19 May 2017

I Never Intended to be a Writer

  Family Fortnight +   Leading up to the International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you the final story in a series about mystery writers’ take on families. Settle back and enjoy!

by Janice Law

I never intended to be a writer. My aspiration was to be a reader, a much more relaxed, lounge-in-the-hammock occupation, and this for two reasons: I liked to read and I did not much like to write. Let me amend that. Writing was tears and anguish right through my Master’s Degree, an educational experience that left me determined to teach writing completely differently than I had been taught– or mis-taught.

First serious writing 

It was the visual arts that attracted me. I apparently drew well long before I could read or write and to this day, painting seems more natural and easier than writing. I only escaped the hard life of the serious painter because I lacked confidence and because I knew I was too thin-skinned to stand about while potential buyers sniffed that a picture “wouldn’t fit over our sofa or match the drapes.”

In fact, I probably would have missed the curse of the arts entirely if I hadn’t married my husband, one of a family of writers. When I met him as a college freshman, he was already working as a sportswriter. I can well remember my astonishment when on a date at a game (a lot of our dates involved going to sports events) I watched him take notes on a little reporter’s pad then go to the pay phone and dictate his story, complete with paragraphing and punctuation without any written copy.
With this terrifying example of literary competence, I probably should have taken up golf or bridge.

My husband's book on soccer
However, the opportunity to see movies for free by doing reviews – an opportunity my husband promoted energetically – proved to be a crucial learning experience. There is nothing like having to write to length and to deadline, to see one’s work promptly in print, and to find a check in the mail. I recommend this over any writing workshop, course or seminar anywhere.

Reviews, of course, count as journalism, suitable for a family where my father-in-law wrote texts on Social Work administration, my husband did sports writing and his brother, sports promotion. I eventually did a range of non-fiction, including feature articles, scholarly pieces and history books. My husband and my in-laws showed me that writing could be a business, but as it turned out, I strayed from profitable non-fiction to the altogether riskier realm of fiction.

For the reasons, I think I must look to my own folks, both of who were good story tellers with all sorts of reminiscences about the Auld Country and about Aberdeen in my dad’s case and Cowdenbeath in my mom’s. Mom’s stories, like her, were very human and realistic. My dad had a tendency to embroidery.

Our son's adventures at the World Cup
I remember our son interviewing him for a genealogy project at his middle school. My dad, who had a fondness for a theory positing an Iberian influence in Scotland, invented Don Alonzo Law, a survivor of the Armada, who was supposedly a founder of our line and the source of a lot of dark eyes and black hair. The resulting report received an A.

I don’t want to read too much into this episode. I think our son would have entered the family business in any case. He showed an early aptitude for writing and for journalism, which became his profession. Like his father, he has published a well-received book on soccer, as well as numerous articles on a wide variety of subjects in both print and digital formats. Very sensible writing.



But my side of the family carries a powerful strain of eccentricity, and lately our son has shown signs of exploring the primrose path of fiction. I am hoping that a glance at my latest royalty statement will bring him back to terra firma, but who knows? The Muse sometimes calls unlikely folks like me and her gifts can disturb even the most practical of minds.

7 comments:

B.K. Stevens said...

Wonderful post, Janice! How lovely that both your husband and your son write, too. I'm also terribly impressed your painting--I think you're the only author I know who's painted covers for her own books. I'm glad the Muse DID call you, and lead you in such varied and fruitful directions.

Eve Fisher said...

And you write such wonderful books! Great post; with you and your husband following the Muse, how could your son resist? Keep on writing!

Steve Liskow said...

Wow, painting, too. Drawing and painting are such a profound mystery to me...I have trouble signing my own checks.

Isn't it interesting how often many people in a family are creative in many ways? My ex-wife was a musician, and my daughter plays a little and writes well. My present wife is an excellent actor and singer who used to paint. She also is a better writer than I am. I used to do a lot of theater, both acting and directing, and have played some musical instrument adequately since I was about ten. I never knew until shortly before she died (nobody ever told me!) that my mother studied piano when she was young.

Has there ever been a study about this?

The biggest lesson from your husband, though, is the discipline true journalism imposes, especially deadlines and correct grammar, usage and punctuation. You can teach some of that, but most of it is plain hard work.

Thanks for sharing a fascinating story.

Janice law said...

Thanks for your kind words.
I suspect that interest in several arts is more common than thought. Van Gogh wrote wonderful letters and Gunther Gass did impressive etchings. There have also been a lot of athletes and actors who liked to paint.

Leigh Lundin said...

Janice, I like Don Alonzo Law… your family's own personal Zorro. Perfectly made for story-telling.

Jeff Baker said...

Yes! Wonderful post, Janice! And, may I say, I've enjoyed all these family-themed posts!

janice law said...

So glad you enjoyed. I thought all the Sleuthsayers had fascinating family stories.