that the answer is “very hard indeed.” But once you do it, once you’ve laid a story down on paper all the way to writing “The END” for the first time, it’s even harder to stop.
J.D. Rhoades practices law and writes suspense novels from his home in North Carolina.
Tom Robinson is an author publicist and media consultant working with authors across the country. Visit his website.