Saturday, December 27, 2014

My Writing Process: Major Plot Overhauls


If you follow my blog regularly, you may know that I'm working on my third Shalan book. If you follow it really closely, you may recall, a long time ago, while I was working on the rough draft for Kisses and Lies, the second, yet-to-be-released book, that I found that I had to overhaul an entire chapter when I realized (based on a dream) that it was all wrong. It introduced a main character, but did it clumsily and, well, all wrong. She wasn't the person I meant her to be in the first iteration, so I had to go back and just completely re-write the entire chapter. I think it made the character real and sympathetic, whereas before she had been flat and not really very nice. 


The reason I bring this up is that I recently wrote a pivotal chapter in the new manuscript. I won't give anything away, but it's a life-altering event, immediately followed by another life-altering event. When I got finished, it just didn't feel right for some reason. I had no idea why, so I quit writing for a bit in order to stew on it. A couple days later, it finally hit me--there were two problems. One, the first major event took place too early in the plot and before another foundational event had taken place. And two, the second life-altering event took place so soon after the first one that it lets Harry and Dee off the hook way too easily. It protects them from having to grieve the loss of a loved one.

So instead of having to overhaul a chapter, this time I find I'm in the midst of overhauling the entire plotline. Instead of the first crisis happening a third of the way through, I'm working to make it appear in the back half and then give them a little time to wrestle with their sorrow before saving the day, so to speak.

When your check engine light comes on. You can get it checked right away and fix what may be a minor problem or you can figure it'll take care of itself and have a huge expense down the road. Similarly,I probably could have kept going and the plot would've limped along, but I feel like it would have been deeply unsatisfying to write and even more so to read. So I'm glad I stopped writing when something started nagging at me instead of plowing on with the story as it was.

Too bad my word processor doesn't have "Check For Plot Holes" light. I guess if it did, there'd be more successful novelists in the world.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Just Keep Moving Forward


Was up half the night sick again, so I hope this makes sense. If not, just pretend it's surrealism. 
I called and talked to the proprietor of a local bookstore, J & M's Used Bookstore. He was a gracious young man who said that, unfortunately, his store was not large enough to host a book signing. I saw he was completely sincere when I walked in later that evening--the place is crammed full of books of every shape and description. I can't believe I'd never been there before. I will definitely be going back regularly. But he did agree to look at my book and carry it if he felt it was a real, serious book and not just some piece of junk published from pure vanity. Interestingly enough, when I walked in to deliver the book, the owner was talking to a lady who turned out to my cousin Nancy. She spoke on my behalf about how much she really loved my book. The owner decided that was good enough for him. So I'll be delivering some books to him to sell in his store. I'm in my first bookstore!


As I said last week, sales have slowed among the people I know, but now I'm starting to hear from students and friends that friends of friends are slowly starting to hear and buy. And I'm up to four 5-star reviews on Amazon (though one is, well, interesting). I'm in a bookstore now and I'm excited to say that the place he showed me that it will be displayed is right inside the door. And the Wood County Library's director asked me to email him dates for doing a signing there.

As an independent author, I didn't expect to sell in the thousands in the first two months. I'm really pretty happy with where I am at this point. And I feel like I'm moving forward. It's slow progress, but progress nonetheless. As long as I keep moving forward, it doesn't matter how fast it is. I would like to add an advantage to the list I wrote last week. Publishing on my own without an agent and/or publishing house, I don't have any sense of pressure to succeed quickly. If it takes months or even years to really catch on, I don't have to worry about my agent or publisher dropping me. I'll stick with me no matter what. :)

I usually end with a link to Amazon, I'll end with a plug for J & M's Used Bookstore. It really is a cool little place that's spread out among what I think used to be three small shops. They support local authors and it just feels like a good old fashioned local bookstore. There's even a comfy chair for reading. It's located at 1215 Blizzard Drive. If you're coming from northside, go past the Kroger shopping plaza and start up the hill like you're going to South High School. It's halfway up that hill on your left. Go take a look!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Ups and Downs of Self-Publishing




My book launched about a month and a half ago. My initial response to that is rather cliché: where did the time go? It really does only feel like a couple weeks at most. But that's not unique. Time really does keep slipping away, at an ever increasing rate as I age. But this seems like an appropriate time to think about the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing.

I would have to say the biggest advantage is that I keep more of the money from every sale. The publisher, CreateSpace, keeps their share and that's it. I get the rest. No sharing with an agent. I know from reading other blogs that the author's share per book is much lower for agented writers.

The other advantage is that I have control over everything. No one is arguing with me over the cover of the book. No one is telling me I need to change the ending or hurry up and get pages in to meet a deadline. I have complete autonomy over the creative process and if the book succeeds, it's because the book as I envisioned it is well-received.

But there are drawbacks, obviously, and each is connected with an advantage. The first is that, while I keep a larger percentage per book, I have to imagine that an agent would have helped me sell more books by now. My numbers have been decent considering I've done it without outside help (though I have had mad assistance from Maria "Pepper" Delgado). I'm happy with exceeding 120 books sold in just six weeks, but I am now reaching saturation among family and friends and face the challenge of reaching beyond them without the connections afforded me by a professional representative. I was hoping more folks who had read and enjoyed it would review it for me, but that's just not happening, so I need to find some way to reach out to the public and that's on me.

The other disadvantage is that having autonomy is two-edged sword. While I have read a lot of good detective fiction, as well as fiction in general, and know what I like, the problem is that I only know what I like. Agents and publisher know what many, many people are likely to enjoy, so they could help me mold my work to reach a wider audience. While I think what I'm putting out there is good and I have a sense that people like it, having a professional opinion would be helpful.

All in all, I'm happy with the situation as it is. Would I consider an offer from an agent? Yes. But I wouldn't automatically leap on it. If they threw enough money at me I'd have to think about it, but it would have to be a good bit to pass up knowing that if I made it, it was because I really was a good enough writer and I worked hard enough at it to sell my books. And that would be a really good feeling.

But to all you agents out there--I'm listening.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Special Broken Back Edition (Excerpt from KISSES AND LIES)

I'm sitting at home on a heating pad--yes, I'm alternating it with ice. It just happens to be heat's turn. But I thought that since I had a rare free day forced upon me, I'd give a little preview to those of you who've already read Harsh Prey. Here's an excerpt from the second Shalan adventure, Kisses and Lies, which comes out early next summer.

