Years ago, I took a fiction writing class with author/teacher, Joyce Thompson at Lewis and Clark College here in Portland, Oregon. On the first day of class, the twelve of us settled around a big table, eager to begin. Joyce introduced herself, then proceeded to take a deck of cards from her briefcase. She passed a card to each of us. They were Tarot cards. She said, “Take a good look at your card, see what the image brings up for you, then write something. You’ve got twenty minutes.” Most of us sat there looking dumbfounded. Write something? About what?
At the end of allotted our twenty minutes, a few of us had managed to write a page, others a paragraph or sentence or two. We took turns reading aloud what we had come up with.
The following week, Joyce began the class by saying, “I’m going to give you three words. They are: Ring. Unhappy. Winter. Write something using these words. You have fifteen minutes.”
On the third week, we gathered again at the table. She said, “Today, I will give nothing. No Tarot card, no words, no prompts. You have ten minutes. Write something.”
Again, we went at it. At the end of this exercise, she explained that the purpose of these assignments was simple. They were designed to get us to the point of being able to sit down at anytime, anywhere and write something without waiting for inspiration, the right mood, or the Muse to drop by. “You must learn to write spontaneously, without preconceived ideas, without hesitation. When you have mastered the ability to do this, you will become a writer.”
While many years have gone by, I have never forgotten this experience. She was right. To be able to sit down, pull up a chair and start writing is the ticket.
I was raised in the small rural town of Amelia, Ohio, about twenty five miles out of Cincinnati. My younger brother and sister and I had a pony, a horse, many great dogs and a couple of motorcycles. We raised a lot of hell. My father served in The Big One at 17 and, after riding a motorcycle around Europe, became a lawyer and later a judge. My mother worked as a homemaker and nurse, a skill she had to use a lot with all of the injuries my siblings and I subjected ourselves and one another to.
I wrote my first mystery story when I was in fourth grade. It was about a kid a lot like me who heard strange noises coming from the attic and became convinced that the attic was haunted. Eventually, the mystery was solved when she investigated and found a squirrel eating nuts in a dark corner. It wasn’t a terribly exciting conclusion, but my teacher gave me an A anyway.
As a teenager I worked at a lot of different jobs. I worked at a gift shop in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which is a frequent locale in my books. I was a swimming instructor and a lifeguard where my primary goal was to never get wet. I did a stint in a stuffed animal gift shop at the Kings Island amusement park where I actually sort of met the Partridge Family when they shot an episode there. After graduating from high school, I went on to attend Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee, a stone’s throw from the Great Smoky Mountains. There was some more hell raising at college and I made some very good friends and occasionally we have our own private reunions.
In high school and college I played basketball and I graduated from Maryville College with a degree in Phys Ed. I went on to teach at Amelia Junior High, the same junior high that I had attended. There was something a little weird about passing by my old school locker every day when I walked down the hall as a teacher. Plus, some of the teachers I’d had back when I was in junior high were still working when I started to teach. Some of them had been none too fond of me as a student and I don’t think they were much fonder of me as a teacher! I coached the girls’ basketball and volleyball teams which was the best part of my job.
In my late 20’s I moved to the West Coast to get a broader perspective on life or something like that. I ended up working in retail security, or loss prevention, as it is now known, at an upscale Northwest retailer. I kept getting promoted and with each promotion, the job became less and less fun. It was a lot more fun catching shoplifters than sitting in endless meetings and crunching budgets. After ten years of that, I quit to try my hand at some serious writing. I wrote two books of fiction (not mysteries), Benny’s World and Kippo’s World, as well as a book of not-especially-reverent poetry called A Girl’s Guide to God and numerous short stories, articles and poems which have appeared in The Sonora Review, The Quarterly, Word of Mouth, Blue Stocking and 8-Track Mind.After that, it was time to go back to work. I got my private investigator’s license and hung out my shingle. At first, I took a lot of the cheaters cases. It seemed to me that if a guy thought his woman was cheating, he was usually wrong. On the other hand, if a woman thought her guy was cheating, she was almost always right. Eventually, I moved on to take mostly criminal defense investigation work which often involved trying to figure out what the client did and didn’t do and then minimize the damage of what they usually did do.