Finished reading ‘Friday Night Lights’

It took about a week to read this. Not a bad read.

Before I read this book, I thought I had an inkling of how much Texans love their high school football.

Not even close.

The writer of this book, H.G. Bissinger spent a year of his life living in Odessa, Texas as he observed Permian High School football and conducted countless interviews. I suspect before this book was even published he had already moved back to Philadelphia at his old job with the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Friday Night Lights is often a blunt portrait of West Texas football, one where the win-at-all-costs mentality is very prevalent, where academics takes a distant back seat to athletics and where today’s stars become injured and rapidly become yesterday’s news. There are also the racial tensions, and Bissinger remarks that many in Odessa (as of 1988) used the n-word the way writers use punctuation.

For me, the book is a reminder that high school football is probably most prevalent in rural areas of Texas where sluggish economies and having few forms of entertainment give them little more to be encouraged or entertained about. One thing about the Panthers that really surprised me is despite their football prowess in 1988, only one of their football players was offered a college football scholarship (Ivory Christian to Texas Christian University, where he subsequently dropped out and transferred to another college). It makes me wonder if many of these players, instead of seeing football as a ticket to a college scholarship or to a lucrative NFL career, were simply burned out. Their Class 5A semifinals rival, Dallas Carter, had many players offered scholarships (one of which, Jessie Armstead, would later play in the NFL). A lot can be said for a small West Texas town that drills football into its players and motivates them to greatness.

It truly is amazing just how little job security there is in high school football in certain areas of Texas. Coach Gary Gaines’ Panther team lost to their biggest rival, Midland Lee, and there was talk of firing him. (In Michigan, one nearby high school football coach “resigned” after five seasons where his teams did no better than 1-8). One high school classmate told me of his brother, who was coaching a high school in West Texas it’s along Interstate 10 and how his brother had the support of 99 percent of the town. But that one percent consisted of the movers and shakers, and his brother was terminated.

Here’s the most disturbing story from Friday Night Lights: a player suffers a nasty groin injury and continues playing in a game because he doesn’t want to come out and it would be considered wimpy to go to the hospital. After the game, he sees a doctor who examines him and sees that one of his testicles has swollen as big as a grapefruit. The doctor then tells him it’s too late to treat the injured testicle and that it must be removed. The player’s mom is furious but he begs her not to make a fuss out of fear of being kicked off the team. This player later makes All-State.

I have no idea who this player was, but I suspect very strongly now he doubts making All-State was worth losing a testicle.

Richard Zowie tries to stay busy in his writing life and believes it’s far better to be busy than unemployed. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

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Writer’s Market 2011

The library in the town where I live said they will be ordering it and hope to have it in about a week. Currently, the most recent copy they had was 2006.

Another library in a nearby town said the most recent copy they had of Writer’s Market was 2001.

Even 2006 is antiquated: you’d be surprised by how many magazines and publishing companies that have since gone out of business or operate under a different name, different phone number, different website.

Once I locate the 2011 edition, I plan to pore over it with some freelance ideas in mind and take note and start sending them my ideas.

Richard Zowie tries to stay busy in his writing life and believes it’s far better to be busy than unemployed. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

A short essay of being square regarding pop culture

I’ve never read a single book from the Harry Potter series. Part of it is because I’ve never been comfortable with the whole concept while, frankly, I’ve skimmed over a few books and have been bored. When it comes to fantasy, I like science fiction, The Twilight Zone-style “What if?” and alternate history. It all just seems too contrived to me. Token sidekick. Token bad guy, etc. When my wife and kids talk about Dumbledorf, Hogwarts, Gobbledygook and whatever the head teacher is at Harry’s school, it’s as if they’re speaking Finnish.

Speaking of “Twilight”, I’m also not a fan of the Twilight series. Probably for the same reasons above. Vampires have never really interested me: while I do like Stephen King, I’ve never even finished reading ’Salem’s Lot (a story where vampires invade a Maine town).

Up until a few months ago, I had no idea who Lady Gaga was. I wish I still had no idea who Lady GagGag was.

Whenever I open People, Us or some other weekly magazine that kisses up to celebrities, I am amazed to look through the pages and see celebrities I’ve never even heard of. Sometimes, it’s as if I’ve just woken up from a 10-year coma.

Up until 2006, I never knew rapper Eminem had a close friend named Proof. While many might lament Proof’s untimely death, I wonder how many realize had Proof not been killed in a shootout, he would have been charged with murder.

I watch very few “reality” shows, and that includes America’s Got Talent. I’m trying to understand Sharon Osbourne’s obsession with lip-synching drag queens or why Piers Morgan believes as Simon Cowell does–that you have to be a classless jerk to tell someone they don’t have talent (never mind many are misled onto the show unwittingly for entertainment purposes). And to think that Stephen King declined to post examples of abysmal prose submissions when he held his writing contest, stating he felt it was poor sportsmanship to shoot cripples.

