Rocks in your pocket – A lesson in resilience

Coach Mullins is the adult between numbers 35 and 25, and Lee is number 45.

Coach Mullins is the adult between numbers 35 and 25, and Lee is number 45.

This is an excerpt from a chapter in Fire and Forget Soldier.  The theme of Lee’s life is resilience.  He was put into a foster care system before he was two-years-old because his mother suffered from debilitating depression, and his father didn’t have the money to pay for childcare.  He was reunited with his family at age six, and then at the age of nine, Lee lost his father to a heart attack. And, his father passed literally just hours after moving the family from Baltimore to Tullahoma, TN. Lee’s mother wasn’t emotionally equipped to handle the loss, and the kids (Lee and his two sisters) were left to raise themselves. Over the next year, Lee attended four different schools. He was small for his age and had freckles and red hair.  In essence, he was the perfect target for bullies.  He learned to be a brawler in order to survive.  His future was looking bleak, but then he met Coach Frank Mullins.

Lee was becoming a throwaway kid. He had no parental guidance, no interest in playing by the rules, no one to even tell him what the rules were. He was slipping through the cracks, and if not for his love of football, he may have ended up on a much different path altogether.

When Lee was ten, he walked from his house to D.W. Wilson community center where they were holding registration for tryouts for Pop Warner football. He was the only kid without a parent, and he was the smallest gridiron hopeful by far, so small no team wanted to take a chance on adding him to their roster. Lee was despondent. He wanted to be like his dad, a football star, but it didn’t seem like he’d get the chance to prove himself.

Just as the too-small kid from Baltimore was about to give up, he was approached by a man who asked, “What team are you with, big ‘un?”  Lee explained that no one picked him because he was too small. The man leaned down and said, “Tell you what. You head across the street there, fill your pockets with rocks, and come back here and weigh in. Then you’ll be big enough to be a Rebel.”  The man, Coach Frank Mullins, would go onto become a legend in Tullahoma. The Pop Warner league would eventually become the Frank Mullins league. He would spend decades in youth football teaching young boys the game of football and giving them the gift of brotherhood outside of family. He would show them that win or lose the true value of a team was a belief in one another and the goal wasn’t to win a game, but to give your best for your teammates.

The gesture wouldn’t have an immediate effect on Lee, but what Coach Mullins did for the little guy no one wanted to take a chance on that day was show him the value of hope while at the same time planting a seed in the young boy’s mind that there is always a way to achieve your goals. It may not be the same way everyone else does it, but if you think outside the box, you can make your destination, no matter the obstacles in front of you. Putting those rocks in his pockets to be big enough to be a Rebel was no different than when, years later after receiving his fifth rejection for a transfer to a Ranger battalion, he would get a fresh haircut, put on a well-starched uniform and polished boots, and walk into the 2nd Ranger Battalion barracks and tell the company commander that he wanted to apply for a job as if he were applying for a job in the civilian world. Ultimately, the tactic didn’t work, but it left an impression with everyone on the base, and it wouldn’t be his last attempt to become a Ranger. The lesson that Coach Mullins had taught him was that there is always a way.

I asked other folks from Tullahoma to share Coach Mullins stories, and I’ve gotten a couple of great responses. Interestingly, Lee Brown (A classmate and good friend to both Lee Deckelman and me) has a similar Coach Mullins story, the difference being that Coach M suggested Lee B wear a large, heavy chain under his shirt when he weighed in.  I moved to Tullahoma in high school, so I never had the opportunity to play for Coach Mullins, but he was a presence at all our high school games, and my friends always greeted him coming on and off the field, treating him with great reverence.

The point I take away from this story is that the smallest thing you do for someone can make the biggest difference.  May we all have someone who will take the time to tell us to put rocks in our pocket.

The Closeout Kings may not be as fictional as I thought

When fiction looks like fact

When fiction looks like fact

This is a tough blog post to write without giving away spoilers in The Closeout Kings, so if you haven’t read the book, you may want to stop reading now.  I’m going to vamp a little here with an unnecessary sentence or two to give you time to turn back and save your virginal eyes from the spoilers that are to follow.  Still here? Okay, I’ll assume you’ve either read the book, or spoilers don’t ruin your enjoyment of a story.  Whatever the case, the spoilers start now.

