New York Times best-selling author Robert Dugoni made a stop Wednesday at a Lodi school to talk to students about following their dreams.
Dozens of English and journalism students at Jim Elliot Christian High School listened attentively as the author, who is compared to John Grisham, quickly summed up his career that began when he was a mere child.
Today, he describes himself as a classic over-achiever: "If someone says write a book, I say, 'Why not get it on the New York Times' best-sellers list?'"
"The Jury Master" was released in 2006 and landed on a number of bestseller lists. A follow-up novel came out earlier this year.
Dugoni, who writes both fiction and non-fiction, told students that the best advice he can give people who want to write novels is to read.
"Reading is the foundation of everything you do," he said, adding that this generation has all the reasons in the world not to read, from iPods to cable TV.
When he was a child and complained he was bored, his mother handed him books like "The Great Gatsby" and "The Grapes of Wrath." At first, he thought he was being punished, but he began to really enjoy the reading so he requested more.
In seventh grade, he was asked to recite an entire essay at a schoolwide assembly because his writing exemplified the vast knowledge he had gained from reading.
"I knew at that moment I wanted to write. I wanted to evoke emotions," he said.
Dugoni attended Stanford University through grants and loans since his parents could not afford the tuition.
He worked briefly as a journalist, but admitted he was materialistic at the time and wouldn't be able to buy all that he wanted on a $36,000-a-year income. So he went to law school and built a successful Bay Area practice before moving it to Seattle.
"But I woke up one morning and said, 'What happened to that kid with the dream?'" he said.
With only 2 percent of novelists being able to make a living plying their trade, he went from making $250,000 a year to earning nothing. But he always remembered what someone once told him: "Follow your dreams and the money will come. Follow the money and your dreams will end."
Dugoni, whose cousin works at University of the Pacific in Stockton, ran with that theme Wednesday. He urged students to follow their passion - whether to become a teacher, an author or a doctor - and instead of worrying about money, worry about being happy.
"Be content knowing you are a child of God," he said, his Catholic-school background and current faith coming through. "When I let God handle it, it all came together."
Among the other advice Dugoni passed on to students:
- Write what you can learn, not necessarily what you know.
- Profanity isn't necessary, so he no longer uses it in his novels.
When asked by a student whether he looks up to any author or desires to emulate one, Dugoni said he admires Stephen King but simply wants to be himself. "I'm not striving to be anyone else," he said.
Following his brief speech, a handful of students hung back. One even clung to a three-by-five index card seeking an autograph while teachers proudly held out their hardcover books for the same.
Honors English teacher Judy Rajala said she had been excited about meeting someone who has written a novel, but admitted she hadn't yet read Dugoni's.
Senior Kaitlyn Liu, who took photos for the school newspaper during Wednesday's presentation, wants to be a writer or possibly a journalist.
"What he shared was really inspirational about not letting people get in the way of your dreams," she said.
In addition to writing novels, Dugoni teaches the craft of writing throughout the United States.
"It sounds trite, but I think it's important to give back when you've been blessed," he said outside Rajala's classroom when asked why he visited Jim Elliot. "I like to tell people that life's not perfect, and neither are we."
He started his week-long Central Valley tour with an appearance Monday on "Good Morning Sacramento." He also visited schools in Sacramento, Manteca and Stockton, and spoke to a Stockton Rotary Club before appearing in Lodi.
A book signing was held Wednesday night at the Stockton Barnes and Noble that helped organize the tour. Rajala said a group from Jim Elliot was planning to attend.
Robert Dugoni at a glanceRobert Dugoni was born in Pocatello, Idaho, and raised in Burlingame. Growing up the middle child in a family of 10 siblings, Dugoni jokes that he didn't get much of a chance to talk, so he wrote. By the seventh grade, he knew he wanted to be a writer.
Education: Attended Stanford University, where he majored in communications/journalism and creative writing, and worked as a reporter for the Stanford Daily. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa and worked briefly as a reporter in the Metro and San Gabriel Valley Offices of the Los Angeles Times before deciding to attend law school at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Career: Dugoni practiced law in San Francisco as a partner at the law firm Gordon and Rees, and is currently of counsel for the Schiffrin Olson law firm in Seattle.
In 1999 he decided to quit the full-time practice of law to write novels.
On the four-year anniversary of his wedding, he drove a U-haul trailer across the Oregon-Washington border and settled in Seattle to pursue his dream. For the next three years, Dugoni worked in an eight-by-eight foot windowless office to complete three novels, two of which won the 1999 and 2000 Pacific Northwest Writer's Association Literary Contests.
Best sellers: Dugoni's non-fiction expose, "The Cyanide Canary," published in 2004, chronicled the investigation, prosecution and aftermath surrounding an environmental crime in Soda Springs, Idaho. It became a Washington Post Best Book of the year and the Idaho Book of the Year.
His debut novel, "The Jury Master," became a New York Times bestseller. Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine chose it as one of three "Best of the Best" debut novels of 2006. The Seattle Times and Library Journal have likened Dugoni to a young John Grisham.
Dugoni's second novel, "Damage Control," reached No. 8 on several national independent booksellers' lists.
He recently signed a two-book deal with Touchstone/Fireside, a division of Simon and Schuster. "Wrongful Death," a sequel to "The Jury Master," has already received critical acclaim since its release earlier this year.