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The Bell Curve: My best editor still one tough Marine

June 30, 2010|Joseph N. Bell

I won't be making it to North Carolina this Fourth of July. I can't remember how many years that has been a part of my life. But I can best guess this by recalling a vision of my stepson, Erik, on our first Carolina Fourth.

He was tall and gangly for his age, which must have put him at 11 or 12. He didn't hang out much with the old folks. Mostly he sat with a spiral notebook and pen, writing his first novel. That must have been almost 20 years ago, and he hasn't yet finished it. But he's written a dozen plays and movie scripts since. And, meanwhile, I gratefully accepted the Carolina habit as my birthday gift. I got there by way of Chicago. There was a nest of writers-to-be living and working in Chicago after World War II. We were young — mostly in our mid-20s — and many of us had started families. So we were trained early on that we couldn't indulge ourselves with artistic prose that didn't bring in immediate money. It was a powerful bond that has stayed with us and will forever.

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One of our bondsmen jumped ship early on by exchanging his writer's byline for an editor's eye shade. His name was Clifford Hicks, and the magazine he helped edit was "Popular Mechanics." Although most of us hungry freelancers were liberal arts majors who didn't know a screw driver from a chisel, we wrote well. So there must be thousands of artifacts around the country made from directions and descriptions in PM often written by technical illiterates like me. But Cliff was always there to save us. Even then he was the best editor I ever worked with.

It was only because of his urging and prodding that I broke though Life Magazine's wall of exclusivity around the seven original astronauts and wrote the first book about them. He also sent me driving across the country with my family — by then grown to five — to discover if it was possible to replace expensive motels with cheap campgrounds en route. Since my kids hated camping and my wife held me grimly to the banning of motels, there was a lot of tension on that trip. But there was also a week in Newport Beach, which mollified my family and got us one step closer to moving here.

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