A cop had co-founded Tim Horton’s, so it seemed appropriate to get doughnuts and coffee from there. And besides, it was the only doughnut shop downtown. Of course, it didn't hurt that everything they served tasted like little bites of Paradise mixed with love. I pulled into the lot and went in the dining room. I guess I could have gone through the drive-through, but I never trusted the selection of something as important as doughnuts to a stranger.
A dozen doughnuts in hand, along with two large coffees—black for me, cream and two sugars for Otis—I headed back to my office, which was about a block from the City Building. But before I got there, I happened to check my rear-view mirror and spied my friend in the white van. I decided it was time to say hello, so instead of going on to the city building, I parked in my building, gathered up my goodies and pretended to walk toward the City Building. Since he was so incompetent at tailing, I hoped he’d not be much of a threat, but taking reckless chances is what makes the population at the old detectives home so sparse. So I dropped the coffee and doughnuts on the front porch of a house a half a block down, crossed the street in the middle of the block, casually walked back to the van, and tapped on the driver’s window with the end of my gun barrel. It was a snub nosed 38, a summer weight piece that fit nicely under a windbreaker and didn’t make me feel like it was going to pull my pants down when worn with a belt holster. Granted, it was less intimidating than my other gun, a Dirty Harry commemorative .44 magnum, but since I wasn't likely to need to fell a grizzly that day, I had gone with restraint.
The driver was obviously startled, as he nearly hit his head on the van’s ceiling, spilling his coffee down his shirt and onto his pants. The coffee appeared to be pretty hot based on the pained grimace on his face. I was hoping my charming smile would help ease the pain. It didn't seem to work, though.
“What—what the—?” was all he could sputter as he opened the window.
“Hey!” I practically shouted, turning up the wattage on the smile while touching the end of the barrel of my gun to the tip of his nose. “How are you? You spill your coffee?”
“Would you get that gun outta my face?!”
“This gun?” I asked as I pulled back the hammer. His eyes got wide and I could swear the coffee stain in his lap got a little bigger.
“What—who are you?”
I'm the guy you've been following. Very badly, I might add. The more cogent question is who are you?”
“Cogent?”
“Sorry. I’ll try to use smaller words. WHO. ARE. YOU?”
“I asked you first pal.” I had to give it to him. He was rallying.        
“Yes, true enough. On the other, hand, I'm holding the gun. Who are you and why are you following me or do we see if a .38 Special makes it all the way through the back of your skull.”
“Who says I'm following you?”
“You were here when I came out of my office this morning, left when I did, appeared again when I returned, had coffee at Tim Horton’s with me, and just pulled back up. That’s way too much being where I am to be a coincidence. Oh, sorry. Is coincidence too big a word? I know you're following me and you know you’re following me. Now—why and who?”
“I’m not—“
I jerked the gun to the left and fired a round into his passenger seat. It sounded like a bomb going off in the enclosed space. The stain in his lap definitely got bigger this time.
“I don’t know his name, I swear!” He shook his head to try to dislodge the cotton from his ears.
“Won’t be your seat next time.”
“Didn’t tell me his name! God as my witness!”
“How did he contact you?”
“Met me at a bar I go to a lot. Said he heard about me from a friend of a friend. Paid me five large just to follow you around for a while and tell him where you went and who you met up with. Said to look for a busty blonde bimbo too. His words not mine.”
“She’s not a bimbo and five thousand dollars just for following me around?”
“No, five hundred. Large is thousand?”
I rolled my eyes. “Why are all the thugs around here so stupid?” He actually looked like he was thinking about that until I poked him in the temple with my gun. “Okay, focus. Did he say to do something if you saw me with the blonde?”
“Nope. Just follow and report.”
“Report how?”
“I meet him tonight at 10:00 in the same bar.”
“What bar?”
“Sugars”
“Why am I not surprised?” Sugars was a bar on Seventh Street that infamously advertised, “Fabric-Free Entertainment.”
“Hey, they make good spaghetti and have you ever had their coffee?”
“I’ll be in the parking lot. Find an excuse to get him out there.”
“How?”
“Your problem. Now blow. If I see you again before tonight, I’m not responsible. ”
“What about my seat?”
“DO YOU WANT TO DIE?”

He apparently didn’t. He got the engine started and was screeching up the street almost before I could get my arm out of his window. I waited a minute to make sure he was gone and went to retrieve my coffee and doughnuts. It was with great relief that I found them undisturbed. I wouldn’t want to kill anyone over a maple frosted cream fill. I would do it, but I wouldn’t want to. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

My Writing Process: Semi-Random Thoughts



This is an early morning post. I agreed to help judge a speech and debate tournament at my school, something I enjoy doing. But I'm typing at 6:11am with only two sips of coffee in me, so I hope this post makes sense. I don't have anything to say about my process this morning that I feel like would make up an entire post, so I thought I would toss out a few shorter thoughts.

First, I don't seem capable of writing without dream sequences. I've had at least one in each of the three books about Harry and Dee. The one that just happened in the third one was probably the most overtly not-just-a-dream-but-being-communicated-to-through-your-dreams of all of them, though Dee says in the second one that someone came to her in a dream and told her something. That only half counts because she told Harry, so it was kind of like it was offstage.


Second, and this was really driven home to me this week, is that I am definitely a pantser and I like it. I learned that term from a blog by another writer. There are plotters, who have a complete outline of the entire book before they ever write it. Some even go so far as to storyboard. On the other end of the spectrum are pantsers, or people who fly by the seat of their pants. That's me. I have an overarching story arc and that's it. I know where I'm starting and, in general, where I'm ending, but the rest is completely unplanned. In Kisses and Lies (coming out next summer), I planned it a little more than Harsh Prey and book 3, but only because of the nature of it. I had two independent storylines that had to be knit together at some point, but even that became pretty organic. They came together when they wanted to.

I said this concept really hit home this week. Here's what I'm talking about. Confession time: sometimes when my students are taking tests or writing essays, I sneak in some writing time. Does that make me evil? Probably. Will I continue to do it? Assuredly. But this week, as my kids toiled away on a practice AP essay, I pulled up book 3. After reviewing the work I'd done a couple days ago, I started a new scene in which Harry is sitting at Dee's bedside in the hospital. I won't reveal more of the plotline, but, without Harry or me knowing it, Harry falls asleep and talks to someone he loves. I say it was without me knowing it because I never had any intention of having a dream sequence, which goes back to my first point, so I guess this post isn't as random as I thought. Even as a blogger I'm a pantser. But back to my point--as I wrote the scene, it was so emotionally moving to me and so surprising, that I found a tear leaking from my eye.

Now let me stop and make something clear. I'm not trying to imply that I'm such a good writer that I can even move myself to tears. I am probably the only person who will ever cry at that scene. What I'm trying to say is that part of the joy of writing like I do is that sometimes what happens in the story is just as much of a fun surprise to me as it ever could be for the reader. These characters have become so real to me that they've taken on a life of their own and pretty much do what they want. I'm just the vessel by which their stories reach the page.

As I read that, it makes me think I may be a little nuts. But I'm pretty sure I'm okay with that.

PS--I would be remiss if I didn't mention the launch party for Harsh Prey. It was beyond my greatest hopes! There was a nice crowd there, made up of a lot of people I really love. It was the perfect way to launch my first book--surrounded by folks I know support and love me. And I sold every copy I had to sell! Here's a link to my webpage, where you'll find pics from the event. And, of course, here's a link to Amazon, where you can purchase Harsh Prey.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Darn Right I'm Thankful


Today is the big day! I'm so nervous and excited that I had trouble sleeping last night. I keep obsessing over small things, though, like should I have more to drink than what I've planned for and should I use plastic tablecloths or just wash the tables when it's over. What I should be thinking about is that I haven't even decided what passages to read or even how many passages to read. 


Before I start thinking too much about what will happen today, though, I want to step back and talk about all that I have to be thankful for. And, despite (and also because of) the troubles of the last months, I do have so much.

