Discussion On Writing
Grab a seat and we'll discuss a little PENCIL BUSTIN' book and screenplay writing.
My writing career really began in 1986, while in the last few years of my career as a policeman (retired now) that I started researching an outlaw gang that terrorized people in Tazewell County, Illinois back in 1868. The story was so intriguing, my fellow officers on third shift, who I used as a sounding board as I gathered the facts of the incident, looked forward each night to hearing what I had dug up that day. It was like a soap opera at roll call with the men waiting to see who did what to who right here in Illinois back in 1868 ans 1869.
One officer, James Brecher, was very interested and agreed to help with the research. A real break for me. From the few facts I had uncovered, we knew it was going to be great story. It was already as good as any wild west tale we had heard or any movie we had seen. So why not just write a book! (sound familiar?) How hard could it be anyway? As policemen we were already experts in preparing great investigative reports. So writing a book would be simple All we had to do was arrange the facts in some sort of order, write them down and we'd have a book.. We'd make millions!!!!!!!!
Now those of you who've been down that same road know it doesn't work like that. It takes long, hard hours, days, months and sometimes even years to write a non-fiction manuscript. You have to travel to the locations you're going to write about. You need pictures, maps and data on every crossroads. You have to know the lay of the land. Search all libraries, courthouses, schools, historical societies, newspapers, other books, and people who might know something. People who might have some old photographs, letters or articles about it. You then have to advertise in newspapers and other news media outlets for information. And finally... finally you have it all. Now, you're ready to write that book.
But, how do I write a book? Where do I start? What do I do first. What kind of paper do I use? What typewriter? I was using an old Royal manual typewriter at the time. Then we go tin a new Select II electric typewriter. What kind of word processer? Should I use a computer? We didn't have access to a word processer or computer. What.. What...What...? Well, as no doubt you did, we soon found ourselves belly deep in research again. This time researching how to write a marketable book. Another very long road. A rush was on to read a few how-to books on non-fiction writing.
Writing the Manuscript
We finally decided on a third person style for our masterpiece and set about writing the manuscript. James would write a chapter at his home and I would write a different chapter at mine. Then we would compare, re- write each others chapters until the manuscript was finished. It was long drawn out process, but we managed to get it written.
Then it was how to get the manuscript published. It wasn't long before we found ourselves in a quagmire of literary protocol. The manuscript had to have the proper format, the proper margins, proper headings, proper pagination, and proper spacing. It had to have a proper cover sheet, a proper title sheet, as well as perfect spelling, perfect grammar, perfect everything. Whatever happened to all those publishing editors who's job it is to make the manuscript copy perfect before going to the printer?
But if we thought that was a little out of line, we soon found that you can't just send your Pulitzer Prize winning manuscript to a publisher. No, you have to first write them a short one page letter telling them what the story is about, who you are and what gives you the right to think you are a writer. And this one page (preferably one half a page) letter must make them feel so wonderful inside they want to read the whole manuscript. Oh, well if that's what they want… but wait! There's more. A publisher will not read your manuscript unless you are already a published author. That's right. You must be published in some form or you're out. But hold on there, they say if you can get an agent they'll consider reading the manuscript.
Getting an Agent
No problem, there are thousands of agents out there just waiting to get the call. Lurking in the shadows like a hungry fish to snatch your masterpiece up and run with it. You fire off letters to those agencies and set back making plans on how to pick the right one. Counting your money.
Then you get the first reply. "Thank you for giving our agency the honor of reading your material. However, we do not except new writers. We prefer to work with established writers. Good luck in placing your material elsewhere."
You can't get a publisher to read your work unless you are already published or have an agent. You can't get an agent unless you are already published. A quagmire? You bet. But one you can struggle through if you are truly sincere about your writing. There are many great books on how to write and get published. Buy them. Read them. Learn the trade. Keep writing and you'll get published.
I was not to be defeated, I bought more than thirty how-to books on writing book manuscripts, short stories, and screenplays. I've read most of them trying to learn the ropes and finally managed to get published albeit only magazine articles. I also wrote a couple more screenplays and another book length manuscript. This time a fictional story titled GREENHORNS AND KILLER MOUNTAINS, of some 110,000 words.
