“Once upon a time…” I hitched a ride on the pumpkin to publication—in the proverbial Cinderella kind of way. Let me show you my glass slipper for proof.
For more than a quarter-century, I subsidized the U.S. Post Office as my stories went out and rejections came home. I sat back in my recliner of resentment and took stock of all the wonderful things I had written, which were never quite good enough for publication. I considered myself a writer: I wrote every day, I developed characters and plot lines, and I killed many trees—for back in the day, we wrote on typewriters. I was a writer, but I really wanted to be a published author.
Oh, I had some measure of success with short stories. I grew smug as I imagined the comfortable living I would enjoy, with those 50- or 100-dollar checks flooding into my bank account every other month. I thought of drowning my misfortune in booze, like all woeful writers stereotypically did. I would have done it—if only I could have afforded even rotgut on what my writing brought in. Short stories would have barely sustained my daily diet of Saltines and Alpo.
I needed help. I needed guidance. I needed a Fairy Godmother to save the day. In desperation I trudged all over the un-enchanted kingdom, studying the experts’ advice on what road to travel to achieve publication. I read books and articles and studies. I asked agents and editors and academics. The mantra was always the same: MFA.
Now earning a Master of Fine Arts degree would have been no easy matter. I took stock of my education. With only a garden-variety undergraduate degree, I would have been looking at years in the classroom, learning all about how to fall asleep from boredom. As a writing student, I would have had to go through nearly as much school as medical students, without the payoff.
So, I never did get an MFA, but I do possess a PhD—Post Hole Diggin’—earned from years of constant hard work using the talents and skills I filed away. I went about seeking publication a different way. I took stock of my talents and filed them in not-so-neat bins in my memory, where I could tap into them when my fiction needed them. The gift of survival working as a street cop went in one bin. Ability to process crime scenes and knowledge to analyze evidence went in another. Experience in handling death in infinite ways made it in yet another bin, while living off the land went in a separate bin. Each time I wrote, I dug up the authenticity I needed from plucking the folder out of the filing cabinet of my mind.
This is how I wrote Death Where the Bad Rocks Live. When my sleuth, Lakota FBI Agent Manny Tanno, worked a crime scene in the Badlands National Park, I opened the “Hiking the Badlands” file to add my own kind of legitimacy to the opening scene’s portrayal of a very unforgiving environment. When Manny had to examine decades-old human remains, I accessed the “What I Have Learned in 38 Years as a Lawman” file and flipped pages in my mind until I came across remnants of old cases involving skeletons picked to the bone. And when Manny had to interview a reluctant suspect, I grabbed the “Interrogations” file. Manny vicariously picked the bad guy’s brain through my reality.
That reality consists of experience working all areas of law enforcement for almost four decades. For at least three decades, my reality also included writing every day without fail—without regard for sleep, hunger or other distractions. If you are a writer, like I was, who wants to become a published author, you have to start with yourself. Take stock of your talents. Inventory your knowledge. Accept your experiences.
Then write. And submit. And write. And submit. And do it again and again until you succeed. If a lawman from the least populated state in the nation can get published by a major house, then anyone can give up waiting for Prince Charming to find the discipline within to live “…happily ever after.”
C.M. Wendelboe was a deputy sheriff in Wyoming. He lives and writes in Gilette, Wyoming.
Author photo courtesy of Heather M. Wendelboe.