Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Introspection

Many will have dreamed of a White Christmas this year.  I dreamed of one like I used to know.  It was the wonderful dream of a tree decorated with scores of lights and ornaments and tinsel, topped by a star.  Underneath, a wave of presents looking like a wheat field waited for our anxious hands to tear the wrapping off and discover the treasure within.

There, the five of us (mom, dad, sister, brother, and me), opened presents at four or five in the morning, whenever my sister woke up, and enjoyed each other's company.  Even while living on my own in the Jack in the Box days, I'd stay either stay over or, more likely, come after closing the place down.

I even remember the last present I gave my father, tickets to the Cowboy playoff game.  Christmas 1978.

He took my brother.

Dallas beat the Atlanta Falcons 27-20 on December 30.  They went to the Super Bowl that year, losing to Pittsburgh 35-30.

Starting the year after my father died, Christmas's changed.  Not the loot portion.  Neither of my parents received much when they were young due to depression finances so they took it out on their kids with extravagance.  My mom became even more lush without anyone to check her, but something else changed.  The spirituality of the season left never to return, so my brother, sister and I clung to what was left ... the packages.  Since my mom wasn't particularly demonstrative in handing out affection, we took what we could get.

There's something obscene in having a thirty-five year old, a thirty-one year old, and a twenty-six year old all still getting presents from Santa Claus, but my mom insisted at a certain point in Christmas preparations up until that time that all three of us go to bed while she finished up ... before Santa came.  And she would get mad when we told her that if there any heavy lifting to get me or my brother.  No, she said.  Santa would take care of it.  And she determined to spend to the penny the same amount on each of us.  She even apologized to me one year for spending five dollars less on me than my siblings.  Five bucks out of three thousand.

Did it occur to us at the time that something was dreadfully wrong here?  No it didn't, because the loot was the loot, and Christmas morning was all about the loot.  It would take a level of maturity our mother took great pains to check for us to refuse to accept so much.

About the adage, "'Tis better to give than receive," my sister expressed our attitudes perfectly by saying, "That's true.  But if someone gives, someone has to receive.  That might as well be us."

I laughed, having nothing more than a vague idea just how wrong these Christmas's were, that my mother was trying her damndest to buy our love when we should have reassured her, letting her know that she didn't have to go into debt at Christmas.  But hey, the loot was the loot wasn't it?

I tried so hard to find something more, like attending midnight mass, saying the rosary, whatever ... but looking back, it was cold on Christmas morning, even if the outside temperature was in the seventies.

My mom died the night before Thanksgiving 2000, and Christmas changed again, becoming about me and my sister.  I would spend some of it with her and her husband, then with her alone when he left her, and would visit other friends as well.  I did find a measure of spirituality but didn't really appreciate it, didn't really understand the dynamic of it or of my life for that matter.

My sister died six days before Christmas in 2006, and the day then became no more relevant to me than President's Day.  I spend it with wonderful friends and have dinner and conversations and even present exchanges, but try as I will, I can't seem to find the magic anymore.

It's not there.

I wonder now if it ever was.

It wasn't there this year, either, though my friends Aaron and Jill were gracious enough to cheerfully have me over again.  I am most grateful.

But something has become clear now.

Thanksgiving and Christmas have lost their meanings for me and I have to find them again.

It goes beyond that though.  I've lost my way through life.  I had a long conversation with a mentor at work, and damn, at the tender age of fifty-three I still have very little confidence in myself as a person.  She obviously hasn't been the only person to have noticed, though I thought I was brilliant at hiding it.

Well, actually that's not quite true.  There have been times in my life when I've had far more confidence in myself than now.  Never as much as I would like, but certainly more than now.

Which begs the question, how do I get it?  Or how do I get it back?

Books have been written on the subject, but it's not books that are going to get me through this unless ... unless they are mine.  :-).

A friend of mine told me not long ago that I changed after mom died, and then again after my sister died and not all of the change was good. Those things I can't see, but I'm feeling that he's right.  And if he is, then have I wasted more than ten years of my life?

No.  I've already had that pity party.  I'm not going to have it again.

But, factually, I allowed myself to be controlled by my mother from the beginning of time.  She, herself, was so scared that she couldn't be loved that she spend years trying to buy the love of people, her mom, me and my siblings, and even friends.  She had no concept that people could love her just because she was a good person.

So, she dangled the carrot and I jumped.  That cost me a marriage, and whatever self-confidence I may have developed.  Okay.  That's done and over with.

So, what steps do I need to take now?

Well, I need to lose weight and finish Catch a Falling Star.  No doubt.  But I'm thinking that those will have to be by products of a more confident me.  So I can't use those as crutches.  In reality, they are the symptoms.

Okay.  Fair enough.  So what do I do?  How do I gain self-confidence?  Don't I have to have at least a measure of success to be confident?  I haven't yet had success as a writer, less than zero success in relationships since I haven't really had many ... but I'm a friend and am blessed with a number of friends!

Let's start there, shall we?  That resonates.  I'm a friend and am blessed with a number of wonderful friends.

You know something?  I'm writing this part Christmas Eve.  I'm going to pause a while to watch It's a Wonderful Life, so let me do that and I'll be back next paragraph.

And here I am.  Can anyone watch that movie without crying?  I sure-as-hell can't.  And the only reason it played this evening on my television was tradition.  Since I first saw it, I haven't missed a year seeing it, so I thought to just put it on as background so as to claim that I watched it another year even if I really didn't "watch" it.  Couldn't do that, though.  Not at all.  Like reading nearly 900 pages to read Agnes telling David Copperfield, "I've loved you all my life," ... the most emotional line I've ever read in fiction ... I had to see the buildup to Clarence getting his wings. 

What a marvelous character actor Henry Travers was!

Anyway, back to my introspection.  It's impossible to gain confidence without success, isn't it?  Even George Bailey in the story had to face that.  Of course, George had amazing success that he didn't see.  He just had to be shown the difference he made in the world.

So where to start?  It's going to sound trite, and sentimental, and stupid, but I have to start each day by looking in the mirror and finding a way to like the guy looking back.

The dude I see there now is one selfish son-of-a-bitch and has been for a mighty long time.  That's pretty harsh, but true.  So I have to start by looking past that and into the good parts.  They are there.  I know they are.  From time to time they just sort of jump out and announce themselves briefly before returning to the safety my heart's cellar.

My friends can see those good parts from time to time.  I have to look with better eyes.  And, well, I have to start another Christmas tradition, someway, somehow.  Too late for this year, but I can certainly spend this next year considering just how to do that.  A possibility occurred.

Prior to the publication of a particular work of literature, Christmas was a time for revelry and celebration.  Lord knows I've been through those times, haven't I?  But from the time of this particular work of literature, the emphasis has shifted to giving, particularly to the poor.

That particular work of literature?  You know it.  It's pictured above.  It's, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens published December 19, 1843.  Then came the popular carol, "Good King Wenceslas" in 1853, about a king bringing meat and drink to the poor.

And the last line of that song is, "Ye who now shall bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing."

