Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Only Way Out is Through. And You Can do Anything for just a Little While

Yesterday was a very long day.  Actually, it feels very much like I’m still experiencing the same day without interruption.  They’ve made some real strides with those hospital fold-out chairs over the years, but there’s little one can do to block out the lights and sounds of a hospital recovery wing, while still keeping one’s ear finely attuned to the sounds of your child.

Dad was proud to serve as the first line of nausea defense.  Vomitus is normally my kryptonite, but as I said yesterday, I had my “game face” on and I was on point.  Only had to change my shirt once, which was good as I only had one extra.

I won’t spend much time getting into the medical details except to say that she did phenomenally during surgery and was a trooper all day.  Sleep was difficult for us both, and as I write this she’s asleep in her new fancy room upstairs, the recovery center now behind us.

The wife and I were together when her surgeon came out and told us that she was in recovery and that it went “pretty straightforward and she did great.”  I didn’t, as I thought I might, lose it.  I did however feel an immediate relief upon exhale, and it felt like I’d been holding my breath just a little for the past two months.  I felt an immense sense of gratitude. 

I felt thankful for her doctors and nurses and all the staff here at the hospital that have cared for out family in a variety of ways for years.  I thought “Thank God” pretty much right away and I meant just that.  I felt grateful to our friends and family who’ve supported us all and my firstborn in particular of late.  Honestly, I was just so grateful that the surgery part was done and we could then focus on the “taking care of her” part.  The recovery, which won’t likely be a cakewalk began in earnest yesterday, and that, at least, is something we can be a part of.  We can hold her hand.  We can remind her of how loved she is.  We can help her stand up and walk down the hall and feed her ice chips and stroke her hair and show her Hamilton clips when they need to draw blood again.  We can be understanding and patient and all of that stuff.  But she had to get clear of the surgery first.  I felt such a sense of relief when the doctor came out and told us she was ok.  It was like I’d been wearing ankle weights for two months and then, upon taking them off discovered that while I still can’t dunk, I can hit the backboard.  It was a huge relief.

Overnight was a challenge.  It’s bright and noisy and it was too warm in our shared room.  There were moments overnight where it felt like morning would never come.  They had to reposition her body every two hours, so between that and dealing with the nausea, there was very little time to sleep without interruption, if one could fall asleep at all.

We’ve had two mottos over the last few days that we really tapped into last night.  The first one is a line I’ve known for years, and it really fit.  It’s attributed to like 5 different sources, so who knows where it came from, except that I’m certain it came from someone who went through some stuff. 

“The only way out is through.”

The only way to get her spine situated is through the surgery.  The only way to the nice room upstairs is through the recovery room.  The only way home is through the PT and recovery.  The only way back to activity and school is through healing up and learning to move again.  She seemed to connect to this one a lot, especially late last night when all she wanted to do was something other than lay there and try to sleep.  We made it though the night and she’s sleeping much more comfortably now that we are through the recovery wing.

The other one was given to me by a good friend earlier this week as we were talking about the impending surgery.  She mentioned something that had been told to her before she’d faced her own surgery.  She said, “Let her know that while it will hurt, it will only hurt for a little while.  And you can do anything when you know it’s only for a little while.”  I told this to my daughter on the eve of her operation, and it really seemed to help.  We’ve repeated it several times since then. It’s really helped.  She’s been a trooper about her pain and a rock star with the nurses, who have the unfortunate responsibility of making her uncomfortable on purpose at times. 

Anytime I’m in the hospital, I reflect back on my own visits there over my life.  My own back surgery in 2001, the birth of the kids, the wife’s surgeries.  Inevitably, I come back to the time I spent in the hospital with my father during the end of his life.  I think of the years my eldest sister spent in the hospital.  She died when I was a newborn, so I never got to know her, and I can only imagine what that was like for her and my parents and sister.  I always think of these things when I’m in the hospital.  I wonder if I’m the only one who does that. 

I thought of them last night in particular when things got a little extra challenging.  I thought of my dad and my sister and thought, if they can get through their challenges with grace and dignity, which they did, I can aspire to the same.  I’m not even the patient this time.

The only way out is through.  And this is only for a little while.  And my kid is a rock star. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Waiting on the All Clear: some things matter more than others

This is not really a column about football, I assure you, but my beloved Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl recently.  My family and I enjoyed every minute of it, all season long.  We watched and waited and cheered and groaned and for much of the last few months, it was a huge deal in our lives. 

