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I Was a Journalist, Never Equating it with Being ‘Scum,’ ‘Low-life’ and ‘Disgraceful’

Donald Trump has called me a “phony,” “low-life,” “scum,” “corrupt,” “dishonest,” “disgraceful,” “disgusting,” “illegitimate,” a “horrible” person, a “terrible” person, and probably more. Those are just the insults I’ve heard him speak and seen in news reports.

The presidential candidate’s invectives are aimed at journalists – all journalists. He paints the entire profession with a broad brush, labeling it with a negative stereotype, just as he does other groups of people, like Mexican rapists and fame-hungry, lying women.

I was a journalist for 13 years after college, and hold a master’s degree in journalism. Though I am not employed as a journalist now, I am still a journalist and writer at heart. My second book, a nonfiction account of my run for political office, Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics (a timely topic given the current abhorrent campaign!), is journalistic in nature, combined with memoir.

I was a reporter for the Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, a chain of

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The blogger on the right, at basketball game early in my career as a Sarasota sportswriter

community newspapers and several trade publications. Trump is smearing a big part of my identity with his talk about corrupt media populated by nothing but cretins. Of course, to use a favorite Trump rejoinder, he’s WRONG!…WRONG!…WRONG!

 

The Orange Man and some – but certainly not all – of his supporters don’t know diddly about journalism, what it takes to be a good journalist, what stirs the heart and soul of a journalist, and what many journalists strive for in terms of ethics, honesty, fairness and truthfulness in performing their job.

Hey Trump and your band of merry men, how about taking a break from insult-hurling and baseless fear-mongering and watch Spotlight, the Academy Award-winning movie about Boston Globe journalists who won the Pulitzer Prize following their relentless pursuit of the child sexual abuse scandal and cover-up perpetrated by the Catholic Church leaders that extended to the top of the archdiocese and other powerful authorities? Who was the scum there? How many priests would still be shuffled along to a new church to find a new crop of boys to molest without the journalists’ intervention?

At the risk of sounding elitist, I don’t expect many of Trump’s supporters to understand – but merely to react to what they hear as gospel. It is common for some of Trump’s supporters to take up their leader’s cry at rallies and yell and point fingers at journalists and tell them, without ever having talked to them, that they are corrupt and they “suck.”

Reporters and editors, on the whole, are smart, intellectually curious, open-minded and highly educated. They enter journalism because they like debating ideas, considering different perspectives, thinking conceptually, abstractly and idealistically, learning new things and educating others through expression. It would be rare for a reporter to get a job without a college degree. Fact is, the biggest cohort of Trump supporters are whites without a college education. I imagine they are some of the ones shouting down journalists with boos and obscenities as their instigator grins deviously at the podium. No clue what being a journalist truly is about.

Do journalists have biases? Yes, they all do. Everyone does. Journalists are human. Are more progressives (likely Democrats) drawn to journalism than conservatives? Probably. The profession appeals to crusaders and people interested in speaking for those who may not have a voice. Are there media outlets, including newspapers, known for being conservative as well as progressive? Yes, certainly. By and large, the media outlets reflect the prevailing ideologies and sensibilities of their communities.

The Arizona Republic, the state’s largest newspaper, had endorsed Republicans for president for the past 126 years, until breaking tradition this year. What happened when the newspaper broke ranks? Reporters, editors and even door-to-door subscription salespeople were greeted with screams, vitriol and even death threats.

The paper’s president and publisher wrote in a emotional and defiant column: “What is the correct response, really, to this:

‘YOU’RE DEAD. WATCH YOUR BACK.

WE WILL BURN YOU DOWN.

YOU SHOULD BE PUT IN FRONT OF A FIRING SQUAD AS A TRAITOR.’

[No, not LIES! Check the primary source.]

I have known and worked with many reporters and editors. By and large, they are tough-minded, persistent, constantly digging, obsessed with facts and public records, concerned with accuracy and driven by creating positive change, righting wrongs, exposing the truth and holding the feet of those in power to the fire.

I know how I acted as a journalist. And I repudiate Trump’s characterization. I strived for fairness; I made the extra call, even when I knew it would be uncomfortable, in an effort to incorporate all sides and views; I was as thorough and persistent as I could be; I tried to treat all subjects I encountered with respect; I fretted about my words and their potential impact; I was ethical.

