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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Elven Magic: My Early Lessons in Writing Truth

Chapter 4 of Back to My Future: The Life and Times at Purdue University

(left: Terry Brooks,
Alessio Sbarbaro)

This is a excerpt from a working draft of: You Got a Life...But Do You Have a Plan?


The golden path to career success is not some extraordinary leap from typical day plodder to the corporate CEO of a Fortune-rated company. Everyone knows this, or at least, should. Whatever you are working on, and toward, is going to require time to gain the mastery necessary to be called boss or become the boss of the new venture. As master martial artist Bruce Lee eloquently surmised: “I am not afraid of a man that has practiced 10,000 kicks once; but one that has practiced 10,000 times one kick.” Meaning there is going to be a right amount of practice, and time invested, in order to become respected for knowledge and know-how.

At some juncture, a choice to retire one jersey will have to be made, in order to put on another, better suited to the skills you have honed.

My Free Agency for Life Plan (Defunct)

I have held 21 various positions for corporate America, university-related, or odd job(s) combined together. All total: 20 1/3 years of punch-the-clock work force time with about 4 more years of weekly occurring or daily odd jobs for ordinary citizens for straight cash. No writing positions were pursued from 1988 through 2009.

A few to be listed were very, very short-term. So yes, I was a well-traveled soul. In a book read about destructive narcissists, I suppose this pattern would be ample grounds for supporting their thesis. In some ways, I agree that was the case. Yet, another alternative theory is: I never was too keen on the jobs I took to begin with. I took them out of need of money, not a desire to be a cook, server, cashier, inventory analyst, or, even an industrial engineer, as a Navistar position was a good step up in pay from Lear Corporation but with almost zero responsibility or necessity to act. No, I was a square peg for all sorts of reasons, many discussed, and so this aspect of my life is still a quandary and ripe for interpretation.

Trading in his Uniform: Lessons from a Writing Life

My favorite author growing up was Terry Brooks. His books would be a fallback position at points in my life when I did not know where I was going, or even lacked any foreseeable way to get there even if I did know.

As it turns out, I started out hating to read anything, sticking to sports pictorials or Jane’s Fighting series on ships and aircraft. But in 7th grade, I had an old bitty of an English teacher that required us to read 6 books for the year, and do ½ to 1-page chapter write-ups of each book we read, plus a final paper on a book. And she based 35% of our grade on this torturous task of reading. So, not wanting to be stuck in the 7th grade forever, I went through the stacks of books and found The Sword of Shannara. I did not know much about the book only that the cover (paperback) looked cool. So I read this 600 plus page fantasy epic (as it counted as 3 books which appealed). Little did I know it was the first of its kind to reach the New York Times bestseller list. Or that its author had an interesting story to tell around the time I first got a hold of his masterpiece (1984-1985).


Brooks was an avid reader and writer. He enjoyed his play, pre-D&D style, back when Howdy, Uncle Miltie, and Texaco Star Theatre were big on TV, then considered a luxury good. He formulated stories, as kids do to have a hobby, but Brooks took his driving passion to write and shelved it (partly) as he reached early adulthood. Practically, he went to law school and did what the American Dream entailed, work and put away childish endeavors. However, he had a story to write – and did so, on and off, in the mid-1970s – and met up with Del Rey Books, and Lester del Rey, who polished Mr. Brooks into a better writer and author, from the first epic I read to Brooks’ turning point after publication of The Wishsong of Shannara.

Terry Brooks was caught between his legal career and his writing career in late 1984. He was hedging his bets, afraid, after all the success, he could not make it solely as a novelist. He visited his editor (del Rey) in New York, and, upon discussion, borrowed an idea for a book involving buying a magic kingdom at a crossroads in one’s life. The story in many ways was a depiction of himself.


Brooks finally made his decision to quit playing for the legal team and moved on to the writing team completely. Since then, he has written over twenty other books in various formats.

Crossroads #1 & Cooking Without a Purpose

In early 1992, after my grandmother lost her battle with cancer, I came to crossroads #1. I was never going to be a great engineer. I knew that then, but kidded myself for years, thereafter. Meanwhile, I started to write bad poetry. Journaled – a nice way for a guy to say he does not have a diary – to express my inner thoughts. After I was dismissed from Purdue for my horrible grades in the fall of that year, I went back to Lowell and an apartment that was too small for even myself, and yet, my mom was going to be there too. We argued some – not to the point of utter disdain – but I knew I had royally screwed up, and that got her ire up. I got a job at Burger King (job #9), then at Bob Evan’s as a grill cook, #10 on my list, roughly.

I was 21, and lost.

I went to the library to find Mr. Brooks. I figured a guy like him had written a truth or two since we last met in middle school. Sure enough, I found 3 or 4 books I had not read of his yet. So I read them. I plowed through about dozen books over the next four months. John Grisham was my next fiction target, since Mr. Brooks was only about ¾ the way through The Heritage of Shannara Series. (And I only could afford to buy a couple of titles on Brooks’ other journeys – the Magic Kingdom For Sale –SOLD!!! world, his crossroad title.)

I started reading more and more from then on, moving over to non-fiction, some poetry, and of course, the baseball stuff. Alas, while I did not do it as consistently as others, I can say, that – in a time crisis – Brooks has helped this wannabe move over to a different team. Later on, during my prison stay, I found his The Word and The Void series and The Voyage of The Jerle Shannara series in the dusty bins of a correctional library.


Such is the nature of truth.


(Terry Brooks’ information: Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life, 2003, Del Rey (Ballantine Books), New York.)

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