The First Time

You never forget your first time.

Twenty-five years ago I wrote an article on spec (meaning I was writing it for myself until someone might buy it). I had just started writing seriously and I was in Ashland, Or., newly married and working sound and lights at The Oregon Shakespearean Festival. I had a lot of down time so when I wasn’t working a show, I’d be holed up in one of the small rooms in our apartment tapping away on my faithful Smith-Corona.

I got the chance to interview Director Robert Clouse who, among other things, directed Bruce Lee in his most famous film, Enter The Dragon. Now I had been a huge Lee fan most of my life, so when serendipity stepped in and I got the chance to work on a series of documentaries Clouse was directing in Ashland (he’d recently moved there to semi-retire), I took the initiative to get to know him a little and asked if he’d mind if I interview him for an article I wanted to write.

My motives were two-fold. One, I saw this as a good opportunity to break into print. Two, I could get the skinny on Bruce by someone who knew him and worked closely with him.

The interview went well and Clouse gave me some things that no one had ever heard about Bruce before. It was a treasure-trove and my head spun as I got back to my apartment with my notes and some of his stories of filming ‘Dragon‘ still ringing in my ears.

The article got written, I showed it to Clouse, who liked it but had one caveat; could I mention his wife, who helped design the famed mirror sequence that climaxes the film? No problem. Then I started to submitting it to magazines.

Up to this point I’d been submitting for about a year, mostly short stories and I was getting form rejections back. But a year after I wrote this article on a bright, spring day, I got a phone call:

“Mr. Kelly”

“Yes, this is John.”

“Mr. Kelly, I’m Dave Cater, the editor here at Inside Kung Fu and we’ve got your article here and would like to publish it.”

“You’re kidding?”

“No. Just need to know if Bob Clouse has read it and feels okay about it being published. We know him here and want to be on the up and up.”

“Yes, he’s read it and given me permission to publish it.”

“Great. Then I’d like to buy it. I can only give you $100.00. I know it’s not much, but we’ll run it as our cover story with some good photos. Hopefully that’ll make up for the small paycheck.

$100.00 seemed like a fortune to be paid for an article. “I think that would be great. Can’t believe this. It’s my first sale.”

“Really? Well the copy is very clean and I was going to ask if you had anything else…”

And shortly thereafter I got off the phone and screamed in our apartment. It was real. Someone had thought enough of my writing to actually buy it. I was a real writer.

I’ve had many more sales for more money but nothing tastes as sweet as that first time you  realize your words will see print. It’s a magical moment you never forget.

Thanks, Dave, Robert & Bruce. You made that first sale pretty special.

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One Response to The First Time

  1. Nick Clarke says:

    Dear John,

    Thanks for sharing this great story. I’m the owner of a website dedicated to Bruce Lee. Any chance of sharing your Robert Clouse interview? Thank you.

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