Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas on the Battlefield

...Christmas Day.

Mid-afternoon. The lights in the tree have been twinkling since sunrise. Silent flames dance in scarlet cheer from the gas fireplace. Through the front window the world rests quietly in gray doldrums, the air thick with moisture. Occasionally a car drifts by, its exhaust fumes dissipating like scattering leaves in the wind...and the holiday is observed.

Meanwhile, a lone soldier clings an uzi to his waist as he rolls behind the wreckage from a recently destroyed apartment building, bullets slicing through the air overhead.

His chinstrap unclasps, causing his helmet, once olive, now blanketed in dust, to slide over his vision as he awaits the throbbing in his ears to settle.

He opens his eyes, sensing the sting of grit and tiny pieces of shrapnel floating like angry hornets through the paltry air. In the distance he can now hear the voices of his enemy, calling out to one another in foreign tongue. If only he could understand their jargon...

From his belt the two-way radio chirps. What remains of the rest of his squadron, calling out to him. He quickly taps the receiver with a forefinger, turning the radio off. The voices fall silent. How far did the sound travel? Has his whereabouts been discovered?

He rises to a sitting position behind the brick husk of what was once the home to many civilians and their children, no doubt long gone by now.

He can hear the thudding of combat boots approaching. Small plumes of dust rising from earth's scarred surface. The sound of many, from different angles.

Realizing he's cornered, he clutches the sub-machine gun with both hands and looks up through the soot to the sun above. It's the same ball of flame he's seen countless times throughout his life. But from this strange, desolate place, it's somehow different. Not as friendly. It's managed to absorb the turbulence of an unforgiving mountainside surrounding him, the blazing sand under his torn fatigues, and the vacant angst expressed upon the faces of the few survivors left behind. The one's he's fighting to protect. The same one's willing to turn on him without a moment's hesitation.

He exhales a breath, voices a prayer through a hoarse whisper. A mouthful of dust, and lips chapped like scorched asphalt. Then he grips his weapon, releases a fearful whine, and turns toward the oncoming assault...

"Aww man! Got shot again!" my son exclaims, bent over in frustration. He slams a fist upon the carpeted floor, his legs crossed Indian-style in front of the television. I glance up from the book I'm reading. The Sony reveals a downed soldier lying in a pool of blood, a few splatters trickling like raindrops on the screen.

I look at my son, clutching his XBox controller as if wielding The Hobbit's magical ring and refusing to relinquish its power. Still bent over in defeat, his eyes find my gaze from across the room. The corner of his mouth curls up in a grin. "Care if I try again?" he asks.

I roll my eyes, shrug my shoulders, and return to my book.

"You're going down, lousy terrorists!" my son bellows.

Then I hear the eery background music. Moments later I hear the guns.

Christmas 2010. "Call of Duty: Black OPS Edition."

...Jeez, I'm getting old:)

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"South of Charm"

...our lives forever changed the day she saw it.

It had been a day or two since watching the fireworks fill the night sky with spider webs the color of a rainbow over Walnut Creek Park. Later, I swore I could still hear the cannon blasts, like distant gunfire from across the county.

I was nine years old, enjoying summer break, sweating through a July heat wave. Humidity in the shape of a giant mushroom cloud, hovering over the state of Ohio. Its intensity was enough to make our cat pant like a dog and scurry for shade by ten a.m. I'd sneak up on him, a lazy orange tabby, its fur twisted and mangled from a territorial dispute with the neighboring tom, and blast him with the garden hose. He'd spring into the air, his back arched, a guttural screech causing every nearby sparrow to flutter about in graceless circles, and stumble for the bordering maples in the distance. Then I'd giggle to myself as he'd stop, just out of firing range, and offer me a grimace from across the yard as if to say, "Between you and me, that hit the spot."

It was later that evening when she saw it. There was never a warning of things to come. Never a chance to mentally prepare. It just happened, like things sometimes do...

...the final read/edit is in progress. A cover design has been chosen. And we're close:)

"South of Charm" 2011

Saturday, December 4, 2010

"I write like...Chuck Palahniuk? Okay then...bring it, Charlie!"

"This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time." -C.P., "Fight Club"

...being the novice scribblers that we are, chomping at the bit for a drop of notoriety from anyone willing to read our thoughts, I'd bet my left shoe that most of us have skipped over to the "I Write Like" website, and accepted the challenge of seeing who our work most resembles. Dickens or Cormier. Perhaps your fingers mimic the work of King, or Collins...someone with prowess, someone granted the opportunity to quit their dayjob and begin life anew. And in return we're allowed a moment of bliss, to think, "So if I write like him, then maybe..."

And so I went to the site, plugged in a line or two from "South of Charm," punched ENTER, and a name spit out that I wasn't expecting, but after some thought, didn't mind in the least.

