Ray-Rhamey-150wAs it turns out, storytelling is my life. As a boy, when I read the Book of Knowledge the short stories and novellas were always the most fascinating parts. When I teened, I moved on to science fiction and fantasy via magazines such as Analog and If and a galaxy of mass market paperback books. SF and fantasy have been a constant in my reading ever since.

I also consumed comic books by the bale, which led to a desire to be a cartoonist--not in the sense of a style of art, but as a creator of drawn stories. As an adult, I created a couple of comic strips in hopes of becoming a professional cartoonist. Came close with one, but it wasn’t to be (yet--there’s a graphic novel growing in my mind). Some of the cartoons in Jump-start are mine.

As a copywriter and then creative director (read: editor) in advertising for twenty or so years, most of my seventy produced commercials were thirty-second stories, with beginnings, middles, and ends. My adverstorytelling propelled me to the top tier of the Chicago advertising scene. Just for fun, here are grainy videos of my two favorite Budweiser TasteBuds commercials, Pizza and Forecast, that ran in 1979.

While in advertising, another form of storytelling called to me: screenwriting. I left Chicago advertising to tackle screenwriting in Los Angeles and studied the craft in books, at UCLA, and at the American Film Institute. A few speculative screenplays later, I signed with an agent. But, while I could craft screen stories in a professional way, I never came up with a story that anyone wanted to invest millions in producing. Novels have to clear the same story hurdle.

However, a two-minute animated Cap’n Crunch commercial from my advertising days that was, you guessed it, a story, helped me land a scriptwriting job at Filmation, one of the top Hollywood animation studios at the time. I became a story editor, writing scripts and editing the work of others. I have twenty half-hour screenplay credits from that gig. During that time, I also scripted a video adaptation of The Little Engine that Could for Universal Pictures; it’s on the shelves in video stores.

But I moved on from that place and that job, re-entered advertising, ran into ageism, and began reinventing myself as an editor. Starting as a subcontractor for an online editing service, I edited beginner novels, and I became a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association and the Northwest Independent Editors Guild. I launched an online editing service, editorrr.com, in 2001, and have had modest success. I depend on a day job as a writer, editor, and video producter for a university to pay the serious bills.

As a form of guerilla marketing to generate editing work, in 2004 I started Flogging the Quill, a blog about the art and craft of storytelling. FtQ has become a popular litblog on the Internet: consistently in the top ten blogs on the Publishers Marketplace site; more than one hundred blogs link to it; and thousands of writers stop by every week for my coaching, essays on craft and storytelling, and critiques of writing.

While editing jobs have come to me as a result of the blog, the most satisfying part has been helping other writers conquer writing difficulties--you should see the delight in the thank-you notes I receive. I’ve also used the litblog as a springboard to doing editing workshops focused on storytelling at writer’s conferences

 

And then there’s the novelist side of me

I’ve completed five novels over the last ten years, learning as I go. A couple of them were viable enough to land a literary agent.

In terms of focus, I guess “commercial fiction” is mine, although I haven’t settled into a single genre. So far my work doesn’t conform to the expectations of genre fiction. As best as I can label them, my stories are:

  • A speculative thriller
  • A murder mystery set in the Old West
  • A 1950s coming-of-age story with a mystery sub-plot
  • A literary fantasy, set in contemporary America, which could also be considered a speculative thriller
  • A satirical, tongue-in-cheek riff on the vampire myth

I don’t know where I’ll venture next—with luck, it will be dealing with the publication of one of the novels I’m shopping. I also hope to make the time for my graphic novel.

My education as a writer includes:

  • Bachelor of science and master’s in psychology
  • Years of on-the-job learning at top advertising agencies
  • On-the-job learning as a story editor in film
  • Courses in script analysis and screenwriting at the American Film Institute
  • The absorption of a gazillion books on the craft of writing novels and screenplays