A Book Writers Should Read

Posted on July 23, 2013


All You Need is Persistence, Skill, and Faith

Realistically, it’s been 2 months since I posted anything. Which is crazy because I just got published on Gink and Gasoline and I seem to be hitting some kind of critical mass and my brain is on fire.

And, it’s not like I haven’t been writing. I’ve been writing a lot. I just finished a four document set for Microsoft (even though I work full time at Starbucks), and I’ve been blogging pretty incessantly about agile software methodology (which is so incredibly boring I promise never to sully this blog with it again), and I decided that if I was going to start a novel well, like 30 years ago would’ve been a good time but today works too.  So I outlined three of them and got cracking on that, 3×5 cards piled around me while I watch television (The Sting, btw). Oh, and I am 3,000 words into a new story.

In the mean time, I actually started reading. Something I do mostly on airplanes and when I’m home on vacation. I also normally keep a book in the car to fill all of those moments of down time.  A few years ago my sister gave me The Gigantic Book of Fishing Stories, edited by Nick Lyons, and I began toting that around, thinking that now Nick is gone there is a vacuum in the world somebody needs to fill (hence I own flyfishingfiction.com and flyfishingliterature.com). These are the kinds of books that probably made me a writer, sitting in my parents’ library on stifling summer days pouring over them.

I decided to talk about The Golden West because it contains stories by 3 incredibly successful authors, and you should always study successful authors, not just for their writing, but also for their career path.

The Golden West, 3 Books in One

Zane Grey the man who made a million dollars, went fishing, and never stopped writing

One of the stories in the Lyons book was by Zane Grey, and one was about him. I’ll paraphrase, but you should read the article. He was one of the authors in the library I never got to. Now it turns out if you fish, or write, or both, you should really get to know this fellow.  Born Pearl Grey, (get it?), he wrote Riders of the Purple Sage and 57 other Western novels, topping out as the greatest selling novelist of all time. People were paying him $85,000 a book – in 1939. 112 movies were made from his works.  By far, far, the world’s record.

And that’s not all, he was a helluva fisherman. In the book Zane Grey’s Adventures in Fishing, the editor said “It is reasonable to assume that no one will ever challenge his right to be know as the greatest fisherman America has ever produced.” He had all kinds of world records and fished in places nobody had ever thought of.

He started off  as a dentist, but it really wasn’t for him. He wrote his first book, and couldn’t find a publisher, so he essentially vanity published it, including illustrating the book and the cover. Yet this was enough for him to quit dentistry. His next two books flopped, and his next was turned down by an editor who said “I don’t see anything in this to convince me you can write either narrative or fiction.”

Here was a man, 36 who had ditched a lucrative career, poured his all into it, and had a  pregnant wife to boot. As he tells it “When I staggered down the old stairway and out into Pearl Street, I could not see. I had to hold on to an iron post at the corner, and there I hung fighting such misery as I had never known. Something came to me there. They had all missed it. They did not know… and I went back to Lackawaxen to the smile and encouragement that never failed me.”

That’s right, he didn’t quit –  he redoubled his efforts, supported by his wife, who was also his editor.  Tell me you want to write and I’ll spend some time with you. Show me you want to write, and I’ll do whatever I can to help you out.  Read that article. Then don’t read anything else until you write something.

After I read that article  I’m thinking, next time I have time to kill in a bookstore, I should check this guy out. So I’m walking through Pioneer Square on my way to see my good and long-lost friend Jessa when I do just that and see the image book there broad as day. Three short novels by three superheros. Don’t let the Western milieu put you off.  These guys all wrote psychodramas and moralistic tales, the environment was merely a convenient backdrop.

Max Brand the man you never heard of

I’m just going to take this paragraph straight from Wikipedia, because it sums it up pretty well, italics are mine:

“He wrote more than 500 novels for magazines and almost as many shorter stories. His total literary output is estimated to have been between 25,000,000 and 30,000,000 words. Most of his books and stories were produced at a breakneck pace, which sometimes amounted to 12,000 words in one weekend. New books based on magazine serials or previously unpublished works authored by him continue to appear, so that Faust has averaged a new book every four months for seventy-five years. Moreover, some work by him is reprinted every week each year, in one format or another, somewhere in the world.”

This guy was writing 1.2 million words a year, under 19 different pseudonyms, often publishing three different stories in one issue of a magazine, under three different names. In the 1930s, he was making $2500-3000 a week, which was then a good yearly salary. For a while, he was outselling the Bible (and certainly was more widely read). He invented Dr. Kildaire, amongst other characters. Even though he discovered he had a chronic heart condition in 1921, he never overcame missing out on WWI and  in 1944 he became a war correspondent and died of shrapnel wounds in a foxhole on the front lines.  Of the three, his work is probably the most literary.

Louis L’Amour, you probably heard of

But never read. I know less about him, except that his career seems to be largely one of luck, falling into gigs to replace other writers and getting contracts for up to three books a year. He also wrote incredibly fast and was never edited so that his work is full of errors, and yet he was a very popular author.  He basically recycled 7 plots and numerous scenes over and over again. This was largely backed up by publisher marketing and self-promotion has he ceaselessly toured and promoted his works. I don’t mean to come off as bad mouthing him, he was very successful, including creating Hondo, which became a John Wayne vehicle. But he worked for it. He engineered it. He took the chances he was offered. He spun commercial pulp into gold.

Nobody will ever hear of you

Because  you are a dilettante, and so am I, but somebody had to say it. These men were forces of nature. They created against all odds over a long span of history. While their subject matter seems the same, their successes were achieved from the turn of the century through the 60s and continues today. All of these creators and so many more faced steady rejection before they made it, but they knew in their hearts what they were, who they were. If you have that in you, anything you do that is not your passion is wasted time. I don’t care what moves you, don’t let life get in the way because in the end all we have is the people we love, our integrity, and the things we create. Become a force of nature and the world will have to follow you.  I need to go finish my 2000 words for the day, why are you still reading this?