This story continues where we left off on Tuesday, talking about the glut of newsprint options that existed in pre-internet culture.
The magazine Destiny had hired me to perform a mix of sales and editorial duties; the sales end being somewhat complicated by the fact that the potential contacts were far-flung and I didn’t have a working car at that point. I should also say in my defense that the type of national advertiser that the magazine’s creator envisioned rarely get involved with a new publication. They’re more likely to get on board after the publication has had a run of several months, or ideally a track record of at least a year. But the Catch-22 is that without initial advertisers, you can’t release a print product. Really, the type of bargaining needed was something my younger self wasn’t equipped to do, and something the publisher should have been doing himself.
On the editorial side, I now had some regional name recognition as a music reviewer, but there was some concern that the magazine not appear as if a very small group of people did everything, so some articles would be written under a pseudonym. I was told I would be writing a travel column and I would be writing it as John Matthews. It’s not a name I would have chosen, but to all the John Matthews-es out there, it’s neither a name with which I have any issues.
And where would my travels take me?
On the one hand, at least I had been to England; possibly twice at this point, but I had never been Wiltshire, where Stonehenge is located. Was it man-made? Or was it a naturally occurring phenomenon like Mount Rushmore, where the correct blend of wind and rain erosion had produced the images of four heads bearing an uncanny resemblance to four American presidents.
There was no internet back then.
I must have gone to a library, or perhaps a travel agency, to get information. I know I did not want to risk my parents old encyclopedia set after a disaster in the ninth grade. My topic was Jamaica and I had written how, “Jamaica hopes to one day gain independence.” I can still see the red pen of my teacher’s remark, “What were your sources? Jamaica has been independent for years.”
The nice thing about being John Matthews was that after a few issues, someone else got to be John Matthews. I was done writing about places I’d never seen and people I’d never met. The column was a lie and a potential journalistic embarrassment, but for the fact nobody knew it was me. If the tourist bureaus had offered us tickets to somewhere exotic, maybe there would have been an incentive to fabricate — and eventually leading to some true stories of places visited — but there was no need for it. In our vast circle of contacts in Canada’s largest city we could have easily found someone who had actually gone somewhere who could have shared their story.
…Today, I have Thinking Out Loud and I do share stories that are fictional, but they always include the “Short Stories” graphic and all begin with a certain “Once Upon a Time” introduction. There’s a time and place for fiction and a time and place for fact, but I don’t believe there’s room for trying to blend the two.
Postscript: Many years later I met a guy who had also been published in a periodical under the same pen name. I guess it simply works as an alias.