Bound for the Razorback State

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The Arkansas Literary Festival is among the finest gatherings of writers and readers in the South, and I’m excited to be a part of the 2015 edition. On Saturday, April 25, I will be on a panel that includes fiction writers Jay Ruud and John Vanderslice. We’ll be fielding questions about the use of history, mystery and humor in fiction. Of course, I will also attempt to work in a few plugs for my novel, A Plot for Pridemore.

Looking forward to taking my act on the road again.

Looking forward to taking my act on the road again.

If you happen to be near Little Rock the weekend of April 23-26, you might consider stopping by the festival, which has an impressive lineup of speakers including John Waters, Rick Bragg, and Rebecca Wells. Here’s a link to the entire festival schedule. Most events are free and open to the public. It should be a fun weekend.

I have only been to Arkansas a handful of times, mostly to canoe on some of the lovely rivers in the northern part of the state. I did have one experience in the Razorback State that indirectly influenced A Plot for Pridemore. In the summer of 1993, I interviewed for a reporting job at the Daily Press, a weekly newspaper in Paragould, Arkansas. I didn’t get the job, but the name ‘Paragould’ stuck with me. In the initial drafts of my novel, the fictional town where the action takes place was called Paragould, Missouri. I later changed the town’s name to “Pridemore” in order to avoid any confusion with the real town of Paragould in western Arkansas.

It has been a few months since my last book appearance. I’m looking forward to meeting some cool folks and finding the best barbecue restaurant in Little Rock. Let me know if you have any suggestions!

Want More Readers? Write Something Negative.

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I have been blogging for more than two years now. I have written about a wide range of topics, from pop culture to politics to parenthood. Most of my posts garner a handful of views, a couple of “likes,” and are then forgotten. I’m good with that. The Internet provides us with a seemingly infinite number of new reading options every day, and I am grateful to the people who take a couple of minutes to read my work.

There is one post I have written, however, that continues to draw more and more readers, even though it was published seven months ago. The post is titled “10 Amazing Reasons Why Facebook Sucks.” Last year, the post had 1,512 views (by comparison, my second most popular post had 187 views). This year, just a little more than two months into 2015, my screed about the annoying facets of Facebook has already been viewed a whopping 2,518 times. On average, more than 40 people find “10 Amazing Reasons Why Facebook Sucks” and click on it every day.
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Why is this particular essay so much more popular than all the others? Good question. The main reason is a little something called search engine optimization. If you go to Google’s search engine and type the words, “Facebook sucks,” or “why Facebook sucks,” my post is the second article that appears on the first search page you see (a much more crass article on Cracked.com titled, “Why Facebook Sucks” appears at the top of the page).

Apparently, a lot of people around the world conduct Google searches with the words “Facebook sucks” every day. Some of these people click on my post, glance at it and, in most cases, immediately leave my blog. Today, according to WordPress, my post has been visited by people in India, Germany, Romania, Slovenia and Singapore. The Internet is a wonderful thing, bringing all of us together to share in our universal frustration – and obsession – with social media.

So, if you’re a new blogger who is struggling to write that one post that will generate thousands of views (and exactly $0.00 in revenue), my advice would be to write something that has a title with the word “suck” in it. “Why the Yankees Suck,” “What Sucks About 50 Shades of Grey,” “Winter Sucks.” The topic does not really matter, as long as it’s about something for which a large swath of the population shares a deep, abiding distaste.

Sad to say, but these are the cynical, snarky Internet times we live in. A lot of the posts I write are positive. Okay, some of the posts I write are positive. Not long ago, I wrote a loving little essay about our dog on her 10th birthday. People love dogs, right? That post earned 52 views last year. Exactly one person clicked on it in 2015. Again, I’m fine with that, but maybe I should have included more photos of the dog, particularly when she was a puppy?

I’m going to try to be a more positive, upbeat blogger in 2015, but please don’t fault me if a certain four-letter word that begins with an “s” and ends with a “k” works its way into my prose.

