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I live on the ocean, write women's fiction, love to read so much that it's an addiction rather than a hobby (I read an average of a book a day). I live on the wet west coast so it's a good thing that I like to walk in the rain.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Inspiration by Christy McKee

Inspiration…can come from the most unexpected places,
even from a  grand piano!

Have you ever heard of the Capo d’astro bar?

No, it’s not a popular hangout for the literati in New York City, but it is  something that every one of us who wants to be unique, or the next big thing, must know, about us and about our work. This is the story of an advertising copy writer who was determined to do a stellar job. His name is Bud Robbins and he wrote the following article over fifty years ago and it is still relevant today. I’m not sure if Mr. Robbins is still living, but if he isn’t, his story lives on.  

Back in the sixties, I was hired by an ad agency to write copy on the Aeolian Piano Company account. My first assignment was for an ad to be placed in The New York Times for one of their grand pianos. The only background information I received was some previous ads and a few faded close-up shots…and of course, the due date.

The Account Executive was slightly put out by my request for additional information and his response to my suggestion that I sit down with the client was, ‘Don’t tell me you’re one of those? Can’t you just create something? We’re up against a closing date!’

I acknowledged his perception that I was one of those, which got us an immediate audience with the head of our agency.

I volunteered I couldn’t even play a piano let alone write about why anyone would spend $5,000 for this piano when they could purchase a Baldwin or Steinway for the same amount.

I persisted and reluctantly, a tour of the Aeolian factory in Upstate New York was arranged. I was assured that ‘we don’t do this with all our clients’ and my knowledge as to the value of company time was greatly reinforced.

The tour lasted two days and although the care and construction appeared meticulous, $5,000 still seemed to be a lot of money. Just before leaving, I was escorted into the showroom by the National Sales Manager. In an elegant setting sat their piano alongside the comparably priced Steinway and Baldwin.

‘They sure look alike,’ I commented.

‘They sure do. About the only real difference is the shipping weight—ours is heavier.’

‘Heavier?’ I asked. ‘What makes ours heavier?’

‘The Capo d’astro bar.’
‘What’s a Capo d’astro bar?’
‘Here, I’ll show you. Get down on your knees.’
Once under the piano, he pointed to a metallic bar fixed across the harp and bearing down on the highest octaves. ‘It takes 50 years before the harp in the piano warps. That’s when the Cap d’astro bar goes to work. It prevents warping.’

I left the National Sales Manager under his piano and dove under the Baldwin to find a Tinkertoy Capo d’astro bar at best. Same with the Steinway.

‘You mean the Capo d’astro bar really doesn’t go to work for 50 years?’ I asked.

‘Well, there’s got to be some reason why the Met uses it,’ he casually added.

I froze. ‘Are you telling me that the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City uses this piano?’

‘Sure. And their Capo d’astro bar should be working by now.’

Returning to the city, I went to the Metropolitan Opera House where I met the legendary Carmen, Rise Stevens. She was now in charge of moving the Metropolitan Opera House to the Lincoln Center.

Ms. Stevens told me,  “About the only thing the Met is taking with them is their piano.’

That quote was the headline of our first print ad.

The result created a six-year wait between order and delivery. My point is this. No matter what the account, I promise you, the Capo d’astro bar is there.”

If we are to be successful branding ourselves, scooping up new readers in our special niche, we   have to discover our own Capo d’astro bar and market accordingly.


