Hi Friends and Readers. As you know I have started posting blogs on a regular schedule but sometimes I enjoy a little change-up. I hope you do as well.
My new series, Detroit Thorn Birds, is historical fiction about the Detroit Mafia. My wife and friends say I am quite historical myself – – and perhaps a little fictitious, too.
Anyway, back-in-the-day I taught high school in Detroit.The picture here shows me visiting Western High School located in the inner city. I was surprised at how good the old school looks . . . I taught there in the 1960’s (see what I mean by historical?)
Even though I no longer live in Detroit I keep my eyes and ears open about happenings there as something might give me an inspiration for my storylines about the Detroit Mafia and the Thorn Birds. Last week I saw an article about Dr. Nikolai Vitti, the new Superintendent of Detroit Schools and of course being an educator, I had a thought to share. Here’s my opinion piece published in the Detroit Daily on April 26, 2017.
Over the last few years Lin and I have been engaged in writing and marketing my books. It consumed much of our free time, but all that changed when we started building a new home.
At first we didn’t understand what building a new house would mean for our literary pursuit. I continued to rise early and write. After our morning ritual of coffee and reading the paper, Lin was off to her office to implement more book marketing techniques. I was back to my laptop to continue novelizing. But, the words didn’t flow and Lin’s marketing effort slowed.
We became frustrated about our inability to fulfill our goals. SAX CLUB had been launched, but our promotion effort was lacking. BLIND PIG was drafted, but was left sitting on the shelf. And the storyboard for book # 3, LAST CALL had been placed in the closet.
We had several talks before we realized our goals were on my books, but our hearts were on our house. It didn’t take long before my drafting scale and triangles had replaced my laptop. Lin’s new focus was décor, design features and paint colors.
Our excitement grew!
It was sometime later before we realized the parallels between writing a novel and building a house. And then it was clear—our passions were interchangeable! From there came the contemporary style and the book genre was defined.
Designing the floor plan was like laying out the story plot. The more we thought about it; the greater were the connections:
The front elevation’s curb appeal replaced the reader’s appeal of the book’s front cover and designing the back porch was like working on the back cover.
Then there were the special features of the house. They were similar to sub-plots and scenes in a book.
Online marketing strategies to create reader interest gave way to design techniques creating personal interest and appeal.
An entire new line of characters occupied the story—the site supervisor became the lead character, supporting roles were filled by electricians, carpenters, tile layers, drywallers, and cabinet makers.
Building targets and deadlines were extended drawing to mind the many times I’d changed my book publication dates.
Our list of new words and phrases went on and on; there were blueprints instead of outlines; sub-floors replaced sub-plots, and “snoopervising” was like “editing.” I could “cite/site” a dozen more but I think I’ve made the point.
Interestingly, just as we’ve become accustom to our new jargon the completion of the house is drawing near. And wouldn’t you know it, the old familiar terms—drafts, storyline and characters—are popping back into our thoughts and daily activities—leading us back to promotion strategies and the laptop!
I’ll give you the scoop soon on our plans to re-release SAX CLUB, the first book in the series on the Thorn Birds of Detroit. Just like building a house – – sometimes changes are necessary to make it better.
Today I’m continuing the wild ride story I started in my last post. We began our wild ride as we left Florida where we had lived for many years. And YES, as my title says our wild ride ended in Weaverville, a small community ten minutes north of Asheville, NC and just seventeen miles south of the Tennessee line.
Following Lin’s sale of our Florida house a year ago last March, I reserved a U-Haul and Lin started packing. Having sold our house lock, stock and barrel (meaning all furniture, accessories and even the toaster), I knew a small-sized truck would be ample. Two weeks later, I ordered a larger truck and more boxes. Lin kept on packing.
Finally, at the last moment—4:30—the buyers were moving in at 5:00 PM, I stuffed in the last box and started the truck. Lin was still cleaning toilets, kitchen counters and who knows what? I pulled onto the street and waited patiently (not one of my strong suits). And then a miracle happened, Lin’s mini-van started rolling down the driveway and pulled up behind me.
With reservations in Jacksonville, FL that night, we took to the road. It was a wild ride—I must admit—pressing sixty-five miles per hour through Orlando I didn’t even notice the Disneyland exit.
A day later, we unloaded our belongings at our friend’s second home in Arden, NC which would rent until we figured out where we’d end up; basically, we did an “unload and leave” and headed for the North Carolina beach to visit friends.
