Monday
Dec152014

MAGAZINE AND NEWSPAPER WRITING TURNS TO LOTS OF TOMES

Yep, those were the days!

Note:     I’ve been avoiding commenting on the political scene – at least on this website – because unless I’ve misjudged you, I’d be preaching to the choir.                          

  These days it doesn’t seem to matter which way our elected representatives in Washington are leaning because they all appear to bend toward stupidity.  The only person that could be comfortable with this crew would be the fictional character of Alice after she disappears down the rabbit hole; silly twaddle and not a thought amongst these people as to what common sense dictates as responsible resolutions to strengthen and improve this country.  They might see things differently if they had to live by their own rules.

Having a lot of respect for anyone who chooses law enforcement as a career, I’m getting annoyed at all the demonstrations, marches and most of all the destruction of neighborhoods over alleged police brutality.  Yes, I agree that there are some cops that are hot-heads, prejudiced and downright working in the wrong profession but, there are so many others who start their shifts with the resolution to serve and protect those people under their watch and they do so admirably.  Sure, there needs to be improvement in some areas and stronger guidelines set in others, maybe a culling of certain personal, but let these protesters remember that when they find themselves in a bad situation, who are they going to call?

By the way, if a large, militant group of radicals destroy my community, kill thousands of my fellow citizens and we are fearful for what they have planned to do next, you better believe I want my government to do whatever it takes to gather information from our enemies.  What we do to them is nowhere close to what they want to do to us.

OK.  Back to writing.

Having established the Ahern byline in magazines, predominately in the sportingoods/firearms field, the lure to string more words together loomed large on the horizon.  Jerry wanted to write a book but he had so many story ideas that he didn’t know where to start.  Being new at the game, Jerry would pick out a dozen or so ideas and send them to a likely publishing house and wait for an editor to call him, asking where to send the money.  It never happened.  We did get quite a few nicely worded rejection form letters though.

Our next plan to get published worked a little better.  We would drive into Athens, which was the closest city that actually had book stores and scour the racks for books that might have a similar bent to what we wanted to sell.  We’d see who published it and go from there.  Jerry had no fear of the telephone and would call publishing houses to see how far up the corporate ladder he could climb and sometimes he hit paydirt.  Once in a while Jerry would end up speaking to the head honcho who in turn, not really knowing anything about our glorious background in nonbook sales would put us through to one of their acquisitions editors.  Usually a book deal didn’t come out of this but Jerry learned a lot about what publishers were looking for a picked up other useful information.

An editor at one of the publishing houses introduced us to one of their prolific writers who told us that the best way to break into the business at that time (1970s and early 80s) was to write porn.  Many of your well respected writers of that era got their start in that genre and continued to write it for the quick money involved.  We thought anything was worth a shot and contacted a publisher our writer friend had suggested.  We received a package soon after with some examples of their best sellers.  We read a few, laughed a lot and realized that there was no way we could do it.  We were probably too young and immature to handle the gasps and groans and prostitution in the Frozen North.

                Some things were a little different back in the 80s.  Manuscripts were written with a typewriter and a copy was made using carbon paper and a sheet of yellow paper.  Mistakes were caught while the sheets were still in the typewriter, hopefully and corrected with correction tape or liquid White Out.  White Out always looked like you had made a mistake and correction tape, if you tried putting the page back in the typewriter, never matched up correctly.  So in either case everyone knew you had screwed up.  We had a manual typewriter and Jerry could type up a storm using just two fingers.  He wrote fast but was not known for his accuracy.  Once we started doing a lot of writing it was decided that an electric typewriter was a necessary expense and along with it a typist who could produce clean manuscripts to send off to publishers.   Laverne and then Dot were angels with fast fingers and good imaginations, deciphering corrections and changes we had written in the margins.

                I think we all have a tendency to take computer technology for granted, I know I do, until I start digging around in a box full of old manuscript pages.  Those were the “good old days.”  Sure!

Sharon

Tuesday
Nov252014

SOME WORDS TO HEED FROM A PROFESSIONAL BOOK REVIEWER

Since we’ve been discussing writing lately, I thought it would be a good time to ask long-time friend and book reviewer, Gary Roen, some questions about the book industry and to hopefully give some advice to newer writers based on his many years in the business.

 

SHARON:  Please give us a little background on yourself.

