Writer Reaches Back To His Mail Order Days

Where Are They Now?

Scottish-irish Imports Co-founder Finishes Novel, How-to Guide

January 03, 1991|By Michael R. Driscoll | Michael R. Driscoll,Staff writer

In his time, Jim Hollan of Annapolis has been a businessman, a patron of the arts and an author. But he has never been the kind of guy who stands still for very long.

Hollan fell in love with the city during what was intended to be a short visit almost 15 years ago. Looking for a reason to stay, he and then-partner Terry Greist (now a realestate agent in the county) founded Scottish-Irish Imports on Main Street. The store sold a varied line of imports, including clothing, books, music and tasty delicacies, both retail and through mail order.

They founded the Harp & Lion Press, to publish the store's popular line of catalogs, Greist's book on Scottish tartans, Hollan's book of Scottish and Irish jokes, and the album of the internationally competitive bagpipe band he sponsored.

One measure of the store's success was its re-creation on a television stage for a series of American Telephone & Telegraph Co. commercials. None of the spots involved any of the store's staff, although one showed traffic going down MainStreet, instead of up, the way it has always run.

Later came a fling in politics during the last mayoral election, supporting candidate Larry Vincent, owner of the Laurence Ltd. men's clothing store.

"I didn't run the campaign, but I was involved in it. Larry's a good friend, and it seemed the proper thing to do," Hollan said. "That's what I love about Annapolis: You can get involved in things so easily."

Then last year, his store closed.

"The bottom line," Hollan said of his store's demise, "is that we were there 13 years, and I used to say this as a joke, a joke that's basically the truth, is that 11 of them were really good years."

The rest of the time, Hollan said, was a result of a disastrous edition of the store's otherwise popular catalog. The $400,000 lost then was never made good.

Hollan attributed his business' decline to "a combination of that

catalog, of retail sales in general being down and of all costs of mail order going up -- and it was time (to move on), so we closed it out."

Since then, he has moved full time into his latest career, that of author.

"I think it's something half the people I know would like to do. There's always something that you'd like to do, and you're always going to do it, and you try to do a little bit, but then you've got tomake a living and so you never get around to it.

"I've tried at different times in my life to do a bit of it," he said of his writing."When I was younger, I simply was too young, but it's just somethingI've really been thinking a lot about. So if I don't do it now, it's because I choose not to do it. It's that complex and that simple."

Drawing on his long business experience, Hollan settled into a 40-hour weekly schedule of researching, mailing and writing.

"The first thing I did to warm myself up was to write a how-to book about starting your own mail-order business, for normal people," he said. "It deals with writing a simple black-and-white

catalog, what skills you need and where to get those skills, how to save money, and what you can do yourself. I do some consulting on this, so I know what people want to know."

Hollan described the book, "The Do It Yourself Catalog Book," as a practical exercise in the discipline of writing every day, which eventually grew to some 32,000 words and 52 illustrations.

"And then I started writing what I really wanted to write," he said: a 90,000-word novel, "Mail Order."

"This novel isn't really about mail order," he explained.

"It's the broad canvas, the backgroundof the story. Instead, it's about two men, with side stories and lots of things going on. I like lots of stuff to be going on, and so I wrote the kind of novel I like to read.

"I chose 'Mail Order' for afew reasons," Hollan continued. "Novels are always about some of your experiences. You have to know about things in order to write about them. I liked it because when I read a novel, I like to learn something."

Once the books were completed, Hollan sent them to such majorpublishers as Random House, Crown Books and others.

Crown showed some interest in the how-to book but turned it down as being too concentrated in its focus. However, the company did ask him to send any other books he wrote.

After several more months of rejections from other publishers, Hippocrene Press in New York made a serious offer on the how-to book, which it will publish in both hard and soft cover next fall. Hippocrene has also optioned Hollan's next non-fiction work, about establishing a small business.

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