Saturday, January 30, 2016

Gifts Ungiven Part 1

The following is part 1 of a short story I wrote recently. It was first published on Parts two and three will follow over the next two weeks. It's set during Christmas time, but it's not just a Christmas story. It's about a young man trying to work up the courage to open his heart to a girl he really likes. Chapter two of the story of Evan and Renee will be appearing on ClutchMOV and then here over the next couple of months.
The box seemed to weigh a ton in his pocket. He reached in to finger the bow, long battered into submission by being carried around in his coat since the first day after Thanksgiving break. He opened his pocket just enough to peek in. Her name was still legible, but only barely. By this time, he not only had the struggle of working up courage to give a gift to the girl of his dreams, but of explaining why it looked like he’d kicked it all the way to school before he gave it to her. Even if it were pristine, he was taking the gut-wrenching chance that she would reject him or, worse, accept it out of pity. He didn’t want to think about the absolute worst case scenario, in which she publicly humiliated him by laughing, along with all her friends, at the idea that she, a beauty with guys lining up to date her, would accept a gift from, let alone go steady with, a troll like him.
On his good days, which were (at least in his 8th grade mind) much rarer than average, he felt like he might not actually be a troll. He was a smart kid. He could act; he could sing; he made people laugh. And he was nice to everyone. But then, he always came back to the thought that those things didn’t exactly scream hunk. Chunk maybe, he thought, rubbing his round belly.
He looked at the clock. Two minutes until the end of class and the beginning of lunch. He realized he’d heard not a word of Mr. Beck’s lecture on erosion. It was their only class together that year, so he needed to give her the gift by the next day or suffer the sting of taking home her gift, ungiven and still wrapped. He couldn’t face the idea of it joining the present he’d gotten her the year before, but never managed to work up the courage to give her, under his bed, mingling with the dirty socks, old board games, and sports equipment.
gifts, presents, wrapping, bows, christmas, festive, holidays 
“Hey Renee,” he said as she walked by after class, giggling with a couple of other girls. Well, the other girls were giggling. When she laughed, it was more like the flutter of angel wings. Her dark ponytail swung as she turned toward him.
“Hey Evan.” She smiled. He froze. Even in braces, her smile bewitched him. He had the box, which contained earrings with a tiny chip of her birthstone in each—his mother had helped him pick them out of the Avon catalog—in his sweaty hand, but his arm was immobilized, unresponsive. As was his mouth. No sounds came out, but at least it did open and close repeatedly, kind of like a goldfish.
“Going to lunch?” she asked as she and her friends swept by. She didn’t seem to have noticed his buffoonery.
“Yeah.” Well, at least that was a word. Sort of.
“You okay?”
abstract, blurry, lights, bokeh, colors, colours, Christmas“Yeah.” No. Give it to her, you moron, he thought. But still his hand remained clenched, his arm unmoving.
“Well, maybe see you in the cafeteria?” She hesitated at the door.
She gave him a look he couldn’t decipher. Sympathy? Puzzlement? Nausea? He was betting on the last. “Okay. Well, bye.”
“You really need to give her that present.”

Will he give her the present? Tune in next week to find out--same Bat time, same Bat channel!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Four Things To Do When You're Snowed In That Don't Involve Eye-Guzzling Netflix

snow, dark, night, trees, lights, lamp posts, sky, outdoors, natureIt's been snowing non-stop for 19 hours. Nineteen. One-nine. Out my window, it looks like the set of a Hallmark Christmas movie, except for Candace Cameron is nowhere in sight. I won't be going anywhere beyond the end of my sidewalk, which you can't even tell I shoveled last evening, until Monday at the earliest--and probably not even then. So what to do with all this spare time?