After several more attempts to get published and receiving a few dozen rejections mostly personal with good remarks, I decided it was time to look at another angle. I didn't want to pay some vanity publishing company to publish my books. If it was going to be done, I would do it. How big a problem could self publishing be anyway? Boy, did I thrust myself into another galaxy within the writing world.
I'm in the process of writing a How-To Book on writing a book.
″THE LONG ROAD TO BECOMING A WRITER.″
Here's a sample
Setting The Stage For The Writing Trip
The road to writing a book is long and lonely enough, but add the problems of trying to self-publish and market along the way and you can find yourself in a real pickle. The self-publishing section of the road should be traveled only as the last resort to get your writing published.
If at all possible, you should secure an agent (lots of luck) to represent your work to one of the established publishing companies. Not that the publishing companies can produce a better book or even a better looking book than you can by self-publishing, but they do have all the contacts for advertising and distributing your book. They can do everything on a much grander scale, which takes a bunch of weight off your shoulders and keeps you from having to cough up a bundle of money.
Perhaps you might even be lucky enough to go straight to one of the publishers. It has been done, but more and more publishers are turning to agent represented writers only and agents are becoming harder and harder to come by. Most agents won't take on a writer unless he or she has already been published. And you really can't blame them, that's where the money is. Why take a chance on an unproven writer when you can have one that is already a moneymaker? As a result, more and more writers are turning to self-publishing. When all else fails, self-publish.
You can enjoy the trip to self-publishing if you have some knowledge of the procedure to support you.
The best knowledge available is the personal knowledge of someone that has already been down that road and is willing to share that knowledge with you - someone like me.
You understand, of course, that I'm talking about "self" publishing, not vanity publishing. Vanity publishing is paying someone to publish your book just to satisfy your ego, to see your name in print, perhaps to impress your friends. If that's all you want and you have no desire to receive writing credits for your book and you have the money to spare, then go for it. There are plenty of vanity publishers out there with their hands out. Publishers who don't care what they publish as long as you pay their price. There’s no proofing or editing, they just publish what you have on paper. In many cases, the writer ends up with a shabby looking book and a huge bill on his hands. And no matter how great the book is, you get no author credit for it with the Writer’s Guild of America.
I also don't mean subsidy publishing. In this case, a publishing company charges you a fee to publish your book, or perhaps splits the publishing fee with you. Sometimes they'll do some editing and many will help market it.
What I mean when I speak of self-publishing is when you not only write, but edit, design, size and layout, not just the text but the front matter, the back matter and the cover as well. You do everything except the printing and binding.
On top of everything else you have to apply for the copyright, the library of Congress Card Number (LCCN) and obtain an International Standard Book Number. (ISBN) This one will put a dent in your pocketbook.
Once you have your manuscript "camera ready" or in some cases, on "computer disk" in a usable file, then you search for a printer to print and bind it to your specifications. The binding is very important. Here's another place where you have to be very careful or you'll wind up with a book that falls apart as you read it.
When you've paid all fees owned to the printer, including shipping costs, they'll ship you the finished product.
If you've done it right, you'll have a self-published book on your hands and you'll be treated to a great sense of pride and satisfaction. You'll have something to brag about. Something you alone have accomplished. You'll also have a basement full of books. Which brings us to your next path along the road to self-publishing - the matter of marketing. Lots of luck. That's a whole other quagmire that we'll get into in a later chapter.
Now before you get yourself twisted in a knot trying to remember all the above information on self-publishing, just remember that you’re a long way from that section of the road. Before you can self-publish, you must have something to self-publish. So that's where we'll begin - learning the infant steps of becoming a published writer.
In writing this book, I hope to enlighten you about the beginning writer's world and how to maneuver around in it. How to travel along each branch of the road from the writing of the manuscript to the final published product. How to cross over the bridge of marketing and how to avoid the pitfalls of distribution. I hope to do this by passing on what obstacles I encountered along the way.
Of course, there are those of you who, having decided to be a writer, somehow already possession all the knowledge it takes to write and publish a book. I once encounter such a person who wanted to pick my brain about writing. Within five minutes, I discovered that person (according to him) already knew everything there was to know about the subject of writing and much more. I was advised several times during our short conversation that he could write a complete book over a single weekend. Needless to say our conversation kind of dried up. How could an amateur like me help this person?
I wrote this book just on the chance that some of you readers don't know everything about writing and are willing to begin a long learning process. Perhaps it will save you some time, some money and some of the mental anguish brought on by the many obstacles you’ll encounter along the way.
