An Alternative to Detail Story Outlining

An Alternative to Detail Story Outlining

By: Leo N. Ardo

Are you a detail outliner or seat-of-the-pants writer?

At a recent writer’s conference, this question was posed at a breakout session. The room was split, about 60:40 (outliner: seat of pants). What followed was more interesting.  As the writing progressed—the outliners drifted away for their meticulous outlines and were winging it. The seat of pants writers lost valuable time as they reviewed earlier text to find continuity details. Many wished they had outlined their story.

The early days of my writing career were influenced by a manufacturing environment typically driven by procedures, forms, and lists. I began looking for similar items in the writing “industry”. The search led to forms that were nothing more than a labeled sheet, to forms with so many small boxes that even coded notes would not fit.

Offered here is a middle of the road, flexible alternative.

Characters drive stories. Magazine articles, how-to books, and blogs recommend that writers have a solid understanding of the lead and secondary characters. Some authors spend weeks defining their story’s characters before they write the first word.

A Character Map (a spin-off of Mind Mapping) is a great way to define characters and their interactions. (See attachment).  It’s simple, does not stifle creativity, and can be fun to create. The two recommended office supplies are 11×17 paper, and colored pens. Draw a center circle and print the story title inside. Draw a line from the circle toward the paper’s edge. Near the circle label the new line with a character’s name. At will, begin writing character notes and connect them to the main “branch”. Sub-branches can be used for different scenes, or to provide more detail about a particular character feature. Feel free to doodle.

A Story Summary is recommended. Add as much detail as you wish that will fit on less than two pages. (See attached). Recommend wider margins for notes as you change the summary—lately, I have found three inches on the right side should be enough.

Before writing the first word of each chapter take time to joy down notes of what to include. This can be as detailed (or not) as you want. Include key information, actions, what character details will be revealed, etc. A blank tablet, pencil, and eraser (for me, this gets more use than the pencil) are the only supplies needed. (The attached is a typed version of my handwritten notes).

This system is not for everyone. But, it does provide:

–       Character details

–       A flexible summary that can act as a guide

–       Freedom to take story in any direction one chapter at a time

–       Reference material






Hoping life blesses you with good stories!

                                                         Leo N. Ardo

As a young boy, I can recall sitting with my father at the local gas station listening to the stories, and thinking what a wonderful life. In reflection, we had everything that mattered: good friends, comfortable life, sense of community, … and good stories.

Several short stories can be found at the blog listed below.

Another passion is photography, which I find to be similar to writing. A photograph tells a story—1000 words worth. Like an author, the photographer has to make judgment calls when framing—what to include, or exclude. Altering the position of the camera changes the exposure and may reveal flaws, much like a writer’s pen enlightens the reader by revealing character flaws.

When the world is closing in I pack up the fly-fishing gear. Fly-fishing has a required calming rhythm to cast a fly where it needs to land.

Saved for the happy ending: luck has blessed me with the girl in my dreams. We enjoy family, movies, travel, reading, golf, and biking. We call Utah and Wyoming home to be near our families.


Visit our website


Like us at

Follow us on Twitter @LeonardoStories


The H. P. Oliver Interview

The H. P. Oliver Interview

(Interviewed by Leo N. Ardo)

I was a rooky tweeter when I replied to a tweet about weird car names. Having read a story on Rolls Royce’s introduction of the “Wraith”, I suggested adding the Wraith to the list. His reply reminded me that their clocks were too loud. What followed was the most entertaining two hours of banter: 70’s gas wars, V8’s, classic cars, standard vs. metric coins, and so on. Thinking anyone with such an unpredictable and classy sense of humor must write good books, I bought Pacifica by H. P. Oliver.


Within a few pages I was hooked, and rescheduled a golf outing to finish Pacifica. There are healthy doses of action and suspense appropriately sprinkled with humor. Johnny Spicer, ace gumshoe, tells his own story as only he can.

It’s about here where you would expect to find H. P. Oliver’s biography. To comply with convention and maintain as much space as possible for the interview, please feel free to click the link below—after you enjoy the interview.

Be sure to catch the Revolver excerpt after question 6.

Question #1:

Readers sometimes wonder where writers get the ideas for their stories.  For example, your last book, Pacifica, was a tale of international intrigue set at the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco.  What was your inspiration for that story?

H. P. OLIVER:  Most of my novels are born when one of the story ideas floating around in my head strikes me a particularly nifty yarn worth telling.  Pacifica is unique in that it began as a set of criteria in search of a story.  When I decided to “star” Johnny Spicer in his first novel-length caper, I had little more to go on than a general date that fit with the chronology of his first two novellas (Johnny Spicer: The First Capers).

The timeframe I had was simply the year 1939.  Since I often base my stories on historical events, I began by looking at what was going on in the world then.  One of the biggest news items of the era was the continuing Japanese invasion of China.  That seemed like a good opportunity to throw Johnny into a mystery with some foreign intrigue, but Spicer is a Hollywood detective, so I had to figure out how to bring the Sino-Japanese war to California.

That challenge was simmering on a back burner while I was researching another project in the University of California’s Bancroft Library Historical Photo Archive.  That’s where I came face-to-face with the solution.  What I found was a collection of snapshots made at the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco.

The GGIE was a world’s fair focusing on trade through exhibits from countries bordering the Pacific Ocean, including China and Japan.  Sensing I was hot on the trail of a good idea, I dug deeper into the exposition’s history.  The more I learned, the more certain I became that I’d found the perfect setting for a tale of international intrigue set in California.

The book’s title, Pacifica, comes from the exposition’s theme sculpture—an eighty-foot deco statue of a woman who supposedly represented the spirit of the Pacific rim countries—or something vaguely along those lines.  That statue, created by sculptor Ralph Stackpole, was called Pacifica.

