Authors and Numbers

Downtown Chicago Illinois Nov05 stb 2461

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Yesterday, I went to an discussion-and-book-signing event at Summit Executive Centre (www.summitchicago.com)  for author Norb Vonnegut (www.norbvonnegut.com), who is releasing his second financial thriller, The Gods of Greenwich.  I’d finished my business meetings early and headed over to the event, which gave me some uninterrupted time to talk with Norb, who had been a stock broker in New York with several name-brand companies before starting his second act as a full-time author.  His is an inspiring transition, especially his ability to use the “characters” from his business life as fodder for his novels.

After a pleasant chat with Norb and a sincere agreement to keep in touch on writing matters, I spotted Ginger across the room.  Of all the people who read my blog, Ginger is seemingly one of the most supportive via “liking” and posting comments.  “One of my favorite things about your blog is how you write about the spiritual journey you are on,” she commented to my utter relief (since you never really know what people might say about your inner thoughts and public posts).  Then Ginger told me about numbers — she sees the same numbers all the time.  She grew up in a house number 212 and finds that she sees 212 all the time.  “What do you think it means?” she asked, after sharing that her father had passed away some time before.

I wanted to say that it means whatever you wish it to mean, when out popped, “I think it is your father’s way of saying, keep going, keep the faith.  I don’t think every sign is a watershed, maybe just a little encouragement so you know someone is out there and on your side.”  Ginger agreed and it was nice to see eye to eye and for the time we talked, soul to soul.

It me think about the numbers I see — 519 and 601.  My address growing up was 519.  The number 601 is the first three numbers in my talent agent‘s phone number.  Maybe like Ginger, the numbers I see are my own encouragement — that my parents who’ve passed are giving me subtle encouragement to keep telling my story (519) by using my talents (601).  I’m not sure if that’s the right interpretation but it feels that way.  It’s a lot like finding pennies.

What numbers are in your life?

The Power of Validation

Yesterday my sister Kathleen, a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, won the coveted and prestigious Pulitzer Prize for reportinghttp://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/120091754.html).  It was a triumph on many levels and today when we talked, the conversation turned to the power of validation.  Early in her reporting career, she was told she didn’t have the chops to be a reporter.  It was a comment that stayed with her.  I remember some of her early struggles to get a toe-hold in this competitive field, all of which made her award more tender and meaningful to me.  We laughed about how it only took her 20 years to be an overnight success. 

While the award is wonderful and hopefully opens doors for Kathleen, she is the same sister I’ve always known.  We joked about that as well.  She was the prototypical bohemian college student who wore her hair in cornrows and shopped at Ragstock on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin.  I was the preppy overachiever who joined all the clubs.  Yet she was determined (we might have called it stubborn back in the day), smart and sassy then and is now. 

But there is something about getting the professional validation that the person knew was there all along.  Suddenly people pay attention and as Kathleen said to me, “They listen now.” 

I ain’t no Pulitzer Prize winner to be sure but I get “validation” in a way I didn’t anticipate from writing this blog and working (albeit slowly) on my book.  None of the stories I’ve told about myself are revelations to me.  I feel like I’ve told these same yarns for years to different people in different ways at different times.  Compiled together they have a power that they didn’t have separately and spoken stories.  “I love reading your blog,” or “This must be cathartic for you,” or “I never knew you felt that way” or “Do you think you need therapy?” — are all variations of comments I’ve received and appreciated. 

What I’ve learned is that there is a power in compilation, in written synthesis, in telling personal truths that are essentially, variations on the same personal truths that everyone thinks about, feels or chooses not to think about.  It’s more enjoyable than I might have thought and the little blog posts here and there motivate me to continue on in what is the somewhat laborious process of taking life’s story and turning it into readable literary arc.

Secrets of First-Class Flyers

A newer model American Airlines Airbus A300-60...

Returning from some work in New York, the client booked me and my colleague Mr. B in First Class on American Airlines for the return flight to Chicago.  Considering I ended up in the last row (the one that doesn’t recline might I add) on the outbound flight on United, I felt ridiculously justified in my First Class seat.  As the flight prepared for take-off, the flight attendants repeatedly called for Ms. D to report for her upgrade to First Class.  How odd, I thought.  This must be a really important person since airlines typically leave lesser-level fliers (even those with basic status like me) back in coach. 