As I have said, writing a book is not easy. It's a long, difficult road to travel. One of hard and lonely work that can be very depressing at times. It's a road along which you will have to make many decisions. More decisions than you can imagine.
The first decision you encounter along that road is whether or not you really want to make an attempt at writing a book. It's a very difficult decision that you should give a lot of thought to because it will require spending several months, if not years of your life seated in front of a typewriter or computer screen. It's a decision that can take a heavy mental, physical, and financial toll on you and other members of your family. Your heart and soul must be in it. In other words you really gotta wanna. If not, don't even start.
However, if you really have that urge we’ll get on down the road.
I’ve been asked many times if a writer must have a master’s degree or the like in literature to write a book. My answer has always been no. There are many books out there written by authors with very little formal education.
No, you don't have to have a great formal education to write a book but it would help. When you do begin writing you'll quickly find that it would be nice to have one. If you don't have a college degree of some type, you should at least be a good storyteller and have a grip on the English language.
In fact, let’s pull in at this rest stop and let me tell you a little something about myself, my education and how I got my first taste of writing. I think it will help some of you in making that difficult decision of becoming a writer.
A Master's Degree In Literature Is Great But A Master's Degree In Common Sense Is Better.
Born the second oldest of seven children and raised in the cotton fields of Southeast Missouri by my mother, I fled at the age of seventeen. When I say fled, I mean fled into the United States Army to get away from those miserable little white boles of fluff that was so loved by Levi Streuss in making his famous blue jeans for so many years.
When I left Missouri, I had only eight years of formal schooling, but I had already earned a master's degree in the school of common sense and hard knocks.
By the time I had served out the three years that I enlisted for in the Army, I had earned my General Education Degree (GED). It hadn't been easy. Military educators had chased me from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, to Boston, Massachusetts, across to the Pacific to Korea and back to Camp Walters, Texas and despite my desperate struggle against them, had managed to force a degree on me. A feat that I am so glad they were able to accomplish.
Making my way north to Illinois, I worked many different jobs. From grocery stores to building houses to railroading to becoming a welder in the boilermakers union until I landed my dream job. That of being a policeman which could never have happened if I hadn't had the GED degree.
While serving twenty years on the police department, I attended several colleges, taking courses in police science and criminal investigations. Those courses and twenty years of writing thousands of police reports helped me get a fingernail grip on the English language.
Fourteen years ago, I began writing. Since then I have written four feature length screenplays and co-written another one. I have also written and self published three books. One is nonfiction based on the true story of an outlaw gang who terrorized Tazewell County, Illinois back in the 1860s. This one I co-wrote with James Brecher, a friend. The other is a fictional account of five men who go on an adventure in search of the Lost Dutchman's gold mine in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona that becomes a struggle for survival. My third books is a non fiction titled Slayer of Innocence, a true account of a multi-state – multi-agency investigation of a predator pedophile serial killer that I spearheaded back in 1979. I have also written several short stories and magazine articles.
It was late in 1986, while in the last few years of my career as a policeman (retired now) that I started researching the outlaw gang mentioned above. The story was so intriguing, my fellow officers, who I used as a sounding board as I gathered the facts of the incident, looked forward each night to hearing what I had dug up that day. It was like a soap opera at roll call with the men waiting to see who did what to whom right here in Illinois back in 1869.
One officer, James Brecher, was very interested and agreed to help with the research. That was a real break for me.
From the few facts I had uncovered, we knew it was going to be great story. It was already as good as any wild west tale we had heard or any movie we had seen. So why not just write a book! (sound familiar?) How hard could it be anyway? As policemen we were already experts in preparing great investigative reports. So writing a book would be simple. All we had to do was arrange the facts in some sort of order, write them down and we'd have a book. We'd make millions!
Now those of you who've been down that road know it doesn't work like that. It takes long, hard hours, days, months and sometimes even years to write a non-fiction manuscript. We found that you had to travel to the locations you're going to write about. You needed pictures, maps and data on every crossroads. You had to know the lay of the land.
You had to search all libraries, courthouses, schools, historical societies, newspapers, other books, and people who might know something. People who might have some old photographs, letters or articles about it.
We then had to advertise in newspapers and other news media outlets for information. And finally... finally we had it all. Now, we were ready to write that book.
