Wednesday, June 22, 2011


            We have to make decisions every day. Most of our decisions are routine, but some force us to review our positions on larger issues. I have a decision to make, and it has produced a dilemma.
            I’m moving forward with getting ‘What Rough Beast’ published and available for readers like you (wink, wink). I’m still moving along the route of traditional publishing where a publisher is responsible for the book layout and for designing and producing the book cover, but I’ve also decided to pursue the option of offering it myself through the various online book sellers and my own website. That means that I have to find professionals who can do the book layout and design the cover. Covers are so very important, aren’t they? A cover is the hook that grabs the attention of a potential reader and entices him or her to pick up the book and look more closely at it. Covers sell books, so I want the best cover possible.
            I advertized recently online for book cover design specialists. Because of the economy, there are a lot of talented people looking for work and in three days I received twenty proposals from around the world. Naturally, they provided portfolios of their past work and testimonials from previous customers. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at all the proposals, the examples of past work and the reviews of past customers, and I’ve whittled the list down to two, but now I’m stuck. One lives about a thousand miles from where I live, and the other is much more local, living less than one hundred miles from me.
            Why do I mention where they live? If you will indulge me, let me briefly go in another direction. I’m going to call this ‘economics ala Chris’ and my basic mantra is: wealth grows where the dollar stops. We’ve been sending our dollars away for years and years to buy foreign petroleum, foreign clothing and foreign manufactured goods. We’ve enriched economies in faraway lands. I read recently that the average meal on the average dinner table came from fourteen hundred miles away. So, you work hard and then send your dollar far away where it stimulates someone else’s economy. That produced a second mantra for me: in so far as is possible, buy local.
            Do you see my dilemma? I want to buy local, but the local artist has done only a few book covers. It was good work, but she has done so few. The other artist had a portfolio of more than three dozen book covers he has designed, and his work is quite good, too. Both artists are good, but one has more experience. Do I buy local or do I send my dollar a thousand miles away?
            Decisions, decisions. Any thoughts out there?
            Thanks for your time.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Day

            I wish you could have known my dad. He loved people, and you would have loved him.
            He did have an unyielding side. Let me say that up front. He was old school when it came to basic things like being a contributor to the harmony and wellbeing of society and not a drain on them. To him it was about carrying your own weight and not expecting someone else to carry you. He was firm on the issue of children obeying their parents and maybe even firmer on the issue of parents loving their children. When he said that children were a gift of God, he wasn’t paying lip service – it was a core belief of his. He taught his children to give appropriate respect to those in authority and he taught us not to look away from the weak, the poor and the ‘fatherless’ when it was within our power to help them. You’ll recognize these as basic biblical mandates. My dad was a minister. He knew the mandates and he incorporated them into his life.
            Some of my earliest memories of my dad are of him arguing with my mom. I must have been three or four, and it upset me terribly. I couldn’t understand how he could be so hard. I didn’t know about the male provider/protector thing that can so quickly and easily be kicked into overdrive. I didn’t understood that men and women wear differently the responsibilities of work and family and life-in-general, so differently that it often puts us at odds over even trivial matters.
            The dad I remember as a small child was two men. One was the hard man described above. The other was a softer man. As I have looked back, I have come to wonder if he may have been embarrassed by his own inclination toward tenderness. It was this man who caressed my head and cheek with his rough hand and smiled down on me with genuine love, who picked me up and hugged me warmly and in that moment made me the center of his universe.
            I watched my dad, what son doesn’t? I watched him interact with others, and I think I learned the meaning of humility from him. The dictionary says that humility is ‘having a modest opinion of one’s own importance’. I want to disagree. Humility is not making oneself a mat for others to tread. Humility is the ability to exercise authority over others without believing you are superior. It is the ability to be under the authority of others without believing you are inferior. Humility is having an honest appraisement of your own self-worth and the strength of character not to let others define you. Humility is the ability to live within the framework of relationships life has constructed around you without assigning yourself either too much or too little importance. I think this is in line with the example of the man from Galilee.
            Over the years I witnessed the gentler side take over in my dad. Always a tender and loving man, he let those aspects of his personality hold more sway. I think he was always a little embarrassed by it. It may sound odd, but I learned tenderness from my gruff, unyielding dad.
            There was a time when my dad thought he was a failure. He felt badly that he wasn’t able to give his children all the ‘things’ many of our friends had. You know what? Those ‘things’ he wasn’t able to give us are now rusting in a landfill somewhere. The gift he did give us, his unyielding love, still warms our hearts.
            I love you, dad.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Growing older

