Early in my life, my brother Peter and I had a few great trumpet teachers. We were privately tutored for $7 each per week - an amount our parents could hardly afford. I can say with immodesty that their investment was well worth it. The few who know of my musical background and read this blog could attest that my brother and I have reached some level of success in music and are considered accomplished as musicians, writers, and producers.
Feeling a magnetism to all that is creative, in my early twenties I also pursued a path in mechanical engineering. My Dad's partner, Venerio J. Rigolini was a true Da Vinci maestro in the mechanical sciences. I spent 14 years being tutored by him, and in the process was honored to have been an integral part in the invention and design of a half-dozen pieces of proprietary manufacturing machinery. Yet, Vinnie didn't just teach me engineering. He taught me how to look at life - to him - as a continual array of challenges that engineers took joy in overcoming. Vinnie was a U.S. MARINE who fought in the terrible Battle of Iwo Jima, but his greatest accomplishments and his true love was in inventing and designing what had never been created before. I believe it was he who ignited my passion to love something and pursue it. "Do what you love and all of your days will be happy," he'd tell me repeatedly. He was right, of course.
I could go on with stories of several others who have motivated and taught me over the span of my life - from my brother Peter - to legendary KANSAS producer Jeff Glixman - to my wife Lisa, but those are stories for another time. I decided to write this piece because there is someone to whom I owe a great deal - though he probably will never know it. He is master author W.E.B. Griffin.
I'm a person of routine. I find peace and harmony through routine. Routine allows me to write most efficiency. When it comes to creating, I am an easily distracted individual. That would never do, if one intends to become one of the most prolific writers of his generation. The truth is that "life gets in the way" for everyone. Those who rise to the top in their professions and arts are the ones that overcome life's distractions. To that end, I use a daily regimen to help me focus. One aspect of my regimen is, every morning, to read from one of the master storytellers that have had the most impact on me. Of all the many writers that have, one has had the most impact - W.E.B. Griffin.
For those who don't know him, Griffin is one of the premier writers of historical fiction. His varies series and novels tell some of the most dramatic stories of World War II, not so much from a macro perspective, but from an intimate, individual perspective. Griffin's characters propel his stories and not the other way around. Both the good guys and the bad guys are interesting, well-rounded, filled with virtues and faults, talents and habits, and senses of humor and compassion. I find myself wanting to revisit them every single morning and that is the highest compliment a writer can ever receive. Griffin's characters are as important in my life as any people I know that live in this existence, and not on the written page.
I find myself continuously learning from his writing style. His stories are not filled with blood or action or sex. Yet, as Hitchcock could scare 10 years off my life without a decapitation or zombie appearing in his movies; Griffin can have me sitting on the edge of my seat gripped with suspense with just a conversation between two of his characters.
I really enjoy the depth of his characters, but just as much, I enjoy the tempo of his stories. There's no rush - no pressure to sew it all up by the last page. Many of the problems his protagonists face are too complex to solve in one story or in a 100% way.
Griffin isn't a flowery writer, but his descriptions of the scotch his characters drink and the food they eat has, more than once, led me to pour two fingers and look forward to a juicy T-bone.
I was introduced to Griffin's books when buying several Clancy novels way back when, from Barnes & Noble. Apparently someone had put down one of Griffin's novels - book 1 of his "The Corps" series in the Clancy section and I came upon it. Opening the front cover I saw a blurb from Clancy stating that, to him, Griffin was the ultimate writer of war fiction. That, and the fact that my dad was a U.S. MARINE in both WWII and Korea was enough for me to buy it and read it.
I was blown away.
I ended up giving it to my dad, who didn't like reading war fiction because, to that time, he used to say it was too unreal. That was, until he read Griffin's The Corps series. As he would finish one book in the series, I would buy him another. He loved them and I loved him and so I appreciated Griffin's books even more.
My dad died mid-way through the last novel in The Corps series. I'm not particularly sentimental, but I left his bookmark in the scruffy paperback. It reminds me of the joy the novels brought to him - all the way up to his last days.
Writing stories like W.E.B. Griffin is what I aspire to do. Though my stories will undoubtedly be different in terms of plot and style, one aspect I hope to emulate is his power to tell a story and to bring characters alive.
If I'm successful, it's because I had a great teacher. I hope I get the opportunity to tell him that one day.