Most of my early life was spent as a real estate broker, selling farms and ranches, subdivision land and lots. And I was very, very successful at that task. But I had the urge to write. I tried a novel at the ripe old age of twenty-four, and after four chapters found I had little to say. Later in life, I found myself unmarried and living on a boat—and with time on my hands so I decided if I was ever going to fulfill this smoldering ambition, now was the time.
After completing a 500 page historical, I submitted it a few times, and got a few form rejections. It dawned on me that I had (as I have a tendency to do) plunged in where angels fear to tread. Only then did I decide to study the craft. I was lucky enough to marry a lady who approached things a little differently. She's a great study and had the background. A good grounding in English in college, and a voracious reader. And she, too, had the urge to write. Together, we went to writer's conferences, and separately, we wrote (although we did write one novel, TIN ANGEL, together).
And after paying our dues with many conferences, and many, many more hours in front of the word processor, it began to pay off.
One of my novels, Rush to Destiny, was nominated as a finalist as the best biographical novel of 1992 by a group of New York reviewers and the magazine Romantic Times /Rave Reviews. Another, The Benicia Belle, was a runner-up for the Western Writers of America Spur Award for best original western paperback of 1992, one of over 40 novels submitted that year.
Kat, my wife, (www.katbooks.com) has had her later books repeatedly on the best seller lists (her AGAINST series has hit the NYT six times as of this writing) and she has won many awards. She’s a New York Times bestseller, and internationally published in over a dozen languages and in over two dozen countries. And she’s earning more than she ever did in the real estate business—and she did very well in real estate.
Throughout the manual I've used the masculine gender, but I have a great respect for all the wonderful, talented women who write novels—even westerns or thrillers, commonly considered "men's fiction"—or want to write them, and for the women who read them.
No matter who you are or what your age, if you can read and understand this manual, you can write a novel. Some of you may take a long time to do so, some of you may whip out a masterpiece in a few months.
Like most any specialty, writers have their organizations. And professional organizations can make your education come more quickly, and can make your endeavors more enjoyable. It's hard to be alone in any venture, and knowing you have peers who have the same concerns and problems you have, and with whom you can share your successes, helps.
Western Writers of America, Inc. is a great organization which enjoys an annual meeting, which supports western and historical writers (both fiction and non-fiction), which gives awards annually to those they judge superior in their field, and which publishes a bi-monthly magazine called The Roundup. There are some requirements to join.
Romance Writers of America do the same for that genre, have many more members, and offer excellent support. Those interested in romance writing should join. There are no "published" requirements. RWA has a number of local chapters with meetings and support groups that are excellent for beginning writers. They have an annual conference.
Mystery Writers of America, Thriller Writers of America, and many other groups are out there for you, if you want to learn and share your wants and needs. Search for them on the net.
Some genres, in general, pay more than others, which is a result of reader popularity.
At one time, Zane Grey outsold all of them, and the western genre still enjoys a strong, faithful following.
Although it’s hard to get reviewed in national publications, as the market is admittedly small and generally not well respected…a prejudice many of us who love the west do not share. Thank God the elitists who display an indifferent attitude or worse to western writing, which in my opinion is the backbone of the nation’s literacy, are not nearly as influential as they would like to believe.
To illustrate what I say, I'll quote my good friend Richard S. Wheeler (a great western writer) who pointed out in a recent The Roundup article that the New Columbia Encyclopedia has admiring entries on several mystery writers (over 40) yet only one patronizing entry on Zane Grey and one on Owen Wister—no mention of Pulitzer prize winner A. B. Guthrie, Jr., or of Dorothy Johnson, Frederick Faust, Glendon Swarthout, Ernest Haycox, Walter Van Tilburg Clark, William MacLeod Raine, Henry Allen, Jack Schaefer, Louis L’Amour, or a dozen others worthy of note.
We western writers “don’t get no respect.”
I love westerns, but I also love thrillers, suspense, mysteries, and most non-fiction. And I love to read compelling writing of any kind.
And to write well myself I keep a number of reminders posted over my monitor, so I can’t help but see them every day.
REMINDERS: Over the top of my computer, along the edges of bookshelves just over eye-high, I have taped the following reminders:
Filter all description though point of view!
Problem, Purpose, Conflict, Goal—Active Voice!
Hear, See, Taste, Touch, and Smell!
There is no scene without conflict!
Check for As, That, Was!
Each of these has been taped there at various times throughout my writing career. And I still glance at them regularly, and they are still crucial to good writing. Other writers, I’m sure, have dozens of other reminders, but these work for me.
The rest of this manual will, among other things, tell you why I think the above reminders are so important and why, if you're a reader (and you shouldn't try being a writer if you're not), you'll never be stuck for plot or characters.
“I try to leave out the parts that readers skip.”
Elmore Leonard, Novelist