While a breathtaking monument, especially when illuminated by multi-colored lights at night, Stackpole’s statue did not receive critical acclaim in the art world.  It seems many agreed with Johnny Spicer, who described Pacifica as “. . . a gigantic statue of the ugliest woman I have ever seen.  What this big, ugly dame had to do with the Pacific Ocean escaped me, other than the possibility that the bottom of that ocean might be a better place for her.

Question #2:

Your Hollywood gumshoe, Johnny Spicer, is a unique character.  How did you happen to “meet” him?

H. P. OLIVER:  Character development is essential to good fiction.  The folks who populate our stories must be crafted to fit their roles believably.  It’s also important for writers to know those characters intimately.  If I don’t love or hate my characters, they aren’t likely to illicit much emotion from readers either.

I write mostly in a genre’ I describe as a blend of pulp and noir fiction, so I set out to craft a protagonist who fit into that scheme of things.  I wanted a hero with some smarts who was also fallible—a guy who makes mistakes just like the rest of us.  Moreover, I needed a character who was a product of his time, the 1930s and ’40s.  Among other things, that meant a fellow with the black and white view of good and evil typical of simpler times.  In connection with that, he needed to be an ethical man who knows he must live with the consequences of the decisions he makes.  Finally, my character had to have qualities that made him unique and interesting.  I chose a cynical point of view and an appropriately dry sense of humor as two of those qualities.

So that was the beginning of Johnny.  From there I developed about a three-page dossier on him so I knew his life story up to the point when I “met” him.  Then we started working together and, to tell the truth, I wasn’t sure I liked Mister Spicer at first.  He got on my nerves a little, but as I learned what makes him tick, we became the best of pals

Question #3:

Based on your thirty-some years of writing experience, what advice do you have for those just beginning a writing career?

H. P. OLIVER:  As a general rule, I don’t do how-to tips.  There are already far too many folks doing that, and most of them fall into George Bernard Shaw’s category of people who can’t do so they teach.  I have, however, three basic writing tenets in which I firmly believe, and I’m happy to share those.

First, life experiences are a significant part of who we are and what we write, so go out and live!  The Internet and TV only give us predigested, secondhand versions of the world.  Turn them off and go see the world in person.  That’s the only way a writer can prepare to write realistically about life.

Second, learn your craft.  Stephen King said something like, “Writing cannot be taught, but it can be learned.”  While I seldom agree with anything Mister King says or does, he got that one right.  I think what he meant is we all write differently, so we each have to figure out the way to write that works for us.

But, as Jessica Bell so aptly points out, “You must learn the rules, so you can break them intelligently.”  So, by all means, learn the basics—sentence structure, grammar, word usage, and so on—from knowledgeable teachers.  Once you’ve learned those rules, however, no amount of time and effort spent on writing coaches and seminars will help you develop your own unique writing style.  That you must do by studying the rich heritage of our craft, making your own style choices, and writing, writing, writing to refine those choices.  That’s how you grow as a writer

Third, never forget that, as a fiction writer, you are a story teller, plain and simple.  That’s your job.  While just about anyone can think up an interesting plot, the art of spinning a good yarn is in the telling of the story.

Question #4:

What are your thoughts on the “indie” publishing world and how to succeed in it?

H. P. OLIVER:  You don’t ask easy questions, do you?  I’m no expert, but I know without a doubt that independent publishing is a two-headed coin.  On one side is the benefit of giving talented writers who have escaped the notice of agents and publishers an opportunity to connect directly with readers who will enjoy their work.

On the other side of the coin is a situation in which anyone who can find the space bar on a keyboard can become a published “author.”  This is a problem for both writers and readers because it results in a ratio of something like a thousand pieces of poorly-written garbage to one well-crafted novel.

So, until outfits like Amazon establish some standards for writing quality—NOT CONTENT—and insist writers meet those standards, success in the world of independent publishing hangs entirely on the writer’s ability to make a well-crafted novel stand out from all the garbage around it.  Achieving that goal requires becoming known to as many readers as possible and racking up positive reviews.

To make matters even more difficult, those who must operate within the scope of a budget are limited in the ways they can make their name known to readers.  And most of those ways involve the use of social media—websites like Twitter, Good Reads, and to a lesser degree, Face Book.

Using social media effectively involves creating a personality—a brand, if you will—readers associate with quality writing in a genre’ they enjoy.  I think the best Internet tool for this purpose are custom-built website on which writers present their wares in an environment tailored to their style of writing.  Once you have such a website, the most beneficial use of social media is urging readers to visit and revisit your site.  That also requires keeping your website dynamic by constantly updating it with fresh and interesting with new features.  I think my website ( is a pretty fair example of a web presence that fits those criteria, but then I might have just a little prejudice on the subject.

Regardless, I’d bet my fedora that those who successfully use social media to sell their products put as much time and effort into promotion as they put into creating the books they hope to sell.

Question #5:

Speaking of fedoras, you’re looking quite stylish in yours today.  What’s the story behind the hat?

H. P. OLIVER:  My fedora is part of who I am, so why not use it as a kind of signature?  It might also be my small way of reintroducing a sense of style and class to a society in which being who you are—a unique individual standing apart from the crowd—seems contrary to the interests of Corporate America.  But that’s another story for another day.

Question #6:

Rumor has it Johnny Spicer’s next adventure is coming out soon.  Can you tell us anything about that?

H. P. OLIVER:  It just so happens I can.  At this moment we are in the final production stages of Johnny’s second novel-length caper.  The title is Revolver, and it’s scheduled for release in paper and Kindle editions at the end of this month.

