From the E-Mailbag…
One of those folks who doesn't want their name affixed to their question sent this question…
You wrote, "My expectation when I started at age 17 was to be a writer and darn near nothing else for the rest of my life…and so far, with my 61st birthday a month away, I’ve managed it." What was it at that age that made you decide you wanted to be a writer? When did you know that's what you'd do the rest of your life?
At that age, nothing. I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was around six or seven years old. I have no memories of ever wanting to be anything else…and lately as I've been cleaning out my mother's house, I keep finding evidence of this. I found a "book" I wrote and drew at age six in which I was trying to emulate Dr. Seuss. It and other things I scribbled out at the time got me enough praise and encouragement — and not just from relatives but from teachers — that I kinda figured, "Okay, so that's what I do. Fine."
There was a period later in life when my usual answer to the question of what I wanted to be was "cartoonist" but that was just kind of my way by saying I wanted to write little stories and if no one else would draw them, I would. I could never conceive of myself drawing something I didn't write but I could easily imagine myself writing something I did not draw. Along the way, I also began to wish I could write TV shows and Hanna-Barbera cartoons and books and other things.
Around age 16, after having a lot of letters published in comic book letter columns and writing for a few fanzines, I got some offers from comic book editors (Mort Weisinger and Jack Miller at DC, Dick Giordano at Charlton) to submit scripts to them. I wrote a few, mostly out of curiosity at what would happen. At the time, every interview I read with anyone in comics said you had to live in New York to work for them on a steady basis and I had no intention of relocating. Still, I wrote and sent off a few submissions…and I came darned close. The nearness of several sales convinced me I was facing in the right direction. At age 17 when I got out of high school, I said to myself, "Okay, time to get serious about this" and I began selling articles to locally-published magazines.
The first check I got was for several times what my father made a week back then. I remember being handed it in a sealed envelope in the editor's office and when I got out to the street, I immediately opened it up, stared at it and thought, "Okay, so that's what I do. Fine." I didn't feel like I'd won the lottery. It felt very natural to me. I think before that, I knew that was what I should be doing with the rest of my life and that was the moment when I figured it was probably going to work out like that.
I have never had a moment since when I considered another line of work. Some might attribute that to limited vision or narrow aspirations or something about playing it safe in life…and it may well be but I choose not to believe that. I just believe I stumbled into the profession at which I was least incompetent and that I enjoy it enough to stick with it as long as it'll have me.