The Business and
Pleasure of Writing
2011 by Ellie S. Thomas
Ostensibly I was working as a copy writer at a small time radio
station, but work was very slow and I was using my between-times to
write my 'opus'. I had been unable to decide whether to write the story
of my life, in other words, an autobiography, or to write a sort of
trade-magazine book on the radio industry, or maybe even something on
the writing and publishing business, (never mind that I had no
expertise in any of the above mentioned), excepting myself, possibly.
But did I really know anything about myself for that matter? Does
anyone? Well, anyway-
I had finally decided to do something about writing; for years the idea
had festered in my mind but then, I'd scoff and chide myself: "Who do
you think you are trying to write a book? YOU'RE not trained for
anything like that! YOU don't have a degree in journalism, or creative
writing. YOU don't have any newspaper or reportive background. I was
still determined to try.
The first step is always the most formidable. There was always
something, some reason, for postponing it. I must write the copy for
the day; I must call a certain department store and obtain fresh copy,
I must prepare a promotion, copy plus appropriate music, or sound
effects, maybe both, for an upcoming sale. I could always find SO much
to do that it barred me from beginning my book. Actually, I had no
I DID have a couple old flea-market typewriters and I knew how to
type...didn't I already have a jump on a lot of people? And I could
always type at the office. I straightened my spine and made a trip to
the bookstore where I purchased a ream of cheap typing paper but when I
got home with it and eyed the bulky package, it seemed like an awful
lot of paper. And even though it had been cheap, I didn't feel it had
been ALL THAT CHEAP- so now, I was reluctant to use it...it seemed too
good for me to practice on. I simply had to have scrap paper for my
first drafts, so I became a menace. Whenever I went to the library, or
school, or church; where ever there were handouts on which someone had
obligingly used only one side, I became their best customer. I always
took several, or more if I felt no one was watching me, although, or
course, they were there to be taken, still I always felt slightly
guilty. Could this be considered stealing? And from the church...to
whom I was supposed to be giving, not taking away? I still took them
and encouraged my family to do likewise. It barely kept me in scrap
paper even then. I needed additional sources. I tried wallpaper but it
was very unsatisfactory and then one day I found the teletype machine
spewing out miles of paper and my problem was solved.
You may wonder what was going on all this time that I was worrying
about the accoutrements for a writing career. What kind of an office
could allow such latitude among it's employees? Here I was, my absent
mind wandering among the literati, the disk jockeys were absent
mentally also, concerned with girl friends, or scheduling 'record-hops'
in order to make extra money which they never appeared to have, the
station manager was pursuing and being pursued by numerous predatory
females; everyone there appeared to be living a double life and their
connections with the radio station appeared to be the very least of
their concerns. How could such a divided house survive?
It was on the way down and would shortly end in bankruptcy. Few of us
felt any loyalty to owners who kept us short on all supplies, provided
us with challenging creditors who were constantly coming in, or
calling, wanting money on the bills, who kept us running in an effort
to beat our checks to the bank before they bounced, who were so often
unreachable due to their amatory dalliances, that we often lost out
when there WAS a prospect of obtaining a lucrative contract.
I can see it now, the office girls frantically answering phone calls
and going over the day's mail. A lot of it was from cranks and many
calls were merely to request that the deejays play a certain tune. The
deejay was enclosed in a small glass paneled cage which the overhead
lighting turned into a sweat box.
"Be sure to drop down to our GIANT redwood studios and say Hello," he'd
sign off with a flourish and turn the mike over to the 'personality'
who would cover the next shift, or evening hours, such as they were.
He'd wipe the perspiration off his face and leave the broadcasting
booth...one more day gone and still tapes to make for the next day and
he had to put in an appearance at the hotel to interview a visiting
celebrity. It sure made a long day. Well, if HIS day was long, the
office girls had an even more bitter one because we got none of the
favored treatment, the VIP treatment, really, that a deejay got but we
did get all the flak.
I had been with the Zenith Broadcasting Corporation for five years now.
It was a tiny two hundred and fifty watt station operating on a Mexican
license. We could only broadcast during daylight hours which meant that
during the wintertime we might be 'on the air' from eight a.m. until
four p.m. (if we were lucky), rather than the usual six-eight of summer
time. The changeable hours caused a good deal of anxiety in the office
because Lee, who made up the logs, (long typed sheets showing what
would be on the air at what time and who would be the announcer), had
to remember all the switches and schedule accordingly. I, as
copywriter, had to remember also and have my copy read appropriately.
Oftentimes, I would be conscious of other copywriter's errors in not
pulling passe` copy and having the announcer read about an event that
had occurred the previous day, or announce something about to happen
'this morning' when it was already afternoon. (It's easy to lose track
of time and become disoriented when you're enclosed for hours out of
sight of exterior windows.) Lee had to keep constant check in spring
and fall that she didn't schedule commercials when we wouldn't even be
on the air.
The announcers used the 'giant redwood studio' line over and over,
getting a charge out of the play on words. It was especially funny
because our studio would fit into a good-sized kitchen. We were housed
in a decrepit old building that had survived structural changes
converting it into different things at different times. The manager had
a dark, tiny cubicle that had been wired on a straight line with the
outer offices. This meant if our lights were off, he could have none,
and when he needed light, the entire floor was ablaze.
Lee and I and the announcers had conventional office desks crowded
cheek-by-jowl into one small room; behind this was a glorified closet
containing the teletype, and then the broadcasting studio which may
have been a gigantic 6x9 feet. The inner office where I worked was
faced with paneling that the manufacturer described as 'from the giant
redwoods', hence the big joke. Time and again bewildered callers would
venture into our realm to inspect the 'giant redwood studios'.
Sometimes they got a good laugh out of it.
This then, was the milieu in which I had to determine my writing
career. First, I had to decide what kind of writing I would pursue.
Would I write for the magazines? Fiction, or non-fiction? How about a
novelette? I never proceeded from the viewpoint that the decision to
write might not be mine, that I would or would not be able to do it, I
merely felt I must decide on my parameters.
Once started, I found myself writing secretly, as though I was doing
something obscene. I had an acute feeling approaching shame, about my
activities. I still don't know why I felt this way, or perhaps I
do...down deep. I think it was the idea that if it didn't come off, no
one would be the wiser and if it did, that would be all to the good. It
was merely a protection against failure, which I refused to consider on
the conscious level. And it was one of the reasons that I hated to do
any typing at the office; if someone saw me, they would wonder what I
was doing. Or would they? After all, I'd been HIRED to type!
Ideas were never a problem. After all, I worked in an environment of
bewildering, frantic disbelief. It was a never-never land where the
incredible happened every day, often twice, or three times.
I quickly discarded ideas for my autobiography, the sort of homespun
tale that I'd always enjoyed because I could relate to so much of it.
The HOW-TO books revealed that 'most first works tend to be
autobiographical, anyway.' That remark appeared disparaging, so I
abandoned my idea to begin again. It was SO difficult to throw away the
bits I'd already written. Some of those clauses and phrases seemed
quite good and I loved the rhythm of some of my more elegant
descriptions, especially those in which I'd used the most unusual
adjectives. Bet a lot of people never heard of that one! It never
occurred to me that I was supposed to be communicating with people, not
mystifying them. I was planning to send a lot of them to their
dictionaries. This was when I read that Hemingway did not use
adjectives at all and wasn't he one of the greatest? Back to the
My next venture was a combination of my experiences, (hilarious, of
course), of working at a radio station...a sort of behind-the-scenes
expose`, combined with an analytical essay explaining why people acted
as they did. A survey of the market soon revealed that there was little
demand for the essay-type writing unless you were a very famous person,
another Shaw, or Baruch, perhaps. Or so very educated and cultured as
to be almost unique. The little 'literary' magazines published this
stuff but I didn't think there was money in it. Besides, once on paper,
I realized that my hilarious experiences could be contained on just a
few sheets of paper and where would I go from there? No, I needed
something quite different to write about; something that hadn't been
done before, but despite racking my brain furiously, I couldn't think
of one thing that hadn't already been done by someone and usually
someone much more capable than I. (See how my new literary status had
begun to affect me; I nearly put ME at the end of that last sentence).
If nothing else, being an author would make me more conscious of what I
It was difficult to mesh my copy-writing with my attempts to write
literature. About the time I'd get shifted, mentally, to set the
literary scene and place my characters in a believable setting, doing
reasonable things, I'd be required to write a piece of hard-sell copy
extolling the merits of purchasing tires from Joe's Auto Shop, and
'you'd better get there before they go off sale or before he sells
Then, too, we were having our problems staying 'on the air'. Much of
the equipment was outmoded, second-hand, or wired together with all
sorts of make-shift material. It caused massive problems for everyone
concerned because the engineer was often routed out of bed to repair
the difficulties, (they often worked several places in the effort to
keep body and soul together); it caused Lee big problems because all
the commercials that had been missed while we were off the air had to
be re-scheduled and made-up; it drove the bookeeper crazy because she
either had to swear an affadavit that they had been re-scheduled, or
just not charge for them, whatever the client wanted. Some just
couldn't be pleased anyway, the same as anywhere else, and many knew
how to work the thing to get out of paying at all. It kept life
interesting. And it kept me racking my brain in between the crises
trying to decide what I was going to write about.
At this point, I felt that my new writing status should be recognized.
People should begin to realize WHO I WAS...therefore, I made a great
to-do, running around our small library, pen in hand, carrying a
clipboard and looking distracted, but it didn't get me much of anything
but a huge sigh when the girl at the reference desk saw me coming. And
the librarian himself seemed to be awfully busy and remote all at once.
It was awfully difficult to GET ANYONE TO LOOK THINGS UP FOR ME.
I could see that this writing business was going to take a lot of
thought but just sitting in front of the typewriter, surrounded by
paper and cups of coffee went a long way towards making me feel
journalistic, so I sat there often. The program director complained
that I was losing the ability to write 'hard-sell' but how can you
leave moonlight and dripping Spanish moss, a fragile girl in the arms
of a dashing buccaneer to sell Rexall products?
Ideas came and went but there didn't seem much future in most of them.
Could this be writer's block already? Perhaps if I started small- I
decided to make a beginning with undemanding things like magazine
articles. People seemed to be writing about all sorts of ordinary
things for the magazines. True, most of them seemed to be How-To's, but
there were also health things, and recipes, or adventures. Surely my
years of living should bear fruit in some of these categories. The
editors didn't seem to think so. I shortly had a file of some of the
most courteous rejection slips you'd want not to see. I wrote the
funniest episode for Reader's Digest about my husband's remodeling
genius, and an in-depth digression for Parent's about my nephew's
reaction to his hospital experience but they just didn't seem to
appreciate what I had to offer. I don't know what was wrong with them,
(the editors, I mean), but perhaps they were having an off-day, or
their budget was used up for the year, but I got all THAT back.
Next, I tried the romances. It's said that all the world loves a lover
but no one seemed to love MY love stories. I wrote from different
angles: the hard-working girl who always picks a loser, and the
playgirl who played the field, pitting one man against another until
nobody wanted her, the handicapped girl with a deep inferiority complex
who lied and schemed to hold a man by blackballing all the other girls,
but none seemed to have the magic formula. I was becoming the biggest
success at being a failure that ever was. I will say one thing in my
own behalf; I didn't discourage easily; however, when I began to get
remarks written on the outside of my mailers, I begun to think of a
pseudonym, or non de plume.
It was at this time that I discovered that the program director was
another frustrated writer. He revealed one day, when discouraged to the
depths of his soul by uncaring staff, disk jockeys who didn't show up,
did sloppy work and looked like bums, that he'd always wanted to write
and still intended to at some future time. I was very happy then that
I'd kept my ambitions secret because this man had degrees in journalism
and was nearly through a prestigious university, so what chance did I
have?? Why he didn't act on his ambitions, I'll never know unless it
was the fact that the poor fellow was usually shaking from exhaustion
Most everyone working with us at the time knew how to pinch-hit and
take over other jobs. I had learned how to do simple billing so that
when Ann, the bookeeper was on vacation, I could mail out a few
invoices and keep some money rolling in; I also learned how to make out
pay-roll checks and keep us paid, and then, I applied for a radio
operator's license, never knowing when the announcer and I would be the
only ones on the premises.
I feel that if you anticipate trouble, you're certain to get it and
sure enough, the day arrived when the program director must be absent;
in fact, practically everybody was absent from the premises except me
and the announcer. Naturally, it was written in stone that we would go
off the air. The dee-jay was frantic- we couldn't reach the engineer;
usually, he listened in and if he couldn't pick up our signal, would
hurry in to assist us, but it took time. Meantime, the deejay began
rushing about, saying, "I'll have to go out to the transmitter. You"ll
have to man the turntables and microphone."
I'd never operated a console in my life but I got a two minute lesson
while he put his coat on...then I was alone. I wasn't sure if I was on
the air or not but I selected my favorites, things that could be
counted on to run three to four minutes, thus giving me a break while I
cued up another record, (nothing was automated at that time..at least,
not there). Suddenly the amperage needles begun to move and I figured
we were back in operation. I put on SUMMERTIME IN HEIDELBERG and got
4:10 minutes out of that while the dee-jay rang me on the phone to see
if I realized that I was on the air. I nodded dumbly and begged him to
get back as quickly as he could; meanwhile, I segwayed from one record
and one cut to another, not daring to risk my quaking voice over the
air. Before long, I had more help than I knew what to do with because
the manager was down there to find out about our 'new sound', and the
phone was ringing to commend us on our beautiful music, etc. When the
unfortunate dee-jay got back and faced the music, why he'd left the
'office girl' in charge of the broadcasting unit, (what choice had he?)
and I'd been ordered to go back and attend to 'my writing', someone
thought to inquire what had caused all the trouble anyway?? It seemed
that A WOODCHUCK had gnawed it's way through the door of the
transmitter, which was located in a lonely bit of brush in the
countryside, and then chewed on a wire, causing a short circuit. The
engineer found the fried carcass draped over an iron stanchion.
I might have known that was the thanks I'd get for trying to help out,
so I gave them a nasty gesture and returned to my desk. I had plenty to
do there. I was supposed to write the script for a fashion show, anyway
and the historical association needed some assistance on a story that
they wanted to use for the upcoming centennial.
I was finding that ideas for stories abound most places. The country
was rich in history and there was a demand for historical writing.
History of the pilgrims and early settlers, the Indians and the Jesuits
who came to 'civilize' them- the encroachment of the Spanish over the
South and their influence on the rich Indian culture there; the story
of Texas with the Mexican influence, the northwest territories with ,
again, the Indians, the mountain men, and fur trappers.
There were also gold mines to be plumbed for religious periodicals.
There were stories of the North American martyrs: Father Isaac Jogues,
Goupil, Lalande- there was Kateri Tekakwitha, the first native American
candidate for canonization, or Joseph Smith, the Mormon leader who
claimed he found the tablets with their religious tenets near Elmira,
N.Y. And Eleazer Williams, a missionary to the Indians of northern New
York and Michigan, who claimed to be the Lost Dauphin of France.
There were great stories of the naval battles on Lake Champlain...and
they WERE great and important at that time. The days of the Mississippi
river boats, the Creole culture in Louisiana; there was more writing to
be done than one person would ever have time for. It didn't pay much,
if at all, but it gave experience and practice...and recognition.