This time around, Johnny tackles a mystery right in his own backyard.  Someone is sabotaging the making of a film on Warner Bros. Burbank lot, and Jack Warner hires Johnny to make the problem go away.  Spicer’s investigation has him traipsing all over southern California and dealing with a cast of characters that reads like a 1930s Hollywood Who’s Who.  As usual, I’ve tried to give Johnny a challenge worthy of his gumshoe talents and, hopefully, I’ve provided his fans with a mystery that will keep them guessing right along with our hero until the final chapters.  There will be more about Revolver on my website when the book is released.

– – – – –

Leo N. Ardo: I want to thank you H.P. for taking a few moments from the busy schedule that accompanies releasing a new book.

H. P. OLIVER: Leo, this interview with you has been swell fun.  Thank you for the opportunity to talk a little about our craft and maybe hustle a few books.



– – – – –

Excerpt from Revolver:

I slid in behind the steering wheel of my Chrysler and was cranking the engine over when I heard the sound of screeching tires somewhere to my right.  I looked down the side street just in time to see Diana Dean’s bright red Cadillac convertible burst out of the hotel’s garage entrance and swing in my direction.  I heard the powerful sixteen cylinder Caddy engine straining under full throttle as it accelerated up the hill, then there was more tire squealing as Diana Dean shot into the intersection and wrenched the big steering wheel around to her left.

The Caddy’s engine was almost up to full steam by then, and it propelled the massive machine past me and up Ocean Avenue like an express freight train.  After a quick look for oncoming traffic, I cranked my steering wheel all the way around into a U-turn on Ocean and pushed my accelerator pedal to the floor.  Diana Dean’s Cadillac was already halfway through the next block.

My Chrysler is no slouch when it comes to power, but the Cadillac had a ten cylinder/eighty horsepower advantage on me.  I thought I could hold my own, but if Diana Dean kept up at the rate she was going, I wasn’t going to overtake her.

I watched the Caddy slew around to the right at a major intersection up ahead.  A young man on the sidewalk jumped back as Dean cut the turn too tight and her right-side tires jumped the curb.  I made the same turn and noted the street sign she’d barely missed.  We were northbound on Pacific Avenue.  I was still nearly two blocks behind the Cadillac when it arrived at PCH.

Without slowing, Diana Dean flew past the stop sign and fishtailed through a left turn, narrowly missing a Studebaker that skidded to a stop just in time.  The Studebaker driver was still trying to restart his engine when I sailed by a few moments later.  Now Dean had open road ahead of her, and the Caddy had room to stretch its legs.  She was easily opening her lead on me.

The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes

What I Learned from Jack Bickham’s The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)

Book Review by: Leo N. Ardo



The stars have aligned, and you want to become a published fiction writer. Your dream is only 60,000 words away from an editor’s approval. Writing club members, family, and friends “really like your story,” so you dedicate extra time to writing. Your book is complete. Pride oozes from your soul as your manuscript is mailed to publishers. Then the rejection letters begin to appear in the mail. What do you do?

A suggestion is to read The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them), by Jack M. Bickham (1930–1997), an accomplished author and journalism professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Jack M. Bickham published seventy-five novels—some under the pseudonym John Miles, Jeff Collins, and Arthur Williams. Two of his books were turned into movies: Apple Dumpling Gang, and Baker’s Hawk. Bickham also wrote seven instructional books about fiction writing.

He was an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma beginning in 1969 and achieved full professor standing in 1979. The University of Oklahoma recognized him with their highest honor for teaching excellence: a David Ross Boyd Professor.

“In more than twenty years of teaching courses in professional writing at the University of Oklahoma, I think I’ve encountered almost every difficulty an aspiring writer might face. … So, despite the fact that I’ve chosen to write this book from what seems a negative stance, telling you what you shouldn’t do, please don’t fall into the trap of thinking negatively, or backwards, about my writing. … But my message is positive—always.” (From the Forward of The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes)

“Bickham chose the word ‘Forward’ to replace ‘Foreword’ to emphasize two vital points: All good fiction moves forward; all good writers look ahead.” (From the Forward of The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes)

This well written, well organized, and to-the-point book is a great reference for any writer. A sampling of the thirty-eight writing topics includes:

            – Writing vivid compelling characters

            – Getting started

            – Writing to readers

            – Patience

            – Perseverance

            – Using “said”

            – Conflict

            – Avoiding coincidence

            – Clarity for readers

            – Point of view

The chapters cover everything from getting your project started to preparing a manuscript package for an editor, and finishes with encouragement to start writing and keep writing.

Several entertaining chapters deal with character development: “Don’t Use Real People in Your Story”, “Don’t Write About Wimps”, and “Don’t Duck Trouble.”

Bickham offers guidance on who to seek advice from:

“But to ask a club member, relative or friend for criticism is mostly a waste of time for at least two reasons: they won’t be honest; they usually don’t know what they are doing anyway.” (Chapter 30, pg 85).

“A good writing coach is not just a teacher; he is an advisor, handholder, slave driver, critic, friend, psychologist, editor, even inspirational guru.” (Chapter 31, pg 89).

The chapters are one to three pages in length, and concisely describe common writing mistakes, and correct methods. Bickham has filled the 112-pages with valuable information, exercises, and examples. The book is a great addition to any writer’s reference library.

“Where are the problems? Editors rarely take the time to map them out, so Jack Bickham has. In this book, he spotlights the 38 most common fiction writing land minds—writing mistakes that can dynamite story ideas into slush pile rejects.” (From Back Cover of The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes)

I think “minds” is a typo, but it works well—much like the use of “Forward” for “Foreword.” “Minds” emphasizes that good fiction is born from the application of the writer’s craft, quality, knowledge, and understanding.  As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, good fiction is in the skilled mind of the writer—and reader.




