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?

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Lord Robert Taylor's Dilemma: The Soul Must Forget

Does a soul forget those of his or her life's past during the purification trials of Purgatory? 

Purgatory, as defined by Webster's is a place or state (in Roman Catholic doctrine) of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are expiating (atone for, redeem) their sins before going to Heaven.

Purgatory is an opportunity to not only be forgiven, but to also be cleansed and purified... for Eternity. At first thought, this makes perfect sense. Why allow inside God's House one's dirty shoes and bad thoughts, or sulk all over Paradise with regrets, or stare down on Earth crossed-arm with envy, or find a pillow to drown in melancholy, or pace about some great cliff aching over someone --or some thing-- that lingers on or perhaps, craves on.

Ceara Kerr, Robert's new wife, thought a good memory cleansing was, indeed, necessary. She had argued the point that the soul must do whatever it must to not only please God, but to kill the lingering of a past life... and even if that pleasing and killing off came at a cost of forgetting one's loves. 

Though Robert is new to the Catholic faith (and, frankly, a novice to religion by any practical sense), he is having difficulty in accepting this fact of Purging. Honestly, this might disturb just about any soul who had on Earth fallen in love with a slight ruffian who steals bread and shoes or loves a daughter whose trade eventually catches Jack the Ripper's eye. And, what if your mom has an Irish whiskey addiction, or a brother who had killed a hundred enemies under orders of his King? What if your dear husband was non-Catholic, or worse: an atheist? And, what if you, as master of the house and Lord of Ken Kerr, had fallen in love with your wife's brother? 

Tsk-tsk,one would expect 19th Century Catholic Doctrine Purgatorialists to dictate and 19th Century Purgatory judgement to conclude as the chained and bent-kneed spirit of Robert Taylor bows his burdened head before the Body:

"If you wish to go to Heaven and spend all Eternity with your lovely wife Ceara in future, then you must forget that her equally lovely brother, Hugh, ever caught your heart or kissed your lips or shared his bed or unloaded his most honest thoughts and; well, you must agree to have your memory cleansed of that man, Hugh Kerr -- and removed from your heart for all Eternity." 

And the same command is exacted on Hugh, in memory of Robert?

Ah, poor Robert! I have written about this interesting man several times before (see links below). Life for an Englishman in early 19th Century Antrim, Northern Ireland could only get stranger if Purgatory requires him to move along... and forget whatever happened there. Nothing to see here! If only he didn't love his bride and his bride's brother... at the same instant and depth. I mean, if one came before the other... and one was purely secreted away, or excused away as just something guys do when they're bored, you know.... Oh well.

I'm trying to help him. I've picked up his story again and have been writing (really, cleaning up) on a break from writing my other Englishman in love with an exquisite Irish girl story (that Western one!). I am still trying to de-Edgar Allan Poe this thing, but here is a raw excerpt that might help to not only dramatize that Purgatory issue a bit but also give you some flavor for the story. Oh! And it helps to know that Robert is thinking back on this while his lover, Hugh, is a chained corpse beside him and they are inside a sea cave in an escarpment that reaches out to the roaring North Atlantic. (!)

Excerpt: Not so of men or women! They owed their entire existence to memory of who and what came before them -- and the duty to carry such memories forward, even if those memories governed the heart or robbed the soul or would break fragile bones. Men and women had the duty to carry forth hope and burdens alike -- and to remember it and all sacrifices made to claim such memories, for better or for worse. Robert’s own assessment of Purgatory had become this: not only would the soul recall its past, but the soul must so do, or else...else….

“The soul is the amalgam of all that it has touched!” Robert addressed himself, shivering in the deepening chill -- and even nodded an agreement towards Hugh's corpse.

And those whom the soul has touched.

Robert’s stubborn, yet most intuitive Ceara; she was not so convinced of his argument.

How did that go?

Robert tried to recount the exchange. She claimed when the soul entered into Purgatory, memory to its past must be subjected to the requirements of forgiveness; even if that necessitated memory to be ‘forever laid to rest’ if the trials to the soul’s cleansing were so dictated, “for to Him the soul must commit to what He so dictates; to Him the soul must concede only; not to the memory of those loved so truly and those hated so thoroughly. Lest…” she paused, her finger in the air and her left eyebrow raised like a thin trail of smoke from her enlightened eye, “to sin the soul will commit if it so foolishly refuses the Trials; and a taibhse the soul will suit an’ -- oh! a sad taibhse it will be as the poor thing will wallow forever on the earth in search of its yore rather than celebrating in the paradise awaiting it!”

