Ken Fermoyle, Author and Bookseller


Email/Contact Info: kfermoyle@earthlink.net, Phone: 818 346-9384

Current Publisher and/or Agent: 2 agents currently interested in repping for the Vietnam book: “Hawks, Doves And The Dragon”, no agent yet for incomplete mystery. I have never worked with an agent for my freelance non-fiction (mostly magazine articles, some ghostwritten for others). Sold my 1st two freelance articles (Sports Car Racing on Frozen Michigan Lakes) direct to editors in 1952 and never saw a need to change.

Published Work(s):

“Mankind in Transition: A View of the Distant Past, the Present & the Far Future”; Author: Masse Bloomfield; Masefield Books, Canoga Park, CA, 1993 – edited and produced while a co-publisher in Masefield Books. Non-fiction

“How To Use A Library”; Author: Masse Bloomfield; Masefield Books, Canoga Park, CA, 1992 – edited and produced while a co-publisher in Masefield Books. Non-fiction.

Produced and edited three software user manuals for Genoa Technology, 1989-1992.

Wrote 75% of book (an annual softcover) on 4-Wheel-Drive vehicles and driving for Petersen Publishing in 1975.

Have had more than 2,600 articles published in everything from Playboy, Popular Science and PC World to Motor Life, McCall’s, MacWeek, Mechanix Illustrated, Better Camping, Wheels Afield, Microtimes, Computer Currents, L.A. Times Book Review, Detroit News, Outdoors Calling, and too many more to recall.

I think I anticipated the current trend toward multiple career changes by a generation or two – but always in writing and/or editing jobs. I started in weekly and daily newspapers, did a stint as house organ editor and speech writer at Ford’s Research and Engineering Center in Dearborn –where I first started freelancing. Swtiched to magazines full-time in 1955 (Motor Life, Petersen Publishing) and was auto editor of Popular Science in late, 1950s, early 1960s. Sidetracked into advertising and PR for 5 years in mid-1960s, returned to magazines in 1966 when I moved to California as editor of Petersen’s Wheels Afield (a camping and RV magazine). Got into corporate publications in 1977 at Hughes Aircraft, where I began using computers and became the electronic publishing guru for our publishing group. Started freelancing for computer publications in 1984 and moonlighted as a partner in a pioneering desktop publishing service bureau in 1986. Took early retirement in 1989 to devote full time to freelance writing and publishing. Had syndicated computer column with up to 500 editor and webmaster subscribers from 1997 to 2001. Have been working on Vietnam book since early 1990s, started mystery novel in 2001, just after “opening” an online bookstore.

How did you get started writing professionally? About what subject? What interested you about that subject? Did/does the subject tie into something in your personal or professional (pre-writing) life? And, have you always written, as while you were growing up and long before trying to get published that first time?

Decided I wanted to be a writer at age 11 or 12. A Detroit News columnist, H.C.L. Jackson and, later, Ernie Pyle, inspired me, along with authors as varied as Kenneth Roberts, Hemingway, Thorne Smith, P. G. Wodehouse, Nordhoff & Hall and Upton Sinclair.

My first pro job was as sort of an intern on a weekly labor paper published by the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists, beginning in 1947 while a freshman journalism major at the University of Detroit. They started paying me $5/day after a month. Moved up to a large weekly, The Highland Parker, as sports editor, feature writer and proofreader (luckily they had a janitor!) in 1948.

I was more interested in non-fiction and feature writing than fiction. A car nut and wannabe hot-rodder from 17, I set my sights on being an auto and racing writer. A big thrill was covering my first Indy 500 in 1952 as a freelancer for a car magazine. My freelance work led to me being hired as Detroit Editor of a Petersen car magazine, Motor Life (later combined with Motor Trend) in January, 1955. I’ve covered my odyssey after that in intro note above.

What type of worker are you when you write, i.e., do you write at certain times, or for a certain amount of hours daily, in long stretches straight through, as the spirit moves you, or???

I’ve done it both ways. As an auto writer and editor, I often worked 18-20 hours straight on deadlines for new car issues. I have never been able to discipline myself to work X many hours per day. I often get up at night, however, to write thoughts, sentences or long sections that have come to me.

Did you ever take any school or adult education courses in writing? If so, what, and did they help you? If you are a technical writer, have you taken courses in that area?

