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Remembering Payne Stewart, our friendship, and our magazine

(Part One of a special three-part series)

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It takes quite a story to bring me to tears – especially a sports story. Yet, I sat on my couch the other day, eyes wet as I read the anchor piece in Sports Illustrated: a reminiscence of the 1999 U.S. Open, one of the greatest golf competitions ever. It also recalled one of the greatest writing experiences of my career, as the editor-ghostwriter of Payne Stewart’s Guide to Golf.

The Open had every twist and turn of high drama on center stage: old vs. young. Comeback after comeback. Riveting clutch shots. Agonizing misses. A man honoring his father on Father’s Day. Another about to become one — and prepared to fly cross-country when his wife went into labor, even if he was winning.2014-06-08 09.03.24

Most of all, it had my friend and client, Payne Stewart. With a tough par putt on 16, a birdie on 17, and an 18-foot putt on the final hole on the notorious Pinehurst No. 2 course, Payne exorcised naysayers who said he would never win another major, lifted his eyes to the heavens, and gave his late father, Bill, quite the Father’s Day present. “People are telling me it was the best Open finish of the century, one of the greatest Opens, those kinds of things, but I never thought about how this would go down,” he told me later. “I thought about getting the job done. Once the job’s done, then you reflect on it and think, ‘Wow, those last three holes were pretty special.’”

It became even moreso. In an act of greatest sportsmanship, Payne interrupted his celebration on the 18th green to cup the face of runner-up Phil Mickelson, and say, “There’s nothing like being a father.”

The next night, Mickelson and his wife, Amy, gave birth to their daughter, Amanda.

Those who follow sports (and many who don’t) know what happened next. At the height of his life – with family, friends, golf, priorities, and happiness perfectly aligned, a great place to be at age 42 – Payne was killed in an October 1999 plane crash when the cabin depressurized.

The next day, I was a call-in guest on The Jim Rome Show. Other media called for comments. It was hard to fathom. Watching your friend lose his life in slo-mo on CNN live, with F-16 fighter jets flanking the doomed plane on its ghost flight into a South Dakota field, was surreal enough.

A few days later, 4,000 people turned out for his funeral. More than 125 members of the PGA Tour flew from the TOUR Championship to Orlando and entered the church in single file, led by Tiger Woods. That reminded me of something Payne told me after the U.S. Open, which was reprised in the Sports Illustrated article:

“I’m on the putting green with Tiger, and he says, ‘You know, when I start designing courses, I’m going to make them 9,000 yards so you old guys can’t reach the greens.’”

Payne drew out a long pause, the Southern storyteller lining up his salvo. “I said, ‘Yeah, Tiger, but if it’s the U.S. Open, you still have to hit it in the fairway.”

At the funeral, Payne’s best friend, Paul Azinger, turned tears to cheers when he donned a derby cap, rolled up his slacks, and delivered the eulogy just as Payne would have played it – in plus-fours.

To say Payne died atop the world is not a cheap sentiment, nor a churlish reference to mid-air depressurization. He was riding high, with more to come; a week later, he would have been named U.S. Ryder Cup captain, the ultimate peer-to-peer honor.

 

I spent the last four years of Payne’s life working with him, playing golf with him, falling prey to his wicked southern-fried pranks, and watching him rise from the ash heap of “what might have beens” to again become a champion.

We became good friends through Payne Stewart’s Guide to Golf. He took me to Florida’s finest golf courses, where I hacked along while he, Ernie Els, Justin Rose, Azinger and others fired irons and woods like snipers. He hosted me in his palatial Villa Serena home, gave me great putting and chipping tips, and talked story. Most of all, he shared a personality bubbling with a champion’s intensity, quick wit, occasional fiery temper, and penchant for finding fun. His devotion to his wife, Tracey, and children, Aaron and Chelsea, was absolute: Payne almost missed the tragic flight because he made Chelsea her coveted pancakes before leaving for The TOUR Championship.

Some moments that will remain with me forever:

• One day in 1997,  8-year-old Aaron came into the house with a busted lip from skateboarding. “Why can’t you like something normal, like soccer or baseball?” Payne asked him.