After a few days stay and lots of wine, we were refreshed and back on the road again. I gunned it, another wild ride back to Florida for my annual Cardinal Spring Training trek with my son (this time our wives were included). We had a fun time telling stories, reminiscing, and watching the Cardinals win.
Taking a more leisurely drive back to North Carolina (no more wild rides); we realized we were “homeless” and needed to look for a place to build a home. Our requirements were simple; it had to be:
Within fifteen minutes of Asheville,
In a gated community,
In a development with a club house/community center.
In a maintenance-free community, and
On a flat lot.
We had plenty of choices until it came to the last criterion—a flat lot. At each stop, I felt like I received the preverbal look from the salesperson, “A flat lot in Asheville, you’ve got to be kidding.”
Eventually we found one in Weaverville, a busy little town of very friendly people. The fact there are at least eight restaurants on Main Street helped us understand why it was so busy. It’s like a European village with two hair salons, a barber shop, library, pharmacy, a frame shop, and three art stores featuring many local artists. Once a month Harley Davidson bikers gather on Main Street in Weaverville for a BBQ and music. Talk about “wild ride,” how about riding a Harley up and down and around the mountains!
Another little piece of wildness entered our adventure as we searched for a place to build. Our plan was to make the interior of our home contemporary, knowing the exterior would most likely have to resemble a typical mountain home. Luck stepped in again when we mentioned contemporary style to the realtor who said “I’ve got just the place for you. There is a section of this development where all houses must be contemporary on the outside and there is a flat lot there that you will love.” How we were so lucky to find a flat lot with a glorious mountain vista in a contemporary style alcove, I’m not sure.
Needless to say, we began creating a plan. Without State requirement to have an architect, I drew upon my old drafting skills, Lin put on her designer hat, and we embarked on a different kind of “wild ride.”
Over the years we’d built many homes and renovated several buildings, but this was a new venture with lots of unknowns on the horizon. Other than our downsized budget and self-imposed 2500 sq. ft. maximum, there were no limits—no model plans, no existing walls or parameters.
Yes, I really am getting back onboard with my blog. While April 1st is often the day to fool people and play jokes, I won’t be fooling you. I’m coming out of my blogging hiatus. Rather than making periodic posts, you’ll be receiving blogs, on a regular basis, filled with insights about my personal life and my many experiences developing and writing new novels.
Before we embark on that journey, I’d like to update you on some of the most recent happenings in my life. To say the least, it’s been a wild ride!
My wife Lin and I have entered into a truly new phase of our lives. It’s not that we’ve moved and are building a new home. “Old hat … so what’s new?” some of our closest friends would say.
And yes, they’re right. Those who know us (some longer than any of us would admit), know we really enjoy the challenge of designing and building our homes as the current project is our seventh. While Lin and I agree there is something special about our latest project – – that story must wait for a future blog.
Back to the wild ride!
During my last five years in Florida, I had seven hospital stays and bills totaling over $1 million (even with hospital-monopoly money that’s a lot). But the impact on me was far more than the numbers might convey. During the last year or so in Florida, walking to the mailbox was a literal “sweat-a-thon.” I was soaked with perspiration, ready for a shower – – the heat and humidity had gotten to me.
Lin and I talked about this issue numerous times – – we loved our Florida friends and community—but finally came to the conclusion we needed to move.
Like always, Lin took the bull by the horns. It wasn’t long before she’d sold our home and we were packing boxes.
Without firm plans we were “homeless” and heading for the mountains. Stay tuned for “the rest of the story.”
Special Note:Lin does the mechanics of posting my blog and always wants me to include a picture. Last fall we did a photo shoot for my new series “Thorn Birds Confront Detroit Mafia.” Since I used the phrase “wild ride” in the post, she thought this shot of me (with my logo for the series) resembles an old man on a wild ride – – do you agree?
Hi Everyone. I hope you had a terrific Thanksgiving and were able to enjoy time with family and friends.
Book Launch in Detroit
I’m happy to report that the launch of Sax Club: Thorn Birds of Detroit Confront Mafia, my first book in the new series, was a lot of fun. Lin and I had a great experience in Detroit and met some wonderful people. I’ll share a few stories about the big kick-off in Detroit later. Before I do that I want to thank you for your support as I’ve moved into a new chapter in my life; writing fiction has become an exciting venture made possible only through the help of so many of my friends. Thanks to all of you.
