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Sigh, is the death of SI nigh?

I always wanted to work at Sports Illustrated.

As a young man full of bravado I knew I was going to work at Sports Illustrated. I was convinced, and still am by the way because I’m an old man full of bravado, that I was the best sportswriter anyone had ever read. My name would be among the magazine’s greatest – Frank DeFord, Dan Jenkins, Tex Maule, and Curry Kirkpatrick.

My backup plan was to replace Anson Mount in writing the college and pro football previews for Playboy, but my wife of the time said, uh, no. Emphatically.

Of course, I never made it to SI. I did make it to New York, where I worked at the New York Daily News with some of the country’s best writers and editors. I also worked with Jack McCallum (at the Allentown Morning Call) and Gary Smith (at the Daily News), both of whom went on to noted careers at SI.

But I never made it to SI on my own.

Not that I haven’t held out hope. Just a few weeks ago, when my cellphone buzzed with an unfamiliar New York number I thought, “Hmm, could it be someone from SI recruiting me for a senior, senior, senior, very senior writer position?”

Alas, it was one of those extended car warranty robo calls.

I don’t think I was alone as a young sportswriter in wanting to work at SI. It was the preeminent sports magazine ever since Time magazine’s Henry Luce started it in 1954. For 65 years, it stood atop Mt. Everest as the country’s best and most popular repository of sports writing.

Then it got sold. And sold again. Magazines, like newspapers, have fallen on hard times, as advertisers fled to the Internet for marketing rates that are a fraction of print media’s, no matter that those advertisements also draw a fraction of reader attention. Print revenue at SI fell. Bean counters decided that its future was online.

So when the new owners, a startup named theMaven, took control, they promptly laid off 40 employees, about half of the SI staff still standing. theMaven’s game plan going forward is to replace those 40 fulltime employees, whose salaries were most likely commensurate with their enormous talent, with 200 contractors. many of whom will no doubt be thrilled to work for 3 cents a word and whose work quality will no doubt be worth 3 cents a word. If that.

About 70 percent of startups fail and an executive, Ross Levinshon, with a somewhat checkered history, is helming this particular one.

All of which is to say I don’t have great hopes for the magazine’s long-term survival. I won’t be surprised if, in a year or so, Sports Illustrated vanishes like morning dew. Sad, yes, but not surprised.

Which means I won’t be getting a call to work for them.

But maybe Playboy is still in play, though. The woman who says she loves me now thinks I’m too old for anything other than … she thinks I’m too old.

***

I know you know, but I’m going to remind you anyway. I write mystery novels, the latest of which is “My Grave Is Deep,” which is the sequel to “Tears of God,” which is a sequel to “Tears in the Rain.” I am currently working on the sequel to the sequel to the sequel. The fabulous Fran Allred and Michael Johnson of We Edit Books edited my latest book, which in case you’ve forgotten, is “My Grave Is Deep.”

A life cut short, a toy that never found its crib

Eeyore.

That was the first toy we bought her, the lovable but gloomy old grey donkey from Winnie the Pooh.

This one was soft and rubbery.

It was to be the toy that kept her company in her crib.

That would make her giggle and laugh at the sight of him.

That she would chew on when she was teething.

That she would snuggle next to in bed.

That she would cry over when she couldn’t find it.

That she would place on her windowsill when she got older.

That she would maybe take to her college dorm room with her as a reminder of home.

That she would pack away and then give to her own child. Her grandchild.

That maybe she would want buried with her when it was her time, a reminder of a life well lived.

Eeyore. Our favorite Pooh character. So much riding on one little toy.

But Eeyore never made it to her crib, never sat on the windowsill, or her bed, or her dorm room.

Molly Lynn, our daughter, died one day after she was born. Before she could ever hold Eeyore in her tiny hands, or giggle over it’s hangdog features.

A disease and a doctor killed her.

