Saturday, June 5, 2021

Online Writing Groups--Open the Doors!

Over the years I have been in our writing group (13?), we have seen people come and go, sometimes staying for a few meetings and sometimes staying for a year or more, but this year has been different.   In the year of the 'Rona while our writing group has met online, we have had a flurry of new members.  

Because meeting online doesn't require us to drive to the 'hood in downtown Indianapolis, we have had people join us from Washington, Gautemala, Texas, North Carolina, and other places.  This is both tremendously interesting and difficult.

Obviously, meeting online allows for people all over to join the group (during our set time at 7pm, two Tuesdays a month).  The diversity in this group is excellent.  I do not know how many new members have joined over the last year, but at a few meetings, we had over 15 attendees.  

This was both exciting and awkward.

A few of us talked offline about keeping our comments brief, but some of the newer members talked long.  With 15+ people critiquing 3 pieces in 2 hours, we ended up timing the critiques to make certain everyone had time to comment.  

As happens often in the summer, the numbers have dwindled a bit.  We have loyal members that continue to attend, and a few others are busy with writing projects (yes, exciting publishing and promoting endeavors--I hope to devote some posts to them in the future!), and they will probably return.

So as exciting as the ease of online meetings encourages more people, the large meetings have been difficult.  

This also poses a problem for us as we ease back into the world of non-'Rona.  Will we continue to meet online or develop a hybrid system?  Will this exclude the members from other places in the country and in the world?

And now I leave you with this quote.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Online Writing Groups

 I haven't posted in a while.

I have been a little discouraged since the rejections from Frank and Gala, I think, and recent stresses from life have been keeping me from writing.  Unfortunately, writing is probably the thing that keeps me most sane.

Nick and I are hiking this weekend, and this time invigorates me.  Our conversations range from the silly to the serious, and the scenery is lovely.  Here's a shot from The Garden of the Gods.

Anyway, I have been staying active in the Fiction Writing Group through the Indiana Writers Center--the same writing group I have attended for nearly 12 years now.  Although the members of this group have changed over the years, a few members (Randy, Tom, Kristen) have been strong, wise, lovely leaders who I am glad to know and call friends.

In the last year, we have changed our format to an online writing group.

Let me back up for a moment.  During my MFA (yes, some years ago, from 2009 to 2011), I did many online workshops, but these classes were not through a virtual-meeting based workshop.  These workshops were writing intensive, with threads and comments, branching from the main comments that each person posted.  Each member would post a critique, and the readers would respond to each others' critiques, sometimes with long, involved threads.  The writer could read but was not allowed into the discussion until at the end.

In our current online format with the Fiction Writing Group, this has worked extraordinarily well to meet in a Zoom meeting for two hours.  But there have been some bumps along the way.

I hope we will begin to meet in person again soon.  Part of the appeal and attraction with this group is the camaraderie we have developed, and this is difficult to develop in a two-hour Zoom meeting.

One reason for this: in person, we chat about our lives and get to know each other.  We catch up on what is going on.  Several conversations may be going on, inside the room, or even coming and going to the room.  In the Zoom meeting, only one conversation can happen, and while I may want to catch up with Randy or Tom or Kristen, this may seem excluding to newcomers.  

I find the online writing group phenomena very interesting.  I may explore this more in upcoming blogs.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Three Facts

I have learned three facts since the 31st of March, 2021: 

Fact One: I would not have survived the Covid-19 infection. 

Fact Two: I felt safe that Nick was with us when a Sasquatch terrorized our cabin.

Fact Three: My family survived when my lungs were shut down; thus, I can stop worrying.

On March 31st, I received, gladly, my second vaccination for Covid-19. I was warned of side effects, but it didn’t matter to me since I was getting the second dose no matter what -- AND importantly, the side effects were downplayed by the qualifier: 'it is rare, but....'. Regardless, a rare walk through Hell was worth the protection from the evil things that this virus can do. I want to reach the point when I’m no longer worrying about getting infected and when I considerably reduce the chance of spreading it. I want to get to the time when my family and I can travel freely, and when we can invite friends over. A time when the only thing to worry about is all the other things that I normally worry about!

Almost exactly four hours later, I could not pick up heavy objects such as a pitcher of water for the K-cup machine, and my knees suddenly gave out from under me as I reached up into a cabinet. Two hours later on, the muscle pain arrived in my legs and both arms -- a kind of numbing pain like when you’ve hiked all day, but much worse. The rest of the night, I experienced chills, hot sweats, severe muscle pain (especially the back of my legs), and most interesting of all… strange and vivid dreams.

Here is where Fact Two ‘factors’ in. Sorry that it is not in order.

My family and my friends Nick and Heather were staying at a cabin surrounded by dark evergreens way up in the mountains and right up to the shore of a sepia-colored and frigid, still lake (I remember wondering if the oxygen content was too low for this sub-alpine lake). I had the job of unpacking our food and, for some odd reason before putting the items away in the small kitchen, to count them… out loud. However, not too long after I had unpacked everything, we understood, by either instinct or by deduction, that a Sasquatch was scoping our cabin and stalking just beyond the perimeter of sight. I started to pack up the food and (again), count the items out loud. Out loud in real life, too, for I woke up from this dream a couple of times at this point and told myself to stop counting -- it was OCD and it was driving me crazy!