I also tried to make stories interesting and readable for an audience. Editors demanded it – good, compelling writing, flow, telling a story imbued with some emotion and passion — saying something, moving readers. This is another aspect of journalism about which Trump and his ilk have no concept. Journalists are not merely fact-reciters. I tended to fall into this trap as a journalist until good editors beat it out of me – the lazy, “He said, she said” type of story going back and forth between two sides. Instead, journalists become authorities and experts on the subjects they cover, and as they get to know their topics and sources in depth, their expertise comes through in their writing as they sift through the facts, perspectives and opinions. If a journalist knows something to be true by virtue of their reporting and facts pointing to a conclusion, it’s part of their job as writers to say it with authority and back it up while also presenting opposing or different views.

Earlier this month, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued an extraordinary warning about Trump’s threat to journalists everywhere and to the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. In part, it reads:

“Guaranteeing the free flow of information to citizens through a robust, independent press is essential to American democracy. For more than 200 years this founding principle has protected journalists in the United States and inspired those around the world, including brave journalists facing violence, censorship, and government repression.

Donald Trump, through his words and actions as a candidate for president of the United States, has consistently betrayed First Amendment values…CPJ’s board of directors passed a resolution declaring Trump an unprecedented threat to the rights of journalists and to CPJ’s ability to advocate for press freedom around the world.”

There are plenty of reasons to recoil in disgust with Trump. His blasphemous tirade against journalists – members of one of the institutions that truly does make America great compared to other autocratic, oppressive nations, like Trump endlessly pronounces – hits home with me more than some others.

Ink-stained wretches, nigh “scum” and “low-lifes,” unite!

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Forget Donald and Hillary. Here’s an Everyman’s Campaign Story

Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics, is set for release August 1 under Sirenian Publishing.

Forget Donald and Hillary; they’re in another stratosphere from the rest of us riff-raff. You’ll never experience politics from their perch, but you can vicariously through the lens of author and Everyman Candidate Adam Gordon Sachs, who describes the glory, outrage  and lunacy of politics over his campaign to be a real somebody, a true Man of the People.

For anyone waiting for just the right time to throw your hat in the ring, you know, someday, when everything is perfectly aligned and your finances are in supreme order, and your employer gives you essential flexibility and full backing, and your family has attained impeccable stability, and the moon eclipses the sun, cicadas emerge after 17 years underground and the Chicago Cubs win the World Series and tFrontCover_FINAL_6283732he time is right to run, someday, Don’t Knock, He’s Dead will either inspire you or disavow you of that foolish notion forever.

Primary election night, and I had nowhere to go. Ordinarily not a big deal, except I was a candidate, and candidates always have somewhere to be, somewhere their supporters are gathering in anticipation.

In the galaxy of campaigns, I was the ring, not the Saturn. But for a year, I was in the orbit of a rollicking, 10-candidate race one observer called a “three-ring circus,” experiencing politics’ exhilaration and disillusion, its meaningfulness and corruption.

Don’t Knock, He’s Dead recounts my longshot bid for Maryland delegate in the dog-eat-dog, incestuous, narcissistic world of campaign politics. It’s the unvarnished story of an Everyman’s challenge to break into a Byzantine, sycophantic business, where cozy relationships, cronyism, influence, backroom deals, power plays and horse-trading rule the day.

For anyone who’s wondered whether it’s worthwhile to run, imagined what it’s like or stepped to the precipice of candidacy, Don’t Knock takes you into the trenches.

Sirenian Publishing also is the publisher of Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet, a fictional story of a rookie sportswriter in a football-mad Florida backwater covering an intense season of high school football and battling wills with the ruthless, win-at-all-costs coach from the town’s ruling family. Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet is available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1cYG5vP

Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: An Unvarnished Look at the Unseemly Underbelly of Campaign Politics

The second book under the new publishing company Sirenian Publishing, a real-life, first-person account of a longshot, shorthanded political candidate for the Maryland State House who learns the lessons of the dog-eat-dog, incestuous, narcissistic world of campaign politics up close, is set for release August 1, 2016.

Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics, takes an unvarnished look at what it’s like for an amateur, DSC00069under-funded candidate without the assemblage of a political machine to try to break into the byzantine world of state-level politics, where cozy relationships, cronyism, influence, backroom deals, power plays and horse-trading rule the day.

