I’m thrilled to welcome Laura Chapman to my blog. Her debut novel, Hard Hats and Doormats was just released on December 11th and I’ve asked Laura to write a guest post on what inspired her to write the book. Keep reading for an excerpt from Hard Hats and Doormats.
When I graduated from the University of Nebraska with a journalism degree in 2008, I expected to spend the next five to 10 years working my way up from being a crime reporter at a community newspaper to covering the local government somewhere fabulous, like Boston, Chicago or Seattle. Or maybe I’d be a page designer – but I’d go the same route: small town America to the big city.
In reality, I faced the 2008 job market. It was right after the housing market crashed and right before the big banks had their bailouts. As I watched friends lose their jobs as newspapers downsized to adapt to the economic downturn, I quickly realized I might have to adjust my game plan.
That led me to a small niche publication company that specialized in producing employee newsletters for clients, such as Class I railroads, food production companies and so on. I was hired as a corporate journalist. I was told to plan on spending about half of the month on the road traveling from location to location taking photos, conducting interviews and documenting stories. I figured it would be a good way to bide my time until the economy turned around, and I’d get to see more of the country in the meantime.
About six months after I started my job, I came to a few realizations.
- First: This was a lot harder than it sounded. Spending 10-12 days a month living out of a suitcase and 1,500-2,000 miles behind the wheel was exhausting. Sure I was getting a chance to explore different regions of the country, but I barely had time or energy to enjoy the experience.
- Second: Everyone I interviewed was speaking another language. In the railroad, humping is a way of sorting railcars, frogs are a switch in the rails and a dead crew is one that is out of hours. I learned all of this eventually, but for a long time I had no idea what anyone was talking about, which made me feel dumb.
- And third: This was maybe a more permanent gig than I’d expected. The economy not only hadn’t shown signs of improvement, but it seemed to be getting worse.
I was still trying to accept these revelations when I was in the middle of a seven-day trip along the Gulf Coast. I was visiting several customers in east Texas and Louisiana, and by day four, I’d already logged more than 1,000 miles on my rental car. I spent part of that day covering a rail-crossing safety event in Natchitoches, La., which was a lot of fun, but exhausting to follow. Back in my rental car, I pulled off my steel-toed boots to replace them with the flip-flops I preferred to drive in. I caught sight of my passenger seat – a mess of maps, hard hats, reflective vests, safety glasses and ear plugs – and I laughed.
“This is my life,” I thought. “It’s all hard hats and flip-flops.” This was quickly followed by another realization. “That’s a good name for a book: Hard Hats and Flip-flops.”
It would be about a young woman a couple of years out of college. She’d be at a job she never expected having. It couldn’t be the railroad, because that was too close to home. What would be a job with a similar work environment? One where everyone was nice enough to her, because she was typically the token young lady, but also had some grit. The chemical industry. That would fit nicely on the Gulf Coast, which is where I knew this had to be set.
And she couldn’t be in communications, because that was too easy for me to write. Based on the conflicting personalities that are thrown together to work, having to be the person to settle any of those issues had to be tough. That would make her a human resources rep.
What would happen to this chemical industry HR rep who traveled the Gulf Coast – aside from settling disputes? She’d obviously face a lot of confusion, because her workplace was hard to understand. She’d deal with having a career that differed greatly from her original plan. She’d need a couple of friends, some troubling co-workers and a bad boss to up the tension. There should be some kind of romance. Maybe she’d fall in love with one of the men in the field. It would be kind of forbidden and a long time brewing.
By the time I reached Lafayette for the night, I had the basic components including the opening scene and finale in my head. Her life was certainly a lot more exciting than mine, and I couldn’t wait to write the book. Granted, I spent the next 20 months not writing the book, but by the time National Novel Writing Month 2010 rolled around, I wrote a first-draft for Hard Hats and Flip-flops, which ultimately became Hard Hats and Doormats.
About the Author
Laura Chapman mixes her love of romance and humor as a women’s fiction blogger and author. Born and raised in Nebraska – in a city, not on a farm – she is a devoted fan of football, British period drama, writing in bars and her cats, Jane and Bingley. Hard Hats and Doormats is her debut novel.