I had no trouble reentering the dream after my scolding, returning to my now unpacking and -- ugh -- counting the food items again, for Nick had convinced us to not panic over the beast and said he’d get dinner going -- he would be setting up the campfire just beyond the porch. So, we all felt safe with Nick around. We played board games in the sitting area and drank and snacked and teased and laughed though large rocks would surely be tossed into the lake to scare us off and thick branches were sure to be tossed at the cabin walls. We felt safe because of Nick’s clarity in logic and his --vast-- experience in the Outdoors. We knew that Nick would be more than sufficient in common sense and strength to convince a Sasquatch to back off and find another cabin… if it had to come to that. And, it didn’t come to that. Thus, Fact Two. 

Facts One and Three need setup.

The statement that follows is not entirely true. I had some reprieve from the episodes in the morning and felt strong enough to go into work for a few hours. The truth is that I went into work in the afternoon for a few hours, but I was very weak*. Ah -- very weak is not extremely weak, so I went in to continue my experiments for, if I didn’t, then I wouldn’t have any data for an entire week**. My post-doc helped with the -80C freezer door a couple of times (it’s a tight locking device), and he and the rest of the lab were extremely good at sending me home soon after I had completed my tasks. So, once I did get home, another wave of the rare vaccine side effects had come ashore to send me to a restless bed of chills and sweats and massive headaches throughout the night.

The next morning (yesterday), I talked myself into going into work again. Why? Look for the * and ** above. So, I went in and got my work done and, by the end of my day, discovered an annoying, dry cough.

This cough would give rise to Fact One, and Fact Three will soon follow.

By last night, my muscle pain had gone away completely. However, I began to struggle for air. My dry cough had turned into a deeper, more consuming fit. My analogy is like trying to breathe through wet concrete. I had to prop myself up on pillows like I do with an asthma attack, and then wrestle with a heating pad during the 'chills' phase whilst another migraine-like headache took residence. More restless sleep. 

This morning, I went into work, because * and **, yet, being early Saturday, no one was around to hear, see, or imagine my struggles... or scold me. I hit the hay when I got home and laid there on the pillows with my worried dog sniffing my nose and mouth and curling up next to me. The sun was brilliant and pouring in as the blinds were partly opened. I examined the big soft maple in my front yard. I felt the rough bark in my memory, and I wondered how much time my tree had remaining on Earth; wondered if I would live here long enough to really know. I closed my eyes, tried to quash coughing fits… rubbed my dog’s neck… listened in on my roommates who were busy at work grooming dogs downstairs; their home business a valuable source of stability to them and to our family… listened to their voices that were incredibly clear, meaningful, and distinct… heard my partner come and go into the room, felt his hand on my forehead, heard him start to ask a question but then stop and open the door… and close it. I heard a wheeze escape from me.

So… Asthma, too.

Fact One. No, I would not have survived a Covid-19 infection. Not me. Not these lungs. Not with my asthma. Here’s my reasoning. The vaccine is not the Coronavirus, but my body’s reaction to the mRNA vaccine would have, one might suppose, mimicked how my body would have reacted to a very real, general viral infection. In other words, a large percentage of the damage done would have been my own body’s fault. Add to that a nearly perpetual infection/propagating machine that is a virus, and then asthmatic fits and childhood scarring…? Again: Fact One. Wet concrete x 96+ hrs = bye-bye.

Actually, Fact Three had shown itself to me on many previous occasions if wearing different skins and by other means. Today, it was in the form of stillness.

I told myself to do it. I held my breath. No. More like, I prevented air from entering my lungs. I laid still. No air. I surprised myself how long I could go without any discomfort.

I look over at my tree and it is firmly planted. I feel the sun on my right leg as the star still conducts nuclear fusion. I lay my hand on my dog’s back. She still snores. I hear Chris calling out over the roar of an industrial air dryer. I hear Jose responding. I hear a dog bark from outside. No air. I hear the squeak of the hall floor as Scotty leaves for the garage to get on the treadmill. I am still. I have no air. I am both angry and relieved. I am finite; I can be put to memory, even by the ones who love me. I can be both missed, yet survived. I will be gone; they will manage. No air. Still. No air. It is fine, you know, to need air... to want air... to fight for air. Breathe. Peace of mind. Exhale. No worries. Breathe. It's true, even if extrapolated on the thinnest of experimental evidence (exhale): Fact Three.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Computer Rejection

At the risk of overanalyzing this whole agent thing, I'm going to share another story about a recent rejection.  Here's most of the rejection email:

Thank you so much for thinking of ____ Agency for your submission. Unfortunately, it's not quite what I'm looking for at the moment. I wish I could offer a more personalized response, but do know that we read every query letter and sample we receive. Even though your project is not right for us, it might be right for another agent, so don’t give up.