“Because skateboarding and surfing are fun. Plus, the top surfer, (world champion) Kelly Slater, makes more than you.”

Payne turned to me, laughing. “The things kids say. No way a surfer makes more than me.”

“Hate to tell you this, Payne, but based on 1996 winnings, Aaron’s right,” I said.

The beauty of this story: After Payne died, my friend Mitch Varnes and I sprung a surprise for Aaron – a fishing and surfing trip with his idol, Kelly Slater.

• Payne took more friendly fire when the family sat to discuss his 1997 playing schedule. They compared vacation plans, school sports schedules and the events Payne wanted, or needed, to play. “I think I’m going to bump it up this year,” he told the family, “maybe play 26 or 27 events.”

“Well, Dad, if you’d win, you wouldn’t have to play so much,” his son chimed in.

Interestingly, Payne began winning again in 1997 – a trajectory that only a plane crash could halt.

• We were playing Bay Hill, Arnold Palmer’s course, during a break in Payne’s 1999 schedule. I was in a group with Payne, teenaged 1998 British Open runner-up Justin Rose, head pro Dave Rose, and John Lodge, bass player for the Moody Blues. I split the fairway off the first tee, and opened birdie-par to lead after two holes.

Payne turned to the others. “I’ll be damned, boys,” he drawled, his voice dripping with his native Ozark accent. “I brought along a ringer. My apologies.”

Thanks, Payne. Needless to say, the wheels fell off and it became a long, painful visit to alligator swamps and cypress woods for me.

•  About two months before Payne died, I found him in a quiet, reflective mood as I walked into his house. “What’s going on?”

“I’m blown away right now.”

He and Tracey were selling Villa Serena to move to nearby Isleworth, a golf-oriented community. They’d received a call to view the house; the party was eminently qualified to handle its steep price tag. “I kept asking them to tell me who the person was, but they wouldn’t.” Payne’s wry smile was gone. “I wasn’t about to let anyone in my house unless I knew who they were, but they told me, ‘Don’t worry; he’s qualified.’”

The next day, the prospective buyer arrived. It was Michael Jackson. Oh boy … the Poster Child of Bizarre meets the Red, White & Blue Father of the Year. “Now that would be the last person I’d let into my house,” Payne said, “but after he walked around for a minute, he asked me to sit down with him.”

Cue up the magic: for the next hour, Jackson asked Payne about parenting. He’d heard that Payne was a wonderful father, and wanted his advice on raising kids. “That’s the only reason why he came to view the house,” Payne said. “Just to sit and talk. It sure changed my tune about him.”

 

I could go on and on. The wonderful Sports Illustrated article triggered so many memories, but more importantly, recalled one of sports’ greatest personalities and events. The PGA Tour will gather this week at Pinehurst No. 2 for the first U.S. Open held there since Payne’s victory, and NBC will certainly trot out a tribute piece.

I’m going to remember my friend as well. The next two Word Journeys blogs will re-run “A Champion’s Journey,” the last piece I wrote on Payne. It was my best. It first published in Payne Stewart’s Guide to Golf in September 1999, a month before I lost a friend and the sports world lost one of its finest people.

(Part One of “A Champion’s Journey” will run on Wednesday. June 11. Part two will run on Friday, June 13.)

 

 

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Writer’s Conference Fever

Read author interviews on 366Writing Blog

Quick blog this morning, as I’m getting ready to head to LA Valley College for the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference, which begins today and runs through Sunday (and still time to register at the door, starting at Noon today, BTW).

la writers conference

Writers Conference are amazing events – and I’ve told every aspiring and active writer I know to attend at least one, if not one per year. Why? Because after spending so much time writing in the loneliness of your home office, you get to mingle with kindred spirits. Everyone’s in the same boat, and the energy level is through the roof when we get together to compare struggles, triumphs, titles, voices and techniques. Secondly, the variety of helpful workshops, presentations and panels is tremendous. At this particular conference, non-fiction and fiction is fully covered, along with screenwriting and television writing (why not? Hollywood is just down the road).

