Greatest Hits - Part Two

In my last post (http://dlcruisingaltitude.blogspot.com/2009/11/greatest-hits-part-one.html duh), I reflected upon losing touch with a great many of my favorite songs during the transition from vinyl albums to digital CD’s. One day an on-line friend of mine suggested I look into the plethora vinyl to digital conversion tools out there in the marketplace, so I took his advice. I purchased a turntable that could hook up directly to my PC, downloaded the appropriate software that would handle the job, and during nights and weekends for four months I meticulously turned all of the songs on my vinyl albums into MP3 files. The journey was incredible!

What a treasure trove of nostalgia I unlocked. The album art alone had me reminiscing uncontrollably, swimming in a flood of memories. Listening to the songs and reading the linear notes awakened dormant brain cells in me undisturbed for years. Sights and sounds (I have no sense of smell, so I missed out on that) as well as emotions overwhelmed my conscious mind. I found myself transported. I also felt physically younger during that four month period.

It was more than just hearing the songs themselves, for there’s something magical about listening to recording played on a phonograph. The pops and hisses, just like it was when it caressed your ear drum for the first time, added a quality only detectable to those of us who came through that era. The imperfections were part of the music.

While I was listening my way through 600+ albums, I stumbled across a few songs that held certain significance. I imagined that if my life was a movie and a soundtrack accompanied it, these are a few of the songs that would be on it.

“Another Saturday Night” by Cat Stevens
Man did this song come to epitomize the loneliness of my high school years. The lyrics from the first stanza said it all. I remember numerous nights lying on my the bed in my room, alone, feeling sorry for myself. How can such a depressing song have such an infectious tune?

Another Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody
I’ve got some money ‘cause I just got paid
Now, how I wish I had someone to talk to
I’m in an awful way

“You Ain’t See Nothing Yet” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive
This song represented the flip side of my high school experience and was the first album I ever bought. It was our high school class song and I remember listening to it over and over in a hotel room during our senior weekend at the Moorehead City beach. I also remember thinking that mixing beer and orange juice was a good idea as well. Can you say RALPH!

“Jungleland” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
This was my first realization that there was more to music than just the top 40 radio hits and three chord power ballads. I was first intrigued by the album cover. During the summer between high school graduation and starting school at LSU, I would explore the area around the campus and I found this record store where I ultimately purchased the bulk of my collection. On the wall behind the newly released records was this album cover that was folded out and pinned to the wall. On a pure white background was a black and white picture of a scraggily, unshaven guy wearing a black leather jacket holding onto a cross between a fender telecaster and a fender esquire electric guitar. He was shown leaning against a large black man playing a saxophone. I asked if they could cue up the album so I could listen to it and although I fell in love with and bought the album because of the first song (Born to Run), it was Jungleland that opened my eyes to musical depth. It was constantly playing on my eight-track as I traveled the roads of Louisiana.

“Slow Ride” by Foghat
As much shit as I give my son for wasting money on frivolous things in college, I have to admit that my parents said the same thing when I blew a good portion of my summer payroll on my first stereo during sophomore year. One hundred watts per channel of power (which was a lot back then) and floor speakers that came up to my waist could rattle even the most sturdiest of doors. The first weekend after I purchased it was a beautiful summer day, so we took my speakers and propped them against my dormitory rooms open 7th floor window and blared this song to anybody walking in the quad below. The campus police were not impressed with the song, or my new stereo, but even they couldn’t ruin my mood that day.

“Slow Dancing, Swaying to the Music” by Johnny Rivers
This is a song that to this very day still gives me a sweet, warm, melancholy feeling when I hear it. The act of re-discovering this song was also the inspiration for my first book. It is a song that will be forever intertwined with memories of friendship, the Florida beach, and the first girl I ever loved. Ironically, the book I wrote is a murder mystery. Go figure.

“Thriller” by Michael Jackson
I’ve already written a blog post http://dlcruisingaltitude.blogspot.com/2009/08/thriller.html dedicated specifically to this song and its significance.

“When I Wish Upon A Star” by Jiminy Crickett (Cliff Edwards)
A testament to the fact that wishes do come true and they should be celebrated in their hometown. My wife and I enjoyed our honeymoon at Disneyworld. When I married her I joined myself to my constant companion, my best friend, my critic, my conscience, my coach, my cheerleader, and my lover. And I am all of that for her. We are a partnership in the purest form. We have survived the lean times, the changing environment, growing pains and the hostile takeover bids. It hasn’t always been easy, but what dreams are?

