French Fry Letter

A week or two ago, my daughter's sixth grade class was given an assignment in which they were to write either a letter to an actual company of their choice, with the content either being a complaint or a compliment. They were going to mail the letter, and let the chips fall where they may. I thought this was an interesting and useful exercise because few people write letters anymore. It seems to have gone out of fashion with the advent of eMail, texting, tweeting, and the various forms of Facebook communication.

Rachel decided to write a letter of complaint to Red Robin, the primarily hamburger restaurant. Now don't be fooled. Rachel adores Red Robin. We travel about an hour west toward the Poconos a few times a year to shop at these outlet stores in Tannersville, PA. On the way home, we'd frequently stop at the Red Robin in East Stroudsburg. We always had a reasonably good meal there for what it was, and the service was generally fine.

Imagine our excitement when word came that Red Robin was opening a restaurant in our local mall. We could not wait and a week after it opened around Thanksgiving last year, we headed over. As one might imagine, an eatery open for a week and with all new employees would have a few bumps in the road. It did, but we expected it, and we had a good enough experience to warrant going back ... frequently.

And go back, we did. Many times. And we've run into people we know countless times. The residents of our New Jersey township crave a decent restaurant. Several years ago, a Damon's Grill opened up, and despite the somewhat pricey nature of the place and extremely spotty service, the joint was always jumping. You'd always find people you knew there almost any day of the week. I can't say for sure why it closed just a couple of years later given how busy it always was, but I'm guessing the crap service didn't help.

Well, four months later, Red Robin remains crammed to the gills with diners most times. The food has always been consistent, and the service ... it's spotty and depends on your server. We've had phenomenal and we've had less so. But it's clearly improved and still improving, despite my father-in-law having a near temper tantrum when they sat a few parties ahead of ours (I wasn't there that day - but my wife tells it well) that had arrived later than we had. They quickly fixed that, and fortunately, I wasn't there to experience it

Here's where my daughter's complaint comes in. Keep this in mind - every burger on the Red Robin menu comes with bottomless french fries. She goes there for dinner with her friend and her friend's family one night. Rachel's a big believer in the Natural Burger - a plain burger - with barbeque sauce on the side. She orders it. It comes - eventually - with no fries. Only hers. No fries. Everyone else's has a lovely pile on the plate. Now Rachel is what you might call a tad shy, so she refused to say anything. Everyone at the table tries to force their fries onto her plate, but she refuses. They'd had some soup, so she really didn't need the fries anyway.

And, Rachel chalked it up to one questionable waiter. Until...

A few weeks back, the four of us head there for lunch. Rachel and I order natural burgers. Awesome waitress. Great service. Everything's coming quickly. The drinks are refilled without us having to ask. The food comes at the perfect time.

No french fries with either of our burgers.

I, of the loud mouth, catch the waitress and ask for the fries. She is baffled that the plate didn't come with them and scampers off, to return moments later with a massive basket of the good stuff.

This is the reason for Rachel's letter of complaint to Red Robin written a week or so ago, sent to Red Robin corporate headquarters. I never did read the letter.

Today, eleven year old Rachel received a Federal Express Overnight pack from Red Robin in our mall. Inside was a very personalized letter on the corporate letterhead, apologizing for what had happened. The letter also serves as a $25 coupon off a meal and an invitation to ask for the manager upon her arrival so that Rachel can keep her apprised of how they're doing.

I'm very impressed with Red Robin, but more impressed with Rachel.


Spring's Sprung. Sort of.

Spring. Spring. Spring. News of the spring. I've found my lawn. It's a mess. There's quite a lot of dog poop to clean up. When the heck did the pooch do all that? I suppose it slunk down through the snow as it melted. (Yes, she's a mountain pug that prefers to climb the snow banks and do her business atop mount stinkmore.)

In other bummer-ific news, I didn't reach the quarterfinals of ABNA. The feedback consisted of one exceedingly positive review, which I'm guessing would have been a vote to stay on the island, as well as one middling review, which was likely a vote that cast me off the island. At least I know my pitch was solid enough to get to the second round. Moving on.

Querying wasn't a focus for me recently. I dabbled in the odd contest over the past year, queried a couple of times and then jumped into ABNA. Most of the time was spent researching agents and writing Ghost Fishing. Now I'll jump in, head first. The thing about "head first", is if you're not careful where you jump, you wind up with a headache or worse.

In any event, it's spring, right? I think I might have mentioned that. I took my kids and my daughter's three best friends to Rita's for ices on the very first day of spring. The four girls sat at the picnic table and slurped up their various flavors, two of which left them crimson mouthed. My mint oreo cream ice, which looked not entirely unlike cold split pea soup, tasted precisely like icy mint oreo ice cream. Yum.

Did I mention we're getting somewhere between three and seven inches of snow tomorrow? Although I'm beyond tired of winter weather, given a choice between more snow and an earthquake/tsunami combo, I'll take the former.


Four Things on my mind

As I write this, four things are on my mind.

First: it's Friday. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Second: Japan. The images I see every morning and night on the news are terrifying, horrifying and saddening. Earthquake. Tsunami. Nuclear Disaster. I'm not going to comment on nuclear energy here. It's horribly ironic, though, that we've taken two sucker punches from mother nature and then cut ourselves off at the kneecaps. In the process, we'll likely have dealt not just humanity, but mother nature a severe blow. I'm not a big prayer guy, but I'm sending them to all the people

Third: A little less than four days from now, I'll know if Urban Mythos made it to the quarterfinals round of ABNA. I'm curious about when I'll see feedback on my excerpt. Will it be when the quarter finalists are announced on March 22nd or prior to that?

