Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Intriguing Russia

Why do I find Russia so intriguing?



I loved Icon but Forsyth (here) . . .could be my new favorite book. The problem is that my old favorite book was Red Storm Rising (here) . . . an amazing book about war with Russia.

Why do I love Russia and Russian Wars so much? I can tell you now . . . for both Red Storm Rising and Icon the reason I liked those battles in the books was that they featured tanks. I don't even like tanks. I was in the infantry. We practiced with tanks and I hated them. We got to ride and drive one once . . . thought it was ridiculous. We even took a group picture while riding on one in the desert. Thought it was silly when I took it . . . still think it's silly. My colleagues didn't, but I did. I felt constricted and cumbersome. So why do I like tanks when I read about them in a fictional war with Russia? Who knows.

The book I'm reading now is the same. Command Authority. It's not as good as those other two, but wow. . . Russia is intriguing.

The flag of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics flew high above the Kremlin in a rain shower, a red-and-gold banner waving under a gray sky. The young captain took in the imagery from the backseat of the taxi as it rolled through Red Square. 

The sight of the flag over the seat of power of the largest country in the world jolted the captain with pride, although Moscow would never feel like home to him. He was Russian, but he’d spent the past several years fighting in Afghanistan, and the only Soviet flags he’d seen there had been on the uniforms of the men around him. 

His taxi let him out just two blocks from the square, on the north side of the massive GUM department store. He double-checked the address on the drab office building in front of him, paid his fare, and then stepped out into the afternoon rain. 

The building’s lobby was small and plain; a lone security man eyed him as he tucked his hat under his arm and climbed a narrow staircase that led to an unmarked door on the first floor. 

Here the captain paused, brushed wrinkles out of his uniform, and ran his hand over his rows of medals to make certain they were perfectly straight. 

Only when he was ready did he knock on the door. 

“Vkhodi!” Come in! 

The young captain entered the small office and shut the door behind him. With his hat in his hand, he stepped in front of the one desk in the room, and he snapped to attention. 

“Captain Roman Romanovich Talanov, reporting as ordered.”

Command Authority - Clancy, Tom.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Not an Excuse

This should not be taken as an excuse but it is just something I've noticed.

As I've mentioned several times were going through a merger at work (see more here). We have a culture clash going on between two types of people. The type I come from are innovators, they are people that push the envelope and try new things easily and aggressively. The other group we are merging with is more of a stay in your lane type of group. They like to keep to themselves. They like to do what they've done the same way every time.

(actual picture from work . . . that's me in the light blue)

This stay in your lane concept can be good because it makes for easily repeatable processes that are expected and understood. The problem is it leaves no room for trying something new or doing something different or better.

Today I was talking to a young lady who should've been on the innovation side. But the more I told her about this dream I have for training the more she pooh-poohed it. Every single argument I had she countered with another argument about how it wouldn't work, how it was too hard, how I shouldn't do it. It got to a point until I was out of arguments and so was she. Her final argument was, "it's just all so modern." I thought that was a pretty crummy way to end an argument and it doesn't really end it at all. Modern? Really?

So often I find that I know the expected argument from everyone from the other culture. Their arguments will always be well that's not the way we've done it . . .  it never works . . . we tried it once and it didn't work . . .  or no one's going to use all of that.

No this is not another post about mergers and acquisition's or about culture clashes. This is a post about why I'm having a hard time writing. After this 30 minute argument/conversation about my training dream I retreated back to my desk and realized I was tired. This was a moment when I had booked some time just to write and instead of writing I felt exhausted. I realized that for the last few months I've been more and more exhausted for this very reason. Not physical exhaustion . . . no, that comes from  my commute. This is mental and spiritual fatigue and exhaustion. It comes from always having to argue every single little point.

At my old company before we merged if you had an idea to push you talk to some people about it they would love the idea they would help you push it out there, add their insight then adjust, adapt and make it happen. No argument necessary.

Now, it seems everything from good morning to good night is an argument. Worst of all, as I wrote, I find that it's taking a toll on my writing.

But guess what? I'm not gonna give up on that training dream . . . and I'm certainty never going to give up on my writing. If anything by identifying the problem now, I can work to solve and work around it. Not only can I work around that young lady or find better arguments to convince her of my training dreams capabilities, now I also know that it's not worth the exhaustion to sacrifice my writing life. Or perhaps it means I should schedule around work in such a way that my ride in life is not affected.

