Saturday, November 21, 2020

Why Write? ~ by Dwayne Clayden

The reason I write goes way back to my childhood. My earliest memories are of my mother reading to me. We had a truck and camper and I can see my mother reading the Hardy Boys to my sister and I. There was the Bobbsey Twins before that. When I could read on my own, I devoured the Hardy Boys series. I could not be without a book.

When I was about ten, when my reading material was getting low, I’d take the bus from our house to Kensington used bookstore. That was about a forty-minute bus ride. I rode alone. I’d take a few books (mine and moms) in and get a credit, then I’d scour the store for novels, and of course, comic books. On the bus ride home, I’d eat the lunch mom had packed for me and start reading. I admit, I read the comics first!

I graduated from the Hardy Boys to Ellery Queen, Earl Stanley Gardner and Agatha Christie.

I know that in my teens I had a basic plot for a story and the protagonist was “Bryce”. Beyond that, I’m not really sure what my plot was.

In high school I loved writing reports in social studies class and in English class I wrote satire. Saturday Night Live stuff, except this was before SNL! I think the idea came from the 60s comedy shows like Carol Burnette, Hee-Haw and Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. I wrote a thriller short story in grade 12, The Deadly Game of Chess. A murder mystery where people die under suspicious circumstances.

Now I was reading Joseph Wambaugh, Robert Ludlum, and Frederick Forsyth.

Then career got in the way. As a cop I wrote lots of reports, and when I look at some of them now, I didn’t write them very well! As a paramedic, I wrote patient care reports and I think I did an acceptable job on those.

While I was in paramedic class, I wrote a satire/National Enquirer one-page paper called the Paramedic Enquirer. It made fun of my classmates and instructors and the funny things that happened in the class. If a guy and girl walked in together, then that became a clandestine romance.  No one escaped a column in the rag and most of the class could hardly wait until I’d finished it, then circulated around the classroom, which got me in trouble quite a few times. Murphy’s law ensured the instructor got it on the occasions I had them in it.

Through my career I co-authored four paramedic textbooks, many research projects and training material. My daughter, Lauren, decided when she was about thirteen that she should read the pharmacology text I co-wrote. The next morning, she told me she fell asleep on the first page.

In 2010, I was going through a major life change. I was coaching high school football and that kept me busy and my mind off life. One morning in October, I was showering (I do my best thinking in the shower) and had enough self-awareness to know that once football ended, so did the distraction from life events. While the warm water cascaded down my face, I had the epiphany that I should write. I have no clue where that idea came from. At work, I Googled writing classes and one started the next week. I signed up.

The first piece I wrote and submitted to the instructor and classmates was about a significance event in Calgary Police history where a sergeant dies, and six other police officers were wounded. I was the only guy in the class, and I was nervous because it was a violent and descriptive writing.

To my shock, everyone like the piece. Unfortunately, they liked the bad guy the best and didn’t like the cops! My instructor commented that I knew my stuff, but it read like a procedure manual! I had a lot of work to do.

For the next four years, I took writing classes pretty much non-stop. I needed to learn to write fiction. I needed to learn to put the scenes I saw in my head into words. I could visualize every aspect of the story, but I struggled to get it onto the page. Excellent instructors helped me on that path.

There was one point where I received feedback that devastated me. After giving a great pitch, I was asked to submit the Crisis Point manuscript. I excitedly opened the email with the review. The primary comment was, “It’s like a police show is on the TV in the other room, and I don’t care.”

I set the manuscript side for about three months. Thankfully, I signed up for another writing class and set to improving the novel.

In 2015, after five years working on Crisis Point, I decided I would self publish it. I hired an editor, and we were slogging through the novel. Earlier, on the advice of another writer, I had submitted Crisis Point to the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis awards for the best unpublished novel. I admit I didn’t really understand what the awards were about. On a Thursday in late April 2015, I was a guest speaker at the Arthur Ellis finalist announcement. I’d finished my talk and was glancing at a bottle of Chardonnay and waiting for the last category to be announced—the Unhanged Arthur for the best unpublished novel. I admit, my attention was more on the wine than the announcement. Then my name was called as a finalist. There is no other word. I was Gobsmacked! Instead of wine, I celebrated with Whisky!

I attended the Crime Writers of Canada Awards in Toronto the end of May. To me, it was like the Academy Awards of Writing. I was still in shock. Seated next to me was an agent. She asked about my novel and my background.

I didn’t win the award, and I was disappointed. But heck, making the finals was great. As she was leaving, the agent gave me her card and asked for my manuscript.

After edit suggestions, she sent my manuscript out. Over the next year and a half, we received thirty-seven responses—rejections. That was a gut punch. Even worse, was most of the comments were complimentary on the writing style, the plot and the characters, but replies like, ‘We aren’t taking crime at this time.’ Or, ‘This doesn’t fit with our book line, we wish you the best of luck’.

By now I had spent almost seven years on Crisis Point. I also admit that my biological writing clock was ticking. Not that I’m ancient, but waiting two years or more for my novels to be published by traditional publishers didn’t work for me. I went back to my previous thought, and self-published. In April 2018, Crisis Point was launched and was a best seller in Calgary. There is immense satisfaction in holding your novel in print for the first time.

In May 2018, I was speaking at a writing conference in Burnaby, British Columbia. Between my presentations, I attended several sessions. One in particular, changed my writing life. It was a panel on “The best writing advice you received.” It was an excellent panel overall, but the advice of one presenter stuck with me. Essentially, it was that writing a novel is outstanding, few people to that. Getting a novel into print is fantastic, few people do that. But in the big scheme of things, a single novel is not enough. We are in a fast food, binge society and readers, when they find an author they like, want to read everything they have. If as a writer, you only have one novel, readers may love it, but if there isn’t another novel, they will move on to another author. generally w

With one novel launched, I worked on my second, OutlawMC.

The completion of each novel provides the motivation for the subsequent novel. I hope that my writing has improved. I rely less on outlines and more on the story I have in my head. With the help of a new editor, I am learning to describe the scenes, show emotion in my characters, and keep readers up late at night reading.

OutlawMC launched in March 2019, and Wolfman is Back in November 2019. Speargrass—Opioid launched in September 2020. Novels five and six are written. 13 Days of Terror launched in November 2020 and Goddess of Justice in March 2021.

Today, October 13, 2020, I am halfway through writing my seventh novel and 10,000 words into my eighth.

I admit to being obsessed. I write every day. When I started writing in 2010, it was a struggle to write 500 words in a day. Now, 2500-3000 in a day is not unusual, and I have had days of over 6,000 words.

I have a schedule with my editor to the end of 2023. The deadlines are important to keep me on track.


Listen to Dwayne Clayden's podcast episode here.

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