Monday, July 16, 2012

On the road, writing, and next book in the works.

Every writer I've ever known, from a novelist to non-fiction writers to advertising copywriters to novelists. . . we all seem to ask the same question. One day it's early in January and that October publication deadline is months away.

Plenty of time.

So we relax, procrastinate a bit. We tell ourselves we're doing research, that we're recharging the batteries.

Then, one day, it's only a few months out and we're still on the first couple of paragraphs.

Of chapter one.

When I was in Madison Avenue, deadlines spurred some of my best work. The pressure made you reach deep down. You pulled out brilliant headlines and stunning body copy. At least sometimes, And sometimes, you ended up jotting down pure junk and your creative director literally eviscerated you.

I guess the point is, we never pay (enough) attention to time.

Been on the road with some book signings, as of most recent, to Natchitoches, Louisiana, a delightful southern town where a lot of Steel Magnolias was filmed.

I flew in on a Friday evening as the local Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) chapter was hosting a fly-in that weekend. Followed a beautiful Stearman in, and after getting everything secured, it was time for a group picture. I'm on the left with my hands in my pockets.

The following day, we had a cookout in the main hangar and I signed quite a few books and made a lot of new friends. Afterward, it was time for a picture with Mrs. Georgia Hilton in front of my airplane. Georgia is a radio talent, organizer, wife, mom and classic Southern Belle in every sense of the word. Her husband, Mike, and I are two of a kind--guns and airplanes.

We're having another book signing on Saturday, July 21 at Fort Worth Meacham Airport at the Veterans Memorial Museum. Festivities will begin around 1000. It's also a fly-in and organizers are asking everyone who plans to fly in to be parked and secured by 0930. Transportation will be provided from the ramp to the museum.

* * * * *

I'm happy to report that the second book, False Gods is well under way. Most of the characters will return, but False Gods is not a sequel to Above Reproach. Instead, this book takes on the three "false gods" or our time, which I see to be Big Government, Big Business and Wall Street.

Here is a sneak preview of the opening scene from False Gods.

She’d never killed anyone before, but this wasn’t going to be just anyone.

Peering out of the stolen taxi cab’s windshield, Lynnette Trang tightened her grip around the steering wheel. Downtown Chicago was full of cops, on foot and in cars, and each time a police officer got anywhere near, her anxiety level rose. Any misgivings about what she had carefully planned during the preceding days were gone. Next to her in the bench seat of the ancient Crown Victoria was a picture, still in its frame. In the picture, Lynnette was clutching the arm of her husband and standing in front of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. In between the smiling couple was a teenage girl, their daughter. It was a rare vacation photo because such times had been scarce for this first generation American family whose parents had fled Vietnam after Saigon fell during the previous century.

A tear made its way out of Trang’s eye as she recalled the memory of their daughter, then the more recent memory of her husband. Their ashes set in an ornamental urn above the fireplace mantel. The daughter had become sick and her husband’s employer had slashed the health benefits plan at the giant retail pharmacy where he worked as a number two assistant manager. Along with slashing the benefits, the employer had passed along the rising cost of health care premiums to all the employees. The Trangs had tried desperately to find the money to treat their daughter’s cervical cancer, but even in the generous Vietnamese community in which they lived, the economy had caused all to suffer and there simply was no extra money to be had. There had been treatments, but not enough. There were specialists in Dallas and Rochester, Minnesota, but the Trangs had no way of getting there. Skyrocketing fuel prices had cut the Angel Flight pilot squadrons in half and there was a long waiting list just to get on the roster.

It was an unseasonably cold September day when their daughter succumbed to the cancer, at just sixteen years of age. So pretty, so smart, so full of life and promise and now she was dead. Lynette’s husband took it the hardest, feeling he had failed as a father, husband and man in not being able to provide for his daughter. But then, just ten months after her death, he found himself downsized—laid off—from the giant retail pharmacy convenience store that was, had been, his employer. He had worked for the company for over twenty years, starting as a simple cashier. When the company decided to restructure in order to pay more attention to Wall Street and their shareholders rather than their employees, raises became either insulting or non-existent. That first year of restructuring saw Trang getting a raise of less than four cents per hour. His healthcare premiums rose over seventy-five percent and his state income taxes also went up. Fuel and food costs were up. Everything was up except for his take home pay. And then came the day he was told the company no longer had a place for him.

He’d called his wife and told her the news, then wandered downtown Chicago in a daze. He missed his daughter, he’d let down his wife, he had no more money and he had run out of hope. When he saw a Chicago Transit Authority bus speeding up to beat the light at Michigan and Superior, without thinking, he simply stepped out in front of it.