The disease was diabetes. Jane, my wife, was 16 when she learned she was diabetic and that she would spend the rest of her shortened life shooting insulin into her stomach or her thighs twice a day. Diabetics have a difficult time carrying a fetus to term. Her pregnancy was a risk. We knew that. But, we so wanted a family. Molly was to be the first of three, maybe four.

We were careful, so very careful, following every instruction of her doctor in minute detail. But still, five months in, Jane went into labor.

It was going to be a difficult delivery anyway, but it was made more so by a delay in reaching the doctor, who was playing golf when he finally got the call. By that time, Molly was on her way. But it was a breech baby, which meant that she was coming out feet first, not the typical head first of most births.

The doctor could have done a caesarean and delivered Molly that way. He opted to use forceps to pull Molly from the womb.

And crushed her skull.

They rushed our baby to an intensive care fetal unit at another hospital, and hours passed before I got a call at 3 a.m. telling me that our daughter was dead.

Exhausted and sedated after a difficult birth, Jane remained in the hospital and I was alone, in the dark, and I couldn’t stop sobbing. I never cried so hard and for long before and never have since.

Life was never the same after that, particularly for Jane, who blamed herself and her disease for Molly’s death, and especially after we nearly lost our next child, our son Seth. Our marriage suffered and eventually we drifted apart. In the end, more than our daughter died that night. So did our lives together.

Whoever first said that time heals all wounds, never lost a child. That wound never heals. It’s raw and painful and unceasing. The “what ifs” haunt you every single day of your life … for the rest of your life.

September 26, 1974 the day Molly Lynn came into this world. September 27, 1974 the day she left it.

January 2, 2007, the day another Molly came into this world. Our grandchild, Molly Jane. The person Jane never got to see, or hug, or … love. Diabetes claimed her three years earlier.

Eeyore, meanwhile, sat alone in a toy box for a time, until Jane and I decided to donate him to Goodwill.

It was hard saying goodbye to him, but we hoped that someday, the floppy-eared, sad-eyed little donkey could find his way into some other crib.

And make a child giggle  and laugh at the sight of him.

How to lose 0.00001098 of a million dollars without really trying!

An interesting article has been causing quite a buzz in the publishing circles. Not any circles I stand in, mind you, but I’ve heard about it while loitering on the fringes.

It’s titled “How To Lose A Third Of A Million Dollars Without Trying.” Written by author Heather Demetrios, it chronicles how she managed to squander two huge advances in a short time and wound up nearly bankrupt.

I had to look up the word “advance” because in my publishing experience it’s been mostly “reverse.” Instead of people paying me to publish my books, I’ve been paying them. “Sure, we’ll take that book off your hands … for $10,000.”

Anyway, Ms. Demetrios signed one book contract for $100,000 and a second for $250,000.

She starts off her piece with the following:

“If just one person had sat me down when I signed my first book contract and explained how publishing works, how nothing is guaranteed, and how it often feels like playing Russian Roulette with words, I would have made much sounder financial and creative decisions. I would have set a foundation for a healthy life as an artist, laying the groundwork to thrive in uncertainty, to avoid desperation, panic, and bad decisions that would affect me for years to come.”

Here’s how it works on my side of the fence.

“If just one person had sat me down when I wrote my first book and explained I might have to beg anyone not named Williams to read my books, I would have made much sounder financial and creative decisions and become a professional dog food taster.”

Ms. Demetrios rightly thought that after those first two advances that she was now “one of the chosen few,” and, as such, she was free to move into an expensive neighborhood in Brooklyn, order pricey meals and cocktails when dining out and generally not worrying if she would have enough in the bank account to pay the water bill.

(Sidebar: After the Kent State shootings, my friend Scott introduced me to James Michener, he of “Tales of the South Pacific” fame, who was in the area to write a book about the tragedy. Waiting several minutes after we knocked on his door, we finally saw the room curtains part slightly and a single eyeball, seemingly floating in midair, peer out at us. Minutes more passed before Michener, dressed in an undershirt and baggy boxers that showed way too much of his skinny legs, opened the door and Scott, who was doing research for the famous author, introduced us. “Oh,” said Michener, “I thought you were the water guy from back home here to collect,” and I thought, “James Michener is worried about paying his water bill?”)