And it is a huge deal. I’ve been living and dying with the team for over 40 years.  I’ve infected my children with the burden of being a Philadelphia Sports fan, and there’s a lot about the shared experience that we have really enjoyed.  It’s allowed us to share a level of continuity with my parents and grandparents, who are no longer with us, but were very much there in spirit this month when the Eagles FINALLY won a Championship for the first time since 1960. 

We watched the games, sitting in the same positions, with the dog to my direct left, Bud the Dinosaur on the small couch, Pengy and his Eagles scarf, with Boyo sitting in his spot, me in mine, and so on.  We were very driven by mojo…and it seemed to keep working, so we went with it.  I wore the same shirts all season.  In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, I was excited and confident.  Those are not the usual emotions of an Eagles fan, and that itself made me a little uncomfortable.  I didn’t know how to feel and many of my fellow fans felt the same way. I was never really worried.  I didn’t know why at the time, but I do now.

Watching the game itself was intense and occasionally stressful.  When we got to the end, I felt like we had a real shot.  When it was over, there was an outpouring of emotion.  It made me miss my parents and grateful that I got to share the ride with my children. 

In the days following, I couldn’t stop watching the highlights.  Every time that last pass is flying through the air, I still worry that Gronk is going to come down with it.  I feel relief every time.  We ordered all sorts of new Super Bowl swag.  I went to the parade in Philadelphia yesterday and it was an amazing experience.  I’ll tell that story another time, because as important as the Eagles victory is, as transcendent as it is for a rabidly loyal and frustrated fan base, as big of a Sea Change as it is for us all, as big of a shift away from “Nega-delphia” as this cathartic victory may be; it’s not the biggest thing going on in my life right now.

My daughter is currently in surgery as I write this.  She has scoliosis that we’ve been treating for several years now.  It progressed to the point that surgery was necessary.  The operation was scheduled months ago, and there have been tests and scans and other things to get ready for.  And then there was our lives, and lots of other distractions.  The Eagles amazing season was a very welcome one at that, but once the game was over and the euphoria wore off, the next big thing for all of us to look forward to was a major operation and months of convalescence and healing. 

So, as I write this sitting in the waiting room, I’m reminded of a discussion I had after the Super Bowl.  Someone asked if it had sunk in yet that they’d won and I’d said, “Not really,” as at that moment, it felt like it hadn’t.  It felt a little surreal, but I found in the days to come, I didn’t have the same level of emotion about the whole thing.  I thought going to the parade would make it more “real” for me, and in many ways, it has.  Seeing the team and the trophy and celebrating with all of my crazy brethren was truly satisfying.  But the truth is, I realize now that the wife and the whole family have been in surgery-mode for the last two months.  While there have been those welcome distractions, Christmas, New Years, time down the shore, football and other sports, some new movies, eating stuff I shouldn’t, getting to my new gym, considering starting a publishing company, time with friends and family ad so on, I realize now we’ve all been in this and I have been locked into Daddy mode preparing myself for this moment right now, where I’m waiting for them to come out and tell me that she’s out of surgery and that everything went well and that she’s going to be ok.

That’s the release I’m waiting on right now.  The last few months have been about getting myself and the family ready for right now.  Making sure everything’s ready at home, ready with the family and our friends, making sure that everything is in place so that I can be here in this moment, because as important as everything else in the world might be, there is simply nothing more important than my children. 

I know that’s true of every parent, but there are gratefully finite moments and circumstances where we are faced with that reality so acutely and be viscerally and gut-punchingly reminded of how much our children matter.  It was pretty emotional for me just now, seeing her in the hospital gown, laying on the bed as they prepared to roll her into the Operating Room, where my status as “Dad” does not afford me a seat.  I held it together and we told fart jokes and she laughed and was smiling as they wheeled the bed away from me.  I’m still holding it together as I’m not allowing my brain to go off into the realm of “complications” or “well, this has never happened before in this surgery” and other such nervous speculation.  Rest assured, growing up in a family very much touched by way-too-early deaths created in me a penchant for leaning towards the hypochondriacal.  To this day, my brain takes me places when I worry that I don’t care for, but I’ve learned to manage it.  I don’t have full-blown panics when a loved one is late to call or arrive when expected, but I could. 