Gotta try to keep my numbers up.

Stephen Roth is the author of the humorous novel, A Plot for Pridemore.

Be sure to “like” his author fan page at https://www.facebook.com/StephenRothWriter

St. Patrick’s Day with Alice

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Re-posting because: 1.) It’s almost St. Patrick’s Day, 2.) I really like this post, and, 3.) Someone needs to keep the memory of “Alice” alive.

Originally posted on A Place for My Stuff:

Painting the street green is apparently another St. Paddy's tradition in Rolla, Mo. Painting the street green is apparently another St. Paddy’s tradition in Rolla, Mo.
St. Patrick’s Day at the University of Missouri at Rolla, we were told, was a really big deal. The town celebrated with a massive parade. There were keg parties all over campus. For one wild weekend in March, we were told, everyone in the state descended upon tiny Rolla for a raucous green-beer celebration.

“And you won’t believe the women,” said our friend Bennett, who had studied a semester at UM-Rolla before transferring to Mizzou. “There’ll be beautiful women everywhere.”

It didn’t dawn on our college freshmen minds that there were plenty of parties and beautiful (read: unattainable) women where we currently studied in Columbia. St. Patrick’s Day in Rolla, we believed after weeks of hearing about it from Bennett, was on a whole different level. The 1990 celebration would be the biggest one yet. So…

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What They’re Saying on Amazon

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Each Friday, I visit Amazon.com to see how my book is doing. Amazon and Nielsen have a nifty application that can tell authors, roughly, how many books they sold over the past week. Some weeks the results are disappointing. Other weeks they are encouraging. Today, I learned that I sold four paperback copies of A Plot for Pridemore between February 23 and March 1. That’s a pretty encouraging week by my standards.

I also learned today that A Plot for Pridemore racked up its 23rd customer review on Amazon.com. So far, the reviewers have been amazingly kind. Twenty of them have rewarded the book with five stars, while three gave it four stars. Some of the reviewers are, of course, friends and relatives, but many are people I don’t know who managed to stumble across the book and read it cover-to-cover. I am humbled and amazed at how generous they have been to a first-time novelist. Here’s what one reader from Venice, Florida, wrote this week about A Plot for Pridemore:

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I enjoyed the book very much. It started out on the slow side but got to the point where I couldn’t put it down. Stephen was very inventive to come up with this plot.

Customer reviews on Amazon.com are very important, I am told. Potential buyers look to these reviews to help them decide if they want to buy your book. Having a lot of reviews–even if they are not all positive reviews–shows that your book is generating “buzz.” That draws the attention of the Amazon people, who may decide to give your work preferential placement in their online bookstore, helping it stand out among the millions and millions of published and self-published books that are sold on Amazon.

There is a lot of content on the Internet about how to get more customer reviews, including stories about how some authors who have tried to bilk the system. It’s my understanding that you need at least 50 customer reviews for your book to get Amazon’s attention, but that might just one of those online rumors. At any rate, it’s a hot topic among newbie authors like me.

Which leads me to my plea: if you have an interest in purchasing and reading my book. I would love it if you would take a few minutes to review it on Amazon. The process is simple and easy. Even if you find that A Plot for Pridemore is not exactly your cup of tea, I would still greatly appreciate any feedback you could provide in the form of a customer review.

If you enjoy reading fiction at all, however, I’m willing to bet that you will like A Plot for Pridemore. After all, the customer reviews have given it an average of five stars on Amazon.

Stephen Roth is the author of the humorous novel, A Plot for Pridemore.

Be sure to “like” his author fan page at https://www.facebook.com/StephenRothWriter

The Pain Factory that is Mizzou Basketball

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Something sad is happening this winter in Columbia, Missouri.

University of Missouri basketball has never been great, but it is usually pretty good. Most seasons, the Tigers will knock off a couple of highly ranked teams and contend for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Kim Anderson doesn't have much to smile about these days.

Kim Anderson doesn’t have much to smile about these days.