“Newspapers were never very favorable to my father,” he explained. “To the best of my knowledge, a newspaper reporter has never been invited to this house.” He wouldn’t tell her that his father referred to them as a pack of ill-bred, bloodthirsty hounds. Edward Hastings refused to return calls or grant interviews to any newspaper.
            “Are you insinuating that I’m here under false pretenses?”  
            From beneath his sunglasses, Pierce looked directly into her fiery green eyes. "No, not at all Miss March. I was merely stating a fact.”
            “The fact is, Mr. Hastings, it is not a reporter’s job to be favorable. They are in the business of finding and reporting the truth.”
            "Nobly put, Miss March.” The woman certainly didn’t pull any punches.
            “I hope this will put you at ease, Mr. Hastings. I own the newspaper. It’s been several years since I single-handedly set out to ruin anyone.”
            Sarcasm, even with a lovely Southern accent, was still sarcasm.
            "I see.” Pierce sounded duly impressed. “That’s certainly an accomplishment for such a young …” He froze when her eyes narrowed. What the hell was wrong with him? He careened from one blunder to the next.
            "Tell me, is it my age or the fact that I’m a woman that bothers you?” Her face was considerably more colorful than the rest of her and he knew it had nothing to do with the heat.
             Pierce was no chauvinist and certainly had no prejudice against successful females. After all, he’d been married to a talented trial attorney. Hadn’t he put his wife through law school? Hadn’t he supported Glenna in every way until she made partner in her firm and then announced that she’d changed her mind about having children and, by the way, she didn’t want to be his wife anymore either.
            "I didn't mean that you weren't responsible.” His eyes returned to the very entertaining Miss March who had just snapped up the ball and was ready to run with it.
            "What would someone like you know about responsibility anyway? You've probably never put in an honest day’s work in your entire over-privileged life. Flying around the world trying to stay one step ahead of reality. One of these days you’re going to have to come down to earth and see what it’s like in the real world.”
             Where did the woman get her information? She’d obviously pegged him as some sort of wealthy derelict. Fired up, she was something. Misinformed maybe, but she had balls of steel. "For a newspaper woman, you’re lacking in your facts, Miss...."
            Frenzied barking drew Pierce's attention skyward. Just as he looked up a huge black creature soared through the air, plunging down on top of him, upending his float and catapulting him to the bottom of the pool.
            Max exuberantly dog paddled to his mistress and was rewarded with an affectionate pat on his broad head. "Perfect timing, Max." Gabrielle smiled and broke into laughter.
            "What did you do, signal him to attack?” Pierce sputtered, trying to locate his five hundred dollar sunglasses.
            "Don't be silly.” She laughed. "It's just Max's way of thanking you for the afternoon snack."
            Max offered up a cheerful bark. The behemoth black dog actually looked pleased with himself. He was a retriever for God’s sake; he should be down there looking for Pierce’s glasses.

About Christy Mckee:

In one media or another, Christy McKee has written her entire life.  In middle school, she started a neighborhood newspaper in her hometown in Ohio.  Stories about whose poodle just had puppies or where the Millers spent their vacation were pretty boring—at least to her— so she embellished with a few bits of overheard gossip  which got her into big time trouble with the neighbors.  Amid a flurry of apologies issued by her parents, Christy’s news operation folded overnight and she was shipped off to a nearby summer camp.  Clearly she was not cut out to be a newspaper woman.
Christy’s degree in Radio-TV-Film opened a world of creative possibilities. She enjoyed her work as a reporter and news anchor in Missouri and Ohio, but after a few years she gave in to her creative itch and moved into production. Although not as glamorous as being “on air” it satisfied her growing passion to create a story and characters—even if those characters only existed inside a 30 second TV commercial. It was a short time fix for someone who craved a more diversified range of opportunities.  Christy took a brave leap—sacrificing a regular paycheck— to work as a full time freelancer,  writing/producing everything from travel brochures to radio commercials. It wasn’t enough— she wanted to create her own fictional world and fill it with unforgettable characters. Finally three years ago, Christy beat back self-doubt and embraced the risk and exhilaration of writing and never looked back.

After four incarnations and a year under the bed, Christy’s debut novel Maybe Too Good to Be True will be released in August, 2012. She lives in Ohio with her family  and her two “Lab” assistants, Gracie and Lambeau.

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Christy McKee said...

Good morning Katey,

Thank you so much for having me today. Going into the weekend I'm perusing my TBR pile,deciding which book I want to cuddle up with first.

What's everyone reading from their TBR stack?


Kate Austin said...

Christy - I LOVE the story about the piano, and I love the excerpt from Maybe Too Good to be True.

What am I reading now? Well, my TBR pile is tottering above me as I write this, but I'm reading The Witch of Portobello by Paula Coelho, re-reading the Next Always and the Last Boyfriend by Nora Roberts to be ready for the final book in the Boonsboro trilogy, and two books of poetry - Red Bird by Mary Oliver and A Well-Mannered Storm by Kate Braid. Sheesh.

Thanks for dropping by, it's great to have you - and to have learned something new.


Christy McKee said...


Thank you again for sharing your blog today. I love your part of the country and cruised by Vancouver on a cruise to Alaska in July. Our fifth in seven years so you know we like that area. Wish I could live on the water!

Have a great weekend filled with reading.