Writing for Profit: One Scribe's Journey.
Romulo, and his father, O'Farrill Silva were publishing giants.
Writing is one of the toughest ways to make a good living
If I had had any sort of meaningful advice as a child, I might have gone to college and studied the arts and perhaps journalism, as the English language was the only subject with which I regularly shined.
The journey through many lives is littered with broken dreams, might-be's and should's. Unfortunately, ma selected the short straw herself and dad was a complete waste of space, and that's being kind. So I took a path well travelled by losers - attempting careers to which they are completely unsuited - in my case, including a hare-brained scheme run by the government for trainee farm managers (read field slaves); the Royal Navy (read sea-slaves); finally being ejected forcibly into a world after six years at just 21, where everyone was having the time of their lives with great companions, Jim Beam and Johnny Walker, (booze slaves).
Here we'll skip a few years - say, 24? I did little of note during the intervening time except get into trouble and try to eliminate myself from the planet in several well-tried ways, including marriages, drugs, more JB and JW and finally Huntsville, during which time I was only saved by good genes and lack of funds. Maybe you've been there, dear reader?
In fact, it took TDC to finally straighten out this bent ploughshare to where it was able to cut a shaky but fairly accurate furrow, side-by-side with the rest of the life-slaves.
While I was serving my 3 out of 12 (Whew!) I found I was a decent poet - based on what everyone told me. I got hold of books on the subject and studied the classical forms of verse as well as composed some 100 poems every one of which was lost to me during the process of being admitted back to society (a "trusted" con took my small case promising to send them to me when I got out...there was a reason for this, but I prefer not to divulge same...please see note following article). He disappeared into the great maw of the USA and letters went unanswered; his phone number was a phoney. Goodness knows what he did with the verse and my other effects.
Another few years went by where I did this or that; still wrote the occasional poem, but, as you know, or will soon be told if you aspire to the muse, there's no money in poetry. It may be a joy to compose and will hone and push the envelope of your literary skills, but it don't pay the rent, baby, not no-how. For most aspiring word-smiths, sadly, nothing does.
By the early 1990's, I was living in Valle de Bravo, Mexico, having married and divorced a national before I went to Wynn farm. My son was there, in Mexico City with mum, and I had began a life-long love affair with Mexico which I still carry on my sleeve.
I had just taken a job with General Motors through the Rebecca Bustos agency to be their Santa Claus for the TV ads that year, (and 3 subsequent years which I wasn't paid for...read your contracts, dhalinks!). That was marvellous, or course, and paid a small fortune by my modest standards allowing me to lease a ranch in 'Valle with a studio and a view of the surrounding valley. I had decided to get all the trappings and be an instant magazine writer (Ah, such innocence!). But I really tried. And this was the days just before computers came into general use, my submissions had to be laboriously typed on a Brother word-processor and sent, in MS ready copy, via snail-mail to the United States which I saw as my market. Anyone shedding a tear for me yet!?
Back came the rejection slips, one, two...a flood. Then...happy day! An acceptance by American Dane for a Viking article and another by a country magazine for a humorous article on blackberrying. I was euphoric for all of 2 days until the "thanks but no thanks" slips began appearing again.
After about 2 months, I had sold just two articles for a total of about $300 and knew I was on a bum steer...I also knew why, thanks to advice from a couple of more humane and caring editors, which any aspiring article writer might benefit by taking on board:
The experienced editors told me to target my markets; ask for guidlines on their requirements and obtain copies of their publications to see what sort of stuff they published; develop a niche depending on what I knew, or could easily research; and send enquiry letters before shot-gunning magazines as I had been doing. In other words, abandon all my plans and start over again with a business model and so on. You may note that, although I am not governed by this advice myself, wrting for Hubpages could easily carry the same admonitions.
It didn't help, but all this was not just mia culpa. The industry was just changing over to computers in publishing, along with electronic information transfer. This meant that publications could begin to effectively use the specialized wire services and receive manuscripts by email. The copy ready MS's and saved carbons died almost overnight. It was a new world for writers and some, like moi, was caught napping.
Then came an extraordinary stroke of good luck.
I had briefly in some time past taken an interest in bullfighting, to the extent I knew which was the tail end and the one where the hurty parts grew. I was in Mexico City seeing the son, when I popped in to the Mexico City News - a wonderful, English language newspaper owned and operated by the O'Farrill family (who also owned giant publisher, Novedades).
The editor was one of the legends of ex-pat newspaper men and writers, Patricia, Pat Nelson. An unfiltered Camel-smoking, green eye-shade wearing, no-nonsense lesbian who was reputed to have seduced half the beautiful actresses in Mexico.
But Pat was the real deal as an editor and writer were concerned, with her own column on economics. She had also been a sergeant in the US coastguard, a published sci-fi writer and a few other interesting things before she "retired" in Mexico to run the News with an iron - yet fair - fist. She was the first women executive I admired and was prepared to obey.
She fixed me with a gimlet stare, fired a salvo from a clenched Camel at me and said. "OK, Challen, I'll give you a contract here as a bullfight reporter as you said you knew all about it!"
I have written about this from here on in in other hubs which I don't want to repeat. Suffice it to say, I made something of a success of my three weekly columns for 5 years on Mexican sports ("Talking Bull," "Off the Wall" - jai-alai - and "From the Horses Mouth" a report from the Hippodrome). I had a decent contract which allowed me to live. I became well known around the facilities, including hob-knobbing with famous matadors at the world's largest bullfight facility, the Monumental Plaza. (You think British footballers get some gash fellahs? Ha! You should see what top matadors have to fight off with a stick!)
It all ended after those glorious 5 years during which time the top columnists were invited to fiestas, breakfasts, lunches and dinners in top hotels, along with weekend junkets to spas and resorts. Although my sojourn with the News came to an end, I had built up enough contacts to continue writing at other newspapers in Mexico City, Cuernavaca and La Paz in South Baja. Shame. The good days have waned for foreign journos in Mexico; mostly they died with the News, now long gone and forgotten.
Sorry, I got carried away with this little story of one writer’s modest achievements in later life. (which include 3 books and one poetry anthology!). Now I am spreading what’s left of my literary seed on Hub pages. Like poetry, it keeps me active, maintains my journalistic skills - but - there’s no money in it!!
Notes. I lost all my poetry written in the joint and was unable to recall most of it, but I persevered and gradually had enough for an anthology three years ago.
PS I was going to do a hub today about interesting words for writers to use, but the pen pulled me away in another direction. I’ll do it later, perchance.