Wordsótheir origins, meaning and sound, their look and their rhythm in combinationóare my obsession.
Since the late 1960s, Iíve compulsively indulged in my passion on a daily basis, putting in 8-12 hours (or more) at the keyboards of manual and electric typewriters, word processors and computers. I feel like a slacker if I donít produce at least 5,000 words of usable prose during each session.
I like juggling numerous projectsóthatís a carryover from my advertising work. Constant practice has honed my concentration skills to a fine point, and I can switch sharp focus between fiction and nonfiction or from project to project in an instant. (Thatís the secret of writing: the ability to block out distractions long enough to get the job done right.)
Though a heavy percentage of my output has been nonfictionóand I look forward to the mental challenge of the next project with as much enthusiasm as my first projectómy heart really belongs to fiction.
For me, nonfiction is mostly a professional labor of the mind.
Fiction is more a labor of love.
Writing is its own reward
As a writer, Iíve been affected to some degree by virtually everything Iíve read, and I learn something new from every piece of work, whether itís mine or someone elseís.
Story concepts are everywhere. I feel fortunate whenever I can dip into the constant stream of thought that zips at the speed of light through my brain and hold onto one idea long enough to turn it into prose.
Some of the major influences on my workónot necessarily in order of importanceóinclude Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, Thomas Hardy, O. Henry, Edgar Allan Poe, Patricia Highsmith, Ernest Hemingway, David Goodis, Bill Pronzini, Graham Greene, Ross Macdonald, Helen MacInnes, Robert Graves, Ed McBain, Fredric Brown, Shirley Jackson, William McGivern, and too many others to list. If I could consistently write half as well as any of the authors mentioned Iíd be gratified.
A workaholic intoxicated with the job
To date, Iíve published nearly 600 stories, from flash to novella length.
Many early stories (carbons, contributorís copies, the paper bricks of photocopied manuscripts) have been lost in the course of multiple long-distance moves. That might be a good thing.
Due to circumstances, such as the urgent need to earn a living, there have been gaps in my production, but Iíve managed to place an average of a story per month over the last 45 years or so.
At any given time, I usually have 20-50 completed short stories ready for submission, just waiting for the right publication or themed anthology to come along. Another 50 stories are in various stages of completion. And a thousand potentially viable concepts wait in the wings, because everything I see and hear provides inspiration that might be convertible into fiction.
Most storytellers donít get rich
Probably half of my published short fiction appeared before I turned 30. Early stories had more passion and energy. Later stories have more craft, pacing and guile.
The majority of my stories found places in literary and ďlittleĒ magazines, chapbooks, college journals, and obscure and ephemeral periodicals.
Whatever the venue, print or online during the last decade, Iíd never have survived solely on what I earned from my fiction.
Some publications offered only contributorís copies, most only small stipends, probably averaging a cent per word.
The biggest checks Iíve ever received for short stories were in the low hundreds. (Whereas a fat advertising project, like an annual report, a 10-minute video script, a capabilities brochure, or a full-page magazine series can reap thousands, in considerably less time than it takes to see a story in print.)
My first 300-350 stories were published under outrageous pseudonyms like Luke Warmwater, Eaton Worms, Albie Dern, Harry Legg, Bjorn Toulouse, Bruton E. Tooten, or Rameses Woolley. Each fresh story had a bizarre new name.
Why write under pen names?
For one thing, Iíve always had a weakness for puns; Iím a great admirer of S.J. Perlman, of W.C. Fields and Groucho Marx and their celluloid alter egos.
For another thing, I believe philosophically that the story should matter more than its author. In writing throughout my career for the credit of others, I lost some pride of authorship that only in advanced age ówhen you start thinking about your legacyóhas been resurrected. (Iíve written fiction exclusively under variations of my own name for the past two decades.)
For a third and more practical thing, I didnít want to chance that my highly moral parents might stumble across a box of contributorís copies moldering in their basement and read some of my risquť stuff. (ďNo son of mine would write something that awful!Ē)
So if in a musty garage-sale magazine you come upon an author with an improbable name, it could be me.
Whatís my style?
My fictional style changes according to need, chameleon-like, thanks to my training in advertising. I try to write straightforward, declarative sentences. I like imagery. I relish suspense, and I try to aim at a spot equidistant to the readerís head, heart and gut.
In my fiction I enjoy experimenting with different voices and moods, trying points of view unlike my own, and using a wide range of settings and time periods. Iíve written along the whole spectrum from deadly serious noir to light humorous fluff. Much of my fiction concerns crime.
Unlike some, I donít have the ability to dash off polished stories in a single draft.
Fiction writing for me is fun, but itís still hard, sweaty work, and Iím a tough self-critic.
Short or long, pieces always go through numerous versions before Iíve satisfied with them (and Iím never really satisfied; I periodically re-edit my published stories, inserting a better word here, a more succinct phrase there.) Like a musician in search of the lost chord, Iím always working toward the well-constructed sentence, the fully rounded character, and the inescapable conclusion.
Going long again
Many years after pseudonymously writing three porn novels, and after millions of anonymously published words, I got the urge to see my name in print.
I wrote two new novels: a contemporary private eye story, starring investigator Skoog (Freak-Out), and an adventure-mystery set in the 1960s based loosely on my hitchhiking experiences, featuring a slippery protagonist called ďThe DrifterĒ (Kissing Asphalt).
I consumed most of a decade, used up yard-thick stacks of paper on query letters, synopses and sample chapters, and spent a small fortune on postage trying to interest agents and publishers in my work. Though I garnered favorable comments, and had several near misses, it was no sale.
So eventually, I did it myself, paying to publish both novels.
Without any publicity, each has sold enough copies to more than repay my investment, which is all I was hoping for. Iíve received complimentary comments in e-mails from satisfied readers around the world who took a chance on a relative unknown and bought my books.
Kind fans keep asking when the sequels will be out. (Iím working on it: I have four novels completed, including follow-ups to Freak-Out and Kissing Asphalt, that Iím continuing to shop; you can read excerpts by clicking the links below.)
For those who enjoy my fiction, thank you. If you want to read more, please be patient. Iím writing as fast as I can.
Links to short stories:
Links to novel chapters: