Thursday, May 15, 2014

Confessions of a Writer

by Terry Irving

When I graduated from college, I was certain of a few things about my future.

* I was never going to live long enough to get Social Security.
* I was never going to live in Washington DC.
* I’d just escaped a family helmed by an alcoholic so I was never going to be tied down by marriage and kids.
* I was going to travel the world on my own—probably by tramp steamer--and
* I was never going to be a writer.

So what happened?

* I’m now 62 and taking early benefits,
* I’ve always lived near Washington because I keep marrying women who refuse to leave.
* I spent two weeks all alone in France with money in my pocket and complete freedom. I was miserable.
* In the year I turned 33, we had a baby, paid cash to put a kid through college, and bought a house out in the suburbs. I learned how to scream right back at debt collectors.
* It's all a story of broken dreams but the worst thing is that I'm becoming a writer.

How did this happen? When I was a young kid running around ABC News, I told one producer that I couldn't be a writer because then I'd have to compete with my father. He looked at me and said, "My old man was known to write a thing or two and I still manage to pound out copy." His name was Tom Capra. Yeah. Frank Capra of A Wonderful Life and Why We Fight was his dad.

I managed to avoid writing for about 20 years. I was a television producer and that meant solving problems—anything from waking a drunken cameraman to carrying $77,000 in cash into Beirut. I edited scripts, organized them, did the interviews, and found the video but I always had the reporter write it.

So, how did I begin to write?

After I ventured out of ABC and into the real world, I realized that most people will do anything to get out of writing. Drawn by higher freelance rates, I fell into the wretched habit. First, it was light stuff like documentaries on Croatia and instructional videos on the proper storage of explosives, but I soon worked up to hard core--the first (and only) History of the World on CD-ROM and users manuals for video editors and pay-per-view software.

I knew it was too late when I began writing for anchors and correspondents, pounding out heartfelt obituaries for people I didn't know, and creating dramatic descriptions of wars a world away. Most of my teachers used the CBS Method (they would throw the copy at me and scream, "You call this a script?") so I learned quickly. The day I knew I was doomed was when I had ten minutes to knock out something dramatic and there wasn't a word in my head. I just sat down put my fingers on the keys.

It worked.

I've always been fired a lot—it's a package deal with my personality—so I wasn't very surprised to find myself at home in 2010. What was different was that I was old. I swear it snuck up on me when I wasn't looking. After 9 months of futile phone calls and lunch dates, I decided to write a book that had been in the back of my mind since 1976.

The nice thing about the way I was trained is that you learn to write really fast. The first 70,000-word draft was done in 12 weeks—and several of those weeks, I was writing for Retirement Living Television during the day. The soul-deadening experience of writing promos ("Watch tonight's show or your children will die,") made those begging letters to agents a snap. I got an agent and then a new job came along and I forgot the book. I felt bad about that but these people were actually paying me.

When, inevitably, I was fired from that job, I knew it was crunch time. Not only was I far too old to hire but most people in Washington now knew I was a "difficult" person to work with.

Sadly, I agree with them on both points.

After I was sent home from for failing the mandatory fist-bump, writing was all that was left. I picked up that first manuscript, completely rewrote it, and my agent managed to sell it to an insane Englishman who was clearly drunk at the time. Encouraged by this "instant" success, I knocked out an eBook about unemployment and instantly lost all faith in the low-cost, high-profit world of online publishing. I managed to get some real money for editing someone else's book, then it was turning the first novel into a screenplay just in case Hollywood calls (it hasn't,) and wrapping up the sequel seven months early. Then I knocked out a paranormal detective thriller. Why? Because I can't quite bring myself to write Women Who Love Werewolves and the Vampires Who Love Them.

That was my first year as a writer.

I have a series about a Greek-American private eye in 1930s Manila on the back burner, the third book in the Freelancer Series to work out and, oh yeah, a publicity tour to try and sell the first book. I just went to a writer's conference where the entire panel agreed that no one should quit their day job in the hope of making it as a writer.

I wish I had that luxury.

On the other hand, I've known times where I had less money and more debts; I like sitting around in jeans and a Hawaiian shirt, and a few of the people I trust have said that my work doesn't actually suck. So what if the situation is basically "Write or Die"? It just makes it a bit more challenging.

All the tramp steamers have been replaced by container ships anyway.

In his debut novel, Courier, Emmy award-winning journalist and  writer  Terry Irving paints a gritty picture of a Washington DC that today has completely disappeared under new parks and high-rise office buildings. In the middle of the scandal and drama of Watergate,  Rick, a motorcycle courier, unsuspectingly picks up a roll of news film and—after the correspondent  and crew are killed—finds that he is next on the killer’s to-do list. With the help of friends—and a  woman who threatens to crack the shell he's built to defend his heart—Rick must discover what's on the  film and why officials are willing to kill to keep it from the front pages.

Author and long-time journalist  Terry Irving  moved to Washington D.C. in 1973 to kick around for a few weeks and never looked back. In the nation’s capital, Irving started out riding a classic BMW for ABC News during Watergate. Carrying that news film was the beginning of a  40-year career  that has included producing Emmy Award-winning television news, writing everything from magazine articles to standup comedy and developing early forms of online media. He has traveled and worked in all 50 states plus parts of Europe, Africa and Asia.  Irving is the winner of four National Emmy Awards, multiple Peabody, DuPont and Telly awards, plus an honor at the Columbus Film Festival. He has produced stories around the world from the fall of the Berlin Wall to Tiananmen Square. He worked as a senior live control room producer at  CNN, Fox, ABC and MSNBC He has written and edited copy for some of the top anchors and journalists in television news including Diane Sawyer, Wolf Blitzer, and Ted Koppel.

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