The Bleeping Power

In 1992, I was sitting in my office inside my laboratory at DuPont in Wilmington, DE.  I was an engineer in the technical services department for the white pigment titanium dioxide.  I was assigned as the technical arm to the Midwest sales region that served the paint industry.  Some of my clients were Sherwin Williams, Glidden, Rustoleum, and PPG.  My team assisted the Goliaths with the chemical formulations of their paints, especially with the pigments that we supplied.  This was a very conservative lot of customers.

I returned from a week’s vacation on a particular Monday.  Heading to see my secretary Marie, I passed Max’s (my boss) office.  In those days, we still had secretaries, not administrative assistants, and they still typed our letters and took our messages.  With mail and messages in hand, I returned to my office.  I had been seated no more than one minute before Max burst into my lab and pushed open the door to my office in back, and he had never before come to my area.  I always met in his office or the conference room.

“The hair!” he said, pointing at me with his fingers like a pistol.  His voice stammered as he repeated, “The hair!!!”

Max was a blonde haired, blue eyed devout Mormon from Utah.  His hobby was procreating the species.  At thirty-five years old, he already had fathered double digit children.  In numerous conversations, I had gleaned that he had not grown up around much diversity, and Wilmington was a bit of a culture shock to him.

Then Max’s voice sounded as if he were in the throes of a seizure when he uttered, “The beard!  The beard!”

As a former Army officer, I had maintained a clean-shaven appearance at DuPont until that day.  My barber had come to my home routinely to cut my hair, and I had shaven daily whether I needed it or not.  Interestingly, both West Point– my alma mater– and DuPont were both founded in 1802, and both had cultivated uber-conservative cultures.

During this time period, Michael Jordan had become the crowned prince of the National Basketball Association.  While on vacation, I had grown a goatee and had shaven my head.  

There Max stood in front of me, shivering, shaken from his comfort zone.  He was clearly unequipped to know how to counsel the only tall, dark, and semi-handsome member of his staff.  I wished that animated thought bubbles had appeared over his head to enlighten me.  Had he fear that I was going to knock him out?

“The hair, the beard!” he said again in a quavering voice.

I quickly surmised his dilemma and responded, “No problem, Max.”  The next day, I lingered in front of his office a moment when I went to see Marie.  No words were necessary.  I had complied with shaving the goatee, and soon the hair returned.

Fast forward to the spring of 1998.  I had recently been promoted to a vice president at Morgan Stanley; therefore, I felt empowered to invoke some change.  By this time, Michael Jordan had ascended to rule all of the sports world.  All men wanted to be like Mike.  

One Monday morning, my manager walked by my office.  She glance in, made eye contact, and stopped in her tracks.  

My heart froze in place.  My tie and suspenders suddenly restricted my blood flow.  All I could hear in my head was, “The hair, the hair!”  I had shaven my head that morning but remained cleaned faced.

My boss’ face was glowing as she stood before my desk, appearing corporately beautiful in her heels and expensive dress suit.  She had a fresh tan from a recent Florida trip.  She told me how much she loved the bald look and that her husband even rocked that look, making him resemble the late actor Telly Savalis.  She revealed that she’d had a crush on Savalis in your younger years.  When she went about her business, I finally took a breath.  

Twice more that morning, two other women in my office complimented my new look.  That was all it took for me to adopt the Jordan smooth pate look that I sport to this day.

It’s amazing the power women wield over us men.  It doesn’t even matter if we’re involved with them or not; we men are suckers.  With a certain glance, we will run bare footed through fire.  With a mere touch, we’re short-circuited and will brave raging electrical storms to grant ladies’ their most whimsical notions.

Why don’t women realize this power?  Hmmm?  

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If You Wouldn’t Look at My Behind….

