Tuesday, December 27, 2016

40 Years Later; or The Annual December 27th Post


Earlier this morning I posted about the Overlooked Movie GENIUS, which is mostly about writing and editing, and talked a little about my own influences and what my goals were during my early career. That leads into this post, where I'll expand a little on those things. Because today is the 40th anniversary of the day I became a professional writer.

If you've been reading this blog for very long, you know the story: newly married, working for my dad at the TV repair shop, pounding out short stories as fast as I could on an old manual typewriter, sending them out to any possible market, and more than a few impossible ones, because, hey, you've got to hope, right? Livia and I lived in an apartment attached to the side of an old house and didn't have a mailbox, so I used my parents' address on my manuscripts. The morning of December 27, 1976, I swung by there on my way to work. Nobody was home, so I was by myself when I got the envelope out of the mailbox that had Ideal Publishing Company as the return address. I tore it open and took out a check in the amount of $167.50, payment for my short story "The Voice on the Other End", a confession yarn published about four months later, anonymously, in the magazine INTIMATE STORY.

I mentioned in the earlier post that a part of me wanted to write The Great American Novel. Well, "The Voice on the Other End" sure wasn't it. But I also wanted to see my work in print and to get paid for it, and there was the proof of my ability to do that, all $167.50 of it. It wasn't cold hard cash, but it was the next thing to it, and once that check was in the bank it paid our rent for a month and bought a week's worth of groceries, and that was a thrill I'd never experienced before. That was probably where my mercenary instincts began to win out over my artistic ones, although it took a while for the victory to be complete, but my main goal ever since has been to write for a living.

I've done that, mostly. Over the next ten years I had several regular jobs but managed to write full-time for three of those years. Then, since February 1987 I've done nothing but write and have made an often precarious but sometimes comfortable living at it. I am, to quote Lou Gehrig without the microphone reverb, the luckiest man on the face of the earth. Never wrote The Great American Novel, but I've written some decent stuff under my own name and a lot of solid novels under other names that have entertained millions of people. I've brought pleasure to them in the good times and I hope I've helped them get through some of the stressful times, the same way that books have gotten me through many dark nights of the soul.

If you want numbers, as of today we're talking about 344 novels, one non-fiction book, and upwards of 150 short stories, novelettes, novellas, essays, articles, and book introductions. The fiction output alone is somewhere between 25 and 30 million words. I've slowed down some in recent years, but if I stay healthy I think I've got at least another five million words in me, maybe more.

As always, special thanks to Livia, who really does make it all possible; to our daughters Shayna and Joanna, who have helped out in so many different ways; to the editors who have bought my work over the years, from Sam Merwin Jr. to Gary Goldstein and all the ones in between; to the writers who have inspired me with their work and their friendship—I'd list them but there are too many and I'd leave somebody out—and to the readers who have kept me in business. I'm thinking this may be the last lengthy December 27th post I'll write, although I'll probably keep pointing out the anniversary here on the blog. If I make it to 50 years in this business, I may have a few other things to say.

Until then, thanks to all of you reading this as well, and now I have pages to do.

23 comments:

Bill Crider said...

An amazing career! Keep on truckin'!

Scott Parker said...

Wow! You are truly a modern pulp master. And from a writer who knows how to get things done.

What gets me, however, in your retelling, is the simple act you did upon the sale of that first story: you paid the rent and bought some groceries. Too often, folks get in to the writing business with visions of Dan Brown stardom. Or Stephanie Meyers. Or Stephen King. Or even Thomas Wolfe. But that'll never happen to the vast number of us. But for the folks like you, James, an example of what I sometimes call myself--a blue collar man working a white collar job--you are setting a standard for how to be successful in this business. It ain't always flashy, but dang if it ain't the best job in the world.

Congratulations on four decades of being a professional writer. And I, for one, and I'm pretty sure I speak for everyone here, want to read the 50th anniversary post.

Victor Wadsworth said...

Goodness gracious, Bill stole my thoughts to the word, I guess us old timers are on the same wavelength. I can remember back to the early 90's seeing all those Dana Fuller Ross books crowed the shelves at Safeway thinking, "who is this writer?". You have a mighty wide body of works and a fine one at that, indeed continue placing one foot in front of the other and carry on.

Richard Krauss said...

Congratulations making your dream reality, James. Here's hoping you tell many more tales.

ChuckTyrell said...

