Desk Impressions and the Writing Life


Although I’ve never participated in NaNoMa (National Novel Writing Month, held, of course, in November), I received an interview request from Webucator Training Services, who do participate, and I agreed to answer the interview questions. The Q & A are below.

Photo by Southwest Spirit Antiques

Photo by Southwest Spirit Antiques

What were your goals when you started writing? I think my first goal in writing must have been to make an impression. Not necessarily on people, but on something. I say that because when I was seven years old my mother bought me my own desk, a kid-sized maple roll-top one. My very first day at the desk, I wrote the word hill so hard that my pencil pressed through the paper and into the desk surface. Forever after, the word hill stared at me from the desktop.

It was, I now realize, a sign that the road to publication would not be easy. For that — publication — was my goal when I started my first novel. This was in the late 1970s, and the novel was about a female major leaguer. I titled the story Bases Loaded, but when the book was published in 1987, the publisher titled it She’s on First.

Contemplating goals, 1986

Contemplating goals, 1986

What are your goals now? My goals now are the same as they’ve been since I first started writing books: to write the kind of stories that speak to me, and to have them published so that others can read these stories.

However, today writers have publishing opportunities that didn’t exist in the previous century. We have the opportunity to self-publish beautiful-looking books and market them to interested readers. So my goal of getting published now takes two different paths. I submit books to traditional publishers, and I also self-publish.

What pays the bills now? Savings from past work-for-hire jobs help pay the bills, as do teaching gigs and public speaking. Although I taught English at a junior college years ago, I now teach only on a freelance basis: various classes on subjects such as “How to Write a Novel” or “How to Self-Publish through CreateSpace.” In addition, I turn many of my book topics into presentations for the public. Two examples. My best-known book is Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball (Harcourt, 1993), which happens to be nonfiction. Twenty-one years after its publication, I’m still giving talks on various stories from the book. One of these talks, “When Women Played Baseball: The Story of Margaret, Nellie, and Rose” was chosen by the Illinois Humanities Council as a Road Scholar topic in 2014.

My most recent book, Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies (CreateSpace, 2014) also affords me many opportunities for giving classes on the mystery novel itself as well as on writing the mystery novel. Both of my examples of income-producing work come from nonfiction books, but each of these nonfiction books actually stems from the novel that preceded it —  Women at Play came after I wrote the novel She’s on First, and Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel came after I wrote the mysteries Dirty Proof and Sound Proof. Even if you think you’ll never write anything but fiction, you may find that looking at the nonfiction angle of your novels helps produce steady income.

Assuming writing doesn’t pay the bills, what motivates you to keep writing? The answer to this question is very short: I could not “not write.” The world offers limitless topics and possibilities. I am a writer, and writers write.

What advice would you give young authors hoping to make a career out of writing? Read books, particularly the kind you want to write. Never stop reading books! Take classes in writing, go to writers conferences, meet editors, and at the same time explore self-publishing — having more than one iron in the fire is good business sense. Join a critique group of trustworthy writers who will help you say what it is you’re trying to say.


If by chance you want to write mysteries, check out Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies. Wishing you a smooth and steady path to your writing goals.

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