It is on the National Register of Historic Places because of the Kerouac connection. But in and of itself, it’s a 102-year-old house. It’s a Sears and Roebuck kit house where you could go into the catalog and order a house and they would ship all the pieces to you. This is wall stud #167 and it goes here. And this is wall stud #168 and it goes here… Excerpt from an Oral History Interview with Erik Deckers, December 22, 2023.
Erik Deckers is the current President of The Kerouac Project, a writers-in-residence program located in the historic Jack Kerouac House in College Park. He completed his writers-in-residence season at The Kerouac House in 2016. Deckers is the author of numerous books including the humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation. His second novel, Whither Utopia, published locally by 4 Horsemen Publications is due out in March or April of 2024. He is an accomplished humor columnist earning several editorial awards from the Hoosier State Press Association. Deckers has written nearly 1,500 columns and is the winner of the Best General Commentary for a Weekly Newspaper. He is also an award-winning playwright for stage and radio theater. As an author-entrepreneur he contributes his expertise and valuable time to local organizations such as 1 Million Cups Orlando, Writers of Central Florida, The Kerouac Project, and more.
We invite you to listen to the wit and wisdom of author-entrepreneur Erik Deckers!
My name is Erik Deckers. I was originally born in Missoula, Montana and we left there when I was about two or three and moved to Indiana. And I grew up in Muncie, Indiana. And we lived in Indiana until eight years ago when we moved to Orlando; when my family and I.
What was it like growing up in Indiana?
Muncie was a small city and my parents were both in higher education. My Dad is a retired Psychology Professor and my Mom was an Associate Director of Financial Aid at Ball State University. And so, I grew up in sort of an academic world. And all the people I knew, you know all the people my parents knew were academics. Muncie itself was a very blue collar town. A lot of factories, you know Delco-Remy was there and then they left in the 80’s. All these big factories left and so the whole city kind of went in the toilet. But I never knew that. I didn’t pay attention to what was happening in the city. I only knew Ball State. And so, like even when I would hang out with friends, we would hang out on campus in one of the basketball gyms on the weekend or something.
Typical Suburban Lifestyle
And so, I kind of grew up with the typical suburban kid mentality. My friends were in my neighborhood. Everything I wanted was in my neighborhood. You know, I didn’t go other places. And so, it was quiet. You know, it was kind of a rural, we were surrounded by farms, the city was, but I never went out to the farms. I kind of didn’t know anything about farming. You know, where chickens came from. You know, I had these certain ideas of where they came from. So I was in for a shock when I started actually working for the poultry industry and realized, oh, this is how it’s actually done. You know, these are not chickens living in little houses and the farmers come out and gather the eggs every morning. It’s like a big giant operation. But it was just kind of the typical suburban lifestyle growing up.
Yeah. It was quiet. I got in a lot of trouble. I was a mischievous kid.
Can you give us an example or would you rather not?
I wasn’t a troublemaker. It wasn’t like I snuck out of the house and broke curfew and stole cars. I didn’t do any of that. It was more like we would ring doorbells and run off. When I was in high school my big shtick was to steal for sale signs and put them in somebody else’s yard.
High School “For Sale”
My senior year of high school we went to a local realtor’s and grabbed like twenty “For Sale” signs from, they were in bushes next to his office; and grabbed a bunch and stuck them in my friend’s car. And then stuck them all in the front yard of the high school. And did a few other things. So we all nearly got expelled on the last day before graduation. But part of my punishment that my parents made me do, cause we all got caught, was I had to return the signs to the realtor and apologize. Well, he thought it was hilarious. He said, “If you had just asked I would have said, ‘Yes.'” So I shook his hand and thanked him, and returned the signs and told my parents. I think they were disappointed that it wasn’t worse. That the guy was okay with it. But it was kind of dumb stuff like that. It wasn’t anything too terrible.
So you mentioned your parents. Did you know your grandparents or other relatives?
I knew my Dad’s mom and I knew my Mom’s dad. He died when I was eight, so I didn’t know him that well. He lived in Oregon. And my Dad’s mom, she lived, she was a 103 when she died and I was in my forties, so I knew her longer. But she lived in the Netherlands, and then she lived in Oregon. So I didn’t get to see her very often. I’d get to see her maybe once a year for a little while.
So she was from the Netherlands?
Yes. And my Dad’s from the Netherlands. And so, so I’m Dutch on that side. I’m first generation American on that side. My Mom’s family came from England, that was like six generations ago.
What was a typical Sunday like for you growing up?
We didn’t go to church. And Muncie in the seventies, was very boring because nothing was open. This was before stores realized, oh, people will spend money on Sunday. So everything was closed. And so, going to the mall was out. So I’d hang out with friends if they were free. But some of them went to church, so they weren’t free right away or they weren’t free for the day. Sundays the day for family. Not everybody did that, and some people did. And my parents believed that Sunday’s the day for family, but we never did anything. It’s not like we went to a movie or had Sunday dinner.
Sundays at Four O’Clock
So Sundays at four o’clock, were the worst time, especially if it was raining because it was a good 18 hours before anything was going to happen. There was nothing going on. There was nothing good on TV. I would just be dead bored that there’s nothing to do. I read a lot anyway and I was like, well, I guess I could read. But by Sunday I’m tired of reading because I have been reading all week. I just want a break from it. But there’s absolutely nothing to do. This is in the days of three channels on TV and I was not a big sports guy. So I didn’t care about football. Now I am. But at the time I didn’t care about watching football. I would just sit in the living room and stare out the window just hoping something would happen. And it never did.