That doesn’t mean I don’t have moments where my mind takes me to the worst possible outcome of relatively innocuous things, but therapy and maturity have helped me manage all that.  That said, the struggle was and remains real, but my role as a parent has seasoned me somewhat.  In the end, the only thing that matters is that within the next few hours, someone is going to tell me that everything went great and that the wife and I can go back and see her.  

That’s when I’ll lose it and I can’t wait.  Everything else, including the Eagles miraculous run, has been a lead up to this, and rest assured, my “game face” is on.  Then the recovery begins, but that’s a whole new thing.  The whole family will be ready, once we get that “All Clear” that I’m waiting on right now. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Why we write. Beginnings and Endings.

Friends and readers alike might be aware of the fact that I’ve written another novel.  I’m hopeful that this one is better than the last one, but I once again find that a completed novel has put me on a collision course with New York City. 

Later this month I will head up to one of the larger writers’ conventions in Manhattan, much like I did in 2011.  My goals are similar to the ones I had six years ago, though not identical.  Obviously, I am there to learn.  The classes look great and I’m very much looking forward to taking the time to step out of my own comfort zone and learn from professionals in the industry and my peers.  I’m looking forward to meeting other writers and meeting some new people and networking.  I’m looking forward to pitching my novel as well. 

My main goal in 2011 was to take my first real steps into the world of writing and publishing and not feel out of place.  I feel like I accomplished that-like I fit in amongst my peers.  I felt welcome and like I belonged.  That was a very significant thing for me at the time as the bulk of that book, The Geography of Home, I wrote while we lived in Hawaii, which was pretty far away from a great many things.  It was nice to step into that world and not feel out of place.

In my heart, I think I knew that book wasn’t good enough.  The industry has changed a lot.  The book garnered some interest and I had five agents ask to take a closer look at it.  They all passed in the end, but it was a learning experience.  They were all polite and complimentary and I’ve been in touch with some of them since.  One of the agents, who was from Jersey of course, told me, “Listen, if it were 5-10 years ago, I might have taken a chance on this as I really like your voice.  But I just can’t go there today.”

Honestly, I still take that as high praise.  I considered revisiting it, and, I have a good eight chapters written of what could have been a sequel/expansion, but I decided to put it away for good later that year and I think it was the right choice.  I’ve looked at certain chapters again once or twice.  There are a few chapters I still really like and wish I could share someday, but my time working in that world with those characters was at an end.

I took a break from writing anything, but soon enough the characters living in my head started calling out for attention, as they are prone to do.  Oddly enough, ideas always seemed to pop up while I was at church.  Many of my initial notes and ideas are written on service leaflets.  I try not to overthink the fact that inspiration came in those moments.

In addition, I revisited some older ideas that I’d shelved but none of them thrilled me.  Over the next year I found that there were what felt like three distinct stories calling out to me, each of them very different.  I spent time on each of them, but one simply wouldn’t let me go.  It’s a quirky little story that became a novel that I’ve called The Last Good Day and it’s dominated my creative time for over five years.  These characters have been knee-deep in my mind and in some ways have been bossing me around for much of that time.  At over 83,000 words, my time as their primary shepherd is done.  I had an amazing team of beta readers who made the novel much better.  I’ll be working next week with a professional editor for a second time to tighten a few things up and then it will be time to pitch. 

The pitching process is a little like a very short job interview and it’s kind of fun in its own way.  It usually results in one of two responses:

a)     Yeah, not for me but, good luck

b)     Ok-Send me ___ number of pages and some other stuff and I’ll look at it.

And then generally, one hears back.  Last time I left NYC with five “yesses,” meaning the agents/editors wanted to take a look.  If I leave New York this time with that in my pocket, it will have gone very well indeed, but it won’t be promise of anything.

Regardless of how it goes, it will be the ending of something.  Perhaps it will be the beginning of a next step with the book.  I’m hopeful as I still believe in this story and its characters.  I only hope I haven’t done them a disservice by having them be written by me, instead of a better writer.  That said, there’s little I can do about that now.  But it will be the ending of my time all alone with these characters.  If someone likes it enough to move it forward, then it will be the start of a whole new process, a whole new chapter, one in which I will remain knee-deep in the world of The Last Good Day.  There will be edits galore and many other steps and the opinions of people I don’t yet know to contend with, and that’s all for the good.  I’ve had them all to myself for long enough. 

