Monday, August 17, 2020

How the Ariona Authors Association started - by Kathleen Cook

As the current newsletter editor, I felt it only appropriate to celebrate the 42nd anniversary of our first publication, in August of 1978, with a special feature. I'd like to start with a brief history of our founder, Boye De Mente.

Flamboyant and brilliant, De Mente was born in the tiny town of Mayberry, Missouri, in 1928. At age 13 he worked in an ice cream parlor and was given permission to eat all the ice cream he wanted. It was there that he first practiced discipline, limiting himself to one peppermint ice cream per week.

Throughout the years, that discipline served him well. He skipped a grade in elementary school and worked as a bell hop for a local hotel through his high school years. He earned extra credits by taking on more courses than average and graduated high school in less Boye De Mente Founded than three years. Immediately after graduation, the teenager joined the Navy, serving first in 1946 on the USS Fillmore and then at the Cryptographer School in Washington, D.C.

Due to his family name, he was mistaken for Hispanic and sent to the Spanish Language Department of the NCSA, in Naval intelligence. Following his naval discharge, De Mente enlisted in the ASA, or Army Security Agency. With his cryptology background, he earned promotions and again was assigned to Washington D.C., where he operated the big, bulky computers, state of the art in those days, designed to decipher codes.

Because of his Spanish experience, he expected to be shipped to Latin America, but he was instead assigned to Japan. He served on a team of code breakers at the ASA Tokyo headquarters. In 1950 when the Korean War flared, President Truman extended every enlisted man's service by up to eighteen months, which kept De Mente in Tokyo for an extra year and a half. It was during this time that his natural talent for writing came to the forefront. He founded a newspaper called the ASA Star. From that point on, he never stopped writing.

De Mente published the nonfiction book, Japanese Simplified, during his time with the ASA. He created a phonetic system for pronunciation that cut the time needed for Americans to learn the language. He earned two years' credit from Jochi University in Tokyo before he was discharged in 1952 and sent back to the states. He then hitchhiked to Phoenix and enrolled in the American Institute for Foreign Trade (now known as the Thunderbird School of Global Management). After graduating in 1953, he returned to Tokyo, earning degrees from Jochi University in both Japanese and economics.

In 1954, De Mente edited Preview Magazine. Published in Tokyo, it was the second largest English language magazine in the region, superseded only by Reader's Digest. He later served as editor of The Japan Times, then the largest English language newspaper in Japan. While working in that capacity he met Ben Carlin, an Australian with an amphibious jeep who was determined to circle the globe. Ben invited him to share part of the journey in the vehicle, the Half-Safe, named after a popular deodorant. They would travel from Japan to Alaska in the jeep.

Boye later recalled, "I was holding down two jobs and still not making decent money, and I had two very jealous girlfriends who had just met and were on the warpath, so I decided that getting out of town was the smartest thing I could do!"

That treacherous voyage was chronicled in De Mente's book, Once a Fool: From Tokyo to Alaska by Amphibious Jeep. Featured in the Saturday Evening Post and Life Magazine, the voyage even made the Guinness Book of World Records.

De Mente decided to recuperate from the trip in his old haunt, Phoenix, but he was soon asked to take an editor's job in Tokyo again, as chief of a new magazine called Oriental America. He took his new bride, Margaret, with him. Within months, the name of the magazine was changed to The Importer, which became the leading trade journal in Japan. The Importer provided a vital link between businesses in Japan, the US and Europe. One of the companies served by De Mente's publication was Tsushin Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha, which five years later, was shortened to Sony. The company grew in tandem with The Importer magazine.

After many more successes, Boye, Margaret, and their daughter Dawn Ruby, returned to Phoenix in 1962. A second daughter, Demetra, was born in Arizona. De Mente wrote full time and eventually established Phoenix Books/Publishers, to publish both his and other Arizona authors' works. During the ten years between the start of that operation and the founding of the Arizona Authors Association, De Mente received numerous calls from authors all over the state, asking him for advice on writing, publishing and marketing.

He knew that Arizona needed an organization to address these and many other questions from first -time authors. He suggested the idea to his friend, David Rich, an attorney, world traveler and writer. Together, they worked out a charter for the association in March of 1978. Here's how David describes that period:

"Boye De Mente and I formed the AAA in the late 70s. I incorporated AAA as a nonprofit with the Arizona Corporation Commission and wrote its first bylaws. We were an active organization with monthly seminars on many aspects of writing, with me presenting on legal issues. We didn't have the contests that you have now. We were one of the organizations featured in a publication listing the top civic organizations in AZ ... sometime in the 80s."

At the time, Diamond's Department Store in the Park Central Shopping Mall in downtown Phoenix sponsored an Author's Day for Arizona authors with published books. The event, taking place annually each spring, drew many authors from around the state. De Mente contacted the woman in charge of this event and discussed the possibility of forming an organization to help Arizona authors and provide professional support. The woman gave him the store's mailing list, accumulated through years of hosting this event.

De Mente then contacted all of the authors on the mailing list and said, "Hey guys, let's form an authors association." He chose a hotel conference room on the west side of Phoenix to host an event the following month. There were around seventy-five people at the first meeting, and nearly all of them signed up for membership in the Arizona Authors Association.

More to come on the history of our association in future posts.

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