Tuesday
Nov112014

SO YOU WANT TO BE IN MAGAZINES!

Writing articles helped us pay bills but in most cases waiting to get compensated for them required patience.  Some magazines paid on acceptance, some on publication which meant you were at the mercy of the editorial staff’s whim and the magazine’s scheduling.  Occasionally your piece would run within a few months but, then again, you might not see it in print for almost a year if the editor got his hands on something newly breaking or more relevant.   Magazine writing though was better than a paper route, usually. 

                As we ventured more deeply into the wonderful world of writing we were accruing credits and proving that we could be relied upon to come through with information written so as to be understood and acceptable with captioned photos to help the reader visualize whatever the article was about.  In some instances, after discussing an article idea with an editor, the idea was shot down.  Jerry, never one to get shot down easily, would use that Irish tongue of his to try and persuade the editor to take another look or, he would change the gist of the piece enough to come up with a better angle to the same story - NEGOTIATION 101.  Sometimes, having built a good rapport with certain editors, they might not need the piece but would put us onto another magazine that might be in the market for it. 

                Ready for somewhat more steady money from writing, Jerry started going after a regular column.  His big break was with Terrain and Situation which appeared in SOLDIER of FORTUNE magazine.  His love of gear and gadgets paid off big time since he now could talk about new stuff coming out in the market.  He loved to play with the knives and holsters and other things manly.  For GUNS & AMMO magazine he wrote ‘The Right to Keep and Bear Arms” column which gave him the opportunity to defend our constitutional rights.  He later landed columns with Peterson’s HANDGUNS magazine devoted to all types of holster wear and, years later when Jan Libourel, who over the years had become one of our dearest family friends, moved from his position as editor at HANDGUNS to take over that position at GUN WORLD magazine, Jerry produced the “Field Issue” column where again, he talked about new products, books and anything else that he thought readers would be interested in.  “Always Armed” was a column Jerry wrote for GUN DIGEST magazine.  Jerry was writing “Ahern Under the Gun” for DILLON BLUE PRESS,  about a diverse range of subjects and a column dealing with swords and their history for KNIVES ILLUSTRATED up until the time of his death.  We also in the early 1980s had two newspaper columns in a neighboring city’s weekend edition.  One was a book review column called “Under the Covers” and the other dealt with anything that came to mind.

                Being seen regularly in any type of writing venue can be helpful.  Readers will hopefully pick up the magazine or newspaper or whatever you have become associated with, which could be nowadays seen on their computer or other internet device and find your name listed on the contents or contributor page.  People know you and hopefully trust you.  That became particularly evident when we were writing novels in which our characters were using various types of weaponry as Jerry was known for his accuracy and eye to detail in this field. 

                When we were trying to sell the idea for THE SURVIVALIST series late in the 1970s, rejection became a well known commodity in the Ahern household.  We found that even though it was about the “day after tomorrow”, space travel and cryogenics, none of the publishers that sold science fiction wanted it.   One major house, Zebra/Kensington did take a hard look at our lengthy synopsis and sample chapters  and came back at us with a counter-proposal.  They would gave us a contract for THE SURVIVALIST if we would agree, based on Jerry’s association with SOLDER of FORTUNE magazine through his column, to write a series about a mercenary.  Zebra got THEY CALL ME THE MERCENARY with a lovable, one-eyed, joke cracking main character which we did for seventeen books and THE SURVIVALIST got published and it still runs today.  Thank you SOF!  You never can be sure where one path will lead you next.

                Pretend you want a bank loan and the loan officer slides a tally sheet across the desk in your direction.  You fill in the blanks and obviously want him to be able to focus on the side showing all your assets and what you have been able to accrue and hope that he takes just a quick look at the other side of the ledger showing your debts.  Never dwell on what you could have done or should have.  Instead make joyful noise over that short piece you did for a local paper no one in New York Cityor anywhere else has ever heard of and your payment which  turned out to be a one year subscription to it.  That might be your ticket to the big time!

