Tuesday, August 31, 2010


...currently, there's a file in my email containing a set of cover designs, accompanied with a handful of fresh title ideas from my indie-pub. One of them I'm even quite fond of.

And yet their requests for an opinion have gone unanswered.

The manuscript is going through its final edit. A beta reader has been recruited, the project nearing completion with a press the size of a Mac truck eagerly awaiting.

And yet I've held my excitement in check.

An acknowledgment is due, and I've yet to begin.

My new manager at the dayjob, whose badge number just happens to be 666, has already issued me a verbal warning for reading Karin Slaughter's "Undone," while on the clock.

I suppose I should be concerned, but the reprimand has failed to inspire angst. (Insignificant foolishness sprayed from the mouth of an obtuse twit.)

For the past week, something's been on my mind. Something bearing far more consideration than reading on the job, or even concentrating on a dream.

...she's a lanky twelve year old. Shoulder length hair. Armed with a "quick to the plate" mouth full of spit-fire, at times harsh, but more often, just silly...and lost. She's property of the state. A girl permanently imprisoned in the foster care system, both parents no longer in the picture.

Too old for most available suiters, too young to be considered "mature enough to decide her own fate," she's been living in a foster home, sharing a spare bedroom with three other teenage girls, considered more of a number than a name.

My wife and I, licensed foster parents, accepted an invitation for a weekend of respite care for the girl a few months ago. In a nutshell, respite care is simply a change of scenery for the foster child, some peace and quiet for her foster home, a chance for reflection for both.

Prior to her visit, we were warned of a girl quick to spout off, whose mood swings hinged on bi-polar tendencies. Who'd managed to run away from home a time or two. A girl in the dark, lost and searching...for what, she had no idea. I was told of a girl uncomfortable around men, to be patient with her.

Contrary to what we were told, the girl was well-behaved. She spent the weekend playing with my daughter, the two of them like long lost soul mates, scurrying about in the field behind our house, playing the way children did before the likes of X-Box Live and Sony's latest electronic marvel.

She revealed to us that her mother has a mental disability, that her father's been out of the picture since before she was out of diapers. That she's been in counseling for years, doctors probing, medications prescribed like candy.

The weekend was a hoot. Swimming at the YMCA. A Sunday afternoon barbecue. She left in tears, hinting of an eventual return, to which we agreed.

A month later we received a call. The girl was asking for a second weekend of respite, and was requesting us. Despite a busy schedule, we agreed.

I didn't arrive home from work until 2:30 am last Friday night. The house was dark, the wife and kids in bed. I pulled into the garage, staggered out of my car, joints whining from fatigue, when I sensed the door to the mudroom quietly opening. I looked up and saw the silhouette of a girl, and remembered her visit.

"Hello," I said. "You're up kinda late, don't you think?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"Couldn't sleep?"

"I'm a little tired."

"Well...is everything okay? Why are you still up?"

I watched the shadow of a bare foot scuff along the door frame, her head lowered, lost in thought. Then, "I just wanted to say hi. I missed you guys."

"You waited up for me?"

"Is that okay?"

I felt a tightness in my chest. "Yeah, that's okay. And it's good to see you too."

Despite a ten hour shift and the need of a hot shower and a night of slumber, I spent the next hour and a half on the back porch under the stars, talking with a girl whom I'd been told didn't know how to conduct herself around the company of a father figure.

Over the course of the weekend, she informed us that she'd been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Of how her foster family pushed for this prognosis, declaring her mood swings unmanageable. She then spent the next three hours surrounding herself in a heap of Legos with my daughter, constructing the next great metropolis.

Rather than crying, this time around, she left quietly, accepting a hug from each of us, and offering a wave from the passenger window of her ride.

Late Sunday evening, after tucking the kids into bed, my wife took me aside and informed me that before leaving, the girl had confided in her several points of interest.

She told my wife that I was the first adult man she'd ever been able to speak comfortably with about any subject. Like an actual dad. She revealed that she'd recently started her first menstrual cycle, something I scratched my head over, wondering if in fact that explained the reasoning behind those mood swings her foster family was struggling with.

Then she asked my wife if we'd ever be interested in adopting her.

As foster parents we're taught to have skin thicker than lead. To manage the unmanageable. To find a way to change the life of an unfortunate victim, earn their respect, perhaps even their love, only to release them back into the world in a year's time. And we do.

And yet...

Like the girl, I also grew up dealing with a mother stricken with mental issues, thus inspiring the drama behind my upcoming novel. I can easily see myself in her shoes, a twelve year old lost in a world boasting of cruelty.