"I see the strongest and smartest men who have ever lived...and these men are pumping gas and waiting tables." -C.P. "Fight Club"

Chuck Palahniuk was born in '62, in Burbank, Washington. He grew up in a mobile home, his family living paycheck to paycheck, surviving as best they could. His parents separated when he was still a young adult, scraping by on dreams alone. With little else to strive for, Palahniuk turned to the arts, realizing his passion for writing at an early age.

"This was freedom. Losing all hope was freedom."-C.P. "Fight Club"

Palahniuk earned acceptance to Oregon University, majoring in journalism. He took a job at Freightliner, making ends meet. He eventually gave up journalism, focusing his time on writing fiction when not struggling to pay his bills. He was in his mid-thirties when lightning struck.

"You aren't alive anywhere like you're alive at Fight Club. Fight Club isn't about winning or losing fights. Fight Club isn't about words. You see a guy come to Fight Club for the first time, and his ass is a loaf of white bread. You see this same guy here six months later, and he looks carved out of wood. This guy trusts himself to handle anything."-C.P.

Like Palahniuk, I grew up in a mobile home, the bill collectors taking turns knocking on our door. My parents separated when I was fourteen, forcing a change of school, different life, a time when keeping one's feet on the ground proved challenging. And so I turned to the one thing I always felt I was meant to do...a pen, some paper, and away I went...

I'm unable to predict whether lightning will strike or not, for that's up to my readers to decide, but good or bad, the story's on its way.

And so perhaps I write like Chuck Palahniuk, an honorable comparison...but then, you tell me...

"For thousands of years, human beings had screwed up and trashed and crapped on this planet, and now history expected me to clean up after everyone. I have to wash out and flatten my soup cans. And account for every drop of used motor oil. And I have to foot the bill for nuclear waste and buried gasoline tanks and landfilled toxic sludge dumped a generation before I was born."-C.P. "Fight Club"

...No one saw them. A pair of shadowy forms, ghostlike against the darkened backdrop of an expiring twilight. They appeared from behind an aging Dumpster along the edge of the church parking lot. Careful not to bump against its steadily decaying welds, the metal having long since fallen victim to corrosion from Ohio's inclement weather, they crept along behind the steel deterrent, patiently awaiting nightfall's obscure embrace....

...To anyone passing by on nearby State Route 62, they would've resembled the darkened forms of a pair of meaningless shadows belonging to anyone. A peculiar presence spotted through one's peripheral vision, then gone without any thought of foul play. An untimely blanket of goosebumps rising upon one's arms, then forgotten with a frown and the pull of a steering wheel.... E.G.-"The Fellas"

Perhaps one day, on a whim, Chuck Palahniuk will find himself on "I write like," entering a favorite passage of his, then hitting ENTER, and seeing my name appear on the screen. For that's why we're allowed to dream, is it not?

Thanks for reading,
EL ;)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Reason to Feel Thankful :)

...a pair of movie scenes come to mind as I spare a moment to reflect on this national day of giving thanks. Two classics I enjoyed in my younger days, not realizing then how they'd couple to create my own personal drama played out on the eve of this holiday season...

In 1991 Keanu Reeves teamed up with the late Patrick Swayze in a movie called, "Point Break," where Ohio State graduate and FBI Agent, Johnny Utah, travels the Cali Coast in pursuit of Bodhi, (Swayze) and his gang of surfing bank robbers. They follow the high tide, riding the sharpest waves and leaving a trail of dirty cash in their wake.

Following a series of breathtaking scenarios and stunt-ridden chase scenes, Reeves manages to capture Swayze on an obscure Australian shore line, under a curtain of steady rainfall, an enormous Pacific wave gathering force in the background. Johnny has Bodhi handcuffed to his own wrist, the two of them watching the climatic event of the "Thirty Year Storm" wreaking utter havoc to the swirling waters. Utah's pursuit of Bodhi had lasted nearly a year, spanning the globe. He got his man, but was too exhausted to celebrate.

Inexplicably, Bodhi somehow manages to talk Utah into setting him free in order to catch one last wave...the largest point break ever laid eyes upon. The Aussie stronghold catch up to Johnny Utah, confused and screaming in protest while Bodhi, muscling his board, fights the turbulent currents en route to the gathering monster.

"We'll get him when he comes back in," an Australian cop says.

Johnny Utah watches Bodhi meet the wave, a surfer rising to ridiculous heights, then turns his back on the chase. "He's not coming back," he says, reaching for his FBI badge. Without looking, he flings the glistening badge into the water as the final credits begin crawling up the screen...

In 1994, Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman joined forces to create "The Shawshank Redemption," arguably one of the greatest movies ever made.

The scene I recalled this week, was when Andy Dufresne, (Robbins) under the clapping of a mid-night thunderstorm, burrows out of prison by way of a sewer pipe, Freeman's voice narrating in the background... "Andy crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of shit smelling foulness I can't even imagine, or maybe I just don't want to. Five hundred yards...that's the length of five football fields, just shy of half a mile..."

