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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Of Mailmen and Cats
When The Handyman's Dream was first released I had a lot of folks make comments along the lines of "Gee, you must really have a hot mailman."  I always got a kick out of answering:  "Well, actually no, she's not," and watching the surprise on their faces.
It's true.  The mail carrier at my house was a woman when I was dreaming up and writing Ed's story about his jones for the new mailman.  In fact I never thought much about the fact that the regular mail carrier was a woman until people started asking me about it.  As I said, though, it was fun to tell people that my current mail carrier was definitely not the inspiration for Rick Benton.  It made a good promotional story and I used it for what it was worth.
During the writing process for The Handyman's Reality I moved to a new home in a different neighborhood.  I'm not sure how long I was living here before I noticed that the mail carrier on this street was most definitely male, and absolutely the kind of guy who rates a second, lingering glance from me.  Talk about real life mirroring fiction!  I seem to recall a few mornings when, after breakfast, I would find myself hanging around the living room before settling in at my desk for the day's writing.  I told myself that I was looking for a specific bill or letter or package to arrive, and that getting a glimpse of the mailman was just Bonus.  Uh huh.  Yeah, I almost bought it, too.  I seemed to be turning into Ed Stephens, infatuation and all.  The fact that it was October -- the month when Ed began to arrange his workdays around the mail delivery -- didn't escape my attention.  And yes, just like in the book, there was an occasional substitute who looked very much the way I pictured Ralph Graham in the story I had written a year and a half earlier. 
One day I was schlupping around the house, looking my morning worst, when I heard a knock at the front door.  I ran downstairs and whipped the door open only to find the mailman standing there with a package I had to sign for.  Sound familiar?  I honestly don't remember what it was -- the package, I mean.  I just remember getting my first close-up look at the handsome mail carrier, and being the typical homo that I am, thinking, Oh God, is he cute!  And feeling shyer, gawkier, and more of a dork than usual as I signed and thanked him.  Oh, and forgetting to look at his left hand for a wedding ring.
Well, that would certainly be the beginning of a great story, and it was -- for Ed and Rick.  As for me, I got used to having an attractive mail carrier stop by the house every day, and aside from paying a little more attention to him than I did to Becky in my old neighborhood, I never thought much about it.  As someone who has lived a good deal of his life within his imagination, I simply couldn't conceive of the sort of miracle I dreamed up for Ed actually happening to me.  Reality checks suck, but I accepted this one easily.  I had a book to write, edit, publish, and promote.
In fact I hadn't thought of it all until the other day.  It was Friday, the end of what had been a long, hot, exhausting week.  The garbage on our street is always picked up early on Friday mornings, so before I set out for work at the radio station, where I was doing vacation fill-in for the production manager, I trotted to the curb to collect the garbage cans so I could store them in the garage.  Well, who should just be getting out his postal truck but Mister Rings Nick's Bell himself.  We all but collided on the front sidewalk.  He smiled warmly and said, "good morning."  I, as usual, smiled bashfully and murmured good morning in return, my head down as I stumbled towards the garbage cans.  I am such a dork. 
I trundled the cans back up the driveway toward the garage replaying the image of that smiling face and cheerful greeting in my mind, thinking, oh, he is so cute.  Wouldn't it be something if I somehow did write my own story through Ed?  Maybe...
Well, as I said, it had been a long, hot week, and I might also mention I had been taking a lot of sinus and allergy medicine.  I parked myself on the deck, lit a cigarette, and shook my foggy, tired brain back to reality.  Still, I thought, it would make one hell of a promotional gimmick wouldn't it?  Or at least a good blog.
As I said there musing Ivan came to the deck screen door and meowed at me.  I shook my head at him, thinking again about real life mirroring fiction.  When people come to visit they automatically assume Ivan, a black cat, was the inspiration for Jett in the Handyman books.  Nope.  At the time I was writing The Handyman's Dream I was a landlord, and one of my tenants was cat-sitting for the winter.  I became attached to the scrappy black tom cat during his stay.  He was always banged-up from a fight, which I think inspired Ed and Rick to get Jett fixed in Reality.  Anyway, when the cat went home to his owners I missed visiting with him occasionally, and decided that Ed and Rick would have a black cat of their own.  That's why Jett's appearance comes rather late in the story.  I had no way of knowing I'd end up sharing a house with a friend who had a black cat of his own a year and a half later. 
Ivan, however, isn't anything like I imagine Jett to be, aside from the color of his fur.  Ivan is eight years old going on eight months, I always say.  He's a busy talker, very social, and the most affectionate cat I've ever lived with.  He's one of those "big personality" cats, and as I watched him paw at the screen door I couldn't help but think, the way so many other writers have thought, that he deserved a book of his own. 
I shook my head again with an eye roll as well.  That's just what I need to do, I thought; move from sappy romance stories about love-starved gay men to sappy cat stories!  So I got to dreaming about the mailman again, wondering if...
A fortunate glance at my watch told me it was time to go to work, and none too soon.  Too warm and too humid.  Too much allergy medicine.  Too many scripts to write about assisted living facilities and charity fundraisers.  It had been a long week, but my sentence at the radio station was about to end, and as I went into the house to pat Ivan and grab my car keys, I couldn't help but think it was a good thing I was shortly due back in Porterfield to spend some time with the fantasy mailman and the fictional cat.  
Yup, it's time to sit down, be quiet, and let Ed and Rick and Jett tell me what happens next, before I get my ass into the kind of trouble I can't fix in my stories.         
1:12 pm est