Wow.  So what do I do?  I'll start greeting the dude I see in the mirror every morning like my best friend in the world.  Every morning.  Right now, that's the poor guy I need to bless.  Dude?  Guy?  How about man?  Never have I been comfortable referring to myself as a "man," or being referred to as a "man."

That's telling, too.

I have a lot of work to do, but it's not too late.  Not at all, and there is still time to make progress before San Francisco.

It's now Christmas morning, and I feel good.  I've taken a step.  And I suspect that if I can somehow develop some measure of confidence, then other good things will fall into place. 

Including finding my way to help the real poor.

See y'all next week.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Oscar Time For Colin!

I have to be reminded from time to time that stories don't have to be about war or forbidden romance to be compelling.  Sometimes, the best stories are about simple things brought into an intense spotlight.

The movie "The King's Speech" is exactly that.  The evolution of war and the consummation of forbidden romance are supporting tales to this wonderful story of the courage of a king and the development of a friendship with a commoner.

The king is George VI of England, the reluctant king, and the man who ascended to the British throne when his brother Edward VIII abdicated to marry twice-divorced Wallis Simpson in what was called "The Love Story of the Ages."  This tale tells how the King prepares to present a speech over the radio.

Huh?  What?

How he prepares to make a speech?

How about if I added that the speech was to be broadcast live over the radio?  Not convinced?

How about if this speech had to rally the British Empire against the tyranny of Adolf Hitler?  A little better?

Let's add something to that.  We already know he never wanted to be king.  Now you see...

... the poor man suffered from a bad stammer and had since boyhood.  Most of us take for granted the ability to speak with one another, or even speak with several at once.  This man was uncomfortable speaking to individuals he didn't know, but as the son of the king was expected to speak publically.  When in 1925 the, then, Duke of York, botched a speech at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley he sought the help of Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist and hack actor and resolved to make as few public speeches as he could get away with.

His father dies.  His brother abdicates.

Now, what happens when this shy, reluctant king with a cataclysmic stammer must rally the British Empire for war with a speech broadcast live over the radio?  Ah!  That is what the very best stories are made of.

That, and the developing friendship between a King and a commoner, probably the only commoner who could get away with calling the King of England, "Bertie."  And how the latter helped the former overcome the impediment to give a brilliant speech and prepare the Empire for the dangers ahead.

I don't suffer from a stammer, but don't think I could broadcast live to the world with the intent to rally the troupes.  What a burden that would be to carry, don't you think?  How many of us could do it, even without the extra challenge he faced?

Oh, folks, what a movie this is!

Colin Firth was brilliant as King George VI, and Geoffrey Rush shined as Lionel Logue.  This is the best movie I've seen this year, just nudging out "The Social Network."  I'm going to see it again, maybe a few times.  What that man did way back in 1939 was courageous beyond belief.  Courage is doing something you're afraid to do. 

I have a newfound admiration and respect for King George VI.

And Colin Firth should win the Oscar for playing him.

Now on to a little scattershooting...

My sister died four years ago today (Sunday the 19th).  I still miss her, but am determined to enjoy Christmas this year.

For the first time in awhile, I have a Christmas song of the year, one that really touches me.  It's Vince Vance and the Valiants, "All I Want For Christmas is You."

I am determined to not gain weight over the holidays, and have composed a list of reasons to lose weight.  The first item on that list is that I want to be able to tie my shoes and breathe at the same time.

Catch a Falling Star is progressing nicely.  I'm nearly at page 200 on draft Lucky 13, and liking the way it's coming along.

I'm looking forward to my trip to San Francisco in February, hopefully to sell the novel, and head toward writing for a living.  Damn I want to be writing for a living.

But then that's what this blog is about ... the road toward that very thing.

Happy Holidays to all of you!

See y'all next week.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Turn Out the Lights, the Party's Over

I watched the "Ice Bowl" on television.  The game in1967 when Bart Starr on fourth down quarterback -neaked into the end zone behind guard Jerry Kramer and tackle Forrest Gregg (later a Cowboy) to win the NFL championship.

That game solidified Vince Lombardi's reputation as a coach, and Starr's as the quarterback just behind the great Johnny Unitas.

But what about the losing quarterback that day?  The one who had the game won until the final few seconds?

Don Meredith was a brilliant quarterback.  He was tough.  He was intelligent, and, in the words of Tom Landry, "the best player I ever coached."

Every home game he ever played was in north Texas.  He played high school in Mt. Vernon, college at SMU, and his entire pro career with the Cowboys.

When he retired, I couldn't understand why.  He had barely spent nine years in the NFL.  He was just coming into his prime.  Had barely lost NFL championship games to Lombardi's Packers.  Barely.  Each game could have gone either way.  A play here or there could have turned the tide.  But he called it a career a season after the Ice Bowl.

Then he gave pro football his greatest contribution ... his presence from 1970 on Monday Night Football.  How many of us remember that the original Monday night trio was Keith Jackson, Howard Cosell and Don Meredith.  It was 1971 that Gifford, Cosell, and Meredith became a team.

And what a team.  The three of them changed football.  They blended together like the Three Stooges, or Johnny, Ed, and Doc.  And Dandy Don was the analyst and the comic relief all at the same time.  He brought the concept of entertainment to pro football announcing, something no one ever had before and no one has since.  He knew the sport and knew how to entertain while keeping the sport serious.

He became more famous than when he was a player.

I remember once when the camera showed a fan live flipping the bird to the nation. Gifford and Cosell were dumbfounded.  Didn't know what to say.  Meredith told a shocked nation that the fan was "telling everyone that his team was number one."  It broke the tension and brought Gifford and Cosell back into the picture.

Of course there was controversy.  Like when he was stoned on a broadcast from Denver and said, "Here we are in the Mile High city ... and I sure am."  Of course, the fact that Cosell had once puked on Meredith's cowboy boots and passed out, forcing Keith Jackson and Meredith to do the game alone doesn't get that much press.  Yes, he referred to the then President as "Tricky Dick."  Who cares, now?

I don't.

I just miss the man and what he brought to the sport.

He died this last Sunday, after hurting for a long time.  What I'll always remember about Dandy Don was that on any given Monday night, when a team would make a play to put the game out of reach, he would sing the lyrics to an old country song.

So, Don, I sing it to you now.  "Turn out the lights, the party's over.  They say that all good things must end."

Oh, heavens, I haven't said what I learned from Don Meredith.  Simple.  I learned to have fun doing what you do.  And I learned that having fun will get us through the most difficult of times.

And Don, stealing from Bob Hope, let me add, "Thanks For the Memories."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

On To The Next

Every aspiring author has chosen at least one book off the shelf, read all or part of it, and wondered how the hell it got there in the first place.  I have one of those sitting next to me right now.  It's title I will keep to myself because a friend fervently recommended it to me and I'm still pondering how I will answer the question, "What did you think?" when this person asks.

Oh, hell, I already know how I'll answer it.  I'll be honest.

And I know the why those books end up on the shelf.  Other people like them.  Or some editor thought that people would like them.  I am progressing well on Lucky 13, preparing for the San Francisco Writers Conference over President's Day next February.  But here's what has to happen.  Regardless of what happens with Catch a Falling Star there I will be done with it until and unless an agent or editor requests it.

