I didn’t set out to be a writer. It just happened and I went along with it.
I am Sandra V. McGee, The Accidental Writer.
The Psychic’s Crystal Ball, 1983
I’m a Valley girl from Southern California. Despite my current (clears throat) mature status, the words “like” and “totally” are still part of my vocabulary.
I never thought about being a writer. In school, I didn’t care for English 101. I wasn’t a voracious reader. And I certainly wasn’t a swell grammarian.
The first time someone told me I would be a writer was in 1983. My father had passed away unexpectedly at age 59. My mother, curious about her future, asked me to accompany her to a psychic. The scene was out of the 1950s movie, Sunset Boulevard. The psychic lived in the Hollywood Hills in a 1920s Spanish-style mansion that had seen better days and was now sub-divided into small apartments. The psychic looked like Norma Desmond, Gloria Swanson’s character in Sunset Boulevard — thinly-plucked eyebrows, red lipstick applied in a heart shape, a long scarf wrapped turban-style around her head. And, indeed, she had a crystal ball.
After the psychic forecast my mother’s future (I don’t remember what it was), my mother asked the psychic to forecast mine. I politely declined, but Mother insisted. The psychic said, later on in life, I would be a writer. Oh no, I thought, not a writer.
Word Processing, 1985
In 1981, I met Bill McGee. He was at the tail end of his 32-year career in broadcast marketing and sales. He talked me into moving with him to the mountains, specifically Incline Village on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, and we got married.
He was still under contract to update one of his twelve “how-to” broadcast sales guidebooks, A What, When and How Guide to Broadcast Co-op: The Untapped Goldmine. I happened to be a fast and accurate typist, and Bill “drafted” me into typing the manuscript for the updated guidebook. I always said Bill married me because I could type.
At the time, his traditional book printer was in the early stages of converting to digital printing. Bill kept abreast of the new technology, having written the bestseller Changes, Challenges & Opportunities in the New Electronic Media. He knew something about computers. I knew nothing and, furthermore, I had no interest. Bill bought a desktop computer and hired an instructor from the local Sierra Nevada College to teach me how to do word processing, data processing, and insert digital printing codes into a manuscript. I was not a happy camper, but I went along with the program — a fixed glum expression on my face.
At first, I said nothing. I just typed and inserted those darn printing codes into the manuscript. Then I began gently suggesting an edit here or there.
On My Own, 1994
In 1994, Bill gave up trying to make his Valley girl wife into a mountain woman. We moved to Santa Barbara, the furthest point south I could persuade him to move to in California. Little did I know, that’s where my writing career would begin.
My first love since the age of three was the ballet. Though I aimed for a career on the stage, it was not in my cards. Nonetheless, I continued to take ballet classes wherever I was living. In Santa Barbara, I signed up for classes at a new studio opened by Rodney Gustafson, a former dancer with American Ballet Theatre in New York City. After class one day, Rodney approached me at the barre. He wanted to start a professional ballet company and asked me to be on the founding board.
There was no money to pay for a publicist, so I volunteered. I knew nothing about being a publicist, but it sounded glamorous. I purchased two books on Amazon on how to do publicity for the performing arts. I copied the formats of sample press releases, calendar listings, public service announcements, and local and feature stories. I followed the pyramid rule of press release writing: who, what, when, where, and how to buy tickets — all in the first paragraph. When the actress Bonnie Bartlett joined the ballet board, she asked her publicist to take a look at my press kit. “I received your press kit and it really looks good,” wrote Claire Segal, adding a few constructive notes.
My writing was not necessarily creative, but it was accurate. The Entertainment editor at the Santa Barbara News-Press said it was a pleasure to receive my press releases because they could run as is without rewrite.
Ironically, though my destiny was not to be on the stage, I realized my contribution to the ballet world was from the other side of the curtain. And that was okay with me.
I served on the board of State Street Ballet Santa Barbara for seven years and I’m proud to say the Company has passed its 25th anniversary.
On our first date, I learned that Bill was born and raised a cowboy in Montana. After the war, he got a job as the head dude wrangler on the Flying M.E., an exclusive divorce ranch outside of Reno. “The Biggest Little City” was in its heyday of the six-week divorce era and the Flying M.E. catered to the upscale clientele… wealthy Eastern socialites with names like Astor and du Pont, and Hollywood movie stars like Clark Gable and Ava Gardner. I had seen the 1939 film, The Women, and Bill’s stories about his three years on the Flying M.E. were like an old Hollywood movie coming to life. “Bill, you have to write about those years.” I said.
In 2000, I left the ballet board and joined forces with Bill to collaborate on such a book. I became immersed in the subject and left no clue on the research trail unexplored. What began as a slim memoir with a couple dozen photographs from Bill’s scrapbook, became The Divorce Seekers – A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler, a hefty 444-page hardcover coffee table book with 500 black-and-white images, most never before published.
We sent an advance readers copy to Charles Champlin, then the film critic and arts editor of The Los Angeles Times. In his notes, Mr. Champlin wrote, “Though too young to have experienced the era firsthand, Sandra McGee immerses herself in the subject and captures in her writing the essence of the time.” Wow.
The Psychic was Right, 2020
Fast forward twenty years. Today, I spend eight or more hours a day sitting in front of my laptop — writing. I’ve co-written seven nonfiction books with Bill. I write content for two websites, two blogs, two Facebook Pages, and other social media sites. I know how to format a book for print or digital publication. I know how to market a book. I’ve published stories in magazines. And I’m receiving inquiries from others who want my help with writing, publishing, and-or marketing their books. Despite my reluctance to learn how to use a computer, it turns out I was made for word processing (my favorite keys are delete and backspace). How in the world did people do multiple rewrites using a typewriter, an eraser or white-out? However, despite the grammar for dummies-type books on my bookshelf, I’m still not a grammarian.
Bill McGee gets all the credit for launching me into this creative and oft times frustrating world of author/publisher/marketing. With Bill’s passing in October 2019, this world will be my lifeline as I assume the role of “solopreneur” of our indie small press.
I have a lot of writing projects in various stages of development… however, a little mystery goes a long way, so we’ll see what transpires.
Sandra V. McGee is a member of Western Writers of America, California Writers Club, and Bay Area Independent Publishers Association. Her feature stories about the Nevada divorce ranch era have appeared in Precious Metal (National Automobile Museum, The Harrah Collection), True West Magazine, and Roundup, Magazine of Western Writers of America. She has a B.A. in Music from the University of California, Berkeley. She dislikes using her middle initial, but found it necessary due to the numerous Sandra McGees in Google search engine results. When not writing, Sandra’s passions are movies from the 1930s and ’40s, and classical ballet.