Good luck with all your publishing endeavors. 

I cannot imagine how difficult agents' work must be.  Writing rejections must be very difficult.

However, this one makes me laugh a bit.

"I wish I could offer a more personalized response" points this out a little too much.  Although I kind of know that most rejections are not personalized, this one says so--perhaps a little too directly.

But then, the email goes on to add, "that we read every query letter and sample we receive."  Huh.  Two things about this.  First is that despite the computerized response, they do read everything.  

Then the second part of this is a little more subtle: the rejection shifts from a singular, personal pronoun (I) to a plural, personal pronoun (we, us) in the second part of this email.  The connotation appears to defuse the responsibility from the singular agent to a group (i.e., a group of people, not just me, decided against your work).

The ending of this impersonal rejection is a resounding good luck.  Don't give up.

I've seen more than a few of these emails over the years.  For some reason, this one made me laugh a little more than the others.  I didn't take this one as personally (ha) as I did in the past. 

Maybe I'm finally developing a sense of humor about all of this.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

MWW, The Agents

I never really thought I would do this publishing, agent, marketing shtick, but here I am.

So, when I went to the MWW MidWest Agent Fest this past November, I did not have any delusions of trying to tap into the "system."  I just wanted to learn a little more about the publishing business and all--the "system" and "agents" seemed very enigmatic to me.

Funny, writing agents did seem very similar to secret agents.  They run around with special brief cases.  They read valuable documents.  They have secret contacts.  And no one knows who they are, how to meet them, or how to get to them.

I met and talked to some agents at the MWW, and they don't seem quite as mysterious as they used to.  I don't imagine New York penthouses with classy, sophisticated (and judgmental) women and men sipping martinis and deciding what the next trends in fiction will be.  They are not quite like this.

The "secret" agents seem less illusive, less intimidating--more like real people.

I sent out 4 queries about a month ago.  

I tried not to think about it.  

I have heard back from two at this time.  One, a copied, formatted, polite "no thank you."

The second was a lovely request for the full manuscript with an honest, "I do not work in this genre."  I freaked out a little and sent out the full manuscript two days later.

I tried not to think about it.

She responded a week later (wow, this doesn't really happen in the "agent" world, does it?).  She politely said she enjoyed it and thought I was a stunning writer, but she wasn't sure how to work with this and the genre.  She then suggested another agent who, she told me, might be a long shot.

What a positive experience.  She was encouraging, responsive, and helpful.  I didn't know agents could do that!

I sent out another query.  With this one and the two others I sent previously, I'm waiting on three.

I'm trying not to think about it.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Go Bananas

This is about the ongoing struggle I have over bananas.  No, this is not a recap of the history of the phallic shaped fruit.  Go do your own banana research if you’re curious.  I will say, it is interesting history with some great examples of depravity.  Leave it to mankind to start wars over something as simple as a natural fruit.


This commentary is regarding the personal struggle I face each time I pick out bananas at the grocery store.  


I shop the produce section towards the end of my shopping adventures.  This is something I learned from my mother.  Produce goes into the cart last.  This helps prevents the produce from getting squished by heavier items. A mom knows best lesson.


Venturing into the produce section is my favorite part of grocery shopping.  I start looking around to see how many people are in the section. The battle of navigation within the produce section becomes a test of patience.  


Mentally running through my produce list,

Onions, Garlic, Apples, Broccoli, Green Onions, Peppers, Carrots (maybe), Mushrooms, and Bananas….


I know how well the quality of the produce will be in general by the condition of the green onions, so I always hit up the green onions first.  


Sifting through the pile of green onions, I note to myself, they are not great.  


After finding a bunch of green onions that I approve of, I glance over towards the banana section, anticipating the coming personal struggle.  


Moving on to the mushrooms. I riffle through the cartons of mushrooms, sizing up the quality differences between the Mini Bella and standard white mushrooms.  


The Minis make the cut this time.  


Placing them in my cart, I push on to the peppers, again looking towards the banana section.   After finding the better of the peppers, I blaze through to the other side of the produce section.  Dodging the other docile shoppers too caught up in their phones and reading their digital shopping lists or unaware of how much space they take up while reprimanding their child for fingering all the produce, I continue.  


I breeze past the Broccoli grabbing a stock, giving it a firm squeeze for quality.


Grabbing a produce bag, I load up on apples.   It’s always ether Gala or Fuji.  Fuji are my favorite for snaking on, but Gala always seems to be in better condition regardless of season.  


Tying a knot in the bag of apples and placing them into my cart, I look across the produce section again. Thinking to myself only two more items before its banana time.  


Pushing my cart along the back aisle of the produce section, the traffic is not much.  I make a sharp left into the row that has potatoes and onions on one side and bananas on the other.  


Keeping my back to the bananas and focusing on the onions, I begin to assess onion quality.  Yellow, red, white, who’s going to win?


The garlic is right next to the onions.  So, I find the healthiest, fattest bulb of garlic and toss it into my cart before turning around and facing my banana nemesis.


