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I’m about the same age as Joe and Ed, the last of 4 children. I grew up on the VA side of Washington, D.C., in the suburbs. It really was an idyllic childhood.

I started writing fiction since I could write words. Why? I’m not sure. I really like to tell stories, and writing is my medium. I still have two “books” I wrote in the first grade. Spelling was, uh, primitive. All I ever wanted to be was a writer. (Except for briefly aspiring to be a paleontologist, a race car driver or a baseball pitcher.) I wrote stories and sold them to my contemporaries in junior high and high school. I wrote stories and submitted them to magazines. I felt like I was getting close to a sale, because I started getting the stories returned months later with handwritten letters from the editors.

Then it was time to attend college. I have a talent with math, so I majored in engineering. All the men on my father’s side of the family got engineering degrees from VA Tech. It was my destiny. While I earned my engineering degree, I took nearly enough classes to minor in English. Two of the classes were creative writing, and one of those spawned “The Dream”; the short story birth of “Xylene”.

Out of college, I never stopped writing. Even when I wasn’t putting words on paper, I was thinking about writing. I tried several shots at extended versions of “The Dream”. I wrote two articles for Printed Circuit Magazine, and one of them was requested for reprints for at least ten years. I started on a science fiction novel. I got bored with it. I took a writing correspondence course. I wrote stories, which I hoped to piece together into an episodic novel.

I’ve read at least fifty books on writing. One of them inspired me to plot a novelized version of “The Dream”, so, about twenty years after college, I started on “Xylene”. I worked at it for about five years and accumulated about a hundred thousand words, and then I dropped it. Why? It was getting too easy and routine. I figure if my writing is boring me, then it’s probably boring everyone else, too.

I started collaborating on a fantasy book with my brilliant and artistic son Jasper. It was writing this book that I learned two very important lessons.

I wanted to be a serious writer. I wanted my writing to be taken seriously. However, when writing seriously, crafting each sentence and organizing the flow of thoughts was agonizing and took forever. I decided that I should flop down my ideas and then seriousify them in editing. Writing the rough draft suddenly became much easier. And I found that writing in my own voice with my usual sarcasm and irony was well-received by my test audience (i.e. Jasper). I stopped trying to be a serious writer and decided to be myself.

There are thousands of details and decisions a writer makes, and almost all of them depend on the writer’s audience. I started out writing for editors, and when I gave that up, I didn’t know for whom I was writing. The “average” reader? Finally, I decided I would write a book that I would want to read. I was the audience, and that worked out pretty good, because I’m an expert on what I’d like to read. Now the decisions are easy.

Anyway, I was about a thousand pages into the fantasy book, when it started feeling too routine. I picked up ‘Xylene’, after it had been languishing for a decade, and I read it. I thought it was good enough to finish. (I can’t predict how I will feel about reading old stuff. Most of the time, I hate it.) So I resumed the narrative. I’ve always wondered if my writing changed from 2008 to 2018. Can you tell from reading the book? Toward the end, I’d written out certain passages long-hand, and most of the rest was in my head, waiting to be typed. On a good day, I’ll write 500 words. The last day writing the rough draft, I wrote 3500 words. Stephen King writes 10,000 words per day. This explains why he writes a book in three months, and I write a rough draft in 15 years.

I did a first-pass edit, correcting obvious structural problems and “continuity” errors. Some songs are mentioned obliquely in different parts. I had to make sure they agreed. I had, on a piece of paper, X Band’s three albums and which songs were on which albums and who wrote which songs. I should have been more thorough.

I did a second pass to smooth out the narrative. My rough draft narration would wander. I streamlined it. I also added some words to connect the dots of my thoughts. The length of the book didn’t change more than a couple of hundred words. I was surprised at how much easier the book was to read after this.

I did a final edit to correct spelling and punctuation. But I couldn’t help fooling with the narration a little more.

When I was taking my writing correspondence course, I was counseled by an actual writer. One day I was sanding my porch railing. The more I sanded, the more I needed to sand. I probably could still be sanding that railing. It seemed like a metaphor for writing. Writers always hound beginning writers to edit thoroughly, relentlessly, and so on. So I asked, “At what point can you stop editing and call your work done?” The writer answered, “You just know.” The comment could be viewed as dismissive, but I chose to see it as profound. One day (December 23rd, 2020), I was fiddling with some words, and I realized ‘Xylene’ was done. I just knew.

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