We built our new house in the meadow in a single day: an 8×16-foot plywood structure with a tin roof. I drove the last nail well before sundown. My wife Kathy ran out of green paint and finished the back and one side in melon. I grinned as I stepped back to admire my work.

“No 30-year mortgage on that masterpiece of modern architecture.”

There in the “tool shed,” as we called it, I would fulfill my dream of becoming a full-time freelance writer. The day before, I had been a big city police homicide detective. I quit cold—and now Kathy, our two-year-old son Joshua, and I began homesteading in the woods while I wrote.

Friends took a skeptical look at our home and exclaimed, “How can a family live in that closet?”

They were closer to the truth than they realized. The door was salvaged from a closet.

Decorating was in Early Poverty. A full-sized bed fit snugly across one end. Joshua’s smaller twin ran from the head of our bed along the wall opposite the door, which we had located on the long side facing sundown in the valley. A wire strung across the foot of our bed served as a closet. I arranged shelves between nearly every stud to hold our belongings. A kerosene lamp occupied a throne of honor below the window.

The “kitchen” consisted of a Coleman camp stove on a broad shelf next to the door, with shelves below to serve as a pantry and cabinet. We conducted most of our socializing, entertaining, bathing and dining outside al fresco.

My writing desk—a door laid across two file cabinets—took up one end of the shed. I constructed more shelves to contain essential books; the rest of my library remained in storage.

The three of us, plus a baby goat and a St. Bernard pup, slept, quarreled, loved and grew close in what our friends insisted on calling that “silly closet in the woods.” We had planned to occupy the tool shed for a maximum of six months while I built our real house using only hand tools. I got up at four a.m., lit the lamp, and wrote until noon. I spent the rest of the day working on the real house.

Six months stretched into nine. Failure was not an option. I wrote and sold dozens of magazine articles. My first book, a police novel called No Gentle Streets, was published. Copies of it, if you can find them, sell for more than $800 on the internet.

I even obtained an agent—and my career was off. We moved into the real house before winter, bringing with us a certain nostalgia for life in the tool shed.

Since then, I have published more than 50 major books and novels, written thousands of magazine articles and short stories, and been a full-time writer for 32 years.

And it all started in a tool shed in the woods—or at least this last stretch of it did. The first stretch began when I was seven years old and promised myself I would be a writer. I try to keep promises.


“If we understand the mechanism of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it.” From Charles W. Sasser’s latest novel, A Thousand Years of Darkness.