Starting this story at the start: I am born.
Which came as a surprise to my parents. They thought they were done having kids after my older sister and brother. Surprise!
I’m told my first phrase was “I do it my ownself.” I learned to read early out of self-defense, because everyone kept secrets from me by spelling. Once I started reading, my older sister, Cathy, would sneak me into areas of the Helen M. Plum Memorial Library that were considered beyond my kiddie ability and she would check out more advanced books for me.
Charles Dickens has a lot to do with my becoming a writer. He used the word unctuous to describe Uriah Heep. Unctuous. Doesn’t it make you shiver? Me, too. And, boy, realizing words were so powerful ignited my desire to sink my hands into them, pour them over my head and let them stream all around me.
I have promised my mother that I would tell you all that the families and childhoods and traumas of my characters are not self-portraits. That’s true. I had a great childhood. Sure, there was youthful angst, but I only ran away from home twice. Once, Mom didn’t realize I’d gone, so maybe that shouldn’t count. The other time, I took the two girls who lived next door along with, and it was a righteous cause. Tuna fish — my sister was trying to feed me tuna fish! The two neighbor girls and I were striking out for Hollywood, having packed dolls, doll clothes and one pair of underwear each in my red wagon. Alas, the Dairy Queen came before the train station and our capital was seriously depleted before we were found. Otherwise I surely would have been the only Oscar-winning screenplay writer under ten.
Instead, I followed the normal education track through high school in my hometown. Then I went to Northwestern University, where I got a BA in three years in English Composition and added a Masters in Journalism in the fourth year. (If you’re wondering why the masters, check out the want ads and see exactly how many jobs ask for someone with a degree in English Composition.)
I wanted to write novels, but practicality demanded something a little steadier. Especially because, while I wanted to write novels, I didn’t actually write any.
I became a sports writer. It’s great training for a writer — dialogue, character, motivation, conflict, goals — they’re all there several times over in each event. Plus, I didn’t have to get up early.
After being a sports writer for the Rockford (Ill.) Register Star and assistant sports editor at the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, I moved to the Washington Post. That’s when I really started writing. And it all has to do with dried wallpaper paste.
I’d bought a house with 50 years of wallpaper-paint-wallpaper-paint-wallpaper-paint layers. Sometimes four, five layers of wallpaper, always topped with paint. On every wall in the entire house. The only way to get it off was to chip at it with a wide-bladed putty knife. Chip after chip after chip.
Under the influence of the chipping and the desiccated wallpaper paste, I started having a story idea. I would type until I didn’t know what to say next, and then I’d chip. Pretty soon I’d have more ideas and I’d go back to typing. I thought it would be a short story, but it kept growing. There was something very inspiring about that dried wallpaper paste.
From a kind librarian I heard about a talk by a writer Kathleen Gilles Seidel who introduced me to the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Romance Writers of America, and I started to truly learn about writing.
The wallpaper dust story is still in the closet, but the first romance I wrote came out in 1990 and was selected as a finalist for RWA’s RITA Award. Having HOOPS available again as an e-book has been a delight.
After serving as an assignment editor and copy chief for the Post’s sports department, I went part-time to write novels. Several years later, I switched to editing for the Post’s news service.
In 2007, I sold my house (finally free of wallpaper), left the Washington Post and moved to Northern Kentucky. And, yes, there was wallpaper in the new house, too. But it was a mere one layer and it’s gone now (though plenty of other projects remain if anyone’s volunteering.)
Even without wallpaper dust, the story ideas keep coming, and the move has let me write full-time. Along with continuing to write contemporary romance, I’ve also published a non-fiction book on word usage — Word Watch: A Writer’s Guide to the Slippery, Sneaky, and Otherwise Tricky and have created a cozy mystery series, with a touch of humor, called Caught Dead in Wyoming (Book 5 is scheduled to come out late in 2016).
So maybe the ideas didn’t come from dried wallpaper dust. Maybe they came from dog hair. There’s been lots of that wherever I’ve lived.
Yup, that’s got to be the answer.
Now, how do I end this thing? It’s an ongoing story. I’m hoping for a happy ending eventually, but I’ve got plenty of pages left to turn … ah, so there’s only one more thing to say:
I am writing.
- Cyndi and I met and hit it off at the great Magna Cum Murder mystery writers conference last October in Indianapolis. We’d been chatting for a while when she mentioned her background as a 911 operator in Wyoming, and I pounced! I am excited to share with you now some …Read More »
- In honor of my Caught Dead in Wyoming mystery series, my assistant Kay Coyte is writing for my newsletter and blog a series of consumer tips inspired by TV reporter Elizabeth Danniher. March is in the middle of tax season, and here are a few tips to help you file …Read More »
- I’m repeating this blog now because I just had my one-year post-op exam — with a good report. I figure two exams down, five o go over the next four years before the medical community will declare me cancer free and statistically I’m back with the general population for likelihood …Read More »
- Cords hate me. Really. Have you ever had a whole category of inanimate objects hate you? Please tell me you have. I feel so alone. It’s hard. It can erode your confidence, challenge your vocabulary, and hurt your soul. It can also hurt more tangible areas of your person. Especially …Read More »
- In honor of the Caught Dead in Wyoming mystery series, my assistant Kay Coyte is writing for my newsletter and blog a series of consumer tips inspired by TV reporter Elizabeth Danniher. They frequently cover fraud perpetrated on seniors citizens, with helpful advice from U.S. agencies and groups such as …Read More »
- *Posting While Irresponsible This is as close to politics as I’m going to get. One of the reasons I steer clear is that I apply logic, reason, and critical thinking to what’s said by people on both sides… In other words, I tick off everybody. <wg> But right now, with …Read More »
- A quick note to let you know I’ve guest blogged with the lovely folks of Liberta Books about the lively — and sometimes deadly — world of research for writers. C’mon over. The research is fine. ‘-) And take a look around this wonderful site designed for readers and …Read More »
- A rare book signing appearance for moi! I will be speaking at the mystery conference Magna Cum Murder at the Columbia Club in Indianapolis on Saturday, Oct. 29, appearing on two panels — A Nose for Murder: Do Protagonists Need to Be Professionals? and Alpha to Omega: Changes in Publishing …Read More »
- For Part II, see Handling the Negative, Sept. 21, 2016 Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. Remember that Johnny Mercer song? I have this memory of it being sung by an animated bear on TV. Maybe it was the bear’s limited credibility that had me responding with a hearty, …Read More »
- This is a sidebar to an earlier blog post, Accentuate the Positive, Sept. 11, 2016 The idea of positive psychology is not to ignore that bad things happen. Instead, it’s based on that old saying your mother probably told you: It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you …Read More »