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Ten years as a writer

February 17, 2010 2 comments

From A to Zowie

Ten years as a writer

By Richard Zowie

Ten years ago, as I drove down to Prime Time Military Newspapers near Lackland Air Force Base on San Antonio’s southwest side, I was nervous. For months, as I prepared to leave the Army, I’d occasionally e-mail the publisher ask if any journalism positions were open. Each time she’d tell me they didn’t have any but that my writing samples looked very good. As my discharge drew closer without a job lined up, I worried what the future held.

A few days before the publisher had called, and I interviewed with her. Now it was time for the second interview with her and the publisher and editor of the Kelly Observer.

That interview went very well, and just a few days after my Army enlistment officially ended on February 21, 2000, I began my writing career as a staff writer for the Observer. And then, a year later, as a columnist for the Bee-Picayune.

That was then: today I work at the Genesee County Herald in Clio, Michigan (a small town about 20 miles north of Flint). It’s actually two newspapers: one edition covers the northern Genesee County areas of Mt. Morris and Clio and the other edition covers the southern Saginaw County areas of Birch Run and Bridgeport. When not doing that, I also work on freelance assignments and try to refine my fiction. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of being published in a few places: Air Force News, the San Antonio Express-News, and Recreation Management magazine.

Over the years as a writer, I’ve had a chance to work with many wonderful people, along with some who have taught me a lot by teaching me how not to do something. Along the way I’ve stepped on my share of land mines.

Over these 10 years, here are what I consider the Three P’s of Journalism:

Be Professional. When talking to someone, stay with the topic at hand unless perhaps a side comment can somehow lead to the person revealing great information for your article or information that could lead to a future article.

Be Polite. Treat those you deal with in a respectful, friendly manner. It goes a long way, especially if the person has had bad experiences with the media in the past.

Be to the Point. Assume the people you deal with are very busy. Once you introduce yourself, get down to business. When done talking to them, thank them for your time and leave it up to them to leave the door open for further comments.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of writing some memorable stories. Among them…

…During Air Force Day at Dallas Cowboys training camp in San Antonio’s Alamodome in 2002, I got to briefly interview Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Was I nervous? Does it get hot in Texas summers?

…Earlier in 2000, I wrote an Express-News Memorial Day feature article of an Army buddy whose father posthumously received the Medal of Honor in Vietnam by throwing himself onto a grenade.

I’ve also in my ventures met a kidney transplant recipient who, after 15 years, needed another kidney and learned his medical insurance wouldn’t cover the cost. Then there was the 102-year-old lady, whose secret to longevity was dipping snuff (I kid you not).

Sometimes I’ve even met a few famous people. For one unpublished feature article about his minister-at-large position at San Antonio’s Oakwood Church, I interviewed San Antonio Spurs star and NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson. (Being 5’8”, I barely came up to his waist). About a year ago, I interviewed and took pictures of Marlon Young, the lead guitarist for Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker band. Young was very friendly.

Years ago in the Bee-Picayune, I wrote about writing and said this: writing is an art, not a science. As I’ve continued to grow as a writer, I feel that’s a comment that must be modified. Writing is a science in that you must learn the fundamentals, grammar rules and spelling. But it’s also an art in that you must develop your own individual style. It’s difficult to practice your art if you don’t have a grasp of grammar or if you can’t spell words.

Where would I like to see my writing career go in the future? In a few directions: journalism, blogging (which I suspect is where journalism’s slowly going) and fiction writing. Perhaps I’ll have those things to report on in 2020 when I write about 20 years.

In closing, here’s my favorite story in the past 10 years: While working at a newspaper in Comal County, we had a weekly question we’d ask of local residents for our Word on the Street segment. One week it was asking if people voted, the other week whether they planned to buy former President Bill Clinton’s then-recently-published autobiography, and so on. Some residents would decline to pose for a head shot while others would give their first name only.

One lady gave a great answer to one of the questions but then declined a photo or to even give her first name.

“Are you just shy?” I asked her.

She laughed. “Not really, but I do have a few outstanding warrants for my arrest, and the authorities don’t know I’m here in Canyon Lake.”

Richard Zowie blogs at WordPress and other sites. Post comments here or e-mail him at fromatozowie@gmail.com.

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Is Kevin Smith’s beef with Southwest about justice or publicity?