So like I said it's not an excuse but at least I've identified the problem and I can work around.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Focused Thoughts

Although I did not particularly like On Writing by Stephen King (see here) I did get a few nuggets of valuable information from us.



One of the better tips I got was from some simple questions that King asked; if you aren't writing? What are you doing to advance your writing career or your writing in general. If you aren't reading about writing, what are you doing to become a better writer? If you aren't thinking about your writing, why not? What are you doing to become a better writer or make your writing better.

I may have mentioned once or twice before and this venue that I now have an extremely long commute every day. I have to wake up at 5:30 to commute to the other side of town, an hour long trip, and then I have at least another hour to get home. This is a lot of downtime to listen to books on tape, I suppose I should call it "Audible" now, to think about things, usually work, and to generally agonize about the day.

Lately I have been trying to train my mind to focus on my writing thanks to King. I have found it to be wonderfully productive not for actually writing but for providing some background and deepness to my writing, such as may exist there at all. 

Just the other day I was on my commute when I started to think about the history of one of my main characters and his motivation that led him to do certain things. All of a sudden I was able to craft a far deeper and richer history for that main character and I look forward to putting it into the novel.

Instead of having wasted time I'm hoping to produce some valuable time for my writing. By that same token I also hoping to find a better voice to text dictation app that will allow me to actually write my novel as I drive. That still seems to be a far distant future.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

After Shock

I lost a lot more than I realize when my computer got stolen.

At that time I was working on a couple of stories that I was really enjoying. I wouldn't have called one of them literary fiction but it wasn't quite romance either it was something in between with a little bit a thriller involved. I'm not sure what I would call it but it sure was fun to write. It's all gone now. I was probably up to 30,000 or 40,000 words on it and now I can't find even one word.

I had another story I was working on about that same time. All of it's gone now. I went upstairs yesterday to work on the first one. Much to my surprise I couldn't find any of it anywhere. Not on my external hard drive's not on my cloud drives nothing. That's when I realized it must've been in my laptop that got stolen.

It would be sad except I wonder if maybe I'll ever see that story in print somewhere else. I wonder if the burglar took the laptop opened it up found my stories and is now working assiduously to finish it off and get it published. How awesome would that be. A best seller gets to market I read it and realize it's mine. I wouldn't even be mad.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Perfection Delayed

Today I found myself telling someone I work with: "perfection will not be a part of our job description for a while."

We are going to a merger with my company. My old company I felt like we were very innovative and we were constantly moving in the right direction very fast. Swimming forward.


The company we merged with I feel like it was only treading water. Not only that, I feel like they didn't want to swim forward. Not only is there a culture shock but there is a work product shock.

My old coworkers and I are very used to moving forward quickly and efficiently. Our new coworkers are not used to that. They are more guarded, afraid of decisiveness, more risk averse. When you combine all of that with the fact that there's a culture shock… I told my coworker don't expect the perfection we are used to for a very long time.

What does this have to do with writing? Whenever I write novels I have to constantly remind myself not to expect perfection. Writing novels is an extremely arduous painstaking task. You've heard the idiom most of writing is rewriting. I would like to amend that idiom to say most draft a rough draft and their crap.

Novels take a very long time to write. I have yet to write one in less than three years. The other day when I was speaking to my father-in-law, a big wig with Marathon Oil, about our merger he said, "buckle up in two or three years you'll be back to where you started." That really hit me what he said. I liked where we were before the merger. It's hard to think about waiting to were three years to be back to that place. It's very similar to when I edit my final draft of an hour compared to when I write the rough draft. I three-year wait. 

If nothing else my writing life may have prepared me for my merger life. And I suppose that's a good thing.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Short Story Monday Again

Time to post another short story. I started this little, now-blossoming tradition two weeks ago (see here) and three weeks back (here). So here's a snippet for one I wrote in 2010 and a link if you want to read more.