Sharon

Wednesday
Nov052014

A LITTLE ABOUT HOW WE GOT INTO WRITING INSTEAD OF A STEADY, PROFITABLE PROFESSION LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE

One of the most commonly asked questions over the years has been about how you get your thoughts and ideas published.  Things have changed a lot in the publishing business since our first book came out and even more so since the first article appeared with Jerry’s byline but some things will always remain the same.  You’ve got to first sell the sizzle before the steak.  Then, that steak had better be pretty damn good.

                Jerry was born wanting to write, learning his way around a typewriter at the age of ten and honing his skills at typing with two fingers.  He wrote adventure themed short stories in High School, much to the chagrin of his creative writing teacher.  In his Latin class he and a friend wrote and performed a one act play based on the characters from the MAN FROM UNCLE series – in Latin.  His favorite character was a secret agent named Charles Rivers who, just like Jerry, was cool, debonair and a hit with all the ladies.  Unfortunately, Jerry would write a fantastically good action scene where the hero was in a seemingly inescapable situation and then Jerry couldn’t come up with a feasible way for the hero to make his escape.  Charles Rivers is still dangling from an elevator cable inside a burning building with a beautiful damsel in distress desperately clinging to his belt -- since 1966.

                One of the many part time jobs Jerry had in the 60s and 70s was stringing for a local newspaper.  He did feature articles, interviewing people in the health care field, preschool education and local industry.  When he couldn’t make an interview fit in with his schedule I did the interview and wrote it under his byline.  There was very little money in it but we met some interesting people and learned to ask the right questions and to listen to the answers and then document those answers accurately.

                Always a firearms enthusiast, Jerry learned of a job opening at Guns Magazine which at that time was located in Skokie, Illinois.  He talked himself into an associate editor’s gig for both Guns and its sister publication Shooting Industry.  He learned what it took to put a magazine together from photo selection to editing and spacing and the importance of deadlines.  Jerry also learned how to take an article and make it the best it could be.  I, working in a public relations department, learned how to put together a small newspaper, complete with cutting and pasting and setting up the pages and taking them to the typesetters.  We both learned a lot that, thanks to modern computers, is obsolete today but was the only way then.  Am I sounding old?

                I’ve mentioned before that Jerry wrote under various pseudonyms in those days as editing for one magazine and writing for others in the same field was not necessarily smiled upon.  As long as we got published and the magazine knew the correct name and address to send the check to we were happy.  We primarily stayed in the field we were familiar with but started branching out into more diverse magazines and article ideas.  By getting out of our “comfort zone” we had to deal with editors   who were not impressed with Jerry’s firearms knowledge or with any of the magazines he had up to then written for.    We were able to impress one editor with Jerry’s knowledge of adventure themed television shows and turned out an article on guns used by tv heroes such as The Rifleman and Paladin.  It was a very popular article for the magazine and we were able to do another piece on cars that were associated with shows.  Those two articles were very lucrative and taught us a valuable lesson in finding out what a magazine might like that they hadn’t even thought of and how to sell the idea to them.

                Fiction was still the direction Jerry wanted to go with his writing but the money from articles was always appreciated and the writing credits were priceless.  We learned that we could stay in vertical interest genres or branch out into the more mainstream magazines.  By taking baby steps out of the pond and into the ocean we started building relationships with editors who worked at more conventional magazines.  With bigger circulations and better pay for articles came more pressure to try and give more than 100% since we were also being challenged by additional competition.  When that competition couldn’t meet their deadline, we would be waiting in the wings ready to go on.  That magazine had an empty spot to fill and we were going to fill it.

                We all have somewhat different stories to tell about breaking into writing but most authors will agree that it takes thick skin for when the rejections comes your way, perseverance to try again and hard work coupled with some imaginative strategies for your next move up.  Add to the list a love of words and a story to tell and you are ready.  Oh, and don’t be too anxious to quit the day job!  

Tell us what got you started writing.

Sharon

Wednesday
Oct222014

WHAT i'VE LEARNED ABOUT PATIENCE FROM A DOG NAMED SHELBY

“How poor are they that have not patience!”

