Monday, October 17, 2011

To Great Lengths

Before I went to interview Emil Henry for yesterday's story in The Commercial Appeal (Writing mountaineer bio a career pinnacle, Oct. 17, 2011), I was given detailed instructions for how to get to his house inside the gated community within Chickasaw Gardens. E-mailed instructions that included the suggestion I bring my cell phone along just in case something comes up.

And something did come up! The power was out in the whole subdivision, so the electric gate didn't work. Someone standing on the other side of that gate sent me around to the south side of the community where there is an emergency gate used by the fire department, service vehicles, etc. At that gate there was a line of cars waiting to get out, we were all waiting on the security guard to come let us out and in. When he showed up, he had trouble manually opening the large, iron gate by himself, so I jumped out and gave him a hand.

It's arduous, sometimes, what we go through to get a story. Take Emil Henry, for instance. He scaled the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps in 1984 at the age of 55. When I asked him about it, his answer reminded me of George Costanza telling that woman that he built the addition on the Guggenheim: "Didn't take very long, either."

Was it difficult? I asked Mr. Henry. "No, not really," he replied. Seems they have ropes attached to the summit to help a climber pull him or herself up the rest of the way. That's helpful. It took him nine hours total, from bottom to top and back down - a regular work day without a proper lunch is all. He was quick to say, however, that 431 people have perished trying to scale that summit.

The story was in the writing of the book about the first man ever to scale the Matterhorn, Edward Whymper. Henry traveled to Switzerland, France, Italy and England for the facts; all on his own time, all on his own dime. I don't write nonfiction, other than these pieces for the newspapers and magazines, but there is something appealing about traveling halfway around the world for an in-depth story. It's work, certainly, but what an adventure.

Speaking of work, Henry was the chairman of the FCC for a bit, appointed at the age of 34 by John Kennedy in 1962. There are stories about that that had no place in the newspaper story about his book. For instance, when he first traveled to Geneva as an FCC representative, it was for a conference on radio frequencies to be used in space. Moscow and Washington were in a race to the moon and it needed to be determined who would use which frequencies up there. Isn't that civil?

And, as chairman of the FCC, Henry was the last official visitor to the White House before Kennedy was assassinated. He was in the Oval Office escorting a dignitary from England or some place, immediately after which JFK and Jackie left for New Orleans and then Dallas the following day. Henry was having lunch with his English counterpart when the Brit was called to the phone, returning to inform Henry that his president had just been killed.

Incidentally, the last unofficial visitor to the White House was Nat King Cole, who Henry saw there taking photos with JFK as he left.

There are stories everywhere! Stories on mountaintops, stories locked behind dead gates in Chickasaw Gardens and stories that might be realized in the following days with a phone call or a communiqué over an as-yet determined radio frequency.

Writing mountaineer bio a career pinnacle

To hear Emil Henry tell it, climbing the Matterhorn at 55 years old wasn't so difficult. There was little training, only to be tested on skills, endurance and altitude sickness; it wasn't even a life's dream.

"As tall, high mountains go, it's probably the easiest of all the high mountains in the Alps now," Henry said of the summit that has seen 431 deaths, 58 in the 21st century alone.

Researching and writing a biography of Edward Whymper, the first person ever to scale the 14,690-foot mountain, however, became a monumental task of endurance, travel and expense. And a challenge he wouldn't give up for anything.

"It turned out to be the most enjoyable occupation of my life," Henry said of the book, "Triumph and Tragedy: The Life of Edward Whymper" ($18.31).

Henry, now 82 with three children and five grandchildren, began life in Memphis, growing up in Chickasaw Gardens before going away to a boarding high school in Pennsylvania and college at Yale. He joined the Navy during the Korean War, spending three years on a destroyer in the Pacific Ocean, and then went to Vanderbilt for law school.

After practicing law in Memphis for five years, he was appointed to the Federal Communications Commission in 1962. When the chairman resigned only eight months later, Henry was appointed, "at the ripe old age of 34," chairman of the FCC by President John F. Kennedy.

It was in 1963, while in Geneva for a conference as the FCC representative, that Henry was first approached with the idea of climbing the Matterhorn. "I don't do that," he said. "It's not my thing." He reconsidered 21 years later when a business colleague suggested he contact mountain guide Rickie Andenmatten.

"My guide (Andenmatten) said, 'Emilio, you're going to get waked up at 4 o'clock, get dressed, eat a light breakfast, we're going to walk out the door at 4:30 and it's action, action, action'," Henry said. "We got to the top of the Matterhorn at 9:30."

