The Writer

The Writer

I’ve been writing almost my entire life. Well, at least since the age of 9. My Aunt Nancy lent me an Hermes manual typewriter (remember those?), and my writing career began that summer in her and my Uncle Jack’s finished basement.

From things on ships, science fiction, and short stories, my writing evolved into edgy fiction, poetry, and essays. I was an editor of our high school literary magazine, won the New York Times Award for Literary Excellence (much to the chagrin of my fellow editors, who saw me as a maverick, which of course I was), and went on to eventually, somewhat by accident, become a reporter writing for two different weeklies (and was assistant editor of one) while, by then, living in some small place in Upstate New York.

Somewhere in there I learned two key truths about myself. First, as some lines in one of my poems put it, “I cross alone, myself, my only home.” And a bit later, again expressed in a line of poetry, a second truth: “I write best in borrowed rooms.” These things have stayed with me since. I also adopted what were to become the guiding principles to my creative process and my life: Explorations, Creations, Liberations.

When I moved from Woodstock to Key West, the first job I turned down was at the local daily. “You won’t want to work for what we pay,” the interviewer (and star reporter for the paper) told me. He was right, even at my low salary expectations. Work as a short-order cook at HoJo’s paid better, and later I went on to found my own monthy features publication, Key West Alive, which, by the time we stopped publishing, had gained the largest readership in the Keys.

I found myself working in a field for which I had absolutely no formal training, so decided to go to graduate school and find out what I didn’t know. I was admitted to the College of Journalism and Communication at the University of Florida and learned all sorts of good stuff about this profession I had been practicing. It wasn’t the cakewalk I was expecting, but getting that Masters in Mass Communication degree remains one of the best things I’ve ever done.

I then went from a being a reporter at a Gannett weekly in Central Florida to the choice position of Science Writer at the sister daily TODAY (the model for USA TODAY, and now FLORIDA TODAY), primarily covering the space program at Kennedy Space Center and Canaveral Air Force Station. This was a real blast, covering those mighty launches taking place on the pads at KSC and the Cape and all the events and people surrounding them.

One thing that always sustained me as a journalist was writing all sorts of different kinds of pieces when I had the chance. These included theater and art reviews, feature stories about interesting personalities, some world-renowned, some not, humor, poetry, and whatever else appealed. At times this included actually launching a weather rocket from Cape Canaveral and flying into a tropical storm on a NOAA storm-hunter plane. I think at times this approach was instrumental in preserving my sanity.

By this time I recognized a third truth about myself, which is that I am a shameless publicity whore. Seeing my byline on the front page fed this need almost daily.

Journalism led into public relations when I founded and headed ITech International, and I subsequently won the Golden Image Award, the top award of the Florida Public Relations Association, for a global public information campaign I conceived and produced for Europe’s largest aerospace group and the German space agency. Public relations then led into diplomacy, and I served as a U.S. diplomat for 11 years, with postings in Fiji, Algeria, Washington (covering the Middle East as an intel analyst), Albania, and Brazil. Writing was a big part of both PR and diplomacy, even if it wasn’t always the kind of writing I preferred to do.

More recently, I taught both creative writing and journalism at the university level. I’ve enjoyed being able to impart to students my professional skills and knowledge as well as my journalistic ethical standards, derived at a time when these things actually mattered.

After more business and marketing pursuits, I finally decided it was time to get serious about the kind of writing that had been inside me and waiting to burst out much of my life. And that’s where I’m at now. Along the way I discovered a fourth truth about myself, which is that I write best in bite-sized pieces. This tendency manifests itself in my shorter pieces (short stories, vignettes, articles, and essays) as well as in my novels. My mind, such as it is, goes into spasms when I think of sitting down to write 85,000 words, but chapter-by-chapter, I get there. And I think the story is more interesting to the reader as a result since each chapter has to both tell its own story and help build the entirety.

A long time ago, a dear friend, taken by a drunk driver from a vibrant life and promising career at far too early an age, told me something that has stuck with me ever since. She concluded that you can’t just “want” to be something, but you need to“be” it, in the present, whatever “it” is. Her “it” was photography. Mine is writing. Yours might be that, or something else. It took me too long to actualize Iris’s epiphany she came to and shared all those years ago. Maybe her words will influence you, now, to “be” whatever it is you decide you want to be.

Finally, I’ve read lots of “rules for writing” by various authors, and these have been a big help. One of these days I’ll probably write my own rules for writing and put them up on this site, but for now I’ll let my writing speak for itself. I hope you enjoy it, and I welcome your comments.