It is rare indeed to discover a writer on the Amateur Radio bands but that is exactly how I met today’s LongShortStories guest. John Beckman is an experienced ham radio operator, a Renaissance man, and, as I was soon to learn, a marvelous writer.
John Beckman, a retired meteorologist, was known as “Johnny the Weatherman” in a career that spanned forty years. He forecasted the weather on WSJS-TV in Winston-Salem, NC, at WFGA-TV in Jacksonville, FL, and for thirty-three years in Atlanta at WSB-TV and WXIA-TV.
In his TV career he was the winner of many awards including two Emmys for his predictions of severe weather.
Also a writer since his teens, Beckman has been nationally published in The New American Review, and numerous magazines and newspapers. Regionally he has published twice in Oh, Georgia, an anthology of southern writers. He was a monthly contributing Editor for Southern Distinction Magazine. He has also presented at the Harriette Austin Writer’s Conference at the University of Georgia.
Besides writing, Beckman has had many hobbies over the years including flying his own plane, motorcycling, sailing, and for over 50 years he has been an avid amateur radio operator with the call sign W4BTX, communicating with other “hams” all over the world.
He lives with his wife Dr. Deborah Beckman in Stone Mountain, GA which is a suburb of Atlanta. If you wish to contact him, he receives Email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
1) Welcome to LongShortStories, John! Please tell our readers how you came to be a writer.
Thank you, Wayne. When I was in elementary school a teacher made us memorize Joyce Kilmer’s lovely poem “Trees.” It so impressed me that as an eight year old I went wandering over our farm making up childish poems. I think from that moment on I was destined to be a writer of some kind. When my mom died a few years back (she kept EVERYTHING – old Sears receipts, etc.) I found stuff I had written on notebook paper from grade school through high school. Some were just scenes, some were attempts at full stories. And all of them were BAD!
2) What traits or characteristics help someone become a writer? Take us from being a newbie to a polished, published writer like yourself?
I think you have to be a lover of “words.” All writers are voracious readers and I have always devoured books. But, it is not so much the plot that intrigues me, it is the way the author puts together the words. Done rightly, words can wring the strongest emotions out of the reader. To make people laugh or cry by reading something you have created is a power (and gratification) few people ever know.
3) Again, I want to congratulate you on the debut of your wonderful new ebook “Cloudy McCoy Plus 13 Short Stories” over at Smashwords.com and soon to appear at Amazon.com. Tell our readers how that ebook came to be published.
I was educated as a meteorologist and made my living by forecasting weather in the TV business. As a teen ager I watched an early “weatherman” on WBT-TV in Charlotte, NC. His name was Clyde McClain. Because his forecasting was so often wrong, he won the nickname of “Cloudy McClain.” When I first started writing that story in 2004 he came to mind. I also had a weatherman (not a meteorologist) working for me at the time who was notoriously bad at following the forecasts I and my staff put together for him, but he was loved by the public for his humility and his homespun TV presentation. Those two characters blended well for my alcoholic protagonist newspaper reporter to make the most of them in “Cloudy McCoy.”
4) John, please give us some insight into how you created the story arc for “Cloudy McCoy,” your novella that opens your ebook.
All good fiction has the same characteristics. Man against man, man against nature, and man against himself. Also there must be a redemptive feature – the protagonist must undergo a change. In the case of “Cloudy McCoy” the narrative is carried by an alcoholic newspaper writer who befriends the old worn-out TV weatherman and in the process looks at his own life and decides to correct his mistakes of the past and become a new or better person.
5) So, John, what is your opinion about the traditional publishing market today versus today’s electronic or ebook market?
Wayne, if you will forgive a cliche’, I am convinced that ebooks are the wave of the future. The print publishing business has become so expensive that the big publishers won’t, or can’t take a chance on a new writer so they will only go with the James Pattersons (in my opinion the biggest hack writer in the market – but he sells tons of books) or the Tom Clancys. Ebooks open a market for otherwise unknown writers to be published and the convenience of reading those books is so easy I predict that within 8 to 10 years electronic books will far surpass the output of paper books. The days of brick and mortar bookstores, except for specialty purposes, are numbered.