With my cart next to me, I slowly turn around to take in all the glory of the yellow fruit.  Lately, the produce employees seem to be color-organizing the bananas.  Green to yellow to starting to spot, to spotting a lot.  They also seem to try and organize them by bunch size, singles to large stocks.  


I am not a major banana consumer.  I can take them or leave them.   When I think of snacking on a fruit, I crave apples.  


My wife likes bananas.


Knowing shelf life for bananas is short, I have a hard time picking out bananas.  Get too many, you have to eat them faster so they don’t ripen too far.  Don’t get enough then you have to back to the store and do this again.  


Finding the right bundle of bananas at the right ripeness that will last you through the next 5-7 days becomes a battle at that moment.  Especially when you know you won’t eat them daily.  And you are limited to the selection at that time which isn’t always the best. 

So much consideration goes into this decision. 


I find myself standing in front of the bananas for a long time.  Other shoppers pass by, pardoning themselves as they quickly pick out a bundle of bananas.   Then, there are those shoppers that pick up a large bundle of bananas and break off a section taking the bananas they want from that bundle. 

For some reason that drives me a little crazy.  I cringe inside as I observe this behavior play out in front of me. 

At some point, I mentally slap myself and say come on already grab and go.  Besides, bananas are only $0.55 a pound today. 

Thursday, December 31, 2020


 I must confess, dear readers, this has been a very difficult post to write. I have started it a dozen times or more and then deleted it, unable to capture the vastness of it all. I grapple daily with emotions that are greater than me. A complex Gordian Knot of feelings that are wound about, at the center, my mother and her Alzheimer's Disease.

For some years now, we have know that my mother was suffering from the disease though the exact start of her decline is a subject of debate. My sister was willing to see the signs far earlier than I was even though the history of Mother's family is littered with victims of the disease. I don't know whether I was simply in denial of what was happening to her or I was just that distracted, but eventually even I began to see the symptoms. 

My father, God rest his soul, was clearly covering for her lapses in memory for as long as he could manage. Yet, there came a time when my sister and I had to step in to help. It began with checking up on them on a more regular basis. My sister and I would take turns going over to check on them, alternating days for visits. Mom was still able to cook for them at this point, but the new vacuum we had purchased to replace the defunct one was a mystery to her. Trips to the grocery were now chaperoned by one of us as Mom could no longer remember how to drive and my father's eyesight was too poorly. In this way we managed for a year or two.

And then, my mother had a fall. She had been cooking hamburgers for the two of them and was taking the pan to the table when something happened. We don't know whether she suffered a stroke or her blood pressure dropped precipitously, but whatever it was caused her to fall to the kitchen floor. The grease from the pan burned her arm and left her in such a state that when I arrived I knew we had to go to the hospital. Many hours later they had her stabilized and we were able to take her home. Yet, during that night she had another episode which left her incapacitated on the bedroom floor. 

This time the ambulance was called. 

She spent the next ten days in hospital with a sepsis infection in her blood. These were dark times for our family (See my post "The Bitterness of Hope"). She did rally in the end, recovering in a rather miraculous style. There was a stint at a rehab facility to regain her physical acuity as best as possible, but she had lost something of her mind during all this. Her mind no longer functioned as it should having lost the ability to speak coherently. We agreed that she was "still in there" just by her actions and the partial sentences she would manage to cobble together. However, she was no longer able to be the caretaker matriarch of the family. 

The decision was made at the end of the rehab period to bring her home rather than institutionalize her. This was not an easy decision for any of us, but my father did not want to see her placed in a home. His own health was fairly poor at this point, so bringing Mom home was a dubious plan at best. Yet, he persevered. He had never lived on his own before and knew little of how to take care of himself let alone the two of them. My sister and I therefore, resumed our alternating visits though now we brought food (grapes and rotisserie chicken were poplar items) and did odd jobs around the house. My sister was tasked with giving Mom showers while I was tasked with goading my father into actually taking one. My wife would prepare meals that could be easily reheated in the microwave (we had to teach Dad how to use it) in random Tupperware and casserole dishes. We would take turns taking them to Doctor's visits based on our schedules and level of tolerance. I generally took my father to his visits as he had a knack for winding my sister up without even trying. My sister would take Mom to her hair cuts and random doctor's visits. Groceries were gathered by us as well until we were able to convince him to have them delivered (a concept he decried vocally until they actually began to show up on his doorstep). At the end, we even had Meals on Wheels delivering to them at lunch time just to make certain they had enough to eat. 

 It was taxing - emotionally and physically -  for all concerned, but we persevered for over two years until my father's heart finally gave out.