I'm tired of it.  Sick of it as a matter of fact.  It's time to move on to other stories and other characters.  Other books.  Sometimes I wonder at all the time spent on Falling Star.  But why?  I've learned so much.  Grown so much as a writer through those pages.  And I'll keep growing until it's finished.

Then it's on to the next.

For now, here's a little scattershooting.

Recently I saw a wonderful production of The Nutcracker. So here's a big time shout out to Victoria as Clara and Olivia as the Sugar Plum Fairy.  Both of you were amazing!  And, both are daughters of friends of mine.

And how about a shout to Tchaikovsky for writing such diverse, memorable music that is as much apart of the Holiday Season for me as Christmas Trees and ... whoa! ... Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

So what will be my next project when I'm through with Falling Star?  I have two in mind, one a Young Adult fantasy.  I'm leaning toward that one because I can already tell that it will be fun to write.  The other will be for readers coming out of Young Adult mode and is a more complex story.

Hell, who knows?  I might work on them simultaneously, though I've never been successful when trying that approach.

I'm looking forward to the release of the latest movie based on the Narnia Chronicles, this one, "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader."  I loved the books when I was a kid, and ... well, we'll see.

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to Part 2 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows next July.  And ...

I got away last week from admitting to my weight last week.  To be honest it didn't occur to me to do it.  So, this morning I weighed in at 266, down a total of 19 pounds, but up two from the previous week.  I think dinner at Rathbun's followed closely by Thanksgiving had a lot to do with that. 

OH!  And I posted the prologue to Catch a Falling Star on my other blog.  Catch it at this link ...

Happy Holidays!

See y'all next week!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.


I'm cheating this week.  The following isn't my own, but I wish it was.  This famous editorial was originally published in the New York Sun on September 21, 1897, and is widely available on the internet today.
But no one under thirty I've spoken to in the last few years has heard of it or it's one-time famous proclamation.  The writing is antiquated, using the masculine for the collective whole, but it's the idea that still resonates.
The writer?  Francis Pharcellus Church (pictured).
We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:
Dear Editor—
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O’Hanlon
115 W. Ninety-Fifth Street
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas went on to a career as an educator that lasted nearly half-a-century.  Until she died in 1971, she would send a nice copy of the editorial to anyone who wrote to her.

Maybe one day I'll write something as good and as lasting.

See y'all next week!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hello, Harry

I just saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One today.  And what a wonderful movie it was.  Just after walking out, I marveled at how fortunate moviegoers have been to have such a wonderful cast, for the most part intact, throughout the series.  The one notable exception resulted from the death of Richard Harris.  Even with that, Michael Gambon stepped right in and played a very different but just as brilliant Dumbledore.

Like the books, we've had the opportunity to watch the trio and company grow into adults.  This last movie doesn't have any of the whimsy of the first one, and shouldn't to my mind.  By now the perils in the wizarding world are coming to a head.  Childhood is at an end.

I've seen a few movies series, and read a fair few novel series.  In both areas, Harry Potter is the best.  Yes, better than Star Wars.  Better than Indiana Jones.  Better than Sherlock Holmes.  The stories have deepened as they've gone along, both in the books and the movies.

This is what I love about storytelling.

I told some folks after reading the novel of the Deathly Hallows, that taken as a single work ... and I do think of the Harry Potters as one long novel in seven parts ... then it supplanted David Copperfield as my all time favorite.  I'll back off a little on that, but depending on which day you catch me, one or the other will be at the top of the list. 

I can't remember if I've mentioned it in this blog, but I'll write it again anyway, I think writers everywhere should bow to J. K. Rowling for nearly single-handedly creating a new generation of readers.

I can't claim to have my finger on the pulse of society now or at anytime, but it seemed that in the time before Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone came out, video games took up an amazing amount of time in a lot of kid's lives.  Harry Potter didn't stop it, but did wedge into it just enough to show folks the joys of reading and of imagination.

I was actually a late convert to Harry.  Didn't really jump in until I heard rumors that movies would be made.  So I hopped on the train early in 2001, reading all four (by that point) just in time for the first move.  I loved it.  Totally.  Completely.  No, it didn't conform to how I envisioned the story and characters, but I didn't care.  I started seeing them as different ways of telling the same tale.  Kind of like one parent will tell you the story of the Three Little Pigs, one way.  The other parent will tell it totally different.  And you love both.

Ah, then I got serious.  After a two/three year wait, I pre-ordered my copy of Order of the Phoenix and picked it up at the midnight party.  Sat it down on my nightstand and tried to go to sleep.  I couldn't sleep.  I had to read a chapter ... or two ... or three.  I set it down at about four in the morning, woke up at eight and started some more.  My friend Bruce called and asked if I would like to join him and his family at a Ranger game.  We went.  They lost.  I read through until the next morning loving every minute of it.

A similar thing happened with the Half Blood Prince, only I didn't go to a Ranger's game.

I made no pretence of sleeping when my friend Jill and I picked up our copies of the Deathly Hallows.  I read taking naps until I finished the whole book.

What a time I had with each one. 

So, having read all seven more than a couple of times, and having now seen seven of the eight movies, I'm so looking forward to the completion of the tale in July, but will be sad to see the final "new" Harry Potter of anything on the other.

Wow.  There will be a day when nothing new will emerge from the Potterverse.  Whoa!

Then again, like Rick and Ilsa will always have Paris, we'll always have the books and the movies.

Here's hoping that Part Two will live up to the magnificence of Part One.

I weighed in at 264 last Sunday.  Down a total of 21 pounds!

See y'all next week!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

This Is What I Know

I just read a wonderful blog entry by Roger Ebert.  Actually, all of his blog entries are wonderful, he happens to be one of the best writers in the country, but this one resonated.  It was about loneliness.

His previous entry had inspired some 400 replies, many from people who had no friends or never spoke to their family or were just recluses.  Some were victims of abuse.  Some not.  Some had never had sex or even dated.  Some not.  Some relished the solitude.  Some not.  All found solace on the internet.

It made me think about my own writing; the characters I create.  To one degree or another nearly all are lonely.  There is a reason for that, I suppose, and I’ve been thinking about it all morning.  Looking back, my parents were horribly lonely people.  For the better part of my acquaintance with them, they could not, for the life of them, get together for any length of time.  They were two people under the same roof, but they didn’t like each other.  They loved each other, but neither knew how to express it.  How they managed to produce my brother remains a mystery.  One night they must have independently decided any port in a storm, and turned to each other for some comfort.

My mother told me after a couple of glasses of wine, that she decided the moment she laid eyes on my father that she would marry him.  Looked back with regret that he didn’t have a chance.  My father wanted a Southern Belle for a wife you see, and my mother played the role brilliantly, bringing up the curtain on the real Janell only after the wedding.  It didn’t come up at once, though. They had me a month after their first anniversary.  I have pictures of them from back then.  They were in love.  Their eyes shouted it through the black and white image into the real world.

My sister came along four years and two days after me.

The love was still there.  Then my father had what he called a “nervous breakdown.”  Totally lost control of his emotions.  He wasn’t violent, though he possessed a temper he struggled to control with every ounce of strength he could muster.  He couldn’t stop crying, you see.