So what would you do during the summer? Did it get better?
Oh, yeah. The summer was fine. In fact, I was talking to one of my kids about this. This is in the day of the three month summer vacation. You know, now it’s two months and you get a winter break and you get a fall break. But we had three months from like May to near the end of August. And I played baseball and hung out with my friends. We’d ride our bikes and we’d go to the Northwest Plaza in Muncie and there’s a place that had a couple of video games. And we’d play video games or we’d just do dumb stuff that boys do. There was a woods, a small woods to the north of my house and we would go in there and just tramp around the woods and build these shelters and get chewed up by mosquitoes and get into typical boy trouble. But those were fun ways of spending the day.
The rule was you had to be home when the street lights came on which, you know, July in Muncie at the time, because we were not on daylight saving time, was like 9:30. Or my Mom would call us for dinner. And she’d just step outside and yell my name so loud and I could hear her a block over because my friends lived on the next street right behind me. And I could hear her a block over, and so, I’d have to run home. And then when dinner was over, I could go back out. It was like living on Planet Boy at the time. So what was this, it was 1977-78. I was ten and eleven. I was just doing fun stuff.
And when did you get your first job?
I was a flower delivery driver right after I graduated high school, that was my first job. I didn’t have any jobs in the high school other than like mowing the lawns. But I would deliver flowers for this local flower shop. Mother’s Day was like my first big day. But a lot of funerals or birthdays. And I would drive the owner’s car. He had a van, but he also had a station wagon. It was kind of a powder blue station wagon, powder blue car color. And I would drive that around. I got to know the city very well. And this was before the days of GPS. So, you know, not even a printed map, I just had a map of the city. And I would have to find the nearest intersection, drive to it and then just drive up and down until I found the actual address.
Was it fun?
I enjoyed it quite a lot. And then when it was time to go to college, and I went to Ball State because that’s where my parents were, I stopped working. And then, I worked in the dining service for a semester. And then, I went and worked at the Ball State Bookstore for a year.
Is that where you decided to be a writer or shall we talk about your college major?
I was a philosophy major. I have a degree in philosophy. So I like to say, I have a BS in BS from BSU. And in many ways, I do nothing with it. But in a lot of ways I learned to write, I learned to organize my thoughts and that helped me in becoming a writer.
Banned Books Week
But I really, what really made me want to be a writer, there is another bookstore, an independent bookstore, not owned by the school called TIS. And it was just a few blocks away. And I was 16 years old, I was walking on campus and I walked past it. And they had a poster for Banned Books Week. And there were a couple of books in there that I’d actually heard of: Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse Five, Catch-22. And I was, and still sort of am, the person that if you tell me not to do something I will do it. And if you want me to do something, tell me not to do it. Because just out of spite, I’ll go do the thing. So here’s a list of books that Eric’s not supposed to read, well, guess what Eric’s going to do?
Reading Banned Books Made Me Want a Be a Writer
And so, I went to the library and I checked out the two Kurt Vonnegut books. And my step-dad’s brother had a copy of Catch-22 that he loaned me and I never gave it back. I still have it. But I read those books because they were banned. And I thought well, then I need to keep up and see what’s wrong with them. I thought they were fine. I mean, I could see why somebody might object. Like, maybe at 16, Catch 22 is not the best book to be reading, but I read it anyway. I read Breakfast of Champions and I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And so, those books with Catch-22 made me want to be a writer. And I thought, I want to do what they did. I want to write satire and make fun of people in power, and I want to swear in books.
A’s on My College Papers
And then, I didn’t do anything about writing and never consciously did it. But I gravitated toward it the whole time. Like I always got A’s on my papers. And much to the consternation of my classmates, I would start writing my paper at eight o’clock the night before it was due. I would start researching the topic at the library at about six. And I’d go get a bunch of books and journals, and I would carry them to my Dad’s office because he had an office on campus and he had a computer. He had an Apple IIGS computer. And I would go into his office about eight o’clock, and I would write the paper and about two o’clock I’d be done. And I’d print it out and turn it in the next day and I’d get an “A”. And I had classmates who worked for two weeks on their papers and they got a “C”. I didn’t realize what I was doing was hard. It wasn’t hard to me. You know, I just thought I want this to be a logical, cohesive chronological paper and so I’d write it out.
Writing for the School Newspaper
And then I started working for the school newspaper and writing for the school newspaper and writing features, stories, and columns. And again, I thought it was easy. I thought any body can do this. And it wasn’t until I got to graduate school the second time, I went to graduate school at Ball State once for Higher Education, I did that for two years. And then I went back to school in Speech Communication and I found out from my advisor that no, not everybody can do this. In fact, you’re one of the better ones at this. And I thought, oh, maybe this thing about writing satire and swearing in books could come true. From there I just started writing more and more as part of my job. But it did all start at Ball State without me ever really intending, I’m going to be a writer. I just wrote not thinking I was a writer. I thought that was somebody else.
Did you get paid when you wrote for the newspaper because I was wondering what was your first paid writing job?
