"He didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it." -Clarence Budington Kelland
There is an old saying that a good father is better than a hundred schoolteachers, so if your father is a famous writer, then it only makes sense for him to impart wisdom from his own journey to his son or daughter who aspires to write.
Jonathan Kellerman, the author of more than 30 bestselling crime novels was thrilled when his son Jesse began a writing career. "I love my son and I'm awed by his immense talent so I'm thrilled about his success." Asked if he was involved in his son's journey towards publication, Jonathan replied, "Jesse's writing began several years before I published my first novel: at age 3, he dictated his new "book," Apple of Danger to me. I'm pleased, 30 years later, to have served as his first secretary."
Since his debut work at age three, Jesse Kellerman has gone on to publish four novels, his latest, Potboiler, releases in July. "My dad never pushed me to pursue writing or any other career; he's a believer in forging one's own destiny, and he has repeatedly told me that his only wish is for me to be happy. Importantly, I believe him." In terms of teaching his son, Jonathan excelled at that. "Most aspiring writers find themselves alone in their ambition," said Jesse. "If they're lucky they'll have a teacher or a friend who perceives their desire and talent and keeps them going during the long dark days of failure that inevitably preceded success. I was fortunate to have not one but two working writers in the house." His mother is author Faye Kellerman, the New York Times bestselling author of 27 novels. Watching them succeed enabled Jesse to view writing as a possible career.
"The best advice he ever gave me was unspoken. I simply observed his work habits and absorbed them. Those lessons would be, first, the importance of discipline - writing every day and treating it like a job, rather than a hobby, even when it's not your primary source of income. You write because you have to, not because the mood takes you. And second, the importance of rewriting."
Advice is something that should never be taken for granted when it comes from a parent with love, especially when the advice relates to your chosen career. "15 yeas ago I wrote a movie script," explained Peter Leonard author of six novels and the son of Elmore Leonard. "I told my father and he said, 'Being a screenwriter is like wanting to be a co-pilot. If you want to write, write fiction.' Years later I wrote Quiver, my first novel, and asked Elmore to read it. He did and was surprisingly complimentary. He said, "Boy, you're on your way." His father also offered specific, practical advice about the writing life. "Don't over write. Let your characters tell the story and keep your nose out of it. Grab your reader on the first page and don't let go. If it sounds like writing, rewrite it. Leave out the parts that readers tend to skip."
Can it be intimidating to enter a field that has given your father so much success? "I thought my father was so good, I didn't dare try to follow in his footsteps," said Peter. "But after writing ads for 25 years I was bored out of my mind. I remember pitching a new campaign to our big client, VW. The Ad Manager took my first and best storyboard and threw it across the conference room like a Frisbee. On the way home that evening I stopped by Elmore's house. He was writing The Hot Kid at the time, excited about a scene he'd just finished. He loved what he was doing and I didn't. A few months later I started writing a novel. I didn't think about Elmore's success. I thought about the story I was writing, and let the characters loose. Six novels later I can't imagine a more satisfying occupation."
Elmore Leonard, author of more than 40 novels including Get Shorty and Out of Sight, was very encouraging of his son, Peter, becoming a writer. "With his first book, I made one suggestion to move a scene where it would attract more attention. That's all. He sold his first novel and the ones that follow get better and better. I told him never to use an adverb to describe a verb in dialogue. I told him, if he can do that, and the reader gets the character's tone, he's on his way. When we're talking, one of us will say something and the other will say, 'That's a scene.' We do it all the time. Peter uses more plot than I do; he has more places to take his story. I don't like to plot too much. I never know where the book is going until I get to page 300."
When it comes to being a supportive father, Michael Palmer, author of 16 novels, including his most recent Oath of Office, ranks high. "I have never discouraged any of my three sons from pursuing any career or dream. Daniel, however, leads that league in terms of numbers of careers and breadth of dreams. He has been a professional musician, a bartender, a rental car agent, a storage unit manager, grad student, one of the builders of B&N.com, a dot com marketing company vice president, a software salesman (no sales), workforce management troubleshooter, independent music web site coordinator, romance novelist (the ill fated genre: guy-lit), and finally thriller-writer. With this last endeavor, I did mention in passing that earning a living producing books was probably the most challenging of all these career choices. Daniel is slowly but surely proving me wrong."