He checked himself into a mental hospital and went through something they called “shock therapy.”  Quite literally, they attached electrodes and shocked him when his behavior deviated from the desired.  He claimed until he died that it helped.  I don’t believe a word of it.  Like a prefrontal lobotomy, it changed him.  Made him distant, even cold.  And didn’t even come close to addressing the cause, which we discovered in 1979 was a hereditary brain tumor.

From here things went south for my parents.  We moved from Memphis Tennessee to Dallas Texas (my mom wanted to move to Phoenix, which may have contributed to their issues).  My father’s father came with us.  Once there, my mom immediately found work, but my father didn’t.  Mom took on a second job, and a third.  My grandfather rode my father hard for not having a job, particularly when Mom was supporting the family.  The old man was born in 1890.  His values wouldn’t permit the “little woman” supporting the family.

So he left on bad terms.  My father found a job not long after, but the loving part of him became a shadow.  Only once since then did I see real tenderness from him, and that was when I caught him in a bout of insomnia petting our dog Trina, talking to her.

She understood.

By the mid to late seventies, no one in our family knew who the others were.  We existed.  That was all.

I’ve written about spending entire summers alone with my own imagination from sun up until my parents got home, traveling the area on my bicycle, or, occasionally on foot through the sewers (how I never got lost is as much a mystery as my brother’s conception).

I’m sure that whatever I write loneliness will be a theme.  Write what you know, they say.  I’ve known loneliness since childhood.

I should say here, before I’m accused of another round of self-pity, that I’m blessed with wonderful friends, even friends who consider me part of their family.  I certainly didn’t follow the path of many of those Roger Ebert wrote of, the ones his friend the late Studs Turkel would have beautifully profiled in his many studies of people.  Too, loneliness is universal.  People read and watch stories about it because all of us understand it like Trina understood my father.

I’m a happy person overall.

In the grand scheme of things, that’s what matters.

Stay tuned.  On one of the Sundays past Thanksgiving, I will post my favorite piece of Journalism.  It is, to my mind, brilliant old-fashioned though it may be.

I weighed in at 266 last Sunday, nineteen pounds down from my high.  See y’all next week.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Shout Out to William Martin

Let me introduce you to Peter Fallon, a character who plunges into history seeking anything from a Revere tea service made for George Washington and missing since 1812 to an unpublished Shakespeare play supposedly located in the hallowed halls of Harvard. These are the setups to William Martin’s novels Back Bay and Harvard Yard. Three years ago saw another Peter Fallon tale called The Lost Constitution hit the stores. This year features City of Dreams.

I highly recommend all four.

I love Peter’s character and am secretly in love with his fiancĂ©e Evangeline Carrington. Both are complex characters plunged into complex plots that take place in modern day and back in American history. William Martin effortlessly blends the past and the present, giving us powerful characters from different ages.

Let me introduce you to William Martin (on the right with me).

I first met him at the Maui Writer’s Conference in 2006. I was studying with his friend Gary Braver (another wonderful novelist), and approached him to sign a copy of Back Bay and Harvard Yard after one of his wonderful presentations. He did so, inscribing the latter with “For Rocky, who has a great writing teacher ... Bill Martin.”

For now, though, let me say that Bill Martin is what I would like to be as a novelist. He tells a great story, and he’s a great guy. I can’t think of any better combination for me to try to emulate. AND, Bill loves secrets and hidden things.

I like those things, too.

Therefore, let me issue a challenge, if I might. Read City of Dreams. Then read Back Bay, and Harvard Yard. Then read his other novels.

I’m challenging you especially on the Peter Fallon novels because ABC has optioned City of Dreams and is developing a series based on Peter’s and Evangeline’s adventures. Wouldn’t you like to say you know them BEFORE the series? Of course, you would!

Now, on this day after the first day of deer hunting season, let me do a little “scattershooting.”

First, my dad took me deer hunting a number of times. More than a couple of times I had a deer lined up in my sites and just couldn’t pull the trigger. Some will know, some may have guessed that the movie Bambi was responsible. With the barrel aimed at the deer’s heart, I heard a voice in my ear. It was the old stag after man had entered the forest. “Bambi, your mother can’t be with you anymore.”

My father was disappointed in me. But ‘twixt you and me, I would have been better served with a camera. I may turn that story into something for my other blog.

Next, I need to say that I’m so proud of my Texas Rangers, who boldly went where no other Ranger team has been before. Here’s wishing them a wonderful offseason. Can’t wait ‘till next year, guys!

I’m signed up for the San Francisco Writers Conference. You know that. I also have my hotel reservations. All I need to do now, is to book the plane fare. I’m hoping I get a bonus later this month. If not, then I’ll figure something else out. But I’m going. And I will have Catch a Falling Star ready. And it will be amazing.

Last Sunday, I weighed in at 270, down two from last week. I’m anticipating another couple of pounds lost when I weigh later in the day because I really did eat healthy this week, adding the occasional homemade smoothie to my diet ... Acai berry juice, soy milk, Greek yogurt, frozen fruit (blueberries and strawberries last night) and a banana. Mmmm.

I do need to start commenting on my friend’s blogs. Yesterday, in a bit of a misunderstanding over a bad joke I made on my Facebook status update, I was properly admonished for not doing so. Some of my friend’s have so many followers, I wrongly assumed that my comments wouldn’t really matter. That’s my own self-esteem issue that I need to get over pretty quickly.

There is a give and take here, isn’t there?

I do appreciate all of you who read this and my other blog whether you comment or not. I write this for me, but it wouldn’t be complete without you.

And, I’ve decided to post this blog on EITHER Saturday night or Sunday morning rather than dogmatically waiting for Sunday. Sometimes (like now) I finished writing on Saturday. :-)

Dogmatic? Sounds like a contraption that will feed and walk your dog, doesn’t it?

So, back one last time to the challenge. Add William Martin’s novels to your various lists of books to be read. I didn’t mention earlier that I was a fan BEFORE I met him, and am a bigger fan now.

OH! And most of you should have already done this (or will be doing this soon), but don’t forget to set your clocks back one hour, or you’ll be early for everything until you do.

See y’all next week.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween! The First Novel That Scared Me.

Welcome to All Hallows Eve, more commonly known as Halloween. A time to be scared and laugh about it, and if you’re under 12 years old, get some sweet treats for your trouble. I haven’t been trick or treating as a recipient since the 1960’s. But I have been plenty scared since then.

This blog will be a tale of the first novel I ever read that cost me sleep. Oh, make no mistake, I had seen many movies that had done so including The Exorcist in its original release, but had never read a novel that had ( I had NOT read the Exorcist at that point).

Until William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

Just a warning here. I’m going to be giving away major plot points on this book. I have to do that to show how it affected me. Stop here if you want a virgin reading of Lord of the Flies.

Otherwise, I’m honored to have you join me.

In my July 11th posting, I mentioned an English professor I once had who assigned this brilliant twentieth century novel in a course on English Literature through the Restoration and Eighteenth Century. Her reason for assigning it? “I just read Lord of the Flies for the first time last summer and loved it! It is my privilege, then, to foist it onto you.”

