By: Charles Ramos Jr.
Reprinted from Vegas Valley News dot com. Originally published 08/26/2019
Greetings sports fans and welcome back once again to Vegas Valley Sports Beat. That spicy little meatball of a column that melts in your mind, not in your hand. It is a sultry sun draped Sunday here in the Las Vegas Valley, God is in His Heaven and all is about as right with the world as we are ever going to see it again.
It was simply a beautiful day today but perhaps that is because I did not go outside all day to deal with the heat but our temperatures are going to start trending into the lower ranges during the day pretty soon now as we head into the first of September and the Labor Day weekend which is fast approaching.
I don’t know about yourselves, but what a week it has been for yours truly. I am currently celebrating the landing of my first paid writing job as a ghostwriter for a legal coaching blog that I am exceedingly pleased to be writing for. This coming as it does directly on the heels of being selected to judge films for the Los Angeles Cinefest film festival has me walking on air as it is but then yesterday I got the best surprise of my entire life.
I answered an advertisement on craigslist early Saturday morning and later that same evening I was hired to write reviews for LV Cannabis Reviews as a member of their contributing staff. I am still somewhat in a state of shock and disbelief. Not that I got the job, because that was my intent after all, but because I simply cannot believe that after over forty years of being a pot-smoking fugitive from justice and of being called a doper, pot-head, hippie burn out, and every other metaphor for a pot smoker that one could imagine I can now thumb my nose at all of my detractors in one fell swoop. I hate to be the to say I told you so but…
I am not only getting paid to smoke and otherwise consume cannabis but the company I write for http://www.lvcannabisreviews.com is going to be paying for the infused edibles, CBD oils, vaping products, and the marijuana, too! I always knew that some fine day smoking mass quantities of marijuana simply had to pay off somehow and now it has finally come full-circle.
I love it when a plan comes together.
When I stop and think about all of the static and all of the mindless smart-ass remarks that I have been forced to endure in the name of writing this column and pursuing my personal dream of having not only my own sports column but of writing for a living it is beyond phenomenal to me. I knew all along that this day would come but when you are barely hanging in there at all for so long and things begin to fall into place just as you had always said they would it is no less amazing to watch it happen than any other miracle of faith.
I was in the 7th grade when I bought my first joint. I saw some older kids circled up out in the field at my junior high school so I walked right up to them and asked if they would sell me a joint for a dollar. You would have thought I asked them if they wanted to buy a flying saucer for the way they all looked at me. They clearly had no concept of selling marijuana in a time and place when just finding some pot was a chore. Selling pot, on the other hand, was still a semi-mythological creature most people my age had only heard the Reader’s Digest versions of or saw on a re-run of Dragnet.
A user was someone much like the pusher except they were more of a menace to society because marijuana was a gateway drug that invariably caused the pothead to become a full-blown heroin junkie before going insane. Once you took that first toke you were sure to steal a motorcycle, ravish the local virgin if you can find her, and hold a small town hostage while jumping around and acting like a spider monkey on crack cocaine.
Fine words coming from the same generation whose parents bought and sold bought and sold Laudanum, Codeine, and Morphine over the counter and put pharmaceutical-grade Cocaine in their Coke. I think we can all understand now why the Roaring-1920s were really roaring. Everybody was stoned out of their bloody minds on Opium, cough syrup, and Coca-Cola. Hypocrites will always have a good reason for hating someone else as long as all they have to do is look in the mirror to find one.
But I digress. Let us now move on to the point.
I cannot help but think about all of the people, from my own mother on down to people who did not even know me, sneering, scoffing and lecturing me on the evils and ignorance of writing for free. Even just minutes before I got the email saying that I had been accepted as a ghostwriter for a paying publication of high repute I had to hear it. If I had to tell one person then I had to tell dozens of people why I was writing this column for free. Because I want to, duh. I asked for the job did I not?
I am writing this in the hopes that one day someone with the same dreams I once had of one day becoming a writer who actually gets paid for writing might read these words and take them to heart. If I reach only one person and teach them then I will have changed the world for the better yet again. I am also of a mind that all of my detractors past, present, and future as well might read these words and understand that they can all line up now and kiss my ass, one detractor at a time.