But, how do we write a book? Where do we start? What do we do first? What kind of paper do we use? What typewriter? What kind of word processor? Should we use a computer? What... What...What?
Well, as no doubt you did, we soon found ourselves belly deep in research again. This time researching how to write a marketable book. Another very long road. A rush was on to read a few how-to books on non-fiction writing.
After reading several books by the "experts" we finally decided on a third person style for our masterpiece and set about writing the manuscript.
James would write a chapter at his home and I would write a different chapter at mine. Then we would compare and rewrite each other's chapters until the manuscript was finished. It was long drawn out process, but we managed to get it written.
Then it was how to get the manuscript published. It wasn't long before we found ourselves in a quagmire of literary protocol. The manuscript had to have the proper format, the proper margins, proper headings, proper pagination, and proper spacing. It had to have a proper cover sheet, a proper title sheet, as well as perfect spelling, perfect grammar, perfect everything. Whatever happened to all those publishing editors whose job it is to make the manuscript copy perfect before going to the printer?
But if we thought that was a little out of line, we soon found that you can't just send your Pulitzer Prize winning
manuscript to a publisher. No, you have to first write them a short one page letter telling them what the story is about, who you are and what gives you the right to think you are a writer. And this one page (preferably one half a page) letter must make them feel so wonderful inside they want to read the whole manuscript. Oh, well if that's what they want...but wait! There's more. A publisher will not read your manuscript unless you are already a published author. That's right. You must be published in some form or you're out.
But hold on there, they say if you can get an agent they'll consider reading the manuscript. No problem, there are thousands of agents out there just waiting to get the call. Lurking in the shadows like a hungry fish to snatch your masterpiece up and run with it. You fire off letters to those agencies and set back making plans on how to pick the right one. Counting your money.
Then comes the first reply. "Thank you for giving our agency the honor of reading your material. However, we do not except new writers. We prefer to work with established writers. Good luck in placing your material elsewhere."
You can't get a publisher to read your work unless you are already published or have an agent. You can't get an agent unless you are already published.
A quagmire? You bet. But one you can struggle through if you are truly sincere about your writing. There are many great books on how to write and get published. Buy them. Read them. Learn the trade. Keep writing and you'll get there.
I was not to be defeated. I bought more than thirty how-to books on writing book manuscripts, short stories, and screenplays. I read parts of most of them trying to learn the ropes.
However, even I, dubbed hound dog by fellow police officers, lawyers and judges in the area, because of my determination in finishing what I start, got discouraged after a while. After more attempts to get published and receiving dozens of rejections, I decided nobody wanted my writing and I began to lose interest. Jim Brecher, my partner had already given up.
Oh, I kept messing around with writing I just didn't mess with Lynch Law any more. I wrote a few short stories and read more books.
Then in 1991, I got a big break that tore me from my defeatist mood, when I was contacted by an agency in Chicago about obtaining the use of our Conover Detective Agency surveillance van in a movie being shot there by the A. Shane Production Company. The feature film was Mario and the Mob, staring Robert Conrad and Ann Julian.
Of course, my brother Dennis, who is my partner in the detective agency and I jumped at the chance when they agreed to our fee. We spent 8 great days on location in downtown Chicago.
While there, we met the film's director, Virgil W. Vogel. Vogel was known for his directing of several great television westerns, such as Wagon Train, Big Valley, and more recent, The Young Riders and Centennial.
When Virgil heard we were from Pekin, Illinois, he came over to introduce himself. To our surprise, we found he had been born and raised in Pekin. During the following week when we got together, we discussed the Pekin area and the story about the lynching back in 1869. Virgil was very interested in the story and wanted to read the manuscript, though it would have to be after he finished shooting this movie. He figured that would be about two weeks.
Excitement shot through me at that instant. Finally someone of importance was going to read our work. Someone who might be able to propel it into publication.
When Dennis and I left the set, Vogel presented us with a copy of the screenplay of Mario and The Mob, autographed by Joan Conrad, Tim Irvin, Joan's husband, Robert Conrad, Joan's father, Ann Julian, Virgil Vogel, all the other actors and the even the crew. To us it was nothing short of a masterpiece, right down to the coffee stains that one of them spilled on it while signing.