It took five hours to scale the mountain and four hours to descend, Henry said. "My legs were jelly."
The Matterhorn is part of the Swiss Alps and sits on the border of Italy and Switzerland. With its iconic summit and difficulty to conquer, it was known during the Golden Age of Mountaineering (1854-1865) as the "impossible mountain."

Edward Whymper was a young Englishman -- only 25 at the time he became the first to scale the Matterhorn in 1865 -- who would also become an accomplished author, artist, photographer, lecturer and natural scientist who researched the causes of altitude sickness. "He was many things, and this book is about all of those things."

It was the discovery in a Zermatt bookstore of Whymper's own book, "Scrambles Amongst the Alps," first published in 1871 and still in print in an abridged version in 1984, that led to Henry's fascination with the adventurer. Whymper wrote several other books, but the only full biography on the man was one published in 1940. "It was highly dated and highly opinionated, and it did not give a full picture of the man, in my opinion," Henry said.

So Henry set about to write a comprehensive book about not only Whymper, but also the circumstances surrounding the Golden Age of Mountaineering, the physical challenges, triumphs and tragedies, and the majestic mountains themselves. "Part of the allure of this book was due to the romantic appeal of the Alps themselves and the Alpine regions," he said. "Chapter 3 is only about the Alps, how they were formed in geological time, what they look like, how they differ from the Himalayas, the spirited amateurs who climbed them, the chalets and haylofts where the climbers found shelter. I compare the early mountaineers to the aviation pioneers."

The writing was an expedition in itself, taking Henry to England, Wales, Switzerland, France and Italy. "I wanted to do justice to the man, I wanted it to be a serious biography ... so I spent a lot of time at the Alpine Club Library in London."

It was all research paid for out of his own pocket, he said, adding, "I'm not in it for the money." There were several publishing houses and agents interested in the manuscript, including several in the United States and Random House in London. "I finally decided that companies and agents were not going to publish an octogenarian, unpublished lawyer." He ultimately self-published the 428-page book through Troubador Publishing in the UK, where Whymper is vastly better known.

The book is for sale through all online retailers, as an e-book and at the Booksellers of Laurelwood, where Henry recently held a reading and book signing.

The Golden Age of Mountaineering ended with Whymper's ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865, not because he proved the "impossible mountain" could be conquered, but quite the opposite. On the descent, four members of his team plummeted thousands of feet to their deaths, the worst tragedy in mountain climbing history. The sport has changed over the years with improved technology and a better understanding of the conditions the human body can withstand.

But what haven't changed are the public's fascination with the environment and man's need to push himself and challenge the unknown within. In his book, Henry explores the life of a true adventurer and a theme which helped Henry push himself to the summit.

"What I tried to do and what I've done, I think, is to create the story of this man's life and, in so doing, illuminate as best I can his character and the things that set him aside from other people," Henry said. "So it's not just about mountaineering, but mountaineering ... goes a long way in explaining the kind of man he was."

© 2011 Memphis Commercial Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Because I Said So: Teen travels builds bonds, makes lasting memories

There is almost always more story than will fit in the space allotted for publication. Always a back story, extra detail, bookends, an aside or footnote. For instance, for today's "Because I Said So" column in The Commercial Appeal, I put in and then took out the fact that the cassette I kept turning over and over for the entire ride from Memphis to Naperville, IL, was the soundtrack to the film "The Big Chill." It was 1983, after all.

As I wrote in the column, I rode home to Naperville with Carol on a whim, an impulse as thought out by any of us as her buying a blue Great Dane puppy was when she lived at the time in an upstairs apartment of an old house. So I had no plan to get home, but ended up taking an Amtrak train back to Memphis. I was 13 years old and I know Carol felt guilty for years for putting me on that train alone at Chicago's Union Station. Hell, she may still have guilty pangs over that.

I sat down in the train car and could see her through the window as we pulled out of the station. An woman in her 50s sat next to me and, seeing I was alone, doted over me. She asked me if I needed anything, if I was okay and would do so periodically for the duration of the trip. I was fine. I was more than fine, I was alone and free to walk the train and find what was on the other side of this door or that. I found the club car and had a sandwich and a Coke, watched the fields of corn go by in the night and listened to the conversations around me. I spent time in my seat reading and dozing. My dad picked me up in the morning at Memphis's Central Station, little more than a shell of a building back then.