With Dad laid to rest, we now had the daunting task of sorting out the estate. My father planned assiduously for his retirement, hoarding every last inheritance and savings he could muster. They did not live extravagantly so that they might keep their nest egg as large as possible. I always chided him for this, but I suppose he was right in the end. He did not however, foresee the state my mother would be in at this point in their lives. I know he had hoped that they would both live out their days in the little house on Bancroft Street and die peaceful in their sleep. Such is the cruelty of the universe that it did not end this way. Without power of attorney, we had to seek guardianship for my mother as she could no longer make her signature or give verbal consent. If you've never had to go through this, dear readers, simply pray that you do not. I remember sitting in the judges chambers listening to him inquisition my sister as to her competency to be the fiduciary half of the care team be angered near to the point of outburst as she came close to tears. He then proceeded to explain to us that guardianship is not remanding the person into our care but rather that of the State. She was to lose all her individual rights and be subject to the will of the State. We would be the appointed caretakers, but ultimately, we answered to the judiciary. 

Let this be warning to you all. 

After this, a memory care facility was found near to us that was clean and had a good reputation. She has resided there for a year now. My sister and I resumed our alternating days of visiting, which kept us in her mind and kept us grounded to her. The little house on Bancroft was sold and the contents divided between us. Mom was safe and being cared for and we could visit her as we were able without having to worry about food, cleaning, or the thousand other things that we had been concerned. 

And then came the plague.

Since March, the facility (like all others) has been locked down allowing no visitors inside. In the early days, we were denied any visitation rights. Months passed without so much as a glimpse of her. Summer came and our understanding of the virus broadened. The managers of the facility began letting family have window visits with our loved ones. A sliver of open window with our mother in her rocking chair on one side and us in camp chairs in the mulch on the other side. Brief encounters that nearly always ended in a tearful goodbye, but at least she could hear our voices. 

But, the seasons change and summer faded into fall and that slid into winter. 

It is cold now. We can no longer have that sliver of screening open between us nor can we go inside. The staff are willing to let us try (bless them for their care), but she has lost so much weight she might flutter away in the breeze. We still visit, each of us making time as we can. I have an arrangement with the weekend nurses to visit on Sunday (official visiting hours are on Saturday).  I sit there on my chair in the landscaping outside her window shouting through the closed window. Our conversations are nonsensical as she cannot make herself understood and I'm not certain she understands what I say. On good days, she sits with me for a half an hour or more. It's on these days that it seems that she is more aware. On bad days, I'm lucky to get ten minutes before she gets up and wanders off. 

These are the days that nearly break me. The days when it seems like she doesn't know me and I am left standing at the window with my hand pressed against the glass shouting, "I love you" at her slowly retreating form.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

A Whole New World of Fiction? @GR3GORY88...

 My husband found this video the other day.  He shared this with Randy and me.  It's a little long, but if you have 45 minutes, watch it to the end.

So I'm stuck in the traditional world of storytelling with plot, character, setting, and all the rest.  

But I'm so intrigued by this.  Creating a fictional storyline in Twitter has its own development--even plot, character, POV, and setting, if on a different level.  This is clever on so many levels because it creates suspense and readers and a platform over time.

This is a novel form of storytelling, and I'm sad to think that by the time I could draft a "Twitter fiction," this will probably be overdone and old news.  It's like a novel in series or comic books or trilogies--but the platform is very unique and timely.

As I am dreaming up ways to market and to build a platform for my own writing, I wonder if this could build a foundation for upcoming publications.  Could this be a new way to market and to build interest for an upcoming book?

Could GR3GORY88 be building a world for his own writing?  This is a wonderful piece of storytelling, and if GR3GORY88 is building interest and marketing for an upcoming book, well done.

So what's the next experiment with fiction?

How would you use social media to tell a story?

Sunday, December 13, 2020



He looked split against the corner, shared between the planes that were the walls. The fan’s light wobbled and it brightened and dimmed him in and out along with the slow, nauseating spin of the blades’ own shadow cast. The effect drew my eye and then my full attention as I took in what I thought to be perfect symbolism of my subject.

“You wish you had gotten your PhD in Science?” I looked down at my notepad. I didn’t want to be distracted by the split shadow effect.


“Yeah. Life got in the way. Literally. Just how it went. Can't lie. I'm just a measly research assistant. A lab manager of students and post-docs who come and go, come and go. I'm like Father Time, because when they come in, they are always the same age, while I just get older and older. Depressing, Friend. Time is unfair to me. Always has been."

"A PhD would have resolved this?" I was truly perplexed. I study Shadowman who now spread his arms out over the walls in exclamation.

"Yeah, absolutely! I would have loved to have discovered something and created some amazing assays and reliable tools… backed by a high degree, of course, and the freedom. Yeah; the independence. It's a path that I should have started when I was younger. Damn."

"You have over twenty years experience in your field."

"So? It's never rewarded fairly. Never offered first-author; my executions and interpretations are always questioned. I have to do thrice the work as everyone else. But with a doctorate -- automatic. A PhD confirms you've got the right to create and execute, you know; you've got license to do all that. Considered expert by degreed blessings. But, it's all up to you, too, the burdens, the eurekas. You get out what you put in... the hypotheses, delegating... the grants… publishing. It's sink or swim. Scratch that sink or swim: cliché. I never acted on it because; well, you know: life. But oh, my Friend. I used to see myself out in the field gathering data, directing my students, collaborating with my colleagues and returning to the lab… writing technical about my discoveries big and small and giving lectures on them and going all Jane Goodall, et cetera.”