Andy Dufresne, wrongfully accused of killing his wife, had spent the last nineteen years in the Shawshank Correctional Facility. Before departing, he'd leaned into Morgan's ear the day before in the yard, and mumbled, "Time to get busy living, or get busy dying."

Under a steady downpour, the tumultuous skies denying any hint of moonlight, Andy Dufresne drops from a pipe full of feces, to a small creek, and freedom...the prison looming like a sleeping giant in the background. He rises to his feet, lifts his arms to the skies above, and breathes free air for the first time in nearly two decades...

...a few weeks ago I received a phone call. As it turns out, a smaller manufacturing company in the area, ironically one that I've driven past every day along my route to the monster conglomerate that's employed me for the past decade, has been in search of a quality control inspector...someone with big business experience, yet with an urge to scale escape big business politics. A person in search of less suits, while experiencing a bit more gratitude along the way. In their eyes at least...someone like me.

From my desk, I accepted the offer quietly, expressed my thanks, and hung up the phone. My wife at my side, she asked, "You got it?"

"I got it."

"The hours?"

"I'll be home every night."

"And the pay?"

I hesitated, released a breath, then, "It's good." resignation was met with negative response from my employer, a monstrous place with gated entrances. A place resembling Shawshank. A place where we're known by our badge number, and not much more. Where I've spent countless hours per week, receiving little gratitude in return, while quenching every spare minute of my time I once used for my family, for coaching, and for writing.

And yesterday, my last day on the job, I thought of Johnny Utah, tossing his badge into the salty waters, turning his back on an unforgiving career. I reached for my I.D badge, yanked it from my waist, stepped into the department office, and like a smallish frisbee, tossed my plastic badge onto my superior's desk. Then I turned and left, refusing to look back.

Minutes later I left through the barred gates under an obscene hour, and was met by steady rainfall.

...and I thought of Andy Dufresne, exiting that sewer pipe, dropping to a rocky creek freedom.

I raised my face to the sky and released a breath, the air tasting a bit cleaner than the day before.

The new job will allow for ample time in the evening...time to gather around the dinner table with my kids...time to once again coach my youth ball teams...and time to write.

As "South of Charm" enters the galley, a three-headed monster of story ideas have been disturbing my late-night solitude...yearning for attention...demanding to be scribed. And now I'll have time.

Thanksgiving 2010...indeed a day to give thanks :)


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Buckeye Book Fair 2010 overcast veil of gray snuffed out what little daylight remained. Despite ample parking, I was forced to trek upon cracked pavement outlining the neighboring building, the afternoon crowd still in flux.

I snuck through the side entrance, knowing the way by heart, and made haste to the gathered assemblage. More than a hundred writers, their smiles now strained following an afternoon of slinging their names across published works and speaking to readers by the thousands. After a day spent huddled over a desk, toughing out a mandatory six hour foster care class, I could relate.

It doesn't take long to lose one's sense of time while in their own environment...The Buckeye Book Fair, yearly ranked as one of the top literary events in the country.

The conversation with Karen Kingsbury, huddled behind a colorful display of past achievements, was inspiring. Terry Pluto has always been a personal favorite. A local sports writer turned novelist, each story christened with athletic locale. I paused before a breathtaking piece from artist, Will Hillenbrand, and shook hands with Cleveland born Neil Zurcher. From where I stood, Regina Brett's, "God Never Blinks," was an apparent fan favorite, her line having stretched around the corner and out of sight. And as every year, children's writer Dandi Mackall infected me with a playful grin reminiscent of the writer's voice she carries.

I was reading the back cover blurb to the latest vampire craze, when a tap on my shoulder stole my attention. "I thought all writers were sitting behind the tables today?"

A weary smile formed. "Hello David," I greeted my editor. "Out trolling for new students?"

"Just enjoying a day with friends." He studied my expression, then, "Long day?"

I nodded. "Classes. And yes, I should be signing today, not reading."

"Once again the bride's maid...still not the bride." His gaze hardened. Steely blue eyes squinting from behind a set of crow's feet. "Patience El. Your time draws near, I promise."

I looked at the tiled floor at our feet, our shadows forming a lengthened embrace. "Seems like it'll never happen," I said. "It's like...edit this, rewrite running in place and getting nowhere fast."

"All these brats sitting behind these tables around us," David turned, waved an arm as if warding off a mosquito, "They start on their next project while edits stumble on."

"Yeah well, I've got that dayjob to deal with...but there's a little something else on the plate I've been thinking about. Another project."

"In the mood to share?" David asked.

"Nope. You've got work to do. Not sure why you're even standing here right now," I countered.

David's shoulders rose and fell with each chuckle. "Always the slave driver. 'South of Charm' will indeed happen. Final edits are rolling like a shapely stone downhill, with the final read to follow, then off to the galley."

"And how long will that be?"


"Aww come on!"

"See that empty space over there?" David directed my gaze toward a far corner of the room, a lonesome chair hiding under the table, an eight foot section of unattended space.