 ImageHoping life blesses you with good stories!

                                                                        Leo N. Ardo

As a young boy, I can recall sitting with my father at the local gas station listening to the stories, and thinking what a wonderful life. In reflection, we had everything that mattered: good friends, comfortable life, sense of community, … and good stories.

Now I am a thirty-five year veteran of small business, and author of the Jon Hersey – Industrial Spy series. Jon Hersey, the hero, battles terrorism on American soil. He must be a ghost to accomplish the goals of: culling terrorists from the company’s employees, maintaining employment, ensuring that products ship to the armed forces, and eliminating the shipments to the enemy.

Several short stories can be found at the blog listed below.

Another passion is photography, which I find to be similar to writing. A photograph tells a story—1000 words worth. Like an author, the photographer has to make judgment calls when framing—what to include, or exclude. Altering the position of the camera changes the exposure and may reveal flaws, much like a writer’s pen enlightens the reader by revealing character flaws.

When the world is closing in I pack up the fly-fishing gear. Fly-fishing has a required calming rhythm to cast a fly where it needs to land.

Saved for the happy ending: luck has blessed me with the girl in my dreams. We enjoy family, movies, travel, reading, golf, and biking. We call Utah and Wyoming home to be near our families.


Visit our website


Like us at

Follow us on Twitter @LeonardoStories



PACIFICA by H. P. Oliver


Written by H. P. Oliver


Johnny Spicer narrates his own story in 30’s style detective lingo and within a few sentences readers are transported to 1939 San Francisco standing next to Spicer.

The story grabs readers on page one with its detail and presentation. It lets go at “The End.”

I rescheduled a golf outing to finish this book.

Pacifica is very entertaining with healthy doses of action and suspense that are appropriately seasoned with humor. Suspense drives the reader to keep turning the pages. The reader gets a few short rest stops.

Great story telling.


Visit for more information.

Reviewed by: Leo N. Ardo of

Comedy of Repairs – The Assignment (Part 1 of 2)

Comedy of Repairs The Assignment

By: Leo N. Ardo

shutterstock_50162182small Fifty feet from the traffic light it changed to green. Gina Rollins transferred her right foot from the brake to the accelerator. Thirty-two days from her 90th birthday, the date she promised to stop driving. Passing the last cross traffic lane, the high-speed blur caught her eye, but it was too late. The force coming from the right side rammed the car into oncoming traffic. The driver’s door popped open, and she continued to fly after the car stopped; because the seat belts had not been clicked for the past seventy-three years.

Gina thought about that morning in 1939. Snow filled her shoes as she escaped from her new mother and brutal father in upper Wisconsin. At the Ashland bus depot, sixteen-year-old Ginetta Boltreau bought her ticket under a new name, Gina Boltan, to begin a new, untraceable life. While hoping the delayed bus would leave town before her father began searching, she met Harknas Rollins, who had Americanized his last name at immigration from Rolinanetti. Harknas was twenty-three. It was love-in-four-days as they talked on their journey to Durango, Colorado.

Harknas, the gentle giant, asked Gina to marry. He was so kind, respectful, and handsome she said yes. Like other mining families, improving their living conditions required frugal money management and many do-it-yourself projects. Their original, small, three-room home had a separate outhouse. Over time, rooms were added: bedrooms for the kids, full bathroom with indoor plumbing, and the family dining area. Gina felt lucky to still be living at home with her son’s family. Sawyer and Cora moved in after Harknas died from pneumonia at age 87.

Suddenly, she found it difficult to maintain a stream of thoughts—they were short and random. How did I get here? Where is this room? How long? Why so fuzzy? Where am I? Is that Amy? My back is numb. Maybe it’s Jill. Why won’t my arms move? Why is Jill the only one here?

Jill noticed the slight movement of Gina’s body in the hospital bed. “Grandma, it’s Jill. Please be still. You have been in a car accident. Your back is broken. The doctor said you will be okay. We are moving the wedding date so you can be there. I am here to help you.”

Three days later, Cora, the daughter-in-law, was the family aid.

“Cora, please go ahead with the wedding. I cannot be the reason to delay their lives. I want great grandchildren. The wedding could be in the hospital chapel. Or, you were married in our home. Maybe the doctor will allow me to go home. Please consider it. You are always a practical thinker. You know I am right.”

Later that evening, Jill arrived to replace Cora. They discussed the wedding date and relocating it to their home, if the doctor approved Grandma’s release. Gina kept her eyes closed and listened to their conversation. Now she had to work on the doctor. She smiled.

Sawyer and Cora had three children: Jill, twenty-years old, was marrying Thomas, the dragline operator, this Saturday. Maximilian, eight years old, was the quiet twin. He did his homework and played with his action figures. Much to Sawyer’s dismay, his son played with dolls and needed a daily reminder to do his chores. Amy, the social twin, talked about anything at anytime with anyone.  She scrambled her words more than most eight-year-olds, and the only thing that quieted her was feeling hopeless.

Three weeks to the wedding. A Saturday, Sunday afternoon, and two evenings were used to re-route the wiring from the fuse box, around the future pocket doors, to the dining room outlets and chandelier. The second week Sawyer installed the new chandelier that required bracing installation to handle the additional weight. Sawyer was not satisfied with the location of the wiring next to the future right door. I think this wiring should have been over to the right more. I am running out of time. I can’t finish if I move the wire again. The doors need to be installed, and I have to prepare the wall then paint. This is going to be close.

* * * * *

Thursday before the wedding, Amy attempted to sneak in the house and went right to her room. Cora knew something was wrong. Amy was the child that talked about everything.

Cora knocked gently, slightly opened the door, and asked, “May I come in?”

Being upset, Amy replied with a staccato, “Yes.”