“Long Live Rock” by The WHO
It’s sometime past one o’clock in the morning and I’m breaking the speed limit trying to get to the hospital in Arkansas from a soccer tournament in Oklahoma. My wife’s about to deliver our 3rd child and I’m desperate to get there before it happens. I’m tired from already driving for hours and the radios blasting to keep me awake, but the signal is fading. Luckily I have my own compilation CD and I pop it in. I’m thinking about the birth of my other two children, about the fact that I’m going to be a father again at the age of 43, and wondering if I’ll have the energy to go through diapers and colic again. Then this song starts playing. Hell, if the WHO can play rock & roll well into their 50’s, then I can do this! I played that song over and over a dozen times. I made it back in time as well.

“18 ‘til I Die” by Bryan Adams
Just ask my wife.

“Land of Hopes and Dreams” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
This one will play at my funeral. The lyrics say it all.

This train
Carries saints and sinners
This train
Carries losers and winners
This Train
Carries whores and gamblers
This Train
Carries lost souls
This Train
Dreams will not be thwarted
This Train
Faith will be rewarded
This Train
Hear the steel wheels singin'
This Train
Bells of freedom ringin'
This Train
Carries broken-hearted
This Train
Thieves and sweet souls departed
This Train
Carries fools and kings
This Train
All aboard

Greatest Hits – Part One

In 1984 when I purchased my first compact disc player, I was both thrilled and sorrowful. I was excited about the sound quality and feature filled possibilities that the new technology offered, but I was forlorn over my 600+ album collection that had instantly become obsolete.

I knew it would be cost prohibitive to try and replace all of my albums with the CD version, so I did the next best thing and purchased the greatest hits collections of all my favorite artists when they were released on CD. The record companies weren’t idiots and knew that millions of audiophiles were in the same boat as I, so the market was instantly flooded by greatest hits collections. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Who, Aerosmith, BTO, Queen, Cars, Led Zeppelin, Billy Joel, Yes, Elton John, ELO, Journey, the list goes on and on. The only exception was THE BOSS, Bruce Springsteen. I had to have each of his individual records on CD.

I continued to listen to my vinyl albums off and on until 1990 when our family moved from Georgia to Arkansas, forcing all of my albums into storage boxes. Because the home we moved into didn’t have bookshelves to display them, my albums remained sequestered in a dark closet until just recently.

For a while I was perfectly content with relying on my greatest hits CD’s when I became nostalgic and yearned to hear some vintage tunes, but I realized on numerous occasions that something was missing. More and more I was feeling unfulfilled. It didn’t take me long to figure out what the problem was…..the hidden gems. You know what I’m talking about, the songs that never play on the radio or make Casey Kasem’s infamous top 40 list, but yet harmonize with your soul. The song between track number five which was a #1 single for twelve weeks straight, and track number seven which won the MTV award for the most sleaziest video. It didn’t matter that nobody else seemed to care for that song, it moved something in you. Hidden gems are what any self respecting music collector is constantly in search of.

Contemplating this makes me wonder how many other times in life we focus on the most popular parts and ignore all the rest. We are a cut and paste society after all. Today’s youth download all of their songs into their IPod and engineer playlist full of favorites, allowing the less popular songs to fade into obscurity. Writing this blog I’ve found myself doing just what I’m trying to describe. As I think about events or feelings to write about and I concentrate on the highlights. It isn’t that smaller, more intimate moments aren’t any less important to me, but for the sake of time and space I condense it all down into what I think is entertaining and enjoyable to read. In essence what I’ve done is edit out some memories that were special only to me. Moments such as staring at Boo’s peaceful face as he slept soundly in his sleeping bag on one of our camping trips, remembering feeling so much love for him that it was literally impossible to describe.

I know that as the years pass me by, intimate memories such as that will be harder to hold onto as they compete with grander, more life changing ones. It may not be a greatest hit, but it is a treasured one none the less.

As the title of this post suggest, this is the first of two parts. In my next posting I’ll try to be less metaphorical and talk about actual music that comprises the sound track of my life.

I’ll also tell you how both of these posts ultimately formed the foundation for my first book.

Until then, I hope that those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving (hey - I could have some international readers), have a safe and happy holiday!

Crossing Guard

My son’s pin went missing last week and he was in a panic. It was his Ambassador pin from school and he needed to wear it because he was supposed to escort visitors around the grounds that day. As my wife described the chaos of that morning as they turned the house upside down looking for this stupid little pin, I simply shook my head and smiled. Eventually the pin was found and everything was right in Boo’s world again, but at the time I found it comical how something as insignificant as a pin could create such a stir in their morning routine.