I was also finding out that ordinary people often turned out to be very
exciting because, they too were often leading a double life. When I
went to the police station to pay a parking ticket for the manager, I
found out that the chief was quietly turning out clever handcarvings,
there was an elderly lady nearby who'd built her own home, cutting the
logs and doing her own concrete work...often by the light of the moon,
going on to sculpture and taxidermy when she was eighty years old! It
was an amazing world!
Our days passed in a monotonous fashion. We'd check in at the radio
station each morning and stand in front of the gas heater either
holding up our skirts from the rear or chafeing our hands from the
front. The suite of rooms was practically unheated, the steam runs so
meagre and inefficient that I was reminded of offices in Ireland where
they still carry in fuel for the fireplaces even today. In fact, the
chambers were a model of inconvenience and inefficiency. There was no
water for the help at all and we were forced to pass through a
connecting door into the quarters of the local investor from whom we
rented space, and use his facilities. Due to his penchant for sleeping
in, often the door would not be unlocked from his side until the
morning was half spent or until one of his employees remembered us and
Our male staff, first on the premises each day, in moments of
desperation either removed the pins from the door hinges or ultimately,
the hinges themselves but when the owner discovered that, he had the
door re-hung with the hinges on the inside. Soon, any sort of container
was in short supply around the premises and I remember searching vainly
for my coffeepot one morning amid noxious fumes until one of the men
stiffly suggested that I forget the matter. it, like all other
containers, had been utilized and then thrown into the trash bin.
Actually, our comfort or conveniene meant nothing to our landlord. He'd
arrive faithfully at the end of each week and draw a check, helping
himself to the checkbook. He lacked the common courtesy to acknowledge
the manager's precedence in the office, or any polite office procedure
at all. In fact, he and the other investors had put so little capital
into the business and drew their wages out so promptly that there was
nothing left for our payroll. The salesmen were supposed to rush out
and sell enough to cover our needs and when we wrote the paychecks,
there was a stampede for the banks, each wanting to be the first to
cash his check while there might yet be funds enough to cover it. Often
the last one getting to the bank would find himself holding a 'rubber
check' and needless to say, there was NOTHING for our suppliers or for
All this anxiety and tension was not a conducive atmosphere for anyone
who wished to write. It was difficult to go home and put all this
foolishness out of my mind while I thought up new ideas for my scripts.
I spent a great deal of time at the library and got out huge armloads
of books on writing. HOW TO WRITE ARTICLES THAT SELL, WRITING FICTION
THAT SELLS, HOUSEWIFE BECOMES AUTHOR...all that sort of thing. When the
girl checked the books out, she reminded me to remember her when I
became famous, an unnecessarily snide remark, I thought. I studied
these books faithfully, but though they WERE helpful to some extent,
none of them told me exactly what I needed to know. For example, there
were huge compendiums on the copyright law which no doubt contained the
information I needed...somewhere, but one would have to be a
Philadelphia lawyer to understand it when they found it...if ever. The
more readable books went into the subject briefly but from the angle of
signing a contract, (what optimism!) or avoiding accusations of
plagairism. I felt like the little boy who went home from school and
asked his father, "Daddy, what is sex?"
The father marched him into the bedroom and gave him chapter and verse
on the subject of human sexuality and reproduction only to have the
"But Daddy, teacher still wants to know; what sex is our new baby?" I
too, was getting more than I cared to know in some areas and none at
all that I needed.
First, I wanted to know where to write for permission to reproduce a
famous print. At that time, I did not know whether one wrote to the
author of the article, the magazine editor, or the museum housing the
collection...YES, THERE ARE PEOPLE THAT DUMB! I don't know what I
thought all those little credits were for at the end of the article,
saying 'through the courtesy of' and identifying the owner of the
And I am still not certain where public domain cuts off- what about
Currier & Ives, the Remingtons, etc? There are also many old time
paintings or pictures that no one is certain who painted them,
purchased them, etc.
Perhaps the reason we don't see more on rights may be that few feel
qualified to really say; however, I had more or less figured some out
it out for myself...and God help me if I was wrong. From what I read,
it seemed to me that when one offered First North American rights, you
was offering the publisher the right to publish the submitted material
for the FIRST TIME in the United States and Canada. This meant that you
had not already allowed someone else to publish this same material in
the present form.
Second serial rights become a bit more complicated. Now, they may not
be complicated at all but I was always a master hand at finding
ambiguities where there might be none at all; anyhow- what I got from
this classification of rights was the impression that the material
offered had already appeared somewhere, in some publication. NOW it was
being offered a second time in the same form and credit must be given
to the magazine that published it in the first place. If this goes on
forever down through the ages, or not, I do not know. Many written
explanations of second serial rights have (reprints) appearing in the
same sentence leading one to suspect that they are the same thing.
However, editors advertise that they will accept second serial rights,
(reprints,) and previously published material, leading one to wonder
where the hairline fracture lies? Some of it may refer to material that
has been incorporated into a book or that is planned for inclusion in
an anthology. But then, many say they will accept one-time rights. Does
that mean a reprint, or previously published material? Why call it by a
different name, then?
Some magazines stipulate that they will use reprints but they do not
want you, the author, (is there a stigma attached to authors?) sending
it to them. Well, if the author doesn't send it, who will? And who gets
paid? An agent, I'll bet. I would also like to know the manner of
designating reprints, how many previous publishers one must name? And
what if the magazines are no longer extant? Must they STILL be named?
Best to sell one-time rights whenever possible.
Again, some editors announce that they will accept first North American
rights but that simultaneous submissions and previously published works
are okay. Then, why advertise that they will accept first N.A. at all
if they are willing to take material that has been published? it
doesn't make sense, used material is used material- BUT if one submits
simultaneously and is lucky enough to get both accepted, (unlikely, I
know but allow me my little fantasies,) how do you stop one from using
the material before the other one? How can you, in the light of today's
mail, (or e-mail) have any idea which one will arrive where first? THEN
you may be in trouble for selling first rights to someone while someone
else may already have the article on the way to the printers. And both
will hate you...YOU will be to blame!
I sent an article to a market announcing that I was offering them only
one-time rights and said that my story had already been accepted on the
local level and if they liked it, they must wait until the first editor
had enjoyed his first time rights. The second guy rushed it into print
under their copyright that left me without first rights for the editor
I'd promised them to. Now I was in a compromising position because I
would have to write to get the rights released before it could be
published again. Tres' embarrassing! The author really doesn't have
much clout in these matters unless (s)he is already famous and in big
demand, or has an energetic agent who will fight for her/him or is
willing to lose the market.
There was also another item to worry about and that was the idea of
writing the same story for different publications. I had soon realized
that this was the name of the game, getting as much use out of the same
material as possible, so essentially, HOW different must the material
be before one dares to offer first rights to it again? Better to offer
one time rights or re-write it completely. Titles weren't too important
as they can't be copyrighted, but other than that- if I felt there
might be any misunderstanding, I endorsed the check 'for deposit only';
that way I was not endorsing any policies but merely banking the money
for safe keeping until the matter was straightened out. SEE, I was
learning a few sly tricks at the radio station!
By now, I could see that the matter of rights and costs were going to
be a BIG surprise for the budding writer. One naively supposes that one
simply writes to Museum X and announces plans for a forthcoming article
on the great artist, Z.X. Slapdash and they would answer, (if they ever
do,) 'Certainly, go right ahead and use our pictures with our
blessing...and good luck.' Anyone who believes THAT is in for a big
surprise because they are more apt to answer curtly, "We cannot allow
just anyone to use our beautiful pictures free of charge, so if you
want to use any of our masterpieces, you must pay fifteen dollars for
the RIGHT to use them, and then you must pay an additional x number of
dollars to get us to send you a copy of the desired work, plus mailing
and handling costs.' Better get an exhorbitant price for the story,
you're going to need it.
Then there is the chance that you will never recognize your story if
you do see it in print. There are three, or four, reasons why this
might happen. Number one, they may like your idea but not like what
you've written, or your style, so they will send you a 'kill-fee' and
take the idea and use it any way they like without mentioning you.
Number two: they may purchase your story and edit and/or add to it to
the extent that it's unrecognizable as anything YOU sent and the whole
meaning is changed but your name is still on it. Can this be a reverse
act of plagairism? And to what extent can you be held responsible for
what is printed?
Number three: your story appears, general content unchanged but due to
printing errors, entire sentences are transposed, rendering several
paragraphs meaningless, or impossible for anyone to know what you are
talking about. YOU may have forgotten what you were talking about by
now...or the punctuation and spelling, as it now appears, indicates
that you are completely illiterate. Sometimes, BEING published has its
Well- I brought home many books on copyright; but I found most of them
incomprehensible. Perhaps that was the trouble with 'new writers' (and
what is meant by new writers, anyway?) At what point does one become an
old writer? After having x number of stories published? After appearing
in the right magazine? After reaching a certain age? After writing a
I had been sending out one or two manuscripts... aimlessly...I
really didn't have any idea of the proper way to do it and I didn't
match my story to the publication as one should, so it's no wonder that
I got them back in short order with suggestions that I should query
first. In a way, it was THEIR fault because I still maintain that the
blurbs in Writer's Digest and Writer's Market, etc. are not clear
enough for most amateurs. They state that the editors will look at
items of general interest, of a historical nature, or family oriented
items but do not explain that they mean that it must be on the history
OF CYCLING, IF THEY ARE A CYCLING MAGAZINE, that it must be about
family holidays if they are a travel magazine, that it must somehow be
about the general interest in GARDENING if they are a horticulture
magazine. They do not realize that they must narrow it down so
beginners will know that it must in some way relate to what they are
trying to sell. These things may be open and shut to pros but it is not
so clear to a novice writer who'd think general interest meant general
interest...in anything! Anyway, getting rejections merely reinforced my
feeling that it was smart to keep my so-called writing a secret.
Now the query has been made to seem like an incomparable piece of
rhetoric, a glittering, scintillating bit of writing that introduces
you to the editor and demonstrates what an able writer you are and how
fascinating your story is. Most books say to query first to find out if
the editors have any interest in your proposed article, or have a
market for it but I feel very strongly that if most beginners were to
query the market to find someone interested in the work of an unknown,
they would never put pen to paper, so to speak.
With this in mind, I began to write rough drafts on various subjects
and THEN I would try to sell them. I realized that it was contrary to
popular advice but it protected me from the day when an editor might
say he was interested in a story as yet unwritten. So I did the work
for nothing feeling that surely the experience of researching a paper
and then writing it was worth something. Also, I felt that if I could
write at my leisure, making the work as good, and as interesting as
possible, then I'd be in a much better position to submit it. I'd know
about how many words I could get out of the material and so on- then
too, if the pictures I planned to use with the story were late coming
back, or didn't come out, I wouldn't have an editor losing patience
with me. I felt there was a lot to be said for each side of the
argument. Then, too, I was learning a lot at the office about making
pitches, offering packages, and other merchandising efforts, all of
which would make my debut that much stronger. I thought I was nearly
I wrote an article of about two thousand words on a subject dear to my
heart. I've always felt it easier to show enthusiasm for something I'M
interested in; ergo, a free-lancer has an advantage. In my query, I
used the first paragraph of the story to lead-in and capture the
interest. After I described what I wanted to sell, I added the fact
that I could offer good basic black and white pictures to support the
story and I enclosed one to demonstrate how clear and sharp they were.
I sent it off and tried to forget it.
Perhaps it is as well that I wasn't pining away over the submission
because we were at an especially busy time at the radio station. Sales
were at an all time low and the manager was extremely anxious. It was
very difficult for him to keep a trained staff of announcers, (or
dee-jays,) or salesmen because as soon as they could say they were
experienced, they went somewhere else for better money, better
conditions, etc. Not that most of them would ever have a lot of money
anyway, for they seemed to be an indifferent, happy-go-lucky breed not
prone to hanging on to money. When they had it, they spent it.
Most of the fellows loved a good time and fine clothes. One, whom I
particularly liked, came in one day with a very nice new topcoat.
Unfortunately, it was solid black...and he loved animals. He hadn't had
it long before his friends began referring to his 'fur coat.' And then
there was the likeable little fellow with an extremely sensitive
temperament. He was married and had several children and was
chronically threadbare and hungry on his tiny salary. He did any extra
chores he could find about the premises to pick up a few dollars and
whenever there was a civic event where the radio station should be
represented, the manager sent him along as a substitute, saying "He can
use a steak dinner and save me being bored to tears at the same time."
I was the constant recipient of offers for a wonderful camera at a
scandalous price, or would I like to buy a watch...perhaps a ring? As
they broke up with their girl friends, I could have worn rings and
watches clear to each elbow for pennies.
One of the 'boys' was an extravagantly large fellow who owned a tiny
poodle. She went along with him wherever he went and had the
unfortunate propensity of leaving deposits on the floor. After she'd
adorned nearly every carpet in town, her welcome dimmed but he still
loved her extravagantly. They slept together and each morning he'd
arrive at the office where they'd share their breakfast. They'd come in
and if the weather was rainy, or cold, she'd be wearing a tiny sweater,
perhaps some boots, and her glittering rhinestone collar. She was a
winning little thing.
Her master would seat himself and open his cup of coffee and lay out
his toast and peanut butter. He'd take a draught of coffee and then
hold the cup down to her so she could take her turn. Then he'd tear off
a piece of toast and let her take it, then he'd lick his fingers and
rip off a piece for himself. Thus they continued until all was gone.
When she began to look about for more, I'd pretend to have something in
my top drawer. I'd pull out the drawer and pretend to talk to something
inside, stroking and petting an imaginary animal, then I'd close the
drawer again and crack up watching her try to get inside.
He was an announcer who hated sports and as the 'early morning
personality, it fell to him perhaps more than to any of the rest, to
summarize where the teams had played, who they'd played, and what the
scores were since the preceding day. Normally the other announcers
would read a long list something like 'Miami is at Chicago, Denver is
at Boston, etc.,' or they'd say something about the Knickerbockers
trimming the Bruins in a bruising 9-11 in the third, but he wouldn't go
through THAT foolishness...he simply picked the long sheet off the
teletype and read the scores straight down without identifying which
team he was talking about, where they were, or any other details!
Fortunately most people were either still asleep or not awake enough to
All of this maneuvering should have been excellent grist for my mill
had I any idea who might conceivably be interested in it. And if no one
was interested in these unstable disk jockeys , perhaps the romances
would like a glimpse at the goings-on among our office personnel. There
were numerous triangles, quadrangles, and parallelograms all over the
place. Sometimes it was embarrassing when the lovesick swains began to
plead their case in the tiny office wehre it was impossible to get away
and give them any privacy. It was especially tense when more than one
man was after the same woman and she sat gloating, enjoying her power
over them. Then, too, there was always a certain amount of fall out on
those of us who were uninterested in liasons because many took the
attitude that 'they're all like that there'. It was quite the ordinary
thing to be propositioned between the desk and the file cabinet, to be
offered an assignation by one of the sales staff or by one of the
suppliers while he was delivering the Coca-Cola.
I liked our manager quite well. He was a young man with a brilliant but
erratic mind. He was obsessed with worries and teetering on the brink
of whether he should 'get into something else' or call a meeting to
'force the owners to assume more responsibility.' I could have told him
that you don't 'force the owners' to do anything but he was too young
and cock-sure to realize that. We'd sit in his office and I'd watch him
bite on pencils and pen nibs and drink coffee. Cup after cup-
"Fetch me another cup, will you, Maisie?" he'd ask for extra service
while making slurs about my filing. I'd go to the window that was
perpetually glazed over with ice and pour him a cup from the boiling
'billy can' that stood on the top of the gas heater just below. I'd add
sugar and try to hack off crumbs of frozen milk from the paper carton.
