July 8, 2010
Want To Be a Writer? There’s Hope For Us Late Bloomers.
“I had a headful of gray hair and a hell of a lot of miles under my belt before I even thought about writing fiction. I published my first suspense/thriller, The Cutting, with St. Martin’s Press just three and a half years later.”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart began composing minuets at the age of five and penned his first symphony when he was nine. Pablo Picasso earned his first public exhibition in his native Spain at thirteen and, by sixteen, was winning public honors and a national reputation as an artist of the highest caliber. Orson Welles directed Citizen Kane at twenty-five and F. Scott Fitzgerald published This Side of Paradise at twenty-four. Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, came four years later. He died at forty-three.
A lot of people think creative genius, for those who have it, inevitably blossoms early. Apparently, that simply isn’t true. For all of us who spend our early years toiling to pay mortgages and college tuitions yet nonetheless yearn to express ourselves as writers or artists or musicians, there is hope.
I just finished reading a fascinating essay titled Late Bloomers by Malcolm Gladwell, the bestselling author of The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers. I would recommend this piece (which appears in Gladwell’s latest book, What the Dog Saw) to anyone who wants to enter the creative life late in life.
Gladwell’s main point is that for every Picasso who explodes on the scene early there is also a Paul Cezanne, who wasn’t recognized as a decent painter, let alone a genius, until he was well into his fifties.
While I, in no way, pretend to genius, early or late, I did have a headful of gray hair and a lot of miles under my belt before I even thought about writing fiction. I published my first suspense/thriller, The Cutting, with St. Martin’s Press just three and a half years later.
To be fair, I had experience as a writer. But a different kind of writer. I’d spent roughly twenty-five years as a copywriter and creative director for some of Madison Avenue’s biggest advertising agencies, happily churning out TV and print campaigns for mega-clients like Procter & Gamble, Ford, and the U.S. Army. After leaving the agency business, I continued writing. Brochures, newsletters articles, a few ads, an annual report or two and a few rip-roaring speeches for non-writing CEO’s who were unable to turn out prose, on their own, that would accomplish little more than allow their audiences to catch up on their sleep.
None of this was fiction. But all of it helped my hone skills that served me well when I decided to try my hand at writing the kind of books I enjoyed reading. Murder mysteries. Suspense thrillers. Whodunits.
I started writing The Cutting on January 2, 2006. On June 23, 2009 the finished product was published by St. Martin’s/Minotaur.
The lesson in all this is simple. To be successful as a novelist, you have to have an ear for and a facility with the written word. You have to practice your craft and make your writing as good as it can be. And you have to be disciplined enough to get up every morning and work hard.
The one thing you don’t have to be is young.
Like McCabe, I’m a native New Yorker. He was born in the Bronx. I was born in Brooklyn. We both grew up in the city. He dropped out of NYU Film School and joined the NYPD, rising through the ranks to become the top homicide cop at the Midtown North Precinct. I graduated from Brown and joined a major New York ad agency, rising through the ranks to become creative director on accounts like the US Army, Procter & Gamble, and Lincoln/Mercury.
We both married beautiful brunettes. McCabe’s wife, Sandy dumped him to marry a rich investment banker who had “no interest in raising other people’s children.” My wife, Jeanne, though often given good reason to leave me in the lurch, has stuck it out through thick and thin and is still my wife. She is also my best friend, my most attentive reader and a perceptive critic.
Both McCabe and I eventually left New York for Portland, Maine. I arrived in August 2001, shortly before the 9/11 attacks, in search of the right place to begin a new career as a fiction writer. He came to town a year later, to escape a dark secret in his past and to find a safe place to raise his teenage daughter, Casey.
There are other similarities between us. We both love good Scotch whiskey, old movie trivia and the New York Giants. And we both live with and love women who are talented artists.
There are also quite a few differences. McCabe’s a lot braver than me. He’s a better shot. He likes boxing. He doesn’t throw up at autopsies. And he’s far more likely to take risks. McCabe’s favorite Portland bar, Tallulah’s, is, sadly, a figment of my imagination. My favorite Portland bars are all very real.
Visit James on the web at http://www.jameshaymanthrillers.com/.