Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My letter from Gar Wilson

As I've mentioned in previous posts, in my youth I was obsessed with men's adventure novels. My favorites were the Gold Eagle stable, particularly Phoenix Force. I subscribed to Gold Eagle, receiving a bimonthly package of 2 Mack Bolans, 1 Able Team, 1 SOBs (later on though I received a Vietnam series instead, which I never read), and most importantly, 1 Phoenix Force.

Phoenix Force was by far my favorite. Usually I didn't even read the other books but I always read Phoenix Force. I also scoured the racks of the Paperback Exchange in nearby LaVale, Maryland for back issues, soon building up quite a collection.

The series was by Gar Wilson, a man who, in biographical sketches included with the earliest volumes of Phoenix Force, had once served in various armies and had even been a mercenary for hire. My obsession was at its peak from ages 12 to 13, and even at such a young age I still found something a bit off about this bio. But what I didn't realize -- something I didn't discover for a few decades more -- was that Gar Wilson didn't exist.

"Gar Wilson" was a house name, created by Gold Eagle; house psuedonyms of course being a standard in the world of men's adventure novels. But again, I didn't know this. All I knew was that "Gar Wilson" was my favorite writer and Phoenix Force was my favorite series.

At any rate, as my obsession was wearing off I was becoming more interested in sci-fi. I'd wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, so one day in late 1987 I sent Gold Eagle an idea for a Phoenix Force novel which in my mind combined action with sci-fi. I don't have a copy of my letter, but if I recall it correctly, the Force battled some terrorists who were plotting against NASA and ended up on a space ship headed for Mars. I think they even got in a fight on Mars.

I should mention I was thirteen years old when I wrote this. (And I was still going by the name "Joey!")

I sent off my handwritten letter and early in January of 1988 I got a letter back! A scarlet red envelope, containing a typed letter on the same colored paper. An editor from Gold Eagle telling me that, though they appreciated the letter, my story was not fit for Phoenix Force as it was moreso science fiction than adventure. They also informed me that a trip to Mars would take several years, something I'd failed to grasp at the time. (I still have a copy of this letter and maybe sometime I'll post it as well.)

But what really took my breath away was a single sentence, at the very end of the letter: "A copy of your letter has been forwarded to Gar Wilson."

And then, a week or two after that...another letter came in for me, same Nashville, IN return address as Gold Eagle's letter had come from (though post-stamped "San Diego, CA"). But with the name "Gar Wilson" above that return address.

An actual letter to me from Gar Wilson!

I've typed up the letter below, but it's hard to convey the thrill I got, reading through these three crisp, hand-typed pages. Complete with typos and white-out and "Gar's" signature; hell, I still get a thrill reading it.

Gar Wilson
Gold Eagle Books
PO Box 1035
Nashville, IN 47448*

Joey Kenney
PO Box 480
Fort Ashby, WV 26719

February 12, 1988

Dear Joey:

I received a copy of your letter concerning your story plot idea for a future PHOENIX FORCE book. I want to personally thank you for the story plot suggestion about Phoenix Force combating terrorists and winding up on a space shuttle to Mars. Judy Newton has already sent you a letter explaining why this idea would not work for Phoenix Force. I have to agree with her, but I’m writing to you because I don’t want you to be discouraged and give up any hope of writing stories in the future.

Your story is good, but it isn’t right for PHOENIX. The stories in Phoenix Force are in a contemporary setting. They’re taking place in the present. Since the space program is currently on hold…more or less…the idea of a trip to Mars isn’t apt to happen for some time. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t develop a story with the same plot, using characters you come up with on your own instead of Phoenix Force.

I also suggest you first study the accepted style for manuscripts for books (neatly typed, double-spaced, proper use of quotation marks, sentence structure, ect.) you also have to consider how long you want the story to be. PHOENIX FORCES are usually 250 pages (manuscript form) which is about 220 when printed in book form. Your story may be shorter or longer, depending on what you decide to do. Shorter stories might be submitted to magazines. To be honest, since you’re a relative newcomer without many credits as a published author, you’d probably have a better chance getting started as a writer by writing stories for magazines. That’s how I started. I wrote twenty short stories and novelets for

[page 2]

detective magazines before I started writing full-length novels for Gold Eagle. Book publishers are reluctant to take material from anyone without a track record. Magazine publishers are more inclined to take stories from new guys.

I suggest you also go to the library and look for THE WRITER’S MARKET. It is a book, new editions come out every year, and it prints the various markets for writers. Book publishers, magazine publishers, ect. Look for the 1988 edition. It is a rather expensive book so I suggest you go to the library instead of buying a copy. Look for what magazine or book publisher would be most likely to print a story of the type you wish to write.

When you finish the story (book or short story or novelet), proof-read it for errors. Then send query letters to publishers. Write the letters in proper business-letter form (like this one) and give a brief description of your story (about one page total. Longer descriptions probably won’t be read because editors get a lot of material sent in and they’re more apt to read brief, neatly typed descriptions than long wordy ones). If a publisher is interested in your story, they’ll write to see it. Be sure to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope with the submission of the manuscript. If a publisher doesn’t accept your material, they’ll mail it back to you and you’ll try to send it somewhere else. Oh, yeah. Make a copy of the manuscript and keep it for your own use, just in case.