The cold milk curdled as soon as it hit the boiling coffee.
"Why does it look so funny?" He'd stare at the curious mixture. I
explained that the milk always froze on the window sill but there was
no other place to keep it where it wouldn't spoil.
"Well, my coffee's awfully dark. I need another slice."
One day he was fretting and worrying, going from one thing to another
when he suddenly noticed a big hole in the sole of his shoe.
"My goodness, look at that shoe," he remarked. "Is there anyone around here who fixes shoes?"
I said that I was certain there was and should have known what the next step would be, and sure enough-
"Can you take these over and see how long it would take him to fix them?"
I departed with the shoes and the repairman agreed to leave his work
and start on them immediately. I thought he was awfully nice to do that
and therefore made no conditions about hurrying. Naturally, it took
well over an hour during which time my employer concealed himself
behind his desk in his sock feet while he discussed business with
callers. He was distraught, to say the least, but forgave me readily
when he got his shoes back and saw how nice they looked.
Meantime, our push to increase business was going quite well. The
program director and I dreamed up various promotional packages,
complete with music, that made some of the customers feel they were
dealing with high-tech broadcasting. We ran a beauty contest and
offered a trip to Disneyland as prize in another contest and I was
supposed to run daily surveys by phone throughout our listening area to
see what listenership we had. I called my mother in the next town and
called a friend in another. Many kinfolk who hadn't heard from me in
years were flattered to receive a call. I didn't bother to tell them
they were on the opposite end of a poll; 'allow them to feel obligated,
you never knew when it would pay off' was my motto.
We did remotes, broadcating from a location other than the studios and
I made duplicate logs so the announcer would have some idea what
advertising copy he should be reading between records, but it was very
difficult to synchronize the thing due to outside variables such as
malfunctions or interviewees talking longer than they should, etc.
Also, you never knew what a person would say while the mike was open.
It might be something banned by the FCC, something incompatible with
our station's views, or inimical to our interests. Sometimes an
old-timer would not realize what station he was speaking with and would
praise our rival stoutly.
By now, we were well along into late fall and we were off the air
shortly after four p.m. Since we could broadcast during daylight hours
only, the announcers signed off with a flourish and left the
broadcasting room. They turned off all their lights and went home; the
salespersons went home, the manager went home...there was only me alone
in the basement of the eerie old building. I was isolated and no one
could see who might enter while I labored in my small cubicle of light.
Occasionally the phone would ring and someone would request a song,
unaware that we were done for the day. I didn't relish my solitude but
as soon as my duties were finished, it made a good opportunity to write
as I had to remain until five p.m. anyway.
I'd write down any interesting events of the day, using the fine
electric typewriter they'd just gotten for me and there was scrap paper
in plenty, so all was not lost.
My query had been gone for over a week and they tell you not to ever
expect an answer before three or four months, anyway. By and large, I
would say that is a fair estimate; however, I have learned to not
believe any ALWAYS, NEVER, situations. Especially in reference to
People will laugh and say, 'You have visions of writing something and
being called by the editor in the middle of the night. Right?? They are
just WILD about what you wrote and want to buy it immediately. Right?
They agree to give you an excellent price and ask you if you will work
for them on assignment. Right?? Forget it; it NEVER happens that way.
THEY are wrong- that is exactly what happened to me and it was the
first thing I'd ever sold! I couldn't believe it. I'd been sleeping
soundly and almost didn't answer the phone. I was sure it was either a
wrong number, or someone playing a rather crude joke, especially when
it developed that someone was talking about buying my story...then I
KNEW it had to be a joke. But it wasn't and when they asked me to work
on assignment, I sleepily declined, thus throwing away an opportunity
that most beginning writers would give their eyeteeth to have.
I wouldn't say that this was a usual thing to happen with my
submissions, but it is a good indication that anything can happen in
the writing, or publishing business. Of course, I didn't mention the
fact at the office. I felt what they did't know wouldn't hurt them any,
so I kept my lips tightly sealed. My spouse was outraged by my
secretivness but went along with my eccentricity and said nothing. He
couldn't understand such modesty, but I was afraid to spoil my record
for one thing, and I didn't want to be perpetually ragged as 'the
The books say that if you have a sale, you should immediately send off
another manuscript, so I made another proposal. I'd noticed the booming
of a particular line of building in the area and wrote an upstate
newspaper suggesting I do an article on it for them. This letter was
not long in being answered either; whatever I was doing, I certainly
was good at getting fast replies! The editor declined my suggestion in
a very courteous manner, saying that all that sort of thing was written
by their staff; however, (he went on) he'd read the other article I'd
just had published and offered me a column! He went on at length about
how very good the article had been and how much he admired my writing
until he had me terrified. I knew that getting that first article
published that way had been a fluke; just as I knew I could never do it
again- and here, he was, offering me A COLUMN where I'd be required to
be excellent every week. My heart quailed within me. I thought it over
for two days and then wrote for more information on the column, length,
leeway as to style, etc.- and NEVER HEARD FROM HIM AGAIN.
Well, so much for that. It is a good thing that we were busier than
ever because waiting for his reply would have been hard to take. And
then the final realization that I was NOT going to hear from him again,
ever, slammed me into a momentary discouragement. I continued with my
work at the radio station and helped plan our Christmas party. One of
the owners would come north two hundred miles to be with us, so I and
the bookeeper decorated the office and I made reservations at a nearby
hotel, etc. Then the night of the party, we all gathered at a nightclub
close by. It was an evening of fun and good cheer and the owner was a
handsome, congenial man. We danced and joked and laughed and he tried
to be friendly with everyone, giving each his/her turn. When he turned
to Pat and inquired about his family and where HE lived, Pat vainly
tried to explain the obscure little village. The big man couldn't quite
get it until I interceded.
"Mr. Ross, it's one of those unique little towns; you know- Unis Equi'?
The boss stared a minute and threw back his head and roared. Pat
glowered and looked suspicious but couldn't quite comprehend if he'd
been insulted or not.
So things trundled along over the holidays and then I wrote again, to a
travel magazine this time. I suggested an article on traveling
throughout the Northeast and asked for an assignment and guidelines. It
wasn't long before I received a Mail-o-gram with the explanation that
this was to expedite things. The editor mentioned that she was
including guidelines for my convenience and there wasn't a thing
inside! I wrote back and explained the situation and asked to have the
guidelines so that I might take them with me on vacation and could
collect the information pertinent to my story. I have yet to hear from
Then I ran afoul of the next editor. I sent him a mildly derisive
manuscript describing a military installation that had been built,
blunder by blunder, in the wrong place, finished at the wrong time. and
costing the citizens huge quantaties of money. I described the goof-ups
of some of the people concerned in a laughing manner and infuriated the
editor in the process. He not only didn't accept, he told me off in no
uncertain terms! I wrote later and apologized; although all my
references had been from recognized sources, I was still at fault for
not using better taste. Especially since he was an officer and I was
writing for retired officers...(the writer must always be on his/her
toes and be conscious of such mores.)
Well- sometimes it WAS discouraging. I seemed to be getting no foradder
with my writing. One editor had held a story of mine for over two
years, so I wrote and politely asked to have it back, and that's when
he said he'd just published it! True enough, it was in the next
edition. Things were exceedingly strange in this business.
It was even stranger at the office. Lee, who'd been office-manager took
a maternity leave and told me she didn't plan to come back. The station
manager gave me her job, but I was still responsible for my old one. I
was nearly overwhelmed with work and the little raise I received didn't
begin to compensate for the additional labor. I went to the office when
the sun was just coming up and I left the premises after dark. The cold
was intense and many times my fingers were too stiff to type. I
couldn't figure out if it was worse enduring the bitter blasts in
winter, or the heated months of summer when frogs and snakes came in
through the open door and crawled under our desks and the hornets and
mosquitoes clung to our hosiery. Being on the bank of the river had
it's moments. Many times we observed the schoolchildren obsessively
forging their way across the frozen river, jumping from ice block to
ice block like Liza, while we held our breath until they reached the
opposite shore. Every day the police warned them not to do it, and
every day the same ones did it anyway.
Of course, there were other times when it was all pure pleasure. Like
the time Julius LaRosa came to town and we had him all to ourselves for
about an hour. Or when Hal Smith came down and did his impersonation of
'Otis' for us- times like that made it very nice and we found most
celebrities so down-to-earth; 'just people,' anxious to do their job
and get home to their loved ones.
Naturally, I didn't know enough at the time to interview these people
so that I might do a profile on them for somebody. Learning to seize
opportunities comes with practice, the same as the ability to see a
story when it happens. Or the ability to plan on getting several
stories from the same area, thus avoiding making the trip twice with
its attendent costs for motel, resturants, and gas. Which leads me to
the subject of expenditures and keeping records.
The boss had given me several small raises since Lee had left to have
her baby. As she had no intention of returning, I was trained to do her
job, but was still responsible for my old one. It certainly cut down on
my time for any extra writing and was not really FAIR to me because
they were getting two jobs done for little more than the cost of one.
But, what was fair in this world? I didn't squawk because I too was
getting something- a great deal of free training in a job that I loved.
And, I literally loved everything about the broadcasting business.
The program director had asked me to be the female voice in several
commercials that he was working up into a production for a ritzy
resturant. I stood before the open mike which he'd patched in to the
console, planning to tape the commercial while the station was putting
out music over the air. We got better quality taping this way rather
than using an auxillary tape recorder.
"Zis is Mimi at the Cafe de le Paix and today we are having the
wonderful escargot, yes? You mus try zem, or per'aps zoos magnifique
cordon bleu-" As I glanced at him, I noted that the meters showed we
were going out over the top of the music. My voice faltered and he
caught on. He switched over but the damage was done. When he played the
commercial back to the restaurateur, the man was not enchanted with it.
"That girl sounds too amateurish," he announced, nearly putting an end
to my career. We got things straightened out and after that, I went on
to new heights as Mrs. Santa Claus, or some other character. I drew the
line when he wanted the sexy, sultry voice of a femme fatale for
something or other.
"I'm sorry, I just CAN'T be a femme fatale," I announced. "Do it
yourself." And he did! He had just the right sort of husky, raspy voice
that recorded as an extremely seductive female and we had a lot of
those type productions from then on. It's strange how recording changes
the quality of one's voice. I felt that I sounded like Minnie Mouse!
One day the station manager called me into his inner sanctum where he
sat in the dark (the lights weren't on in the other offices, so HE
couldn't have any, either).
"We are going to have to plan some sort of anniversary celebration for
the station. It has to LOOK like we're all having great fun, but it's
got to bring in a lot of money for us, too. I want you and the program
director to get together and work up some ideas. You'd better arrange
things at home because you're going to have be hostess for this thing
and you'll be spending a lot of time with us."
With this remark, he threw the thing into our laps and went off
wherever station managers go. Fortunately, Tom was very creative and he
and the sales manager had both worked in large cities in many and
varied capacities, so they knew how to proceed. We spend several days
in closed and smoky quarters, discussing and planning WHO we could get
to come to town (our little town) as a celebrity, WHAT we could offer
as an inducement to get people to join in the celebration, meanwhile
bringing the station the most publicity at the same time, HOW we would
deliver the most hype for the least expenditure, and for how long, and
the best way to keep our rival station in the dark until the last
This was a package that would stump some Madison Avenue firms but here
we were, with our outmoded equipment, limited funds and staff, trying
to deliver sophisticated productions and programming for a naive, and
mostly rural audience. For one thing, an entertainer, or actor of any
ability would be extremely reluctant to leave the lucrative
possibilities in the city to fly north to OUR town where we were
inevitably on the worst end of the weather, where there were very
limited hotel and dining facilities and literally NO amusement. And
what would they get out of coming? Perhaps a little money, but few
raves over anything they might do- no, it was a losing proposition for
them. The best we could hope that there might be someone who owed one
of our investors a favor.
We were in luck because, for some reason probably best not gone into,
one of the stockholders got a fairly good name to appear for us. The
hapless performer flew in on the local Toonerville Trolley and appeared
at the station looking frozen, lost, and uncomfortable. He gazed about
him in bewilderment, obviously wondering what he was doing in this
god-forsaken place. I will say this for the man. He was down-to-earth
and pleasant; no airs, no derogatory remarks as he looked at our tiny,
fly-specked offices, glanced at the gas bar with it's steaming
teakettle on top, and could see the entire operation from inner
sanctum, to office works, to teletype and broadcasting booth without
having to leave his chair.
"Would you like a cup of coffee?" I even had the gall to offer to saw
off a chunk of frozen milk for him but he shuddered and remarked that
'luckily, he took his black'. He seemed very grateful for it, too. He
just couldn't believe that he'd walked the main streets of the village
unmolested, he was so used to being mobbed in most any red-blooded
Contrary to all probable odds, our celebration came off quite nicely.
We'd run a beauty contest, with any listener eligible to enroll their
daughters (and we did have some beauties), we also offered a free round
trip to Disneyland for the two persons collecting the greatest numbers
of names of those among our audience, there was also a beauty contest,
and so on and so on. It really came out just fine. It robbed me of
several weeks of personal time, but-
It's some kind of law, I guess, that when you don't have the money, you
can always find loads of things you'd LOVE to buy...or you can think of
MANY places where you'd like to travel, that sort of thing; but when
you get where you have the money, you no longer have the time to
travel, shop, etc. I was sorta in that position now. With my additional
wealth these days, I could have purchased more stamps and mailers, or
film if I could just find the time, but the 'workman's law' prevailed
and there was little time for myself. I resolved to make time for
myself as soon as this rat race was over.
Writing once again, I could see that I would have to be more organized
and business-like about it. My postal costs were getting large enough
that I knew I should be keeping a record for the Internal Revenue. This
was an angle I should have looked into long before; I knew if I wrote
enough and kept a record of everything, I SHOULD be justified in taking
a portion of our heating, electrical and telephone costs, and so on.
I bullied the fellow at the postal window, making him give me a receipt
every time I bought a dozen stamps, and continually asked him about
sending my six, or eight page manuscripts by fourth class mail until
his manner became exceedingly frosty. I couldn't understand why
everyone seemed out to discourage new authors.
Later, I learned to purchase first class stamps by the roll and get a
receipt for them...I also learned to keep the next gradient of stamps
necessary to send the second ounce so I could weigh my own mailers and
send them out whether the post office was open or not. I also saved
myself a good deal of expense by dropping down to 6x9 mailers for
manuscripts of only four, or five pages. It wouldn't hurt to fold them
over once. And the final stroke of wisdom taught me to send manuscripts
off first class because if I sent them third class and they proved
undeliverable, then they came back to me C.O.D. It was bad enough to
pay to mail several ounces ONCE-
By now, I had purchased a camera with various lenses and attachments. I
made sure to keep all those receipts as well as the receipts for film,
and both the return envelope and receipt when I asked for the finished
I let quite a few receipts slip away from me before I developed the
carapace necessary for asking and keeping slips for gas, resturants,
motel rooms, and admission tickets to various places I had to visit. It
was also necessary to keep telephone receipts. It's surprising how they
all add up.
