So Sorry for the Delay

Hello everyone.  I’d like to thank you all for being so patient with me these past several months.  I know I haven’t been posting much on social media.  I haven’t been updating my website or my blog.  And my next book release is long overdue.  I don’t blame you if you’ve become frustrated with me.  I’m sorry.  The truth is that things have not been well here.  You see, I recently lost my father to Leukemia.  It’s been a very difficult time for me and for my family.  I’m sure at least some of you will know what it’s like all too well.  The whole world has changed…  Everything feels different than it did before…  Heavier…  Hollower…  And I’ve had trouble finding my way back to the comfort of my fictional worlds.  It’s hard to be a writer when all the words in the world seem to fall short…  So I hope you’ll bear with me just a little longer while I sort things out and try to get back into the swing of things.  I just need a little time.  Just a little more…  And then I promise I’ll be back again.  Thank you.

Writing with Baby

     If you follow me on Facebook, you probably already know that I was blessed with a new arrival earlier this year. I’m now a father of three. As a result, I’ve had a serious, but I hope perfectly understandable impediment to my writing. It’s not nearly as easy as it once was to find time to work on my next book, and my progress has slowed down noticeably. Often times, I’ve no more than just found my word flow when Dad is needed again. There’s a diaper emergency. Or the other two kids are fighting. Or someone desperately needs a snack right now, even though mom is feeding the baby. Or someone has their head stuck between the stairs railings. Again. Every day is a new adventure. And a new opportunity to find yourself saying something you never thought you’d hear yourself say. Like, “We don’t put deodorant on the cat,” and, “Because you’re not a licensed dentist! That’s why!” There’s no preparing for this stuff. You just have to wing it.
     Regardless of how crazy it gets, I’d never give up this life for anything. Even now that my work is earning enough that my wife was able to cut back her work hours, I refuse to entirely give up my status as “stay-at-home dad.” I’m far too proud of that title to let it go.
     I truly have the best two jobs in the world. I have the best kids and the best fans! And I promise you many more dark adventures are on the way. I’m just moving a little slower than usual right now. Thank you so much for reading!

Oh, the Carnage!

 

     After many weeks and much begging and pleading and yelling and threatening and shouting and shaming and bargaining and bribing and more begging and more pleading, I finally gave up, accepted defeat and began cleaning my daughter’s room myself while she was at school.  (What can I say, stubbornness is clearly hereditary.)
     It didn’t seem all that bad as I began.  It’s just toys, I told myself.  An occasional scrap of paper or snack wrapper, maybe some cookie crumbs here and there.  More than a few dust bunnies.  Lots of laundry.  Maybe even a misplaced cup from a midnight drink of water.  But, of course, looks can be deceiving.  I had only just scratched the surface when I suddenly found myself in a queer and grisly episode of CSI.  I’ve apparently stumbled upon the scene of a complex and convoluted serial crime spree involving naked Barbies, cross-dressing Lalaloopsies and more than a few shady-looking ponies.
     Pieces of Ken are turning up in piles of strewn doll clothing and accessories and what appear to be dumping sites for biohazard waste from a Mr. Potato Head plastic surgery clinic, with disembodied lips and ears and noses and ever-staring conjoined eyeballs.  There’s also a Littlest Pet Shop dog’s head in a miniature plastic purse and a macabre collection of dainty little Monster High girls hands in a Cabbage Patch diaper under the dresser.
     So many questions.  Not the least of which:  How?  Why?  And where are Rainbow Bright’s pants?
     Terrified, I take a step back and survey the scene.  Suddenly, I realize how treacherous the landscape has become.  The wheels have been stolen from Barbie’s convertible.  A dollhouse appears to have been ransacked.  There’s a naked mermaid lying motionless in the back of a school bus and someone has been ditching stolen Hot Wheels in a Little People barn.
     It’s just a little girl’s room.  I keep telling myself that.  And yet I’m increasingly horrified by one gruesome discovery after another.  The carnage is so widespread, I’d think only Batman could possibly bring order to the land, but that appears to be his left foot lodged in the wheel well of the Mystery Machine…
     Just a little girl’s room…  Just a little girl…
     As I proceed through the devastation of this post-apocalyptic version of a child’s sleeping quarters, I try to make sense of what’s going on, try to tell myself that it’s not nearly as bad as it seems, but those stuffed animals seem to be watching me with their beady little eyes from their high shelves, like deranged gods gazing down upon their dominion, admiring the catastrophic art of their evil schemes ruthlessly realized.
     Slowly, determinedly, I sort through the wreckage.  I find both of Ken’s legs.  His arm.  Half of his torso.  His head.  Then I uncover a second body, this one headless, and I have no idea now which actually belongs to the head I’ve previously uncovered.  If either.  But I can’t think about that now.  Just found Mrs. Potato Head…  Great Jesus…  I think I’m going to need backup in here…

