Ever wonder how a guy gets a job like this? Lots of people seem to because it is one of the number one question people ask when they see me at the events I attend. Everyone wants to know, “How do you get a job like this?” Everyone from Brenda, the cute little waitress from Gaylord who loves snowmobile racing, to many of the racers and race crews even. A lot of people seem to want to do what I do.
For me, personally, it was kind of like fate. About fifteen years ago, I decided to go back to college, night school at the local high school actually. The place I’d graduated from many years earlier was offering college night courses in conjunction with a local college. Now, I’d tried college a couple of times when I was first out of high school and never seemed to find what I was looking for. This last time, Tom Hoogterp, one of my college professors, told me I had some natural skill as a writer. Being financially challenged at the time, Tom really caught my attention when he told me I could probably pick up some extra money writing. Good money. He mentioned a basic fact that all of those magazines on all those store shelves need articles each and every issue, and they need writers to produce those articles.
The little light bulb came on. I declared a major and decided to become a professional writer. I’m not going to lie about it. School took a lot of work. Even though I thought I had a pretty good grasp of the English language, there was still a lot I had to learn to become a writer. Just like any other type of skill, one does not pick it up overnight. Anyone can pound a nail, but only a true carpenter can build a house. So, I studied hard and really worked at it. And, a few months later I ended up placing second in the State in a collegiate contest.
Winning that contest got me a hundred bucks and some pretty awards. But, more importantly, it gave me some instant notoriety. Suddenly everybody around knew I was a writer. That really paid off because Tom King, one of the founders of the Naubinway Antique and Vintage Snowmobile Show, heard I was a writer and asked if I would help out and do some promotional writing for our town’s show. I agreed, first because I always try to do as much as I can in the community in which I live, and second because as a new writer I was trying to build a resume. And then, thirdly and most importantly, it went perfectly with one of the major rules of being a professional writer, which says “write what you know.”
I learned to ride snowmobiles when I was six. My Uncle Melvin Frazier stuck me behind the handle bars of one of those old rear engine sleds and let me go. I remember how small I was because I couldn’t sit on the seat and drive. I had to stand behind the handle bars so I could reach them. Then, I had to stand on my tippy toes to see out the windshield. But, even though I was little, I was immediately hooked. Then, when I was nine, my dad picked up some good work when a pipeline came through our area and bought me a brand new Sno-Jet for Christmas. It was great. Bright blue. Single cylinder. It was one of those new ones where you sat behind the engine. And, it flew. Topped out at twenty-five, maybe thirty miles an hour. I was in heaven.
As a youngster, along with learning to ride snowmobiles, I was also doing something else to build a foundation for a career as a writer. I was an avid reader. My loving mother laid the groundwork. From way before I can remember, she took the time to read to me. Constantly. She read to me as often as she could and as much as I wanted. It worked wonders for my reading skills. I could read basic children’s books by myself at two or three. By ten, I was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club. While a lot of other kids my age were still reading about Dick, Jane, and Spot, I was reading 2001-A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, and other Sci-Fi books. Because I loved to read, and because I was an only child, I would spend hour upon hour in my room reading.
So, I was a avid reader and I knew a lot about snowmobiles. And, with a few college courses, I had picked up the skills I needed to turn pro. I learned a lot about sentence construction, basic grammer, and different types of writing. Plus, I became computer literate. As they say, the groundwork was laid. I was all set to go to work. All I needed was a place to work.
That came when I heeded Tom King’s request. In promoting functions, the basic idea is to send the story to as many papers, magazines, and other media outlets as you possibly can. And, especially focus on the ones which will best compliment your event. So, one of the first publications I contacted was “Michigan Snowmobiler Magazine.” I knew they were the top snowmobiling magazine in the State. I also knew this was the place I wanted to get a piece in about my town’s show. But, as I dialed the number, my palms were sweating and my pulse racing. Talk about nervous. The only time I recall being more nervous was during the birth of my son. At that time, my son’s mother was doing all the work. This time, I was the one having the baby.
Happily, Lyle Shipe, the publisher, agreed to see my story. And, wonder of wonders, he published it, and actually paid me in real money. And, even better, after reading it, he told me I was an excellent wrier and offered me a job. Very cool, more or less. Because, in almost the same sentence as he offered me a job, he told me I needed to provide my own pictures. And, they had to be quality pictures. My heart dropped. What did he mean do my own photos? I was taking courses in writing, not photography. Not one person in college told me journalists had to take pictures. They led me to believe I would have someone following me around to do that for me. I didn’t know squat about taking magazine quality photos. Of course, I immediately said I could. But, my insides did kind of a flip-flop.
