What Would You Want in Your Writer Bio?


JAMES SCOTT BELL was born August 10, 1912, in Arlington, Kansas. His father worked for the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway, but quit in 1918 and moved his family of ten to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to work the oil fields. When Jim wasn’t in school or working odd jobs, he was reading Zane Gray, Edgar Rice Burroughs and pulp magazines like Black Mask.
When the Depression hit, Jim rode the rails to Los Angeles and got a job as a cub reporter for the Hearst newspaper, The Examiner. By day he tracked down stories of murder, fraud and corruption. By night, in his one room apartment on Bunker Hill, he pounded out short stories for the detective magazines. He was published almost immediately alongside such luminaries as Horace McCoy, Erle Stanley Gardner and Dashiell Hammett. When his crime novella, One More Lie, hit the racks, Jim garnered instant national fame. The story sold to MGM and became the classic 1941 film starring Joan Crawford and Robert Taylor.
Jim became one of the most sought after screenwriters in Hollywood and contributed as much as anyone to the post World War II film noir genre. He continued to put out suspense stories for the paperback original market and pulp magazines.
In 1952 Jim and Robert Mitchum got into a fight with two henchman of mobster Mickey Cohen, who had been bothering a cigarette girl at the Brown Derby. One of the thugs pulled out a .38 and shot wildly, hitting Jim just above the heart. At the hospital Jim refused sedation and insisted that a studio secretary be summoned so he could dictate the final pages of a screenplay due the next day. That script went on to win an Academy Award.
Jim kept up his prodigious output of short stories, novellas, full length books and screenplays right up to his death at the age of 99. He had just typed The End on a novel when his heart gave out. His last words were, “Don’t forget the mayonnaise.” 
Here is a picture of James Scott Bell in his office at Warner Bros. in 1947.
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This flight of fancy is based on how I feelas a writer. I always admired the pros, the ones who could deliver the goods time after time. The writers who wrote to make a living and yet found a way to make their writing come alive.
What about you? If you could write your own writer biography, and it could be from any era, what would it look like? What sorts of books would you have written? Who would be in the movies based on your books?
This is not a  mere game. Use this exercise to focus on your long term goals as a writer. Ask yourself how your imaginative bio might inform your writing today.
Go ahead. What are some of the entries in YOUR writer’s biography?
NOTE: I wrote a little bit more of my philosophy of pulp fiction writing over on Rachelle Gardner’s blog

17 thoughts on “What Would You Want in Your Writer Bio?

  1. Basil Sands: Born 1923, Alaska Territory
    Grew up in the wilds of the Arctic on a homestead with his father. Little is known of his father, who arrived in Alaska rather abruptly in 1921 and though he became a popular local politician and spokesman for an independent nation of Alaska, few knew anything of his past. On the one occasion he was known to have gotten drunk a friend claims to have heard him swear in Irish Gaelic, but there was never any proof to substantiate the claim.

    Basil lived the ordinary life of a frontiersman, until he disappeared in 1939 not to resurface again until two months prior to his parent’s deaths in 1989. Shortly after that he burst onto the scene with a rapid fire series of military thriller novels that were frequently referred to as “more life-like thank life itself” and “not just ripped from the headlines, the headlines seem ripped from his books”.

    Due to the realism employed in his writing and the never accounted for fifty years of obscurity, rumors began to circulate very soon after his initial novels hit the markets that they were in fact only slightly fictionalized memoirs. His close personal friendships with and frequent visits to writers Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth, and WEB Griffin have added fuel to the speculative fire, especially after it was noted that every time he visited one of them, the writers were known to almost immediately delve into a new subject.

    Mr. Sands wrote only 4 known works directly attributed to him, but his influence had reached a wide array of writers to emulate his work. None though, except a handful of for special forces operators, have ever been able to reach the level life like reality as his works has.

    Basil Sands
    Beloved husband and Father, brother to all the men of ****redacted****.