6) Do you have any comment for our budding short story writers out there about writer’s block and also entering short story contests such as the two we host here at LongShortStories each year?
Well, first, I don’t believe in writer’s block. That is just an excuse not to write. As Ernest Hemingway said, “There’s no such thing as writing, it is all rewriting.” A first draft is just the beginning. All of the stories in “Cloudy McCoy plus 13 Short Stories” have been rewritten at least a dozen times. And if I went back to them now, I would find something to change for the better. You should never give up on a story. If it is good enough to be written it deserves to be honed to the very best of your writing ability. And, entering contests is good. When I was 15 I wrote a script for a contest – a CBS radio program called “Doctor Christian.” I didn’t win the contest, but that didn’t stop me from writing.
7) Are you a member of a writers forum where you can have like-minded writers read and give you feedback on your manuscript, or how can you be sure that what you have written is any good?
I’m not convinced that writers wasting their time writing to other writers about writing is good for them. Spend your time, when you are not writing, by READING, and only read those authors whose prose knocks you out. If you read a book by, say, Martin Cruz Smith by far the very best word craftsman of the modern era, try to emulate that in your writing. You will know when you’ve written something good if your wife or husband or companion reads it and says, “Wow!” That is the best compliment you can get. Then, go back and rewrite it again.
8 ) We often hear about writers having a ‘muse,’ John. Who or what is your muse?
I’ve heard that all my life too, Wayne. But I really don’t think a writer has a choice. Writers simply MUST write, they don’t need an inspiration to write. For years my mailbox was full of rejection letters. Some of them were even “form” rejections, which is really an insult. But even if you never get published (and it isn’t your fault, it is just the way the business is) if you have written a two or three hundred page novel you have done something that very few people in the world CAN do! So be proud of your accomplishment. Even if nobody ever sees your work, you will know you are a writer.
9) What writers are your favorites, and why, John?
I’ve already mentioned Martin Cruz Smith who is an absolute master of words. Lawrence Block, Ed McBain, Robert B. Parker, earlier work of James Lee Burke, Nelson DeMille to mention a few. It’s hard to beat the old masters who had to do it in longhand and have it rewritten on a typewriter. I still believe that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby” is probably the best example of good fiction writing. I re-read that book about once a year. Although its time period is dated, I defy anyone to find a better “word” for ANY word Fitzgerald put into that book.
10) How important to a professional writer is having a great vocabulary, John, and how did you acquire yours?
When I write, it is like a movie going on in my head. I “see” the people and places and I just write what I see and “hear.” (And smell and taste and feel.) And I write in the language that my characters use. One should never make the mistake of trying to write in dialect. You can define ethnicity or regional accents without using stereotypical words. What vocabulary I have, I got from reading. All I ever got out of high school and college English classes was learning how to type.
11) John, thank you so much for agreeing to be our guest blogger and for your keen insights into the fine art of writing. This is our final question for you today. If you could rule the world as a writer, what would you do with your power?
Whoa! How about “World Peace?” It works for the Miss America Contestants, why shouldn’t it work for an author? And thank you Wayne for allowing me to speak to your audience. You’re a good man and a great writer. Buy his book (and mine, too) folks!
Do yourselves a big favor and buy John Beckman’s terrific new ebook, “Cloudy McCoy Plus 13 Short Stories” at Smashwords.com. Here’s that link: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/94303.
Don’t have an e-reader, like Kindle or Nook? No problem. Download the free ‘Kindle for PC’ app from the Internet and then buy John’s ebook in Kindle format which you will be able to read on your computer. Until Santa Claus visits this year, that’s how I enjoy great ebooks like John’s and mine.