Although a Journalism major, I took nearly as many English and Lit courses in college. I’ve taken some post-grad writing courses (screenwriting, novel) at UCLA and extension programs, plus the outstanding Professional Publishing concentrated summer program at Stanford. But I’ve actually taught more writing courses than I’ve taken, beginning as early as 1952, when I taught several journalism classes at the University of Detroit. I’ve taught many classes on successful magazine writing, producing newsletters and desktop publishing over the years.

Do you conceive of an entire story or subject line to be covered in your head before starting to write, or do you get just an idea and sit down, outline it and flesh it out, or???

I seldom use outlines. For articles, I focus on a subject, write a head and summary “query” paragraph or two (for submission to editors). I begin with the lead (hardest part, most often) and a rough outline of the piece in my head. I most often write the 1st draft in one sitting for 1,000- to 2,000-word pieces, two or three sittings for longer pieces. Then I do a quick edit/revise and walk away from it for a couple or hours or longer, depending on deadline pressure. Usually I do a final reading/revise and off it goes.


Ken Fermoyle with Robert Crais at a signing for his last book

For the Vietnam book, my subject and I (it’s a memoir) started with a rough outline. After much trial and error, we developed a routine. We work on a chapter at a time. My subject (and colleague for 15 years, beginning with our desktop publishing endeavor) prepares an outline and some anecdotal material. We do taping sessions (1 to 2 hours, enough for 8 to 12 pages) in which he fleshes out the outline and I ask questions. I write a first draft, usually with quite a few parenthetical notes and questions, go over it and make some revisions, then e-mail it to him. He inserts his comments and answers and gives me a hard copy when we get together for another taping session.

With my mystery novel, I started with an idea for the first chapter and a cast of main characters reasonably well fleshed out in my mind. (I gradually built bios for them and others who cropped up later.) Unlike most of my articles and the Vietnam book, I did not have a working title – and still don’t. I did have my first sentence:

“The body slid partway down the short slope, right hand splayed out on the bike path below, left heel hooked on the parking lot pavement above.”

Ideas and new twists have come to me as I progressed. I now have about 75% of it plotted out in my head.

If you have had a deadline for submitting work to a publisher, how did/does that affect you, i.e., have you ever found that having to produce on a schedule causes the creative juices to dry up?

I’ve long been accustomed to writing on tight deadlines so pressure doesn’t cause problems. In fact, I often write better under pressure when I don’t have time to agonize over every sentence.

Tell us how you first got published, and whether it was difficult that first time. Did you have an agent for that first published piece? Was it a book, an article, a paper, or what?

I wrote on my high school and college papers, but my first published pieces were in The Wage Earner, mostly short items I condensed from long articles or memos. My first bylined piece as a pro was an account of a farm workers’ strike in California. My first freelance pieces, both bylined, were about sports car racing on a frozen lake outside Detroit: a photo essay in the Detroit News Sunday Roto section and an article in a sports car magazine.

How do you feel about editors?? Does it disturb you or comfort you to have someone checking your work pre-publication?

Having worked as both an editor and a writer, I appreciate both sides of the coin. A good editor is invaluable to a writer – and vice versa. With my experience on both sides of the desk, I always tried to make things as easy as possible for editors with my freelance work (probably a major reason I have had only one article rejected in my career, and that was my own fault). That means being familiar with the publication’s style and following it, suggesting heads and subheads, finding decent art and photos – and, above all, knowing the audience that the publication addresses and writing to it.

Best editor I ever worked with was Frank Rowsome, managing editor of Popular Science while I was auto editor. He was a gem.

Having been a magazine and book editor but not yet a published book author, I hope I find the cooperation and useful guidance in editors for my books that I tried to provide authors in the past.

How are you (or your publisher or agent) publicizing your current work?

Not really applicable yet but I expect to use the Web, personal appearances, interviews, self-generated PR releases, etc., as much as possible. A lot depends on who publishes the books and how much they contribute. I think my past PR experience will be an asset.

Have you ever been on a tour with one of your books? If so, what is that like? Did you find that it helped increase sales of your book?

Not applicable yet, though I have done a lot of PR for publications I’ve been involved with: personal appearances, radio talk shows, TV appearances, trade conventions, etc.