    Rest in Peace

  2. Andrea Wenger was born in Philadelphia in 1799. Her interest in writing was first observed when she was nine, and her paternal grandmother complained that she was “always scribbling” instead of walking around with books stacked on her head to improve her posture, like an accomplished lady should.

    When she was 15, her earnest grandmother gave her a copy of Richardson’s “Pamela,” and bid her take it to heart. Andrea read it faithfully, and spent many hours pondering it. Finally, she declared to her parents, “I can write a better novel than this,” and announced her intention to become an authoress.

    The first novel she wrote was an epistolary tale of a baroness who set out to seduce a young footman. He offered no resistance. The baroness saw that he was thoroughly debauched, and began sighing that their lives would be easier if the old baron her husband finally succumbed to his weak heart. When the baron dropped dead of an apoplexy after the footman served him a cup of tea, the suspicious butler called the constabulary, and the footman was summarily hanged. The baroness consoled herself from the grievous loss of her husband and her lover by encouraging the addresses of a young count of fine figure and vast fortune, who in the final scene bestowed upon her a diamond the size of a robin’s egg as an engagement ring.

    Publishers of her own age steadfastly refused to print this scandalous story, but it found an audience 100 years later, when her great-great-granddaughter discovered the dusty manuscript in the attic of her ancestral home. When the book was finally published, The New Yorker declared it “the literary find of the twentieth century.”

    At the age of twenty-one, Andrea married the son of a Swiss immigrant. It was a love-match approved by both families. Her rebellious teenage spirit apparently tamed, she began writing novels more appropriate for a young lady. She was influenced by the work of Jane Austen, whom she called “the greatest novelist of all time” (although at this period, there were perhaps no more than five great novelists in the English language, so the statement may not be the compliment it sounds to our modern ears).

    From the time of her marriage until her death in 1898, Andrea produced more than a score of novels. Her first published work, “The Oracle’s Daughter,” was a love story set against the backdrop of social injustice in ancient Greece, a so-called democracy that enslaved foreigners and reduced women to chattel. Her second novel, “Nubia,” was a love story set in Egypt during the fourth dynasty and featured a subplot where the heroine helps a Nubian slave escape to freedom by floating on a raft down the Nile. Some have suggested that this novel inspired “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” but most Twain scholars call the theory “preposterous.”

    A vocal and tireless crusader in the emancipation movement, and later in the suffragette movement, Andrea often mused that she wished she had more time to write. But while writing was her passion, the fight for equality was her calling. “God gave me a brain and a pen,” she wrote in a letter to her sister. “It would be a great sin if I put them to use only to entertain, and not to rid the world of its hypocrisy.” It was reported that her last words quoted her friend Susan B. Anthony: “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”

  3. If I’d been born in a different era, I suppose I would think the same thing about it, but I’m happy to have been born when I was. My passion is for the people here and now. I see the evil that takes place in this world and the direction things are going and I want to tell people that they don’t have to live like that or be that way. I want them to see that there is something better than what they are doing to themselves. Perhaps I and those like me will fail; there is no promise that things will turn around, but that’s part of what makes it interesting.

  4. Basil and Andrea: brilliant! Loved those. Would love to see the secret diary of Basil’s “lost years.” And Andrea, the women of today obviously owe a great debt to you.

  5. Timothy, the writers of any era who were moved along similar lines are still with us. Zola, Jack London, Upton Sinclair. To have blood pumping through the veins as you write is not a bad thing.

  6. Jim, Loved the bio and can hardly wait for the made-for-TV movie!
    Not sure how I’d write my own make-believe bio, although I think the last sentence would be, “He died at the age of 104, the victim of a gunshot from a jealous husband.”