Earlier, I had blithely sent my work off without looking up the
correct, current address of the magazine. After having a lot of returns
( all that postage wasted), I saw that nobody seems to move oftener
than these city businesses and it's no fun to pay for these abortive
trips through the postal system; seldom do they forward and postage is
too expensive for many such mistakes.
When the first checks come in, it is easy to feel rich and well-paid,
forgetting what it cost you to earn that money. I remember at first,
traveling 300 miles round trip for a story, paying $35.oo for a motel,
$20.00 for dinner, $10.00 for breakfast, $10.00 at least, for gas,
$10.00 for photographic supplies, several bucks postage- and feeling
GOOD about getting $100.00 back! I'd worked for nothing! Now, I try to
work it to get at least TWO stories out of the same trip, more if
possible. If I can't slant the same article for a second magazine, I
try to have a second story source in the same area. You have to.
But then the day comes when somebody makes your day. You'll be in an
area, researching a story, when somebody will hear about it and they
will come to you, wanting to be interviewed, or else say, "You know, I
wish somebody would write about THIS, someday."
Oftentimes, friends will suggest something they'd like to see you cover
and will offer photos, and information. Just recently, I had sold a
story and was meeting with the subject about a possible article leading
out of the earlier one. A day or so later, I was called by the subject
of the latest, and I'd not yet had time to CALL him. We discussed it
and set a date for an interview...and I must say, I felt pretty good
about the whole thing. This man was the kind of well-rounded person who
allows you the opportunity of approaching magazines of various
categories. I KNEW I'd have no trouble selling something on him once,
but I hoped to sell essentially the same story to a sports magazine, a
fraternal one, one dealing with youth, and one for law and order. These
are the kind of people you must look for; they will put money in your
pocket. When you make your deal with the editor, try to get an extra
copy of the magazine with the story in, for the subject.
Now that I'm older and wiser, when I interview someone, I try to slip
in the question naturally- what organizations do you belong to? What
are your hobbies? What kind of car do you drive? It always helps if you
can photograph a celebrity driving a VW, or a FORD- makes the story
easier to sell.
AND selling is the name of the game. Of course, we don't tell most
people that we who write love it to the extent that we'd probably do it
for nothing, anyway, but the money certainly gives one a well-earned
feeling of recognition. We should therefore take into account anything
and everything that will help us sell our work.
If one writes, and I begin to think everyone does these days, finding
enough time seems to be a problem because the more people one knows,
the more there are to steal one's time away. A husband, or boyfriend,
or conversely, wife or girlfriend, offer the most pressing and
immediate demands and any refusal constitutes rejection. It must be a
great blow to the ego to be replaced by a book, or an article...and of
course, children only magnify the problem.
Of course, anyone can write; those who are interested and make no
attempt, I suspect of laziness. It is easy to shrug the shoulders and
say, "No, no, I never could do that." How can you possibly know without
trying? After all, it is a learning process, like any other. On the
other hand, if you achieve any recognition at all you can expect to get
the 'people-chasers' on your tail. You are suddenly eligible and
DESIRED by the local clubs and asked to speak at meetings where you may
have no authority, or credentials for doing so, but if you refuse
you've 'gone arty' or high-and-mighty. If you accede, there may be a
mention in the paper, with your name misspelled, or missing all
together, with your aims and statements misquoted, and angry people
will search you out for an opportunity to corner you and demand 'where
you got YOUR information?" People who have known you from birth will
look at you askance, wondering 'who you think YOU are?' It's true that
a prophet is without honor in his/her own country.'
Much of your success will hinge on things of the past; things done, or
left undone, items used or neglected may tell the tale. How much
education you got, or did you try to educate yourself? Are you
well-read? Who would dream of the importance of such things as the type
of paper used, or merely if you have changed to a new typewriter ribbon
or not? Anything to make the writing better- clearer, more readable; to
make someone else's day more enjoyable at the other end. After all, if
you use erasable bond or not, may determine if the editorial assistant
gets his, (his'n? hern') cuffs smeared- or if the print is faint, he
may get eyestrain. If you staple your manuscript together, someone may
get scratched by the staples or get an expensive blouse caught; what do
you think the chances for your manuscript would be at that point? (At
the very least, it is not HANDY to read papers that are nailed together
at one corner.) And it is UNTHINKABLE that you would dare to reuse a
mailing envelope no matter how pristine its condition...(would you??)
It is a world of calculated risks and you must maintain top quality
whether anything comes of it, or not.
I am not going to dwell on the fact that you will use only top grade
typing paper...always keeping a carbon of all work, and leaving a good
margin, at least one and a half inches all the way around the edges,
and DOUBLE-SPACED. If you've interested yourself in the mechanics at
all, that is already old hat to you and I credit you with some sense.
You also know by now that your name and address should appear in the
upper left-hand corner of the first sheet; it's a good idea also to use
this place for the offering of the rights you wish to sell.. your word
count may go in the right hand corner. I like to note the number of
pictures I am enclosing here, also. I like to repeat my name on the top
of succeeding sheets and add the page numbers.
After you have done all the things you have been warned to do and not
done any of those you have been warned against, you will begin your
If you find it necessary to travel to get the stories you desire, for
Pete's Sake, remember what I said about keeping receipts for meals,
lodging, etc, and any other expenditures that may occur. If you are
keeping up on your reading, you will notice that the government is
finally getting around to allowing free-lancers tax write-offs and
you'd better be up on it. AND, you can prove nothing without a receipt.
Back at home, buy your stamps by the sheet, or roll and get receipts
for them, and keep all those from the bookstore, and ask for one when
you mail off registered letters. Also, keep a list of out-going calls
and fees which appear on your bills. I dwell on all this but believe
me, when the IRS comes to call, I will be your friend.
And, now for rejections; doom, gloom, boom: everybody gets them, if
that is any comfort. It is difficult for the writer to know what was
the cause of the rejection; perhaps you did not aim for the proper
market, perhaps someone has already submitted a similar story, or
perhaps you have used material that is taboo with the publication. The
return may be occasioned by the failure to do any of the above, all of
the above, or like the old college questions, was it a combination of
a&b, a,b, & c, a&c, all of them, or none of them? The usual
rejection forms are so nicely worded and so vague that only a mind
reader could determine the reason behind them. Occasionally there will
be some kind-hearted person who will take pity and try to offer some
guidance, or at least some encouragement. There is something about the
written word- and even if they only pen 'sorry, try again', it can give
a certain boost to the day. I know; I had made submissions to a certain
periodical over a period of time before some alert individual awoke to
the fact that (s)he could be helpful by inserting a check list, which
apparently they'd had on hand all the time, and (s)he put it inside the
envelope. By merely checking off a space before one item, (s)he made
everything clear. They would not print anything about a deceased person!
Now, if you study many books, you may find there is one centralized
theme repeated over and over from different angles. After attempting to
write thousands of words, enough to comprise a book, you must learn to
say the same thing in twenty different ways. After all, that's how many
chapters are filled up. As an example, I would now say...to fill up the
chapter, I would begin to explore the various ways in which others have
said what I am now saying and how and when it was published. I might
also tell in which languages I have seen it appear, and in which it
appeared the most effective. You should also consider the person, or
persons saying it. Are they someone important? Someone who MATTERS? Why
did they say it? Was it out of picque? Envy? Malice?
Of course, you will relate what you have to say in the very clearest
grammar possible; I know, I know, we have ALL read books that are
written in strange, exotic patterns, like some of Kurt Vonnegut's work,
e.e.cummings' idiosyncrasies, etc., some without punctuation,
capitalization, seemingly without beginning or end, but that is not for
us; not yet, anyway. After we have made our mark on the publishing
world- after we are famous, then we may do as we wish, but not just
yet. We must know the rules of grammar, or at least, the biggies, and
we must also know something about spelling and punctuation. The old
days of writing and leaving all the bad stuff to be edited out are gone
forever; no one can afford the staff to attend to all the minutiae any
more. Write what you have to say in the briefest, clearest, most
down-to-earth English you know. Read it aloud and see if it says what
you mean to say, or are you supposing that 'everyone knows what you
mean'? I'd like to read something to you and you see if you can
determine the meaning; it certainly beats me.
Now, this was taken from a book by the late Mr. Malcolm Forbes, of
Forbes magazine. I do not mean to pick on Mr. Forbes, I'm certain he
didn't get where he did by being a dummy; however, if you or I try to
write this way, I guarantee we shall fail. Listen: He was talking about
Stephen Foster and he said, "Foster, who grew up singing but had very
little musical training near Pittsburgh, was successful almost from his
first published songs in 1848", and later on, 'He was found by a
chambermaid delivering towels later that day.' I leave you to draw your
own conclusions about the meaning of those sentences. Mr. Forbes might
not be at fault for the way them came out; I know from bitter
experience what the typesetter can do if he transposes words, or
sentences, or plays with the punctuation. Anyway, don't do it...any of
it. And the last thing before I leave the subject, it is well to slow
down the tempo of what you are writing unless you are striving for
effect, like suspense- I tend to write in a staccato, abbreviated
fashion, leaving out many descriptions, leaving too much to the
imagination. I ASSUME everyone knows what I'm talking about...don't do
Once your story is finished, how do you know where to send it? The
markets must be carefully chosen, would YOU expect to buy cookies in a
shoe store? After a study of the various magazines, and WRITER'S
MARKET, you will determine what category you article fits. Send it to
the articles editor, or the fashion editor, the recipe section, or the
photo editor, naming them if you have a CURRENT name. It may take a bit
longer to sort out if you don't have a specific name, but at least it
should not end up across town at Catholic Charities, following the
staff member who has moved on. The turn-over among staff is incredible
and unless you can keep current, there may be a danger in addressing
one certain person unless you put the department position.
A curious thing about writing, is that one never knows enough. I
suppose that may be true for most things that we do, but there is SO
much information that one must have have before being able to write
intelligently about a subject. One feels like Alice in Wonderland for
the more one writes, the more one must read. And that too, may be
fraught with hazards because there is the matter of interpreting what
is read. That is not always easy as was evidenced by the earlier
quotation from Mr. Forbes' book.
That last statement reminds me of two mothers, both with large
families, who apparently had a problem of choosing yet another name.
Each strove to find something new, perhaps a little distinctive, but
were unable to interpret what they'd read, and therefore were
considerably surprised to find that the girl who'd been named 'E-loyze'
was actually 'El-o-weeze' and the boy who'd been called 'X-a-veer' at
home, was now 'X-zave-yer' or 'Hav-yer.'.
An important thought you will find running through most 'how-to' books
is that of writing to the publication. If you do not write in their
pattern, or style, you might as well forget it; this is not the time
for individualism in writing. I'm not sure if this is different from
the idea of slanting your material but to me it is along that order.
Slanting is the idea of writing the same theme but adapting it so that
it can be used in different magazines. For example, if I am writing a
story on herbs for a gardening magazine, it would be written in a
straight forward style, perhaps throwing in a few ideas on soil
preparation, sunny versus shady locations, climate, when to pick, how
to dry, and so on, but if I wish to send the story to a religious
publication, I not only must change the content to say- the number and
order of their appearance in the Bible and other religious literature,
how they were used in those times, etc. I must also change my title to
something like HERBS TO BE FOUND IN THE BIBLE, rather than GROWING
HERBS IN YOUR GARDEN.
Another thing I might as well mention here is that you must be aware of
the taboos in writing. You should never, never, never send anything
even remotely obscene or unpatriotic to the Bible-belt. And you'd be
surprised what may be termed offensive; a simple damn may well
'damn-you'. I once forgot that the four letter 'turd' appeared in one
of my stories and it was excised with much of the surrounding material
which I could ill afford to lose.
Another taboo of sorts is the change in writing styles. When I was a
kid, I just loved Allan W. Eckert's THE CROSSBREED, and stories of that
type which are related in an anthropomorphic style, telling the tale
from the animal's point of view, telling what it thought, felt, and
sensed. This method of writing is now a no-no; at least for most
Non-fiction magazines like short articles, 1000-1500 words, written in
a crisp, concise manner, opening with a punch to snare the interest,
followed up by the gist of the material, utilizing plenty of quotes and
authoritative material, then a close in a circular route which
re-iterates the opening statement. The longer feature stories are
written in much the same manner, except they have much more detail.
It surprises me now that I was able to do any writing at all with
things so hectic 'on the job'. "Why is that kid here ALL THE TIME?" I
asked irritably of no one in particular. The bookeeper looked up and
gave her usual soft, tolerant laugh, but it wasn't funny. Most radio
stations have their hangers-on, it seems to go with the game but we had
more than our share. There were the bona fide ones; the telephone men
came in regularly to install line service for remotes, to check the
teletype, and do other legitimate things. They were never adverse to
killing a little time, having coffee, and flirting with the office
help. Then the delivery men who brought supplies for the soft drink
machines, or office supplies, or UPS, might remain and chat a few
minutes but generally speaking, they remained pretty business-like. It
was the high-school kids who were our bane.
Most of the adolescents were pretty awed by what they considered the
glamorous life of the disk jockey and yearned for the day when they
could hear their own voice on the air. They would come in and hang
around and hang around, getting in the way and having to be shooed out
when they got too noisy. But there was the odd one, so anxious to be
considered part of the gang, that he would spend most of his
out-of-school hours with us, willing to be the gopher, run any errands,
answer the phone on Saturdays when there was no office staff and the
announcer couldn't handle it all by himself, and do anything else just
so he was allowed to stay. We had one of these kind now.
My phone rang and I interrupted my typing to answer with the usual
station hype. We were supposed to give the usual greeting, followed by
our call letters and then announce that we were NUMBER ONE in the
area...all of which made for a pretty long reply and was a nuisance.
Today was no exception.
"Good afternoon, this is WXQZ, Radio One, first and foremost in your listening area, may I help you?"
There was a dead silence and then a snicker from across the room. The
current gopher, a raw, rangy kid, sat smirking at his success in
fooling me. He spent the afternoon across at one of the other desks,
squeaking the chair back and forward, and now and then, ringing me on
the other line. He got a big guffaw out of it every time I fell for it.
Naturally, after the first few times, I no longer found the extra calls
funny. I wasn't supposed to antagonize him, however, because as I
mentioned, he functioned as extra help without getting paid for it.
There was only one answer for the situation. I sent him on an errand.
On the weekend when I and the other office staff did not come in, this
kid brought his friends, and his girl friend, and their girl friends to
the station and they hung around the dee-jays. There was scuffling and
foolishness. They used the phones and typewriters, etc. and many times
I'd come in on Monday morning and find huge, sticky rings all over my
desk top and crumbs down inside my typewriter. At the time, I had the
best typewriter in the office, the only electric one and it had been
expensive. The manager was rather worried about it when I discussed the
matter with him and wondered if there wasn't some way that I could lock
"Sure thing," I replied with alacrity. There was no way I could lock up
the entire typewriter because it was just too heavy for me to lug back
and forth to the supply cabinet, but I COULD render it immobile.
I took the roller out and locked it away in my desk drawer. When I
arrived on Monday morning, there was a big howl because I'd locked up
the typewriter. The program manager had needed a typewriter and
naturally, wanted to use the best one..there were others too, who felt
very put out and went to the manager only to be told that it was his
idea! They didn't like it at all and there were many complaints and
remarks sotto voce about 'toadying' up to the boss.
