I'm being interviewed for the Bold Strokes Books newsletter today, and I thought I'd share one of the questions/answers.
What made you decide to become a fiction writer?
I often hear published authors tell how they became interested in writing at a young age, and have written stories all their lives. That is not the case with me. Until my mid-thirties, I not only had no interest in writing, but I was inept at crafting English. The only thing worse than my spelling skills was my lack of knowledge regarding punctuation. In fact, it was my poor English skills that first propelled me down the road to writing novels.
You see, my career of choice back in the ‘80s was computer programming. I had worked my way up the technical ladder in a few short years. I became fluent in six different computer languages, and could create system level programs on several kinds of mainframe, mini, and PC computers.
After a successful project where I singlehandedly created the first application for people to trade stocks over the telephone while talking directly to the computer, I was offered a momentous break—a move to management. My company put me in charge of a group of twelve software engineers. I quickly found that working with people was much more rewarding than working with machines. I took to my new management career like a baby to its mother.
Six months into my new vocation, the V.P. of my division called me into his office and told me I was doing such a great job that he wanted to promote me to the next level of management and give me more staff. But, he said he couldn’t advance me because of my poor English skills. He complained that every time I wrote a report or sent an email, my English was so bad it made me look rather stupid, and he could not promote anyone who looked stupid. He suggested I take night courses to improve my writing skills.
I was not thrilled at the prospect of taking night classes while performing a fulltime job, but I knew I was going nowhere with a management career until I did. I finally found a Masters in Writing program at the University of San Francisco that only required me to spend one night a week sitting in the class room, but expected me to spend another twenty to thirty hours per week writing at home. I jumped at it, only because it was one night of classwork per week.
I had, rather foolishly, thought the course would cover proper grammar. But I soon found that college level courses focused on the techniques of writing stories, essays and poetry, and expected that students already knew the basics of spelling and grammar.
But by the time I realized that the course was not what I expected, I was hooked. What I lacked in English skills I made up for in storytelling ability. I bought some books on grammar, and worked twice as hard to come up to speed in order to keep up with the other students. Once I began writing stories for classwork, a new and wondrous world opened up for me. I had found a new love.
Six months after starting my course work for a Masters in Writing, my V.P. called me into his office to congratulate me on my improved writing skills. He proudly offered me a promotion to senior manager. I accepted the new position, but I was no longer interested in a management career. All I wanted to do was write stories.