But later their little ordeal got me thinking about something in my own past. A similar recognition I earned when I was a kid. In the sixth grade we were living in Silver Springs, Maryland, and I attended a fairly new facility located in the center of a dense middle-class district. I remember something else from that area that seems oddly missing from the American neighborhood now-a-days, sidewalks. In my skewed view of the past, it seems like more people used to walk back and forth between destinations then. I know that more kids walked to school because those same sidewalks were jammed with students in the mornings and afternoons.

The school had two drive-ways leading to the teacher parking and bus drop-off from opposite sides in the front of the building. The amount of foot-traffic crossing those vehicle entrances was considerable and necessitated that somebody be stationed there before school in the morning and after last bell every afternoon to prevent problems. The school ingeniously chose the situation to not only satisfy a definite need, but bolster a few self-esteems as well.

Students were selected at the beginning of every school year to serve as these crossing guards. Being chosen was a big. Teachers would recommend possible candidates to the Principal, and only those with A’s and B’s on their report cards and zero disciplinary marks could be considered. Aside from the prestige of being selected and the little bit of responsibility they gave us, there were special benefits as well. Duties would rotate and sometimes assignments would range from walking the school grounds, to assisting the teachers setting up for assemblies. You were allowed to be late to class in the morning and leave early in the afternoon. And there were parties just for the crossing guards. But by far, the most important thing about being one of the selected few, was the BELT! It was bright orange, made from a synthetic fiber that went around your waist and over one shoulder. The cool thing to do was folding it in a special way and hanging it from our belt when we weren’t on-duty.

Thinking back on that experience I wonder how much of what was ingrained in me then is still relevant today. Was I just a crossing guard, or was there more to it? The answer I came up with surprised me. As a coach, I feel that I Sheppard the kids on my teams across fundamental times in their lives, ever watchful for dangers on the horizon. As a father, I accept that my role is sometimes invisible and I do the little things without need for recognition or acknowledgment. And as a husband, I’m counted upon to be there every day, rain or shine.

Considering this, I’ve chastised myself for the way I reacted to my son’s missing pin. He was chosen as an Ambassador to his school and it’s a big deal, rightly so. It signifies the trust his teacher bestowed upon him to represent his school honorably, and recognition of a character trait that should be celebrated. His pin, and everything it stands for, is just as important as my belt was to me.

Good for him.

Fallen Knight Query Letter - Original

I wanted to share with you my first attempt at a query letter for my novel.  I imagine it will undergo numerous re-writes before its ready to forward to literary agents, and I'll post those revisions as well so you can see what the process is like.

The intent of this letter is to communicate the overall 'flavor' of the book.  If I had any serious writing credentials, those would be included as well, but composing technical journals where I work doesn't really count as one.

Anyway, let me know what you think.  I'm eager to hear any suggestions.

Dear Ms. Agent,

Dianne Williams, the fiercely independent manager of Greenville’s largest Private Detective Agency, has just seen her week go from bad to worse. It started off with her stable of investigators dwindling to alarming low numbers due to a rapidly spreading illness that seems to be affecting only people from her agency, and now she’s stumbled across the badly beaten body of Steven Ebe, her newest rookie investigator. Shaken and off-balance, with Ebe in a coma fighting for his life and her agency barely staying afloat, Dianne must go against her better judgment to enlist help from a most unlikely source.

Lee Hamilton is a reserved, middle-aged human resource manager living with his new wife in Conway Arkansas, but he’s also a knight. One of six tightly-knit friends who came together during their time in college, their mischievous group came to be affectionately known as ‘The Knights Who Say Ni’. Now that the gang has recently reconnected, Lee’s been infused with a newfound sense of belonging. When he receives a call from Dianne informing him that one of their own has been savagely attacked, Lee uses the situation to reawaken his adventurous past and rally the knights to Dianne’s side and help find the person responsible.

Dianne, Lee and the rest of the knights quickly discover a veiled connection between the not-so-random attack on their fallen friend and the poisoning of her agency. Following Ebe’s trail of clues from a previous trip to Manassas Virginia on agency business, it leads them to the horrific events surrounding a high school shooting that claimed the lives of twenty-three students six months earlier. They reluctantly joins forces with a young, ambitious FBI agent to decipher how they’re discoveries tie back to their friends attack and they soon realize that things in Manassas aren’t what they appear . . . they’re much, much worse! Suddenly in over their heads with an investigation that test the limits of Dianne’s abilities and the boundaries of the knights friendship, Dianne must come to grips with her desire to find retribution for Ebe and the very real danger she’s put her group of amateur-sleuths in. The rag-tag band must ultimately race the clock to fit the puzzle pieces together and prevent the largest bio-terrorism attack in U.S. history.