Fourth: After much research and discussion, I'm applying to get into one specific MBA program this weekend. Presuming I get in -- there's no reason I shouldn't -- the program will start in April. Yikes!

I will leave you with Steven Tyler's excellent quote from American Idol this past week. When asked about rocker contestant James Durban, he responded:

That man right there has a rich vein of inner crazy.


Moving on and moving up

I recently came to the conclusion that I needed to go for a masters degree. Why, you ask? I guess I'm at that point in my career where I realize I won't be satisfied with doing the same fundamental job I've been doing for the past, I don't know, let's say fifteen years. As some of you may know, I'm what they call an IT Professional.

Here's the relevant definitions:

IT = Information Technology
they = the all knowing, ever present "they"
Information Technology = Computer Geek stuff
Professional = someone who gets paid to be a Computer Geek.

I'm going to date myself now, and by date myself, I don't mean take myself out for dinner and a movie. Nearly twenty-two years ago, I graduated from the State University of New York at Binghamton with a Bachelor's Degree in Management.

*Pauses to shudder at the realization it's been that long*

When I left school, I accepted a job at Morgan Stanley, a brokerage firm in New York City, where I was paid to work for twelve hours a day: eight hours as an amateur computer geek performing mundane tasks such as loading reel-to-reel tapes and/or cartridges into the data center tape drives, unloading six-inch thick reports from twin-bed sized Siemens printers, staring at a computer monitor for hours on end to ensure that the monolithic stuff was working, and calling professional computer geeks in the middle of the night when said stuff of theirs wasn't working.

Nine months later, I was deemed a professional computer geek and set loose upon the commercial world of Morgan Stanley. Okay, so basically I was a computer programmer. Some folks like to call it software developer, while others prefer the self-satisfying term, software engineer. However you looked at it - programming computers, developing software, engineering software, or geeking out... I was an IT professional.

About six years and a couple of companies later, I moved on and moved up and into the world of management. I was a HGIC. Head Geek in Charge. That, by the way, is entirely different from the title we have at my present employer - HMFIC. I'll leave the definition of that acronym to your imagination. But, know there is only one correct answer.

As an HGIC, or development manager, it was my job to ensure other geeks wrote software by whatever random date somebody else chose. And frankly, I was still one of the geeks, so I continued to write software, and still do to this day, sixteen years later. Sure, I don't code*** nearly as much as I used to, but I've still got the heart of a programmer.

***Missing definition
code = write/develop/engineer software, program a computer, geek out

Okay, so this brings us to present day. I've been managing my kind for fifteen years. I'm quite sure I was awful at it to begin with, but over time, I think I've become somewhat competent. Hopefully, more than that. But as much as I enjoy the occasional programming diversion, I'm once again ready to move on and move up. Despite my many years of solid experience, it looks like an advanced degree is, while not required, certainly helpful in moving on and moving up.

MBA - Masters of Business Administration. That's the degree I'm going after. It'll be part time, possibly online or a mix of online and on-campus. I'm researching schools now. It's going to take a while - probably three or four years at the pace my home and work life can handle.

What will this do to my writing? Heck if I know, but something will have to give. I'm thinking of ways to balance work, family, friends, education and writing. I think the community aspect of writing may need to diminish if I'm to keep on writing novels, at least when school is in session. I can't stop writing. My brain just keeps pumping out strange and wonderful story ideas, and I need to put them on paper.



A Little Planning Goes a Long Way

I just finished listening to the audio book version of Scott Westerfeld's, Behemoth, the follow up to Leviathan. You can generally find me reading one novel while listening to another on the daily trip to and from work. It takes me a while to get into Steampunk novels, but I jumped right into Behemoth. It's a fascinating genre, one that requires quite a lot of planning.  Westerfeld must have done a serious amount of outlining for this series, because it offers a richly detailed alternate history of the events leading up to World War I.

Now I'm waiting for the audio book version of Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel to free up at the library. But as I often do, when I'm waiting and I'm in the mood, I'll pop in a Harry Potter CD for the drive. So, in went Deathly Hallows. And you know what? J.K. Rowling must have outlined the heck out of the series.

Seriously! When she wrote the Order of the Phoenix, did she plan for Regulus Black's locket to be thrown out with the trash, knowing full well that it was actually Slytherin's locket, which, as one of Voldemort's horcruxes, held a piece of his damaged soul? Did she do so knowing the prominent role it would play in the end of Half Blood Prince and a huge portion of Deathly Hallows? Or, when she set out to write the sixth book, did she look back over her earlier novels, looking for anything she might use? Did she say, okay, I need a little something that one of the kids might have seen. Oh, a locket! Hmm. Yeah. Locket. They'll find that locket. And ... and... I'll make it Hufflepuff's locket! Wait. No good. Riddle was in Slytherin's house. It'll be Slytherin's Locket!

Maybe she didn't even think of it when she wrote Half Blood Prince. Perhaps she just said, it'll be a locket, and then when she set out to write the penultimate book, she had to give it a back story. And then she looked back over the previous novels and said, hey look! A locket! They threw out a locket. I need a locket. Let's make up a story about that locket. Really, it could have been anything. What if it wasn't a locket, but an old chocolate frog wrapper in Ron's bedroom? If I wrote it, yeah, probably, and then Sorcerer's Stone wouldn't have been published, and then where would Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson be? (Maybe they'd have done just as well, but...)

You see, it couldn't have been a chocolate frog wrapper. I think Ms. Rowling planned out almost every last detail, and that's why the novels are so freaking brilliant. It is 100% clear that terrific series like Westerfeld's Leviathan, Clare's Mortal Instruments and Dashner's Maze Runner were not written organically, with events, plot and characters simply unfolding as they might. Do I know this for a fact? Heck, no. But it sure smells like it.