Sunday, March 17, 2024

Celebrating 25 Years+ As a Freelance Writer

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. At least as far back as I can remember. And last year, I celebrated 25 years of being a professional in my chosen field.

My interest in books, reading, writing, and the like goes back to when I was a little kid and would read anything we had lying around the house, whether it was the children’s books in my room—Billy Goat’s Gruff, Flat Stanley, and Charlotte’s Web immediately come to mind—to the more grownup stuff in the living room, including a pair of encyclopedia sets: a standard edition and one based on science. And I absolutely LOVED the Guinness Book of World Records; I would pour over that thing for hours, marveling at all the freaks, geeks, and amazing feats. I still remember the name of the world’s tallest man—Robert Wadlow!

My mom, who introduced me to writers like Tom Tryon and Mary Higgins Clark, would take me to used bookstores, where I bouight as many Peanuts paperbacks as I could afford, as well as comic books. We also went to thrift stores. I distinctly remember buying a stack of Mad magazines at Thrift Town for 10-cents each—a bargain even back then.

Mom let me order three items per month from the Scholastic Book Club. I always selected Dynamite Magazine—a pop culture treasure trove of fun celebrity profiles, cartoons, puzzles, etc.—and two books, usually a non-fiction title like Ripley’s Believe it or Not or Strange But True Tales and a novel. This is how I discovered the greatness of H.G. Wells. War of the Worlds is the first “grownup” novel I remember reading. Later, I got into Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Rod Serling, Dean Koontz, Ray Bradbury, Clive Barker, and too many others to count.

In short, I was a veracious reader from a young age, which played a big role in my opening a pair of comic book stores with my brother-in-law during the early ‘90s and later working at Waldenbooks. During my stint at Waldenbooks, which was a lot of fun—I got to hang out with Charlton Heston, Richard Simmons, Waylon Jennings, and other celebrities during autographings—I tried writing fiction, which was met with limited success. I had a few short stories published in small press magazines, I got a hand-written letter of rejection from The New Yorker asking me to submit more stories, and I was a quarter-finalist in the L. Ron Hubbard Writer’s of the Future Contest. This was an interesting and fun time of creativity, but it hardly paid the bills. (I’ve since collected these stories in a book called The Arcade and Other Strange Tales.)

In 1997, my aforementioned brother-in-law emailed me a want-ad from a company looking for people to write about video games for such vintage consoles as the Atari 2600, ColecoVision, and Commodore 64, as well as for what were then newer systems like the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. This began my association with the All Media Guide, the company behind the All Music Guide and the late, lamented All Game Guide, which was an amazing website dedicated to describing, reviewing, and cataloging every video game ever published for every console, handheld, and computer in the history of forever. I was dumbfounded that I actually got paid real money to write about old (and new) video games.

Oh, did I not mention that I’m into video games? I’ve been gaming since 1975 when I discovered Pong and Midway’s Gun Fight at the local bowling alley, and I’ve been collecting since way before retro gaming was considered cool. During the 1990s, you could find tons of older games for pennies on the dollar at garage sales, thrift stores, flea markets, and discount bins at various retail stores. Working for the All Game Guide kicked my collecting bug into overdrive. After all, video games were both research and a tax write-off!

In addition to cranking out a ton of game synopses and reviews, I became an editor with the All Game Guide. I also began writing for the Comic’s Buyer’s Guide (which older readers may remember as The Buyer's Guide for Comic Fandom), as well as other publications. Between these writing gigs and selling stuff on eBay, I was able to quit my job at Waldenbooks and work at home, which was awesome: I was living the dream! And changing a lot of dirty diapers as our kids—Ryan and Katie--were little at the time. Speaking of family time, my wife Charis—a high school English teacher—was a HUGE help during this point in my writing career. She’s a fantastic writer and editor in her own right and would look over my work on a regular basis, offering all kinds of great advice for polishing up my prose.

Writing steadily for the All Game Guide and the Comics Buyer’s Guide helped me hone my craft to the point where I was ready to write a book. In 2006, I went to San Diego Comic-Con, where I met an editor with McFarland Publishers. I left a business card, and three days after I got home, they emailed, asking if I had any interesting book ideas. This contact and my fascination with reference volumes and electronic entertainment led to my Classic Home Video Games series, the first installment of which came out in 2007—right around the time retro gaming started becoming super mainstream. Later, I wrote more books, including some for Schiffer Publishing, such as the Omnibus books and my newest, The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1988-1998.

In 2009, I wrote my first cover feature for AntiqueWeek, where I have a pop culture column. My friend—former AntiqueWeek contributing writer Rick Kelsey—gave me contact info for the paper, which is obviously still going strong. My first AW article was about video games (the Atari 2600, in this case), but I’ve written about countless other topics related to collecting. In 2010, I started a near-decade-long career as a freelancer for a major metropolitan newspaper, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I loved that job, but they downsized like so many publications during the past few years and now rarely use freelancers for entertainment-related articles.

The past two-and-a-half decades have been hugely gratifying careerwise. At least most of the time. Writing articles for Game Informer, Filmfax, Fangoria, Robot, Native Peoples, Back Issue, Alter Ego, and other mainstream publications has been a dream come true. I’ve interviewed numerous celebrities. I called Adam West, and he answered the phone, “Hello. Batcave.” I had an argument with William Shatner. I’ve been on tons of press junkets, getting wined and dined at museum galas and restaurant and bar openings. Getting press passes to comic book conventions is always fun. Even better is being invited to video game conventions across the country as a guest author, YouTuber, and panelist.

It’s been a good run, but I’m far from finished. These days, I’m cataloging video games and writing blog posts for Heritage Auctions, as well as continuing to do my own stuff. I hope to keep at it in one form or another for another 25 years!

As always, thanks for reading! And thanks for your support!

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