Foist it she did, and frightened I was. Oh, my goodness. I had trouble reading about those wonderful boys degenerating into savages. Jack’s disgusting ego and cruelty. Ralph’s internal conflicts. Simon’s etherial goodness. Piggy’s whiney intelligence.

So what kept me up at night? Two things. One was the sow’s head and Simon’s vision of the damn thing talking to him ... the Lord of the Flies. The second thing, for some ungodly reason, struck me as cruel beyond belief ... when Jack’s hunters stole Piggy’s glasses.

I can tell you why.

I first read this novel thirty-four years ago, and I have had a few nightmares since. No more than most, I suspect, but a number of them featured the cruelty of taking my glasses off my face and stomping on them. It demonstrated how much that scene affected me. I’ve never forgotten the fat kid (Piggy) having his ability to see stolen from him. Anyone could see the cruelty in someone poking out his eyes. Doesn’t take a genius to see that. But stealing the poor boy glasses? Seems innocuous. Like a prank. Maybe even a good-natured prank depending on how it’s told.

Could anyone other than a glasses-wearer understand the real cruelty behind it?

Golding did, and showed it brilliantly.

Just like he showed so many things about the human condition and human frailty and how civilization is as sweet and as fragile as cotton candy.

Even in the age of Lasik, I still have those horrible nightmares of even my best friends stealing my glasses and stomping on them so that I can’t see.

My heavens. When I read what they did to poor Piggy, I wept.

If necessary, I could function without my glasses. I could recognize people within twenty feet or so.

Piggy could only see light and shadow without his. He was fat (like me). He needed glasses (like me). Call me crazy ... many have ... but damn it was cruel to steal the fat kid’s vision. I don’t care how whiney he was.

The smashing of the glasses has haunted my dreams a long time. The sows head speaking to Simon in that vision kept me awake. Simon was the one character who maintained his decency ... until he was brutally murdered, showing just how easily good can be overcome by evil.

So, that was the tale of the first novel that scared me to the core. Dracula didn’t do it. Frankenstein didn’t do it. Lord of the Flies did.

Happy Halloween, folks!

Check out my new blog featuring my writing. This first one is a short piece about my first heartbreak ... in second grade.

I gained a couple of pounds last week, coming in at 272. Damn, it’s looking like surgery next August.

Please, Lord, no!

I’ve also been outlining Catch a Falling Star, and have revised a couple of chapters. That’s so cool. I’ll keep working on that.

I’ll let you know next week, how I did.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The First Scattershoot

Former Dallas sports writer Blackie Sherrod, still kicking at 91, once wrote a Sunday column called “Scattershooting.” It was just that. Random thoughts about sports in no particular order ... kind of.

Today’s blog will be scattershooting, but certainly not on his level. Somehow he managed to organize his into an organic whole. But mine will include sports. In fact, I’ll start there.

The Texas Rangers are going to the World Series to face the San Francisco Giants! They have indeed, won the American League pennant. And I can’t be prouder of them, from the Manager of the Year (if there is justice) Ron Washington, to the newest pitcher on the roster. “Wash” thanked everyone including the “guys who sell the hot dogs,” after their fourth victory over the Big Bad New York Yankees, who will never be quite so big or bad again.

He must have been happy. Still ...


I’m really trying to gain stability while walking the high wire of the writing industry. Stability while walking the write is always a good thing. See the photo.

I’m looking forward to going to the San Francisco Writers Conference, but can’t seem to get that Scott McKenzie song out of my head. Honestly, I don’t have much hair to put flowers in.

I spent a good portion of this past week working on a new piece, one about my very first date, then promptly submitted it for my first long assignment in my online writing class. I just might change the real names and post it as my first piece for the new blog.

We’ll see.

Today, I’m continuing my outline of Catch a Falling Star.

Wow. I’m feeling that after my rant a couple of weeks ago that everything else in this blog must be boring.

Then again, I’m still a tad humiliated for having slobbered all over the page.

I’ve been to the movies twice to recharge the storytelling batteries and highly recommend both “The Social Network” and “Hereafter.” Got me to thinking about a number of story possibilities.

I saw “Secretariat,” a couple of weeks ago, and while I thought is was a good movie, it didn’t have a good story arch. It tells about a winning horse who kicks some serious ass. The conflict was in the financing, and whether the horse could take the triple crown. I thought “Sea Biscuit” was a much better tale, one about an underdog who captured the hearts of America during the Depression. Far more conflict.

Conflict in a story is good.

Note to self: Add conflict to Catch a Falling Star.

... and every other story I’ve ever written.

Why did ESPN not air their Baseball Tonight show after the Rangers clinched? They only mentioned the victory on Sports Center. Seems like the whole Network shut down because their beloved Yankees lost.

They chose to gush over a Lakers pre-season game.

Thanks for picking up your toys and going home, ESPN.

Bad sports. Bad journalists. Sore losers.

And regarding my choice of photo. The pictured group is part of the Flying Wallendas. My dad took us to see them two generations ago in Fort Worth circa 1963 or 64. Karl Wallenda, in particular. We followed his exploits until his death in 1978. The woman standing on the man’s shoulder is Aurelia Wallenda, Karl’s great-granddaughter. The man on the bike is Tino Wallenda, Karl’s grandson.

The circus is a dying art. Circus performers a dying breed.

Cirque du Soleil isn’t real circus. It’s a spectacle. A damn good one, but not those acts Cecil B. DeMille immortalized in his movie, “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

Then again, does anyone remember that movie?

I weighed in at 269 pounds last Sunday. I’m eating less. Now it’s time to eat healthy. I want to have Falling Star completely outlined this week. And ...


I’ll let you know next Sunday how thing went. Thanks for following.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

San Francisco

The pity party is over. I am myself again. But boy, it wasn’t easy. I don’t think I could have done it without private e-mails from three special people. Thanks to you all. You know who you are.

What hurt the most about the two comments? They were right. Something about having to go back from page 155 to page 72, conjured feelings of hopelessness. And I rarely feel that way. These days, MAYBE once a year for a few hours or so. MAYBE. Well, this year twice. My friend Cathy (with a C) knows about the other one.

I am ashamed of my reaction, but it was honest, and I realized fairly quickly, thanks to those e-mails and a couple of good nights sleep, that I would snap out of it. So I went right back to the drawing board (page 72 of Lucky 13) and started the re-outline. Excuse me, the re-re-re-re-re-outline.

The book will be better for it.

That’s why I love my writers group. They will tell me when it doesn’t work. It’s my job to take it from there. And, I’m doing so.

You read my meltdown. Now read me coming back with a vengeance.

I will NOT give up.

Storytelling is what I was made to do. And do it I will. And make a decent living at it.

To that extent, I have taken one helluva risk folks.

I’ve signed up for the San Francisco Writers Conference knowing that I will have to sell a story or two, possibly even the novel ... or create a book proposal of some kind that someone wants ... to pay for it.
I have just enough paid on those pesky credit cards to afford the conference and make the hotel reservation. I have to wait a few weeks to make the plane reservations, but I’ll be able to fly Southwest. Deficit spending. What a concept. Still, I am excited.

I’ve laid over in San Francisco a couple of times, but have never seen the city. I’m going to now. I don’t have much hair left, but I’m damn sure going to wear flowers in the remaining strands.