After that, we began to notice an increase in long distance calls over
the weekend and none of them were to legitimate businesses, so the
manager tried to devise some way to outwit the people who were
cheating. Back came the telephone men and in went a lever that again, I
would switch off late Friday before I left, cutting off all the phones
in the office...the only one left in operation was that in the
broadcasting booth with the announcer and he'd better explain any extra
I was rapidly becoming the oldest staff member at the station and
getting more and more responsibility, no more pay, just responsibility.
To compensate, I was called the office manager and the rest had to do
whatever I said but they thought I was real mean in cutting back on so
much of their fun. There were times when their high spirits got to me
and I felt real mean, too. These were the times when I wanted to forget
the whole business.
Economically, things were getting worse all the time with the
corporation and I was driven to foolish extremes. We still cut up the
paper from the teletype and used it for second sheets or made scratch
pads. We no longer bought pencils or ink, after all, everyone used ball
point pens now, and the banks and businesses gave them away. I got rid
of the cleaning woman, the boy who used to come and incinerate the
papers, and the window washing man and combined all the functions with
one hungry village employee who agreed to do all those tasks for the
price that we used to pay for just one of the former. Nothing helped,
though, we were really going under.
I was currently keeping two checkbooks. There was the truthful one that
told how far in the red the corporation was; on paper, we really
couldn't be operating. Then, there was a second one that told how much
had come in that day and decided who would get a little on account. We
staggered along from day to day in this manner, feeling fortunate if
the salesmen sold enough each week, or if enough cash came in the mail
to pay each employee and give out these little pittances. All this was
supposed to be a big secret and I was probably the only one who didn't
go home and confide in my spouse but I kept it all locked inside and
developed a gallopping case of ulcers. Naturally, I got meaner than
About the only mind-saving thing for me, was going home and immersing
myself in my writing or going out into the countryside and taking
pictures with my new camera. I wanted to get where I felt competent to
take pictures related to my text because they would go a long way
towards making my proposals attractive.
My camera was a 35mm SLR and I spent many happy hours learning the
rudiments of taking expressive pictures. I tried different lenses and
different films and became very fond of color. When we went on
vacation, I photographed everybody and everything...in color, only to
learn, when we got home, that most of the magazines I was now active
with, preferred black and white, or transparencies. Whatever I had in
the camera, they wanted something else. You couldn't win! I guess I
needed two cameras, minimum.
It seemed that not only did editors want b/w's, they wanted them
enlarged. I never could understand their reasoning for putting the
writer to this expense when they were just going to have to reduce them
back again to fit into their magazine. Enlarging was quite an expense
when there was no surety that the pictures would even be purchased.
They WOULD look at contact sheets, but we had few in our area who did
them and they were not cheap, either! What to do?
Well, there are those publications who do not consider your pictures
are ever going to be good enough, anyway and they advertise, 'WE will
send our OWN photographer to take photographs if we are interested
enough in your story.' You can imagine what kind of a story you are
going to have to come up with in order to get them to go to that
expense, and you can estimate what the chances are for a newcomer to
get accepted with that magazine.
I appeared to be at an impasse, but ultimately I learned to accomodate
and get by with colored film. If we were in a once-in-a-lifetime
location, I tried to shoot both b/w and colored, using 400 ASA and
different settings, (bracketting). I shot a LOT of pictures to ensure
that SOME ought to be good enough. I learned how to remove a partially
used film from the camera without losing ALL the pictures and then
re-insert it at a later time. And luck was with me and more and more
editors began to accept the colored film, or transparencies. Black and
white had caused me a lot of headaches because, with colored film being
so popular, there is not a lot of demand for black and white film, and
it was difficult to get processed. In our village, films were sent two
hundred miles to a city lab and they had so little call to process b/w
that they saved it all up and did it once a week. You can imagine the
convenience when I was waiting for it to come back so that I could send
a manuscript off. Weeks that contained a holiday really did me in.
Also, I had to buy at least 24 exposures and sometimes 36 and it took
forever to get it out of the camera.
I WAS getting better, despite all the odds. And occasionally something
really amusing happened to me. I was given authorization to visit a
prison and do some filming in their chapel for a human interest story.
By the time I carried my camera, several packs of film, all my
different lenses, filters, hotshoe, purse, etc., I had about all I
wanted to carry...all I COULD carry, to be honest and it had to be
right the first time because I was sure there wouldn't be a second
chance. There was really no way I could carry all that and manage a
tripod, too, so I decided to make myself a beanbag to support my
camera. I solved my problem by literally putting some beans in a
Everything went fine... for a while. The chaplain conducted me around
and I shot several spools of film but then I could see he was getting
restless. His nervousness communicated itself to me and in trying to
hurry, I broke open the bag of beans that shot all over his nicely
carpeted chapel. The ludicrous situation made me giggle and here I was
on my knees, trying to gather up beans before he came over to see what
I was doing. I guess I got most of them, but if some were missed, he
must have wondered about them.
Regarding cameras, I think it is too bad that we are so often forced to
buy our cameras with the standard 50 mm lens on it. True, it is a good
all around lens but if one prefers something, like my zoom, the 50mm
sometimes becomes a bit redundant and lens are too expensive to have a
I began to notice other things I had never thought of before, now that
I was into photomania. I learned to compare my prints with the
negatives in the pack. Oftentimes, the very portion of the picture that
was important to me would be cut off and if I did not have the sense to
protest, certainly no one else cared. If I did protest, the pictures
were made up for me free of charge. 'Cropping' is done regularly, of
course, and they have no way of knowing what will be most important to
I had to learn SO much about photography; simple things that I'd never
experimented with before, like using my fractional exposure to
compensate for taking pictures from an interior. Shooting from inside
threw off the automatic aperature adjustment and the pictures usually
came out too light; now a simple change of the dial brought them right.
Then I often had to remove a partially used roll of film and change to
a different speed, or color if I'd been using black and white, etc and
it was hard not to lose the rest of the roll, but eventually, I learned
all that. It kept me on my toes!
It seemed incredible to me that there were so many classes in learning
how to talk, and articles written on speaking; perhaps I noticed it
more because we were in the business of selling talk and oftentimes, I
felt as though I was drowning in it. All day long I listened to talk,
talk, talk. There was ALWAYS someone talking and usually it was of
little importance. The announcers talked themselves hoarse and indeed,
many would go on to develop polyps on their vocal cords, or other
conditions of the throat and getting a cold was not something they took
lightly. If it went into their throat, or closed their nasal passages,
thereby changing their speech, they might loose several days of work,
or more. It seems surprising in light of those facts, that they were
not more careful of their health.
The salesmen talked- when they came in to deliver their contracts, they
never failed to jolly the girls and banter with the men. More talk was
wasted on silliness, if only they'd got paid by the word, they'd all
Of course, we in the office talked, too. There was always the latest
gossip, and news of sales in the various stores, and ideas for
vacations. We shared our views of the rest of the staff and who was
being chased by whom. And everyone discussed whether the radio station
could keep going and for how much longer-
My desk had been situated directly in front of a window opening on to
the broadcasting desk. From this vantage point, I could gesture to the
announcer to pick up the phone if he had a call, or warn him if he was
mispronouncing a word, or name, or tell him if we were off the air. It
also made it possible for me to get even with any one of them who
There had been one in particular who had been playing little jokes on
me and saw himself as quite a prankster. I felt I owed him one, so when
I went out for lunch, I brought back some lemon quarters salvaged from
my cup of tea. When he went on the air and just got going nicely, I
stood before the window and begun to suck on the lemons. One look at me
and his mouth began to salivate uncontrollably.
"Stop that," he screamed as soon as he could close the mike. "Darn you; I'll get you for that!"
I laughed and went back to my work, resolving to use crackers the next
time; they'd be much easier on ME. Crackers would dry him up entirely.
There was a large speaker installed directly above my desk. All day
long this delivered the sound of our 'voice' and enabled me to hear if
we were on the air all right, and if the commercials were being read
correctly. Oftentimes we would be called by an enraged client.
"What is he doing to my commercial?" the person would scream. "Do you
expect me to pay for THAT? He's giving it all wrong; that sale ended
yesterday"...or perhaps, "that sale doesn't start until tomorrow";
there was always something. Some of them knew how to work the complaint
system and get out of paying for a great deal of advertising. Surely it
is no wonder if I got dreadfully tired of talk.
To make matters worse, when I got home at night, there were four pair
of ears and four tongues waiting to tell me all that had transpired
during their day and to find out all the funny things that had gone on
with me on the job. In self defense, my system soon learned to shut
Like most life-saving measures, there was a draw back to my means of self-preservation. The intercom would buzz.
"Come in and bring your steno pad," the boss would say.
I never knew if I would be taking several letters or simply used as a
sounding board for ideas. This happened regularly and I liked it
because, although it kept me from completing my work on time, it also
allowed me a period of just being a warm body while my mind roved at
will. Many times he got off on a personal tangent and talked of his
personal life and I felt even less guilty about leaving him then.
I would sit, all smiling acquiescence, while he droned on and on,
reciting his plans for the future. My mind departed and traveled to
another time and place. There appeared to be various stage-sets,
advancing and retreating, each complete with its own little scenes and
spheres of action. It was similar to watching the 'soaps' on TV. I'd
see the children parading in new Easter outfits and hunting for the
eggs that I planned to hide just HERE; maybe one over THERE- There
would be a fade-out and another galaxy of ideas would swirl into my
view. Perhaps there would be a remembrance of something naughty, or
romantic and I'd drop my eyes, not wanting him to read the images
there. I had to guard against smiling at some of the scenes, least he
find me being funny at the wrong time. I shopped and rearranged my
furniture, planned new stories to write and chose the pictures to go
with them. It really was a pleasant occupation, but one day I was
recalled abruptly, my images deserted me and left me stranded,
wondering what I'd missed. I heard his voice winding down and stared at
him in confusion.
"-and I can go to bed with you tonight and forget you exist the next day. I'd feel no obligation whatever."
He smirked like Barney Fife on the old Mayberry shows. I stared at him.
WHAT had he been saying? Had he been relating what someone had said to
him, or what he'd said to someone else? Or, worse still, could he have
been propositioning ME? I rather doubted the latter, but that's what I
got for my day-dreaming. Over the weeks to come, my mind would range
back, probing, worrying it, re-hashing the scene. What had he been
saying? Why couldn't I remember any of it? Well, if it had been an
advance, he was remarkably slow at following it up!
Still, it worried me. I felt I would have to do a bit of research,
perhaps bring up something related to the day and the hour and see what
he'd say. No, I decided it was better to leave well enough alone.
Besides I had much more pressing research to do than THAT kind.
Now that I was an author, and anyone who writes anything (other than
grocery lists, of course), is an author in some sense, I must say that
writing is a great lesson in humility. If one can withstand rejection
slip after rejection slip and come reeling back to ask for more, one
either has an insuperable ego, (the editors-are-all-dumbells unable to
appreciate really good writing sort of thing), or one closely
approximates a masochist! The next best thing I can observe is that one
may well emerge a better person, for who can do all that research,
check all that spelling, look up all those words, and correct all that
grammar and not learn something?
It seems unfortunate that often times, one only has the modest
successes in the very fields in which one has the least interest.
Research had always been an area I had carefully avoided; I'd wanted to
write fiction, either romantic or whimsical, I wasn't choosy, but I
felt it held the widest range for cloaking my ignorance. I was very
surprised to find that even the fictional fantasies have to start
somewhere with facts of some kind. Nothing can be developed out of thin
air- everything must start somewhere and the minute one sets down the
first fact, it must be honest, it must be supported, or it is not a
fact. If one's fantasy contains people, they must have a world, or
environment of some kind in which to exist, to BE- and they must have a
kind of behaviour to be believable.
Jean Auell's books are splendid fantasies about how pre-historic people
evolved and came down through the different periods to emerge as
mankind and there was immense research and study required for them. It
might appear easy to say "I shall write a fantasy about a cave
man'....'I will merely take away all his civilized effects and put him
into a lion-skin, in a cave, and let him say 'ugh' occasionally. There
is a little more to it than that.
Cave men existed in a certain period and certain forms of animal life
and flora and fauna existed at the same time. To mix the offspring of
one era with those belonging to an earlier or later period would only
be a confusion and one would produce nothing believable. Therefore, you
In conjunction with my research, I learned to start keeping my own
files of clippings. I combed through the newspapers and magazines
assiduously, cutting out anything that might be the basis, or support
of an article. If I couldn't cut, I copied on the copier or by hand,
carefully noting the date, name of publication, and page, etc. I soon
had sizeable files and would possibly never use much of them but it
began to pay off all the same when I was able to collate a couple items
from different papers with pictures and facts I'd gathered while
traveling. With a bit of selective pruning from one and adding to
another, I got a choice little article and it was all profit because
most of the material I already had on hand. These are the kind of
stories most of us would like to do, and you will too, once you get set
up. I must admit it was NOT convenient having all those cartons of
paper underneath my bed, and I WAS sleeping atop a possible fire hazard
but the minute I threw anything out there was an immediate need for it.
Usually, research was a difficult business and I met all kinds of
people. I'd recently traveled about fifty miles to use the facilities
of a university library. Enroute, I stopped and visited the small town
museum-cum-historical center which I thought OUGHT to have background
on my subject who'd been born in that town. They had absolutely zilch
and I ran into typical small-town thinking. Evidently, all monies
appropriated for this historical center had been sunk into the building
and utilities, leaving nothing for competent staff. The place was
manned by a bright-eyed seventy-year old who had definite opinions
regarding who was WORTHY of being installed in her card catalog of Fame.
"NO, I have absolutely nothing on HER," she said. "I always felt she
was no better than a whore and we already have enough on trash like
On another occasion, I was gathering facts on an Olympic star who'd
spent many years in our area. He'd won several gold and silver medals,
so I thought there'd be plenty of records in our sports-minded town. I
was amazed to find nothing in the archives of our local paper, although
I'd seen pieces authored by members of the staff. This man, similar to
the woman in the preceding paragraph, was of some national prominence;
both had lived in our area, but I could find nothing on their lives. It
Learning to recognize a story is another talent that comes as you go
along. In the beginning, I missed a few that were right under my nose
and I could have kicked myself for being such a slow thinker. These
days, fewer and fewer get by me. I try to make it to most public
events, just in case, and my friends all watch out for me. I also
eavesdrop shamelessly and am not above joining the conversation to ask
for details if it sounds interesting. I travel with my camera at the
ready and the most awful catastrophe I can visualize is running out of
film or having my camera stolen. Actually, I have got to the point of
needing TWO cameras; one loaded with black and white film and the other
with slide film. It wouldn't be a bad idea to leave a tape recorder in
the car also if the weather extremes are not too wide in your area.
The broadcasting business was one of rapid turnovers. We would just get
a newcomer 'broken in' to our ways when they would leave for better
pay, better conditions, more opportunities; all available almost
It made me feel sad to see so many move on because I quickly got
attached to these goodhearted, cheerful boys. They often weren't
treated right... I thought back to the forced 'donations' when the
boss'es girl friend left on maternity leave and he notified the staff
that 'he expected at least ten dollars from everyBODY,' in order to
give her a suitable send-off. These kids couldn't afford such a
deduction from their already-small paychecks but they didn't dare
refuse, however, I couldn't help them.