Sax Club is my fourth book; it is historical fiction featuring the mafia in Detroit in the late 1970s. The “thorn birds” are the local citizens who fought to save their city. I lived in Detroit and taught high school in the inner-city during that era. I hope you enjoy reading Sax Club; it‘s now available on Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, and iTunes. If you’d like an autographed copy please drop a line to Author@LesCochran.com
As you know, I had to develop new skills in making the transition from writing academic documents to creating fictional novels. Now I am learning how to market my books—it’s a full-time job. Thank goodness Lin is willing to carry a lot of the load. I need your help too. If you like Sax Club, I hope you’ll write a short review and submit it to the online site where you purchase the book. Reviews are critical for independent authors (known as indie authors).
Now Back to Detroit
All book-signing events were held at restaurants that are incorporated into the Sax Club story. These restaurants existed in the 70s and are still vital today. The first kick-off event was held at Roman Village Cucina Italiana in Dearborn, MI: http://antoniosrestaurants.com It was founded by Mr. Antonio Rugiero, an immigrant from Italy, who purchased a pizza place in 1964. He met his wife (also from Italy) and they worked together to create a wonderful full-service restaurant; today there are four restaurants. In 2008 Mr. Rugiero passed away, but his wife (known as Mama Rita) and their four sons are busy at work every day. His son Patrick was very enthusiastic about hosting the book kick-off. We had the opportunity to meet many of his wonderful friends and best of all his mother Mama Rita!
Our host also engaged sketch artist Darrell Swift to create caricatures of attendees. It added an interesting flair and fun to the event. Of course, Lin and I both had Darrell sketch us; take a look. Please note that he labeled Lin “Boss Lady” since she is the one doing all the marketing for my books. I’m happy just creating the stories and doing book-signings.
I’ll share more stories about the kick-off events in Detroit in future posts. Please feel free to share this blog with friends from Detroit and any avid readers you may know. If you are in Detroit, be sure to stop at one of the restaurants. Everything I ate was scrumptious. Even though I hadn’t tested the food before I included the restaurants in my book – – I have to pat myself on the back. I couldn’t have made better choices. Information about the other restaurants hosting events for the Sax Club launch will be shared in future blog posts.
At dinner Friday night a new acquaintance asked me “How do you come up with story ideas for your books?”
“Be careful what you say” I teased. “My ideas come from my life and that of friends and new people I meet.” Actually, that is a question I’m often asked so I thought it might be a good idea to share how I got the title for the first book in my new historical fiction series about the mafia in Detroit.
The Sax Club at 2325 McNichols Road in Detroit inspired the naming of SAX CLUB: Thorn Birds of Detroit Confront Mafia. During the 1960s and 70s, it was one of the hottest places in Detroit. It promoted itself as the oldest topless club in the city and was classier than most other places.
You could take your pick, any place in town—Benson’s, Centerfold, Dirty Harry’s, Foxy’s Strip Club, Please Station, Sassy Sandy’s, The Dutchess, Zoo, and countless others. There were no “gentlemen’s clubs” in those days, Detroit was a working-man’s city.
On Friday nights back then the four (not three) musketeers as we called ourselves filed into the Sax Club. It’d been another hard week for us at Wayne State University and the four doctoral students were ready to loosen up.
Harold Resnick arrived first, before five o’clock to save the perfect corner booth. He was from Brooklyn and drove a Volkswagen like a New York cabbie. He kept spare fenders in his garage. He’s the personality from whom I developed the character Renzo Ricciuti. You can check him out on the cover of the book—he’s the one wearing the dark sunglasses (you’ll have to wait a bit to see the cover.)
Bill Wolansky arrived next so he’d have the seat directly in front of the center pole. He was a Canadian from Alberta and very formal, in fact kind of stuffy; that is, until the Disc Jockey announced “Dagmar.” She was a big-boned blonde who blew him away.
I usually sat beside Bill, to his right. We were the two senior guys. I had a flattop back then and drank Singapore Slings while waiting for Lou Anne to appear. She was the classiest dancer at the Club and always dressed in white.
Most of the dancers were housewives, single parent moms, and Wayne State University students. In a couple of days dancing they could rake-in more cash than most women could earn in a forty-hour week.
James Harris, an African-American, was the quite gentleman from Tuskegee. Most of the time he watched the strippers out of the corner of his eye, except when the African-American dancer performed. Resnick turned Jim’s head to force him to have the same pleasures we were having.
All of this makes it sound like something was going to happen with one of the women, but it didn’t. We were there to do our regular debriefing and bring a little levity into our narrow, straight-forward academic lives.
One day, I announced, “I just finished chapter 3 of my dissertation.”
“You what?” Wolansky exclaimed, downing a Stroh’s. “How’d you do that? Two weeks ago you were on chapter 1.”