Fallen Knight is firmly positioned in the Mystery/Thriller genre with a generous dose of humor as a bonus. Thank you, Ms. Agent, for your consideration of this query. At your request, I will be happy to send along part of the story, which is complete at 105,000 words.

Regards,

DL Hammons

 

Mom

My mom died six years ago today. It was a Monday. It was chilly outside and the sun was trying to peek out from behind mostly cloudy skies. I know because I was looking to the heavens a lot that day. Her death wasn’t expected, but neither was it a complete surprise. She went into the hospital a healthy woman with a minor case of Pancreatitis, which she suffered and recovered from a couple times previously, and two months later she was gone. There were infections, multiple surgeries, breathing problems, kidney failure, and a long list of other complications that led ultimately to a coma. In the end it reached a point where it became a family choice to discontinue the life saving measures that were keeping her alive and prolonging her suffering. When she slipped the bonds of her tortured body and moved on to her next journey, I wasn’t in the room. I couldn’t. She was 69 years young.

A few days later, just prior to her funeral, I was alone in the basement of my parents home when my Dad came to me. He had a question for me. He wanted to know if I would say something during the service. I had already been contemplating the notion, so I agreed without hesitation. My dad appeared relieved and I realized he wasn’t sure he’d be able to stand up in front of our friends and family due to the emotion of the day. He knew that even as shy and withdrawn as I am, through my work I had experience communicating at group functions. It was important to him, and me, that somebody who knew her well speak for her at the service.

Even though my parents weren’t regular church goers, my mother was raised Methodist and the services were held at a quaint little church not too far from where they lived. The two of them had only lived in Loganville, on the outskirts of Atlanta, going on ten years but you wouldn’t have known it from the number of people who made it to the funeral. Family and friends overwhelmed that poor little church. Fortunately they found a seat for everybody who wanted one.

The main service was performed by a priest I had only met that day, and that my mother had never met. It was fairly generic, as only it could be, until he asked if there was anybody who wished to offer a few words. I stood up, nervously stepped to the podium and looked out over the gathering. A rush of panic momentarily seized me, constricting my vocal cords and raising the temperature in the room to 120 F. Then I locked eyes on my dad, and calmness settled over me, driving out the uncertainty. I was ready.

Although what follows isn’t word for word what I said back then, it’s pretty close.

“When Dad asked me if I wanted to speak here today I immediately said yes, but then I had a couple of days to think about what it was I wanted to say. The more I kept trying to think of things to say that could best exemplify who Mom was, the more this one particular question kept popping into my head. Before long that question was all I could think about. It tormented me day and night. Then the answer came to me and part of it is actually one of the reasons I’m standing here now. I also realized that a lot of you may be asking yourself the same question. I hope I can help answer it for you.

First I want to tell you of two memories of my Mom that I keep not in my head, but in my heart. They represent who she was to me and to a lot of you as well. The first one took place when I was just 7 or 8 years old and we were living in military housing at Quantico Virginia. For some reason I was in a different school system than my two brothers, which meant I had to take a separate school bus. This really terrified me, but I never let on to anybody. One morning my brothers were already gone off to school and I was dragging my feet getting ready, feeling especially alone that day, and mom asked me what was wrong. I can still see her standing there in her white housecoat that was three inches too long and dragged on the carpet wherever she walked. Of course I said nothing, but she must have known something wasn’t right. She asked me if I wanted to take the day off. The DAY OFF? You can do that, I asked her. We sure can, what do you want to do first? We never left the house that day. She made me pancakes, we played game after game, she watched cartoons with me, it was great. It was one of the best days ever, and it came at just the right time. And she knew it without me even saying a word.

The second story occurred years later when I was a sophomore in college. I had just broken up with what was my first serious girlfriend and I had crawled home to lick my wounds. Of course I didn’t come out with it right away, but Mom again knew something was wrong. Eventually she got me to open up and I cried my eyes out to her. The whole time she was calm and soothing, letting me just spill my guts out. After a while I felt much better, so she informed me that she needed to run into town to pick up some groceries. I didn’t find this out until much later, but when she left the house she drove to the first gas station on the way and called Dad at work from a pay phone and cried her eyes out to him over the phone. She didn’t want me to see what my pain was doing to her.

That’s the way Mom was, and I think that’s why Dad asked me to speak to you today. My Mother was not an emotional person on the outside. It was hard to tell where you stood with her sometimes. Everything with her ran very deep, with very little showing on the surface. But she always knew when you were down or needed a little extra attention. She was very in tune to peoples feelings, even though she didn’t demonstrate much of that herself. And I’m the same way. Of all us in this family, I’m the one who is most like her.

