Monday, September 17, 2012

Writing By Accident…

Somebody once asked me, “What prompted you to start writing?” I answered them (with a nervous laugh), “It was because of a boating accident. I got caught in a hurricane and had to put a boat on the beach to save it.” That’s the truth. That’s when I sold my first non-fiction feature article, recounting the story of that awful experience, to the Southern California boating magazine, SANTANA.

I never get tired of telling this story. In September of 1997 I was caught by Hurricane Nora on the outside of the Baja Peninsula, halfway between Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas, while delivering a large catamaran from San Diego to Puerto Vallarta. My crew and I, and the boat, ended up on the beach in Turtle Bay. It took us almost a month to get it off and back to San Diego for repairs. Kitty James, then editor of SANTANA, asked me to write about it for her magazine. I did, she liked it, and that first article launched my career as a non-fiction feature writer.

Someone actually liked my writing and was willing to pay for it! Oh sure, I had some minor journalism experience writing over the years — classes in high school, a hotrod column for the school paper and writing news articles here and there — but, this was the big time. At 57, I was starting something new! I quickly learned that people enjoyed my writing because each article started with an “event” or “scene,” a hook if you will, that immediately brought them into the story I was trying to tell. Today it is called “creative non-fiction;” back then I was flying by the seat of my pants and enjoying it. I continued to write feature articles for SANTANA for approximately ten years until the magazine was purchased by DOCKSIDE and Kitty retired.

In 2003, I wanted to explore other forms of writing, specifically fiction, and figured if I could write short stories that sold, maybe I had some talent in that arena as well. I discovered the Yahoo group Short Mystery Fiction Society and started lurking to find out which markets to submit to. When I sold my first story, I was hooked. Not because of the sale, I think it was $10.00, but because I could make up stories that people wanted to read. And, I was getting almost instant feedback on what they liked and didn’t like. I’d submit to an editor and within a short period of time they would tell me if it was good or not. The economy of word use that I was forced into when I wrote short stories helped me hone my craft. I learned a lot about “showing and not telling” and, most importantly, how to develop good characters. Four areas of character development that stick with me today are:
·                     Appearance.  Give your reader a visual understanding of the character.
·                     Action.  Show the reader what kind of person your character is, by describing actions rather than simply listing adjectives.
·                     Speech. Develop the character as a person -- don't merely have your character announce important plot details.
·                     Thought.  Bring the reader into your character's mind, to show them your character's unexpressed memories, fears, and hopes.

All of this prepared me to be the writer I am today. I hope I never experience another hurricane like the one that started me writing, but I am glad it happened and helped me discover how to become a writer. Shore Loser was the first novel to be published by Oak Tree Press. I’m proud to say Oak Tree Press will be publishing my second novel, Sea-Duction, in early 2013 and I am working on two more Jake Mortensen nautical mysteries. At 72, this writer’s life is very enjoyable, thank you very much!!
What single event started your writing career? Leave a comment and let us know.

5 comments:

Monti said...

Doug, I really like those four elements of writing that you mention--appearance, action, speech, and thought.

Hurricanes are scary. We get a lot of them on the East Coast. Today is very windy, with tornado threats in our area. Those conditions can certainly add to the background of a story. I'm glad your experience got you started on the road to publication.

Thanks for sharing what happened to get you started. My start in journalism happened by accident because I wrote a letter to the local school board asking them to change their policy and allow my daughter to start school before she turned six (no kindergarten here then. She had an October birthday, and the cutoff date was September 30. The letter, published in the town newspaper, caught the eye of a Richmond newspaper editor who contacted me, then came to my home to interview me for a reporting job. One incident can change the course of history just as it did in your case.

Monti
Mary Montague Sikes

Sally Carpenter said...

I like your ideas for character development--I may use them for a presentation I'll be doing next year for a writers group. The event that got me writing mysteries was an article I saw in the newspaper about a Sisters in Crime authors book panel at the local library. Something clicked in my head and I thought "I need to go to that." I listened to the writers talk about their books and I thought "I can do that!" During the book signing following the presentation I asked how I could join SinC. I starting going to meetings and writing, and four years later published my first mystery with OTP!

William Doonan said...

Nautical mysteries????? You had me at nautical mysteries! As a writer of nautical mysteries myself, I am going to have to give your book a shot.

William Doonan
www.williamdoonan.com

IC Enger said...

I enjoyed your post - and the reminder to always let the reader "see" the characters early. I'm finding, while writing the second book in a series, that I tend to forget that not all readers will have read the first book already. I need to paint the picture clearly for them too, but not in a way that seems repetitive to readers who already read book one.

IC Enger said...

I enjoyed your post - and the reminder to always let the reader "see" the characters early. I'm finding, while writing the second book in a series, that I tend to forget that not all readers will have read the first book already. I need to paint the picture clearly for them too, but not in a way that seems repetitive to readers who already read book one.