Post No. 4: Back Story
October 7, 2005
My father, Will Stevens, was a reporter for The San Francisco Examiner, one of the two dominant San Francisco newspapers in the 1950’s and 1960’s. (The other was The San Francisco Chronicle, which still exists.) He was also a novelist, short story writer and poet. On the weekends, starting Friday night, he would regularly stay up until three or four in the morning, typing on an old Underwood typewriter and smoking endless cigarettes. As a romantic figure, Hemmingway had nothing on him.
He worked at various projects for years, and, in his late fifties, finally got a break. The Examiner’s book critic, one Luther Nichols, left the newspaper business to become the West Coast acquisitions editor for Doubleday. My father showed Nichols his latest project, a book called Three Street, about the bums in what was then San Francisco’s Skid Row. Doubleday ended up buying it and it became a local (but not national) best seller.
I myself became a professional writer at the age of fifteen, when I began writing a weekly music column called Modern Music for my home town newspaper, The Vallejo Times Herald, where my dad had once been managing editor. In college I got one article published in the UC Berkeley literary magazine, not a small achievement, but after I graduated I abandoned writing for several years.
The insurance payoff from a rather severe auto accident that put me in hospital for nine months in my late ‘twenties gave me a chance to devote significant time to writing once again. I wrote two novels over a period of about five years, a techno thriller that almost made it into print and a semi-autobiographical spy novel that never went anywhere.
All the while, I was actually making my living as a writer. I started out on technical manuals, then moved up (in pay, at least) to advertising copywriter, and finally ended up working as a creative director, which still involved a lot of writing.
At a certain age, no matter how clever you may be, it is no longer possible to market yourself as a “creative,” the term used for writers and art directors by the marketing types who hire them. I transitioned into PR, specializing in high tech and education, and now spend most of my time writing marketing documents and web copy for large multi-national corporations.
This is not the ideal day job for a novelist. Most people have only so much writing energy per day, and if you use it up writing a speech for the CEO of a Fortune 50 multinational, that energy will probably not be there for your main character’s crucial interior monologue. But my freelance work does pay the mortgage, and it keeps me up to date on the technology that has played such an important role in my fiction.
To be continued…