I had seated myself for lunch at a suburban Washington, DC spot that was known for its killer chilli, hot dogs, and comfort foods.  I’m the king of cheap eats. As a matter of fact, my DVR stokes my lusts for this food genre by automatically recording new episodes of “Drive-ins, Diners, and Dives.”  It was my intention yesterday to snarf down a couple of chilli cheese dogs while losing myself in chapters of my manuscript.

Last November, I had set aside the third draft of A Ring to It.  Now I’m editing my story with the fresh eyes needed to be objective.  Travis Blackwell reigns as the NFL Most Valuable Player.  Siobhan has dispatched him out of her life except for his scheduled visits with their six year old twins.  The football season is underway, and life goes on for the Blackwells, yadda, yadda, yadda.  My writer’s gut knows that I have written a compelling hook in chapter one, and I’ve crafted an ending that sizzles.  The late-novelist Leslie A. Banks gave me two thumbs up before she died.

However, I’m stuck in the dreaded middle story.  Authors notoriously get mired down in bridging beginning to end.  I need to tie together twists and turns that make the reader want see if Travis ever gets back to Siobhan and if he’s able to regain his on-field game that had made him the most feared running back in the league.  

Then I heard rustling at an adjacent table.  I tried my best not to lose my place in my story.  At this point, Travis was fighting a teammate in the huddle during a nationally televised ballgame.  Meanwhile, Siobhan had been swept away by a knight in a shiny Gulfstream to a holiday in Quebec City, Quebec.  I fought off the woman’s giggling at that table, not wanting to lose my stream of thoughts.

“New haircut?” the man asked, holding his date’s chair.  

“If you wouldn’t look at my behind all of the time, you would have noticed my new hairdoo a week ago,” the woman replied coquettishly.

Gone!!!

My focus was shot to Hell as effectively as Osama bin Laden had been sent there by a Navy SEAL’s double-tap.  I raised my eyes to see an early sixtyish man in jeans and a dark Hawaiian shirt.   He appeared to be the type who worked with his hands for a living, perhaps as a carpenter or a plumber.  The woman had the age defying body of thirty year old.  I suspect that she was a Jane Fonda devotee who has been slavishly exercising to Fonda’s VCR workout tapes since the ’80s.  Even I did a double take at her jeans that framed her best asset.  She wore a youngish, pixie cut that was dyed auburn red.  She could not stop smiling.  

Her carpenter companion’s eyes never left her.  He set her meal before her with supreme attention, ensuring that she had napkins, plastic cutlery, and Tabasco.  When he sat, his hands kept finding ways to touch hers which she kept atop the table.  Their vibe screamed new love.  Perhaps it was a spring fling.  Maybe more.

The couple’s love dance opened up my writer’s mind.  I wondered whether at their ages if they still stayed on the phone all night with each other, hanging up with the sun.  Did he get giddy each time he mentioned her name to his friends?  Had she gotten this haircut and worn these jeans particularly for him?  When they kissed, did their breathing race erratically?  When their tongue danced against each other, did their layers of skin become so aroused as to become electrified to the touch of the other?  

The world conspires to help me write.  I’m thankful to the carpenter and his pixie for opening up this new vein of thoughts that I am sure will bridge the dreaded middle story.  

When you fell/fall in love how did/do you feel?  How do you act differently?  C’mon, share!


Sh** or Get off the Pot!!!

I was in Home Depot yesterday, and I saw a twenty-something young man wearing a white baseball cap with a black A, the logo for Army/West Point.  I asked him had he served in the Army.  He immediately told me that he was a proud Army brat and that both of his parents had been soldiers.  Then he volunteered that he could have gone to West Point.  I surprised him when I raised my hand and showed my class ring.  I said, “And then you would have earned one of these.”

On a very frequent basis, I run across people who tell me that they could have gone to West Point.  They tell me how they had started their files at the Admissions Office, or they had political connections.  I’ve learned to politely smile and nod.

Similarly, when I tell people that I write novels, many tell me that they want to write, that they have a great idea for a book.  They tell me that if they had the time, they would write.  They tell me that they’ve written a great first chapter and that they intend to get back to it.  I don’t smile and nod at writer wannabes.  