If writing was easy everybody would do it. Everybody in that perfect world would have a book at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list that would stay at number one forever and a day. Everybody would have thousands of critics raving about every last word that falls out of their pen, whilst throwing five-star reviews, compliments, and accolades around like confetti. Big important awards and shiny statues would be lavished upon every writer by the metric ton, and the royalty checks would clog up one’s mail slot every Monday morning.
Lucrative book contracts would come every writer’s way every single day of the week, and nobody would ever struggle with writer’s block because you would not be able to wipe your bum without some publisher falling all over themselves to print it. Not to mention it would spell the demise of the dreaded Imposter Syndrome that has been the cause of death of a lot more manuscripts than there are in print.
A wise man once sang, “You got to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues, and you know it don’t come easy.”
Be it writing, singing, acting, modeling, playing music, or what have you nothing could be closer to the truth. But when it comes to writing for a living it goes to a whole new level all its own. One that no other form of public performance demands of its apprentices. Many writers can be found there, but no writer in the history of forever has ever been “discovered” at the Main Street Diner in Duluth, Pop’s Malt Shop, The streets of Mayberry, or in any internet cafe from here to Bombay. Not Earnest Hemmingway, and not even Stephen King started at the top of the slush pile. They, just like myself and everyone else, started at the bottom and clawed their way up the dead tree of publishing. Writing, as with everything in your life, is what you make of it.
I see many “aspiring writers” aspiring their aspirations of publication on my Twitter feed every single day. I have spent countless hours there making new contacts, nurturing genuine friendships, and cementing close-knit professional relationships with other writers of all genres. I love helping to support and promote writers of all genres and skill levels in the #WritingCommunity on LinkedIn, Inklyte, Kentbury, Fubar, and wherever else I might be found socializing through these social media outlets. Since I began this article I joined Instagram too as vegasvalleynewsdotcom.
Through all of this, I have continued writing my column here whenever I was able to. That has not always been possible thanks to the same detractors trying to get in my way, trying to dissuade and/or discourage me when they should have been encouraging me to pursue my dreams instead of trying to force their own visions of them on me. Losing a kidney to cancer 22 months ago has not helped a bit either but I continued to build my brand when I could not write.
I have even gone so far as to publish articles seeking content writers from amongst all of those thousands of writers, aspiring and non-aspiring alike who follow me on Twitter to write for us at Vegas Valley News .com as unpaid contributors. I got one reply and it came from someone who was lamenting their latest rejection slip and contemplating literary suicide. Meaning they were going to throw their pen in the trash and quit writing altogether.
That one writer, whom one could honestly call aspiring, was put off at first by the no pay thing but they decided to give it a try. They wrote several articles that I thought showed a lot of promise but then just as suddenly as they began they quit. I recently discovered that they started demanding cash for what my editor called their obvious cut and paste articles and he said no way so they took their pen and went home.
I began my writing career in 1999 when I began writing my first novel, The Light Of A Silvery Moon, on a whim. I had the time and I had the story so why not? In the two years that it took me to finish that novel I studied creative writing under the tutelage of a gentleman who had a Master’s in English Literature and writes technical books for the military. He read and critiqued the story as it progressed and the last thing he said to me as he handed back the final pages was that I have the unique ability to draw my readers into my world. The worlds that I create.
I had the time to do it so after I finished the first novel I began the second and third ones, then I began the fourth one, and the fifth one, and the sixth one, then the seventh one. And when they were all finished I started the eighth one which is still waiting for me to get back to finishing it. All in good time.
Whenever I was not writing which was up to 16 hours a day, I was studying everything I could find about the publishing industry. I was pouring over every page of every copy of Writer’s Market, and Poet’s Market I could lay my hands on and learning through them how to write a proper query letter to literary agents and how they differ. I learned how one agent can differ vastly from querying another even if they work for the same agency. And I learned how they all differ from querying a publisher entirely.
I learned how to look for the best agency or publisher fro the particular book that I wanted to publish and I learned how to read and follow their guidelines and I learned their terminology. I learned that no written submission or query that arrives on a publisher or agent’s desk without a SASE, or self-addressed stamped envelope, for them to send a reply in will ever live long or prosper. That submission or query, I soon learned, is destined for the dustbin of history.