Trivial Concerns

Laura followed her husband Tony out the door into the grey street. The city fit her mood. A nagging, discordant feeling had taken root in the pit of her stomach years ago, just about the time, Michael, their youngest child, moved out. That nagging had blossomed into doubt these past few days in New York. Usually a dull, low throb, it flared up into a fire-ball after their latest argument in their hotel room just a few minutes ago.
Ostensibly they came to New York for her nephew’s wedding, but there was another reason for the trip. The therapist recommended it. A vehicle to spark their love life. A chance to rediscover what had been lost through the years. Something to help them rediscover the couple they used to be. Before, she’d been excited by the prospects. Now, as she trudged down the icy sidewalk behind Tony, Laura felt lost.
The therapist made it sound so simple. They changed over the years. Things they loved about each another when they met were masked by the presence of their children. The children were gone and their personalities were uncovered again. It happened to millions of couples. The empty nest syndrome. It was just a matter of finding that person they loved. What she failed to mention was the number of couples who split up when they couldn’t remember what they had loved about their spouse. Laura realized that it wasn’t going to be as easy as the therapist made it sound. Instead she was more and more convinced that it was over. It was impossible for her to love Tony like she used to. This New York trip, instead of helping Laura find the Tony she once love, convinced her that Tony was completely different.

For the rest of this story . . . click (here).

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Writing Moods

I commonly talk about my moods like a sine curve . . . specifically I would be the red one below:


I have my ups and downs but in general they are smoothed out and most importantly even the low points, the nadirs, do not go too far below the threshold of unhappiness and certainly never hit despair. I'm sure there are folks out there who tend to go up and down well below that threshold, thankfully, I'm the type of person who is more generally happy than sad, but still have my ups and downs.

I think my writing moods are also similar to the red curve but that threshold between writing and not writing is higher rather than lower.


The area above the blue horizontal line would represent when I'm in a writing mood. The area below is when it is harder to write. Sadly, I think for me, those times when I want to write write write are few and far between. I have to force myself to write for the most part, and in general it's not fun.

The times when I find I write the most are when I am travelling. I wonder if I've forced my writing life to conform with my working life, where I spend time in airports and on planes, or have I picked a career that helps me work out my writing life.

Regardless, the answer I think for now is that I've got to get traveling again, and soon. Thank goodness I'm flying to New Jersey next week. Should force me to write quite a bit.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Comeback to Comback

I just finished reading come back by Dick Francis. Are used to think I had read every single Dick Francis books there was, but now I see there are a few out there I'll be there forgotten or I have not read. Truthfully I think that I've just forgotten them. I believe if I did read come back I read it when I was 16. That's 25 years ago. It's not remarkable think I may have forgotten it.


What's even sadder is that it's a completely forgettable book. That being said it was incredibly inspirational. One of the things I love about reading Dick Francis book is that I feel like I can go and do it better or just as good at the very least. While reading the last couple of books by him that I read I sell myself putting the book down running upstairs to my study and starting to knock out looks of my own. I don't know what it is but I feel like I can write just as well as he can. No I consider that a good thing he inspires me to write.

It was not that good a bug but it was decent, solid, well that written and worthwhile. There were a few too many characters to keep up with. The main character was the same main character that's in everything go Dick Francis book. The ending came way too soon. The romance was too superficial. One would think I didn't enjoy it, but I enjoyed it immensely.

 Now I'm on to a commitment book. One of those books I'm going to read and commit myself to not because I want to read it because I feel like I should. War and peace by Leo Tolstoy. I am Magent you will not hear a review from me quite a while. That's a solid chunk of book.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Show Don't Tell

At the end of last week's blog post I wrote the phrase, "are we showing them love . . ." This post will be about the writing technique that so many writers know, "Show don't tell."



I am accused often of being too analytical, I dwell on things too much, I re-read, agonize and over think things, usually things that don't matter. I used to live next to a craftsman and tinkerer. He could sit at his car all day and slowly tinker on it and eventually make it perfect and a work of art. I am not that guy. I am a forward mover. I'll move on and deal with the mess after. Forward movement is my middle name, but I'll also agonize afterward over things said, done, written and seen.

Lately I wrote the phrase, "I should have told you how much you meant to me," as a part of a character I'm writing for a short story.

This is the character I've been modeling for all these weeks.

Naturally, and if you've read these posts lately, I disagree. It goes back to writing technique. Show don't tell. It's more important to show you love someone than just to tell them.