My parents opened their home to me without hesitation. It can't be easy to rearrange your house and life to take in another adult and yet they have done it without any fanfare. What I've learned from them is you just help family.

I'm also greatly blessed by my other family, my church family. I celebrated Thanksgiving last night with some folks who have become quite special to me over the years. They love me unconditionally and include me in their family celebrations just like I'm one of their own and make me feel completely welcome. And there are so many other people at my church who have been just as welcoming and loving. They've shared in my sorrow in the loss of my marriage and in my joy with the publication of my book and I thank God for them every day.

And, of course, I'm so thankful for the opportunity to publish my book. Technology is definitely a two-edged sword in many ways, but one of the ways in which it is a blessing is that it affords folks like me unprecedented opportunity to publish our books in a non-traditional way that simply didn't exist before the Internet came along. Even ten or fifteen years ago, I would still be agonizing over finding an agent or publisher who would be willing to take a chance on me as a writer, but today, I'm able to go it on my own and leave the decision as to whether my work is worth reading with the proper people--the readers. If my book is good and enough people say so, word will spread and I'll be successful. But if I don't succeed, I'll know it's because my writing truly wasn't good enough to become popular and not because some agent didn't pick me off the slush pile.

I could go on and on, but I won't--something for which anyone who is reading this will be thankful. I'll end with one last reminder that my launch party is today at 4:30 at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Parkersburg. If you can't make it but would like a copy of Harsh Prey, click here.

Thanks!

Friday, November 21, 2014

My Writing Process: Why I Write



If I recall correctly, the first post I made to this particular blog was about the question of how I know if I'm a real writer. I've long since answered that question in my mind. Even if I hadn't recently published my first novel, I know I'm a real writer. Why? The answer is rather esoteric: because I write. 

The next logical question should probably then be why do I write? I could go in a circle and say because I'm a writer, but that would just be silly. And not in a fun way. So why do I write? For a few reasons.

First, I write because I don't think I can not write. Asking why a writer writes is like asking a runner why he or she runs, but maybe even more basically it's like asking a human why he or she breathes. How could I not? I'm unable not to write. Yes, I can hold my breath for a short time, but my body will force me to breathe at some point. In the same way, I may get busy and not write for a few days, but I can't keep it up forever. Before I know it, I'm here in front of the keyboard, neglecting some urgent task, in order to mentally and spiritually respirate. 

Second, I write because it's the one place where life makes sense. As people who actually know me are aware, my life has been pretty out of control in the last several months. My marriage of 28 years is over in every way except legally, and that part comes soon. At the age of 51, I'm in the process of moving in with my parents (only until the end of the school year or until the perfect apartment comes along, whichever comes first). But when I write, people do what I want them to. The good guy wins. The distressed person gets rescued. The bad guy pays for his crimes. The couple stays married, and not just legally. Even if real life is a bad banana with a greasy black peel, to borrow from the great Dr. Seuss, the world I create when I write is perfectly ripe. Not green anymore, but not mushy and gross. Just right. Why would I not do that?

Finally, I write because I want to make a living writing. And I definitely won't do that if I don't write--well and regularly. The more I write, the more I increase my chances that I can actually make meaningful money at it. That's not as romantic as the other two reasons, but most writers, high-minded working-on-my-art statements aside, want to be able to write full-time, and that can only happen if you're independently wealthy (I'm not--If I were, I would've been Batman a long time ago) or you get people to give you money in exchange for your writing. I'm hoping that will work out, but it definitely won't if I don't keep writing. 

So how about it--want to give me some money in exchange for my writing? Go here

Saturday, November 15, 2014

News and More News!

It seems like some new exciting thing happens every day now that I've published my book. I'm sure this kind of thing will become old hat to me at some point in time, but I kind of hope not. It's a little like my birthday daily and having my professional life working out this way is a nice change from how things are going in other areas, even other areas of my professional life, thanks to the lovely folks at the Wood County Board of Education. But that's another post. This one is reserved for good news, of which there are at least three items.

First, my business cards/bookmarks are on their way! I thought that since I was an author of, you know, books, that it would be cool to make business cards in the shape and size of bookmarks. I designed them myself and they've been manufactured. Now I just have to wait, rather impatiently, for delivery.

Second, my books have started arriving in the mailboxes of my friends who ordered them and the ones I ordered for resale are finally complete and also in the mail. As I may have mentioned before on Facebook, there will (I hope) not be enough for everyone who may want to buy one at the launch party, but, frankly, they're what I could afford. Anyone who wants a paperback will get one (I'll even autograph it for you!), though you may have to wait until the next shipment. If you don't get one at the party, I'll take your order and when it arrives, I'll autograph it and send it off in the mail, or deliver it in person if you live nearby. I'll order a new batch immediately after the party, so they should be back in plenty of time for Christmas.

Finally, my Amazon Author Page is up and running! Every new thing like this just makes me stop and ask if this is real life. I have an author page on Amazon? Yes, it appears so. Here's the link:

button-Gaill-Blackburn-author-central-300x125.jpg (300×125)

I'll end with a request. If you read Harsh Prey, and if you like it, would you please consider adding a review on Amazon and maybe even GoodReads? Positive reviews are what drive book sales and, to be honest, I have no reviews at all. I would really appreciate it. Considering the unthinkably short-sighted decision the school system is contemplating, I need all the sales I can get.

But, like I said, that's another post.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Joys of Life

I'm curled up in bed beside quite possibly the snuggliest cat on the planet looking out into the woods behind my brother's house. I'm the only person awake in the house and, though I'm starving and coffee-deprived, it's a joyous moment.

This has been some week. My book is published and sales have rocketed all the way to low double digits. I'm not that worried about sales at the moment. I feel like once the launch party takes place and I get some folks to give me some reviews on Amazon, things will pick up. But it's on sale and a few actual human beings have bought it. I can cross a major item off my bucket list.

Now, if I want to get to a point where I can do this for a living, I figure I need to do two things: gather a following and keep writing. I already talked about the first one, and I hope to find a way to divvy up my free time between promoting the current book and writing the future ones. That's a bit of a challenge, but I need to remind myself of something I told a former student a few days ago who was lamenting about finding balance in life. It was roughly that life isn't about maintaining balance in the balancing-the-scales sense. Instead, it's like maintaining balances in several accounts. Sometimes you have to take some from one account (writing, in my case) in order to maintain the balance in another (promoting) or yet another (teaching, grading, etc.), but eventually, you need to pay the balance back, which, for me, means finding times, like this long weekend, to get away from home and just write.

So that's what I'm doing. Just writing and relaxing. And snuggling with this insanely affectionate cat. Life is good sometimes.

PS--I can't completely ignore shameless self-promotion. Here's the link if you would like to buy my first novel, Harsh Prey. I really believe you'll like it.

HARSH PREY--Paperback or Kindle

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

So Much For Which To Be Thankful

Yes, I know, it's Tuesday and I always post on weekends, but it's election day, which is one of those days I'm thankful I'm a teacher. Last night wasn't a school night, which meant I could stay up and watch the football game. I fell asleep early in the first quarter, but only because I wanted to, not because I had to get up for work the next day. And I got up a whole 20 minutes later than normal, which doesn't sound like sleeping in, but I got up when I wanted to, not when I had to, so it counts. And for all of that, I'm thankful.