"What about it?" I asked.

"Next year," David said. A second pat on my shoulder. "Next year."

"Okay," I nodded.

As David turned, waving me a farewell, I mumbled, "Probably won't sell a book all day...sit behind a stack of covers, embarrassed and blushing."

"Ha!" David coughed over his shoulder. "Even the rube who failed to show up today ended up selling three books! I think you'll do fine!"

I watched his broken stride as he ambled for the exit, my grin widening. year.

Buckeye Book Fair 2011. "South of Charm" ...better late than never:)

Thanks for reading,

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Conversation Worth Noting

...when searching for inspiration, look no further than through the eyes of our youth. You'd be amazed at what lies inside...

She's been staying with us since last winter's thaw. Not a permanent placement, and not "The Girl" I've spoken of previously. Just a troubled nine year old yearning for stability while her mother "rights the ship."

Earlier in the week I found myself driving her into town for a state mandated psychology appointment. Professional probing...sometimes necessary, other times, well...

This young lady is not known for speaking of the events which led to her displacement, therefore, we don't ask. If she feels like talking however, we listen.

As we made the twenty minute trek into town that day, she felt like sharing. And I listened...

"Is this a new doctor?" she asked from the backseat, her monotone barely registering more than a whisper.

I turned down the volume on the radio. "Yes, Honey. You haven't met this lady yet. But she's nice."

"What should I tell her?"

"Well, if I were you, I'd answer all of her questions honestly. She's just trying to help."

She was quiet for a bit, then, "Should I tell her about my imaginary friend?"

I considered our destination, then answered, "That would be fine."

Her reflection through the rear-view mirror was that of a downcast soul. Ebony tangles forming a curtain of hair over her eyes. She was faced forward, her gaze angled toward the floor. Thin fingers clasped together and resting upon her lap as if in prayer.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

She offered me a quick glance. Up, then back down, like the blink of an eyelid. "Did you have an imaginary friend when you were little?"

"I sure did."

"What was his name?"

"His name was Sam."

Her hands relaxed. "Did he ever talk to you?"

"Hmm...I guess so. That was a long time ago, Honey."

"But, what I mean is...could you hear him when he talked?"

I felt myself backpedaling into dark ground. "Can you hear your friend when she talks to you?"

"All the time. She came with me when I moved in with you guys."

"Oh. Well okay." I briefed her gaze in the mirror. There and gone. "You know, you should probably tell the doctor about this...I mean, if you feel like it."

I was reaching for the volume on the radio when her next comment froze my arm in mid-stretch. "I think that dog in your basement needs fed. He looks hungry."

"Uh...what dog?"

"The black one. The one with the red eyes."

"There's a black dog in the basement?"

"He followed me from home too. He sits next to the fireplace when I'm watching T.V."

"We're almost there, Honey. Just a few more minutes."

"The white dog was already here when I came though."

My grip tightened on the steering wheel. "White dog?"

"The one from the woods." From the backseat, the girl looked out the window, studied the passing scenery in the distance, a grove of maples, their branches skeletal from the late season. "He follows us all the time."

I didn't want to ask, but couldn't help it. "This white dog...what's he look like?

Through a veil of dark curls I watched her eyes squint, collecting her thoughts. Then, "He looks more like a wolf than a dog. White and fluffy. But kinda dirty, like he might need a bath. And his eyes are cool. Kind of brownish-goldish. I bet they can glow in the dark."

I swerved into the parking lot, was rescued by the first open space I spied, and jammed the car into park, my chest heaving, moist hands sliding off the steering wheel.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. Let's head inside."

...before my wife and I were blessed with our first child, we owned two dogs. One was a female Shepherd mix, beige and white, a rowdy shrew that fought off father time for sixteen years before finally passing away this past Spring.

The other one was a male. Dingy white, and shaped like a polar bear. He was a hybrid-wolf, his father a pure Timber. We called him Dutch. During the winter months his coat would thicken and fluff outward for the coldest of days. At the age of eight, he broke lose from his outdoor pen one bitter January night, and ran off. At some point during his journey, he was tempted by the sweet lure of anti-freeze from an open garage. We recovered him several days into our search, but the poison had spread. Dutch was put to sleep roughly a week later. To this day my wife struggles with our loss.

I stayed in the waiting room during the appointment, allowing the child some privacy with her doctor. The ride home was spent in silence, the youngster no longer willing to share.

Imaginary friends and their dogs...some black, others a bit more familiar. What I'd give for a moment of vision through this girl's eyes. Just a moment...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

...she returns

"...the most traumatic event in one's life will more times than not, become their mission."

...I was mowing the backyard over the weekend when she returned. A skinny thing, her complexion blanched as if fearing any contact with the sun. The foster girl of twelve requested, and was granted, another weekend visit. This one her third.

