Below you can read the afterword to my new ebook, "The Best Thing". You'll find some insight into how it came to be written and what it's all about. Enjoy....
It was mid 2007. I had gotten divorced just a few months prior and my recruiting business had all but tanked. I was working a retail job at my local Target store while I tried to figure out what to do next. It was a very slow Tuesday evening and I was dutifully staying at my post behind the electronics counter. It was about 6:30 pm and I was resigned to another five or so hours of tedium when I decided to call my friend/ surrogate little sister Carrie.
“Entertain me,” I said. “I am bored out of my friggin' mind.”
Both of us fancied ourselves as writers, so she suggested I start writing a story. I would write a page or two, she would write a page or two and we would complete it round-robin style. I agreed and started writing the moment I got off the phone.
Given my newly acquired singlehood, the prospect of dating was very much on my mind. I started a story about a young couple, Steven and Karen, on their first date and, well... I wound up completing it that very evening. Oops. Sorry Carrie.
I was more pleased than expected with how the story (called “Futility”) came out. I started on a sequel shortly thereafter, picking up the adventures of this couple. This one, which I titled “Possibilities” was just a little longer and just a little more ambitious than the first. I was happy with it as well and started to entertain thoughts of pursuing writing as a career.
Flash-forward several months later. I was still at Target but was plotting my exit strategy, as I was about to start an “Account Manager” job at a temporary staffing firm. I was dating a bit, but nothing serious at that point.
It was early afternoon on a Saturday and I was busily restocking DVDs. A guy in what I guessed to be his mid-twenties stood nearby, perusing DVDs with a little boy, probably around six years old or so. I gave them a glance and nodded in greeting. I had a strong sense this was the divorced dad with his son on the weekends scenario.
“What about that one?” the little boy said, pointing.
I turned and saw the father shaking his head vehemently.
“I don't think so,” he said, and looked at me for support. “That's not a kid's movie.”
I stepped over and saw that the little boy had pointed out a copy of the Deluxe Collectors Edition of “300”.
“Oh yeah,” I said. “That is not a kid's movie. A lot of gory battles and, um... other adult stuff.”
“I already saw it,” the boy said, looking up at his dad.
“You already saw it?” the dad said, his face reddening.
“Jason showed it to me,” the boy replied.
The dad was silent for a moment. He sighed.
“I guess I'm going to have to have a little talk with your mom about Jason,” he said quietly. He nodded to me and the two of them walked off.
That incident stayed with me the rest of the day.
I started thinking that the life of a divorced dad was fraught with difficulty. How does one effectively parent when you're not around your kids every day? What happens when you meet someone special (and maybe they have children of their own)? What I was going through after my divorce had some challenges, but I knew I had it pretty good, at least relative to how a lot of others had it. I knew I needed my share of advice, guidance and support and it was a safe bet that other divorced dads did too. I began writing an article that night, starting with the incident that afternoon. I was going to call it “The Divorced Dad's Guide to Life”.
I worked on the article over the next couple days, but for whatever reason it never quite gelled. I still found myself drawn to the narrative of the little boy and his father, though. I put the article aside and started thinking that I might have the seed of another short story. Certainly there was no lack of drama and pathos.
I started the story soon after. I made Mike, the brother of Steven from “Futility” and “Possibilities” the main character. The short story I had in mind was drawing to a close when I realized that Mike had a few more adventures in store. Should I build a series of short stories around him? Or should I, dare I say it, turn this into a novel?
So I went for it.
Admittedly, I wrote “The Best Thing” in fits and starts. I finished it over a year later, having let the vagaries of life and employment take over from time to time. Typing “The End” was a pretty big triumph for me, right up there with getting published for the first time.
Problem was, “The Best Thing”, as you may have noticed, is somewhat on the short side. It's technically novella length, which means it falls shy of the generally accepted novel-length of 50,000 plus words, but is vastly longer than the typical short story, generally not much longer than 7,500 words. Novellas usually don't get picked up by book publishers (unless you're Stephen King) and “The Best Thing” was too long to be saleable as a short story.
So what to do?
I played with the idea of expanding “The Best Thing”, but I really felt Mike's story was complete. So my novella rested in my hard drive for quite some time.
Cut to May, 2011. A screenplay, a host of short stories, a couple relationships and more than one job later, I had come to realize that I really needed to juice up my writing efforts. I had come to realize that writing is what I have always been meant to do with my life and it was well past time to act like it.
I started devoting much more time, discipline and energy to my writing. An important component of that was learning all I could in an effort to my improve my skills. It was late one evening, while reading an article online called “10 Worst Writing Gaffes” (or some such thing) that I saw an ad for a website that published ebooks. I clicked through and quickly saw that this was exactly what I needed.
This site would, upon uploading the “The Best Thing”, make my magnum opus available to the general public, through a variety of means and in a variety of formats.
I spent much of my free time over the next month or so revising, editing and formatting “The Best Thing” and its short story companions. This free time was often at a premium, given the demands of three pre-teen boys and a full-time sales job. It was that sales job, in fact, that provided the genesis for the third short story in this book, “Prospects”.
When you work in a hardcore cold-calling environment like I did, sales parlance becomes a part of your thought process and vocabulary, especially when you spend fully half of your waking hours around alpha male (and female) closers. I was also coming off a couple of, shall we say, rather unsatisfying relationships and I was looking to better my record in the romance department. A couple of my work buddies suggested applying all I knew about sales... building rapport, overcoming objections and yes, closing. I was skeptical about approaching a woman as if I was selling display advertising or photocopiers.
I started thinking about what would actually if I “cold-called” an attractive woman and soon started writing “Prospects”. I incorporated Mark Haggerty, a character that who very well-liked among those who had read “The Best Thing”... as a master salesman, he was perfect to mentor my main character, Ben Patton, and thus, “Prospects” was born.