Can you tell us a bit about a book (or whatever format you are writing in) that you might be working on now or plan to start soon? If you do have another in the works, are you writing a series, on the same subject as your last work, or on something totally different?

I talked a bit about this above but can add some tidbits. “Hawks, Doves And The Dragon” is about a man, Tran Ngoc Chau, who played a singular variety of roles in Vietnam from WWII to 1975. While a teen-ager, he served as a courier for a resistance cell against the Japanese and their puppet French government. He joined the National Army of Liberation under Ho Chi Minh, with tens of thousands of other nationalists, in 1945. After rising to the equivalent rank of Major or Lt. Colonel, he left the Viet Minh late in 1949 when pressured to join the Communist Party, casting his lot with the newly-created South Vietnam. He was in the first graduating class of the South Vietnamese Military Academy and served with distinction (6 medals, including the country’s highest, the National Medal of Honor.) Tapped by President Diem for a relatively minor job in the late 1950s, he became virtually the only Buddhist member of Diem’s inner circle and was appointed governor of Kien Hoa province and mayor of Da Nang. He returned to Kien Hoa as governor after the coup in which Diem was assassinated. But I’m running on and into too much detail. Chau’s story is a complex one. His efforts drew many Americans to him, including Daniel Ellsberg, John Paul Vann (the “civilian general”) and many more.

In fact, when President Thisu (a former friend) had Chau arrested and imprisoned him in 1967 because Chau was beginning to represent a threat to the Thieu regime, many of Chau’s U.S. friends were incensed. Reports were that this action, tacitly supported by the CIA and Saigon U.S. Embassy who were trying to keep Thieu in power, was the last straw that convinced Ellsberg to release the Pentagon Papers – and Ellsberg has pretty much agreed that was the case.

My mystery is set in Ventura, CA, a seaside down on the lower part of the Central Coast – about 45-50 miles from L.A. Protagonist is a bookstore owner (!) but an atypical one. Kevin Corcoran retired at 37 (entered the USNA at 17) after more than 15 years as an Office of Naval Intelligence agent. He buys Main Street Books with an inheritance from an uncle and settles in to a peaceful life – until a member of an informal group of readers who meet at his store (and call themselves the Main Street Regulars) is murdered. He works with a Ventura PD detective (Miguel “Big Mike” Morales) and a beautiful investigative reporter (Marisa) to solve the murder. First suspected as a drug killing, it turns out the young victim was providing marijuana for seniors in the mobile home park where he lived – and arranging to get low-cost drugs for them in Mexico as well.


Ken Fermoyle at the L.A. Times Festival of Books book signing by T. Jefferson Parker

As the case develops, the trio learns that the hit-and-run death of a Ventura County official may not have been an accident. It seems too much of a coincidence when another official is listed as a suicide and a third dies in a suspicious drowning down in San Diego County. Were they potential whistle-blowers silenced to prevent them from blowing the lid off a huge scandal in County government? My plan is to have the first murder and the scandal connected by the final denouement. I have it pretty well figured out but haven’t plotted the exact details yet.

Could you please give us a synopsis of your current book/work and, if a series, what the whole series is about?

See above.

Tell us a bit about how you go about doing research for your work?

The Internet makes research so-o-o much easier today. What used to take days, even weeks, of endless phone calls and letter-writing now can be accomplished in hours. I have used search engines extensively for about 6 years. They are especially helpful for finding technical, historical, company/product and many other types of information. Learning how to use various search techniques is important.

Some things still require hours of reading, library time and correspondence. This has been particularly true of the Vietnam book. (I have become a minor expert on the country over the past 12 years.) For my mystery, I have to determine if the city of Oceanside, CA or San Diego County require autopsies in drowning deaths where there were no witnesses and there are indications that it might have been homicide. I also need to learn more about the structure of Ventura County government, recent slow-growth laws, the permit process and building inspection practices. That will take a few days in Ventura – a most pleasant duty.

Any stories about the hazards of trying to make your way as a writer, particularly when starting out?

I’ve been lucky enough to support myself and my family solely as a writer/editor and journalist. I didn’t make much money in the early years on newspapers – and I never got rich though I never had to live in a garret – but things picked up when I got into magazine work. And I’ve supplemented my income by freelancing over the years.

Any advice to aspiring writers on finding an agent or contacting publishers?