Richard Zowie is a Michigan-based writer. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Distancing myself from ‘free’ freelance writing work

For about a year I had been blogging at a sports website. That is coming to an end. The blogging pays nothing. Yes, it’s nice to sometimes hear from readers and receive kudos, but at this stage in my writing career I am narrowing things down to where I write for free only in certain circumstances. That blog was just too much time for no pay. The same goes for another blogging assignment that would take me an hour to write and to format and load–for $2.

Steve, a colleague and friend who writes for a famous magazine and wrote a book about Tiger Woods, once told me to avoid potential clients who say, “We can’t afford to pay you, but what we can do is give you a byline on our website.” I might add that, professionally, you should respond with: “Um, HE-LLO, McFly! [Knock on their noggin] Anybody home? Of course you will publish my name on writing work. But if you want me to take time out of my life to work for you, I expect to get paid.”

Conversely, I wonder what my landlord, internet provider, electric company, cell phone company and other monthly bills would say if I told them instead of paying my bill, I’d blog about them and make sure their name got out on the internet. Somehow, I think they’d threaten to cut off my services after laughing themselves silly.

A few years ago, I had a Christian information website called the Alpha Omega Chronicle (I say that name freely because if I ever do the site again, it’ll be under a different name). Every few weeks I’d pose a question and solicit responses from various Christians. I had people writing opinions on issues for me but I began to grow very convicted about not having the money to pay them for their services. I’ve come to this conclusion: if I ever re-launch the website, I will pay each person a fee for their opinion. No free writing. Likewise, I recommend to others who want to start a website requiring the services of writers and other professionals: don’t do so until you can afford to pay them.

Richard Zowie tries to stay busy in his writing life and believes it’s far better to be busy than unemployed. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Working on my Writer’s Digest ‘My Story’ assignment

It’s about being at your home, finding a cell phone in the cushions of your couch, not recognizing the phone and–guess what?–it rings. 

I have finished a first draft of one version, but I’m not sure if I’ll submit that one. It’s somewhat interesting, but it doesn’t really grab me.

The biggest challenge, of course, is writing something compelling and wonderful and doing so in 750 word. This often requires a writer to part with great writing during the final editing phase.

This contest tends to perplex me at times. One month the assignment was about something tragic happening at a local water hole. The winning story seemed very flat. Maybe I’m just trying too hard.

Richard Zowie loves writing fiction and someday would love to do it full-time. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Giving out writing advice

A fellow Christian recently asked me about what it would take to get a writing career started. Nolan, who graduated from Pensacola Christian College a few years before I did, has been in the ministry. A look at his essays and his blog show he is a very gifted writer. The ability to write will most certainly not be a problem for him.

I advised him to regularly peruse through both Writer’s Digest and The Writer magazines along with check out the markets listed in The Writer’s Market.

Many ministers adore alliteration, so here are six P’s for those ministers looking to expand their careers into the writing realm:

Be Professional. You are there to do a job. Treat the subject with respect–especially when they have opinions that strongly differ from yours. You don’t have to agree with them, but you do have to represent them fairly. When I think back to H.L. Mencken and his very slanted reporting on the 1925 Scopes Trial, I not only cringe at him, but cringe to think there are writers today who idolize his reporting style.

Be Polite. Being friendly can go a very long way, especially if you deal with one source regularly. By being polite, chances are better they’ll start opening up and may even give you an exclusive or point you towards the direction of others who will. Nobody likes to be treated condescendingly.

Be to the Point. Assume the person you’re dealing with has a very busy schedule. After initial pleasantries, get directly down to business. Avoid rabbit trails, something I’ve had to learn the hard way in the past.

Be Persistent and Proactive. I like to joke that procrastination (another P) is the eighth deadly sin, and in my life I’ve found this to be true. Lately I have learned that creating a list and telling yourself no internet surfing until those activities are done will do wonders. Each day go over ideas, look up markets for them and query the editors. Note which prefer phone calls and which prefer e-mails and what kinds of e-mail responses. You have to want an assignment more than any other writer and you have to believe–no ego intended–that you are the best writer out there.

Richard Zowie tries to stay busy in his writing life and believes it’s far better to be busy than unemployed. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

A quick compliment goes a long way

My fiction writing career–which I suppose I can technically call a “career” since I do have one published short story to my credit–is something I’d really love to get off the ground. At present, I have several stories in the marketing stage. These are finished stories I’m now trying to sell. A few others are in the editing stage while others are in production, pre-production and even pre-pre-production.

Recently, I contemplated posting a few titles and what the stories were about. After deliberation, I chose not to since at times I tend to be paranoid of having ideas stolen. Like all writers, I probably have a personal bias: some stories of mine are really good, and I don’t want to give away too much for fear of being ripped off.

I sent the list, though, to a trusted friend recently who acts and makes movies in his spare time. I was curious to see what he’d think.

He told me: “I am not blowing smoke your way when I say that I am literally fascinated with every one of these story ideas, my friend.”

It’s the kind of encouragement, you might say, that really motivates a writer to get back to their keyboard and keep working towards that glorious publication day.

Richard Zowie tries to stay busy in his writing life and believes it’s far better to be busy than unemployed. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.