On the drive back to Pekin, that excitement quickly turned to fear when I realized how many rejection letters I had received on Lynch Law. I hadn't even looked at the manuscript for over a year, but I somehow knew it wasn't ready for that man to read it.
Immediately after arriving home, I read through the manuscript and my fears were confirmed - the manuscript read just like what it was - an amateurish piece of junk.
Almost in a panic, I knew I had to rewrite the whole manuscript and I had only two weeks to get it done.
At that time I was working full time as a policeman, at least eight hours a day as a private detective and dabbling in writing. I had a full schedule and to top it off, my office was like grand central station. Not only were people dropping in, but there was an ever present ringing in my ears from the telephone. All good people and all welcome but all disturbing. I knew I could never get the manuscript rewritten at home.
I took a vacation from police and detective work, gathered all my computer equipment, loaded it into my van and headed south to Tennessee where we own a cabin on Kentucky Lake.
With no telephones and no visitors I sat at the computer and typed for the next ten days. Working fourteen to fifteen hours a day and sometimes as many as eighteen, I rewrote the manuscript to the point that it told the story and flowed so much better. Now I wasn't ashamed for someone to read it.
I drove into Paris, Tennessee and found a print shop. Making two copies, I quickly packaged one and shipped it off to Virgil in California. The other I kept.
I felt good on the way back home. The four hundred-mile, interstate highway drive was relaxing. All I had to do now was wait for Vogel's call.
It was several weeks later when he called. He said he had enjoyed the story and told me he was flying into Pekin and wanted to meet and discuss it.
When he arrived, we had a meeting and he suggested that I write a screenplay. You can just imagine how that shook me. The only screenplay I had ever seen was the one of Mario and The Mob, they gave me in Chicago and it had coffee stains on it. I had no idea how to go about writing one.
But Virgil, having faith, said he would tutor me.
When I asked how long it took to write a screenplay, he said it would take a professional about four weeks. Me it would take about a year.
We then took a drive around Tazewell County and I pointed out all the different locations where the incident had taken place as well as the tombstones of most of the players. Before he flew back to California, we searched out locations to shoot certain scenes.
As soon as Virgil left, I started writing the screenplay. My first attempt was embarrassing to say the least. The script was 315 pages long. The normal script should be no more than 120 pages.
However, Virgil was patient with me and over a period of a year, under his expert guidance and tutorship, I wrote a decent sized screenplay. The great thing about it was that I actually had someone to talk to that knew the business. I found the conversations about screenplay writing enlightening. We talked about his directing experience and what he needed in a script to make a film. Then one day the screenplay was finished. It wasn't 120 pages but it was close. I think it came in at 137 pages that Virgil said was acceptable.
When we were satisfied with the script, we started making arrangements to shoot the film. With Virgil as producer and director and me as co-producer and writer, we formed a company called Lynch Law Productions, here in Pekin.
Virgil secured the commitments of a casting director, a cinematographer, a supervising producer and unit production manager. Things were set in motion. I was on the verge of getting my screenplay made into a movie and I was to be a major part of it all.
In 1993, Virgil was called to direct the pilot movie and six episodes of Walker: Texas Ranger, starring Chuck Norris. He invited me down to the Dallas/Fort Worth area where the movie was being shot to get some experience in the making of a movie.
I spent a week on the set, watching and trying to absorb everything there was to know about shooting a film. I was with Virgil and the camera crew, yet stayed out of the way and kept my distance when the actors were off to themselves rehearsing their lines. I found Chuck Norris and Clarence Gilyard to be very down to earth people off stage.
It was not only a pleasant week, but also a great learning experience for a novice screenwriter. Virgil allowed me to be an extra in one of the scenes. At the beginning of the movie, there is a big bank robbery. I was counting money at a teller's window. Another great experience. (got a copy of the daily rushes on it.) Great part though it didn't land my many acting offers.
While on the set, I met James Drury, the actor who starred in the TV version of The Virginian. In the pilot film for Walker, he played Walker's captain. Having lunch with him one day, he said he had heard about the screenplay I had written and would like to read it. Not knowing the ins and outs of Hollywood and exactly what I should do, I told him I would have to clear it through Virgil. Drury got a copy of the script.
Several weeks after I returned home, Vogel called and told me that James Drury liked the script and if I would re-write the script to make the lead character - a tough city marshal - the co-star, he would get finances for shooting the film. The reason for the change was because Drury wanted the marshal's role and he had been out of the business for so long, he wouldn't be able to carry the lead. He said he could arrange to get $10,000,000.00. That was a lot of zeros.