I felt the rest of the staff were able to defend themselves. Most of
THEM were married and established; if they weren't, they had no one
else to blame. I viewed the salesmen as a bunch of con-men; they were
able to talk their way into, or out of, most anything. I thought of the
smoothie, who was such a master of women that he had to give me my
little thrill everytime he came into the station to report.
"One of these nights, I'm going to take YOU out," he'd promise me,
shooting his cuffs and exuding macho after-shave all over the office.
"Spare me the pleasure," I'd answer him.
These salesmen got many fringe benefits in the way of gifts and special
treatment that the rest of us hadn't access to. I didn't care- as long
as they left me alone. Naturally, there were social occasions when we
had to come together and I remember one anniversary party when we met,
The event was held in the basement of somebody's home and various ones
took their turns at the piano. Liquor and mixers, donated by our
various advertisers flowed freely and the party got under way.
The manager and somebody's wife, displayed their footwork. It was an
intricate quadrapedal display either years past, or before its time. I
certainly couldn't put a name to the performance but they were utterly
absorbed in making it come out right.
The engineer sat at a table by himself, clutching a shot glass in his
fist. One sleeve was STILL half out of his jacket, exposing lining and
quantities of padding. The super salesman was rapidly becoming
intoxicated and his happy condition made him maudlin over the cute
little feet on his coffee cup.
"Look at the cute little feet on my cup, Hon," he coaxed his smiling wife. "Just look at the cute little feet!"
She didn't smile quite so broadly a minute later when he waved away the
dish of baked beans someone offered him and went into the insalubrious
effect they always had on him. The evening wore on with most becoming
sated on either food, or drink; some on both. One of the office girls
made a pass at the manager, offering to accompany him on his next trip
and 'take dictation'. What a rich source of material for a writer!
I saw opportunities everywhere. I'd written several articles detailing
some of the more important or hilarious aspects of the entertainment
industry, but I noticed, more and more, I was getting propagandist
replies, inferring that editors might be more receptive to submissions
by 'subscribers' and they would include subscription blanks with their
letters. Also, there are many who tell you, in response to a query,
that you should order a copy of the magazine (at $4.95, or $2.98, etc.)
because YOU HADN'T A CHANCE to get their style right without studying
several issues, (apparently issues from a newsstand wouldn't help you.)
It may be true that familiarity with the magazine will enable you to
write for them specifically, but, again...hucksterism!
My own personal success story was shaky, to say the least. Some months,
I'd sell four, or five manuscripts almost simultaneously, then it might
go five or six months before I'd sell another. One of the dismaying
things I'd noticed, was the fact that periodicals are as reluctant to
part with their money as anybody. I would be notified that I'd had
several stories accepted, but they would drag and drag, holding off
payment until the last possible moment. As I never considered anything
final until I actually SAW an article in print, I was left with an
uneasy feeling- here they were, holding on to material that I didn't
dare offer elsewhere and I wasn't QUITE certain that it was placed.
I had sent a manuscript to a firm that I'd done business with before
and they'd encouraged me to send more; therefore, I mailed another off
without a letter, and waited...and waited. It was going on ten weeks
when I suddenly received a check in the mail and the usual copy of
their publication, BUT NOT THE ISSUE WITH MY STORY IN IT! I finally had
to write them again and ask for a copy containing my article-
additional work for me, additional postage, etc., but here is what
irked me the most. Their check had been drawn the 10th of the month and
I'd received it on the 22nd. They KNEW that long ago that they were
going to use my story but never let me know! The author receives
absolutely no consideration and is consequently unable to plan ahead at
all. If they'd sent a card of acceptance, I could have had another
manuscript in the mail; but it was a seasonal story, their late
acknowledgement meant I was unable to send them another until I knew
the status of its predecessors.
When I was young and innocent, this business of 'not hearing' had made
me quite thrilled because, like many other novices, I thought it was
something positive. 'Gee, they're keeping it because they like it, or
while they are making up their mind.' DON'T automatically feel that it
is good news that someone is holding on to your manuscript; it may mean
one of two things: they MAY be considering it, of course, but then
again, it may be so bad that they can't bear to look at it and keep
consigning it to the bottom of the heap. Or, they may just not have the
help to get TO it any sooner. There is another side-benefit, while they
are hanging on to THIS one, you can't send them any more!
But, perhaps you have more confidence than I ever possessed. I became
so concerned with the worthlessness of my writing that I began to work
on books. What a stupendous reason for not having articles published!
'I am working on a book these days' is a marvelous and legitimate
excuse. Still, I was SO obsessed with writing that I found myself
working on three books simultaneously while waiting a reply on a
fourth! Which is to say that most things are good in moderation.
One thing that I'd learned that was helpful, was to let my work 'cool'
for several days. After a while, you can't SEE it anymore, you aren't
reading what's THERE, your mind continues to see what it remembers,
instead. Be sure the minute you mail it, you will think of several
different ways you could have made it better.
Then, too, I'd learned; never submit less than a complete package. It's
best to get the very best pictures possible and other relevant details
and enclose everything of interest. Maps, souvernir brochures,
matchbook covers, placemats, anything that will help the editor put
together a more visual story. If there is any hesitation on your part
about parting with any of these items or about their weight, there are
xerox machines in almost every block. They are a wonderful help. I
often copy pictures on them and explain that 'these represent the
variety of shots that I can offer', then if you wish, you can enclose
one to indicate the clarity of your shots.
Perhaps you feel that I should have had a leading edge by being a
radio-writer, but it didn't work quite that way. When you are writing
advertising copy, you are trying, in effect, to brain-wash someone into
buying something for someone elses benefit. Many times it is something
they do not need, nor want, whereas when you are writing an article, or
book, you may be trying to entertain, or inform; or again, you may be
trying to change somebodys mind but it is usually not an immediate
thing or anything that will put money in your own pocket.#
Things were certainly different at the office on a day to day level.
There'd been a change in station managers, our bookeeper had left, the
program director had gone on to greener pastures, and I was now Office
Manager, (when you can't give money, give a title.)
I was manager of myself, and the copy girl, the bookeeper when she came
twice a week, and although the program director was supposedly in
charge of the announcers, they had to look to me when there was a
problem involving office procedures. I made sure their commercials were
scheduled and the copy ready, ( a job the program director should have
done, and often did, but we sorta DOUBLE-CHECKED this way) as well as
sound effects, etc. I also tried to watch them and listen with half an
ear when they were on-the-air because many of these kids had never come
into contact with our local names, many of French derivation, or our
colloqualisms. They had a tendency to massacre any name not of good old
Anglo-Saxon origin...but also many of THEM, too. I also saw that their
checks were ready, not necessarily GOOD, just ready.
On the matter of pronouncing, I was amused to hear Governeur called
Gufe-ner, vignettes were vig-nets, trajectories were tragic-tories, and
so on. It often did no harm but it did matter when you were trying to
sell time to a businessman and they couldn't even pronounce his name.
We all seem to have a certain protective hang-up about our name. After
listening to so many blurbs, it got difficult to speak correctly
myself...and I must admit to making use of the humerous goof-ups too
many times until they nearly became habitual.
Business was not much better with our corporation, we were still on a
downward slide, but the station manager and sales manager were gamely
trying to keep up appearances. They kept up a barrage of contests and
insisted that management, which included me, maintain a highly visible
profile. With this in mind, I joined the Community Players theatre
group, while the managers got involved in other things, attended all
the local clubs, and community groups. I enjoyed practicing for the
upcoming play but it was another one of those things that stole away my
I DID like working or doing things for my community, but I also enjoyed
writing. I'd had just enough modest success that I wanted to do more
and more of it, it had a sort of addictive effect. I wasn't getting
rich at it but by now, it was taking care of my office expenses, which
isn't bad for an amateur. It is really all you can expect at first and
points up the wisdom of not quitting a regular job and planning to live
off one's writings. But I was shortly to have greater expense due to my
little hobby because if I continued to sell, I needed a computer.
I don't mean to imply that one cannot write without a computer, but I'd
started out with such an old, beaten-down, second-hand typewriter that
it took all my strength to hit some of the keys, so I knew it was
either purchase one thing or the other. It was likely that I'd go to a
computer someday, anyway, so I couldn't see investing in a new
typewriter first. I made the purchase and then spent a LOT of time at
home, trying to master the thing without any help from anybody!
If you have the opportunity to learn at work, or under the guidance of
someone who knows, by all means, jump at it. It will be much faster and
save many disheartening days. By studying my manual, I managed to get
the thing operating, but I must admit that I had days when I lost
30-40,000 words at a clip. Fortunately, most of what I lost was not
deathless pose, but my time was at such a premium that I really
couldn't afford to waste so much of it this way. And, of course, the
computer was only the INITIAL investment. There was paper, printer,
disk drives, and on and on. I'd have to produce some BIG checks to make
up for all this!
Then, too, as we were forced into maintaining more active roles in
community life, I had to upgrade my wardrobe. I WAS lucky as many of
the townspeople did try to help anyone from the radio station. Despite
all attempts at secrecy, our economic status was apparent, so many
business people tried to warn us of upcoming sales, or give us a small
discount, it was all very kind. We were all in the same boat, too.
I remember the boss drawing a check from petty cash for gas when he had
to go the another city on business but other than that very small
check, he had something like $3.00 of his own money...I know, it DOES
sound incredulous, but that is the way it was. The poor man went around
with his feet coming out through his soles and in wintertime, his feet
were always wet.
I remember one time when he was out of town and expected an important call to come into the station.
"I'll call you collect and see if the call comes in," he promised.
Sure enough, that afternoon, I got a collect call...the operator inquired if I'd accept it.
"Who is calling?" I asked her.
She got his name and asked again if I'd accept.
"I never heard of him," I told her. There was the sound of fuming and gnashing of teeth at the other end.
"You'll hear of me when I get back there," he threatened, "NOW tell her you'll accept this call!"
By now the operator was laughing too and I decided I'd better take the
call while he still found it funny. I was very fortunate that most of
my superiors seemed to be really nice people who backed me up on
everything and were very considerate.
Which was fortunate. I had now developed ulcers and before I got on
medication, there were many bad days. I didn't know what was wrong with
me but I had the most embarrassing need to belch from time to time and
my stomach would gnaw and I'd double over...food, I must have more
food. Why am I hungry all the time? I wasn't hungry, but the food did
fill up my stomach and give the ulcer something to feed on besides my
mucosa. The boss ordered me to take my vacation.#
The sales manager had left us and several of the
announcers. As we were surrounded by a nearly new staff, there was no
one with enough clout to demand the business car...so I took it home
with me. I drove it back and forth to work for a week or two and had a
lot of fun with it. We were supposed to keep ourselves in the public
eye, weren't we? My friends and neighbors got a big kick out of seeing
the small station wagon parked in the my driveway, the 'foot high' sign
proclaiming the call letters. But the second we got a new manager, he
came after it.
The play, The Little Foxes, a Lillian Hellman vehicle, had come off
successfully meantime. The NEW copy writer and I had good parts in it
and the local paper gave us quite a lot of publicity, but it didn't
make me yearn for a life on the stage. I had to admit that I HAD
enjoyed myself. It was good to have my time back, however, and not have
to run down to the auditorium every night for practice. AND I hadn't
gotten all that much usable material from the experience. And I
regarded EVERYTHING in the light of possible material for writing these
AT home, things were continuing apace, the children growing and their
minds enlarging as they took in world concepts and watched life getting
more sophisticated. And this was when the boss ordered me to take a
vacation and get my health straightened out.
As soon as I brought the news home, my husband began planning the
vacation that we hadn't had in years. The children grew very vocal and
each had their own ideas about where we should go and what we should
do. Naturally, I wanted to go where there would be the best possibility
for background material. AND PICTURES!
The youngest threw us into a quandry by suggesting Cop Cade. We stared
at each other in bewilderment. It sounded just familiar enough that we
felt we SHOULD know where that was, but no one could QUITE decipher
where she meant. The next older sibling interpreted for her.
"She means Cape Cod."
NATURALLY! Why had we been so lacking in imagination? But we didn't go
to Cape Cod...that time. Instead, we packed our station wagon, hooked
on a travel trailer and headed west. I wanted LOTS of beautiful slides
of the Grand Canyon, and Bryce Canyon, of Indian reservations and
Indian goods, and I got them, too.
And when we spent the night in Mitchell, S. Dakota, there was a tornado
alert. Wow...wouldn't all this make a grand story? No one seemed to
care. There has been SO much travel writing and by people who seem to
get so much more out of it than I do. They always go to the right
places and see the right things. They can give you prices and a
calendar of events at the drop of a hat. They don't seem to be burdened
down with tired youngsters who need to stop at a bathroom every hundred
feet and a husband who jets past all the interesting cities and refuses
to 'get caught in THAT traffic' but gets lost going around and shows
you the city dump, or the wharfs and docks. I saw the seamy side of
lots of American cities but that's about all I can say.
The Albuquerque dump wasn't much, as dumps go...and the loading docks
at Dallas/Ft. Worth weren't all that colorful, either. And there was
one vast stretch when we'd got off our route and despite a scant
separation of only a few feet and a high fence, it played peek-a-boo
with us the rest of one entire day and we were unable to get back on.
When all else fails, ask for directions- we drove down a parallel road
that appeared to go nowhere, and within a quarter mile were back on the
throughway. THIS was good for my health??
The three weeks went all too soon and if I wasn't able to write
something out of the experiences, at least I'd have something new to
bore my co-workers with. They seemed glad to have me back and I got
right back into the old routine ...with added strain. We had
prospective buyers coming north to view the 'operation' so we were told
to be on our toes.
When these high-powered moguls hove into sight, they appeared appalled
by the entire experience. One seemed allergic to local weeds that stood
shoulder high outside each window. He sneezed and his eyes ran...and he
ran out of handkerchiefs. There was nothing to offer him, unless he'd
consider his shirt tail or my slip hem..but when I went out for lunch,
I returned with a box of Kleenex.
How do you handle the next step? Do you tell a prospective employer he
needs to blow his nose? Do you interrupt a bull session to offer the
box of tissues...it seemed insulting despite my perception of his acute
need. I was saved from the surrogate-mother act by his emerging from
the office to get something out of his coat pocket.
He saw the box on the corner of my desk and dove for it with the
desperation of a man who had just crossed a barren waste without water
and then glimpses a pool. I probably got a few Brownie points right
there. Maybe not, after all, secretaries are supposed to be psychic and
The next interesting 'happening' was when he called me in to take a
letter. I won't pretend that I was a graduate of a prestigious business
school. I had no conception of shorthand, I'd gotten by with speed
writing and my own kind of abbreviating so far, so he viewed my idea of
how to keep up with him as he dictated. He called in a cohort and asked
him to 'watch this', not an act to encourage confidence. His cohort
decided HE needed a letter done, also. So I took another. This man was
a bit more critical about my interpretions of what he'd said when he
dictated and he asked me to change several things. As it was a press
release about his latest Broadway role, I suppose he wanted it just
right. He'd had some successes in Mr. Robert, and other notable plays,
and so we did all the credits. I hoped he'd credit me with something,
too. Other than being an incompetent, I mean.
I don't think they were impressed with our cheese-paring ways. When the
buyer-to-be wanted ink for his pen, I couldn't deliver that. I
explained that all the businesses GAVE us ballpoints and as no one
demanded ink anymore, we quit stocking it. This got me a funny
look...and then he caught sight of my scratch pad. It was paper from
the teletype that I'd cut to notepad size and we used it all over the
office. He began to roar.