This year, Mizzou basketball is terrible. The Tigers stand 7-20, having lost 13 straight games in the mediocre Southeastern Conference. Some of those losses have been heartbreakers, but most of them have been by double-digits. The team has looked overmatched against mighty Kentucky, and overmatched against less-than-mighty Alabama, Vanderbilt, and Mississippi State. The only suspense left to this season–Missouri’s worst in almost 50 years–is whether or not the Tigers will manage to chalk up another win. That scenario is starting to seem more and more like a childish fantasy.

This is the first season for Tigers coach Kim Anderson, a former Mizzou big man from the 1970s whose first game leading the team in Columbia was a humiliating 69-61 loss to a directional school, the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Everyone expected 2014-15 to be a tough season for Anderson. Previous coach Frank Haith left very few experienced players before bolting for the Tulsa job last April. Still, the roster has a few freshmen and sophomores who were top-50 recruits. There was reason to expect a young, energetic, competitive team.

That hasn’t happened. Some games, the Tigers play hard but make a ton of mistakes. Other games, they seem lethargic and make even more mistakes. Anderson has benched players and suspended players. He has lectured them about sitting up straight and looking people in the eye during post-game press conferences. He has talked about gutting the program in order to build it back up. Hopefully, these tactics will work, but it will take some time. Most people expect some players to transfer out of the program at season’s end. Next season could be just as bad as this one.

For long-time fans of Tigers basketball, it is just another chapter in a long story that even a Russian novelist would find too depressing to believe. When Missouri fans complain about the pain and anguish of being Missouri fans, they are mostly talking about hoops. Mizzou football has had a couple of famously devastating defeats, but the gridiron Tigers have been reliably good for more than 10 years. Tiger basketball, meanwhile, has been as volatile as a tech start-up’s stock price on the NASDAQ.

Norm Stewart's teams were good, but not great.

Norm Stewart’s teams were good, but not great.

I don’t want to bore you with too many details, but here’s what has basically happened with Mizzou basketball over the past 15 or so years:

1999

Athletic Director Mike Alden mishandles the firing of legendary Tigers coach Norm Stewart. Missouri hires Duke assistant and all-around pretty boy Quin Snyder.

2000-2003

Snyder takes the Tigers to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including an Elite Eight run in 2002.

2003

The arrest of point guard Ricky Clemons and subsequent jailhouse tapes of him divulging some dirty laundry eventually lands the Tigers on probation for a couple of years. The program goes into decline.

2004

Missouri’s new basketball palace opens and is named Paige Arena after the daughter of “anonymous” booster and Walmart beneficiary Bill Laurie. The building’s name is changed to Mizzou Arena a few days later, after news breaks of a college cheating scandal that involved Paige Laurie.

2006

Athletic Director Mike Alden botches the firing of Snyder. Missouri hires Mike Anderson from UAB.

2006-2011

Anderson leads the Tigers to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including an Elite Eight run in 2009. He then bolts for the head coaching job at Arkansas.

2011-2014

Under new coach Frank Haith, the Tigers shock everyone by going 30-4 and winning the Big 12 tournament. They shock everyone again by losing a first-round game in the NCAAs to 15th seed Norfolk State. Haith sticks around for the Tigers’ first two seasons in the SEC, then bolts for Tulsa.

Which brings us to 2015 and the Tigers’ second Coach Anderson in less than four years. When Kim Anderson took the job, many fans had hopes of him returning Missouri to the glory days of Norm Stewart, when they recall the Tigers always playing hard and beating Kansas on a regular basis.

The thing is, even Stewart, over the course of 30 years, could not lead the Missouri Tigers to greatness. His teams won a few Big Eight championships and gave Kansas some headaches, but Stewart also lost a lot of first-round games in the Big Dance, He never reached a Final Four. His teams were talented but often suffered the same confounding lapses that have marked all Missouri basketball teams.

