David Dean debuted in EQMM’s Department of First Stories nearly twenty-five years ago. In the ensuing years, while also pursuing a full-time career on a New Jersey police force, he produced dozens more stories. He is a winner of the EQMM Readers Award, and a nominee for the Edgar, Shamus, Barry, and Derringer awards—all for his short fiction. Although he has concentrated primarily on short stories throughout his literary career, in recent years, he’s turned his attention to longer fiction, producing the 2012 novel The Thirteenth Child and 2014’s The Purple Robe. His latest EQMM story, “Her Terrible Beauty,” appears in our upcoming March/April double issue. Here he is describing a typical day in his life as a creative writer. (He wrote this for us back in December, in what is, after all, a season of distractions!)—Janet Hutchings
December 18, 2014 (last year)
It occurred to me recently that many of you, as you struggle through your work day, probably stop and ask yourselves, “Gosh, I wonder what David Dean’s day is like? I’m sure I can’t imagine, but I bet it must be exciting as all get-out being a writer! How does he stay so darn creative?” Then sigh, add another packet of sweetener to your coffee, and stumble back to your desk. Well, that’s all over now—not your working, I’m afraid, but your ignorance of how I get my mojo going! Pull your socks up, and tie your sneakers, ’cause we’re off to the races!
Most days, after a dreamless, restful slumber, I stretch, yawn contentedly, and rise at about seven in the A.M. Unlike many, I don’t have to, as I’m a retired person. But having been a cog in the great American work force for forty-two years, I now find it difficult to sleep beyond seven, which is not fair. Still, I rise uncomplainingly, and make my way downstairs. Today, I find my wife of thirty-six years, Robin, cheerfully doing her exercises and preparing for another day of herding kindergarteners. “Good morning,” I call out, and then, with a puzzled expression on my face, no doubt, ask, “Isn’t the coffee made yet?” To which she replies, “Oh, did I forget to tell you that the maid quit yesterday . . . and that it’s the butler’s day off—silly, forgetful me!” She has a wry sense of humor for so early a riser. So . . . I make the coffee, as well as my morning bowl of porridge. Next to a good night’s sleep, a good breakfast is paramount to a creative day! Here’s an interesting tidbit for you—during the course of my life, I’ve probably consumed a thousand times my weight in oatmeal. My creative side asks, “How big an oatmeal statue of me might that make?” And my other creative side answers, “Big enough to make even Kim Jong-un envious!”
Fortunately for me, Robin likes to read the newspaper before she departs for school each day, so it has already been fetched in before I wake. This is really great during the cold winter months, and when it’s raining, as I catch a chill easily. Though I will confess, I sometimes find the pages a little wrinkled, and the sections out of order. But, I don’t complain, just smooth them out once again and carefully realign the disordered sections, because being informed of current events is paramount for a writer to stay . . . well . . . um . . . current.
So now, having breakfasted and read the paper, I wash the dishes, make the bed, and dress myself. As my uniform wearing days are over (I retired from the police three years ago), the clothes selection can be a bit overwhelming and anxiety producing. In the beginning, I would sometimes find myself frozen in the closet doorway, paralyzed by the sight of so many shirts and trousers from which to choose. “Why can’t we just have civilian uniforms?” I have been heard to cry, though to no avail. Little by little I have adjusted, and can now, on most days, make a selection and dress without needing any medication or a nap.
Then I set out for a walk. Exercise is another key element in being a creative person. I used to be something of a runner, but then my back became a problem and gradually reduced me to walking. Which I now do twice a day; usually at two mile increments—how the mighty have fallen. That being said, it’s a great way to start the day: fresh air, a change of scenery, a little exercise, and the beauty of nature and the seasons . . . how can you go wrong? There are ways, actually, but I’ll save that for another time maybe.
So, having avoided the guy who’s clearly off his meds again, a vaporous wino called Captain Stinky, and a rotund fellow who steadfastly avoids eye contact whom I have christened, “Furtive Dude,” I arrive safely back home. Robin has long ago departed for her classroom, so now I have the house all to myself. Solitude is essential to the effort at hand. So let the writing begin!