It took only a few days for me to re-write the script. It was a hit with Drury. The money was committed. A bank account set and plans to go into pre-production were in the works.
With that much money, we would be able to shoot the film on location right here in Pekin, Illinois. Contracts were being written, schedules made and a budget for Lynch Law was written up. We discussed Chuck Norris playing the lead. We were looking at Tom Selleck for the lead. He was a close friend of Virgil's. We were even considering that great movie icon, Clint Eastwood.
I got a telephone call from Virgil who said he had just gotten off the telephone with a friend of his - Chuck Sellier, the writer of the book and producer of the Television series Grizzly Adams. Virgil said Sellier's new book on Grizzly Adams had just came out and to get it to the big screen, he agreed to join forces with us in making a two-picture deal with Drury and his financiers. The only draw back was that there was no screenplay written on the new Grizzly Adams as yet.
If a screenplay was all that was holding it up, I could remedy that situation.
Virgil sent me copies of Sellier's new book and I started writing a screenplay on it. He said Drury had agreed and a meeting with the money man was set up in Las Vegas. He would get back to me afterward.
I was about half way through the screenplay when Virgil called to say that somehow the meeting had fallen apart in Las Vegas and Sellier left. Virgil said he had met with Drury and his financier alone and wasn't happy with the financier's demands that Drury be in charge. However, even though Sellier's Grizzly Adams film was out, they were still working on Lynch Law.
While they talked, I listened. I didn't want to say or do anything to blow this deal. Great things were about to happen. As you might imagine, I was floating on cloud nine. A poor boy from the cotton fields of Missouri making it all the way to Hollywood film making. What else could a man ask for?
I was still counting all that money that would be rolling in and preparing my acceptance speech for the Academy Award for best screenplay, when we hit a snag. The financier and Virgil were having concerns over who was going to run the show. Who was going to have authority over the bank account? Who would authorize and sign all checks written during the production? It's common knowledge in the movie industry that whoever controls the bank account, controls the production of the movie and Vogel wasn't about to give up his movie.
While I watched in horror, the entire deal fell through.
I'm still not over it. A shiver rushes through me even today when I think about it. How close we had been. So close and yet so far.
The importance of Writer's Conferences to writers
My friendship continued with Virgil. In 1993 my wife, Judie and I attended the Tuolumne County Wild West Film Festivals in Sonora, California, with Virgil and his wife, Pat. Virgil was presented the Director of the Year award. We met many great actors and writers, including Ben Johnson. We actually ate dinner at the table with several actors including John Mitchum and his wife. Needless to say all this stirred the blood and brought forth the urge to hit the keyboard again. Maybe I could become a real part of these talented people.
To improve my skills, in August of 1994, I attended the Blooming Grove Writer's Conference, held on the Illinois Wesleyan University campus in Bloomington, Illinois.
I met a lot of other writers of non-fiction, fiction, and even poetry. It was a five-day conference and it provided a real boost to my writing ambition. I actually met agents and publishers for the first time. I thought for a while I had found an agent, but it fell through.
In September of 1994, we once again attended the Tuolumne County Wild West Film Festivals in Sonora, California, with Virgil and Pat.
It was during this visit with Virgil that he told me about an actress who, during the Civil War, became a spy for the North, got caught, sentenced to death, was rescued and went out west to become the first female sheriff in history.
Virgil said he had always wanted to do a screenplay about her. He said he had always wanted to make that movie with Barbara Stanwick as the star, Pauline Cushman, but had never got around to getting a screenplay written. He said someday maybe we'd talk about doing one.
It was June of 1995 when Virgil called and told me he was ready to go on the screenplay about Pauline Cushman. He said if I would write the screenplay, he would personally finance the production of the movie. We would co-produce and he would direct. I once again made the journey to cloud nine. Once again I was floating about nine feet above the ground. I was going to write a screenplay and make a movie.
I immediately started researching this lady and found it to be a difficult search. There was little information on her. However, I was able to collect enough information to get started with the writing.
As I wrote, I would fax Virgil 10 or 15 pages at a time to get approval or disapproval. The first thing I had to do was capture the image of Pauline that he saw - angelic. I couldn't seem to reach the height he wanted.
