It's impossible to say why we like one writer more than others. Or prefer one style of writing more than the rest.
Kinda like when we're drawn to one person in a crowd.
The big guy who sat beside me at an MWA Board meeting and told me about how he just had to put down his cat. Then became my friend for life.
The quiet woman in Lewis Frumkes' Writing Center at Marymount Manhattan, now, many years later, my first reader.
The generous winner of 32 Emmys and many top writing awards - one of the most generous souls on the planet!
I don't recall when or how I first noticed our guest for today - it may have been on a blog, or a mention by a kind friend. Or reading his novel about a former FBI profiler. Or his high-octane thriller about Tall Chambers.
When you read his simple but deep words here today, I think you'll fall under the spell of one of the nicest guys on our planet too.
Please welcome—again—Earl Staggs…
T. J. Straw
I’ve heard it said that if you’re doing something you enjoy, it’s not work. I’ll attest to that because I have two jobs I dearly love.
Bear with me a minute while I tell you how it came about.
I’ve worked since I was fifteen. That’s how old you had to be to get a work permit for an after-school job in Baltimore. My first job was in a men’s secondhand clothing store. My chores were simple: restack pants on the right tables and return jackets and suits to their racks after browsers finished with them, and sweep floors. The owner even paid me extra to meet his daughter after night school and walk her home through the tough neighborhood. I made enough to buy cigarettes, clothes with an employee’s discount and Clearasil for occasional acne breakouts.
Later, while still in high school, I had similar jobs in a five and ten, a women’s clothing store (where I did not buy any clothes), and an Army surplus store. That kept me busy and out of major trouble until I graduated and went in a new direction: office work.
I worked for a couple years in a building contractor’s office followed by a long stint in several departments of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. At the B&O, I crawled up the ladder to Office Manager and met a beautiful coworker named Carol.
Eventually, Carol and I married, and I left the confines of inside office work for outside sales, first in business forms, then insurance, along with jobs in a large bank and a national trade association. I even spent time as an independent business consultant.
During that time, Carol and I concentrated heavily on our most important job, which was raising two beautiful daughters and spoiling four beautiful grandchildren.
You may be wondering why I’m telling you all that boring personal history. Simple. I wanted to impress you with the fact that I’ve held a number of jobs. Some I liked and some I stayed with only because I needed a pay check.
And then it was time to retire. I thought it was time to take life easy. Maybe take up golf or gardening. Little did I know that, before long, I would have two new jobs, both of which I dearly loved. Besides that, I didn’t like golf or gardening.
I decided to try something I’d always wanted to do… well, ever since my high school English teacher said I had a natural talent for writing. I decided to try my hand at writing fiction.
I call writing a job because it involves hard work. Ask any writer.
To begin, I signed up for a writing class at the community college. The class happened to be about writing short mystery stories. It was a natural fit since mystery had always been my favorite genre for reading and for movies and TV shows. By the end of the class, I had written a short story called “The Missing Sniper” involving a psychic private eye and, of course, a murder. It took a while to get it published in a magazine. (Actually, it appeared in two magazines simultaneously, but how that happened is a whole ’nuther long story.)
The response to the story was so positive and encouraging, I wrote a mystery novel featuring the same protagonist and called it MEMORY OF A MURDER. Over the next few years, more of my short stories found publication as well as another novel titled JUSTIFIED ACTION, which I called a Mystery/Thriller. I also published a collection of my stories called, of all things, SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS.
I love my writing job. I love the part where I stare at a blank screen and accept the challenge of sprinkling a lot of words all over it in such a way that a good story is told. Someone once said it’s 10% writing and 90% rewriting. I believe that. Rewriting is taking what seemed like a good idea but turned into a hodge podge of words in need of rearrangement, replacement, and refinement. It can take hours, days or longer.
Finally, the right words are in the right place, the story works, and it was worth all the hard work. Validation that you’ve met the challenge comes when someone agrees to publish it. That’s the part I love best.
After that happens a few times, you can say you’re a writer. You may not say it aloud and you may not say it to anyone else. It may only be a silent feeling somewhere inside. But, for sure, you’re a writer, Once you reach that point, you will always be a writer because you can’t not write. The challenge is irresistible.
|Earl the Writer|
So, I decided to get another job. I didn’t want a full-time job because that would cut into my writing time. I wanted something part-time, not hard or too demanding, but a job that got me out of the house and gave me access and interaction with other people. Maybe I could stand in the doorway of Walmart and say, “Welcome to Walmart. Do you want a cart?” That was one avenue I considered in my search.
Then, purely by chance, I came up with the perfect second job. I found in my yard a flier from the local school district. They were hiring school bus drivers. I’d never considered anything like that, but I was curious and called them. I went for an appointment and was hired the same day.
Driving a school bus would entail working a couple hours in the morning to get the kids to school and a couple in the afternoon to get them home again. In between, there would be about six hours of free time. Time I could spend writing. Perfect!
It took a while to get started. You have to study a manual about the size of the Dallas phone directory and take a test to get a Commercial Drivers License. Then you have to actually learn how to drive a bus. You have to get used to operating a vehicle as big as three cars with a dashboard having as many buttons and switches as a small airplane. You not only have to drive and use all those buttons and switches, but you have to keep an eye on fifty kids behind you. If they’re not sitting down or are making too much noise, you have to remind them they must remain seated while the bus is in motion and to use their inside voice. Five minutes later, you have to remind them again. Kids will be kids, you know.
In spite of that, once I started, I loved it. It helps that I like kids. Most of them.
My kids range from kindergarten to eighth grade and while spending time with them in the morning and again in the afternoon, I get to know them. Occasionally, some will misbehave. I even have fun with the discipline. Once I told them, “If you don’t behave, I’ll have to kill you. I don’t mind going back to jail. Some of my best friends are there.” They know I’m a kidder and they laughed, but they got the message. I enjoy seeing them every day and watching them grow. The kindergartners and first graders are the most lovable. I get plenty of smiles and hugs from them.
I also get to know their parents and teachers. Oddly enough, in conversation with them, the fact that I’m a writer always seems to pop out. Once a salesman, always a salesman, I suppose. Many of the teachers and parents have bought my books and frequently ask when the next one will come out.
|Earl the Bus Driver|
Read Chapter One of MEMORY OF A MURDER
Read Chapter One of JUSTIFIED ACTION
Read THE DAY I ALMOST BECAME A GREAT WRITER which some say is the funniest short story I’ve ever written
Read WHITE HATS AND HAPPY TRAILS about the day I spent with a boyhood idol, Roy Rogers.
I know some people with jobs they love, but I don’t know anyone with two of them. I think I’m a lucky guy to have two that go together like Holmes and Watson, Castle and Beckett, peanut butter and jelly.
What do you think?
© 2015 Earl Staggs