Who's that man behind the curtain?
I’m married, with two twenty-something daughters, two dogs, two cats—in fact, two of everything but wives, and only because she won't let me.... I'm a scratch golfer (in my dreams, although I have made a hole in one) and a former Mensa member (not because I got stupid, but because I stopped paying my dues).
Even as a child, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up: an astronaut, a baseball player, and a pirate. By my early teens, the goal had changed to architect. Then, by high school the plan was to become a lawyer. That goal persisted through college, where I earned my BA in Criminal Justice in only 2.5 years.
Two years of law school later, I decided that the law wasn't for me after all, and took a job with IBM. That association lasted for 35 years. Although I enjoyed creative writing while in school, I never envisioned making a living as a writer.
Life has a funny way of taking its own path, however. In one of my many jobs within that behemoth of a computer company, I found myself writing hundreds of technical database articles (describing how to do this or how to diagnose and fix that). My work was praised to the point that I eventually compiled that and other information into a series of online books in 1989 (long before PDF), and made it available both internally as well as externally to customers.
The books were so popular that I began including user surveys with each copy, asking how often people used the books, how many technical support calls were avoided by using the information in the books, how much additional money the customers spent on IBM products as a result of using the books, etc. When the results of several hundred surveys came back, they were stunning: The books were saving the company more than 2,000 tech support calls a year, and generating more than $3 million in additional revenues! I forwarded the survey results to upper management and a year later, in September 1991, found myself the recipient of a nice plaque and a $150,000 award!
Encouraged by these results, I decided to try my hand at writing a printed book. The result was the OS/2 Power User's Reference: From 2.0 through Warp 3.0, published in December 1995 by McGraw-Hill. Unfortunately, it came out right after Windows 95's debut, which pretty much killed the market for the OS/2 operating system—and OS/2-related books. The book is still listed on Amazon.com, although long out of print. (The last time I checked, it was the #8 best-seller under OS/2 books.)
Undaunted, I decided to try novel writing, but couldn't come up with a worthy project at first. In 2000, I took at stab at the children's picture book market, writing With a Name like Jeremy Hippenzoodle. My next project was a novel. Most writers would have started small, with short stories, and worked their way up. But not me. No, I had to start at the top. It took until 2003 before I decided to finally sit down and just do it. (Sorry, Nike.)
From the first day to the last, including significant editing along the way, the first draft of The Tesserene Imperative (TTI) took all of 69 days to write. And it was brilliant, right? Ha! But it had potential. The story was sound, but the writing needed a lot of work. Over the next four years, I periodically went back and polished, expanded, and edited the thing to death, until it finally gleamed like a precious gemstone. (Well, maybe semi-precious.)
In the meantime, I wrote some short stories, humor pieces, and rhyming sci-fi poems, and sold my first piece of fiction, a 100-word story (called a drabble) for the whopping sum of $1. In 2004, I wrote my second novel, The Mars Imperative (TMI). Later that year, I was hired to ghost-write three (out of seven) chapters of a nonfiction book called Exploring IBM Server & Storage Technology, 6th Edition, by the publisher of Maximum Press. The book came out in January 2005.
In 2005 I began work on the third book in the Imperative Chronicles series, tentatively titled Reunion. Halfway through the story, it dawned on me that unless a publisher bought the first two books, there wasn't much point in finishing the third one. So I put it aside and concentrated on editing TMI and TTI, as well as writing my second children’s picture book: Marvin the Marvelous Mole Man. I also wrote a four-chapter sci-fi novella.
In early 2006 I had the idea of writing a sci-fi novel about a wisecracking private detective who gets kidnapped by aliens and has to save the human race--and the aliens. That idea turned into Sunrise Destiny. Then in 2007 I wrote a new novel, My Other Car is a Spaceship, an expansion of the unpublished novella I wrote in 2005. It’s the story of a retired air force pilot who's snatched by people on a spaceship and recruited to fight space pirates. Lots of shooting and things blowing up.
While in the midst of writing My Other Car is a Spaceship, I was fortunate enough to sell my first two novels to a small-press publisher. TMI was published in June, with TTI following in October. By late 2007, there were rumblings of financial problems at the publisher, which then closed its doors in early 2008. But right on the heels of that disappointment, I sold Sunrise Destiny to another small-press publisher in April 2008. It was published in May 2009. (That publisher has closed its doors now, too, as of Summer 2014.) The second (improved) editions of TMI and TTI are now available again on Amazon via the magic of self-publishing. After more than a dozen drafts of TTI, spanning more than a decade, I'm finally happy with it.
My Other Car is a Spaceship was published in August 2014. The children’s books are still looking for a good home. In 2015, my fifth published sci-fi novel cam out: Aliens Versus Zombies. That was a fun book to write.
Meanwhile, I have two other books in the works: a sequel to The Tesserene Imperative (The Galactic Imperative) and a stand-alone post-apocalyptic novel set on the moon (Mooncrash: The Fall of Mankind).
I also wrote a nonfiction book for writers, called Frequently Misused / Misspelled words and Phrases (and How to Use Them Correctly). It came out in December 2014.
All of this definitely wasn’t the path I had envisioned for my life, back when I wanted to be an astronaut, a baseball player, and a pirate. Yet I managed to hang onto a bit of that, instead writing about astronauts and pirates. (And who knows? Maybe lawyers and baseball players, too, someday.)
For a humorous Q&A with Mark Terence Chapman, go here.