Speaking of thankful, I realized after my book went out as a Kindle edition that I hadn't put an acknowledgement page in and I was simply mortified. So, by way of righting that wrong, I want to give some important folks well-deserved thanks.

First, I want to thank my students who encouraged me to pick up the pen (in the electronic sense) again and get this book finished. I imagine it was so they could quit hearing about how I was a frustrated novelist and start at least hearing different complaints, like how no agent has the good sense to represent me. But seriously, so many of you told me that I could do it and that I should. I can honestly say that I would never have finished this book without you guys.

I also want to thank Sandy Tritt, who edited the beginning of this book and taught me the ins and outs of self-editing. With your help, I took a bloated, self-important blob of a book and turned it into a sleek, smooth, quick read that I think people will actually enjoy. Thank you so much!

Next, I want to thank officer Chris Morehead, the Prevention Resource Officer at my school and a veritable fount of knowledge about police procedures. I was amazed at what I didn't know and at how patient you were, Chris, in answering all my sometimes stupidly simple questions. I deeply appreciate you, not only for your help with this book, but also for all that you do to maintain a sense of sanity at PHS.

Next, I want to thank the late, great Robert B. Parker, my writing hero. The day I picked up The Godwulf Manuscript, my literary life changed. I can say without question that Harry and Dee Shalan would never have existed if not for you. I wish I could have told you that in person, but I hope you're somewhere that you can hear it now.

Finally, I want to thank my family and friends for all of your support and encouragement throughout this process. So many kind words that I can't even count them all. You have no idea how much it means to me.

I know I said finally in the last paragraph, but over and above all of the folks I've mentioned is God. Throughout the writing, editing, and publishing of this book, as well as the rough personal times I've been experiencing, I've felt the warm and comforting presence of God more acutely than ever before in my life. No success would have any meaning if I didn't know I was saved by the blood of Christ, so to him I give the glory.

So if I had remembered to put an acknowledgement page in my book, that's what it would have said. The good part about putting it on here is that, when I inevitably remember someone I should have included, I can just come back here and add them. I hope that's sufficient, though I'm not sure there are enough days left in my life to adequately thank all these amazing people. God bless you all.

PS: (Warning--shameless self-promotion ahead) Don't forget to buy my book! Kindle only for now, but paperback soon, hopefully this week. Here's the link in case you missed it the last eleventy billion times I put it out there.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Did I Say December?

Anyone who follows this blog knows that last week I made the commitment to publish my book by December. Well, after I said that, I did little else during my spare time for the next three days than first research and then choose an outlet for publication. I looked at several websites that offered self-publication packages and, frankly, was completely lost, so I went to my friends at Google+ with the question of what to do. The overwhelming majority replied that CreateSpace was the way to go. I'm here to tell you they were right. Within two days, I had my book uploaded with a proof copy of the paperback version in the mail and the ebook available for Kindle on Amazon. Assuming there are no issues with the proof copy, I'll have paperbacks on sale in the next week. It was a surprisingly quick process.

I've even begun plans for a publication party. It is scheduled for November 29, with exact times and location to be announced soon. Any of you who know me in the meat world and are able to be here, I would love it if you would come. There will be snacks, a reading, and books for sale--I'll even sign them for you! Wow--can't believe I'm saying that. :)

Here's the link in case you want to download Harsh Prey to your Kindle or Kindle app:



Saturday, October 25, 2014

#imawriter

Coming December 2014!
This has been some week and a half. At my school, where I love my kids so much, I saw the aftermath of a fight (less a fight, really, than a senseless beating) and injured myself breaking up another. Every day I hear stories of other fights throughout the school. It's getting to the point where I dread walking the halls for fear of what I'll come across around the next corner. When you add to that just how debased the children seem to have become, from little freshman girls using language that would make a trucker blush to the "good" kids doing dances that could only be described as sex with some clothes on, and I ended a tweet this week with #iwanttobeawriternotateacher.

I never thought I'd say it, but I really am losing the joy of teaching and am finding the idea of writing full-time more attractive every day. And yet, teaching pays so well, at least compared to the unsure future of writing, and I really am good at it. I like to think I make a positive impact on my students, though I become less convinced every year that my example and words have an appreciable impact.

The idea of retiring early and jumping into a writing career with both feet sounds great, but I simply don't have that option. I have financial obligations that won't go away simply because I haven't sold any books this week. If I only had to consider myself, the life of a starving writer would be fine. But I don't only have myself to consider. There's another person in my life who depends on my income and, even though we aren't together anymore, my obligation to help her live and pay her bills doesn't go away.

So early retirement is probably not an option, at least not yet. And it's not going to be an option ever if I continue to make exactly zero dollars as a writer. So it's time to quit dawdling. It's time to quit saying one of these days. It's time to quit waiting for an agent or a publisher to come along and take a chance on me. It's time to take a chance on myself. It's time to publish my books. I have two manuscripts ready to sell. I believe they're good. I'm well into the third, and I think it has potential to be just as good, if not better, than the first two.

So here's my commitment: I will publish my first book by the end of this year. I will hold a combination Christmas/publication party at which I will debut Harsh Prey to my family and friends. I will, in the ensuing months, publicize my book in every way I can find, from social media to readings and signings at bookstores, libraries, church basements--anywhere that will allow me. I will tell everyone I meet about it. And in a few months after that, I'll publish the second and do it all over again. And by then, I'll have the third book in the can and ready to go.

If I want to be able to say #imawriter, then I need to stop just saying it and start actually doing it. If it's going to happen, I can't depend on anyone but myself to make it happen.

So those of you who are looking for a good book to put under the Christmas tree for the detective fiction lover in your life, this is the year you're in luck.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Lessons from George Bailey


One of my favorite movies of all time is It's a Wonderful Life. I love it for a lot of reasons, including that it stars Jimmy Stewart, one of the great treasures of Hollywood. Additionally, the message of true riches not being found in a bank account is such a beautiful theme that, I must admit, was lost on me for a long time.


There's a pivotal scene in which Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey and Mary Hatch (eventually Mary Bailey), played by Donna Reed in the best role of her career, are going home from a dance in which everyone falls in the pool when the dance floor atop it is opened. They're dressed ridiculously in whatever dry clothes they could find and singing, loudly and off key. At one point, things get quite serious and it seems like he's going to kiss her for the first time, but he falters. From a nearby porch, an old man who's been watching the scene in silence asks if he's ever going to kiss her instead of talking her to death. George says, "You want me to kiss her, huh?" The old man's reply is perfection: "Awww, youth is wasted on the wrong people!"

I've always adored that line, even when I was young and didn't fully understand why it was so apt. Now that I'm getting older, it makes more sense than it ever did before. I realize now that there's a major irony of life when it comes to what we want when we're young and what we want when we get older.

When I was younger, I wanted so much. New cars, a big house, a camper, vacations, a boat--so many toys! But I had no money. This was partly because I spent too much on little things that didn't matter, like going out to eat instead of cooking at home, and new computers and new cars that I really couldn't afford, although they weren't the new cars I really wanted. But it was also partly because I just didn't make as much money as I do now that I've been at my job a long time and have come close to maximizing my earning potential in my chosen field.

