“If we judge others it is because we are judging something in ourselves of which we are unaware.”
That quote came from a writer I had the privilege to meet when he was still a columnist/feature writer at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. I was working in Northfield, Minn., when I met John Camp. I always had loved writing features, too, both as a journalist and as a public relations practitioner, so I admired the fine craftsmanship Camp put into his works.
His fellow columnist at the Pioneer Press, Gary Hiebert, was a close friend of mine and one day when I was at the newspaper having coffee with Gary, he pulled me over to John’s desk and introduced us. That was 1985 and Camp was part way through a series he was working on about a farm family in southwestern Minnesota – not that far away from where I had lived as a child in nearby South Dakota. We had a pleasant talk and I asked him what he might be doing next after finishing the series – which ended up lasting that entire year.
“I want to write books,” he said. “I like newspapers, but I think I’ve got a book or two in me.” That next spring, he won the Pulitzer Prize for the farm series and I told Gary. “Well, I guess that’ll cement things for keeping Camp in the newspaper businesses.”
“I don’t think so,” Gary answered. “John wants to be a book writer, so don’t be surprised if he gives it a try.” But I still was surprised a couple years later when Camp left to change careers, and even more surprised when he not only wrote a book under his own name, but also started writing thriller/suspense/crime novels under the pseudonym John Sandford, about a loner detective who goes against the grain to solve crimes the way he wants and written with the same sort of realism Camp put into his features.
Good idea. Forty-four novels (and counting) later, he’s still going strong. It’s only sad that the journalism world lost his gifted voice on behalf of the underdog people he often liked to feature. Today is Camp’s 70th birthday and he still gets up and writes every day, which is one of his “secrets” to being a writer. “You have to show up.” And not to be afraid to follow your dream.
His other secret. Write it as you see it. “Just go outside and look at something and write it down and you’ll find it’s a very nice piece of writing.” You can’t go wrong if it’s “real.”
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