When I think of that time, that age, I don't think of it as teen or a pre-teen. It was a rite of passage and I think of my young self in terms of before and after that trip. I was given the chance to be independent and to look after my own interests. It wasn't dangerous, at least I didn't think of it as so, but it was my time to be on my own. I thank all the parties involved - my parents, my aunt, my grandparents who lived in Naperville at the time - for that experience and for planting the seed for lifelong interests in time alone with my thoughts, blue puppies, train travel and Marvin Gaye.

The column:
When I was 13 years old, I took a road trip to Naperville, Ill., with my aunt Carol. She was returning home from a visit and didn't want to make the drive alone with the Great Dane puppy she'd impulsively adopted while in Memphis. I wasn't much help on that drive, I'm afraid. I had no license and was put in charge of the puppy and the music. There was one cassette I liked and we listened to one side, and then the other, for more than 500 miles. I fed the dog Doritos.

Carol never complained.

At some point she was pulled over for speeding and had me lie down on the back seat. "Sorry, officer," she said, "I guess I was paying more attention to my nephew, who's feeling sick, than the speed limit." There was no sympathy and she got the ticket anyway, along with a bit of karmic justice when the puppy threw up all over the back of the car 10 minutes later.

As trips go, it wasn't the farthest I've traveled. It wasn't the most expensive or tropical trip. There is little glamour in Naperville, Ill. But it was an adventure nonetheless, and the bonding experience was immeasurable.

I was 13. Is there a worse age? Hormones, anxieties and peer pressure wreak havoc on teens who often don't know which way to turn at any given moment. I was able to spend quality time with a captive audience who listened and laughed, and talked with me as an equal.

This isn't a knock against parents, but as parents we have our own anxieties and pressures to deal with. Sometimes it's all we can do to keep our kids fed and clothed, never mind the Herculean effort it takes to extract information from a teen on his own thoughts and concerns.

My own 13-year-old son is leaving tomorrow for a trip with his aunt and uncle to New York City. He's excited and I'm envious. Not only because, while I'm still here feeding and clothing the other three kids, he'll be seeing new sights and sampling exotic cuisine, but also because, all sarcasm aside, that age really can be magical.

It's a time when our brains were spongy and we soaked up everything around us, whether the sights and sounds of New York or the stories and lessons of someone other than our parents and teachers; an outsider who was also very much an insider.

On that drive to Illinois 28 years ago, my aunt told me family stories, some I'd heard a hundred times before and others I probably wasn't yet supposed to learn. I kept it all inside myself and appreciated the candor and trust, and being spoken to on an equal footing. It's what I hope Calvin gets from his adventure this weekend while walking through the Village with his own village, enjoying the world-class view from the top of the Empire State Building, exploring Central Park and eating enough New York-style slices to make a puppy sick. 
Richard J. Alley is the father of two boys and two girls. Read more from him at Become a fan of "Because I Said So" on Facebook:

© 2011 Memphis Commercial Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Brief History of the Park System of Memphis

For the current installment of the semi-regular Hidden Memphis series for The Commercial Appeal (Park place: Establishing recreation system was linchpin of improving Memphis; Oct. 9, 2011), I jumped feet first into the history of the Memphis park system. The subject was a last-minute replacement when a person I wanted to write about proved to be impossible to contact. My editor asked what else I had and I impulsively suggested parks.

Promotional poster for the
Memphis parks system

It seemed simple, as I always think these stories will be, and then I went to the Memphis & Shelby County Room at the main library, asked Sarah F. for whatever they had on the park system and was inundated with files upon files of clippings, books and a listing of further collections. This is good, this is better by far than not having enough information.

The stories in this series take a lot of time and energy. There are usually copious newspaper clippings to go through, people to find and interview, and, often times, site visits. The story on the parks proved no different. Despite the effort it takes, and the disproportionate pay for work done, I really do get into the subjects and I feel that they're important for Memphians to know. Understanding why the city is structured the way it is, or who made it so, is part of what being a local is all about; it's this understanding that instills pride and gives us all a sense of place.

