Sunday, March 27, 2022

Next Time You See Me

"Next time you see me
things won't be the same" – Earl Forest/William G. Harvey

This song typically runs through my head when I'm leaving to go get my hair cut, meaning I haven't had it running through my head since about 2016. Yes, it's time I updated my photo. It's appropriate thought here, as next time I post, things won't be the same.

I started this blog in May of 2011 mainly because that was what you did in 2011 if you were a writer—you blogged. As I recall the main idea behind it was to connect with the readers who would eventually buy your books, as they would want to know what was on your mind, peek behind the curtain, get to know you as a person. Blogging was the way to do that, though I suppose it was already in its death spiral when I started doing it. I am cursed to be forever and always be behind the trends, though I suppose if I stick with it long enough, it will become popular again.

The problem, of course, is that unpublished writers have no readers. Instead of connecting with readers we end up connecting with other writers who are all in the same boat, and we end up swapping war stories from the query trenches, hopes and dreams, and gripes about all the flaming hoops we have to jump through to get there. Not only did I learn wasn't alone, I was also able to adjust my expectations, gain some perspective, and gain beta readers, critics, commiserators (I think I just made up a new word) and cheerleaders.

One of the people I met in the early days of the blog is Lisa Regan. I don't remember who found whom, but we became frequent commenters on each other's blogs and then beta readers for each other, even though we really don't write in the same genre at all. Lisa has read every one of my manuscripts and given excellent feedback on them, and I've read several of hers and tried to do the same. Lisa has offered encouragement at every step of the way, and though we've never met in person, we've become friends. Many years ago, Lisa left the treadmill of agents and queries and submissions and struck out on her own. She is now a best-selling author with--good gosh, is it 20???--books to her name. Boy, howdy, that decision worked out!

About a year and a half ago, Lisa reached out to tell me she had formed Breaking Night Press, a small publishing house dedicated to #ownvoices and niche genres and that she wanted to publish me—was I interested? The short answer is I said yes, and that means that in August of this year I will have my debut novel published by Breaking Night Press! Am I excited? Yes. Am I petrified? Oh, you betcha. I have five months to wait for final copies and reviews and blurbs, five months to worry myself into knots. But before that, I have a cover and a description and I hope that you will join me at my new website, There isn't much visible yet but a big ticker clock counting down the hours to the cover reveal, which will be on March 31. will be the new base of operations for me. The blog will not be going away, all the posts have been archived and will be viewable over there (and, presumably, here), but new posts will be happening over there. So yes, next time you see me, things WON'T be the same.

I feel like I should say a lot more about all of this right now, but as always, this post is way too long, so I'll stop it there. However, as I prepare for this next phase of the journey and the move to new digs, I need to say "Thank you" to each and every one of you who has come here to spend some time and share some thoughts. Despite the long droughts and disappearances it has been fun, and I hope you will meet me next week at the new place. 

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Where Have I Been?

 It's been quite some time since I've posted anything of substance. When I stepped away in April of 2019 I honestly believed that my hiatus would be pretty much like others I'd taken previously, that I'd be back in a month or so. Instead, it spun on and on and on, so where have I been?

 To be truthful, I've been right here all along, doing the same things you have been doing. The question isn't so much where I have been, but why: why did I disappear? By way of explanation, let me tell you a story. That's what we do, right?

 When my father died (13 years ago, holy crap) it kicked off about a five month period where I was seemingly in constant contact with people. My brother, sister, and I (and my ex-brother-in-law, have to give him credit) spent long periods of time at the house. There was funeral week, of course, and then lots of time sorting through 40+ years of life in that house. There were repairs and renovation and meetings with lawyers and realtors. We also saw a lot of neighborhood folks, friends, and aunts, uncles and cousins. I was very grateful to spend so much time with all of them, it not only eased the work, it eased the heartache, but when the house was sold and everything was settled I was like a deep sea diver coming to the surface: I needed to decompress. After all that time around so many people I pulled back, withdrew from just about everyone except my wife and my kids. I needed that time to process things and come to grips with new reality. It was an important time for me, and we'll just ignore that it stretched on far too long for now.