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When I'm Not Writing...
UPDATE:  If you are on Facebook I hope you'll join the NICK POFF Author of the HANDYMAN series group for discussions, updates, and more. 
The sad but honest truth is that most writers need to supplement their income with something other than writing.  I've worked in the radio industry since the tender age of sixteen, and for the same two radio stations for the past fourteen years.  We call it The Hotel California -- you can check out but you can never leave!  It's amazing how people go, but then seem to come back at some time, including me.  Radio has been good to me, and although there are still times I regret not sticking with the writing thing at an earlier age, it's been an interesting ride. 

Things I'm Enjoying....

In The Handyman's Dream Ed and Rick spend time at a cabin on a small lake in southern Michigan.  In a weird fiction-meets-non-fiction kind of way, John Sellers writes about just such a place in his latest book, The Old Man and the Swamp. It is a must-read for anyone who, like me, has been intrigued by that strange part of the world at the borders of Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio; fears and respects snakes, and has enitrely too much memory space dedicated to the 70's & 80's.
I enjoyed Joyce Maynard's latest, The Good Daughters.
I still can't believe All My Children is leaving ABC this September. I was a SLAVE to this soap opera for 27 years. Even though I stopped watching every day back in '01, I've checked in occasionally, and talked with co-workers about what was going on in Pine Valley. I mean......a world without Erica Kane? That, to me, is scarier than facing the end of the Mayan calendar!  I have, of course, read Susan Lucci's recent memoir, All My Life. It's a nice, breezy read, but for diehard AMC fans only. Still...Ms. Lucci is on my list of people I hope to meet someday, if only to say "THANKS!"  
The wonderful thing about "All My Children" is that it was, for many years, more than "just a soap opera." It was a second family of sorts to its most loyal fans. We can thank the amazing Agnes Nixon, the show's creator for that, but I also think thanks must be given to the entire production staff, and those incredible actors who made those characters so special to us. Did I learn some basic facts about life from watching this daytime drama? Yes. Did I learn how to write a good story from watching "All My Children?" You betcha. Anyone who reads and enjoys the HANDYMAN books can be grateful for the hours I spent in front of the TV, absorbing the finest writing in daytime television.
Just below is the link to the YouTube video from the intro of the 20th Anniversary special from 1990. It contains some brief clips from the first 20 years of the show.  Although AMC soared wonderfully into the 21st Century, I gotta admit the best stories were from the first 20 years.  
This show ain't dead yet, but it will be in September. Yeah, I'll probably be watching those final episodes. In the meantime, I want to celebrate some of the best creative writing classes I ever attended. Thanks, "All My Children!"
And I'm truly finding a great deal of joy in producing and broadcasting my little internet radio show on  I hope you'll tune in some Wednesday evening for some wonderful old music and chat.
 It's all RETRO here at the House of Nick. I also love the occasional old game show clip on YouTube.  I'm all about the retro fun stuff.  I'd like to think it reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously in the here and now.  I celebrate old pop music on my internet radio show, NICK POFF RADIO 45. 
As most writers do, I love word games, so I always enjoyed the game shows dealing with words. I loved the $10,000 Pyramid (and the $20,000 and the $25,000 Pyramid, etc.). For those with a short attention span, here's Billy Crystal's record-breaking trip to the top.
"I can't even watch The New Treasure Hunt anymore because you give me so much shit about it!"
(The above line of dialogue was deleted from the final draft of The Handyman's Dream. Ed's enjoyment of game shows and Rick's dislike of them would continue to be a source of irritation.) 




Meet two potential victims of global warming.  If you want to save the bears as much as I do, vote wisely in each and every election, and check out the link on my Favorite Links page.

Nick Poff