I wrote jokes for Jay Leno at one point but I did it just for laughs because Jay Leno does not use jokes from people who sent them to the Tonight Show. He said so on the air. Twice that I recall anyway. But he used 5 of my jokes before I stopped submitting them to his writers. Why? Because I sent them a signed, handwritten denial of any and all claim of any and all rights to those original jokes with each one. That is why mine got into Jay Leno’s Tonight Show monologue while all others did not. All because of something else I learned in my free time. Copyrights.
I learned enough about writing a book proposal to know that I never want to write one if I can avoid it at all, and I learned how to shop for the best agency or publishing house to represent or publish my specific work byproducts. I learned from their individual and often unique submission guidelines that some publishing houses accept submissions from anyone, while some only accept submissions from literary agents.
Some agents as I would learn like working with new writers while some agents prefer working with previously published authors only, while others accept a certain percentage of both. Some you can write a query only by snail mail, some you can send an email, too and some you can send your submission on a DVR disc while some accept all of the above or some combination thereof. And the rest, publishers and agents alike, are closed to submissions at this time.
I learned all of that and I learned what book genres those firms were seeking at the time or what genres they dealt in specifically all the time. I learned that some are looking for female writers, and some are looking for ethnic writers, while other’s are looking for writers from gender-specific ethnicities.
I learned about proofs, and final proofs, storyboards, typesetting, proofreading, rewriting, first drafts, second drafts, final drafts, editing, writing a proper synopsis, writing character, and sub-character profiles and biographies, writing chapter outlines, and I learned how to write a proper dust jacket blub. Right after I learned what a blurb and a dust jacket were that is.
To my credit, I once secured the representation of a major talent agent named Eddie Kritzer, the Producer of Kids Say The Darndest Things and agent to Bill Cosby, et al, by selling my book to him with a two-paragraph dust jacket blurb. He got right back at me and asked for a tagline. I wrote it right then and sent it right back to him. Next, he asked me for a synopsis and he got it almost as quickly and I won an agent. Sadly he passed away before I could work with him but I also got my new job reviewing marijuana and cannabinoids by submitting a two-paragraph blurb about a specific subject which I made up and wrote on the spot.
I learned about vanity presses, and how they operate to defraud naive authors out of millions every year, I learned about printing houses, the difference the print shop itself can make, the different grades of paper they use and how well they hold up over time, and I studied the various methods of bookbinding.
I utilized my free time to learn about print-on-demand self-publishing, book marketing, the demands, responsibilities, and travails of an author on a promotional book tour. Then I learned about authors copies and how easily a first time novelist with dreams of Avarice can find themselves stuck with a garage filled with cases of their own books the booksellers could not sell and the publisher did not allow them a buy-back provision in their book contracts.
I learned about book distribution, and that all public libraries have a budget for buying new books from walk-in authors. I learned about digital desktop self-publishing of dead tree and electronic books, and I learned about electronic submissions, what constitutes boilerplate, how many new books a publisher takes on per year versus the percentage of gross/or net sales they pay the author and whether or not they pay an advance on royalties. I also learned that publishing a book takes a great deal of time to accomplish at best and that royalties can take two years to reach a new author after being accepted for publication. Even longer if an agent is involved.
I learned about the legendary slush pile which is the pile of new manuscripts, (or MSS (as I also learned) on an agent publishers desk which they have to read., and how nagging an already overworked agent, editor editor-in-chief, or publisher by mail, fax, or phone is the quickest way to get to the bottom of it. I learned that courtesy, professionalism and a properly written query that hooks the attention of the intended agent or publisher and stands out from the rest in that regard is the only way to get to the top of that heap. And while I was doing all of this I was learning that great writing is the only way to stay on top and the only way to be a great writer, right or wrong, is to write until you get it right.
To that end, I took an advanced editing course from LinkedIn Professional Learning, I learned to wite AP style for essay and research writing in English Composition 1 at Ashford University. And, while all this was going on, I wrote and I wrote and I wrote some more. I wrote letters by the hundreds, I wrote poetry, I wrote a play, I wrote stand-up and TV comedy, I wrote a book on yoga, and I wrote my first article about a man who sued the federal courts for his right to eat roadkill and won. That article was reviewed by Dave Barry who said he liked it, and that it was funny.