He had not put much thought into the existence of taibhse -- ghosts, shades, or hollows -- until he had become acquainted with his family Kerr. Yet, Ceara’s speculation that ghosts were spirits who refused the trials of Purgatory did make sense. He had admitted as much to her during a rather intense discussion over breakfast some weeks ago. So did Mary Blevins, their maidservant. She had firmly agreed with Ceara’s assessment of what had chained ghosts to the land and what had freed souls to Paradise. End excerpt.

Taibhse -- ghosts, shades, or hollows? Yes, poor Robert is bothered by those, too! Come to think of it, so am I.

Ken Kerr links:

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Writing and the Industry in the New World

 Not more than a week has past in the last months when someone has mentioned, "the new normal."

Will we be wearing masks to buy groceries in January?  Will kids go back to school this year?  Will the Big Box stores take over the hardest hit smaller businesses?

I have no idea.

But I do think about how this all has impacted writing, publishing, and reading.  My outlook has been pretty grim because I see libraries shut down and small bookshops closing.  On the other hand, here are a couple of articles that have pretty positive points.

Although many businesses are open, the Corona Times have turned many people to books.  This article from The Observer (Fall 2020 Book Forecast) describes the progression of books through the last months: starting with craft and workbooks, then lots of cookbooks, on to fiction, and then books with complex racial and cultural issues.

The end "forecast" for the fall is for identity-seeking books, complex female characters, or closed societies.  Diverse, complex stuff.

Funny, I thought the world we live in is too complex with too much conflict.  My thinking is people read to escape, and anything too complex or challenging will be avoided--generally.

Here's another interesting read: Trends Transforming the Publishing Industry.  Some of this is no surprise: digital marketing, SEO, and visuals are more important than ever.  

Couple of surprises from this article:

1)  Podcasting is growing.  Writers need to use this.

2)  Print is just as important as ever.

3)  Self-publishing is doing pretty good (17 of the top 100 on Kindle are self-published--WOW).

As awful as 2020 has been so far, this world has seen some good things in all this.  Stimulus checks are one.  Binge-watching is another.  

Now, with people reading more and the internet becoming more intrinsic to our lives, this could be a tremendous opportunity for writers to self-publish our books about diverse, complex stuff.  

Maybe now is the time that I finish my millionth revision of that novel, the one with the closed society and complex women seeking their identities....

Monday, July 27, 2020


We added another cat to our house this year.  We felt that our professional bat killer Gabby, needed some company.  Knowing how temperamental the bat killer can be, we were a little worried about how she would react to another cat in the house. She is a very selfish type and extremely territorial.  She doesn’t hold back her feelings and will slice and dice you if you cross her.  So with a crazy bat killer living with us, we were kind of second-guessing the thought of bringing in Nash.  

Nash is our new-to-us rescue cat.  

My boss’s family adopted him from a rescue shelter.   He is extremely shy and skittish but has a heart of gold once you gain his trust.  

Really he’s just a big baby. 

His story is a little terrifying.  A coyote or a dog attacked him, when he was a few weeks old.  The attack left him with a broken left jaw and major damage to his left front leg.  The leg could not be saved, so it was removed.  His jaw recovered fully.  So tri-pod Nash grew up learning to function with three legs. 

It is amazing what he can do with only three legs. 

My boss’s wife has a mild allergy to cats.   They got Nash because their kids wanted a cat.  Once there kids moved out to go to college, they decided to find a new home for Nash.  So they asked my wife and I if we would be interested in taking Nash.  

We sat on the idea for a few months, worried what the bat killer would do to goofy, three-legged Nash. 

Would he be able to defend himself from the bat killer if needed?  

We could see how much attention the bat killed needed when we were home.  We knew she was lonely when we were away at work.  

So we decided to bring Nash in and hoped for the best.  

It took a good month for Nash to warm up to us.  He was so scared that first month.  He found hiding places in the house that to this day I don’t know about.  

The bat killer didn’t like him.  She would hiss at him and run him off during the first few weeks.  

One day, he came out of his hiding spot and was hanging out in the kitchen.  I reached out to pet him.  He apprehensively let me pet him.  He soon flopped over onto his side to allow me to pet his belly.  It was game over.  I became his best friend from that point on.  