 That need for time away, for decompression is very much what hit me three years ago. If you recall, 2018 started with me losing my agent of four years, which was rough. At the time, however, I was immersed in what I really, really thought would be The One, the manuscript that would be a book, and never mind that I've thought that about every project since PARALLEL LIVES all those years ago. I was able to kind of put my head down and keep working and revising and blogging. When the calendar turned to 2019 I was just about ready to start querying, and that's what I did.

 And nothing happened.

 Now let's be clear, I did not query properly. I did do the research: I dutifully searched far and wide to see who was new, who had left the business, who might accept what I was peddling. But I did not send out hundreds of queries to hundreds of agents. I did not finely tune my query letter or adjust my opening pages with each set of rejections and that is because I pretty much heard NOTHING. No requests for pages, no personalized rejections, not even form rejections. It weighed on me, dragged me down, and it did not help at all that I had no new project to work on, that nothing had kicked open the door to the Back Room shouting, "HERE I AM!" After writing constantly for almost ten years and blogging pretty consistently for about eight I had nothing to write, nothing to say. I think, just as I needed to get away from it all after the frenetic period after my father's death, I just needed to decompress. So out I went. And the longer I was away, the easier it became to stay away.

 Am I back? Time will tell. I'm sorry to say that I still don't have a new project, though I have tried resurrecting something that just never took off but seemed timely at the beginning of Obama's second term and seems even more so in a post-January 6 world. Time is circular, after all. But I do have some news and as this post is already too long, I'll just leave that for next time.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

I'm Still Here, Are You?

Well, folks, has it really been 2-1/2 years since my last post? Looks like...yes. Wow. 

It was never my intention to be gone so long. I think when I checked out on April 1, 2019--a whole pandemic ago!--I figured I would take a month, recharge my batteries a little, and get right back to it. Didn't quite work out that way, did it? Instead, this blog was like the relatives you lose touch with. Maybe you poke each other on social media once in a while but you don't call. "I'll do it next week," you tell yourself, but you don't. And then when you realize months have gone by it becomes easier not to call, because then you have to deal with the guilt about why you haven't called, and on and on it goes (Yes, the blog is not the only thing I have neglected in my life, hah ha).

The good thing is I am well. My family is well. We have thus far survived what is two years of COVID without getting COVID (as far as any of us know, anyway), a pretty good trick considering the Catbird spent the first year-and-a-half of the pandemic working in a nursing home. I've been officially working from home since March 12, 2020 and I will continue working from home for the foreseeable future because, a) my boss is a decent human being; b) we have proven as an organization that we are collectively capable of working remotely; and c) as much as we want to believe otherwise, we're still in a pandemic, people are still getting spectacularly sick, and people are still dying in large numbers. I am thankful that I have a job that allows me to work remotely AND that I've also been able to continue the outdoor portions of my job with minor alterations all along, despite never falling into the category of "essential worker." Many others were not so fortunate. 

This is about all I've got for now. I have to say, that wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, the guilt. There will be more coming from me, I promise I won't let it be so long next time, really! In the meantime, I hope all of you are doing well. Let me know if you're still around (and getting notifications about this blog, hah ha) by leaving a comment below. Until next time, be safe, be smart, be well. Cheers.

Monday, August 26, 2019

At Last: A Sequel I Can Get Behind

It finally happened.

Yesterday, Netflix announced that El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie will air on the the streaming service on October 11.

Aaron Paul, who played Jesse Pinkman on the original show for five seasons and reprises his role for this sequel, summed up my feelings pretty well:

"It's a chapter of Breaking Bad that I didn't realize I wanted. And now that I have it, I’m so happy that it’s there."
I've long been funny about sequels and prequels and even second+ seasons of very good TV shows. Our entertainment industry has a long tradition of not knowing when the horse is dead, or they don't care if the horse is dead so long as there's a critical mass that will pay to see it (though their motivation could also be like that of Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom in The Producers). We end up with too many sequels or too many seasons of a tired TV show limping along, and we either forget what made it so good in the first place, or we just hope it will recapture some of the original magic, or we still somehow care about characters despite what second and third and fourth teams of writers/directors/creators turn them into.