In this state, one would find the act of moving mountains a bit easier than reaching out to a twelve year old girl already in care, with the purpose of changing her living environment, much less beginning the process of adoption.

And yet...

She immediately made friends with my daughter and younger son. Any fears of awkwardness between her and my teenager were quashed upon watching them play catch in the back yard like long lost siblings. And when she's gone, she's on our minds, like a family member's absence.

The book is nearing completion, a lifelong dream soon to be realized. The hours I keep due to writing and the dayjob should be bottled up, shelved in a closet, and not spoken of. My wife and I argue over unpaid bills and household repairs long ignored. My kids fight over the WII controllers and who gets the last scoop of Moose Tracks wedged into the bottom corner of the freezer-burnt container.

And yet to her, we're perfect in our dysfunction. Because it's something normal. It's something real and concrete, without the worry of being scrutinized by doctors, each one waiting for the next screw up in order to diagnose her with her mother's disorder.

And so we'll wait until the time is right. For if it's meant to happen, it will. And perhaps someday she'll return...this time with more than a suitcase and a pillow.

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, August 22, 2010


...this will be short, for at this point I'm spent.

Last evening, or rather, early this morning, four-ish or about, I crossed out the word "secretly" with what was once a red Sharpie, but over time had dwindled to a pink highlighter.

I re-read the final two paragraphs splayed before me for probably the thirtieth time in the past hour.

I pasted the page to an email and hit "send." The paper covered in faded red ink, I shoved into my fax and hit "send."

Then I did something I haven't been able to do in quite some time. I closed the page I was working on, clicked the "shut down" tab at the bottom of the screen, and hit "ok."

Revisions are done...

Following a six month battle against time, and re-working my re-work, the real task of writing has come to an end. Stephen King, among others, have said that by the time your work makes it to the shelves, you've read it so many times that you literally never want to see it again. Then if it does well...you have to.

My editor is not a man with a jaw full of jargon. He offers me hints, and allows me the freedom to figure out what he's after. I've sent him re-writes, and the next day received, "No way." Or, "Try again." Or my favorite, "Think this through." I lay siege to the delete button and start over.

Then on occasion I'd find this message. "Nice." Or, "Better." Once I got, "This is good."

Today, after finally waking up to the sounds of my kids terrorizing the kitchen in search of breakfast, I checked my email, opened the one from David in response to the final paragraphs I'd sent him the night before, and saw....


I'm to assume at this point that we're off to the final draft and the galley. The story remains untitled at this point, after being called "Broken" since its inception, which concerns me a bit, but really isn't for me to dwell on anyway. I managed to get in my two cents on the subject by saying that I was hoping for something original. Hoping for a reader to Google the title and not find thirty-thousand entries to sift through until boredom wins out. So we'll wait and see.

As for now...my brain hurts, and my family's been neglected. I think its time for some R & R at the pool...reading a good book that someone else wrote for a change.

Thanks for reading:)

Saturday, August 14, 2010


...I penned the following roughly a year ago under a different name. It's a piece I sometimes refer to whenever in need of inspiration. With revisions nearly complete, a simple idea growing wings and preparing for launch, I felt it appropriate to re-publish something near and dear...something I'll never forget.


Throughout the daily grind of time cards and babysitters, of pointless production meetings and forced overtime, we are surrounded by signs.

Small hints suggesting of a better life, floating about at eye level, or sometimes just out of the corner of one's peripheral vision, waiting to be discovered...yearning to be grasped by it's beneficiary...and boasting of the power to change everything.

Maybe it's the eery silhouette formed from that shock of sunlight through the passenger window upon the dashboard during a morning commute.

Perhaps it's a word spoken from the mouth of a complete stranger during lunch hour at a nearby table.

Something small. Something inadvertent. Something no one else would notice. For that's the beauty of it. Signs are only to be recognized for what they are by those who can see them. For those who can focus their attention at just the right moment...and see the sign. A sliver of light piercing through that somber tunnel of indifference.

Signs. They're out there. All around us. Waiting...

During the final leg of our family vacation to the Gulf Coast, we made a stop at my Great-Aunt's home a few miles north of Sarasota. I'd promised her nearly twenty years earlier that if I ever found myself aimlessly wondering the southern coasts, I'd make a point to drop by. A wife and three kids later...I kept my promise.

A short visit became an early dinner as we gathered around her dining room table and spoke of days long past. My "favorite aunt" carries with her a youthful spunk for her age, which I've always admired. And much like my late grandfather of the same family, when she speaks, people listen.