I scribbled my initials next to the others that crowded my page margin. “Et cetera? But, wouldn't you still have that same desire to write? That is… would you still have the time to write creatively with such a career change? Last week, you said -- and I remember you said it quite firmly -- that you wished you had become a full-time novelist.”

I glanced over at the corner again because Shadowman paused longer than usual. Alas, still split; yet unevenly as he brushed his hair back and swiveled in his chair just enough to cast a face profile on the wall to his left. I wondered if he heard my question.

“Friend. It's all about creating something unique. Understand? If I could go back in time to write a killer novel or two... or three; something worthwhile, then I would’ve done that, too. I’d focus on something memorable. Create something uniquely my own. Buuuut...." Shadowman sighed. "Like with the PhD thing, it's too late for all that. I’m middle-aged. Upper, even. We’ve gone over this already. The whole age thing.” Shadowman leaned back in his chair, seemed to think he was too comfortable in that position, bounced back, and sat up straighter and perfectly split by the corner. “Not enough time left to accomplish much of anything. To leave my mark, so to speak. Huh. Another cliché.

“Regardless, is that entirely true? That you haven't enough time to accomplish anything worthwhile? In your science career? In your writing?”

Shadowman nodded, more to himself. He seemed satisfied with his own answer. For whatever reason, it frustrated me.


I underlined one of my initial scratchings with a heavy hand. "Is middle-age a good enough excuse to not focus on today and set up real, tangible goals for the next half of your life?"

Shadowman shook his head; his profile swapping left and right onto the walls. "It's not really half. More like twenty-five years." He leaned against his chair; he was imperfectly split now as the left wall had only his ear and sideburns, "Maybe even less than that. Not much time to create that masterpiece of a lifetime, right?"...and the wall to his right held everything else plus a double shadow of his hair. "Maybe you're onto something, Friend. Couldn't do both... PhD and Novelist."


"Oh. That isn't what I meant to say at all." My anger only grew. "Do you think it's true when it's said...."


"Life is too short as it is? Meaning, that every minute of life is not to be wasted, but lived to its fullest?"

Shadowman chuckled. “I couldn’t write that, you know?”


“'Life is too short as it is'. It’s a cliché. And so is 'live life to its fullest'. Writers would refrain from putting that to paper. It makes me cringe just thinking of it. Look, Friend. It's given me goosebumps.”

“I see." But I couldn't really see anything on the arms of a shadowman. "What sort of stories would you put to paper? You know; if you had all the time in the world?”

Shadowman laughed and swiveled his chair again. "Another cliché? You're on a roll. Ugh -- and yet another cliché. Geez!"

He laughed again; obnoxiously. Oddly, I thought I should see his laughing imprinted on the wall, too. What would that have looked like? Shadow laughter?

"You find something humorous?"

“Well, yeah. Look; we’ve talked about this already, Friend. I write historical fiction. With a twist. I like gay characters. Figure out how they might have survived the biases of their day. The evil. Try to figure out how my characters lied to their comrades… snuck around to find others like them… whatever it took to accept reality within themselves. It takes a lot of work. A lot of time, you know, to get it right, to justify their sacrifices. Really, it takes time to learn how your characters behave, especially in historical context. A 'nine to five' job drug dosing cancer cells and preparing for university safety inspections doesn't leave much time to conjecture gay characters of Nineteenth Century European Empires. Ha.”

Shadowman lost himself in his chair shadow as he bent down and tightened a loose shoe knot.

“Actually, that’s something I've never heard from you before.”

“What’s that?”

I waited for Shadowman to materialize onto his corner. I looked at him deeper than I should have. “The ''takes time to justify their sacrifices' and that last thing, uh: 'nine to five'. You don't.... How should I put this.... You don't feel guilty, do you? Wanting to write? Instead of working in your lab? Not earning a regular paycheck from all your writing endeavors? Is it guilt you feel... when you sit down and write after coming home from a long day at the laboratory?'”

I had hoped he would give me another one of his pauses to suggest that he was allowing my question some deep thought. Yet, Shadowman swiveled his chair, and he seemed to not have cared to respond or failed to think over the question at all.


“Let’s assume that you don’t have time to choose one path over the other; seeking a higher degree in a science field and your desire to earn a creative writing legacy. Is it possible to time manage in such a way where you can maintain both, if not in more equal parts, but sustainable proportions? A 'nine to five' by day; writing classes and workshops on weekends... some off nights? Take some PTO? Maybe self-publishing? After all --”

Shadowman groaned.

I knew exactly what he was going to say. I could write it out on my notepad. Instead, I started to write my init--

“Time management? Seriously, Friend? Not enough time left to manage! Geez, I mean....Time’s not just ticking; time has already ticked! Here's a cliché that I actually like: Time grows like a tree, Friend, and it also dies with the tree. Need a big tree to make some magic. An oak. Here's another one: Creativity is a spark of genius -- yet only a spark. Understand? So, you’ve got to be ready when it strikes -- need the time for it to ignite. I've got the sparks; but I don’t have enough time, Friend; to set it all to flame. So, it’s too late for me. I'm over. Too late for all that. Wasted my life, in a way. Nothing to leave for the world from me but a few fourth-authored research material, some retrograde blog posts nobody cared to read in the first place, and a granite headstone with some overused Bible verse.”

