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Monday, July 25, 2016

How to Become a Successful Writer: part 1--Richard McCuistian

I'm excited to welcome Richard McCuistian to my blog for part 1 of my series, How to Become a Successful Writer. I loved reading about how he ventured into the article world as well as the novel world. Writing for periodicals is an often overlooked venue for those looking to make a career of writing.

A Lifelong Love of Reading and Writing

By Richard McCuistian

In the 1960’s there was nothing I’d rather do on a Sunday afternoon than read a book, so down the church hallway my Sunday shoes would carry me clopping on those ancient oak planks to invade and peruse the church library, where it seemed I could always find a good book to read. I still remember the musty smell of the old books in that place, how checking volumes out was done on the honor system, and the library door was never locked. The tiny room was lined with shelves and had a single table at the end under a frosted glass window. For some reason, Nancy Drew mysteries were my favorites from those crowded shelves (I could never get interested in a Hardy Boys book), and I could read a book in an afternoon, even when I was in elementary school.

I have always loved libraries.  Once I went with my older sister to the library at Fort Rucker – she sixteen and I was fourteen at the time, and she was doing a research paper.  Since she was going to a library I hadn’t visited before, I was tagging along.  While she researched (we couldn’t check anything out because we weren’t a military family at the time), and the Alabama sun receded behind the pine trees on the western end of Fort Rucker, I read an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel called The Lad and the Lion. I was reading the last page when she finished her research, and she was rather stunned that I had managed to complete the book before we left that evening.

It wasn’t as if we didn’t have books at home; my mother had a floor-to-ceiling bookcase in the room I shared with my brother Mark (all shelved alphabetically by the authors’ names), and when I was in the fourth grade Mrs. Cassidy asked if anyone knew the names of any famous authors.  Somebody in the class mentioned Mark Twain, and somebody else mentioned Shakespeare.  When she finally called on me, I had a lot of names to share.
“Robert Louis Stevenson, Louisa May Alcott, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Zane Grey, Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Victoria Holt,…” on an on I went, and the list was so distinguished that she later told my mother that while she didn’t want to stop me, she was astounded at how many authors’ names I could recite from memory. 

I had read the spines of my mother’s books as a boy because one room of my bedroom was nothing but a huge bookshelf, and right up until she died, she collected books and read every night before she went to sleep. Dad said that if he ever put up an empty shelf somewhere in the morning, Mom would have it full of books by that afternoon.  We lost Mom’s original collection of books in a house fire back in 1970, and we lost another library of her books – along with my mother – this past October of 2013 in a different house fire.

I just turned 59, and I discovered when I was in high school just how much I enjoyed putting words in a row to teach, tell a story, or share information. I also wrote poetry, and a couple of songs nobody sang but me, but then, I didn’t expect those to go anywhere. 

I have forty years under my belt working as a professional mechanic, the last fifteen of those years as an automotive instructor at a small college, and so I write technical articles for Motor Age magazine and have since May of 2000. That writing pays well. 

These days, I write a 2000+ word Sunday School lesson commentary every week, and I’ve been doing that ever since 2003.  I also publish 25 copies of a trifold handout I put together every week, but I just pass them out at church, and everybody seems to like them.

Before that, I wrote Bible lessons for the mechanics and car salesmen I worked with at the local Ford dealer.  For about two years I published a 33 copies of 3 lessons a week and gave them out at work.  But then I discovered something – when I wrote my lessons story form, more people read and enjoyed them, and so I started writing stories a lot of the time, every one of them with a Christian theme.

My Christian fiction stories got longer, and I generally tried to craft a surprise ending and/or some kind of spiritual lesson that could be learned.

The first short story I wrote that appeared in print was a story called Scars that I sent to a local college to be considered for a literary journal.  Scars was included, and it was the only Christian story in that entire journal, and some (if not most) of the Christian message I had written into it had been edited out, but there it was – I had something in print that more than just a few people might eventually read, because it was between the covers of a book.  I had poured a lot of myself into that story because I lived through most of it; I just wrote a different ending to make the point I was shooting for.

The first book I had published was a Christian Fiction novel that is available on Amazon right now both in paperback and for Kindle entitled Digital Superman. I published that one through Publish America (now American Star Books) because I didn’t see any point in paying somebody hundreds or thousands of dollars to put a book in print, and Publish America publishes your book for free without editing it.  And they do a really good job. All I had to do was do two book signings, which I did, along with a TV interview about the book, which I wasn’t required to do. Sadly I have colleagues who have paid massive amounts of money to companies who promised to make their books best sellers. Those dreams were never realized and, while their books are in print, that money will never be recovered.

And while Digital Superman didn’t sell a zillion copies, everybody I know of who read it really liked it, but most of them never wrote a single review on Amazon, and most people won’t buy or read my books because they don’t know me as an author.

One of the dreams many authors have is to be able to write books for a living – well, I’ve earned enough money writing for trade magazines to have built and paid for a new house, because I take my love for wordsmithing and storytelling with me into my technical articles and I have a LOT of fans in that crowd – 140,000 repair shops all across the country.

Since Digital Superman, I have published eleven other books on Amazon for Kindle, to include a couple of trilogies and a collection of short stories, all Christian fiction.

For me, writing is a creative outlet, even if only a few people read what I write – I enjoy crafting the stories I write, creating and developing the characters, and I enjoy putting a little something for just about everybody in the books I write.  I try to come up with original plotlines that aren’t predictable, characters that are (hopefully) dear to the reader’s heart, and stories that are fun to read and uplifting (with the exception of one short story I wrote, which has a powerful message, but isn’t a lot of fun).

My most recent work is a novel called Born Out of Time that is available on Amazon. My daughter’s review pegged it as my best story ever.

I like to instill my female characters with great character, beauty, and strength, and I try to craft my male characters as men of integrity and honor. And let me say that a story just doesn’t work well if there isn’t an element of romance or attraction, but I stay away from anything lewd or racy.

If there is a pastor in the story I write, he is typically a heroic sort of fellow who is generous to a fault.  I despise how so many TV shows and novels paint Christian ministers as evil and heavy-handed.

For me, writing and publishing novels is a hobby of sorts, nothing more – if God sees fit to have my books sell lots of copies, so be it. But I plan to write in a way that honors my Creator.  Always.

Check out Richard McCuistian's books at:

Richard McCuistian has three children and seven grandchildren and lives in South Alabama with Lynne, his wife of nearly 24 years.

His day job is teaching Auto Mechanics and with his wife he teaches two Sunday School classes each week and is also a free-lance technical writer for trade magazines in his spare time.

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