The Detroit Riots of 1967 made a huge impact on the future of Detroit. I was there and I’m about to share some of my experiences with you. Have you watched Facebook Live before? That’s where I’ll be Sunday, July 30 at 7 PM – Detroit time!
Help Me Recruit Viewers
Facebook Live is a new venue for me. I sure hope I don’t end up talking to myself – – ha, ha! How about forwarding this to your friends who are interested in the history of Detroit and/or the Detroit Riots, or those who like to read historical fiction, or about crime, and the mafia? I’ll share background on how my years in Detroit inspired me to create the “Detroit Thorn Birds” series. Go to Amazon: http://bit.ly/SaxClubLesCochran
“Live with Les”
That’s what I’m calling my event Sunday. Perhaps it will be something I do from time to time. I want to interact with you and others who read my work and this seems like a fun way to start the two-way interaction. While you are watching “Live with Les” I encourage you to write a question or comment on Facebook. Or, if you wish, send your questions ahead via this blog. I will he happy to respond.
Lin and I’ll figure out the Facebook mechanics to make this work. While we are doing that, please recruit your friends and anyone else that is interested in this topic. The address above will take you to my Facebook page where I will be doing “Live with Les.”
In some ways it seems like yesterday. Fifty years ago I was a young teacher working on my doctorate at Wayne State University in Detroit. On Sunday, July 23rd, I listened to Ernie Harwell’s play-by-play coverage of the doubleheader between the Tigers and Yankees.
The kids were enjoying summer vacation at the family farm with my parents. I spent the day working on my dissertation, buried in my makeshift office in the basement. By the time the second game at Tiger Stadium had ended, I was ready to hit the sack.
The City is Closed?
Monday morning I was up early, put on my suit and tie, and headed for the car. Opening the door, I paused when the neighbor lady called, “Les, where are you going?”
A frown crossed by face. “Wayne State,” I said as a manner of fact.
“You can’t,” she responded. “The city is closed… there’s a riot downtown. Turn on the TV. You can watch the whole thing.”
Following her directions, I hustled inside and flipped on the television. It was unreal. Sirens screeched. Smoke filled the air. Gun shots repeated like machine guns in a war zone. Television cameras stationed atop buildings chronicled the city’s demise. I saw a white car pull up in front of Saks Fifth Avenue, at least five times. With each stop, two men jumped out, ran inside, and returned, filling their car with armfuls of furs.
Great Ideas for Novels
Happenings like this germinated in my head for years and now have come to life in a new series—“Detroit Thorn Birds Defy Mafia.” It’s a different take on the Mafia. Rather than describing family relationships from the top-down, as in the Godfather, my novels depict real-to-life people—the Detroit thorn birds—fighting back, clawing for survival to save their homes, their dignity, and way of life.
New Series: Detroit Thorn Birds Defy Mafia
This fall the second edition of SAX CLUB, with a sharper focus on its historical perspective, will be released. It takes place ten years after the Detroit riots. The Associated Press article below provides detailed personal perspectives on what happened that day. Check it out. And, on August 4th a movie titled Detroit will be released. From the clips I’ve seen, it’s a must see!
Facebook Live Coming Soon
On Sunday, July 30th I will be launching my first “Live with Les” on Facebook. Join me as I share my experiences in Detroit during the riots.
In a previous blog I shared information about my wild ride from Florida to the mountains of western North Carolina. When we decided to build our home here I thought the wild rides were over. Little did I know that we were in for an extended eight months of “wild rides.”
Our new venture started out like a Sunday drive in the mountains. The ride was smooth, silky; the views were spectacular. We loved the elevations and develped our plans. After meeting with the builder and signing the contact— it seemed as though everything was on the up and up.
Buy More Charmin?
Then we met with the bankers. They were as friendly as could be and ready to complete the deal. Except, they didn’t get the memo about our “paperless society.” They must buy more Charmin than anyone. We were wiped out after signing the same forms multiple times.
Googling My Assignments
With our contract and cash in hand, the next phase began by dividing up responsibilities. Having been through the building process several times before, we knew each other’s strengths. Lin is an excellent designer, having demonstrated her skill on countless projects. Being an old farm boy, I know sizes, proportions, angles, and have good problem solving skills.
Getting deep into our project, we paused once again to divvy up our chores. It was easy—Lin took the lead in the selection of bathroom fixtures, tile, appliances, rugs, furniture, and all of the other essentials. I was assigned the task of searching online for lighting fixtures.
“Fine,” I said to myself, knowing I’d never ordered anything online except a book on Amazon. I struggled where I’d start till Lin gave me an ingenious suggestion—look for contemporary lighting.
I don’t know why I couldn’t figure that out.