I won’t be flying back in time, but I will. When I walk the streets, eat the magnificent seafood and sourdough bread, my cousin Charles, one of the early AIDS victims nearly thirty years ago, will be on my mind.
He danced with the Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the all-male ballet troupe. They were good. He was good. They were legit, and funny, and one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. And it was both amazing and amusing watching males dancing female roles en pointe.

Random thought – my heart just overflowed watching my cat walk, sit, and start licking his front paws. Saw it coming a mile away. Now, if I can only tell when he decides to lick where his gonads used to be. :-)

My online writing class started again yesterday, and I’ve already posted my quick write. I’ve already revised two chapters of Catch a Falling Star, and am working on a long assignment for my group.

Damn! I’m feeling pretty good.

I weighed in at 270 pounds last Sunday, a total of fifteen pounds down since August 1. Not a lot, really, but I certainly haven’t been starving. It’s probably time to cut back just a little more.

And, one more thing. The length of these blogs is getting a little our of hand for my taste, so I’m cutting them back to less than 600 words. This will be just over that. Suffice it to say that I am writing, and am enjoying it again.Perhaps the meltdown was inevitable.

I’ll let you know next week how I did. Also, stay tuned for my new blog coming later this month.
BTW – If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend “The Social Network.” It’s the best movie I’ve seen this year.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

What Have I Done?

I stated at the beginning of these blog entries that I would write about everything. Things that excited me, and things that made me cry. It’s been building these last weeks with a couple of boring entries, but the dam just broke. I cried today. Big time. On my way home from my writers group meeting. I wondered all the way home whether I had it. Whether I’ve been spinning my wheels all of my life.

At fifty-three years of age, and decades of working from my imagination, which Einstein said was more important than knowledge, I wondered on that trip home whether my life has been worthless. I thought for a time that it just might have been, folks. And, let me tell you that at my age, that’s a debilitating thought.

Makes you feel your life has been worthless.

And, maybe mine has been.

It’s possible that I’ve been walking day to day from the light of the living world into oblivion. I have to look into the mirror and decide that. And I’m scared. Oh, my God! To look into my heart and mind and through my eyes into my soul? Do I have to? Really? To see the gray in my beard and in what’s left of my hair? Can’t I turn the other cheek and pretend that I’m just beginning my life instead of being ... oh, let’s face it ... more than half way through. Maybe even two-thirds. Heaven help me, I could die tonight. Do I have to face that having accomplished NOTHING worthwhile in my life?

People like me. I know that. But the question is, if I died today, how many would attend my funeral and drop a tear or two rather than just sending flowers and feel like they’ve done their part? Hmm? I’d say six people, including my estranged brother who would carry on quite a bit and focus the attention on his loss rather than my demise.

Hemingway swallowed the pipe. I have no such intention. So no one should concern themselves about my immediate health.

And ultimately, maybe this is a good thing. It just doesn’t feel like that now. When you read new material from a novel and you’re told that it doesn’t belong in your book, whoa! Even when someone tries their damndest to tell you how to fit it into your book and fails valiantly ... you just have to ask those deep, dark questions.

When you write a short story and are told it isn’t a short story, whoa!

You have to look into your eyes and ask. Has it been worth it? Or perhaps the better question would be ...

Will it be worth it?

I don’t know. I have to see how it plays out, but right now, I just feel like I’ve sacrificed everything for a single lottery ticket that, if I win, will result in a stoning. “The Lottery” you see, was a short story about the secret society of small town America. I think we can expand that. Look at corporations. Look at the various industries, including the entertainment industry and the publishing industry. So, if I succeed, it might just kill me. Thank you, Shirley Jackson (pictured), who herself died at the age of 48. At least she was married. Created a partnership with a person she spent the rest of her life with.

She suffered, I know. Untold issues. But she didn’t die alone.

Tonight, I suffer.

What do I do? Where do I go?

Does anyone have any suggestions?

Probably not. This is quite an intense blog entry. But I did promise to report the good and the bad.

All of this, and I’ve still managed to hold a skeleton or two in my closet.

I guess the bottom line here is, can I tell good stories? I’ve said a thousand times that I’d rather be a mediocre writer telling great stories than a great writer telling mediocre stories. It appears that I’m doing neither.

And I’m doing neither while desperately alone.

Call this an extra entry. And it’s beddy bye time.

As always, I’ll let you know how I did next Sunday, even if I feel differently about this entry.

Go, Rangers!

I am like the Texas Rangers in a number of ways. The major league baseball team that morphed from the second incarnation of the Washington Senators in 1972. Anyone remember Tom Vandergriff? He was a hero to me. Brought major league baseball to my part of the world. I went to see a double header against the Minnesota Twins that year with my dad. He took me. Harmon Killebrew hit a homer, but the Rangers salvaged a split. That was about the time I decided to make a living via stories, and the year I became a Ranger’s fan.

I wish I had done that with my dad a little more often.

I watched the great Ted Williams (our manager) conduct batting practice, giving pointers here and there, then hopping into the batters box himself and putting on a show at the age of 54 basically telling his players that if he could do it at his age, then they should do it. Wayne Terwilliger (Twig), our third base coach, actually ran the game with Williams’ blessing. I still think the world of Twig. The man just can’t retire, and at 85 is still coaching minor league baseball.

Williams really should have managed the club. But it was so cool to see such a legend live and in person.

At the time, I thought that teaching was my calling, getting students to read the great tales with me as their guide. Just like my teachers had been to me throughout school.

I really should have been writing my own stories. But it was so cool to see such great teachers live and in person.

The Rangers have had great players over the years. I have read great writers. One of the greatest of the Rangers, Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry (pictured), cheated by throwing the illegal spit ball and the (at the time) legal puff ball. But you still loved the guy!

I cheated by chunking the teaching and writing and becoming an actor. And met a number of my life long friends that way. So I can’t regret it. How could I when I enjoyed it so much more than even watching the Sultan of Spit. And I really did love the Sultan of Spit.

He cheated, but he was always fun to watch.

Bringing the ship into port on this one, the Texas Rangers are in the baseball post season. They’ve never won the World Series. I’ve published nothing since I started writing in earnest in 1994. Yet on both counts. They’ve now won twice as many playoff games in two days (this past Wednesday and Thursday) as they did in the previous 37 years.

I’m hoping I can be as fortunate.

Too bad they lose yesterday, but there is today!

The Rangers have been patient, done the right things, had a break here and there. They’ve had confidence in their manager, players, and ... yay! ... are under new ownership.

I’ve been patient, am learning the right things to do, and am renewing myself in many ways. Coming under new ownership, one might say.

Just as I’m sure the Rangers will break my heart in the future, so, too, will the publishing industry. But oh, when the excitement hit ...

I can’t wait.

Having the Rangers winning the World Series would be like me being on the New York Times Bestseller like. Neither has been done, but there’s always the first time.

This entry will be shorter than most. Oh, well. I weighed in at 275 last Sunday, a gain of two pounds. That, though, was residual from the reunion. I’m confident that my weigh-in later this morning will some progress.

