Veteran journalist, author, and screenwriter Joel Harry Newman has been in the business for more than 25 years. His experience includes working as a reporter and editor for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner newspaper, business writer on staff at ADWEEK Magazine, and freelancing for publications as the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Hollywood Reporter, Details, L.A. Style, PDN Magazine, Westways, and Conde Nast. His screenwork includes story editor on such classic movie hits as Arachnophobia, Hollow Man, and John Carpenter’s Vampires.
Newman c0-wrote his latest project—Tell Me What You See: Remote Viewing Cases from the World’s Premier Psychic Spy—with Major Ed Dames. The book tells the true story of Dames’ time as operations and training officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency’s top-secret Psychic Intelligence Unit.
In this Write On! Author Q&A Newman shares his experience as a writer, the benefits and challenges to working in multiple formats, and more.
What inspired you to first become a writer?
I loved comic books as a kid and found out quickly that I had an ear for dialog and ability for storytelling similar (or better!) than they did. I began putting together my own comics with friends and soon found myself the editor of my school newspaper. But what inspired me even more to write was the effect my words had not only on me, but the people who read my work. It was a way of communicating that required both of us to go deeper than merely having a conversation—a way to make a point or send a message that stuck long after the dust settled.
What led you to write Tell Me What You See with Major Dames?
I’d heard Major Dames on the popular night radio show “Coast to Coast AM” and rang him up. His work in remote viewing and the controversy it generated attracted me as a journalist; I wanted to find out more from the source. We struck up a friendship and working relationship that culminated in the book. It wasn’t easy getting a spy to talk openly about his life and intelligence missions, but after nearly 2 years of coaxing it all fell into place.
What was your process for writing it/collaborating? Getting it published?
It wasn’t easy: hundreds of hours spent together talking, laughing, reflecting, and trying to make sense of it all; organizing it in a way that would not only be entertaining but make the occult accessible to readers who’ve never been exposed to remote viewing. I wrote an extensive proposal for the book and sent it out to agents and publishers and was lucky enough to get a quick response. John Wiley & Sons picked up the book and we made a deal. My proposals are pretty detailed so I had a working outline the minute I completed it. I used that to do the hard part—writing the book.
What was your favorite part of working on Tell Me What You See? The greatest challenge?
The best thing about working on this project was the education I received (and hopefully our readers will) about the occult and its applications in the real world. It doesn’t get more real than how this subject from left field was actually picked up by the U.S. military and the CIA, million of dollars invested, and used for nearly 20 years before it was shut down. The notion this really happened and writing about it was the greatest challenge. There were times I found parts of it unbelievable, but it was my job to remain objective throughout the project. I had never even heard of remote viewing before this, and now I had to become an expert on it.
In what ways was this project similar to/different than your article writing? Your work in the film industry?
In short-form writing, like articles, you have 1,200 to 2,500 words to tell your story and that’s it. Books and films require carrying your vision over a longer format, keeping the reader or audience interested over a much longer period of time. You have to carry the message through a labyrinth of time and not allow it to get lost.
You have written in multiple formats: What are the benefits/challenges to writers working in different media?
Though I pride myself for having written successfully in different media, it has also gotten me in trouble. Most producers, publishers, agents et al, don’t really know what to do with writers like me. They want it nice and easy, a comedy writer writes comedy, novelist novels, screenwriters movies. They sell you that way in the market and so require that you pigeon-hole yourself. I have resisted this from the start in my career and continue to do so. I write about what interests me, take assignments for hire if I like the project, and so forth. If it doesn’t grab me, it more than likely won’t grab my audience.
In what ways has being a writer changed/is changing due to the internet?
What I like most about the Internet is its role as a research tool. Having a world class library at your fingertips and not having to run down to the library every time you need a piece of information changes everything about the process of writing. Now I can write at home all day in my robe with a cup of coffee and get things done.
Advice for writers?
The thing about clichés is they’re often horrible, but they work. My best advice to writers, especially struggling ones as I have been, is never give up. Find what you love to write about and never look back, no matter what any one tells you (and there will be plenty who tell you to forget it). It’s a tough life, but worth it. Being able to handle rejection is the key. I don’t know many thin-skinned writers who made it.
What do you know now that you wish you knew in the beginning of your career?
Writing is a career but it doesn’t take the normal path of other careers. You can go to the right schools, know all the right people and still not make it. This work requires all of you, all of the time. Distractions to a writer are Writing is a career but it doesn’t take the normal path of other careers. You can go to the right schools, know all the right people and still not make it. This work requires all of you, all of the time. Distractions to a writer are poison. Sure, you have to live your life, but put your time in writing every single day, rain or shine, rich or poor. This career demands all of you, if you want to be good at it. A strict commitment is needed, almost military in its regimen, but make sure to balance it with the sheer enjoyment of being able to communicate your ideas and beliefs to people by simply writing them down.
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