To all of you almost-writers, I give you the same advice that my colonel class leader at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas gave me some years back after he had stopped barking in my face.

I had just given a decision briefing to my class of Army captains.  The title to this briefing was: “Should I Stay, or Should I Go?”  The title alone made the class chuckle and snicker because this was a course for career officers.  However, I had a corporate job offer from a Fortune-10 company in hand.  It would have paid me considerably more than I was making as a captain or even my next rank of major.  As soon as I had finished my briefing, the colonel dismissed the class early so that he could chew me out.  Then he told me, “Captain, sh** or get off the pot.”

If you wish to write, then get off the pot.  Scream, “I AM A WRITER!!!”  Unlike the young man at Home Depot who is too old by law to ever get into West Point now, there is nothing keeping anybody from writing but putting pen to paper or words onto the screen.  The hardest part of becoming a writer is deciding that is what you are.  

I have a neighbor who received a master’s in fine arts in recent years.  For a long while, she had talked about writing novels.  When I finally pressed her, she finally acknowledged that she preferred writing shorter pieces of non-fiction and short stories. That’s terrific!  I celebrate her because she found her writing zone, and she’s extraordinary at it.  She recently published a book on my historic neighborhood in Washington, DC.  She’s a writer.

Another woman friend has said for years that she has great stories and that she has a partially finished manuscript.  When I challenged her about her writing ambitions, she said that she really would be happier helping to edit someone else’s work.  Remarkably, she’s proving to be an impactful sounding board for my current project.  After watching my efforts in crafting this novel, she’s decided that she really doesn’t want to become a writer herself, and that’s fine.  She knows herself.  She got off the pot.

So you think you want to be a writer?  

My advice is: Don’t do it.  It is painful trying to craft words that evoke emotions and create action to compel a stranger to want to turn pages.  The long, solitary hours are not conducive to your golf game or your relationships.  The pay sucks.  Like myself, you could end up writing something that publishers don’t want to purchase.  And even if you write a book that sells, there’s no guarantee of commercial success.

If you see me in line at Home Depot or sitting with my laptop at Starbucks, don’t tell me that you’re thinking about writing a book.  

Sh** or get off the pot.

 

A Writer’s Journey

I write because I am obsessed.  Morning, noon, and night, I think about my characters.  I wonder what they’re eating for breakfast, why they’re about to abandon their families, and how they’re going to escape an attacker?  If I am at a restaurant, I listen in to other people’s conversations, eavesdropping for content and rhythm in order to make my dialogue more authentic.  I keep a pen in my hand when reading a newspaper to highlight story ideas.  I talk to my friends about my characters as if these fictional beings were flesh and blood people.  I come to know where they’ve gone to school, what music and foods they enjoy, their fantasies, and their dark sides.  The only relief  I can find is to sit at my laptop, close my eyes, and let my fingers fly, leaving behind a trail of words and sentences and paragraphs.  I write because I can’t not write.  I’ve known since I was an early grade schooler that I had to tell stories, particularly dark, macabre tales and also relationship novels that delve into the alchemy of attraction between men and women.
 
I am a novelist who has written three paranormal novels of which two have been rejected by major publishing houses.  I’m also in the midst of completing two romance novels.
 
Consider following my blog (click on the yellow RSS icon) if you wish to glimpse the journey of an undeterred writer who will not quit until his books are in the hands of readers everywhere.  

Women Are Men’s Admirals

“Behind every successful man, is a great woman.”

I’m in the fourth draft of a novel which I call “A Ring to It.”  Travis is the reigning National Football League Most Valuable Player.  He dresses the part.  He’s got the swagger on and off the field.  Men want to be him.  Then his wife shocks him and kicks him out for his indiscretions.  

I began this novel with the premise that women control all of men’s ships.  Think about it.  Men believe that we control the world, businesses, households, and the women in their lives.  As I was outlining this novel, I considered that we men think we’re in control, but are we?  Actually, women control courtships, relationships, friendships, dating-ships, etc.  Hmmmm?