From a distance she appeared frail for a young lady approaching teenage status. Upon closing the gap between us however, a smile breached a set of chapped lips, her wiry frame boasting of hidden muscle. To live a day in her shoes, one would realize that most of her strength had nothing to do with the flex of her biceps.

I wrote a post of "the girl" roughly a month ago, a foster child being held under state's custody who's expressed a desire to join my family permanently, and have since been asked by many for an update.

We were granted three more days with her living under our roof. We attended one of her soccer games, watched as she assisted in the matchup's only goal. She revealed to us that she'd been grounded by her current foster parents since her last visit...punishment for a poor grade card, yet worsening an already volatile relationship within the homestead she's resided for the past two years. No outdoor activity, no cell phone, no computer, no communication. This explained her pale complexion, and my wife's inability to contact her through Facebook.

She'd also received harsh criticism for a movie we allowed her to experience the last time she visited. Twilight's New Moon. Rated PG-13. A movie we've let our own children watch countless times, considering it harmless.

As was the result of her past two visits, the weekend became an adventure. And as before, the girl and I shared a conversation upon the Sunday night of her departure. The therapy has increased. Professionals scouring for a reason behind her foster home's dysfunction, pushing pills down her throat like an ice cream in August.

The girl's relationship with her foster dad has never been a positive match, but has worsened since her twelfth birthday. This news haunts me with each passing day. He's a man of strict religious upbringing. Because of this, he expects the same compassion from every member of his household. Even a young lady who's childhood was spent under the tumultuous reign of a mother suffering from a mental disorder. Later deemed incapable of raising her daughter.

My angst dates back more than twenty years, to a time when I found myself living the very same nightmare that I hear from the mouth of this child. My younger years were also disrupted by a parent battling a set of ghosts from within her mind. An ongoing struggle to this day. Also the inspiration behind, "South of Charm," my soon-to-be-released novel.

I see this girl, and I see myself. I see her tears, and I recognize them as my own. She needs help, but not the type she's currently receiving. It's reached the point where unless alternative steps are taken, a dark future looms.

I've sent a lengthy email to our social worker. As foster parents, she's our licensed representation in all matters child-related. The letter was a jumbled mess of feelings, my point to make clear our intent to help this girl, to bring her home if need be.

A response was returned a day later. My email had been forwarded to our worker's boss, every worker in the building, and the girl's social representation as well. Accompanying the news was a one line message..."Thank you for your emotional, yet eloquent input. We'll be in touch."

I have no idea what that means. Sleep now comes a bit easier however, knowing that at least I tried.

Until then, unfortunately, the story continues...

There are those of us who are striving for goals...reaching ever closer to achieving that dream...ultimate recognition. But what of those who see goals as nothing more than glass slippers from a Disney classic...slippers left behind...goals unattainable due to lives held in Purgatory. What about those kids? Who's listening to their goals?

...thanks for reading:)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


...I'm only a month or three late getting this knocked out, but was finally able to pen the acknowledgment for "Charm." It's getting posted in hopes of receiving critiques and insight before I ship it to David.

:The thing about writing a story of significant length that some fail to consider, is that one must be comfortable in their solitude in order to succeed. Penning the next Pulitzer while changing Junior's diapers in one hand, and programming that new Blackberry with the other, more times than not, breeds disappointment. Despite being surrounded with such modern conveniences as high-speed internet, and GPS directions with the push of a button, when writing, there's simply no substitute for peace and quiet.

Which was why, shortly following the collapse of our economy, when the career I'd grudgingly stumbled upon, reared its ugly head and offered me a set of fangs, it was my wife who set me on course.

She sat me down in front of the computer and said, "It's time. Write the book."

In the second Rocky movie, the one where Balboa's maimed form somehow manages to find a second's worth of equilibrium as the referee finishes his ten-count, thus securing the heavyweight championship, there's an earlier scene I thought of while offering my wife a nod, my heart's pace quickening.

Long story short, when Rocky's wife, Adrian, drifts into a coma following the birth of their son, then awakens several days later and stares into her husband's eyes with a gleam very unlike Talia Shire's character, Rocky asks her if she would prefer him to retire rather than fight Apollo Creed.

From her hospital bed, newborn baby cradled in her arms, Adrian says, "There's one thing I want you to do for me."

Rocky asks, "What's that?"

"Win," she says. "Win!"

Despite sharing duties in the upbringing of our children, while generating enough funds to maintain a thumbs up from our creditors, I completed the book. But not without help. For there is no novel on earth where the writer can take sole credit.

I would like to thank Pam Vogt and Sandy Clifton for their thoughts and continued support throughout the reading and editing process. To the staff at The Wooster Book Company for their undying loyalty. To David Wiesenberg, whose tutoring and creative insight can only be described as priceless. I fear the thought of undergoing such a task without him by my side. A special shout out to my internet colleagues and the readers of my blog, whose critiques and support have been an overwhelming gesture. A nationwide family of writers, each of us holding hands and striving forward, one word at a time. To my children, whose many ideas on the life of Danny Kaufman I often encouraged, for who could possibly know the mindset of a ten year old boy more than a kid of the same age? My oldest son has requested the first copy. I'm more than happy to abide.

