I have been very fortunate to have made my living as a writer for the past 30 years. But truth be known, I have been a writer for as long as I can remember. Like all stories, we should start from the beginning. So let's travel back to when it all started, shall we? (I hear a few groans from my esteemed visitors, but I promise, I'll try to make it interesting) . . .
I was born under a full moon on New Years Day, 1953 in Middletown, Ohio (yes, New Year's Baby and all that nonsense). Since I refused to meet the world a day earlier, I messed up my parents' 1952 tax situation. Also, since I was not the first baby born in Middletown, my parents lost out on the shiny new Cadillac the city civic groups traditionally awarded the parents of the first born child of the year. Mom and Dad (God rest their souls) held it against me during my growing-up years (just kidding ... they were the greatest parents on the planet).
At 18, I avoided being shipped off to Vietnam by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin. 1971 was the next-to-last year of the draft lottery. My number was just under the wire for being selected by the draft board. Two of my friends weren't so lucky. They went to Nam, green and scared and confused, and returned home from Southeast Asia in body bags. So began the shaping of my opinions on our government's foreign policies (all right, Jeff, that's quite enough political editorializing!)
In 1975, after earning a BS in Management from Bryant University in Rhode Island, I set out in pursuit of fame and fortune. Of course like most clueless 22-year-olds fresh off the farm with diploma in hand, I was in for a rude awakening. I got knocked to the canvas more times than I care to remember. I worked a wide assortment of jobs ... hotel night auditor, college textbook salesman, printing paper salesman, computer software telemarketer, bookstore clerk, magazine editor/publisher, rock musician, soccer coach, and department store Santa Claus (see my mostly autobiographical short story "All I Want For Christmas" in my anthology DAYDREAMS AND NIGHT SCREAMS for that experience).
These wanderings took me from Boston to Atlanta, where in 1984, I took my first technical writing job with Burroughs Corporation. My writing career was underway, even if it was authoring boring computer manuals. But that's also when I started getting serious about my creative writing. I worked nights and weekends penning short stories and working on my first novel, WELCOME TO THE ZOO, a bloated mess of a manuscript that suffered from every beginning writer mistake known to contemporary literature. Every once in a while, I pull it out and read passages, and laugh my ass off (unfortunately, it wasn't supposed to be a comedy ... it was a serious thriller about a serial killer who uses venomous animals as his weapon). Needless to say, I received enough rejection slips to wallpaper the interior of my house. So I went back to work, writing two more long novels (CRESCENT MOONS, a sci-fi/horror epic about a small town in South Georgia populated by extraterrestrials, and an even longer science fiction epic, THE CRETACEOUS STONES, about dinosaurs returning to Earth and wreaking havoc). Again, nothing but rejection letters, many of them harsh. But I knew I was beginning to learn my craft as several friends whose opinions I trusted loved my dinosaur novel. I have revisited it recently, and while it is a bit overwritten and amateurish in places, I'm still quite fond of it. I might resurrect it and rework it some day in the future. So, it was on to novel #4, BRINGING HOME THE HARVEST, a mainstream thriller about a Vietnam draft dodger, spanning locales in Canada, Sweden, and the Grand Caymans. I still like that one, too, but it went nowhere. By this point, I was completely frustrated. I felt like I could take my four novel manuscripts and my stack of short stories and stand naked on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta at rush hour, and not be noticed.
It was that bad.
But I didn't give up. I kept churning out stories. Not because I wanted to necessarily, but because I had to. To this day, something deep inside me propels me to write fiction. Some days I see it as a blessing, other days a curse. I participated in writers groups and kept sending out submissions to magazine editors, literary agents, and publishers. Again, nothing but form rejections and "keep-your-day-job" ego deflators.
Finally, after 10 years of hard work, things started to break. I sold a couple of short stories to small press magazines. Doors started opening for me. I was invited to write a vampire story for an anthology. More short fiction sales followed, one a lead story in a wide-circulation speculative fiction magazine, STRANGE DAYS (you can read it here at "Last Call" ). These small successes were huge to me. I felt reborn as a writer. Recharged. I felt wanted, finally.
But the Big Kahuna (the publication of a novel) still eluded me. By this time, I was working with some fine folks in a fiction writers group known as The Fictioneers (Tracy Rud, Sherry Haney, Krishna Avva, and a few other writers who drifted in and out). For my novel attempt #5, I decided to try something different. My first four novels were huge, sprawling doorstop manuscripts with Cecil B. DeMille casts of thousands. This time out, as a writing exercise to prove to myself I could do it, I pared it down to just three characters in a single remote location (a resort lake in the North Georgia mountains). The Fictioneers helped keep me on track with insightful feedback and input during its writing. And the result was my first published novel, THE WISDOM OF LOONS in 2009.
Yessiree, the road to publication is paved with many potholes and malodorous road apples. I believe it is safe to say that I have paid some serious dues. At last count I had penned more than a million words of fiction. That includes four long unpublished novels and three published novels, three more incomplete novel manuscripts on which I finally threw in the towel because they weren't working, and 50+ short stories. I am also the owner of perhaps thousands of rejection slips, some of them very personal and needlessly insulting. Yes indeed, it's a very humbling business, folks. But the hard knocks have been educational, and the constant work and rework has made me a better, more polished writer.
I hope you will see that experience shine through in my work. I hope you will give a book or two of mine a read. My goal these days with my writing is to entertain myself. I figure if I do that, perhaps I can entertain a few of you as well.
Apologies for my long winded bio. Once a novelist always a novelist, I guess. I hope you enjoy your visit. And please stay as long as you like.
Jeff (Doc) Dennis