Connect with Laura
About the Book
Lexi Burke has always been a stickler for following rules and procedures. As a human resources manager for a leading Gulf Coast chemical company, it’s her job to make sure everyone else falls in line, too.
But after losing out on a big promotion–-because her boss sees her as too much of a yes-woman––Lexi adopts a new policy of following her heart instead of the fine print. And her heart knows what it wants: Jason Beaumont, a workplace crush who is off limits based on her previous protocol.
While navigating a new romance and interoffice politics, Lexi must find the confidence to stand on her own or face a lifetime of following someone else’s orders.
Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H7OME88/ref=cm_sw_su_dp
Barnes and Noble – http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hard-hats-and-doormats-laura-chapman/1117661135?ean=2940148851479
Kobo – http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/hard-hats-and-doormats
Marching Ink – http://marchingink.com/buy/hard-hats-and-doormats/
Alexis Burke @theLexiBurke
Can a person refer to employees as Jackass 1 & 2 in an official report? Asking for a friend. #HRProblems #ThisIsMyLife
The universe keeps telling jokes and I’m the punch line. #IHaveProof
Okay, seriously. When did this become my life? Can I get a mulligan? #ObscureGolfAnalogyForLife
In kindergarten Sunday school, Lexi Burke imagined Hell as a fire-ridden, hate-filled pit below Earth’s surface. On a mighty throne of blackened steel and skulls, Satan preyed on the souls of the damned for eternity.
Twenty years later, she discovered a new version of Hell. It was a windowless conference room on an oil platform off the coast of God-only-knew-where Texas in the middle of May. The devil took form in two men, both middle-aged and madder than a hornets nest. Despite the sweat building on her neck, she shivered.
When did babysitting old guys become my job?
How mad do hornets get, and what does their nest have to do with it?
Where did I come up with that analogy?
Solving those mysteries had to wait. Casting a glance at the figures gathered around the badly chipped table, she considered the situation at hand. The two men, their union reps, and a team of local managers were going yet another round in their verbal sparring without a semblance of resolution. The representatives wanted the men to go back to work. The managers wanted to give them pink slips.
As the HR manager assigned – albeit at last-minute – to the investigation, she wanted to keep everyone from killing each other. Not an easy task, considering the two men under investigation already gave murder their best shot.
According to the initial report, the incident happened over the weekend. The men engaged in a particularly heated discussion about college football. The man to her right apparently took offense to the one on her left using derogatory names to describe his beloved team.
She grimaced at the list of profanities. Three or four of them merited HR intervention on their own. Then again, others struck her as downright creative. Note to self: Use “dag nab ass backwards pile of swamp waste” in a sentence later today.
The fight escalated when Mr. Right expressed his displeasure by raking his broken glass across Lefty’s face. A few days later, the wounds swelled red and blotchy. Her stomach churned when she examined their faces closely.
His opponent fared no better. Lefty managed a couple of solid jabs with a shard from a shattered plate. His cheek and eyebrow were held together with the help of twenty-two stitches.
How did these men still have jobs? Surely trying to kill your co-worker violated the Employee Code of Conduct. But because they had no previous violence on their records, the company’s agreement with the union guaranteed them the right to an investigation – this investigation.
“I told ‘em to back off and leave my Tigers alone,” Idiot Number One shouted. “But he started waving around his God-damned glass. I had to grab hold of something to protect myself. A man’s got a right to defend himself and his pride.”
“What the hell are you talking about, son?” Moron Number Two chimed in. “You were the one bent outta shape in the first place. He’s pissed because my Hogs’ll beat the hell out of this pussy lover’s team next year.”
Hogs? Tigers? Did these men seriously put their jobs and lives on the line over the Arkansas and LSU football teams? Did Lexi have to take team allegiances into consideration when she hired new employees to avoid catastrophe? Were SEC fans this torn up about football year-round?
Will we have full-on riots come September?
