There’s a thing that happens sometimes when you go to a bar on open mic night. In general, the guys in the band standing behind that open mic are not super excited. It’s a gig, and it pays, but there’s a very good chance that they’re going to spend the entire night backing up people who shouldn’t even do karaoke, let alone be singing with a live band.
Every now and then, though, someone gets up there and something special happens, which brings me to a story that happening in Canton, NY in the early 1980’s. The Canton-Potsdam area, at least back then, was kind of a local-band hotbed, and there were some great ones. I suppose it can be partly explained by the fact that the Crane School of Music, part of SUNY Potsdam, is filled with talented musicians, but some of the best bands were made up of “townies” as we locals called ourselves. The band The Gigolo Aunts started there, for example, led by Phil and Steve Hurley, a couple o’ punks who I grew to love and one of my best friends and co-worker at Maxfield’s Restaurant back in those days, drummer Paul Brouwer. Phil and Paul left the group eventually, but they played first in the bars of Potsdam.
Well, on the night I’m referring to there was a concert played by a band called the Ravens, headed up by a guy who went by the dubious name of Radio Bob and featuring one of my dearest friends on guitar, a guy named John Harrison. It wasn’t officially an open mic show, but they allowed a few people to sit in. My buddy Mark Sherry tore the night apart on harp, and yours truly drank enough beer to get up and sing “Twist and Shout.”
Now here’s the deal. These guys, (not even Johnny), had ever heard me sing before. What’s more, T&S was one of Bob’s favorite songs to sing. So they were taking a chance.
I was scared. I hadn’t sung in public in five years or so, but it was one of my favorite songs of all time, so I stepped on stage. The band started playing, and after the brief intro, I started singing. It felt good, I remembered guest vocalist etiquette and handed off to Bob for a verse, and, even more importantly, I remembered the words.
Afterwards, I was talking to Johnny and he said, “You had your back turned so you couldn’t see, but when you came in exactly on cue and exactly in tune, and then started rippin’ it, the whole band’s faces just lit up. It was magical.”
But this email is not really about music.
It’s about writing books with Craig Hart.
Back in October Craig and I started collaborating on the SpyCo adventure series. He had already written the first volume and gave me the task of writing another. He said, basically, “There are the characters that exist so far, here’s a little background on them. You can use them or not. Create your own if you like.” From those cryptic instructions, (carved onto a wall in a mountain cave in Nepal, so filled with Yeti dung that I could only read a sentence at a time before I had to run back out for fresh air), Assignment: Paris was born, featuring a new character named Perry Hall. I sent the manuscript to Craig, and in his underground bunker in Iowa, he read it, and the whole band’s face lit up.
Since that time we’ve written two more, Assignment: Istanbul, and the newly released Assignment: Sydney. These two are a little different than Paris, in that we actively collaborate now, through the voodoo magic, (Craig tells me the word “technology” is actually the correct term), of Google Docs, We take turns writing, though to say we take turns writing chapters is not really accurate, as we sometimes pick up where the other left off in mid-chapter, occasionally in mid-sentence. (True story.)
It’s a little crazy. A little spooky. We have frequently had the same idea about something we might want to try, and our document’s margin is filled with comments like this: “I was just going to say that.” “That’s exactly what I thought s/he would say.” “Yes! Of course, that’s what s/he would do!”
I reader commented on a thread on Craig’s VIP Reader’s page, saying “Sometimes, I can picture the two of you laughing at something Perry said,” to which Craig replied, “We do exactly that.” (He added an emoji at the end of the comment which decency does not allow me to reproduce here… also “technology” seems to prevent that as well).
The fact is we do laugh a lot while working on these stories. I have actually lost track of the number of times I’ve read something he’s added and laugh so hard that I have to regain control and message him saying, “You have my permission to cut every word I’ve written from this book as long as you promise to leave [insert any one of a hundred hilarious lines here] in!”
We also laugh (and sometimes shiver a little) when talking about things we’d like to do in future volumes. In one conversation the other night we actually (without realizing it until afterward) worked out rough plot sketches of not one but three future SpyCo adventures. There are times he’ll send a two-sentence message with an idea, and when I read it, the whole band’s faces light up.
So, having told you all of that, I encourage you to click on the link below and be magically [technologically] whisked to Amazon.com where you can purchase Assignment: Sydney for the Black Friday price of $0.99.