Shadowman melted into his chair. The fan’s light wobbled and the blades flickered across the indeterminate, two-dimensional lump cast onto the corner of my room.



Saturday, November 28, 2020

MWW--the Aftermath

 The MidWest Writers Agent Fest finished a week ago.  This virtual conference held great sessions with agents, editors, and writers, and I'm still digesting all the information.

Three takeaways from this conference:

1) Although not all writers, agents, and editors like social media, everyone encourages writers to develop and increase their social media presence.  The bigger platform that a writer has to offer a publisher, the better chance a publisher has to get money from an author's work.  

2) Agents and editors are real people.  Everyone that spoke at the conference is sincere, professional, and approachable.  In addition, the agents emphasized the relationships with their writers--they believe in their writers and in what they do.  The agents and editors want the writers to succeed because they will make money, certainly, but also because they invest time and passion into them.

3) I'm not quitting my day job, but this world of agents and publishing feels very time-consuming.  To do this successfully, I'm not sure how anyone can do all this and hold a demanding job.  Writing in itself is demanding, but add in social media, query letters, extra rounds of revision, and contract negotiations, and this feels overwhelming at times.

Certainly, the agents and editors were fascinating people to hear speak, but I would like to mention two people on the board of the MWW who spoke powerfully and whose passion in this conference was above and beyond what I ever expected.  

Jama Kehoe Bigger's story is amazing.  She spoke briefly about this, and she moderated all the sessions with patience and kindness throughout.  

Also, Angela Jackson-Brown was another memorable, inspiring, and lovely author who worked in almost all the sessions.  She has a silky, soothing voice, and one of the high points of the conference was listening to her read first page submissions.  I almost fell out of my chair when I heard her read mine.

I will be following up with some agents in the coming months.  More to come about this?

Sunday, October 18, 2020

MWW Fest is Back On

Back in March, the MidWest Writers Workshop fell prey to the delays of Covid-chaos of early 2020. 

The Agent Fest is back on--rescheduled and reformatted online through Zoom--and stretched over four days instead of two.

MWW Agent Fest

Strange, I am rather disappointed that this is online.  I am like many other writers, I think: we are insecure about our craft, but meeting and bonding with other writers has been encouraging and helpful to me.  Several workshops and conferences have proven to be great times of growth and learning for me as a writer.  And the personal interactions with other writers is a huge part of this.

All that to say, I never really look forward to conferences.  I always feel underprepared, insecure, and lost.  So, here I am, preparing for the Agent Fest, knowing I could rewrite this silly book another 50 times and still not be done with it.  

Oh, did I mention I will be giving a pitch?  So to torture myself more, I'm practicing pitching.  

Here's a practice run:

Let me know what you think?

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Differences in Respect

 I have an uncle from Venezuela.  He came to the States for college.  It was during this time that he started dating my aunt.  They married, moved to the Bay Area, and started a family.  He got a job at Hewlett-Packard doing international sales.  He mainly traveled to Central and South America to develop business.  


To help travel, HP asked my uncle if he would be interested in working from his home country Venezuela. So my uncle agreed to a 2-year contract to live and work from his home city Caracas.  HP moved my aunt and uncle to Caracas with their two kids.  They paid for a very nice 2-story penthouse condo just outside of downtown Caracas.  


My grandmother, great aunt, and I went to visit them.  I was 12 at the time.  School had just ended, and it was the start of summer break.  


We left my grandmother’s house in Sacramento, CA, and drove to San Francisco, where we stayed the night in a hotel.  The next morning we boarded a Pan Am flight that took us to Miami, FL—there, changed planes, and then off to Caracas, Venezuela.


Arriving in Caracas, it was late, sometime around 9pm.  Going through customs was crazy--a mad house.  People were everywhere, suitcases being opened by customs officials, clothing being tossed to the ground, and the noise of people chattering in Spanish so fast it sounded like they were yelling at each other.  My grandma was tense and told me to stay close to her as we made our way through customs.  


My aunt and uncle met us outside of customs with hugs and greetings.  We got in their car and drove straight to my uncle’s parent’s house.  


I was taken aback by the news of going to his parent’s house mainly because I knew how late it was.  


My uncle informed me that his grandfather was staying at his parent’s house.  He grandfather was not doing well--more or less he was expected to die within a few days.  My uncle said that his grandfather wanted to meet me and he wanted to say goodbye to my grandmother before he passed. 


I was surprised.  I asked my uncle, “What do you mean he wants to meet me?” 


My uncle said that he had told his grandfather all about me and he wanted to meet someone from Alaska.    


My uncle’s parents lived in some city district in Caracas.  It was a city neighborhood different to any that I had seen before. 


