Interview – Colonel (Retired) Carl E. Pfeiffer
Self-Publisher’s Showcase: Today we are joined by the author of 2 hilarious autobiographical accounts from his life and a compilation of his hopes and dreams for his beloved Buffalo Bills. We’ve had a tidy up and made sure everything is in order, Carl. Welcome to the Showcase Lounge.
SPS: For anyone unaware of your work to date. Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you decided to start writing?
CEP: Well I spent 26 years in the Army and retired in 2009. Honestly, I stumbled into writing. During the course of my Army career I would tell friends and colleagues these funny stories about my life that would leave them laughing, crying or both. Each time they would tell me “You should write a book!” Once I retired from the Army and had a little more time to devote toward a hobby I decided to put all these stories down on paper and after a couple years I had a book.
SPS: The first work you produced It Never Ends: The Terrible Life of Carl, is in your own words, “a hysterical look at the life of an adolescent loser”. How easy did you find it to write? What were your ideal writing conditions?
CEP: The writing came pretty easy. What I found difficult in the process was structuring the first book. I did not want this to be a typical autobiography and I certainly did not want it to be chronological. So for me, getting it in the right sequence took the most time. As far as ideal writing conditions, it is more of a mood then a setting. I write on the plane, at the kitchen table, riding in cars, airports, just about anywhere. Anything that I thought was good just flowed, and when I find myself struggling for the words or ideas then I just stop. I may write of 4 hours on a Saturday or I might not write anything for two weeks. I usually give myself about 15 minutes and if what’s on the paper is junk then I stop.
However, that all said, I never throw anything out. I have dozens of notebooks and files. Something I thought was junk a month or a year ago might fit into something I am working on now. For example I have about 3,000 words that is a hilarious story about our first dog and a vacuum cleaner salesman. While I think it is funny, it has not fit into anything I have published so far. Yet, I know one day I will be working on something and the “Sam” story is going to be perfect.
SPS: Where there any parts that you found uncomfortable to recall or you omitted completely?
CEP: I didn’t find anything particularly uncomfortable. It’s my story and I decide a long time ago to own it. When you say did I omit things… sure. First and foremost I wanted the book to be funny. So for the most part if the story wasn’t funny, or I couldn’t make it funny, then I just left it out. That said, there was so much material to deal with that I certainly did not feel omitting something would take away from the story. The second reason for writing the book was I thought my story was a hopeful one. Here’s a kid who at 14-15 years old has absolutely nothing going for him yet, was able to marry the girl of his dreams, retire from the Army as a Colonel and raise a family of his own. For kids today struggling I thought my story might be worth telling.
SPS: The second part of your It Never Ends trilogy looks at your time in the Army. Why did this book come about?
CEP: Once I published the Terrible Life I had friends ask me what about this story or that story? Why didn’t you tell the story of so and so or such and such? Most of those stories were from my time in the Army. Once I released the Terrible Life I really never thought I would write a second book. But, once everyone started asking (and some complaining) that I had not told all the stories I decided that there was a second book in me.
SPS: How has the reaction been from people that you served with?
CEP: I received a number of emails and calls from folks telling me how much they liked it. I also received some very nice and heartfelt notes from people I care deeply about who told me how much they appreciated how I treated various topics in the book.
SPS: What can we expect from the third book of the three?
CEP: I am not sure. I have one last topic that is near and dear to my heart and that is the rock band KISS. I was 13 in 1978 and KISS was the most popular band in the country and I was then (and am now) a full-fledged member of the KISS Army. I have made some notes and have an idea for a book that talks about life before IPhones, the internet, satellite television, TMZ and YouTube, where a group like KISS could take hold capture the imagination of teenagers.
Without giving too much away I have this story in mind that talks about a kid being from a place like Buffalo or Scanton PA or Des Moines Iowa and discovering KISS and how that changes his life. I don’t think you see a sensation like KISS as much today because everything is immediate. KISS was able to create this image that for a 13 year old was pretty impressive. Anyway, I am playing around with that idea.
SPS: Your most recent book ‘Someday’ is not your typical sports book. Tell us about it.
CEP: Of the three books I wrote… this one has been the most fun. I was born in Buffalo and raised in Western New York and I am a huge Buffalo Bills fan. Buffalo is one of those places were their team is more than entertainment. The Bills are very important to the people who call Buffalo home and there have been many books written about the team – especially the dynasty team of the late 80s-early 90s.
However, when you talk to someone from Buffalo they will 1- talk about the Bills and how much they love them 2- talk about the Super Bowls and 3 – talk about the heart-breaking losses. So, it got me thinking that their probably is a funny book in there about the frustration of being a Bills fan. I wrote a book that is centered on what I believe to be the eight most heart-breaking losses in Buffalo Bills history. Some of the losses are very famous like Super Bowl 25 and others less so. Again, the book is funny as I talk about the 15 most boneheaded moves in Bills history, what I would do if I ran the Bills, my take on letting Jim Kelly go play in the USFL and so on.