The simple, thoughtless answer is Netflix. There are thousands of hours of movies and TV shows I could catch up on. But what a waste of time. After all, we get a finite number of hours in our lives and, though there's nothing wrong with taking some time to just relax and enjoy some mindless fun, there are so many things we could choose to do that fill up the hours more meaningfully and productively than that. Here are just a few:

  • Put a dent in that pile of books. If you're like me, you buy books way faster than you can read them. Just in the immediate vicinity of my desk, I count 14 books I've bought with the intention of reading. And that's not counting the ones on the Kindle app on my phone. I don't even want to know how many of those there are. If you read blogs like mine, I bet you're in a similar situation. So put down the remote and see how many books you can read instead of seeing how many entire seasons you can watch.

books, reading, study, learning, education, lights, blurry, bokeh
  • Review those books. Especially if you read books like mine by local or independent authors, it's so important that you take the time to review those books you read. Review them on Amazon. Review them on Goodreads. Talk them up on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and the thousand other social media outlets you use that I've probably never heard of. Good, thoughtful, real reviews are the life blood of sales for tiny little authors like me.
macbook, laptop, computer, technology, girl, woman, people, working, business, creative, design, typing, bricks, wall, bench, startup, office, heels, jeans

  • Catch up on correspondence. Sitting down and actually writing letters may seem quaint, but I know I still enjoy getting real mail from actual human beings instead of the steady stream of recycle I usually receive. But if you can't even find paper and pen in your house, then consider the next best thing--email. It's hard to believe that this form of communication is seen by many as just as outmoded as snail mail. But there's just something about someone taking the time to sit down and write a letter telling a loved one about what's going on in your life. It says you're important to me. I want to let you in on some truly intimate issues in my life. I wish you were here to share in them.
macbook, laptop, computer, technology, keyboard, hands, typing, keyboard, mouse, office, desk, working, business, blog, watch

  • Think about someone else. Check in on your neighbors. If your back can handle it, shovel their walk, especially if they're older or have trouble getting about. Make them some soup or cookies or whatever you're good at. Call all your friends and family and make sure they're okay. Let them know you're thinking about them. It matters.
chocolate chip, cookies, bowl, coffee beans, snack, food, dessert, treats

As I wrote this, I thought of a bunch more things, so I'll just list them: exercise, clean your house, organize that closet you've been putting off, build a snowman, go sledding, play board games with whoever you're stranded with, write a poem or a short story or a letter to the editor, and try one or two of the thousand recipes you've pinned but never actually used. 

And when you've finished all those things,  then fine, you can watch season 4 of Longmire on Netflix.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Post in Writing Wranglers and Warriors

As you probably know if you follow me regularly, I am part of a blog group called Writing Wranglers and Warriors. Today, January 22, is my turn to post on that site, so I thought you might like to read it. You can either click the link above, or go HERE to read all about how I have a wonderful friend who serves as my sounding board when I'm trying to decide what to do and where to go with a story.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Six Rules For Attending a Public Performance