How are you showing that person that you love them. That's the counter argument that the other character answers back with. Have you gone out your way? Have you racheted me up on the ole priority list? In what ways have you shown me that you love me?

Telling isn't always enough, particularly in writing. Showing should be the standard if you want to get the point across.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

How Do You Spell "Love"

Another post on characters I'm building for my next novel.

A crisis point in my marriage occurred a few months ago that has come full circle lately. I was on my way home from a business trip and gave a call to the wife to say "good morning" and "I'm about to get on a plane." Just a quick call. Sadly, I called at the wrong time and basically the wifey didn't have time to talk and blew me off and hung up on me. Fireworks. The problem was that those fireworks had to wait until after a three hour flight and a one hour drive home to be resolved. The fireworks only got worse with age.



What's the point?

A while back I heard and had the chance to use the adage, "Love is spelled, T-I-M-E." If you want someone to feel loved and needed you should give them them gift of time. Make that person higher in the priority list than other things. If you don't at the very least make time for that person, they're going to get the message that they don't matter in your life.

I think about vendors and clients at work. Clients get an immediate call back. I need them to realize they are worth my time. They are high on the priority list. Not all vendors get a call back. If I don't call a vendor back, if I don't return their email, it is a way of saying "you are so low on my priority list, I really don't care if you stay or not, and truthfully, if you don't write back it might make my life easier." How do I know this? Because as a vendor myself, I get blown off and I get the message too.

At the point of those fireworks with my wife, she was showing me that I was not as important to her as all the other hoi polloi in her life. At the time of that call she was thinking about work. That tells me that her work was more important than I was. This came up in the fireworks. I remember telling her that her company won't be there when she's 70, whereas I, her husband will be. Which should be given the gift of her time and being higher up on her priority list.

Guess what's gone from our lives now. Her job. The company is gone. It's not an "I told you so" moment, instead I see it as a lesson to both of us to not miss the forest for the trees. Know what's important in your life and understand what your action may be saying and how they are interpreted.

Should there be more important things in our lives than our primary relationships? Of course. Business calls come up. Other things happen that must be addressed. But are we showing those we care about that they are high on our priority lists? Are we showing them love through time? That's the question we should always ask ourselves.

Monday, January 1, 2018

An Old One

Time to post another short story. I started this little, now-blossoming tradition two weeks ago (see here). So here's a snippet for one I wrote in 2003 and a link if you want to read more.

Ralph's New Wife
By Dick Hannah
It’s hotter than usual in town today, and I’ve always found that people stray pretty far away from the ordinarily when it gets hot. Ordinarily I would not be sitting on a little park bench in Newton watching for a woman I don’t know. Ordinarily I would have told my ex-wife and her screwball cousin to go do their own damn spy work and leave me out of it. Ordinarily I would have worn my hat and white shirt, not my blue shirt with no hat at all, but it’s hot and things are out of the ordinary.
A small tow headed boy with shoes that look three sizes too big for him climbs up on the bench next to me. His actions are resolute and determined and once up on the bench he stares at me curiously. I try not to notice him but I can sense his stare and realize it is only a matter of time before he breaks the silence.
“Howdy mister.” Says the tinny voice belonging to the boy.
“Yep.” I say slowly not wanting to encourage him.
“Whatcha looking at?” He asks following my gaze across the street.
“That boutique.” I say nodding.
“What’s a boutique?”
“That’s a boutique.” I nod again.
“You mean the one with all the old women talking and laughing inside?”
“That’s the one.”
“My mom goes there sometimes, but she calls it a sl-on.”

For the rest of this story . . . click (here)

Friday, December 29, 2017

Perspective

Had the opportunity to think about perspective the other night.



Every year for Thanksgiving when my family gets together we draw names from a hat. The person's name that we draw is then our "person" for Christmas night. On Christmas night the entire family gets together and we present our "person" a gift using an original poem (see below), a skit or a re-mastered and re-lyricked song. I usually do the poem, although there have been cases where I chose singing.

I remember one friend of the family when they heard about this said, "Oh, that's so much fun. You are so lucky that you get to do that!"

Lucky if you like singing and dancing and skits. I do not. I do not consider myself lucky. After twenty years of doing it, I think we've seen my swan song (again, see the poem below . . . my last).