Like most hardworking fathers, the best advice is usually found in actions rather than words. "The two biggest lessons I have tried to impart are: 1) THIS IS HARD! If writing books were easy, everyone would be doing it. And 2) BE FEARLESS! No matter how stupid or uninteresting you think your writing may be, plow on. In order to fix something, it first must be down on paper or on the screen. Now, there is little advice I can give him that he hasn't figured out for himself. In fact, his perceptions of the business are often sharper than my own."
Daniel Palmer, author of the suspense novels Delirious and Helpless, shares not only his father's skill in writing but also his sense of humor. "After taking a career aptitude test, and scoring off the charts for puppeteer, my father was very encouraging of my becoming a writer. He did warn that the journey would be hard and the road pockmarked with pitfalls, but he believed I had the talent to succeed. Then he said something like, 'Don't worry, son, if it doesn't work out you can always turn your novel into a puppet show.'"
The two men bounce ideas off each other and seek advice frequently. "My dad is a brilliant storyteller with a loyal fan base. I'd be a fool not to ask for his advice. I love that he can be so candid with me. Like the time I told him about a plot twist I was going to write and he said, 'That sounds like a terrible idea.'" Michael is equally as enamored with his son's suggestions. "It would be foolish for Daniel and me to have one another writing in the same genre, and not to take advantage of that. We live fifty miles apart, but bridging the gap is the modern wonder of iChat. Several times a week one of us will call the other with a logistical problem or a question about the way we have chosen to phrase a passage of our book. It is great having Daniel in my writing life. His imagination is quick and boundless, and he tends to see all the parts of a problem differently than I do. 'Does this work for you?' is a question we frequently ask one another. Best of all is that Daniel is one of the funniest people I know, and nothing is better for kick starting the idea machine of a novel, than laughing. "
Fathers aren't only inspiring their sons to pursue similar passions, daughters are following in their fathers' footsteps, as well. Alafair Burke learned a similar lesson from her father, New York Times bestselling author James Lee Burke. "The best lesson I learned from him wasn't from anything he said, but from his deeds. After publishing three novels at a young age, he was out of print during most of my childhood, and our mailbox was probably the largest receptacle of rejection letters in the country. But I didn't know that. I thought of him as a writer because he wrote every single day. It wasn't until I was in high school that an academic publisher picked up a collection of short stories and a short novel. Three years later, he was able to quit his teaching job and write full time. Whenever I'm tempted to stalk my Amazon ranking or obsess over the day's current sales figures, I remind myself that all I can really do is write the best books I can and hope for the best."
It can be intimidating for aspiring writers to follow in such large footsteps. Alafair, author of eight thrillers with her newest, Never Tell coming out this month, felt this when her first book was heading towards publication. "When you write your first book, it's completely for you. You don't really think anyone else will ever read it, so I certainly wasn't thinking about how it would be received in the context of my father's success. It wasn't until my first book was already printed and being shipped to stores that I suddenly hit myself in the head and said, 'What the hell was I thinking putting my name on that thing? People are going to expect a lyrical tale about the green-gold hazes over the bayou.' It was 2003 and Lisa Marie Presley's first CD was coming out. I woke up each morning expecting to find a review that said, 'Elvis's daughter shouldn't sing and James Lee Burke's daughter shouldn't write.' Fortunately, though, his fans have been very supportive of my work. They recognize that it's different but they've been willing to give it a shot."
James Lee Burke, on the other hand, takes no credit for his daughter's talent. "I'd like to take credit for Alafair's success, but she started writing on her own in the first grade. When she was five she was reading Cool Hand Luke. Her IQ is off the scale, literally. Only two people in one million have the kind of score she does. She was Phi Betta Kappa and graduated at the top of Stanford Law. I think most of these characteristics come from her mother. Alafair has enormous talent. She's a great kid, as are her brother and two sisters. In truth, I think I have learned more from them than they ever learned from me." And if that kind of fatherly pride isn't enough, he closed by saying, "Alafair is one of the best people I have ever known."
Voltaire is famously quoted as saying, "How pleasant it is for a father to sit at his child's board. It is like an aged man reclining under the shadow of an oak which he has planted." These fathers have much to be proud of on Father's Day as their work, and the work of their children, continues to inspire.
Follow Jocelyn Kelley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jocelynkelley