I went to see a play at the Actors Guild of Parkersburg last night. I won't talk about the play itself because as soon as I finish posting this blog I'm going to be writing a review of it for ClutchMOV. I'll let you know as soon as it's published so you can read it there. But the event motivated me to write about something else. I hesitate to do this because I hate to come off as an old crank, but I just think something needs to be said about the crumbling decay of civil behavior in our culture.
I don't mean the lack of civility in public discourse. Enough has been written about whether people are too easily offended by others' words and whether Donald Trump is a breath of fresh air or just one more loud-mouthed kook. No, I'm talking about the simple civility of knowing how to behave in public, more specifically at public events such as plays and concerts.
boxing, glove, fighting, punching, girl, woman, guy, man, fedora, hat, people 
As the play started last night, I actually had a hard time hearing the actor onstage over the conversations that continued for a good minute or two after the curtain went up. It was also quite evident that no special lighting was really needed since the entire audience was lit up by the cell phones that people had just been told to silence and put away. Speaking of which I counted three separate phones going off during the show.
Let me say at this point that this particular play sort of lent itself to audience participation in that it was quite raucous and zany, with the actors often breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to us, but the sad fact is it wouldn't have mattered if that had been true or not--the audience would still have behaved  boorishly. I know this from years of attending plays and concerts in the area. Just go to the PHS Acappella Chistmas concert if you don't believe me. And I don't mean the student performance. No, I mean the evening concert, where the audience, at least ostensibly, knows how to behave. People like me, who look forward to the emotionally transporting nature of this event, walk away frustrated and angry every single time  because of the crying babies, lit and often ringing cell phones, people wandering in and out doors and up and down aisles in the middle of songs, talking, laughing, constant coughing--I could go on.
I fear I may be preaching to the choir here, if you'll pardon the cliché, but I just feel like it needs to be said. There are, or at least there used to be and still should be, rules for civilized behavior at a performance:
  • If you're at a concert or play and it's the middle of a song or scene, you just DON'T GET UP AND WALK AROUND, barring a medical emergency. Getting up and moving around disturbs the experience of everyone around you.
girl, hiking, trekking, walking, backpack, woman, people, wood, logs, coast, lake, water, trees, forest, woods, nature, adventure, fitness, outdoors
If you feel the need to take a walk,
consider a setting such as this
rather than in a theater mid-song.
  • Keep your CELL PHONE SILENT AND IN YOUR POCKET. That includes you parents who feel it's necessary to video record every living second of your child's life. Here's a novel idea: actually experience those moments live rather than busying yourself recording them and blinding all the people around you with the dazzling light of your television-sized phone screen.
iphone, camera, picture, photography, technology, mobile, lights, dark, screen, hands, blurry
My view at about a bazillion
concerts over the years.
  • Again barring emergency, JUST DON'T TALK. Your running commentary may be just flippin' hilarious to your seatmate, but it makes the people around you wish they knew how to actually perform the Vulcan neck pinch.
can, string, talk, speak, yell, hand, mouth, teeth, man, guy
An actual person at the play I
attended last night.
  •  NO BABIES. I love babies, I really do. Just ask anyone. But there is simply no excuse for bringing an infant to a concert or play. Get a sitter or just don't go.

bike, bicycle, cyclist, baby, child, kid, mother, woman, people, park, path, trees
Unlike a concert or play, this is a
wonderful place to take a child.

  • NO DISEASE SPREADERS. Again, I'm sympathetic to the fact that your child or friend or husband or whoever may be in that choir, band, or play up there, but what are you doing disturbing everyone and spreading germs? If you know there's a good chance you'll start coughing, don't go to the concert or at least sit right next to a door so you can minimize the damage. And if there's even the slightest chance you could be contagious, DO NOT GO!

    lemon, tea, cup, mug, sick
    If you're sick, stay home and do this
    rather than go to a play and share your
    germs with everyone else.
  • Finally, and this one will cause all the previous five bullets to be pretty much unnecessary: THE RULES APPLY TO YOU. You aren't above them. You aren't special. It's not about you. I'm not sure how many other ways I can think of to say it, but I'm pretty sure those cover it.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Hope To See You Tuesday

Late last year, I heard from a former student named Kaity Eaton, who is now coordinating events at the Vienna Public Library. I was quite excited that she thought of me when she started scheduling for the new year. We decided on a signing and reading and the date was set. It seemed so far away when we did it, but, as always seems to be true, the time flew by. And suddenly, it's almost time.

So I hope you'll be able to join me for an evening of signings and readings at the Vienna Public Library, which is, surprisingly enough, in Vienna, WV. Specifically, it's at 2300 River Road. If you are on Grand Central Avenue, just turn left at Neale Elementary. It's immediately on your right. If you drive into the river, you missed it.

It all starts at 6pm with sales and signing at 6pm in the main room of the library. After that, around 6:30pm, we'll be moving into a conference room for readings from my newest book, In The Shadow, as well as my Shalan prequel novella, "Harry and the Redheaded Angel." I'll also answer questions from the audience.

As is customary, I'll be giving away some prizes, including signed copies of books and posters. So, if nothing else, come to have the chance to get free stuff!