She struggled to recall the last two football seasons, but nothing came to mind. In her early days at Gulf America, she’d spent most of her life adjusting to the heavy travel schedule of a field HR representative. Current events, sports, and anything unrelated to HR dealings never entered her mind. She instead concentrated on getting through each day, never mind remembering what happened in the rest of the world.
What kind of fights should she expect when the Big 12 schools in Texas started beating up on each other in the fall?
God help us all.
Pulling her shoulder-length brown hair off her neck, she longed for a breeze. Not the kind from men yelling at each other, but a real, honest-to-God breeze.
She sighed and stared back at her notes. Even if the investigation proved the men deserved firing, she wouldn’t make the decision. Her worthless boss would be using whatever recommendations she gave him.
Dale seldom left his office during the work day. Unless he heard an ice cream truck. Then he raced out the door with a dollar in hand. Why bother leaving for something important–– like his job–– when he had minions like her to do his dirty work in the field? He reserved his energy to sweep in at the end when he took credit and – by all appearances – saved the day.
This time, he didn’t even have the courtesy to make his decision before dawn. In her eagerness to please – the department had a promotion up for grabs – she overlooked the faux pas that sent her straight to hell. Sure the Assistant Regional Director job would be more work, but it came with a healthy salary increase and less travel. And at twenty-four, she’d be the youngest director at headquarters.
The shouts escalated.
Is a promotion worth this?
Another realization hit Lexi like a ton of bricks. Damn, another random metaphor. This dispute would have long-term implications impacting more than her chances of promoting within the company. The safety department would surely ban glass cups and plates from company premises before the end of the week. The idiots had proven breakables were a liability Gulf America would no longer risk.
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of one man knocking his coffee mug to the floor. Damn. Another dish casualty. The shattered mug brought Lexi’s attention back to the present. One of the local managers sent her a silent plea. Clearing her throat, she filled her lungs with the heavy air weighing on her chest.
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” she began, in her sweetest drawl. A Midwesterner by nature and nurture, she spent the past two years cultivating her fake accent. It was useful in tense situations like this one. “I appreciate you sharing your perspectives. I’m sure both of your teams value loyal fans like you. But I need you both to take a few deep breaths and listen to what I say.”
She politely glared at the men. Their chests rose up and down in suppressed fury, but their mouths stayed shut.
“Violence is never the answer. It has no place in the sports arena or at work. Remember, you come from the same conference. Y’all should treat each other with the mutual respect your fine teams deserve.”
She paused for dramatic effect. She used a variation of the speech at least a dozen times in the past month alone. In her experience, a few well-timed beats of silence struck fear into the hearts of men better than a million words.
After giving her words room to settle uncomfortably, she continued. “Y’all need to treat each other respectfully. Not only because you’re co-workers and conference mates, but because you’re both good men with families who depend on you. Consider how you’d want someone to treat the people you love most. That’s how y’all should treat each other.”
The men had the good grace to bow their heads in shame. She mentally patted herself on the back for not flinching when she said “y’all.” Three times. When she moved to Texas after college, she swore she would never pick up the strange jargon.
It only took a month for the Southern slang to find its way into her vocabulary.
Sensing the men had finished their moaning, Lexi nodded at one of the managers to begin his end of the investigation. Leaning back in her chair, she scribbled on a copy of the report. She bored easily when her mind wasn’t constantly engaged. Doodling helped her maintain some focus on a situation without actively paying attention. As an added bonus, writing on paper gave everyone else the illusion she was busy.
On this day, she found paying attention to the investigation exceptionally difficult. Her afternoon meeting back at Corporate Headquarters would determine her future with Gulf America.
She made a note to dust off the training video about respectful language. More than likely, the oil rig’s crew would moan about having to sit through thirty minutes of bad acting. They’d also likely ignore the message, but she had to try.
For the men, she added a few suggestions for her boss to consider. They at least needed anger management counseling. Offering them a buyout in exchange for early retirement would satisfy the union and the company.
With her work done, she turned over her notes to doodle a picture. She drew two donkeys. One held a glass, the other a plate. Leaning back in her chair she admired her work, both the drawing, and the much more relaxed atmosphere in the conference room.
Damn she was good.