This Writing Life--Mark Terry
Thoughts From A Professional Writer

Body of work
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November 7, 2005
I was watching 60 Minutes last night and Ed Bradley did a piece on Neil Armstrong. Armstrong has been very private over the years, but he's come out with a biography so he's plugging his book. Ed asked him why he seemed so reserved, ie., modest or uncomfortable, about being the first man to walk on the moon. Armstrong shrugged and said, "I think most people would prefer to be known for the day-to-day ledger of their work rather than just one moment of fireworks."

That resonated with me. Although I'm a long ways from feeling sorry for Dan Brown, there's a very good chance that if he writes 30 more novels he'll always be remembered for The Da Vinci Code. And Stephen King has commented about how so many people tell him they think The Stand is his best book and how it can be a bit disheartening and disconcerting to think that your best work is 25 years behind you.

To date I have written AND published:
2 poems (at least one)
2 short stories
2 novellas
1 novel
probably over 300 book reviews
probably 300 to 400 magazine articles
edited about 20+ technical journals
god knows how many blog entries for what they're worth.

It's a nice body of work so far and there will be more novels and many more book reviews, magazine articles and many more technical journals, which, by the way, also have things I've written in them.

It reminded me though of Ray Bradbury's note that an author needs to write about a million words before they get published. And at Magna an author commented something to me about how Joe Konrath was different because he had written 9 or 10 unpublished novels. I kept my mouth shut at the time, but I'm coming out of the closet, so to speak here. When you speak of me, be kind.

(my first novel written when I was 22 or 23. It sucked. I knew nothing about publishing. I sent it off to an agent, it was read by their illiterate reader who more or less slammed it. I'm not sure I ever sent it anywhere else). Basic plot: a scientist for a pharmaceutical company discovers that his company is involved in human research after gov't agents try to kill him. Great idea poorly executed, now that I think of it.

Almost published by St. Martin's. Didn't market it enough (didn't know anything). Basic plot: police procedural. Former pro-basketball player turned cop investigates murder of businessman; has international repercussions via money laundering.

Jack Bolosh. Got my first agent with this one, but he couldn't sell it. Jack was a professional gambler, which is a joke because what I know about gambling could be written on the head of a pin with Magic Marker. My later agent read it and said it reminded her of a Movie of the Week. Jack's father was an accountant for the Detroit mob and disappeared years before, into the Witness Protection Program, as it turned out, and now that he's dead, the US Marshal who hid him is looking for millions of missing mob money, as it the mob. A friend told me it was compelling but he could see why it didn't sell.

Stupidly wrote another Jack Bolosh novel. I don't even remember what it's about except it involved a corrupt Senator. I don't think it was ever marketed, or if it was it was met by wild lack of enthusiasm.

A rough draft of a screenplay, convincing me to stick with prose. Sucks in every way.

P.I. Conrad Wilson. Got another agent. Marketed throughout NY big houses. No go. Still a pretty good novel. Introduced character of Jack Bear.

Another Connie Wilson novel. Agent couldn't sell first one so didn't really try with this one. Don't think she liked it much either. Notice this trend of writing sequels to books that didn't sell. I would counsel that in most cases this is a very bad idea.

Wild comic crime novel featuring P.I. named T. Ray Drew. Then agent Joan wildly enthusiastic, gives it to senior partner Ben Camardi, who is also wildy enthusiastic, calls me on the phone to say so and sends out multiple submissions. Sends it to 8 or 9 NY publishers, all who pass. Great missed opportunity. I re-wrote this a couple years ago and tried it again without trying too hard. Sent to Poisoned Pen Press and was told it had the highest, most positive response they'd ever seen by their review board, but editor-in-chief shot it down with a "not for me."

Caper novel involving bad guys knocking off Indian casino. Kill off Connie Wilson. Bring Jack Bear to the forefront. Long story short, this novel eventually brings about the end of my relationship with Joan and Ben. They didn't like the first version, so I took their comments and re-wrote it, killing Connie. Ben liked it. Joan didn't. She freaked out and they had a big fight. Upshot? It never got marketed. Anywhere.

First Theo MacGreggor novel. Ben loves it. Aggressively markets it. No go. It has kind of a downer ending which I later change. Several years later this book receives first contract with Write Way, which goes out of business before publication. Then it gets picked up by Benoy Publishing, which also goes out of business before publication. I show it also to Poisoned Pen Press, more positive responses from review committee, also shot down by editor-in-chief.

Second Theo MacGreggor novel. Ben is more lukewarm, probably because he couldn't sell SECRETS. Shows it around to one or two publishers, then stops.

Third Theo MacGreggor novel. One of my favorites. Ben doesn't market it. Dicks around with it, and I finally say enough is enough and break off relationship with Ben Camardi and the agency. I had visions of another Chippeway Paybacks debacle and bail. This novel doesn't get marketed too much. Years later I show it to Irene, my current agent. She likes it, though doesn't love it, and it gets shown to a few people. They like it but have some problems with the "amateur" sleuth turned "professional advisor," aspects of it.

4th Theo MacGreggor novel. Never went past rough draft. Dark, brooding, gritty, erotic, kinky, and nobody's read it but me.

Gets turned down by Poisoned Pen Press. Picked up by High Country. First published novel. Jack Bear is a prominent, vital secondary character.

FOllow-up to DIRTY DEEDS. Currently being marketed.

First Derek Stillwater novel. Got agent (Irene), eventually sold to Midnight Ink/Llewellyn Worldwide.

Second Derek Stillwater novel. Part of 2-book deal with Midnight Ink.

Recently completed first draft of 3rd Stillwater novel.

Large enough to mention abortions:
About 100 pages in, a police procedural. Part of it may still come to life, but overall probably not.

About 100 pages of a huge biotech adventure. Irene hated it, so I put it aside. Tried to write it 2 or 3 times and it always dies around page 100. Has some good moments, but doesn't quite hold together.

And a whole slew of unpublished short stories, articles, essays, and miscellaneous chapters of novels where I wrote 20 or 30 pages and they never took hold.

And that's a writer's life, I think.

Mark Terry

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