And while I have you here, let me remind you about ClutchMOV. I'm so ecstatic to be a part of this amazing publication. It's written by, about, and for people of the Mid-Ohio Valley. It's a hybrid in that it's both a print and online entity at the same time. The newest print edition is now out, so please consider picking up a copy. And also, peruse the online half. You'll find a little bit of everything, from articles on history, culture, local artisans and businesses, and reviews of local music and theater events. If it's found or happening in the MOV, chances are you'll find it on this site. You'll even find some stuff written by yours truly. Finally, soon you'll be able to find a really fun line of MOV-centric products for sale. You'll find clothing, coffee mugs, artwork--tons of stuff for anyone who loves our underrated little area. And it's easy to find! Just go to

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Three Things I Learned In 2015

I've never been big on making resolutions on New Year's. I tried it a few times and promptly broke them every single time. But I do think that it's good to look back over the previous year and reflect on lessons learned. That's what this is. It may have a part two; frankly, I haven't thought that far out. But I know that, after this, I'll spend some time thinking about goals for 2016 and how to reach them. Anyway, here goes:

notepad, paper, pen, office, desk, wood, writing
1. It's all about the writing.
Truth out--I don't sell a lot of books. I haven't added it up, but it's really a pretty small number. Partly that's because I am frustratingly incapable of getting people who tell me they enjoy them to actually review them on Amazon. But partly it's also because of the fact that I just don't do some of the things I need to do to get my work in front of people. And I am working on ways to get both of those things to change. Would I like to sell more books? Yes, to be sure. But selling more books and making a meaningful amount of money is the bonus of writing. The real value for me is the writing itself. I find great joy and solace in the creating of a story. It's a satisfaction I've rarely felt from any other endeavor in my life. And that's for me. I hope others like them, but, again, others reading and enjoying them is in addition to the central aim, which is storytelling.

2. It's really easy to forget number one.
One of the first entries I wrote in this blog was entitled something like "For a Writer I Don't Write Much." Oddly enough, that could easily be a title for entries nowadays too. To be fair, I'm branching out and writing other things. After all, I now write book reviews for ClutchMOV and I will soon also be writing occasional theater reviews as well as other miscellaneous articles. Of course, I also write this blog once a week. And all that is, by definition, writing. But when I think of being a writer, my first thought goes to my big work in progress. Right now it's Shalan book four, which I'm excited to say has a working title that I think I will not share yet. Only Maria "Pepper Potts" Delgado and I know it. I will tell you it's inspired by a Christmas song. Is that vague enough for you? But anyway, I'm currently in the early stages of day 11 of a 12-day Christmas break and yesterday morning was the first time I wrote one single solitary word on that book. Actually, I wrote almost 1000 single solitary words--not many, but more than none at all. I think they were pretty good words, though, and I plan to write some more of them as soon as I finish this post. Sorry to move, albeit temporarily, to goals, but one of the things I want to do this year is set aside time to work on my main work in progress at least five days a week.

3. It's not really all about the writing.
silhouette, family, island, canada, lake, sunset, people, men, woman, dusk, travel, horizon, evening, reflection, vacation, group, friends, water That might sound just a tad contradictory, but I'll allow it. Yes, as a writer, it's all about the writing. But I'm more than just a writer. I'm more than just a teacher. I'm a human being and a child of God. I get great joy from writing, but I get even greater joy from my relationships with my family and my friends and God. If I were asked if I had to choose between writing and my relationships, it wouldn't be close. Yes, I would be sad to think that I'd never write another book or blog or review, but I would be inconsolable thinking that I would lose those people I hold most dear. Because I am not what I do for a living. So while writing is all about the writing, living is not.

I'd like to think I learned more than that, but I can't tell you everything all at once or you wouldn't need to come back next week, would you? And I hope you do come back--and bring some friends. In the meantime, I hope you have a peaceful, meaningful 2016 and that you make a difference to the people around you.