One great moment of triumph, 1979

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Sunrise over North Hero, Vermont, January 15, 2023. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

If submitting a manuscript or query is like a first kiss, then a writer’s first go-ahead letter is like the first “yes.” Or maybe not. Continuing through my journals as a young writer, here’s an excerpt from this date 44 years ago:

Basically I played housewife today, driving people places, shopping, and cleaning house. But there was one great moment of triumph: TV Guide. wrote that they’re interested in my story idea and will pay $500 if they decide to use it! Now I need no longer pretend to be a writer — now I have some justification! I feel so proud that it actually prompted me to write to Dad. That felt good, too. Elsewhere on the front, I studied more [Theodore] Bernstein, read TV Guide, mailed my letter to the Journal-Opinion, and took notes for the TV Guide article …

Howard W. Fielding, “Journal, Volume II,” 8 February 1979

The “housewife” comment doesn’t play well today, but remember, this was the 1970s. Moms drove the kids everywhere, did the shopping, and cleaned house. Dads still were the ones going to work, which I wasn’t. But I was getting closer.

The Journal-Opinion popped up a few times earlier in these journals, most recently just the day before. It was (still is) a small, family-owned weekly in Bradford, Vermont, about 25 miles north of where I was living at the time. The managing editor was a Dartmouth alum who was about to move on to the Union-Leader in Manchester, New Hampshire’s big daily. The J-O seems to have heard of me through an old-boy network that included my radio station friends.

The big news, though, was the go-ahead from TV Guide. This was a major market at the time and paid very well. Five hundred dollars may not seem like much these days, but in an earlier entry I had calculated that I could live for a month on $300, which apparently included food, rent, and gas. In other words, this wasn’t bad at all.

But as it often is with a lover’s first “yes,” it was really a “maybe.” In my ecstasy, I ignored the “if they decide to use it” part. And in either this letter or one soon after, the editor had urged me to file quickly because they weren’t sure how long these Animal House spinoff series would last.

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