Throughout their history, the Tigers have never quite been tough enough, deep enough or big enough to achieve true college basketball greatness. George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth, Western Kentucky, Indiana State, Seton Hall, and the University of North Carolina-Charlotte have all been to a Final Four. The Missouri Tigers have not.

Yeah, this happened, too.

Yeah, this happened, too.

Maybe they will get there someday. Maybe 2014-15 is Kim Anderson’s Valley Forge, and he will go on to have a long, storied career in Columbia.

I have my doubts, though. The Tigers just posted another dumpster fire of a loss this afternoon, this time to a feeble, inexperienced but well-coached Vanderbilt squad.

It’s just another low for a program that has had too many of them over the past several years.

Stephen Roth is the author of the humorous novel, A Plot for Pridemore.

Be sure to “like” his author fan page at https://www.facebook.com/StephenRothWriter

The Sadness of the Selfie

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Me, in my car today.

Me, in my car today.

There once was a time not too long ago when taking pictures of yourself could only mean that you didn’t have anyone in your life to take your picture for you.

Nobody took selfies, not even with Polaroid cameras. To do so would admit to the world that you were either a pathetic, lonely loser, or someone who was extremely egotistical. A self-taken picture was sad and embarrassing, like a teen-aged boy caught playing alone with a football and making his own crowd noise in the backyard.

Times have changed.

Anyone with a smartphone knows that selfies are now an accepted, and frequent, form of social expression. Even the President takes them. If you missed the BuzzFeed video from a week ago of the Commander-in-Chief mugging around with a Selfie Stick, here it is.

Obama took a lot of flack for it, just as he does for everything else. I feel for the guy, but I have to admit that there’s something embarrassing about the Most Powerful Man in the World, the one responsible for our foreign policy and all our troops oversees, staring self-consciously and making faces at his phone like an eighth-grader. The message of the video seems to be, “Hey, the President is a regular guy, just like you.” That is not a sentiment that fills me with a rush of confidence.

It would be easy for me to plant a flag in the ground and say, “Hey, we weren’t taking pictures of ourselves back in the 1980s and 90s.” The reality is that we probably would have been if the technology were around to make it so easy to do. Selfies are not making us more narcissistic. We have always been narcissistic. Selfies just make our narcissism more obvious to the outside world. Maybe that is a form of public service.

I don’t take selfies very often. One reason is that I have short arms, and I only learned about the existence of the Selfie Stick about a week ago. Another reason is I don’t think very many people are interested in viewing self-generated photos of me. A third reason is plain old sheepishness: a selfie posted on Facebook or Twitter seems squeamishly revealing, like inviting someone I don’t know very well to come over to my house and watch me make faces in the bathroom mirror.

I should just get over myself. The selfie is here to stay. Neil Patrick Harris is already bragging about how his selfie at the upcoming Oscars is going to top Ellen’s selfie from last year’s Oscars! What can you say? People love it! We selfie, therefore we are, or however that old saying goes.

In a way, selfies may be the most honest form of expression, and may reveal more about ourselves than we intend. I’m going to try to remember that the next time I take a photo of my feet in front of a swimming pool.

Stephen Roth is the author of the humorous novel, A Plot for Pridemore. Be sure to “like” his author fan page at https://www.facebook.com/StephenRothWriter

New Books from Harper Lee and Some Guy Named Stephen Roth

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On Monday, Harper Lee dropped a literary bombshell by announcing to the world that her second novel, Go Set a Watchman, is set to be published this summer.

Today, Stephen Roth amused a few of his friends and a smattering of other fiction readers by announcing work on his second novel, tentatively titled An American Band, which he hopes will be published someday.

“I have nothing but profound respect for Harper Lee. I’ve been a huge fan of hers since I was in 6th grade,” Roth said in a recent interview. “I’m not trying to steal any thunder from her big announcement, but I wanted to let people know that I am halfway through writing my second book, and I hope to finish the first draft this summer.”

