2011 – Happy New Year

Let’s get the elephant out of the way and spout the obvious cliche’. If you had told me, one year ago, that I would be reading five-star reviews of my own writing on Amazon, I would have rolled my eyes and coughed out a sardonic laugh. I’m still amazed by the developments of the year on a daily basis.

I’m beginning to believe that every year, for everyone, is crazy in some way. That’s good. That’s life. That’s how we look back over our time on this Earth and see the patterns of our existence. The difference is: was life crazy in a good way, a bad way, or a blend of both? For most of us, it’s definitely the blend. Then the question becomes: when everything is measured on balance, did we make progress, fall back, or run around in the same crazy circles?

For me, this year was definitely positive in objective, measurable ways. It moved. Most years, I have to chock it up to a learning experience, but this year went well beyond simply gathering life experience. I wrote a story and learned more about writing than the previous 43 years combined. In the process, I found a calling that feels more satisfying than all the other creative acts before. I made some friends and shockingly, some fans. I signed my first autograph. I received a metric ton of support and feedback from a great many people and discovered a new focus for gratitude. If I slice off writing from everything else that happened in 2011, the year is an automatic win.

Beyond the writing, there is a whole gaggle of positives from 2011. I won’t embarrass my wife beyond thanking her for supporting me and proofreading my work in a genre that does nothing for her. She’s a non-fiction Jersey girl. She is also a remarkably smart, beautiful, and generous woman. Thanks to my bad influence, she has become a skillful practitioner of the fine art of sarcasm, which is a good defense against a “funny or tragic” world. Perhaps most importantly, she actually enjoys my cartoon voice performances of our dogs’ most inner thoughts. OK, I lied about not embarrassing her.

All is not rosy for the year. We lost a great friend to Alzheimers and then death. We lost another to a move back east. We watched out house fail to sell so that we can follow in the eastward direction, where our family lives. We had some conflict with a few folks, notably the family of our lost friend and the man who shall be ever known as “chainsaw neighbor” although using the word “neighbor” gives him too much credit. Hope the big brown Lab managed to puncture the head of Elke the Border/Jack Jussel mix on numerous occasions, but in every case, Elke had it coming. She can be terribly annoying to the other dogs (while utterly charming to people). In one bizarre reversal Elke managed to win a fight and left Hope with some leg wounds that healed quickly and well.

On the canine positive side, there’s Luna, our born-deaf Aussie. You wouldn’t know she’s deaf unless you watched carefully. She’s not only highly functional, she’s practically in charge. More to the point, she is the full-on happiest dog I’ve ever known. She manages to pour joy all over the house, even when she’s in the middle of a commando raid on the kitchen counter. Hunter, our oldest boy, showed up late last year with a malignant tumor on his front leg. I can happily report that this battle with doggie cancer has been won. He is in good shape and seems to operate with a high level of contentment for a dog who is basically afraid of his own shadow. Jay, the second youngest of the pack, follows in the tradition of male dogs in our house and seems to sort the world based on how scary every experience is. This year, he has learned some confidence and how to play without worry. In fact, he now insists on play every day. I confess to occasionally throwing him off guard by wearing a large set of headphones, which to Jay means that aliens are attacking. So, we’ve managed to raise the bar on the spoiled dog scale until they all spend the vast majority of their time feeling entirely too satisfied with life.

“I eat. I get treats. I sleep on the mama’s lap while she watches TV. I play frisbee and fetch and wrestle with the daddy. Life is good. Now, if I could just get rid of those two fuzzy bitches, sh*t would be perfect.” — Hope

Sorry, Hope has a foul mouth.

Although I’m already running close to the “too much information” mark, I did want to say one thing. In the grand scheme of things, 2011 has brought me closer to a feeling of rightness with the world (and in this world, that’s saying something) than I’ve felt for a long time, and in large part, I have you to thank for it. My closely held hope is that this year has been just as positive for you as it has for me.

