Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Dying for the Little Things

Every author is driven by different things. Each of us shares one or two common ones—love of books and creating stories. A few are driven by money and reward—good luck with that. Me, I’m driven by something inside that haunts me in my sleep and near every waking moment. I’m not quite sure what it is sometimes. Maybe it’s the solitude of writing and creating. Maybe it’s that my characters are my best friends. Maybe it’s brain damage from my earlier days chasing adventures.

But for me, writing began when I was a very young child—the fifth grade—and the biggest encouragement came from my grandparents, Oscar and Irene. They bought me books, coaxed me to read and write more and more, and were some of my biggest cheerleaders on simple things like being the high school newspaper editor and writing short stories for class. When I disappeared for years into the military to chase adventures, my grandmother remained steadfastly in my corner and always reminded me of my first love—to be an author. It took years for me to settle down and begin that journey with deliberation and not as some fanciful pipedream.  But all the way, I could hear my grandparents pushing me on until the years—and they—had gone by before I knew it.

Age has taken its toll on me one day at a time—and oh hell, I ain’t that old! My swashbuckling days are in the past with great memories and lost friends. No more hot surveillance through the streets of Athens and Istanbul. No homicide interrogations or drug deals. I can’t go days without sleep on operations looking for Abu Nidal or 17 November. No more protecting world leaders or celebrities. Crime scenes have been replaced by desk tops and keyboards. My steadfast partner replaced by two Labradors and a Mastiff. Fast cars and cool guns are replaced by, well, fast motorcycles and cool guns—okay some things never change.

I miss those days being an adventurer and pseudo-tough guy (that definition is very loose, mind you). In my earlier days, it took a lot to control me or keep me in line. I’ve always kept my emotions and weaknesses protected. It took a lot to break through the outer shell and get inside. I always kept my feelings and real persona hidden because of a business most only read about in books or see on the six o’clock news.

Not anymore. Age and green eyes felled me. 

Rail waiting for Papa to finish writing...
 My youngest grandchild—oops, sorry Jack, you just joined us—second youngest grandchild—Rail, is not deterred by my gruff exterior or locked doors of solitude. She demands one thing and one thing only—my utmost attention. To fail to deliver places me in peril—a stolen keyboard or mouse, missing car keys, books removed from my shelves and less-than-neatly piled in the middle of my floor. This tiny little child sitting in the middle of my desk blocking my monitor and saying, “Papa, you and me, Papa. You and me.”

How could the toughest of men not melt to that?

Since moving in with us—her mom and dad are building a new house—Rail has installed herself as my constant companion, editor, supervisor, and chief-assistant. My other five kids—all adults and most married with kids of their own—cannot believe that this hardcore, workaholic, blustering rock has been felled by a three year old.

Neither can I.

Now mind you, I’ve chased terrorists and criminals, spent sleepless days-on-end running operations in foreign countries during wartime, and had my share of nail-biting moments and terrifying misadventures (bad guys and divorce lawyers included). But never in my days have I ever felt so helpless and not in control as when I hear the words, “Papa, you and me, let’s … play ball, watch Doc, make breakfast, play hide and seek, watch Doc, watch Ponies, play Barbies, make popcorn, watch Doc, hide from mommy, watch Doc, read another story …”

Teaching Papa to cook...
When did I become a little girl’s teddy bear? When did this metamorphosis occur and what happened to the real me—you know, the gruff, solitary, biker-dude? Is there a peapod growing in my basement? An unreported alien abduction?

Nope. Just green eyes. And every time I think of it, I remember Oscar and Irene.

When my kids were young, I spent most of my time on the road—often times, not even in the same country. Later on, in their teenage years, I worked a billion hours a week and travelled constantly. Stress, exhaustion, and career were bad combinations and I dare say I missed some of the best years of my life. Thankfully, they’ve grown into very successful people on their own. Now, they are experiencing those same things and it makes it hard to have family close all the time. Understand, I have six wonderful grandchildren spread from Virginia to Japan. They all have a different, but personal bond with me. Jack, of course, joined the family last week and I've yet to introduce myself. No worries, Jack, you're part of the crew. With all six, the one bond I value the most is that bond that binds all of them together - regardless of me - as cousins. I know, I know, I'm too young for all this. Tell me about it!

Despite her rank as second to youngest, young Rail moreso benefits from location. She’s with me every day and night and never far away. If Papa is working, he must stop. If Papa is writing, he must move over and let her sit on the desk and instruct him on prose and grammar and Doc McStuffins. If Papa is cooking dinner, move her stool up and let her show me how to stir and spill and drop eggs and create a mushroom cloud of flour.

Why is it, Papa, that you can’t work, write, cook, and clean and still have time for hide and seek and Doc? Hmmmm? What the hell, Papa? What’s wrong? Are you tired?

Never too tired. Yes, Oscar and Irene, I hear you whispering in my ear.

And she loves books too—something from me in her DNA that couldn’t have come from my blood. We read everywhere and she loves to sit on my desk while I write—normally in the middle of my desk, on front of the monitor, holding my keyboard. And she knows my novels on the bookshelf and likes to look at them often. Once, she carried one around for an hour and kept telling me, “Papa you did this.” Yes, sweetie, I did. Maybe you will one day, too.

I have no doubts. Do you hear me Irene?

One only has to look at the young biker chick to know who wears the leathers in this household. Last year, my Harley scared her to death. A month ago, she began asking for a ride, but there’s no way I can do that yet. Instead, I told her she had to be old enough to take the noise, had to be able to sit on the bike safely, and had to be able to wear the gear. 

Last night, she had enough of my solemn mood and writing. I didn’t have time for hide and seek and wasn’t up for another episode of Doc. Instead, she grabbed my hand, dragged me to the garage, and insisted I begin her training as my biker chick and backseat companion. Sure, the leather jacket weighs more than she does. The gloves are elbow length and the glasses can’t find a hold. But the helmet ... that has possibilities! 
So this once toughguy and world traveler extraordinaire has been tamed. It took youth and green eyes to laugh in this old guy’s face and command my obedience, playtime, stories, and of course, Doc. Soon, it’ll be, “Papa, take me on the Harley.” Yes, ma’am—get your helmet, kid, let’s ride.

My grandparents were my biggest fans even before I’d published a book. They knew it would happen. In being there for me, I learned a lot about how to be one—a writer and a grandparent—even in my very, very young Papa-age. If I can do nothing else for these youngs ones—all of them—I’ll show them that whatever they want in life, whatever dreams they have, they can have them.

I did.

Now, other dreams—those new ones I hope I’m not too old to chase (naw)—better look out. I’m ready to go—adventure, new novels, life’s missing pieces, and yup, many Harley travels.

Someday—soon I hope—my rear Harley seat will have a passenger for those new stories. It’s empty now and just waiting for those green eyes. Until then, I’ll just write my adventures and wait …

Thank you Irene and Oscar for showing me the way. I’ll pass it all along.

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS (IPPY) FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell—and New Sins for Old Scores, a new paranormal mystery coming in 2017! He is currently working on a new thriller. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York's Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also the 2015 Bronze Medal winner of the Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Best Books of 2014, and a finalist for the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.

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