One interesting piece that had to be cut from the story was about the underground sewer system implemented here in the 1880s:
Memphis’s determination was made all the more evident as she was beautified from the underground up. Colonel George W. Waring Jr. of Rhode Island suggested, at a special meeting in Nashville in 1879, an underground system of separating sewer water and storm water. The idea was implemented immediately by Mayor D.T. Porter.
“This sewer design, known as the Waring plan in Memphis, became known as the Memphis plan in the rest of the world as city officials from afar came to see it,” writes Paul R. Coppock in his book “Memphis Sketches.” 
As usual, I had plenty of help on this story, from Sarah to Wayne Dowdy who helped find great old photos of parks and the parkways, the vast knowledge of the city in Jimmy Ogle's encyclopedic mind, and the wonderfully detailed writings of Perre Magness. Thanks to all of them.

If you have an idea for a story in the Hidden Memphis series, please send me an e-mail at

The story:

The founders had a plan, and it began with the parks.

When Memphis was established in 1819, parks and open spaces were as much a part of the vision as the Mississippi River, commerce and cotton. With a total of 36 acres decreed by the founders (the earliest being Court Square, Market Square, Exchange Square, Auction Square and the promenade along the bluff), Memphis established itself as a city on the cutting edge of culture, recreation and meeting the needs of the community.

Today, with activists and leaders suddenly intent on expanding and utilizing existing green space as an amenity to attract a creative class of people and industry, it's a resource the city has actually been cultivating and sitting upon since its earliest days.

As early as 1889, Judge L.B. McFarland began looking into the creation of a park system for the city. Nine years later, John C. Olmsted, son of Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., the designer of New York's Central Park, visited Memphis to investigate the possibility of such a system.

The mood of the nation following the Civil War, Reconstruction and the yellow fever epidemics led to an avid progressive movement of city beautification.

The leaders of the day "rallied around the idea that the city could be rebuilt to the highest standard of quality and innovation, and, as an example, the city beautiful movement advanced those ideas in parks, open space and with the parkway element, not just as a scenic drive but as a way to create and improve the form of cities where they could be organized around beautiful, linear parkways that would also enhance development and real estate values," said Ritchie Smith, a landscape architect who drew up the 1988 Overton Park Master Plan.

Today, in the Memphis Park Services building on Avery (on land acquired by the Park Commission through a delinquent-tax seizure in 1936), the minutes of meetings for an infant commission are recorded in large, crumbling leather-bound books. With the flourish of a neatly written hand that allows us into the paneled offices of men who dreamed of the outdoors, the Memphis Park Commission was established in 1900. Ever since, it, and its subsequent entity known as Memphis Park Services, has maintained a patchwork quilt of turf, trees, pools, recreation centers and ponds.

Also recorded in the books is the commission's interest in land found "in the northeastern portion of the city," the 347-acre Lea Woods. It was soon purchased for $110,807 from Overton Lea, grandson of city founder John Overton. The park was called East Park before eventually being renamed to honor Overton.

City planner and landscape architect George Kessler of Kansas City, Mo., was hired in November 1901, and he drew up plans for a system of scenic parkways to connect the new Overton Park with Riverside Park in Downtown.

During his career, Kessler planned hundreds of projects internationally and across the country, including Dallas, Cleveland, Indianapolis, El Paso and the grounds for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis.

Riverside's 379 acres had been used for emergency burials during the yellow fever epidemic and, later, to grow hay and vegetables that would be used to feed animals at the new zoo in Overton Park.

In 1913, a golf course was added to Riverside. A dam was constructed in 1952 to divert the river to the other side of Presidents Island, forming McKellar Lake with a marina built by the Park Commission. The park was renamed to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after his assassination.

Kessler, realizing that the open spaces were public and paid for by citizens, designed with an eye toward easy and ample access, even though there were only a handful of cars in Memphis at the time.

"In 1904, there were eight; in 1910, there were 1,000, and the speed limit was 8 mph," said historian Jimmy Ogle, who worked for the Memphis Park Commission in several capacities, including deputy director, and now offers a walking tour of Overton Park.

When thinking of parks, images of children playing, ducks and geese on ponds, picnics and sports fields spring to mind. The system of North, East and South parkways, however, is a shady, flowering trail designed and still maintained by Park Services. The system was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

"They still are the best roadways that we have developed, and it has been 100 years," Ogle said. "Three lanes, park-like median, dedicated turn lanes, very few traffic lights." Last month, the city began restriping North Parkway for dedicated bike lanes to connect Overton Park with Downtown.

During the first half of the 20th Century alone, we had the additions of Bellevue Park, Morris Park, Lincoln Park, Williamson Park, Treadwell Park and the Pink Palace. In an effort to battle the Southern heat, public pools were opened in Orange Mound, at the Fairgrounds and in North Memphis.

