Writers Write

James Reasoner is one of the most prolific authors that I know…he's had hundreds of books published, mostly in the western genre. And yet very few people know who he is. Why? Because the majority of those books don't have his name on them (they were written under "house names" owned by the publisher or a literary estate).

For a lot of authors, the most important thing to them is seeing their name on the cover. But for James (pictured on the left hard at work), the most important thing is to make a living writing, something he loves to do and is very good at:

At one point in my career, I had published more than eighty books, only one of which (TEXAS WIND) had my name on it. People used to ask me how I could write a book knowing that my name wouldn’t be on it, and my stock answer was “I don’t care if my name is on the book as long as it’s on the check.”
Of course, that’s not exactly true now and wasn’t then. I’d love to be able to just write what I want, sell it, and have my name on it. But being able to keep writing, period, is more important to me.

It's a refreshing…and dare I say it, professional…attitude that you don't find much today. So many aspiring writers rush to self-publishing companies simply because they want the experience of seeing their name on a book cover, even if they have to spend thousands of dollars to do it. But James is different. He's a real writer and a true professional. I wish there were more like him:

There are dozens of books out there now with my name on them, and I’m thankful for Reasoner1
each and every one of them. I hope there’ll be more in the future. But as long as I can keep writing, one way or the other, I’ll be okay. That’s just me. I don’t really think that’s the only way to carve out a career – I’m sure every author has a different approach – but I feel like I’ve played the cards that were dealt to me and won more than I’ve lost.

I know how he feels. I think I may have told this story here before, but…a couple of years ago, it was down to Bill Rabkin & me against one other candidate for the co-exec producer job on a major hit series. The showrunner couldn't choose between the us and the other guy. So we met with the studio chief, who would be deciding who ultimately got the job. The interview was going great, and I was feeling real good about our chances, until the studio chief said:

"I only have on reservation about you two. Why don't you have sexier credits?"

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Why haven't you ever worked on Law and Order or CSI?"

"Because we never had the opportunity, either because we were working on something else when they had openings or they weren't interested in hiring us when we were available," I said. "In the course of our career, we didn't have the luxury of picking and choosing our jobs as much as we would have liked. We have families and had to make a living so we took what came along and what interested us. But if you like us, our writing, our producing philosophy, and the way we tell stories, what difference does it make whether we worked on CSI or Diagnosis Murder?"

We might also have mentioned that our friend Terry Winter was working on SISTER SISTER when he got hired on the SOPRANOS, where he won Emmys and WGA Awards. His previous credits include THE NEW ADVENTURES OF FLIPPER and XENA. Not exactly the sexiest credits.

Well, it goes without saying that we didn't get the job. They hired someone with sexier credits. And fired him thirteen episodes later.

I like seeing my name in print and on the TV screen, but I consider myself first and foremost a working, professional writer. I write because I love it, but I also write to earn a living. Sometimes my creative or personal desires have to take a backseat to simply having a job. I don't think that Terry or I wrote for FLIPPER because we had a burning need to tells stories about a clever dolphin. We did it because writing is what we do and how we pay our bills.

UPDATE 12-20-2008: Bill Crider reviews James Reasoner's latest LONGARM novel (written under the house name "Tabor Evans.") And here's a Saddlebums review of one of Reasoner's 2007 LONGARM tales and an interview they did with him.

12 thoughts on “Writers Write”

  1. I love the spareness of his writing space.
    Five bucks says that computer isn’t hooked up to the damn Internet.
    “I don’t care if my name is on the book as long as it’s on the check.”
    Ditto. I’m not in this game for the glory, or the “fan appreciation” – I’m in it for the dough.

  2. It’s spare because he just moved in. His previous house was burned in a fire last year. And I suspect the computer IS hooked up to the Internet, since I got those excerpts from his blog.

  3. James Reasoner and I shared an agent, Barbara Puechner, for a while. Barbara once told me that the Reasoner manuscripts were the most professional she had ever seen. They were flawless, without typos or misspellings or punctuation errors, and so well edited that they could be put into print by publishers without the usual editing and copyediting. He and his wife are true professionals, and should be considered models for aspiring writers.

  4. My own career has been a mixture of editing and writing and I can relate to and confirm what Richard says. And I also applaud what James Reasoner does. I consider one of the best comments to come from John Hale (my publisher) was made when I submitted my second book for him in 1992. He said, “Because the novel is so well presented I believe copy-editing would be a formality so we will send the typescript straight to the setter. In this connection we did copy-edit Gunsmoke Night although there were virtually no changes to be made.”
    The best thing Barbara Puechner ever said to me was, “I am sorry . . . taking on anyone else in this field would compete with what I already have going.”

  5. Lee it was this year the house burned down. Hard to believe it hasn’t even been a year. I just finished the floor to James’ office this week and will start building shelves next week. Give me a few weeks and I promise it won’t be that spare. James works best surrounded by books.
    Dick, James does write clean manuscripts. I copy edit all his books before they go in and find very few mistakes. I don’t think he can say the same when he goes over my work.

  6. I’m totally with Jim on this one, actually. I make a living as a fulltime freelance writer. Sure, I’d be pleased if all my income came about from writing novels, but at the moment it doesn’t, and I’d never trade making a living as a freelance writer with going back to working a so-called “real job.” I’m a writer and I make a good living. Everything else is whipped cream.

  7. Your credits aren’t sexy enough?
    This is hilarious! Seinfeld hilarious! This could be the premise for an entire season of, “THE SHOWRUNNER.” The writing partners try and try to get a “sexy credit” and when they do, and are on the verge of getting hired, the Studio Chief is let go, and the next Chief doesn’t like the so-called “sexy show” and won’t hire them.
    In Season 2, they say to heck with the production companies and the studios and the nets and they create their own show and put it on the internet. But nobody likes it. And no name-actors will appear on it for free. But at season’s end, a new Studio Chief likes their work and hires them as writers! And for a show they hate! The CLEVER DOLPHIN show!
    In Season 3, they struggle to make this show they hate a success, but they want it to go down, but it actually succeeds! The dolphin wins an Emmy. They are playing the stock market and then get wiped out in a market crash, and so they have to stay on the show for another season.
    Are you kidding me? There is so much great irony and humour here that “THE SHOWRUNNER” would be a cult hit at the worst.

  8. Even so, I think recognition is a big part of the attraction. With more of it comes enough money to live well on. I sure wasn’t writing for The Livingston Enterprise for the money. I did it for the credits and the doors opening as a result.

  9. As an exceedingly indolent writer, I stand in awe of Mr. Reasoner’s work ethic. To have produced such a large number of consistantly first-rate novels is truly a remarkable achievement.

  10. This is a wonderful post, because it fits perfectly in my world as a composer for film and television. “Sexier credits” are often the thing that gets you the job scoring a project over your actual talent. My goal is not to make a name for myself, it’s to create a niche and continue to find work so that I’m able to continue doing what I love for a living. Even the guys with sexy credits didn’t always have them, if I’m destined to get some then it’ll happen. If not, I’ll be no less happy.


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