The Writer's Writer
anyone was counting or not, when Gary came into the world on November 14, 1944, he was the seventh son of a seventh son and the youngest of nine siblings. His Boston childhood was spent in poverty with his mother and two brothers in a poor Jamaica Plains household. Although they had little, Gary was content and well loved. At times, however, he would become painfully shy. For example, if any of his older siblings would show up to visit, Gary would take off and hide until after "those people" had gone.
Out on the streets Gary was less shy. He was a spunky, independent street kid of keen intelligence, great imagination, and a stubborn drive and taste for adventure.
At the age of three, for example, he would think nothing of getting on a bus or two by himself in order to get off at the Y or to see a movie. At eight years old he was writing and handing out his "newspapers" and also began his first book-length manuscript. It's title: "The Case Against Religion."
When Gary was a teenager, his mother--for no discernible reason--registered him to attend high school in a different neighborhood, causing Gary to feel like an outcast. After all, the kids in his neighborhood wanted to hang out with the same kids they went to school with. And the kids who were in the same school as Gary wanted to hang out with the kids who lived in their own neighborhood.
One place in his own neighborhood always felt welcoming after school: the local basketball court. Endlessly, he practiced shooting hoops with kids who hung out there and shared the passion and skill. Now, THAT made life worth living. (Had he been a taller guy he'd have sought a career playing professional basketball. No question.)
After high school graduation (a celebration he chose to do without), Gary turned down a "respectable" job offer at a bank in favor of pursuing a boyhood fantasy. Consequently, he and his childhood pal spent one year living out their own version of "Rt. 66." They hitch-hiked around the country to "fully experience life." What they mostly experienced, as it turned out, was sleeping on park benches and panhandling during the days. As a result of this Great Adventure, Gary's focus shifted to writing.
During the next ten years he wrote seven "horrible" (--his word) novels, while supporting himself with a succession of thirty-five jobs that "paid very little but would some day look glamorous on the back of a dust jacket.”
By the end of that decade of writing, Gary turned his attention away from fiction and towards nonfiction. Sure enough, just before he turned thirty, his first article was published in a Florida newspaper. He and his then wife Nora (who he'd met through a computer dating service) returned to the Boston area where each had been raised.
Gary landed a job working as a newspaper reporter. This led to work on the editorial staff of several magazines. At this point he devoted himself to perfecting the writing craft while selling his stories and articles to hundreds -- eventually, thousands -- of local, regional, and national publications. However, he still had not achieved his dream of becoming a published author. So . . . he decided to take matters into his own hands. And in so doing, gave new meaning to the idea of self-publishing.
One fine day Gary stood on the steps of the Boston Public Library with a suitcase full of mimeographed copies of a book of offbeat humor -- one that he had written and literally put together himself. For a few bucks apiece he sold them. [Go to GARY'S BOOKS and click on the link for THE DORCHESTER GAS TANK to learn the whole story.]
The Dorchester Gas Tank, won Gary a small cult-level following in Cincinnati, Ohio as well as in Massachusetts. The underground hit garnered editors' interest over at Writer’s Digest magazine, the world's leading trade magazine for writers. BAM! WD bought and published a story by Gary about Gary and this self-publishing venture.
After that, he continued to write featured, instructional articles for WD's readership throughout the rest of the 80s and into the 90s, serving as a Writer's Digest correspondent, contributing editor, then regular columnist. He also wrote celebrity profiles, humorous columns, etc. It was only a matter of time before Gary proposed a how-to book idea to Writer's Digest Books about how to write well. So yes. Gary's first book publishing contract was Make Every Word Count. It became a top seller for Writer's Digest Books.
Along with love for the craft, he discovered a unique gift for teaching it -- not only via the printed page, but also in-person. He began by teaching writing-for-publication at continuing ed night classes. Seminars and workshops for writers followed -- locally, regionally, then nationally. He taught the business aspects of being a selling writer as well as techniques for improving writing skills for fiction and for nonfiction.
When a NY Literary agent contacted Gary to write up a proposal about freelancing for a publisher interested in the subject, he did so. And it was snapped up. Not surprisingly, with the publication of The Freelance Writer's Handbook Gary Provost became a popular speaker at writing conferences nationwide. He went on to author dozens of books in most every genre. Because of his versatility he was dubbed "The Dustin Hoffman of the Typewriter,” and because of his productivity, "The Writer’s Writer.”
MORE ABOUT GARY'S BOOKS
Novels for Middle School Kids!
All award-winning, including his first, The Pork Chop War (which had been inspired by his own childhood memories). Three novels he co-authored with Gail, Good If It Goes, (which won the couple a National Jewish Book Award for Children's Literature in 1985), Popcorn, and David and Max, which earned them a dozen prestigious nominations including a Newbery. (An updated 2006 edition earned the book a national award for children's multi-cultural literature.)
True Crime! (Available online!)
All of Gary's best-selling true crime books were optioned for film, and Fatal Dosage was produced into the CBS TV film, Fatal Judgment, starring Patty Duke. Other true crime titles include: Finder; Without Mercy; Perfect Husband; Across the Border; and Into Their Own Hands. For Writer's Digest Books, he also wrote 'The Book' on the subject: How to Write and Sell True Crime. Several of these books are now Audiobooks and all are ebooks.
Gary's seventh book for writers was underway at the time of his death. (In 1998 HOW TO TELL A STORY: The Secrets Of Writing Captivating Tales was completed by Gail and agent/author Peter Rubie, published by Writer's Digest Books.)
Other acclaimed how-to books for writers by Gary were NAL’s The Freelance Writer’s Handbook and the ever popular reference book, 100 Ways To Improve Your Writing.
After Make Every Word Count, and BEYOND STYLE: Mastering the Finer Points of Writing, Writer's Digest Books published Make Your Words Work, combining the two titles into a single "crystallization of Gary's wisdom."
Mystery novel series. Biography. And More! . . .
What would become his final work of nonfiction, Bogart: In Search of My Father, was ready for publication at the time of Gary's fatal heart attack. He had just completed his interviews with Kelsey Grammer (for Kelsey's autobiography, So Far), and he had already begun the second in a humorous mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime -- inspired by Gary's personal experience as one of only 7 finalists out of a field of 12,000 in the Chicago Sun Times' "national search to replace Ann Landers.") Baffled In Boston, the first in this series was published a few months after Gary's death.
Gary Provost's indomitable spirit, as you see, endures. If you have read this far, it endures for you.