“How was school today?” Cora asked, using her best mom voice.

“Oh, it was okay until we got this assay assignment. Here, look at this assessment sheet,” she said with less emphasis. Cora’s best mom voice was performing its magic.

Cora organized the key points as she read the assignment sheet: essay, 200 words, double-spaced, any subject matter, due Monday.

“This will be easy,” Cora encouraged.

Amy quickly retorted, “Nothing ever happens here! How can I write about nothing?”

“Amy, you are such a lucky girl. Your sister is getting married this weekend in her home so Grandma Gina can attend.”

Amy thought a few moments. I can just write what I see. A smile replaced her frown as she said, “Thanks, Mom.”

* * * * *


A neighbor advised Sawyer that pocket door installation was difficult. With that advice, Sawyer hand picked the straightest wood studs with the fewest knots. Aligning, hanging, and testing the doors took two evenings. Hanging the sheetrock, another evening. Taping and sanding required two more evenings. Prep and masking took four hours, then another hour to paint.

The masking tape was removed the following morning, and Sawyer smiled with pride. He had finally replaced those two cumbersome sun-bleached doors with space efficient pocket doors.

The wedding was in four hours.

Maximilian was preoccupied with his new action figure. Sawyer was losing his patience, having requested twice that Max dress for the wedding. Cora instructed Sawyer and the other men to leave so the ladies could get ready for the wedding. She would help Max with the tuxedo.

Sawyer rounded up the men for a trip to the Buffalo Hills Coffee Shop. They met Thomas “Digger” Louden, the groom; Dan, his best man; and Art, a groomsman. Continually rubbing the back of his neck revealed Thomas’s groom jitters. Additionally, he had ordered ten coffees, then opened one sugar and one creamer packet into each cup. This was a black coffee family. The men understood Thomas’s condition and drank without comment. A couple toasts were offered to Thomas using the “contaminated” coffee.

Bill Buffalo answered his phone, and then carried it to Sawyer.

“Hello,” Sawyer said.

“Max dropped the wedding ring in the heater vent. Amy said she heard it tumble down the vent,” Cora explained. Sawyer could hear the stress in her voice.

Sawyer checked his watch—two hours until the wedding.


End of Part One of Two

What else can go wrong? Read part two  “Comedy of Repairs – The Wedding Essay”

Part One: Comedy of Repairs – The Assignment

Part Two: Comedy of Repairs – The Wedding Essay


Author Pix - Leo N Ardo - medium Leo N. Ardo: – I am a thirty-five year veteran of small business, and author of the Jon Hersey – Industrial Spy series. I enjoy photography, fly fishing, biking, and embellishing our travel experiences in journals titled Exaggerated Tales of an Ordinary Man.

We call Utah and Wyoming home.

Visit our website

Like us at

Follow us on Twitter @LeonardoStories

Hoping life blesses you with good stories!

Beth’s Dilemma – The Message

Beths Dilemma The Message (Part 2 of 2)

By: Leo N. Ado

Beth did not sleep last night, struggling with how to return the wallet and maintain her safety. Every decision breaks up a family. In a strange way, she is thankful the warehouse is working seasonal Saturdays and will be surrounded by people she knows.

The conclusion of her internal overnight debate comforts her self-preservation and justifies her not-so-final decision: no personal jail time, that little girl should not be exposed to crime, and Charlie lied on his application. Later this morning, the police will be called, and the wallet turned over to them. Why am I so uncomfortable with this decision?

Simultaneously, she is intrigued by a man that would rob for his child, stick to his convictions by keeping his secrets, have lunch with his daughter, and leave as soon as possible to pick her up after work. His orders are completed every day. He drives a refurbished pickup that car enthusiasts would classify as a work-of-art. Charlie is an enigma—loving father, honorable man, artist, and bank robber.

At 8:13 a.m., Teresa, the receptionist, answers a call from the Bowling Green Hospital.

“Hello, this is Melissa with Bowling Green Hospital. May I speak with Charles Mead?”

“Please hold while I page,” Teresa answered. Charlie is paged three times but does not respond. By company policy, call slips are forwarded to employee supervisors to ensure all customer service issues are handled if the employee is absent. Teresa passes a pink call slip to Doris that reads, “Charlie, please call Erin Aware at Bowling Green Hospital, (658) 555-5340, ext. 3370.” Beth should see this before she talks to the police.

On the fourth attempt, Beth hangs up again just as the call is connected. The police dispatcher records the caller’s ID in the logbook. Three minutes pass before she dials again.

On the fifth attempt, Beth waits for the police dispatcher to answer. “Bowling Green Police Department, how may I help you?”

She is about to speak when Doris gives her the cut-off gesture. Beth says to the dispatcher, “I will call you back.” She hangs up the phone.

Beth asks, “What’s up?”

“Read this,” Doris said. She waits for Beth to read the slip. “I will have Jack find out what he can. They won’t tell you or I anything. Have you seen Charlie? He is not answering the pages.”

* * * * *

Charlie is waiting at the Mall Security door at 8:15 a.m. Eight minutes later, the door opens.

“Are you the guy that called yesterday about the wallet?”

“Yes, has my wallet been turned in?” Charlie asks.

“Nothing has been added since your call yesterday.

“Thank you.”

* * * * *

8:44. Charlie arrives at work, clocks in, and walks to Doris’s office to explain his tardiness.

Doris is on the phone and gestures to the chair opposite her desk. Charlie fidgets while listening to Doris’s portion of the conversation.

. . . “Please ask them.” . . . “He’s an employee here.” . . . “I can’t say right now.”  . . . “Yes.” . . . “Not sure, can they look to see who is paying?” . . . “I will call you back in about five minutes. Love you Jack.” She hangs up and turns her attention to Charlie.

