I was born in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma in 1958 but I actually spent the majority of my childhood and teenage years in the Republic of the Philippines. My parents were missionaries to South East Asia. I can’t imagine a better way to grow up.
When I was nineteen, my parents returned to the Philippines and left me in Springfield, Missouri, to attend college. Four years later I graduated with a double major bachelor’s degree in piano performance and “sacred music”. (It was a composition and arranging degree.)
My college composition and arranging classes were always a bit frustrating. I love the actual writing and arranging but it always took so long to get it on paper. Many nights I would stay up all night writing out my assignments by hand. I even started including my finish time at the bottom of my assignments just to make my teacher feel guilty! (Not that it ever worked, she was much too sly for that.)
More that once, I told my friends in college that someday there would be a program that would allow a musician to play a keyboard and a computer would write out the music. I don’t recall anyone thinking that was a short-term possibility.
After graduation, I was offered a job as a music editor. I went from manually transcribing music assignment to manually editing music…all day…every day. Not surprisingly, I quickly tired of the “paper dance” involved with music publishing (at that time).
Thinking that I now had a good job and could afford a computer with a music notation program; thinking that by now someone, somewhere had written something that I could use; I was shocked to discover that nothing existed that remotely met my needs.
Then, I called a company that advertised “graphical music output.”
“If I play on your keyboard,” I asked, ” will it write out the music for me?’
“No,” the young lady on the other end of the line replied, “we’re working on that but we don’t have it yet. But if you write a program that can do that, we’ll pay you royalties.”
I thanked her, hung up, and laughed. I was a musician not a programmer. But half out of frustration and half out of curiousity, I started thinking about it. And the more I thought about it, the more it didn’t seem like it should be that hard. I started making flowcharts. I talked with friends with more technological experience. I borrowed personal computers. I found a buddy to build an electronic keyboard and computer interface.
Two years later, “Polywriter” was released for the Apple II at the first National Association of Music Merchants show that featured MIDI keyboards (MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface.) Later, working with Coda Music Technology, I created “Finale”, a high-end desktop publishing software package for music notation. Released in 1988, Fiinale quickly became, and remains, a global standard in desktop music notation software. Consequently, I am the author on record for three patents in software design.
I have no doubt that If I had stayed in the software music notation business for another five or six years, I would be financially independent today. But there was a whisper within me that was calling me back to the arts.
So, in the early 1990s my business partner and I negotiated a buyout with Coda Music Technology (now Make Music, Inc.) and I suddenly found myself with lots of time on my hands.
I considered returning to music. I always wanted to score music for videos and movies but I was a bit overdone with music. I had worked on music notation systems for a decade and I was looking for something a bit different.
Flush with success from programming, I decided to write a novel. After all, that couldn’t be that hard, could it? I would write my novel, get published and spend the rest of my life as a renowned author. This, of course, was before I understood how the publishing business works.
Having very little idea how to actually write, I knocked out the first little novel. Then I knocked out a sequel. And, then another.
And then I decided that it was time to get published so I sent them off to several publishers. It was unanimous. They were not interested!
Undeterred, I enlisted the help of a friend who introduced me to a book producer in New York City named Steve Ettlinger. Steve and I chatted about the novels but his main focus was non-fiction. So I started thinking about a non-fiction book that I could write, that would sell a lot of copies, that would make my name a household word so that I could get published as a novelist. (Of course, this is not how the publishing business works but I didn’t know that at the time.)
In the midst of these ponderings, I remembered…”Star Trek”. I had grown up in the Philippines watching the original series. It was the only television program that my mom would watch. And I had been watching the “next generation” series faithfully since it’s debut in 1987. And, millions of fans loved Star Trek and much as I did.
The question was: Did those fans do the same thing that my buddies and I did every week? Did they get together to discuss the most recent episode–even to the point of nitpicking? (Just how did those communicators work? Did the crew have to tap them before they started talking or not? Because sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t!)
It took me several months to convince Steve Ettlinger that The Nitpicker’s Guide for Next Generation Trekkers was a good idea. It took him several more to find a senior editor named Jeanne Cavelos. She immediately got the idea and pushed it through at Bantam Double Day Dell.
The Next Gen Guide was released in November 1993. It sold 70,000 copies In the first year. It was easy after that. We released a Nitpicker’s Guide each fall from 1993 through 1997.
I was working on a Star Wars Nitpicker’s Guide in mid-May of 1998 when Steve called with bad news. There had been some lawsuits in the industry and while they had nothing to do with the Guides, Dell no longer wanted to publish them.
And that was that. Steve tried to find another publisher but publishers have a well-defined “herd” instinct.
The really wonderful thing about those five years is that is only took me seven months to write a Nitpicker’s Guide. And they were popular enough that they supported my family so I could spend five months a year working on my first novel. In addition, the editors at Dell were very kind to read my drafts and give me feedback.
At one point, my current editor even declared my first novel “publishable”, which meant that she would normally be ready to champion it…except the subject matter had religious overtones and Dell didn’t publish fiction with religious overtones. (By this time, Jeanne Cavelos had left the publishing business to take up teaching.)
Faced with the need to support my family, I returned to programming and became a computer consultant.
At first, I planned to take as many consulting jobs as I could to earn as much money as I could so that I could retire at 50 and return to writing. And, for a while, that plan was working! I was consistently billing 45 hours a week and there was plenty of work on the horizon. About the same time, my wife really needed to take a break from being a music minister. We talked about it and, on September 11, 2001, she handed in her resignation. (Other events of that day had made it easy to remember.)
Then, in January of 2002, the pastoral staff of our church ask me to start directing the choir. I did, after all, have a music degree. And, a few months later, they asked me to start leading the worship services as well. I cut back on the consulting work and dedicated my weekends and Wednesday night to being the interim music minister for the next year and a half. Finally, by October of 2003, it was time for me to resign. It simply took too much time away from my family. I spent the next several years consulting and working on little side projects, but at a much more relaxed pace.
Along the way, I grew to miss writing so much that I decided I didn’t want to wait until I retired to start authoring books again. I started slowly just to see if I would be happy working a full time job and writing on the side. At some point, I heard about Anthony Trollope. He was a successful Victorian author who also maintained a full time job with the Post Office. He would write from 5:30 to 8:30 every morning and his goal was to produce 250 words every 15 minutes! (He did spend the first 30 minutes reviewing his work from the previous day.) In other words, he produced 2500 words a day in about three hours.
In his autobiography, he said this: “Three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write. But he should so have trained himself that he shall be able to work continuously during those three hours – so have tutored his mind that it, shall not be necessary for him to sit nibbling his pen and gazing at the wall before him, till he shall have found the words with which he wants to express his ideas.”
I’m not there yet! But I have discovered that I can cut my consulting work back to 34 hours a week, pay the bills, save for retirement, and still produce 5000+ words a week. More than that, I find that writing helps me understand my world.
And that’s my life at the moment: I love my wife. I love my kids and grandkids. I am blessed with steady, enjoyable work. I have many wonderful conversations with great friends. And, I write!