Lee’s first novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, is an American literary classic, and still sells hundreds of thousands of copies each year. The book spawned an iconic movie, in which Gregory Peck portrayed the soft-spoken but courageous small-town lawyer, Atticus Finch. Go Set a Watchman, described as a sequel to Mockingbird, will be Lee’s first published work since 1961.

A pretty good rookie effort.

A pretty good rookie effort.

Roth’s first novel, A Plot for Pridemore, was published last May, and has earned 22 positive reader reviews on Amazon.com. The author has described book sales as “pretty good so far,” but declined to share specific figures. He noted that the book is available as a Kindle or Nook eBook, “if people prefer to read it that way.”

Unlike Lee’s new book, An American Band is not a sequel, although it does share the same humorous storytelling style as Roth’s rookie effort. The new novel focuses on two groups of people: a three-man, middle-aged rock band in Charlotte, N.C. that decides to go on tour, and a collection of retired conspiracy theorists in South Georgia who are ready to engage in radical activism. Roth said he has enjoyed writing about how these two distinct groups become intertwined. To date, he has completed 160 pages of An America Band.

The announcement of Lee’s new book has sparked a firestorm of excitement and speculation. Fans have been clamoring for another book from the reclusive Alabama author for 55 years. The book’s publisher, Harper, plans to print two million copies of Go Set a Watchman, according to an article in The New York Times.

Roth expressed excitement about his own second novel, and said he felt the need to “get the word out” about it.

“I’ve gotten a few emails from people asking me when I’m going to write another book, so I felt like now was a good time to make some sort of announcement,” Roth said. “It’s nice to know that some people are interested in reading another one of my books.”

Stephen Roth is the author of the humorous novel, A Plot for Pridemore. Be sure to “like” his author fan page at https://www.facebook.com/StephenRothWriter

The Words Get in the Way

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I’m a word person. I work as a copywriter during daylight hours, and I write creative prose and essays in my spare time. I have also been told – usually by a supervisor who is trying to find something positive to say in my performance review – that I have excellent verbal communication skills.

In short, I am good with words.

Why is it, then, that I struggle to communicate the most basic things to my own four-year-old kid? Last night, my son was in the bathtub, and he wanted to get out. I have been trying to teach him that he needs to pull up the plug before exiting the tub, allowing the water to drain. For some reason last night, the right words weren’t coming to me.

“Pull the thing! Pull the thing!” I commanded as my son dangled a wet leg over the tub.

“What thing?” he asked.

“The, um, the metal thing that holds the water in,” I stammered. “The plug! The plug!”

He smiled at me and started singing a song he had made up about his favorite colors. Then he wrapped his arms around my legs and got my jeans wet. He loves doing that.

Even the king knew how to talk to his children.

Even the king knew how to talk to his children.

A few minutes later, as I was coaxing him to put on his pajamas, he asked me what the term, “inside-out” means.

“Well,” I said slowly, trying to conjure up the right words, “It means that the inside of your shirt is on the outside, so your shirt looks funny when you wear it.”

He gave me a puzzled look. He was standing naked in front of the TV, clean pajamas and underpants scattered around him on the floor.

“It’s the opposite of the way you should wear your shirt,” I tried again.

“But what does inside-out mean?” he asked.

“You know what it means?” I blurted. “It means you need to put on your pajamas by the time I count to three, because you know what happens when I get to three?”

He looked down. “I go to Time-Out.”

“That’s right,” I said, feeling a little bit more in control.

“But what does inside-out mean? You still haven’t told me.”

I know why I sometimes have trouble communicating with my son. First, when I am around him during the work week, in the early morning or after six o’clock at night, I am often tired and my brain is not functioning at its sharpest. Secondly, shifting gears from interacting with adults all day to breaking a concept down so a small child can understand it takes a lot of thought and patience. Finally, I have never been comfortable issuing directives, which, unfortunately, is a big part of managing life with a four-year-old. Sometimes when I tell him what to do, I talking haltingly and sound unsure of myself. The right words do not always flow naturally off my tongue.