No, I didn’t get paid. I could have gotten a job at the paper if I had applied, but I didn’t think I was good enough so I never bothered. Then after I met my wife, at Ball State again in the second graduate program, less than a year after we got married I started writing a newspaper column. But that was not paid. In fact, I’m still writing the same newspaper column for the same papers, I still don’t get paid. I just do it because I love it. But I was in marketing at the time working for my father-in-law. And so, technically I got paid to write there. But I really didn’t get paid for writing. I wrote a couple of freelance articles for our local newspaper. They paid me. I wrote a marketing piece for a local therapist. He paid me.
Twitter Marketing for Dummies
But I didn’t start getting paid for writing until 2009, when I helped a friend of mine write Twitter Marketing for Dummies. He had been contracted by Wiley who controls the Dummy series, and they’re actually based out of Indianapolis. And he came to me one day and he said, “Hey, I need help writing this book. Can you help me?” He had waited so long. They give you about four months to write a Dummies books. Most business nonfiction books you get about four months to write it. And he had waited for three months. And so, we wrote the entire book in a month. But that was my first paid writing gig where somebody gave me a lot of money to write something. The same guy and I wrote Branding Yourself the following year, in 2010. And then, this was with Pearson imprint, and they paid us, what’d we get? We got like 7,500 dollars for an advance which was nice. Like I’d never gotten that much money for writing anything. This is fun. You know, I’m good at it. I like it. And I like money. Let’s see what we can do.
Pro Blog Service
And so, about that time, I started working for the company that I own now, Pro Blog Service as a, we were ghostbloggers. We wrote blog articles as ghostwriters for other companies. So that’s where I really started making my living as a writer, was just copywriting blog articles for people. At the time we were charging like, $500.00 a month for a single client. So that’s how I got into being a professional writer. I learned right away, like all the books I wrote, I didn’t make anything other than the advance which I essentially paid back through sales. As a copywriter, I got paid and I learned you don’t make money from putting your name on things. You make money from putting other people’s names on things. And so, ghostwriting books and ghost writing blog articles, putting their name on it, I make decent money.
You have written numerous books by this point.
I’ve coauthored or written five books. Four of them were business books. The fifth one was my first novel. I just sent my second novel off to my publisher, local publisher, called 4 Horsemen Publications. I did that in September. That should be coming out in March or April of 2024. But then, I have ghostwritten ten other books. My name appeared as a coauthor on one of them. But I was a complete ghost on the other. And since I didn’t control the publication or anything, not all of them are published. Like most of them, the author, I’m the writer, they’re the author, the author just kind of dropped it. Or they couldn’t get it published. Or they decided they didn’t want to self publish it for whatever reason. I have ten manuscripts that I have written on my computer hard drive, but only two of them have ever seen the light of day.
What’s the name of the new one that’s going to be coming out?
Whither Utopia. W-h-i-t-h-e-r. So not wither like a vine, but whither like where? But phonetically, I wanted this whither Utopia. So the premise is that it’s set in 2053. We’ve had a second pandemic and all the conservatives in the world have died. And the story takes place ten years after that happened, so it’s not about that happening. The forward of the book details all of that and why it happened. But really, I just needed for the premise of the book, I needed for the conservative half of the world to be gone. And I was thinking how do I do this? Is it the rapture, or whatever. I finally decided the pandemic because – this sounds terrible – because it would be funnier. And I wrote the forward in like 2020, right when the pandemic started. And I thought, oh, this would be a great way. And so, I exaggerated all the things that would happen. Like we were just seeing the politicization of Covid and how people were either for or against the science. And so, I tried to exaggerate a lot of what would happen.
And then by 2023, when I finished the book, I saw that it was not much of an exaggeration by that point. The one thing that I did, was the President at that time, this would have been 2043, 2038 or something, that President would hold rallies. And to sort of thumb their nose at the scientists, the people at the rallies would do something, that I made it up, called “whale spouting”: Take a drink of water, tilt their head back and do a big spit and spray the water. And everybody would cheer because, yeah, we’re sticking it to the scientists! And five days later they were dead because this was a fast acting virus with a 95% mortality rate.
The Need for Opposition
So all the liberals were staying at home afraid. And all the conservatives were like, no we’re going to live our lives as short as they will be. And so, I just needed a clean way to basically put the liberals in charge because the book actually is about, they have their utopia. But it starts to whither. They realize too late that they need an opposition. They need somebody to push against. You can’t just give everybody the things that they want or things go bad. And so, the story is more about that. And I could have just as easily flipped it around and had all the liberals die and all the conservatives survive and, you know, created a story about that. But that was just the direction I decided to go with that story. So I had fun writing that one, too.
It sounds like you have fun doing all the writing. You know, I read that you won an award as a humor columnist. You’ve done that for 28 years. You’ve written nearly 1,500 columns. And you’re the winner of the Best General Commentary for a Weekly Newspaper and other awards. So when you write, how do you generate success. Is it really just fun for you or is it a discipline and you work really hard to get it done? Or is it still like it was, like you described in the beginning that you’re going to write satire and swear?
It’s kind of a combination of all of those. Because like every Thursday night, I write my column. So like today is Friday. So last night I wrote my column, number 1491.