And I’m looking forward to posting writings on the new blog starting somewhere around All Hallows Eve. And, of course, I will be working on Catch a Falling Star, and my short stories.

I’ll let you know next week how I did.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Lesson From George

George Blanda (pictured) died on September 27 at the age of 83. Of all the pro football players I’ve seen in nearly a half-century of following the game, he was my favorite. A man among boys. Craggy ol’ George’s year of 1970, perhaps the most memorable season a football player ever had, turned my mother into a fan of the game.

And to make my mother a football fan took some doing, folks. Let me tell you.

Then again, she was a mere thirty-five at the time.

Blanda played quarterback and kicker for twenty-six seasons starting in 1949, and, in his early years with the Chicago Bears, he played linebacker as well. More importantly, though, he just loved to play. Mike Ditka, who knew him well, said he was the one of the toughest competitor he ever knew whether it was on the football field, the golf course, or playing gin at the dining room table.

But you never heard a bad word about him. He was gracious, kind and adored his family and friends. Len Dawson, former quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs, said that off the field, “... he was a gentleman.”

Hmmm. Competitor. There’s a lesson to be learned here. I think I found it.

As a player, George’s goal was to beat the other team. To knock them out of the playoffs. To get to the playoffs himself by knocking the snot out of them.

Craggy ol’ George did it better than all but so very few.

So how does this apply to me? I’m not trying to knock other writers off the shelf. As if I could. Or even want to. I’m a reader as well as a writer. I wouldn’t want to knock good writers off the shelf because I want to read them.

But I am trying to get on the shelf.

Hmmm. Competitor.

Maybe that means that I’m competing with myself to write something worthy. So maybe we’re not talking real competition here. Maybe we’re talking determination, and not just in the writing. Maybe it’s the determination of getting my book in the best shape it’s ever been in and start sending it around. ‘Cause it is headed for good shape.

What would The Grand Old Man do? He’d throw a touchdown pass or kick a field goal. Hmmm. So, in addition to the short story submissions I’ve been making, it’s time to throw Catch a Falling Star out there again. To go ahead and finish Lucky 13 and to move on, just like George moved on to the next game and the next for twenty-six seasons.

Oh, to hell with these analogies, I have to get some doggone determination. I got a little off track with my 35-year high school reunion, and the wonderful visit from Brent and Michelle, and I just went on loan to another department at work which will change my schedule for awhile. Now, I have to get back on track. Bum glue. Determination. Competitiveness. Whatever-the-hell it takes, I’ve got to do it. Time is running out.

The lesson to be learned here is that in the world of professional football, George Blanda was an old man at forty-three. I’m now ten years older than that, and my career as an author hasn’t even begun. He died at eighty-three. That age is only thirty years in front of me. If I plan to be an author, and I do, then I need to snap it up.

For more reasons than just authorship.

The stories in my mind are changing, you see. I don’t view them the way I did ten years ago. Lord knows Catch a Falling Star has changed in that time, significantly. It’s taken on a real seriousness instead of the faux seriousness I gave it in the first draft back in 1998 and 1999. There’s more pathos now. The humor is a little more refined.

Better? Definitely, but ...?

There’s those other stories I desperately wanted to write back then. They’re either long gone or have mutated dramatically. Maybe that’s a good thing.

So, maybe a goal should be that I want to get stories on the page as I originally conceive them. I know I’m going overboard here, but I am convinced that some of those stories I conceived of back then but didn’t write were damn good. Losing them was bad.

Then again, Blanda was a first ballot Hall of Famer and in 1962 threw 42 interceptions, a negative NFL record that will probably never be broken. He’d say let it go, Rock. The past is the past. Over and done with. Just write your stories now. Throw the next touchdown pass. Kick the next field goal. Onward.

One last story about George Blanda. The TV show Happy Days was set in the mid-fifties. In one episode, Richie (Ron Howard) and Malph (Donnie Most) are watching a Chicago Bears game with George Blanda as quarterback and he’s just getting creamed. Malph said that Blanda is finished, washed up. Richie says, “Naw, I think he has a few years left.”

The joke was that at the taping of the episode twenty years after the show was supposed to take place, The Grand Old Man was still playing.

Rest easy, George. Thanks for all the memories.

I weighed in at 273, only gaining a pound during the reunion period, including Brent and Michelle’s visit.

Starting tomorrow, I’m on a Monday – Friday schedule working until 5:00 in the afternoon. I won’t be nearly as tired after an individual day as I am now from a ten hour shift. I’m looking forward to that, as I am to hopping back on my healthy eating regimen.

I’m also looking forward to starting the new blog. ETA Halloween. Stay tuned. As for this next week ...

I’ll let you know next Sunday how I did.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Another Blog?

My friend Dawn recently suggested that I start a new blog in addition to what you see before you. One with a once-a-month entry focusing on creative writings, rather than this forum, which functions as a journal of sorts. I’ve thought about it and like the idea. Some entries would draw from my childhood and young adulthood up until about 1994 or so. At that point, one can definitely argue that I was NOT a young adult. Not at the age of 37. Damn that’s funny, now that I look at it. Because from this vantage point in my life, 37 is quite young.

But we’ll take it up to about 37 or so. Through my acting days.

I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the way, I eased into the house of middle age and took up residence with a vengence. From this past Thursday, I am 53 you see. Well past youth, but not, I hope, forgetful of what it is to be young. In fact, I’m confident that I can look back at my youth with clarity, respect, and a little bit of tenderness. The fact is, I have looked back on it, particularly in the quick writes Ariel assigns us every week of a session. I’d never really examined my youth before, but in doing so this last year have found much to laugh about, to shed a tear or two over, and to learn from, because I don’t think acquiring worldly wisdom is a good thing if it means sacrificing those magnificent child-like qualities.

But we all do it.

As we up, the simple quality of having faith in other people evolves from wonderful and childlike, to sweet and naive, to inexcusable and insane. Insanity being defined as “doing the same thing time after time expecting a different result.” So. Look at the lessons we learn and how they’re phrased. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” “Once burned, twice as cautious.” “There’s a sucker born every minute, and two to take him.” I could go on. You could provide some I’ve never heard of.

The fact is, I hung onto that faith far longer than many. Some friends would argue that I haven’t totally given it up, and that I’m the worse off for it.

One thing I have become aware of is that much of my childhood fell outside the norm for a boy. Boy, remember, is 37 and younger. :-) People in my online writing class have shown an interest. So has my friend Dawn. Few others, because I haven’t allowed many to read that material yet. The class was easy. I’ve never met any of them. Chances are that I might one of these days, as Ariel teaches out of Santa Fe, New Mexico now. A 650 mile drive for me. I’d like to study with her in person one day. But I probably won’t meet many from the class. That’s just the way it goes.

I trust them, though. All of them. Because they have been as revealing in their writing. And most of them write memoir. Period. Remember my blog two weeks ago? They really do bleed on the page. You have to respect the blood and treat those kinds of wounds kindly.

I can hide a whole lot in the guise of fiction. Would any of my friends believe that there’s a part of me in my villain Goodtime Charlie? A character one of my classmates has termed “my favorite despicable character?” Who knows? He’s fictional, but I assure you that a part of me understands Charlie, despicable as he is. I might have wound up just like him had I become a bestselling novelist in my twenties. Check that. I might have been worse.

