When I caught up with Ray Salemi (a/k/a) Ray Daniel) at New England Crime Bake in November, I was surprised to hear what he was up to, and impressed. I’ve often said most writers have more hats than heads to wear them on. Wait until you hear about the hat Ray has added to his already impressive collection. Please join the discussion by commenting on the various hats you may wear.
Michele: We’re so glad to have you join us at Miss Demeanors, Ray, and to talk about the many hats you’ve worn during your career. Let’s start by talking about your first career. Tell us a little about your life as an engineer and in technology. I wondered if you had any inkling you wanted to be a writer back in those days.
Ray: I decided to become an engineer when I took a test in the seventh grade that said, “You would be a good computer engineer.” I said, “Well, that’s settled,” and followed that path.
Though I didn’t become a writer until my 40s, there were signs all along that I should be one. One clue was that I got a degree in Computer Systems Engineering at UMass/Amherst with a minor in English.
Michele: You’ve had a successful second career as a mystery novelist and short story writer. When did you start writing and what inspired you?
Ray: I decided to start writing when I read Now, Discover Your Strengths. The book advised me to do things I was good at. I had been trying to play chess for years and was still a weak player and so I switched my spare time from chess to writing.
I wrote one business book named Leading After a Layoff, for which I got an agent immediately, with the book published soon after. I thought, “This is easy.” and started writing the Tucker books, inspired by Robert B. Parker’s Spenser books. I didn’t realize it would take me nine years to get published as a novelist.
Michele: Instead of retiring from your day job and traveling endlessly, you decided to launch a third career as a high school teacher. Whatever were you thinking? Seriously, how did you end up in a classroom in front of a bunch of teenagers at this point in your life? Are you enjoying the experience and will you be writing a Y/A novel next?
Ray: I got licensed to teach Physics and Chemistry ten years ago when I was mad at my boss and thought, “I’ll show him. I’ll take a job that pays less than half of what I make now!” Cooler heads prevailed, but I was still licensed.
I’ve always loved teaching and planned to spend my retirement teaching writing and engineering. But this was an ill-formed retirement plan. One day I thought, “Well, maybe I could consult as an engineer and take summers off.”
At the phrase “summers off” I remembered that I was licensed to teach and immediately applied for a job at Natick High School.
I’ve always been lucky in my career, and they had an engineering teaching opening. It was a perfect fit.
I love teaching teenagers. They’re funny, cheeky, and honest. It’s good to have a job where I get to contribute so much to their lives.
Michele: What writing projects are you working on now? What can we expect next from Ray Daniel?
I think the guy Ray Daniel may have come to the end of his career with the Tucker books. Ray Salemi (my full name is Ray Daniel Salemi) is working on a contemporary fiction novel with the working title Proceeding Apace.
This is a personal book about a man in his 60s who loses his wife to a car accident. He develops a relationship with a woman who turns out to be the rabbi at the temple that is taking over his dying temple.
The book is a love story about people in their 60s. To find happiness, he will need to get past his bitter notion that new love in one’s 60s is too little too late.
Michele: A love story! You are filled with surprises. I love the premise. How do you manage to do all you do? Do you have any time management skills you’d like to share with writers?
Ray: My advice for getting things done is to commit to decisions and act decisively.
In my case, I committed to becoming an engineer the day I got the test result. I committed to being a writer when I put down First Discover Your Strengths. I committed to writing fiction and stuck with it for the nine years it took to get published. Looking at my journal, I see I decided to get a new job on August 1st, applied for a teaching job on August 8, and signed my offer letter on August 15.
Life is not about making the right decisions. It is about making your decisions right.
Ray Daniel is the award-winning author of Boston-based crime fiction. His short stories “Give Me a Dollar” won a 2014 Derringer Award for short fiction, and “Driving Miss Rachel” was chosen as a 2013 distinguished short story by Otto Penzler, editor of The Best American Mystery Stories 2013.
He is the author of the Tucker mysteries published by Midnight Ink.
C. Michele Dorsey is the author of Oh Danny Girl and the Sabrina Salter series, including No Virgin Island, Permanent Sunset, Tropical Depression, and Salt Water Wounds. Her latest novel, Gone But Not Forgotten will be published by Severn House in July 2023. Michele is a lawyer, mediator, former adjunct law professor and nurse, who didn’t know she could be a writer when she grew up. Now that she does, Michele writes constantly, whether on St John, outer Cape Cod, or anywhere within a mile of the ocean.
I love hearing about your many hats, Ray. Recently I’ve added a grandmother hat, which I quite enjoy wearing. I agree with you completely about committing to your decisions. Thanks so much for joining us. Susan
I love the saying “it’s not about making the right decisions, it’s about making your decisions right.” So true.
Your students are lucky kids! Thank you for being a teacher. (And a writer.)
Like you, I’ve had a few hats. When I was in my senior year of high school I assumed that after graduation I would continue, as I had since I was twelve, to work as a waitress in my parent’s restaurant. But my mom and dad said, ‘nope, no way, you need to work in an office, be a secretary.’ (Both my parents quit school after eighth grade to help support their families, so for them office work was a step up.) And then the senior class standings were posted. I was a good student but not preoccupied with grades so I was shocked to find myself in the top ten percent. My best friend and her dad encouraged me to go to college so I applied.
I became a college student, then a statistical analyst, then a programmer, then a systems analyst, then a project manager, then an assistant Vice President of systems development, then a consultant, than the president of my own small consulting company, and then a management consultant. It wasn’t until I retired that I thought about writing and then only as a challenge to myself as a way of keeping this workaholic busy.
Glad to have you on Miss Demeanors, Ray.
I am intrigued by your Proceeding Apace. Love the second time around from a man’s point-of-view is something I haven’t been exposed to. I hope you publicize it widely so I’ll t when it comes out.
As for my many hats, I drew some pictures once for a little book called Dungeons & Dragons. Art seemed an impractical pursuit so I went to law school, at my grandmother’s urging. Now I’m practicing law out of the home office, writing, and homeschooling. The grandson graduates in two months. Yay!
Incidentally, my younger sister was an engineer and retired years ago. Engineers handle their money better than self-employed lawyers do.
Ray, thank you for sharing your story. I’m a firm believer in changing hats—I was a nurse for 30 yrs before writing crime full time. I like to say I used to save lives and now I kill them off…
I look forward to reading your new project. I agree with Keenan: Having this kind of story told from the man’s point of view is unique and sounds like a winner!
Ray, thanks for stopping by! My son is in the throes of wrangling an engineering degree while I wear many hats in IT, and write in the evenings. And I have family in Natick! You might end up teaching one of them.
Hi, Ray.thanks for joining us today. Like you, I’ve had a varied career.I always say nothing you ever learn is ever wasted. It always comes in handy someday. Congrats on the teaching gig. I confess to being a little bit jealous!