It bothers me that much of the time I spend with my child occurs when I’m tired or, if it’s near the end of the week, exhausted. I also worry that my son sees his father as this tongue-tied guy who stammers to express even the simplest, most rudimentary thoughts. As the week winds down to Thursday and Friday night, I feel like a middle-aged Forrest Gump, a kindhearted but mentally feeble man, struggling just to get his kid out of the bathtub and off to bed. Sometimes, when I’ve turned off the bedroom lights and my child looks up at me, eyes wide open, and asks one of those Troubling Questions, (“Why do people die?” “Why do I have to go to school?” “Why can’t we have a cat?”), I actually wish I was Forrest. He always seemed to know how to tackle the big issues with a little metaphor that sounded simple, but had a more depth to it once you thought about it. “Life is like a box of chocolates,” sounds more profound than “Life isn’t fair,” although they both pretty much mean the same thing.

Forrest Gump: a man in command of his words.

Forrest Gump: a man in command of his words.

Hopefully, when my kid reaches the age of 10 or 12 or 25, he and I will able to sit down and have a conversation that doesn’t revolve around finishing his dinner, brushing his teeth, or watching very carefully while I tie his shoes. We’ll sit down and have a real, heartfelt, man-to-man talk (in between whatever programs he has queued up on Netflix, of course). Then, my son will realize how thoughtful, wise and articulate his dad really is.

That’s the hope, anyway.

Stephen Roth is author of the humorous novel, A Plot for Pridemore. Be sure to “like” his author fan page at https://www.facebook.com/StephenRothWriter

How to Tell if There’s a Frank Underwood Lurking in Your Office

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If you are among the millions of Americans who subscribe to NetFlix, you probably know that Frank Underwood is the scheming, manipulative, smooth-as-molasses congressman played by Kevin Spacey in the popular political series, House of Cards. If you are not familiar with Frank Underwood, but plan on binge-watching House of Cards before the third season comes out in February, you might stop reading this post now. I may or may not have included a few spoilers. As Francis Underwood might say, consider yourself duly warned.

Even though a few of Frank Underwood’s actions and deceptions while consolidating political power seem far-fetched, most of us accept the idea that the halls of the U.S. Capitol are teeming with charming, well-dressed sociopaths. That’s why House of Cards works – it feeds off of and heightens our cynical perception of D.C. politics. “Yep,” you might say after watching Frank Underwood’s latest late-night maneuver, “I could totally see that happening.”

Watching Frank operate in the Beltway is entertaining, but what if he’s a little closer to home? Specifically, what if there is a Frank Underwood milling around right now in your workplace?

The good news is that few sociopaths are clever and socially skilled enough to take over an organization the way Frank takes over Washington. If you do, in fact, have a true Frank Underwood in your office, chances are good that he already has you well on your way to being fired or, worse, indicted for a white-collar crime you did not knowingly commit.

What’s more likely is that the sociopath in your cube farm is of average intellect and has left a few hints as to his or her true intentions. Here, then, are a few warning signs that you might have a co-worker who is up to no good:

He Lays it on a Tad Too Thick

Frank Underwood’s greatest strength is his charm. He can butter people up – or fire them up – to go forth and do his bidding. Everyone on House of Cards, from the owner of Frank’s favorite barbecue joint to the President of the United States, falls prey to Frank’s country-boy-from-South Carolina routine at some point or another.

Most folks do not possess the strength of character that propels Frank Underwood. Narcissistic people can be extremely charming and charismatic, but their spells do not work on everyone. When dealing with coworkers, trust your instincts. What kind of vibe do they give you? When someone tries to seduce you with flattery and magnetism, they are likely to overdo it, or their approach may seem out-of-character. Ask yourself: Why is Rick in Marketing being so nice to me all of a sudden? Why is he bringing donuts into the office every Monday after years of not even participating in the Christmas potluck? What does he want?

This approach to your working relationships may seem cynical, but it can also prevent you from becoming an easy target.

