Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Hanging Shoe

Today is the 31st anniversary of my first fiction sale, a confession yarn to the now long-defunct magazine INTIMATE STORY. I’ve written about the background of that sale before, and you can read that post here. But I had actually been paid for my writing before that, so I thought today that I’d back up and talk a little about my short career as a professional journalist.

Back in ’76 I worked for my father at his TV repair shop, as many of you know. In those days, it was still cheaper most of the time to get your TV fixed when it went on the fritz, rather than just throwing it away and buying a new one, so if you were in the TV repair business in a small town you got to know just about everybody in town. One of our customers at the shop was the editor and publisher of the local newspaper. I became friends with him and sometimes talked writing with him, so he knew about my ambition to become a writer. One day I mentioned to him that the paper ought to run some movie reviews, and he asked me if I wanted to write them. If he ran them, he said, he would pay me the princely sum of $2.00 per review.

Are you kidding? Of course I said yes. I jumped at the offer. And just like that I was a professional movie critic.

The first movie I reviewed was John Wayne’s final film, THE SHOOTIST. I don’t really remember what I said about it, but the review was probably a mixed one because I never have cared much for that movie. Nor could I tell you all the other films I reviewed, other than a few that stuck in my mind: STAR WARS, KING KONG (the Seventies remake with Jessica Lange), and CAR WASH. Why I remember that odd assortment, I have no idea.

I kept this up for a year, maybe two. I got to know some of the managers at the movie theaters in Fort Worth, and they would let me and Livia in for free. At other theaters we had to pay, which meant I lost money on those reviews. But we still got to see the movies. The editor didn’t pay me on any sort of regular basis. I’d stop by the paper every so often, when the amount he owed me had built up to thirty or forty dollars, and get a check. Sometimes those checks bought our groceries that week. I even wrote a couple of human interest articles for the paper and also got paid for those.

Then the paper changed hands, I lost interest – I’d already figured out that I wasn’t cut out for journalism – and that was the end of my newspaper career. But it had been fun, it had gotten some of my work in print, and I made a few bucks. By then I was selling short stories to MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, so I concentrated on fiction from then on, although I’ve written a few non-fiction pieces here and there.

Most writers I know, no matter how long they’ve been at it or how successful they’ve been, are still waiting for the other shoe to drop, for everyone to discover that they’re talentless frauds. (See, the title of this post does make sense; it’s not the title of a Frank Gruber mystery novel featuring Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg after all – although it sounds kind of like one, doesn’t it?) I’m no different in feeling that way, so every year on December 27th I’m very thankful to all the readers, editors, and agents involved, as well as to my beautiful wife and my kids, that I’m still in the game and that the shoe is still up there. Maybe it’ll wait a while longer before it drops on my head.


Unknown said...

Let's hope for 30-40 years minimum.

Gonzalo B said...

Mr. Reasoner: Congratulations on the anniversary and I agree, let's hope for many more years and many more stories. I just bought your collection from Ramble House and I was wondering if there was a list of your short stories available somewhere. Is this the first time you publish a collection?

James Reasoner said...

I don't even have a complete list of all my short stories. I never saw published copies of a lot of the men's magazine stories I sold in the Seventies and Eighties, so I don't know if the editors kept the titles and pseudonyms I put on them or when or even if they were published. I do know that none of the checks bounced, though.

Yes, OLD TIMES' SAKE from Ramble House is my first collection.

Ed Gorman said...

Wow. What a great post, James. For all of us crazy enough to be writers we can certainly see ourselves in those $2.00 reviews you wrote. And what a career you've had ever since. Ed

Charles Gramlich said...

I enjoyed this. It's great to learn more about how you got started and your early days. Strangely enough, although maybe it's the time of year, I posted memories of some old writing experiences on my blog today. This should actually be a meme.

Michael Bracken said...

Although there aren't nearly as many confession magazines published today as there were when you and I started, they still exist, and they still provide a steady income for those of us who mastered the old formula and have been able to adapt to the newer, more romance-like formula.