It wasn’t until I hit my 40’s that I discovered my God-given talent for the written word. The paradox here is that I barely made it through high school and scored particularly poorly in English. I hated to read. And through four miserable years of high school, I never once read a book cover to cover. I, of course, read enough to eek out a D+ grade on my book reports. But reading bored me to tears, so I wanted no part of it.
I didn’t belong to any fraternities in high school. Never made the football, baseball, swim or track team. I wasn’t a member of the chess club or choir or yearbook committee. Overall, I was merely an unpopular, skinny teenager from a broken home, who had no idea what the future would hold. The only thing I knew for certain was that I wanted out of high school and wanted a weekly paycheck.
Looking back at those early years and my dark demeanor, remembering how I struggled with English and grammar and conjugating verbs, it seems so surreal that I am a published author and published novelist. Our journey through life can often guide us to crossroads of opportunities that offer unforeseen bounties.
I’m not totally clear on how the first book came about. I wrote it in 1992. I think it was on a dare. I had been working in the retail automotive business, and a colleague suggested that someone should write an intelligent guide on how to buy a car and beat the dealer at his own game.
It was a challenge that beckoned me to confront it, and for some reason the whole idea excited me. With pen in hand—I didn’t own an early computer or word processor back then—I wrote the entire book longhand. I tackled this undertaking without an outline or even the most remote idea how this book would unfold. My approach was totally unorganized and unconventional. I just started writing, and the chapters poured out of my head. I could barely keep pace with my thoughts and ideas. For fear a fresh idea would fade to oblivion, I often had to stop writing long enough to scribble notes about a new brainchild that popped into my head.
Right about the time I had finished the book, IBM had just introduced their PS-1 home computer, complete with a 13-inch monitor and a 32 mega bite hard drive. Basically, it was a glorified word processor. Wanting to professionally format my book and submit it to a literary agent for representation, I swallowed hard and forked over $2,500 of my hard-earned money and typed my little fingers raw.
I submitted this manuscript to one literary agent in New York. Less than two weeks later, she called me and told me that Penguin USA offered a $5,000 advance and that she wanted to represent me. In 1992, under the Signet name, Penguin printed this paperback book titled, How to Buy the Most Car for the Least Money, and it sold about 22,000 copies nationwide. Amazing how easy this was, or so I thought. I now decided to write a novel, cash in on it and launch my career as a successful writer.
Unlike during my high school years when I abhorred reading, as an adult, I grew to enjoy curling up with a good novel. Never a voracious reader, I did manage to read a handful of novels year after year. Of all the genres, I found myself most fascinated with literary fiction; books with beautiful passages that are so poetic and lushly written that the reader cares less about the story than about the wonderful language. So, as you might imagine, that’s what I decided to write. Unfortunately, the good Lord did not bless me with the ability to write like Pat Conroy, Donna Tartt, or Charles Frazier.
I tried to write beautiful prose. Oh how I tried. But in spite of my efforts the words just didn’t flow. My dream faded to oblivion. After weeks of pouting and licking my wounds, I decided to sit in front of my $2,500 state-of-the-art PS-1 and write whatever popped into my head, even if it was absolute crap. I started with a very basic premise: I wanted to write a novel about twin brothers—one good and one evil. Not an original idea, but it was what my creative mind conjured up. The title came to me before I’d written a word: Divided by God. What an ingenious play on words. The twins were divided because God had divided one egg into two. And they were divided because one was good and the other evil. Brilliant, I thought.
When I started writing the first scene, I hadn’t the slightest clue where the story was headed. But just like with the car book, ideas poured out of my head. I simply could not type fast enough for my fingers to keep pace with my brain. One idea fostered another; one character produced another. Without an outline or even the briefest synopsis, I wrote a 100,000-word novel—and I did it in four months working nights and weekends.
In spite of my efforts to market, Divided by God, it never got published. Nor did my next thriller, To Climb a Mountain. To say I felt discouraged was an understatement. I now clearly understood how difficult it was for a first-time novelist to secure a publishing contract. I realized that I needed to write a truly unique novel; something that would catch the eye of an acquisition editor. So, in 1998, I came up with an idea to write a political thriller about the first woman president—long before the concept was even considered a possibility. I included an assassination attempt, a crisis in the Middle East (before the war in Iraq), and no political thriller would be complete without a diabolical conspiracy.
I received some great feedback on this novel. In fact, an editor from a major publisher wrote me such a complimentary rejection letter, to this day I’m unclear why he didn’t offer a publishing contract. But, once again, I’d written a novel that nobody wanted to publish. At this juncture, I pretty much wanted to give up the whole idea of becoming a successful novelist. However, when it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood. So, I thought I’d give it one more try.
I had no preconceived notions or expectations, nor did I have an idea. But the one thing I knew for certain was that my next and potentially last novel had to be extraordinary and I had to find a way to distinguish it from other thriller novels. I did some research and discovered that the serial killer genre was very strong. But I couldn’t imagine writing a serial killer novel. It was totally against my nature. In fact, as I stated earlier, my lifelong desire was to write literary fiction, not books about killers. How would I ever write a serial killer novel? And what I found even more disconcerting was knowing that my serial killer had to make Hannibal Lecter seem like a choirboy if I had any hope of getting noticed in the crowded publishing marketplace.
Once again I sat in front of a computer (not the PS-1; that was long retired), and began writing with no outline or even the slightest idea where this book was going. The only thing I knew for sure was that I had to create not just a serial killer, but my killer had to be an unimaginable monster.
The irony here is that I am a total pacifist and to create such a villain was completely out of character for me. I don’t believe in war and I am incensed beyond reason with any violent crime. I’m also a “casual” animal activist, and a vegetarian. As a matter of fact, I don’t even kill spiders or crickets that find their way into my apartment. When I see a bug walking across the carpet, I rescue it with a plastic container before my cat makes a snack out of it.
So, here I am; a guy who doesn’t have a violent bone in his body and I must literally reinvent evil. In spite of my angst and discomfort with writing such a novel, my desire for commercial success apparently overcame my anxiety because by all literary measures, They Never Die Quietly set a new benchmark for evil villains. And this is not merely my assessment. Those who have read this book thus far agree that Simon, the serial killer, has pushed the limits of the reader’s imagination.
As I write this bio in January of 2014, to date, Amazon Publishing has published three of my novels: They Never Die Quietly, Resuscitation, and I Do Solemnly Swear. The three books combined have sold 150,000 copies worldwide. I’m not yet hanging up there with the big guns—not even close—but for a skinny kid who nearly flunked English in high school, I think I’ve done pretty well.
Hypocrisy, my fourth novel should be released in February or March of 2014, and A Piece of You, novel number five, is scheduled for release later this year. The moral of the story? If you have a passion for writing, don’t let rejection hold you back or discourage you. Persevere and remember that rejection is a prerequisite to success. Keep those fingers poised above the keyboard and write, write, write.