Don’t Knock, He’s Dead peels back the curtain to find political practices of questionable ethical standards to be routinely performed to strengthen and enrich those who are entrenched insiders and well-versed in political gamesmanship:

  • A candidate who is a member of a powerful “team slate” drops out on the deadline date to withdraw, only to be replaced two days later on the candidate filing deadline by her husband.
  • An entrenched state senator with a massive “war chest” uses his largesse to distribute a quarter-million dollars to more than 40 other candidates and political slates over a four-year election cycle to strengthen allegiances.
  • A wife who is a high-earning lobbyist represents several of the same industries – and in some cases, the same organizations – that make large political contributions to her husband, the powerful chairman of a state Senate budget committee.
  • A longtime state delegate with leadership positions on several House health care committees receives 60 percent of her campaign contributions in a year from health care and health insurance interests.
  • A state senator who lost a bid for Congress resigned his Senate seat more than a year early to become an uber-lobbyist, spreading his remaining campaign account into more than 80 contributions to more than 60 different political candidates and slates to solidify his future business relationships on his way out.

The race the longshot candidate entered became a rollicking free-for-all populated by 10 Democratic participants, including two “carpetbaggers,” ranging from a plastic surgeon to a disbarred attorney to a legendary state senator’s daughter to the sitting governor’s former speechwriter to an 80-year-old cantankerous former judge, a contest labeled by one observer as a “three-ring circus.”

And as in any political contest, things got contentious and nasty, resulting in criminal charges against one candidate for smearing another amid a long-simmering feud, and a malicious mailing campaign in which one candidate accused two others of being stooges for a union.

What you will find in Don’t Knock, He’s Dead, if you’ve ever had the aspiration to run for a high-stakes public office, or even wondered what a political candidate must endure, is what it’s like to spend every weekend and many weeknights until dusk knocking on doors of strangers; to be ignored by political organizations supposedly responsible for fairly evaluating candidates to make endorsements; to feel poor and unsuccessful among more financially-connected candidates; and to be targeted for barbs by highly opinionated, unfiltered bloggers.

If you’ve ever considered subjecting yourself to scrutiny and the whims of uncensored public opinion; debated whether it would be worth the time and effort to run for public office; stepped to the precipice of throwing a hat in the ring and then backed off with either regret or relief; or still have a dream to make a difference in people’s lives by entering politics—you know, someday, when everything is perfectly aligned and your finances are in supreme order, and your employer gives you essential flexibility and full backing, and your family has attained impeccable stability, and the moon eclipses the sun, cicadas emerge after 17 years underground and the Chicago Cubs win the World Series and the time is right to run, somedayDon’t Knock, He’s Dead is an account of what it’s like in the trenches of an election as an entourage-less, DIY, working-stiff candidate.

Sirenian Publishing also is the publisher of Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet, a fictional story of a rookie sportswriter in a football-mad Florida backwater covering an intense season of high school football and battling head-to-head with the ruthless, win-at-all-costs coach from the town’s ruling family. Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet is available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1cYG5vP

The Writing Life: Pay to Play

I was thrilled when I saw an e-mail in my inbox from a publisher I had queried about acquiring my debut novel, Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet, about a rookie sportswriter covering an intense season of high school football in a football-crazed backwater Florida town. The publisher had written me immediately after I had submitted my query to say the synopsis and sample chapters looked promising and to have patience while the editor reviewed the material.

When the publisher’s follow-up acceptance e-mail arrived about six weeks later with an attached “Publishing Agreement,” I thought I had threeyardscovertriumphed over long odds as an unknown author by persuading a publisher to acquire my book. I had wanted to progress from a self-published author to one backed by the heft, resources and credibility of a traditional commercial publisher, which I believed would open more doors and opportunities to bring the novel to a broader audience. I expected there would be a payment for my work. But when I read the agreement, I realized it wasn’t quite that simple.

The experience has been part of my indoctrination into the complex, confusing and rapidly evolving world of book publishing. I discovered there would not be a dime coming my way up-front from this operation for the blood and sweat I poured into crafting the novel over three years and had already self-published, paying thousands to a self-publishing company to edit and format the book, design the cover, and prepare it for print-on-demand, e-book and distribution channels. In fact, the Publishing Agreement included a non-negotiable provision requiring me to pay about $1,300 for the publisher to essentially re-do many of the same tasks I had already undertaken to produce a self-published book.