Write, and keep on writing – whether you aspire to journalism, novels, poetry, screenwriting or whatever. A 10th grade English class hammered that home for me. The teacher announced the first day of class that we had to write 1 page of something every day, no matter what other assignments he gave us. It could be an essay, poem, short-short story, slice-of-life…anything – but it had to be at least a page of normal handwriting. It was torture at first but some of us came to enjoy it, and looked forward to reading our work to the class.

I’ve found that concentrating on things that interest me and I know something about works best for me.

Are you a reader? If so, what types of things do you enjoy reading? Do you ever buy your own reading material online (had to ask that one!)?

Oh boy, am I a reader! I was sickly as a youngster (asthma, bronchitis, a few bouts of pneumonia) so I missed a lot of school. No TV then, so reading became my passion. At about 10, I read 25 books in 5 days one summer week. All my friends were away on vacation so I went to the library, read a book there, took home my allotted 4 books, read them that afternoon and evening – then repeated the procedure for the next 4 days. Admittedly, these were mostly Tom Swift, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazon novel – but not the skinny, large-print “children’s books,” either. My major reading feat, however, was finishing both Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time And The River by Thomas Wolfe one quiet Sunday while in the Army. I finished up after Lights Out by reading in the latrine.

And I have bought reading material online.

What other types of things do you enjoy doing, besides writing? Any hobbies? Pets? Sports? Traveling? Gardening? Music or art, etc.?

I have traveled a lot all my life, some of it in the line of duty (press junkets, covering events such as races, the Mobile Economy Run, conventions, etc). My wife and I have been to the Pismo Beach area, Palm Springs and Maui so far this year, with trips planned to the High Sierras, Newport Beach and New Orleans later this year. During my camping period (1961-1976), I camped from Canada to Mexico, Maine to California and loved it.

I was a serious cyclist for more than a decade (1980s-1990s); amassed about 34,000 miles before an old neck injury forced me to cut back. I still ride, but no more centuries (100-mile rides), weekly averages of 100- to 125-mile weeks or age-group competition anymore.

Crossword puzzles are a life-long passion; love the NY Times Sunday puzzles especially.

Cooking is another long-time interest. Got interested while stationed in Rome in the Army. Took my first cooking class in 1950 from a great Austrian chef, and later became his assistant for a time. I’ve since attended the odd cooking class during my travels. I do almost all the cooking for my wife and I. Specialties include Gumbo, Jambalaya and other Cajun/Creole dishes; curries and other Indian dishes; various stir-fry combination (I have a great wok), and stewed chicken and dumplings with a Southwest tilt (includes bell and chili peppers, tomatillos and chayote squash).

Please tell us anything else about yourself you’d like us to know, either personal or professional, and thank you very much for allowing us to interview you!

*Writing speeches for Earle S. MacPherson, inventor of the MacPherson Strut front suspension which was virtually the de facto standard for many years. He was a true gentleman as well as a brilliant engineer.

*Covering the Indy 500 13 times, covering Daytona Speed Weeks and the 500 in the 1950s when they ran on the old beach and road course – then covering many races at the Tri-Oval after it was built – and even driving around it with Bill France as a passenger.

*Doing my first “foreign correspondent” bit, covering a soccer match for Reuters circa 1948-49.

*Selling a piece to Playboy in 1967.

*Being wooed for the auto editor job at Pop Science.

*Being paid $1 per word the first time for a freelance article.

*Making my TV debut by doing the middle commercial on “The Day Lincoln Was Shot” at CBS in Hollywood, 1957. The show was done live with Raymond Massey as Lincoln, Elsa Lancaster as Mrs. Lincoln, Jack Lemmon as his assassin, Charles Laughton as narrator – and I was in the studio watching. BTW, Bing Crosby did one of the other commercials.

Not career stuff, but memorable moments…

*Spending a year in Rome (1945-46 in the Army

*Winning the flyweight boxing championship of Camp Wolters, TX

*Winning several drag race competitions in the ’50s.

*Winning both my class (65 and up) and overall in the Gold Coast Tri-County Senior Olympic bicycle race in 1992. And loving how teed off the 55-year-old 2nd place finisher was to find some 10 years older had been the one to pass him on the last lap.

*Returning to Rome last year – after 52 years – and still loving it…while surprising myself at how fast my Italian, learned all those years ago, came back.

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