            Getting old sucks. I wish I could say it more delicately, but there it is. I first typed ‘getting older sucks’. That made me feel a little less old, but it didn’t disguise the fact that, age wise, I’m peering down the long dark hallway of old. I don’t feel old, most days. I don’t think old. I don’t act old, or I don’t see myself as acting old. Okay, my 12 year old stepdaughter rolls her eyes at some of my antics, but what do 12 year olds know? The point is, I don’t think of myself as old until…
            Sometimes I’m reminded of my age, like when a young woman wears a low cut top and, as I’m talking to her (not chatting her up), she’s constantly pulling the edges of the top together. Let me state categorically that I don’t look at women’s chests. That’s just rude. I look into their eyes. They adjust their tops instinctively, I think, because they don’t like the idea of an older man looking where they purposefully drew the eyes.
            There are other reminders of getting older. I was leaving the office of a customer this afternoon. At the door, I said, ‘see you on the flip side’ to the young woman at the desk. She might be 30, I don’t know. She smiled. I was using an expression that she had heard but which came for a time well before hers. She didn’t know the origin of the phrase. I explained that it must have originated in the days of vinyl records. A hit single by some group sold the record but those cussed things had two sides and something had to be put on the ‘flip’ side. Someone made an association and a phrase was added to the lexicon.
            The young woman smiled an appreciative smile, but I wasn’t through. I asked if she knew the origin of saying that something sucks (see first sentence above). She blushed mildly, laughed uncomfortable and looked away. Most people think that the phrase has a sexual (unless you’re Bill Clinton) origin. The truth is, it has a … (wait for it) … farm origin. You heard it here. When we say something sucks, we’re abbreviating the original phrase, which was something ‘sucks a hind teat’. Let me give you a visual.
            Some years ago I lived in a small subdivision which backed up to a pasture. One day I was watching the cows. (Yeah, I’ve needed to get a life for some time.) It was Spring and calves were everywhere. I watched one as he stood beside him mother and nursed. She finished a clump of grass and moved several steps forward to another. The calf, not to be foiled by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, walked up behind his mother, put his head between her back legs and picked up where he had left off. Mom dropped a load – right on her calf’s head.
            So now you know what it means to say that something sucks a hind teat. And now you know how it feels, sometimes, to be getting old(er).

Friday, June 10, 2011

In the mood for...

            I’ve been in a little bit of a mood lately, one of those squirmy, restless moods like when your boxers are bunching up and pinching just a bit in the wrong places but you’re in polite company and you can’t get them adjusted just right, you know, only it’s in my head. (No, I don’t wear boxers on my head…well there was that one time…well, that’s a story for another day…or maybe not.) Where was I? Oh. This mood is not a great feeling, as you can imagine. I’m not sure where it came from or why it won’t go away. I have every reason to be as light and airy as a cloud. I had a meeting Wednesday evening that filled me with enthusiasm for my book prospects, and I came home determined to write something witty and engaging. But it was like trying to sculpt something out of poo: whatever you think you’ve created, it’s still poo. I don’t like anything I write. My mood won’t leave - my metaphorical boxers are still bunched up.
            But I’m not without resources. When I’m in this sort of mood, I go to YouTube and watch, again, Paul Potts’ very first audition for Britain’s Got Talent ( If you haven’t seen it, you should. This unassuming, chubby, middle aged guy that you wouldn’t notice in a crowd of one walks out in front of the sharks and says he’s going to sing opera. The expressions on the judges’ faces speak volumes. Paul Potts’ expression says, ‘what the heck am I doing here?’ Then the music begins, he opens his mouth, and the expressions shift from cynical to astonished. The man has an incredible talent. He followed his passion, his dream, and his story inspires me. I bet it’ll inspire you, too.
            When I’ve listened to Paul three or four times, I switch to Susan Boyles in her first audition for Britain’s Got Talent ( She comes onstage this frumpy (sorry, Susan) middle aged woman who gets some pretty odd looks from audience and judges alike, then she stuns the entire room with a voice true and confident and powerful. Wow.
            Thank you, Paul. Thank you, Susan. You inspire the rest of us whose dreams sometimes get sidetracked and delayed.
            I think my boxers are getting unbunched.
            Thanks for your time.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Wrestling With the Divine