However, as in writing, I had unwittingly been laying the groundwork to become a professional photographer. I had always been interested in photography. And, I had always taken a lot of pictures. With my little 110 cameras, I had managed to come up with some really nice photos. One, of a sunset in Florida, my late mother even had blown up and framed.
Anyway, the next day, I walked into Jack’s Camera Shop in Escanaba. The owner pointed me toward some camera equipment and suggested some literature and sent me on my way. The first camera he sent me out with was one of those new fangled computerized models that does everything for you. It wasn’t working for me so I returned and the owner made a suggestion that really really helped me. He suggested that I go to a completely manual camera. So, I agreed to try the manual Yashica. It worked. And, I was hooked. Today, I am a walking advertisement for Yashica.
At the same time I was trying to get more and more work here at Michigan Snowmobiler. They needed someone to take over another writer’s work. Didn’t take my mom’s favorite kid long to decide on that one. Get paid to travel around the State following the race circuits? You couldn’t have paid me not to take the job.
However, although most people say they would like my job. There are a few things about it they probably don’t think about. First, I am on the road a lot, usually a hundred days a year or more. For me personally, I love it. I love staying in hotels. I love eating in restaurants, especially when I’m spending someone else’s money for my rooms and food. And, I just love traveling.
Then there is the family. I have to spend a lot of time away from them. Yes, they can travel with me when they want to. It’s just that most of the time, they usually don’t want to. My current wife, Liz, was born in Hawaii and has never developed a liking for snow and cold weather.
My son, on the other hand, was born up here in God’s Country and loves snowmobiling. And, when he was younger, he just loved traveling with me, visiting motels with pools where he could swim during the coldest part of the winter. Pizza after pizza. And, racers. He’s hung out with some of the top drivers in the world. He got to meet Blair Morgan in person. He’s even sat in the hot tub with the very beautiful Lissa Toncray, the three time Women’s World Champion.
Along with building the skills to do this kind of work, anyone interested in actually becoming a snowmobile magazine writer, or any other kind of writer whose work involves a lot of travel for that matter should really think about how their family will react to them being gone a lot.
Then, to do this kind of work, along with the actual writing and photographic skills, you have to have a cast iron ego. No matter what you say and how nice you try to be, sooner or later you will offend someone, even if you just put somebody’s picture in. The person whose picture does not get in often gets ticked because you left them out. And, that someone you left out or inadvertently insulted will yell and scream and make all sorts of noise. And, that’s if you are lucky. I cannot easily count the number of times I have been threatened with lawsuits. Most arose from my work in newspapers. There was often a “sue the messanger” type of attitude. But, even try as I do, every now and then, someone still gets ticked about something I write here in “Michigan Snowmobiler” and starts using the “S” word.
When I take a stance on some issue, and put that stance into one of my articles, I know for a fact I will get some negative response. It comes from having an opinion and voicing that opinion. Because, no matter what opinion you have, you can bet someone will almost always have an opposite one. And, sooner or later, somebody will take enough offense that they feel compelled to contact you or the paper or magazine you work for. It’s just a fact of life of being a journalist.
But, overall, I really love my job. I love snowmobile racing. I love snowmobiling in general. I get just as much enjoyment out of going to some picturesque area and touring as I do at the races. They actually pay me to go and stay at the best rooms in the most beautiful resorts, eat the best food on the menu in fantastic restaurants, and then ride snowsled all day. How’s that for cool?
The mag still hires writers from time to time. And, there are other publications around. So, if you really do want a job like mine. It can be had. You have to take the time to become a good writer. You have to take the time to become a good photographer. And, you have to learn how to deal with people. So, if you really want a job like mine. Go for it. I did. And, I love it. I can say that all the effort was truly worth it. It just plain don’t get any better.
This “Stephen King” is not the best-selling author from Maine. This “Stephen King” lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Stephen’s work has appeared in numerous local, regional, and national magazines and newspapers. He currently works for Michigan Snowmobiler Magazine as a writer and photographer, specializing in snowmobile race coverage. Stephen loves the outdoors, especially fishing, on which he has written numerous articles for various outdoor magazines. His hobbies include woodworking, gardening, a flea market, and shooting pool. He lives in a modest home overlooking Lake Michigan in the small village of Naubinway with his wife, Liz, son, Joe, his dog, Sassy, five doves, two parakeets, five chickens, a pheasant, a pidgeon, a rabbit, a Guinea pig, a hamster, and four aquariums. If you wish to contact him, his e-mail address is: sfking-at-sault.com