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In Your Facebook

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Published by William Hoffer
Excerpts from international bestselling author William Hoffer's Keynote Speech to the spring meeting of Virginia Press Women, April 1, 2011
Excerpts from international bestselling author William Hoffer's Keynote Speech to the spring meeting of Virginia Press Women, April 1, 2011

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Published by: William Hoffer on Apr 11, 2011
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Excerpts from:IN YOUR FACEBOOK William Hoffer’s Keynote Speech to the spring meeting of Virginia PressWomen, April 1, 2011 (not copyrighted)We are living in a world that is changing, quite literally, at the speed of light.There used to be a newsstand on every corner; today there’s a Verizon Wireless store onevery corner. If Johannes Gutenberg could see how widely the published word isdisseminated today, I believe he would be overjoyed.Are you? Or are you simply overwhelmed? I know that some of you are far moresophisticated at dealing with this brave new world than I am. And my guess is that othersof you are struggling to keep up. Where is all this going? How will all of us in thepublishing industry be affected?Here’s a hint in the February 25 edition of the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, asreported by your president Cathy Jett: “Borders Group is eliminating 200 of its 642 U.S.superstores as part of its attempt to restructure under Chapter 11 in bankruptcy court…The bookstore chain is heavily in debt and lagged behind Amazon.com and Barnes &Noble in jumping on the e-book reader bandwagon.”But before we talk further about the publishing industry today, and in the future, Iwant to take you into the past for a bit, so that you’ll be better able to understand some of the decisions that Marilyn and I recently made.It was back in the geological era known as the Olympia Portable Typewriter Agewhen I was scraping out a living as a full-time freelance writer, mostly for small businesspublications. One day my phone rang. The caller was a PI, a private investigator whowanted to write a book about his career of nabbing adulterous spouses. He knew heneeded to work with a professional writer, so he called me. He said he had been quiteimpressed with the lyrical tone of my prose in publications such as The WhirlpoolDealers’ Magazine, Fence Industry and the Foreman’s Letter. Well, not really. He calledme because I was the only writer listed in the Washington, D.C. Yellow Pages.We put together a book proposal and, at that point, I knew that I needed to find anagent to sell the project to a publisher. I’d been doing some networking and had madefriends with a more established writer who had lived in Europe for a time and had writtenseveral successful books about the Danish resistance in World War II. He referred me tohis New York agent, a man with the patrician name of Julian Bach.Julian got us a book contract. We wrote Caught in the Act. It sold at least 150copies worldwide and I returned to magazine writing.About a year later my phone rang. The caller was Julian Bach. He said he had ayoung man in his office who needed a co-author for a book project. He wanted the two of us to chat for a few minutes and see if we might want to work together. The young mangot on the phone and we began to talk. His name was Billy Hayes and he outlined hisstory for me. It seems that Billy had tried to smuggle a supply of hashish onto a plane atthe Istanbul International Airport, and he had miscalculated the consequences. InAmerica, he figured he would have gotten a rather small sentence, perhaps evenprobation. But a Turkish court sentenced him to death, which it later commuted to thirtyyears.
 