For 2012, now just eight hours away on the West Coast, I’ve made no resolutions. Resolutions are those things that last until roughly January 17th. Just ask any gym manager. I have made some commitments to myself… Promises. First up is to get Decay out. Then Promise ( the novel, not the commitment). Then I’ll probably take a break from the Breakdown for a while for a couple of non-apocalypse stories that are shouting loudly in my head. Beyond that, I have another apocalypse cooking in the old brain, something entirely different, based on another direction our society is taking. And depending on what happens with the Breakdown trilogy, there’s always the possibility of  a return to the world of Renewal. My mental dance card is pretty full, and I hope to spend 2012 shuffling my typing fingers in time to the rhythm.

For all of you, I offer my profound thanks and my best wishes for two things. One is that you all find happiness and fulfillment in the new year, and two is that my Renewal version of 2012 remains entirely, one hundred percent fictional.

Happy New Year!

 

 

Christmas Rambles on Faith

Have you ever had one of those moments in which you realize, all of a sudden, that a whole bunch of seemingly random and disconnected experiences fit together to form a coherent lesson? Wow! What a wordy way to ask it… It happens to me from time to time. I have one of those moments of connected clarity for a few seconds, and then I go back to being relatively confused. Although I would never torture you with the minute details of this quiet epiphany, I am going to try to throw the gist of it out there, just in time for Christmas.

I’m sure I am not alone when I say I get through the holiday season with the full understanding that a lifetime of good and bad pile onto the holiday. It’s a complex season.

I’m in Christmas recovery. I grew up as my mother’s Christmas elf partner-in-crime. We decorated the tree and generally had a good time overriding the cries of bah-humbug and indifference from the other room. A half-decade ago, a certain ex-wife managed to destroy the holiday spirit in me. It was vaporized when she invited her ex-husband to spend the holidays with us. Long story… No one died, ’nuff said. Now, I’m beginning to feel Christmas again, thanks to the bubbling joy in my new life, and thanks to the fact that a whole bunch of you read my story this year, which affords me the opportunity to celebrate properly. It’s a potent combination of Christmas spirit recovery.

Being excited about Christmas gives me the emotional energy to explore some of the deeper meanings of the season, and that’s where my nebulous point comes back into it – sorta. Not long ago, I was having dinner with one of the best friends I have ever had, and his ex. Another long story, and not mine to tell. Anyway, somehow the conversation turned into one about faith, in the spiritual sense. My friend looked very uncomfortable and stayed mostly out of it. Never discuss politics and religion, right? I found myself having the entire conversation with his ex, a woman I read as someone who has lost a great deal of faith in her life, and with good reason. Like many conversations of the sort, the main thrust was in the problems of religion versus spiritual beliefs. After listening to my friends, I gathered that religion and it’s various failings were standing in the way of some sort of belief and faith.

The thing is, I know my friend has some kind of faith. I just don’t know what it is. The other thing is, I don’t care what kind it is. For a kid who grew up in the Bible Belt, I have an open policy when it comes to the form of faith or religion. As long as you are not out there hurting people with your version of God, it’s okay by me. My basic take is that if we want to call God – or whatever you call the larger-than-yourself – the creator, the connector, and the infinite, then we should deal with God as infinite. Now, infinity is a tough concept, but for now, let’s just slice off a piece of the infinite and say that a truly infinite God would have an infinite number of ways to deal with any one of us – or anything else for that matter.

Religion, the organized kind, deals in limiting God. Before anyone gets offended, let me say it makes perfect sense. If we were all forced to live on the hairy edge of trying to capture a glimpse of something infinite every time we went to church, well… It would be very tiring. How do you organize around infinity? It’s much simpler for all of us if religion sets out some rules to follow, a community standard of behavior, and serves to reinforce those rules in a way that holds together. If it works, it’s a great thing to be a part of that community. If it doesn’t work, then people get hurt, and if that isn’t a definition of the human condition, I don’t know what is.

The point is, we just don’t know. None of us has a a real bead on the TRUTH. What we have instead is faith in our own truth. Some have strong faith, some need a weekly reminder, and some would rather ignore the whole issue. Some seek out a connection in the shared experience of a glowing community. Some prefer the compelled discipline of a demanding religion. Some feel it best while standing in the forest, or on a mountaintop. Some feel God while ringing the the Salvation Army bell, or serving food to the homeless. Again, if it isn’t hurting people, it’s all good.