She Wants Everyone to Know How Hard She Works

Law enforcement types say one of the tell-tale signs of a serial embezzler is that he or she rarely takes time off. Embezzlers fear that their schemes may be exposed while they are on a vacation, so they never take one.

Taking pride in a job well done is an attribute. However, be leery of colleagues who go on and on about how hard they are working, make a big show of staying late, and regularly go into the office on weekends when no one else is around. Be especially suspicious if these efforts do not result in increased productivity, or if that employee has a “process” to their work that nobody else seems to understand. What the heck are they doing with all that extra time in the office if they aren’t getting better results?

Frank Underwood makes a big deal about how hard he works, staying in the office late into the night to broker deals or hold strategy sessions. He does this even while working on bills he secretly wants to fail. It’s all great political theater, and it makes Frank look good to his colleagues. Don’t let these kinds of tactics fool you in your workplace.
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He Dishes Dirt About Other Employees

Everyone enjoys a little office gossip, but do you work with somebody who has something derogatory to say about everyone? Kind of makes you wonder what that person is saying behind your back, doesn’t it?

Frank Underwood keeps files on all of his congressional colleagues that detail their salacious deeds. He uses this information as ammo when he wants to blackmail someone into voting his way. Tread lightly around the co-worker who, like Frank, has the dirt on everyone and is more than happy to dish it. You don’t want to give that person too much material for the file he is keeping on you.

She Lies

In Washington, lying is a part of doing business. If you aren’t lying and deceiving, you aren’t getting much done.

In the workplace, however, lying is destructive. Catching someone in a pattern of seemingly harmless lies may seem minor, but it could be a sign of a larger deception. For example, your co-worker Patty in Accounts Receivable has a habit of fudging a little bit on her vacation time. This many not be a capital offense, but if you can’t trust someone to fill out their vacation requests accurately, can you really trust them to dutifully manage a core business function?

At some point, you have probably caught a colleague telling a whopper of a lie. Maybe you even confronted this person about it, and got to hear a sob story about how she’s having trouble at home, or that your boss is putting too much pressure on her. Listen to the grievances, nod politely, and make a mental note: I cannot trust this person.

He Always Has a Good Excuse

In a pivotal scene in House of Cards, President Walker rightly suspects that Frank Underwood is undermining his administration, and the president decides to cut off all contact with him. Desperate to regain the Commander-in-Chief’s favor, Underwood fires off a type-written letter about how he had an unhappy childhood and other challenges, but that he would never, ever betray the president. The earnest-sounding plea works, Underwood regains President Walker’s trust, and promptly destroys him.

The point is, every Machiavellian co-worker has a sad story to tell. He or she will employ it as a last-ditch way to stay out of trouble.

Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone deserves to be treated with compassion. Even Frank Underwood once gave his troubled henchman, Doug Stamper, a “third chance.” However, if the sad stories start piling up, and the excuses become more elaborate, it is time to take a critical eye to your co-worker’s behavior.

She is Always the Hero, and Always the Victim

When things are going great, your Frank Underwood wanna-be will find a way to claim credit. When things go poorly, he or she will be first to dodge the blame. Of course, Frank would use a little false Southern humility to take some of the edge off accepting all the glory, but not all of us are so deft and self-aware.

Keep a close eye on the colleague who feels the need to dominate every staff meeting with his or her profound commentary, then is strangely quiet when your manager wants answers about a missed deadline or a product idea that tanked. If that colleague has any Frank Underwood tendencies, he or she is already mulling over how to put all the blame onto you or someone else.

He Occasionally Turns Toward the Camera and Says Something Deliciously Snide

That would be great, wouldn’t it? Some of the best parts of House of Cards happen when Kevin Spacey’s character turns toward us and shares with us his true, evil intentions.

Unfortunately, real-life villains seldom do this.

Stephen Roth is the author of the humorous novel, A Plot for Pridemore. Be sure to “like” his author fan page at https://www.facebook.com/StephenRothWriter

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