So, I think this new blog idea might fly ... at least for me. Obviously, I hope people will follow it, but it’ll be a way to get my creative writing into the public eye. Slowly, I know, but surely. When I go to the San Francisco Writers Conference in February, and a prospective agent or editor asks about a blog (and I’ve been assured they will at some point), then I will have a body of work to point them too.

I’m thinking of posting memoir work at first, then maybe I’ll add in some short fiction, then some experimental fiction. Since it’s a once a month endeavor, I don’t think a maximum word count will be necessary (I set 1,000 words as the max here, and occasionally abide by it), but I doubt that anything will exceed 5,000. I will post the word length at the beginning to give the reader enough information to decide whether to read it now, or later, or not at all.

I don’t know. Maybe I won’t post the word length. For me, I’ve read 5,000 word stories that seem like 500. And 1,000 word stories that seem like 10,000. Einstein’s theory of relativity at work. Einstein also said that “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

I like that.

So, what are some of the things I can write about/have written about? How about one of my tours through the sewer system of Dallas, alone? How about visiting my father with my girlfriend the night before he died? How about the LA earthquake of 1994? That one takes us right up to my limit and was, as Bette Davis once observed, “a bumpy ride.” Like all stories, though, it not just the story, but how its told. I’ve always had a knack for skewing a story for a particular audience. My ex-wife would say that I reinvent the story each time I tell it, and to a certain extent that’s true. Heaven knows I got just as tired of her saying in mixed company, “That’s not the way you told it last time,” as she did with me not telling it the same way as last time.

In my view, its a story, not a speech. In my ex-wife’s view it’s a “whopper.”

It is true that I have been accused of coming from the John Steinbeck (pictured) school of story telling. The writer of such greats as “The Grapes of Wrath,” and “Of Mice and Men,” told a man a story at a party that, Steinbeck had forgotten, the man had told him the previous week. When called on it, Steinbeck smiled and said, “Well, good storytellers never pay attention to the facts.”

I’m not quite that bad (or that good a writer), but I will twist the facts depending on my audience. Twist isn’t such a good word, now that I look at it. Let’s just say that I emphasize some facts over others depending on the situation. There we go.

So, let me think a little more about this new blog thing. I’ll let you know. AND, I’m past 1,000 words. Oops.

I weighed in at 272 last week, up a pound. This last week has also featured my birthday and my 35-year high school reunion. More on that next week, and probably a little more weight. No time to get it into this one. But it is a pleasure to have my friends Brent and Michelle visit.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Sword of Damocles

A young woman of my acquaintance has been calling my name these last few months. She started with gentle whispers. “Rocky. I’m here. Look at me.” Progressed to the shoulder-grabbing, head-tilting, “Dammit, I’m right here, dude. Pay attention.” Then migrated to the cheek-smacking, eye-poking, “You’re going to forget all about me if you don’t open your eyes, you ...!”

Yesterday, she screamed.

I’ve thought a lot about her. Spent blocks of times with her dreaming about all the possibilities. But as she pointed out to me yesterday morning ...

“You’re not bringing me to life. You can’t just dream me into existence.” Or, more like “YOU DAMN WELL BETTER GET ME ON THE PAGE.”

Her name is Miranda. She’s one of the main characters of my next novel. My heroine, one might say. And I’m falling for her. She wants it to happen, and so do I. Now, we have to make it so.

So what’s prevented it so far?

I’ve been taking my own sweet time on Catch a Falling Star. A page here. Three pages there. I have a couple of friend’s manuscripts that I’m reading and commenting on. After all, why does mine have to be finished this very minute? I don’t have an agent or editor with a deadline dangling over me like the Sword of Damocles.

Yeah, right.

That must change, because Miranda is waiting not-so-patiently. She wants to live, is fighting for existence, and I’m the only one who can make that happen.

Am I crazy for assigning living status to fictional characters? Maybe, but so what? I’ve always read that way and always will. I try my very best to live in their world while reading. I celebrate their triumphs, cry at their tragedies, laugh at their follies. I well up even now just thinking of the line, “I’ve loved you all my life.” (see David Copperfield, the chapter entitles “A Light Shines on My Way.”) Some part of me does manage to keep the two worlds separate, sometimes with a dividing line no thicker than a theatre scrim, but it’s there and in no danger of dissolving.

Not yet, anyway.

It’s difficult to start reading a new book because of that intensity. When I crack open one I haven’t yet read, I’m looking to form a connection. A new one and a strong one. How could it possibly compare to the many times I’ve lived in the world of David Copperfield? Obviously, it can’t. But I’m always looking. Occasionally, I form an immediate bond like I did with Harry Potter. He yelled and screamed at me, and along with Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore and McGonagall pulled me into Hogwarts. Before I knew it, I learned to live there and loved it.

To that extent Catch a Falling Star has become like that for me. And I’ve just entered another growth phase with it. I’m finding new things about Gina and Christine, and they affect Jerry and Shirley. I can feel them growing, changing, becoming far more complex than I envisioned when I created them eleven years ago.

Eleven years with these characters. Wow! A long time. The last four have been pretty intense.

I’ve grown to love them. They’re part of my family, though I can never see them in a corporeal way. But with that love comes an abiding hatred. Love and hate are closely related, you see. Not opposites at all. And I’m vacillating back and forth.

The damn book itself has become like the Sword of Damocles in my life. I’ve tried to reach the heights of the great storytellers and have been granted permission to sit in the thrown with no real power, just this sword handing over my head dangling by a single horse hair ready to fall and slice me to ribbons.

Unlike Damocles, though, I refuse to relinquish my uncomfortable occupancy of the throne. I’ve kept trying to earn my place with the great storytellers, period. I’m one of those who had much rather be a small fish in a big pond.

To that end, I’ve put away Miranda and Laura and several others to hang with the Falling Star family a little longer. I feel that I’m close to setting Falling Star in stone. That the growth will end. The new discoveries and twists will go away and the final representation of that world will be on a shelf. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. But it has to happen and Miranda is reminding me of that.

She’s becoming insistent. Persistent. And I’m becoming less resistant to her considerable charms.

So, I need to finish Catch a Falling Star, that is true. I can’t leave it unfinished or the horse hair will break and the sword will impale me. I also have to finish reading and commenting on my friend’s manuscripts. But I also need to take some time each day, even if it’s no more than thirty minutes, to spend with the lovely, tough, vulnerable, frightened, brilliant Miranda.

When she finally secured my attention yesterday, I nodded noticing just how lovely she’ll be.

“Bring me into the world, Rock,” she said, smiling.

“I promise.”

She took my cheeks in her warm hands. “I’ll be good to you.”

She will. And I will keep my promise to her.

But there’s that dreaded sword ...

No weight change last week. I came in at 271 for the second week in a row. Something will have to give, I know as my 35-year reunion is coming up next week and I have friends coming in from Cleveland.

I’ll continue on with Catch a Falling Star, and begin an outline of Miranda’s story.

I’ll let you know next week how I did.

BTW. This came in at under a thousand words. Yay! That was my self-imposed word limit. :-) But this is the first in awhile under.