Another recent exchange plays into my thoughts. I saw an unusual take on the conservative view of the Occupy movement and posted it on Facebook. One of my oldest friends, a very smart individual, jumped on it immediately. He disagreed with the facts of the post, and proceeded to argue against it entirely on the basis of opinion. I didn’t point it out at the time because I was more curious about where he would take it than to hold any particular position. I suppose he got bored when I refused to engage on the “facts” and left it there. In fact, one of the few points I did make is that there is no baseline of objective truth in American politics. Take any political belief and I guarantee you can come up with some “facts” to support it. You can prove this fact easily by simply having two political conversations, preferably with both sides of the party divide, and comparing the results. If I talk to most Western Washingtonians, it’s the Republicans’ fault. If I talk to the people I grew up with in Tennessee, for the most part, it’s the Democrats’ fault.

I think it’s everyone’s fault, but the point is that politics has become an article of faith, not fact. If you find yourself watching the news and become aware of the slant and spin – there’s always a slant – then you understand that we are being fed a set of beliefs, a faith, not anything that could be arguably presented as fact by enough people to yield even a general agreement on the truth. In terms of the functioning of our wobbly republic, it matters, but in terms of you, the individual believer, well… Your faith is your own, and it’s probably just as valid as anyone else’s faith, whether we want to discuss religion or politics – or cookie recipes.

Before this turns into a dark dive into the foibles of humanity, let me say that it’s Christmas. Like anything else, we can argue about the true meaning of Christmas forever. Instead of arguing, I would say that let’s take this holiday, at the very least, for it’s unadulterated symbolic value. Whether we believe in God, politics, science, nature, money, or family, let’s take the opportunity to gather all of those beliefs around us like a warm blanket this Christmas. Let’s throw in some loved ones, the best food we can muster, and all the happiness we can collect. Let’s practice love and forgiveness and sharing, because no matter what we believe, our beliefs matter. Our various faiths sustain us, keep us moving forward, and help us change the world.

May our collective faiths deliver a better future, my friends.

Merry Christmas.

Decay – Free Preview

Decay is nearing completion. To celebrate that long awaited goal, and hopefully to stir your excitement, I’m releasing a free preview of the novel. Please feel free to distribute it as you see fit.

You can read it right here on the site. Or, you can grab it as a pdf. (right-click and save to grab a copy) If you are comfortable with sideloading content onto your Kindle, it’s also available in Kindle format.

Feedback is always welcome. Enjoy!

Where Understanding Begins

I know the blog has been quiet lately. I’ve been well wrapped into the world of Terry, Sally, Bill, Ned, and all the gang. Renewal, the novel and Decay are both proceeding nicely. Not as quickly as I would like, but nicely just the same. I’m happy with the results.

This post is about another piece of work. I’ve spent a few bucks lately, reading the work of my competition on Amazon. My competition is not defined as the enemy. It’s not a fight to the death. It’s simply the books that appear on Amazon when I look at my own pages. Fellow indie authors taking a shot… Most of the books have something solid to recommend. Good ideas, education, pacing, etc. Some of them are quite good in ways that are easy to see and understand.

Recently, I read one in particular. I’m not going to identify it right now. The author does deserve promotion, but not in this context. I’m still torturing the author with my annoying insights on her work. This book was a series of glimpses at greatness. The ideas were potentially spectacular, but not fully realized. The plot was well conceived, but rushed and abbreviated. The characters were only a few scenes from fascinating in every case. And, as has been noted in the reviews, the dialogue was stiff, but reflective of interesting thoughts. In other words, the book was about two inches from excellence.

In fact, it was so close, I had to think for quite some time before I realized why it left me so frustrated. Once I figured it out, I asked the author if I could share my thoughts. She agreed. I know if I had received what I wrote, it would have been a hammer blow, but she took it with fantastic grace.

As I was writing my feedback to her story, I was making comparisons to the problems in my own work. I probably learned more from making those comments than I did in ten hours of editing. I realized somewhere along the way that I was in many ways pointing to aspects of my own writing that need work.

In that sense, I owe the author a debt, and my hopes for all of us to gain ground in the struggle to write better stories. The point, of course, is that you never know where new understanding will appear. It behooves us all to pay attention and to take whatever opportunities appear. If nothing else, we can all hope to learn something.