And of course to my wife, whose patience throughout the writing of "Charm" was an effort surpassing any favor I've ever asked of her. For the only job more frustrating than that of a writer, may in fact be a writer's significant other. I'm forever grateful...

"South of Charm" has been edited a fourth time, trimmed down a bit, its waistline now a bit roomier. I'm anxious to move forward, but hesitant of the final product. Is it ready? How does anyone ever know for sure?

These are questions I asked David, my editor. His response was simple. "When a story reads the way life travels...sometimes smooth, often a bit rough, at times twisting and winding with an unknowing future around the bend...then you've got it. Then it's ready."

I finished reading it again. This was the seventh or eighth time. There'll be at least one more. It's close. So close, but...

Thanks for reading,
EL :)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

"Dumb it Down..."

...received some interesting advice from my "reader" who's involvement has sparked a fourth...kind of mini-edit on "South of Charm."

A former editor, now more or less a hired hit-man for those of us clawing our way toward some shelf space at Barnes & Noble, she finished up my novel a week ago, assembled her thoughts, and suggested to David that I should perhaps, "Dumb it down" a bit.

My response was, "Huh?"

David managed to clarify. "In a nutshell, she thinks maybe you're writing gets too cute in a few scenes. Don't huff. Overall she enjoyed it, but you know how it is...every critique has to come back with something, thus earning them their blue chip."

"So...she's wanting me to cut out some of the more colorful phrases, and replace them with, what...newspaper print?" I asked.

This sparked a grin. "Not quite that extreme, El. Her take was, during a few of the more intense moments of the story, your prose blossomed a bit too much, causing her to go back and re-read the scene, making sure she fully understood what was going on. She fears some readers may put the book down if they find themselves in the same position."

"I'm assuming you've read Wroblewski's "Sawtelle," or Susanna Clark's "Norrell," right?" I asked.

David nodded.

"Okay then, how many times did you have to go back and re-read that craziness?"

"More than I'm willing to admit."

"How about 'Tinkers?' That one won the Pulitzer, you know."

"Don't remind me."

"And those books are considered some of the best work over the past decade. So what gives?"

David expelled a breath, his patience creating the type of silence only a newborn would feel comfortable in. Then, "Who's your main character in 'Charm?'

"The Kaufman kid."

"And how old is he?"


Then I got it. "Wait. Okay. I see what you're getting at."

David's smile returned. "Sometimes you writers like to show off, wanting us readers to shake our heads in awe...which is fun. But sometimes, depending on the scene, and the character in question, thinning out some spice can make all the difference."

"Okay. I'm not on my deathbed," I said. "There's time. Send me another copy and your ideas, and I'll see what I can do."

Revision number 4. "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" went through 15 rounds of revisions before getting shoved into the press. "South of Charm" is based on the troubled life of a ten year old boy with a special gift, but a family secret...more or less a curse as he sees it. And that's the key. As he sees it. Through his eyes, not mine. A ten year old boy...

"Dumb it Down." I've got two weeks and she wants to read it again.

Okay Kaufman, tell me what you see...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Birth of an Idea

...Thursday evening.

An autumn sunset has created a smudge of color across the distant skyline. Like an oil painting, variations of pink and orange blended together from the hand of an artist touched by an angel.

From both sides of the ball field, young men raise their arms into the breeze, four fingers outspread...fourth quarter underway.

As they've done throughout most of the season, the game has long been decided, both teams having already pulled their starters, allowing their second string players a chance to scuff up their cleats.

I watch my son standing along the sidelines with his teammates, helmets clutched at their sides, smiles spreading like an air-born virus. Thus far the season has been a success. Fourteen year old athletes riding a four game winning streak, dreaming of varsity ball under the lights, less than a year away.

My son turns toward the stands, spots me in the crowd, offers a grin before returning his gaze to the action. I answer with a chuckle. Sky's the limit for that kid.

Down by thirty, the opposing team is threatening to score. They line up at our ten yard line, their backup quarterback barking out the play.

The football's hiked, the passer shuffles his feet, winds up and tosses the ball into the an awaiting receiver, hands outstretched.

A blur of blue and gold and our backup defender sweeps into the action, snags the football, and bolts in the opposite direction.

My son's backup, the boy doesn't get much time on the field in most games. An interception is a rare treat. Standing along the sideline, my son and his teammates leap for joy.

Then as the boy rumbles into the open field, I spot something else. The boy's father, unable to stand pat, stumbles to the asphalt track outlining the football field, and begins sprinting along the sidelines to the same pace as his the boy hits the fifty yard line, his legs churning like the pistons of a car.

The boy's head turns, spots his father, in blue jeans and t-shirt, a ball cap turned backwards, matching his stride as he heads for the score.