So now I'm still not rich, but I make so much more money than I did when I was younger. I'm nearly debt free, soon to be completely debt free if I'm careful, so I could probably soon afford some of those toys I so longed for when I was young. Now comes the ironic part: I don't really care about them anymore. A new car? Ellie, my aging beauty, is fine with me. We know each other. Boats? Campers? Lots of time and effort for too little enjoyment. A big house? Big bills, big time cleaning and maintaining. No thanks.

What do I want? Mostly things that don't cost much. God, friends, family, good health, love, and laughter. I want to be comfortable, but a cozy little house or even a small apartment would meet my needs. A quiet place to read, pray, write, cook (now that I could probably afford to eat out a little more, I love nothing more than to cook a nice pot of chili and eat at home), and spend time with people I love is plenty for me.

Sure, vacations are still nice, but the parts I love about them are the times spent with family and friends, not the exotic destination. Though I will admit that I am never more content than when looking out at the ocean, I can't imagine I would feel the same if I didn't have loved ones with me there to enjoy it.

This Christmas when It's a Wonderful Life comes on, I'll watch it again, like I do every year. And I'll love every minute of it--even the part where the daft Uncle Billy loses the money. But when that old man makes his declaration, his words will make more sense to me than ever before.

In case you want to see it, here's the scene in question:


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Life Sucks And Then You Write


Let me start by apologizing to my millions of faithful fans (and by that I mean the handful of folks who read and comment regularly--you mean more to me than a million strangers would) for missing last week. It was just one of those weekends where being a teacher took precedence over being a writer. It happens sometimes. At least until I find a way to be a writer full time while also managing to eat and pay my bills. But that's not the point of this post.


Some of those who know me in the meat world, as people heavily into all things online call it, are probably aware of the fact that my personal life has kind of been leaking oil over the last several years and really blew a gasket over the last couple. What's interesting is that the time period where things have been the worst have been when I've been the most productive and creative as a writer. The more miserable I was the more I wrote and the better the writing seemed to be.

This is hardly new ground. A long line of miserable artists whose lives were littered with booze, drugs, busted marriages, and (sometimes successful) suicide attempts have already plowed this field. I guess the question would be just what the connection is between the two. To speak debater for a second, what is the causal link? Is the mind that's creative also prone to volatility? Almost certainly. But in my case, I'm positively boring psychologically. At least I think I am. Maybe someone could let me know if I'm really, like my friend Sherlock, a high-functioning sociopath and just haven't noticed yet.

I think the cause-effect relationship, at least for me, goes in the other direction. It's the misery that leads to the creativity, not vice versa. I have come to believe it's about two things: suffering leads to understanding and suffering leads to the desire to escape, if only temporarily. I'll hold the second of those beliefs for another occasion and concentrate on the first.

Especially over the last two years, I've learned a lot about myself and the world. These lessons have been hard-fought. I understand I tend to put off hard decisions and placate rather than confront awkward situations. I've also learned that I tend to enable the people I love to indulge in destructive behavior. Yet another thing I've learned is that some people know that and also know how to take advantage of it. Finally, I now know that I have a strong tendency toward passive aggressiveness. So all in all, I guess I kind of suck when I'm at my worst.

But I've also learned that when I'm at my best, I'm compassionate and giving and loving and sometimes quite funny.  I love to help people and I am pretty intuitive about when someone is suffering.

So what does that mean for my writing? Well, since the narrator in my book series is in many ways a somewhat idealized version of myself, knowing myself better means knowing him better. Harry Shalan is a deeper, more nuanced and realistically flawed character because I've become more self aware. And his loved ones, as well as how he interacts with them, have become more real as well.

So do I have to be miserable to be a successful writer? I hope not. But I understand that, to slightly misquote Socrates, the unexamined life is not worth writing about. And when do we examine our lives? Not when the car is running smoothly.

So here's to just enough engine trouble to make me a best seller but not enough to turn me into a suicidal drug-addled drunken bum whose estate gets to figure out what to do with all his royalties.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Big 5-1


Once you get past, oh say, 21, birthdays stop being special occasions in the traditional sense. They become, in some cases, things that elicit dread or even denial. For me, the worst birthday I ever had came not when I hit thirty or forty or even fifty. It was 31. Don't ask why unless you want a blank stare in response. I have glided through all the big 0 birthdays so far, but when I turned 31, it took me weeks to recover from the depression. Maybe I'm just slow on the uptake. 


This year, I hit the big 5-1. That's a year that usually doesn't have a big in front of it, but it really deserved the moniker because of how special other people made it for me. And by other people, I mainly mean my students, though the first card and gift I got were from my parents, of course.

Sometimes a kid will figure out from my user name for practically everything (trainguy917) that my birthday is September 17 and they'll wish me a happy birthday or even occasionally get me a card. But not since 2005, a school year that I refer to as my Golden Era (that's a whole other post), has my birthday been such an Occasion. And it lasted the whole day.

It started when I walked into my room to be greeted by streamers, balloons, and the entire Student Council singing happy birthday to me. Keep in mind that this group only meets in my room--I'm not their advisor, though several of them are my students. I was sung to three more times, once each by my two lunch bunches and once by a lovely young lady who just sang to me because she's a sweetheart.

Speaking of lunch bunches, they got me a toy train, a build-it-yourself wooden train locomotive, a teacher survival kit full of delicious goodies, and two unbelievably decadent homemade cookie cakes. There were even party hats and noisemakers.

And throughout the day, it seemed like literally every one of my students, as well as several teachers and even students who weren't mine, wished me a happy birthday. And to top all that off, the greetings on Facebook were nonstop. Add to this texts from the three people who have come as close as I have ever gotten to actually having daughters, along with my siblings, and it was awfully close to the greatest birthday I ever had.

I guess that if there is a lesson to be learned from all this, it's that we're never too old for magic to happen in our lives. And nine times out of ten that magic occurs because we're surrounded with the right people.

So who knows; maybe I'm in the midst of my Golden Era version 2.0.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Week of Firsts

You may not be able to tell it from where you are, but I'm typing this on Friday instead of my normal rollout time of Saturday morning. I'll be busy doing something important with some friends tomorrow--and by important, I mean superhero related. But that's another post. For this week, the topic is firsts.

I've been teaching in the same school for about 18 years now, so I thought I'd pretty much run out of new things that could happen to me. This week proved me wrong. I've had three new things happen to me just in the last two days. I have to think that's a record.

The first came Thursday morning and it involved the police. No, I wasn't arrested. Sorry. That probably would've made a more entertaining story. But anyway, I was driving to work and I was in a bit of a hurry because I needed to get to school early to get into the horseshoe before they closed it off for our annual 9/11 ceremony. As I was crossing the Fifth Street Bridge (anyone who is familiar with Parkersburg at all knows this bridge--it's the main artery from Southside to downtown) when I passed a woman lying on the sidewalk. She was sprawled out and didn't appear to be moving, though I couldn't tell in the short time I could see her. I pulled into the Tim Horton's lot at the foot of the bridge and called 911. By the time I got out of the lot and was ready to drive back to check on her, the police were already on their way onto the bridge, so I proceeded to work, albeit later than I planned. I found out later from our Prevention Resource Officer that she had indeed been having some sort of medical emergency and was transported to the hospital.

