A Chance Encounter With The Extraordinary

The summer air hung heavy and dusty in the crowded passenger area at the Cairo airport in the early 1980s. I decided to stretch my legs while waiting for a flight.
I noticed a tall, elegant white woman seated on a narrow bench in the midst of the bustle. A small, butternut brown man lay stretched out on the bench, his bald head resting on her lap. Both looked stressed and wilted. The elderly couple seemed out of place, ignored by the stream of passengers. Something inside me tapped my brain. These folks needed help.
“Are you all right?” I said. “Can I do anything for you?”
“My husband is not feeling well,” she said. “I can’t leave him. He is dizzy and confused.”
“I’m no doctor but with this heat, he may be dehydrated. I’ll go get you some bottled water.”
Within a few minutes, I delivered three bottles of water. She thanked me and introduced herself and her husband.
“I am Lady Marie Dupuch. This is my husband Sir Etienne Dupuch.”
Several days later I met the Dupuchs at a dinner reception for travelers taking boat trips on the Nile River. He had recovered and thanked me for saving his life——which was a gross overstatement for a small act of kindness on my part.
I n 1982 he sent me a personal note and signed copy of his newly published autobiography A Salute to Friend and Foe. From this book I gleaned fascinating details of his life and plucked out some humorous little stories of Private 6042 Dupuch. Or, as he called himself, “a romantic greenhorn, drawn from a small backwoods community of an inconspicuous island of the western hemisphere.” The orphaned seventeen year old volunteered for the British West Indies Regiment at a time when all the officers were white and British.
In 1916 he found himself on a transport ship steaming across the Mediterranean Sea into German submarine infested waters. For added protection, a heavy gun had been mounted on the front of the vessel. Determined to escape the hellish hot conditions below deck, Private Dupuch and a friend volunteered to man the gun at night if the U-boat alarm was sounded. He found himself a cozy little room where canvas was stored and soon fell asleep.
He dreamed that two men opened the door and said, “One is already here.” In the morning, he woke up next to a naked dead body. Etienne realized the room with the stored canvas was used to sew bags for burial at sea. He fled from his hideaway.
The lowly private, fresh off a troop transport that had docked in Alexandria, Egypt, was ordered to report for a formal parade assembly of 1000 British army soldiers in Egypt. The British officers in charge of debarkation, anxious to integrate the new troops into the assembly, decided to pass the delousing station required of all arriving soldiers. Etienne ended up in the front rank thanks to a confusion of command orders.
One fat louse crawled across his sweating chest and fell down to his navel. He dropped his rifle, squished the bug and pitched forward to the ground. When he heard the claim from other soldiers standing at attention that a private had fainted, he decided to stay down. Four men were dispatched to carry him to the doctor. Etienne played dumb and claimed that he was still dizzy. The puzzled doctor ordered a week’s rest from duty for the confused soldier.
Later, on lonely guard duty in the Sahara, he became sick and ended up in the hospital where he languished for several weeks, unable to recover. One day, an English nurse sat down at his bedside.
“Do you have any last thoughts you would like me to write home to your people?”
Etienne reported that he got better immediately.
The man lived a charmed life. He survived four attempts on his life, was given the Catholic rite of Extreme Unction three times and was told five time by doctors that he was dying. After dodging German U-boats, cannon shells, bullets, political intrigue and various brushes with death, Sir Etienne Dupuch died at the age of 92 in his garden while trying to kill a colony of ants. Lady Dupuch lived to be 100 and died peacefully at her home.
I realized after reading his book that I had met one of the world’s most interesting men. He held the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest serving newspaper editor. Fifty-four years as owner/editor of The Tribune of Nassau, Bermuda. Honored and awarded by ten nations. A poor island boy of color who survived three years of battles in WWI and in 1928 married a white schoolteacher from Pennsylvania with a love that lasted a lifetime.
A man who called himself a loner yet labored for over fifty years to eliminate racial discrimination in Bermuda and around the world.
Strong opinions and an iron backbone gained him both friends and enemies. He was quite content to shake up conventional wisdom and slay perceived dragons. He summed up his life journey in the forward to his autobiography.
“Thus, in this book I salute friend and foe alike. May God bless my friends. I can only hope that He doesn’t frown too darkly on me if, in a moment when I think He might not be looking, I damn my opponents.”
You have to admire such a feisty and accomplished man.

YOUR BABY IS UGLY AND OTHER THOUGHTS ON WRITING GROUPS

What do you mean my jug-eared, cross-eyed, patchy-haired baby is ugly? Conceived late at night, in labor for months, and delivered by my personal computer. What do you really think of my writing? The writing group’s dilemma. Do you strive for honest feedback from your peers? Or is a verbal pat on the back your goal? A successful writing group should achieve a balance between sending you home humming a happy tune or banging your head against the steering wheel.

During one “Ask A Pro” seminar, I asked a well known author of his opinion on the value of writing groups. His judgement was divided, sort of like Supreme Court decisions. A group can smooth the passage to a final product or be a bunch of beavers damming the story flow.

My writing group is a happy happening, the essence of its success is distilled from the following guidelines:

1. Professional leader. The person in charge must not only know the writing craft but be able to communicate it to the members.
2. Talent balance. A published superstar who wants an admiring audience can stifle the growth of others in the group. Conversely, a rank amateur can’t be allowed to free load on the group’s talent. A winning writing group is a team, not a collection of creative individuals.
3. Criticize the work, not the person. Mutual respect for honest evaluation helps everyone grow. When the words shine, say it, when they fall short, say it. The words are being judged, not the person. Keep things in perspective, your story is a cup of water in a sea of writing, not the last sip of water in barren sands.
4. Have fun. Do your part to make the experience positive and worthwhile for every member. Having the offender pony up a dozen chocolate cookies for writing “talking heads” dialogue is a better way to motivate improvement than any cutting remark.

Following these suggestions won’t guarantee a successful group, but it will improve the odds. Writing groups are not in the business to create fine jewelry with endless polishing a rare gems. The customer – the reader – is waiting to read your story. They can’t do this until you finish. It’s your story, made better my the thoughtful advice of your peers. Now, do you really think my baby is ugly?

Author’s blog – publishing is mindboggling.

An author friend of mine,  some nine books and a movie option to his credits, is uniquely positioned to comment on the writer’s decision to follow the traditional publishing path or self publish via Kindle and Smashwords.  Having taken both paths including the agent, publisher route, he has decided to self publish. To paraphrase him,  ”I’m too old to take a year to find an agent, another year for the agent to find a publisher, and a third year for the publisher to bring the book out. In less than six months, I can have a quality ebook and hardcopy in print. Since the marketing is up to me in either case, I make more money sooner.”

My new novel, Roly’s Relic , is edited and ready to go. My writing advisor, former president of a traditional publishing firm, urges me to find an agent and take the traditional route. Based on her experience, that is still the best way to go for quality writing. On the other hand, fellow authors point out all the good experience they have had self publishing. I am at the proverbial “fork in the road” and must take it.