I wrote letter after letter to agents and to publishers, I wrote short stories, a poetry anthology which I submitted for publication in a contest, I wrote my first competitive essay for which I won a national award in another contest, I wrote lyrics and a gospel hymn for original music, I wrote a love poem for Prince Charles’s fiancee Camilla called Queen Of Hearts for which I was honored by a personal thank you letter from His Highness who wrote to me in prison to say that he was moved by it and by the widespread public outpouring of kindness and well wishes towards the happy couple. I have been hired several times to write poetry for the wives and girlfriends of other friends as well. In some cases, it was just a small token like a dollar or a small bag of chips. It was not the amount that mattered but that made it that one-of-a-kind poem their property forever.
I kept writing no matter how hard things got or how bad they were. No matter how sick I got I kept on learning my craft and rain or shine I kept on writing.
Then one fine day on January 30, 2018, I answered an advertisement on craigslist for someone who was willing to write for a news agency without pay and the first thing the following morning I received a call from Mark Satorre who interviewed me and assigned me 3 articles which I had to turn in within a weeks time, and he gave me my own column which you are reading now in which to do it and my beat would be sports, travel, and entertainment. It was time to stand and deliver because I knew that I had gotten an unexpected turn at the bat and I went in swinging for the parking lot.
I turned in my three articles on time and after minimal editing, they were all three published in turn. By the end of the third article, I was made a staff writer because as Mark said, I had well earned it. In a sane world that would have been the beginning of a day in paradise but not so. That was when my writing travails began in earnest.
All was well until the morning of February 14, 2018. I was a cub reporter with all of two weeks experience and had just published a review when the school shooting in Parkland, Florida came down the news wire and I got assigned to cover it. For 24 hours straight I was all over the story and watched it develop right before my eyes. The entire experience was much like having your brain plugged into a wall socket all night and a day. It was some intense on the job training, to say the least.
Over the past 19 months that I have been writing for Vegas Valley News, I have had to listen to numerous people asking me such snarky questions as ‘you mean they don’t pay you for writing?’ And every single time I explained to them that if you want to publish you have to be published. Not one of those people heard a single word I said either but their eyes did roll around in their heads an awful lot.
The only person besides myself who did believe in me and stood behind me all the way was my editor, Mark Satorre. When times were tough for me and when I was too sick to work he did not fire me he said do what you can do whenever you can do it and he always said thank you for every article I published when I was the one who owed him the thanks for supporting me. I still do too.
I have had the time of my life writing for Vegas Valley News and I love writing Vegas Valley Sports Beat. Not only do I get to live the dream of growing up to be just like my lifelong hero, Oscar Madison from The Odd Couple but I have my own sports column too. What an amazing and wonderful world this is sometimes because now I have been vindicated. The line to kiss my butt starts right behind me.
It has taken me more than 20 years to get to where I am today but here I am. I got here and I hope to be staying here too. This morning I have a phone interview coming in around noon from a writer who is putting together a writing group and the rate of pay per word is excellent. I got the interview the same way I got the first two jobs. Through all of this accumulated experience.
To bring you all up to date: I got that writing group job two hours ago and it sounds like an awesome new venue for Journalists. The Editor agreed to give me one shot at it and I am coming out swinging for that parking lot again when he sends me the assignment next week.
If you were looking at my personal approach to building my own writing career from the point of view of someone who only sees a small amount of the effort which I have invested in myself it does not make me look too bright I have to admit. But it all looks pretty damned impressive when you put it all down together on a cover letter, resume, or query. And that is before I even add the links to my published works, my own publishing website, and one of the one hundred plus samples of my articles in Vegas Valley News along with everything else.
Novelist, investigative journalist, columnist, sports reporter, TV comedy writer, staff writer, copywriter, reviewer, poet, playwright, Judge of feature films, movie shorts, movie scripts, and music videos, ghostwriter, staff writer, award-winning essayist, lyricist, hymnist, published author, editor, and finally, Publisher. That has been my goal from the start.
That was my dream. And this is how I achieved it. And now that you know how to do it, I know you know as well as I know that you can do it too. And now you have absolutely no excuse whatsoever for not succeeding as a writer or at whatever you chose to do. Write on?
My sincerest heartfelt thanks I give to God and to everybody who has helped me along the way. To those who did not? Thank you for allowing me to prove you wrong I never could have done it without you.
Charles Ramos Jr. August 26, 2018