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


Acknowledgments



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. 



Acknowledgments



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! 

Monday, April 3, 2017

So, I've got these new business cards...

If we’re friends on social media, chances are you already know that I wrote a novel.  You may even have participated in one of my “Help name a minor Character” thingys I did along the way.  Those were a lot of fun and genuinely helped me out a ton.  Between all that and my intrepid team of Beta Readers, there has been a lot of crowdsourcing on this project and I am grateful for it all. 



So, it is written and whether or not it’s any good is up to the readers, but it is written.  Such things become increasingly subjective the closer one gets to the world of publication, but I did in fact once again create something that can certainly be categorized as a novel.

This new project is very different from the first novel I wrote, years ao, which is currently well and truly situated in a box in the guest room closet.  That book was about a number of things, including but not limited to answering the question, “can I write a novel?”  It turns out that I could and I did.  That one did what it needed to do and is safely shielded from you all, much like my live performance at the Wooster Spotlight Showcase at Mom’s Truckstop in 1992 where, despite my moving cover of Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain,” all anyone recalls is how I forgot the words to “American Pie” after the 67th verse.  (Too many damned words in that song, Don.)
 

There are parts of the first novel, The Geography of Home that I still really like.  There are a few chapters and some dialog that I think hold up, but it’s not ready for the world and I’m not interested in revisiting it.  I processed a lot of personal in that one and it’s served its purpose.  It was a good project to learn from and the experience of writing it, editing it, and trying to get it out were valuable to me both then and now.  Writing has always been an outlet for me.  I have piles of notebooks that attest to that fact.  Like everyone else, I’ve faced challenges, adversity, and moments both high and low.  I’ve always felt when facing any such moments that I handled them best after putting pen to paper to process them.



The current book, The Last Good Day, is a story I’ve been wanting to tell for a very long time.  It’s loaded with people and places and events that really pop for me, and having a good portion of the action take place in Wildwood is a bonus.  Write what you know, they say…
 

So, I have a group of pitch meetings scheduled this weekend.  As I review my notebooks to prepare for the selling of myself and the story in Philadelphia, where I’ll try to convince people way smarter than me about publishing that my book is worthy, I’m struck by the fact that this story kept poking me.  The first words I wrote for this one were written on March 2, 2011.  “It’s only 8am and I just made the train.”  Honestly, the story had been germinating for longer than that, probably years really, for a variety of reasons.  Let’s just say again, we write what we know.  Or knew.  I have currently about four different books living in my head, vying for attention and time.  It’s hard to focus on more than one at a time but The Last Good Day just kept calling me and I know why now. 



Whether or not anyone ever reads it, and whether or not any of my pitches hit their mark and lead to anything this weekend or beyond, this was a story that I simply had to write down.  There’s a truth in it that I only see now as I look back on the process of writing it and, if I’m honest, the moments and characters that ring true in both the world of the book and the world of my actual past.  It’s a fine line.



About a month after I started writing the first pages-all handwritten, as the book is a journal-style narrative-I found myself on a bench outside of Coit Tower in San Fransisco.  I tagged along with the wife on a work trip and had several days to explore the city and write, read, and explore the city.  I also must admit that I got into a loop watching a marathon of the old “Coming Home” series on Lifetime where they helped soldiers returning from overseas surprise their families in a variety of complicated ways.  I blubbered at them all. 



But I remembered writing at Coit, and in Union Square Park, and at the Irish Bank and the Buena Vista CafĂ©.  I wrote a lot and ended up with more questions than I started with but I remember leaving San Francisco in 2011 with a basic plan and an outline and some excitement. 



But then, life happened.  I’ve chronicled much of that life here in earlier posts so I won’t reiterate, but short version is that family life got complicated.  But these characters still kept on growing in my head.  And other projects got my attention.  I have both The Petulant Son, and The Strange Case of Freddy Pinkerton, competing for my time and attention.  I went back and forth with all of them but in the end Avery and Angela, the protagonists of The Last Good Day wouldn’t let me go.



For fictional characters, they are quite bossy and there have been far too many nights where I didn’t get to sleep or I got to sleep way too late because they made it clear that they weren’t done with me for the day.  Or, more irritatingly, that they weren’t going to do or say the things I had planned for them.  We worked it out but it is truly something to be dictated to by a fictional character. 



So, the book is done and my beta team was awesome and it’s been edited and re-edited and will likely be edited more if all goes well.  The business of getting it published is a whole different animal than writing it has been and I look forward to diving back into that world as I believe in this story.  I think there’s an audience for it.



I think I’ll write more about this process and about the book in the coming days but it’s been interesting to consider the fact that I’ve been actively writing this story for over six years and living with it for far longer.  Time to see what kind of legs it actually has.  It’s a nervous thing though, getting ready to sell yourself and something you’ve put such time and energy into.  The people I’ll be pitching are looking for something they can sell and believe in.  It won’t be personal if it’s a pass and if no one wants it, I know that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value or a chance to grab an audience.  This will be an interesting week as I prepare. 



I ordered 100 business cards.  It’ll be either way too many or way too few.  Stay tuned as there is more to come this week, I hope.