It was not easy to convince Night Stalker Gregory “Gravy” Coker to write his book. In the throes of my attempt to talk him into it, I quickly bought into a proposal of his — to ghostwrite the book for him.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah… piece of cake, Coke — I’ll ghost it for ya, now let’s get to work!”
Firstly, Ghostwriting a book is kind of like… writing a book; it is every bit as tedious! I just did not think that through in the beginning, but that was no longer a part of the matter because I said I would do it and now I had to do it. Maybe as long as nobody spilled the beans about how tedious ghostwriting would be I might have not ever figured it out. But oh… I figured it out.
Secondly, when you tell a brother like Greg to get to work, you better take cover because scunion is gonna fly and there will be blood and sonic booms. The next thing I knew chapters were flying at me every single day, and sometimes two at a time.
It occurred to me that, while not on purpose, Greg had maneuvered me into the asshole position. Yes, I was the asshole who was holding up his book’s progress. The pent-up Chief’s stories were clawing to get out. I had danced all around Greg and now it was time for me to pay the band. I put my own book-writing to the side — at two chapters from completion — to concentrate on fielding Coke’s magnum opus. It was the right thing to do.
I can have a draft chapter for my own book done in a single no-kidding hour. Some of Coke’s chapters kept me tied up for four-five hours or more. Coke’s chapters on average are about 3,000-6,000 words each; mine average about 1,500 words. A self-inflicted curse of mine is that I can accept some slop in my own work, but I have to go wide-open when the work is for someone else.
So the Chief got to pouring it on, pouring it on as Private Blythe did in Band of Brothers when the Jerries were attacking across the meadow — POUR IT ON, CHIEF, LET ‘EM HAVE IT — POUR IT ON!
Twenty-seven chapters and 115,000 words later we had completed a manuscript. I can tell you there were times when I grew weary of the writing, but for the most part, I was always excited to belly back up to my desk and get at it. I was reading Greg’s story for the first time so it was always interesting and exciting. At least one time toward the end — I’m sure I was tired and emotional — I fogged up pretty good at yet another thing that was dear to my heart in Coke’s story. But I shook the emotion off and got back to football and prime rib — basic dude stuff.
There are two voices in the book: Coke’s and my own. I felt I could keep fidelity in the Chief’s voice because I know him and know how he speaks. I know that he is a very educated — fact that — but also a very grounded man who has a homey way of conversing in informal forums. I know to say for example:
“Them fellers was crazy,” knowing full well that under a more official forum he is perfectly capable of saying: “Those fellows were crazy,” — just the voice of the Texas man. There are occasions when I used straight quotes from Greg, feeling strongly that in some situations my own voice could do no more justice to a moment than Greg’s. It was my call, one that I felt always privileged to make.
I truly admire Greg for his ability to commit to a ghostwriter. Honestly, he had to step back and accept that some other guy was going to represent his thoughts, and word those thoughts with language that was not his own — that is one hell of a leap of faith. There is pressure too, to strive to retain the fidelity of Greg’s thoughts while wording them in a way that keeps readers entertained, and therefore continuously interested.
It was not a hard decision for me to stop work on one book and concentrate on this work for Greg Coker. I admit I’m more excited about Greg’s story, recognizing the importance of it being available to more brothers who have suffered as he has. His story is more appealing than some whizz-bang entertainment I can gin up at a later date. More virtue-shading-throwing- signaling? No, remember it’s “virtue hinting!”
Greg Coker’s story is at times a rapid-fire face-palmer. There were occasions when I just pushed back away from my desk and held a facepalm for a few minutes shaking my head. I liken it to a cumulative case of the willies. Take a snake handler as an example: the snake handler just goes year after year touching snakes all day. Then one day after, say, five years of fondling snakes, he suddenly just falls to the floor twitching and trembling violently for a few minutes. Then he’s fine and ready to have back at the snake-fingering for another five or so years. But there is always that cycle that catches up with him and he has to purge those willies.
That explanation is tongue-in-cheek, but the concept holds true for killing. There is a number of people you can kill before you fall out for a spell. It’s a numbers’ game then? What’s everyone’s limit, the number they get to before they fall out with the heebie-jeebies for a time? Greg Coker has a good idea of what his limit is. For me, as much as I dislike people in general, I imagine my number is very high.
To say that much of the content of Greg’s book is a challenge would be an understatement; even with my background, I have difficulty believing some of the content. What I have to get me through moments of disbelief is the word of a man of immense courage and faith. He stands to gain nothing from embellishing his accounts. I have heard him tell the same stories with sufficient repetition to shore my shore in what he tells me.
The greatest frustration for me was losing track of the very first chapter of the book and ending up having to rewrite the chapter after I had already jumped up from my chair to deliver an air high-five for prematurely having completed the book. In the end, I think I wrote it better the second time around — a decent outcome for perhaps the book’s most important chapter.
Thanks for getting your story out there, Coke. It’s going to help a lot of suffering veterans. Thanks for having the stone to face overwhelming odds in the Middle East and then back in the States — the latter always being the harder of the two. Above all, thank you for allowing me to be your voice for the single most difficult time of your life. I hope I did it justice; and I swear I served it with honor. Know that for all those reasons I do remain your greatest fan, Coke!
By Almighty God and with honor,
geo gratefully sends