That’s where my real education began. There are various kinds of publishing companies – self-publishers, indie publishers, vanity publishers, subsidy publishers, hybrid publishers and traditional/commercial publishers. The publisher I was dealing with called itself a “hybrid” publisher. Without going into great detail on the distinctions between the breeds, this basically meant that this particular publisher acts something like a self-publisher, but looks for books of a certain quality and rejects much of the sub-standard work that comes its way. This supposedly distinguishes it from a vanity publisher, so-named because such a publisher will publish anything of any quality by any author vain enough to pay for the service. The hybrid publisher functions like a traditional publisher in that it has access to certain distribution channels and performs some marketing functions to represent its titles.

But the bottom line about this type of hybrid publisher, I learned, is that it doesn’t assume the risk to make or lose money by selling new authors’ books. Any revenue that comes through sales for the hybrid publisher is likely gravy. The hybrid publisher’s bread is buttered through selling its publishing services to eager authors. That is the bigger incentive and target for the hybrid publisher’s resources, not necessarily marketing and selling the new authors’ books.

So now I have a choice to make. Would I earn back my investment by having the backing of a legitimate publishing company, or would I have no better sales than if I continued to soldier on by myself? Would it open more doors – book signing appearances and placements in bookstores, for example — or lead to more book reviews? Hard to say. Do I want to grant various rights and interests to the book to this publisher and diminish my control for a fairly small royalty? In exchange for what, exactly?

While stumbling in the dark, I discovered another option that intrigues me: Forming my own imprint, or publishing operation, as a sole proprietor. That will take more research, but I like the idea of full creative control – and it looks like I will have full responsibility for promotion and marketing anyway, whether I go with this particular hybrid publisher or not.

For anyone sticking a toe in the rather arcane book publishing industry waters, I can’t offer expert advice. I’m still learning. I can only offer the time-honored, sage warning for solicitors and buyers of any services or products anywhere: caveat emptor.

12 Things I Learned from Writing and Self-Publishing My First Novel

12 simple lessons I learned, and am still learning, through writing my first novel, Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet. The story follows an overmatched, rookie sportswriter in Florida covering a season of high school football in a football-mad, semi-backwater town who runs up against a powerful coach from a dynastic family who just may have orchestrated a bribe to get the best athletes redistricted to his school.

  1. If you have difficulty adopting long-term views or goals, try to adapt or don’t bother starting.
  2. There is such a thing as “powering through” with willpower when it comes to writing; it’s just a different type of pain.
  3. Taking public transportation to work is a good way to get a lot of writing done.
  4. You don’t have to plan out your whole plot and every detail – but having a basic idea of a story sequence helps speed the process.
  5. One of the hardest things about fiction-writing was remembering details about plot, characters and scenes that were written one or two years prior, to ensure story lines and plot connections were logical and to avoid sloppy errors.
  6. The Chicago Manual of Style is more a hindrance than a help in many instances.
  7. It’s a good idea to have Beta readers for pre-publication feedback. I didn’t, but will find them next time.
  8. Writing a self-published novel as a first-time, unknown author is an extremely difficult way to make money, so you better have a passion for the act and the process.
  9. I didn’t realize the importance of having or building a “platform” to market and sell a novel, but now that I’ve self-published, it appears essential for success.
  10. I’m glad I self-published despite much popular wisdom that says only traditionally published novels optioned by an agent bestow credibility on the novel and author. Publishing house acquisition is a long road to hoe, and immediate gratification rather than posthumous glory was my desire.
  11. I signed up with the first self-publisher I researched, and would recommend CreateSpace to others based on my experience.
  12. There are many people in the U.S. Very few care that you wrote a book. It’s your job to find a few more who will care…then a few more, and a few more.  ThreeYardsCover

When “Someday” Came: A Novel Idea

I just accomplished a big life goal, one of those that you say you are going to do “someday” and that “someday” often never comes. Someday came on April 16, 2015, when my first novel, Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet, was published and posted on Amazon.