February 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Curiosity got the better of me Monday night, and I visited Kevin Smith’s Twitter page. He posted a comment saying that he was tired of talking about the Southwest Airlines brouhaha and wanted to discuss something different tomorrow.

Tomorrow was today, Tuesday, and Smith doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to talk about something else.

Smith calls the plane experience the worst of his life. I thought that was when he was hocking his comic books and putting himself into deep credit card debt to make Clerks on a shoestring budget. After all, if the movie failed, there would be a big financial hole to crawl out of.

On his audio blog, Smith says that when he normally travels Southwest, he buys two seats if flying by himself and three seats if flying with his wife Jennifer Schwalbach Smith. One has to assume this is done for two reasons: for comfort and because Smith can afford to do so.

Why does the one-seat policy suddenly become an issue with Smith? Maybe he was in a hurry to get back to Los Angeles and was willing to endure one seat for the flight.

Or maybe Smith’s using this story to promote his new movie, Cop Out.

I suspect it is: why else is Smith milking this for all it’s worth?

I wish I lived a life where being booted off an airline for not fitting into the seat was my idea of a worst experience of my life. In the past five years my wife almost died from a nasty strep infection, my oldest son was in a near-fatal auto accident, my middle son’s appendix ruptured, we’ve had to move to a different home due my being laid off from my job.

One has to wonder why Smith flies such an economical airline like Southwest. Is he trying to show he’s an everyday man, or is it because recent films of his like Zack and Miri Make a Porno didn’t exactly do very well at the box office?

Richard Zowie operates several blogs. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Julie & Julia

February 13, 2010 Leave a comment

I watched this movie and found it to be pretty good. My, my, my, “critics” say they didn’t like Amy Adams’ performance. I pity people who pattern their movie experiences around what “critics” say. To be blunt, I frequently find the opinions of “critics” to be as useful as soiled toilet paper.

Meryl Streep was marvelous as Julia Child, my favorite example of her hyper-exhuberance being her saying “I’m UP!” when getting out of bed one morning.

Some may have preferred a movie that centered around Julia Child. To me, the film was a fascinating look at blogs and how they gain popularity. I like how they looked at the lives of two women who though connected apparently never met.

I was curious about why Julia Child didn’t like the blog, something the movie never completely explains. One of the reasons appears to be Child didn’t like Julie Powell’s use of profanity (I glanced over it and saw a few F-bombs). Child also apparently considered it to be a “stunt” and Powell not a serious cook. It is entirely possible that Child, who was around 90 when the blog began, didn’t understand what a blog was. Heck, I’ve been using e-mail since 1998 and back in 2002 I didn’t know what a blog was. At the gas station where I work, I have lots of senior citizen customers who have no idea how to work a keypad.

If you get a chance to watch Julie & Julia, I recommend it. Highly.

Richard Zowie enjoys watching movies and chronicling his experiences watching them. Someday he’d like to be in a movie or, at the very least, act on stage in a local production. Post comments here or drop Richard a line at fromatozowie@gmail.com.

Snowstorm appears to be over…I hope

February 10, 2010 Leave a comment

I drove home last night at 11:05 p.m. from Frankenmuth, Michigan seven miles to nearby Vassar. Lots of snow on the ground. I don’t think I drove more than 35 mph in the half-hour drive. The road had lots of snow on it, and once I skidded a little.

It looks like we have had around a foot of snow total, and I’m hoping that’s it. I don’t mind cold weather, but I don’t like driving in the snow or in the black ice.

Ten-year column coming soon…

February 10, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m working on a blog posting/column about my 10 years as a professional writer. Perhaps in a few days or next week I’ll have it up. I may make it into one column for print and then put some extra features into additional blog postings. We’ll see.

Wow, 10 years since I started writing for the Kelly Observer. Hard to believe…

Richard Zowie is an active blogger. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

‘The Day the Music Died’, 51 years ago today

February 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Last year, I had the privilege of writing a five-part blog series on this event. Among those I interviewed:

Connie Lemos, Ritchie Valens’ younger sister;

Bob Morales, Ritchie Valens’ older brother;

Jay Richardson, son of The Big Bopper;

Robert Maxwell Case, a professional classic country musician who’s a walking encyclopedia regarding country music history. I’ve tried to stump him several times and have failed miserably. 🙂   ;

Len Hobbs, a licensed pilot and flight instructor;

Jonathan Faber, a professional musician who’s been a licensing and intellectual property manager for Maria Elena Holly (Buddy’s widow).