“I’m on a roll with G. Harold (Dr. G. Harold Silvius was our doctoral adviser and tough as nails).
“Shit,” Bill said, knowing he’d started his dissertation six month ahead of me.
“Now on center pole, Dagmar,” the DJ announced. All eyes turned to Bill and then back and forth between Dagmar and Bill until her set was over. We cheered to Bill’s delight and went back to our dissertation discussion—Resnick was still working on his proposal, draft 3.
“I’m telling you, Harold” I said. “Print draft 4 on every page. I started color-coding the old sections on draft 5 so G. Harold wouldn’t change parts he’d already approved.”
“Did it help?” Harris, who was yet to start his proposal, asked.
“Not a bit.” I laughed. “But it made me feel better. It doesn’t matter what approach you use, G. Harold is going to make you go through 9 drafts. That’s why it’s important to start labeling the drafts.”
I threw my arms up in the air as Lou Anne’s name was announced. A hush fell over the booth. “These Boots are Made for Walkin’” blasted from the speakers. Pointing to me, Lou Anne started her routine, prancing around the stage then sliding up and down the pole. Stomping her boots, she paused and ripped off her long white bellbottoms revealing her white hot pants.
Whistles and cat calls filled the place. I cheered. Lou Anne danced to the beat, pointing to me she slowly unbuttoned her white blouse. The music stopped and she winked at me. I nodded, downed a Singapore Sling and turned to Bill. “If you don’t get going I’ll have chapter 4 done before you.”
The challenge was on and so it went, week by week, each of us pushing the other.
Two weeks later a smiling Wolansky was watching Dagmar holding up an approved chapter 4.
I hope you can see how memories create characters for my stories. In my next post I’ll tell you more about the Sax Club and some the characters I met that come alive in my books. Anyone besides me remember the Sax Club? I’d be great to hear you memories. If you have a picture of the club (outside or in) or know anyone who might, I’d really like to see it. I’ll even share it in a future blog post.
I’d also like to invite you to “Like” and Share my Facebook page. http://bit.ly/LesCochranAuthorPage I will be dropping little clues and and sharing pictures as we approach the book release date.
On a recent visit to Detroit I stopped by Western High School where I started my teaching career. Having undergone a $28 million dollar renovation, the place looked brand new; it has been renamed Western International High School and is now one the city’s premier schools.
The day was filled with countless fond memories many of which found their way into my upcoming “Thorn Birds of Detroit” series. A couple of experiences from my days living in Detroit didn’t make the series, but I’ll never forget them.
Recalling my first day of teaching makes me smile. Since the old Tiger Stadium was in the district, I decided to use a baseball analogy with my first-period mechanical drawing class.
“In this class you get three strikes and you’re out!” I announced boldly.
I remember pausing for effect. “Now this is your first warning.” I glanced around the room. “Everyone hear that?”
Heads nodded up and down the rows of drafting tables.
“Now, here’s you second warning! Did everyone hear that?”
The guys straighten on the stools.
“And now, I’d like to give you a third warning. Does everyone realize that was your final warning?”
Not a word was said.
“And your ass!” came from the back of the room.
“And yours is gone,” I said, taking the student by the arm and marching him to the in-house phone and then waiting for the assistant principal to arrive.
The funniest part of the story came three hours later when I took a break in the men’s lounge. I had no sooner closed the door when an old-timer called, “Hey Cochran, what in the hell did you do in your first-hour class? Every kid in school is on alert!”
The most moving experience I had while teaching at Western occurred at an away basketball game at Detroit Chadsey. I was coaching the JV squad and had a player by the name of Cleophus Pickett. While six foot five, he defied all stereotypes—he wasn’t fast and couldn’t jump—but he was the nicest kid with the biggest smile you’d ever seen.
I played Cleophus every game; he even made a basket or two that season, but that’s not the story.
When we’d travel to away games, Cleophus was always the last one out of the locker room. With all of the players on the bus, I’d run toward the locker room shouting, “Cleophus … Cleophus, where are you?”
The call always came. “I’m coming coach.” And then, the big smile would appear.
After the final game of the season at Chadsey, I walked slowly toward the locker room without saying a word. Peeking inside, I saw Cleophus sitting on the bench tucking the tops of his socks inside his shoes—there were no bottoms!!
I stepped back and shouted, “Cleophus hurry up.”
“I’m coming coach.”
When we got back to Western that night I put my arm around him and asked him to come into my office. I could feel his body shake; he may have thought he was going to get a beating like he often did at home.