Back to Ms. Demetrios. After her much praised novels failed to sell as many copies as publishers had hoped for, the royalties got smaller and smaller, at one point dipping as low as, EGADS, $20,000!

I’m here to tell you that if I ever, ever, ever get a $20,000 advance, every single penny is going into the savings account.

Until I can sneak out of the house and put money down on a new Porsche.

Now there are some things I can agree on with Ms. Demetrios. You’ve got to pretty much be your own marketer these days, even if you are signing six-figure advances. You need to stay on top of social media, like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, which takes time away from your writing.

And that’s why I don’t update my blog every day. Yeah, that’s why. I’m busy writing. Other stuff. Book stuff. I sometimes write, one or two sentences a day. I can’t be bothered with all that bloggy, Facebooky, Twittery stuff. The French have a word for how I market my books. L’azee.

But enough about that. As I say, my writing career is kinda in reverse. Ms. Demetrios complains that some of her foreign rights were sold for as little as $2,000. At last check, I think my royalties totaled $10.98.

I wish I had made much sounder and creative decisions about that money, but I blew it all – without really trying – on a full Chick-fil-a meal. I could have gone for just a sandwich, but those waffle fries are so darn tasty I can’t say no.

Now you might be asking yourself, “Why in the world does ol’ E. E. continue to toil in obscurity and the edge of financial insolvency?”

Because one of these days, if I keep at it, those publishers that keep ignoring me are going to pay me big, big bucks.

Just to go away.

E. E. Williams’ latest novel is “My Grave Is Deep.” Buy it and help him afford a Diet Coke with his next Chick-fil-a meal.

The hurricane whisperer

I’m what you might call a hurricane whisperer.

They follow me like a hungry hound.

A few years back, we moved to Hattisburg, Mississippi. A few months later along came Katrina.

Wonderful girl, Katrina. She howled and moaned and in a fit of temper, threw things all over the place. I was relegated to stay in our new home and watch 60-foot pine trees bend over backwards and touch the roof of our home.

Then there was the rain. Water shot underneath every door in the house as if someone was spraying them with a power washer.

I’d run from one door to the next with a dry towel until I ran out of towels about 10 minutes into the storm.

I think maybe I cried, but please don’t tell anyone.

So, I survived Katrina and moved back north where they had nor’easters, but no hurricanes.

Then I moved back south, where they do.

Apparently Dorian, Katrina’s brother, found out that I’m not living in Bluffton, South Carolina and is now headed this way.

“Get out!” yelled the Governor, which, come to think of it, is something I’ve heard a lot of over the years.

“Don’t wanna!” I yelled back. “I ain’t afraid of no Dorian. What kind of  sissy name is that anyway? I’m stayin’.”

“No you’re not,” shouted the governor.

“Yes I am!” I said.

“No you’re not!” said the person who says she loves me.

“You can’t make me,” I said meekly.

“Yes I can,” she said.

“Yes, dear.”

So, we’re tucking our tails between our legs …

“You’re tucking your tail between your legs,” said the person who says she loves me. “Don’t be blaming me if you’re an idiot.”

“Yes, dear.”

So, yep, I’m runnin’. Cause I’m more scared of her than Hurricane Dorian.

Boohoo. Woe is me. Whiney-baby.

One of the buzziest books of the summer is “The Escape Room” by Megan Goldin. It’s her third novel, but the first to really get rousing reviews.

Kirkus Reviews, which gave my latest Noah Greene mystery, “My Grave Is Deep” a favorable review, practically drooled over “The Escape Room,” writing, “Cancel all your plans and call in sick; once you start reading, you’ll be caught in your own escape room—the only key to freedom is turning the last page!

With that kind of review, I downloaded the book on my Kindle. And … well …

It’s an interesting premise. Four Wall Streeters are invited to a team building exercise late one evening. They all board an elevator that will presumably take them to where they will meet others from their firm. Only the elevator stops at the 70th floor. The lights go out. The heat gets cranked up. Secrets and lies get exposed. Someone – they don’t know who – has trapped them and they will have to work together to survive. Only trouble is, they despise one another.

