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WFD Interview with Charles W. Sasser
by Phil Truman
When I first met Chuck Sasser, I didn't quite know what to
make of him. Here was this wiry, energetic, very personable
fifty-something writer talking about his recent victory over
a twenty-something guy in a kick-boxing match. Chuck had
only taken up kick-boxing a couple of months previous.
As I'd come to find out, taking up exotic, even dangerous,
activities was nothing unusual for Chuck. Heck, it was a
life-style. The son of poor share-croppers in the cotton
fields of eastern Oklahoma, he grew up filled with an
insatiable curiosity and sense of adventure. Along with
that, he possessed a strong compulsion to write. As a boy
of seven, he said, he'd get up at three in the morning to
write things down on a desk his mother had fashioned for him
out of an old door. Every day of his life he wrote
something. During his high school years his local newspaper
ran a writing contest for school kids. He wrote a story
about picking cotton - something he knew all too well - and
won first prize: $25. Compared to $3 a day picking cotton,
it seemed like a fortune. A guy could get rich as a writer,
Chuck joined the Navy after high school where he finagled
his way from eighteen-year-old swabby to Journalist's Mate.
Again that compulsion to write. After his four year tour in
the Navy, Chuck's life took on Indiana Jonesian proportions:
Fifteen years as a patrolman, SWAT team member, and homicide
detective for Miami, Florida and Tulsa police forces, degree
in History and Anthropology from Florida State, twenty-nine
years as a Green Beret in the Army Reserve with tours in
Viet Nam, the DMZ in Korea, Desert Storm, and various
Central American conflicts.
Throughout all Chuck's adventures and occupations his
writing flourished. He has written 30 books, fiction and
non-fiction; and sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000
articles and stories ("I've lost count"). When I caught up
with him, he had pretty much retired from police work and
the military to dedicate himself to "writing full-time."
Although, there is something interesting, he said, going on
down in Costa Rica he'd like to look into.
WFD: You've had a lot of success making an income from your
writing. How did you get started?
Sasser: I've been writing and wanting to write as long as I
can remember. When I was a kid of 6 or 7 my mom made me a
desk out of an old door so I could have something to write
on. My stepdad, who was a tough hardworking man who could
neither read nor write himself, thought only girls and
sissies read books and didn't take much to my desire for
"book learning" so I'd get up at 3 in the morning to read
and write. I made my first money as a writer at 15. I won
a contest in a local newspaper. Twenty-five bucks, first
WFD: A lot of aspiring writers get discouraged by the
difficulty in selling their writing. After a few
rejections, they lose confidence in their talent and
ability. What would you say to them?
Sasser: First of all, talent only accounts for about 10% of
being a successful writer. Ninety percent of what's needed
to be successful as a writer is discipline and perseverance.
It doesn't matter if you've got all the talent in the world,
if you don't have the discipline to write every day, to
constantly keep trying to hone your craft, develop your
skills, then you won't be successful. I never have
considered myself to be a talented writer.
WFD: Rejections are a constant reality with writers. When
you started, what was the ratio of rejections to
Sasser: Oh, I guess it was about 100 to 1 but it got better
over the years. The more I sold the better it got. Now
it's about 2 to 1.
WFD: Is that a lot of "repeat business" to editors you
Sasser: There's a little bit of that, but it's mainly
because of my marketing. I'm constantly looking for
markets. And, of course, the more I wrote and sold, the
better I got as a writer. I knew what editors looked for in
WFD: Do you stay in a specific market?
Sasser: Oh heck no. I'll write anything for anybody, as
long as they're willing to pay me. I've written articles on
everything from how to raise kids to how to survive in the
jungle. Of course, it helps to know something about what
you're going to write about. The more experience you have
at something, the easier it is to write about it.
WFD: So do you write the article and then find the market
or vice versa?
Sasser: A little of both, I guess. Although, I don't
usually write the article first. I may have an idea about
an article and will do some research as to who might want
such a piece. I'll query them, and if I get a positive
response I'll follow through with the writing. Sometimes I
can re-work an old piece I've sold somewhere else and sell
it again with a different slant. That's the advantage of
having a lot of stuff written.
WFD: Here's the dumb question every successful writer gets
asked: Where do you get your ideas?
Sasser: Everywhere I've ever gone I've always had something
on which I could jot down notes, and if possible, take
pictures. I'm constantly alert for something to write
about. I've had thoughts I write down that don't make a lot
of sense at the time, but later grow into salable pieces.
Other times I've come up with "brilliant" ideas that don't
go anywhere. Re-read things you've already sold. A lot of
times you can get other writing ideas from them. The main
thing is, when you get an idea, write about it. Constant
writing is important if you want to be a writer.
WFD: To wrap it up, Chuck, what advice would you give
someone who wants to be a professional writer?
Sasser: One thing I've always told my writing students is
"The best inspiration is starvation." If a person wants to
be a professional writer they should quit their job and
write. Now I know that's not practical in most cases, but
my point is, you can't be a writer, professional or
otherwise, by just thinking or talking about it. You have
to make yourself do it, you have to develop the discipline.
Most people won't force themselves to pursue their dreams
unless they're forced to.
© Copyright 1998, Phil Truman
© Copyright 1998, Phil Truman
Phil Truman's website is philtrumanink.com.
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