I came late to a career as a writer, thought not late to writing. In college I studied film and wrote and directed several screenplays.
Upon graduation, after careful research, I decided that Hollywood would probably not be overwhelmed by me; I needed a boost to get my film career going. I decided to go to law school (it's show business, after all), and while there I was lured by the excitement and energy of the practice of law. But out of law school and in private practice, I quickly discovered that law is an unbroken string of clients who lie to you, of other attorneys who lie to you, and eventually, you find yourself lying to others, and to yourself.
I recalibrated my compass and went back to film school, where I made an award-winning short film called "Wildest Dreams" (available at Amazon.com, as are all my works). I went to L.A., obtained deals with several studios, and began in earnest to write the screenplay I hoped would rocket my film career into the stratosphere. Notwithstanding a script sale and several projects that almost happened, L.A. was decidedly unimpressed, and one evening at a night UCLA extension class called "The Art of the Pitch," the instructor asked me why I was in L.A. at all. To get in the class, everyone had to audition; I used my graduate film. "You know how to make films, right?" he asked me. "I guess so," I answered, unsure of his point. "Then, why aren't you out there, making films? The rest of your classmates don't know which end of a camera to look in; they have no choice. But you should be making films, not standing cap in hand at a studio door, hoping to be noticed."
That was good advice, and I immediately left Hollywood to go make a feature film. Using my law experience and contacts, I wrote a mystery thriller called "American Scarlet" and raised as money for it. This was in the early '90s. But the serial killer subject matter (which I chose as a sure-fire marketing concept) began to bother me and I let the project drop. Instead, I went forward with a short inspirational film called "Fedora" (see Amazon.com) which also garnered numerous awards, including the prestigious CINE "Golden Eagle."
The stage was now set for my return to L.A. once again, to burn the bridges I left standing five years later. But Hollywood proved as recalcitrant as ever, and I was perplexed as to what I should do. I didn't want to go back there, where life is so expensive that it takes 40 hours a week just to make ends meet. There would be no time to write anything worthwhile. In addition, I was now almost 40, and by Hollywood standards, I was a dinosaur.
Still, the film bug stayed lodged in my mind, and I wrote and wrote, hoping that something would shake loose in the independent film community. I got to work on a screenplay idea I particularly liked. My father had died five years before from Lou Gehrig's Disease. Before he died, we had a nice chat in which I somewhat jokingly asked him to do me a favor: When he arrived on the other side -- if there really was one --- would he come back to earth and visit me and tell me about it? He smiled and said he would try. But he never showed up in the intervening years and it got me to thinking, why not? It must be against the rules, which opened up an entire, funny, and ultimately poignant story line for me about a guy who dies, making his wife the same promise. But the powers that be in heaven won't let him return. So, to keep his promise to his wife, he has to bust out of heaven.
I called the screenplay "I Hated Heaven." It was the most complete story I'd ever had from page one, but it wouldn't behave. Bit characters kept showing up in every scene, changing the thrust of the story, interfering with the sleek framework that a screenplay must be.
One day, after battling with a particularly difficult character, an old guy named Chuck, it struck me: is this the Muse? Is she telling me something? I stopped typing and listened and she spoke: "This is not a movie," she said. "What is it, then?" I asked. "It's a book -- for now." So I started again and wrote the novel, which was a sheer delight from start to finish. But I couldn't get it published. No one was interested in an "afterlife romantic adventure." I tried for a solid year to get it read or accepted. No dice.
So in 1998 I decided to do something crazy: I decided to self publish my book, a novel, no less, which anyone who has ever read Dan Poynter's book "The Self-Publishing Manual" will tell you is absolutely insane. I did it anyway, dropped $10,000 on the printing, and began setting up author signings in bookstores. And I sold almost 20,000 copies.
Thusly inspired, I set to work on my next book, a memoir about my father called "Dad Was A Carpenter," about how we cleaned out my dad's garage after his death and the four tons of memories I found there. I sold quite a few, made a lot of author appearances, and entered all the competitions. One in particular changed my life: Writers' Digest has a self-published book competition every year. Turns out my little book about my dad won the Grand Prize in 1999, and the day after the magazine came out editors and agents who would have never spoken to me the day before were calling, begging to represent me or buy the book. (Note: I didn't believe today's positive hype any more than I believed yesterday's negative hype -- word to the wise.) I chose a guy who seemed solid and had actually read the book. Within two weeks he'd sold it to publishing giant HarperCollins, who reprinted the book to great fanfare and success in 2001.
Shortly after the reprint, I showed my editor there a story I was working on about a young carpenter from Nazareth named Jeshua bar Joseph, who experiences first hand the stories he will later teach as his parables. HarperCollins agreed to a three book deal called "The Parables of the Carpenter" series, and the first book, "The Welcoming Door" was published in the fall of 2002.
Right now we're editing my next book in the series, "City on a Hill," in which Jeshua deals with powerful, evil men in the capital of Galilee, Sepphoris.
It is great fun, writing an historical fiction series, but also great work. I'm having the time of my life, doing what I'd always dreamed of doing, whether it was in film or in books: telling a story!
If there is a heaven, I'm pretty sure lawyers will be out of work (if they even let them in!), but storytellers will be in great demand. I'm just trying to get my chops solid so I can apply for one of the jobs. Thanks for taking the time to hear my story!