Ihave been writingsince before I can remember.
It was always an egocentric affair. When I was a small child, I drew comic books about superheroes who were named after me – “Tom Super Soter” and “Sam Rock Soter” (a war hero) – and which betrayed my early influences (DC comics’ Superman and Sgt. Rock). By the time I was 10 I had new role models: the irreverent Marvel Comics Group (I changed my “company” name from “Tom DC Comics” to the less personal “Guardian Comics Group”).
From 1970 until 1976, my writing consisted mainly of fiction and some non-fiction for home-produced magazines. I was the 14-year-old publisher, editor, and writer (with Tom Sinclair, Christian Doherty, and Alan Saly) of publications called Strange & Unknown, The Warthog Reader, and Mystery Magazine (see my bookDisappearing Act for more on that; or watch for the upcoming Guardian Omnibus).
I enrolled at New York University in 1974 but it wasn’t until 1976, when I transferred to Columbia University, that I began writing professionally. I got my writing gig at the Columbia Daily Spectator because I was angry about a review by George Stevenson of the horror film Burnt Offerings. It so missed the point of the movie that I went into the editor’s office and complained, quite angrily.
They asked me if I could do better and then had me review The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella.I don’t know if it was any better than Stevenson’s piece but that became my first published bit of writing (you can judge for yourself if it’s any good by turning to p. 173). For the next two years, I wrote about all my favorite subjects – Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Tarzan, and The Prisoner,among others – as well as subjects in which I had little interest.
After graduating in 1978, my newspaper work continued at a trio of community papers: The Westsider, The Chelsea Clinton News,and The East Side Express,where I learned that I could report on anything. That was a big help at my first full-time job as an editor at Firehouse magazine. In July 1978, just two months after I graduated, my mother’s cousin James Kotsilibas-Davis (known as “Baby Jim” to the family) called me about a job at Firehouse. “What’s that?” I asked. “A poetry magazine?” No, it was about firemen (subsequently referred to as firefighters, since women were on the job now, too). Jimmy’s boss was Bartle Bull, a rich man in suspenders who played publisher the way some people played golf: with an intense interest in the subject at hand for about 15 minutes. He hired me, on Jimmy’s say-so, and although Bartle was infuriating, he – and Jimmy – taught me a lot about terseness in writing and how to turn badly written pieces into tightly packed sandwiches that, although not delectable, were at least edible (Disappearing Act has the full story on that, too).
In the 1980s, I had a six-month gig at Americanamagazine – which started as a promising partnership and ended up a disaster (see the details in “A Nasty Man,” p. 65) – and I took off for a year to write a book about James Bond (see “Talking Bond,” p. 81), produce cable TV’sVideosyncracies(see “Videosyncracies,” p. 107), and discover improvisation (see “Talking About Improv,” p. 133). Then I got my job at Habitat(see my book Bedbugs, Biondi & Me). While there, I wrote a great deal of freelance stories for various publications, and in the process, met a number of my childhood idols: actors Patrick McGoohan, Raymond Burr, and most of the cast of the British comedy group Monty Python’s Flying Circus. And I got paidfor it too! Nice work if you can get it, and for a while, I did.
Although I was quite busy with magazine writing in the 1980s, I did occasionally write for newspapers, including The New York Times Syndication Service, New York Newsday, The New York Observer, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The New York Voice. An article I wrote for Diversionmagazine on the ten most memorable moments on television was also syndicated, turning up in a number of far-flung newspapers – and leading to my appearance on a couple of radio shows as a television “expert.”
In 1987, after five years as managing editor at Habitat, I decided I wanted to do more freelance writing. I worked out an arrangement with publisher Carol Ott in which I worked as an editorial consultant to the magazine (meaning I would write a feature, edit some stories, and give advice/input every month, all for a regular stipend) and would have more time to write freelance. The next ten years, from 1987 to 1997, were my most prolific years as a writer. I wrote film and TV analysis pieces for Entertainment Weekly, Diversion, Video, Video Times, Movie Times, and Empire; wrote media business stories for Backstage, Shoot, Wrap, INTV Journal, and View; and wrote real estate stories for New York Newsday. Then, in 1998, I signed a contract to produce my second book, Investigating Couples, which was published in 2001. (My first book had been the aforementioned Bond and Beyond, which came out in 1993.)
In the early 1990s, Long Island-based Newsdaystarted a New York City edition of the tabloid newspaper. The paper had a weekly real estate section and I offered up a few ideas based on my experiences at Habitat. Dave Harrison, my editor, was a great guy and a good editor to work with. I did many stories for both the Long Island and New York City editions, often employing my sources from the magazine (one of them repeatedly asked me when I was going to quote him in Newsday). Unfortunately, when Harrison left in a buyout, I lost my connection with the paper (and the New York City edition was soon discontinued).
The new century began with a bang for me with the publication of my second book and ended with sadness: the deaths of Patrick McGoohan and, more significantly, my father George. My dad had been a great influence in and a great supporter of my writing and career (indeed, in his last months, he was still critiquing my work, always constructively. For a more complete look at my dad, see his autobiography,The Whole Catastrophe). I returned to work full-time at Habitat, continued to freelance (I met childhood hero Fess “Daniel Boone” Parker, although I was unable to place a story I had hoped to do about him; it appears in my book Overheard on a Bus) and conducted a phone interview with the charming Avengersstar Patrick Macnee, who recently died at age 93 (a few months before he died, he offered a comment on my essay about him in Overheard on a Bus: “I got a good notice! Thank you.”) As the decade wore on, I free-lanced less and spent more time teaching and performing improv.
For the last year, I have been cataloguing some of my articles (many of which have appeared on my website) and writing reminiscences of my life. While some have called this an exercise in egomania, I am happy to say that many others have been fans of these tales of the not-so-distant past.
Tom Soter, May 2015
excerpted from my book DRIVING ME CRAZY. Available from AMAZON.