My Writing Process

I’ve encountered some interesting questions since I started writing.  People want to know about what I do and how I do it.  So I thought I’d share a little bit about my writing process.  You know, for those interested in that sort of thing.  Those of you who are just looking for more “Hot Naked Women” posts probably won’t be interested.  You can move along.  (But thanks for being the more than 75% of all web traffic that passes through my blog since that post was published.  You really class up the place.)  

First of all, I should say that I do have a writing process by which I create all my work, but it’s not the most professional model you’ll find.  The biggest flaw in my particular process is time.  In addition to being a novelist, anyone who has read many of my other posts knows that I’m also a stay-at-home dad with an extremely creative four-year-old.  I’d like to dedicate a specific time slot to my writing each day and remain consistent, but I don’t have that luxury.  The other day I turned my back for a few seconds to get a drink and the child somehow managed to disassemble the television remote.  Therefore, I tend to do most of my writing not at a quiet desk but in bed after everyone is asleep or else at the dining room table where I can observe the play areas of the house.  I neither write for a predetermined amount of time nor a specific number of words or pages.  I write until I’m tired or until I can no longer concentrate or until I have to stop to tend to my household chores.  Or until it appears that the cat may be in mortal danger. 

Typically, I tend to compensate for my lack of writing focus by spending more time thinking about my work.  I am constantly planning scenes and feeling out characters and constructing new dialog while I go about my daily routine of managing the house chores and rescuing the pets.  As far as I’m concerned, daydreaming is just a part of my job.  (So to all those teachers who told me to wake up and focus on my work in school, I say suck it!)  (I’d also like to point out for the record that I still haven’t found a practical use for any of that trigonometry nonsense, either.) 

Every great story begins with nothing more than an idea.  But not just any idea will do.  After all, I’ve had some pretty bad ideas in my life.  (That meat slicer incident comes to mind…)  It has to be strong.  It has to be packed with potential.  It has to be the kind of idea I can build an entire world around.  No matter how cool I might think an epic battle between two scantily clad supermodels in a giant tub of chocolate pudding might seem, there is simply no way I can think to build a realistic plot leading up to such an event.  Regardless of how many times I try… 

When I have an idea that I can build a world from, I write the story.  I won’t bore you with a long, drawn-out description of how I go about sitting down and writing it.  Mostly because I asked my wife to proof-read this post and she told me you’d probably be bored with those seven pages…  I don’t know why that would be.  I’m sure you’re just devastated to miss out on hearing all about how I construct a thorough set of notes on plotlines and character development and progression outlines and how I’m very particular about the kind of pen I use and what temperature I like the room to be and…  Well, maybe that page about my bathroom breaks might have been a little too much information…  Yeah, let’s just leave it at I write the story.

Once the manuscript is finished, I put it aside.  I put some distance between it and myself.  I start a new story or I edit a previous one.  I read a book.  I watch some movies.  I engage myself in a good video game.  I work on that monster I’m building in my basement that my wife says I’ll never bring to life, like she knows anything about reanimation science.  It’s just not thunderstorm season yet, that’s all.  I get my mind off the story as much as I can.  Sometimes weeks or even months go by.  By the time I return to the manuscript, it should feel new again.  Then the editing process begins. 

