Born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin of a Latino father and a Caucasian mother, on February 5, 1926, I came upon the writing itch as early as sixth grade. This in 1937, under the tutelage of Miss Beth Stanford, elementary school teacher extraordinaire. A little piece I wrote struck her as exceptional, and the principal following up, paraded me through every classroom in the school, where I read my theme to each grade. During my junior and senior high years—same pattern. If my English teacher assigned a two page exercise, I always turned in six or seven. And got straight A’s on each.
I also considered myself an accomplished artist and won prizes in local and national (Junior Scholastic) competitions. Attending Biarritz American University (Biarritz, France) in 1945 (escaping the U.S. Army tedium of guarding German coal piles and displaced persons camps), I took a watercolor class under a Chicago Art Institute professor and went totally unnoticed. So much for my artist fantasies. In my creative writing course, however, the instructor read most of my stuff aloud to my not-so-admiring classmates.
Returning from service (radio man in a tank destroyer), I utilized the GI Bill to attend Oshkosh State Teacher’s College. Again, my writing talents superseded my artistic ones by a wide margin.
The lights finally flashed on: I was meant to be a writer!
I taught intermediate grades in Campbellsport and Fond du Lac, Wisconsin from 1953 to 1961, scribbling nonstop nights, weekends and summers. Mechanical and humorous fillers were among my first sales. Then came articles, short stories, and eventually novels. I resigned from Franklin School at mid-term 1961 to write full time.
My novels were mostly sub rosa, some mainstream, and I turned them out — ten to twelve a year (one year eighteen) — until roughly 1972, when sex videos came upon the scene. I authored 140 erotic novels and twelve mainstreams — even some of these requiring emphasis on the erotic scenes.
A member of Allied Authors since 1955 (sponsored by famed blind author Beverly Butler), I offered to resign from the group when my questionable fame went public. Which offer was soundly refused, the members saying that anyone who could write one or two novels a month was definitely a valid addition to the group. My straight lit efforts were agented by Larry Sternig. I sold to everything from Boy’s Life to American Mercury to American Heritage, along with a steady stream of fiction sales to what were then politely referred to as “men’s magazines.”
Dubious fallout of my main oeuvre occurred during summer 1966, when I was asked to testify at an obscenity trial being held in Houston, Texas — six of my novels featured in the suit. In August my wife and I flew to Texas to appear in court. Humorous side-light: Principal attorney Stanley Fleishman, learning that Fern wrote Sunday School lessons for Fond du Lac’s Parish Press, requested that she testify also.
My testimony took up an entire afternoon — Fern testified the next morning — with Fleishman leading us through what turned out to be sufficiently convincing argument to the Federal charges. Many national editors also testified against the charges.
Result of the trial was acquittal, with the judge opining that the day of obscenity trials was quite possibly over. (Obscenity trials were pretty much avoided by Nixon and J. Edgar after that, so I can possibly consider myself a crusader of sorts.)
My appearance went national. “Mild-mannered School Teacher Writes Sex Novels,” the banner headlines read. The cat was finally out of the bag. The Fond du Lac Reporter did a front page spread, photo and all. However the negative trial results got twenty inches on the back page. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Thus the day of the erotic novel ended in the early ’70s. My main market now defunct, I — of necessity — sought new employment and ended up as a writer-editor at National Features Syndicate in Chicago, which published a series of somewhat lurid tabloids. This in 1970. In 1973, the pressures at NFS becoming onerous, I resigned and we moved to Ocala, Florida, where I became financial backer of an Orlando copy shop. This along with a service operation involving a series of hotels/motels all over Florida. And of course, I continued to freelance on the side.
Later that year I was invited to try out for an articles editor position at The National Enquirer. Not possessed of the brass balls required of Enquirer reporters (“Who did you sleep with last night, Miss Crawford?”), I failed the tryout. But the contacts proved invaluable, and I became a stringer, working out of my home for the next 25 years. I wrote more than 200 articles for NE, mostly human interest, psychic phenomena and medical subject matter. I was often flown to cover various medical conferences all over the U.S.
During my off-times, I wrote four novels for Gold Eagle, a subsidiary of Harlequin Books in Canada, these dealing with Phoenix Force, an elite mercenary group involved in multi-national crises. Later I did a series of mystery novels — setting: a Manhattan soap-opera studio — for Ballantine Books.
I continue to write at age 86, and Jack Byrne, my current agent, continues trying to place a Great Depression memoir, That Wonderful Mexican Band. Two other novels are currently in progress.