And it was about how Generation Z now has something called menu anxiety and they get anxious and stressed when they have to go to a restaurant they don’t know very well and order from a menu. It’s something you and I take for granted. Yeah, maybe I have a few too many choices, but it’s easy to narrow it down. But, you know, these young people who were born between like 1997 and 2012. They’re 11 to 26 right now. They get stressed and anxious when they go to a place and they can’t pronounce the name of the dish or there are too many choices or they’re worried that they’re not going to like what they got or the prices even. Now the prices thing I can buy because we’ve been experiencing terrible inflation. But everything else, I just kind of roll my eyes at it because you just do it. You go pick it out.
Writing in My Head for Three Days
And so, I found this story about menu anxiety a couple of days ago and I thought I will write about that. Other times it’s an idea that popped into my head and I can’t wait to write about it. And so, I’ll see it on a Monday and I’ll start writing in my head for three days and when I sit down at my computer I’m just typing by this point. I’m just typing. And it comes out and I write the first draft in about 15 minutes.
And other times, it’s eight o’clock at night and I have no idea what I’m going to write about and I’m just looking for story ideas online and I’m just trying to come up with things. Well, what if I did this? And what if I did this? You know, I’ll go through so many ideas and I’ll write them down just in case I can develop them later on. But there are, lately I’ve been getting to Thursday with no idea what I’m going to write about. And now, I’ve gotten to the point where I write the first draft in the afternoon. But it used to be eight o’clock sat down to the computer and start writing no matter what.
“This is one of your best yet.”
And there were times where, there was once where I didn’t get an idea until eleven pm. Luckily that was early on in my career, but I was so stuck. I couldn’t think of anything. And then, it’s not coming easy and I really have to just kind of hammer and tongs put this thing out and make it as good as I can. And then, I get an email from a friend who says, “This is one of your best yet.” It’s like no, you’re kidding. You’re so wrong about that. How could you be more wrong about this. Because that was hard and it is terrible. But they’re like, “No, I loved it!” But the ones that I love, the ones that I laugh at as I’m writing them and I think this is great. This is some of my best work. Crickets. I don’t hear anything from anybody. And it’s so weird. That’s happened for years. I’ve never gotten the readership and the comments on the stuff I love. But the stuff I hate people think is brilliant.
I imagine it is very fulfilling though to make people laugh.
It’s really enjoyable and I like doing it. When I first met my wife, Toni, T-o-n-i we made each other laugh. And she’s got such a great laugh. She calls it her ugly laugh when something just really makes her snort and laugh loudly. And I feel like I won something if I can get her to do that. And so, for the last 30 years, we celebrated our 30 year anniversary on Monday, for the last 30 years, I everyday try to get her to do that. I don’t always do it, but that’s my goal. And I get enjoyment when I read some of my work and people laugh it. And so, now it’s like I want to do that. I don’t want to go into stand-up comedy. I prefer the written form. But, I’ve always enjoyed making people laugh with what I’ve written. And it’s hard. It’s a lot harder than people realize.
Oh, I believe you.
Well, you were selected as the Writer in Residence at the Jack Kerouac House in College Park. And now you serve as President of the Kerouac Project. Do you see College Park as welcoming to writers, as a good place for writers?
College Park, but also just, I think anywhere can be welcoming to writers, because it’s such a solitary activity. Like, I’m carrying my laptop in my briefcase and as long as I’ve got WiFi and a place to sit, that place will be welcoming. Because people, they will leave me alone. I just sit down in a restaurant. In fact, before I came here, I was at Lazy Moon Pizza because I had some time and I needed to get some work done. So I just got a drink and sat down and started working.
Writer in Residence at The Kerouac House
And so, being at The Kerouac House, the whole point of that place is that you have a place to work in solitude. You don’t have to worry about bills. You don’t have to worry about, I mean you do from home, but we will pay your rent. We will buy your food. You just work. And so, everybody gets a season. So not quite a quarter. But like the year starts in September. We have almost like the school calendar year: September, October, November is the fall season. And then December, January, February is the winter season. And that’s where it gets really confusing. We want people to have a place to work uninterrupted. And so, like The Kerouac House is technically a private house and that person is a tenant. And so, you wouldn’t just go knock on somebody’s door and say, “Hey, can I watch you clean?” “Can I see your house?” You wouldn’t do that. Well, it’s the same thing with the Kerouac House.
Writers From All Over the World Apply
And so, we have people from all over the world who apply. And get in. We had a couple of years ago, we had a woman from Singapore. Our most recent resident is from London. We’ve had an Irish guy that lived in Spain. We’ve had people from Texas, Iowa, New York and Indiana. In over 70 residents, we’ve had one local writer who became the resident. I became a local. So like I got accepted in 2015. In like the spring of 2015. But we moved down here in September of 2015. So, I wasn’t really a local when I got in, but I became one. Just because we were already down here. Like I didn’t move for the house.
But, when I accepted I said, “Well, we’re going to be moving there. Can I just like come in for a few days a week?” And they said, “Do whatever you want. ” And so, I would go to the house on a Sunday and I would leave Thursday night and spend the weekend at home. And then the following Sunday, because my wife and kids loved “Walking Dead” and I don’t like scary shows, I would leave right at eight o’clock because “Walking Dead” is on. And they said, “Okay, good bye.” And I would do my day job work during the day, and then have dinner, maybe watch some baseball, and then that night work on my novel. And so, I got half of it done while I was in the house for the spring season, Spring 2016.
