Procrastination or progress? 1979

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Sunrise over North Hero, Vermont, January 27, 2022. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Continuing my hunt through the journal of my first year as a freelancer, I came upon these notes from three days in a row. Was I making progress or faking it? You can read and decide.

This afternoon was spent reading a few science/fiction/fantasy short stories and continuing in the never-ending Chicago Manual of Style. Someday I will consider myself prepared to start writing. Meanwhile, I will study the craft and take notes on ideas. (More on Mind’s Eye came through today; also idea for a religious-theme short story about “The Rainbow Girl.”

Howard W. Fielding, “Journal, Volume II,” 28 January 1979

“Someday I will consider myself prepared to start writing.” Sounds like procrastination to me.

The two story ideas were progress, I suppose. “Mind’s Eye” was the working title of a novel that I may still write. The theme deals with identity, which is a much more interesting topic today than it was in the 1970s.

As for “The Rainbow Girl,” I have no idea what that was about. I often come up with titles before I have characters, plots, settings, or whatever. Based on the context, it was apparently a religious or spiritual short story, but I never did market one of those.

But then the next day I wrote this entry:

Mailed (and copied) the trustee treatise — and I’m quite pleased with it. Less so with my prospects at the Valley News — [the editor] was very discouraging about immediate openings or freelancing, but was interested in my legal background. Could be a good sign. Meanwhile, back to Hanover Gazette and WNNE. Read a bit more in Chicago Manual — and pleased with my work progress to date.

Howard W. Fielding, “Journal, Volume II,” 28 January 1979

For context, in addition to freelancing I was looking for jobs in print or broadcast journalism in the so-called Upper Valley area of New Hampshire and Vermont. The Valley News was a small daily (or was it six days?) published in Lebanon, N.H. Today it’s part of Newspapers of New England, whose flagship paper is the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire. At least it’s still family-owned.

The Hanover Gazette was a weekly in Hanover, N.H. The title had a long history dating to 1885, according to the Library of Congress. It may have been part of the Granite State Gazette at the time, and I think they were trying to resurrect it with a new editorial team.

Finally, WNNE was an independent station based out of, as I recall, Lebanon. I wanted to cover the arts for their local news program. It’s now owned by Hearst Television and branded as Valley CW, a group of stations out of Burlington, Vermont.

And then, the next day, came this:

I did not even feel stimulated enough today to contact the Hanover Gazette again, or WNNE, although I did write a thank-you letter to [the Valley News editor], offering to do a few reviews for comps plus $2.00. Also continued in Chicago Manual and had an idea for a … warped detective story for Playboy or similar magazine. Also finished 1st draft of Student Lawyer piece, so I guess the day wasn’t a complete loss.

Howard W. Fielding, “Journal, Volume II,” 30 January 1979

More context: “Comps” are complimentary tickets for reviewers. If a ticket was worth $15 admission, I was asking for a total dollar value of $17 in compensation.

Remember, this was 1979. Inflation was then at more than 13% (worse than we’ve seen lately), but prices were still a fraction of today’s. Unemployment was twice what it is today, and I was trying to land a job. Still, I was probably underpricing myself. I considered it a special introductory offer.

You’ll hear more about the Student Lawyer piece later, but not the Playboy detective story. I have no idea what that was. Why Playboy? Probably because it was on my mind with the Ivy League feature and it was the best-paying market for fiction writers at the time.

It probably wouldn’t have been a breakthrough market for me, in any case. I wasn’t all that familiar with Playboy. As a kid I would sneak the latest copy from my father’s sock drawer and read it for the … wait for it … cartoons.

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