You don’t get many do-overs in life, but my good friend Phoef Sutton, the insanely talented, Emmy-award winning writer, got the chance with his new novel Fifteen Minutes to Live. And it’s fitting, since the book is also about revisiting the past. But I don’t want to spoil the story, so I’ll let Phoef tell it…
I started writing as teen-ager. Short stories. I still have hundreds of rejection slips from PLAYBOY and ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE and ELLERY QUEEN. I took each one as a badge of honor. I knew that one day I’d get accepted…
Well, that day never came. I started writing plays in college because I knew I could put them on – they’d have that much life anyway. This proved an invaluable experience for what came to be my chosen profession. Writing stuff that makes people laugh.
I loved TV as a kid. Who doesn’t? I can still recite episodes of the DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and GET SMART by heart. But I never thought my career would go in that direction. I always wanted to write horror stories and thrillers. Richard Matheson was my idol. And Cornell Woolrich and Robert Bloch. I knew who Carl Reiner and Jim Brooks and David Lloyd were, of course. But I never saw myself following in their footsteps.
But fate had plans for me. I ended up writing for CHEERS, sitting next to David Lloyd and learning from the masters. I guess writing for what TV Guide just named one of the best written shows in TV history is something to be proud of. But I still had that nagging desire to see my name in print.
When I read Oliver Sacks’ THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT and started putting myself in the place of its oddly brain damaged heroes I knew I had a way in to that novel I always wanted it write. It just flowed out of me, unbidden, like a dream.
Writing in complete sentences after a career of writing stage directions was not so easy. But the joy of being able to get inside characters’ heads and tell what they’re thinking and feeling was heaven.
So I wrote FIFTEEN MINUTES TO LIVE, then called ALWAYS SIX O’CLOCK. Imagined that, in the book world, the writer was king and what he says is Gospel. I didn’t know about editors and notes. I made the mistake of selling it to a publisher who wanted to turn it from a noir-ish, Cornell Woolrich-style nightmare into a straight romance. And I agreed. The end result pleased nobody and sank without a trace.
With the advent of electronic publishing, I now have the chance to present the book as I originally intended. People seem to be responding to it the way I hoped they would years ago. It’s very gratifying. Almost like getting one of my stories accepted by ELLERY QUEEN would have been to my high-school self!