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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, he decided.

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 prize.

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 acceptance?

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 know?

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 a writer.

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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