Every story really happened, but many are stranger than fiction. The longest is about a book challenge to a Kurt Vonnegut book in my classroom, an event that caused Mr. Vonnegut to write a letter to me about censorship.”
How did you discover that you were a writer?
A student in my education class at Monmouth College suggested I put into writing an inspirational story I’d told in class about the teaching profession. Telling and writing are two different processes entirely, and I was doubtful about the latter. However, I decided to try. After nervously editing “War and Remembrance” about fifty times, I sent it in to Teacher Magazine. They contacted me in two days and bought it. That was 2006. I thought, “Wow! It can’t be this easy.” Of course, it wasn’t after that. I self-published the teaching memoir of fifteen stories that began with that early one because publishers of education topics wanted textbooks. However, I say with a smile on my face, that this memoir has paid me a nice royalty check every quarter since September 2010. After that, I decided to move to fiction and write mysteries. My Endurance Mysteries were picked up in two weeks by Five Star Publishing (Gale/Cengage), and I’ve been writing mysteries ever since. So, I believe—finally—that I am a writer.
Describe your writing process.
Referring to my mysteries, I usually begin with an idea and spend several weeks thinking about it, making decisions, and solving problems. I also do a great deal of initial research since my mysteries often involve technical research such as mitochondrial DNA, cold case files, various kinds of wounds, blood spatter, etc. These, of course, are topics I never learned about while teaching high school English. I often interview people who can help me, especially coroners, doctors, and police detectives. I am an outliner, and I feel I must be so to make all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. The more detail in my outline, the easier it is for me to write and the less revision necessary later.
Generally, I write a chapter at a sitting, and chapters usually run around 2,000 words. I write best in the afternoon. After teaching for 44 years at 8 a.m., my mornings in retirement are slooow. I often edit as I go along, and I do a great deal of editing and proofreading at the end. When I finish writing each day, I make a list of what I will write about tomorrow. I have never had writer’s block, and that is why. I try to write every day, sometimes in my office and sometimes in my living room. Despite that statement, I don’t always manage to write every day because some days I play duplicate bridge. I must keep my priorities straight.
What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?
The Education of a Teacher (Including Dirty Books and Pointed Looks) is a series of fifteen creative nonfiction stories of students who came into my life and changed the way I thought or taught or viewed the world. It tells, chronologically, over four decades, true stories that are funny, poignant, interesting, and filled with ethical choices that teachers make. Every story really happened, but many are stranger than fiction. The longest is about a book challenge to a Kurt Vonnegut book in my classroom, an event that caused Mr. Vonnegut to write a letter to me about censorship. It is now framed and resides on my living room wall. The story I’ll read is the only one from my college teaching years. It is the final story, the period at the end of the sentence, the event near the end of the career. Every time I remember that night, I smile.
What are you working on now?
I just finished my fifth mystery tentatively called A Death at Tippitt Pond. I sent it off to my editor two days ago. While it takes place in the present day, it concerns a murder that happened in the early 1970s.
Click here for more information about Waterline’s September event.