President of The Kerouac Project
And then, when I left, I thought well I want to join the board one day, but I imagined they don’t know me very well, they’re probably going to forget about me when I’m gone. So I’m going to have to start coming to all these events, and making sure that they see me and remember me. And I’m going to have to volunteer. And then after a couple of years, I think, I might be able to ask them. Maybe they will know me by then. And instead, like two months later, Jeff and Janna Benge who are the Vice President and President of the house, called me and said, “Hey, can you meet us for coffee?” And so, we met at Stardust Video and Coffee. And they said, “We want you to join the board.” And I said, “Oh, that was so much easier than I thought.” And so, I joined the board in like August of 2016 and I was on the board until November last year, 2022. And they said, “We’re going to retire from the Board. We need somebody to step up and became the President.” And I said, “I’ll do it.” Nobody else wanted it.
100 Year Old House
And so, I became the President. I just finished my first year of the presidency and we are looking to do some major renovations to the house. We’re going to launch a capital campaign. Finally getting that in motion. And then hopefully, do some things to not so much save the house, but to keep the house from falling into disrepair. So it’s stuff like, it’s a 100 year old house, we want it to last another hundred years. So we’re taking those steps.
So it’s an historic property as well as culturally important.
It is. It is on the National Register of Historic Places because of the Kerouac connection. But in and of itself, it’s a 102 year old house. It’s a Sears and Roebuck kit house where you could go into the catalog and order a house and they would ship all the pieces to you. This is wall stud #167 and it goes here. And this is wall stud #168 and it goes here. You didn’t have to cut anything. You just hammered or screwed everything into place. I don’t know that it was meant to last a hundred years, but it has so far.
That is incredible.
So you’re also involved with the Writers of Central Florida that’s another organization that you lead. And do they work together or is that a whole other group?
We do. It’s a completely different group. But, because of my being on the board, it works together. So, in fact what’s funny, the Kerouac House used to do public readings.
The Kerouac House: First Organization in Central Florida to do Literary Open Mic Events
And it was the first organization in all of Central Florida to host these literary open mic events. And then other people said, “Well, I could that. I want to do that. I want to do poetry, but I want to do it on Tuesdays because I can’t do Wednesdays” or whatever. And so, a couple people had gone to some Kerouac events and said, “Well, we could do that.” And so, they created, well actually it was a writers’ critique group. And you would show up, you’d get a prompt. You’d write something. You’d read it. And get critiqued on it. And somebody started saying, “Well, I want to bring stuff I’m already working on.” So they started doing that. Well, there were so many people who were doing that, that it soon turned into a reading event. It was not a writing event at all. And so, that happened a few years before I ever got there.
Humor Open Mic Event
And I joined the group and after about a year of being in it, the guy who was running it said, “Well, we want to have a humor event. We want to have a humor open mic. So how about you lead that?” And so, that became my thing. And we did that for two years, but we were starting to saturate ourselves. We were having an event every Wednesday night. And so, we backed it off. We kept the main one which is always on the second Wednesday and we said, “Let’s turn the fourth Wednesday event into a writing workshop.”
OWL – Orlando Word Lab
And so, I had been involved in the Indianopolis Word Lab when I lived in Indiana. And I thought, wait, Orlando Word Lab spells OWL. So we’re going to call it that. So, we came up with that five years ago and we used to meet at PR’s Taco Palace in College Park. And then Covid happened and so we went to Zoom. And I know a couple people at the Winter Park Library and they knew about our event. And they said, “Hey, do you want to hold it here?” “Sure, we can do that.”
Writing Workshop at the Winter Park Library
So every fourth Wednesday we meet on the second floor of the Winter Park Library and we have a writing workshop on some topic or other. Like how to do narration. How to do dialogue. I’ve done one on humor writing. We’ve had other people come in on how to do a personal essay. How to do flash fiction. How to use research to find a topic. So all different kinds of topics. And the idea is, I want to bring in writers of, not a higher calibre, but more experienced writers because we have a lot of new writers showing up. And so, I want to try to bring in people that can teach a very specific lesson. Because writers have a lot of tools in their tool box and I want each instructor to try and teach a particular tool. So, it’s been great.
Speaking of different types of writing, I read that you’re also working on a memoir?
I’m going to write a book on why you should write a memoir. And what’s funny is, I don’t read a lot of memoirs. But I like biographies, especially by sports writers. Sports biographies. When you go into a newsroom, the best writers in there are the sports writers. Because, you know, the sports columnists have to be able to tell a story and make it interesting day after day. And they get really good at it. And so, the sports memoirs are – and because they’ll work with a ghost writer- sports memoirs and sports biographies are some of the best nonfiction books you can find.
Memoirs: An Autobiography with a Message…
But the memoirs are also very interesting where somebody is doing, it’s an autobiography, but it’s an autobiography with a message or a lesson. And I always say, the difference between the two is an autobiography is: this is what happened. And a memoir is: this is what I think happened. Or this is what I want you to understand about what happened.
Why You should Write a Memoir…
And so, some of the books that I’ve ghostwritten have been memoirs, others have been business books. But sort of as a way to get new clients, I’m going to write a book on why you should write a memoir. And then give it to people. And they’re going to say, “I would love to write a memoir. I don’t know how to write well. But this guy who wrote this book clearly does so I’m going to call him.” So, it’s basically a lead generation tool. I got the idea from somebody else who does that. I thought he’s not the only one who can write a book on memoir writing. So I can certainly do this.
