For the third in our series of features on Michigan authors we check in with Paul Vachon, author of a number of books on Michigan history.
Years ago when I was in college, I developed a love for writing—mostly nonfiction and personal essays, which are still me favorite genres. After graduating I went to work in the business world, holding sales positions in a variety of industries but spent most of my time in the retail trade. I did some writing occasionally, but only just for personal enrichment. In 2008, however, the Great Recession resulted in the end of my retail career, so I decided to enter writing (and now a few related areas including public speaking and photography) full time.
What inspired you to become a writer?
As my liberal arts education progressed, I gradually became aware of the “pictures” I could draw not through drawing or painting–but through words instead. I grew to love the descriptive images and ideas that could emerge from the right words and sentences. It really became a part of me. Did you have any special mentors or teachers who helped you along the way?
I didn’t during my early years, but in the recent past I’ve met a number of kind and generous freelancers from around the country. I consider all of them friends, but a few are what I would truly call mentors, who have nurtured me along.
Tell me about your books.
When I made my first efforts to enter the profession, I was very frequently turned down due to my lack of experience. It was the classic “chicken and the egg” scenario: you need experience to get work, but how can you get work without any experience? I got my first break when I used my knowledge of Detroit history (which had been a long standing interest of mine) to get a book contact with a publisher open to dealing with first time authors. The idea I presented, a book on stores from Detroit’s past that were little known (or “under the radar” as I like to say) was a tough sell, but they took a chance on me! The resulting book, Forgotten Detroit, has gone on to become one of their most successful titles. I’ve written two other books for the same publisher. One is a series of short biographical profiles on impactful Detroiters, Legendary Locals of Detroit. Another is a “then and now” style book on south Oakland County. I also just finished a revision on a travel guidebook on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a different publisher. It will be released next spring.
What is your process as a writer?
I approach my writing as a business—a creative one, but still a business. Much of my time is spent not actually writing, but in researching markets, developing story and book ideas and preparing queries and proposals. I also devote a fair amount of time to social media marketing and online networking. Also, I’ve recently spent time studying photography, which I hope to offer to editors along with my writing services. When I land an assignment, however, everything else takes a back seat. I first take my original query or proposal and use it as a foundation for developing an outline for the piece. Next comes research, interviews with sources and then the actual writing. Naturally, this is the part of my job I love the most!
Did you learn anything you did not know about Detroit in the process of researching your books?
Yes! I found out a good amount about pre-automotive Detroit, and how its array of machine shops and foundries allowed for the birth of what became the city’s preeminent industry.
Do you have any new books in the works?
Not currently, but I am working on developing some new ideas.