The boy aims his sites on the distant goal line. Quickens his pace. The crowd rises as one, father and son on a footrace to glory.

...and I think, "This is a story."

I see the track and think, "Not a football game, but a track meet. A runner, for some reason disqualified, but running for no other reason than pride alone. Racing along beside the track, versus opposing runners, competing...but not."

The young defensive back rumbles over the twenty, no one within ten yards of tripping him up. His father keeping pace, nearly plows over a young lady balancing a plastic tray overfilled with nachos, oblivious to the drama.

And I think, "Not a boy. A girl. Really fast. But for some reason unable to participate."

Behind the endzone, an ambulance is parked, its occupants jumping up and down, their hands clapping in anticipation.

And I think, "Perhaps an injury. Or maybe a religious dispute. A family's beliefs thwarting the athletic prowess their daughter was born with."

The boy falls into the endzone. His father leaps into the air. The crowd roars their approval.

And I think..."Need a name for that girl."

Hours later. The kids are tucked in. The excitement of victory settling down for another day.

I hear my wife giggling from the office. "Hey, come in here," she calls. "Check this out."

I enter the office, follow her gaze to the computer screen, my brow rising. "What's this?"

"One of those funny emails," she says. "This one determines what my porn name would know, if I'd be in that line of work."

I shake my head, "In that line of work? Really?"

Then I see the name. "Derby Wayne."

And I think, " a race track. Or somebody's nickname. For somebody who's really a girl. Derby Wayne."

"That's perfect," I say.

"It is?" my wife asks. "Like...your wanting me to change careers, or what?"

"Absolutely perfect," I say, ignoring her.

"Perhaps I should look for an agent," she continues.

But I've already left the room, yanking a sheet of paper out of the printer, my other hand snatching a pencil from under my wife's elbow, next to the keyboard. My brain spinning somersaults. An outline literally writing itself.

And while "South of Charm" heads toward the galley...a new story begins.

That's how it works for me...

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"Full Circle" (A 100 Followers Tribute)

...I've been debating ways to express my gratitude over achieving my 100th follower last weekend. Contests appear to be the norm, but with a busy calendar, I fear the results would be disappointing, if not prolonged. Then I had a thought, and rolled with it. Kind of spreading the love, announcing the new title of my upcoming novel, and...well, you'll see.


...the air tasted moist, salty from the Gulf's shores, tendrils of endless water slapping sand just around the block.

With evening's approach, the temperature managed to flutter below triple digits for the first time all day, yet the humidity remained unforgiving, like crawling through a sauna. From their expressions, the locals seemed oblivious to the heat, as was I. For nothing could've dampened my spirits on this day.

An orange moon celebrating the year's harvest was rising above distant rooftops as I enjoyed the cobbled streets outlining the Riverwalk along the southern tip of New Orleans. Neon lights twinkling from shop windows, and children dashing through a nearby fountain, their proud parents hovering nearby, sipping iced teas and conversing like relatives.

Following Katrina's wrath, this area had been looted to a pile of rubble and broken glass, but along with the drowned city, her people rallied behind a spirit unwielding, and the outdoor shopping complex was resurrected.

Stepping at a leisurely pace, enjoying the evening, I rounded Canal Street, skipped over to Bourbon, and heard the jazz before spying the nightclub in the distance. A moment later and the neon sign for the Bourbon Street Blues Company rose like a beacon through humidity's mist. I grinned like a child, and made haste.

The air inside the elderly structure smelled of cigars and whiskey, sweat and the lure of sirloin from the kitchen. I considered the dim lighting, tables scattered about, a bar supporting numerous patrons, and a table in the back, the silhouette of a friend relaxing in seclusion. My smile broadened.

I passed by the stage, offering a nod to the rhythm guitarist, an old acquaintance, who smiled in return, his fingers strumming soul.

At the table I stopped, considering the shadow hunched over his nearly empty glass. "What, couldn't wait for me to get here?" I asked.

"Long day, my friend. Thirst and fatigue demanded respite."

The figure rose and extended his hand, which I accepted. "Long day, I agree," I said. "But not without reward. This idea of yours was a revelation."

Roland Yeomans grinned despite himself. "I'm so glad you could attend. Your presence capped off the festivities."

"Wouldn't have missed it for anything. My hand aches from signing."

"It's a pleasurable pain, my friend. Remember the old days, the struggles."


"Don't think for a minute you'all can start without me!"

Roland and I turned as a true southern belle approached, toting an armload of novels under one arm, balancing a drink with the other.

"Wouldn't have dreamed of it," Roland said. "How's Olivia this evening?"

Olivia J. Herrell dropped the books on the table, released a sigh, and said, "Boys, that was the best damn book signing I've ever been a part of. I've no idea how many covers I sold, but it was worth the drive, I can promise you that!"

I motioned toward the pile of literature. "You were supposed to sell the goods, not bring anything back with you," I teased.

