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Monday, May 30, 2011

Fred Underwood's Failed English Teaching Career

Have seen initial cover designs and like them all. One has a graphic novel look to it that would probably appeal to a younger demographic (is that under 40 or under 30?) One has an almost Elmore Leonard look to it (older demographic). And the other is cool and simple. All are being tweaked.

I'm close to announcing who the Kansas City designer is, but they have been in a transition and I want to wait until they have populated their new web site.

Big decisions coming up. The biggest is perhaps changing the title. For a writer this is pretty major. You've lived with a title for a long time, perhaps since the inception of the book. But the designer has suggested a one-word title that has really grabbed my attention and that of my agents.

Fred Underwood, our protagonist, got fired from every English teaching job he had.

Here's the account of his first firing:

"Having his master’s meant Fred could teach in a junior college environment, although they eschewed the word “junior” and had replaced it with “community.” Into this community he found he did not fit. Bored housewives, dullards thinking community college would be easier than university, and single mothers trying to better themselves by gaining an associate’s degree. Grammar and composition classes were extraordinarily boring to teach. And reading their essays! Egad, what drivel they could produce. He then made two fatal errors. The first was to volunteer to take over the creative writing class when its teacher was found dead in his apartment, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, no doubt caused by the thousands of rejection slips he had used to wallpaper his room. Fred’s second mistake was thinking the students would at least be interesting. Oh, they were interesting all right. There was the retired fellow who was writing a novel based on his own life of being harassed by the CIA. The assassination of his creative writing teacher, who had been encouraging him in fictionalizing his paranoia, became one more element in the government’s ongoing attempts to silence him. Then there was the mouse-like, neurotic, thin woman who wrote the most lurid form of romance stories. But his downfall was the bored housewife type who thought she could be the next Danielle Steel. Fred suspected the plots and intrigues in her fiction were really true stories from her own life. Sure enough. She asked him to join her for a cup of coffee at the cafeteria where she confided in him that she found him irresistibly attractive and would he have an affair with her?
"Fred explained to her that the community college had strict rules against teachers dating their students, and attractive though she was, he had to follow the rules.
“'We’ll see about that,' she replied, went to the president of the college and complained that Fred had propositioned her. Fred always had been remarkably unlucky at little things. The little thing with this woman was that her husband was none other than Frankie DeLucca, a major donor to the school’s athletic scholarship fund and the owner of the Sharks, the city’s football franchise. Fred was fired without a trial and escorted off school grounds by a campus cop. It would not be the last of such de rigueur exits."

Friday, May 6, 2011

Add One Well Dressed Drunked Boor and Stir....

My favorite character in Vote for Me! is Reginald Edgar, the society columnist for the local newspaper. Newspapers are a wonderful source for comedy. So many people who work there take themselves so damn serious.

Zoe does start receiving donations and to celebrate Fred takes her to the city's most pretentious and thus expensive restaurant in town, Fifth Star Rising. (I'll let you in on a little secret: when I first started working at the University of Kansas in PR, they had a capital campaign underway titled "Fifth Star Rising." Some rating service had given them a four star rating, of which they were mighty proud and so a fund-raising campaign alluding to the possibility of a fifth star seemed genius at the time. They soon changed the name to, I believe, Campaign Kansas.) Fred's platform of nationalizing the oil industry and socializing medicine has received considerable local media attention and while he and Zoe are enjoying their drink orders they are interrupted by a well-dressed boor. A drunken boor at that.

“Aren’t you that communisssht running for office?” Asked the boor, pointing a weaving finger at Fred.

“Sir,” Fred responded and arose from his chair, “if wanting to nationalize the oil industry, if wanting to socialize medicine, if wanting to outlaw handguns, if all these sane proposals make me a communist, then I welcome the brand!”

Well, Reginald Edgar gets many of his column items by eating at the Fifth Star Rising, which he can afford to do because he and the Maitre d’ have a pleasant symbiotic relationship. Reginald gets many of his meals comped, Reginald regularly praises the place and the Maitre d’ passes along delicious morsels of gossip. Reginald is present to hear the above exchange.

Reginald, Reggie to his friends -- of whom he had far fewer than he supposed -- had just witnessed an event deliciously incredible to report to HIS readers. He always thought of them as HIS readers and not the newspaper’s because HIS readers wouldn’t be reading the paper for any other reason than to read HIS reports. And he actually had had to do some reporting. He had not recognized who the odd couple was sitting at the table next to him and paid them no mind until the man was shouting something about nationalizing the oil industry and making a scene that got him expelled from the restaurant. He had, however, recognized the drunken man who had approached the couple and accused the male portion of the couple of being a communist. That was none other than John Wendell Atwater, major partner in the legal firm of Atwater, Coldwater and Fish and also the father-in-law of State Rep. Theodore Adkins. Oh, my God, Reginald rubbed his hands, what an item I’ve got. Item? No, entire column. Rarely did he devote an entire column to one item, but he had heard it all, seen it all, put two and two together and the resulting five wrote itself in his head as he continued his dinner. The Maitre d’ indeed confirmed that the reservation had been in the name of one Fred Underwood. The name of the female dining companion was unknown, but Reginald would make her known to HIS readers as “a mysterious fine-figured woman with curly hair of ebon coal.”

Dear reader, this book is now off and running.