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S.P.E.A.R. is my first work of fiction in an otherwise totally non-fiction writing career.

I worked briefly for a publisher after college graduation, and saw what editors and authors did, and after 6 months of that I got my first writing job at a boutique advertising agency.  Seeing my science background they loaded me up with all their tech and education clients. I loved it.

The following year they had a downturn, and it was “last-hired (me), first-fired.”  Devastated at my first failure in life, I went home and got drunk.  The next day I stayed home, figuring they didn’t want me around anymore.  I put pillows over the phone.  When I finally woke up and answered the phone, they explained they weren’t mad at me, it wasn’t personal.  They just lost some accounts — not mine — and I could still work there until they found me another a job.  So, still mildly hung over, I took LSD (Lake Shore Drive, not the other sort of trip) to their office downtown.  They soon got me a job in the same building.

Less than a year later, that one-man-shop also got hit by the economic downturn of 1971-2.

So I was jobless in a bad economy.  But my Mom has always said, “If you can make money for somebody else, you can make it for yourself.”  I found it to be true, over the next five years, as I supported myself as a free-lance writer.

Sometimes I used those two references, but mostly I got jobs by saying enough intelligent things about the subject at hand to make the client feel confident I could do their writing.  A lifelong voracious reader, I knew a little bit about a LOT of things.  Also, at 24 years of age, I didn’t know there was anything I couldn’t do.

The jobs were still science and education based.  And fascinating. I wrote a chapter of a fifth grade science textbook, and in the research came upon a 1920’s description of how an internal combustion engine works, which concluded, “…and the byproducts of combustion disperse harmlessly into the atmosphere.”  Famous last words.  For the planet.

I also wrote some manuals, learning something a half hour before I was writing the instructions for others.

I got a job writing Bible stories for children.  That was the first time I ever read the New Testament.  Since I had been reading a lot of Carlos Casteneda, Lobsang Rampa, and Ram Dass, there was a subtle amount of mysticism in my kid-friendly versions of the Gospels.  Still, the client loved them.  When the editor mentioned that every other writer invoiced twice as many hours as I did, I proceeded to invoice double my hours.  As my Mom said… .

When I moved to Oregon in late 1972, I got some small advertising copy-writing jobs, and wrote some (unpaid) newspaper articles for the alternative press. Then I began to make good money writing a monthly magazine for Tektronix.  They had brought the first PC to market.  Don’t get too excited, it had 4K of RAM.  This was before the internet was known outside the military.  It just sent batch code to a time-shared mainframe.  None of those words are ever heard anymore.  They qualified me for the job by asking me one question: “Do you know the difference between hardware and software?”  A reader of Scientific American since I was ten, I passed that one with flying colors.  When I moved to Hood River I wrote ads for a realtor and still drove an hour into Portland to write for Tektronix.

In 1980 I became a Physical Therapist (a story for another day), and in 1983 I went to medical school (an even more mind-boggling story for yet another day).  Along the way I wrote countless research papers and case reports and Grand Rounds presentations.  As a doctor, I was an Expert Reviewer for about a half dozen cases for BMQA (pronounced “bum’-kwah,” the Board of Medical Quality Assurance), writing up reported cases to help the Board determine if a doctor’s care was up to standards or not.

The point of all this being: making up stuff was never a desirable thing to do in any of of my previous writing assignments.

In 2017, I knew I had important ideas that should be shared (all my friends said so), but I didn’t want to write my ideas as a treatise or polemic, because hardly anyone reads anymore, and even fewer read non-fiction.

You cannot imagine my astonishment that, when the job of writing was tossed back to me by John Byrum (the director, not the Secretary of State), the descriptions and people and plots and dialog and scenes just seemed to pour out of my brain onto the screen.

No one was more surprised than I was to find I could do that.  Actually, I soon found out that no one else was surprised at all.

Everyone has heard about writer’s block.  I can’t imagine it.  I have writerrhea.  I struggle to pare down and leave out.  I’m not like Jack Kerouac, feeding a long roll of paper into his Underwood and clacking away for days before bringing the taped-together 12-foot rolls of first-and-only draft to the publisher.

I’m firmly of the Ernest Hemingway school: “… the only writing is rewriting.”  Over the six years it took to write the scripts, and then the books, which became S.P.E.A.R.  Solves the World and the coming S.P.E.A.R.  Solves More World, I am quite sure I went back over it and rewrote it over a hundred times.  I spent just as much time, if not more, doing the research.  I was as compulsively detail oriented for S.P.E.A.R. as I was with all my previous writing gigs and assignments.

So … that’s the story of how S.P.E.A.R. ended up being a mostly non-fiction work of fiction.



  • That was so interesting Ellie. You were a born writer who took a detour to be a fine doctor and came back to being a writer. Looking forward to reading more.


  • Val says:

    What a journey you have taken. Among the talents you have is versatility. In this world where specialization is the norm, you’re wide ranging talents and interests have you served you well as an author. Congrats!

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