The second thing was much more positive, though it came out of a negative thing. I got an email from a student apologizing for the bad behavior of another student, despite the fact that she had nothing to do with it. She said she just felt so badly for what the other student had done that she had wanted to give me a hug.  I literally can't think of another time that one student apologized for the behavior of another student. It brightened what had been a dark afternoon.

A reenactment of me after chasing skippers
And finally, I did something today that you hear about in stories and see in teen movies, but I never thought I'd actually do--I chased students who were attempting to skip school. Literally ran after them. Of course, they're young and had a tremendous head start, so the only one I caught was the girl who decided against running and came back. But I gave it my all! Who knew teaching was a cardiovascular workout? Well, I guess phys ed teachers did. But the only time your heart should race as an English teacher is when you're reading a particularly moving poem.

Being a writer, I can't help but think that these events are going to end up in a book someday. People ask where my ideas come from and I have to wonder how boring their lives are that they aren't surrounded by them.

So, to end, a quotation from the great philosopher Rosanne Rosannadanna, "It just goes to show you it's always something."

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Why I Encourage Kids To Eat Lunch In My Room

Me after lunch in the teachers' lounge

I went to a professional development event several years back. I don't remember how long ago, where it was, or the name of the presenter. All I remember of her personally is that she was a woman. There's no significance to her being female; that's just the extent of my memory of her as a person. What I do remember was one piece of advice she gave and it turned out to be all wrong.

I was a newish teacher, so it had to be several years back--I'm well into my 18th year at my school--and hadn't fully formed all of my attitudes and philosophies, so when she said that we shouldn't be eating lunch with our students, I took her to heart. I started eating in the teachers' lounge, like she said, so I could spend part of my day with people my age. I did that for most of that year and discovered a couple things.

First, people my age are old. They spend a large part of their time talking about what creaks, what sticks, what doesn't work, what won't stop working, and the medications they're taking for all of the above maladies. It made me feel old too.

Second, there are some teachers who really don't like kids. Not all of them, and not even most of them, but it seems like the most talkative ones. When they weren't complaining about their heating pad not being big enough to hit all the achy spots, they were waxing rhapsodic about how they'd love to boot this kid out or tell that kid off. I often came into lunch happy and went out of lunch cranky and ready to take on the next kid who looked at me cross-eyed.

So I decided to do what my hero, Dan Daniel, did--eat in my room surrounded by a bunch of students. We played music, we talked, we laughed, we shared food, and mostly we enjoyed ourselves. Magically, I found myself energized for the second half of the day and feeling positive about my students. From this, I discovered two things.

First, young people are young. I didn't say the discoveries were ground-breaking. But by surrounding myself with young people during a time when we didn't have to be teacher and students but could let our hair down a little and just get to know each other, I felt younger too. I didn't find myself fixating on my achy knee or my sore back.

Second, young people, or at least the young people who tend to gravitate toward me, are too busy being their own somewhat geeky selves to worry much about being angry with anyone else. We talk about books and movies and music and TV shows and spend almost no time complaining about teachers, students, administrators, or pretty much anything or anyone.

And, as a bonus, I've gotten some interesting characters for my writing. Maybe someday, when they come across one of my books in the bargain bin at Wal Mart (or a 99-cent special on Amazon) and pick it up, they'll recognize themselves with a smile.



Kids from my lunch bunch a couple years ago. We brought covered dishes and had Thanksgiving dinner together. It's one of my favorite memories as a teacher. These folks are scattered all over, but they're still in my heart. They're more friends than former students, and that wouldn't be true if I ate lunch in the lounge.

Monday, September 1, 2014

New Excerpt from KISSES AND LIES

It's been a crazy weekend. This is normally out on Saturday, but I just didn't get it done. Sorry to anyone out there who looks for my blog each weekend.

I thought I would showcase another excerpt from the second of my novels, Kisses and Lies. One of the things I enjoyed about writing this book is that for about the first 2/3 of it, the chapters alternate between my protagonist's narration and a third person narrative from the point of view of a young man named Happy Hillman, who decides to strike out on his own with help from his parents. The only condition--a condition that is Happy's, not his parents'--is that he the money they give him is his inheritance and they no longer have to treat him as their child. Happy makes his way to New York City and finds out that life on his own is not quite what he'd hoped it would be. This scene is his first encounter with the harsh realities of city life.



The rest of the trip had gone by uneventfully. The car had run flawlessly. He’d done some research and knew where he was going to stay, though the neighborhood was a bit scarier than it seemed online. Finding a parking space about half a block down on 42nd Street, he locked the doors and walked quickly to the entrance of what had been described on a website as a historic hotel, but he could only describe it as a flophouse. The sign, which doubled as an ad for a popular cola, was badly chipped and dented, from what appeared to be ricocheting bullets. A knot formed in his stomach and he very nearly turned around, but he steeled himself to walk in. He was tired, he told himself. It wouldn’t be so bad inside and things would look better after a good night’s rest.
He was mistaken. It did look so bad inside. Maybe worse. The dozen steps up from the open entryway to the front doors looked to have been white once, though that was a guess, as they were hidden under decades of city grime, along with occasional dark semi-circular blotches, undoubtedly from vomit and/or urine. At the top landing were two doors that had, a long time ago, been clear glass. Below the handle on the left door was a hand-written sign declaring that no visitors were allowed. Painted on the wall just inside was an arrow above the word “Office.” To the right of that was a large sign painted in white letters on a red background. It said, “Fire Command Center in Office.” He had no idea what that meant, nor did he think he wanted to.
At the front desk, with an overwhelming sense of panic, he found his money was not stashed in his inside jacket pocket as he remembered. Thinking about it for a few seconds, he remembered deciding his jacket was not a safe permanent hiding place. He could absently leave it hanging on the back of a seat or it could be accidentally taken. So he had taken a few hundred out and locked the rest safely in the glove box of his car. He would take it out when he went out to get his luggage.
Paying for the week, he was given a key—an actual key, not a key card. It was attached on a ring to a credit card sized laminated tag with his room number hand written on it in permanent marker. His room was on the second floor at the top of the landing, beside the non-functioning ice machine and the empty, unplugged vending machines. At least he wouldn’t have to worry about people waking him up by coming to the machines in the night. But upon entering his room, he realized that people waking him at night was not likely to be an issue. He found it unimaginable that he would ever fall asleep. All the run-down roach motels he’d seen in movies could not prepare him for the gut-turning reality that was room 201. The only thing more startling than the peeling, yellowed wallpaper; the sagging bed (complete with a threadbare spread covered with cigarette burns); and carpet that was once who-knows-what color, but was now somewhere between brown and black; was the nostril-blistering stench, which seemed most likely to come from two parts urine, one part cigarettes, and at least a part or two of alcohol-laden vomit. He tried to breathe through his mouth, but was alarmed to find that this coated his tongue with the almost literally palpable odor, so he decided smelling his new home was less objectionable than tasting it.