I unlocked a storage cabinet and pulled out a box of twelve pairs of sweat socks. “Thanks Cleophus for having a great season.”
A glaze filled his eyes. We hugged each other and squeezed out the tears.
No . . . I didn’t fall off the face of the earth! I moved. Let me correct that – – I’ve moved twice since March 15th.
We are getting better organized every day. And, I’m writing like crazy. A new series will be coming out in the fall. As you can see from the new header on my blog – – it’s about the “Thorn Birds of Detroit.” (Psst . . . and the mafia :-))
The first novel in the series is ready. I’m working on #2 and #3 and just cooked up a new idea for #4. I’ll be sending more information as we get closer to the release date.
In the meantime, you need to know that my marketing manager (aka my wife Lin) has been re-doing all our backroom machinations to keep my “Friends and Fans” organized and informed as well as learning lots of professional online marketing skills. Specifically,
You will be receiving my blog post via MailChimp (an email organizer.)
We have created a new Facebook page just for my “life as a fiction writer.”
Lots of novellas – – Yes, Lin has me writing short stories she is publishing and promoting as FREE ebooks to friends and fans.
There is so much more I want to tell – – but that would spoil the surprises.
Hello Blog Friends,
I know I’ve posted about the high cost of college in the past, but this critical issue must be kept at the forefront. It is just one of many education concerns we need to address as we try to improve education in our nation. In the past the quality of education in the United States was the best in the world; today we rank twenty-sixth (26th)!
YES – twenty-five (25) other countries have surpassed us! So, so sad.
Recently there was an article in the Asheville, NC paper indicating the University of North Carolina Board of Governor’s was seeking permission to increase the percentage of out-of-state students as a way to generate more money for operation. Of course, I had to share my thoughts about that “cop out” approach and suggest a few solutions of my own. Please be assured that these solutions aren’t fictional (even though I am currently an author of fiction.) Rather, they are examples of actual monetary management techniques my administrative team and I have successfully implemented. With that introduction, here is my Letter to the Editor: Citizen-Times, Asheville, NC, published May 8, 2016. * * * * *John Boyle’s story, “Is a college education really worth the costs?” in the May 1 edition of the Citizen-Times was right on target. He accurately portrayed the problem faced by most families across the nation — paying for a college education.
Over the past 35 years, public college tuition skyrocketed 12 times, doubling the rate of medical cost increases and quadrupling the rate of inflation. There were no legislative hearings on controlling costs, no action taken by state boards to reduce spending, and no changes in the way universities were managed.
The results were catastrophic — a $1.3 trillion student-loan debt — college access limited for millions, their daily spending ability curtailed, and their capability to make major purchases delayed. The suggestion by Lou Bissette, chairman of University of North Carolina Board of Governors, for the state to raise the limit on the percentage of out-of-state students won’t solve the problem.
Universities don’t need more money; they have a spending problem. The Board of Governors needs to face reality and force universities to spend less — change the way they do business, reduce administrative costs, eliminate deadwood faculty, and cut frivolous courses — without affecting the quality of education. It can and must be done!! Students can no longer afford business as usual.
* * * * *
Please feel free to share your ideas on ways universities can better manage and/or reduce operational costs without reducing quality. It can be done and it is past time for them focus on cost reductions. Otherwise we will have fewer and fewer citizens able to obtain a college education!
The April 18 USA TODAY story, “College spending looks unsustainable” only touched the financial tip of athletic-spending issues. Economist Andrew Zimbalist was right: “Politically, it’s not sustainable. Legally, it’s not sustainable. Economically, it’s not sustainable.”
NCAA President Mark Emmert acknowledged “a very small number of the 1,100 (NCAA members) have a positive cash flow, but sluffed it off. Fact is, a recent study by David Suggs at the University of Georgia found only eight of the athletic budgets at the nation’s major programs made a profit – hats off to Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana State, Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State, Oklahoma, and Texas at Austin.
The rest of the universities lost millions of dollars that could have been used to support academic programs. The study also found the problem is getting worse — increases in athletic spending is growing at a rate double that of academic spending. That’s not good news for students nationally who combined have a $1.3 trillion debt.
While proponents justify athletic spending, studies find no link between winning teams and institutional success as measured by the number of applications, increases in fundraising dollars or state appropriations.
Universities should be required to annually disclose a detailed accounting of athletic spending and revenue.
Letter to the Editor, April 22, 2016 Asheville Citizen-Times, part of the USA Today Network
Les Cochran is former president of Youngstown State University, Youngstown, Ohio