One thing I noticed this year, thanks to some perspective gleaned from someone else in my family, was that most everyone did their song, dance, or poem about their "person." One person didn't. It was a stunner to perceive, and all of a sudden it was like blinders were thrown open.

I won't bore you with any specifics, except to tell you that I find it interesting that one person can open your eyes to so much that you've been missing throughout the years. I think we naturally tend to enjoy the blinders on our eyes, it's only when they are forced off that we notice the previously rose colored world aint so rosey.

Nevertheless, my poem to my "person", my Aunt Meg, is below.

So I guess it's my turn to stand up and speak
A poem about my person to present these gifts so unique
 
These presents you can see are huge, magnificent, stupendous
And like her, these gifts although great, are not at all pretentious
 
Two packages from work, from vendors, towers that I've regifted
All the billing girls at work will be quite upset that I lifted
 
I won’t sit here and attempt be cagey about my person
We can all agree that the longer I go the more these rhymes worsen
 
So I’ll only say this woman has meant a lot to me throughout the years
Shes a mom, grandma, aunt, "Elfin Glitzer" and "Sex God and Me" pioneer
 
Yes, Aunt Meg it's time for me to give back to you
A hard thing to do because generosity you have never eschewed
 
As her nephew from her I’ve gotten a lot
Old belts left at her house, underwear and socks
 
But more than those she and and Susan both gave me their time
Movies and lunches, for an awkward teenager all that was fine
 
Parties before heading off to Europe, and for marriage she has been a part of those show casies
She was even a half financier of these boots, twenty year old Lucheses
 
And three years ago she gave me this amazing camel hair blazer
With it on I'm as dapper as a crane, you pick, either Niles or Frazer
 
There is not gift by which I can properly express
Everything you've meant to me and help me be a success
 
Aunt Meg, in terms of best aunt, the race is down to you and Aunt Sue,
I hope you have a merry Christmas and a happy new year too

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

ROI

ROI . . . Return On Investment is my blog post today. It's a bit of a follow up to the change management (here) and task condition standard (here) posts from a couple of days ago. This one is about Return on Investment.
A loyal work friend blog reader, my co-worker Betsy S, pointed out a problem in my reasoning and logic. In my post on remembering my father's death and controversy at work I wrote (here) that adapt and overcome is the mantra I follow. A never quit attitude. A few days later I wrote here that I was giving up on a book (here), Rob Sinclair's Dance with the Enemy.

This co-worker, loves to rib me. She is the reason for my success at work lately and I hope I'm the reason for hers, so naturally we like to kid. She wanted to know, "Why did I quit "dancing," when I had just written that I never quit." Took me a second to understand she was referring to quitting Dance with the Enemy, but for that whole morning it was a topic.

I think I'd boil it down to ROI. What am I getting out of Dance with the Enemy for the amount of time, money, effort what have you that I am putting into it. In this case, I was expending my time. It's a valuable commodity and in my world I believe that time can be monetized, which makes it even more valuable. The government holds my time hostage in terms of taxes I have to pay. I pay them through my work, my time spent at work. It takes more than 4 months to reach tax freedom day (April 24th) . . . that's a lot of time. I can't spend that time on bad books. What I was getting out of that book was not worth the investment.

I remember listening to a radio psychologist the other day talk about ROI for men. He described for an hour how it's only men who have this philosophy toward all of life, not just finances and money. Men look at ROI for relationships, for things they do around the house, towards romance and family outings. Everything for men is based on ROI. Women not so much. He pointed to the "Honey Do List" as a proof. There can be a long list of things that the wife wants the husband to do. She expects them all done eventually. For the man there's an ROI assigned to each of the tasks. It can change throughout the day, and those things with the greater ROI are higher up on the list. Those tasks with no ROI, may never get done. This is where the differences between the male and the female mind kicks in and makes problems for the couple.

What's the point? And more specifically how does it deal with writing and this blog?

Well it's a follow up from a reader (Hi Betsy S!) and it helps me to put myself into other peoples positions. Character Modeling again. One of the great things about writing is that as a writer I get to try and put myself into my characters shoes and see how they are thinking and create their motivation. It's insightful. Already I've built a main character dedicated to task condition and standard and I betcha he'll be a devotee of ROI as well. Everything that the character does will have to have some return on his time investment or he won't do it.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Running Back to an Old Standby

I'm reading Comeback, by Dick Francis, I think "again." I feel certain as a teenager I read this one. I must have loved it. There are few Dick Francis books that I don't love (see here). After giving up on Dance with the Enemy (here) I'm looking forward to Comeback.