Land encompassing the Indian mounds known as the Jackson Mounds, south of what is now Interstate 55, was purchased in 1912 and renamed DeSoto Park (again renamed Chickasaw Heritage Park in 1995). In 1913, 53 acres north of Chelsea were established as Douglass Park. Both were outside the city limits at the time, and both were designated for black residents only, part of the segregation of city parks that lasted until a Supreme Court decision in 1963 ended such laws.

The second half of the century saw the creation of parks Glenview, Gaisman, Belz, Gooch, E.H. Crump, Martyrs and the Spanish American War Memorial at East Parkway and Central.

During the 1960s and '70s alone, federal money made possible the acquisition of more than 2,500 acres and the creation of 50 parks.

Two parcels of land totaling 355 acres were purchased just outside the city limits at the time for more than $400,000. Former mayor Crump, a bird enthusiast, lobbied for the name Bluebird, but the Commission fancied Audubon. There was already a small park on Central near the Fairgrounds named Audubon, however, but the Commission took the name for the new park and renamed the old one Tobey, now home to baseball fields, a rugby field, volleyball pit, dog park and, soon, a new skate park.

The Ketchum Memorial Iris Garden was planted with 2,500 rhizomes from the garden of Morgan Ketchum, the municipal rose garden was relocated from Overton Park, the Memphis Area Wildflower Society created a sanctuary for displaced native plants, and, in 1964, the family of retailer Jacob Goldsmith dedicated the public gardens. It was renamed Memphis Botanic Garden two years later.

Audubon Park today contains the gardens, an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts and a 6-acre fishing lake. Once outside the city, it has become an oasis within, nestled among railroad tracks, a shopping mall, the University of Memphis and heavily trafficked streets on all sides.

It is this sort of oasis that McFarland and Kessler envisioned more than a century ago. It's a system that has been cared for and attended to by its keepers and citizens alike, though it has come under assault at times by eager developers.

Overton Park was nearly bisected in the 1970s by I-40 until a landmark Supreme Court decision averted that near disaster. It is a case looked upon by courts today and still the only point in the country where I-40 is broken.

The Memphis Park Commission was dissolved in 2000 under the Herenton administration and became a division of city government. Today, the Memphis City Council is considering allowing a conservancy -- like the zoo, Botanic Garden and Shelby Farms have done -- to overlook the management, fundraising and any restructuring of Overton Park.

"The Park Commission are assured of the fact that they can accomplish but little unless supported by a strong, favorable public sentiment," Chairman McFarland wrote. "The people must encourage and help the Commission and the administration in this work if they want a beautiful city."

© 2011 Memphis Commercial Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

West entrance to Overton Park; McLean & Overton Park; 1914

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Classic Urf!: Family Motto

This blog was started way back in 2006. After a couple of years of writing it, my friend Stacey Greenberg contacted me one day and said The Commercial Appeal was interested in the two of us writing a new column for them about parenting. Perfect, I figured, I'm already doing that.

Stacey has recently departed the column for various reasons, including, apparently, to write a hell of a lot more features. I think she has one somewhere nearly every other day. Here's one from today's CA. And, of course, she still keeps up with her blog, which was her gateway drug into "Because I Said So."

Speaking of "Because I Said So," it's only every other Thursday now, so on the off Thursdays, I'll replay some classics. Today, though, I'm pulling out an old Urf!. I have a counter on this site and it shows me how many hits I get, how people got to the site and where they are. It's fascinating to see the many different locations around the globe where people are slacking off work or school by searching the internet; to see at just what corporations, colleges and hospitals around Memphis employees are snatching a little "me" time. And, to see what they search for to get to Urf!. Far and away, one of the most searched terms that gets y'all to the site is "family motto." Lot of genealogy enthusiasts out there.

It so happens that I had a post on May 22, 2006 (only six days before the birth of GK!), titled with that exact search term: Family Motto. It would have made an excellent column, and is still a good post, a classic even. So here it is for your enjoyment.

I was recently reading a touching piece by Calvin Trillin in The New Yorker on his late wife, Alice. In the article, he mentions a family motto that he, his daughters and Alice had: "Pull Up Your Socks." Trillin recalls Alice lamenting that this motto may have been too "flippant."

It got me to thinking that maybe we need a family motto. I found it odd, in fact, that we didn't have one in place already. My family, my little fiefdom, should have a motto to look to for inspiration. A few came to mind right away: "We're Out Of Milk," "Where Is The Remote?," "Your Shoes Are On The Wrong Feet."