James, interesting that you and I started writing in the same year, though my check came from a magazine called Dog Fancy for an article about the Honolulu Zoo. By 1977 I was writing full time, but it was advertising copy, corporate literature, and magazine articles. So for the past 40 years, we've earned our livings with first a typewriter, then a word processor (ca. 1981), and now laptops and iPads. Your output is an inspiration. I must settle down and work in 2017. I swear. So good to know you and Lydia, James.

Walker Martin said...

James, you say you have not written the great American novel but what do you know? You've written 344 novels so the great one may be buried there somewhere! I can just see critics a hundred years from now saying that one of your novels was the greatest novel ever written. Unfortunately since you probably wrote it under another name, no one will know that you wrote it!

Paul R. McNamee said...

Happy (writer) anniversary!

Peter Brandvold said...

As one of those millions who has read a good chunk of your overall output, I thank you, James!

Keith West said...

Congratulations! Not sure what I can add to what's been said, so I'll say this. I put a lot more value on entertaining books than I do great works of literature. The ability to bring joy, comfort, or just a few hours of escape through one's words is a rare gift. You are blessed to have it. The truly great works of literature, as opposed to those beloved by English professors, all have an element of entertainment in them. Those are the ones people still read even when they aren't assigned. Without that element, all the other things that make literature great pale into insignificance. IMNSHO.

Charlie Steel said...

James,

I know how precious this revealing story of your writing life is. Thank you for sharing. I will cut and paste and send privately to the very few precious friends I have.

For what it is worth, it takes a person of great fortitude to sit down alone and conquer the world with words. I greatly admire Frederick Faust (Max Brand) and his words, and I especially admire Mr. James Reasoner for the same huge accomplishment of work. (That would also include the supporter of your many endeavors Livia, writer/publisher).

I know luck had nothing to do with such hard work, nevertheless, you are a lucky man!

Charlie Steel

Neil Waring said...

Congratulations and I bet you have more words to put on paper than you might imagine.

Richard Robinson said...

Four decades of facing blank, then not blank, paper (or screen), and molding the characters you punch onto them into words, sentences, stories big and small. Congratulations, James. You're a marvel.

oscar case said...

You've set an example for many writers. Congratulations!

Charles Gramlich said...

What a great tale! Even better than your fiction yarns, which are pretty damn good.

James Reasoner said...

Thanks for all the kind words, folks.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

I have never read one of your books or stories that wasn't fast moving, fun, entertaining, exciting...you add the adjective of your choice. How many authors have been able to sustain that - and buy groceries and pay the rent - over 40 years? Not many.

Congratulations and may you have many more years to come.

Cap'n Bob said...

Hats off to a great talent and energetic man. One could do a lot worse than read your books at the exclusion of all others.

And don't worry about the Great American Novel. Mark Twain already wrote it.

Steve Lewis said...

Besides the totally awesome number of books and stories you've written, James, think of the hundreds of thousands of readers you've entertained. It has to be, doesn't it? Millions??

David Cranmer said...

I've told you before, James, you are an inspiration. Never slow down, friend.

James Reasoner said...

Steve,
You got me to thinking about how many people have read my books, which prompted me to try to figure out how many copies have sold. It's impossible to come up with anything except rough estimates, but I think a conservative figure for copies sold would be around 10 million. I've heard that by considering the used book market, too, each new copy gets read on the average of three or four times. So even given the fact that many readers have read multiple books of mine, the number of unique readers has to be well into the millions.

And I can't even comprehend that. To this day I'm still pleasantly surprised when somebody says something nice about one of my books, and it's not even somebody I know!

Ron Clinton said...

One heckuva accomplishment, James -- keep up the great work!

Todd Mason said...

About three times as many novels as short-fiction publications is the stat that I find most telling...where the money is in publishing in these decades, as opposed to up through the early '60s...

Thanks for all the good work, and the excellent example.

And that was a hell of a good paycheck for true confessions even in 1976, no? (I wonder how much Chuck Tyrell got from DOG FANCY, and what the slant was on the Honlolulu Zoo, which I was just within earshot of day before yesterday.)

My first paycheck for writing was along the order of $5, for an article in KA LEO O HAWAII about the Animals reunion tour stop a the University of Hawaii in 1983. I have probably not yet spoken 30 million words in the interim.

May you and Livia go forward in your artistic careers as long as you choose to...and may the royalties keep coming.

James Reasoner said...

Todd,
Yeah, that was pretty good money for a confession story, and Ideal Publications paid on acceptance. The other story I sold them a month or so later brought in $175. But I never sold another one, although I wrote probably a dozen over the next year before abandoning the confession field.