Now, every writer gets rejects. I still get them. Gold Eagle doesn’t accept every idea I come up with for Phoenix Force either, so don’t feel bad that your idea wasn’t accepted. Editors are people and they have opinions just like everybody else. They’re not necessarily right or wrong, but they are the guys who take or reject material. If they reject something it doesn’t meat it isn’t any good, it just means they don’t think it will sell as a book. I’ve written stories which were rejected by one publisher and accepted by a different one the same month. Rejections happen. They’re disappointing, but it happens. If you really want to be a writer, you’ll keep trying.

Another thing, I suggest you research subject matter as much as possible.

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I write stories that take place in countries and cities I’ve never been to. I include dialogue in languages I don’t speak and subjects I know nothing about until I’ve done research on the material. The more information you can get on a subject, the better you can write about it. Knowledge is never a waste of time anyway.

Try to find out as much as you can about writing books or short stories before you try to submit anything. Do the best you can every time you write and NEVER CHEAT YOUR READERS. A fiction writer is a story teller. Those stories are suppose to entertain the reader. Everybody makes mistakes and everybody makes errors in stories occasionally, but if you always try to entertain the reader (as well as please yourself) you can’t go too wrong.

I’m writing a rather long letter here and I hope you aren’t bored, but I recall when I was thirteen and wanted to be a writer. I didn’t get any encouragement at the time and a lot of people thought I was just a geek dreamer. People said “you know how much competition there is” and “how many guys are trying to do that.” I won’t say it’s easy. It isn’t. Writing is a lot of hard work, time consuming effort and every writer I’ve ever known has had some big disappointments. Yet, it is very rewarding to see one’s material in print.

Another thing that’s very rewarding is knowing that folks are reading my books and enjoy them. When a reader takes the extra effort to write a letter to me concerning PHOENIX FORCE it is always appreciated, especially from someone interested in writing. If you decide to pursue writing, good luck and bear in mind it can be tough at times, but few things in life worthwhile come easy. Thanks again and good luck whatever you do.



Gar Wilson

* Envelope stamped “San Diego, CA, 16 FEB 1988”

I'm not sure how many times I read this letter. My interest in men's adventure novels waned, but my passion for writing continued, and it was in fact from this letter that I learned about the Writer's Market.

And the letter was very inspirational; I followed "Gar's" advice and, after much struggle, succeeded in selling a few short stories, following his advice on how to break into the market. Though I've yet to get a novel published, I'm still trying, and currently have two manuscripts under consideration (neither of them would fall under the "men's adventure" rubric but I've got something in mind that might...!)

In early 2000, years after receiving this letter which still meant so much to me, I briefly became re-interested in the men's adventure novels I'd read as a kid; only then did I look up Gar Wilson. This is when I discovered he was a creation of Gold Eagle.

Ten years after that and I'm back again, reading these novels I enjoyed ages ago. And I'm still wondering who exactly wrote me this letter. It was obviously one of the series writers, but which one? The San Diego postmark is certainly a clue; does anyone know if any of the "Gar Wilsons" lived there?

Regardless, I just want to say "thanks" to Gar Wilson, whoever you are/were; this letter has always been and will continue to be one of my treasured posessions.

3/13/13 Update: A big thanks to Stephen Mertz, who has informed me that the above letter was actually written by William Fieldhouse! Fieldhouse was one of the authors who served as Gar Wilson, and the one most fans consider "the" Gar Wilson. Stephen told me that recently he spoke with Fieldhouse, who remembered writing the letter to me! What I find so great about this is that I now know that my favorite Phoenix Force novels were actually written by Fieldhouse, meaning that this "Gar Wilson" letter was really sent by my favorite author. Not only that, but it was thanks to Fieldhouse that I even got into this genre -- it was his Phoenix Force novel Night of the Thuggee that served as my introduction to men's adventure novels. I discovered it in a WaldenBooks store in late October 1985 when I was 10 years old, bought it, read it, and became an instant fan.


Marty McKee said...

Wow, that is an awesome letter. Whoever wrote it was very cool. It would be nice if you knew who to thank. Thanks for sharing it.

James Reasoner said...

That's a great post. I'd like to know who wrote that letter, too.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks guys for your responses. I might've discovered who wrote me that letter, thanks to some hardcore Bolan/Gold Eagle fans. I'm going to try to work it all up into an article for Justin Marriott's upcoming "Men of Violence #3."

Jack Badelaire said...

Holy cow, that is great! It's always amazing to see when someone takes the time - real time and effort - to give solid, heartfelt advice to someone who wants to "grow up to be" a writer. And all that advice is as true now in 2011 as it was back in 1988.

Thanks for sharing this, it really made my day.

notho / nathaniel g moore said...

that is really great joey i liked your idea

check this out

mike d said...