For instance, I’m sitting on four panels, with plenty of variety. Today, I’ll be in on the Memoir Writing panel. On Saturday, it’s off to the Ghostwriting panel, then a pair of all-important Editing panels – Revising and Editing manuscripts on Saturday, and Rewriting on Sunday. (Revising and Rewriting are two entirely different processes, though all too often, we tend to blend the two). Will post my outlines from the Memoir and Ghostwriting panels on this blog next week.

The other reason writer’s conferences are so important is that we find out the latest happenings in the publishing Low Res Cover Backroadsindustry from the literary agents and editors on hand. Right now, if you’re thinking of publishing – or moving into other genres – it pays major dividends to be current on traditional and digital publishing events. Things continue to change so rapidly. I’m particularly interested in the concept of “hybrid authors”, since I am one, publishing works in both traditional houses and through collaborative partnerships, such as my work with Tuscany Global, which is putting out my poetry/essay book “Backroad Melodies” next week, and Vol. 1 of “Best of the Word Journeys Blogs” next month.

If you’re not coming up to LA, and you’re serious about your writing, please make sure to sign up NOW for the Southern California Writers Conference, which takes place Sept. 20-22 in Newport Beach, Calif. This is one of the hottest conferences in the nation for book contracts.

Losing my religion_cover_low resMeantime, time to hit the road. Oh yeah, before I go: be sure to stop by Amazon.com and pick up the hot new novel that hits the shelves today, “Losing My Religion” by Jide Familoni. This is one of the best novels I’ve ever worked with, a great story of a man trying to live in one lifestyle and culture while retaining the core traditions of another.

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Two Weeks of Creative Madness … And a Lot of Fun

The Memorial Day Weekend is finally here! One more day of yet another crazy cycle of writing, editing and consulting, and then it’s up the coast to Ventura to run in the Mountains to Beaches Half-Marathon – my favorite distance. This is a lick-your-chops race – slight net downhill, mostly flat, starts at 6 a.m., weather 55 degrees and low clouds, finishes on the beach promenade … everyone out there who races knows the right word for these conditions: Perfect.

But now, a recap of the past two weeks, which will also serve as a commercial for the incredible authors with whom I have the pleasure of working (this work is labor intensive, but is it ever fun!):

Ray Manzarek performing in Milan, 2012

Ray Manzarek performing in Milan, 2012

• First of all, thanks for the music to Ray Manzarek and Trevor Bolder, both of whom passed away from cancer this week. I am a huge Doors fan, and have been since “Light My Fire” first hit radio in 1967. Their music and Jim Morrison’s poetry influenced me greatly, and Manzarek paved the way for rock keyboardists everywhere. He also produced the “Los Angeles” album for X, whose bass player/singer, John Doe, was featured in the spring issue of The Hummingbird Review. Meanwhile, Bolder was the bass player on David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album, and, for the past 30 years, with Uriah Heep. My friend Robert Munger and I saw Trevor play with Uriah Heep two summers ago. I mean, we saw him. We stood five feet away and had low-tone deafness for a couple days as a result. The great rock band in heaven just became stronger.

• Just got added to the faculty of the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference, which will be held June 14-16 at L.A. Valley la writers conferenceCollege. It will feature workshops and panels for four levels of writers – aspiring, active, professional, and screenplay. A half dozen literary agents, editors and plenty of writers will be on hand for this informational and networking fiesta. I’ll be sitting on panels for Ghostwriting, Beyond the First Draft, and Rewriting. Will be selling my books Shades of Green, The Write Time, The Champion’s Way, and the latest edition of The Hummingbird Review as well. Really stoked to be part of this conference. If you’re not busy, do come up – prices are very reasonable, and the schedule of events is awesome.