Othello by William Shakespeare

                I’ve been able to go through my life so far with some positive attributes and some negative ones.  If one were to place them all on a scale, I would imagine one side would be much lower to the   ground than the other. 

                I met Shelby at an estate sale.  I was wandering around, seeing if there was anything that I could purchase for my small antique business and I overheard someone mentioning that they were looking for a home for the dog that lived there.  I wandered around some more and finally, after running out of excuses not to, asked about this dog.  I found out she had been a rescue dog who had been adopted and then the owner passed away leaving her once again, homeless. They brought her outside and she let me pet her and then she leaned up against my leg and just kept staring, her eyes boring a hole right through me. 

                For those of you who read Jerry’s columns and articles in GUN WORLD, DILLON’S BLUE PRESS, KNIVES ILLUSTRATED  and the like you may have seen an occasional photo of him with Honey, or as she was referred to often as, Honey the Wonder Dog.  Honey was part of our family for over fifteen years and for the most part was a perfect lady.  She was gentle with children, didn’t bark more than she had to, got along with most people and only occasionally knocked over things with her huge bushy tail.  She was pretty much of a no hassle dog.  Unfortunately, Honey passed away three years ago.  Good to the end, she waited until Jerry and I got over to the veterinary hospital where she had been staying to breath her last.

                  We kept talking about getting another dog but just kept putting it off.  Shortly after Jerry passed away I was at an auction and ended up with three fish tanks complete with all the necessary accessories.  After leaving the tanks in the garage for a few months, I decided to set up one of the tanks and go crazy with four Wal-Mart goldfish.  Within a week one died but the others are still swimming through their mucky waters. 

                Back to Shelby.  I refused to be seduced by the soulful puppy looks I was given by this creature and the body language that was oozing out of her onto my leg.  Staying strong,I merely suggested that if no family decided to take her in the next few days to give me a call and I would.  Somehow I assumed that she would go off to start a new life and I could tell myself that I had done the right thing in offering her a home.  I got the call.  She came to live with me.   Life changed.

                Shelby was very shy.  She would not go through a door unless I went through first and assured her that it wouldn’t be slammed shut behind her.  She followed me everywhere.  She gobbled down her food as if afraid it would go missing if she didn’t finish it right away.  Any toy given to her was carried around until she thought no one was looking.  Then she buried it by removing couch cushions and pillows, placing the toy in a good spot and then covering it up again – neatly.   Every few hours she would uncover her hidden object and rebury it in a different location. She was afraid of the dishwasher (I don’t blame her there; it makes a lot of noise) and the washing machine. When the ice maker dropped ice cubes you’d think we had just been attacked by aliens. If she thought she did something wrong she would hide under the bed with her butt and stub of a tail showing in full view.

                Most of her timidity has subsided.  If she hears a strange noise now instead of hiding, she barks her head off.  Instead of shying away from the cows in the pasture behind our house she instead singles out the bull and attempts to stare him down.  Considering the fact that he has escaped and ended up on our property, I don’t know if this is such a good idea on her part. She has terrorized my goldfish to the point that they won’t come up to the top of the tank to feed unless she’s in another part of the house.  One night she stole their food container and buried it. She has become my protector against the six week old puppy across the street who she thinks is the devil incarnate. 

                Honey would not touch food unless it was offered to her; a turkey dinner would be safe to leave on the table.  Shelby, on the other hand, can stand up and remove food from the top of the stove.  One evening, I put the main course higher up in the microwave while eating dinner only to find out that she went instead for the steamed broccoli that I didn’t think would appeal to her.  She also likes frozen peas and lettuce.

At bedtime, Shelby has half of the couch which she can take over once I put down a cover.  A quick walk in the dark, flashlight in hand and soon, lights out.  Since her first night with me, Shelby has tiptoed into the bedroom as quietly as a black ninja with toenails on an uncarpeted floor can and stolen one of my slippers.  She either places it in front of the couch or on the couch next to her head.  Some nights she will grab any cooking utensil or spoon left in her reach and do the same with it.  She took a sponge off the kitchen sink once and arranged it along with her other items.  Some nights she adds her toys.  I have learned to pick up after dinner anything that I don’t want carried off. 

