I am so happy to have T.T. Thomas join me for this blog – if you haven’t read “A Delicate Refusal” or “The Blondness of Honey”, you’re missing out on two terrific historical romances! So, without further ado, here’s T.T.:
First, I want to thank Kim for inviting me as a guest blogger. Second, the timing was propitious…sorry, the timing was fab…because this is Day 7 of my Retirement. This blog will be about how my career in the car business has informed my other profession as writer and published author. I know: How Looney Tunes is that?
Now, so as you should know: I always wanted to be a writer. I interrupt my story to bring you a picture of me at 5, First grade school picture, St. Thomas the Apostle School, Peoria, Illinois.
In the past three years, I’ve published two full-length novels (The Blondness of Honey and my most recent, A Delicate Refusal), two novellas, Two Weeks At Gay Banana Hot Springs, and Vivien and Rose (a “companion” piece to Blondness), and four individual short stories, as well as a compilation of the four (Sex On A Regular Basis). I self-publish all of my works under my Bon View Publishing imprint.
As Mr. Shakespeare said: “Like madness is the glory of life.” But before I get into the power and the glory, LOL, of how I’ve done it so far, this might be a perfect time to present the World Premiere of the cover of my next book. Ta da!
But I don’t know how or when I did it. I’ve been writing for forty plus years. But I didn’t publish more than a couple essays, a few poems and a whole lifetime of feature articles for various publications until I decided three and a half years ago to take the Indie route to publishing fiction. Going Indie is another story for another time…
I’ve worked at a Mercedes dealer for the last 18 years, usually long days and late nights, weekends and every major holiday except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. I was the Finance Director, and I’ve actually been in the car business over 30 years, 29 of it in Finance. Prior to that I was, first, a journalist for various business trade publications and, after that, a public relations executive. Then I decided to sit down and write the all-American novel, and somewhere into the second year of that, someone suggested that I go out and get a real job. I believe it might have been my mother.
A friend of mine was selling cars and singing at clubs on weekends, so I thought, perfect: my art and my income. Handled! The income was so great 30 years went by and all I had to show for my art was one finished novel that was brilliant but flawed (my words) and was what Hope chests were invented for. I also had two half finished novels, four quarter-finished novels and the best computer and software programs money could buy. Three and half years ago, I decided that the light at the end of the tunnel was headed my way on a two-ton locomotive that showed no sentient signs of slowing down to let me pass unhindered into that big blockbuster novel in the sky. It occurred to me that in order to have written a book, one really ought to actually sit down, write it and finish it. Most inconvenient.
I never had much free time, and it took two of us to get me out the door to work and back each day! Every time I showed up at work with matching socks, I had Karyn to thank. Every time I showed up in matching shoes, I had Karyn to thank. Every time I showed up, I had Karyn to thank. She is my spouse and a brilliantly creative gardener in her own right. She used to be a psychiatric nurse, so that came in handy, too, when she met me. She was and remains my first fan.
When so-called social media became the go-to vehicle to know and be known, I figured I was a goner. I’m not social, I care far too much what others think, I knew everyone would finally figure out what a fraud I was, and there you’d have it: death by Facebook with Twitter as an accessory to murder! The one good thing in my favor is that I’m not known to be overly dramatic about things…oh sure, my spouse said early on that my two sisters and I were born of Original Alarm, but naturally, I think she exaggerates.
For all of those years I was 100% commission, and I early on learned that to achieve and maintain a viable position in the upper end of the first tier of the proverbial six figures category, year after year, I was going to have to tell some damn compelling stories!
Why? Because buying a car is the second largest purchase most people make, buyer’s remorse sets in the minute customers walk on the lot, most customers have had nightmare car dealer experiences or knew people who did, and I was going to have to set myself and my dealership apart from the usual car fare. If buyer’s remorse begins when customers walk onto the lot, it positively coalesces when they walk through the Finance Department doors! I knew I was going to have to make their experience unexpectedly rewarding, pleasant and even fun. I was going to have to fulfill their needs, go beyond their expectations and always, always, do the right thing. I was going to have to anticipate their objections, the real ones and the ones they come up with to put distance between themselves and the historical perception of car people as hustlers, liars, con artists and flakes—one mere step above lawyers! And somewhere in there, I wanted to make a decent income.