As I say, interesting premise. I read the book and thought, “Huh.”

Some time ago, before my first novel was published, I wrote book reviews for several publications. Though I was never overly critical, or mean, in my reviews, if I didn’t like a book I said so, and gave my reasons why.

But, now that I’ve poured my heart, soul and sweat into writing three books, I’m less inclined to be judgmental. Nobody sets out to write a bad book. A dull book. A book that generates little to no interest. (That’s me over in the corner, raising my hand!)

Writing is hard. You’re alone. Nobody to really talk to. Not like in an office where there’s camaraderie and the ability to lean on someone else when you’re not at the top of your game.

Some days words flow like water over Niagara Falls. Some days they just drip, drip, drip. And some days they dry up altogether, a river parched by the sun. I fully understand now what it takes to birth a book.

Given that, I’m reluctant to criticize anyone who manages to get published. So, I won’t.

“The Escape Room” is a good book. I highly recommend it. But I couldn’t help thinking as I read it, “This isn’t better than what I’ve written. So why does she have a major publisher (St. Martin’s Press) and I don’t? Why is her book in major bookstores (what few are left) and mine isn’t?”

Yeah, I know. Boohoo. Woe is me. Whiney-baby. (Those of you sufficiently moved to tears can send checks directly to me or, you know, buy one of my books. Not that I would deign to beg.)

Or maybe you think I’m overly arrogant about my ability. I would disagree. I know my limitations. I’m not in the same league as Lee Child or Gregg Hurwitz, or James Lee Burke, who, by the way, is the finest literary writer of mystery novels you’ll ever read. But I know I’m as good as any number of other authors, some of them fairly famous, that regularly appear in the Mystery aisle of Barnes & Noble.

There are times, I must admit, that I want to toss in the towel. Like I said, it’s hard and some days it would just be so easy to quit.

The problem is, I can’s stop writing in my head. No matter what I’m doing – reading, watching TV, eating – parts of the book tumble through my brain like boulders breaking loose from a hillside. Whatever book I’m working on, it’s the last thing I think about as I drift off to sleep, and the first thing I think about when I wake. I just can’t turn it off.

Which means, I suppose, I’ll keep at it. Maybe some day I’ll have one of the buzziest books of the summer. Maybe not.

Make that probably not.

So I’m gonna need those checks.

Nanny, nunny, ninny … and hell

The person who says she loves me called me a ninny the other day.

At first I thought she said skinny, but then I saw my profile in the mirror and knew that wasn’t right.

Ninny.

She used the term when I mentioned something about possibly, maybe buying a 2020 Corvette.

“That isn’t happening, you ninny.”

I didn’t even know what it meant.

Nanny, yes.

Nunny, most certainly. For you non-hipsters in the crowd, nunny, according to the Urban Dictionary, means “the hottest guy in the world who’s got a nice style with the sexiest smile that you’ve ever seen.”

While I most definitely fit the bill, nunny puts me in mind of nuns and a rather tragic incident in which I struck a nun across the face.

Yes, I’m going to hell. I was in the 8th grade when it all went down. We were practicing for the Christmas play at my little four-room schoolhouse on the prairie of tiny Harrisburg, Ohio. We only had maybe 60 or 70 students in all (my 8th grade had but 12) and we everyone needed to participate. For some reason, I was chosen to be the Star of David. Except we had no star so I would be carrying a borrowed oil lamp, which was old and fragile, across the stage, leading the 3 Wise Men to the stable where Jesus lay in straw, amongst pigs and chickens and donkey dung, and reaching up to the sky with his fat little baby Jesus arms that you see in all those Renaissance paintings, and crying out to his heavenly Father, “Really?”

It was about two seconds after Sister Mary Joseph Margaret Theresa Hildegard Antoine instructed me to be “extremely careful” with the lamp, that I accidentally kicked it over, shattering the glass chimney.