There will certainly be many people who want that, who want to write a memoir. People of different ages, right?
Yes, but especially in Florida because you get a lot of retired people here and they think I want to leave a legacy for my family. I want them to know that I was here. Because invariably what happens is, we are forgotten by the fourth generation. My great grandkids will have no idea who I am. I have no idea who my great-grandparents were. They weren’t around by the time I was born. And I won’t be around by the time my great-grandkids are born. But, a memoir will live on. This can be something that my grandkids can say, this was my grandfather. I want you to read this. And so, with a lot of retired people here in Florida, they’re all thinking the same thing.
Florida Writers Association Speaker
And so, I go speak at like the Florida Writers Association. It has chapters all over the state. And I will go and there are all these people who are learning to write books and stories for the first time. And, you know, I’m 56. I’ll go in the room and be the youngest person in the room. So there is certainly an audience for it. There is certainly people who, not even the ones who want to become writers, just the ones who retired from business, they retired from Lockheed Martin or wherever and said, “I have a story to tell. And I think it’s worth telling.” And so, I’m hoping that this book, and it’s not going to be a lengthy one, maybe 30,000 words, they’re going to say, “Yeah. I should do that and I should hire this guy.”
Well, I want to read it. I read the post and I thought it was evocative and it really drew me in and beautiful to read.
Yeah, I wrote that about my Dutch grandmother, the one who lived to a 103. My Dad was born in Indonesia in 1943 because it was a Dutch colony. The Dutch people were not necessarily very good to the Indonesians. And so, when the war broke out, Japan wanted to use Indonesia as a base. And the Indonesian government said if you help us get rid of the Dutch people, you can do whatever you want. And so, they built two different camps: an internment camp for the women and children; and a work camp for the men and the boys. And my Grandmother had just given birth three weeks earlier to my Dad. And the soldiers came for her. Now she also had a daughter, but her daughter’s dad was a German guy. And so, she didn’t have to go into the camp. And so she went to live with a German lady. And so, my Grandmother kind of in a panic, didn’t know what to do. So she grabbed my Dad’s bassinet, a collection of teaspoons, two left shoes, and some other items. And they took her to what was sort of a processing camp. She was going to be there for a couple of weeks until they could take her to the main one.
And she tried nursing my Dad while she was there, but the stress dried her up. She wasn’t able to produce milk at all. So my Dad had nothing to eat. And my Grandmother realized if he doesn’t eat anything, he’s going to die. And so, she went to the camp commander and said, “I need you to send my son away.” And he said, “Where?” She said, “I don’t care. Because he will die in here. But out there, he’ll survive. He has a chance.” And so, the commander, I guess knowing about my Grandmother’s situation, that her daughter was outside the camp, went and sent some soldiers to get my Aunt Marguerita. Took her to the camp. My Grandmother met her at the fence. They had like two fences, an inner fence and an outer fence. Met her at the outer fence. She handed my Dad over the fence to her daughter and then turned and walked away. She couldn’t say goodbye for that reason.
In fact, they told me later, the two had never said goodbye since then. Like anytime they saw each other when it was time to leave, they would just leave. They would just depart. They never said goodbye ever again. But my Aunt Marguerita lived until she was in her seventies. So Tanta Marguerita took my Dad to Mrs. Pearly’s house in Badjava, Indonesia raised him for two years. And then when the camp was liberated, my Grandmother basically hurdled a fence. All she was wearing was a towel, and shorts. And she said, her belly was swollen and distended from malnutrition and she just ran. All she knew was the camp was falling apart, she didn’t know why. She didn’t know who was coming. She ran and she met a woman who hid her in her house for two days. And she just slept. And ate, finally. She just slept and didn’t know where she was or what she was going to do.
And one day, there was a knock at the door and it was her daughter, had found her. This is one reason why I always insist people write memoirs. We don’t know how she found her. I never asked. Nobody ever asked. But Marguerita found her Mom. I don’t know if she’d been knocking on every door or just knew. You know, psychic connection. We don’t know. But, she said, “I’m still at Mrs. Pearly’s. Lambert is okay. Come home.” And so, they went, reunited. My grandfather showed up somewhere in there. No, he showed up later. But anyway, my grandmother and her two kids got on a ship and went back to the Netherlands. And that’s where they found my grandfather. And he stuck around for a few years, but then he left. And so like we never knew anything else about him.
But my grandmother eventually emigrated to the United States. Left my Dad with her sister for a couple of years and then sent for him. And that’s how he came to the U.S. when he was nine. So anyway, all of that I found out just from talking to my grandmother. But that was many, many years ago. And she told the story a few times, so I remember the details. But all of that to me is fascinating.
Memoirs and Stories
I learned about genealogy, nobody else cares about your family. You think it’s fascinating and it’s important, but nobody else really cares. But memoirs and stories become important because that’s, when you think of all the people in the world, we don’t know who they are. You know, not just your relatives from four generations ago, but who cleaned the Library? Who was one of the janitors in the Library when it was first built? We don’t know. That person might have had an interesting, fascinating life other than, they came here for eight hours a day and cleaned up. But maybe they were in an underground fight club or something. Just anything.