But I have hope for this one. Not only because Breaking Bad creator, Vince Gilligan is really good at what he does, but also because the track record for television seems to be improving. After season two of The Good Place, I really didn't see how they could keep that premise rolling. They have. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has rolled right on. Season two of The OA was very good. And my most anticipated (and feared) sequel season, HBO's Barry, somehow managed to equal--and even exceed, at times--an excellent first season.

So, on October 11 I think I'll plunk myself down in front of the TV and see what happened to Jesse Pinkman. I'll be rooting for him, too, hoping he can find a way to shed the horrors he endured through five seasons of Breaking Bad.

How are you all doing?

Monday, April 1, 2019

Reading List 2019 Part I

Prepare to be underwhelmed.

The Crossing (2018), Jason Mott

Family Trust (2018), Kathy Wang

Unsheltered (2018), Barbara Kingsolver

It doesn't seem possible that I've only read three books. On my list, I note that The Crossing was finished on February 13, which means I read nothing at all in January??? I feel like I'm missing at least one book in there, maybe two, but I can't remember. I don't think I've had such a down cycle of reading, well, ever. Except maybe when I was a college student or the kids were very small. I actually am reading a book right now but it's not grabbing me all that much and there's virtually no pull on me.

And with that, I think it's also time to announce a break from the blog. I think of things I want to say here, but I don't put the work in until I wake up Monday morning and then? I just have no energy for it. So, we'll see if a month off gives me some new energy. Have a good month!

Monday, March 25, 2019

A trip to the past

Quite often, when we face an uncertain future or an uncomfortable present, we retreat into the safety of the past. Perhaps we look at old pictures or videos, listen to favorite music, pay a visit to an old haunt. We loll about in warmth and golden light, bathed in the memories of good friends, good fun, good food, good times. It can be nice to get away from the pressures of today and the gnawing fear of that space on the calendar marked 'tomorrow.'

But sometimes, even a trip to the past is not the sanctuary we're looking for. On a drive through the old neighborhood, you find the new owner of the house you grew up in has painted it a different color, built a garage on top of the garden, or cut down the tree you used to climb. The empty lot you used to play hide-and-seek on has a strip mall on it. The old elementary school is now a community center, an office complex, a senior citizen complex. Even the past can get run over.

This was illustrated clearly this past weekend when I took advantage of an offer from Blizzard Entertainment and dropped in to check on the world of the World of Warcraft, the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) that took our world by storm. My wife and I played over the course of about five years, from the mid- to late stages of the game's first expansion, The Burning Crusade up until about halfway through the Cataclysm expansion. I dropped out due to a combination of factors (I may have blogged about this before, but I don't remember): waning interest in the game, rising interest in writing, and technical problems on Blizzard's end that for a time made loading in and out of different zones frustrating at best, impossible at worst. To my surprise, I didn't miss the game as much as I thought I would (I missed the people, though; I was fortunate to fall in with a good bunch), which in itself says it was a good time to get out.

But I did miss it, and would find myself thinking about it with the hazy glow of nostalgia. So, when I saw Blizzard was offering a free weekend of play to inactive players (including a free upgrade* to just short of the most recent expansion, Battle for Azeroth, released last year), I decided, why not? It might be fun to peek in, get the lay of the land, and maybe have a little fun.

As you can gather, it was not all rosy glows and warm fuzzies. The game has changed, which I knew. The abilities I had gotten used to over the course of seven years of playing my paladin (and my warlock; can't forget him) were...there? Sort of? Some of them? I had to spend time rearranging the location of all my spells and abilities on my toolbar because some things were gone (Hammer of Wrath? Exorcism? Holy Wrath? Where are you?) and there were new things that I didn't even have a clue about how to use.

But that wasn't the worst of it. Heck, every expansion brings changes. The paladin I left alone in Stormwind was very different from the one who started out swinging a wooden mallet in Elwynn Forest five years before. No, the worst of it, the most disappointing of all was losing my name. Blizzard seems to have a policy that they'll keep your character forever, but after 2 expansions of inactivity? They'll release your name. And it was gone, just like that. I was surprised at how much it bugs me, even though I was there for a weekend, nothing more.