That is why I figured out the answer to the question that was upsetting me, because I’m like my Mom, and she was like me.

And what was that question? It was…Did she know? When she left us, did she know how much I loved her, how much we all loved her and will now miss her? Did I tell her enough? Did I show her enough?

I can tell you now that the answer is yes. She may not have been the hugging, kissing, or fussing type, in fact that may have made her uncomfortable, but she knew how we felt just the same. Just as I would.

She knew we loved her, and will miss her terribly. Goodbye, mom.

A parent’s passing is a loss that cracks your very foundation and makes you question your every step. I feel cheated that now that I’m a father with older children of my own, and I’m really starting to appreciate what it truly means to raise a child, that I won’t have her here with me so that I can thank her all the more. But writing this blog helps me keep her alive in my thoughts.

I appreciate your patience with me as I remember her again this year.

I miss you Mom!

Where Do I Fit?

I’m getting closer.

My book has reached a point where I’m feeling more comfortable about sending out a few query letters to perspective agents. The process of writing a query letter is daunting by itself. I can’t tell you how many blogs, magazine articles, e-mails, and book chapters I’ve read devoted to this one subject. There are also on-line courses and live instructor seminars centered on the topic. It’s that big of a deal.

Being who I am, I disconnected the cart and moved it in front of the horse by researching which agents I wanted to forward the query I hadn’t written yet to. These agents are a rather picky bunch and prefer to receive letters only for the type of writing they represent. Go figure. So I’m doing my due diligence and researching which agents prefer what, and that’s when I get confused. I thought I had a handle on the type of novel I had written until I started reading the many categories. Talk about making something more complicated than it needs to be. Here are just a few examples of what I’m talking about. There’s literary fiction, contemporary fiction, adult genre fiction, commercial fiction, hard-boiled mystery or crime fiction, cozy mysteries, and mainstream mystery/suspense. Sheesh!

Rolling up my sleeves (I usually wear short sleeves, but I wanted to provide you with that mental image, so just go with it) I dove in further to figure out what the true meaning of these categories were, like literary fiction is the term principally used to distinguish serious fiction (that is, work with claims to literary merit). Sometimes it seemed as if the agents weren’t using the same playbook, I mean what’s the difference between a mainstream mystery, a hard-boiled mystery, and a cozy mystery? It would be so much easier if we could just use a differently methodology to label our writing. How about food? If literary fiction were the five star dining cuisine of the writing world, say Jean-Georges in New York, then I’d liken my writing to Applebee’s, or maybe even a Joe’s Crab Shack. Definitely not fast food though!

Now that I have a better understanding of the landscape, I can see where perspective authors who are misinformed or too lazy to figure out the system could carpet bomb the industry with their queries.

Me, I’m planning a surgical strike.

The Santa Clause Equation

Let the countdown begin.

I can almost hear the groans ringing out across the internet as you read this.  At the time of this posting there is only forty-five more days remaining until Christmas, and for our family that means making lists, watching for newspaper ads, and scouring the internet for any deal that will save us precious dollars.

Everybody goes about their holiday shopping differently and you should feel free to post your own particualr habits in the comments section.  Honestly, our family has tried many different approaches. I’ve done the shopping extremely early in the year thing, but that left me feeling as if I'd suffered premature consumerization.  Then there were the years where last-minute runs to Walmart was common, and I'd like to apologize to all of you who still have presents collecting dust in the back of a closet from those Christmas's.  I've even thrown caution to the wind and subjected myself to the phenomenon called Black Friday a couple times.  Let me just say this about that experience . . . it is not for the feint of heart . . . and hell hath no fury like a woman shopper who's been butted in front of.

Thankfully the process of shopping has changed dramatically over the years.  I’ve gone from running around the state in search of that one SKU that nobody seems to have in stock, to buying 85-90% of the presents on-line and having them delivered to our front door, sometimes even gift-wrapped.

But it's all worth it because I adore Christmas! Just ask my wife, the largest kid in our family isn’t one of our children when it comes to this time of year. I love giving presents and I’m not ashamed to admit I get excited when I receive them as well. I guess my parents are partially to blame for my Yule tide enthusiasm, having spoiled us kids year after year. They did so regardless of the family’s financial standing, or the state of the economy. Inside our bubble we were oblivious to those problems, always awakening to mountains of presents under the tree to tear into.