As the Finance Director, one of my jobs was to be a bridge between the customer and the Sales Department. Technically, I was part of the Sales Department, but I had a vastly different task: I didn’t sell cars—I sold money. I didn’t sell features, I sold insurance for those features. No, I didn’t sell the car; I sold the customers on the efficacy of doing business with this particular dealership. I represented the customer to the lenders, went to bat for the customer when the lender found their credit less than perfect, (sometimes way short of perfect) gave all the customers a reasonable interest rate they could rarely find elsewhere, and generally made sure their experience was genuinely a great one.
In the last 18 years of my 30-year car career, I’ve done the documents, secured the loan or lease and got to know my customers, their families and their friends. And in many cases, I did that a dozen or more times for the same customer over the years. They have to be happy to come back that often. They have to trust that you’re doing your best by them. They have to believe and know that even if, as can sometimes happen, other aspects of their experience fall short, once they get into my office, things will get sorted out, good things will happen. They are protected.
Most of the time in my office is spent getting to know one another, and having lots of laughs. Prior to the position from which I just retired, I never personally had that kind of experience at a car dealership, either as a customer or as an employee.
Almost all of my customers know that I am a writer (“…just until this car career takes off,” I’d joke), and a great many of them know I am married to a woman. It just came up, unintentionally, in passing, by way of getting to know someone. I had spent years fine-tuning the art and skill of neither denying nor confirming anything. About 15 years ago, I decided it was past time to be me.
To the person, in other words thousands of people, with one memorable exception, everyone took it in stride or looked awfully much like they were trying to. Sure it was risky of me, sure it was a business situation and sure I never knew, 100 per cent, if it would blow up in my face. It’s like writing a novel…characters are driven by their values, their fears, their weaknesses, their hopes, their passions, their dreams and their expectations. I tried to appeal to their spirit of life. And you know, I more or less figured out that no matter who you are, when you’re about to write a check for a hundred grand, handing that check over to a lesbian really is small change compared to the hit you’re going to take Monday morning when the check clears! Sometimes, if they pursued the lesbian angle, I’d show them her picture. Many, maybe most, would come by my office months later, when their car was in service, wave and say, “How’s your gardener?”
And not everyone can do that in their professional “day job” line of work. I couldn’t always. But when I decided I’d had enough of trying to be a good person doing the right thing while simultaneously hiding in plain sight, I realized that who I am is also like writing a book: You have to be the writer (person) you are to become the writer (person) you think you are.
Personhood, like writing a novel, evolves in sentences, in scenes, in chapters. But you have to begin with what you’ve got. And you have to be strong enough and resilient enough to take the slings and arrows of both well-intentioned and ill-intentioned readers, for you will meet both.
In the end, though, you’re better off listening to the unsolicited comments from readers who are emotionally “moved” by what you write. Find the readers who love what you do. They are out there. Encourage them to drop you a note, to approach you, to interact. And if you seem not to be gathering as many of them as you had hoped, then you probably better go back to square one and the idealism that once made you say: “If I can move just one person, just one…” Let me assure you that the day will come when that one, single person will have to be enough to keep you going. Treasure it, cherish it, remember it. And then go forth and write some crap more people will read! LOL…no seriously…write for one until it becomes two, then three, then four…and on and on. Isn’t that how pages become chapters becomes books?
I was fortunate to have worked at a place that was founded by a man, now departed, whose personal and professional motto was: Do The Right Thing. He knew that sometimes we might falter, but so long as we admitted our deficiencies, we were on the road to reclaiming our dedication to “doing the right thing.” We were transparent, we were grateful for the business, and we were professionals. We didn’t merely have jobs; we had professions.
And that’s what we as writers do or ought to be doing: being professional writers. We’re meant to offer a great story, tell it in an interesting way, share our personal interpretations and perspectives on the human condition, develop a unique, totally our own, voice, and, hopefully, give the readers more of a car book than they came in for at a price they can afford. If they give you a solid score on the J.D. Powers book review or a nice mention on Facebook or Twitter or their own blog (::waves at Kim::), then that’s a great day. If they actually spend in the neighborhood of the cost of a triple vente latte on your book, mazel tov! You’re a professional: you get paid for what you do.