 

GARY:  In the 1970’s my parents and I started Chateau Publishing to publish my father’s book Murder of a Little Girl.  I sold books, set up press tours and as we expanded worked with authors to market their books.  I also was asked to do a radio show on WPRK in Winter Park Florida about sf and fantasy.  Pat Flannigan and I did the show for two years and branched out into print media as well to promote books.  It was there in 1979, that I began as a reviewer and have been constantly expanding where my reviews appear.  Now, they are in Midwestbookreview.com, West Orlando News, Sodo News, and Natchez Sun to name a few.  I later sold Murder of a Little Girl re-titled A Little Girl Is Missing, Evidence of Murder and several other titles to major publishers as an agent but stopped because authors were too hard to deal with so I became a reviewer and consultant to help authors better. 

 

SHARON:  On average, how many books do you receive in a month?

 

GARY:  It varies each month the number of books I receive but it can be as high as 100 at times.  This is because of the way books come to me.  Here are some of the ways that happens.  I receive titles from publishers each month that are delivered to my home through the many delivery companies.  I also have authors, who contact me by e mail, or to the publications, or authors just find me somewhere on the internet and send me a copy.  Also other ways are local publishers and I go to lunch and I am handed copies of books and if I speak at writer’s groups or conventions like Spooky Empire in October, Megacon in March and Oasis in May and  book events like St Pete Times Reading Fest in October or UCF book festival in April where authors also hand me copies of titles or see that a copy is sent by their publisher.  I network with authors who tell me about other writers who I make contact with or I contact publishers because I have seen something about a book or through the radio programs I do. 

 

SHARON:  What do you look for in a book?

 

GARY:  A book is sent to me for me to make a comment.  We should not forget that a review is nothing more than how the person feels about the book that has been presented.   I do not speak for other reviewers but what I look for is the author has to present a story with a beginning middle and an end.  I look for characters I feel something for and writing that is easy to read and enjoy.  I also look for covers that make me want to read the book.  So often that is not the case. 

 

SHARON:  What do you do if you think the books basically sucks?

 

GARY: If the book is bad I try to find something about it that was good by saying something like I know what the author was trying to do here but it doesn’t work for me. 

 

SHARON:  Do you ever have situations where your review is not appreciated by the author or the publisher?

GARY:  Yes, authors are very bad about negative reviews even though I am trying to tell them what I think is wrong with it.  They forget it is a personal opinion but they also don’t want to hear anything bad.  I say something in the hope they will try to do better next time.  Publishers are more understanding because they know I am not going to like everything I read. 

 

SHARON:  When we first got into book writing there weren’t a lot of choices except going to the New York publishing houses and hoping that they would like the story enough to invest a small sum of meney I getting it into print.  There are so many alternative ways of getting a book published today that were not available years ago where now the writer is the one in control of the editing and cover art and even manner of publication.  Do you think this has been good or bad for the business?

 

GARY:  The publishing world has been both good and bad for authors and readers.  For readers there are more choices than ever before but there are more things published that need work before they are in the hands of readers.  There are lots more places for books to be printed and put on as e books or on the internet.  Main stream publishers in New York are merging with each other, creating fewer places for writers to get published by the majors.  POD (print on demand) publishers are also good and bad.  Create Space and Outskirts are two good ones who work with authors to promote and sell books.  Publish America and some others have bad reputations and will only take money from the writer and not do much else.  Amazon is both good and bad.  Good for readers because they can get a book cheaper than the bookstore but bad for writers and publishers because the money they receive is less than before.  Like any other business there are good things and bad.  You just have to weigh what’s best for you. 

 

SHARON:  Who are some of your favorite authors and why?

 

GARY:  Donald E Westlake who wrote so many funny mysteries, James Patterson, who writes fast paced novels and is working with other authors to present adult and kids novels and get more people to read, Ben Bova for his hard science fiction that has great characters, tense situations and are believable.  Jeffrey Archer for his family sagas including Mightier Than The Sword and the Aherns for the great storytelling in action adventure.   These are just a few of my favorites.  I have lots of them for different reasons. 

 

SHARON:  Any advice to someone who has written a book and his family and friends are telling him to go for it as it’s bound to be a best seller?

 

GARY:  Stop thinking you will be the next Patterson, Stephen King, or Clancy.  Just tell a great story as best as you can.  Have it edited by professionals who are there to help whip it into shape.    Learn to network, go to book events, sf conventions, comic conventions and do not be afraid to talk to people.  If need be, hire someone to edit your book, help promote it and or find someone who does consultant work in publishing.  Have also a thick shell and listen to criticism that is being done.  Do not take it personally unless the person says you should not write again or something unkind like that because that is uncalled for, but it happens. 

 

Thanks for your advice Gary.

 

Gary can be heard live on the My Home Town radio show at www.1520wbzw.com between 4:00 and 5:00 EST on the first Tuesday of each month and can be contacted directly at gsroen@aol.com.

 

Sharon

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