Just about everyone I know is transitioning into something. Some are morphing into their lifelong dream, others contemplating a life in retirement, while a vast majority are struggling with jobs facing extinction – wondering how they are going to survive. I am a guy who would rather write about his life lessons than have to relive them. My motto is simply, “As the world turns on its axis, change is happening, and it might work out best to swim parallel to shore.” In short, transition is not necessarily an all volunteer army.
While scrolling through my news feed on Facebook, I was intrigued to discover a gentleman who had worked directly with Vidal Sassoon during the height of “Sassoon-mania” in the 1960’s, and following a successful career as a Sassoon trained hair cutter transitioned into a mystery writer. Anybody who knows anything about the Vidal Sassoon hair cutting dynasty is aware of the intensive training, discipline, and commitment to education that is required to fulfill that coveted slot. Many that worked with Vidal later moved on to create their own techniques, salons, schools, product lines, and even – films. Even the late Paul Mitchell was a member of the Sassoon team as they conquered America. So, when I read that Peter Green was giving a talk in Connecticut on a Friday evening – I thought this could be worth the hour drive time.
The Good News Review: Having worked directly with Vidal Sassoon, what did you learn from that experience, and how has it helped you today?
Peter Green: What people don’t talk about so much today is the perfection of Vidal’s haircuts. I was his assistant at a moment in time when the whole thing took off. His first ‘bob’ was inspired by a movie of the day called, “Last Year in Marienbad,” and he called that first haircut “Marienbad.” All of the other haircuts evolved from that first look. That’s when “perfection” took over. Not that his haircuts weren’t good before, but this was something different, and required a higher standard of perfection.
He would go over and over the same section, checking and rechecking. Pushing the hair this way and that to make sure, no matter what, that it was perfect and fell just right. I find the similarity between cutting hair the way I was taught and writing similar. I go over a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, countless times. Checking, and rechecking, just like a haircut, with the understanding that my work, just like a haircut, is only as good as the effort I put into it. There are no shortcuts, and please pardon the pun. It requires discipline, patience, and an understanding that this is what’s required to turn out good work.
TGNR: What were the main catalysts in your life that lead you to this transition into writing?
PG: Some time ago my partner David Daines and I developed a unique line of hair care products that we managed to get on the shelves of Nordstrom and Bloomingdales. We told these stores that after obtaining new financing, we would do everything Calvin Klein had done to promote his products: advertising, point-of- purchase promotions, publicity, product line expansion, etc., etc. The stores said if we did that they would run our products through all of their stores.
Sadly this was at a time when money was very tight and we were unable to find anyone to back us. Except for this one guy. He kept promising us money and kept us dangling for nine months with big ideas and great plans. But he never came through. Eventually we were tapped out and had to pull our products off the shelves. Finally we went bankrupt. We could never figure out what this so-called backer’s game was, except to drive us crazy.All of this was a catalyst for my first book, “The Hit And Run.” Incidentally, he dies on the first page.
TGNR: At what point in your career did you shift into becoming a writer?
PG: After I sold my salon in White Plains I took a couple of writing courses and workshops at SUNY Purchase and Sarah Lawrence College and dove in. I have always written off and on, but never as an almost full-time occupation.
TGNR: Was the transition into writing a difficult one?
PG: It was. That first book took ten years to write and I must have rewritten it in one form or another more times than I care to remember. There is so much to learn, and know, and understand. Like everything else, that takes time, patience, and a willingness to learn.
TGNR: What hurdles did you have to face?
PG: Writing is a business like any other. If you are not trained, or educated in the genre, or have not been doing it all your life you have to learn it. And that takes time. The best adage I was ever taught was “writing is rewriting,” and that takes a very long time to understand.
TGNR: Do you ever refer to past experiences that you’ve had from the beauty business in any of your novels?
PG: All of my stories thus far involve certain aspects of the beauty or fashion industry. You’re supposed to write about what you know. I have been cutting hair for fifty years always at the highest end of the business. It has given me great insight into the human condition and has been invaluable in the development of characters, points of view, and plot line.
TGNR: Who/what are your greatest writing influences?
PG: E.L. Doctorow, for his language and his magnificent story telling. Ed McBain, (Evan Hunter) for his “57th Precinct” detective stories, and his style that I tried to emulate when I first started writing. Donald Westlake for his humor and his bizarre point of view. And Robert Parker for his brevity.
TGNR: When do you know you’re doing your best work?
PG: Personally, and it has taken a very long time to realize this: you never really know. Writing, for me, is a metaphor for life. Every experience takes you a little farther along the trail and gets you to the next level. So it is with writing. I keep learning, and growing, and I hope that it never stops.
TGNR: For others who long to become writers, what advice would you give them?
PG: The same advice. When I finally finished, “The Hit And Run,” I thought for sure everyone would want to read it and I was the next best thing to Hemingway. Oh foolish man. The writing game is the toughest business I have ever been in. The chances of success are somewhere between nil and zero.
With that in mind I write for the sheer love of it. I enjoy the process and am constantly amazed at what I am able to accomplish in my prose. That’s about as good as it gets. Anything else – a nice review on Amazon, a good piece of publicity, or even a sale – is a bonus !
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TGNR: Tell us about your new book, “Things Have a Habit.”
PG: “Things Have a Habit” features my continuing lead character, Detective Jimmy Dugan, who is the sole detective in a fictitious Westchester town of Columbia. He is confronted with a murder that takes place in the parking lot of a local diner. The investigation reaches a dead end until a bizarre set of coincidences that involve the daughter of the women he is living with; the school she attends and the drug trade that takes place there; a local caregiver who is evil in the extreme; a New York City moneylender who is trying to collect what is owed him; and a man who can’t pay his debts.
These plot lines intertwine throughout the story and culminate in an unusual finale that justifies the title, “Things Have a Habit” – something my father drummed into us when we were kids. If you can only hang on through whatever it is you are going through, ‘things have a habit’ of working themselves out.
TGNR: What do you believe is the greatest story you were born to tell?
PG: I have no idea. I am currently working on my fifth Jimmy Dugan mystery, “Everybody Lies,” and already it is taking me to places I have never been before. Long may it continue.
TGNR: Thank you for your time, Peter.