It may be the Fourth of July—Happy Birthday, America!—but it’s also Wednesday and time to write this week’s post.
I arrived in Seattle from Phoenix on July 2, 1981, driving a 78 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham with my two kids in the back seat and a U-Haul trailer that was hitched to the back. Packed in with all our worldly goods in the trailer was my dream of becoming a writer. Less than a year later, in March of 1982, I sat down to write my first novel. Fifty plus books later I can truly say that I’m living that dream. Next week, however, when I’m in NYC for ThrillerFest, I’ll be awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by Strand Magazine. One of the other Strand honorees this year is Michael Connolly, so this is truly an honor. Although, considering I was 38 years old when I started writing and am 74 now, I’ve only been writing 51.3% of my life—just a tiny bit over half, so maybe the good folks at Strand round up.
It should be a memorable event. After the award cocktail party on July 11, Bill and I will be hosting folks from both my publishing houses for dinner. Visions of a banquet with the Montagues and the Capulets come to mind, but I trust the dinner will be fun, too. Growing up in Bisbee, New York City as a sophisticated, exotic place. I still can’t quite believe that I get to be part of it sometimes. In my heart I will always consider Arizona my home, but Seattle will always be my creative home because this is where I finally gave myself permission to live the dream.
When I’m out on the road, people often ask if I keep a notepad on my nightstand so I can jot down ideas that come into my head overnight. My stock answer to that is, “No, I don’t. If the idea isn’t good enough to last until morning, it isn’t a good idea.” What started me on that path, of course, is that before the miracle of Lasik I was blind as a bat without my glasses—20/850 and 20/900. So locating my glasses as well as a pen and paper in the middle of the night just didn’t work for me. In other words, I didn’t get into the habit of doing that to begin with and see no reason to change over to some other system at this point in time.
What about dreaming books into existence? Nope, dreams don’t work for building books. Thinking builds books. Early on, the kids were uneasy when I sat staring into space without saying a word. My position is it takes about twice as much time spent thinking to write a book as it does time spent keyboarding.
But that doesn’t mean that dreams aren’t part of the writing equation. As I was finishing writing Field of Bones, for example, one of the characters from the book appeared in a dream and we had a long, interesting conversation. That had never happened to me before in my whole life.
Sometimes book tours surface in my dreams, where I miss a flight connection and get locked out of my hotel room while wearing only a robe. The latter actually happened to me once, when I was sitting out on my patio at the Arizona Inn in Tucson, reading my paper and drinking my coffee. Who knew that as soon as you closed the door, you wouldn’t be able to open it again? I had to call the front desk on my cell phone and ask them to send a bellman.
This week I had another book tour dream. I was on my way to do an event “on the other side of Ajo.” To my knowledge, there isn’t anything between Ajo and Yuma but “the other side of Ajo” is where I was heading. When we got to Ajo, most of the town had been wiped out by … wait for it … a Tsunami! Who says dreams have to be logical? The body of water closest to Ajo would be the Gulf of California, and that’s a very long distance to cover. Nonetheless, instead of going on to the signing, Bill and I stayed on to help dig people out of the mud.
But writing about the dream just now, reminded me of my time as a District Manager with the Equitable in Phoenix. A lady came to work for me, claiming to be a CLU—a Chartered Life Underwriter. She filled out the forms, I turned them in, and—mistakenly—assumed that someone in the home office would do some kind of background check. She came on board with the potential for a “big book of business.” She had a very wealthy and most likely certifiably nuts prospective client named Frank who wanted to turn Phoenix into a seaport by building a canal from the Gulf of California to Buckeye. That never happened, and the book of business never showed up, either. Then, one day at lunch, my newbie agent happened to mention something about being a Certified Life Underwriter. Hello. Accountants earn a CPA designation—Certified Public Accountant—but for life insurance folks a CLU is CHARTERED LIFE UNDERWRITER!
I went straight back to the office, found a copy of her job application, and did some checking of my own. It turned out that not only was her “CLU” bogus, so were all of her references. I fired her that very afternoon. As I write this, I wonder whatever became of her. She was an older woman who claimed to be a widow. That may or may not have been true as well. And I wonder whatever became of Frank. I can tell you for sure that he never bought insurance from me or any of my other agents.
Most of the time, my dreams are entirely forgettable. They disappear into the ether within moments of waking and are gone by the time I make it to the coffee machine in the kitchen. This time the dream has stayed with me, and writing about it just now brought back a memory that I hadn’t thought about in twenty-five or thirty years.
So the old gray cells are still working away, and to quote another song from the Fifties, Memories are Made of This.