But with memoirs we can find that. That’s kind of what I’m interested in about this project is, you know, it’s 2023 right now. Maybe somebody’s going to hear me in 50 years and they’re going to wonder who is this guy? And they’re going to look it up on whatever we have for Google in 50 years. But I will have a presence, you know, not only on this recording, but books in the Library and books at bookstores. I hope we still have bookstores then. But I have a presence that people can find later on, but not everybody will have that. And so, I want to write memoirs to give people a history that lasts beyond them.
So, I think this is a fantastic, brilliant idea! They would Google how to write a memoir and then somehow they see an ad for someone like you that you have a business that you will help them. They contact you and then you negotiate how long it is going to take and the price?
Yes. That’s exactly how it works.
Now that we’re talking a little bit about business, because you’re an Author-Entrepreneur, you’re also the current President of 1 Million Cups Orlando.
Actually, technically not anymore. As of Wednesday at ten o’clock, I stepped down as the lead organizer and Scott Hill is stepping up to take over. But we’re in like on vacation, hiatus, until the third. So, I am now the former, the emeritus leader of 1 Million Cups. But I lead it for three and a half years.
Tell us about it. Tell us about the organization and how you got involved? Did you meet interesting people or do you feel a real sense of accomplishment for what they have done?
I joined in 2019. I had just joined the Oviedo Chamber of Commerce and I was working in a coworking space in Oviedo and the owners were part of 1 Million Cups. And they were going every week and I thought well I should go.I should be a good business citizen, I’m going to go, too. And after a few months, the leader said, “Hey, you want to join the organizing committee?” And I was like, “Hey I’ll do that.” I think that was like late 2019. And then, 2020 when the pandemic happened we kind of closed down for a little bit. And they were trying to continue to meet in public and I didn’t go. You know, they had a Zoom option and so, I would Zoom into the meetings. But I wasn’t going to leave the house.
Lead Organizer for 1 Million Cups Orlando
And then around July, the leaders stepped down. And the Kaufman Foundation out of Kansas City which runs 1 Million Cups, and there’s like a 126 chapters around the U.S., they contacted us and said, “We need somebody to run it. Who wants to do it?” And nobody was interested. And I didn’t want to see it go away. And I said, “I’ll do it. But only if we can go to 100 percent virtual meetings.” And they said, “You do whatever you want.” Great, because I’m not going out in public. And so, that was sort of how and why I became the lead organizer. We don’t have presidents, we have organizers and lead organizers. And I became the Lead Organizer, so I could determine that we did not meet in public. And we did Zoom calls for a year and a half, almost two years.
University of Central Florida Business Incubator
And then we started meeting at the University of Central Florida Business Incubator on Colonial, and we were there for just about a year. And then we went to Rollins College where we had been before the pandemic. We’d been meeting at Rollins College in the Crummer Business Building and then we went back there. And we just found out this week, that January 3 is our last week on campus because they’re going to renovate the business building. And they are trimming a lot of the partnerships that they have with the different groups. Like they said, “We can’t host you anymore. Once the building is done you can’t come back.” So we’re actually scrambling around trying to find a new location. We’re hoping it will be Full Sail University, but we’re not entirely sure.
A Community of Entrepreneurs
But I enjoyed leading it. I would get up in front of the room each week and go through like a little introduction. Introduce the Board. Introduce new members, people who are showing up for the first time. Give a little speech about the importance of community and being a community of entrepreneurs. And, I guess, to answer your last question, I don’t feel like I accomplished everything I wanted to. I wanted it to grow in number. But I also wanted the community to be stronger. And I don’t know if I accomplished that. I don’t know if more people connected more often and had stronger relationships. But that was always my goal. And, you know, we could have grown from 50 people to 100 and had people be best business friends, and I would still feel like I had not done enough. I have no way of knowing whether I accomplished it because I would never feel like I did.
Well, I am sure that you have and I have attended the meetings. I also want to clarify, you were meeting every single week?
Every Wednesday morning at 8:30 am.
And you would have different entrepreneurs at different stages present, right?
And you support the business in different ways, you give feedback and then you also connect them with other people and other organizations to further what it is that they want to accomplish.
Exactly. So we’d have two entrepreneurs, they each got a six minute slot to talk about their company and what they did. And then after they were done talking, the audience would give them 20 minutes of feedback, asking questions, offering to make introductions. And depending on where in the development that entrepreneur was, it might be have you thought about doing this? Have you thought about registering your company as an LLC not an Scorp? Or have you thought about hiring programmers from India and things like that?
And then other people are like have you talked to this person? And so, then, yes, I did or no, I haven’t. Then, I will introduce you to them. Whatever feedback they needed and whatever feedback they didn’t need. They would get it in that 20 minutes. And the idea was that we could help them skip some of the growing pains. And skip some of the errors that they would normally make. But it was also a chance for us to learn and have more people in our network then when we said, “Oh, I can introduce you to so and so” that person had actually spoken six weeks earlier. So, it was kind of a full education all the way around not just for the two entrepreneurs.
And it’s a nonprofit organization. And it’s also, if I understand correctly, part of its mission is to welcome a diverse group.
