Wednesday, November 12, 2008

40 years later and still scribbling

I'm celebrating an anniversary of sorts this month: In November 1968, I decided to be a writer.

Was writing my first choice? Hardly.

I can remember wanting to be a firefighter for a few minutes in the early 1960s. My class had just made a field trip to the firehouse a block away from my home, and I thought it would be neat to slide down one of those poles.

The firehouse, by the way, still exists. Or at least the building does, but it has been a flower shop for many years. I think they took the pole down.

I later wanted to be a cartoonist, an ambition that lasted quite a while. The local CBS affiliate was showing reruns of the "Mickey Mouse Club," and although I tolerated the Mouseketeers (I wasn't yet of an age to fully appreciate Annette) and didn't mind Spin and Marty, I always looked forward to the cartoons from the Disney archives. I really wanted to do that.

Or comic strips.

Or maybe both.

But one thing held me back:

I can't draw.

And I had a brother who was very good at that sort of thing.

So, at the age of 14, I decided to try writing. I remember my first story, too -- some piece of tripe I was actually going to try to sell to the Ellery Queen magazine, for I seemed to like the mystery genre most of all.

And when I wasn't trying to be the new Erle Stanley Gardner, I was aspiring to be a modern Robert Benchley. Or Perelman or Thurber or E.B. White or (the early) Woody Allen.

I later discovered Graham Greene. I remember picking up a copy of "The Comedians," which my older sister had brought home from the library, and discovering that an "adult" book didn't necessarily have to be difficult to read. Greene's voice -- or rather, the voice of his first-person character -- really drew me in and carried me along.

I eventually learned that Greene had worked at a newspaper, and his salary subsidized his fiction writing.

Neat idea, thought I, and when my local newspaper launched a program for high schoolers who were interested in journalism, I jumped at it.

Five years later, I was lucky enough to get a job there, and I stayed for 30 years. The job title was "copy editor," but after a number of years I was allowed to write occasional humor columns -- an ambition realized! -- only to find out that trying to be humorous on demand was not always a laughing matter. (I suspect that the readers agreed with me more often than I would like to think, and I eventually stuck to headline writing.)

I also continued to write fiction, mostly literary (or maybe allegedly literary, to be more precise) with paltry results. But a few years ago I returned to mystery writing and wrote five stories that were accepted for publication by actual magazines, print and Web.

Then I hit a dry spell, which, I'm happy to say, might have ended, for in the last six weeks I've completed two short stories, both of which I've sent out into the world -- one of them to the Ellery Queen magazine, which is kind of the holy grail for mystery writers. I've tried selling to those folks before, with no luck.

But who knows -- maybe my luck will change.

Or maybe I'll just have to see whether that flower shop could use some extra help. (I suppose sliding down a poinsettia might be fun....)

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