  7. Your fanciful bios are fabulous. For me, I’d like to end up like Barbara Cartland. Her books started me on my journey into romance, and from there, into mystery. She lived to be 99 and was one of the most prolific writers of all time. Her books were read around the world and she always looked beautiful in her trademark pink outfits. Named as the Queen of Romance, she sold over a billion books. I could settle for her bio! I know…in my dreams, right? Read about her here:

  8. if i could write, i would set my scenes in northern michigan….leelanau county, to be exact. steve hamilton has had success with his alex mcknight series….set in paradise, mi…in da u.p. i would write a la kingsolver….and i would write of a simpler time…maybe the 50’s. no computers or I-anything [pod, pad or tunes]. and it would involve horses, and cantering through cherry orchards with views of lakes leelanau and mighigan peeking through acres of hardwoods, now ablaze with color. and there would be apple cider and pumpkin donuts. and vinyards, and wine. okaaaay…maybe i’ll do a promo for michigan and a cookbook!!!
    do you think sometime you could briefly address why some books include what type face they are set in?? i have studied them…and seriously, they all look the same to me. do you select your own type face? or does your publishing company? and why does anyone really care?

  9. Nancy, that Barbara Cartland was something. No one is going to confuse her with Joan Didion, but she sure could crank out a story (so I’m told. I’ve never read one!)

  10. Nancy, I feel the same way about Ms. Cartland. Devoured her stuff in my teens and find that it still holds up as brain candy.

    One billion . . .

    Georgette Heyer’s new bio, set to drop this Fall is going to claim that Barbara liberally sampled from several of her books to the point of plagarism. That is a bio I will enjoy reading.

    Bwahahaha: my WV is “forging”

  11. Terri Lynn Coop was born in 1870 in Boston to a college professor and his wife from a faded British aristocratic family.

    Headstrong from birth, her father indulged her delight with science and math and mechanical gadgets while her mother did her best to teach proper manners and the ladylike arts.

    The result was a debutante with mussed hair and smudges on her gown from fiddling with the gaslight in the ladies’ powder room. Yet her quick wit and impeccable manners charmed the assembled crowd, including the Viscount of Chesham (in the United States to study under her father).

    The viscount would eventually inherit, but now he was insatiably curious about an upcoming scientific endeavor called archeology. After a whirlwind courtship, the viscount and his bride sailed to Egypt where the tomb of the Lost Queen of the Nile was only the first of many discoveries.

    After ten years of danger, discovery and international intrigue, the Duke of Chesham succumbed to what many believed was a curse resulting from his son’s disturbance of the dead. Whatever the cause, the couple returned to England where Terri wrote a series of novels based on her adventures in Egypt.

    Her last words, issued at age 102 were, “Get over it. I’m not cursed, I’m old!”

    Either that, or,

    No one has a clue where Terri came from, some said the midwest. The only thing anyone knows for sure is that her first horror novel made Stephen King decide it was a good time to retire because his legacy was safe in her hands. (*snerk*)

    Mr. Bell . . . you rock . . .

  12. When Kathleen Pickering was born her mother took one look and insisted the nurse had brought the wrong child. Kathleen began her life stressed and suffering from projectile vomiting because she’d realized her goal in life would be to battle doubt in order to eventually become a block-busting author.

    Doubt became her pet, her companion, the shackle that she wore while climbing the rocky mountain of her dreams.

    Yet, doubtfully enough, she pursued, despite weathering all sorts of challenges that, undoubtedly, she could not remember to relate.

    That doubt followed her like a yapping dog all the way to the throne of World Peacemaker, which fashioned as an antique, tiger oak parson’s chair, occupies the northwest corner of the oldest Irish Pub in the Bowrey of lower Manhattan.

    When Kathleen doubtfully accepted the 200 carat encrusted diamond tiara as the crowning proof that she had written the one and only book series that saved the world from emotionally emploding by mistake, she doubted that the tiara was really hers. So, she handed it over to James Scott Bell to transform into a wrestler’s belt shield because he’d arrived on time, and Kathleen had forgotten the mayonaise.

    (Now, when I get a moment, Jim, I am REALLY gonna tackle this assignment. What a great way to get clear on one’s goals. This is a great post. Thanks!)

  13. My favorite writers all died so young, or went a little crazy, so I think I’ll stick with my midlist life. But if I lived in another era it would be Austen’s or the 40’s and classic Hollywood. Love the obits here!

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