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. 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 and my mother asked me to accompany her to a psychic in the Hollywood Hills. The scene was straight 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 and lipstick applied in the shape of a heart. Her head was wrapped dramatically in a long scarf, turban-style. And she really 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 tried to 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 later, he retired comfortably from his 32-year career in broadcasting 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 immediately drafted me to type his manuscript. At the time, his traditional book printer was in the early stages of converting to digital printing. Bill knew something about computers. I knew nothing and, furthermore, I didn’t care to. He bought a desktop computer and hired an instructor from the local Sierra Nevada College to teach me word and data processing, and how to insert digital codes into the manuscript. I did not want to do this. Sitting for hours in front of a computer typing, then inserting digital codes for printing, went totally against my grain. But, of course, that’s exactly what I did.
I said nothing at first; I just typed with a fixed glum expression on my face. 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 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 a career on the stage turned out not to be in my cards, I always took adult ballet classes wherever I was living. In Santa Barbara, I began taking classes at a new studio opened by Rodney Gustafson, a former dancer with American Ballet Theatre in New York City. One day after class, 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 it, but publicity sounded so 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, her publicist critiqued my media kit and suggested improvements.
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 be reproduced in the paper without rewrite.
Ironically, though my destiny was not to be on 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.
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. The Flying M.E. was upscale and catered to wealthy Eastern socialites with names like Astor and du Pont, and Hollywood movie stars like Clark Gable and Ava Gardner. I knew a little bit about the Reno divorce era from the 1939 movie, The Women, and Bill’s stories about his Flying M.E. years were like a Hollywood movie coming to life. “Bill, you have to write about those years.” I said.
In 2001, 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. Bill had met him 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, I spend an average of eight or more hours a day in front of my laptop. I maintain two websites, two blogs, two Facebook Pages, and more. I know how to format interior pages for both a print and an ebook. I know how to publish a book. 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 make edits 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 a “solopreneur” of our small press company.
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 (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.