"I'll have you know that I want this place run in a business-like way
from now on," he screamed. I nodded that I was willing and he cooled
off a little. He went off to spend the afternoon on the lake, fishing
with the sales manager who thought he'd earn some Brownie points for
himself but instead, was roundly criticized for an obvious willingness
to be out fishing rather than on the streets selling. That point was
not lost on the new employer, I suppose he could see that this had been
standard procedure..and we all knew it.
Which brings me to an interesting point...in the light of today's
'equal rights', I mean. I'd been with the radio station for four years
before they hired the current sales manager. I could read the rate card
and knew how to sell from it; indeed, had often done so and to Madison
Avenue agents who represented big companies like BBD&O, or Grey
Advertising, or J. Walter Thompson. THIS guy knew from nothing, he
didn't know how to write a sales pitch, (and I did), he didn't know who
the biggies were nor how to handle their preferences, (and I did), but
he got started off at a far larger salary than I ever made, and he was
put in a position equal to mine from whence he immediately started
making difficulty for the office help. As an interesting sidelight, the
boss upheld this upstart and was rewarded for HIS loyalty by the sales
manager giving HIM trouble when he left us for a better job! Which
seemed like divine retribution.#
The more I wrote, the more I developed my own
ideas on the writing/publishing industry. It seemed to me that editors
HATED anyone who made them write a letter...and it showed when the
magazine advertised in a trade publication and the editor's name did
not appear. THEY didn't want anyone writing to THEM! Often I received
undecipherable scrawls tacked to the bottom of MY letters, or on pieces
of torn paper, obviously ripped from something larger and bearing a few
terse words, and they only served to reinforce my beliefs. Often
editors did not answer directly at all but turned this onerous chore
over to an assistant or associate-to-the-editor. Correspondance was to
be directed to an editorial assistant. Well, that was fine with me if
the assistant had the authority to make a few decisions. But when
Writer's Digest, Writer's Market, or the Literary Marketplace stated
that a certain periodical reported in two weeks and there'd still been
no answer six months later, one was left to wonder how often the
assistant was able to capture her superior to inquire what he wanted to
do about certain submissions. I feel, if it takes forever to answer a
query, imagine what they'd do to a manuscript!!
Another canker that worried me was the way that publications followed
TRENDS, few being willing to depart from the established routine to try
anything different. Now that self-help and how-to's were the rule, it
was difficult to even get a reading of anything else. If you wrote
something on astrology, it better be a 'how-to' article...How To Find
Your Favorite Constellation, or How To Determine If The Stars Direct
Your Life sort of things; cooking, fashion, psychology- all must have
that slant until readers (and writers) were bored to tears.
Not only was there a surfeit of how-tos, we were also up to our neck in
sex articles. The country had discovered sex...and it made things
difficult for any writer with a Christian background or a conscience,
or TASTE that arbitrated against turning out such muck. After all, most
of us know the basics, why move into over-kill? Living in a state of
constant titillation doesn't appeal to EVERYONE!
Times had changed indeed and the good old family-type magazine seemed
to have departed for other climes. Mothers were now forced to hide
their periodicals each month the way men used to hide the girlys. It
was clear that many periodicals were going the same way that television
had fessed up to- aiming at those with prurient interests, poor taste,
and questionable intellect. After all, why else should it be required
to tell humans over and over again, how to complete something as
elemental as a sex act? Even a cat needs no instruction for that.
Hucksterism knows no bounds!
I deplored the same attitude at the radio station where I noticed, more
and more, we were playing songs with suggestive lyrics, or even
explicit words. It was an insidious thing that started out with a few
expletives in things like West Side Story..then it went on to
Paycheck's Take That Job And Shove It and then we got into Prince and
HIS albums and soon we were informing the adolescents how-to and when.
We were rapidly reaching a point where we had to make a stand somewhere
and each one of us had to decide where our own saturation point would
It seemed, too, that certain periodicals were making their dollars by
doing profiles of certain monied families over and over again, until
the readers began to wonder what share of the stock was owned by that
family, or how many family members were on the staff. By narrowing
their focus so thoroughly, the editors made it difficult for anyone
with a wide range of interest to care about the magazine.
Perhaps I had too much time for thinking these days and consequently
bred a lot of false concepts; I was beginning to wonder about editors
who agreed to read a manuscript 'on spec' and then made no reply
afterwards. Did they hate to hurt the author's feelings by rejecting
the material? Did they feel that if they withheld a reply long enough
the author would be forced to make the first move and would withdraw
the article himself without blame accruing to the editor? The reason I
suspect this may be so is that I've had work accepted by
'pay-on-publication' periodicals and it would sometimes go to two, or
three years. Well, when they can't cough up $15-50 for a fee in the
beginning, they're NEVER going to. It's best to get out and go on to
greener pastures. It's a toss up anyway WHAT their reasons were for not
answering because I really don't think any of them lose much sleep over
it. Some of them hate to be unkind, of course, but by and large, I
think it's a dog eat dog world.
I thought back to those days of innocence when we were celebrating the
first anniversary of the radio station's inception. We'd hosted a
buffet/party by the poolside at the newest motel in the area. It was of
futuristic design and, out of recognition for the cold climate that
prevailed seven-eight months of the year, there was a giant plastic
bubble over the pool, so they could, presumably, use it year 'round.
We'd invited a host of dignitaries, businessmen whom we were involved
with on a steady basis, representatives of the local paper, our
supplies: paper goods, soda, beer distributers, airline contact, etc.
We also had the current Miss XYZ as one of the hostesses. As she was
supposed to be the winner of a beauty contest, she was forced to spend
the evening in a swim suit and float around on the pool, an overly cool
occupation in the late northern fall.
There was the usual businessman's lunch with mixed carrots and peas,
plantation style chicken (half a grilled chicken), some little brown
morsels of grilled potatoes..the usual fare. As we fought with the
stringy poultry condensation dripped down on our heads and plates from
the inside surface of the plastic.
Those who knew one another gathered in clumps instead of acting
friendly and making strangers welcome; they huddled in clusters while
the unknown wandered about, feeling as out of place as I did.
That glorious event out of the way, we began preparations for the
Christmas party and after such FUN at the last celebration, I could
hardly wait for this latest to erupt. We had many promotions on the
air, telling people that there would be a grand judging of the
Christmas decorations and a (naturally) wonderful prize. Children were
encouraged to address their Santa Claus letters to our station and I
went on the air as Mrs. Claus. I was so credible that you could almost
smell my cookies baking-
And when the night came for judging the outside lighting, guess who was
stuck giving up her evening to do it? Right!! I was supposed to cover
the village with one of the announcers and a representative from the
Business and Professional Women's club, and a member of the Garden
Club, etc. It was already dark by six o"clock so we set off in the
bitter cold. The announcer's car was exceedingly dirty, filled with
food and drink cartons..there was no heat coming from the heater and
therefore, no defrosting, so he was forced to keep his window down most
of the way. Which may have been wise because he also had no headlights!
We cruised over the town, hoping that we would meet no police cars, we
slid cautiously through icy intersections and thumped our feet and blew
on our hands. The judging was rapid and without controversy and then
the others adjoined to the nearest pub and I went home to put my cold
feet on my husband.
The second anniversary was even more of a travesty. No one showed up
for the judging , (wisely, I thought), except for a man, whom I'd never
spoken to before, and myself. After we'd waited for a half hour, we
decided that the others had played it smart so we started off. We were
understandably stiff with each other and spoke only when necessary.
He asked me to tell him where I wanted to go and I consulted the list
as best I could by the light from the dash. I tried to make a
systematic route so we wouldn't be doubling back on our trail and waste
time and eventually, we got the thing done. There wasn't much to
quibble about; the usual winners won again with few newcomers...I
congratulated myself on getting THAT done and we went back to the
"Can I buy you a drink?" he offered.
I demurred. "My husband will be waiting for me to get home, so I'd better go on. Thanks anyway."
He went into the lounge and I went home. A day or so later, I saw in
the paper where he'd been arrested for indecent exposure.#
In retrospect, I see the radio station as a place of comedy. We were
such a microcosmic, insular piece of the media as a whole that we would
have seemed ludicrous to professionals from larger places. But we did
have our place, like station KORN on Hee-Haw, we served the area and
provided our public with many things they needed, or wanted.
There were Kathy Days and Cindy Days, days when we did broadcasts in
the interests of charity or foundations (and our own to fulfill FCC
requirements,) the proceeds going to help those stricken with sorrow or
We also served to give the young people a glimmer of something they
might become, bigger and larger, of course, but we proved that better
things were possible and we gave many of them a goal. There were
several boys who started their training with us and they went on to
lucrative positions at radio and television stations, some went to
Madison Avenue or apprenticeships on newspapers. It was a free training
not to be sneezed at.
As for me it kept me young, and au courant. There's much of the hip
world that I should never have encountered except for the milieu in
which I worked. There was young Dick, a roly-poly fellow who came from
across the border, in 'Free-France', as we said, and I don't know how
much of a cross section of his country he represented but he was an
eye-opener. The first time I saw him, he wore a loud, checked suit of a
bilious mustardy color and he carried a porkie pie hat. His
conversation consisted of 'I dig, I dig' and other buzz words current
at that time. He complained to me that his wife's boss was fond of
hugging and kissing her and 'did I think that was right?'
"If it's all right with you, Dick, it's all right with me", I replied.
He stared at me in confusion as I went on with my work.
Then Roger came along with his cute little Alpine hat and lederhosen,
and Les, ahead of his time in cut-offs. Les would work his shift in the
hot broadcasting studio and in between times, he'd run outside and take
a quick dip in the river, fully clothed, as it were.
Then we acquired a preacher. He gave us the obvious information that he
was from the South, quite redundant, I felt, and he was married to a
fourteen year old girl. He was a go-getter who made a very able
salesman. He was able to sell our book keeper a bill of goods and
several times I caught her on his knee. It was he who made the
arrangements whereby we all became airborne.
Our struggling enterprise had a reciprocal agreement (a recip) with an
equally struggling airline and we had tickets and passes to fly as long
as the station carried their ads. It didn't get us far, not
cross-country, that is true, but there were trips to New York City,
Boston, Montreal, Detroit, heady stuff for people not accustomed to
flying at all.
Our recip bred little recips and before long we had others with male
clothing stores and eateries, this was how our Dickie was getting his
outrageous wear. The owners were talking him into taking whatever
didn't sell to more sensible people.
Our salesmanager was another 'city-slicker' and dressed in fashions
sure to raise comments on local streets. He had strange, cold,
self-interested ways of looking at things and women were mad for him.
He was often in trouble with the police as he ran up tickets which he
ignored. He kept begging me to use my influence to 'get the cops to lay
off me'; (he realized that I knew most of the men on the force.) We
fought over trifles and then dissolved into laughter. I was probably
the one person in town that he seemed to have any respect for. He was
an avid fisherman and our area with its multitude of rivers and lakes
delighted him. He fished whenever he could seize a moment and brought
his catch to me. I returned the favor by shopping for gifts for his
Now it was time again for the office party and again, we met in the
plastic bubble. Again, we sat underneath the dome while condensation
dripped on our heads and our food. The current Miss Radio floated about
on a rubber raft in the water, damp and uncomfortable, while the boss
and I kept each other company in our misery. We picked at our
Plantation-style chicken, half of a stringy road runner that almost
defied knife and fork. After we gave up, we tried to circulate among
the patrons we'd invited.
The engineer deigned to drop by and favor us with an hour of his
company. He sat at the head table wearing the same spotted old suit
jacket, the sleeve half out and the white lining protruding, leaving
strings on anyone foolish enough to get close. The boss frowned at him
but nothing dented his insoucience. Was he showing his contempt for the
rest of us, or was it merely slovenliness? Didn't his wife EVER look at
him? During the evening, his mouth went like the universal hinge and it
was mostly about his conquests, seemingly an obsession of his. Finally
the boss, who could raise a blister at twenty feet, advised him that
there was a time and place for everything and the boor subsided.
As you can imagine, I watched all this color feverishly and made mental
notes. It was incredibly good copy because I did not often get where
there was mainstream thinking, anymore.
I was learning not to be quite so gullible these days. This had been a
facet of my personality to trust others but as I licked my wounds, I
learned many things. I'd been told about a woman who intended to submit
to a magazine in which I was interested. We were both going for the
same story but she didn't do it, and didn't do it, so I determined to
try...but she had the pictures I needed. Finally, the subject told me
to write her for the pictures, 'they're mine, after all,' so I wrote. I
should have been shot for being such a fool because this spurred my
competitor to get her manuscript in ahead of mine and of course, she
sold the market.
Then I visited another writer and asked HIM for a copy of a picture; he
listened to my tales of markets lost, or just missed and made promises
of aid which never materialized. I was finally beginning to see that a
writer is strictly on his/her own.
During this time, I'd been using such old, outmoded machinery at home
that I finally decided to turn in my computer. There'd been the
comments within the TIPS section of Writer's Market that stated that
many editors favored submissions by computer. But who knows WHAT
computer, and what size?
It is only after having one to work on that certain things became
obvious. I found there was more to consider than the initial price. I
had selected one of the lowest priced I could find and it was sold by a
well-known franchise. It had one interior drive and 256 memory, the
part that allows you to store your work as you go along. The machine
was supposed to be compatible with many other computers but I found out
soon enough that it would work with only a few because it had so little
memory, and just one drive. That also prevented access to many programs
that I should have liked to use.
Another thing was the fact that they had no trade up policy and that a
computer is considered over the hill in just a couple years. If I
desired to go to another larger one, the cables to my printer were not
compatible and I didn't feel I could take such a loss. I was well and
I hadn't had the machine long before something went wrong with it and
it only had a 90 day warranty, I was forced to buy a service contract.
They installed a new mother board and thereafter the machine refused to
perform some of the functions it had previously done. The company took
it back in and kept it for a month, (they offered no substitute while
they worked on yours, naturally,) and when I got it back, it was no
better. After that, they were reluctant to take it in, implying that
the trouble was ME, or my software and they dillied and dallied until
the service contract ran out. By this time, I'd gotten where I could
work on nothing else, my files were no good on a typewriter!
Hindsight showed me that I might have been smarter to consider just a
word processor. That was the only part of the computer program that I
had ever used and it would have been adequate for my needs. Well,
If you've ever tried to learn computer techniques all by yourself COLD,
you'll know what frustration I endured. It's similar to learning a
foreign language with nothing but a textbook. I referrred to the manual
frequently, some of which may as well have been written in Chinese, and
some were; however, little by little, I did learn and began to get
along okay. Losing 30-40,000 words at a clip facilitates your learning,
I think. Needless to say, it helps if you know how to type and
fortunately, I did.
The family learned to tippy-toe around my desk where I kept the
computer. We could not leave the house without first checking to see if
it was disconnected from the outlet. I didn't want a blast of
lightening, a power surge, or any other electrical malfunction to get
at MY machine. We watched the humidity and gave it just the right
amount, not too much nor too little. No one was allowed to move or rock
the desk where it rested, and we fought dust like obsessive housewives.
It seemed that minute I began to use the machine, the electric company
had reason to work in our neighborhood, or some wild driver would run
off the road and knock down a pole. I was a nervous writer, darting
back and forth between the desk and the windows. But little by little,
I became dependent on the machine and the nice, clean copy it made.
