Sandra V. McGee, The Accidental Writer

 

 

 

 

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 and, despite my current (clears throat) mature status, the words “like” and “totally” are still firmly embedded in 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, anxious about her future, asked me to accompany her to a psychic in the Hollywood Hills. The scene was out of the 1950s movie, Sunset Boulevard. The psychic lived in a 1920s Spanish-style mansion that had seen better days and was now divided into small apartments. The psychic looked like Norma Desmond, the character played by Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, with thinly-plucked eyebrows, red lipstick applied in a heart shape, and a long scarf wrapped dramatically and 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 firmly declined, but Mother insisted. The psychic said she saw me later in life as a writer. Oh no, not me, I thought.

Word Processing, 1985

I met my husband, Bill McGee, in 1981. A few years after we met, he retired comfortably from his 32-year career in broadcast marketing and sales, and talked me into moving with him to the mountains, specifically Incline Village on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. He was still under contract to an East Coast communications syndicate 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 his manuscripts. At the time, his traditional book printer was in the early stages of converting to digital printing, new in the industry. Bill was always interested in new developments and knew something about computers. I knew nothing and, furthermore, I wasn’t interested in learning. Bill bought a desktop computer and hired an instructor from the local Sierra Nevada College to teach me how to use it. I learned word processing, data processing, and how to insert digital codes into a manuscript. This I did not want to do. Sitting for hours and hours in front of a computer monitor, typing and inserting digital codes, went totally against my grain. But, of course, that’s precisely what I did.

I said nothing at first; I just typed and inserted codes with a fixed glum expression on my face. Then I began gently suggesting to Bill a possible 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 south I could persuade him to move 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 media kit. “I received your press kit and it really looks good,” wrote Claire Segal, adding just a few constructive comments.

My writing was not necessarily creative, but it was accurate. The Entertainment editor at the Santa Barbara News-Press told me 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 being made on the other side of the curtain. And that was okay with me.

I served on the board of State Street Ballet of Santa Barbara for seven years and I’m proud to say the Company has celebrated its 25th anniversary.

Collaboration, 2000

When I met Bill, I was fascinated with his cowboying background. He was the real deal, a cowboy born and raised in Montana. After the war, he returned to cowboying. From 1947 to 1949, he was the head dude wrangler on the exclusive Flying M.E. dude-divorce ranch outside of Reno. The “Biggest Little City” was still 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. My scant knowledge of the Reno divorce era was from the 1939 movie, The Women. Bill’s stories about his Flying M.E. years 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 became The Divorce Seekers – A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler, a hefty 444-page coffee table book with 500 black-and-white photographs, most never before published.

We sent an advance readers copy to Charles Champlin, the film critic and arts editor of The Los Angeles Times, who Bill had met at a Santa Barbara Writers Conference. 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

Today, Bill and I have nine titles on Amazon. I spend eight or more hours a day sitting at my desk in front of my laptop. I manage two websites, two blogs, two Facebook Pages, and other social media sites. I know how to format a print and an ebook for publication. I know how to market a book. My name is on the cover of seven nonfiction books co-authored with Bill. Stories with my byline have been published in magazines.  And I’m receiving inquiries to consult with others who want my help with writing, publishing, and-or marketing their books. The point being: I was made for word processing – my favorite keys are backspace and delete – and I cannot remember what it was like to use a typewriter and edit with an eraser or white-out. However, despite the grammar for dummies-type books on my bookshelf, I’m still not a grammarian. 

I have to give Bill McGee all the credit for launching me into the creative world of author/publisher/marketing – even if I was reluctant to be launched. With Bill’s passing in October 2019, this world is going to be my lifeline as I learn to fly solo and become the “solopreneur” of our 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.

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Sandra V. McGee is a member of Western Writers of America (WWA), California Writers Club, and Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA). Her feature stories have appeared in Precious Metal (National Automobile Museum, The Harrah Collection), True West, and Roundup (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. 

Read Sandra’s Tribute to Bill