• Speaking of which, I’ll have two new books coming out this summer through Tuscany Publishing: The Best of Word Journeys Blogs, Vol. 1; and my newest poetry-essay collection, Backroad Melodies. Will keep you posted.

clay-marzo-011609• I’ve reached terms with Houghton Mifflin on Just Add Water, a combination memoir/biography of freestyle surfing great Clay Marzo and his life with Asperger syndrome. The book is tentatively scheduled for a Summer 2014 release, and offers a deep profile from inside the skin of Asperger, and how Clay has become one of the very best surfers in the world. Fun “creation” story to this one: my good friend, Mitch Varnes, ran the idea of this biography by me a few months ago. It sounded like a sure winner. It was. The last time Mitch and I brainstormed a publication, in 1993, we emerged with One Giant Leap for Mankind, the 25th anniversary tribute to the Apollo 11 mission and all the astronauts on the Apollo missions. There’s a lesson here: need to connect with Mitch on book ideas more than once every 20 years!

• I’m assisting musician-producer Stevie Salas with his memoir, When We Were The Boys, remembering his days as lead 376462_204666292995418_1130802602_nguitarist on Rod Stewart’s Out of Order Tour – and how they shaped and influenced his remarkable 25-year career that followed. I first knew Stevie in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, when he played for one of North San Diego County’s hottest cover bands, This Kids. Now, he plays and hangs with the stars (wait: Stevie is a star), having just spent a few days with his boys, the Rolling Stones, while in Southern California. Stevie’s collaborations include work with: Mick Jagger, Justin Timberlake, Daughtry, Terence Trent d’Arby, Bootsy Collins, Miles Davis, Sass Jordan, Bernard Fowler, Glenn Hughes, Matt Sorum … if you know pop and rock music, you know these names. While backstage with the Stones, Stevie dished up a special request for me – a photo of he and Stones backing singer Lisa Fischer, one of the most powerful and sultry singers anywhere. Stevie is not only a great songwriter who has sold more than 2 million solo albums, but a lively prose writer, too, as you will see next year. I’m licking my chops over working on this book, which is about to be shopped by my agent, Dana Newman.

lynne-portrait-for proposal• Just finished editing Home Free, which will be one of the most highly anticipated and well-marketed travel narratives of 2014. It is also one of my favorite editing jobs ever. Author Lynne Martin is going to win over the world with her book, in which she shares she and her husband Tim’s hopscotch life in various global destinations, with all the sights, sounds and travel tidbits you’d expect in a good travel story. However, there’s more: her personality. Get ready to buckle your seat belt for a full-on, humor-filled romp, mixed with outstanding travel writing and enough tense, serious moments to remind us that Lynne and Tim are making their homes in these places, not just going in and out as tourists. Sourcebooks has moved up the release date to April 1, 2014, to capitalize on media coverage and national talk shows – on which Lynne will surely shine.

• Also wrapped the first issue of Innovation & Technology Today, an edgy, front-line digital magazine on the latest technological additions to our world, and the people envisioning and creating these products and services. We focused on smart homes for this issue, while our summer issue will be right up my alley – sports & medical technology. Besides editing the magazine, I also write the Education column – another pet topic. Digital magazines are a blast, for many reasons … that will be the subject of a future blog. The issue will be available through Zinio and Apple digital newsstands June 5.

• Keeping this busy month of words going, also just finished working on Gary Deason’s fine novel, The Columbian Prophecy, which answers the question: what would happen if an extreme, crazed cell of the Catholic Church tied Columbus’ voyages to America to the re-discovery of the Garden of Eden – and determined that to be the End of Days and their time to take over? This is a great story that interweaves Columbian history as you haven’t seen it before, the battles indigenous South American peoples have faced for 500+ years, and the trouble a father and his two daughters get into for stumbling onto the hornets’ nest occupied by these crazed monks. Enough said. Deason is working on agent representation now, so you’ll see this book in the not-too-distant future.

'A Taste of Eternity' author Martha Halda

‘A Taste of Eternity’ author Martha Halda

• Finally, it seems the author interviews on this blog are proving to be a big hit. My recent interviews with Losing My Religion author Jide Familoni, It’s Monday Only In Your Mind author Michael Cupo, A Taste of Eternity author (and my sweetheart) Martha Halda, and Island Fever and Storm Chasers author Stephen Gladish resulted in the greatest number of daily reads in the 5 ½-year history of this blog. (Side note: Storm Chasers was set in Oklahoma’s Tornado Alley; how apropo is that novel today??) So, to follow: Guests in June will include David Abrams, author of the bestselling novel Fobbit; 2013 International Book Award recipient Matthew Pallamary; Sword & Satchel trilogy author Claudette Marco; and Australian therapist Leo Willcocks, author of De-Stress to Impress, one of the most in-depth and proactive books on dealing with and rising above stress I’ve ever seen (and I’ve read a lot of them).