After receiving the fifth or sixth fax from him saying I had not yet captured the character he was looking for, I decided to take a little break and attend another conference. This one was a one-day conference on screen writing and was being held in Chicago on July 29, 1995. Rita Lewis who was registered as a literary agent with the WGAw organized it. Her agency - For Writers Only! - called it the Introduction To The Art Of Screenplay Writing: Everything you Wanted to Know About Screenwriting but Never Knew Who to Ask.
It sounded like something I needed so I attended. The first day of listening to screenwriters talk was worth the expense and trip.
That evening in my hotel room, I re-wrote the opening scene, including the character of Pauline by ballpoint pen. I was so excited about the new scene, I placed a telephone call to Virgil and read it to him. When I finished there was a long silence. I sat on the edge of my bed waiting, the silent phone receiver to my ear.
Finally he spoke. "Congratulations, Jim, you're now a screenwriter. I like that character. Now go finish the rest of it."
I drove home the next day with renewed confidence. After all those rejections of her character by Virgil, I had finally hit on it after listening to professionals talk for a couple of hours. Now I could write in earnest. The writing from that point on went smooth and fast.
Here's a quick lesson. Attend as many writers' conferences as you can afford. They are a great asset to any writer. Besides, you never know when you'll meet that agent or publisher who will take a shine to your work.
In January of 1996, just as I was near the end, Virgil was diagnosed with cancer. He was in the hospital when he read and approved the last 10 pages. He loved the script and called me to say that as soon as he got out of the hospital we would start shooting the movie.
My friend, Virgil W. Vogel, the great western movie director, passed away without ever getting out of the hospital. He was a great man. I miss him.
As you can see, I came close - very close, but like most things in my life, the bottom fells out just in the nick of time to save me from making it big.
However, I was never one to let little things stop me so I gathered my absolutely devastated self up, brushed off the dust and set about writing again. Maybe - just maybe - I'll get another run at selling a script or making a movie.
Forcing Yourself To Keep Driving The Road.
Four months later, while Lynch Law was still hitting the high marks in sales locally, and really fired up on its success, I decided to self publish my second book, the novel Greenhorns and Killer Mountains that had also garnered a drawer full of rejections from publishers.
Once again I went through the design phase. Only this time I had more experience. I knew all about book development. That was evident when after submitting the manuscript, I got a call from Whitehall Printing informing me that it was the first time they had printed a book with the page numbers on the top inside corners of each page. I had to redo the page numbers and resubmit the corrected camera-ready copy. Another mistake I will never make again.
When the finished product arrived back from Whitehall Printing, it looked even better than Lynch Law. Top drawer, so to speak. I was quite proud of my self-publishing achievements.
Now to the marketing road. I couldn't afford the high cost of marketing to do the books justice. I had already extended to the limit my retirement funds on the printing. I had to settle with getting the books placed with some distributors including Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Partners and Partners/West. Then it was on to Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and Borders. These distributors required a 55% discount, but who was I to argue.
The only marketing I could afford was word of mouth and pestering local Television stations, radio stations and Newspapers to do interviews and reviews. I also pushed the bookstores for book signings. I had pretty decent luck with all parties. I kept hoping that one or both books would attract enough attention to be picked up by an agent or one of the big houses for re-release. Maybe even get a screenplay or two optioned.
Over the following year I wrote another novel titled First Lady Abducted. It was the recipient of several rejections from the major publishing houses giving me time to write a screenplay for it. Like the novel, they, too, earned me several rejections.
In 2002, I still had not attracted the attention of a big publisher or producer so I decided to write a true crime story about the investigation of a pedophile serial killer and the murders of sixteen young boys throughout the Midwest that I, as a police detective, spearheaded back in 1979. I self published the book and it is doing great. I have expanded my field in abducted/missing children to public speaking. Here is another great place to generate sales of your books.
I have several other projects going at this time. I am writing a first person private detective novel set in Chicago and lately, I have been looking at the fictional version of Lynch Law. Perhaps I will change a few names and places, the title and self publish it.
I have also been thinking about putting all my hundreds of rejections together and publishing them in book form. It would probably make it to the New York best seller list.
So there you have the details of my writing career. After reading about all the problems I encountered, if you're still determined to become a writer then read on.