This is where the most difficult of the work is.  I am an obsessive editor.  I enter the process with a firm conviction that my work is severely flawed and riddled with embarrassing errors that I will probably never be able to fully eradicate.  And I am, for all intensive purposes, absolutely correct.  There’s no such thing as a perfect story.  There’s always one more word you can change, one more sentence you can improve.  And as the writer, I know what I meant to say when I wrote it, making it difficult to see what I actually put on the paper.  Just a single incorrect letter in tens of thousands of words can have catastrophic results to a manuscript.  Don’t believe me?  Consider the difference between the words “message” and “massage” for a moment.  The sentence, “Bill received a personal message from his mom,” can become a dramatically different statement by changing only that one letter.  With one single keystroke, your young adult novel just became really freaky.  I am compelled to read my work over and over and over again.  I question every line, every word.  I become utterly absorbed in eradicating every possible error.  I am obsessed with it.  It’s not my best quality, I’ll admit, but it’s useful for the end result.  And it’s not like I obsess over everything.  Only over my writing.  And sometimes pickles, but that’s an entirely different discussion. 

As you might imagine, the whole process can be very time consuming.  It can take many weeks just to prepare a little short story.  But the end result can be extremely rewarding.  After all I’ve done, all the hours I poured into it, the endless reading and rereading…after all that…when I received that very first five-star review on Amazon…  I can’t describe how satisfying that was.  To love what you do is one thing.  To know that others love what you do just as much as you…  That means an awful lot. 

Now back to those supermodels and that pudding…

Lies, Lies, Lies!

How wrong is it to lie to your children?  I mean we tell all those elaborate fibs about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and that Mischievous Magic Gnome that sometimes locks mommy and daddy in their room for no apparent reason in the middle of the day…  Um…  Of course, not everyone celebrates the same…things…  I’m just saying we go to a lot of trouble for this stuff.  Milk and Cookies.  Hiding eggs.  Risking life and limb to sneak into a dark and treacherously messy room to exchange that little tooth for a dollar.  It’s like a game for grownups.  A few nights a year, we pretend to be covert agents.  Tell me you’ve never played the Mission Impossible theme music in your head as you slide your hand under that pillow.  It can’t really just be me.

     I’ve heard of people who get really bent out of shape about these kinds of lies.  They feel betrayed.  They trusted their parents and how could they dare tell these blatant lies to an innocent, impressionistic child?  Really?  Personally, I think these people are WAY too sensitive.  Seriously, grow up.  I love that my parents cared enough to give me a little magic in this otherwise grim and unsympathetic world.  No matter how cold the world becomes, at least I believed in something magical at least once in my life.
     But what about all those other lies?  As parents, we want so badly to protect them from the world.  And as such, there are truths that we’re not immediately comfortable with.  Like where meat comes from.  No mom is in any hurry to tell her children where pork chops come from.  Or cheeseburgers.  Or Chicken McNuggets.  And we certainly can’t discuss sex with our children!  God no!  We cannot possibly tell them where babies really come from.  We invent stories of noble storks and magical cabbage patches to explain away those perfectly natural, if incredibly uncomfortable questions about the origins of our individual lives.  And really, after we’re all grown up, we look back on those lies we were told with heartfelt gratitude.  Because Mom DID NOT DO THAT.  End of story.  And if birth is an awkward subject, death is unthinkable.  Family pets don’t die.  They just go away.  The goldfish is just taking the toilet back home to his family who live out in the ocean.  Sparky didn’t get run over, he just ran away.  Great Grandma moved to Florida.  We don’t even realize how many lies we tell.
     And then there are the lies we can’t help but want to tell them.  After you’ve spent all day cleaning that messy closet, don’t you just want to tell them about the child-devouring monster that lives in there so they’ll stay the hell out of it and leave it nice and clean?  Because you know otherwise it’s going to be trashed by bedtime.  Aren’t you at least a little bit tempted?  And what better way to keep them out of the basement?  Or the attic?  Or the cabinet where you keep your Spice Girls doll collection?  Or…you know…whatever you happen to be into…  All I’m saying is that fear is a powerful motivator, people!  Parents have been using the boogeyman and his kind to keep kids in line since the dark ages.  To this day, I’ve never incurred the wrath of the unthinkable demon that dwells in my dad’s dresser…  (Mental note:  sometimes when we outgrow the fantasy, what remains is infinitely more terrifying…)
     And really, it’s not exactly a lie that too much candy will give you nightmares.  I mean it could…right?  Maybe?  I mean it never gave me nightmares, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen to my kids…  Better safe than sorry, right?  And so what if I don’t have proof that my favorite kinds of candy just happen to cause the worst nightmares?  It’s still a valid theory.
     Is it wrong to tell them that it’s against the law to take them to the ice cream shop because you forgot to renew your ice cream buying permit?  Should I feel bad for showing my kids a picture of Hiroshima and telling them that’s what happens when a child shakes the soda her dad asked her to bring him from the fridge?  What about saying we can’t get a puppy because we live next to a Lutheran church?  (It’s a religious thing.  I don’t really get it.)  We can’t buy that doll because it might offend certain social stereotypes.  You can’t spend the night at Billy’s house because his parents are communist spies.  Little things like that.  Like when you tell them they need to take a nap because you need to take a nap.  Or that they need to eat more Brussels sprouts because they’re good for them, not because you hate them and don’t want to have to finish off the dish.
     I’m just saying that sometimes a little white lie can’t hurt.  And if Santa Claus can really come down the chimney once a year, when we don’t even have a fireplace, why can’t a few nightmares help ensure that they leave some of that candy for me?  I don’t think it’s all that unreasonable.