Even the first line has me excited:

I’m Peter Darwin. 

Everyone asks, so I may as well say at once that no, I’m not related to Charles. 

I was in fact born Peter Perry, but John Darwin, marrying my widowed mother when I was twelve, gave me, among many other things, a new life, a new name and a new identity. 

Twenty years rolled like mist over the memories of my distant childhood in Gloucestershire, and now I, Peter Darwin, was thirty-two, adopted son of a diplomat, in the diplomatic service myself. 

As my stepfather’s postings and later my own were all at the whim of the Foreign Office, I’d mostly lived those twenty years abroad in scattered three- or four-year segments, some blazing, some boring, from Caracas to Lima, from Moscow to Cairo to Madrid, housed in Foreign Office lodgings from one-bedroom concrete to gilt-decked mansions, counting nowhere home. 

Friendships were transitory. Locals, left behind. Other diplomats and their children came and went. I was rootless and nomadic, well used to it and content.

Francis, Dick - Comeback

"Twenty years rolled like mist over the memories of my distant childhood in Gloucestershire," . . . what I wouldn't give to be able to write like that.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Can't Do It

As as kid I would read each book to finish it. No matter how good or bad the book was I would read it and make myself finish it. Having grown up I've learned that life is too short for bad books, so I'm giving up on Rob Sinclair's book Dance with the Enemy.


I know that my writing isn't award winning, I know that it can be juvenile and jejune at times. I realize that I still have a lot of work to do to become a "good" writer much less a "near great" or "great" writer. Hell, most of the time I don't even consider my writing to be "mediocre," but I feel I can say confidently that my books are better than Dance with the Enemy.

The story was well staged, but the character's decisions were illogical, some of the scenes were absurd. The actions that the characters took were ridiculous and even someone with no experience would tell that they were. Worse, the writing was just bad. It wasn't the only instance, but I pitched it in when I read the following:

After a few minutes of driving, he started to calm again. The trembling in his hands stopped and the fog began to clear. Still, he was left with a sour taste in his mouth. Mackie was the person who had pulled Logan into this in the first place. Not just this case, but this entire life. If anyone was responsible for the direction Logan’s life had taken, it was Mackie. Now he was talking to Logan like he was no longer the right man for the job. And that hurt him.

It was "And that hurt him" that got to me. Telling the reader what the character is feeling. He just spent a paragraph explaining the guys feelings, why throw in that final "and that hurt him?"

Like I said, it wasn't just this, it was a multitude of things. Life is too short to waste time on books that don't call to you and make you want to read, make you want to get to the end. Reading to find fault, noticing mistakes, feeling that the motivations and actions of the characters are ridiculous takes the reader out of the story and gets you pitched. On to the next one.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

You Have to Love an Author who Edits While he Mops

I read with great interest this piece (here) in the WSJ about Enrique Ferrari an Argentine novelist and janitor. Yep . . . Janitor. Combine that tidbit with the fact that he’s an award winning novelist on his sixth thriller and really the man could become his own character in a pretty interesting work.



Mr. Ferrari, a 44-year-old janitor who works nights in the Argentine capital’s metro, has spiky black hair and a Karl Marx tattoo. He didn’t go to college or study writing but his novels have won literary prizes in Europe and Cuba. His sixth book, to be published in the spring, is “If You Are Reading This,” about a man who travels back to 1940 to preemptively kill Leon Trotsky’s assassin.

I have written before about writer’s ennui and finding inspiration to keep on writing. I remember an old post I wrote on road marches (see here). In that post I tried to discuss writing in terms of a road march and the feelings that both inspire. This article about Ferrari inspires those same thoughts about road marching.

I remember many road marches when I was in the military where I felt like I couldn’t continue. What kept me going? Looking up at the front of the line to the people who were twenty meters, fifty meters, even 100 meters up ahead of me. If they could get to that point where they are walking up there, and we all started at the same place, then I can at least get to that point to. So I would make it to that point, look up, and repeat the process. A never-ending cycle that kept me in the march.

