Where dreams take flight
P.O. Box 159
Norcross, Georgia 30091
Welcome to THE AUTHOR'S CORNER, a forum for Nightbird authors to expound on their favorite topics, allowing our readers to get to know them outside of the tales they pen for us.
This month our offering is from Jedwin Smith, twice nominated for the prestigious Pulitzer Prize and the author of three nonfiction books (LET'S GET IT ON - Crown Publishers 1998, FATAL TREASURE - Wiley 2003, and OUR BROTHER'S KEEPER - Wiley 2005). Smth is also the author of the short story, "The Devil's Playground," which appeared in our 2009 short fiction anthoogy, NIGHTBIRD SINGING IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT. To read more about Jedwin Smith, visit the author's website at www.jedwinsmith.com.
This one is for all of you frustrated novelists out there. Jedwin Smith is all about keeping the dream aive . . .
A Lifelong Ambition . . .
by Jedwin Smith
The kind folks at Nightbird asked me to babble a bit about myself and my writing career, so here goes . . .
To be honest, I fell into this nut-job writing game by political whim. Nixon, the dude who said he wasn’t a crook, decided that he and the rest of the D.C. bureaucrats had shed enough blood of America’s youth, so they pulled the plug in IndoChina (Yes, I’m dating myself; y’all know that fun-filled destination as Vietnam). All of which left me and several thousand fellow Marines with nothing left to occupy our time. Thus, I had another lapse in judgment and decided to become a journalist.
In that I’d married the most beautiful woman in the entire world in 1967, plus doubled-down the bet by having two beautiful daughters, I put aside my ambition to write a novel in order to earn a regular paycheck. Yes, even in that long-ago age it was a well-known fact that novelists are at the bottom of the “starving artist” food chain.
Long story short (hey, I heard that long sigh of relief), me and my merry band of travelers bounced across the country in a never-ending quest for truth, justice and the American way. We did Illinois (Belvidere Daily Republican, Chicago Tribune), Wisconsin (Racine Daily News), Florida (Cocoa TODAY, St. Petersburg Times), Missouri (Kansas City Times) and then wised up and moved to Georgia (Gwinnett Daily News, Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
Before I knew it, a bunch of old calendars had piled up, and it was 1998. Along the way, my endearing wife blessed us with two more daughters (yes, we’re Irish, with just a bit of Gypsy tossed in), and I’d accumulated a bunch of national writing/reporting awards, including two Pulitzer Prize nominations. Not only that, but I’d traveled the world — the Middle East, Horn of Africa and Central America — most of it while getting shot at.
Of course, there were calm periods of time along the way. But every time I took a deep breath and sat before the typewriter (dammit, there I go again, dating myself) to knock out a chapter or two on my novel, I’d get a phone call from my newspaper bosses telling me there was a ticket waiting for me at the Delta counter — my destination: Purgatory or Hell or . . .
Believe me, you haven’t lived until you’ve slept in a cave atop an East Africa mountain fortress, surrounded by the entire Ethiopian 3rd Army and a company of Soviet Spetsnaz (their version of the Green Berets), all of whom wish to hang your head on their mantel. Or having a Christian Maronite jam a revolver against your forehead, accusing you of being a Muslim spy; or having a teenage Muslim lay the barrel of his AK under your chin, accusing you of being an Israeli spy — ah, welcome to Beirut!
But, hey, that’s nothing compared to raising four daughters, right?
So, while my dear wife was enduring her own version of Hell, I was off having the time of my life, breaking bread with French Legionnaires, British SAS, U.S. Army Rangers and Marine Recon; a host of militant Muslim factions — Sunnis, Shiite and Druze; out-and-out terrorists — PLO and Hezbollah; not to mention a host of mercenaries, visionaries and missionaries.
All of which brings me back to that novel I’ve been trying to write for ... ah, forever. Having spent far too much time in the company of out-and-out whackos, nut-jobs and psychos, I had, however, accumulated a vast array of zany characters for my novel, plus enough war stories to fill two or three libraries.
So, there it was, 1998, and I’m sitting in front of the computer, working on the novel’s prologue; it deals with an interview with a black gentleman, a former slave who, as a 10-year-old, witnessed first-hand the Civil War carnage at the Battle of . . .
The phone rings. It’s my buddy Mills Lane, the celebrated professional boxing referee and Nevada circuit court judge. “Hey, Jedwin. Jump on a plane today and get your butt out here to Reno. Crown Publishing wants my memoir. They’re throwing money at us; can you believe that? Anyway, time’s a-wastin’. You’re my main man, my ghost writer. And just to prove how much we love you, there’s one helluva hefty check here with your name on it.”
Okay, so a regular payday took precedence over my novel.
So, there it was, 2003, and I’m sitting in front on the computer, now working on the second chapter of my novel; it deals with a troubled combat vet who’s thinking of ending his depression by . . .
The phone rings. It's my agent; she’s so excited, I can hardly make sense of what she’s saying. Something or other about the world’s largest publishing company and how much they loved the memoir about my adventures deep-sea-diving for lost Spanish treasure galleons with Mel Fisher, and how she’d submitted the book proposal more than a year ago and how it had been rejected by 32 publishing houses and . . . I told her to calm down and take a deep breath. Which she did, and then said: “Bottom line — we’ve got ourselves a book deal. There’s a big advance, too.”
Yes, I am a mercenary. I grabbed the big bucks and put aside the novel.
So, there it was, 2005, and I’m sitting in front of my computer, now working on the fourth chapter of my novel; it deals with this combat-scarred dude, who’s doing hard time at a maximum security prison in Maine and . . .
The phone rings. It’s my agent, and this time’s she’s calm and collected. “We’ve got another great deal with Wiley & Sons. They need that Vietnam memoir within three months. Better yet, they’ve really sweetened the pot—your advance check is already in the mail.”
Okay, so who am I to complain. I’m honored that once upon a time there were people out there who got a big kick out of throwing money my way. But time does have a way of marching on and on and . . . hell, I’m 65 now and I’m a card-carrying member of the Medicare Mob. Our daughters are grown and married and my wife and I have grown ancient and have 11 grandkids running around our home. Matter of fact, I’ve even moved my theatrics to the classroom, teaching writing workshops (you know the old saying: Those that can, get published; those that can’t, teach).
Besides, the phone hasn’t rung in years. And if it did, I’m not sure I’d hear it; too many gunshots have fouled my eardrums.
Not that I’m complaining. I mean, I’ve got more time on my hands now than I know what to do with. Yes, sir, the ol’ novel is moving along at a good pace; I’m getting a couple-thousand words a week and . . .
Whoa, I’ve gotta pause here for a moment. My telephone is ringing and ... well, I know you’re not gonna believe this, but I guess I’m not dead yet, because . . .