There was no reason for mistakes now and I do think the copy went a
long way towards getting my submissions accepted. It was even possible
to send the disks through the mail but most editors still wanted a
printout of the work so I didn't win much there.
I found out about ASCII and began saving my files that way so if the
machine DID go, I could use the disks on other machines. I could always
go to the library in a pinch and not be stuck in mid-stream. And if I
mailed a disk off, the editorial office would more likely be able to
use it. Saving in ASCII deprived me of using underlining and bold
facing, but there are some things I can live without, however, my
machine refused to save set-ups in ASCII, an important feature.
You'd thought that the office would have been going to computer,
wouldn't you? But they were so pinched for money that we were still
cutting down big sheets of paper to make memo pads, and scrounging our
pens from the banks, etc. It would have helped me immensely if I COULD
have learned all this at work, like anyone else.
There were many benefits in becoming 'computer literate'. So many other
places were now computerized that it was a marvelous help when I wanted
to do some research. I'd go to the library and type in the information
I needed and their machine would tell me if the data could be found in
situ or in which other library I'd find it.
I could have worked directly with research centers and editorial
offices if I'd wanted to purchase a modem but I didn't feel that I was
really that far into the business...yet. My writing was still more a
hobby than anything and I couldn't be more grateful for that fact. When
I saw how hard one worked and how little most received for their
efforts, I was happy not to be one of those who depended on writing for
a living. I was making back most of my office expenses now, more than
many writers who have written for years.
From all I'd read, I could appreciate how fortunate I'd been. I'd been
published almost from the beginning, nothing big and I never expected
to get rich but that wasn't my criteria. But I kept reading of some
who'd been writing for TWENTY, OR THIRTY years and never had anything
accepted. How did they survive that and keep going? THEY were truly
It seemed to me that whenever writers got together they'd rehash the
awful experiences they'd suffered. They not only offered their own but
recalled reading about the agonies experienced by others and from all
this long list of woes, they coded a series of must dos and don't dos.
I always swim against the tide and don't believe those ALWAYS-NEVER
admonitions that THEY tell you about; I felt you must have faith in
yourself and believe that the impossible CAN happen. The reason I felt
this was because THEY would discourage you and you must realize there
are always exceptions and I am living proof that this is so.
I'd been a vacillating person, trying several fields and never finding
my niche, but meantime, I dreamed a lot. Continuously, in fact. My life
was a realm of glittering situations where I was the heroine of many
adventures. I began to write them down and people found them amusing.
"Send them off," they urged me. "Have them published." And so I began the long trek that we are all familiar with.
I went on writing and sold some and had many rejections. Still, at the
back of my mind lurked those first successes and the kind words those
editors had given me. Perhaps I COULD write but was just having the
usual amateur's problems of matching the work to the market. Time and
again, I'd be assured that the story was a good one but it doesn't 'fit
our publication' or doesn't 'meet our current needs'. This confirmed my
feelings that I was having technical problems.
One of the best things that happened to me was when Writer's Digest got
a selection of leading publications to go along with a program to
encourage new writers. They advertised fifty or more periodicals that
were willing to accept work from unknown writers AND WORK WITH THEM,
offering some brief commentary on submissions. I did not sell anything
out of this endeavor, but was often pointed in the right direction and
given a great boost to my wavering confidence besides. Time and again
they pointed out that I must match my work to the correct market. I
began to sell slowly, but regularly.
Now my problems were of a different nature. For some reason, the minute
I thought of a marvelous story to propose to a publication, I'd pick up
a paper, or magazine and see MY story already in print! What was
happening? Was somebody following me around getting ideas? That was too
fantastic to credit but it was eerie.
I queried about a local prison...and saw the story in a nearby city
newspaper. I began research on an old fort in our area...and saw THAT
in print. This was getting hard to take. I wrote to one of our leading
historical publications and proposed a story based on a installation on
the west coast. For weeks and weeks I waited for an answer, while I
prepared to depart on vacation across the country. I wrote the editor
one last letter, saying I would still like to get the assignment and
that I would be in situ where I could get photographs if he'd just let
me know. When I arrived at my destination, there was a letter
(addressed to someone else) and about to be returned with the outgoing
mail. I recognized the return address and opened the letter- it was
meant for me but they'd sent it to the person who they were giving the
assignment to. They said that this person was promised the assignment
but if I cared to get the pictures for them, I could send them along.
They'd used my first two initials and the last name of the other writer
and sent the whole thing to my temporary residence.
A person could go on and on, but I'm sure by now that you've gotten the
idea. Our confidence as a writer is very fragile and easily lost
because we feel ourselves to be amateurs, and we are, but we are not
the only ones who make mistakes. The important thing is to find out
where we are erring and profit by those errors. As we write, we are
learning and all learning is beneficial. Most experiences prove
something and so many of them can be grist for our mills.
To return to my opening theme, which is something we are urged to do by
the experts, always believe in yourself because if you don't, who will?
And always begin by expecting that the unexpected CAN...and often DOES
When I'd applied for work as a radio writer, I had no experience as a
writer there or any other place. I'd more or less applied for the job
as a whim, never dreaming I'd get it. When the manager told me to start
work the next day, I couldn't have been more surprised. But if you
don't take the chance, you certainly WON'T get what your heart desires.
I had been such a signal failure as a magazine writer that I decided to
add another string to my bow. That may seem foolhardy to some; if you
CAN'T get published in a magazine, then why write a book? Possibly I
hadn't found my niche and I might hit my stride with something longer.
In my usual headlong fashion, I soon found myself with three books in
the works. I was fighting with this one by fits and starts and I left
it long enough to start sending a short suspense for teens through the
mails and while that was making the rounds, I began another. I wasted a
lot of money sending my manuscripts with return postage until I figured
that it was cheaper to make copies than it was to ask for the ms. back.
After that, I just enclosed an SASE for my rejection slip. (You can see
how my confidence had slipped-) but things weren't going all that well
at the office and in trying to keep my two lives separate, my ulcers
To add fuel to the fire, I discovered competition almost within my own
house so to speak; a young cousin inexperienced and untried by life,
untravelled and ignorant, was publishing like mad! Where was the
justice? Another cousin was writing doggerel for a religious weekly,
yet another cousin was doing well writing for a Madison Avenue
firm...anything to undermine me. As far back as the Civil War my
kinfolk had been writing; one lady published books of poetry THEN. I
was sorry I'd asked. Well, if I wanted to uphold the family honor, I
had to get busy.
I realized I'd have to make some changes. At first, I'd taken a shotgun
approach to submitting and sent out manuscripts to anyone I found an
address for. It took me a while to realize that I'd probably do much
better by analyzing the situation and trying to ascertain where my
talents lay, (if I had any,) and submitting to the type of magazine
that I'd had the most luck with. But as soon as I found out that this
approach worked much better, I flooded the market in my usual fashion.
I couldn't seem to get a handle on it, how else could you make money
except by submitting? Let them speed up their publishing! But the
economy was in a slump and I was lucky that no one owed me more than a
couple pictures or subscriptions.
After writing all day and then going home and writing more at night,
(in fact, I was devoting most of my conscious time to writing or
thinking about it,) I became so obsessed that I began to dream about
it. In August I dreamed of selling a book. I have no idea what kind of
a book it was nor to whom it was sold anymore than I can say how
successful it was. There is only the fact of the dream.
Just before that I had dreamed a story, full-blown as to intro, body,
and conclusion. I SAW it in detail with intense clarity of color and
expression and awakened to get the whole thing on paper as quickly as
possible. Just don't ask me if either one has sold yet-
I lulled myself to sleep night after night re-forming sentences and
paragraphs, analyzing markets and thinking of new angles, wondering if
my styles and attitudes were too passe' to appeal to current taste. I
began to read all the classics but it is a trusim that nothing grows
stale sooner than fiction. The writers of yesteryear may have been
great writers, I don't deny it but I do know that their style would not
be popular today. One wonders why professors continue to assign them as
required reading. Surely it would be more to the point to use popular
writers whose works SELL. That is why most people nowadays want to know
about literature; it is from the SELLING angle. I'm not sure they
really care if they're still on the bookshelves a century hence.
A person's writing is more than a little revealing. You can often guess
their age by what they write and how they write it; I'm certain my
prose is more than an little 'old-fashioned' because I refuse to move
into a world of no plot, four letter word triumphs.
Of course, it's more than the matter of expletives in the text, certain
quaint phrases are as dating as surely as Sam Wright's 'yes, that's how
it was' and the constant repetition of the last thing he said.
Mentioning the books, the movies, and the songs of one's youth can be
deadly also. Which I've already said that working with the hip young
people at the radio station was keeping me in touch to some extent. The
trouble with that was I deliberately shut them out just as I did my
children once I got home, the first because of my scorn for their
feckless lives, the second because I was usually too tired to listen
except half-heartedly. Well, THAT was coming to a galloping conclusion
also because the station was being sold.
When I left the radio station, I thought I'd forget about writing. I
wish I'd kept track of all the times I've quit; it would be interesting
to know. I didn't quit because I had nothing to say, or because I
didn't care for it anymore but because no one answered me. Day after
day I haunted the mail but nothing came in. I was tired of wishing my
life away, wishing it was Tuesday, instead of Monday, wishing the
weekend would hurry past, all so the mail would be due again. But days
passed and nothing- not even a rejection slip. Even a rejection is
better than nothing! At least someone is acknowledging that you exist,
that you are alive, but NOTHING. It was too discouraging. Editors not
only weren't answering my queries, they weren't even disposed to give
me a yes or no to the manuscripts I'd already sent in response to their
It was going on seven months since Mother Earth News told me (via her
associate editor) to send a proposed manuscript. In the last four or
five weeks, I sent a follow up letter remarking on the visual support I
could offer and including a sidebar, but still...nothing. Animal Tales
asked me to re-draw the sketches I'd included with a child's story
almost a year ago. I performed the work and...nothing. Police Times
asked for a re-write on a manuscript THEY'D accepted two years ago and
which they have never used, and so on. They haven't even published some
articles they have already paid for, as is the case with Women &
Guns. Still I suppose I shouldn't complain because John Updike says
that The New Yorker held one of his works for twenty one years, three
months, and a day before using it. I hope that is a record and not a
usual thing. Admittedly, it does make for a nice surprise when one gets
a check in the mail long after giving up on a publication.
I am so often struck by the strangeness in this business of writing and
publishing. I have been given several positive replies to my queries,
or I THINK they were positive had it been possible to read the
illegible scrawl at the bottom of my letter which they returned to me-
what do you do if you can't decipher the scrawled signature, or
instructions? Do you risk offence by admitting you can't read their
writing? And why do they write, and in pencil, when they certainly ALL
have office machinery, and probably a secretary, too?
And here is another occurence I found a little weird. I'd sent a brief
manuscript and a picture to the sports editor of a regional periodical.
I offered him one time rights and informed him it was a simultaneous
submission and requested he hold it until I found out if Insights
planned to use it or not. Neither answered me before I saw the picture
and text in a regional newspaper. I was surprised because I'd not
submitted to them but the sports editor had apparently thought he was
doing me a favor and passed my submission along and they published it!
I was just lucky that Insights did not want the manuscript or I don't
know how I would have handled that; it would have been embarrassing, to
say the least.
After that, I received a call from Women & Guns saying they were
accepting my story and a check was in the mail. Days later I received a
very small check. I felt rather cheated but what could I do about it? I
decided to cut my losses and be philosophical ...then about a month
later, I received a second check, for the same amount for the same
story. Was this further payment or a duplicate payment? What should I
do? I simply deposited the check without endorsement, figuring they'd
be asking for it back soon enough but nothing- neither did I receive my
copy of the magazine displaying my story. Months passed and I didn't
know if they ever printed the article because the periodical was not
available in our area, I didn't know if I could ever submit to them
again or where I stood. SO awkward. I finally wrote to them and asked
bluntly if they had ever published my story and they sent me a couple
copies forthwith, and my story was inside!
In retrospect, I have mostly found writing great fun, whether I was
writing 'for hire', or as a free lancer. I kept just busy enough that
it paid my expenses and fed my ego. I became the Intrepid Interviewer
and many funny things happened to me.
One dear old fellow I interviewed was clearly impressed
and when I wound up OUR half-to-three quarter hour audition by saying
that I had to go on to the next community to photograph a church, he
admiringly remarked, "THEY really keep you busy, don't they?" Little
did he know that the only one keeping me busy was me.
The next occasion wasn't nearly as pleasant because I was at the
sheriff's office speaking with him and his staff. Some of the men acted
like they had expected a hard-boiled dame and they gave me the
unvarnished facts, not pulling their punches nor softening any of their
words. I really got told more than I wished to know that day but I'd
'asked for it,' as they say.
The next time proved comical because it involved, again, a law
enforcement official. He invited me to a home that was immaculate and
very nice. He showed me around and I asked questions but he kept
agitatedly repeating how sorry he was about 'the mess.' The mess
remained invisible...and so it went.
I was fortunate that I hadn't planned on supporting myself by writing
and I still feel sorry for any free lancer who tries. The standard
rejections are depressing enough, but what must they be like to a
person who is actually hungry? It is far too long between attempts and
results- These days are especially discouraging because so many
corporations are having financial difficulty and have cut expenses and
staff that it is nothing to wait for months and months for a REPLY and
it may never come. Sometimes they will have gone out of business before
you get a reply; however, many of them are trying to be innovative and
do new things.
Many of them now advertise in the trade magazines that if you are
patient, you WILL get an answer eventually. Others say that if they are
not interested, they will save on office work by not writing back. You
are to assume the answer when you don't receive their reply, yet you
must continue to include SASEs when you query.
I'm sure I could have made my way faster if I hadn't hemmed myself in
with restrictions. I would NOT use four-letter words, nor would I write
anything that would ruin anyone's reputation. I found it too much fun
writing upbeat things, pleasant, informative articles, or perhaps
something historical or inspirational. There are plenty of these
markets available and they have suited my small way. I do not become
depressed if my stories do not meet the needs of the larger markets
because there is a place for everyone.
Finding one's market, writing one's story, and having the fun of
selling it is the thing. I found magazine articles require a lot of
research and meticulous writing. If one isn't accurate, a lot of flak
appears in Letters To The Editor. The author has moved on and may never
see them or even know about them but it only takes one, or two, to
discredit you and needless to say, that particular editor won't be easy
to approach again.
Right now, electronic publishing seems to have taken over and is the
way of the future and firms are inviting you to submit. If you are
computer literate and can submit your books electronically, you may get
in on the ground floor. Be canny though and read your contract
thoroughly and be certain just what rights your are selling. We are
warned that the day may come when publishers will insist on buying all
rights and that will not be good. Right now, you can sell only the
electronic rights in one place, the audio rights in another, and still
have the printed rights to offer elsewhere. Some feel that the printed
rights will no longer be welcome after the book has enjoyed so much
exposure already; time will tell. Few can deny that publishing may have
been forced into going electronic because we are already drowning in a
sea of paper and warehouseing such quantaties, and providing staff to
handle it may be cost-prohibitive. Whatever happens, I still see a
place for writers because someone will still be needed to turn the
phrase and generate the ideas.
(Unless you type
in the subject
line of the message
we won't know
to send it.)
Ellie's Story List and Biography
A Nonprofit Book Publisher