Sister Mary Joseph Margaret Theresa Hildegard Antoine is the same nun who, the year before, called me up to front of the classroom and tried to rip my left ear off because I had the audacity to sit next to a girl on the bus to a school outing. “You’re not even wet behind the ears!” she shouted, confounding me because even at the age of 14 I knew that girls didn’t find wet ears all that attractive. So, when Mary Joseph Margaret Theresa Hildegard Antoine saw the broken lamp, she was enraged and went for my other ear. Reacting instinctively, my blazingly fast reflexes deftly swatted her arm away, but in doing so I raked the back of my hand across her cheek.

Sister Mary Joseph Margaret Theresa Hildegard Antoine’s eyes immediately filled with tears and in the watery reflection there I saw the fires of Hades awaiting me.

But I digress.

Ninny.

Webster’s defines ninny as “an incredibly foolish person.” Not just foolish, but incredibly foolish. A dope. A nitwit.

As the author of three wildly somewhat almost could be successful mystery novels (SHAMELESS PLUG: TEARS IN THE RAIN”TEARS OF GOD” “MY GRAVE IS DEEP”) I protest. I’m not a ninny. Not.

But, as it turns out, I am now wet behind the ears.

The scar, the shirt, the water, the gator

The other day, we went to the beach with our first overnight visitors to our new South Carolina home.

Our friends, who we’ve known for nearly 40 years, wanted to visit Hilton Head and maybe take a quick dip in the Atlantic.

I love walking on the beach, but I’m not crazy about actually getting in the water.

Many years ago, we spotted a large alligator swimming in the Hilton Head surf, which is surprising given that the ugly lizards prefer fresh water. Naturally, swimmers fled for safety and we all watched in awe and fear – well, maybe it was only me that was afraid – as the gator lazily made its way through the water. I mentioned to a lifeguard that seeing a gator in the ocean was kind of scary and he said, “If you knew what was swimming all around you in the water, you’d never go in.”

My philosophy since then? Never go anywhere where the things you eat can eat you.

But my friends were anxious for a swim and I wanted to be a good host, and I figured as long I could keep myself inside the person farthest out in the water the sharks and gators could snack on them while I beelined it for the beach.

So off to the beach we went. When we got there, however, I realized I’d forgotten to bring a shirt I could wear in the water.

I don’t like taking my shirt off around people I don’t know. I don’t like taking my shirt off around people I know. I don’t like taking my shirt off.

The reason? When I was 17, I had a tumor removed from my left breast. Well, actually, I had the entire breast removed, which left a 6-inch long worm of scar tissue. As a teen, I kinda saw the scar as a badge of honor, and the shirt came off at every opportunity, even in church, which embarrassed my mother. As an old man of … uh, old … I see the scar as something people are staring at.

My friends and the woman who says she loves me told me I was being silly, that nobody was staring at my scar.

I disagreed. Yes, they could have been staring at my white, whale belly. Or they could have been staring at my startling good looks. But it was the scar.

Before the surgery to remove the tumor, I believed that the surgeon would simply go underneath my nipple and cut it out, leaving the remainder of the breast intact.

I didn’t ask enough questions.

What the doctor did was open incisions above and below the nipple and carve out everything in between, sew me together and send me on my way with the horizontal scar and a dent in my chest.

The stares notwithstanding, I’m lucky. Not many men get breast cancer. It’s less than one percent of all breast cancer cases. Women bear the brunt of this insidious disease. Many lose their lives. Many more lose their breasts. If losing a breast has affected me as much it has, imagine how a woman who’s lost hers must feel.

My scar is ugly. The dent leaves me off balance. People stare. Little kids run screeching for their parents.

Which is why whenever I go swimming I wear a shirt. It’s easier than dealing with the thousand eyes that follow me.

Of course, I’m not gonna lie, they still follow me. Except they’re not thinking, “What’s up with the scar?” but, “Why is that man with the startling good looks wearing a shirt in the ocean?”