People always ask: “RJ, how did you learn to write?” My answer is always… I don’t know. That’s the God’s honest truth, too. I wanted to be a fireman when I was a young boy. In fact, when asked of the top three things I wanted to become when I grew up, I always said… (1) Fireman, (2) Major League Baseball Player – Yankees, thank you very much and (3) A United States Army Soldier. At age 16, I tried to get into the Army, went to a recruiters office, but was told to come back with a high-school diploma.
Luckily, I had something I was good at… just like everyone has something that drives who they are deep down inside. It gnaws at our heart until we wake up and give in to the DESTINY that is laid out before us. My secret thing has always been writing. I’ve worked for street rags and magazines writing real-life stories about real people and places. However, since 2010 I’ve focused exclusively on Horror, Suspense, Mystery and SCI-FI. It confused me at first because I wrote a lot of poetry as a kid. A shy introvert of a boy, I liked to sit and watch everything and everyone in the City That Never Sleeps. Growing into my lanky, teenage body, I excelled in school in general and especially English. I became pretty darn good at putting together concise, tight sentences that led to exciting, flowing paragraphs.
I was good at English. it just came naturally to me. One letter at a time, nicely constructed words and phrases can evoke an emotional response from the reader. Looking back now to childhood, it dawns on me that my roots in writing may lie in the alphabet blocks I played with as a child. However, in High School, when my teacher chalked out an algebra or trigonometry equation on the blackboard, I remember cringing. I’d roll my eyes down to an open battered book and hope Mrs. Wilson didn’t pick me. Although I tried desperately to be invisible, my best efforts were always thwarted and somehow I’d always be summoned to the head of the class to answer her questions. Yes, I loathed mathematics, but there was something special about writing. For as far back as I can recall, I preferred engrossing myself in literature. From the wholesome tales of Huckleberry Finn & Tom Sawyer to the complete madness of Stephen King, the genius of Harold Robbins, Elmore Leonard, and Sidney Sheldon. I always knew I wanted to write professionally. I didn’t have the foggiest notion as to what commercial writing entailed. I just knew I had to write. It wasn’t a choice for me as there was only one thing I was really good at… writing! When I was twenty-two, I typed-out my first 10,000-word short story in 1988.
One word led to a paragraph & those paragraphs built organized pages of content. I pounded out the first copy of Storyteller twenty-five years later. That came after I was convinced by close friends to scoop it out of my antique wooden trunk where I keep all of my private, unpublished works. Years ago, Storyteller was the foundation for my Hollywood SPEC screenplay by the same name that I wrote for JS Integrity Management of Los Angeles. I suppose that short story was the beginning of my professional writing career. I loved penning screenplays because they were easy. Scripts are the skeleton of a story… the who, where, what, when and why of a tale. As for me, I learned by studying Syd Field’s The Foundations of Screenwriting. There were no special teachers or classes… it’s not that romantic despite what they tell you. It was my eyes on the written page, digesting everything I could learn about writing in pictures. Screenwriters aren’t descriptive… we can’t describe the paint on the wall, or the color of things. Scripts are intrinsically bare bones. They contain well-defined characters moving through an environment without setting too much of the scene. That is left up to producers and set directors.
Writing a screenplay is like building a house. You build the structure but leave the inside empty for the owners to furnish. Even now, looking back at the roots of my career, putting my finger on the genesis of where it all began is next to impossible. I didn’t wake up one morning and make a decision to write for profit. What I did do… was write a lot of different things for dozens of years to perfect my own elements of style. I’ve been writing now for close to forty years. Yet, I didn’t “make it” for a long time. Having placed in the final rounds of some of the best writing competitions across the globe, I loved being involved.
In May 2013, my debut novel, The Santa Claus Killer, was published and eventually got me a Swaggie in a competition. Soon after, I signed a representation agreement with Manhattan/Los Angeles Screenplay Manager, Julie Stern… and off my stories went to Hollywood. Right around this time, Joyce Keating, of JRK Literary Agency of Manhattan, asked if I’d consider writing more novels. I loved the thought of it, especially since I had a dozen manuscripts decaying in that trunk.
Remembering my idols, I went for it.
For many years I listened religiously to ART BELL on his then famed radio show Coast to Coast AM (he’s long gone) and I was intrigued by the 11:00 PM to 4:00 AM show highlighting the unexplained. Listening to it by the dim light of the moon filtering through a broken window, I pounded out the first drafts of what would become The Santa Claus Killer and Cataclysm.
In 2011-2012, I turned all my stories into professional works and was pleased to see the world’s largest book retailer, Barnes & Noble, advertise my debut novel The Santa Claus Killer beside Stephen King and Patricia Cornwell. Instantly, the literary world had placed my skills with the best of them. Not many keep that type of company.
One of my favorite quotes comes from George Harrison. “It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it, and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”
― George Harrison
An old man once told me, “the definition of insanity is repeating something over and over each time expecting a different result.”
Truth be told, that is exactly the course I am avoiding as we move through 2019.
Updated: 3 June 2019
Meet the Team
Joyce is RJ’s New York City Literary Agent.
She is focused on pitching RJ’s manuscripts to top publishing companies throughout the United States for a publication deal.