I’m his boy.  He sleeps on my side of the bed each night. He will come to me if I call for him… most of the time…. 

He loves to give big powerful head butts.  And he will give you ever so gentle love bites if you’re not giving him enough attention. 

He is ether fascinated or worried about me when I’m in the shower.  Each time I’m in the shower he will come in the bathroom stand near the shower and meow.  He has the smallest, wimpiest meow.  When I get out of the shower, he comes up to me and head butts me.  He is such a funny cat.  

The bat killer has warmed up to him.  They are not best buds by any means, but they have seemed to come to an understanding. Nash tries to play and to chase Gabby around the house.  Sometimes she goes along, but most of the time she tells him off with a glare or a hiss. 

For only having three legs Nash gets around rather well.  He sounds like a galloping horse when he runs.   

He is not a stealthy stocker.  

He is definitely not a bat killer.

He lets Gabby take care of the bats.  

Nash is just happy to have someone to hang out with. 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Planet Blue

“Simple as that, really. I’m aware it’s ridiculous. The thing can’t seem to leave me. It’s as simple as that. So strange. Just a strange thing. Pardon? You locked up momentarily.

“What might trigger it? Oh, I don’t know. Comes and goes whenever it wants. Let me think. Definitely, when I’m at the hood and when I have a hundred things to do already and I should be focused on keeping things as sterile as possible so I don’t… I don’t cross-contaminate. Sorry. I mean the tissue hood, the laminar flow hood, and working on my cell cultures. Or when I’m writing. Sometimes when I’m lying in bed thinking. I’ve had it pop up out of nowhere. Uh, no. Doesn’t seem to matter what I’m writing or what I’m thinking. Do you think it’s a subconscious thing? 

“So… no trigger, I guess. Unless there’s a trigger there, somewhere; a trigger that’s subtle yet utterly debilitating. Oh, but only for a few moments. It’s not like it’s… taking the wheel of my car or keeping me up all night. Just a momentary freak out. It’s not a serious thing. I called in just to make sure of that, but it’s not, you know, debilitating. I won’t need meds for it. Ha. I just want to try to… figure this out. Seems to be happening more frequently, and I… try to just think of something else or get up and move. Drink something. Anything. I look at my cell. Anything.

“Yes. You’re right. That’s what I do. I distract myself. You could probably gather that from my notes. Not the one I sent by email, but the one on your form that I uploaded last week. 

“Um, close. I didn’t have time to write everything down, but you have the jest of it. And, I don’t see the thing pop up in my head. That’s the odd part of this. Really, that’s why I’m here. I see it outside my head… like, here, in front of my eyes. Not floating, per se. I see it and, uh… I’m there seeing this thing and it looks so real. The screen. You know? Oh, excuse me; that’s my dog barking. Let me close the door.

“Ha! Do I think it real? Of course not. I don’t think it’s really in the room with me. Ha. I’m not a loon. It’s just, let me think. It’s not real at all, but it is very... vivid. It pops up and it, uh, hangs there, and then my stomach sinks and I feel panicked, like um… like something terrible is… like it’s the end of the world; is the best way I can describe it. A premonition, kinda -- but not, because I don’t believe in premonitions. I’m a scientist; I believe in science. But, funny enough, I can’t think of a better way to describe it. It feels like… doom. Pardon? 

“Apocalyptic. Yes. That’s the word. It’s like the end of the world is coming, in just a matter of days, and I can’t stop it from happening. I just feel that it is, but I can’t… stop it. I try to fool myself, to recircuit this thing… the dread of it all, you know? I try to…. Excuse me. I need to get a kleenex. My mask, it... I need to blot it. I know that sounds gross, but it gets wet around my nose. Terrible feeling. What’s that?

“Ha. Good that it’s not just me who hates a wet mask. Yeah, I hear ya but don’t the cloth ones stay wet? I’d rather use these disposables than a cloth mask. These things dry out a lot faster, I think. I’m a little OCD with a wet mask. Ugh. I pitch them as soon as I feel like I’m drowning in them. What’s that?

“No, I get these from my lab. We’re required to wear masks at all times on campus. Been wearing them since early March, really. I wore them even when others weren’t required to do it yet. I keep some in the car. And, I know what you’re thinking. I don’t consider it stealing precious PPE since I need to get to and from the lab. It’s work-related why I’m even in the car and on campus. So, I don’t buy them from Amazon. Can you even get them? I think they are all back-ordered, probably forever.