Sometimes social media, including blogs such as this, are all about self-aggrandizement and self-promotion – I did this, I did that, look at me, aren’t I great, aren’t I special? I cop to this to some degree, with this post being Exhibit A. Writing the book was half the battle, the first offensive. But if I want it to get out in the world, I will have to embark on a publicity and marketing blitzkrieg to cover all flanks, and, yes, self-promotion.

But maybe my story can inspire someone else who is still thinking about that great accomplishment or effort or plan they will make “someday” in the indeterminate future.

I had thought about writing a book for all of my adult life, but never very seriously, at least not seriously enough to ever determine or commit to what exactly I would write about or to draft a first sentence. As I got further into midlife, that lack of commitment began to bother me. You can’t call yourself a writer if you don’t write; you can’t call yourself creative if you create nothing. It’s just unrealized potential.

If you do write, you may find out you are not a writer – at least not a novelist/author, the way you believed you were – so it may be safer not to write so you can maintain your self-perception or self-delusion that you are. It’s the same with many things: the fear of failure can prevent you from trying, which can serve to preserve your self-image.

On many bus rides home from work, I began thinking seriously about actually starting a novel or possibly a non-fiction book, with a growing sense of now-or-never urgency. It was dawning on me that “someday” may never come, and that I was just a fraud (as an author, at least). I mulled over several ideas on the bus, and in the first act of commitment, sketched out some plot ideas for two novel concepts.

I finally decided on one, because I knew it best. The novel would be based on my days as a sportswriter in Florida, my first job out of college, where I covered intense seasons of high school football in a football-mad community and lived a typical bachelor life with other guys at the same stage, except in a tropical environment.

Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet is about a 22-year-old sports fanatic from up North, who lands a job in an insular, foreign community down South, and soon runs up against the region’s power broker, the intimidating coach of the perennial high school football powerhouse, who just may have masterminded a school redistricting conspiracy to keep his team on top, and the eccentric characters the sportswriter meets along the way.

In real life, when I first set foot on a deserted Florida high school football field on a scorching preseason August 1985 day, I remember thinking two things about my new adventure: “Where the heck am I?”  and “Someday this would make a good novel.”

One day on a Christmas break from work in 2011, I went to the library, intending to start writing, but came home with nothing. Later during that break, I wrote my first two paragraphs longhand. I didn’t wind up using those paragraphs, but that was my breakthrough. For me, it’s like running: The hardest part is putting on the clothes and getting out the front door.

I decided to start with a prologue – setting up the story line of the book with what came before. That allowed me to basically write about my youth and everything that led to me becoming a sportswriter without having to make up much fiction yet. It worked, it got me writing. I also had an idea for some action in the first chapter that would set the scene and the plot of the book, and wrote that next. After I wrote those parts, I gained a sense of possibility.

Writing the book was a long grind, and anything but a straight line. I had only a vague outline of how the story would go, and made up a lot as I progressed. I wrote a lot of it in pieces, not in sequence, and then looked for ways to connect the parts and make transitions.

Time was a big factor. My workday commands 11 hours, including commuting time. That left weekends and weeknights, when I was already physically tired and tired of sitting in front of a computer. I also had just started a graduate school program.

But I started getting good at squeezing in bits of writing whenever I had the chance. I wrote half or more of the book longhand during my bus commutes to and from work. I also wrote in airports, planes and hotels while on travel, while “watching” my daughter’s half and full marathons, at work in the lunch room, and on Capitol Hill while killing time before a work event.

A few months into my effort, I broke my leg in a soccer game.  I became depressed, to the point where I lost inspiration to write, and became consumed with rehabbing and just trying to get through my workdays. It was several months before I could motivate to resume.

All told, it took three years to complete a draft, about 111,000 words. One of the most challenging parts was trying to remember what I had written a year or two earlier to make sure the plot would make sense and there weren’t errors in consistency. It had seemed like an interminable project until the last four months or so, when I sensed that I could actually finish. I powered through a lot of writing during two weeks off of work. I can see how a lot of people may start something like this but never finish – it’s a commitment to persistence and a long time for a payoff.

I went the self-publishing route, which took about three months – it was more important to me to publish, and in a timely way, not sell.

But I sure do want to sell now. Someday is here. ThreeYardsCover

Covering a Continental Basketball Association game as a Florida sportswriter (on the right)

Covering a Continental Basketball Association game as a Florida sportswriter (on the right)

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