Thursday, December 13, 2012


Things went a bit sideways during Lance Sorchik's Hot Rod Deluxe photo shoot. Don't let this happen to you. Obey all posted public highway notices or prepare for regret. In the end, Sorchik's banged A-bone made it into the magazine, but this shoot was much more expensive than necessary. (Photos by Diane Sorchik)

  First things first – let’s not kid ourselves here. The multi-kazillion dollar mass media industry parades under the guise of “communication”, but the true purpose of its existence is generating noise to distract people from their real selves. Telecommunication is still somewhat legit, but the rest is just noise – the few messages being communicated share a commonly negative value. As an automotive photojournalist, I make my noise in a quiet little neighborhood known as the hot rod microcosm, which entails less than one percent of the world’s consumers. And lately it seems there are just as many journos fighting for attention as there are readers desperately searching for legitimate information. If you’re one of us myriad cub reporters, frantically thrashing in the industry mosh pit, I may have something for you here.

Some folks seem to be making up their own rules these days, perhaps empowering themselves with an “I invented the wheel” mentality. And while I’m all for experimentation, innovation and evolution, I’m also somewhat a traditionalist, especially concerning the craftsmanship aspect of the creative process. So it’s hard not to notice a writer tossing out half comprehended concepts as absolutes. This gets my attention because it reminds me of my cocky and ignorant self, not so long ago. Today, I carry a certain regret for the times I swaggered through literary intersections in total disregard of the road signs. In recent years, I’ve been noticing a lot of this from overnight experts and established (but overworked) veterans alike. It isn’t necessary and does not serve anyone – especially the writer/reader relationship. So, as a public service, please allow me to point out some red flags that you may not even realize you’re waving. Kind of like cruising down the freeway, unaware that your turn signal has been blinking since the last rest area. Better check your shoe for toilet paper, while you’re at it.

Most obvious are betrayals of the general guidelines presented to you in grade school English class. You may be a black belt texter or tweeter, but when writing for a general audience, you must assume that the reader is educated enough to expect proper use of basic English. Anything less will distract said reader and your important message will not be received. I myself am an uneducated person, but recognize good writing habits due to voracious reading. If I can do it (yes, even by faking it), so can you.

The jazz-based slingslang of the hot rod vernacular presents untold opportunities to prove yourself as respectful, a credible player, a lazy slob, or an outright fraud. Your choice. Let’s go straight to my Pet Peeve Du Jour to prove the point: A building has a roof – a car has a top.

One of the few cars with a legitimate claim of a roof was Bell & Trantham’s Outhouse show rod of the mid 60’s. Most others either have tops or no tops. (Photo courtesy of Jay Ohrberg)

Other common automotive nomenclature that has become bastardized nearly out of existence includes Quarter Window, Backlight, and Decklid. Variance from these basic terms may seem whitty or cute, but results in confusion and/or distrust from the reader, blowing your chance to establish credible voice in the reader’s head. Just remember the first rule of journalistic survival: Kill your darlings! In the quest to effectively communicate with the reader, you must coldly eliminate any distractions, like a hit man. And the primary target is almost always that cute term or phrase you wish to impose on the proceedings. Kill it and walk away.

Traditional garners the credibility you were after before blurting out Old School and blowing your cover.

Feel free to stylize your prose with a Z (Rodz), toss in some PG-rated color (badass mother), and/or embellish with extra exclamation points!!! Just know that these sophomoric moves identify you as someone who dots “i”s with hearts and butterflies.

Rims, Nos, Dubs, Donk, etc. Slang, yeah, but I’m too old to qualify for an opinion. Likewise, if these are terms of your generation, you’re too young to opine on Bangers, Gow, and Jitney. So there.

Having said all that, I don’t feel any better. Just older. No, wait – actually, I think the noise in my head may have receded a couple of decibels. I’m going to celebrate by turning off this computer.

 The Sussex County (New Jersey) Sheriffs Department thanks Lance Sorchik for his generous donation.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Back to the Bunker - or - The Art of the Restart

The author, relaxing in his den. Okay, I'm actually house sitting for some friends here and was caught  researching tech info for a top secret project. (Photo by Shellski)

I never saw the Detour sign. This blogsite was intended as a vehicle to cheer on fellow hot rod writers while promoting my own work. That lasted about three weeks before going horribly off course. There's just so much fun happening around me at any given time... And I don't know that I'll ever get comfortable with the self-promotional aspect of this work. But I hereby vow to make an effort to refocus, and right this ship. Somewhat.

You may have noticed that the blog posts here aren't as consistent as before. That's due to an ever-increasing workload that I just can't say no to. The Forrest Gumpisms keep happening and doors continue to open. Who am I to say, "No thanks"? So for the last five years or so, I work from waking until the wee hours, grab a few winks and hit it again. I've learned to pace my day with short breaks and naps, when possible. I'm the creepy shut-in that the neighbor kids whisper about. I usually wear pants, but don't always shave. I shuffle around in slippers a lot these days. My car is covered with leaves, pine needles, bird poop, dog pee, moss and slugs. I've never met the mailman. Or my neighbors.

