I didn’t set out to be a writer. It just happened and I went along with it… I am Sandra McGee, The Reluctant Writer.
For close to twenty years, I’ve been collaborating with my author/husband, William L. McGee, on his World War II military histories and memoirs. I’m often asked what it’s like to work with your husband on a book. My answer: “The strongest drive is neither love nor hate; it is the urge to edit another’s copy.”
The Psychic’s Crystal Ball
The first suggestion of my becoming a writer was in 1983. After my father passed away unexpectedly at age 59, my mother took me with her to visit 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. She looked like the aging Norma Desmond played by Gloria Swanson, with thinly-plucked eyebrows and lipstick still applied in the shape of a heart. Her head was wrapped in a long scarf, turban-style and dramatic. And 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 said no, not necessary. But my mother insisted. The psychic said she saw me later in life as a writer. I said no, that’s not me. I didn’t like English in both high school and college. I wasn’t a voracious reader. And I certainly wasn’t a good grammarian.
In 1985, my husband, Bill McGee, and I moved to Incline Village, Nevada. He was officially retired from his 32-year career in broadcast sales and marketing, but under contract to a broadcast communications company to update a broadcast sales guidebook he had written in 1975, A What, When and How Guide to Broadcast Co-op: The Untapped Goldmine.
I was a fast typist and Bill drafted me to type his handwritten manuscript pages and transcribe his dictation on audiotapes. At the time, his book printer was in the early stages of changing over to digital printing. Bill bought a desktop computer and hired an instructor from Sierra Nevada College to teach me how to use it. The instructor also taught me how to do word-processing and how to insert printing codes into a word document. I did not want to learn how to use a computer. I did not want to sit for hours and transcribe handwritten manuscript pages and listen to audiotapes. I did not want to insert digital codes into a document for printing. But, of course, that’s what I did.
On My Own
Bill and I moved to Santa Barbara, California, in 1984. You might say that’s where my writing career on my own began.
My first love since the age of three was the ballet. Though a career on the stage turned out to not be in my cards, I always took classes wherever I lived. In Santa Barbara, I began taking classes at a new studio opened by Rodney Gustafson, a former member of American Ballet Theatre. After class one day, Rodney invited me to be on the board of his new professional ballet company, State Street Ballet of Santa Barbara. There was no money to pay for a publicist, so I volunteered. I knew nothing, but publicity sounded glamorous. I purchased two books from Amazon on how to be a publicist for the performing arts. I copied the formats of sample press releases, calendar listings, and public service announcements. I followed the pyramid rule of “who, what, when, where, and how to buy tickets” in the first paragraph.
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 the details were always correct and my press releases could be reproduced in the paper without rewrite.
Ironically, though my destiny was not to be on stage, I realized my participation in the ballet world was on the other side of the curtain. I was happy with that.
In 2000, I left the ballet board and joined forces with Bill to collaborate on a book I thought he should write. It would be a memoir about his years from 1947 to 1949 working as a dude wrangler on the famous Flying M.E. dude-divorce ranch outside of Reno, Nevada. I had seen the 1939 movie, The Women, and was fascinated to meet not only a real cowboy, but someone who was part of that era. I became immersed in the subject. I could not leave any clue on the research trail unexplored. What began as Bill’s brief memoir with a couple dozen photographs became The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler, a 444-page coffee table book with 502 black-and-white photographs, most never before published.
When Charles Champlin, the late film critic and arts editor of The Los Angeles Times, read an advance copy of The Divorce Seekers, he wrote, “Though too young to have experienced an era firsthand, Sandra McGee immerses herself in the subject and captures in her writing the essence of the time.”
The Psychic was Right
Fast-forward to 2019. Today I spend an average of six to eight hours daily sitting in front of my laptop. On my writing resume, I have my name on the cover of seven nonfiction books co-authored with Bill, and on the bylines of three published magazine stories. I maintain two websites and two blogs. I know how to format interior pages for a print book and an eBook. And I’m receiving inquiries from others seeking my help with writing, indie publishing, and-or marketing their books. I was made for word-processing (my favorite keys are backspace and delete) and I cannot imagine what it was like to write on a typewriter and make edits with an eraser or white-out. However, despite the grammar for dummies-type books on my writing bookshelf, I’m still not a grammarian.
I have to give Bill all the credit for launching me – even if I was reluctant to be launched – into the creative world of writing and indie publishing. With Bill’s passing in 2019, this world is going to be my lifeline as I learn to fly solo.
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) and Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA). Her articles have been published 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 multitude of Sandra McGees in Google search results.
When not writing, Sandra’s passions are movies from the 1930s and ’40s, and classical ballet.
Read Sandra’s Tribute to Bill