     I have also learned that change can sometimes be acceptable.  I am one of those utterly disgusting morning people who jump out of bed, get ready and go down to the office to start my day.  Now, Shelby hears my feet touching the floor and is there to greet me.  Out we go into the dawn’s early light, me hoping to not run into any of my neighbors or dogs or cows and Shelby, after a refreshing night’s sleep, ready to track down any intruding grasshoppers and follow the paths of crazy night monsters that disappeared with the light of day.  Wanting to drag her to a decent spot to do her duty I instead hold my temper and let the scenario run its usual course just as I do in the midnight hours with flashlight in hand imagining the origins of the night sounds around us just past the light’s reach.  Shelby has learned words not expected out of a grandmother’s mouth and has been called many things by me.  She so far has not repeated any of them.

     Ready to go into the office and turn on the computer, I’m stopped by that wagging stump of a tail and an enthusiastic dog with a tennis ball sticking out of her mouth.  We play for a while and then I sneak downstairs.  I work for a while and she joins me, listening with me to the local classical music station.  She’s also into Bee Gees, Queen and Neal Diamond.  We both hope to get his new album!  Then it’s time for a walk around the property just to make sure everything is just as it should be and time for her to have a light snack.  We go back to the office until the mail comes, then the school bus… Eventually, I do get done what needs to. 

     Shelby was given to me to teach me patience – a virtue I never embraced earlier in my life – just ask my children.  Some things might take longer to accomplish but what can come close to a seventy pound hound dog who wants to give you a hug and teach you how to stop and play.

Sharon

 

Sunday
Oct052014

 RETREAT

                The word retreat can conjure up various images depending on our backgrounds and lifestyles.  To some, the phrase “beating a hasty retreat” may be reminiscent of something none of us usually depicts as a positive action.  Picture if you will, Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Russia in the summer of 1812 where he led an army of more than 500,000 individuals.  He went in strong and sure of victory only to retreat, unable to withstand the guerilla-style tactics of the inhabitants and the harsh winter weather.  Napoleon’s army suffered a devastating loss of more than 400,000 men that winter. It sounds like he had a bummer year and most of the rest of his life proceeded pretty much on that same slippery, downward slope. 

 

 

  

                Those of you who have read THE SURVIVALIST series can envision the Rourke clan hanging out in the great room at their Retreat, watching old movies and nuking popcorn, the waterfall in the back of the room making pleasant background noises.  John Rourke, in my scenario, is apologizing once again for having vinyl instead of leather furniture due to the length of time in use as he explains that leather, by this time in their lengthy stay, would have cracked and rotted. Their retreat into the depths of the Retreat was done out of necessity, the only path left open for long term survival.  This was in no way a cowardly decision but a decision to remain alive against certain death plus, Jerry and I were not ready to end the series thanks to the massive response we received from readers all over the world. 

                A retreat doesn’t need to be a complete turnaround; a forward motion now going in the opposite direction to avoid conflict nor does a retreat necessitate having a mighty fortress ready to  shroud and protect you from harm. 

                I agree with this quote from Albert Camus.  “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion."  Most of us can relate to biting off a bit more than we can handle and retreating to a safe spot to regroup and once again move forward with our plans. Sometimes, a stop along the way is the only option.   This can be as straightforward as taking one step back and trying to reorganize, maybe think through a situation or just recharge your inner battery to make things clearer and less stressful.  A retreat can be as simple as a long soak in the tub with the bathroom door locked or listening to your favorite tunes through a good set of headphones while the rest of your family is engrossed in watching the game or a movie on the Hallmark channel.  A good entertaining book can take you anywhere instead of where you are; it can take you where you want to be or surprise you with an undreamed of location. A two hour action flick might be all that stands in the way of you doing bodily harm to someone and regretting it later or saying something that may not be what you really want to be remembered for.

            Just remember that if you must retreat make sure you don’t end up retrogressing, because I don’t think it has any other meaning except to put you in a worse place than you are.