* * *

Andrew Sterns was having a great day. He’d fled his headquarters corner office for a rare lunch in solitude down on the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago. His national retail pharmacy’s stocks were up by over ten percent, the board of directors had approved another thirty percent raise in salary for him, and this year’s cash bonus promised to top fifteen-million dollars. Sterns had finagled the rules and inserted a voting board member, whom he paid under the table to be the deciding vote on matters of personal and financial interest to himself. It was a rarely exercised option in the company’s charter and Sterns was the first CEO in the company’s history to use it. Throwing down his linen napkin and pushing himself away from the eighty-five dollar lunch, he stood up and stretched.

The media had beaten hell out of him for his ruthless slashing of employees and benefits, but he no longer cared. He was now wealthy beyond any and all dreams he ever had—and was about to get even more wealthy. The latest round of layoffs and salary reductions were putting over seventy-five million dollars back into the general labor and compensation budget, of which he would take almost five percent in the form of an additional cash salary. Even better, he almost giggled to himself, the new budget restructuring for his store and pharmacy managers eliminated almost half of their bonuses and transferred the difference into the senior executives’ bonus pool. Imagine that, he marveled. You get a raise for slashing other people’s raises and a bigger bonus for raping other workers’ bonuses! Only on Wall Street.

It felt good to be alone and without any ass-kissing minions around. Only one person in the entire company knew where he was, and that was his secretary. Sterns pulled out his cell phone and gave her a quick call, assuring her that he was about to hail his driver and make the long trek back to the northern suburbs where there was work to be done. Efficient as always, Lori Trang promised to have all his messages waiting for him and reminded him of an operations meeting in the middle of the afternoon. Suppressing a grumble, Sterns assured her he would make it.

* * *

The text that appeared on Lynette Trang’s phone was simple: Be on lookout. He is leaving at any minute.

* * *

Donald Jackson took one last swig from the water bottle and tossed it in the trash. Seeing the CEO of his former employer leave the posh restaurant, Jackson fell in stride with the rest of the early afternoon pedestrian traffic.

Around the corner, Sterns’ driver read the text on his phone with a puzzled expression. Park across the street, facing opposite direction. Normally his boss didn’t like to walk a single extra step he didn’t have to unless it was on the treadmill at the Skyline Executive Athletic and Fitness Club. Ignoring the honks of protest, the driver swung the limousine in a wide arc across the six lanes of traffic, pointing east instead of west. With the car in park, he sat back and waited.

* * *

Sterns looked around in annoyance. He’d told his driver to meet him curbside. Hearing a honking, the CEO looked around and saw his car parked across Michigan Avenue from where he was now standing. Idiot! Suppressing a curse, he began to step off the curb when a blaring horn from a CTA bus caused him to jump back. The driver of the bus glared at the executive and pulled over to let off passengers. Sterns walked a few paces back and waited for traffic to clear. He was still steaming about his driver being parked across the street when he felt someone shove him off the curb into the street.

* * *

Lynette Trang was already accelerating as fast as the Crown Victoria could go when she saw Sterns stumble and almost fall, catching himself on the back of the looming Chicago Transit Authority bus, whose drivers and passengers were unaware of the drama unfolding behind them.

* * *

“Hey, watch out, asshole!” the CEO snapped, putting a hand on the back of the dirty CTA bus and turning around to see who had pushed him off the curb. As he turned to face behind him, he saw an approaching yellow taxi cab. It seemed to be moving way too fast towards him for as close as it—

* * *

Trang saw the Stern’s eyes narrow, then open wide in fear. A split second later as the front bumper and grill of the stolen taxi crushed Sterns’ pelvis and midsection against the ten-ton bus, his body seem to bend and almost break and she saw his bulging eyes filled with terror only scant inches from her own on the outside of the now cracked and spider-webbed windshield. With no small degree of satisfaction, she watched the man gasp in agony, trying to scream but unable, then collapse on the hood, his intestines and spinal column crushed beyond any hope of repair.

Around her, people were screaming in horror while others had their cell phones out and were taking pictures. The bus driver, having felt the jarring impact, hit the emergency panic button to summon the police and emergency personnel and turned to check on her now panicked passengers. The limo driver across the street jumped out of the car and weaved his way through the traffic which was unaware that anything amiss had just occurred. Donald Jackson walked by the scene, and upon seeing his former employer’s CEO undoubtedly deceased, smiled in grim satisfaction and continued walking west on Michigan Avenue, checking his watch. He had a job interview in another half-hour. Like so many others, after years of employment with the CEO’s company, he’d been downsized as part of the restructuring plan.

Inside the stolen taxi, Lynette Trang’s expression remained neutral. She looked down at the family portrait on the seat, and with tender gentleness, held it up for one last kiss. Then she reached inside her purse for the cheap .38 Special revolver she’d bought off a street thug—handguns were illegal in Chicago—and placed the muzzle in her mouth, then squeezed the trigger.

# # #

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