My wife is the pragmatic one in our family when it comes to money matters. It took awhile, and I’m still have to go to meetings and be faithful to the 12-step program, but she finally made me take a hard look at my addiction and see the burden of debt the holidays put us under when I was in charge of the present buying. Now we’ve adopted a budget for our holiday spending. That includes swearing off credit cards and the evils of other same as cash incentives. We decide on a number we think we can afford and work backwards from there.

When it comes to buying presents, the formula for working within a budget isn’t as simple as you’d might think. It’s definitely not as straight-forward as this:

$$ ÷ #people = $ per person

There are all sorts of other factors influencing the equation. For instance, factor #1 = relationship. Your children always receive the largest slice of the pie. It’s a golden rule that cannot be fooled with. Parents, bothers & sisters, nephews & nieces, and co-workers are left with the scraps. Then there’s factor #2 = age. The younger the recipient is, the higher the present quotient. Christmas is for kids, after all. But if we’re talking about grown kids, is it right to consider such things as distance, both physically and emotionally? Does a child who stops by and calls frequently deserve a bigger gift than one who you rarely see or hear from? And then there’s factor #3 = the reciprocation factor. How much do you spend on the relative whose presents look like re-gifts from a dirty Santa party?

Think that's complicated?  We're just getting started.  Now that you've broken down how much $$ you can spend on who, there are the sub-factors to consider as you plan how Christmas morning will play out.  Will the children be opening up an equal number of presents?  This can be a real challenge for families who have both tiny tots and older kids whose gift lists are loaded with items where a single choice could consume their entire $$ alotment.  What about the size of the presents?  You have to acquire at least a couple gifts with enough bulk to fill out the space beneath the tree.  I can go on and on.

Eventually the equation I mentioned previously resembles something more like this.





Oh. . . I left out the most important element of all. It’s the one component of the whole equation that impacts every other part.

Does the intended recipient believe in Santa Clause?

After all, everybody knows that people who believe in Santa receive more presents than those who don’t.

Plus One

I picked up a couple more followers last week, which I am extremely grateful for, and even more exciting is that they don't know me personally.  Nobody burst their bubble and spill the beans about me.  At least not yet. 

Unfortunately, at this rate I won't hit my goal of 100 until mid-way through 2010.  So I'm going to throw a cyber-party Friday.  I know . . . I know . . . it's completely accidental that it happens to be Friday the 13th.  You all are invited, and I EXPECT everyone to bring with them one guest.  If I'm truly writing content you find entertaining, or poignant, then share it with at least one other friend and lets have a ball together!  We can do this thing!

It'll be BYOK (Bring Your Own Keyboard).  I'll be collecting modems at the door and they won't be returned when you leave unless I'm convinced of your sobriety.  

See you then!

Revenge of the Interviewer

Interviewer:  May I come in?

Me:  What are you doing here at my home?

Interviewer:  I didn't like the way things ended during our first meeting, and there's a few things I felt needed to be said.

Me:  And you had to confront me in my home?  If you would have called, I would have come back in.

Interviewer:  Are you going to let me in, or not?

Me:  Sure.

Interviewer:  What are you smiling at?

Me:  I just find it humorous that one of the tips everybody hears about interviewing for a job is to imagine the person your speaking to not wearing any pants on the other side of the desk.  And lo and behold, here you are, not wearing any pants.

Interviewer:  It's a warm day.  Isn't that a Henschel Deerstalker your wearing?  The hat Sherlock Holmes wore.

Me: Yes.

Interviewer: And a Calabash Pipe?

Me:  They help me think when I'm writing.

Interviewer:  Do you have a magnifying glass as well.

Me:  What is it you wanted to say?

Interviewer:  I wanted to point out to you that even though it doesn't require social skills to write a good book, that isn't all there is to becoming a successfully published author.  Landfills are full of worthy manuscripts that have never seen a publishers desk.  Its a cut-throat business and it increasingly takes more than raw talent to break through.  You have to be willing to become a champion for your work.  Pitching both it and yourself to skeptical editors at a steady stream of writers conferences and literary retreats.  Are you capable of schmoozing in order to establish the necessary connections?

Me:  I . . . ah . . . I hadn't --

Interviewer:  You hide in your solitary world because you, in part, abhore rejection.  Well you had better overcome that fear, and fast, because a title wave of negativity is headed your way if you pursue this.  In order to find the one agent that feels the same way about your book as you do, you'll have to wade through a pool of indifference.

Me:  But --

Interviewer:  And if by some quirk of luck you do find representation and land a publishing deal, are you willing to do what it takes to promote the book so it earns back whatever amount the publisher advances you?  Will you sit at that small table inside the tiny bookstore in a city whose name you can't pronounce on a Sunday afternoon for a book signing that nobody shows up for?  Can you do that?