That still sounded like death to Billy, and after five years and several abortedattempts he managed to escape from the Turkish prison and make his way across theborder into Greece. Greek officials, no friends of the Turks, allowed him to return toAmerica, and publishers were after him to write a book.Billy and I conversed easily, and we knew that we would make a good team for the project. That settled, Julian got back on the phone. He said, “Now I know that youhave the credentials to write this book. You wrote several books on the Danish resistancewhen you lived in Europe, right?” I told Julian that he must be thinking of a differentperson, but by then it was too late. Billy and I were now partners.The book was called Midnight Express. It became a New York Times bestseller and an Academy Award-winning motion picture. And my phone began to ring frequently.Not long after that I married another freelance writer, and Marilyn and I havebeen soul mates and co-authors ever since. Together we entered a new geological eracalled the IBM Selectric Age. We signed as clients with Mel Berger of the WilliamMorris Agency. Mel was and is one of the very best known and most successful literaryagents in the entire world.We wrote several books during this time. Perhaps the most noteworthy wasSaved, the story of the wreck of the Italian luxury liner the Andrea Doria.By the mid 1980s we had entered the Trash 80 Age. The TRS-80 was one of thevery first word processing computers for home use. The initials stood for The RadioShack. The computer was quite large and snail-paced compared to today’s technology,and it quickly earned its nickname as the Trash 80. We were just getting used to this newform of composition when the phone rang and a voice that we now knew well said, “Hi,it’s Mel!”It seems that some years earlier an American woman named Betty married anIranian-born Dr. Mahmoody, who went by the nickname Moody. They settled inMichigan and had a daughter named Mahtob. After a time Dr. Mahmoody took Betty andMahtob to Iran for what he told them would be a short visit with his family. Once there,he informed Betty that she and Mahtob were never going back home to America.After years of emotional and sometimes physical agony, Betty and Mahtobescaped across the mountains of northwest Iran in a snowstorm during the dead of winter.Publishers wanted her story. She signed with the William Morris Agency and told themshe wanted to work with the people who had written Midnight Express.Not Without My Daughter hit the New York Times bestseller list and became amajor motion picture starring Sally Field. But what many people don’t know is that thebook was an international publishing phenomenon, especially throughout Europe. Oneyear it was the number one bestselling book in Germany. That same year we were toldthat it had become the number one bestselling book in France—ever.And our phone never stopped ringing. A crazy decade followed during which wespun out one book after another.One of our personal favorites was Freefall, the story of an Air Canada flight thatran out of fuel at 41,000 feet. The entire book covered 29 minutes of terror in the skies,but it had a happy and incredible ending. It became a television movie starring WilliamDevane.And the hits just kept coming, folks. There was Cop Hunter, about undercover New York detective Vinnie Murano whose job was to ferret out police corruption. Victor 
 
Six was the story of Dave Christian, the most highly decorated Army veteran of theVietnam War. The Senator, an expose of Ted Kennedy’s clandestine cocaine use, also hitthe New York Times list. One of our favorite persons to work with was Friar MarianoGagnon, a Franciscan missionary to the Ashaninka indians of Peru. When they werecaught in the midst of a turf war between the cocaine growers and the murderous ShiningPath revolutionaries, this feisty priest taught the indians how to fight back. That book wascalled Warriors in Eden.Throughout it all we continued to upgrade to new computers and new wordprocessing programs. We entered the Internet Age. And Mel kept calling.We were working on a book called Torn from My Heart, the story of a Belgianwoman whose husband kidnapped their three children and hid them away in a communityof Hassidic Jews in New Jersey. The pace was frantic. The deadline was near. Iremember saying to Marilyn “This is killing me. I need a break. I’ve got to have abreak!”And then…In Brentwood, California, on the night of June 12, 1994, the bodies of NicoleBrown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman were found in front of Nicole’s house.Nicole’s throat was slashed. Ron was killed with a vicious knife thrust to the abdomen.Most everyone knows the story. Nicole’s ex-husband, former Heisman Trophywinner and star NFL running back O.J. Simpson, was arrested and charged with themurders. Much time passed in legal wrangling and then after a lengthy farce of a trial,O.J. was found not guilty.The Goldman family, devastated by the verdict and consumed with grief, did theonly thing they could do. They filed a civil lawsuit, charging O.J. with the wrongful deathof their son and brother.And our phone rang. And a voice said, “Hi, it’s Mel.”We worked with Fred, Patti and Kim Goldman for about a year, and throughoutthe course of the civil trial. They are good people and they were very conscientious inhelping us put their story into words. But it was a disturbing and depressing tale, andonce again we were placed under heavy deadline pressure. That was a dark year.His Name is Ron became our twentieth book and our fourth New York Timesbestseller, and we were spent.Mel continued to call to discuss possible new projects. We found reasons to turnthem down. Please don’t misunderstand. We felt blessed and grateful to have achievedwhatever level of success we had. We took an extended break. Some years passed. Werealized that we had been stifling our own personalities by continually submergingourselves into other people’s stories.So we decided it was time to create our own stories.By now we had entered into the eBook Age and Marilyn created the character of Luke Wilde, a former Marine Corps sniper who is a private detective in Richmond. Hehas an office in a small strip mall on West Broad Street. Luke’s a free spirit. A Marinesergeant once asked him if he had a problem with authority. “Not if I’m the authority,” hesaid. Luke describes himself as the kind of guy who likes to dot his T’s and cross his I’s.In other words, he plays the game of life by his own rules.We gave him a sidekick, Dagmar McNeil, who’s 60 years old, nearly 6 foot talland weighs in at about 180 pounds. She owns a microbrewery down in Hanover County,

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