In the moments before Ms. D arrived to her seat, I imagined she was a harried global traveler, likely a literary agent negotiating deals around the world.  When she did sit down, I noticed her casual clothes (jeans) and stylish red briefcase bag.  As is my usual practice on airplanes, I chose not to ask her if my intuitive sense was correct — that is, I don’t like to talk on airplanes.  Neither apparently did she and we settled into the flight in blissful silence.

Midway through he flight however, I noticed that my colleague Mr. B in the seats directly behind us was still yapping on and on to his seatmate in his normal animated fashion.  That was when Ms. D casually remarked to me that the gentlemen behind us were quite the conversationalists.  I sheepishly admitted to Mr. B being my colleague, explaining that he had previously hosted a talk-show for many years and well, old habits die-hard.

Our conversation could have ended there with a little laugh shared between us.  Yet we continued on.  After exchanging pleasantries and the like, I shared with her my little reverie about what she might do for a living and asked if she indeed was of the literary ilk.  The short answer was no.  Ms. D. was in fact a super-powered IT executive for a global corporation who traveled the world managing a large staff and seemingly even larger responsibilities.  She traveled 200,000 or more miles a year, which explained the airline’s desire to re-seat her in First Class.  Then, quietly she told me, “It’s funny you mention writing because I do write a little.”  There unfolded the fact that every year she conducts a short-story contest with her family.  They self-impose a 30-day deadline and then share with each other the fruits of their creative efforts.  She had other writing stories as well, which simply made me happy to hear.  Ms. D. was, after all, a writer at heart.

It made me wonder:  Does everyone have a secret desire to write?   Or, on the same note, does everyone have a secret aspiration?

When I floated this thought to K, my literary writing coach, she explained, “Most people who want to write aren’t sure how to do it and that’s what stops them from writing.”

Do you think it’s true?  Do we all house a secret writer within us? Or, a secret aspiration?   I’d be grateful if you could share your story.

Waiting for Critique

In the memoir genre, about 70,000 words forms a standard book.  As I cruised past 40,000 words on my project, I thought about the haphazard content I’d typed in double-spaced format.  It was likely time for a professional review and I turned to my cousin Cindy in Los Angeles, who had mentioned she had some writing contacts if I were ever in the market for them.  Cindy dutifully sent along “M”‘s name and put us in touch. As it turns out, M had an intimidating writing pedigree, schooled at a well-known college under the tutelage of a renowned American author, as well as having several published titles to her name.  When I laid out my story, an amazing thing happened.  M told me that she too had been burned at a young age, a casualty of trying to be cool by smoking in a closet.  “Unless I wear a short sleeve top, no one notices,” she said referencing the burns on her arm.  What are the chances that I’d so quickly find a writing professional who would understand the very personal nature of burns?  As luck would have it, M’s plate was full and she did not have time to serve as my critique professional.  Instead, she put me in touch with her similarly pedigreed writing friend “K”. Eagerly I contacted K, who did not have a burn injury to share but rather a witty life story of life as an outsider of sorts in southern Indiana.  More importantly, she had time at hand.  After some hand-wringing, I looked over my project, divided it into 3 parts, packaged up Part I as ready fir review, closed my eyes and hit the “send” button.  And now I wait.  Wondering if my book, or at least the initial piece of it, might pass professional muster,  might have story enough to be told that it has a literary life.  And I wait.

Many People Write About Burns

Cover of "The Burn Journals"

Cover of The Burn Journals

If you poke around, you’ll see (as I have) that many people write about burns. Recently I finished Burned: A Memoir (www.louisenayer.com), and was fascinated by this book because it describes the effect of a mother’s burn on her daughter. I contacted Louise to ask her some questions about why she wrote the book and we’ve developed a communication of sorts. Other books I need to explore include Burned But Not Broken (www.michaeljnolte.com), Nothing Left to Burn (www.jayvarner.com) and The Burn Journals (www.burnjournals.com).

I’m not sure if the world needs another burn memoir but I still want to publish mine and I realize even from this handful of books that my story is completely different than these. Every burn it seems is unique.