Sandra 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…

Publicity photo of writer Sandra V. McGee

Hollywood Hills, 1983: The Psychic’s Crystal Ball

The first time someone told me I would be a writer was in 1983. After my father passed away unexpectedly at age 59, 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. She looked like Norma Desmond, the character played by Gloria Swanson, 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 had a crystal ball.

After the psychic forecast my mother’s future, my mother asked the psychic to forecast mine. I said, no thank you. But my mother insisted. The psychic said she saw me later in life as a writer. I said, no, not me. I didn’t like English in high school and college. I wasn’t a voracious reader. And I certainly wasn’t a swell grammarian.

Incline Village, Nev., 1985: Word Processing

In 1985, my husband, Bill McGee, and I moved from San Francisco to Incline Village, on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. He had recently retired from his 32-year career in broadcasting, but still under contract to an East Coast communications syndicate to update his 1975 how-to sales guidebook, 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 to type his manuscript. At the time, his traditional book printer was in the early stages of changing over to digital printing. Bill bought a desktop computer and hired an instructor from the local Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village to teach me word processing and how to insert digital printing codes into a word document. I did not want to do this — sitting for hours, re-typing the manuscript into a Word document, and then inserting the digital codes for the printing process. But, of course, that’s exactly what I did.

At first, I said nothing; I just typed. And then I began gently suggesting an edit or two.

Santa Barbara, Calif., 1994: On My Own

In 1994, Bill and I moved to Santa Barbara, California, so I could take care of my mother, who was diagnosed with lung cancer, Stage 4. 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 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 member of American Ballet Theatre in New York City. One day after class, Rodney approached me at the barre and asked 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 about it, but publicity 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, and public service announcements. I followed the pyramid rule of “who, what, when, where, and how to buy tickets” — all 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 tthe press release 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 meant to be on the other side of the curtain. And that was okay with me.

Collaboration, 2001

When I met Bill in 1981, I was fascinated with his cowboyin’ background. He was born and raised a cowboy in Montana. After the war, he returned to cowboyin’ . From 1947 to 1949, he was the head dude wrangler on the famous Flying M.E. divorce ranch south of Reno. The “Biggest Little City” was still in the heydays of the Reno six-week divorce era. The Flying M.E. was upscale and catered to wealthy Eastern socialites and the occasional Hollywood movie star. Bill led an Astor and a du Pont on trail rides; he went pheasant hunting and drinking with Clark Gable and Ava Gardner. I had seen the 1939 movie, The Women, and hung on every word of Bill’s stories about living during that era. I said, “Bill, you have to write about those years.”

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 502 black-and-white photographs, most never before published.

We sent an advance copy to Charles Champlin, the late film critic and arts editor of The Los Angeles Times. In his notes to us, 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.” Wow.

In Conclusion: The Psychic was Right, 2019

Fast-forward to 2019. I now spend an average of eight hours a day at my desk. I maintain two websites and two blogs. I do book marketing — today mostly on social media. I format the interior pages for both a print and an ebook. My name is on the cover of seven nonfiction books co-authored with Bill. Stories with my byline have been published in four magazines.  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 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 writing bookshelf, I’m still not a grammarian.

I have to give Bill McGee 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 October 2019, the writing 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.

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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 been published in various magazines. 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.

More about Bill McGee