So that’s the past two weeks. I wish you all a fun Memorial Day weekend, remember what we’re celebrating and who we’re honoring, and make it a point to write or do something creative. Outside as well as inside. The next two-week cycle starts Tuesday …

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Summer—Summer—Summer!

The prospects of having fun on the first weekend of summer didn’t look too good. With a number of social media projects, a major business writing project underway, four deals to discuss and two books to edit, it looked like surfacing for air would be a big challenge. Going outside? Maybe for a few minutes. I’m not complaining: an active business in this economy is a VERY good development.

Given the long odds of experiencing the weekend first-hand, I decided to revert to what I keep telling writing students: look for the faces and voices of magic, innocence and wonder in everything we see or do — and find the simple pleasures one minute at a time. When an opportunity presents itself, experience it. Later, write about it.

Presto! This weekend transformed from a work-a-thon into a classic Southern California entrée into summer. First, the weather cooperated: after three weeks of June gloom, the clouds parted to sunny, warm skies. Next, the seas delivered a glorious present — a South Swell, large waves from Mexico that brought warmer water, slightly more humid air and the feeling of summer … where body cells dance to the music of a season that celebrates what it means to be fully human. At least for this sun-and-sand worshipper.

It all began with an epic Facebook message, which I re-posted:

“My curfew was the street lights. My mom called my name, not my mobile. I played outside with friends, not online. If I didn’t eat what was cooked, then I didn’t eat. Sanitizer didn’t exist, but you COULD get your mouth washed out with soap. I rode a bike without a helmet, getting dirty was OK, and neighbors CARED as much as your parents did. Re-post if you drank water from a garden hose & survived!!”

That’s capturing a baby boomer’s childhood in less than 100 words! Many school friends and I pounced on the post and recalled some riveting childhood memories, all built around the carefree energy of summer. That alone was magical.

Time for action. On Friday afternoon, I hit “send” and peeled my tired eyes away from the computer to end a day that began at 4 a.m.  We headed to opening night of Jazz in the Park, the City of Carlsbad’s weekly series of free shows. Several thousand people reveled in blues music, dancing, hanging out with friends old and new, and soaking up the golden glow of evening sunshine in the La Costa Hills.

Then came Saturday morning. Take it away, journal:

“The first weekend of summer, and how awesome: sunny, 90 degrees, brown skin, smell of castor beans and gummy sycamores during 5 a.m. energization, dawn peeling away the night over the mountains, reading another T.C. Boyle gem set in California, the ocean calling with a South Swell, 67-degree water and clear skies – Summer! Summer! Summer! This is why people pay the huge bucks to live out here. Work interspersed with plopping in pool, watching U.S. Track & Field Championships on TV, coyote in broad daylight scouring the riverbed overgrowth for rabbits. Self-made dinner of seared ahi, artichoke, corn on the cob, shredded beet-carrot-lettuce slaw, walk to the corner grocery for ice cream, watermelons in a bin outside, baseball game crackling on a car radio…”

Sunday dawned like no other in this cloudy, misty June — sunny. Back to work I went for six or seven hours, broken up by a 6-mile run through orange and grapefruit groves, knowing full well what lay on the other side of this session: a drive to the beach. At 6 a.m., I turned on my favorite nostalgic Internet radio station, Technicolor Web of Sound, and in the magic that seemed to surround this weekend, here were the first six songs I heard: “Hot Summer Days” – The Moody Blues; “Om” – The Royal Guardsmen; “Summer of ‘67” – Family; “Strawberry Fields Forever” – The Beatles; “Fire” – Jimi Hendrix; “Lawdy Mama Version 2” – Cream.