But first, time to heat up another cup of coffee before heading up to the bedroom. No, I’m not going back to bed. The bedroom is where the creativity occurs. Creative writing . . . I’m talking about writing. Pulling out my trusty ergonomic office chair that Robin bought me (remember my back?), I settle down in front of the computer screen, take a sip of java to warm my hands and imagination, bring up the story I’ve been working on . . . then . . . then minimize the screen and check my e-mail.
Checking e-mail is one of the most important things any writer can do during his day, and is not a distraction. I do it often. You just never know what might come your way: contracts, fan letters; law-suit notifications—the possibilities are endless. But today, all that’s waiting is just an update on the MLB trades happening in the off-season. I take a peek, but don’t get wrapped up in it as I’ve got a lot of writing to do. Besides, I’m already distressed that the Phillies have traded Jimmy Rollins—makes me sick, if you want to know the truth.
Right after the e-mail I check my Facebook page. This may be even more important than e-mail in keeping the writer current and informed. The knowledge to be gained through FB is possibly the best justification yet for the World Wide Web, which insiders call the Internet. Today, I’ve been treated to a video of some youth in a distant game arcade delivering a roundhouse kick to a punching bag gizmo. Zowie! How the heck did he get such extension and air? That’s one to puzzle over. I might be able to work that maneuver into my latest story! Also—has Kim Kardashian gone a just a little too far with her latest dress? Whoa! I say, no . . . No ma’am!
Okay, time to maximize the WIP screen (Yeah, I wondered about that, too, but found out it stands for Work In Progress). Look at that—I’ve got some thousand words written already, which seems like a lot. Is the screen always this bright? I don’t remember that. My glasses might need cleaning. No . . . No . . . They do not need cleaning. I just need to re-read what I’ve written so far, and just pick it up from there. Get in the groove. Okay . . . not bad . . . pretty good, so far . . . pretty good . . . oh . . . darn . . . really? How many tenses can one use in a single run-on paragraph—a bunch, apparently. Okey-dokey . . . gonna have to do a little rewriting before I forge ahead with the creative stuff. Holy Smokes! Is it lunch time already . . . ? Well, a writer must have nourishment to encourage the little grey cells—to the kitchen for a brief respite.
Back! And it’s only a little after one in the P.M.; time to buckle down and get serious, discipline is the writer’s friend . . . just as soon as I open this e-mail Christmas card that has been customized for me and thirty other close friends. It takes a few minutes to download apparently. Wow, this digital stuff is great! How do they do it?
Okay, maximize the old WIP. There’re those words again . . . just waiting for their brothers. Let me look at that outline I went to all the trouble to put together—just a little refresher on where I want to go from here. Oh . . . hmmm . . . that’s a little different from what I’ve written . . . or vice a versa. No matter, I’ll just rely on the old creative juices to get flowing once I’ve started writing.
No way that’s the mail lady already! Christmas cards! Be right back.
Why do people you haven’t heard from in years, and have long been struck off your Christmas list, always decide to send cards just days before the big event? It never fails. We’re out of cards, needless to say, because we hadn’t heard from these folks since the turn of the freakin’ century and didn’t count them in! Easy . . . easy now . . . remember stress is our enemy, interferes with the creative forces. Breathe . . . breathe . . . better. . . . Is that smoke?
My neighbor’s chimney is on fire again (yes, it’s possible; has something to do with creosote build-up, I’m told)—it happens at least once a year around this festive time. With its usual fanfare the fire department dutifully responds in three trucks. Even they can’t seem to muster much enthusiasm, however, and almost saunter up to the house. The yard is wreathed in smoke. The firefighters have to use a ladder truck to deal with it, but no harm results to house or human, thank goodness. Half an hour later they back over my mailbox, thus completing the final act of the yule-time fire call. Apparently awaiting this moment, some of the neighborhood kids let out a big cheer. Every neighborhood has its traditions, I guess. I return to my ergonomic chair. I’ll deal with it after I’ve gotten some writing done. Distractions are the enemy of the writer.
Now what? Is that a car in the driveway? Oh my God . . . Robin’s home already and I haven’t even begun supper! Where did the time go? Prioritizing is another really big element in the writer’s life, and I have to do a little of that just now and perhaps some creative speaking, as well. So, until next time, my best wishes in all your writing endeavors, and just a quick, final reminder—creativity requires discipline! Never lose sight of that!