My first two Cartech books. The third one is 99% done, but I'm sworn to secrecy until it's actually on the store shelves, so I can't show it here yet. The fourth and fifth ones are well underway. Start your Scotty Gosson collection now, before you fall hopelessly behind! Once that happens, you'll never catch up. is our main outlet, but these books are also available at your corner bookstore.

Most of the heavy lifting is on the Cartech books. These projects have been a godsend of education, forcing me to hone skills that would otherwise atrophy and rust. It was a challenge to not repeat myself in my first book - now on my fourth, it's a grim quest. But it never ceases to amaze me how many (admittedly semi-lucid) combinations are available in our crude little 26 letter alphabet. Anyway, this is a great gig: CarTech lets me choose from a handful of subjects deemed profitable by their monstrous Marketing & Research Department, they mostly leave me alone for the nine month gestation period, then I give them the finished product and they let me choose the next project. Mind you, these "choices" are obviously "choices" that veteran authors have passed on as being a stupid amount of work for the money, but I'm relatively young (not even on Social Security yet) and ravenously hungry to feed my passion - in other words, doubly stupid. They love me at Cartech! As for the money, they give me an advance check roughly every 90ish days. After a book sells enough copies to pay back the advances, I get a percentage of the profits! I even have an official contract that says so. These guys are in business to make money though - the Accounting Department knows exactly how many book sales it takes to pay off my advance, and that's exactly how many get printed. I finally received my first royalty check last month and now it's framed and hanging on my wall - because it wouldn't have paid for the gas required to haul it to the bank. Nevertheless, this is my bread and butter now. Thanks to the advance money (and food stamps), I haven't come down with Rickets or Scurvy since signing on with this outfit, which is a major plus. Seriously, I'm very grateful to have this job.

Cancel your subscriptions to those Brand X pulp magazines and sign up for the only one that matters, ASAP!

I also work for Hot Rod Deluxe magazine. This is considered sexier work, as it often sends me to exotic locales to cover exciting events. It usually starts with an e-mail:

Editor Dave: "You available to cover the California Hot Rod Reunion this year?"

Scotty: "Sure thing! But, um, is there a travel budget?"

Editor Dave: "No budget.You're on your own dime. Plan on coming down a few days early and staying a few days late - I have some other stuff for you to do." (Red Flag!)

Scotty: "Jeepers! Thanks Chief! You won't regret this! I'll be there extra early to scout locations, parking, etc."

Editor Dave:     (No reply)     (He's a busy guy)

These events are not money makers for me, but are a relatively cheap way to experience an event from the inside out. This CHRR example is a 16 hour drive, each way. I sleep in the car at the event, and eat PB&J sandwiches from the trunk. And the really sad part: To me, it's totally worth it! I get my Nitro Jones fixed, while hobnobbing with my cronies and hopefully magically furthering my career.

The magazine work is usually done after hours, meaning between midnight and sunrise. It's nice supplemental income, and I get to write about my favorite subject, for one of my heroes (I literally learned to read on Editor Dave's stuff, and no one is more knowledgeable or has more hilarious first hand stories of drag racing's golden era). Just between us: If I had the money, I'd pay HR Deluxe to let me write for them - it's the only publication that still presents the world as I want to see it. Well, I guess Mad Magazine is still around, too...

Here's the world premier of the first Gosson Bros Racing Library release! Coming soon to your spambox. Cover art by Lance Sorchik and Foreword by Cole Coonce.

This was originally intended to be the first GBR release, but it got shuffled back in the staging lanes. It should be in your hands by this time next year. More Lance Sorchik cover art, but no celebrity Foreword yet (Stephen King - here's the automotive credibility opportunity you've been waiting for). There's yet another book all written, but the cover art isn't finished yet. Besides my standard windy text, all of these books boast even more photos than the Cartech books - very labor intensive... My ex-pal Christy Collins lays these out for me. She totally hates my guts now.

About a year ago, I began organizing to self publish some books I wrote that CarTech considered incapable of meeting their profit standards. I get to pay for the up front production costs, out-of-pocket, but any profit is mine, all mine! So I'm slowly taking the leap of faith. These books are truly just spare-time kitchen table projects, but my goal is to eventually put out enough of these to become at least somewhat self sufficient.

Mr. Leisure Time, snobbing it up in his '32 3-window. What a cad! In reality, I'm just doing test monkey duty in Dr. Lockjaw's car here. My hot rod is not quite a Deuce. (Photo by Dr. Lockjaw)

And how does a worldly guy like me relax in his spare time? This week I began recording an album that ties in with the hot rod books. And when I'm not reading 18th century Slavic poetry to my girlfriend, or walking the dog in the rain, I find intimacy in a dimly lit garage, running my hands over bare naked steel (warmed by sizzling welds), while the frost gathers outside. I just resumed work on a Model A roadster project that I had to set aside over 15 years ago. Talk about your delayed gratification! It's hard to describe how good it feels to pick up where I left off. And as of today, there's a good chance that this project will culminate in a lowbuck how-to book, as well, also, too. Oh yeah, and I just edited a custom book from the Netherlands - kind of a translation deal. Look for The Jack Stewart Ford by Rik Hoving - an amazing labor of love!

Okay, automotive photojournalist students - it feels like we're getting back on track. Study your notes this week.
Next week: Saving big bucks on tools of the trade! Make your own camera from a cereal box, cellophane, a couple of rearview mirrors, and duct tape.