It will need to be a motto The Trio can take pride in, something they can shout from the top step and one day tattoo across themselves, or at least write it in their own dust. I believe any of the aforementioned mottos are a nice enough fit. Other possibilities include: "I Want," "Where's Mommy?" and "Don't Touch Daddy's Drink."

Once we come up with a decent motto, though, we may need a coat of arms - something that really strikes fear, or confusion, in the hearts of the other families at the park. Coats of arms have really fallen out of style in the 21st Century. In fact, I don't think I know one family with a coat of arms; nothing they're willing to display with pride, anyway. So what would our coat of arms look like? Perhaps a shield with a Pop Tart emblazoned on it, or a sippy cup full of curdled milk or maybe just a likeness of me looking addled. Or maybe it won't be a shield at all, we rarely use them around here. Maybe it will be a TV screen or a trash can or a refrigerator door left standing open. Other coat of arms design possibilities include: a silhouette of bedhead, a toothpaste-caked toothbrush and a pile of laundry, possibly clean, possibly not.

Once we start thinking of a motto and coat of arms, then we naturally have to consider a family song, a battle anthem. Currently, on the way to school, The Trio is enjoying "Shake Your Rump" by The Beastie Boys off the album Paul's Boutique, and "People Watching" by Jack Johnson off the Curious George soundtrack. Neither of these seem appropriate. I would have to nominate "Goon Squad" by Elvis Costello off Armed Forces, "Fly Me To The Moon" by Frank Sinatra, the version on Sinatra at the Sands, and "Run Run Run" by The Velvet Underground from The Velvet Underground & Nico.

Well, we have a lot to work on around here, so I better go. But rest assured and beware, The Trio will soon be coming to a park near you to take over your swings and your slide and your plastic tube they like to crawl through. You'll know them right away, they'll be the ones marching up with a banner reading "No Shoes On The Couch!" and wearing shirts printed with stylized pictures of a half-eaten waffle while singing "Shake Your Rump" at the top of their lungs.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Stolen Moments

I'm having an affair.

No, not like that, but instead of doing what I should be doing some mornings, instead of working on what is expected of me as part of a household that requires food and shelter and money for frozen yogurt, DVDs and telephone service; instead of being a productive member of society, I'm spending time with a retiring jazz musician in New York who reflects on his life for me and talks about his hestitation to move back to the South. He regales me with stories of traveling through that dusty swath of Delta during a time when he and his band mates weren't allowed to eat in certain restaurants or stay in many hotels. And then some mornings I spend what should be productive work time with a young man who is coming to terms with being a father before he'd planned to, and his girlfriend who is likewise staring wide-eyed at her future as a mother. And I'm almost too ashamed to tell you about the lake where I spend mornings bandying about with the locals.

(I don't know if any of my editors read this blog or not, but if so, let me assure you that your project will be finished on time. I don't make a habit of missing deadlines.)

These are all characters and locations in novels and short stories I'm working on and, though the nameplate on my desk might read WRITER, spending time on anything but what has been specifically asked for, with a fee attached, just feels wrong. Sure, these manuscripts may sell. Eventually. They may bring in advances and royalties to keep my family fat with school uniforms, Pop-Tarts, books, car insurance and Christmas gifts, but that's a gamble, isn't it?

I write these stories because I have to. They eat at me until I can get them on paper, and some of them even turn out pretty good. These are the ones I think are salable and that I dream of seeing on a bookstore shelf one day. It's a dream the way the lottery is a dream for some, or playing time in the NFL is for others. Do I think it will happen one day? Sure. Someday. But I don't have a timeline the way I do for a newspaper profile or magazine feature. There is no guaranteed paycheck with the conclusion of a short story.

I'm lucky to have the time to work on stories I make up. I'm fortunate that my days aren't filled with meetings and conference calls and site visits. I'm free to lean way back in my chair, put my feet up on my desk, and imagine where it is Agnes goes after she leaves that bookstore, or whether or not I should just do away with Lucas Spoke for good.

Now, I'll certainly have to put my feet back on the floor again to get down to business and make those phone calls, meet up with a source and craft those thousand words that follow a byline. Time cards wait for no man, whether real or made up.

Business is business.

The trick is balancing the business of writing with the love of writing. It's a plot I'm still working my way through - one that includes stolen mornings, intrigue, devotion and duplicity - and I can't wait to see how it might end.