Here I am, an executive with a nice office, a home office, a nice computer or three that I can write on, all the comforts I could hope for and I’m not writing nor am I editing. Then there is Mr. Ferrari. He’s a janitor who composes and edits his work while he mops.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I did not enjoy King’s On Writing as much as much I had hoped. I remember though that King wrote about how he was constantly reading. In the doctor’s office waiting for his appointment, he would whip out his book and read. In the car he had books on tape. He was reading reading reading, in an effort to perfect his craft. If you aren’t doing that, he argued, what are you doing being a writer? I liked that.

Perhaps I should quit and become a janitor.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Task Conditions Standard

The other day (here) I wrote briefly about Task Condition and Standard. In the Rangers we would perform each mission, exercise, briefing, everything with a plan and a part of that plan was Task Condition Standards.

"We are going to run three miles, around the air field, need to be done in less than twenty minutes." Boom! That quick.

"We're going to work at this range, everyone has to shoot through the obstacle course after running a mile in full kit, and everyone has to shoot a 90% or better." Boom!

"We're jumping on this airfield, we will take it over and have our "air lando commando's" on the ground in three hours time." Boom! Task, Condition, Standard.



The other day I had to deal with someone and this came to mind. For purposes of anonymity, I'll say this was a client at work. This client and I had worked extremely successfully for many years then all of a sudden things went sour. No matter how I tried to adjust, adapt and overcome, things still continued to circle the drain. What's worse is that I felt like instead of addressing the issue, this client had a passive aggressive tendency to avoid the problem and allow the problems not just to continue but to actually become greater and deeper.

Finally I confronted the client and the long and short of it is . . . we are no longer doing business.

Now, here's the crux, one thing that she said was "I don't think you can do what I need anymore."

This hit me. The whole of that last year or more I felt like I was trying to salvage this work, I was giving task condition standards to myself and her. I was constantly adjusting and trying to get back on a solid footing. Hearing that she didn't think I could get there, it hit me that she had turned from someone I admired for her positivity to someone who was fatalistic and pessimistic. Previously she had talked about doing business for forty more years, now she was dropping our business after only a week. Still, it was that one thing that she said that hit me . . . that she had never given me her own tasks conditions and standards.

Is it my fault to a degree for not knowing? Sure. But I know that for months (and more likely years) I had told her to tell me what I could do to keep her business. I had been asking for that task condition and standards. In the absence of one I assumed that she wanted business as usual. But, like I said, I asked, alot. I believe it's on her to take the onus and be able to express just what she wants and what I can do as a vendor to help her get to that point. I was perfectly willing to do business however they wanted to get back on a solid footing.

I take task condition standards to all of my vendors. I have a vendor calling me and I can't address him at the moment. "Hey dude, we got a lot going on right now, can you call me back in six months?" Task condition and standard. "Hey, I need you to be able to do this and I need it next week." Task condition standard. It's everywhere in my life so I was surprised it had been so absent in this relationship.

Still, it's funny, I know that I should learn from this and adapt and overcome and go seek out new clients, but you never forget or give up on your most meaningful business relationships. It's hard to create that type of atmosphere, that seamless a relationship, that type of quid pro quo and perfect (well near perfect) understanding. I wish that I had asked her more pointedly for a task condition standard, and wish more that she had expressed one. I know I would have done everything in my power to make it happen.

Business is funny. Other clients are out there sure. But you learn from each interaction.

What's this have to do with writing? Character modeling! (see here). I'm creating a character who has trouble adapting to non-military life. Who wants to bet there's a ton of task condition and standard in that character.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Short Story Sunday

Although I've been working with my Kenyan thriller novel, I've started a new tradition, Short Story Sunday. I have a library of short stories, some finished (here), most unfinished. Worse than unfinished stories are stories not even started. I've decided to fix this by dedicating Sunday morning to short story writing only, and Monday's to giving snippets of those stories to this audience. So, enjoy:

 Breakfast With the Lifers
By Dick Hannah
If asked, I doubt if I could pin it down to just one action or happenstance. Maybe it was the shades, maybe the good cooking, perhaps like so many odd coincidences in this world it was just a series of unrelated incidents that coalesced to create one huge, crazy, pre-midlife drama for me. Like so many other things in life what happened to me was probably not the result of one event, or even two, but a combination of many small things. It could have been Michaelson talking too much, my apartment being in a flash in the pan neighborhood where shops and people drift in an out of favor as quickly as teenage pop stars, or it could have been my not putting my a stop to things quickly enough, but one thing is for certain, Hoffman opening the shades that first morning was the pivot point, and if not it certainly acted as the catalyst that started the whole Rube Goldberg like mechanization that led to my restaurant.
I never wanted to become a restaurateur, I never had that calling. I’ve thought about it, thought about it a lot, and it boils down to the fact that it is just too risky. There is no safety net, no assurances, the customer base is too fickle, the market is too precarious, too many avenues where things could go sour. I like my life planned out and orderly. I rejected the idea of owning or operating or even working in a restaurant a long time ago. I’ve patronized too many establishments too often, and regarded them with a practiced eye toward failure potential, to make the mistake of investing in them myself. I don’t gamble. I go into all my ventures, few they may be, with a wealth of research and always a well thought out plan consisting of a feasibility phase, a production phase, closure, extraction and so on.

(if you'd like to read the rest, please follow this link: here)

Friday, December 15, 2017

A Dose of Absurdity

I have a wonderful post to complete my ersatz series on change management. It is about defining Task Condition and Standards. But it's too much for today. Got too many things going on for that type of post. Today, with a with done with her job, a series of problems at work with no goal or destination, a friendship dashed against the rocks and sinking beneath the waves, and needing to get to the hospital for surgery this morning, there's just too much other stuff for a Task Condition Standard post. So instead I offer this absurdity:

 

Seriously, Chicken's in Sweaters is a thing. Whenever I wonder if this blog is silly. Who reads it? Who want's a failing authors ideas on writing and publishing? What's the point? I see something like this and realize that not only is my blog NOT absurd, but it may not be absurd enough for this world.

Task Condition and Standard can wait till next week.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Does "It" Have to be "What It Is?"

Yesterday and the other day I wrote about change management (here and here) and today may be no different. I had a call with my co-worker the other day where she got upset about how quickly everyone in our company tends to be rolling over to the demands of the company we merged with. "It is what it is," she said. I found myself in a situation the other day that she would have enjoyed being a part of. When confronted with a director who didn't want to make a change I had a make a case for the change, and execute. I found out later that he has been working behind my back toward his own ends, so I had to confront him about that. Fireworks ensued.


The "is what it is" comment hit me. I have another (wonderful) friend, E, who loves using this turn of phrase. I hate it every time she does. "It is what it is" is such a passive acceptance of events. I don't believe in that philosophy she uses so quickly. I believe in overcoming. I believe in making my own destiny. I believe in being upfront with people and discussing things and coming up with a plan to get over whatever obstacle happens to be in the way. Maybe it's my military foundations coming into play, but in my unit, there was no retreat. There was no, "Well, we were supposed to go this way, but someone is shooting at us, so we better just turn around." Nope. The unspoken motto was "adapt and overcome." If one thing doesn't work, try another, if that doesn't, try another, and another, and another, until you succeed. Quitting isn't an option and "is what it is" is a sop for quitting.

Confronting my director the other day reminded me of my father. Not only was this fellow someone who refused to try something new, to innovate or adapt and overcome, he was duplicitous and conniving. I think about my father and his death two years back (see here). I think about how I have acted in my life. Have I acted with integrity or insincerity? Have I been upfront with people and truthful or have I been meek and fearful? Have I worked to be supportive and helping or have I undermined and been corrosive in my actions? Can I place on my tombstone "No Regrets."

I know from having dealt with my father that he was all of the positive aspects listed above. He was too gentle and truthful a soul to be otherwise. It's my job to try and be the same. To set the same example and surround myself with people who have the same desire to be that type of person.

There is a culture clash at work in my office. Do we obfuscate and knuckle in to the culture war, and to the challenges that face us in life and in this instance at work, or do we innovate, adapt and overcome and never quit on things we believe in. Using my father's example and understanding how quick life can be over, I think I know which I'll choose.

I look forward to providing both sets of characteristics to characters in my book. The "is what it is" character who will fail for not having tried, and the "adapt and overcome" character who may not win but who will be able to look back on his actions with pride and no regrets. I hope fireworks ensue.