"Oh these...well, there were just too many writers here today that I wanted to read, so I made a few rounds as well."

"As did I," Roland said. He then turned as a hand clamped onto his shoulder.

"Roland, this event of yours was a marvel," Anne Gallagher said, offering Roland a hug. "I haven't sold this many copies since my debut."

"Glad you could make it," Roland said. "This was indeed memorable."

"Anne, my dear," Olivia said. "Couldn't help but notice that you were quite chummy with Charlene Harris today. You guys wouldn't be teaming up for a power novel anytime soon, would you?"

"What?" I chimed in. "Genna suddenly grows fangs and starts chewing on Pete in all the wrong ways?"

Anne placed her hands on her hips. "Well, Elliot, you never can tell."

"I'm headed to the bar," I said, spotting another group of colleagues planted on stools and conversing with the server. "Anyone in need of a refill?"

I took the order and approached the bar, placing a hand on Karen G's shoulder along the way. "So, was it worth coming down from Utah?" I asked.

I was greeted with an embrace. "Elliot, signed more copies than I thought my fingers could handle," she said. "Roland's book fair idea was spectacular."

"And House of Diamonds is doing well?"

"It's a dream come true."

At the bar I placed the order, listened to the opening segment of the next jazz hilt, then spotted a pair of fellow writers laughing over their drinks nearby. They saw me and motioned for my presence.

"Hello ladies," I said. "I take it you both had profitable outings?"

Smiles coated the faces of both Jemi Fraser and Becky Miller.

"Unforgettable," Jemi said.

"Best sales I've ever had," Becky agreed.

"Good to hear." I motioned toward our table at the back of the bar. "Roland was the brains behind the event. Don't forget to stop by."

"On our way!"

I returned to our table and recognized yet another familiar face. "Christine Danek, all the way from P.A. Tell me, was it worth the trip?"

"Just spoke to my husband," she said. "Told him if sales remained this good down here, I may not return!"

A chorus of laughter rose the decibel.

"Roland and Elliot, leave it to you two to sweet talk a band of Yankees to play jazz in a bar in the deep south!"

"Terry!" Roland exclaimed. "So glad you could make it!"

"Wouldn't have missed it for anything," Terry Stonecrop announced, accepting hugs around the table.

"Roland and I thought those boys on stage kinda fit the bill for an event like this," I said.

"Definitely a good fit," Terry agreed.

"Don't start the party without me, you rubes!"

Everyone turned as Lola Sharp found an empty spot at the table. "Talk about a gathering of the minds!"

"Where you been, sweetheart?" I laughed, greeting the writer from across the table.

"Rendezvous," she grinned sheepishly.

I arched my brow. "Does your husband know of this?"

She answered with a blush. "He was the rendezvous."

"Ha!" I laughed. "Well done!"

"Yeah, that's what he said."

Roland nudged my shoulder. "Isn't that Anita at the bar with her husband?"

"Sure is," I said. "She wrote my first review on South of Charm. I'm forever in her debt."

"Sometimes a good review is all it takes."

A whine escaped from Olivia as a pair of gentlemen passed by and lingered.

"Oh calm yourself," I mumbled into her ear.

"Can't help it," she said. Every time I see him, I still can't believe I now keep the same company."

"Neil, how are you this evening," Roland asked, accepting a handshake from Gaiman.

"Thanks for inviting us," Neil said. "This event was invigorating. A southern book fair with waiting lines into the streets. Unforgettable."

"My only question," said the man next to him. "Is how did you two manage to get my old man down here?"

"Was nothing, Joe," I said. "Told him he'd own the stage at Bourbon Street, and he agreed immediately.

Joe Hill released a whistle. "Well played."

We all turned and enjoyed the seedy tune from the stage where The Rock Bottom Remainders played front and center. Dave Barry on lead guitar, Ridley Pearson on bass, Mitch Albom on keyboards, and of course, Joe's father, Stephen King strumming the rhythm guitar. He offered us a grin as our glasses rose in salute.

"Does your dad know that Roland just surpassed him on the best-seller list?" I asked Joe.

"Might wanna wait till he's done playing before bringing that up," Joe kidded. "About time someone knocked off the old man anyway."

"Can you'all believe this," Olivia said, looking around the table. "From Blogger buddies, to best-selling writers, and here we all are, celebrating in Nawlins!"

I dug my phone out of my pocket, sensing the vibrations. I then read the text, unable to hide the grin.

"More good news?" Roland asked.

"My wife," I said. "The adoption just went through."

"Cheers!" Anne announced. "So your headed to Africa?"

"Next week. It's a dream come true for her. Adopting a little one from across the ocean."

For a second time glasses were raised, drinks toasted.

The party lingered into the wee hours of morning, a gathering of long time starving artists who's ships had at long last sailed to port. Of lives changed overnight, friendships harbored over dreams. Dreams having come true.

It can happen, my friends. Keep pounding the can happen:)

"South of Charm"-Coming 2011