Writer or Author
The word Author appears pompous to me; conjuring images of Longfellow and Victor Hugo and Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe and Emerson and Herman Melville; of suits with ties worn morning and evening in library rooms with the musty smell of burned tobacco and dank walls of dark moist books.
The way the old saw cuts, when you are unpublished you are a writer; as poker players say, you’re betting on the come. Once you reach the hallowed plateau of publication, you become by-God and luck, an Author. If you receive some kind of literary prize – no matter how insignificant – you are absolutely an Author. You can actually hear critics applauding with the cry, “Author… Author...”
When I started in the writing racket, fresh out of the Navy with a pregnant wife and living in a $50 a month duplex, cranking out a story a week for the Men’s magazines, that mostly came right back, I determined that I would be a writer; that I would write. Not that I would be a rich and famous Author, or that I would make a fine living with the written word, (although that thought always hangs back there scratching away) but that I would write, be a writer. The kids are grown and gone now and the wife is off living with somebody else. I never had the inclination to find a second wife, but I still write, wearing t-shirt and cut-offs, living on a battered old fiberglass sloop that I sometimes sail.
All my writing life I had to get up and go to work doing something else. I never had a career. I was a writer. Before and after work, I wrote. While years and life experience accumulated, I finally retired as Senior Editor of Technical Publications from Boeing. I now had retirement income and I could write full time. And I did.
As a writer, I never became a success. With dozens of published short stories and articles and a present count of 33 published novels, nothing ever hit the big time. No cash advance from mega publishers for a novel, no best sellers, no movie deals, no requests for a series based on one of my books, no fat royalty checks, no long lasting agents. Considering how long I’ve been at the writing racket, some might say that as a writer, I had failed miserably, and I am compounding the felony by continuing to fail.
My beginning efforts never hit Playboy or Esquire though I received many form rejection letters from them (at a time when publications were kind enough to send rejections instead of silence). My stories sold to magazines like Adam, Nugget, Male, Men, Best for Men, Men’s Digest, and I hit a zenith of some sort with a sale to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and then never sold them another. It was through the Men’s Digest and their connection with Neva Paperbacks in Las Vegas, publisher of Playtime Books that I had a request to write something as long as a novel. My mystery was titled, ‘The Surfer Killers’ and was published as ‘Surfside Sex’ with an advance of $500. I never made another dime on that 95¢ book, although you can’t buy it today used for less than $12. I still don’t make a dime on it.
That sale started the process of my novels. Because of ‘Surfside Sex’ I hooked up with Lyle Kenyon Engel and wrote a bunch of Nick Carter spy/adventure screw-and-kill books then got into my Operation Hang Ten series writing as Patrick Morgan, and years later began publishing my own books with small nobody-ever-heard-of publishers. Five books I self-published. I now write the Baylor Rumble and Logan Sand series of tough hardboiled crime novels. My association with small publishers continues. Although my royalty checks are small, I do get them, every quarter.
So am I an Author? Or am I still a writer? Well, I won this award. Unannounced, in the mail one day I received a Certificate of Award in the Mystery/Detective/Thriller category from the Southwestern Writers Conference out of Albuquerque. The thing was judged by the managing editor of Pinnacle Books. Heady stuff. Along with it was a $100 check. Being no fool, I quickly deposited the check before they realized the error and stopped payment. I had entered a contest based on the first three chapters of my novel, ‘The Farewell Heist’ and truly forgot about it. The novel has since been contracted for publication by my favorite small publisher and will be released July 2013. Publishers know to pass over the first three chapters of anything. Those chapters get all the work and polish while the rest of the novel may fall apart. Nobody puts much stock in the first three chapters, except, apparently, conference contests.
Ernest Hemingway considered himself a writer. Even after being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, he called himself a writer, never an Author. John D. MacDonald, Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake writing as Richard Stark, Denis Lehane, James Crumley, James Lee Burke – these guys call themselves writers. I like the company. I’m a writer not an Author. Except for one difference. That award must have gone to my head. When I was trying to impress an attractive woman at a gathering, I told her I was an Award Winning Author. I wrote low life hardboiled crime novels almost nobody reads. These days when I want to impress an attractive woman at a gathering, I just give her one of my cards. It states that I’m an Award winning writer of hardboiled crime novels. I verbally add the part about them being low life novels that almost nobody reads.