I knew I wanted to be a writer in the 4th grade.
My first story (somehow never published) was the 15-page Curse Of The Mummy’s Belly Button. It was a hit with a few of my elementary school classmates in the suburbs of Detroit but no one else. I still take it out and read it every now and then. It’s still terrible. From there, I spent many years punching out short stories and reading books on writing.
And on writers.
My favorites concerned near-crazy characters of spectacular talent who somehow managed to get through life without working; they were paid princely sums for merely pouring out stories in their spare time. My all-time favorite was about the brilliant Terry Southern, who received a $20,000 advance from a book publisher, reportedly locked himself into a plush New York hotel suite for three months with multiple drugs, multiple hookers and many cases of booze, and emerged at the end of the 90 days without a single word written.
Inspirational? Maybe not.
In any case, when I first moved to Hollywood in the late 1970’s, I became aware of a book on writing that was more myth than reality: Writing To Sell, by Scott Meredith. I say ‘myth’ because (although it was considered by many to be the book on writing publishable fiction) it was virtually impossible to find. Written in 1950 by the great agent himself, it went in and out of print on a regular basis and at that time was not available in any bookstore I could find. It had last been published in 1967.
And, of course, the Internet (and Amazon and Google.com) didn’t yet exist.
The book itself is a masterpiece of simple clarity, a step-by-step guide that surpassed (then and now) any book on writing (and the selling of same). It is, to this day, still revered as the book to get your hands on if you only have time to read one book on turning out salable prose.
A quick trip down the street to the Hollywood Public Library gave me some interesting information, mainly from the research librarian herself. She informed me that her husband had been a literary agent in New York for Scott Meredith and it was common knowledge in that office that the sci-fi genius James Blish had contributed greatly to the book. I didn’t find that surprising, although I’ve found no evidence of it anywhere since.
She checked the card file, then pointed me down the aisle. I could not find it. She walked down to assist me. Surprisingly, and even though it hadn’t been checked out, the book was gone. Stolen, it turned out, by a clearly motivated but unscrupulous would-be writer.
I headed to the library in Glendale. And then to Pasadena. And finally to Encino. And discovered the same thing in every case – Writing To Sell had been stolen from every library. I next got out the phone book (those were the days) and called many local libraries. In each case, I was told the book was in. In each case, when asked to check, the librarian informed me the book was gone.
At that point, I knew I had to have it. Could that many struggling (and thieving) writers be wrong?
A last phone call to the Los Angeles Public Library in a gang-driven section of downtown was finally rewarded with a librarian telling me it was in. And that he had the book in his hand. I asked him to hold it, drove there, checked it out, and then stole it.
Actually, I told them I lost it and paid $16.99 for it. A few years later, a friend borrowed Writing To Sell from me and then claimed he lost it. Right.
I knew he stole it.