We men are relatively simple.  Feed us, let us have some (wink, wink), and give us some space for work, golf, or hanging with our boys.  I wanted to demonstrate this simple calculus in this novel by showing how affected an uber-alpha male would be when his woman unexpectedly shut him out of her life.  

When Travis no longer was getting fed his usual foods in his own home, it threw off his game.  Despite his being promiscuous outside of his home, when he no longer had access to the love of his life, he couldn’t concentrate on the play being called by his quarterback in the huddle.  When he had all the space he needed because he no longer had the responsibilities of husband, father, and household, his free time became the devil’s workshop.  Thus began Travis’ wake up call.

We writers have to understand our protagonists before we script the first paragraphs.  In doing so, we can imperil them and watch how they react.  That’s called drama.  

 

Why Did You Rob Banks?

Willie Sutton was once asked, “Why did you rob banks?”

My former writing mentor, the late-Novelist Leslie A. Banks, was an Ivy-educated writing machine who would crank out four to six novels per year.  She was bless with the ability to hyper-focus for two to four weeks to pen a new, salable book.  With years in the writing business, she had become savvy enough to glean what stories publishers were buying, and she adapted on a dime.  As a result, she’d written across genres.  For example, she wrote the “Scarface” novelizations, romances, crime thrillers, a vampire series, military stories, and other novels.  

I had just finished writing the first novel of three book paranormal series in the summer of 2010.  Leslie, in her diva style, telephoned to summon me back to Philadelphia for a visit.  Whenever we met, we would go out to eat, and we’d talk about her projects.  She listed me in a few of her novels as her military advisor.  Then she would focus on my writing.  On this particular trip, she laid some major knowledge on me.  She said that women purchase eighty to eighty-five percent of all novels.  Then she mentioned that over eighty percent of those novels are romances.  She asked me if I had to specialize in paranormal novels; did I really want to become the next Stephen King?  She explained that it might make sense to sell a first novel into the broader romance field than in the narrower, more specialized paranormal genre.  Once established as a writer, she suggested, I could then publish my paranormal novels.

Willie Sutton answered that question by saying, “Because that’s where the money was.”

Hence, know your markets before you ever type the first word of a book.  Know where the publishing money is.

Stranger than Fiction Inspiration

My two children and I went to dinner at a West Point buddy’s home in Virginia.  His wife, two daughters, and he had prepared a super spread that included marinated flank steak that he had grilled outside.  After preparing our plates, my children asked if they could say the grace.  After a very awkward moment, the wife said yes.  My daughter, son, and I crossed ourselves and said the blessing by ourselves.  My buddy’s teen and pre-teen girls giggled and said, “What was that?”

I scribbled that incident in my writing journal.  There’s an old expression: Stranger than fiction.  If I had sat at my laptop for a month, I would not have been able to capture such an emotional and uncomfortable social scene.  My buddy and I had served overseas together; therefore, I had known that he was an atheist, and I had known that his wife was agnostic.  The innocence of the children– unvarnished by political correctness– made me want to capture the emotion of faith differences.

Fast forward a decade.  I’m finishing up my first romance novel.  I have a scene where my divorced heroine is being served a romantic home cooked dinner by her unexpected suitor, one of her attorneys.  The aroma of the steak filled her nose with a gastronomical perfume that made her mouth water.  He had set the table with candles, her favorite flowers, and wines.  Her heart was racing from the excitement of infatuation and potential love.  Then she crossed herself in the Catholic tradition and prayed.  When she opened her eyes, she noticed that his hands were in his lap, and his eyes were dead on her.  Her breath caught in her throat.  That prompted her to ask, “Are you a believer?”

Everyday conversations and incidents provide stranger than fiction moments.  If you wish to write, collect these stories of your life.  They will come back to breathe spirit into your stories.