And if no one likes it enough to take that chance, if no one wants to move it forward, then it is probably the end for this book, for now.  While I believe in it and genuinely feel that it could find an audience in the “Young Adult/People who love them” market, that’s not an area I’m experienced enough in to navigate on my own.  I’m not interested in self-publishing it at this point, though I’ve considered re-branding this blog and moving it to its own server and releasing it in installments, like Dickens used to do in the newspapers.  That’s likely the first and last time that Charles and I will share space in the same sentence.  But, those kind of decisions are likely months away.  I’m realistic though.  One only must walk through Barnes and Noble to figure out how many books there are being published, even in this market.  There’s a lot of content out there and print/shelf space is limited.

Honestly, it’s time for me to get back to some of those other voices in my head, who’ve grown louder now that Avery and Angela’s story is written down.  I believe in it and hopefully one day soon I’ll be able to share it with you.  I’ll do my best.

I feel a little proud that I’ve done all this, I guess.  It was a significant amount of work and time and I feel good that I’ve modeled certain things to my children.  It’s been a lot of late nights and I’ve filled four handwritten notebooks before I sat down to type it all.  I always wrote where I was writing from with each entry in the notebooks, and reviewing them has been fun.  Parts of this story were written in, among other locales: San Francisco, London, Edinburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo, Florida, aboard the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, Philadelphia, and of course, Wildwood.  The story is very much a time and place one, but I’ve written it all over the world.  It always seems to come back down the shore though.

Someone once told me that they thought these writer’s conferences were like “Author Fantasy Camp” where we plunk down our money and get to pretend we are “real writers” and “part of the industry” for a few days.  I always felt that was a rather cynical view and I told him so.  In my experience, the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made both through conferences and other writing communities, those of us who write don’t write because we want to.  We write because we must.  There’s little choice in the matter. 

We write because to not write simply doesn’t compute.  We fill notebooks and church leaflets and random scraps of paper on a regular basis because that is simply how we are wired to navigate the world.  As such, we seek out others of like mind.  We feel called to improve and share our work because we must.  It’s a passion, yes, but it’s also simply who we are.  I could no more stop writing than I could choose to stop letting my fingernails grow.  I actually find a great deal of comfort in this.  In the end, I suppose it doesn’t really matter if I ever get published or “make it” as a writer.  I’m not doing it for you.  I’m doing it because I must.

Back in 2011 at my first big conference, I was sitting at a big round table as the opening keynote speaker started his presentation.  He asked everyone to look around and see how different everyone was in the packed room.  And so, dutifully, we did.  And then he started asking us questions to which we were to raise our hands if it was something that applied to us.  I don’t recall them all but my hand and those of many around me went up more often than not.

The one that really stuck with me was when he asked, “How many of you have had a moment where, as you were writing, your characters rebelled against you and said, ‘yeah, that’s not what I’m doing here?’”

Pretty much every hand went up.  That was an experience I really thought was unique to me.  That was the moment I knew I was in the right place.  These were my people. 

I don’t know what the future for this novel is, at all.  I like it.  My Beta team was encouraging.  My 12-year-old daughter likes it.  Regardless, as Peter Brady once sang, “It’s time to change.”  One way or another this process will change.  Maybe it ramps up or maybe it joins its predecessor on the shelf in my office.  I believe in it though.  And I’m ready.

And I can hear the excited chatter of the other characters in my head, Freddy Pinkerton most of all.  He’s been trying to bust loose for years. 

That might make a decent working title, actually.  More on that later.  For now, stay tuned.  Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Trepidation vs. Blubbering Revisited.   Or, then, there was middle school-how did this happen?

Back in my day we didn’t call it middle school.  Most people called it Junior High or, if you went to SPS like me, you just called it seventh and eighth grade.  I had the unique experience of being in the same building with many of the same kids from grades 1-8.  That’s pretty rare these days and I’m not certain that’s a good thing.  I did some papers on that model during my graduate work years ago and still stand by many of my assertions and conclusions.  But, that’s not what this column is about.

It seems like mere moments ago that I was sitting on the edge of the bed in our home in Ewa Beach on the eve of the twins starting kindergarten.  I wrote about that in this space then and just re-read that one now.  I won’t reiterate the whole things, but, as we approached the moment where the twins began their career as full-time students, I, um, well, I kind lost it.

I got emotional about it to a degree that probably should have been embarrassing to me (I know it was for the wife), but as I look on it now, I realize that I was reacting to the first time they made that inevitable move away from what has been, towards what will be.  It’s the way life works and I think I’m a little more mature and experienced as a parent now, right?