Over Coming The Urge End The Trip
The ups and downs that happened to me are not isolated cases. Many, many other writers have been through the same situations. Just when they think they have caught the brass ring, their finger slices through as through it were made of water and much to their dismay their deals fall through. At this point on the road to becoming a writer, many turn back.
Ask me if I enjoyed the run and I'll give you a resounding yes. It was the highlight of my life. Something I will cherish forever.
I would suggest to every beginning writer that he or she should try to find some movie in production and get permission to observe the filming from the sidelines for a few days. It will greatly enhance both your screenplay and novel writing.
After that experience I was down on writing again. I found every excuse in the world to stay away from the keyboard.
Three years passed and all I did was piddle around with short stories.
Then an incident happened that got me back in the grove. I got a telephone call from a woman who sounded desperate. She wanted to know if my book about the Lynching was published yet. I had to tell her no.
She explained that her father was a Berry descendant who had wanted to read the book ever since he had heard about back in 1989 when Jim Brecher and I had given a talk at a meeting of local Genealogical Society. She and her father had attended that meeting. She explained that he was very ill now and wasn't going to live very much longer. He had been waiting for a long time to read the book, she thought it might perk him up a bit.
After she hung up, I began thinking about her plight. During the research of Lynch Law, we had touched on the lives of many descendants of the good guys as well as the bad guys. And like her father, most of them wanted a copy of the book as soon as it was published.
I didn't have a published book, but maybe there was a way I could come to her aid. I had the next best thing - a manuscript.
I printed out a copy of that three-pound manuscript and when I called and told her she could pick it up, she was almost in tears.
A few weeks later, I received a call from the lady. She thanked me for the manuscript saying he had gotten to read and enjoy it before he passed away. No need to say it but that gave me a good feeling.
There had to be others up in their years who would love to read the story. I decided it should be published if only for the enjoyment of the local population as it dealt with real frontier history that took place here. I figured there would be enough interest to justify the cost.
I was fired up again and more determined than ever to publish the book but because of all the rejections I had received, I knew it was time to look at publishing from another angle. The self-publishing angle.
I didn't know anyone who had self published. For that matter I didn't even know another writer that I could talk to. It's always good to talk with your friends and your family, but what do they know about writing or self-publishing? Probably a lot less than you.
I had no knowledge of how to go about publishing a book and I didn't want to pay some vanity publishing company to publish it. If it was going to be done, I would do it. How big a problem could self-publishing be anyway?
Boy, did I thrust myself into another galaxy within the writing world. I had no idea where to even start. But once again I called upon my old standby phrase - if you don't know something, at least know where to find out about it. I rushed out and bought several how-to books. This time on self-publishing, book design and printing.
After I had garnered what I thought was enough intelligence on the matter, and with the help of my wife and two daughters who are all in the financial business and are quite knowledgeable in how to set up a new company, I opened my own publishing company that I dubbed Lynch Law Productions.
Then with how-to books on self-publishing spread out around me, I proceeded to prepare the book titled Lynch Law for publication. Everything had to be prepared so that it was camera ready. If I did it right, the only thing I would need was someone to print and bind the book.
The cover had to be designed. There was the front, the spine, and the back. For the front, I found an old drawing I had doodled years earlier of an old jail with a rope noose hanging from a tree limb. I decided to use that illustration for the cover. Because it was such a dark subject, I decided to have the front and spine of the cover done in black with gold lettering. The back cover was in black with white lettering. A mistake I won't make again. I quickly learned that books with black and gold covers do not photograph well.
The interior of the book also had to be designed, from the half title page to the text to the bibliography in the back. Each page had to be laid out with the right type fonts and the right size. The headings, the page numbers and the chapter number had to be designed. Everything had to be exactly the size that would fit properly on an 8 1/2 X 5 1/2 inch page.
I got a great deal of help in designing my book from the printing company that I chose to print Lynch Law. That was Whitehall Printing of Naples, Florida. The lady I worked with was very patient with me throughout the process. Taking the time to point out the dos and don't of the printing process.
After much preparation, I took a chance and sent the finished product to the printer. A few days later, I received a few suggestions from Whitehall printing. I took the suggestions and made the final printout.
Four weeks later eleven hundred copies of Lynch Law arrived by truck. I was surprised at how great it looked. Very professional. As good as any book I had ever seen on the shelves in stores. And it sold great, too. Locally it was on the best seller list.