Has my day been good? Check the body count.


IT HAD NOT BEEN a good day. It was, in fact, a bad day at the end of a bad week.

I had spent more than two decades as editorial director and production manager for a custom publisher in Dallas. That meant we worked with giants in the corporate and retail world. They were used to giving orders, and I had never grown use to taking them.

I was facing weekly, daily, and often hourly deadlines. Two magazines were scheduled for press time next week, and my art director was sick and several pages behind in the design.

One client was demanding the company’s coffee table quality book in seven days, and she had not yet bothered to send me the final batch of photographs that the book desperately needed.

It didn’t matter.

Not to her anyway.

She hadn’t had time to track down the pictures, and she was leaving early on Friday.

But she wanted the book in seven days and, no, I better now print the book without the photographs.

Her boss was riding her. She was riding me.

Being an editorial director and production manager meant only one thing.

When the buck stopped, it fell on top of my desk.

I heard a knock at my office door and looked up.

Robert was standing there, smiling like a Cheshire cat. He was always smiling. When Robert had no idea what he was doing or supposed to do, he smiled.

He thought it made me feel better.

It didn’t.

Robert was a salesman, and he always needed help.

Maybe I could write his proposal.

Maybe I could come up with the right concept for his next client meeting.

Maybe I could go with him and explain our production procedures.

Robert would have been perfectly happy if I made the appointment, made the meeting, made the presentation, made the sale, and sent him his commission check.

I went with him a lot of times simply because he scared me to death. I had no idea what he might say next. Robert was the king of the malapropisms.

He once suggested to a super market client that we have recipes featuring Pomeranian cheese instead of Parmesan cheese.

We published one magazine for senior citizens, and the director said she wanted articles to help her reach a younger audience.

Robert piped up and said, “Don’t worry, we can youthanize the magazine.”

Verbally, it sounded like he wanted to euthanize the magazine.

You don’t use words like that around the older generation.

So Robert was standing in the doorway smiling. He had a meeting in an hour. He wondered if I could write his proposal. He didn’t have time.

I looked up at Robert and said between clenched teeth, “At the moment, I am making a list of those bastards I’m taking with me just before I put a gun in my mouth and pull the trigger, and you have just climbed to the top of the list.”

Frustration had boiled over.

Robert’s smile faded.

He shut the door, and I could hear his footsteps in the hallway. He was walking faster than usual.

And now you know why I write novels.

There are people I would like to take down.

But I won’t.

There are people who make me mad enough to shoot them.

But I don’t.

I simply go home, sit down at the machine that lets me travel from a nonfiction world to a fictional one, load up a few words, and shoot someone else instead.

When the betrayed lover stood and killed the self-righteous minister in Little Lies, the bullet hit the preacher who betrayed me.

When my hero shot the rogue CIA agent at the end of Golgotha Connection, that shot was meant for the agent who sent me my last rejection notice.

When the Fat Man was gunned down in Conspiracy of Lies, well, that was Robert.

Get on my wrong side, and, sooner or later, you’re going down. My morals, either fortunately or unfortunately, are either too high or I simply don’t have the courage to shoot you in real life. In reality, I don’t have the heart for it. I still cry when Bambi’s mother dies, when Old Yeller breathes his last, when Shane rides off into the sunset.

When I went bird hunting as a boy, I could never kill anything. I might shoot for the blue in the sky, but the bird would have to track it down and fly into my stray BB to get hit. I could always aim high and away.

However, make me made, and I can guarantee you’ll wind up on the pages of my novel. I can see your face in my mind when I pull the trigger.

I write mostly because I have a story I want to tell. But in the midst of that story, I write for therapy. I can wad up a lot of frustration, disappointment, and anger and throw them all on a page, and I feel so much better when the gunfire goes off and the chapter is written.

My soul is cleansed.

So is my conscience.

And I haven’t hurt a soul.

However, you can easily check my frustration level by the body count in a novel I’ve just written.

The body count ran pretty high in my Ambrose Lincoln novels.



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