The hair goes first, then the ears, the teeth and the memory, he says, lamenting his advancing age. He puts out the cigarette, exhales, grooms his white mustache with his thumb and finger and puts on his freshly-pressed veteran’s blazer and Garrison cap. Impeccably dressed, this junior vice-commander and chaplain grabs his cane and limps out the door and across the street.
He is meeting with some friends. He doesn’t need the blazer. The first few gold leaves of Fall flutter on a breeze carrying the first touch of autumn. Winter approaches and the old man knows this. His bones tell him. But, there is much to do and the clock reminds him of this each night as it ticks down the hours from two to five while he furiously writes in his notebooks.
“I only need four or five hours of sleep,” he says. “You don’t need as much sleep when you get older. Anyway, I’ll soon be asleep for a long time,” he adds laughing at himself.
The others laugh too. They tease him during his moment in the spotlight like you’d tease a close friend. Hell, they pushed him here into this spotlight. Without them, Tom Eckert wouldn’t have published his first novel at age 71. Without them, he wouldn’t be racing to finish the sequel by Spring.
Tom’s dream as novelist rose from the ashes of another dream that died on a bandstand near Jackson, Michigan in the mid 1970’s. His big band, the Tommy Leighton Orchestra, had just played its final show. Tom had employed as many as 18 musicians over the years and played at such noted venues as The Inverness Club, Centennial Terrace and the Sports Arena. But, on that night, it was time to put down the tenor sax for good.
“I couldn’t play anymore. My ambature was shot. The big band cost too much money to get dates to play anymore and I didn’t want to scale down to seven or eight pieces, so my talent had to go somewhere. I’m a Leo, I have that drive to do things creative,” he said.
Tom chose writing. “It was the easiest decision I ever made. I sat down one day and started writing a short story. Then, I got a couple of characters I liked and I made it a little longer and on and on it went,” he explains.
For 30 years, he’s been writing alone before the dawn’s early light filling his notebooks by hand. He lost two of his completed novels in a house fire and Tom frankly admits that if his friends at VFW Post 2510 in East Toledo didn’t push him, his newest novel, Lethal Twins would never have been published.
One day, over a beer or two, Tom told one of the members he was working on a novel. That member, Homer Brickey is a writer for The Blade and an author himself. In a short time, Brickey had mobilized the whole post. Someone donated a typewriter and Tom pecked at it with two fingers and one thumb until there were no more ribbons to be found in Toledo. Then, someone donated an electric typewriter and when that died somebody else donated a computer and when the computer crashed someone donated money to rebuild it. Meanwhile, Brickey found an affordable publisher, Xlibris Corp, a Philadelphia affiliate of Random House which specializes in digital, on-demand printing for small press runs. The initial run for Lethal Twins was 46 copies.
Another Blade staffer, Tom Gearhart, donated editing duties, and Don Koberstein, Sherry Scott, and Rocky Newbold provided technical assistance and helped raise $2,200 for the project. The cover art was donated by Steven Conine, a well-known East Toledo artist.
These friends have become so important to Tom’s avocation he’s borrowed some of their traits for the sequel. For example, there’s the guy who never shuts up, the guy with the size 15 EEE shoes and the guy with the hand always in his back pocket. Naturally, he’s changed the names to protect the guilty. For instance, Rocky Newbold, vice-commander, becomes Rocky Newbole, Danny Cannode becomes Danny Canofsky and Kenny Rower becomes Mr. Rowens.
Tom enjoys putting his friends in his books as much as they enjoy reading about how he has portrayed them.
“That’s the enjoyment of it…if you look around a little bit, you can see their traits. You sit and watch some of these characters for a while and after you get over the part where you’re disgusted with some of their antics, you find they’re really interesting,” he says.
Rocky Newbold agrees. He remembers one character he shared a few beers with. It was only years after they met that Rocky learned the man earned the Silver Star for saving the lives of his fellow soldiers. Rocky first knew Tom as a cook. It wasn’t until years later that he learned Tom was a sniper in Korea, the recipient of two Purple Hearts, an ironworker, Toledo Police Officer, tavern owner, supper-club operator and a Pinkerton guard.
“Over the years you start piecing his whole life together and you say, `Man, you did a lot in your life,’” he says.
Tom draws on that vast experience for Lethal Twins, a story set in the 1950s in Toledo, Washington and Columbia, South America. The hero, Tom Mueller, is loosely based on Tom’s military and law enforcement experience. Tom left DeVilbiss High School at age 17 to enlist in the Marine Corps. After serving in Korea, he spent eight-years with the Toledo Police Department. In the book, Tom Mueller is a DEA sniper called upon to disrupt the flow of drugs. His twin brother is a violent criminal. This is the usual male fare you’ll find reading John Sanford, Robert Parker or James Patterson—mayhem, violence, sex, plot twists and male bonding over a brew or two. Tom’s not as accomplished as these famed writers, but he now has what they have—a support network, a published book and the drive to write the sequel. And, he may have what some of the others don’t—a lot of fun doing it and a lot of friends to share in the fun.
The book is available at www.xlibris.com. Go to bookstore, then search. You may comment at