            My family was musical; there was lots of singing in our house. I sang a child’s ‘loud soprano’. I remember once in church I was singing my little pre-pubescent head off when one of my older sisters cast an odd glance at me. I guess there might have been some unusual sounds coming out of my mouth. My voice settled in the baritone range. I love the resonance of the deep bass. I love the thrill of the soaring tenor. I’m between them. That’s my voice. I accept it. But in the shower I still try to sing the others.
            I read recently a publisher instructing novice writers that they should find a genre, which I’m going to equate here to a voice, that works for them and that they’re good at, and then they should stick to it. She strongly discouraged writing across genres. Her rationale was that readers want to know what to expect from the writers they like, and it’s easier on the publisher since they don’t have to market you to a new group every time you put out a new novel.
            It made perfect sense.
            I didn’t like it.
            This isn’t one of those ‘leave me to my art’ things. It’s the fact that I have trouble identifying what genre I write. ‘What Rough Beast’, tells an apocalyptic story in action/adventure narrative. I’ve been told that since it has touches on the supernatural and has some dark, violent parts, it might be put in the horror genre. The sequel to WRB, ‘Taylor’s Kin’, is straight action/adventure. I have another story unrelated to WRB that would be in the genre of women’s fiction, and I’m working on a story right now that’s in the ‘coming of age’ genre but also contains supernatural and sexual (blush) elements.
            So what’s the common thread? If I want to be published, I need to know that answer. The stories that tell themselves to me, and that I would tell to you, are about individuals working their way over, under and around obstacles, both internal and external.
            That’s what all fiction is about, isn’t it? How is mine different?
            I decided recently that all of life is wrestling with the divine. It was a new insight to me. As we go about our ordinary, day to day lives, we are, in fact, trying to wring meaning from our existence. Well, some have given up, and they are sad and bitter. You can see it in their faces and in their attempts to fill their lives with ‘things’. That’s the emptiness within them crying out. I’ve not yet dissected this whole concept of wrestling with the divine. As I do, I’m sure elements of it will become clearer to me and I’ll be able better to articulate the idea, but for now, I going to say that my writing, my voice, is about people wrestling with the divine.
            There’s a lot more to say about wrestling with the divine, but I have to go tie up my tomato plants. And, yes, I suspect there is wrestling even in that ordinary task.
Thanks for your time.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Looking For Take Aways

            I’m the kind of guy who always asks, ‘why’.
            I want to say that I look for meaning in life, and it’s true, but it’s such a broad statement. I might intend one thing and you might understand something totally different. Some people, when they have a hankering for meaning, go out and buy something expensive. If that works for you, more power to you. It has never worked for me.
            But that’s not what I mean anyway. And I’m not talking about validation. I like a pat on the back as much as the next guy, but that’s not my point, either.
            So, what is my point? Let me try to illustrate. Last week I was almost t-boned by another car. We’re talking inches here. Apparently the lady driving the white minivan didn’t understand the concept behind ‘yield’ because she ran her yield sign just as big as you please. She didn’t even try to stop. She missed me by inches but I never heard the squealing of tires. For my part, I had to punch the gas to get out of her way, which took me all the way off the road and into someone’s yard. Okay. Stuff happens. Nobody got hurt. Move along, folks. But I kept thinking, is there something I can learn from that? Is there a lesson, a take away?
            I quickly realized the obvious: there are bad drivers on the roads. That’s nothing new. I once knew someone who honestly thought that ‘yield’ meant that she had the right-of-way. As I drove away, it also occurred to me that there is a right that supersedes the right to life. That right is the right to drive. It came to me as a little shock. I mean, say I had gotten t-boned and died in the accident. The insurance companies would have put a price on my life and paid my widow. The court would have found the lady in the white minivan guilty of failure to yield the right of way and fined her a couple hundred bucks. Two weeks later she would be back behind the wheel, and I, two weeks later I would be, well, I would still be dead. I’m pretty sure that’s how dead works.
            As interesting a realization as that might be, it wasn’t the real ‘take away’. The real take away was a reminder that life is a gift, pure and simple. Is that corny? I don’t care. Life is a gift and it can be taken away in an instant. We take it for granted. We shouldn’t. The people around me are gifts, too, even the ones I don’t like. I can learn from them how not to act. And finally, and you’ll think I’m still corny and I still don’t care, I don’t hug enough, I don’t affirm enough, and I don’t say ‘I love you’ nearly enough. That was the take away for me.
Thanks for your time