“But, you’re right. It’s more economical to wear cloth masks. I’ll…. Yeah, I’ll get one, eventually. Just throw it in the washer. I’m always washing things, so it makes sense. Sterilizing all the groceries… the take out containers. We put everything in the garage and wipe them down now. Did you know that the University gives everyone 70% ethanol? In spray bottles, for each lab, for the pandemic response and -- you know what? We’ve always been provided 70% ethanol, but I’m talking liters of the stuff and not those small spray bottles. Pardon? You’re -- Doctor? You locked up again.

“Well, it’s to sterilize our benches and hoods and gloves. It’s always been that way, but everyone new to the lab or to research might think it’s because of the pandemic. Not true. Sometimes, I make up the stuff myself, if the Building Administrator isn’t keeping up. We can order the ethanol through EHS. Oh, sorry. That’s the university’s Environmental Health and Safety. But, it’s always been provided and used for sterilization. Always. Always

“Pardon? Must I? Ha. Just kidding. Yes, I can describe it. Let me think. Well, it's a screen. Actually, it's more like the large computer screen used in the conference rooms in the building -- my campus research building. Each floor has a conference room and all have a large, wall-sized Surface-like computer on the north wall. We have lab meetings weekly, but hardly anyone is in the building because of the pandemic and -- well, all of our lab meetings have gone virtual since mid-March, so we just use the conference rooms for the screen. You know, the campus has rules that only three people can be in a room at any one time. So, usually, it’s just my student Craig and me going in there anyway. Barb was on maternity until recently. She’s our post-doc. Picked a good time to have a baby, huh? Wow. She went through a lot of stress, a lot of hell. Hospitals had limited space and all kinds of rules. Oh, yes, sorry. Back to the screen-thing.

“Now that I think about it, I think it is the same screen as the ones used in the conference rooms. Let me think. Try to replay this thing. Yeah. Yeah. I think it is the same screen -- but larger. And… I always feel Craig is near me when the, uh, screen appears. I know it’s strange! I feel his presence, off to my left, as the screen appears. I don’t actually see him. Just, you know.... Just he’s there.

“Do I think it’s a flashback? Flashback. Flashback. If so, then I wouldn’t know to when. We’ve used the screen many times. Before and during the pandemic. Nothing out of the ordinary to use it. Geez. We’ve had dozens and dozens of meetings. No scary presentations have occurred as of late. Ha.

“Yes, that’s what I said. We are all virtual now, except for Craig and me. Pardon? Could you repeat that? Oh, yes. Barb returned to lab meetings in May, but she was still virtual at the time. She just had a baby, and she connected from her home. The 27th. Huh?

“Yes. 27th of May. That’s when she called in. Her first meeting since having the baby. I remember that meeting quite well, actually. We were excited to see her -- and the baby, of course. Pardon? Oh, well… I didn’t mean that I could recall that level of detail. Sure. I can try to describe the meeting. Let me think.

“We entered the room about five minutes before the meeting started. It’s half-dark in there, lots of sepia-shadows -- a tea-stained look to it. I remember thinking that. Felt stale. I don’t know why I noted all of this. I think we were the first to use it in a long time. You see, we usually use the conference room upstairs. It’s a scheduling thing. We just sorta decided on that minute to just go across the hall. Why not? We’re practically the only labs working full hours. Anyway, I saw the spray bottles placed on the table and wondered what that was all about. It’s strange to see that stuff outside the labs, you know? 

“So, Craig took a seat at the farthest end of the long table from the telescreen. I increased the lights, looked behind me to gauge its strength, and then lowered them a bit to lessen the glare off the center of the table where the spray bottles were set. They had the 70% ethanol label on them and a sheet of paper with all the new social rules on six-feet apart and stuff like that.

“I remember looking over at him. Craig. So innocent. I wondered what he thought of it all, you know? I don’t recall what our conversation was before we entered the conference room. He’s an interesting young scientist, so it suffices to say that it was probably a witty discussion. Craig is an international student. He’s going back in August. Maybe sooner, but I’m not sure. Travel restrictions. This pandemic! But, he was so quiet.