The things I was worried about then had as much to do with me and my comfort zone as they did about anything else.  I had worries that the twin’s relationship with one another would change, that their relationship with their younger sister would change, that everything would change and it would never be the same.  I worried that they wouldn’t want to play together anymore and they wouldn’t want to be around me anymore, either. 

Keep in mind, they were only 4.  They started kindergarten in Hawaii and would later do another kinder year once we moved in NoVA.  But, at the time, I was terrified of these things.  We were in a good place, I thought, and I worried that that one first step away would be the end of everything we’d tried to create together.

I left my career in education for a number of reasons, all of them valid.  Paramount among them, however was a desire to connect with my family in a manner that I’d never had the opportunity to before.  I wanted to be home with the kids and by the time they were heading to Kindergarten, I’d been doing it for two years.  We had a groove… It wasn’t always easy.  Actually, I don’t know that any of it was easy but by that point, two years in, we had a pretty fair amount of mojo going on.  Change scared me.

“They can’t stay little forever.”

The wife said that to me, late at night on the eve of their first day of full-day, five days a week school, as I sat on the edge of the bed blubbering like a…well, I’m sorry that I can’t think of a good reference here.  Feel free to message me one-I’m sure there’s one there, but I was emotionally overloaded at the thought of them moving out into the world.  I nearly hyperventilated with anxiety at the time.  I’ve gotten better at handling that since then, so, bonus, but I was really upset about it all and they were only four!  It was Hawaiian “junior” kindergarten!

This week, half a world away from where their school journey started, they will complete Elementary school and will begin seventh grade in the fall. 

So, how’d that happen?  They did what kids do.  They grow and they develop and they change.  I find myself, at least for the moment, feeling less full of trepidation than I was back in the day.  That may change between now and Thursday/Friday when the twins have their “transition ceremonies,” but I think it’s a little different this time.  I’ve seen them transition through so many things, without the benefit of a ceremony even.  They moved from Hawaii to Virginia.  They started at new school.  They started Scouts and played Soccer and Rugby and Volleyball.  The Boyo started a new school in third grade.  They’ve done choir and Sunday School and played in the school band.  They’ve done All County Chorus and Area Honor Band.  They’ve made friends and had friends move away.  They’ve taken tests and run races and created art.  Boyo is closing in on his Black Belt.  J-Bird has become a fixture at the Pyramid Art show.  Boyo is an amazingly thoughtful gift giver.  J is more empathetic than anyone I’ve ever known besides her mother.  They still, along with their younger sister, like to play together.  And as a family, we do an awful lot together.  That’s remained important.

I still read to them all, every night.  The last few years I’ve managed to find books/series that all three kids are into, so that’s out routine.  I’ll do it with them forever if they let me.  I’m getting pretty good at voices.

Now, none of this is to suggest that we haven’t faced a pile of bricks worth of challenges.  If you know me at all or have read in this space at all, you likely know what they are.  I’m not going into all of that right now as I don’t want to and don’t have to.  There have been a lot of days that I wasn’t sure how we’d make it through.  Hell, there’ve been hours that I wasn’t sure how we’d get through. 

Somehow, we did.  We got through those moments where I didn’t know what to do or what to say.  Those times where nothing made sense until we learned how it did.  Those moments where it became clear that I didn’t know enough-didn’t know the right things to do about the challenges we were facing.  So, we learned-all of us together and we continue to do so.  I’m a different parent than I was when they were four and two.  I’m a different man.  I hope a better one, but I’d settle for marginally adequate/meets expectations.

All of us are a work in progress.  I think that is perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned since I sat on the edge of the bed and blubbered my eyes out because I was worried that the kids wouldn’t want to play with me or each other anymore after going to school and that my whole comfort zone was once again set to implode.  It didn’t then, it just changed, much like it will again soon. 

I know every step they take into that larger world is a step away from the life we have today but it’s also a step towards the life that they will build for themselves.  I hope we’ve laid a good foundation, and I’m officially and openly asking for advice on navigating middle school as a parent.  I’m not certain my experience in grades seven and eight have prepared me for this any better than being a high school vice principal/athletic director prepared me for being a stay-at-home dad in Hawaii.

I’m feeling less trepidation today then I did back then.  Perhaps that’s growth.  Maybe it’s confidence in the twins and their own personal brand of awesome.  Maybe it’s trust that the wife won’t let us screw this up.  I suppose it could be surety that the friends the kids have made and skills they’ve learned will serve them well as they move into a whole new middle-schooly world.  Could be faith.  I’ve gotten better about seeing that and the grace it entails. 

