In reviewing this past weeks posts it seems there is a recurrent theme of reflection. I am not sure if that is the result of recent discussions abut friends lost this past year or that another birthday is fast approaching, which means fifty is disappearing from view in the rear view mirror and sixty is looming at the top of the hill. More than likely it is a combination of these things and the approaching completion of another book, my sixth. The only consistent theme of my childhood was books and a dream of some day being a writer and as a result the completion of each book and the publication of another article means I am one step closer to fulfilling that dream. See, in my world a successful writer is one who derives their entire income from transforming mere words on paper into three dimensional pictures that enable the reader to see, touch, taste, and smell the subject. Another determination in what constitutes a successful writer is that with the income earned from these endeavors he, or she, is able to eat at least every other day. I still have a day job. Now, I can expalin the title for today’s post in a manner that might make sense. Or it just might make you smile and be a little more thankful for the day job. A funny thing happened on the way to becoming a writer. I think it started in about 1966 when we moved to the desert of Arizona.
Underlying the initial shock that came from being uprooted from the forests of Michigan and summers on family farms in Alabama was the feeling that I had been transported to that place warned about in Sunday school. To escape the heat and the strange surroundings I retreated to the library and books.
The books inspired curiosity about my new home and this in turn fueled a hunger for exploration. Exploration fueled my curiosity and led to a deeper dimension in my love of books by leading me to the people that had lived the history I was reading about. All of this led to a hunger for sharing these discoveries with others.
Fast forward a couple of decades. I am now writing on a wide array of topics and sharing stories gleaned from the books read, the people met, and the explorations that have led to so many amazing adventures.
I have long known this world is a very funny place if we will just take the time to look around us. However, it is as a writer, a starving artist on Route 66, that I have enjoyed my most humerous adventures.
My first submission was made without a formal proposal, a track record, or references. I simply called the editor of a prestigious national magazine and asked if they were interested in a story.
Much to my surprise, I received approval for submission. So, I dug out the 1948 Underwood typewriter and the $25 camera and went to work. This was in 1990.
Even more amazing was the receipt for a check in the amount of $250 eight weeks after submission. In an instant the childhood dream was reignited. Thoughts of quiting the day job danced, a mail box full of checks, and paid adventures to exotic places danced in my head.
Twelve months later the dream was on life support. I had collected fifty rejection slips and landed a weekly column for the local paper, a gig that paid $10 per week.
From that point in time to this day, I have written more than 500 feature articles, five books, almost finished a sixth, provided technical assistance for three others, and pushed the rejection letter count to something like 1,750. In spite of this “success” I still worry that someone will catch me imitating a writer, still find it very odd that someone would ask for my autograph, and find it surreal when I arrive at a book signing to find people waiting. All of this creates a distorted, disjointed sort of view. In my minds eye I am just an average Joe, a working stiff with an ability to tell folks where to go that works long hours to keep beans on the table, gas in the tank, and the lights on at home. I have not worn a tie in thirty years, own nothing but boots for foot wear, and prefer long walks in the desert with my dearest friend over a trip to Disneyland or Las Vegas. We enjoy the quiet places and finds towns with more than one stop light a bit uncomfortable. Then someone from Finland or Boise will take a break from their Route 66 adventure, stop in the office, and ask that I sign a copy of a book. Then I will receive a request for an interview from a television producer or Esquire magazine. These are the things that bring me up short, these are the things that provide a deeper understanding of those who live a double life. These are the things that make me stop and say, “Who? Me?”
This takes me to one of the most important lessons I have learned on this grand adventure from geeky kid who dreamed of becoming a writer to an obscure, naive writer, to obscure writer. Life is an endless opportunity for a good laugh, provided we don’t take ourselves to seriously. If I had not learned this lesson through things such as having a job where the port a john was repossessed for lack of payment how would I be able to laugh about missing a phone call from Jay Leno, three times. Without a sense of humor honed through years of odd ball twists and turns how would I be able to smile about finding two rejection notices and a new book contract in the same mail box? The Jay Leno story is merely the latest in this joke with a never ending punch line. The first time he called was the day after I missed him at a book signing. When he called to thank me for a magazine, I was in Burbank. The second time he called, my caller ID led me to believe it was my son’s mother in law, not a phone call I really wanted to take at 9:30 in the evening. The third call was missed as a series of unusual delays that resulted in getting home five hours late. I have also learned that on occasion opportunity is persistent. In this case Mr. Leno and I finally talked and the offer was made to tape an interview for the book club segment of his Jay Leno’s Garage website. Now, we need to coordinate a schedule.
Well, as I often say at the end of a post, stay tuned for details. Meanwhile, the adventure into the unknown continues. At this juncture, I would like to say thank you. Thank you for the encouragement, the ideas, the assistance, and the support. Thank you for sharing this grand adventure and helping to make a geeky kids dreams a reality.
Jim Hinckley's America is a grand adventure on the back roads and two lane highways. It is an odyssey seasoned with fascinating people, and memory making discoveries. As made evident by the publication of fourteen books on subjects as diverse as diverse as Ghost Towns of the Southwest, The Illustrated History of the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company, Travel Route 66, Backroads of Arizona, and The Route 66 Encyclopedia, I enjoy sharing adventures and helping people plan for their own memory making journeys.