Afraid to leave his luggage in the car too long, he went back downstairs and out to where he parked. His mind was awash with fear. How was he going to live, let alone make it on his own here? The hotel alone might kill him with rat or flea bites or some exotic disease on the floor or bed. If he somehow managed to survive the microbes, what were the chances he wouldn’t catch a stray bullet or get killed by a mugger? His face flushed with shame. In his befuddled contemplation, he realized he must have passed his car, as he had just crossed to the next block. He scanned down the street to where he felt certain he had parked. Wasn’t it right behind the rusting old heap with the flat tire and broken back window? Had he turned the wrong way when he exited the building? He didn’t think so, but he had to check, so he ran down the street to the same point in the opposite block. Nothing. He went another block. Still not there. So he ran back and went another block in the way he had initially gone. A hot lump grew so rapidly in the pit of his stomach that he half expected to look down to find the contents gushing out his navel and burning through his shirt. Pulling out his wallet, he counted out the money he had left. Ninety dollars. He had been in the city exactly long enough to check into a hotel and his car, along with almost $25,000, had been stolen. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Tribute To All My Teacher Friends

It's the first weekend of the school year. We made it through the first week! I would love to tell you that I got lots of writing done, but that would just be a lie. All my teacher friends know exactly what I'm talking about when it comes to the first week of school. There are a few things that are just the sad realities of life for us.

First, we need lots of sleep. I was out cold by 9:30 every night. And it was a struggle most nights to get to that hour. One night, because my washer died and I'm too cheap to buy one yet, I had to go to my parents' house to do a couple loads of laundry (because I literally had no choice if I wanted to be clothed for work the next day). I was so tired when the last load was folded that I actually toyed with the idea of crashing there so I wouldn't have to go to all the trouble of driving home until morning. And I live less than five minutes from their house! More mature heads prevailed and I went home, but it was a struggle.

Second, we're in pure survival mode. I did nothing that was beyond the basest activities needed to survive. Dishes? I have extras. Paper towels on the dispenser? Nah, they can sit on the counter. Make dinner? A peanut butter sandwich is good enough. The night I realized I had a frozen pizza was such a celebration! I just had to talk myself into not eating it uncooked like a giant bread-and-cheese popsicle. Mad props to those of you with miniature humans for whom you are responsible. I'm amazed I kept my fur children from starving.

Why are we like this? Is it the hours? No, most teachers are as busy during the summer as they are during school, but at other things. It has to do with the emotional drain. If you're not a teacher, you don't have any idea how much of a psychic toll it takes on you to be on all day for your kids. It's just not natural to be as happy and upbeat and fun as I am in my classroom all day. And many of my friends are like me, with kids in their rooms from the time they unlock them until time to go home. I have fifth period plan, which means I'm already hosting two lunches worth of kids in my room when I'm not teaching classes.

And I'm not complaining about that. I love it. I love every minute that I get to spend with these kids that I grow really quickly to love like my own children. And in a few weeks, my mind, my body, and my spirit will adjust to this and I'll be able to do normal household chores again without giving myself a pep talk.

Until then, here's to a spoon and a jar of peanut butter for dinner.





Sunday, August 17, 2014

Begin With The Goal In Mind

Our big local festival Homecoming, ends today. The centerpiece of the event (as far as I'm concerned, at least) is the Half Marathon, which was won by the same man, Kenyan Julius Kogo for the fifth consecutive time. I hurt myself training for it this year and didn't get to run in it, but I WILL run next year and I WILL set a PR.

The reason I am talking about this is not that I'm a frustrated runner (though I am). It's that Homecoming is our annual signal that summer is fast coming to an end. School starts tomorrow for students, having already started for teachers on Wednesday. My classroom is ready and I'm looking forward to meeting my new kids. Especially for the next four months, life will be quite hectic. That may seem like it will make it harder for me to write, but the opposite is actually true.

I need routine to get work done. When I have time on my hands, I waste it. On the other hand, when my time is limited, I seem to feel the need to take advantage of what I do have. I don't imagine I'm at all unique in that. Probably a lot of folks feel the same way. I like to say that I could use some time off to write, and who knows, maybe if I had enough time that I could get bored with it, I would start writing again just to have a new routine. But with less than a three week summer this year, all I could think about was how little I wanted to do anything constructive with my days off.

I'm almost 18,000 words into the initial draft of my third Shalan adventure and I have two more final drafts waiting for publication. So for this school year, my writing goals are two: finish this manuscript--all the way up to publication ready--and get my first manuscript published, be that through an agent or on my own. I am stating here that this time next year, I will be a published author who is actually making meaningful money.

Assuming that is true, I'll remind you of my prediction in twelve months. If it's not, don't remind me unless you want a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Monday, August 11, 2014

KISSES AND LIES

Here's a brief excerpt from my second Shalan Adventure novel, Kisses and Lies, in which Harry meets a new client.



