A South African farm left Geoffrey Wells with a writer’s imagination. Piano and drum kits and Mozambique led to his first thriller. Advertising art direction led to the American Film Institute, and Information Technology to vice president for two US broadcasting networks. Wells has written an award-winning animated film, visited elephant reserves, and climbed Kilimanjaro. He swims the open water and runs a video and design company on Long Island.
Here’s Geoffrey’s story:
The job I had before publishing my first thriller was Vice President and Chief Information Officer (CIO)—though I had no intension of going down the IT (information technology) road. I was aiming to work in the movie business, after a career as Art Director in Advertising, which tempted me with filmmaking. After graduating from The American Film Institute (while working the graveyard shift at a Beverly Hills hotel, where I provided room service for famous and infamous actors and rock stars), I did work in Hollywood: I shoveled shit under freeways, plastered ceilings, scouted locations, produced small movies, and worked as a director’s assistant as a “reader” evaluating screenplays submitted by his agent. Not what I thought it would be.
A temp research job at Disney in television syndication had some promise. However, they hired me for admin and technical duties—making sure executives got their show ratings, 9 a.m. Monday to Friday. The blossoming job was making sure that the disparate data sources used in the systems were “normalized” for data integrity. It was a problem, and I set about solving it. To make my case I studied structured system analysis—an approach to identifying only the “true” and essential activities required for a system. The literary equivalent is developmental editing, but I didn’t know that then. This attention to integrity endures in my writing.
This knowledge landed me a permanent position and catapulted me to manager, then director in charge of application development and then Vice President of IT. The years slid by. The pattern that emerged was that my steadily-improving methodology led to disruptive projects. I felt justified in modeling a system’s essence. I still do, in the stories I write. I found obsolete remnants that had been in place for years. In some cases decades. Management got on board seeing the value over the long-term and started calling me “the velvet fist.”
Stakeholders did not. They called me other names, like the anti-Christ. Yes, that happened! It hurt, and my white South African liberal skin grew thicker still—but the job paid well. After all, it wasn’t a popularity contest. End users of systems fought me, which is why I can kill my literary babies, torture my characters and edit ruthlessly. I don’t mind when readers say they don’t like a protagonist’s choices. For me the truth of the story must always prevail.
The hardest part of change wasn’t technology, it was the people who operated it. My success in persuading them to accept change lay in asking them to imagine a way of working that not only befitted them, but also the business. I under-promised and over-delivered hope to everyone from the end-user to the CEO. You’ll find that value proposition of hope in my writing. My projects grew in budget and in ambition. I had become a Chief Information Officer (CIO) for a major broadcasting company.
And then, new technologies started to change too quickly for me to implement them. By the time a system was replaced, there was a better technology waiting to be implemented. What Thomas Friedman calls, “the age of accelerations” in his book, Thank You for Being Late, had begun. Suddenly I knew what I did, could not keep up.
I wanted to be back in control. I started to write—mornings at 4 a.m. A short story turned into a novel. By habit, I applied systems analysis to my story and it became tight, acquired pace and turned into a thriller.
The writing (pun intended) was on the wall. Corporate IT departments, and broadcasting itself was—and still is—being swallowed by Internet services in the Cloud. It was time for me to make a change. I published that first novel independently because I did not want to trade one hamster wheel for another. A year later I left the corporate world.
My wife and I, two dogs and cat moved to the North Fork of Long Island where I write, and we run a video and graphics studio. And the change management disciplines I learned get applied to time management, careful plotting and the elimination of the non-essential remnants—of a different story.