Me:  (Silence)

Interviewer:  You look rather pale.  Do you feel okay?

Me:  I'm not sure.

Interviewer:  I'll be going now.  I've said what needed to be said.

Me:  I guess this means I didn't get the job.


InterviewerOn the contrary, I've read your book and I think there's potential there.  We'd like you to start today.


Me:  Why do I feel like there's a huge BUT coming?


Interviewer:  Once you make a commitment to us you'll basically have no free-time, constant pressure to produce, your work will become our work, and all of that for a salary of zero.


Me:  Can I think about it for a while?


Interviewer:  Isn't that what you've been doing for months now?

Me:  Thanks for coming by...I think.

Interviewer:  There is one more thing though.

Me:  Yes.

Interviewer:  Having an active imagination can be a bitch sometimes, don't you think?

Can a man of few words . . . write a book?

I posted this as my Facebook status this morning, but the more I thought about it the more I felt it deserved its own blog post.  As I contemplated what to write, I started envisioning what the publishing process would be like if it were more similar to applying for a job.  This is the way my mind works sometimes.

Interviewer:  Good morning Mr. Hammons.  Won't you please have a seat?

Me:  I'd rather stand.

Interviewer:  Hmmmmmm.  That would make me feel uncomfortable.  Let me change that from a request  to a command.  Have a seat.

Me:  Is that better?

Interviewer:  Much.  I see here on your application that you would like to be hired as a published writer.  Lets start by you telling me what qualifies you for this position?

Me:  Well . . . I've written two full-length novels, although only one of them is what I would consider publishable right now.

Interviewer:  Do you have any other qualifications?

Me:  Like what?

Interviewer:  Have you ever written a short story that has done well in a contest?  Possibly there's something in your education, a degree in literature?  Maybe you've worked in the publishing industry in some fashion?  Anything along those lines that demonstrate a propensity for writing?  Do you write a blog that's extremely popular?

Me: I do write a blog, but it's still new and I don't have that many followers yet.  Aside from that, I don't have any of those other things you mentioned.  But I do write a lot of instructional manuals where I work.  Does that help? 

Interviewer:  Not at all.  Did you base your novel on a topic that you alone are uniquely positioned to write about?

Me:  It's a murder mystery/thriller.

Interviewer:  Oh.  No help there.  I'm afraid I'm not seeing anything on your application that would even remotely suggest that you'd be successful as a published author.  To top it off, the results of the test you took when you arrived wasn't very favorable.

Me:  Are you talking about peeing in the cup?

Interviewer:  Ewwww...no.  I'm referring to the personality questionnaire you filled out.

Me:  What about it?

Interviewer:  Is that a banana?

Me: Yes, it is.  I didn't get any lunch today.  I also brought an apple, would you like it?

Interviewer:  No thank you.  Back to your personality test.  It basically paints you as being an introvert, lacking social skills and uncomfortable in group situations.

Me: (Chewing) So.

Interviewer:  That hardly constitutes the personality of someone able to tell a story in a manner that it keeps the readers hanging on every word.  I could see where just the dialogue alone would be a challenge for you.

Me: Dialogue is one of my strong points.

Interviewer:  I find that hard to imagine.

Me:  And that's why your not a writer.  For your information, there is very little correlation between social skills and the ability to write. Amazing writers such as J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, Thomas Pynchon, and Cormac McCarthy are known for being recluses.  You not hiring me to be a writer because I'm not outgoing enough is like not hiring a lumberjack to cut down tree's because he's a vegetarian.  One's got nothing to do with the other.  I'm insulted that you've judged me and made up your mind without even reading my material.  The book should speak for itself.

Interviewer:  I know.

Me:  You do?  Then why were you giving me such a hard time.

Interviewer:  I wasn't . . . you were.  This is your imagination.

Me:  Oh. 

The Hole in his Smile

We sometimes call our youngest son … Boo. As an infant he had a curious addiction to peek-a-boo games, laughing and giggling every time his mother or I would pop our head out from behind anything handy. His fascination for the silly along with that cute, endearing smile was something a parent could never grow tired of. At work on Monday mornings, before the coffee was brewed and the copier was warmed up, I would commonly find myself sitting at my desk enduring a bout of depression. I regretted not spending more time with our children over the weekend, I still do, and thinking about the smile that lit up Boo’s face when I did my best to startle him made it all the more painful.