It was almost too hot to breathe. There was but one window, making for absolutely no cross ventilation, despite having left the office door standing open. Perched high on a file cabinet behind my left shoulder in the corner, an ancient powder coated green metal oscillating fan, left over from the ark, moved the air sluggishly around the room, but the only thing that did was make it feel like the bowels of Hell were being belched forth. Well, that and make it nearly impossible to read the newspaper. This didn’t really matter much, since it was Monday and everyone who’s ever been in Parkersburg for any length of time knows Monday’s News and Sentinel is little more than a flyer, especially in the summer when there are no local sports events over the weekend.         My dog Eddie, a fawn boxer with a white diamond on his chest, white feet, and a head like a cinder block, was sprawled on the couch in the far corner.  He was snoring on his back with all four feet in the air and his head lulling off the edge of the brown microfiber sofa sleeper. Huge black rubber jowly lips hung down creating wings on either side of his snout. My wife Deanna was out of town visiting family, so Eddie was hanging around with me. She would not be happy if she heard that I was subjecting the baby to such harsh conditions, but in my defense, the AC was supposed to have been fixed by now. Besides, he didn’t seem to be suffering nearly as badly as I was, considering how quickly he had fallen asleep.
I anchored one corner of the paper with my sweating water bottle and the other with a replica of a Cass Scenic Railroad Shay Locomotive carved from coal that I used, appropriately enough, as a paper weight. The headline shouted the exciting news that Vienna was getting yet another national chain restaurant. It seemed no matter how many came in, they all managed to do a brisk business. I thought about how this probably meant no one cooked at home anymore, but I didn't think very hard because it just took too much effort. Is it possible for your brain to sweat? The article was continued on page 7a, meaning there was a car dealership ad on the back of the section—one of my biggest pet peeves. The continued articles should be on the back of the section. It’s a rule. Not that it actually affected me this day. I’d learned more than I wanted to from the headline about the latest reason for traffic to be impossible in Vienna.
I thought about going out for lunch, but decided it was probably not a good idea, since it wasn't even 9:30AM yet. I thought about sending out a couple bills, the main reason I had come in that morning, but that would involve getting up to go to the file cabinet and I was pretty sure I was hermetically sealed to the chair with sweat. All that was left to me was skipping to the only part of the paper I could read without moving my lips—the comics. I started, as I always do, at the top of the left column, read all the way down, then made my way up the right column. Being a detective, I am pretty good at detecting things, so I can say without much fear of contradiction that there was no evidence of anything remotely comic anywhere on the page. I longed for the days of Bloom County. There have just never been characters to compare with Opus the Penguin and Bill the Cat. “Gag, ack, barf.”  
          I checked my watch in hopes that I had maybe fallen asleep and it was somehow late enough to go to lunch and still preserve some level of social propriety. Not even 9:45. No dice. I was out of options, so I downed the last half of my water bottle, fired it into the recycle bin by the sink, and started to get up to see if I could catch the building superintendent in his office to ask about the air conditioning AGAIN. But before I could get a ruler out of the desk drawer to break the seal between my tuchus and the seat, she walked in.
Probably in her early twenties, almost ten years younger than I, she was just a shade under six feet tall, not nearly three-quarters of that being legs, which were bare below her gauzy pink slip dress that stopped just above what might have been the best pair of knees I’d seen in my adult life. When she accepted my invitation to sit, she turned nearly profile in her seat and threw her left leg over her right to reveal black patent leather strappy sandals and long, slim, straight toes with soft pink French manicured nails that matched her fingernails and coordinated quite well with the understated pink of her sleeveless dress. The sleeveless thing was working out quite well for us both. She was obviously in good shape without looking like a weightlifter. Almost certainly an athlete—probably volleyball and/or basketball considering her height. I was hoping for volleyball. Volleyball is the greatest women’s sport. It’s a rule.
Her hair, the color of corn silk, was perfectly straight, parted on the right, and hanging down to just above her shoulders. She took off oversized sunglasses and placed them on the desk. I was glad because they made her look a bit like a bug. She looked straight at me with her sky-blue eyes flecked with gold. Her eyelashes were surely artificially long, but they were so artfully done that no makeup was evident. The same was true of her entire face. Her complexion was flawless and showed no evidence of cosmetics, with the exception of a slight sheen of what I guessed was clear gloss on her mouth. Speaking of which, she boasted the kind of full, voluptuous lips that many women have paid way too much money to plastic surgeons to unsuccessfully imitate. All in all, I was half convinced I was in the presence of a Greek goddess. A goddess who liked dogs, apparently. She was affectionately tugging on the ears of Eddie who had awakened and moseyed over to greet her. He wasn’t so strong on the guard dog front, but he clearly had taste in women. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

It's a Catastrophe Until It's Not



It's interesting to me how we tend to go from things being catastrophic to things just being how they are in a relatively short period of time. In an example from my other job, the one I actually get paid to do, one of the big issues is common core. It's chock full of high stakes testing that a large portion of teachers realize is wrong in a lot of ways. It leads to teaching to the test, it takes away time from instruction, it doesn't (despite what its creators claim) teach higher level thinking skills--I could go on and on.

When this idea was presented, teachers protested loudly. And no, it's not because we're lazy louts who got into teaching because of the summer break. Countries that are the most successful educationally are doing the opposite of what we're doing. Less testing and more autonomy for teachers. Good teaching takes place when teachers are treated like professionals who have been trained to do this job. Do we have a group of non-doctors making medical decisions instead of doctors? Well, that may be a little more political than I want to get into.

But the point I'm trying to make is that, once common core became the law of the land, many of its promoters pointed to changes in polls among teachers. They said that many of the teachers no longer were against the high-stakes testing. But, as a teacher who has teacher friends, I can tell these people that the data isn't telling them what they think it is. What they're seeing is acquiescence to the reality of the situation, not agreement with it. What it's telling them is that teachers are realists and that, until the law of the land changes, we will do what we've always done--work within the requirements, trying our best to give your children the best education possible. We can yell and scream about it and, yes, work to get this misguided law changed, but until it is changed, it's what we have.

 That's life in general. We rarely have perfect circumstances. We just have what we have. When something bad comes along, it feels catastrophic at first, but eventually becomes the law of the land, so to speak, and we just do our best to work within it. Take my back, for instance. Earlier this week, I woke up in the night with cramps in my lower back. I've had back issues in the past, but I've lost weight and have been exercising and haven't had a problem for quite a while. Well, it appears my achy back is, well, back. The next morning, I was ready to just give up. No position except flat in bed was even remotely comfortable. So I did nothing, literally, other than watch TV and feel sorry for myself.

The next day, my back still hurt. I still had no comfortable way to sit up. But guess what? I didn't continue to lie around. No, I didn't go out and mow the grass, but I did clean the kitchen, take out the trash, go to the store (for more Salon Pas patches, which I'm convinced come directly from God), and get some writing done. And yes, my back hurts right now. But I'm 2300 words from my goal of 7000 words by today and I'm going to make it.

I'm not bragging. I'm not saying I'm a tough guy who can work through the pain. Truth is, I'm a big baby when it comes to that. I'm just making an observation about human nature. We often say things are unbearable, but then end up bearing them. How? I'm not sure. For me, it's with the help of God, family, and friends. I don't have any idea how folks without those three things make it.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Back To The Real World

I want to apologize in advance if there are any major formatting issues with this post. This website has decided to set itself on random insanity mode so that every time I tried to insert or move a picture, it just arbitrarily rearranged the text. So I deleted all the pictures and tried--TRIED--to get everything back where it belonged. 
I set my alarm yesterday morning. I made it a whole week without using it. I guess I'm back from my stay-cation. Today is still relaxing, as will be tomorrow, but real life starts in earnest on Monday. Aside from all the work I need to do around the house, Monday morning I start writing again. I'm setting a goal of at least 7,000 words by next Saturday. 



I used to set daily goals, but I think I'll try weekly goals for a while. That way, if I struggle on a particular day, whether it be from working my way through a hard scene or from having a busy day doing other things (such as a training event on Wednesday), I won't feel like I failed to meet my goals because I can catch up on another day.  
The reality is that I tend to work in spurts. I'll write for a while and not write for a while and then, as I've said in this blog before, I'll reach critical mass, after which I have to write almost constantly until the draft is finished. My goal is to even that out a little bit. I imagine there will still come a point when I just can't stop because I can see the end looming and I want to be there. But if I set a goal to write at least 7k words every single week, I should be able to finish a rough draft in under three months. Add a couple of months for revision and editing and some time off between manuscripts, and I should still be able to produce a couple of books a year. Assuming I can sell them, that should produce a relatively steady income.

That I can sell them is a pretty big assumption. I got another rejection this week. Still haven't heard from the gentleman who asked for the partial manuscript. I know it's not out of the question that he'll still respond, but my hope is dimming. I'm running out of people to query. I really just don't want to go this alone and self-publish. I've said several times that I am about to do it, but I know down deep that it's somewhat of an empty threat. I want so badly to have an agent and a publisher in my corner, doing some of the things that I neither want nor have the temperament to do. I'm a writer. I'm not a publisher. I'm not a publicist. I'm not an organizer or a salesman. Yes, I'm aware that there are some things I'll have to do other than writing in order to succeed, but I want someone to guide me through that and take the lead so that I can concentrate on the important stuff--telling my stories.

So, you publishers and agents out there, how about it? I'm a good writer. I think my work will sell. You want to help me sell it?