Wednesday, March 22, 2006

For the Credit, not the Cash

I've posted this picture before:

I wrote the cover story for this.

It's funny how key moments in your life can happen largely by accident. The cover story in this issue of Relix Magazine was my first professional sale as a writer, and I didn't even need a query letter. Les and Toni of Relix were wholesalers of some of the buttons and stickers we used to sell at Rockarama, as well as publishers of the magazine. I was on the phone with them about once a week, placing orders. We carried the magazine as well. Sometime in mid-December, 1980, right after John Lennon's death, Toni happen to mention that she was having trouble getting an article on Lennon by the time she needed to go to press. I offered to write it overnight, and she gratefully agreed. I sent it off the next day.

If you look closely at the [photocopy of the] check, you'll see it's for $35. That wasn't exactly a princely sum, even in 1981, but I didn't care. I was a professionally published writer! Yay, me! I even got to autograph a copy of the magazine later, at a Beatles memorabilia show in Akron. Or was it the one at the Cleveland Agora? I forget.

I went on to write a two-part article on Beatles memorabilia for Toni, and a review of The Clash at Bond's, and I think a review of Yoko Ono's Season of Glass video. Then Toni rejected some other concert review, and that was pretty much the end of that. I'd come to the end of what I had both the interest and the opportunity to write about on the subject of rock and roll, at least while living in Columbus, Ohio. It was nice while it lasted, though.

Fast forward about ten years. Rockarama was long gone. We were in Tucson by then. I was editing TARDIS Time Lore for United Whovians of Tucson. We were also launching Project Quantum Leap and its fanzine, The Observer. Teresa Murray and I started interviewing actors and writers from both Doctor Who and Quantum Leap, ostensibly for the two zines. This was easy to do at the time. For a few years in the early 1990s, Gallifrey One and the Quantum Leap conventions took place the same weekend. Most of the guests at both cons were happy to be interviewed. Teresa's twin, the late Tracy Ann Murray, helped us with the taping, not only of the interviews, but also of some of the Q&A panels at the cons themselves. She also asked the occasional question.

This two-part profile of John Nathan-Turner
(half for past, half for future) came from a Q&A.

Somewhere in there, a guy from an obscure publishing concern called me at a Burbank hotel, offering to have us write a Quantum Leap book. That's another long story for another time, but it got us interested in doing something more with our interviews, something professional. So we approached editor David McDonnell of Starlog about doing some articles, based on the interviews and Q&As we'd captured on tape and transcribed. He agreed--but only for Doctor Who articles. He already had assignments out to other writers for Quantum Leap.

The beginning of the John Levene article

Writing to Starlog's guidelines turned out to be much harder than putting together an interview for the two zines. The TARDIS Time Lore pieces were straight Q&A format. From memory:

TERESA: Would you take on the role of the Sixth Doctor again, under the right conditions?
COLIN BAKER: Never say never!

But if you look at an interview in Starlog, you'll see it's not like that. Starlog publishes "profiles," not raw interviews. What the actor, writer or producer said needs to be woven into essay form, with each paragraph setting up the quote being used, and then sequeing gracefully into the subject of the next quote. The interviewer shouldn't be quoted at all.

The second half of the JN-T piece. We had nothing to do with
the art direction or photo selection. Nice layout, though, isn't it?

That's not all. We had to negotiate over the fact that we'd already used some of the raw quotes in the fanzines. Fortunately, he let us get away with that one. Years later, I obtained similar permission to use some of the quotes again, this time in the Doctor Who trading cards.

There were also style and formatting rules. I learned not to start two concecutive paragraphs with the same word, and when to use a number and when to spell it out. Proofreaders' marks had to be hand-entered on the manuscripts. We even had a minor virus problem on one of the floppies--a Mac virus, yet. And we had to work to a deadline. Overall, it was so stressful that Teresa made an ER visit at the end of one night-long writing and editing session.

It was worth it. I don't even remember how much we were paid for each of the four articles, but I'm sure it was more than the Relix ones brought in. Far more important to us were the writing credits, the names Karen Funk Blocher and Teresa Murray printed on glossy paper. After all, Starlog is a science fiction media magazine. This was the next best thing to having professional fiction credits of our own. It was also a potential stepping stone to the book about Doctor Who that we wanted to write. (That we never actually wrote the book is irrelevant.)

And frankly, fifteen years later I treasure the learning experience even more than the writing credits or the money. I still keep in mind some of the principles Dave McDonnell taught us, whether I'm writing fiction, a cover letter for my first novel...or a blog entry, like this one. Thanks, Dave! You've probably forgotten us by now, but thanks.


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Carly said...

Awesome entry! I love seeing your name there on those articles! My brilliant writer pal Karen! :)

Paul said...

I think your second sentence should read "my first professional sale as a writer." Right now, it reads as if it was your only professional sale as a writer.

Also, she rejected one piece, and "that was that"? [insert incredulous smiley here] It seems to me that everything I've ever read about writing tells us to expect rejection, ignore rejection, and keep submitting. Of course, I'm one to talk. Never submitted anything anywhere. I think we're a lot alike.

Shelly said...

Wow. Am I seeing correctly? You never cashed the check? What restraint.

My first (and so far, only) writing sale was for $42 from Amazing Heroes semi-pro mag about comic books. The check is dated 11/20/82, but the article was bought 2 or 3 years before that. The mag changed editors 3 or 4 times, so it took a while for publication. I got to revise it nearly 8 months or so before it was published, basically updating it. But I cashed the check. Right after I had a photocopy made, which I still have, filed away with the letter of acceptance, other correspondence, the marked up copy I'd submitted, and a copy of the mag. I needed that $42 back then.

julie said...

In response to your comment on my journal of last night:

Keep the old URL for a few days yet. The old one is probably in your web cache. You need to clear it out.

Then for Technorati, if you can edit the link where you click on the time posted to get to the permalink, do this:

Post title (Obviously you replace the "permalink stuff" with whatever is in your permalink code.) This tells Technorati that your post is a post and not sidebar or other material, which makes it easier for them to index your page. That may have gotten lost when you made the move over here.

DesLily said...

how cool is that?!! I used to read Starlog all the time.. back when i could afford such luxuries lol...