Sharon

Thursday
Sep252014

A TOO PERFECT WORLD

Yesterday I received a copy of a southern oriented magazine I’ve subscribed to for many years.  Besides the usual gardening tips and recipes and travel information, their home decorating section had an article dealing with styling your coffee table.  After reading the one page tutorial and looking at the photograph of a finished example, I realize I am sorely lacking in coffee table finesse. 

                There’s this tray that I’m supposed to place on my table that “will set the tone” and “anchor the composition” of the look I’m to achieve.  Next, I’m to arrange books on the table.  Now, this does not mean you’re supposed to display books that you actually are reading; what would people think if they saw a paperback thriller or a steamy romance novel sitting out in plain view?  No, only hardcover books that “reflect your interests” are allowed and they must be neatly stacked with the spines prominent.  More than one stack is preferable with some on the table and some placed on the tray. I’m sure color is dependent on your living room walls and accents already in place unless you want to perform an entire redo.

                The dos and don’ts go on as you are advised as to what other accessories are needed to fill this coffee table and the heights and shapes required that will work to achieve success.  After following this step by step guideline you’ll perhaps try running out to your local home décor store to buy additional items to display.  If you still feel this tray is lacking something or the look is still not what you want, you can go online for additional help with an instructional video.

                I’ve decided rather than going to all the trouble and expense it’s going to take to impress visitors, I’ll just become a recluse and invite no one into my home.  Order is not the norm in my life and I do not embrace coordination unless walking down a flight of stairs is involved.  I proudly embrace chaos and welcome it into my abode

                Whenever there’s a family gathering, you can be sure that not all the adults are drinking from a matching set of wine glasses and you can count on one of the younger folk sucking down Ginger Ale from a Christmas themed mug or one of the other mismatched vessels available.  My serving plates fall into the same category.  I have a platter that is the last remaining piece from our first set of dishes.  We had a service for twelve with all the various extras that we bought for $29.95 from Montgomery Ward in 1968.  I have a platter that belonged to my mother and one or two that belonged to my mother-in-law.  I don’t call this style informal; I’d just like to think of it as interesting or comfortable. 

                The living room coffee table was acquired over thirty years ago.  I liked it then and I like it now.  It’s just a simple wooden table with glass inserts.  Our children grew up using the table to do homework, draw pictures, leaf through magazines and coloring books and, of course, act as a snack and dinner counter when necessary.  Cats and dogs were on call to help with any cleanup necessary. Shoeless feet and decks of cards could be found stacked there frequently accessorizing and adding detail and height, finishing the total look that we were aiming for.  

                At the break of dawn, or more to the point, when the dog frightens me into thinking she can’t wait any longer to be taken outside, I usually have a clear picture in my mind as to what needs to be accomplished that day.  By 9:00 am I can still see the picture.  By lunchtime the edges are getting a little out of focus and by late afternoon I think to myself that I might need stronger glasses to see around the holes left in my perfect picture.  I don’t beat myself up over my unfinished list of to dos; rather I can look back at the day and see what I did do that I hadn’t even thought of doing.  I guess that makes me an over achiever or perhaps an over doer!  (Does that mean that what task I have completed is overdone?)

                I do realize that there are some tasks that have to be accomplished within a reasonable time but there are others that might be able to be put aside for a while like taking the dog for an extra walk or two because she’s nosey and wants to see what the neighbors are up to and to take a look at the new puppy across the street.  When you remember a friend that you’ve not talked to in a while that might be the perfect time to give a call and say hi.  If you wait for the perfect moment it may be too late.  Dishes pile up, dust collects and you may not have gotten half the tasks done that you’re supposed to and your desk or coffee table may look a mess but think of the other things you’ve done or saw or heard today that might have gone unnoticed otherwise.  Life has two sides, order and chaos.  Who’s to say we can’t have a bit of both?  BTW I’m waiting to see if a photographer from that magazine comes to my house to do a photo shoot.  If it happens, I’ll let you guys know!

Sharon