Actually, there was one other thing that bugged me.

When I left the game, I was in a guild. An active, chatty guild. Log into the game, and there would be a bunch of greetings in guild chat, a constant conversation running as background text like a CNN chyron, only instead of the news of the day, it was the news of the guild. Jokes, snippets of personal information, in-game accomplishments, requests and stories. More than the other people running around you in the game world, that guild chat let you know you were part of a community, not alone. And it was gone.

I know that some of the people I played with way back when are still in game, but I have no  idea if they're still on the same realm or moved off, or if they switched factions or started playing other characters. I do know the guild has been disbanded, and no one I knew was around, and that even if I did figure out how to play my character again, it wouldn't be the same.

At least I've got my memories.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Opportunity stolen

When I was a kid, I was spoon-fed the Myth of America. You know the one. It tells us that America is the land of opportunity. The land of the free. The place where anyone could become anything. Where a boy could be born in poverty in a log cabin, where he was so poor he had to walk to school barefoot, but where could still rise to be the leader of the nation if only he worked hard enough. That Myth. America was not perfect, we knew. We made some mistakes—slavery, for example. The long, dark period where women couldn't vote, for another. But given time, we always righted the wrongs, both here and abroad. Maybe it took time. Maybe it wasn't easy. But it got done. And anyone could be anything, if they were willing to work hard.

In a deleted scene from my currently on-query project, a character argues that America has become less a meritocracy and more of a feudal society, where wealth and opportunity is increasingly handed down from generation to generation, and people are more likely to become rags-to-riches stories by hitting the lottery or going viral (not always for the right reasons) than they are by studying and working hard. He points out the increasing entry of dynasties into politics (Kennedys, Bushes and, maybe, Clintons), sports (Hulls, Bonds, Mannings) and entertainment (Smiths, Coppolas), where wealth and power gained by parents have allowed the children to either pursue their dreams free of the fear of failure, or provide them with the leg up needed to succeed. Meanwhile, he notes, it becomes harder for others to gain entry into the club. Mobility, he says, is dead.

This idea seems to be in evidence all over. Statistics have suggested mobility in America has decreased over time. In his 2017 book, Dream Hoarders, Richard Reeves suggests that not only has upward mobility been stifled, so has downward mobility. Reeves argues that the top-most economic classes (in this case, the top 20%, not the fabled 1%) have constructed a glass floor to keep themselves—and their children—from falling out of the upper classes.That they are using their money and status and connections to engage in 'opportunity hoarding.'

After watching the 'college cheating scandal' blow up last week, this seems more evident than ever. If you have not been paying attention, a federal investigation turned up an operation in which parents paid a middleman to get their children into top colleges, either by cheating on college entrance exams or by bribing coaches into falsely recruiting the kids for their athletic teams. Said the mastermind of the operation, "I created a side door."

What boggles my mind in all this are two things: first, that the parents did not apparently trust in their own children's abilities to get into these schools (though after seeing the video made by daughter of privilege, Olivia Jade, maybe they were right not to trust her). Second, couldn't the gobs and gobs of money spent on getting their kids into school be better spent on, I don't know, tutors? Better prep schools? Test prep classes? According to a story in The New York Times, parents were paying between $15,000 and $75,000 per cheated test. Another paid $1.2 million—million!—to get their kid into Yale. Are these schools really that good? If you have that kind of money to drop on faking your way into school, does your kid really need that kind of education? Hell, if you're dropping a mil on Yale, why not set up an endowment or use it as seed money to outfit a residence hall with geothermal or something? Why not at least let that money benefit others as well as your own kid?

As a parent, I want my kids to have a better life than I had growing up (and mine was pretty good), and to be well-positioned for success as they enter adulthood. It is, really, what any parent wants. This cheating scandal, however, is a direct example of what Reeves called opportunity hoarding, taken to the extreme. We all recognize that wealth has its privileges. This is not a simple privilege. This is not just stacking the deck. This is outright thievery, thievery that denied actual deserving students of opportunity, an opportunity to be anything.