“Here, this message came for you. Where have you been?” Doris inquired.

Charlie reaches for the pink call slip. He skims the call slip while answering her question, “I’ve been at the mall looking for . . .” Charlie does not finish the sentence. He bolts from the office, runs down the hall, out the employee entrance, and drives off.

Doris is surprised by the abrupt exit. From the office doorway, she shrugs at Beth.

Beth pauses a few seconds. She is a bundle of nervous energy. Her sixth sense is an overwhelming force, commanding her to follow. Something is not right with this scenario. She snatches her keys and purse, runs down the hall and out the employee door. She is not worrying about losing him—certain he is driving to the hospital.

Confusing and conflicting thoughts are tormenting Beth’s mind. She does not know Charlie—actually, no one does. He is a bank robber that endangered a child. Charlie does not seem like a bank robber. He seems more like the quiet, confident type. Why is the ICU calling?

Up ahead on the right, Charlie is attempting to thumb a ride. He is walking backwards quickly and about 300 feet from his pickup.

“The dark pickup used in the bank robbery with the “752” plates. My God, what am I doing? I am chasing a bank robber. What if he has a gun? This is really stupid,” Beth says out loud but no one hears.

She pulls over next to Charlie, unlocks the doors, and waves as Charlie bends over looking for the invitation to enter the car.

As he enters the car, he says, “I am in a hurry to get to the hospital ICU, my daughter needs me. I am so thankful you showed up.” There is a noticeable pause before he continues. “Why are you here? Shouldn’t you be at work?”

The conflict is overpowering, and she cannot contain it any longer. “Charlie, I know all about the bank robbery.”

“What bank robbery?” Charlie asks.

“First National Bank. Early September. The branch manager identified your truck. You are hiding out here. And why would you take your daughter to a bank robbery?”

“My daughter is in the ICU in a coma from a hit-and-run accident. She was struck while chasing a lunch sack into the street. The truck is a dark blue pickup similar to mine,” Charlie replied. Then added, “But his gas gauge probably works.”

“But the newspaper clipping is about the bank robbery!” Beth fired back.

“What clipping?” he asked.

“The one in your wallet.”

“You’ve seen my wallet?”

“Your wallet is in my purse. Go ahead and get it out. I’ve been through your wallet. Seems fair for you to look in my purse,” Beth said as she blushed.

“The paper made a mistake and crossed the photo of Erin being loaded in the ambulance with the bank photo of the robber. It worked for me—the photo of Erin is next to the description of the pickup that hit her,” he explained.

Beth is confused and asks, “Why did the hospital call? And who is Erin Aware?”

“Melissa, the ICU nurse, said if she had to leave a message it will include ‘Erin aware’ so I will know Erin is awake,” Charlie replied. “Other messages might violate the privacy laws.”

Beth’s mind is starting to piece together a new story about Charlie and Erin. It is incomplete, but it does not require Charlie to be the bank robber.

Beth continued, “Charlie, I know you are a private person, but will you tell me the rest of the story?”

“Sure . . . My wife, Hannah, died in August. Erin and I were on our way to Taos, New Mexico. It was her favorite vacation spot, and requested her ashes be released there. Hannah had an eye for photography. During our last vacation to Taos, she would take photographs of Erin and I in the morning, and then in the afternoon she would cruise the galleries and museums. Each night brings an enthusiastic reading from her photo journal. Erin and I are transported through time by the exciting stories. Each day Erin speculates what tale Mom will read to us that night. I tell Hannah and she creates the story around Erin’s imagination.

“The last photo Hannah took of Erin is in my wallet. The phone number on the back is the June Lund Gallery in Taos. She wants to print the photo to sell at her shop. Erin is a miniature version of Hannah—full of life, living in the moment, and happy.

“We stopped for lunch and gas. While I was in the restroom, the lunch bag fell out of the pickup and Erin chased it into the street. She was struck by the dark blue pickup. I saw the blue truck drive off. If I had been twenty seconds quicker… . The next day when the newspaper misplaced the two photographs I knew the getaway truck was the same pickup that struck Erin.

“I took this job to keep occupied while she was in a coma and make some rent and food money. It was actually my boss’s idea. He told me to stay here so I would be close to Erin. He’s holding my job for me. That’s about it.”

“Why do you have all that money in your wallet? Why do you buy two burgers on Fridays? Where did you go everyday for lunch?” Beth asked.

“Wow! Ever thought about being a detective? Anyway, the credit cards were in Hannah’s name, and we simply did not think to change the account. The bank canceled them when her obituary was printed. It’s a large procedure-driven bank chain. Dan, my banker, loaned me $3,500 so we could take this trip while he straightens out the problems.”

“The burgers were for lunch with Melissa as a way to thank her for watching Erin and a bribe so she would call the instant Erin wakes. I spent my lunch hour driving Bowling Green streets looking for dark vintage pickups with license plates starting with “752.”

They are quiet the remaining three minutes to the hospital. Beth is feeling guilty about the misunderstanding but satisfied knowing the whole story.

Charlie releases the seat belt and opens the door before Beth stops the car. The instant the car stops, he is running through the emergency room doors. He takes the elevator to the ICU on the third level. He waves to Melissa. She smiles as he enters Erin’s room. The bruise on her forehead healed two months ago. Erin is eating orange Jell-O and says, “Hi Daddy, I’ve been asleep.”


The original story was written to be two parts. At Readers’ requests an additional part has been added. It is titled Beth’s Dilemma – The Invitation. It is part 3 of 2. Click Here to link to Beth’s Dilemma – The Invitation.

Find out what happens to Beth when she receives a letter from Charlie’s father-in-law


ImageLeo N. Ardo: – I am a thirty-five year veteran of small business, and author of the Jon Hersey – Industrial Spy series. I enjoy photography, fly fishing, biking, and embellishing our travel experiences in journals titled Exaggerated Tales of an Ordinary Man.