So I Googled the listing. Oh my, the options were endless. Each day I pursued another site—Overstock, Wayfair, Homeclick, Hayneedle, 1Stoplighting, and more. It wasn’t long before I got the knack and started printing out pictures and specs. I was all over the board—like a shotgun—kitchen lights, hallway lights, ceiling fixtures, pendants. I asked Lin, “Where do I start?”
“Front entrance pendants,” she said, precisely, “We need three of them.” Knowing there was no way I’d pick the right one, I’d decided to select ten fixtures and let her decide from there. If she didn’t like any of them I’d pick ten more. I knew sooner or later I’d find one that fit “our” tastes.
After twenty some proposals, I found a twenty-four inch pendant that was well beyond our budget. For the heck of it I made a copy and laid it in front of her.
“That’s it,” she acclaimed.
I smiled and said, “I don’t think so,” then I read her the price, $1,244.
“No way, Jose,” she blurted.
Persistence Got Me There
I went back to my laptop. Searching the next four days for something comparable—nothing came close. Unwilling to give up, I went back to the $1,244 site again and again. I put the item in my cart, left it there all night, took it out and tried another approach; the results were the same, $1,244.
On the fifth day I gave up and started searching Homeclick for another item. Within minutes, a miracle occurred—the $1,244 item appeared at $388.88 as well as an additional 15% off for the New Year’s Sale.
I sat flabbergasted for a moment then picked up my laptop (afraid to touch anything) and raced into Lin’s office, shouting, “Look, look at this price … don’t touch anything.”
Her smile and then thumbs up said it all.
Long story short, I bought three of these pendants for a total of $991.
As you might expect, I was off shopping for more light fixtures for the rest of the house — that ride just got wilder — I even bought a light fixture I nick-named “blimp!”
So as you can see I’ve been spending a lot of time with my laptop. Unfortunately it hasn’t been writing fiction, but it has been a wild ride on a learning curve for me. My new adventures will be coming to a close before long and I’ll be back to spending time on my laptop with Det. Clark Phillips and the Detroit Thorn Birds as they confront the Detroit Mafia. The surprises I encountered Googling light fixtures have sparked some ideas for wild rides in the stories I’m creating. Hang in there with me.
Who would have ever thought — a farm kid from Indiana who was so pigeon-toed he wore corrective shoes; who attended eleven different elementary schools; who spoke with a lisp; who couldn’t read until the fifth grade; who had one leg shorter than the other; who was afraid to talk on the telephone, and who was so shy he rarely spoke in class — would end up as an author, retired on a mountain top in North Carolina.
While this kid from Wheeler, IN (population 500 and that’s stretching it) had plenty of reasons to grow up with nothing to show for his life, he had the same unyielding drive and commitment as do the thorn birds he writes about or should I say, “I write about.”
Life takes many turns—decisions at intersections and detours—unforeseen events that suggest new directions. Not to bore you with the many roads I’ve traveled, my blogging absence has provided time to reflect about a wide array of thoughts.
I’ve found the evolution of my interest in writing to be particularly instructive. I had never thought about why I had become an author in my retirement years. And so, as Paul Harvey would say, “here’s the rest of the story.”
In reflection, it is clear that my interest in writing didn’t happen in a planned way. In fact, it emerged because of my deficiencies. I was such a slow reader I never finished the tests. I was so shy I never participated in class discussions. Writing term papers was a way to improve my grades.
I poured myself into writing.
In high school term papers carried the day. In college I received my highest grades in classes where term papers carried a significant weight in my final grade. Unlike most students at the doctoral level, for me writing a dissertation was a “piece of cake.” I breezed through it!
All of that aside, my latent interest in writing came alive in my doctoral studies. I was fortunate to have an advisor who had one goal—produce leaders. He was not a diploma mill grinder; fact is, he graduated one student every year or two, and in addition to teaching a full-load, he wrote a book a year.
It was an honor if he asked a student to edit an article or a chapter; whatever the contribution, my mentor would give “his student” full credit in his next publication. After a couple of my own edits, my tutor G. Harold Silvius he asked me to edit a chapter in his upcoming book.
Unthinking I unloaded a red pen on his “final” manuscript. Low and behold, that was the beginning. He was surprised that a doctoral student would commit such surgery; yet, he praised me. From that point on, every week I wrote a chapter in my dissertation and edited a chapter for his book on the weekend.
I loved it!
Strange as it may seem, I learned to write by editing the works of others. Still, I don’t know the proper literary terms for what I do, I just know it sounds right or it doesn’t. Maybe if I was a better reader I’d know why the words sound right.
And so it is—my life as a writer—a trip from my class of twenty-two at Wheeler High School (IN) to Wayne State University in Detroit where my experiences would give birth to my “Thorn Birds of Detroit” series.
Ahead, you’ll learn even more … how another person reshaped my academic writing skills and honed them into a writer of fiction.
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.