When the Navy cut me loose from active duty at twenty-two, I used two index fingers for all my typing. Some famous writers work that way and they whizz right along. I was neither good at it nor fast. Once out of the canoe club I went to work at a regular job and moved into a close-by motel paying by the week. I met and acquired a beauty queen pregnant wife and we rented a one-bedroom duplex in a Southern California armpit town that shall remain nameless.
I had announced to almost-family that I considered myself a writer who wrote every day, though nothing published. As a start, I intended to write Men’s Adventure magazine stories. Coming back at me, two things had to happen. I had to learn to type regular using ten digits, and all literary output would be conducted in the broom closet—orders from the blossoming Mom. The place was a very small duplex. Most brooms, mops, brush and buckets in the closet had to go. What was left I’d work around.
My pregnant bride taught me to type on a tired ancient Corona, but I was not a quick learner. When I eventually started to get the hang of it, she decided she also needed to be my editor. I didn’t mind that but she had a heated passion for the exclamation mark (!) and thought every other sentence needed one. I decided to do my own editing, though she read everything and gave me valuable input. That was more important than realized. Not many I know today read anything of mine, let alone everything. She continued to read my stuff for decades until she passed.
Events bounded forward as they tend to do, and we had a daughter. Per my wife’s instructions, another pregnancy became my duty. My rowdy ex-Navy buddies wondered what kind of shape the girl had, they’d only seen her pregnant for the past two years. I allowed as how her beauty queen shape was none of their business. Our aim was to get one of each, then call the act of procreation complete and finished.
Meanwhile, every week I sent a story out, seven days later it came right back in rejection. These were to magazines like Adam, Best for Men, Male, Men, Men’s Digest, and I was in company with writers like Con Sellers and Richard Sergeant, and others more successful than me that few ever heard of. Higher up the ladder were True and Argosy where the bigger guys hung out, like John D. and Richard Prather and Lawrence Block, and others. Even higher up the ladder were Playboy and Esquire, where Salinger, James Jones and the new kid, Jack Kerouac, jotted off pieces. This went on for more than a year—send them out, they came right back. I was still in the broom closet.
More time hopped along. My son was born and we announced that was enough. We bought a house and I went from the broom closet to a tiny corner of the kitchen, then a tinier corner of the adult bedroom.
Two years later after more than a hundred rejections, I sold a story to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, heady stuff. I started hitting all the minor men rags to the point I was selling most of what I sent. Thanks to connections from that, I wrote and had published my first paperback mystery novel. Because of the novel, I received a phone call from a New York producer-huckster-agent. He wanted me to start writing spy-adventure novels for Award Books and Merit and Mcfadden-Bartel under pen names like Nick Carter, Patrick Morgan, and Ray Stanley. I wrote a lot of stuff. My typing got better.
The marriage ended, never repeated by me. One marriage per lifetime was enough. I just didn’t have the necessary attitude for that much togetherness. The ex-wife demanded ownership of the kids, the house, the furniture, the best car, and the Corona. I moved into a studio apartment and carried on a two-year affair as a drunk-player-bartender in a swinging singles-only Southern California apartment complex, from which I barely recovered. My world crowded with bright-eyed, deep breathing, swivel-hipped, bikini-clad nubile teachers and flight attendants eager for more experience that I happily obliged. Not one was interested in what I wrote or how I wrote. Like the marriage, that bit of wild fantasy evolved into personal then distant history.
Since I was under contract to produce a thrilling adventure novel in six weeks, one after the other, I had splurged for a shiny new Sears Tower typewriter. The money from my books was good enough for a writer-bachelor to live on. I had to buy another new Tower every year. The L went to hell first—my neighbor told me mornings the thing sounded like a machine gun. I pounded on the keys without mercy, usually with a hangover. My typing had turned fast.
I never wrote a thing on an electric typewriter. That mini-second pause when you hit the key before the type clicked on paper was too distracting. I’d lose my complete train of thought. The latest craze was something called a computer, but the complication of those gadgets buzzed way out of my solar system. I’d really be distracted trying to figure the thing out. I have much the same problem today.
But, computers and I did become acquaintances. We have a nodding relationship—it says nodding, I say nodding. At first, I tried to use it as just a word processor, but criminy, I could actually learn stuff from it—even me.
I got into computers about the time my kids outgrew love no matter what and didn’t much like the old man. Love today always comes at a cost. Some pay it, some won’t. Only a dog will love you no matter what at no cost unless you beat it every day.
No more closets or tiny kitchen and bedroom corners, I moved onto a small sailboat that I owned outright and became a writer-sailor-bachelor. I still live on a small sailboat, though not the same one. It provides a table and comfortable setee for the laptop. When needed, a printer still has to be dragged out from a locker. Female companionship, while always welcome, is, by necessity always temporary. For most women, a sailboat is like camping, not everyday living. And nobody but a writer can live a writer’s life.
Certainly, I could never return to a mechanical typewriter turning out novels at the volume I do. I’ve gone long beyond the six-week contract for wild adventure. I write only under my own name. Most of my writing is published independent. I like to think my stuff today is better. Many might not agree.