We call Utah and Wyoming home.

Visit our website

Like us at

Follow us on Twitter @LeonardoStories

Hoping life blesses you with good stories!

Beth’s Dilemma – The Wallet

Beths Dilemma (Part 1 of 2)

By: Leo N. Ardo

Charlie Mead has worked at Claremont’s Wholesale Warehouse for four months. Give or take a few work-related conversations about the special orders he ships each day, no one has uncovered any personal details from Charlie. He says “hello,” “good morning,” “going to lunch,” and “see you tomorrow.” Associates are beginning to wonder. He arrives at 7:59 a.m. and departs at 5:01 p.m. At noon:01, he drives off in his vintage dark green pickup and returns at 12:59. At his workstation, he throws lunch trash in the waste can.

It’s Friday, which means the only break in Charlie’s routine. At the same mall where the customer service team has its Finally Friday Fillies luncheon, he buys two General Boelingers burgers with fries, to go.

Beth Wilton, a founding member of the Fillies, decides to have a General Boelingers Chicken Burger to celebrate another week losing three pounds. She is dieting to get back to a comfortable dating weight. After two years of dating, the loser decides he needs someone younger.

While waiting to order, she starts collecting the money to pay for lunch: two dollars from her purse, two dollars from her back pocket, and $2.87 in change from her front pocket. Two quarters fall on the floor and begin rolling away at high speed. One runs into a customer’s boot and the other bounces back from something it struck under the counter. She picks up the quarter and a bi-fold wallet. She asks if it belongs to anyone. No one claims it. She opens it and finds the driver’s license of Charles P. Mead. Beth’s interest shifts to learning about Charlie.

When all the Fillies return to the table, Beth gushes with excitement as she shows off her trophy. Several Fillies encourage her to open it. Carefully unfolding it like an ancient fragile book, she removes a piece of paper with the address and phone number of Claremont’s Wholesale Warehouse. There is a collective sigh. Beth notices the wallet has a divided bill pocket. The regular pocket has sixty-eight dollars. There is no reaction from her lunch mates. Moving the cover flap from the secret bill pocket reveals thirty-three $100 bills. There is a collective gasp. Along with the cache of bills is a photograph of a girl, and a folded newspaper article. Beth looks at the tattered picture with the smudge in the lower left corner. A three-year-old girl is on the edge of a pool and is posing for the picture. There is a phone number written on the back. Beth notices the look of confusion as each Filly handles the picture. Beth unfolds the newspaper clipping carefully and begins reading out loud.

Local bank robbed by man, child

(Bowling Green, KY. 07Sep12) The local branch of the First National Bank, at 1457 17th Avenue South, was robbed yesterday by a man with a gun, wearing a ski mask, blue jeans, green tee-shirt, Tractor Sales blue baseball cap, oversized sunglasses, and work boots. From the security video, police estimate the robber is six feet tall and 180 pounds. He walked into the bank at 10:10 a.m. and stole $4,136 from the teller drawers, according to Bill Thompson, the branch manager. This is the first robbery at this branch in over eleven years. Thompson managed to get the first three numbers from the pickup as it raced away: 752. The getaway vehicle is a restored black or dark blue early 1960s Chevy pickup. Thompson said there was a child standing in the passenger seat. Bowling Green Police are asking for your help in locating the suspect and getaway vehicle.

The newspaper photo with the clipping shows two paramedics lifting a gurney into the back of the ambulance. In the background are two gas pumps and a six-shop strip mall. Three shops are visible: Mary’s Maternal Wear with the trademark mother-and-triplets painted above the marquee; BG Clock Werks whose digital clock displays 10:22, 09.06.12; Hamilton’s Hunting Accessories with someone watching the scene through binoculars.

Doris, Charlie’s supervisor and the team’s manager, informs the group, “That’s my hubby, Jack, the paramedic with his back to the camera.”

Beth’s thoughts start to organize while thinking about the bank robbery, the child in the passenger seat, the dark early sixties pickup, the cache of $100 bills, and the fact that Charlie’s first day on-the-job was early September. Her thoughts logically sequence, and Beth blurts out, “Oh my God, Charlie is the bank robber. He has that little girl stashed away somewhere. That’s why he leaves work so promptly; he has to take care of the little girl. This is bank money,” she says pointing at the secret bill pocket.

The rest of their luncheon is filled with robbery talk: Charlie hiding-out at work, poor little girl, another Dillinger in the making, wonder where she is, and does he still have that gun? Several associates ask Beth what she is going to do—after all, she is the one that found the wallet.

Beth returns late from lunch to check the license plate of Charlie’s dark vintage pickup. From a distance the first three characters look like 752, but as she approaches the pickup, the rear plate actually reads 1SZ. The bank manager must have misread the plates too.

Beth is certain Charlie is the bank robber, and she is in a dangerous predicament.

If she returns the wallet to Charlie, he will know she is familiar with its contents. His reaction is unpredictable because no one knows him. Will my personal safety be in danger? She wonders.

Will anonymously leaving the wallet on his workstation force him to disappear with the little girl? The girl needs a better guardian. The police investigation will eventually arrive at the warehouse. She will be interrogated and then charged with aiding a criminal, or withholding evidence.

Mailing the wallet to work will take several days. Will Charlie have to rob again for money?

If she returns it to the mall’s lost-and-found, how does she explain, without lying, why she kept it for five hours? Could Charlie discover she had the wallet before it arrived at lost-and-found? She begins to worry they might pass each other going to or leaving the mall. Will the $100 bills be safe at lost-and-found?