When he was seven years old he lost his first tooth. It had been dangling tenuously for awhile, stubbornly hanging on by a single meaty thread like an apple in a tree waiting for a stiff wind to finally shake it loose and send it tumbling to the ground. I thought he was just being extremely patient, willing to let Mother Nature decide when it was time to fall out, until his sister opened his eyes. She informed him he needn’t wait for it to drop out, that he could pull it himself and collect the booty from the tooth fairy right away. You could see a light bulb come on in his head, so much so that I started worrying about his other healthy teeth. He disappeared into the bathroom and his mother and I smiled at each other, returning to watching the TV. Suddenly I heard a gasp from the other room and then the pitter patter of bare feet across the linoleum floors. It was out, he declared! He was so proud of his accomplishment that he marched around to everyone, showing off the tooth and the bloody hole it had emerged from. Afterwards, he spent a lot of time smiling at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. This was a big deal. When it was time for bed I watched as his mother gently wrapped the tooth in a piece of tissue and instructed him to place it under his pillow. When I turned the light out and said goodnight, he still had a smile on his face.

Hours later it came time for the obligatory tooth fairy pay-out. His mother and I had to think a little bit about how much to put under his pillow. We couldn’t remember how much our other two children had received for each of their teeth. How high had we set the bar? Did it matter? Absolutely, I told my wife, kids compare notes when it comes to things like this. In the end we decided on a crisp dollar bill. I imagined that children from privileged families probably received their first credit card this way. I was designated as the tooth fairy since the wife was going to bed to read. When it came time, I snuck into his room, stumbling several times over the booby traps he no doubt leaves for the bogeyman to trip over. I deftly made the exchange without stirring him, and quickly left.

Back in the living room, hunkered down in my throne (recliner), I noticed I still had the tissue with the tooth in my hand. Looking at it made me wonder what had happened to the other “first lost teeth” the tooth fairy had collected from our other children. I was certain my wife had them squirreled away somewhere, but then I realized she didn’t leave me any specific instructions with what to do with the tooth. That cascaded into a flood of other memories, plenty of reflection, and a little bit of worry.

Boo is our “bonus baby” and at times I’ve thought long and hard about how we keep things fresh for him (and us), having been through everything years before. It is so easy to slip into the “been there, done that” mode at times. It is not fair to him. He deserves all of the attention and fussing that a first born receives. But how do we remind ourselves to fight that temptation. Staring at the rolled up tissue in my hand I wondered if this was an example of us not treating him special enough. I thought about what I could do to make sure that wasn’t going to happen.

When Boo was staring at himself in the mirror, smiling, and again just before the light went out in his bedroom, I amusingly noticed that there was a hole in his smile now. A piece was missing. It now rested in the palm of my hand. On my way to bed that night I transferred it to a tiny pocket in my wallet.

From that day forward I’ve carried a piece of Boo’s smile with me. I think about it on Monday mornings, when I’m missing him more than usual.

It will always be the most valuable content my wallet can hold!

Oh . . . You’re One of Those

I think of a person as a complex crossword puzzle. Clues lead us to answers that reveal an individuals make-up and/or personality, and the puzzle answers are inter-connective and play off one another. In meeting someone new, the way to get to know who they are is to fill in the blank spaces on the puzzle by asking questions to figure out the clues. Pretty straight forward . . . right?

Except what really happens is when we uncover an answer to one of the clues, we immediately use that information to cheat. Let me illustrate. Number 10 across – who did you vote for in the last election? Now instead of filling in that answer and moving onto the next question, we automatically fill in answers to a lot of other spaces in the puzzle based upon assumptions we derived from the first answer. It’s similar to overlaying a pre-determined template. The fact that a good number of our assumed answers don’t fit the spaces in the puzzle doesn’t seem to matter. We simply don’t have the patience to go about the process the right way. We want short-cuts and easy answers. Who has that kind of time to devote to getting to know someone anyway? It’s also ironic that the person in question, the one you’re trying to figure out, doesn’t know the answer to some of the questions themselves. They’re still trying to figure it out.

Life is so much easier if we just use the template, because real people are chocked full of contradictions. I mean, how do you explain a man who is non-violent, but believes in the death penalty, or a woman who will donate hundreds of dollars to an on-line charity for the protection of abused animals, yet won’t give the change in her pocket to a homeless person she passes on the street? My wife likes to always tell me that there’s just as much grey in this world as there is black and white, but if that’s true then why isn’t that one of the choices on the ballot sheet?

You can probably tell I don’t like being labeled, and I have issues with people who do that. I won’t fit neatly into a box, and if you think I can then I’ll make an exception and apply a certain label to you.

Misguided.
 

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