Or, perhaps when the twins actually do their transitions, maybe in that moment I’ll completely lose it.  It’s possible.  I’m a human male of complex emotions, so that’s certainly a possibility. But if I do, it won’t be because I am worried about the future.  It won’t be because I am afraid about who they will become. 

It will be because I am so amazingly overwhelmed by the distance that our whole family has traveled, both physical and otherwise, to arrive at the moment we now have the privilege to inhabit.  It will be because I am so outrageously proud of the things all my children can do.  It will be because I am impressed with the way they both connect and challenge their siblings.  And their parents.  And their friends and themselves.

It will be because I know that this moment that now approaches is one I could not see when they were little.  It wasn’t in my mind back then, as our future at that time was more in flux than we realized.  But here we are.

So how did we get here? 

We worked.  We loved.  We struggled.  We fought.  We made up.  We celebrated.  We cried.  We said hello.  We said goodbye.  We said Aloha.  We ate.  We drank.  We slept. We drew.  We painted.  We played.  We walked.  We prayed.  We planted.  We moved.  We grew.  We sang.  We went to church.  We played records.  We listened to the radio.  We went to garage sales.  We created.  We read.  We drew.  We folded paper.  We visited family.  We made new friends.  We kept the old ones.  We said goodbye to some friends.  We did genealogy.  We learned.  We learned a lot, about a lot of things.  We watched sports.  We got a dog.  We found a place.

I’m not going to say comfort zone.  That’s become hack for me at this point, but I like very much where we are.  Where I am now.  The space we inhabit.

It is simply amazing for me to revisit the things I wrote in this space back when they were little.  I’m so glad I wrote them.  I don’t think anyone else is, but I know I like the fact that I can look back on my own ridiculousness.  It’s therapeutic and there’s no copay for it, so score one more for me.

I don’t know how I’ll react this week when they transition out of elementary.  I’m cool with that.  It’s nice to look at myself and not find a foregone conclusion.  I like who I am now.  That’s not something I’ve been able to say with impunity throughout my life.

However it all goes, I’m amazed and astounded and deeply humbled to have the privilege to be a part of the life of my family.  I’m reminded of one of my favorite Hawaiian sayings: “Kulia I Ka Nu’u.”  It means, “strive to reach the summit.”  I like it because it’s never depended on actually reaching the summit.  Just that you strive for it. 

I think let’s leave it at that for now.  If I blubber at their ceremonies, perhaps I’ll have another column.  As always, thanks for reading. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Just say thank you. Previewing the Acknowlegments of my as yet unpublished novel


I have been working diligently on some revisions and edits to my partial submission requests since my recent trip to Philadelphia.  While I feel like I’m making progress, I need a brief break and had the idea to just write something silly today.  That and I’ve been reminded recently that it’s important to thank the people in your life whenever possible.  As always, as we’ve discussed in this space before, I never like leaving things unsaid.   We always feel like we have all the time in the world, until we don’t.

I can’t be the only one who has pretended to hit the game winning shot, given an Oscar speech to the mirror, or fantasize the seminal interview with NPR’s Terry Gross from “Fresh Air.”  I know in the privacy of our own minds, we all probably do the same silly stuff.  If I’m honest, I’ve done some of those things more recently than is likely “cool” to admit, but there it is.  I’m a dreamer, you could say.

As such, I’ve decided to write the acknowledgements for my novel.  It’s not yet published, but I don’t see that as any reason to avoid putting it out there.  I suppose it could change by the time it does all come together, but this is pretty much how it would look if I were asked to write it today for its impending publication. 


Writing this book has been a genuinely interesting journey.  Calling it “a long, strange trip” seemed hack, so I went with something else.  These characters have inhabited my mind for a very long time and I am humbled by and grateful for the chance to finally share them with the world.

Along the way, people have asked, “Are these characters and events based on real people or are they completely made up?”  In answer to that question, I will say simply, “yes.”  Beyond that, it is my hope that everyone will find something to connect with in Avery and Angela and their adventure.  A professor of mine at Wooster used to say, “once you create something and put it out there, it no longer belongs to you.  Set it free and see what happens.”  I think there’s something to that so that is what I’m going to do.

