The Journal: Two Mentors and a Little History

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* Topic: Two Mentors and a Little History
* Of Interest

Quote of the Day

“I spend a lot of time indoors blending with the furniture and scaring my cousin.” from “10 Fun Facts About Me” by Tari Philip

Note: More on the unique voice. I love finding sentences that I suspect never have been said before. This is one of the most interesting sentences I’ve ever read. Thank you, Tari.

Topic: Two Mentors and a Little History

Today is the eighth anniversary of the day I rediscovered Dean Wesley Smith and his website back in 2014. So I thought a look back on mentors and a bit of my own journey might be appropriate.

I’ve talked before about Dean being my unintentional mentor. But really, at least back when I found his website in early 2014, he was simply paying forward (free) what he’d learned from others on his own way up. Back then he was writing a lot of posts about fiction writing. I devoured every word, practiced what felt right, and here I am.

But Dean wasn’t my first fiction writing mentor. I was reminded recently of my good fortune in having also met and studied with the science fiction pioneer and Grand Master, Jack Williamson.

According to Jack’s author bio on Amazon,

“Jack Williamson (1907-2006) was one of the most important and influential figures in science fiction. Born in 1907, he came to New Mexico with his family in a covered wagon in 1915. His first science fiction story appeared in a professional magazine in 1928, and he kept writing new novels and stories through 2005 when his last novel THE STONEHENGE GATE was published. His updated autobiography WONDER’S CHILD is available.

“Jack Williamson coined many words that became staples in science fiction and in the world at large: genetic engineering, terraforming, psionics, spaceport, prime directive, ion drive, Tellurian, neutronium. He is the only writer to receive both SFWA’s Grand Master Award and the Horror Writer of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Eastern New Mexico [University], where he taught for many years, has a Jack Williamson library wing.”

Consider, when Jack started his career as a science fiction writer, the genre hadn’t been named yet. I was fortunate to study under him at ENMU in Portales the first year he became a Professor Emeritus in the mid-1990s. He allowed me to write and turn-in a novelette in lieu of a mid-term essay, and he graded it just as he would have an essay. (I received only a C+.) His comments were invaluable in helping me learn the craft of fiction.

Flash forward: A year or two after my graduation and not long before Jack’s death, I was editing and publishing three small quarterly literary magazines. The Roswell Literary Review was my “large” mag at around 500 subscribers. The others were The Raintown Review: Poetry Edition and The Raintown Review: Fiction Edition, each of which had only a couple of hundred subscribers.

But as I mentioned, all three magazines were quarterlies, so we had something going out every month. Publishing those was pretty much a full-time job. I not only received and accepted or rejected submissions (always with a handwritten note), but I edited and did the layout for each issue. My wife and I also printed and collated the pages, center-stapled (or “saddle-stapled”) them, and folded each issue by hand. Then I carried them all down to a local printer to have the open edge trimmed. After that we put a stamp and address on each issue and mailed them out.

So having a “big name” contributor would mean a lot to me. I reached out to Jack Williamson, and I soon learned his most notable characteristic was his kindness.

He sent me an autographed copy of his short story collection, People Machines, and granted me permission to reprint in The Roswell Literary Review the didactic essays he wrote to accompany the short stories in that collection. The essays explained the fiction-writing techniques Jack employed in the accompanying stories. It was my pleasure to type those essays into TRLR.

As an aside, to my mind, People Machines remains one of the best-kept secrets of fiction. You can find it in paperback for only around $12 at I highly recommend it. While I’m on my Williamson soapbox, I also recommend his novella, With Folded Hands, which you can find as an ebook at

Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke (2001: A Space Odyssey and much more) wrote of Williamson, “On looking back over his long and influential career, I have no hesitation in placing Jack Williamson on a level with the two other American giants, Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein.”

‘Nuff said.

But back to Dean Wesley Smith for a moment. He too knew and was influenced by Jack Williamson, among many others.

Today, you can find some of what I learned from Dean by purchasing his Killing the Sacred Cows series of books and his Think Like a Publisher book(s). You can also search his site for those terms, but it’s probably easier to just buy the books. They aren’t expensive.

I also recommend his lecture on Heinlein’s Rules. Not only for the Rules themselves but because there’s so much more in that lecture. He also has a book by that name (maybe the same as the lecture, maybe not), as well as books titled Writing Into the Dark, How to Write Fiction Sales Copy and much, much more.

I count myself amazingly fortunate that I met and learned from Jack Williamson even though I didn’t start writing fiction seriously until almost 20 years later. I suppose I just wasn’t ready yet.

I am also incredibly fortunate that I found Dean’s site when I did. Apparently that happened at exactly the right time. I found his site in February 2014, started writing (into the dark) a short story every week on April 15 of that year, and started writing my first novel (also into the dark) in October of that year.

But maybe the best overall lesson I learned from Jack and Dean and a few others is to pay it forward. And that’s what this Journal is all about. Thank you for giving me that opportunity.

I invite you to use the Search box in the sidebar to look for topics of interest, or to search the Journal archives, which are still available in seven searchable PDF files dating back to 2014. You need only email me at to get them.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Tareal’s Ink” at This is the attractive website of a writer and Journal reader whose nickname is Tari. Check it out.

See “Draft2Digital to Acquire Smashwords” at Maybe a different take on the news. The comments include some great exchanges between authors and Mark Coker (founder of Smashwords).

Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.

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