Under the Weather

This has been a very unproductive month for me.  Sales are way down (nonexistent, to be honest).  My website is stagnant (does anybody even go there anymore?).  I’ve barely even touched my Facebook page (no friends).  I blame it on germs.  Stupid, dirty, microscopic, irritating germs.

     I’ve been sick for almost a month now.  At first I thought it was the flu.  And maybe it was the flu.  Who knows?  It felt like the flu, with all the aching and the weakness and the fever and the chills and the whining.  But then the aching and the weakness and the fever and the chills all got better.  (Not so much the whining, though, no.)  And then there was the sore throat.  Worst I’ve ever had!  Swallowing was so painful!  At this point I’m complaining and moaning as well as whining.  (You cannot imagine how miserable my poor wife must have been!)  Eventually, I decided to dig out a flashlight and peek at my throat to see if I looked as bad as I felt.  Yuck.  That wasn’t a pretty sight.  No wonder I couldn’t eat anything.  My tonsils looked as big as golf balls!  I was surprised I could even breathe!  By this time it seemed obvious that I needed to go see my doctor.
A sinus infection and strep throat.  Wonderful.  But at least I can actually start recovering now.  A few days into my two weeks of heavy antibiotics and I began to feel better.  I got up and got a few chores done.  Normality seemed almost inevitable.  Then I got sick again.  A deep, heavy cough.  Runny nose.  Weariness.  All I wanted to do was crawl into bed.  And by now my wife is way over that whole “you poor guy” phase so I’m pretty much on my own.
     And don’t think for a second that the kids haven’t taken advantage of my misfortune.  I fell asleep on the couch while my wife was at work and apparently missed a rampaging horde of destructive goblins and trolls tearing through the house.  There are toys and laundry scattered across the floor, along with the day’s mail.  I found the electric bill sticking out of the litter box of all places.  All the sheets and blankets from my daughter’s bed are in the dining room.  I’m pretty sure that’s cat food in the dryer.  There’s a banana peel in the printer.  The toilet’s clogged.  There’s a pair of pants hanging from the ceiling fan in the kitchen.  For some reason, the cat won’t come down out of the top of the closet and all the spoons are missing from the utensil drawer…  I can’t seem to find them anywhere…  They even tore my bookshelf off the wall in the living room!  I don’t understand.  I was only asleep for a little while.  How do they do it?  It’s like they have mystical, destructive powers that only work when I close my eyes.
     That cough just refuses to go away, but I’m gradually regaining my strength.  I’ve gotten back to work, both on my chores and on my writing.  I should be able to get back up to speed here on the blog and hopefully I’ll get a chance to update my website soon, too.  I’ve even made it through Easter.  It should be all downhill from here…assuming I can keep up with the little monsters…