I also talk about Buffalo the city, its hardships and what a wonderful place it really is. I relate that the Bills winning a championship is something many from Western New York believe will (in part) make their life complete. It is like the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series or how important the Browns are to Cleveland. To that end, I don’t think this is a book for people just from Buffalo. I think if you are a sports fan and grew up in any rust belt city you can relate to the story I tell in this book
SPS: Moving away briefly from your writing; The Bills are 2-3 on the current year? What are your aspirations for this season?
CEP: Hopeful. Things seem to finally be falling into place after 13 years of losing. I like our GM Doug Whaley, I like our Coach Doug Marrone and our rookie quarterback has exceeded my expectations and is giving every appearance that he might be a franchise QB. They have been in every game and while after last night’s loss, it might be a stretch to think playoffs this year, they certainly seem to finally be on the right track. Here’s hoping!!
SPS: OK, back to the writing… What obstacles have you encountered in your journey into self-publishing?
CEP: Mainly self-doubt. There were a number of times that I almost threw in the towel thinking the first book was garbage. I knew the story was good and funny but my main concern was if the writing was up to par. Was I writing it funny, was I conveying something to a reader that would spur a reaction? I remember nervously giving the first draft to a dear friend I had served with in Iraq and he took it on a trip with him. A couple weeks later he came back and said that the thing made him laugh so hard he cried. It was then that I knew I might have something.
SPS: Can you let us know what you are currently working on and when it will be released? Are you writing the Third It Never Ends book or are you working on something else?
CEP: Well, my writing has opening some interesting doors. Once I published Someday it caught the attention of some sports bloggers and Podcasts. That lead to some columns that I wrote for various websites and now I am the lead columnist and Managing Editor at Cover32.com covering the Buffalo Bills. That has been an absolute dream job. Writing about the Bills is great! It is however demanding and takes up almost all my free time. Like I said earlier, I have an idea for a book that uses KISS as a back-drop but it is still very much in the brainstorming stages.
SPS: We always like to spend a moment looking at an individual’s book covers; can you tell us about how your covers come about and how much time goes into the design?
CEP: The Terrible Life book cover happened quite by accident. At first my wife (who is an artist) was going to draw the cover. It was going to be a picture of a pudgy kid wearing a windbreaker with Carl written across the back (In the book I tell a very funny story about a windbreaker with my name on the back). However, we just couldn’t seem to capture the book in the drawings. Then one Saturday we stumbled upon a CD of pictures that was given to me a few years prior. We put the CD in the computer and then all of a sudden this picture of me as 9 or 10 year old popped on the screen. My wife and I just sat in our home office staring at it and then she said “that’s the cover.” That kid represented the essence of the story. Just a kid with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
The cover for Someday is first, the colors of the Buffalo Bills uniforms and second, has a picture of a football that was actually used in the Super Bowl 25 game between the Bills and the Giants. The signatures on that ball are the original signatures of the Buffalo Bills who played in that game along with owner Ralph Wilson and head coach Marv Levy. The ball has five hall of famers’ autographs on it (Wilson, Levy, Kelly, Smith and Thomas). For me, that ball represents Buffalo’s greatest triumphs and most gut-wrenching disappointments wrapped up in one.
Yes, I have the ball displayed in my office at home.
SPS: Was the Self-Published/Indie-Published route always your preferred route for your work?
CEP: It was. There are no limits. It’s your work, you own it, (and only you) decide what it should be. I like that. I have been fortunate to have some people willing to help me with the editing and providing constructive criticism but, at the end of the day, it is my decision on how the story should be told.
SPS: If you could give one piece of advice for someone looking to self-publish their work what would it be?
CEP: Do it. My advice is that writing should be fun. Don’t do it because you think you might make a living at it. Write because you have a story to tell, a character to develop, an idea to explore. That’s why I think somebody…anybody should write. I have been at it now for 5 years and I am just now making a little bit of money with my sports writing. But, who cares? I love the NFL, I love the Buffalo Bills and I love to write. So writing about them is the same as sitting at a bar talking football with some friends. I would do it anyway.
SPS: Before we let you escape, it’s your chance to name-drop. Anyone who you feel is deserving of more recognition at present or someone whose writing you have recently enjoyed? Now is your chance to spread the word…
CEP: I never would have started writing if it were not for Sean Flynn. Sean published the acclaimed book “The Fighting 69th. Sean worked for me during my last assignment in the Army and read a very rough cut of the Terrible Life after I retired. It was his encouragement and his technical writing advice that really saw this project to completion. Without Sean I think It Never Ends would be sitting in a drawer somewhere.
SPS: Thank you for joining us today Carl, and good luck in the future.
SPS: All of Carl’s work is available through his Author page