It’s taken over six years to get to this point, and I have to start by thanking my amazing team of Beta Readers.  Outside of a free copy and that drink I owe them all, it’s a job that’s only perk is getting to read the versions of my stuff that are really not ready for the world.  To a person they’ve been positive, helpful, critical, and the book would simply not exist without them.  Well, it might, but it would really stink.  Their comments and ideas helped shape the book you now hold in your hands and my gratitude is simply immeasurable.  So, to my good friends, ATG, SY, JHE, GPK, HSK, and ACJ, I say thank you, thank you, thank you.  And drinks are on me.

I want to thank my children.  Between their patience with me when I had to finish one more paragraph, their interest along the way, and the amazing way they look at what I’ve been trying to do and see a creative way forward for themselves, I am so proud and grateful to be their father.  Each of them have worked on book projects of their own and seem to really enjoy it.  When they talk about their future, they say “when I publish” and not “if I publish.”  I like their approach there and more than once their encouragement has been the thing that made me keep plugging along when, I felt like every word I was writing was utter garbage.  They gave me the confidence to silence my inner critic.  As the late John Updike once said on NPR’s Fresh Air (I’m kind of a fan) “Any sentence could be stifled by the critic in one, if you allow him to get the upper hand,” and I’m notoriously bad at letting that critic run loose at times.  I like thinking that I’ve modeled something positive for them, but in truth, their honest and thoughtful support has been a model for me more than they probably know. 

Both of my parents are gone now, but I think they would have really enjoyed my publishing a book, this story in particular.  Wildwood is where they met and it’s been a vital part of my family’s life ever since.  To this day, there’s a stone at the Lighthouse Avery and Angela visit that my sister and I had made for them.  It says, quoting Bruce by way of Tom Waits, “’Down the shore, everything’s all right.”  I see Wildwood not merely as a setting in this story, but as a supporting character.  I know that my parents would have enjoyed that.  I also don’t think it’s the last time I’ll visit it as a setting for a book…

My wife served as a Beta Reader, so I guess I’ve thanked her already. 

But, I really haven’t.  I think it’s safe to say that without the support of my wife, who I’ve known and loved now for going on 25 years, I’m certain I wouldn’t be sharing this or anything else with you.  From the day we met she’s been my biggest supporter, biggest cheerleader and loved me unconditionally, which, knowing myself as I do, really could not have been easy.  She never laughed at my dreams of writing.  All she did was say, “go do it.”  Life in any family is occasionally complicated and schedules and obligations abound, but she never gave me grief for staying up to late writing, never complained about discussing scene after scene and always brought me back from the brink of my own sometimes crippling self-doubt. 

If this book, this story, these characters have an angel who’s been looking out for them, it is most assuredly my wife.  She never gave up on me and never let me give up on them, or my dreams.  So, as Gram would have said, I’ll “just say thank you.”

All the people above have made this a better book which I hope you enjoyed.  They also made me a better person, to which Avery might say “that’s not nothing…” 

It really isn’t.  Thank you for reading.  Stay tuned…

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Kugs says Aloha to Philly.  Also, looking for a writers group.

I love Philadelphia.  As a South Jersey guy I’ve long considered myself having grown up, “Just outside of Philly” which is not exactly accurate but people say it.  Technically, I grew up just outside of Princeton, which again is not exactly accurate either, but we said it all the time growing up.  That or, “Exit 8.” 

But I spent yesterday at the Philadelphia Writers Workshop in Rittenhouse Square.  It was a nice event: well-run and organized and lower-key than the huge Writer’s Digest Conferences, which is really what I needed as I once again dip my toes back into the world of books and publishing.

The classes were fun, covering style and revision, publishing options, how to work with agents, and a fun but slightly nerve-wracking anonymous one-page “Writers Got Talent” session.  My one-page did not get randomly selected and I’m kind of glad.  The book is done but on reflection I think it needs a further fine tuning and possibly a major structural change.  My pitches went well and I earned five requests for partials which is awesome.  Now it’s time to get everything tight before formally submitting the work, but I’m pretty excited. 

I was asked by a number of people in my life that the process of pitching is like so I thought I’d discuss that a bit.  It can be a little intimidating at first but I find it pretty fun once I get comfortable with my pitch.  It’s especially enjoyable if the person you’re pitching to likes what you’re talking about and engages you about your work. 