At some point during the afternoon I found myself rummaging through her collection of novels on a book shelf in her living room. Call it a nosy habit. I take interest in seeing what people are reading.

Not realizing that my aunt was standing next to me, I gave a start when she leaned in and pulled a book from the shelf just under my line of sight. She placed it into my hands and said, "See what you think of this one."

"Levi's Will," I mumbled. I studied the cover...two Amish boys walking toward a distant sunset. At first glance it didn't appear to be something I'd normally take an interest in. Then my aunt, in that calm tone of voice I'd grown accustomed to hearing over the years, mentioned something that caused me to catch my breath.

"It's a pretty good read," she said. "And we're related to the writer."

"What?" I stammered.

Noticing my sudden interest, she smiled and continued. "It's about two Amish boys who run away from home. One comes back..." She hesitated for a moment, then said, "But one never does. Not for a very long time anyway."

"W. Dale Cramer," I read the author's name aloud. "Is it a true story?"

"Kind of," my aunt said. "I can still remember when it happened. Quite a few years ago. You'll have to read it and see what you think."

I made it a priority and read "Levi's Will" as soon as we returned home.

It wasn't the type of novel I normally read. And yet, it turned out to be one of the best stories I'd come across in a long time.

Based on the life of Will Mullett, an Amish teenager who decides to run away from home, or more appropriately, the iron-fisted lifestyle of his father, Levi. His younger brother Tobe accompanies him as far south as Florida, before eventually returning home. Will Mullet never does.

The story, based on true events, chronicles the life of an Amish boy from Apple Creek, Ohio, who finds himself starting a new life practically a million miles from anything resembling his kind of normalcy.

Places like Carr Road, Millersburg, and even Winesburg become major backdrops to the plot when, after many years away, and having made a new life for himself, Will finds that he's yearning to return home.

A chill ran up my spine as I read of a scene which takes place in a restaurant in Winesburg, Ohio between Will and his son towards the end of the story. The small town of Winesburg only had one restaurant back in those days. The funny thing is, as a boy I spent a good deal of time in that very diner. In the kitchen to be exact. I'd become good friends with the owner's son, a boy of my own age, and together we'd take it upon ourselves to sneak into the kitchen after school and loot the shelves for french fries and sodas. To read of that very restaurant out of the pages of a book written by someone distantly related to me was quite the experience.

Upon finishing the novel, I found Mr. Cramer's website and on a glimmer of hope, decided to write him a letter. I really wasn't sure what I was expecting in return for my efforts. I've corresponded with other writers over the years...Steve Alten, J.D. Rhoades, Tess Gerritsen to name a few, and some have been most gracious in responding. Others however, have decided that personally responding to their fan mail is far beneath them, despite the fact that we're the reason why they've found success in the first place.

I spoke of our possibly being related, with a brief history from my side of the family. Of my roots from Carr Road, and my passion to one day make a living as a writer, like he's already achieved.

It took him one day to respond.

W. Dale Cramer lives in Georgia. He successfully published his first novel after completing an online writer's course and realizing that he may have discovered something about himself.

He never went to college. He instead married his highschool sweetheart and together are currently raising their children. He spent many years as a common laborer before at last realizing his dream of becoming a novelist.

The letter he sent me corroborated my aunt's claim. In his home in Georgia he has a geneology book of his family dating back many generations. He not only found my family's branch, he found my father, born in 1953, and he found me, a dangling twig somewhere on the far reaches of the ever thickening tree.

He revealed the names of several of the actual family members who later inspired
the making of "Levi's Will." And he also admitted that Will, the story's main character, is based on his father.

Dale Cramer ended the letter with a few words of support. "If it's a story based on the Amish cultures in Holmes and Wayne Counties...and you can get it finished...you've got a great shot at getting it published."

I've saved the letter in my email.

...had I not nosed around in my aunt's book shelf that day, I may have never known that I was actually related to a well-known writer.

...had my wonderful aunt not placed "Levi's Will" into my hands on that balmy afternoon in Florida, I never would've later written a letter to W.Dale Cramer.

...had I not read of Mr. Cramer's own struggles, only to later reach his dream, along with his final inspirational passage, my own impatience at achieving success may have one day gotten the better of me.


Okay...I can take a hint.

I'll keep typing...

Thursday, August 5, 2010


...was caught working on revisions at the day job. Its not the first time. Head-hunters with nothing better to do than sneaking around the facility, digital camera in hand, in hopes of catching a disgruntled employee conducting some form of foul play. Someone huffing on a cigarette in the break room, or sneaking a conversation with loved ones on the cell while on the company's dime. Such fiends we are.

