A father’s fable creates a reluctant writer
By MELODY JAMESON email@example.com
Ruskin – Robert J. Schindler just may be the region’s most reluctant writer.
When daughter Meghan entreated him to turn an imaginative childhood fairy tale into a publishable children’s story, the former international banker declined…and argued against…and then mightily resisted.
When he ultimately gave in, it was only with the proviso that she handle all the actual publication details – and that the book’s development be kept between the two of them.
Then, as the time approached to establish public authorship, the Ruskin businessman fashioned a pseudonym disguising his identity.
And, when the 27-chapter, 427-page novel formally debuted at an Ybor City coming out party, its writer hired an actor to circulate as the author.
Yep, Bob Schindler, aka Robert Jay, author of Montooth and the Canfield Witch, devoted father and husband, banker turned business executive, lover of history, dedicated European traveler, never saw “writer” on his personal horizon. But, life unfolding has a way of adding detours along the route.
It all started with a charming alligator hatched in a duck’s nest on a Florida lake shore.
Essentially a mid-westerner, Schindler, now 66, took his degree in economics from Purdue University and went into banking some four decades back. “I love history and really wanted to teach,” he recalls now, “but I knew there’d be more money in banking.” It didn’t dawn then that an appreciation for what’s gone before and an inclination to share the knowledge are two characteristics common to many working writers.
In the natural course of events, Schindler the banker married, fathered first son Matthew and then daughter Meghan, and climbed the financial services ladder. Life was good, and getting better. Eventually, his bank won the contract to provide banking services to America’s military forces stationed across Europe. He was tapped to head the financial operations for them around the continent. The family arrived in time to see the Berlin Wall come down.
And, for the next three years from their home base in Germany, Schindler, wife Hildy, Matthew and Meghan spent spare time absorbing firsthand the histories of several nations, basking in other cultures, soaking up experiences he figured would become part of the family lore. In the early ‘90s, their tour ended, Hildy and their young teenagers preceded Schindler to the states. He remained behind to wrap up.
Enter Montooth, purely the figment of a lonely imagination. “For years, I read to both of the kids regularly as they were growing up,” Schindler notes, and now, separated, he began penning a fantasy for Meghan, his youngest. Writing in green ink, in longhand, he spun for her the story of the little alligator, hatched in a duck’s nest by a twist of wildlife fate, initially dubbed “Green Duck,” a most unusual and notable addition to a Mallard community. Transmitting a few pages at a time, the banker took the little gator through a series of adventures to a satisfying end for his child.
This exercise in parental affection soon was forgotten, though, as the family reunited, Schindler’s bank was absorbed by a larger institution and a decision was forced upon them: take a lump sum buy-out or relocate to Cleveland. Schindler took this “Y” in the family’s journey to be an opportunity. “We’d talked about Florida; thought about a move there.” They opted for the buy-out and steered south.
By the mid-‘90s, the ex-banking executive was a corporate executive, heading the newly minted Cloverleaf Corporation , establishing in Ruskin an enterprise engaged in renting non-mechanized traffic control structures and barricades to contractors, then ultimately becoming the only U.S. and Canadian representative of a German manufacturer producing heavy-duty traffic control highway safety devices such as collapsible stakes.
At century end, family headquarters was a home on Anna Maria Island, Matthew, a one-time pre-med student, headed with his Purdue degree in construction management to the family business, while Meghan, an accounting graduate of the University of Miami, launched an auditing career in Washington. She also revived a toothy little alligator.
Over a period of time, Meghan worked on her Dad, despite his protests, to take the story of “Green Duck,” with its clear lessons about finding one’s place, accepting others, and understanding differences, to the level of children’s publishing. In late 2008, he started the project in earnest, working, he says, several hours at night after a day dealing with various aspects of highway safety.
For his personal reading pleasure, Schindler allows, he favors the edge-of-the-chair adventure yarns spun by writers such as Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy. Yet at the heart of any tale he would tell for a wider audience would be the buck-toothed gator that so entranced Meghan she had carefully preserved the longhand pages from nearly 20 years earlier. Then, too, he says looking back, he may have been influenced in the 21st century by the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys stories from the 20th century that he read to his young offspring.
What evolved is a fully fleshed out adventure experienced by teenage Catherine “Carty” Andersson and four male school mates set in a small Florida community during the 1950s against a backdrop of secret places in the Everglades as they confront both real and rumored dangers. And yes, at the heart of the book – both literally and figuratively – is the little green alligator dubbed “Green Duck” by his duckling siblings who develops into the critically important and imposing “Montooth.”
With the foresight of a banker, Schindler says he plotted the novel intentionally to encourage reading by an adult to a child who may be ready only for the “Green Duck” fable encapsulated in the book’s center set apart by a different typeface, by teenagers eager for tastes of danger and for adults able to relate to the risks incurred as well as the integrated real life Florida lore. He also built in a competition for readers involving the names of the characters which was won by a California resident within months of the book’s publication in August, 2009.
Keeping her part of the bargain, Meghan served as editor and publisher, fine tuning her Dad’s manuscript, engaging a Kentucky firm for text and cover design, then getting it typeset and bound in Virginia. “Montooth and the Canfield Witch” was published by Montooth Press, a division of the family’s Cloverleaf Corporation. It has been sold in hardcover through their website, www.montoothbook.com for $28.00.
And with the caution of a banker, Schindler says he was not sure right up to official launch of the book at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City that August evening that the project truly would work with the public. With a devilish grin, he recounts how well the employed actor portraying him played his part, fooling even Hildy, until Schindler finally was unmasked as the true author. Today, though, he acknowledges that based on conversations on the website, he knows that young people, in the mid-teen years particularly, really get it.
He’s now a recovering reluctant writer. He’s about 75 percent finished with the second in what has become the Carty Andersson series. Its title? No way, he shakes his head. Its plot? Certainly not! What he will allow is that there will be another fable suitable for reading to young children incorporated in the next novel and that he now sees Carty and her friends continuing to take on mysteries for solving right through their college years.
© 2010 Melody Jameson