Essentially, you’re given ten minutes of time with an agent or editor.  It’s suggested you do your research and choose those who work in your genre.  Also a good idea to know something about them so you can chat briefly, personalizing your conversation with them.  After pleasantries, you basically deliver your pitch covering your characters, the plot and setting, what the conflict is, where the choices get made and how things change for the character over the course of the book.  It’s a little bit like presenting your written query in person, but the goal is to inspire interest in the book and in you as someone to work with. 

If it’s a yes, they ask for a partial read.  Each agent/editor asks for something different.  Some want the first ten pages, some want thirty.  Some want a synopsis with spoilers and others want a bio and formal query.  If it’s a no, thanks for your time and shake hands. 

So, over the coming weeks I will likely do some revisions based on some advice and some of the things I gleaned from the workshops.  And then I’ll send them what they asked for and wait.

So, we’ll see how it goes.  I didn’t get as much time as I’d hoped for to network with other writers.  I’m really interested in that and thinking of exploring some of the writers groups here in NoVA, or starting one if I can’t find one that works.  That was a point a number of presenters made yesterday was finding a community to help shape your work and to expose you to the work of peers.  I think that’s been missing for me so I’m motivated to see what’s out there. 

So it went very well and I have a solid path forward.  There’s more work to do, but I was really encouraged by the response to my story.  Now to make sure it’s completely ready as I’ll have one shot with these five professionals. 

And I’m not throwin’ away my shot…  (see what I did there?)

Aloha for now-I’m going to try to post here more regularly so stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

So, my kid is reading my novel....

So, there’s this novel I’ve written and will be trying to sell this weekend.  If you know me at all, this is not news.  That said, if this is your first time here, ALOHA!  Welcome aboard!

My oldest daughter is now enthusiastically reading my novel, The Last Good Day.  I didn’t force her to or anything but I’m glad she was interested to try it as she’s smack in the middle of the target audience.  I’m also more glad, relieved in fact that now that she’s plowed through ¼ of it, she likes it and is engaged in the story. 

She’s finding more typos than I would like, but at this point, I’m still too close to it to even see them.  And it’s been really encouraging to talk to her about what she likes and what she thinks about the characters.  She knows that there are some conglomerations of real people and events in the story and she keeps inquiring about who people are and if certain things actually happened.  No spoilers, but there was one anecdote told in the protagonists’ backstory that actually happened to me in sixth grade which she found confusing based on knowing me now, but we talked it out. 

While it’s been really fun and reassuring to have her respond positively to the story, I find it equally if not more exciting that on some level, whether or not this book ever gets released, I feel like I’m modeling something positive for her and her siblings.  “Bird” as we sometimes call her loves to write and is working on her own book.  When she talks about her publishing future it’s, “When I publish my books” and not, like I tend to think most of the time, “If I can convince someone to read the whole thing then maybe…”  Her head is in the right place and she writes for the joy of it.  I needed that reminder this week as regardless of what happens in Philadelphia, I wrote this book not only out of a need to tell the story but because it was fun to do.  There were times that the characters really surprised me and others where they made me laugh out loud.  One way or another it will soon be time for me to move on from these characters and work on something else.  I’ve been wrapped up in this narrative for over six years now and it is definitely time for them to get out into the world.  I hope I’ll have the opportunity to share their story with you formally.

Whatever happens with my pitches this weekend, there’s a reason they call it the writing process.  This part is obviously very different from the heady days when those first thirty pages come flying out faster than you can type and those amazing moments when your Beta Readers tell you they like it and give concrete feedback and suggestions to make it better, and then it does!  This part is where I have the chance to advocate not only for my book but for the characters themselves.  They’ve done their part and now, it’s my turn.  I hope I don’t let them down.

I’m pretty sure my daughter is proud of me and that’s very important to me, and so far she likes it.  If my writing never amounts to much at the very least, it’s given me a chance to connect with her creatively.  If it never gets published, I’ll still have been a model of trying something difficult.  I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t get a chance to find an audience beyond my household and friends as, I really believe in it.  But, should the industry pass and I joins other projects back on the shelf, then I’ll get to model to my children what a mature person (not something I’m often accused of being) does when something doesn’t go their way. 

I’ll get to work on the next thing.  And that’s not a bad thing either.  I know my good friend Freddy Pinkerton is waiting for me to get back to his story…

Thanks for reading.  Please feel free to peruse the other columns here-they aren’t all about writing.  Many of them cover our years in Hawaii, Craft Beer, my family, Sports, and of course there are “The Duster Chronicles” from a few years ago.  Feel free to contact me through the comments as well.  Mahalo for now!