I’m a novelist.
Two years ago I would have choked on those words. Even now, I find them boastful and unbecoming. You see, I worked in newsroom most my adult life and for me, fiction sits at the top of the writer’s food chain. For me to say such a thing, well, it’s as if I’ve stepped out of a closet and embraced some new sexual identity after sixty-two years on earth. It feels that defining and complex.
And yet, here I am. Published novel number one four years ago, number two in 2019 (A little scherzo plays in Drytown, Dart Frog Books, 2019) and am now releasing number three, Victim Eleven.
It is sort of a miracle at this stage of my life that I’ve arrived here, given where I’ve been. I worked all the stops—a community weekly (the Downtown News); a business journal (LABJ); a well-run regional daily (Press Democrat); a major metro, when there was such a thing (SF Chronicle); the wire (AP); and even what some called a tabloid (the L.A. Daily News).
And I was as hard-bitten as anyone. I had an editor once call me into his office to scold me about being too loud. He said that he had his door closed and was on the phone and he could still hear me. “Who the hell were you yelling at?”
I can’t remember who it was, might have been the mayor or maybe a county supervisor. But yeah, I lived big in the Fourth Estate.
You would think after all that time ringing up hard news day after day, there wouldn’t be much left. Suffering boneheaded editors, crushing deadlines and mind-numbing story assignments—you would think that any spark of creativity would have been wrung out of me a long time ago.
Apparently not. Although, now that I’m out of the control of said boneheads, I’m finally free. I think that’s a major motivation. I can write what I want.
I toyed with fiction in the past, many times, at different stages of life. But it was four years ago that I sat down in earnest, after my marriage failed and I needed something to keep me off a bar stool more than I would otherwise employ. At first it was just me and the keyboard. Saturdays and Sundays and in the evenings and on holidays. Most of what got written on the weekends didn’t survive the critical self-review on Monday mornings. Then, a spark of something made it through.
I got it to a point where I showed it to someone and received encouragement. That’s all it takes sometimes with a guy like me, a mere shake of salt on the ego goes a long way.
To be honest, however, if applause was all I was after, I’m pretty sure I would have found something else to do by now. Writing is work, damn hard work. And the notion that I’d get even a sniff at success, at my age, is pretty far-fetched.
I know this. And yet, I carry on.
Let’s be frank—I want the babes and the Benjamins as much as the next guy, but that’s not why I work.
Let me explain it this way.
There’s a story, maybe a tale, maybe something published in Surfer Magazine in 1968. Maybe it was something my oldest brother just made up.
Anyway, there are these guys that lived in the same beach town in SoCal where I grew up, but they were older than me. They were good friends and all good surfers, one or two of them had an international standing. There was this big contest down in Huntington, maybe the world championships and all the friends entered.
When they got down there on Friday afternoon, they found the surf was almost flat and the outlook for the weekend wasn’t promising. No way would the organizers call the event off.
Early Saturday morning, before the first heats, there came news of big swell hitting up north. About half of the friends jumped into a van and drove like mad up to Ventura, maybe California Street, maybe Point Dume, I don’t remember. The other half stayed in Huntington and competed in the contest.
On Sunday afternoon, the guys that detoured north came back to watch. One of their friends had made the finals. This guy, the finalist, called out his best buddy who’d jettisoned the contest.
“You could have been here with me, man,” he said. “You might have won this thing.”
The buddy gave his friend a shrug and gestured toward the surf, which was still two-foot and wind-blown. “Yeah, well, we got the waves, man, we got the waves.”