Yes, and that was one of my foci, focuses. I wanted to increase our diversity which was a little difficult because we met on Rollins College Campus in Winter Park, Florida, you know, one of the very nice parts of Florida, at a very expensive college. And I imagine – plus it wasn’t easy to get to. Downtown would be easy, but there’s no free parking. And for some entrepreneurs just starting out, $4.00 a week every week, it’s a little tough. But we needed a place with free parking and we needed it to be as centrally located as we could. That venue was the closest we could get. There were plenty of places that were bigger and had plenty of free parking, but they’re in Oviedo or they’re in Altamonte. They’re somewhere that is not convenient for everybody to get to. So that’s a hurdle that we face that maybe some other cities don’t.
Well, when you’re not leading these organizations and writing new novels and memoirs, what do you do for fun?
I read. I read a lot. I love British murder mysteries. And I have this terrible habit of – oh, and I love reading humor novels – I will go to a used bookstore and find something and buy it. And I’ll take it home and I’ll put it in my to-be-read pile which actually consists of three different bookshelves, plus two piles on my garage workbench. And then, I go to the Library because I heard about some new book that I should read, and I will check it out and I will keep checking it out. Like I get the notice, hey, this book is due. And I’ll go online and I’ll renew it. And I can do that five times for three weeks a piece. And then, I get the message that you can’t renew it because it’s unseen by the librarian. I will take it to the Library turn it in and check it back out. And keep it for another 15 weeks.
“I have over 300 Books Waiting for Me to Read Them.”
And, I have Kindle Unlimited. In fact, I’m carrying my Kindle in my briefcase and I have Kindle Unlimited. And at night I read books on my Kindle when I should be reading the books that I have purchased and the books that I have checked out. But I’m reading on my Kindle. So I’m constantly reading. And if I could not die until I read all the books, I would live to be a thousand. And what’s sad, tomorrow I’m going up to – I buy books for everybody at Christmas every year. You know the Iceland tradition of buying books on Christmas Eve. I’m going to go do that again and I’m going to probably pick up a couple for myself knowing full well that I have over 300 books waiting for me to read them.
Well, speaking of books, do you have time to read us an excerpt from one of your works?
Sure. I brought a copy of my novel Mackinac Island Nation this is the self published version. The same version of 4 Horsemen, but this is the copy I was able to grab.
4 Horsemen Publications Book Release
The premise of the book is that Mackinac Island in Michigan has been forced to secede from the United States because of a 200 year old peace treaty that ended the war of 1812. And, but the secession was supposed to happen after 200 years. And it was only just discovered a week before it was supposed to happen. And so, a guy from the State Department, Walter, comes to the island, informs the island’s only representative, the only elected representative, and he represents the island called the Mackinac City Council. But because he is the island’s only elected representative, now that they have been cast out from the U.S. and are now their own nation. He becomes the President. He didn’t want to be the President. He didn’t want to be on the City Council, but he got elected and nominated when he went to the bathroom. (And that happened to my Dad. My Dad was on the film committee at Ball State, and became the President because he left to go to the bathroom during nominations. And somebody said, “Quick before he gets back, I nominate Lambert as President.” And they all said, “Yes.” And he came back and they said, “Congratulations you’re the President now.”)
So that’s what happened to Pete, and that’s how he became President of the island. Well, anyway, Walter Walker, after telling Pete that hey, you’re now a country not an island, Walter has to go now tell the Governor, the Governor of Michigan about this. And so, I based this particular scene off of a scene in Catch-22 which is still one of my favorite books. And so, it’s just some of the silliness of the bureaucratic thinking. You know, this is the rule and you can’t be violating the rule. So you’re being here is not it. So I’ll read this. “At the same time Pete was informing Gordon of Michigan’s newest island nation, Walter was racing to the office of Michigan Governor Felix Hernandez. He had flown in a Marine helicopter to Lansing with his new driver, retired Marine Sergeant Maurice Jones….”
Well, thank you so much for your reading. Thank you for your thoughtful creative contributions that you have made to our community. We appreciate your valuable time today and your intelligence that you share with community organizations. We look forward to hearing more about your success in 2024! All good wishes to you and your family for a beautiful holiday season both here and in Indiana.
Thank you! And you’re welcome.
Interview: Erik Deckers
Interviewer: Jane Tracy
Date: December 22, 2023
Place: Orlando Public Library
Interview: Erik Deckers
Interviewer: Jane Tracy
Date: December 22, 2023
Place: Orlando Public Library
102-year-old house. It's a Sears and Roebuck kit house where you could go into the catalog and order a house and they would ship all the pieces to you. This is wall stud #167 and it goes here. And this is wall stud #168 and it goes here... Excerpt from an Oral History Interview with Erik Deckers, December 22, 2023.
Erik Deckers is the current President of The Kerouac Project, a writers-in-residence program located in the historic Jack Kerouac House in College Park. He completed his writers-in-residence season at The Kerouac House in 2016. Deckers is the author of numerous books including the humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation recently published by local publisher, 4 Horsemen Publications. He is an accomplished news columnist earning several editorial awards from the Hoosier State Press Association for his newspaper humor columns. Deckers has written nearly 1,500 columns and is the winner of the Best General Commentary for a Weekly Newspaper. He is also an award-winning playwright for stage and radio theater. As an author-entrepreneur he contributes his expertise and valuable time to 1 Million Cups Orlando, Writers of Central Florida, The Kerouac Project, and more.
We invite you to listen to the wit and wisdom of author-entrepreneur Erik Deckers!