Vaughn Hardacker here. This has been an exciting period for me as my first published novel, SNIPER, was selected as a finalist for the 2015 Maine Literary Award in Crime Fiction along with Kate Flora (the winner), Paul Dorian, and John Corrigan (writing under the pseudonym of D. A. Keeley) and my second novel in the Mike Houston, Anne Bouchard series, THE FISHERMAN, was released on June 2nd. Driving back north from the Awards in Portland I began reminiscing about the road I took to get here. Like that taken by most published writers the road was bumpy in several places, however with the help of a cadre of people I was able to traverse it.
I wrote my first short story in seventh grade, being enamored of the B horror movies of the late fifties and early sixties I wrote a horrible vampire tale. I made the mistake of showing it to a couple of friends in my homeroom. I was shocked when Penny Montieth (nee Celino) read it aloud to the class. I learned at that young age why we read our work aloud and put that career aside post haste.
As it will, time went on and I acquired a wife and a daughter and life got in the way of living. I did little writing outside of college term papers and spent a great deal of my free time in my one fanatical avocation…reading. In 1989 I suffered through a severe bout of what I now know is PTSD and was at my bottom. I had come close to losing my family, my job, and I believe my sanity. After a month of intense in-house therapy, I reconnected with my family and came to realize that I hated my job. More importantly, I decided to write a novel. The result was ELEPHANT VALLEY, as of now a still unpublished pseudo-memoir of my time as a helicopter door gunner in Vietnam. The book didn’t go anywhere but served to make me realize that I could write a lengthy work (the manuscript was just over 100,000 words). What followed was THE WAR WITHIN, also unpublished, the book followed the life of a deeply disturbed teenager who grew up in the slums and became a war hero. I enetered the manuscript in a literary contest and won a $1,500.00 second place prize. Now I was certain that I could be a writer.
Enter a predator agent. A friend of my brother recommended that I contact this agent, so I gladly did so. The agent told me that since I was an unpublished author she charged a $2.00 per page reading fee. I knew nothing of the business of writing so, being fat, dumb, and happy–not necessarily in that order–I sent the manuscript and the check. I’m certain that by now reader, you know where this story is going. In return for my money I got nothing but a bunch of what I now believe were fake rejection letters from a bunch of publishers that she supposedly sent the manuscript to. (I have intentionally refrained from naming this so-called agent, but she is still in business.) Discouraged and disgruntled I once again put a writing career on the back burner.
Five years later my wife and I moved back to New England (the aforementioned incidents took place while we were living in Chicago) and I attended my 40th high school class reunion. I was confronted by Penny and several other women and asked: “Why aren’t we seeing any of your books in the book stores?” I looked to my wife for help but she just smiled and said, “Yes, why aren’t they?” It was then that I took the step that was to finally put me on the right road. I started by attending some author events at a local bookstore and at the same time began networking. I joined the New England Chapter of MWA and through it met a number of writers who were to become instrumental in my development.
As I stated I had come to the realization in 1989 and 1990 that I could write fiction, what was missing is that I didn’t know how to write. I was fully capable of putting words on a page, but the result was lacking polish and professionalism. The true turning point came in an email via MWANE. Paula Munier asked is I would be interested in joining a writer’s group that would meet at her house in Salem, Massachusetts. I agreed to join and prepared to dazzle everyone with my wonderful prose. (I’ll bet that by now you can see what’s coming.) On the first night I read a chapter and sat back awaiting the accolades I was sure were to be bestowed…WRONG! The group was composed of Susan Oleksiw, an accomplished editor, author and publisher, Paula Munier, a professional editor, and Skye Alexander, author of numerous works. They were very nice, but still gave me constructive criticism and lots of it. I went home and ranted about the fact that they didn’t understand my work. That what they said I needed to do would not make it better but worse. Again I appealed to my best friend, my wife, who said, “Why don’t you stop whining and try it?” So I did and ate a mighty meal of crow. Lesson learned: Your true friends tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.
Not to belabor things, I continued attending the writer group, attending conferences, and listened to successful writers. I surrounded myself with them and after twelve years (yup, twelve years) I got my first novel published and was nominated for an award.
All this has led me to give three bits of advice to aspiring writers:
1. Start creating a writing network, include as many successful (by which I mean published) writers as possible.
2. Listen to advice from other writers, especially those who have been published.
3. Don’t give up. I’ve been told that from the moment that you determine you want to write and start working at it, it might take as long as ten years to learn how.