Oh yeah. Gonna be a bright, bright sun-shiny day. We arrived at the beach at 3:30 p.m. to a constant inflow of waves. For the next two hours, we dismissed spreadsheets, articles, research, conference calls, files and social media platforms, playing in a warm ocean (to me, 67-degree water in June in California is warm), catching waves, getting pummeled a few times, emerging from the sea with swimsuits askew and water dripping from our bodies and nostrils.

Afterwards, we indulged in a wonderful Mexican food dinner with ceviche appetizer (heaven is eating ceviche and Mexican food after bodysurfing for two hours). Then it was back to work — shopping at Barnes & Noble for business titles for our major summer writing project. I found a nice surprise on the shelves — The Pilot: Learning Leadership, by Colleen and Bill Hennessy, on which I’d done some ghostwriting a couple of years ago.

Yes, summer came to visit, and She made sure this would be a memorable weekend. It was so magical that I almost forgot working right through it … the whole point of this season.

Now, onto a very full day of writing and serving clients, with the vibration of sun, surf and deep communion with spirit buzzing through body and mind. Summer—Summer—Summer!

 

 

 

 

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Writing In Service

Once in awhile, a project comes along that demands attention, no matter what else a writer might be doing. The subject seizes you, calls to you, and insists that you bring it to a waiting audience. In the process, you realize that you’ve not only taken on a subject out of the comfort zone, but one that can impact a great many lives.

I’m watching the results of one such project now. In May, financial services planner/advisor Galen Maddy came to me with ten pages of notes, two media packages, a cumbersome tome on military veterans’ benefits, a few newspaper articles and a half-dozen phone numbers. Galen wanted a book fully describing one such benefit, the Veterans Non-Service Connected Disability Pension — the Aid & Attendance benefit. He told me how up to 2 million wartime veterans and their surviving spouses were eligible for a lifelong monthly stipend (of up to $1,801 per month) to help with ongoing medical care…but they likely didn’t know about it. Only about 143,000 were receiving it. The VA wasn’t promoting it, and few people were qualified or patient enough to navigate oft-elderly applicants through the mountain of paperwork and 6- to 9-month waiting process.

As the son of a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, I understood how vets deserved the best their country could give them—no matter what side of a particular war’s politics I stood on. So, even though military writing is hardly my forte (though I wrote a lot of military articles in the 1990s), I took on the ghostwriting project.

For the next four months, Galen and I put together the book “In Your Service” (now available through http://www.amazon.com and http://www.brannpublishing.com). We broke down the benefit, told stories—good and bad—of veterans’ experiences with and without benefits, and looked at a variety of ways in which qualified applicants can receive the benefit…which, in countless cases, spells the difference between good assisted living or in-home care and a sorrowful ending to a life that deserved better.

As I wrote this book, I thought of how we, as writers, become all-consumed in our own works — justifiably so. After all, emotional and creative consumption are the parents of completion when it comes to writing a book, especially a novel. Then I thought about how, if each qualified writer would step out to write one book — one small book or e-book! — on a matter of social concern, we’d change the world in so many wonderful ways.

Take “In Your Service,” for example. Every person who reads this book will either be a spouse or relative of a qualifying wartime vet, a friend, or know an acquaintance or associate who is trying to find assistance for the veteran of his/her concern. According to Galen’s math — which comes from a Spring 2007 NBC News report on the benefit —there are more than 1.8 million people who may be eligible for this benefit. That number is growing daily. The benefit could save their lives, prolong their lives and allow them to die with greater grace, dignity and comfort.

I came away from this unscheduled ghostwriting job with a new appreciation of creating books that not only help others, but change lives in the process. In Your Service is one such book. All working writers will have such an opportunity cross their desks at some point. I hope we each write one such book, completely removed from our own agendas or publishing plans, that simply reaches out and touches others — big-time.

You can order “In Your Service” for the veteran in your family or circle of friends and acquaintances by going to http://www.amazon.com or http://www.brannpublishing.com. For $9.95, you could well be opening the door to your veteran receiving thousands of dollars in badly-needed assistance benefits.

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