Aw, you're a real life Gentleman Bronco. Red paper in a red envelope, that's how to run a business!

Paromlin said...


Do you have the book "The Viper Factor"? It's from this series.

Could you transcribe the fight between Sommers and Walker (boxer and karateka) that starts around page 54? I'd be very grateful.

halojones-fan said...

That is a wonderful story.

AJ said...

Bocci balls, this is an amazing post! I'm not sure you'll even see this, Mr, Kenney, but this blew me away! I was just in my garage looking for some doo-dad or another, and I stumble across a nearly 30-year-old box of stuff. And what's sitting on top? White Hell, Return to Armageddon, and Ultimate Terror (my personal favorite). Continue looking for important doo-dad? Hell no! Dust off the books and hop on the internet to look up Phoenix Force . . . am confused as to why Jean Grey and The X Men keep popping up instead. I must be out of the loop.

Anyway, I had a similar experience back in the early 80s with Phoenix Force. Not only was a I loyal member of the Gold Eagle book club, but I, too, scoured every book store (new or used) for back copies of Phoenix Force (and Mack Bolan) books. Gar Wilson was--for a while--the man. Dick Stivers was okay (I just couldn't get into Able Team), and Don Pendleton was up there . . . but the first time I--as a 12-year-old wanna-be commando--saw the cover of Atlantic Scramble (Gary Manning was so awesome, he was gunning down bad guys and not even looking in their general direction), I had to read it.

That was July 10, 1983. I was almost 13 years old. I had $5.00 in my pocket, and had planned on buying a model airplane with the money. Nope! Atlantic Scramble for the win! I bought the book at the TG&Y in Flagstaff, Arizona. It was raining out (a good ol' Arizona Monsoon), and we (my Mom and sister) went to Godfather's Pizza for lunch afterwards. Wow! The memories come rushing back!!

Okay. Need to get off of the Way-Back Express. Thanks for sharing the letters. That was some great stuff!

Live Large

Joe Kenney said...

AJ, thanks so much for the comment, I really enjoyed reading it. Very happy to hear from a fellow Gold Eagle fanatic from back in the day. My feelings back then were exactly like yours -- I appreciated Bolan, could never get into Able Team, and thought the SOBs might be interesting but never really read it. But I loved Phoenix Force. One of the titles you mention, White Hell, I have vivid memories of reading out on my back porch sometime in the mid-'80s. It was one of those I'd found at the local Paperback Exchange.

Like you, I got on the Way-Back Express a few years ago...and haven't gotten off since. Four years later and all I read now is men's adventure and trash fiction!

If you get around to re-reading those old books, please let me know how they hold up, and thanks again for the comment!

Unknown said...

Came across this and was *very* impressed by that author! I was an Able Team guy, though I read the others (at one point had every AT, every PF and ever MB up to, oh, 1990 - thank you, local used book network!). My best friend in high school became so because he was reading Run To Ground (MB#106) just after I'd read Fall Back And Kill (AT#23) and we started talking. I go back and read them now and they are interesting, although astonishing as well. And the "new" ones - amazing that the basic series is still going.

Thanks for sharing, though.

David Scott said...

Due to the age of this post, I doubt you will see this, Joe. But, if you do see it....HOLY COW THE LETTER THE POST....AWESOME!!!
Parts of it made me feel like i was reading about myself. I was part of the Golden Eagle club (Do you remember or did you recieve the replica 7.62 bullet with the 'Golden Eagle' symbol embossed in black? God, I loved that thing!)and Phoenix Force was the only one I really cared about. I just loved those books. I was also in that 11-13 age range when I read them. 'Tooth and Claw'and 'No Rules No referee' being my favorites.
I became a regular at a store called 'Previously Owned Paper Backs' and eventually collected and read #1-30 (more or less..i don't remember the exact number now)and loved them all! Reading those turned me into a life long reader and lover of many many books.
Thanks for the post, its great to know others loved them too.

Joe Kenney said...

David, thanks a lot for the comment. Great to hear from another childhood fan of Gold Eagle! Yes, I did have the bullet, I totally forgot about that. What I remember most is the cheap sunglasses I got with the subscription, and I'm pretty sure I have a photo somewhere of me in my geeky prepubescent 1986 prime wearing said sunglasses. I remember both those PF volumes you mention, and in fact they were two of my favorites, as well. I liked all the ones with John Trent, the ninja. I think my favorites then were Hostaged Vatican and Weep, Moscow, Weep, which not only featured Trent but I think also acted like a two-part story. I was never able to get the full run, though...I think the earliest I ever got was Tigers Of Justice, which if I recall correctly was the one where the Japanese member of PF was killed? I'd seen multiple mentions of him in the later volumes, so I recall being rather excited to read an actual installment in which he I say, I was a pretty geeky kid. Not that I've changed much! Anyway, thanks again for the comment!

Chris Bennett said...

I once wrote a fan letter to Joseph Rosenburger but he must have been too busy researching Yon Hon Nukite-derivative martial arts punches to write me back.