My troublesome acts have always come from a literary form of rebellion. Reading a book on the clock, or jotting down a few lines I've dreamed up while simulating a hamster in its cage...running like hell and getting nowhere fast.

Yesterday was different. Not only was I caught red-handed working on revisions, but my captor just happened to be one of the company's biggest sharks, a fellow I'll call Al...as in Al Sphincter. The "Big A" for short.

"What are you doing?" he asks, hands clasped behind his back, his upper body leaned slightly forward...the almighty A.

Knowing I'm already busted, I say, "Working on some revisions while my part's being checked. Behind me, enclosed in its protective glass housing, a robotic arm was dancing about, touching a crystal-shaped prong to the outer diameter of a torque converter shell, cataloging every detail of an auto part soon to be jammed full with piston plates, hydraulic fluid and the like.

"Revisions," he mumbles. "For a book?"

"For a book."

"You're a writer?"

"I'd like to think so."

He grows quiet, considering his dilemma. Yes, I'm double-dipping, working on something I love, while thoroughly going through the motions with something I've learned to hate. Extra-curricular foolishness on company property. And yet...

"Wanna read it?" I ask, figuring if nothing else, I've found myself an unbiased reader.

He holds out his hand. I offer him what I've been working on...pencil scratches on fax paper.

He reads.

I watch his brow lift, and wonder if that's a good thing. I'm about to be written up, but may have just sold my first book. Good trade.

"You wrote this just now?" he asks.

"With this very pencil."


I can see the wheels turning..."Oh my stars, a commoner with a brain. What is this world coming to?"

Al returns the paper, and says, "You can't be doing this while on the job. This is your verbal warning."


He turns to leave, then stops. "I only read nonfiction...but yours is okay."

"Thank you."

I watch him turn the corner, make sure he's gone, and start shoving more lead across my paper.

...the following is what Al Sphincter declared, "Okay." I hope you agree:)

...a bead of sweat traveled from my scalp down the side of my face, where for a moment it lingered, tickling my chin before accepting its perilous fate. Bent over, hands balanced upon my knees, I watched it fall to the dust, nearly evaporating on impact.

"Coach Hummel, gimme a minute with him."

I studied the dust between my cleats. Nothing more than packed sludge, maybe a scoop of sand mixed in for good measure.

"If you leave him in, you'll ruin him. He'll never pitch again."

"Well I guess that'll keep all those precious records of yours safe, now won't it?"

Give a closer look, it wasn't really sand at all, but countless pebbles rolling about on a field of clay. Their colors, some black, others beige, blended together, providing the locals a baseball diamond similar in shade to any other. But the torn seam in the left thigh of my uniform pants whispered otherwise.

"Son, if you don't straighten up and look me in the eye this instant, you'll be making this decision a whole lot easier for me."

I did as I was told, still wary of my equilibrium. Gathering my senses, I recognized Coach Hummel leaving the ball field, head down, shoulders slumped. Then I looked at Coach Stutzman, and he looked at me.

Under the curious scope of several hundred baseball fans, my coach and I studied each other's expression from atop the pitcher's mound, before at last he spoke.

"Ya know, my youngest son, a few years older than you, he's got the athletic ability of a sloth. That boy could sprain his wrist playin checkers. But his brain's a different story. Sharp enough to leave bite marks. Gets it from his mom, I'm sure."

As he spoke, the home plate umpire's looming shadow lengthened with his approach.

"So he comes to me one day and says he wants to be a doctor, and asks if I have any advice for him. I look him straight in the eye and tell him that no matter what he does, to always keep throwin from the heart."

Hands on his hips, the umpire had joined us on the mound, his brow lowered. Stutzman ignored him.

"When he says I've flipped my lid, I tell him about a pitcher on my ball team. A skinny thing, no bigger than any other kid his age, but with a fastball like nothing I've ever seen before. And all that power, it don't come from his arm. Not his legs neither. That fastball's thrown from the strongest muscle that boy's got."

With a crooked forefinger, he reached out and began tapping my chest, a smirk curling his chapped lips. "Whatever's happened to you, its got you all bent outta shape. Got your heart pumpin like an angry drum. And out here, this is how your dealin with it. Shootin bullets at punks."

"Coach, you're outta time," the umpire stepped forward. "Gotta make a decision."

"Not up to me," Stutzman said. He stood back, folding his arms over a moistened ball shirt. "Got anything left, son?"

...35 chapters in. "Time to keep on keepin on."

Thanks for reading:)