If only she had taken the wallet to lost-and-found. Now, too many people know. What will Charlie do when he finds out she knows? Is there really safety in numbers? Are the others in danger also? What am I going to do?


Beth’s Dilemma is continued in part 2 – The Message. Click here to link to Beth’s Dilemma – The Message.

Find out what happens to Beth, . . .  and the wallet


ImageLeo N. Ardo: – I am a thirty-five year veteran of small business, and author of the Jon Hersey – Industrial Spy series. I enjoy photography, fly fishing, biking, and embellishing our travel experiences in journals titled Exaggerated Tales of an Ordinary Man.

We call Utah and Wyoming home.

Visit our website

Like us at

Follow us on Twitter @LeonardoStories

Hoping life blesses you with good stories!

What Do Grocery Bags, Motorcycles, Cathedrals, and Feedback Have in Common?

The world is covered with wonderful vacation destinations. When asked, “What was your favorite vacation?” —the answer changes depending on the wind. Two that stand out are China and Italy—countries that have little in common, but each has a wealth of outstanding attractions. The depth of their unique cultures is revealed in the architecture, art, customs, traditions, and people. Today, Italy gets the vote.

ImageItaly has many famous locations and attractions: Milan, The Last Supper, Venice, Florence, David, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rome, Coliseum, Sistine Chapel, Raphael, Pantheon, Saint Peters Basilica, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, to name a few. (left: The Transfiguration by Raphael)

Enjoying an attraction is a simple matter of being there. Letting it become part of your soul requires reflecting on the age, construction methods, brush strokes, patient determination to build over several decades, or the technology available at the time.

Every travel adventure has surprises that can diminish the experience. Being aware of these surprises can enhance the trip and provide entertaining stories told over the years. Here are a few surprises that can be encountered in Italy:

Within an hour of landing, we witness a traditional Italian argument. The first nine taxis waiting are sub-compacts. Taxi number ten is a minivan. There are four of us with eight total pieces of luggage and four carry-ons. We target the minivan, stow the bags, show the driver our destination, and pull away from the curb. As we drive by, nine taxi drivers provide feedback while oscillating their hands about ear level.

Driving in Italy is not for the faint of heart. The taxi crossed four lanes to take the off-ramp. Expected feedback voiced by car horns—not a single beep. And, I recommend looking out the side windows—watching the driver can be hazardous to your psyche. They are wildly safe.

Cafes and ristorante bills include a charge for napkins and use of utensils. It’s always there. Sometimes it is itemized; other times it is in the meal price.

Expect to pay for grocery bags.

Cathedrals and churches have dress codes. How the rules are enforced varies. Uncovered shoulders and legs are the focus of security. Some locations have vending machines with paper shirts and skirts. Others recycle cloth shawls and wrap-around dresses.

A few of the cathedrals have peddlers. For donations, they tie string around the wrist or putImage corn in your palm to attract the pigeons for photographs. They are aggressive and grab a hand, or wrist, before the first “no” is spoken. A frustrated young lady tired of saying “no, go away” finally solved the problem when she slapped the peddler.

Be specific when saying, “Let’s meet back at the church.” There are hundreds of churches within a few square kilometers.

Some hotels have a key fob that slides into a receptacle. The fob turns on the room electricity. Which means, batteries cannot recharge, and the air conditioning/heating is off if the fob is missing from the receptacle.

Have a readable address for your destination that can be handed to cab drivers.

In Italy it’s a major crime to sell or be-in-possession-of illegal goods (knock-offs, items sold without vending permit, etc.). Be very careful about buying anything from a street vendor that displays his wares for a speedy getaway.

Keep some small change available. There are clerks that avoid counting change over 20 euros. There will be feedback for holding up a line.

ImageThe Romans’ preferred mode of transportation is a motorcycle. Drivers are businessmen in three-piece suits, women in business attire, shop owners, people in formal evening wear, students, construction workers, you get the idea. They go very fast. Be careful crossing a street.

For the big attractions, buy tickets on-line to go right to the entrance, and avoid the long, slow ticket lines.

The last item is don’t try to see everything. Make choices and take your time enjoying the quality of the art, sculpture, meals, culture, and people. Let Italy give you something to bring home.


ImageLeo N. Ardo: – I am a thirty-five year veteran of small business, and author of the Jon Hersey – Industrial Spy series. I enjoy photography, fly fishing, biking, and embellishing our travel experiences in journals titled Exaggerated Tales of an Ordinary Man.

We call Utah and Wyoming home.

Visit our website

Like us at

Follow us on Twitter @LeonardoStories

Hoping life blesses you with good stories!

Diverse Group Enjoys Jon Hersey – Industrial Spy series.

Authoring a book for the first time has its own set of difficulties and directs a new author’s priorities toward9781475951783_COVER.indd finishing a well-written book. Honestly, Jon Hersey – Industrial Spy was written without any thought as to who would read it. The story was top priority.

Jon Hersey – Industrial Spy series has a diverse audience. The result of hundreds of free copies given to male and female readers, ages 13 to 80+, indicates all gender/age groups enjoy the books.

It is a lifestyle choice. Jon Hersey readers like to read, visualize, anticipate, and be satisfied in one to two hours. They are readers with busy schedules and cherish the brief escape: as their young children nap, during flight schedules and layovers, or between appointments and meetings.

Jon Hersey readers are also mystery buffs.

Each new adventure is an easy-to-read short story where every word counts. A short story only has room to reveal something about the character or the story.

Jon Hersey readers enjoy knowing the main characters and learning more about Jon, Peter, and Daryl with each story. Anticipation adds spice to the first meeting of the villain, or villainess. (It’s true, Leo N Ardo is an equal opportunity writer.)

Leo N Ardo

Hoping life blesses you with good stories!