Heather Stallings is a CPA turned writer, who worked in investment banking. Like her heroine in her first novel, False Alarm, she was the chief financial officer of a company that handles the affairs of professional athletes. A frequent adventure traveler, she writes travel stories as well as fiction.
I always wanted to be a writer. At the University of Washington I took my electives in creative writing while I majored in accounting. People found this strange, but I like doing some things where there are right and wrong answers. You have to keep this in mind when you start sending out your work. In accounting, anyone can prove you wrong, but not with your writing. There’s always the hope that someone out there is going to love it.
I used to get up at 5 a.m. to write while I worked full-time in finance. I joined writing groups in San Francisco, jotted down ideas and things I overheard, took writing classes at UC Berkeley Extension and exchanged manuscripts with other writers who I met in classes. I didn’t meet any other secret writers in my accounting jobs, but there were plenty of interesting people—many of whom served as inspiration for characters.
I finished a coming-of-age novel about growing up in Spokane, Washington (532 typed pages, still under my bed, awaiting a major trim.) There’s too much to write about when you grow up in Spokane, The Lilac City, a town often featured on the TV show “Unsolved Mysteries.” It has four fantastic seasons and is bordered by Idaho, land of deep lakes and the Rockies, and attracts all types. When I was in high school, we had the South Hill jogging rapist who used oven mitts to silence his victims. My girlfriends and I jogged nightly with Mace, confident we could catch him (and fortunately never did). The town still talks about this case, where the rapist’s father turned out to be the managing editor of the local newspaper and the mother, a former charm school teacher, hired a hit man to kill the judge. These were our neighbors on the South Hill. The town likes to brag that Bing Crosby grew up there, and about the former waffle shop, now the historic and grand Davenport Hotel, where Dashiell Hammett once lived, writing scenes about the hotel in The Maltese Falcon, and where I worked in high school as a banquet waitress—once serving the Idaho Vandal football team. By the way, that’s my dad and me at a 9th grade cowboy dance. My mom actually let me out of the house wearing that much eye shadow, saying it was “expressive.” I left the Northwest for bigger accounting jobs, but I like being from there. People find you “wholesome,” and “outdoorsy,” though I’m not exactly sure why—check out my adventure travel writing. Once in San Francisco, crunching numbers by day, and writing at night, I saw that the workplace could be pretty funny. For me, it was the professional athletes, who were the clients, but for you, it can be anything that gives people a look at another world they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Other than one poem, I’d never had anything published. Then I wrote a story called One of the Boys that was based on my job, and was accepted by the literary journal, ZYZZYVA. My novel, False Alarm, is based on that story. The characters are composites of a lot of different people. Eventually, I found myself on a roll and that’s when I felt like I found a writing “voice.” I wrote a detailed outline (after all, I am an accountant). The story changed a lot, but that outline kept me going. It gave me something to write about when I would wake up in the morning and see a blank page. I would definitely recommend it.
Keep writing. The cliché is true. If you sit down and write long enough something will come out of it—a scene, a kernel of an idea, something that you can use. Writing is never wasted. I was surprised and horrified at what my editor cut in an early draft of False Alarm—the first 80 pages felt like vital organs, and all that was gone. But I needed to write it to get to where I was going. And I’m using things in my new work that I wrote years ago. Your own old stuff can be an inspiration. Save it all. Writing is a big distraction, and an addiction. I’ve tried to quit many times. I keep telling myself that it’s too much work and there are so many other people’s books to read. I don’t need this headache—it’s so hard—but then I’ll be driving and have to pull over to write something down. I think that’s when you know that you can never really quit. Listen to Heather discuss Click City and False Alarm in a recent interview with Kenny Weissberg from Author’s corner