So how has retirement informed my actual writing process? OMG let me count the ways. First, I now get to sit in the beautiful gardens created by my beloved and cringe at the sight of bugs and spiders I will never feel close to. I get to help with chores around the house, and I’ve opted for grocery shopping to get out of the house! I get to spend more time with Teddybear the Pug who has been giving me the side-eye for seven days–the kind one gives to an interloper. He used to nap alone in luxury on delicious hotel sheets with his Mommy; now he has to share naptime with Mommy and me, and, somehow…it’s not the same.
On the positive side, I throw his Mr. Carrot and Mr. Giraffe out on the patio, and when he tires of that we have Mr. Froggie, Mr. Monkey, Mr. Hippo, Mr. Dino, Mr. Chickie, Mr. Lion-I’m-Not-Lyin’, Mr. Bee, and about a dozen other “people” I didn’t know until last week and was surprised to discover live with me.
Karyn says these are the days she has waited 14 years for—days she doesn’t have to wear her lonely shoes, days she doesn’t have to have dinner for one, days she doesn’t have to worry what new crisis has come up at work.
She says she really likes my company, and I have noticed a minimal number of course corrections—the main one being: don’t put wet soap back in the soap dish because it starts a crud buildup.
Wha—??? Isn’t the soap going to be wet after I use it? No, don’t ask those things. Just don’t! I’m waiting for her to figure out that the reason I’m going through so much Kleenex in the bathroom is that I find it handy for wiping off the soap dish to remove all the wet soap crud! (She doesn’t like liquid soap dispensers, so just get that notion outta your brains!)
Oh and, very important: when one is asked to “pick up a couple loaves of bread,” that does NOT mean a sourdough baguette and a loaf of Rustica with kalmata olives and rosemary, unless, of course, you like your peanut butter and jelly with olives. If so, you may not be a real writer. Trust me on these Retirement Hints for Writers Who May or May Not Be Familiar with the Habits and Customs of The Person Who Runs Your Life Far Smoother than You Could Ever Hope To! Book One.
In the past seven days, I’ve had two meltdowns, three crying jags, one migraine, two stomachaches and far too much popcorn and coffee, but not together.
On the other hand…I’ve written this blog, I’ve written 2000 words on my next book, The Girl With 2 Hearts, I’ve taken Karyn out for a lovely lunch, and we’re seriously thinking of moving back to the Bay Area, or not more than an hour and a half outside it, in Northern California.
I’ve lived in Ireland, London, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Palm Springs for 3 days, Las Vegas for two months and Peoria, Illinois for 16 years—I know: which of these places is most unlike the others? Peoria, ding, ding, ding! Karyn grew up in the Bay Area, and we currently live in Thousand Oaks, a pretty area just outside and west of Los Angeles and a half hour to the Ventura and Santa Barbara beaches. Nothing wrong with this area, but it is expensive for retirees and commission only
car people authors!
We need, and want, something a little further away from the fast lane that is Southern California. Where that adventure takes us is in the making and will need an entirely separate blog post! One thing I know for sure: I will be getting a kitten! I’ve been promised! Don’t worry, Teddy will adjust.
What does this have to do with the
car writing business? Somehow, with all my missteps in the past seven days, hell, in the last 50 years, I’ve continued to do the right thing—which is, in a phrase, to remain human. Imperfect, Impassioned and sometimes Incorrigible–i.e, human. It’s my main job. There’s no retirement from that, no golden parachute for doing that or trying to do that, no going-away party and no one to tell me ‘good job’ when I do it right or ‘hmmm…not so good job’ when I do it wrong. I’m the boss of me, now. Yeah, right! Well…Teddy and Karyn and a couple True Blues (Besties!) are the bosses of me, now, but hell, they always were, and I’m better for it! And I have a new motto:
WILL WORK FOR LOVE AND LAUGHTER
AND A FEW GOOD BOOKS (BY ME AND OTHERS)!
But that’s the deal. That’s the human deal. And in my life, for so many years past and hopefully many more to come, it’s all about the
deal book. 😉
Link to A Delicate Refusal on Amazon
Link to my GLBT Blog The Daily Horse
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