We parked the car about a block away from their house.  Walking towards their house, I noticed all the front yards to the houses had 10-foot tall adobe style walls dividing the yards, making the front yards more into courtyards. All of the houses had some kind of a fence across the front of the entrances of the front yard/courtyard. 


We came to my uncle’s parents’ house and their fence was black wrought iron, about 8ft high.  A wrought iron gate under lock and key was the entrance to their front yard.  My uncle’s father met us at the gate with hugs and smiles.  He led us through their front yard along a long narrow path that twisted through their gorgeous garden--tall trees, tropical flowers, fresh cut grass on ether side of the path--it was beautiful. 


Looking up at the tall walls that boarded their yard, I saw the top of the wall was lined with broken glass bottles the whole length of the wall.  I asked my uncle, “Why is there broken glass on top of the wall?”  


He said, “To help prevent people from trying to get in.”


As we got closer to the house, I noticed wrought iron in front of all the windows and front door. I looked at my uncle pointed towards the wrought iron.  “Let me guess.  The wrought iron is to prevent people from breaking in?”


“Yep,” he replied.  


My uncle’s father opened the front door.  His mother was standing in the living room, and she met me with hugs and more loving Spanish.  


I felt my uncle push past his loving mother and me.  I watched him beeline straight to his grandfather who was lying in hospital bed on the other side of the room.  My uncle dropped to his knees taking his grandfather’s hand into his and kissing his hand.  My uncle began whispering to his grandfather in Spanish.  This went on for a good, few minutes. 


I was blown back.  I had never seen so much outpouring of love in person.  My uncle who usually always hugs his mother rushed right passed her.  


My uncle turned to me and asked me to come meet his grandfather.  From across the room I could see his eyes tearing up.  


Nervous, I walked over to the bed.  His grandfather was extremely ill, he had a rattle in his breathing that became more deafening the closer I got to him.  His hair was long and very thin, a mix of dark and gray, mostly gray.  I looked him in the eyes.  I could tell he was trying to focus on me.  His eyes were glassy, like he had thick contacts in, but I later learned he had really bad cataracts.

He raised his hand for me to shake.  I put my hand into his.  He squeezed my hand and said something to me in Spanish.  My uncle, still on his knees, looked up to me and said, “My grandfather welcomes you and is pleased to meet you.”


He held my hand for a long time.  It was warm and comforting.  I was still very uncomfortable.  We all knew he wouldn’t be around for much longer and I didn’t know how to take it. 


I was thinking to myself, “This morning, I woke up in San Francisco.  Had a late lunch in Miami.  Spent all day flying to get to South America.  Spent an hour going though customs and watching customs officials go through my suitcase.  I was nervous that they might keep something of mine.  Now, I’m shaking a dead man’s hand, and my uncle is kneeling next me crying, showing his grandfather love and appreciation.”  


It wasn’t until I was much older, I reflected on this.  I had to go through a few deaths in the family to compare the cultural differences I notice when it comes to dealing with elderly and death.


Latin American and Asian cultures seem to have so much more respect for the elderly and sick.  


Why is this?  


Why is it that here in our American culture the sick and the elderly are treated as an inconvenience?


Where is the family love in putting grandparents in assisted living?  


I know I’m generalizing but the love and respect my uncle showed his grandfather is like nothing I’ve seen before.  My uncle’s grandfather held on for a few more weeks.  He passed shortly after my visit to Venezuela.      

Monday, September 14, 2020

This Brave New World We Have

I love a good discussion about genre.  Romance, science fiction, fantasy, crime--these all have certain rules, and within the rules, readers have expectations.  But these expectations lay a sticky boundary for readers: if the writer strays too far from the expectations, the reader is disappointed.  If the writer stays too closely to the parameters of the genre, this feels like a formula.

What a fascinating discussion.

Different discussion.  Different genre.  The propaganda novel. 

This genre goes by many other labels: the thesis novel, utopian novel, even the proletarian novel.  These novels span a wide range of political and social issues, but the novel focuses on a point, and the point of the story, characters, and theme is to deliver this idea.

Think The Jungle, 1984, Animal Farm, Clockwork Orange, Atlas Shrugged, Lord of the Flies, Sister Carrie, and Brave New World.  

I love this type of fiction because it tells about our world and tells truths about us.  Sometimes, it is scary.

Fiction tells truths.  

Four legs good.  Two legs bad.

I have reread some of these books in the last few months, and I'm stunned at how relevant these are.

When we watched the destruction of historical monuments earlier this summer, I heard many people say some variation of, "If we destroy the past, then today's youth can start over."

Chills.  Does this sound like 1984?  Let's erase the past.  Turn churches into Ministries of Love.  Learn the double-speak and conformity that echoes in our world.  And then, imagine the pigs smoking cigars and drinking whiskey while making plans to take over the farms.  And we'll wonder why the engineers and devoted workers retire to Colorado and trade with gold.  Forgive the mixed metaphors (😉).

I believe these books are more important than ever.  Go read them.  All of them.  Right now.

What's your favorite propaganda novel?