I faced a lot of self-doubt as I was writing The Closeout Kings.  My main issue was the human trafficking aspect of the story.  I know globally that it is a horrific reality, but naively I thought the problem isn’t that pervasive in the United States. Still I carried on, and I wrote a story about a human trafficking ring in rural America that involved the police and politicians, both local and federal.  It was, I thought, pure twisted fantasy.  As it turns out, it is closer to reality than I thought.

My friend Jean recently brought the Franklin child prostitution ring to my attention. Now, it’s a long and complicated tale of alleged sexual abuse of children in the foster care system in Nebraska, and the federal courts actually found the allegations to be false, and they tossed some of the people making the allegations into jail.  There are a significant number of people who think there is a cover up going on since the allegations involved prominent politicians with ties that go all the way to the top of the federal government,  At this point, I know very little about the case, but it is hard to not see the similarities between my fictional tale and this true story.  It’s almost eerily similar.

Part of my job as a writer is to come up with conspiracies.  They make for great tools of conflict that drive both plot and character development.  Conspiracies are easy to invent, but I’m of the belief they are almost impossible to pull off. The story of The Closeout Kings came to me “out of the blue.” I had no prior knowledge of the Franklin case, but you can bet I’m going to be obsessively looking into it over the next weeks and months.  In fact, I found this documentary on YouTube that I plan to watch.

Lazy criticism

Lazy writing or lazy criticism?

Lazy writing or lazy criticism?

I’m not going to win many friends with this post because I am about to stick up for the use of profanity in writing.  My alter ego, C. Hoyt Caldwell, is sometimes penalized by readers and reviewers because of the use of vulgar language and situations.  I don’t fault them for their opinions.  They like what they like.  My beef isn’t with them.  It’s with writers telling other writers that the use of vulgarity is lazy writing. That’s bullshit.

This subject came up in a discussion on Facebook with a group of playwrights.  A question about the use of profanity was posted by a member, and a myriad of responses came in.  Most of them were of the “Do what you think is right as the artist” variety.  But a few playwrights condemned the use of foul language as a sign that a writer lacks the creative talent to convey an emotion without using profanity as a “crutch.” To which I say, fuck off.

Writers that condemn profanity as lazy writing are being either intentionally dishonest or unwittingly didactic. In other words, they aren’t judging the creative merit of such words, they are judging the moral value of such words.  They are uncomfortable with foul language and vulgarity, so they’ve convinced themselves that it takes true talent to write without the use of the profane.  They are wrong.  As writers, we record moments that exist on an ethereal plane. This realm is imaginary, but it is a self-directed imagination. Characters make choices free of the writer’s moral compass.  It’s hard to comprehend if you’ve never gotten lost in the creative process, but writing fiction, in its most profound form, is undeniably otherworldly.  And, that other world is outside of the writer’s influence.

Understand, I’m not condemning writers who don’t use profanity.  These realms we visit tend to be ones where we will feel welcome.  Some writers just won’t find themselves recording obscenities of any type because their imagination doesn’t go there.  If the story doesn’t call for vulgarity on any level, don’t wedge it in artificially.  But, as a writer if the story calls for it and you avoid it because you’re afraid of how it will be perceived or it is outside of your comfort zone, that is running from the creative process. It’s a cowardly move, and the story should die the milquetoast death it deserves.

Writers, stop asking for permission to use profanity.  Be true to the story as it is revealed to you.  This doesn’t mean I think rewrites are unnecessary.  On the contrary, I think they are essential to tapping into the deepest parts of these otherworldly realms.  The more you visit this ethereal plane, the more you understand it, and the better you make the story through rewrites.

Writers who abhor profanity, stop denying vulgarity has a place in literature or the theater or in film.  Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not valid. It’s not your place to tell other writers they are being lazy because they use profanity.  To be perfectly honest, that’s just lazy criticism.

C. Hoyt Caldwell named Author to Watch

Regular Guy Reading Noir

Regular Guy Reading Noir

My alter ego got a bit of an alter ego-boost on the Regular Guy Reading Noir blog with a review of The Closeout Kings.  It was quite unexpected, and a fantastic way to “closeout” 2014.     Here’s a sample of the review:

He makes each character come to life with background stories and motivations. Each action that is made by the characters is believable and the characters jump off the page. The bad guys are shown to have traces of redemption and you ache alongside them as you are pulled into their world and understand what makes them kick.

I’m humbled, elated, happy, and a little sleepy.  Thanks so much to Regular Guy. Click the link below to read more, and see what other books made the blog’s hit list.

Author to Watch.