I'm going to be publishing these lessons learned every Wednesday, and it will be a regurgitation of everything I’ve gone through over the last 16 years since I started taking writing seriously. Maybe new writers will learn from my mistakes and get some inspiration from my successes. Everything is going to be laid out there—warts and all. I’m hoping that this ends up being interactive, with people feeling free to leave comments. Who knows, maybe when I’m done with these notes (and there are going to be at least a years worth), I’ll end up with a book that can be useful to new writers.
Finding my voice.
Right off the bat I’ll admit that I was about as unlikely a person to ever end up a writer as you’re going to find. While I always read a lot, and at different times in my life would be drawn to writing fiction, through school my focus was math and my passion was computer programming. In college I was an engineering student with an Applied Math and Computer Science major, and the path was laid out pretty early for me to go into software development. I loved that life and was damn good at it—leading complex projects very early in my career. So writing always seemed like a lark, something that would never be real. How many software engineers do you find writing crime fiction?
Early on I was a big fan of Ross MacDonald, and my first serious attempt to write a crime story was a really bad imitation of MacDonald. To say it was awful is doing a disservice to the word “awful”. Years later I rewrote this mess of a story as “The Dover Affair”, which was later published on Thrilling Detective, as a challenge to see if I could turn this story into something halfway decent. But at least early on I had what’s probably the most critical skill that a writer needs—honestly being able to evaluate your own work. I knew what I wrote sucked, and I never bothered sending it out.
Everything changed when I discovered Jim Thompson. Reading “Hell of a Woman” was like a religious experience for me. It wasn’t so much trying to copy him as learning from him. It was so unbelievably liberating seeing how rules can be broken if you have the guts to do it. It opened my eyes to what writing could be. And that’s when I started writing my first novel, which was originally titled “In His Shadow” but would be published years later as “Fast Lane”. And that’s when I first felt like I was understanding what I was doing. This was 1991.