“What did I say? Oh, I did? Funny. But, Craig is quite innocent. He’s a MS student and quite new to science research. As I mentioned, his schooling is messed up because of the pandemic. He’s from the United Kingdom. Poor guy. Extensions… poor communication… lots of uncertainties. He needs to get home. That’s all I meant to say. Did you know he might be stuck here? Stuck here for months? Terrible to not be able to go back home. Where was I….

“So, I search for the correct button on the wall… to turn on the monitor -- the computer. I never know which one, but when I pushed it, the button glowed blue and the screen lit up in an instant. Yes, I put that in the description because I see…. Well, I sometimes see a blue light, that LED, bright blue light when I have my episodes. Oh, geez. Did I just say that? Episodes! I make it sound so drastic. It’s not drastic, though. Really

“Ah, let’s see. I then took my seat in front of the keypad near the screen and logged us in to the conference call… waited for my cell to ask for confirmation to continue on. Oh, yeah. You see, it’s a duo password system the university has set up. Here’s the app. Can you see that from your end? If we log into something secured, then we have to confirm it from another device… confirm that it’s really us. I know… so futuristic. Look how we’ve become, you know? I mean, look at us; you and me. This is new. One of these days, they’re going to put a chip in our brain to confirm everything is secured… perform instant, real-time DNA confirmation and neurological patterning, etc, etc. just to get anywhere or do anything. All the scary sci-fi stuff will become true someday. Hope not. I pray not. I’ve told Craig these things several times. He doesn’t disagree. But, what would one say? He’s Gen Z, so who knows if he really can fully comprehend the nightmare scenarios of such a spooky world as that. Maybe he thinks it’s -- oh, I don’t know the word… progressive? A natural evolution of the human condition?

“Excuse me. Really sorry. I hate it when my mask gets too wet. Hold your breath while I take this off for a second. Ha. Just kidding. I have another one in my car -- should have brought it in.

“You know what? Maybe he was thinking the same thing I was thinking. You know… the way he watched me set up the call and just waited there silently as those faces popped up one by one by one by one by… each staring into their screen, muted, and… muted, while Craig and I waited in our masks. Patiently.

“What was I thinking? Oh, I was thinking - thinking, ‘Seriously? Seriously? This is normal?’ I mean, how could this be normal in any sense? It’s all surreal! Sanitizers. Blue lights, masks, a big, I don’t know; a huge Orwellian screen coming to life as we wait for five digital faces to appear on it from some other place on Earth… for a freakin’ lab meeting to start?

“Bizarre. A Brave New World, isn’t it? Look. An entire campus research building-- ah, now mostly empty -- and a conference room left to go stale and no longer used for in-person meetings... for actual people in the flesh to meet. I mean, everything’s gone virtual, electronic. Everything! And, for how long? When will it end? Oh I know it will, of course, but I wonder… I fear really that it won’t truly end. I think -- perhaps I’m thinking too much? As a scientist? I think this particular pandemic might be more persistent than we realize. Surely...

“I mean, can a pandemic ever be declared normal background noise? Acceptable deaths, like the flu? Or drownings? Or, will we forever be zeros and ones and-and-and we’re supposed to think this is a normal way to live and communicate? 

“He’s a Gen Z! Craig! What’s he thinking of this world? He’s wearing a mask and I’m wearing a mask and the spray bottles and a laundry list of rules on keeping apart and only three humans per room and alternating work schedules and 70% ethanol. Then Barb came online and… and she, with her crying… her here it comes. The screen!

“I can’t describe --

“I can’t doctor, I --

“Blue! But the screen is -- I’m talking to her. I’m talking to her, I ask her how she’s doing -- but she’s muted. The blue light is everywhere, but the screen... and her baby! Her baby is crying - top of his lungs and she can’t respond, she can’t answer me, but she is trying, she --- I mean, I mean she is answering me, but I can’t hear her because she’s on mute with the microphone bar across it and-and she’s bouncing the baby in her arms but I can’t hear them! She’s putting him over her shoulder, and his face - the baby! - his head is all red and he’s screaming at the top of his lungs and she’s patting his back -- but I can’t hear them! Craig! He’s there, to the left of me and the blue light drowns him out but I can’t look away from the screen even if I wanted to, Doctor! I see only the screen and Barb and her screaming baby but I can’t hear them and goddamn I know, I know, I know it Doctor! I know it! I know it’s the end! I know it’s all blue!

“Dammit! Let me get my mask from the car, Doctor; please just stay on the screen and let me go get my clean mask, goddammit you, before it all goes blue!